Monday, 20 December 2010

Jingle Bell Shop

Christmas is almost upon us. Five days to go and counting. I admit I am feeling not only decidedly festive, but also particularly smug. You see, I managed to get all of my Christmas shopping done over a week ago, bar a couple of last minute stocking fillers I picked up on Friday. And, lo and behold, it was a relatively stress-free experience. Relatively.
Okay, so I cheated a bit and did a lot of my shopping online. Of course this strategy has backfired somewhat. My last order from Amazon was placed over a week ago and I have three parcels that have yet to arrive, despite being dispatched at the beginning of last week. I wait for the postman to arrive with baited breath, praying that they turn up before I begin my pilgrimage Up North on the 23rd. Amazon assure me they are trying to get everyone’s orders to them before Christmas, but this does not relieve my anxiety, having previous experience of our local Royal Mail depot. Mmm.
Much more trustworthy, if a little time consuming, were the presents I made myself. I like to think my handicrafts will be received well. Last year my draught excluders seemed to be a hit, especially with my friend who ordered another one for her mother in law this year. I’m already thinking what I can make next year – especially as there is a chance I will be on the dole and money saving enterprises will be much more of a necessity. May be I could set up my own cottage industry to help ease the financial burden?
The weekend before last I did a double whammy. On Saturday I headed over to Greenwich Market for a couple of bits for my sister and cousin (I can’t say what in case they read this before the big day!) and picked up a few stocking fillers for my parents, too. On Sunday I ended up on Oxford Street , despite vowing that I would avoid it this year. My mum decided she wanted to see the Christmas lights in the West End and, in fairness, it wasn’t too hectic. We arrived nice and early, and although it did get a bit busy after lunch, we managed to get around all the shops what we wanted. Thank goodness for the huge Marks and Spencer’s at Marble Arch, that’s all I can say.
So, with a trip down Upper Street earlier this month getting me off the starting blocks and a last minute flurry in Oxfam seeing the last fair trade item ticked of my Christmas shopping list with a week to go, I think I did quite well. I now have a pile of parcels waiting to be carted off in a suitably large suitcase, minus a couple of packages I put in the post, which set me back almost as much as the cost of the gifts inside. And I have managed to spread the cost quite nicely over a couple of credit card bills (phew).
So yes, I am quite proud of myself. I just hope that I have hit the mark with the various gifts I have rustled up for my friends and family. Now all I have to do is wait and see what Santa brings me.
Merry Christmas!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Food for Thought

Today, I have no appetite. A rare state of affairs, but I appear to have picked up some kind of seasonal bug that has put me off my food. I have managed some Lucozade, two digestives and a couple of Pringles, but have yet to build myself up to a couple of slices of toast.
Although feeling all achy and feverish isn’t much fun, not eating much probably won’t do me any harm. You see it has been a rather foodie (and therefore calorie-ridden) kind of a week. From bargain basement noodles to a Ramsay recommendation, London has, as always, been able to offer me a range of culinary delights to suit any budget.
Soho can be a bit hit and miss when it comes to good nosh at a reasonable price, but I went to one of my favourite cheap and cheerful noodle bars on Thursday, Mr Taro’s on Old Compton Street. I had my usual Ramen, a huge bowl of noodle soup that has never failed to satisfy my hunger, and a cup of cleansing green tea. At just under £8 for the seafood option (chicken is about £7), you can’t go wrong. My veggie friend went for the meat free Bento Box, which at £12 looked to be enough food to keep you going for an entire week. For £3 we could have indulged in one of their unusual flavours of ice cream (ginger was particularly tempting) but didn’t quite have room. Darn it.
On Friday I went out to quite a different eatery, Fino’s on Charlotte Street. It took my fancy after seeing in on Gordo’s Best Restaurant, so Him Indoors treated me for a belated birthday present. It was pretty smart to say the least, but I have to say I would expect nothing less for that price! Don’t get me wrong, the food was lovely but the small plates were very small. We came to the conclusion that it was definitely only for special occasions and was probably a good 10-15% over-priced. Having said that our waitress was incredibly knowledgeable and personable, but the food was very slow to come out. However, the extensive cocktail menu (try the Dark and Stormy), cava by the glass (oh, go on then) and a range of Spanish wine and sherry kept us well lubricated. Food-wise, the squid with pancetta, chorizo and potato chips and black pudding tortilla were particularly nice, and the Turron (nougat) rounded off my meal nicely, washed down with a rather lovely dessert wine.
One of my mates from Derbyshire commented on London’s range of eateries when he came down last month. It is true, we are spoilt for choice down here, but, be warned, when you are in Central London a lot of places cash in on their location and over-charge tourists for sub-standard food. But you could do a lot worse than the above.
Bon Appétit.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Holidays are coming...

Today, it is my sister’s Birthday. Happy Birthday Big Sis! This is good, not just for my sister who gets to open lots of pressies and eat lots of yummy food. But it is good for the rest of my family too. Why? Because, my dear friends, in our household my sister’s birthday marks the beginning of the official Christmas Countdown. Never mind the opening of the first window on your Advent Calendar. As from today, I have permission to get festive.
I admit, however, that I have been getting into the Yuletide mood for a few days now. I think it all started when I realised I had finished all my college coursework and made a real start on my Christmas shopping (thank Santa for Amazon). Okay, so I still have quite a few bits to get, but I reckon another online flurry and a trip to Oxford Street (an inevitable evil made a lot more bearable because I will be going with Mama Berry) and I will have got my St Nicholas act under control and can, well, enjoy it.
Let’s face it, the snow has helped. Yes, it has been very unhelpful in general, but nothing says Christmas like a sprinkling of the white stuff and getting cosy with a mug of hot chocolate in your pyjamas. Then, on Saturday, Him Indoors took me to the Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. Think a German market with plenty of Bratwurst, mulled wine, ice skating and a fun fair with a couple of pop-up Bavarian pubs thrown in for good measure. A perfect family day out for all, surely? Hell, I could have easily spent the day there despite the cold – shopping, fun, food and drink, all in the same place.
Then, yesterday, I was listening to the radio whilst catching up on my housework in a bid to clear the way for the Christmas decs when it happened: The First Christmas Song of the Year. Okay, so the shops have been playing various versions of Jingle Bells for weeks already, but the radio? A clear indicator that it is time to get Merry. Oh ho ho!
So I might have had my first Gingerbread Latte of the season a fortnight ago, and I admit that I started drinking mulled wine on my birthday last month. But, today it is official.
Bring on the Mince Pies.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Excess Baggage

So, it’s Monday night and I’ve just over indulged on homemade stew, Frazzles, Milka and a rather lovely Californian Red. I am feeling bloated. Even though I have a stinking cold as an excuse, I am well overdue a trip to the gym. And my jeans are starting to notice.
So, tomorrow, my friends, I will go to Body Balance. At seven. In the morning. Yes, you read that right. Extreme though it may sound, it acts as quite a nice start to the second day of a working week five days too long. Yes, it needs to be done.
There is only one small problem, aside from crawling out of bed hours before your average milkman. My bags. No, not even the ones under my eyes. You see, after a morning session at the gym, I have to carry my gym kit around with me for the rest of the day, along with my laptop and day-to-day work bag, filled to the brim with diary, note book, a small selection from Boots the chemists and my latest book club challenge to name but a few.
In normal circumstances this wouldn’t be too much of a problem. On most Tuesdays I head to the office and dump my smelly trainers and make up selection under my desk, but tomorrow I have a meeting at another office, followed by two others in swift succession. Which means my pongy footwear will literally be following me around all day. Niiice.
Of course, if I had a car, this wouldn’t be a problem. I would just throw the offending article into the boot and fumigate with Febreeze on my return home. But, being a Londoner, I don’t have that luxury. I just hope that the smell doesn’t permeate through the lining on my Roxy rucksack.
Then, of course, I have to explain my appearance to everyone, which quite honestly rivals that of your average bag lady. No, I don’t want to sleep in your doorway, I just want to attend the meeting on the second floor please. Embarrassing doesn’t even come close, especially as I try to squeeze my cargo onto an overcrowded rush hour tube.
But, you know what? I’m past caring. So what if my spine is completely misaligned after a day of lugging my life around with me all day? Who cares if I get a few dirty looks on the tube? I am a woman on the go and I don’t have time to worry about people’s reaction when I fall over my cotton carrier bag as I disembark off the escalator at Kings Cross on my way to another Pilates class. At the end of the day, I have a job to do, a social life to keep and a body to work out, and not a lot of time to do it all in. So if you don’t like it I suggest you hire me a limo and get out of my way before I accidentally take you out with an innocent swing of my laptop case.
You have been warned.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Artistic Licence

I like art. Always have. Even studied it at university and still occasionally dust off my easel and dig out my old paint brushes.
I like going to exhibitions too. The only problem with London is that there are so many to choose from, and so little time. I usually end up just going to shows by artists I already know and like or to my favourite annual competitions. Not that I quite understand how art can be judged so objectively.
Despite my reservations on such matters, on Friday I took my yearly pilgrimage to the Turner Prize. What I like about the Turner Prize is that it acts as a barometer of what is hot and what is not in the world of contemporary art. And, every now and then, you discover a new artist you really love.
Alas, this was not one of those years. Okay, I had a definite favourite, but I still can’t help but feel a little bit cheated. Okay, so there were a couple of artists who had applied paint to canvas and presented it in two very different ways. And, yes, the film art was very interesting, but I didn’t really have 387 minutes to watch it all, and, if I’m honest, I don’t really see how re-working an entire series of a documentary on Greek history is, well, art. The final exhibit didn’t even have a visual component to it. Interestingly enough, this was my favourite. A fact which, in itself, speaks volumes.
The problem is I think artists, like a lot of people, have started to lose a bit of perspective. For me, art is there to evoke emotion and challenge my understanding of the world. This year, only one of the artists managed to do this, end even they fell into that all too familiar trap. Yes, I am all for pushing boundaries, trying new things and moving into the unknown. But at the expense of real substance and meaning? I don’t think so.
Okay, so maybe I have missed the point. In fact, I’m sure I probably have. Its ten years since I graduated and last really looked at art with a finely tuned critical eye. Having said that, I still can’t help but think that progress and innovation has got in the way of what is really important.
So, if you happen to be wandering along Millbank and have a spare £8 in your pocket (yes, really!), take a look. And let me know what you think. Feel free to educate me. Like I say, I have an open mind about these things. However, I think you will see what I mean.

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Big Issue

This is going to sound really harsh. But please bear with me. The thing is, I have a really big problem. With big people. Fat people, to be precise. Hang on, before you turn off your laptop in disgust, let me clarify. It’s not with fat people themselves, but with how people react to the tubby underground.
I have been there, you see. Overweight. Obese, even, in my younger years. It wasn’t much fun. Yes, it was my own fault. I ate too much, and, abracadabra, a moment on the lips became a lifetime on the hips. Until I got my head together and started eating what my body needed rather than pigging out at every given opportunity.
The thing is, a lot of fat people eat to comfort themselves. Some people smoke, some people drink, some people inject heroin into their veins. Some people reach for food. The difference is, you can’t hide food like you can a lot of other things. A Mars Bar too many a day has a very noticeable, visual impact, in the way that a lot of vices do not.
Okay, so your average crack addict might be easy to spot for most of us, and no-one likes sharing a lift with someone who has just smoked a packet of Camels or downed a bottle of Jonny Walker. But, generally speaking, they are left alone. No one would dare openly criticise someone with a proper addiction, would they? It’s an illness, surely?
However, when it comes to fat people, things are very different. Being overweight is associated with being greedy, lazy, “letting yourself go” even. The NHS cries about the impact obesity has on its overstretched resources on a weekly basis, failing to mention that vast amounts that has been spent for years on other unhealthy lifestyle choices. Then there is the media. Daytime television is crammed with stories of fat people desperate to turn their lives around, and Z list celebrities happy to help them on their way to a place in our slim society.
It’s not that I think it is wrong to help people lead a healthier life. But I think we have got to the point where those above a healthy BMI weight are ridiculed for their weakness. “Slovenly”, “heaving”, “gut-busting” are all words that are often used to describe those of us who are above your average weight. Experts are sent in to help them mend their ways on prime time television. As for drinkers and smokers? No-where to be seen.
Several weeks ago I was listening to the radio when a DJ was talking about the “obesity epidemic”. His solution was to have fat people followed by a version of Mr Blobby making disgusting squelching noises 24 hours a day. Apparently this was very funny, in a way that having an alcoholic followed around by the glugging sound of wine being poured from a bottle is not.
So, what does this teach us as we sit in front of our televisions, deliberating over which vice we should turn to in our hour of need? Do we choose fags, which make our clothes stink and will no doubt lead to lung cancer when we get older? Booze, which will make our nose go red and bulbous before our liver packs up? Either will do, because, at the end of the day, they are addictions. They are taken seriously. Users receive sympathy, not ridicule. But, food? A big bag of Kettle Chips and a slab of cake? Don’t even go there. Yes, there are health problems attached to all of the above, but worse still is the mocking of the media that your lack of control, your sloth, your greed, that eating too much will be sure to provoke.
You have been warned.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Strike it Unlucky

Tonight I am feeling a little bit apprehensive. You see, tomorrow is college day. In Clapham. Do I have an exam in the morning? No. Do I have an assignment to hand in? Not this week. So, what is the problem? You may ask. The problem, my reader, is getting there.
Okay, so I don’t anticipate having any problem getting south of the river tomorrow. But after last week, I am worried about having flash backs. Those of you who have been asleep for the last month or maybe don’t live in London may not have been aware that there was a tube strike last week. The RMT took a stand against job cuts, which could potentially leave some stations unmanned. I can see their point. I have visions of anarchic tube stations at night, people left to fend for themselves against feral hoodies as they wait for the last tube home. I have nightmares of having my Oyster card pick pocketed and being left stranded at the other side of the barrier, praying for someone to appear in that all too familiar yellow jacket to save me from a life wandering around London’s underworld.
Okay, so I’m exaggerating, but you get my point.
There have been tube strikes before. But, to be honest, they’ve never really bothered me. You see, I walk to work and am relatively central to most meetings I have to attend for my job. But travelling further than a short bus ride away? Never had to do it in these circumstances before.
I admit it, I was naive. A colleague told me the Northern Line was usually okay during strikes. I had a contingency plan: Get the train to Gospel Oak, then to Willesden Junction, then to Clapham Junction. A bit around the houses, but it would get me there.
However, I made a mistake last Wednesday morning. I listened to the radio. A good service is running on the Northern Line, it reported. Oh goody, I thought. So I headed to the tube station. As I travelled down the escalator, a lot of people stood opposite me on their way out. Certainly more than usual. My heart sank.
On the platform, the countdown clock confirmed my fears. Eight minutes until the next train. I waited for eight minutes, watching the platform become more and more crowded. The train finally arrived, packed tighter than grapes in a carton of Welch’s. It pulled away without me. I looked at the countdown clock again. Thirteen minutes to go. This clearly wasn’t going to happen.
I gave up. Back in the fresh air, I headed to the bus stop and got on the first bus headed south that I could squeeze on to. After a quick calculation, I figured I could change at Oxford Circus for the 88. Happy days.
Unfortunately, the rest of London had the same idea and had taken to the road. It took me an hour to get to Kings Cross. I started to panic. For a moment I contemplated jumping off the bus and trying to catch a train. In my heart, I know this was a bad idea. The chance of me getting on a train from Kings Cross headed south via the City? Pretty slim. So, I stuck it out.
To cut a (very) long story short, it took me three hours to get to Clapham. Three. Hours. Stressed doesn’t even come close. When I finally arrived, someone asked me if I had got the train. With great self restraint I didn’t kill him. However the banshee in me leapt out and he scuttled away for cover.
So, what is the moral of the story here? Well, for one, do not underestimate the power of a tube strike. It is frightening how much we rely on public transport, and how we suffer without them. Secondly, have a plan B, C and D on how to get to your destination. Thirdly, don’t listen to travel advice. Tfl tried desperately to minimise the destruction the strike caused on local media. In short, they lied.
And, finally, fourth. Just stay at home. The rush hour is soul destroying enough at the best of times. But during a tube strike? Don’t do it to yourselves unless you really have to. Take the day off. Work from home. Whatever. But if you do venture out? Take a (small) book to read, walking shoes, a flask and some Kendal Mint cake. And give yourself three times as long as normal to get where you need to go.
You have been warned.

Monday, 1 November 2010

The American Dream

It’s official. I am a 49ers fan. Okay, so I might not know who their quarterback is or know why they are called that (something to do with San Francisco being founded by Miners?) but I don’t care. Because, you see, yesterday I went to Wembley to see them play the Denver Broncos. It was the second American Football game I have ever watched, and as my American friend who was also there is a ‘Cisco girl, it was a no-brainer. Okay, so they might be at the bottom of their league but last night they won. And I was there to watch it.
Him Indoors is an American Football fan. I’m not sure why, being an English boy with a twist of Italian in him. He supports the New England Patriots, purely because of the “England” part (it was nearly the New York Giants for the same reason) and, given half the chance, will happily stay up all night to watch a game. So, for his birthday, I bought two tickets for the game. Well, I couldn’t let him go on his own, could I?
About a month ago, I began to receive emails telling me about the tailgate party before the game. A couple of weeks ago, I sat through my first ever game, recorded on Sky Plus and watched at a more sociable hour than the usual three in the morning. On the 19th October the tickets arrived. Yesterday, at Kings Cross Station, we started to spot supporters proudly displaying their team jerseys. The atmosphere on the train was jovial despite the array of teams represented. At the tailgate party, fans from all corners of the USA watched others practice their skills, check out the 49ers Hall of Fame, eat hotdogs and drink Coors Light. The atmosphere was not unlike that of a music festival. Even the high consumption of alcohol did not provoke any aggro. Queuing up to buy my 49ers t-shirt, I got into a conversation with a guy from California who was travelling around Europe. No agenda, just a bit of banter before the game. It was great. Relaxed. Fun.
After a few hours of partying, we headed into the stadium. Broncos and 49ers supporters sat side by side, cheering for their respective teams. On the screens at either end of the stadium we were asked to text any unruly behaviour to a special number. The cheerleaders entertained the crowd with their moves. A troupe of drummers got the crowd going in between quarters and music filled the stadium at every given opportunity. Flags were flown, chants were started and a Mexican Wave did four laps of the stadium.
Okay, so I admit, I did get a bit lost at times. Not only is my grasp of the rules a little shaky, but I kept getting distracted by the entertainment, which made figuring out who had the ball after the snap (see, I’ve picked up some of the lingo) with my dodgy eyesight a bit of a challenge. But it didn’t matter. The carnival atmosphere made up for any confusion. And the fact that the Niners won was the icing on the cake.
I recently asked a Nottingham Forest supporting friend to let me know if she ever had any spare tickets. You see, at the grand old age of 30, I decided it was about time I give a good old English football match a proper go. And, having grown up in Robin Hood country, it seemed like the obvious choice. But something tells me it won’t be the same. The Americans have got their game down to a fine art, balancing entertainment, good spirits and competition. I suspect they would put the average Premiership match to shame.
Tickets for next year’s game will no doubt go on sale early next year. I think I might just have to indulge. And even if the 49ers don’t come back to Wembley, I will wear my new t-shirt with pride.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

This Green and Pleasant Land

This weekend, I escaped from The Madness and headed up north to visit my cousin. The train journey did not disappoint (standing room only and sauna temperatures, all for the bargain price of £66). I arrived in rural Lancashire on Friday night after 3 hours of travelling, decidedly hot and bothered and in need of a drink. But it was a trip well worth enduring, and two days later I didn’t want to go back.
It was lovely to see my cousin and her family (one partner, one child, a dog, a guinea pig and two cats in total). We worked out that we hadn’t seen each other in three and a half years, and her ten year old son couldn’t even remember us. Not even the tickle sticks. I felt a pang of guilt that I hadn’t been back sooner and didn’t really have the space to invite the whole family down to London (my flat is not “Louie-Dog” friendly). However, a glass of red wine later and any awkward long-time-no-sees had been washed away.
Saturday was my kind of a day. A leisurely morning chatting over several cups of tea followed by a country walk to the pub for a pint and something to eat. My cousin leant me a more appropriate jacket (i.e. one that was waterproof) and we headed off over a field to the Strawbury Duck, chatting about what we had been up to and what we hoped for. The views of the hills, the reservoir, the fields and the telltale remnants of the Industrial Revolution in the distance warmed me, despite the chill. The pure air reminded me of the sacrifices I make living in the city, and I found myself voicing my dream of living by the sea and commenting on the idealness of their location for bringing up a child.
We got back several hours later, jolly despite the cold drizzle. My cousin got busy in the kitchen preparing food in honour of my aunt and uncle’s imminent arrival. I helped out, fuelled by margaritas (it was Mexican night, you see) and more stimulating conversation. Before dinner I chin-wagged with my aunt about Strictly Come Dancing and filled my uncle in on what exhibitions I had seen in the capital this year. Several plates of chilli and one too many Corona’s later, my cousin pulled out the evening’s entertainment – a balloon modelling kit. Several burst balloons and a few sausage dogs, swords and slightly ruder sculptures later, we were all hoarse from laughing.
Alas, the following day, after a bacon butty and biccies, it was time to go. I admit, when I said goodbye to my cousin I felt a lump in my throat. Partly because I was sad to say goodbye, partly because it had been such a fun weekend, and partly because I had to head back to London and return to work after a week away from the office. Despite my Sunday Blues, I knew one thing for sure. My need for green and calm had reared its’ cherub-like head once more.
I’ll be back.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Sweaty Betty ot Gym Bunny?

This morning I am sat on my sofa in my pyjamas, wrapped in my blanket with a cup of coffee, and I am feeling a little bit guilty. Why? Well, I usually get up and go to the gym on a Saturday morning, but I have managed to talk myself out of it. You see, I need to go and collect a parcel this morning, call my dad to wish him a happy birthday and speak to my cousin about our planned visit next weekend. Okay, so it is just gone nine am and I could quite easily fit these things in, but, well, I can’t be bothered. I’ll go tomorrow. Honest.
I’ve never been particularly sporty, but do try and look after myself. This year I’ve even started jogging, although I admit I haven’t donned my running shoes for a few weeks. There is an added bonus in taking part in these activities. The gym is a wonderful place to people watch and its’ etiquette is fascinating, as it is in the running world too. Although I don’t think I quite understand it.
First there’s the issue of clothing. Personally I have a selection of baggy jogging bottoms, most of which are too big for me, a couple of oversized scruffy hoodies and a handful of old t-shirts and vests which I have deemed unsuitable to everyday use but passable for strenuous activity. Earlier this year I spend quite a lot of money on some good running shoes, but often rock up to my classes in a pair of grey excuses to footwear I bought from a factory shop five years ago. I am unusual in this aspect. As I chug along on the cross trainer or get vibrated into oblivion on the power plate, I notice the garb worn by the gym bunnies. Although joggers and vests seem a popular choice among the other women, it seems that the gym is the place to show off your athletic physique. In fact, the tighter the better. Hair is immaculately tied back and trainers are sparkling. And they don’t look at all hot and bothered. For the men it is slightly different. Showing off your developed pecs is approved, but the more perspiration the better. It’s manly. Grr.
The thing is, when it comes to exercise, those who are seen to be taking it seriously are given priority when it comes to using space and equipment. A couple of weeks ago I had done all my resistance training bar the leg press (I think that is what it is called anyway – the one where you have to push the weight away with your legs). There was a male gym bunny using the said piece of equipment, and he had been for some time, hopping off it every few seconds to huff and puff for a bit before jumping back on again. During one of his breaks I asked if he had finished using it, hoping he would take the hint. But, alas, he shook his head, huffed a bit more then jumped back on. Giving up, I left him to it, only to see him graciously let a fellow manly bunny share his machine a moment later. Then there are those people who think nothing of spreading out their various weights and other implements of torture over the floor space, not even leaving a small corner for the rest of us to do a few sit ups.
I suspect the same goes for joggers too. My route takes me to the local park, but before I get there I have to clear some busy pedestrianised areas. This can be very hazardous, and a mere run turns into nothing short of an obstacle course, dodging around people who aren’t looking where they are going, jumping over discarded boxes, jolting to a halt as a cyclist cuts you up AGAIN. It is almost as though, as a jogger, I am invisible, and suspect that the general public don’t take my plight to keep going seriously in my oversized hoodie and baggy trousers. I see other joggers out there in full marathon garb, gliding effortlessly down the street, and doubt that they have the same problem. Mmm.
There is another fitness concept that I don’t get either; exercise classes that seem to have no point, other than to get all sweaty. Okay, so I get that you burn lots of calories and stay trim, but they are so BORING. I went to a “Roxy Snow” class this week, thinking it would be fun. Apparently it improves your skiing technique but is also great exercise. I have never skied in my life, but a friend suggested I try it out, so I did. Yes, I got sweaty, and no doubt burned a Mars bar or two, but pretending to snow board around some plastic cones and ice skate on some funny slidy discs just doesn’t do it for me. It felt silly, and, what’s more, stank of hardcore exercise dressed up as something “fun”. Now, my boxercise class, that’s fun – anger management and calorie burning in one 45 minute session. At least when I go for a jog I feel like I am achieving something and working towards a goal, and my body balance class has a relaxation element to it which I often need by a Thursday evening.
So, the question is, do I cave and revamp my gym look to fit in with the bunnies out there, or stick to my casual approach to exercise and accept that spending money on clothes so I look good whilst I get them all sweaty is all a bit of a waste of money? Well, I know one thing for sure. I might one day look the part, but will ever be an authentic gym bunny? I doubt it.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Faith, Hope and Emotional Blackmail

In the last couple of weeks, a few people have asked me how long have I lived in London. The answer surprises me. Over nine years. Coming up to a decade. Almost a third of my life, and my entire life post full-time education. An era. Wow.
These musings make me think of what I have achieved since moving to the capital. Although I have always worked in the public sector I am now on a decent wage, live in a decent flat, have savings (decent flat is unfortunately not my own, hence need to save monstrous amount of money for a deposit) and have almost paid off my student loan. Hell, I am almost grown up. About 18 months ago I set up a plan to pay off my debts and start saving, and I am really starting to see the results when I dare to look at my bank statements.
What I am also proud of is my support of charities. I started off my career working for one and now donate money to three organisations on a monthly basis. Okay, so each one only receives a few pounds, but if I was to tot up how much I had given over the last nine years or so... well, probably best I don’t or I’d cancel them all and demand that they pay for a very luxurious holiday for me somewhere hot.
Please don’t get me wrong – I don’t want a medal or anything, and I know that I am not alone in my monthly commitments. But I like to think I have done my bit to make the world a better place. I buy a poppy every year, wear my rainbow of ribbons with pride on the correlating date and buy a copy of the Big Issue once in a while. I’ve even been known to advise homeless people begging on the street where to go to get the help they need.
My problem, though, is the phone calls I get from the charities I donate to on a relatively regular basis, asking me if I have lost someone to cancer, if I’ve heard about the latest natural disaster, or do I want to help fight for the life of the most recent political prisoner. Of course the answer to all these questions is yes, but at the end of the day I have already pledged my support and can’t really afford to give anything else.
The thing that really bugs me, however, is that the people who phone or write to you have already got you sussed out. They know you care, otherwise you wouldn’t have already signed up. And they know you are generous, as you haven’t cancelled the direct debit which has been flying out of your bank account before the money really has chance to register itself as your own. So they pull at your heart strings. They plead with you. They remind you what that extra pound would mean to others, and what little it means to yourself. They make you feel guilty.
This is what I hate. At the end of the day, you are an easy target, so they milk you, knowing you are more likely to cave in than some hard nut who has never given to charity in their life. In all honesty, I find this quite exploitative. They have my contact details, they know I support them, so they get some ex-salesperson to call me and bombard me with shocking news and statistics that will morally outrage me enough to make me hand over more of my cash.
So, why do I mention this now? Well, last weekend I received one phone call and two letters asking for more money. Yes, within the space of 72 hours. I was quite peeved.
And, let’s face it, a blog about giving to charity in London would not be complete without a mention of those lovely touts on the street who will try every method known to man to get you to sign on the dotted line; flattery, humour, stalking, emotional blackmail. I’ll ever forget the man who tried to stop me in the street whom, after I shook my head politely as I walked passed him, shouted after me, “Don’t you have just one minute for the children?”
Yes, I do have a minute for the children. But I don’t have the resources to help everyone. Maybe when my financial situation has steadied itself I will pledge more money to the charities I support, or even a new one or two. But right now, I won’t. So please stop trying to make me feel bad about this and let me get on with my life without feeling guilty.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Pomp and Power

Yes, I know it’s been a while, but it’s been a busy week. What with writing club, book club, my first ever therapy session (no jokes please, it’s for my counselling course), hair cuts, osteopaths and learning about the rules of American Football in preparation for the Wembley match later this month (which I admit sent me to sleep), my feet haven’t touched the ground. And then my actual weekend was consumed by a lovely cold and a visit from my (lovely in a lovely way) parents.
We had planned it months in advance to fit into our busy schedules – sadly my mother has a more active social life than I do – and my mum had organised tickets for the theatre and I bought tickets for a tour of Parliament. All in all a pleasant weekend, although London’s failure to provide easy to use public transport for those of us with mobility problems posed a bit of a challenge at times. As Him Indoors pointed out, not a good indicator for how we will cope with the Paralympics in two years time. Mmm, could be interesting. The theatre was excellent too (Mousetrap – surprisingly comical with a modern feel for Agatha Christie). Even my dad didn’t seem too stressed by the hustle of the city.
What I found most thought provoking, however, was the tour of the Houses of Parliament. It was fascinating seeing in the flesh what you see on the telly all the time, and the bling in the House of Lords and the areas used by the monarch was awesome. The tour guide gave a potted history of British politics, refreshing my knowledge from my school days, and I couldn’t help but feel impressed at how far we have come, from Oliver Cromwell, to where we are today; a vote for all and the opportunity to sit in both the House of Lords and Commons to watch the action, as well as the right to turn up and demand to see your MP.
But then, on the other hand, we have the pomp and ceremony that still goes on today; the Queen reading a speech (to which she doesn’t even contribute) at the beginning of the season, the gold leaf that seems to cover half of the House of Lords, the hardback leather bound books that hold the minutes of every session in both the Commons and the Lords. The 92 seats in the House of Lords that are still inherited by those with the right name. The use of the word “aye” and the yellow line politicians stand behind when debating to prevent the crossing of swords. Something tells me that Cameron and Mr Miliband don’t walk around with such an impressive bladed article. The airport style security would surely pick it up.
But then I think I could deal with the pomp if the distribution of power was more fairly distributed. The guide touched on the likelihood of a referendum on political reform. Surely a must if everyone’s vote is to stand a chance of counting. The there’s the worrying statistics when it comes to class. The fact that the Prime Minister and his Deputy were educated at Eton says it all. I’m sure their expensive schooling has taught them a lot about the working classes, but I fail to see how they are going to fix our “Broken Britain” if they don’t listen to the voices of those who experience life without privilege.
The tour finished in Westminster Hall where our guide informed us the Pope addressed a crowd only a week ago. Him Indoors and I exchanged a look. We had been shopping in Seven Dials at the time and were both relieved to escape from the drone of helicopters above and hide in a basement restaurant. Having seen nothing on the news other than the Pontiff’s planned tour for the last two weeks, I couldn’t help but wince at the thought of how much money had been spent on a visit by a man who has a frightening amount of power. The power to make homosexuals ostracised. The power to stop a teenage girl have an abortion and live the rest of her life caring for a child that will always be an “accident” and fall into the benefits trap before they are old enough to vote. The power to stop people using condoms and unwillingly killing others by spreading a deadly virus. That’s a lot of power, and a lot of money to spend on someone who has reduced the circumstances of so many.
So, will we see an equal distribution of power as the current government gathers its pace? Or will we see those with power grow stronger and help their peers retain their privilege before dealing with the poorer masses? I know what my cynical side thinks, but, on reflection of how far politics has come over the years, I will try to stay hopeful. And thankful that my liberty has not been compromised by the beliefs of an old man who lives in Rome.

Monday, 20 September 2010

No Pain, No Fame

One of the benefits of living in London is that you are bound to spot a celebrity or two, whether it’s at a premiere in Leicester Square or whilst sipping a pint in the Hawley Arms. Or so I am told. You see, I’ve never really spotted a celebrity in London, partly because I have become exceedingly good at switching off from the rest of the general public when I am on my travels, and partly because I don’t read OK or pay much attention to Z list gossip. In fact, up until a couple of weeks ago, the best I could come up with was some indie kid from Fame Academy spotted on the escalator at Kings Cross.
However I recently met someone outside a court when a particularly prominent celeb was due to leave after yet another scrape with the law. The paparazzi were held at bay by a half a dozen cops, allowing a path between the court exit and the Said Celeb’s waiting car. It all seemed quite amicable. Until Said Celeb appeared.
Like I say, I don’t tend to go celeb spotting, so I wasn’t prepared for the behaviour of the paps. A pack of wolves is the closest I can get to describing them, interested in nothing but getting a photo of their prey. Never mind that this is a fellow human being. The notion of human compassion is clearly not one the average pap is particularly familiar with. When they started to climb onto his car I struggled to see these people as human at all.
I have told several people about this experience, and how shocking I found it. Most people shrug, and tell me that if you use the media to promote yourself then you have to expect it.
Really? I mean, if you are a performer, then surely it is inevitable that you will be seen in the public eye. And, unless you live like a hermit, of course you’re going to get snapped leaving pubs and clubs. What worries me, though, is how the media are so quick to jump on the mighty when they fall. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing people who have made something of themselves disgraced. Whether it’s being arrested, being sectioned or putting on weight, people suck it up with relish. You have to be thick skinned to be a success in this town, because as soon as cracks begin to show people will line up to watch your life come crashing down. As for those who try to break away from a harmful lifestyle, whether it’s using drugs or committing crime, I wish them luck, as there is always someone ready to pull them back down as soon as the going gets tough.
I am not religious in any shape or form, but I often quote a line from the bible that I actually agree with: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s quite straight forward really. Treat other people as you would like to be treated in their situation. With courtesy and respect. Not a lot to ask. Is it?

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Tube Boob

I love my flat. Not because it is particularly big or in a posh area, but because it is within walking distance from work. Admittedly, half an hours’ walking distance from work, but it gives me a chance to wake up and wind down on a daily basis. Something I would definitely miss if I had to catch the tube every day.
So, technically, the tube strike shouldn’t have affected me this week. Unfortunately this was not the case. I had a meeting planned for 9am on Tuesday in Camden Town. Not being used to a daily commute, the thought of catching a bendy bus during rush hour didn’t faze me. This was a big mistake. The first five buses to pass our bus stop didn’t even open their doors. The first one that did spewed out a handful of harassed commuters who were quickly replaced by the feisty among those of us stood at the bus stop. Luckily, a 253 finally stopped and opened its back doors. Determined not to miss my meeting, I got my elbows out and joined in the scrum. Amazingly I secured my place, albeit precariously close to the door, and hung on for dear life. Incredulously, at the next stop, I secured a seat. Result.
Throughout the rest of the day I managed to get a seat on every mode of transport I used. Okay, so when I jumped on the Northern line I had to jump straight off again after hearing an announcement that they were not stopping at Mornington Crescent, but the latest I was for any of my meetings that day was 15 minutes. Not bad.
However, the next day the tube was not so kind. Yes, the strike was over, but I had to travel across London, north to south, in order to arrive at Clapham for 9am. Again, my lack of recent experience travelling at rush hour hindered me. The first train to Morden was rammed to the rafters, so I jumped on the second train that pulled into Archway and changed at Camden. After running from one platform to the other, it would have been easier to wait at Archway and at least guarantee breathing space if nothing else. Needless to say I was 15 minutes late, decidedly hot and bothered and gasping for a little bit of personal space. Not a good first impression for your first day at college.
So, next week I shall be giving myself an extra half an hour to ensure that I arrive cool, calm and collected. I shall also be more mindful of any tube strikes that happen to lurk around any future corners. I’ll also be praying to anyone who listens that they don’t fall on a Wednesday and be looking very closely at commuting routes if I ever end up moving further away from the office. Let’s face it, the only mode of transport you can rely on in this town are your feet, and even they need servicing once in a while. A car is becoming more attractive every day...

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Don't Cry Over Spoilt Milk...

On Thursday I returned to London after a few days out of the capital. I admit I felt my anxiety rise as soon as our train pulled into Kings Cross. The hustle of the city was just a reminder that I was back home and soon to be back at work. It didn’t help when, the following morning, I realised that the pint of milk I had bought the following day was three days out of date. Foregoing cereal and settling for toast I later popped back to the shop I had purchased the white stuff from, expecting a straight exchange.
I took the offending item out of my bag and placed it on the counter. The shop assistant looked at me disapprovingly.
“What is the problem?”
“It’s out of date. And I only bought it yesterday.”
He finished serving another customer before turning back to me.
“When did you buy it?”
“About 3.30, I think.”
He shook his head. “You can’t have bought it from here. I re-stocked the milk before then.”
I looked at him incredulously. “But, I did. We caught a bus from Kings Cross at about three and came in here to buy milk.”
He shrugged. “You’ll have to come back after 6 to see the person who served you.”
Dumbstruck, I went off on my other errands, vowing I would not be patronising that shop again unless I was apologised to when I returned that evening. I popped back at about seven and spoke to the woman who had served us the day before. I explained my earlier conversation with her colleague.
“Did you buy it from this shop?”
“Did you take another pint when you came in earlier?”
“No, I was told to come back after six.”
She shrugged. “Just take another one.”
So I did. But I was not satisfied. What happened to “the customer is always right”? And apologising when you sell out of date produce? Apparently the customer is assumed to be pulling a fast one to get a free pint of milk. More than a little insulting, especially when it comes down to something of the value of 50p.
By Saturday, I was in a grim mood and decided I needed to chill. I arranged to meet a friend on the Southbank to go to the Tate Modern. The riverside was packed with tourists so I was relieved to get inside the gallery and wander around the impressive space and ever-changing collection. Feeling much better, I headed back to the Southbank with my friend to grab a bite to eat at the food market. Luckily it was late in the day and the bread and cake stall were selling off their produce BOGOF, so I headed home with two foccacias and a piece of banana bread for Him Indoors. Happy days.
Today I persuaded Him Indoors to go out for Sunday lunch to mark the end of my week of leisure. We headed to our local and tucked into roast chicken with all the trimmings. The staff were great, asking us if our food was okay and recommending desserts. Attentive, but not in your face. My faith began to return in London’s customer service and I headed home full of good grub and ready for an afternoon nap.
Tomorrow I have to go back to work and deal with the real world again. But at least I know that I can always escape from the grindstone if I need to.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Here Come The Girls

A few blogs ago, I vowed to be more girlie. Do proper girlie activities more often. I admit I haven’t been as prolific in my girliness as I seem to remember vowing at the time, but I think I’ve had quite a good go at it this week.
Earlier this week I told Him Indoors that I was in need of a girlie night in. He was permitted to be around, but had to accept that big bags of popcorn and chick flicks were the order of the day. To his credit, every week he has to put up with How to Look Good Naked and Ugly Betty, but I have movies I have recorded on Sky Plus over a year ago and never watched because he doesn’t fancy them. And, when he is out, I end up doing something much more sensible like housework or reading a good book whilst listening to loud music.
So, on Thursday night, I watched Along Came Polly. Not a cinematic classic, but cute and quirky and enough of a chick flick fix to keep me going for a couple of months.
But my girliness doesn’t stop there. This week, reader, I have been pampered too.
A few weeks ago whilst heading out for a very nutritious lunch at a milkshake bar with colleagues, I walked past a beauty salon and saw that they had a special offer: free manicure when you have a pedicure. Bearing in mind I have been promising myself a manicure every three months since my first professional one over a year ago, I decided that this was an opportunity I could not let slip through my uncared for fingers. So, last week I popped in to make an appointment. I asked the owner of Nu U therapies if she was still doing the promotion and she told me that it finished last week but offered it to me anyway. Rather delighted, I made an appointment for the next day.
I admit that I was a little apprehensive about my appointment, mainly because some beauty therapists can be a little cold, especially when dealing with someone whose beauty regime is a little, well, basic. But I needn’t have worried. Alison was absolutely lovely, not just because she is a polite and courteous type who didn’t make me feel awkward. I was with her for over two and a half hours, not because my feet resemble those of a hippopotamus, but because we were gassing about everything and anything, from my job, to her business, to travel, being tall and mobile phone deals. It was like having one of your chums do your nails and was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, with the added bonus that she happened to do a really good job. And, when I was finished, she refused to let me write the cheque in case I smudged my nails and instead asked me to drop it off the next day. I was gobsmacked. Someone in London was trusting me to pay her the next day. A rarity anywhere, but unheard of in London. As I walked home in my sandals, carefully avoiding letting my nails touch anything, I vowed that I would make sure all my North London friends and colleagues knew about the shop and that I will go back there myself next time I need my nails doing – and a good chin wag.
But my girliness did not stop there. On Friday I went to get my hair cut. I have started going to mp4 in Crouch End after getting a special offer through work and, although not quite as easy going as Alison, I am very impressed with my hair dresser Candice. She’s an ideas woman, and is always armed with pictures of what she has in mind. Last time I went she convinced me to go for a boho bob with a fringe and my first ever highlights. I’ve never had so many compliments about my hair. This time, however, along with offering me a variation on her last creation, she suggested we go shorter. Much shorter. Although tempted, we compromised on a slightly longer, feathery cut. I admit at first I wasn’t convinced, especially when she started putting lots of products in my hair and tried to tell me I should use mousse in my hair every day. But, two hair washes later and approval from Him Indoors and his parents (including his ex-model mother) I am quite pleased with my new cute crop. It is official. I have managed to find a hairdresser I really like. And trust.
So, a girlie week by anyone’s standards. And proof that you can find good, personalised services in London when you look for them. And people who trust you enough not to demand payment there and then, even if they hardly know you. Even more of a surprise than seeing that Jennifer Aniston can pull off a role other than Rachel from Friends. Honest.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Trains, More Trains and Automobiles

I want a car. I don’t need one, but I want one. In particular I want a Mini Cooper. A new one. I’ve wanted one for years, but when I saw on Facebook that one of my friends has one for sale I nearly caved. I have the money in my ISA for a deposit on a shoebox of a flat and for a moment, it nearly got spent on something quite frivolous.
You see, in London, you don’t really need a car. Driving to work in the city centre is a no-no, being even more stressful than a commute on the tube and several times more expensive. So when my friend who lives in Lincolnshire told me how she needs her car to live her life, I nearly laughed. Then I remembered my childhood in semi-rural Nottinghamshire, and sympathised.
Of course there are times when I would benefit from having car. Like when I need to go to the supermarket and have missed out on the delivery slots for the next day on The other situation is when we travel to visit family and friends out of London. I seem to have been doing this a lot lately, and have wondered, whilst perched on the luggage rack outside the toilet on the train headed north, whether it would work out cheaper to have an old banger for such situations. If I need to get up to Yorkshire to visit my sister at short notice, I am looking at £90 return, off peak. With no guarantee of a seat. Having said that, having a car in London, you would have to factor in the cost of the congestion charge and parking permits. Ouch.
The good thing about trains is that you don’t have to concentrate on the road. If you are lucky enough to have a seat you can sit back with a good book and a mini bottle of over-priced wine. However you always have to keep an eye on your luggage rather than slinging it in the boot and forgetting about it. I have recently been sent a handbag hook from that can be hung from any table and worked particularly well on a train, even though the table was quite thick and the train journey quite wobbly. I was able to sit back and enjoy the journey in the knowledge that my bag wasn’t getting stuck to a nasty piece of gum on the floor, or, worse still, sliding towards the other end of the carriage whenever the train tackled a slight tilt in the track. But that didn’t stop me from having to check my suitcase hadn’t been liberated every time the train stopped between London and my destination.
So, when I journey up north to see Him Indoor’s parents at the weekend, squeezed in between several oversized suitcases and several more sweaty bodies, I will probably regret not making a serious offer on that sliver, eight year old Mini with is currently going for £4,800 ono. But for now I will remind myself that it isn’t worth the road tax, the MOT’s, the hassle of having to put up with London’s crazy cabbies and boisterous buses. Or hope that my Facebook friend accepts my offer of £50 a month until I have paid off the national debt.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Cuisine Culture

Today, I am feeling a little bit lardy. I am sat on a train and have just scoffed a homemade chocolate and peanut butter chip (courtesy of friends in Canada) brownie washed down with a cup of coffee. This wouldn’t be so bad if I hadn’t spent the last few days taking advantage of London’s gastronomic delights – and the special offers that went with it.
On Thursday I met a friend after work in Trafalgar Square. We went to the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery and spent an hour musing over the shortlist and trying to avoid the loud guide who managed to take up half the gallery with his posse hanging off every pretentious word he said. Being very much of the opinion that you should make your own mind up about art, I managed to ignore his blah and enjoyed wondering what the story of each sitter was. I think that is what I love about portraits, the combination of art in its various guises and real people.
Afterwards we went to Strada. I had one of my wonderful vouchers so we enjoyed two main courses for a tenner. We skipped starters, ordered the cheapest bottle of rose they had and both devoured a humongous pizza, which together barely fit on the table. I didn’t feel too guilty – I had finished work early and enjoyed a stroll along the Thames beforehand, which must have made some impact on the damage. I hoped.
In Friday I had the day off and chilled out at home before heading off to the pub. Two pints and a couple of Jack Daniels and cokes later, there was only thing for it: chips. In fact, a chip butty. Followed by Doritos. Oops.
So, Saturday morning I got up and headed for the gym. Feeling quite smug, I felt guilt-free when I headed out with Him Indoors to South Kensington. We stopped off at the legendary Hummingbird Bakery where I enjoyed a chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting. Yum. We then pottered over to the Natural History Museum to see The Deep Exhibition. After looking at lots of weird and wonderful fish for an hour or so, Him Indoors was getting peckish. After a quick mooch down the High Street and Him Indoors licking the windows of the Lamborghini garage for half an hour, we headed to Carluccio’s for dinner. This time I had a voucher for a free bottle of wine and tucked into some olives and Focaccia bread before moving on to venison tortellini. Delish! Unfortunately they had run out of the special dessert, fig ice cream, so I ordered a Bicerin – thick Florentine hot chocolate served with espresso and milk to mix to your taste. A pudding in itself.
So, as I head down to Brighton for a couple of days of traditional seaside summer, I am bracing myself for chips on the beach, a 99 on the pier washed down with several pints of something refreshing.
I’ll see you in the gym on Tuesday night.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Spaced Out

I’m feeling a little bit delicate today. No, it’s not the summer flu, nor “that time of the month”. It’s a good old fashioned hangover. You see, yesterday, Him Indoors and I hosted our first barbeque, and being an afternoon affair I had my first beer at about 1pm. And didn’t stop drinking until the last guest left after 10pm.
However, this is not a confession of alcoholism. I am too far in denial for that – it was my reward for careful planning and food preparation. I’m not someone who can buy in a tub of coleslaw and a packet of burgers and call it a good job. Oh, no. I had to make my own burgers, kebabs and salads, and although I bought in plenty of beer, I insisted on making summer sangria (too good – hence the headache) and Pimms and lemonade with fresh fruit for that sophisticated touch.
Then there is the small problem of space. Being mere average earners in London means that we only have a one bed flat with a modest kitchen/living area and a roof terrace. I love my roof terrace, a rare find for a reasonably priced property in London, and of a decent size. But a lawned garden it aint. On Saturday Him Indoors spent a considerable amount of time deciding where to put the barbeque and chimnea to optimise space and minimise the risk of burning the entire building down. Then we had to figure out where to sit everyone. And what to seat them on. Tricky.
Having invited a group of friends who live outside of London, there was the added problem of overnight accommodation. After squeezing about eight of our friends on the floor of our living area after my thirtieth birthday party last year on various air beds, sofa beds and cushioned items, I was not too worried about this. Until one of my friends said she would come down on the Sunday as her back was not up to the student lifestyle anymore. I apologised for my lack of grown up facilities and offered my bed, mentally noting that even if I don’t mind slumming it after a few beers, maybe I should provide more conservative sleeping quarters now my friends and I are no longer twenty-somethings.
And finally, there is the storage of food (and beer) problem. By Sunday morning my fridge had become a complex 3D puzzle that only I was qualified to tackle and my bath was full of ice and vats of various alcoholic beverages. Mmm, maybe it’s time to invest in a decent sized fridge too.
However, despite these various obstacles, I think the day was a success. Everyone had something to sit on, nothing got burnt down and the food went down well without a hint of food poisoning. And my terrace looked lovely with its solar-powered lanterns and citronella candles. But maybe it’s time to find somewhere slightly bigger if I want to throw parties for my chums in the future. Let’s face it, none of us are getting any younger – my fuzzy brain is proof enough of that. Then there is the prospect of children being introduced into my social circle. Something tells me that suggesting putting all the kids in a tent outside might not go down too well. And that playing “I have never” may become inappropriate with under 18’s present.
Or maybe I should continue to pretend we are all just out of uni and top up everyone’s glasses before collapsing on the kitchen floor in a sleeping bad. I’ll drink to that.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Sick of Waiting

Okay, I know I have complained about the NHS on my blog before. I am also aware I have moaned about waiting too. But I’m afraid that once more the public health service in London has got me thinkingwell, what else am I going to do whilst sitting in a waiting room at the Whittington - AGAIN?
Let me summarise the situation. I am under investigation at the aforementioned hospital for a mystery stomach problem which saw me hospitalised earlier in the year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not begging for sympathy about my health... but I’m sure those of you who live in the capital will appreciate the struggles I face to get this problem sorted out.
Firstly, there is the amount of time you have to wait to get an appointment. Over a month ago my nurse requested an ultrasound scan. She gave me a form and instructed me to call the Imaging department at Dick’s to arrange an appointment. So I called them. No answer. I called them again. Still no answer. About nine attempts later someone picked up the phone.
You need to fax or bring the form in.” I was instructed before the line went dead.
Later the same day, not trusting the surly reception to respond to a fax with any urgency, I take the form there in person. I hand it over, a hopeful smile on my face.
When will I get an appointment?”
A stern look.We will call you.
A raised eyebrow. “In a couple of weeks.
“And when will I get an appointment.
A sigh. “In the next six weeks.
Needless to say six weeks have passed and I’ve heard diddly-squat from the said department. Mmm.
In the meantime I receive an automated voice message telling me I have an appointment at the hospital for a general check up. I eagerly rock up with Him Indoors in tow, bright and early. I give them my name and sit in the waiting room. And wait. And wait.
Forty-five minutes later a nurse emerges from the staffroom and clears her throat authoritatively. “Dr Wilson’s clinic is running an hour late. Anyone for Dr Wilson, our apologies, but the clinic is running late.”
Him Indoors and I exchange glances. Apparently it takes forty-five minutes for a hospital to figure out it is a little behind schedule, you see. Rolling my eyes I turn back to my Blackberry and email my (thankfully understanding) boss.
Half an hour later I approach the receptionist and apologetically ask her how much longer I will be waiting. She shakes her head. “I don’t know. The nurse has taken your notes in so I’m not sure where you are on the list.”
I concede defeat and return to my seat. Half an hour passes. I try again. She looks at her watch.Let me find out for you.
I return to my seat and watch as she retreats into the staffroom. A couple of minutes later she emerges and waves me over. “I’m sorry, the doctor has all the notes in the clinic and is with another patient. I can’t disturb him.
I nod and thank her for her efforts. Him Indoor looks at the clock. “I’m going to have to leave for work soon.He points out.Next time we should turn up two hours late and see how they like it.
The problem is it doesn’t work like that. When you arrive at the clinic, they note your arrival and pass your notes on to the nurse. If you show up late you might as well not even bother. Double standards? Never!
So, after two hours of waiting I finally got to see my doc. What does he do? Read my notes and decide to refer me to another department. Did I need to wait for two hours for that? I don’t think so. Surely he could have made the consultation over the phone, or is that a little bit too forward thinking for the NHS? Apparently it is.
A week later I find myself in the Gynaecology waiting room at the Whittington. I have just settled down to organising myTo Do” list when a nurse appears.Anyone waiting for Dr Patel? The clinic is delayed due to an emergency. We don’t know how long you will be waiting, but if you want to leave and make another appointment...”
Oh, no you don’t. You don’t get rid of me that easily. I pull out my Blackberry and email my boss. Again. But, to my amazement my name is called fifteen minutes later.
After a short consultation and examination the Doc decides that my lady bits are in full working order. However she suggests a scan just to be sure and hands me a form.
My nurse referred me to the Imaging department last month.” I warn her. She looks at me knowingly.Well, probably best we put in another form, just to be safe.” I agree and head to the third floor.
And now? Well, I haven’t had an appointment from the Imaging department or the other clinic. So I guess I’ll have to do what I’m getting used to doing. And wait.