take one woman with low self esteem, but quite good hair
add one moronic illness
stir in some medication which causes hair to fall out
mix it all up and this is what you get...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


This weekend I learned that actually, floor sanders are *not* supposed to spew Dyson-defeating sawdust all around the room. However, if all you've ever known is a floor sander which spews Dyson-defeating sawdust all around the room, how are you to know that it's not normal? How are you to recognise that not being able to see what you're sanding due to the thick layer of sawdust is not *right*.

Morally, of course, you know in your heart that the whole thing is not right. Philosophically, you wonder how you have arrived at a point in your life where standing in a room, surrounded by and inhaling large amounts of sawdust while wheeling a dangerous, heavy piece of machinery around in the name of "aesthetics" is a reasonable way to spend a weekend. But you accept it as the lot of the amateur (shouldn't I be amateuse?) DIYer and you soldier on, pausing only to mop the mixture of sweat and sawdust gathering on your brow from time to time.

You contemplate the forlorn dustbag, hanging limply at the side of the sander. You weigh it in your hand and wonder why it has gathered no dust, whilst all available horizontal surfaces in the room have managed to accrue it in bucketloads. The Dyson, choked to the hilt, succeeds only in pathetically pushing the clods around the room or tracing parallel lines in the dust, as if attempting to create some kind of Zen garden.

Curiosity finally gets the better of you and you inspect the sander's vacuum tube which is surprisingly easy to remove from its housing. At the top, blocking the large plug of sawdust waiting behind it, is the residue from the explosion of the previous sanding belt, which made your partner run away swearing from the whole, horrible débacle. He now sits in a darkened room, rocking and muttering.

Once you clear the blockage, operation of the floor sander is *relatively* dust-free and you'll wonder what all the fuss was about. The dust-related fuss, that is. There are of course myriad other fusses to be made in relation to floor sanding. The hideous noise, the terrifying sparks which emanate from the sander from time to time, the pain in your back caused by the machine being made for shortarses those who are not blessed in the height department, the way it conveys itself around the room only nominally under your control, the loss of the will to live. Those sorts of fusses.

Which is to say nothing of the edge sander which, like a gigantic, demented, mechanical crab, scuttles sideways around the perimeter of the room, firing out yet more sparks, making tortured screeching sounds and emitting Scalextric smells from time to time whilst you crouch over it, grasping it until your knuckles whiten, holding your breath through tension like you do at the dentist (you don't? Ah, just me then...) and attempting to exert some kind of control whilst trying not to drip sweat onto its electrical bits.

Maybe we should have listened when they said that carpets were back in fashion...

Friday, August 25, 2006

A bit loose at the seams 

Living as we do on a busy thoroughfare in a small town, we are quite used to finding things in our front garden which we haven't put there ourselves. Beer cans, bottles, plastic bags and the little bits of cellophane from the top of cigarette packets make up the standard detritus emanating from those returning home from a night out on the town. Our long garden path is also home to a plethora of gastropodular visitors, providing unwelcome scrunching and squelching underfoot when returning home on a dark, damp night.

I have lost count of the number of times I have walked through a spider web on my way out of the house in the morning, prompting a live performance of the "oh-my-god-I've-got-spider-web-on-my-face" dance for the delectation of passers-by (imagine frantic running on the spot, flailing hands clawing at face and hair and eyes scrunched shut). Countless too are the number of times my clothes have been dampened by the drooping hydrangea flowers, heavy with rain, which flank the path. A veritable obstacle course, is our garden.

As used as we are to its little surprises, I was still curious to see the latest addition to the garden, which appeared a few days ago. Upside-down in the heather, looking a bit sorry for itself, was none other than this.

A small (child-size) wooden chair. A little weather-beaten, but solid and of sound construction. I took it under my (bingo) wing and escorted it into the house.

Guided by my old, saggy cloth cat, and with the help of his friends (including a carved wooden bookend in the shape of a woodpecker), I intend to restore the chair to its former glory and display it in my bay window, in the hope that someone will come and recognise their chair and it can return from whence it came.

*blinks dreamily*

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

What the deuce? 

When you join a tennis club, you enter a whole new world of jargon. Even if you've been a tennis fan and watched it on television for many years, you'll find that the vocabulary used at the club has some interesting variations.

Take the scoring, for example. The point system during games is not straightforward at the best of times - if anyone can explain the logic of starting at "love", proceeding to fifteen, then thirty, then forty (I could kind of understand if it were forty-five), I'd be very grateful. But at the club, the confusion is worsened by the fact that, instead of fifteen, they say five. Yes, five. "Five love", say, is the same as "fifteen love". Thirty is still thirty, forty is still forty, but fifteen becomes five. You almost feel a fool for calling it fifteen.

When the game goes to deuce (which is, thankfully, still called deuce), things become interesting again. Rather than saying "Advantage [insert player/team name]", they will say "'van in" if the advantage is on the server's side, or "'van out" if the advantage is on the receiver's side. This may have evolved because, at the club, you cannot always be expected to remember everyone's name, so "in" and "out" can cover a multitude of forgotten names. This is quite likely, as I've lost count of the number of times I've had to reintroduce myself or correct a certain club member who insists on calling me Zoë or Sophie (both of which are perfectly nice names; neither of which is my own). As for "van" - well, I guess it's just laziness. Who needs those extra syllables, anyway?

Line calls offer another departure from what you're used to when your only experience of tennis is on the television. Rather that shouting something approximating "Out!" or "Fault!" when the ball is over the line, you simply shout "No!". If there's any doubt over a whether a ball is good or not, you say "Yes" if it's good, and "No" if it's out.

If the first serve touches the net cord and still lands in the box, you will not hear the expected "Net!", "Let!" or "First serve", but instead: "Two!". "Two" is the tennis club shorthand (or should that be shortmouth...) for saying "let, first service" ( i.e. you still have *two* attempts at serving).

Another quirk is the "rough or smooth" débacle. When deciding who will serve, in the absence of a coin to toss, people spin their racket and shout "rough or smooth" to the opponent, who must then shout back one of these options. It took me a long time to work out what was meant by "rough or smooth". I eventually discovered that "rough" actually refers to the side of the racquet where the string knots are visible. Whichever side is uppermost when the racquet has finished spinning indicates who should win the "toss".

Having been a member of three different tennis clubs, I think I can say with some confidence that these terms are used consistently.

However, knowing the lingo is all well and good; unfortunately, though, it does not help one bit in improving my performance on the tennis court, which could at best be described as "erratic".

This post was brought to you from the comfort of my sofa and was made possible by my new wireless router. Yay!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I wish I'd thought of this 

As an enthusiast of graphical representations of things not normally represented graphically, I laughed like the proverbial drain at this and then became wistful because I hadn't thought of it first...

This one is probably my favourite so far.


Monday, August 21, 2006


On the surface, we couldn't be more different.

She, the "promotions girl"; me, the software engineer. She, the tanned blond with fake boobs and an enviable figure; me, the ghostly, pear-shaped brunette. She, the wearer of minimal, brash, unambiguous clothes; me, shrouded from head to toe (although the toes do come out to play in the summer...) in neutral tones.

But we all know that the surface does not tell the story. The affinity I feel comes from somewhere inside.

Her accent reminds me of "home", of the people I mixed with at school. Her humility, lack of confidence, emotional flakiness and self-deprecation are all behaviour traits I recognise. She has an ability to relate to people from a wide range of backgrounds (often an error, as inevitably in that environment you will be branded "two-faced" or "playing a game") as do I. Her (fatherless) upbringing and the "loss" of her mother, though due to completely different circumstances, have helped to crystallise my feelings of sisterhood. Like me, she is honest. Like me, this doesn't always help her. Like me, she often appears to be misunderstood.

She is at times silly, irrational, funny, ridiculous, kind, annoying, flirtatious, caring, impulsive, over-emotional, passionate, confused, calm, helpful. She is, in short, utterly human.

Sometimes, I became so incensed by the way others treated her that I was close to tears. The bare-faced lies, the pure venom, the cruelty and hatred all directed toward one person; I felt such an incredible sense of injustice that I almost left the room in disgust. I was staggered by my own reaction, as was Big.

But I identified with her so strongly that it was as if the venom I saw were directed at me.

If you've been watching (and I bet the majority of you haven't, or wouldn't admit to it if you have), you should know that I'm talking about Aisleyne, the second runner up in Big Brother 2006.

I imagine that many of you are mentally pouring scorn on me for watching the programme in the first place, but I truly feel that it is both an interesting social experiment and an insight into human behaviour. As a self-confessed people watcher, it has a unique appeal to me.

Yes, the subjects of the experiment are often fame-hungry wannabes, but whatever you say about them, they are real human beings, members of our society. I would much rather watch real people, warts, tantrums, fake boobs and all, than fictional, formulaic caricatures in elaborate drama series and soap operas.

Never before have I identified with someone on a television screen to that extent. I laughed with her and cried with her. If that makes me sad, I am guilty as charged.

Now that it's all over, I just need to work out what I'm going to do with my new-found evenings.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


"03:10!" blurted the harsh, green LED of Big's clock radio directly into my blinking eyes, adding to the discomfort and bewilderment which tends to accompany an unscheduled awakening. I frowned, although there seemed little point in doing so - a frown being best used to attract sympathy from onlookers, of which there were none. Big was fast asleep, breathing steadily, unconsciously taunting my state of insomnia by his mere presence. The herring gulls had not yet started their early morning chatter and the busy road, which from the front bedroom (our temporary residence, whilst the back bedroom is being decorated) usually provides a low, background roar, was eerily silent. I was alone, resentful, with my wakefulness.

At this point in time, I knew I was awake, but I didn't know why, so I settled back down into my customary sleeping position (on my side, hands between the two pillows, upper leg bent and drawn up over lower leg, facing unromantically away from Big) in the hope that the awaited waves of sleep would lap up onto the shore of my mind and sweep me away again...

... they didn't.

It was no good, I would have to drag myself out of bed to try the "classic" toilet trick. Often, that's what my body is trying to tell me when it wakes me up at such an ungodly hour. Afterwards, I clambered back into bed and assumed the position as before but soon discovered that no, answering an assumed call of nature had not alleviated the problem.

Finally, as the stillness and silence allowed the cogs in my brain to begin to engage and turn, as the connection between mind and body was established, I realised what it was - the discomfort, the irritation, the annoyance.

I had an itchy finger.

Yes, as unglamourous and pathetic as it may sound, my finger was itching so much that it had woken me up.

The compulsion to rip my own skin to shreds using my bare fingernails was almost overwhelming, but ever sensible, I removed the ring which was presumably causing the irritation (although I'd been wearing it for months with no problems) and took an anti-histamine as it seemed like an appropriate action to take. After this, I was finally able to drift back to sleep, almost as if my acknowledgement of the problem was enough to allow my mind to rest once more.

This did not prevent me from sulking later that morning when the "official" alarm sounded at 7am. An interrupted sleep does not set me up well for the day.

Later, at work, after my customary lunch of roll and salad, creature of habit that I am, I felt an irritation in my throat, as if there were something stuck back there, something scratchy. Try as I might to dislodge it by making a series of revolting throat-clearing noises (in the privacy of my car), it wouldn't clear.

I inspected my throat in the mirror and discovered the source of the irritation. A tiny shard of lettuce (du genre "frisée") had managed to lodge itself into my left tonsil. Too far back for manual dislodgement due to the risk of gagging, I wondered whether it would stay there forever, causing a nasty infection and providing me with some much-wanted time off work. Far be it from me to be melodramatic about such a thing. I tried sucking numerous sweets and lozenges and munched on my desk-based supply of mixed fruit and seeds, hoping that they would carry off the foreign body on their way past my tonsils. No such luck.

Finally, when I got home, a swift gargle with a TCP solution managed to free me from the evil clutches of the frisée.

All in all, for curious and pathetic afflictions, 'twas indeed a good day...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

What do you do... 

... if your neighbour gives you a bucket of apples from their tree?

You make one of these, that's what.

It took me a good few hours to make, not least because it requires two separate stovetop sessions, two separate blasts of the oven (one of the pastry case on its own, one of the finished tart) and a final stint under the grill. Plus, I made the pastry from scratch. Recipe here.

It's a wee bit *ahem* over-caramelised (i.e. burnt). We have a fan oven, so you know you have to adjust the temperature/timings, though you're never quite sure by how much. Overall, though, I was delighted with the finished product. The pastry was extremely short, rich and buttery (very hard to transfer from worktop to tin, though, as it has a tendency to fall apart). The apples were sweet and spiced. The effort was definitely worth it.

I've never thought of baking as my forte, it being a science whereas I see myself as more of an "artist" in the kitchen (gosh, that sounds pretentious... ah well), but I think I should venture out of my comfort zone more often.

So, six apples gone - several more to go. I feel a crumble coming on...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Bad behaviour 

The weekend didn't start well.

My regular Saturday morning run was hampered by my running pants deciding that sitting neatly around my waist was far too conservative and conformist for their liking, so they eschewed this idea in favour of sliding in a Southerly direction and attempting to reveal more than I was comfortable in revealing on a Saturday morning in broad daylight. Their behaviour wasn't entirely unprompted. As some winters bring "the wrong kind of snow" to scupper any thoughts of travelling by train, I had worn "the wrong kind of knickers" and scuppered any thoughts of running. The kind which are smooth and silky to touch, shrugging off any other fabric with which they may come into contact.

Additionally, I'd decided to try out my new running "pack". Normally, I wear my neoprene "sporran" (as I call it), a little bum bag which hugs my hips and holds on to my phone, keys, jelly babies and "emergency" fiver. I now discover, through not wearing it and trying out my new armband pack, that it also held onto one other vital thing: my trousers.

After a couple of minutes of repeatedly dragging the waistband back to its customary, if rather conventional, position, I decided that enough was enough and I aborted my run. You see, when running, you need your clothing to jolly well behave. Any clothing annoyances (an itchy label, bra strap digging in) will be multiplied several-fold by sheer repetition of movement and could cause what every runner dreads: chafing.

It was not only my attire which conspired against me during Saturday's run. After three and a half years of trouble-free bouncing, my boobs decided to make their presence felt on every footfall. A tenderness and discomfort, to which I am not at all accustomed. This is extremely out of character. My boobs are normally very well behaved. They are one of the parts of my body which I don't fully detest. They are a little on the small side, but my French ex had a nice way of putting it: "ça tient dans la main" (it fits in your hand). Admittedly, he had big hands and, in his case, the big hands were reflected in *ahem* other ways. Yep, he had huge gloves. I digress. In short, my boobs are not too big for strenuous physical activity and not too small to fill clothes nicely.

I'm not sure what prompted their little tantrum yesterday, but this evening I gave them a chance to redeem themselves. I strapped them down with my most scaffold-like sports bra, grabbed my drawstring capri pants, just in case, and set off for a six miler.

They all behaved impeccably.

Friday, August 11, 2006

And on a more cheerful note... 

1 year
2 years
3 years today

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


I miss my London.

Of course I don't miss the craziness, the too-many-people-ness, the noise, the pollution and the juxtaposition of abject poverty and obscene, vulgar materialism. I *do* miss the diversity, the culture and the cosmopolitanism, of course, but the overriding wistfulness comes from the fact that I know I can't ever go back to live in my home town and I feel childishly deprived of something I'm not sure I even want. By stepping onto the property ladder outside of London, and downshifting even from there, I have essentially burned my bridge, the bridge which would carry me home.

I write "home" with a sense of nostalgia, a gulp in my throat and a tear in my eye, but I'm not sure that London is somewhere I can call my home any more. It has moved on with its Oyster cards, Congestion Charges and astronomical property prices (even Hoxton is trendy now) and left me behind in my silly little town in Somerset which doesn't feel like my home either.

Besides, who am I trying to kid? I talk about craving city life, when the reality is that, certainly after dark, I am scared shitless in town and city centres. Ask Big - he's the one whose hands are misshapen from the ever-tightening grip of my hand as we negotiate a path through the meandering drunken people of the urban centres of this country, polluting our streets with their pools of vomit and urine and their slurred bellowing. Sometimes, I just hate people and would rather I lived somewhere far, far away where I am not required to deal with them. Equally, the idea of living in a remote, rural location holds a whole new set of fears and, due to Big's public transport requirements, would probably be out of the question.

Which leads to the quandary I've been struggling with for some time: "Where is home?"

Obviously, Big encompasses in human format much of what I think of as home. But, though it seems disloyal to be saying this, I am reluctant to pin all my hopes and place all my reliance on one person in one place, having had that trust dashed to the floor on too many previous occasions. I've concluded before on this very blog that home, for me, is where my people are. Big, my friends, my family: my people - all of them. It took my moving at least a 2 hour drive away from many of them to realise that, but what is life if we can't learn from our experiences and move on to the next stage with a little more knowledge to inform our future decisions?

The problem arises when you realise that people are mobile and, as we begin to plan our move back in an Easterly direction, we find that sometimes, circumstances can interfere with the best-laid plans. Some of my favouritest people in the world, at [insert old company name], are likely to lose their jobs over the next year. "Outsourcing" and "India" are probably all I need to add for you to get the gist. Already, some of them are making like rats and leaving the sinking ship. Logic tells me that there are probably not enough jobs of a specific type in Southampton to accommodate the hordes of newly-unemployed highly-specialised IT professionals who were my colleagues not so long ago.

So it might just be that, by the time Big and I have moved back towards the South coast, they will have dispersed. Some have family ties, others have properties and newly laid down roots. I am hopeful that some will stick around. But they will not do so for my benefit and indeed why should they?

Why must I base my happiness on the presence or otherwise of other people? Shouldn't it be possible for me to reach inside myself and find happiness there?

I suppose what I'm trying to say in my rather jumbled and shapeless way is: when, where will I find my home?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Picture quiz II - the sequel 

Which of these peppers was grown by our own, fair hands:

(Hmmm, I wonder... it's *so* cute, though!)

Friday, August 04, 2006

Linguistic observations 

Some people (including me) tend to say: "I haven't..." - e.g. "I haven't seen that film" while others say: "I've not..." - e.g. "I've not seen that film". Similarly, "He hasn't been round here" versus "He's not been round here". Same words, different method of abbreviation. Which one do you use, if any? What is it that makes some people use the former, whilst others use the latter?

I wondered whether it was a North/South (UK) dialect thing. A bit like the "I was sat..." vs "I was sitting..." debate which I believe I've raised here before. You see, I would *never* say "I was sat..."; It sounds wrong to me, but everyone seems to say it these days, along with "I was stood...". I'd always assumed it was Northern dialect until my own sister started saying it. She's about as Northern as a jellied eel washed down with pie'n'mash, all the while wearing a pearly queen outfit. I guess it's a sign that language is continually evolving, and that it always has. As we become more mobile within our own countries (not to mention the so-called global community), expressions and ways of speaking will be shared and adopted, becoming less localised.

Which leads me onto a few things which have been concerning me - as if I don't have enough on my proverbial plate (which is, to be fair, more of a smörgåsbord of anxieties). I've always thought of "than" as a pretty handy word, allowing as it does various comparisons along the lines of: "I am a less popular blogger than x", "y has a better job than me", "I am considerably fatter than z" - all phrases which come quite naturally to the status-anxious among us.

Recently, I have noticed people increasingly using "then" instead of "than" in written English. Now, it may just be that I do too much of my reading in Blogland and should go and read something more intellectual (which is not to say that there are no intellectual blogs out there; far from it), but I've seen it enough to wonder whether people have become allergic to (or at least intolerant of) the "a" in this word? Can people really think that "then" is the appropriate word to use in this context? Maybe they are not thinking at all... But should we worry that it is being "published" that way, all over the internet, as if it were correct? Will others read it and start to think that they have been getting it wrong all these years?

Another example is the word lose, which I nearly always see in various fonts on computer screens as "loose". Lose is the verb, loose is the adjective. You do not "loose" weight; you lose weight. And then your trousers become too loose, you see.

In UK English, the word for that metal cylinder thingy with wings which transports you around in the air is an aeroplane. But has anyone noticed that even in the "mainstream" media, it is starting to be replaced by airplane?

This inevitably raises the question (and I can almost hear it brewing in your mind, reader): why on earth do I care?

I have come to realise that the reason I care about language is because I am a linguist. And one day soon, if I keep plugging away at it, caring about language in the comfort of my own home will become my profession, rather than just my hobby.

And if you'll excuse me, I just need to go and order some more hours, because there currently aren't enough in the day.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Picture quiz 

Which two blogs does this picture represent?