Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Year starts here

My New Year's Eve celebrations have begun early - Stevie's back! He comes off the bench at Anfield to captain the team to victory and score a goal himself. You beauty - pass the champagne.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Friday Five: The Sea

For someone who loves the sea as much as I, it may seem a little strange that I live almost as far from it is as possible in this country. Now it's not like I live in America, Australia or Russia or anything like that, where it could be miles to the nearest wave - I am still at most a three-hour drive from the big wet wobbly thing that fish swim in. But I like to get closer when I can, and this week Him Outdoors had a couple of days off work so we drove to the Catlins and spent a couple of days by the seaside.

5 Things I Love About the Sea:
  1. The Sight - I remember as a child being terribly excited to be the first to see the sea when we were driven towards it, the four of us cramped and sweaty in the back seat. I love the rocky shores, sandy beaches, or sheer cliffs that meet the water, and I love the lighthouses and tales of shipwrecks, smugglers, and lost treasures. Whether it's a windswept barren landscape, a working port full of ships and cargo, or a bustling coastal village, the place where the land meets the sea is incredibly evocative.
  2. The Sound - crashing waves, howling winds or gentle splashes; that sound backed up with the calling of seagulls is the rhythm of my dreams.
  3. The Smell - salty sea air, tangy seaweed and the sharp scent of vinegar on chips - that's the sea for me and it smells of holidays.
  4. The Taste - salt on your skin and icecream on your tongue... I don't know if sea air really does sharpen the appetite, but there is nothing better than eating fresh seafood or shellfish in sight of the sea. We once had coconut crab on a beach in Vanuatu and, although I felt a little guilty at the sight of the crustacean brethren scuttling about nearby, it was one of the best meals I've ever tasted.
  5. The Feel - purely physically, walking in the sea, with sand beneath your feet and waves swrirling round your calves is about as restorative as it gets. A morning dip is a divine way to cool off and to dive with the marine life is an overwhelming privilege. And on a slightly more metaphorical level, the feel of limitless possiblities I sense when I look at the horizon is hopeful and inspiring, even on my darkest days. The sea has power - use it wisely.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Friday, 23 December 2011

Friday Five: Festive Birthday

Him Outdoors has a birthday today - happy birthday to him. People often say how awful it must have been as a child to have your birthday so close to Christmas. I share this opinion, but not because of the dread of the combined birthday and Christmas present - quite frankly, if you are not religious, why are you celebrating Christmas with gift giving anyway?

No, the reason for my antipathy for the festive birthday is that I like to celebrate as many separate occasions as possible (and deliberately got married six months away from my birthday to stagger the anniversaries). We have friends whose daughter was born on Christmas Day (no, they didn't call her Holly or Carol or something equally naff) and she celebrates her birthday in the morning and Christmas in the afternoon, which seems to work for them. So, because these lists are meant to be positive, I have come up with

5 Good Things about Having a Birthday at Christmas-time:
  1. You generally get the day off (particularly when you're a child and school has broken up for the holidays)
  2. Most people have decided that if they haven't done it yet, they're not going to, so have relaxed and are in a good mood
  3. The atmosphere in the pubs is good and lively (but not frantic and faintly desperate as it can be at New Year)
  4. Chocolate, biscuits, cake, sweets, and general party food is everywhere!
  5. Champagne is on special offer

Friday, 16 December 2011

Friday Five: Cover Versions

Very few cover versions can compare with the original and most remind me of bad karaoke. I knew people like to hear tunes that they know, rather than sometimes take a risk on an unfamiliar sound, but I've never really got the point of cover versions. 

Having said that, there are some that are fantastic and make me realise why bands bother - I realise in all cases, I actually really like the original too, but the 'new' treatment of it is different enough to make it work in another context.

5 Top Cover Versions:
  1. I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself - The White Stripes: I love the Dusty version (she is my favourite singer, after all), but this adaptation turns soulful angst into impotent rage - love it
  2. My Way - Sid Vicious: apparently this is the most covered song ever. Frank Sinatra did such a great job that this is the only other version worth bothering with
  3. You Sexy Thing - Cud: this was the version Him Outdoors wanted me to walk down the aisle to at our wedding. As it was in a church, I opted instead for You'll Never Walk Alone
  4. Rent - Carter USM: The original Pet Shop Boys version was sublime; this is in another world (even Neil Tennant said he preferred this version) - seen live at Machester Academy (1990) one of the most thrillingly vibrant (and actually violent) gigs I've ever been to
  5. I Think We're Alone Now - Snuff: bearing in mind the fact that in 1987 Tiffany got to number one in both the UK and the US with an appalling cover of this song, which first hit the charts twenty years earlier, performed by Tommy James and the Shondells, the fact that the Snuff version is usually overlooked is an absolute travesty

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Just Plain Stupid

Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling) instructs Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) in the art of looking fine
I watched Crazy, Stupid Love. on the way home from Sydney. It was perfect plane viewing – pretty obvious and not at all demanding with some good solid acting and snappy dialogue. The official blurb is, “A middle-aged husband's life changes dramatically when his wife asks him for a divorce. He seeks to rediscover his manhood with the help of a new-found friend Jacob, learning to pick up girls at bars.” Actually, it is more complex and subtle than that, but for the purposes of this post, let’s go with that.

Jacob, played by Ryan Gosling, is the highlight of the film. His arrogance and assurance (all of which turn out to be built on image and lacking in substance) are delivered with panache and one-liners Oscar Wilde might have written were he alive today. As he gives Cal (the husband) dating advice, he says cynically, “The war between the sexes is over and we won. We won the minute they started doing pole dancing as exercise.”

I spluttered with indignation over this line, because the first part is just so wrong and the second part so sadly true. A friend of mine, whom I considered liberated, educated and of above-average intelligence, recently told me that she had begun pole dancing lessons for fitness. My jaw dropped. I was lost for words – not something that happens to me too often. “Why?” It was all I could ask.

Her answer was highly unsatisfactory. For the record it was something along the lines of having a bit of fun and trying something new. Fair enough. Is it necessary to do it in a skimpy bikini? Apparently yes – it helps you grip the pole better – the tassels on your nipples are optional. A pathetic excuse: I have seen people hold onto lamp-posts at a perpendicular angle while fully clothed and, yes, admittedly, half-intoxicated. There are a gazillion sports she could have chosen to help her get fit and strong that wouldn’t have upset me the least. Actually, I don't particularly like netball, but at least it isn’t aimed firmly at the sleaze market.

I know there is much popular psychobabble about reclaiming negative sexual stereotypes. This is apparently why women choose to dress in tiny tube dresses and ankle-breaking stilettos, or why teenagers wear pink sparkly Playboy t-shirts – not because they are desperate to get men to notice them, honest! I’ve heard people pontificate about empowerment, control and turning the male gaze in on itself, but that’s basically crap.

If pole dancing is really so liberating and aerobically challenging, why don’t men do it? If a woman wants to develop her upper body and core strength she could try gym-work, water-skiing, wind-surfing, X-country skiing, swimming, yoga, rowing, athletic field events, gymnastics, rugby, basketball… The list is endless. If she wants to dance then there are infinite varieties she could attempt from ballet to tap, ballroom to hip-hop. Pole ‘dancing’ is a very limited form of movement all things considered. If she wants to support the male-dominated sex industry and present herself as a hooker (albeit a flexible one) then she should consider pole dancing.

It may just be the latest craze, but it is one that debases women (or, worse, makes them debase themselves) by objectifying themselves and creeping back to a misogynistic past. It’s not just a bit of fun; it’s dirty, filthy dancing on the graves of the women who fought (in some instances with their lives) for our right to be equal. Women have a responsibility not to trample on this right so carelessly.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Friday Five: Scooter

It is with infinite sadness that I write about the death of one of my dearest friends, Glenn 'Scooter' Reid. Him Outdoors and I have known Sooter for a dozen years and he has enriched them in a way I cannot express. He has the biggest heart of anyone I know, but sadly his little body wasn't strong enough to deal with the pancreatic cancer with which he was diagnosed almost a year ago to this day. I will love him and miss him forever, but I am also incredibly lucky to have had such an amazing and close friend. So I want to acknowledge the affection, warmth and humour that he brought into our lives. This one's for you, Scoot:

5 Things I Love About Scooter:
  1. His ability to be all things to all people: Whether with rugby, work, or theatre productions, he has a way of making you think that you are the most important thing in the world, and at that moment you are. With so many diverse interests he knows a lot of folk and there are always numerous claims on his attention. To love Scooter is to share him; whenever we went out for a meal or to the cinema or whatever, we would have to leave at least half an hour early to give everyone who wanted to, the chance to stop and say hello.
  2. His problem-solving ability: There are few problems Scooter couldn’t fix (usually with a Maglite and a roll of gaffer tape) and he loved being able to do so. As a director I often asked if it was possible to produce a certain effect and he would say ‘of course’ and then work out how. I generally left all that technical stuff to him, as if you gave him a clear idea of your vision, he would bring it to reality. He hated problems he couldn’t fix (such as emotional issues) and on more than one occasion he wished he had a time machine so he could go back and change things.
  3. His enthusiasm: There aren’t many Southern Men interested in both sport and theatre, and I’ve loved our travels nationally and internationally to see both (I’ve taken him to football; he’s taken me to rugby; we both respectfully disagree about the greatest game ever), but his interests don’t stop there. He knows stuff (he’s been an invaluable member of our quiz team), and what he doesn’t know he is generally happy to learn. Don’t get me wrong, he has an acerbic tongue at times and won’t take shit from anyone, but he can talk to most people about most things – a wonderful companion and great drinking buddy.
  4. His thoughtfulness: He provides you with things you didn’t even know you needed but then can't do without, and is always available for friendship and support. We were on holiday in Vanuatu and Tasmania when we were made homeless by the Queenstown floods and landslips of 1999; we returned to find that Scooter and some other wonderful friends had gathered up our essential belongings (photos; diaries; records; books; cats) and stored them in their spare rooms/ basements/ garages out of further harm. We moved five times in six months and he helped us with every single shift. We rented a caravan for a week over Christmastime, which was tough with two cats and no space. He brought us a box of beer and a barbeque and came to visit every day to help with whatever he could, especially the cooking and drinking! Being an immigrant (albeit of fifteen years), Christmas is one of the hardest times for me as I miss my family desperately. Scooter knows this and is always particularly welcoming at this time of year, inviting us to share his family and his time.
  5. His affection: he is fiercely protective of his family and his friends. When Scooter loves you; you know you are loved. And he is one of the best huggers it has ever been my pleasure to know.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Friday Five: Summer

Apparently it's official: summer is here. It starts on the 1st of December, so I am told. So it seemed appropriate to do this:

5 Best Things About Summer:
  1. Long evenings - it doesn't matter what you do with them (go for a bike ride; take the dog for a walk; meet friends in a beer garden; sit on the patio with a good book) - it's just nice not to come home from work and straight-away have to light the fire, close the curtains and turn the lights on. It feels like a time for leisure
  2. Summer fruit - strawberries; raspberries; cherries; peaches; apricots; nectarines; plums - even better when you live in Central Otago!
  3. Summer sport - although I now live in New Zealand, summer sport to me is always the sound of Wimbledon tennis on the tele (of course, it's shown in the middle of winter here) and test cricket. Every two years we alternate between the Olympic Games and the World Cup, so we get festivals of sporting passion - love it
  4. Parliamentary Recess - at least a month without having to listen to pontificating politicians pretend to give celebrity soundbites - 'news' stories about kittens stuck up trees and the world's largest knitted rabbit are a small price to pay
  5. Outdoor swimming - rivers; lakes; sea - it's so much better than swimming in a pool

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

You're Right to Vote

Last weekend a general election was held here in New Zealand. Back at work, people having been asking me, 'Did you vote?' I am amazed by this question and simply answer, 'Of course!'. Apparently one third of the the eligible voters in this country didn't - that's about a million people. That's something I don't understand.

The fact that the party I didn't vote for and the one I despise is back in power to 'govern' (their manifesto includes privatisation, ditching workers' rights and breaking up unions) for the next three years, is not the point here. The point is that our ancestors fought World Wars so we could live in a democracy. Men and women died so that we could vote.

It is your civic and moral duty to vote. Many who didn't (mostly in the 18-25 bracket) say they don't care, couldn't be bothered or were too lazy. They claim no interest in politics and say it doesn't affect them. They might change their mind when they can't get a job, or (more likely from the sound of most of those interviewed) a benefit; when they can't afford to feed their children; can't plug in their laptops or express their opinions - if they have any, because they probably are too lazy to form them.

Perhaps if they forfeit their right to vote they should also forfeit their rights to citizenship: freedom of expression, assembly, peaceful association, thought, conscience, religion and belief; freedom of movement and residence; freedom from discrimination. And why should someone who can't be bothered to vote be entitled to benefits, education and the right to a fair hearing by an unbiased-decision maker? All of these civic rights are paid for by the tax-payer, who votes to give the government a mandate on how to distribute those taxes.

I am playing devil's advocate somewhat here; I will always vote to protect the vulnerable, which I feel is my moral duty not just as a citizen but as a human being. Those who don't vote should be ashamed of themselves. That used to carry some weight. For the selfish individuals who care nothing about their fellow man or woman, they will probably just smile and shrug. Who am I kidding; with an attitude like that, they would probably only have voted National anyway. 

Friday, 25 November 2011

Friday Five: Vegetables

This week, the Quick Quintet is back by popular demand (well, a couple of people asked why I'd stopped). Posting every day proved to be quite exhausting so I cheated a little here and there. I have decided to make the Quick Quintet a once-a-week thing: hence, the Friday Five - catchy, huh?

A while ago some friends and I had a heated debate over what was the Devil's vegetable - we ended up sort of roughly divided between turnips and beetroot. I didn't realise root vegetables could be so emotive.

 For the purposes of this post, we are avoiding salad vegetables (the tomato: fruit or vegetable argument can thus be neatly sidestepped) and although avocados are lush, they are equally excluded. In a singular high-handed fashion I have also decided to remove fungi from consideration, although fresh field mushrooms sauteed in butter and served on sour dough bread with a sprinkling of tarragon and chives is one of the delights of breakfast.

5 Favourite Vegetables
  1. Potatoes - is any vegetable as versatile as the humble spud? No, is the answer to that, and I should know: I lived off them for six months as a student when my grant ran out
  2. Asparagus - for the two weeks in season you can get them, they are almost all I live on - and I don't care if they turn my wee green
  3. Courgettes - I like them crunchy (they make great crudites as well) and they are fabulous creamed in soups, in quiches, salads, ratatoille or simply as side with crushed almonds to accompany a nice piece of steak, or perhaps trout
  4. Aubergines - love the colour; love the texture; love the taste. Some people have claimed to found religious iconography inside; they are probably bonkers. Incidentally, we went to Amisfield for dinner one evening, and the lovely waiter was thrilled that we were English so that he could offer us courgettes and aubergines rather than zucchini and eggplant
  5. Onions - they are the base of almost any sauce - pasta; curry; soups; stew; tagine; etc. And spring onions are great in salads, and you don't even have to be Welsh to like leeks

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Walking Dreams

In dreams I can walk on my hands.
Not a useful talent,
But a good party trick:
It entertains, and people smile.

I launch forward through my arms;
Lurching from side to side:
Chest pushed out; neck stretched;
Legs bent over like a question mark

Asking when will I fall,
And if it’s before I wake,
Will I die in my sleep?
Is that entertainment?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Look-i-like-i: Avram Grant/ Baron Greenback

I know I am not the only one to see the resemblance between former Portsmouth, Chelski and Happy Hammers manager, Avram Grant, and arch-villain and Dangermouse nemesis, Baron Greenback, but I feel it should be pointed out anyway.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Barefaced Cheek: My Two Weeks Without Makeup

Disclaimer: These are not my eyebrows. Nor, in fact, my eyes.
Before going on holiday I decided to have a massage. Because this is indulgent, I thought I would inflict some pain at the same time (I know, I’m not even Catholic!) so I had my eyebrows shaped. I’ve never had this done before. It sounds calming and gentle, but involves waxing, ripping, raw flesh and sweating.

The lovely beauty technician told me I had a good solid shape that just needed tidying up a bit. Bless her. I think she meant my eyebrows. So she ‘tidied them up a bit’. Apparently this opens up my eyes. I think it makes me look permanently startled. I’ve also realised that my eyelids are slightly crêpe-y. For the first time in my life I understand why people have ‘tucks’.

I could always disguise the fact by covering it with eyeshadow: I used to apply a base/wash colour and sort of blend it into my shaggy brow, but now this has receded halfway up my forehead I run the risk of looking like a clown. So I made a bold decision (for a 40-year-old). I would spend the next two weeks without makeup.

Day One
According to my reflection, I am still surprised by my decision/ my face/ my self. I go into town to purchase trekking clothes – trying them on in the changing room feels right without makeup: I won’t actually be wearing lipstick and blusher in the Malaysian rainforest anyway. I wonder how much effect makeup generally has on one’s ‘look’ in deliberating over outfits.

Friends come round in the evening to watch the rugby. My makeup ban does not extend to my toenails, which I have meticulously painted white with red crosses to display my patriotism. It took ages! If only the England players had shown as much dedication...

Day Two
Without makeup there is no way to conceal disappointment over national sporting loss, so the ‘brave face’ that I put on is entirely metaphorical. Thank God it wasn’t football!

After packing my bags I relax with a gin and tonic in the sun (well, actually in the garden – the sun would be too hot, obviously). Apparently there is quinine in tonic which helps to ward off malaria, so I am loading up on it in advance. Someone told me I could drink the tonic without adding the gin and it would work just as well. Clearly they don’t know me very well.

I have exposed hitherto hidden sections of my face to the sun. I may have burned my eyelids.

Day Three
We get up early to fly to Brunei. Not having to apply makeup gives me another five minutes in bed – that in itself makes the experiment worth-while.

Our flight is delayed so I have time to people-watch in Auckland airport. Every single adult woman (and many of the children) wears makeup to a varying extent. I feel exposed and invisible, which is both daunting and liberating.

When I go to the toilet I don’t have to check my reflection or touch up my lipstick. It’s one less thing to worry about and just feels easier.

On the flight to Brunei I watch a couple of sad/silly films (including The First Grader) and shed the odd tear with no fear of running mascara or smudged eyeshadow.

When we arrive at my brother and sister-in-law’s, we have a couple of glasses of wine while discussing matters of great importance – world politics and foreign intervention among the topics. I am exhausted and a bit tipsy and fall into bed without cleaning my face.

Day Four
No makeup on the pillow or halfway down my face – excellent. We go on an outing to temples, fish markets, the bank, and coffee in a hotel. I only feel out of place at the hotel. Everywhere else I am invisible, which is particularly helpful at the fish market where I take photos and get splashed by a still-live wriggling eel.

Not used to the heat, I am sweating a lot and bathing my face at every opportunity, which makeup would only hinder. Falling asleep for an afternoon siesta is so much easier without fear of drool and mascara stains.

Day Five
A run in the morning (in about 30° heat), wiping my face, doesn’t leave stains on my t-shirt. A massage also passes without having to redo the makeup after having the face squished through the hole.

We eat lunch at a local place in Miri – I am not bothered by the makeup absence and try to rely on smiling to illuminate my facial features instead.

Day Six
I realise that I am a little bored by my face and that usually I would slap on some green eyeshadow or purple lipstick to enliven things. Instead, I just avoid mirrors. It’s refreshing not to have to think about yourself and your image all the time.

‘A woman should not apply makeup only according to the physical features of her face, but she should put on makeup for the story she wants to tell and, somehow, for the message she wants to convey’ – Brigitte Reiss-Andersen, renowned makeup artist, Malaysia Airlines in-flight magazine

Day Seven
A two-hour walk in the rainforest (34° heat and 98% humidity), slathered in insect repellent and dripping with sweat – wiping my face on my drenched t-shirt every few minutes, makeup is the furthest thing from my mind. Later, drinking Pimms at the boat club, I know I am glowing with heat, sun, and the after-effects of healthy exertion. There is no need for blusher here.

Day Eight
At a night out in the hotspots of Miri, I feel old rather than un-made-up. No amount of face paint could make me look twenty years younger.

Day Nine - Eleven
Walking through the rainforest to the Niah caves, bathing in the hot pools at Poring Springs, walking high in the tree canopy, visiting the War Memorial, there is far too much to see and think about to worry about appearances.

Day Twelve and Thirteen
We climb Mt Kinabalu (4095m), the highest peak in South East Asia, getting up at 3am in order to reach the summit at sunrise – it is stunning. We share daft grins with the others up there – the park limits the number of people to 150 a day. One girl has perfect and painstakingly applied heavy eye makeup. For once, she seems to be the odd one out.

Day Fourteen and Fifteen
Trips include a boat excursion along the Kinabatangan River looking for wildlife, snorkelling off Libaran Island where the coastguard keep watch for pirates, a village walk where we are glared at with hostile resentment, viewing the laying of eggs and hatching of baby turtles as they flip-flop down to the sea, marvelling at the grace and agility of orang-utans as they come to be fed at a sanctuary, and weeping at the horrors evoked by a war memorial park. Nowhere do I feel the experience would have been improved with makeup.

Day Sixteen
A flight back to Kota Kinabalu brings us back into contact with plastic Americans injected with Botox and collagen. How much is too much, I wonder? Some have certainly gone too far and look as though Barbie has been left out in the sun until she melted.

We watch the rugby world cup final at an Irish bar in Kota Kinabalu. There is a lot of face-paint in evidence, but no one seems to care about the makeup or lack thereof.

Day Seventeen
We fly all day from KK to Brunei and from there to Auckland. In Malaysia, women in sequinned hot pants and tight, sloganned tops co-exist happily with women wearing full-body covering or embroidered headscarves. Anything goes and no one seems out of place. Bright colours rather than ubiquitous black replace the need for facial decoration. I have photographed colourful images of washing hung on picturesque porches – mine would look drab in comparison.

Day Eighteen
After four hours of sleep it’s time to head to the airport for the final leg of the journey home to Queenstown. The shuttle bus driver informs me he can tell I have been somewhere hot because it shows on my face, and what I need to do now is buy some face cream to tone down my colour. It’s early and I can’t be bothered to take issue with his unspeakable rudeness. It just confirms my return to the land of the long white conformity.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Quick Dectet: Last Lines

Because it is the last day of October and hence the last of my quick quintets, I thought I would choose closing lines from novels for my subject. Opening lines get all the credit, when the credit should really come at the finish. Some of my favourite books don't have great last lines (and the last line of Jane Eyre is not 'And reader, I married him' - that's the first line of the last chapter for all you pedants out there - you know who you are!)

And because there are quite a few to choose from, and it is my blog and I can do whatever I want, I have decided to go for ten things rather than five (in chronolgical order):

Top Ten Last Lines in Literature: 
  1. 'Come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.' – William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair (1847–48)
  2. ‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.’ – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
  3. 'So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.' – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)
  4. 'But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.' – A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner (1928)
  5. 'The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. – George Orwell, Animal Farm (1945)
  6. 'He loved Big Brother' – George Orwell, 1984 (1948)
  7. 'Oh God. You’ve done enough. You’ve robbed me of enough. I’m too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone for ever.' – Graham Greene, The End of the the Affair  (1951)
  8. 'Are there any questions?' – Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (1986)
  9. 'I thought they were supposed to be dead, but in real life they’re just going to go on singing.' – Salman Rushdie, The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999)
  10. 'Very few castaways can claim to have survived so long at sea as Mr. Patel, and none in the company of an adult Bengal tiger.' – Yann Martel, Life of Pi (2002)

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Quick Quintet: Cartoon Characters

And today's quick quintet is a request from Bad Fairy who suggested cartoon characters. This set off a huge train of thought - do cartoons include children's TV like Captain Pugwash, Camberwick Green, The Clangers, Roobarb and CustardHenry's Cat and the sublimely ridiculous Ludwig? For the purposes of this post, I have decided that they don't.

I've never really liked the saccharine Disney characters - Mickey Mouse has a very annoying voice; Minnie is pathetic; Pluto is yellow (!), Donald Duck and his nephews spray spittle everywhere; and Goofy gives me the creeps. Although I like the Disney treatment of The Jungle Book, The Sword in the Stone, and Robin Hood, I can never forgive them for what they did to Winnie the Pooh.

Apparently the most popular and enduring cartoon character is Bugs Bunny, and I do like his calm self-assurance and carrot-chewing capers, but he's not my favourite. Similarly I like other Hanna-Barbera productions such as Yogi Bear and Scooby Doo (the originals - I can't stand the spin-offs with Scooby-Dum and Scrappy-Doo) but they're not my favourites either.

For some reason I have a soft spot for Mr Magoo - I think because he was so inept we reckoned his wife must have helped him through life by finding everything for him so if anyone asks an impossible question in our family (such as 'Where are my car keys?') the answer is invariably, 'How should I know? I'm not Mrs Magoo'. Yes, we're a slightly odd family.

And then there are the 'adult' cartoon with characters such as Stan, Kyle, Eric and Kenny from South Park, or Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa from The Simpsons, plus all their associates - I went through a spell of loving their dysfunctional adventures. But, once again, my favourites have to be for reasons of nostalgia.

5 Favourite Cartoon Characters:
  1. Tom - not Jerry. I hated Jerry and always wanted Tom to smash him with the mallet
  2. Wile E. Coyote - Similarly I wanted him to catch that beeping annoying Road Runner
  3. Top Cat - the coolest cat in town
  4. Hong Kong Phooey - the mild mannered police station janitor? Could be!
  5. Dangermouse - he's the greatest, he's fantastic, wherever there is danger he'll be there...

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Quick Quintet: Sweet Treats

This is a special request by the Fudge Princess (funny that!). I'm sticking specifically to sweets here, rather than chocolate or biscuits.

Most of the sweets that I like are memories of childhood, when we used to go to the local sweet shop and buy quarters of confectionery that were weighed out on scoop scales and poured into paper bags. My sister used to send me to buy her Kola cubes and I was allowed a couple as commission. Happy Days!

5 Top Sweets:
  1. Rhubarb and custards - the originals, I'm saying nothing about the ones you used to get at raves in the 90s
  2. Sherbet lemons - suck them till  you get ulcers on your tongue
  3. Maynards wine gums (has to be Maynards) - hoots mon, there's juice loose aboot this hoose!
  4. Bassett's Jelly Babies (ditto Bassetts) - they're in a wibbly wobbly world of their own - apparently they were launched in Sheffield in 1918 to mark the end of WWI and were originally called Peace Babies
  5. Trebor Softmints - loved this ad (especially the cat). How did we ever think that the smell of mint would fool our parents that we hadn't been drinking/smoking - it was just such a dead giveaway!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Quick Quintet: Dream Destinations

On the subject of dreams (which we were) and holidays (which we have been), here are some of my dream destinations. They're all places I'd really like to go on holiday but cost a fair bit; maybe if I won a medium-sized lottery I'd blow the cash on one of these. Mind you, I suppose I would have to start buying the tickets first.

5 Dream Destinations:
  1. Safari in Africa: It's all about the wildlife - lions; leopards; cheetahs; zebras; elephants; antelope; wildebeest and giraffes (crouching or otherwise). Whether in Botswana, Kenya, Zambia, or any other realtively stable African country, I would love to experience the stunning scenery and the play of light and colour. Those lodges look like my idea of heaven, and are way out of my price range.
  2. Antarctica: The same but different, i.e. It's all about the wildlife, scenery and light and colour. And it would have to be seen from a (warm) cruise ship, which is way beyond my budget. My camera would get such a hammering!
  3. South America: yup, the entire continent. I mean, it's got everything: ancient history (Incas and Machu Pichu), colonial cities, vibrant modern cities, deserts, mountains, glaciers, beaches, rainforests, waterfalls, wildlife (imagine visiting the Galapagos Islands!) and wine - and my life will not be complete until I have learned to tango in Buenos Aires. I know, it will take at least a year (and that's just learning to dance...)
  4. Vienna: Speaking of dancing, I would love to sweep down a staircase in Vienna and glide across the ballroom in a fabulous dress dancing a waltz. The opera; the music; the architecture; the palaces; the Lippizan stallions; the cake... And I would probably take a side-trip to Budapest to see my bridge (the same design as the one in Marlow)
  5. Uluru: specifically as a highlight of a trip on the Ghan, the train that travels from Adelaide through Alice Springs to Darwin. And I don't care how naff it is; I want to dine by candle and starlight at those tables with white linen tablecloths and know I don't have to do the washing up or the laundry!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Quick Quintet:Possible Dreams

When I was a child and I couldn't sleep, I tried to think of my favourite dream and wish myself into it. I think they used to feature fluffy kittens and the like. My neice once came downstairs in tears after bedtime because "I can't find a dream with me in it", so I am not alone.

I still do a similar sort of thing - not always when I am trying to sleep; some of them are just my favourite daydreams. Of course there are things we all want (well, maybe not all, but they're pretty common): a cure for cancer, and an end to global poverty being pretty high on the wish list.

But no matter what John Lennon may have you believe, world peace is simply too hard to imagine. I have to be able to visualise these things in my head to make them valid fantasies. And I'm not talking bedroom stuff here - these are all pretty clean.

5 Favourite Daydreams:
  1. Crossing the ball for the winning Liverpool goal in the Champions League final. I never score the goal, but I always set it up with a sublime cross that Stevie G blasts into the back of the net. I often re-enact this cross in my sleep - Him Outdoors has the bruises to prove it. The crowd goes wild and I celebrate by leaping up and down inanely with all my teammates (who include Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Kevin Keegan, Alan Hansen, Jason McAteer, John Barnes, Bruce Grobbelar, Michael Owen and Ian Rush)
  2. Winning an Oscar - although it is for a stage performance, the setting is all Oscar. My speech is perfect - not too short; not too long; remarkably gracious and un-tongue-tied
  3. Driving with Him Outdoors through Cotswold lanes in an E-type Jag convertible. It is British racing green with the luggage strapped to the back. I am looking effortlessly chic in a chiffon scarf and stylish sunglasses and somehow I know we are going to one of those boutique hotels in the country where we will drink gin and tonic on the verandah before sitting down to dinner
  4. Some race or other: I'm running really fast down the finishing chute and everyone is cheering and waving flags. I actually imagine this often when I am out on a training run
  5. Seeing my book on the shelves of a bookshop. I know what the cover will look like

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Quick Quintet: Orangutans

Hands up who thought orangutans were so called because they had orange fur. Yup, me too. Wrong. Orang means man in Malaysian, and utan means forest, so these are men of the forest. (Or women, obviously.) We were thrilled to see several at the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo and I learned a few things about them.

5 Things I Learned About Orangutans:
  1. Whereas they used to be widespread throughout South East Asia, due to hunting and deforestation, orangutans are now only found in Borneo and Sumatra
  2. Orangutans build two nests a day from leafy branches, 40-60m up in the trees - they make a rough one for an afternoon nap and a more substantial one for their nightime sleep. When it rains, they cover themselves with a palm frond or similar
  3. The mother orangutan looks after her young for about eight years - during this time she will not mate
  4. Unlike most monkeys and primates, orangutans are solitary animals and live alone (or with their mother) . They do not socialise - to such an extent that if they are searching for fruit in the same tree, they will sit apart from each other while eating and leave alone afterwards
  5. Orangutans share 96.4% of the same genetic make-up as humans (but their arms are 30% longer than their legs)

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Quick Quintet: Taking it for Granted

Holidays are great; coming home can often be a bit depressing. We have just returned from the most amazing time in Borneo visiting family and exploring. Life back at work is a bit of an anti-climax (although it is always a pleasure to see our gorgeous cat again) so I played at Pollyanna to cheer myself up.

5 Good Things about Being back in New Zealand:
  1. Flushing toilets
  2. Clean drinking water from the tap
  3. Sleeping without mosquito nets
  4. Walking without having to check for snakes
  5. Being able to go into buildings without air-conditioning

Monday, 24 October 2011

Quick Quintet: Past Pictures

This list will be slightly skewed, because I have been on a couple of long-haul flights recently and watched in-flight 'entertainment'.

5 Most Recent Films Seen:
  1. Bitter/Sweet - terrible American romantic 'comedy' in which an American businessman is sent to Thailand to purchase coffee beans and ends up falling in love with a local girl, despite his far more attractive - in every way - fiancée back home. If there is a happy ending, it is that she has a lucky escape.
  2. Too Big to Fail - very well-acted and well-written drama (and it really is dramatic) about the fall of the Lehman brothers and the subsequent financial metdown of 2008. If it has a failing, it is that the 'spell-it-out-really-simply-for-the-stupid-people' scenes are delivered to the only two women in the film. Clearly it takes a man to make a really big financial cock-up. 
  3. Cewek Gokil - bad Indonesian film about a girl who wants a car so she can help her mother's business, gain some independence, and get the guy. 
  4. Sanctum - cave-diving goes wrong, with a father-son dysfunctional relationship tacked on for added intrigue. It might be better in 3D - we watched it in 2D and the characters barely even make it to one.
  5. Midnight in Paris - Charming Woody Allen directed fantasy rom-com with resplendent Parisian backdrops, fine actors and a delightful story-line suggesting you should be happy with the era in which you live, rather than striving for the impossible; a sentimental journey away from nostalgia. Nice.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Quick Qintet: Dad's advice

In the interests of equality:

5 Things My Dad Taught Me:
  1. It's never 'just a game' - play nicely, but play to win
  2. The person who doesn't pour the wine gets to choose the glass
  3. Never drive drunk, or let anyone else do it - if you really can't stop them; don't get in the car
  4. Listen; you might learn something
  5. Don't mock what you don't understand

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Quick Quintet: Mother's Commandments

Every now and then the topic of mentors and role models is raised, particularly around sporting events. There has just been a rather large one here in New Zealand and with on-and-off-field antics, people are once again questioning whether children should look up to sporting heroes for behavioural models.

I think not. I believe that's what parents are for (or else, what the hell are they actually doing?). No matter what they tell you, mothers do not always know best, but they can give you some pretty good pointers. You learn which to follow and which to ignore, but there are some things my mother taught me I will always value.

5 Pieces of Maternal Advice:
  1. If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all
  2. Never say behind someone's back something you wouldn't say to their face
  3. To a couple of people you may be extremely important - no one else cares: don't show off
  4. Don't expose your kidneys; you'll catch your death
  5. Never display your underwear in public; male or female - it's skanky. (I think mother actually used the word 'common', but that's what she meant)

Friday, 21 October 2011

Quick Quintet: Slow-guns

Following on from yesterday's post I've been thinking about catchy advertising slogans. They may not necessarily be for the best product (in fact, usually aren't), but they are irritatingly familiar, or in some cases simply perfect.

Hundreds came to mind actually, which probably shows I take more notice of advertising than I like to admit. Several of them are local - Boddingtons: 'If you don't get Boddies; you'll just get bitter' or Speights: 'Pride of the South', but I'll stick with some that are more universal:

5 Top Marketing Slogans:
  1. Carlsberg, probably the best lager in the world
  2. Esso: Put a tiger in your tank
  3. Ronseal: It does exactly what it says on the tin
  4. McDonalds: I'm loving it
  5. Nike: Just do it

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Quick Quintet: Brand Power

I don't remember exactly when it was that everyone became obsessed with labels - sometime in the 80s I think, when it was all Lacoste this and Adidas that. I do remember if you didn't have the right trainers or sports bag, you were ridiculed at school.

Him Outdoors had a non-authentic action man when he was a kid. Apparently he had a squishy head and his hands fell off (the non-action man that is, not Him Outdoors). No one would let him play, somewhat unsurprisingly.

Now, I'm not what anyone would call a slave to fashion, but there are certain things that just have to be right; when imitations simply won't suffice.

5 Non-Negotiable Brands:
  1. Persil automatic - possibly mum's fault; I like the familiar smell, and I seem to get a rash from just about anything else
  2. McVities - no one else's digestives will do. And don't even get me started on Hobnobs...
  3. Jaguar - E-type in particular: if it's not a Jaguar; it's just a car
  4. Bombay Sapphire gin and Schwepps tonic - it's the perfect combination
  5. Waterstones/ Unity Books - I will travel miles for knowledgable service

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Quick Quintet: Actual Conversations

There used to be a time when you could have endless pointless debates in the pub about anything at all - when did Ziggy Stardust take his final bow; who scored the winning goal in the FA Cup Final of 1957; in how many films did Doris Day star with Rock Hudson; you know the sort of thing.

Now, if you ruminate on any sort of question of this nature, someone will irritatingly whip out their smart phone and tell you the answer. Okay, so it may be smart, (or smug) but it ruins all the fun - at least you should waste a good half hour discussing it first. 

This is why they may be good for virtually anything, but smart phones are the death of (pub) conversation. In the last week or so, I have whiled away many pleasant minutes (if not hours) with the family deliberating such pressing issues as:

5 Recent Conversations which didn't involve a Smart Phone:
  1. Does what goes up always have to come down?
  2. If fish spoke English, which species would have what accent?
  3. Why is some 80s music shockingly bad when some is excellent, and why do Americans and Kiwis generally prefer the former?
  4. When does attractive confidence become ugly arrogance?
  5. If you could live in any era in history, when would it be?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Quick Quintet: Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick

Today is my birthday - yes, I know, Happy Birthday to me. While I have nothing against the song Happy Birthday, I wish there were more songs that people could sing to expreess their many happy returns: Stevie Wonders' Happy Birthday is specifically about Martin Luther King; no one knows the lyrics to Altered Images' merry ditty; and the Sugarcubes' Birthday is just plain bonkers.

So invariably it will be the predictable tune. When Thermal Girl and I were in recorder club at the infants' school, we were tasked with performing Happy Birthday on our squeaky tubes for one of the younger members of the school. Unfortunately we hadn't learned that tune, but we did know London's Burning so we spontaneously burst into that instead... as the confused birthday girl simultaneously burst into tears and poured on her own water.

Which led me to think about the most predictable songs ever - you know; when you're at a particular event and you know for certain that a certain song will be played.

5 Predictable Tunes:
  1. We Are the Champions / Simply the Best - played at the final of any sporting event
  2. Slice of Heaven / Why Does Love Do This to Me? / Bliss - godawful lyrically-challenged Kiwi pop songs played at every New Zealand sporting event ever - it's enough to put you off going
  3. Dancing Queen - there's not a hen night in the land where this isn't played
  4. From This Moment - the most manipulatively mercenary wedding song ever written
  5. I Don't Know How to Love Him - at any musical theatre audition. I recently read this in Painting Ruby Tuesday by Jane Yardley: The first morning we heard the same song from Jesus Christ Superstar so many times that when we broke for lunch the casting director shouted, ‘If anyone in this room does know how to love him, for Chrissake get out there and tell ’em before I top myself!’

Monday, 17 October 2011

Quick Quintet: Aunty Katy

I have been visitng my brother and sister-in-law and niece and nephew in Miri. We have had a great time experiencing their ex-pat lifestyle and some Miri hotspots (at 40 degrees and 98% humidity, it's actually all pretty hot) and, although excited about the prospect of seeing monkeys in the rainforest, were a little sad to leave them behind and move on to the next stage of the trip.

5 Great Things about Being an Aunt:
  1. Fierce unconditional hugs
  2. Information sharing and seeing things from a fresh perspective (snakes can be very pretty, apparently)
  3. Surreal artwork
  4. Story-time
  5. Giving them back

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Quick Quintet: Lazy Sunday

5 Things I Like to do on a Sunday Morning:
  1. Sleep in/ cuddle
  2. Read the Sunday newspapers
  3. Go for a walk
  4. Go out for coffee/ brunch
  5. Speak to family members on the phone
Saddly, this isn't me, but you get the picture, as it were

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Quick Quintet: After the Rain

5 Things I Like About the Rain:
  1. The sound it makes as it drums on the roof - as long as I am warm and dry inside
  2. The fact that it gives you an excuse not to do a fat lot
  3. The smell of the wet earth after the rain has stopped
  4. The way it helps plants and flowers to grow
  5. The wildlife that comes out to play in the puddles

Friday, 14 October 2011

Quick Quintet: We Go Together...

5 Top Colour Combinations:
  1. Red and white - it works for Liverpool FC, England, Father Christmas and me!
  2. Purple and green - designer types may call them aubergine and avocado, but whatever it's called, they just look good together
  3. Blue and yellow - sun, sky, sand, sea - it's a winning holiday combination
  4. Orange and yellow - spices in the bazaar; tantalising
  5. Black and gold - Greek vases and boxes of chocolates

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Quick Quintet: Tastes Like Chicken

Whenever people eat something a bit different - frogs' legs; snake; crocodile; squirrel - they invariably say, 'it tastes a bit like chicken'. This is probably because chicken is such a versatile meat that it can actually taste like almost anything itself, even squirrel. I like chicken - yes, free range organic and all that, and it goes very well in a variety of dishes.

5 Great Chicken Dishes:
  1. Roast chicken - with roast potatoes and fresh green vegetables, or in fresh white bread sandwiches with lashings of mayonnaise
  2. Lemon chicken - the Chinese restaurant in Marlow High Street was my introduction to this particular favourite
  3. Kadai chicken - a perennial winner at Indian restaurants worldwide
  4. Chicken Pad Thai - the benchmark of a good Thai restaurant, and usually a perfect serving size to leave you replete but not stuffed
  5. Chicken Mee Goreng - one of the best hangover cures ever

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Quick Quintet: Female monikers

A friend of mine has just had a baby (as yet un-named) girl - I offer my congratulations. Obviously the health of mother and baby is of paramount importance (they are both fine by the way, except the poor baby may be suffering from excessive cuddling - if there can be such a thing) but the naming will be a serious matter.

According to a recent survey the most popular girl's name in New Zealand is Olivia. The fact that the most popular male name is Oliver reveals either a lack of originality or a determination to call your child Oli; I'm not sure which.

I have a double confession - I haven't got a middle name (a fact which has always miffed me somewhat), and I used to dislike the name I have. Now, I really appreciate it - Katherine has a regal dignity to it; Kate is pure and elegant; Kitty is a Celtic twist; and Katy is an adorable way for my family and certain friends to show affection. Some call me Katie Pie, which I like because Kei Te Pai (pronounced the same way) means 'good' in Maori.

Now, I'm not for one moment suggesting that I have any influence at all on what moniker my friend may bestow on her baby (I don't like the name Monica, by the way - even before the Lewinsky/Friends associations), but I do have certain girls' names that I prefer to others.

5 Girls' Names I Like:

  1. Rachael/ Rebecca - I've never met one I didn't like
  2. Juanita - I read a book when I was a child where the heroine had this name - it might have been something by Rumer Godden - I forget the novel but I remember the name
  3. Sophie - although it does sound best with a Northern English accent
  4. Emma - even Jane Austen's self-obssessed heroine can't ruin this name for me
  5. Zoë - I have no idea why