16 December 2007

Rain, rain, go away

Last weekend we ended up down south in the pouring rain. I thought it was only the north that was prone to this sort of behaviour, but I was obviously not listening properly in geography lessons. It piddled down. All weekend.

What do you do when it's pouring down (especially with a two-year-old in tow?). Do try
  • catching the bus at Brighton Park and Ride
    (apparently riding on the top deck and bouncing precariously up and down through the streets of Brighton was hilarious, if rather terrifying for the adults)
  • the Dolphin Derby on Brighton Pier (the most fun you can have for £1, and heinously addictive)
  • Fishers Farm Park - hey, they have carousels, climbing walls, tractor rides and any number of goats/rabbits/horses you can stroke. It's pricey, but unlike a lot of other money-grabbing farm places, there's no other charge once you're inside.
Don't bother with:
  • Strada in Brighton (good service, some nice food, but the small one and I were definitely unwell later on that afternoon after eating the same pizza, which is rather suspicious...)
Nice down south though. Must go again, sometime. If it deigns to stop raining.

13 December 2007

Bah, humbug: cards part II

As you all know, I love writing Christmas cards and was therefore ecstatic when I was handed a list of 20-odd two-year-olds at M's nursery, who all apparently expected them. Needless to say, none will be forthcoming as (a) I've run out of Christmas cards and (b) I really will lose the will to live. At the risk of sounding 97, what is the world coming to?

12 December 2007

Help!

Too much work, too little time. Aaaargh.

Can we abolish Christmas, or just postpone it for a couple of weeks?

03 December 2007

House of cards

There's a sense of menace hanging over the household at the moment...yes, the annual Christmas card list needs to be written.

And then cards sent. Lost addresses found. A small sackful of gold given to the Royal Mail so they can promptly lose everything somewhere in a postbox near Abingdon. Just call me Scrooge - I hate the whole tedious process.

For a start I can't actually write with a pen any more - I've spent far too long either writing shorthand or using a computer that my handwriting has degenerated into some sort of illegible spider scrawl, as I can't write fast enough to keep up with what I'm thinking. I suppose I could type stuff out, but then that turns into a round robin, and I'm not going to give Simon Hoggart any more free material for books.

Grrr. I could send e-cards, but they're no use if, like most of my recipients, you're not on email. And they're a bit tacky anyway (the cards, not the elderly relatives).

And you want to know the worst bit? I really really love getting mail of any sort, including Christmas cards. I'm a complete hypocrite - the arrival of the postman is the highlight of my day, and if I actually bothered to put pen to paper more often than the once-a-year-forced-exercise above I'd certainly get far more letters. I've only myself to blame.

26 November 2007

Impulse buy of the day

Well, it's nearly Christmas, and it's grey and soggy outside, so I decided I was in need of some office decorations.

IKEA, of course. Do you really have to ask?

25 November 2007

Places to go, rain to avoid

There's something about a wet, cold weekend that makes you seek out interesting stuff. If it was sunny we'd just head to the park to feed the starving (and increasingly machiavellian) geese and ducks, or go to the beach for a run around.

But, if it's piddling down, you could do worse than head to the Oriental Museum in Durham. Don't be put off by the website (more pictures desperately needed) - there's some beautiful things stuffed into the abyss (it's one of those museums built into the side of a hill, so you arrive at the top floor, and head downwards...). The best bit is the China section, with a massive Chinese dragon hanging from the ceiling, a giant camel, and a whole dressing up box of Chinese clothes. There's also the tiniest tea-set you'll ever see, some very strange animals cavorting on all sorts of ceramics, and some beautiful musical instruments.

The other recent find is the Woodhorn Colliery Museum, up at Ashington. Again, ignore the website (this time it's over-friendly and just a shade too patronising) - it's got some great pit buildings and a fantastic (and very moving) exhibition about mining (which kept a two-year-old and two 60-something ex-teachers happy). Best of all, it's free - just £2 to park the car.

In the era of the £20-odd family ticket (stand up, the Centre for Life), it's refreshing not to be fleeced for wanting to step outside your front door for the day.

20 November 2007

Work-related stuff: the end of puns

I know, I know, more work-related stuff rather than my adventures in suburbia...but there's a really interesting article in Monday's Guardian on the search for a perfect headline, and how the ancient art of subediting is being affected by keywording for search engines.

It's particularly important because lots of papers are integrating their newsrooms - so the same article might appear in print or online or as a broadcast. And if its headline is a clever pun or comment on popular culture that doesn't immediately give you the key words from the story, then it's less likely to be found online. So no more Gotcha! But Freddy Starr Ate My Hamster will still survive...

It's a shame, because although I don't read it on a regular basis, I always marvel at the headlines in The Sun et al. They're consistently funny, annoying, attention-grabbing delights, that make you want to read further. As someone who struggled to come up with 39-character headlines for Ceefax (trust me, there's a limit to how exciting you can make news from Cumbria), I really admire the subs' art.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to listen to JRT read the Book at Bedtime. Normal service will resume shortly.

18 November 2007

Work-related stuff: the Beeb innovates

I went to a BBC Innovation Labs launch day on Friday, which was very interesting. It's all aimed at R&D for interactive tv, mobile, online, radio/audio, but was surprisingly non-techie friendly. Nice people, lots of short whizzy video presentations, and a chance to do some workshops and networking.

It was good to meet some real people for a change - when you're a freelancer you do tend to just talk to and bounce ideas off the cat, so some professional input was a bonus. And I was pleasantly surprised not to be the only woman in the room (there were at least 15 in the audience - hurrah!).

(However, I wasn't surprised to discover that my pay-as-you-go Sagem phone came bottom of the heap of technology sat in the conference room (what is it about graphic designers and fancy phones?). At least the Green Wing theme tune ringtone is better than the endless 24/CTU-calling rip-offs.)

Anyway, interesting stuff. Go if you get the chance - it's fascinating to see what the Beeb's planning on doing with their website architecture (about time), categorisation and personalisation.

17 November 2007

It's almost a song...

Curses.

One small child asleep in car.
Wi-fi network doesn’t run that far.
It’s piddling down with rain.

Ah, the joys of November.

Not sure this'll make it onto a Song for Europe...

15 November 2007

F&M

In one of the more random incidents of the week, I got a copy of the new Fortnum and Mason’s magazine through the post yesterday (I'm obviously going up in the world...)

It’s definitely worth a read, if only to marvel at the aspirational recipe section. I’m quite sure that I won’t be making mozzarella, sun-dried tomato and rosemary muffins or pomegranate mimosa for breakfast any time soon (the 10-minute “quick, chuck some cereal in a bowl and make some strong coffee” breakfast being my forte), but the photos sure look good.

I'll let you know how I get on with the marinated wild boar with prunes in Armagnac...

Update: More breakfast pictures here - these are a bit more my style. Link courtesy of Vic.

11 November 2007

Roll up, roll up, get your Google search words here...

And so to the obligatory blog post on how people arrive at my ramblings. Stop me if you've heard it before....I know, I know it's a fairly lazy way of generating a post, but I can't resist. Especially as the weirdest search terms have been arriving recently - was it something I said?

  • "Dervla Kirwan's wedding to Rupert Penry-Jones": She's annoying on those M&S ads, he looks rather nice. Can't say I know any more than that. But do tell - we might make a fortune from passing it onto the gossip rags.
  • "Toby Stephens rolling in newspapers": The mind boggles. But I'm sure he has a lot of fun doing it. Allegedly.

Maybe they're all trying to find out the solutions to one of those horrendous crossword puzzle things you see in the likes of Heat, full of references to Z-list slebs?

  • "cocktail or tea trolley": Easy. That'll be a cup of Earl Grey and a slice of cake please.

Forget the crossword idea, this is like one of those 20-questions emails designed to let your friends know just how kooky and lovable you are.

  • "the nite mear be for Christmas": May I suggest a course of remedial spelling?
  • "montain treees": Ditto, but as you're Belgian, I might let you off.

There's a distinct lack of appreciation of spelling, I'm beginning to realise. Must contact that mad lot who wanted a grammar tsar at the Beeb. Maybe they can help.

  • "nappy cake devon": This is definitely getting weirder.
  • "cooling forehead while mowing": Eh? And just how exactly did that lead directly to my blog?
  • "pictures of teenagers in nappies": Now I'm worried.

And now, of course, I've gone and encouraged them all over again by putting the search terms in a blog post. Oh bugger. I'm doomed to a neverending hell of bad spelling, B-list actors and weirdos chasing nappies.

09 November 2007

On beauty

I don't know if you've ever been, but aside from the natty statue of Cyrano de B (usually minus his nose), Bergerac's got a rather good beauty emporium tucked away up near the market. I was never bothered about that sort of thing until I hit 30, had a small child and managed to acquire grey hair and wrinkles - and to be honest, it's still not very important, but it at least means that I notice beauty emporia when I'm wandering past.

Anway, said shop (Sephora) is very friendly, has nice own-brand moisturiser and always gives you a free sample of some cosmetic or other when you buy anything. I tend to stick them in a drawer and forget about them for several months.

A couple of days ago, I found one, called Baume Jeune Longtemps Secret de Clarins (Clarins' Secret Younger Longer Balm). It smelled nice, and felt pretty good when plastered across baggy eyes at 6.30am. Ok, I thought. I'm not normally one for spending a fortune on this kind of thing - but I'll push the boat out. Maybe it'll cost me 15-20 quid, but if it makes me feel better at that sort of time in the morning, why not?

81 euros, that's why not.

81 euros?!

I think the French take their beauty regimes somewhat more seriously than I do...

08 November 2007

Kids Telly

Finally, someone who agrees with me on the horrors that await on CBeebies. I can't bear to watch any of it. It's loud, brash, full of irritating, badly-drawn cartoons, stereotyped to the nines, and seems to consist of endless episodes of The Shiny Show and Bob the Builder (the only consolation is at least James Blue Cat might be getting some repeat fees out of it).

I know I'm well outside the demographic, but a bit of consideration for the poor parents watching this nonsense would be good. Or do the channel's producers just assume that it's being used as a babysitting device?

We do watch a bit of stuff - all of it on video or DVD. In the grand tradition of Watch with Mother, the two of us settle down after lunch, or just before tea for a couple of episodes of Kipper (you can't beat a good jazz soundtrack), Bagpuss or current fave, Shaun the Sheep (it's got Vic Reeves singing the theme tune - what more could you want?!).

04 November 2007

The best fish and chips in the world...


and a rather nice beach to build a boat...

We went south of the river for a change on Saturday, to South Shields for fish and chips at Colman's. Don't let the fact that it's David Miliband's favourite restaurant put you off - it truly makes the best fish and chips I've ever tasted. You know how the batter always goes soggy, and you have to poke about inside for a bit of fish? Well, this was perfect - crispy light batter and beautifully thick, steaming cod fillet. I ate the lot - which isn't bad for a girl who's not that bothered about fish and chips, and has to be in the right mood for it.

Maybe it's the fact that we never had fish and chips as a kid (Mum never really liked the smell). I can remember eating them just twice - once somewhere in the middle of Lancashire on the way to visit my grandparents in Burnley (a four-hour trek at the best of times). We sat in a freezing cold, godforsaken valley at one of those terrible picnic spots with a dilapidated wooden picnic table and a rubbish bin. I can't remember whether the fish and chips were any good, but I do remember trying luminous green mushy peas for the first time, and marvelling at the taste.

The second time, Mum and Dad had gone away for a couple of days, and my Grandma and Great Aunty Win were babysitting me and my brother. It was a daredevil couple of days - we stayed up late! we went into town on the bus! (deepest East Anglia wasn't known for its buses at the best of times, so we'd spent most of our childhood being ferried about in a car, or riding on a bicycle) and most importantly we headed to the village chippy for tea. I have no idea whether our illicit fish and chips were any good or not, but we were entranced by the warm fug of the chip shop, the tiny wooden chip forks and the idea of your tea being wrapped in newspaper.

03 November 2007

Brake fluid will remove auto paint (and nail varnish) - so be careful!

Ah, so much patronising nonsense, so little time. I opened my copy of Eve this month (yes, I know, not exactly hip, but hey I'm a handbag-loving 30-something who loves looking at shiny things sometimes) and the snappily titled Hi fell out.

Cunningly designed to look like a magazine, it's actually commissioned by the Highways Agency, who are desperate to inspire you to "get to know your car even better" so you can be "fully prepared for life's more predictable journeys". Hmm.

Sprinkled among the glossy photos of ladies bending over car engines whilst wearing checked trousers (don't ask) were some stunning examples of how not to treat your audience. Bet you didn't know:
  • "Your car is probably the most complicated machine you own"
  • "Modern vehicles can have a huge number of warning lights"
  • "Speed kills - as well as smudging lippy"
There was some really useful information buried under all the glossy tat, which I totally ignored because I was laughing too much. Oh, for god's sake. Do you really think that women only read things if you dress it all up in fashion-speak and plaster the text with pictures of shoes or chocolate eclairs?

Grr.

31 October 2007

Spookeh


Halloween is coming,
Witch's hat,
Giant orange pumpkins,
Black and white cat.

It loses something without the actions, but M's been singing this little ditty for the past month. Apparently, Balloween is now 'at Nursery'. Bless.

28 October 2007

Sunday

It's freezing cold, pouring with rain, and very very dark. Welcome to autumn, pop pickers. Season of mist, woolly jumpers and duvet-envy. Wake me up in about April, will you?

Actually, I shouldn't complain too much - we headed down to the Quayside today in the sunshine, and ended up in the beer garden at the Free Trade, watching the sun set over the bridges. The small one discovered the delights of pineapple juice and bacon-flavoured crisps, and then had to be carried home to bed.

24 October 2007

Calm after the storm


Another annoying migraine. Bleeeurrgh.
Consequently, a day spent in bed, listening to Radio 4 (and a rather nice afternoon play, about an American tank in the middle of Dorset. Or Devon. I fell asleep in the middle, so I'm not sure) when I should have been working.
Oh well. That's the next few evenings taken care of, then.

20 October 2007

The perils of taking a night off

1. You realise that you've wasted hours watching Hot Fuzz on DVD when you could have been reading the new Nigel Slater book, Eating for England. Bah.

Hot Fuzz was great for the first hour, really tightly plotted, nicely grisly and stupidly funny. Then it lost its way - endless action sequences bore me witless, especially when I don't know which film(s) are being parodied. And a whole DVD of extras?? Where do these folk get the time?

2. Consequently, you don't check your email, and head blithely out into town the next day for lunch at a fine noodle establishment, followed by a bit of light shopping, and a visit to a couple of design exhibitions.

The design stuff was great - lots of recycled products that made you think 'yes, I can do that!'. Even if it would mean collecting hundreds of cardboard boxes and bottle tops, Blue Peter-style, that would clutter up the house for weeks on end in a thoroughly annoying manner. I especially liked a coffee table made out of a washing machine drum, and a recycled formica table.

I was so inspired I went and bought a Pantone mug that I've been lusting after for weeks. Oops. 5757C, since you ask.

3. After a long day of eating, shopping and watching Strictly Come Dancing, you log onto your email to discover that bloody Wagamama have sent you a 2for1 offer, valid for Saturday 20 October only, to celebrate the rugby world cup.

Pants.

18 October 2007

Knit one, purl one

Thursday night and I'm staring out of my window at the glittery lights in Team Valley below. It's bloody freezing, even with double glazing, so I've decided to have a go at knitting a scarf. Well, it's the trendy thing to do at the moment, isn't it? Even if some people take it a little bit too far.

Bear in mind the last time I knitted anything was the middle of the 1980s. Needlework lessons to be precise. My school was quite, well, old-school about the whole gender divide thing - girls did needlework, while the boys did CDT. Bizarrely, we all did technical drawing, and, more sensibly, cookery.

Anyway, it's 1986, or thereabouts, and 2W girls are sat in the middle of a freezing cold portakabin, trying to decide what project to make for the year. I decide to knit a jumper. A classic 1980s batwing jumper.

I remember lots of dropped stitches, several holes, and a lot of time spent unravelling pale blue mohair wool. I spent hours knitting, even in lunch hour (yes, I had no life). The thing took months, but finally, it was finished. I sewed the pieces together, and...

It was massive.

Beyond massive.

Instead of 1980s on-trend batwingdom (probably several years too late - this was deepest East Anglia, after all) I'd created an F14. Tom Cruise could have taken off in the damn thing, holes or no holes.

I wore it twice. It ended up in the cat basket.

17 October 2007

Boots!

Shoes!
Shoes!,
originally uploaded by rachc.
Sadly, not mine - yes, they're a size 6 but they're a dinky size 6. Why do 2-year-olds get all the cute stuff?

15 October 2007

Arts Corner: Helvetica

On a normal occasion, this would have been a great documentary.

Sadly, I saw it on Saturday night at the Tyneside Cinema, as part of Design Event (linked in to the Dott 07 festival which is currently running on Tyneside). Billed as the documentary plus a talk from Ben Drury (record-sleeve designer) who would "introduce the film and talk about his work" it sounded like a top evening out for sad people who like fonts.

Lots of people showed up (mostly design students bearing notebooks - you can spot the designer glasses and black jumpers a mile off), and were shoe-horned into an overheated auditorium. The lights dimmed. Mr Drury got up to speak.

Now, I might be a bit out of touch with what happens at design events, being only a suburban nonentity, but I'd kind of assumed that the designer would talk a bit about the film, give us a bit of context about its importance, talk about his use of fonts and illustrate it all with a few pictures. Maybe 15-20 minutes, tops. What I hadn't bargained on was an hour-long trawl through a selection of photos of "things that mean something to me" (including endless record sleeves wot I have designed) with commentary in a monotone.

Reader, I took the only way out. I fell asleep.

Which put me in a rather bad mood for the film once I woke up and realised that I could have done this at home for rather less than £7.50 in rather greater comfort.

The film's not bad. It's got really good bits (Eric Spiekermann), it's got fairly dull bits, and it's about half an hour too long (although, that could be due to the fact that when you've already been sat there for an hour, bored witless, your capacity for boredom plummets).

I think it may be time to go back to the Hollywood blockbuster - Ratatouille, anyone?

11 October 2007

Cake!


Spicy banana and sultana loaf, to be precise. Slightly adapted from a recipe in the Somerfield Magazine (not hip, I grant you. But free. And therefore far better than your Olive, Delicious et al. £3.20? Pah.).

08 October 2007

Things wot I did this evening

1. Made (and ate) stew and dumplings (considering the dumplings received an impromptu bath in a bowlful of water when I turned my back on my two-year-old to get a pan out of the oven, they were surprisingly good).

2. Washed up.

3. Hung up the almost-dry washing and put another load on.

4. Made bread (ok, I just stuck the ingredients in the bread machine, but it sounds good).

5. Arranged professional indemnity insurance.

Spot the interloper?

I've decided working freelance from home is much like being a student - you drink far too much coffee, and there's always something work-related niggling away in the back of your mind that needs to be done. It's quite hard switching off - there's always the tendency in an evening to go and do a bit of work.

There are some advantages, however - proper coffee and cake on tap being two of them!

06 October 2007

This new-fangled stuff is marvellous, you know.

I have moved into a new age of technology.

Videos? Pah.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:

(drumroll)

ON-DEMAND TV

(preferably hyphenated).

It's marvellous, I tell you. Yes, I know it's probably about three years after the rest of the population discovered this fact, and yes, I wouldn't have tried it at all if I wasn't so supremely incompetent with a video that I'd failed to record two episodes of Studio 60. But hey, I have finally arrived in 2007.

I have now decided that watching a tv programme on your laptop in bed while eating dark chocolate is the height of decadence.

05 October 2007

Arts Corner: moody and magnificent

Lost in Translation is one of my favourite films (probably because I'm a sucker for urban architecture, moody skylines and atmospheric soundtracks that don't walk all over the dialogue). I saw it again yesterday as part of the Tyneside Cinema's Tyneside on the Toon series, in the bowels of a hotel on Grey Street.

It sounds like a bit of an odd location - there were no views of distant skyscrapers, no artful neon signs and (thankfully) no inane American movie actresses or terrible lounge singers. But it kind of worked - helped by the free sushi (yay!), Asahi beer, a room decorated with bonsai trees and woodcuts, and ushers in white dressing gowns (odd, but good). Much better than sitting at home on the sofa surrounded by the distraction triple whammy of swirly carpet, washing up and the cat being sick on top of the telly.

I'd forgotten how lovely Scarlett Johannson looks in the film. Finally, someone who isn't a stick insect gets some screen time, and uses it to best effect. She also somehow manages to look cosy throughout, despite spending quite a lot of time in her pants - so I definitely want her wardrobe and her source of central heating. I darkly suspect her cardies to be cashmere, and not available down the local charity shop.

02 October 2007

It's nearly Christmas, you know

so it's time to start saving up for the ultimate in Christmas decorations...Fortnum and Mason's The Paragon Crackers.

Guaranteed to make your guests wince, if only at the stupidity of paying £1,000 for six glorified loo rolls. You do get "sumptuous hand-quilted fabric with real pearl detail" and some rather fantastic "python-print chocolate-coloured keep sake boxes". Sadly, no mention of party hats or jokes.

Update: look, even her maj goes for the budget option.

01 October 2007

Arts Corner: a real dead ringer for love

I got sidetracked tonight while attempting to catch up with email (oh, the delights of dealing with spam after a week away) by a great Arena programme on Dead Ringers. Once you get past the arty, somewhat pretentious Arena programme style (Modern Times did it so much better), there's often an interesting documentary in there, waiting to get out.

I'd forgotten how much I loved Dead Ringers on radio, before it all went pear-shaped on the telly. Like a lot of other things (The Mary Whitehouse Experience springs to mind) it benefited from a medium where you could really concentrate on the writing, rather than the peripherals. Sadly, the documentary focused too much on the impressionists for me (a weird bunch, as I suppose you might be if you spend most of your time immersing yourself in someone else's life) and not enough on the writers, who were the ones who came up with the funny material in the first place.

In other news: the first three minutes of the new Eddie Izzard series, The Riches, look good...

30 September 2007

Allez les Pingouins...

I'm not the most professional of football fans. In fact the last time I went to a football match was back in 1994, when Burnley went to Wembley in the division 2 playoffs. I wore a Burnley hat (still a good choice of headgear for embarrassing my husband in winter) and stood with my brother and dad in the middle of thousands of yelling fans. It were great.

So last week's experience was a bit of a shock to the system. For a start, Libourne v Nantes (a second division match) took place in a stadium the size of a small teacup (if you can imagine a teacup with floodlights). We paid the princely sum of 2 euros to go on the terraces (actually a small slope of about 3 metres rather than a terrace, if you're nitpicking, and rather marvellously called the tribune) and stood with a whole load of French folk who looked as if they'd been dragged in off the streets.

Contrary to English custom, people in Libourne don't necessarily go to a football match decked head to toe in team kit - you might, if they're really pushing the boat out, see a team scarf. It was all rather relaxed - the terraces were full of teenagers doing their homework, small children hopping up and down with excitement at seeing the ball, and the usual chain-smoking Frenchmen of indeterminate age wearing macs of indeterminate colour. There was a strange, yet heady mix of smells - overpowering aftershave fighting the burger and baguette stall for dominance.

I can't really comment on the football. It was fairly fast, the players had nice legs, and it all looked an awful lot better than it does on the telly - quite skilful, in fact. I've still no idea what the French for "the referee's a wanker" is, but I can now shout "Libournais, Libournais" with the best of them.

Nantes were 2-0 up by halftime, and the game stalled in the second half. By 85 minutes, in drizzling rain, my dad suggested it was time to go. The game wasn't going anywhere, and our car was pointing in the wrong direction so when 3,000-odd people came out of the match, we were going to be stuck.

We got just outside the gate when the first massive cheer erupted, followed by a shrill whistle. Penalty. Followed by a massive cheer. It obviously went in.

Back at the car, another massive cheer, followed another minute later by a slightly quieter one. Surely Libourne couldn't have scored twice? And then Nantes belted in a winner?

We drove home slightly worried. For the first time in his life, my dad had been to a football match and didn't know what the score was.

We looked it up in the Sud Ouest the next day: Nantes 3, Libourne 2. Three goals in the last seven minutes. Brave Libourne had fought to the end.

I wait 13 years for a football match...

20 September 2007

ad-tastic

OK. I don't normally watch ads (too busy not watching telly), but it's the middle of the Studio 60 ad break, and I've just got to say:


  • Will somebody shut Dervla Kirwan up? I'm sure she's a lovely woman, but she's not just annoying, she's beyond annoying. Especially when she's plugging blatantly summery food and it's pouring down outside.
  • What is it with M&S women on trains parading about in their underwear? You only usually get that on the 2am express from Newcastle to Durham...

Update: ooh, Rupert Penry-Jones in the Tesco ads. Nice. This advert-watching isn't that bad, you know...

19 September 2007

I'm sure I've heard it somewhere before

If you're a fan of political cliche and jargon then you'll love Not my words, Mr Speaker on Radio 4 - it'll enable you to bottom out the forward march of progress towards the latest blue sky thinking, and allow a synergistic rollout of inclusive, holistic visioning on the road to total incomprehensibility. Don't worry, I'm sure there's a practical workaround to allow top down cliche management.

18 September 2007

Paris nostalgique

These pictures just make me want to hop on Eurostar, and head over to Paris. I've not been for three years, and I've missed it - it's one of the few places I've visited that I've been back to, and one of even fewer that I'd love to live in.

I first went as a penniless student on an interminable coach trip, and stayed in La Defense - not the most hip of areas, but with architecture to die for, especially at night. The OAPs headed off on a Seine cruise and dine experience while we roamed the snowy February streets in search of crepes with Nutella and free museums. It was absolutely freezing, and I spent the whole time parading round in an enormous black men's old-fashioned coat, which I'd bought on Cambridge market, and a purple velvet hat. Very bohemian.

A couple of weekend trips later, it was time for our honeymoon. This time I'd ditched the hat in favour of sunglasses and sore feet (dancing in posh wedding heels really takes it out of you), and we spent 10 days mooching about the city, getting lost in the Marais, drinking champagne for breakfast and marvelling at the view from the top of the Pompidou Centre.

I've been back since (and found the best cheesecake in the world), but I now need my fix. Maybe next year...

16 September 2007

Decorating

The hallway painting continues.

We've lived in our house for about a year now, and are just getting to grips with the decor. The two guys who sold us the house were wonderful (on the day we moved, not only was everywhere spotlessly clean but there was also an enormous bunch of lilies waiting for us), but their taste leaned towards the baroque edges of bachelor pad. Lots of dark mahogany wood. Two chandeliers in the hallway, with more in the dining room. Friezes. A bathroom covered in dark maroon paint and beige marble (the photos of Judy Garland, sadly, went with their owners).

And a hallway. A huge Victorian monstrosity of a hallway, with high ceilings, dark red shag pile carpet, and deep red walls.

I'm a Scandi-style type of girl. You must know the kind of thing by now - lots of pale colours, floorboards, open-plan sunny living. White curtains, sunshine, cheerful children running across fields eating strawberries (oops, no, that's the Boden catalogue). I really don't do deep pile carpets (I have a cat and an asthmatic husband. Say no more). Dark colours make me depressed (and if that's the case in Gateshead, then who knows what effect they would have in the middle of Sweden in December - I can see why Abba wore white jumpsuits).

So it's on with the 97 coats of one-coat paint. The house will be light and bright and white. It will. If it kills me.

15 September 2007

Arts Corner: Sparkle

And so it did. Sparkle is a pretty little British rom-com, just the thing for a grey and windy night in Newcastle. Boy on the make (Shaun Evans, a younger version of JRT - it's a hair thing) sleeps with potential boss (Stockard Channing), gets job, meets lovely girl (Amanda Ryan) and falls in love - but she just happens to be the boss's daughter. Oh dear. Bob Hoskins and Anthony Head are around to dispense some charm and wisdom, and it all turns out ok in the end. As it always does.

I'd not seen a good British urban rom-com since Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel and Lawrence, and I'd forgotten how nice it is to laugh a bit, cry a bit (I'm a terrible weeper at films - don't ever sit next to me in the cinema unless you can put up with a lot of sniffling) and smile at a happy ending. And all done in a proper accent.

Actually, that was the only thing that jarred for me - Stockard Channing's English accent. She sounded fine - I just can't get used to seeing her as anything other than the First Lady.


12 September 2007

Paint wars

I hate the Victorians. Their hallways are enormous.

Although on second thoughts, at least they believed in dado rails, so they can't have been all bad. God only knows what acreage of wall I'd have to paint if they hadn't.

11 September 2007

Here endeth the wardrobe lesson

Praise be. The wardrobe doors are no longer brooding mahogany beasts, but have been lovingly transformed into sleek New England-style shutters. The bedroom looks about 50 times bigger, and light is no longer sucked mercilessly into a wardrobe-sized hole.

Next on my list: dark red hallway walls. This house will be shorn of Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen/Liberace affectation if it kills me. Although I might keep the chandeliers.

UPDATE:

One coat paint.
Doesn't do what it says on the tin.

08 September 2007

reminiscing

Drove past Darlington today (home of the very exciting brick train), and was, as always, filled with an impending sense of doom. I'm sure there's lots of lovely people there, but the outer reaches of suburbia (full of boxy housing, windswept playing fields and disreputable pubs) that you drive through to get to the A66 remind me of a fairly horrible year I spent there.

Back in 1997, there wasn't really much of a scene in Darlington. Lots of pubs, the Plastered Parrot (their 10p shots may not have been of the highest quality), a flea pit cinema that closed shortly after we arrived, and some down-at-heel former bingo halls turned discotheques. Oh, and the chippy down by the station that specialised in deep frying sticks of rock. A night out on the tiles was likely to lead to a terrible incident on the tiles, particularly if you were sporting a vaguely non-northern accent.

In between studying journalism, I failed to sell posh shoes in joseph M (where my crimes included not having all the coathangers facing the same way), nearly suffocated with cigarette smoke while working in Ladbrokes (sadly, have completely forgotten the intricacies of betting), had a lovely time shelving cds alphabetically in HMV, and spent a long time photocopying at NEDL. Glamorous it wasn't.

So I fled north to the flesh pots of Newcastle, where at least there was a cinema, lots of places to drink where you could actually hear yourself think, and shops other than the twin peaks of mighty Boyes and posh Binns. Not much to ask, really.

06 September 2007

Where does the time go?

You know how it is. You sit down at the computer of an evening, thinking, "right, I'll sort out a couple of invoices, write a spiffing blog post and have a wander around the blogosphere before knocking off in time to watch Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip", when you get sidetracked into hobbits, Facebook and other sundries, and you realise that you have precisely 2 minutes to set the video recorder.

Aaargh.

UPDATE:

Made it! Yes, I know video recorders are from the Dark Ages and what I really need is one of those magic recordable hard drive thingys that can pause live tv and everything, but until our dark red hallway with the red deep pile carpet is sorted, modern technology will just have to wait.

01 September 2007

Joseph's coat was elegant the cut was fine


Well what else can you do when your soon-to-be-two-year-old has an obsession with Joseph and the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and said she'd like a 'big cake' for her birthday?

(sorry, picture from mobile phone so a bit duff)

30 August 2007

Go go go Joseph

Tuesday afternoon

Bored two-year-old prowls the living room. Suggest drawing pictures to keep her quiet for 10 minutes while I have a cup of tea. Get crayons out, small child decides to create a picture of 'the Joseph man' (curly black hair, multicoloured coat, big smile - every colour in the crayon box used). Cup of tea drunk, I label the aforementioned features, and have a bright idea.

Half an hour later

Picture encased in an envelope (small child beside herself at the thought of sticking stamps on), together with an SAE. Placed in the back of the tricycle with Ballerina Bear for the trip to the post box, 200 yards away. Twenty minutes later, operation complete.

Thursday morning

Suspiciously familiar envelope arrives through the door, bearing a signed photo of the lovely Lee Mead in his Joseph outfit. Small child runs round the living room shouting 'he's wearing a dreamcoat. It's got buttons!' Quite.

Thursday afternoon

Yet more requests to watch the 'coat song'. My 10-minute amusement strategy might have backfired somewhat.

web 2.0 update

or how to distill hours and hours of messing about into a short list:
  • Facebook - yeay! (but very addictive)
  • Linked In - great idea, a pain in the arse to use
  • MySpace - hideous design, great if you're a musician/actor/venue
  • Twitter - go not near. Like being at a very boring, drunken student party, only worse (see also Big Brother).
  • bebo - sorry, ran out of time and energy. There's only so many social networks you can have.

29 August 2007

At last!

Yes, it's finally arrived (with only a little swearing at the computer screen...). A proper website showcase thingy for the stuff wot I do. You know, being terribly elegant and sophisticated with words and that.

www.rachcolling.co.uk

Go see. Report back.

28 August 2007

Does what it says on the tin

There was a really interesting article in the Guardian on Saturday by a guy named Neil Boorman, who had decided to ditch his obsession with brands by corralling his branded possessions in the middle of the street and burning them.

Slightly at the extreme end, I agree, but made me think, nonetheless. My immediate reaction was 'of course, I don't use any brands anyway, I'm too clever for all that marketing schtick', but when I actually sat down and thought about it, probably a good 75% of my things are branded...even if it's only Tesco rather than Versace. Most of the rest are things acquired from charity shops, inherited from relatives or generally found in a skip somewhere. It's remarkably hard to buy new stuff without branding, when you come to think about it.

I'm a bit of a flirt with brands - and to be honest that's mostly affected by (a) price and (b) what's on buy one get one free or special offer at the supermarket/clothes shop/wherever. There's a few exceptions foodwise:

but for most of the time I'm happy to shop about. Not sure if that makes me a marketer's dream - I'll look at anything as long as the price is right - or a disloyal nightmare.

24 August 2007

Handmade by artisan weavers by moonlight

Best ever line from a catalogue, for all the wrong reasons:

"Jo Wood Organics is an ultra-luxurious collection of organic bath and body care products, and a natural extension of Jo Wood's passionate commitment to organic living, both in her family's day-to-day life and on the road with husband, guitar legend and Rolling Stone, Ronnie Wood."

Say no more.

23 August 2007

Oh come on, ref!

Having spent yesterday evening in a pub in Jesmond watching the footie with some friends, I can now remember why I don't do it very often: (a) we're rubbish at football and (b) I'm rubbish at football, can't remember the rules and get very distracted by footballers' legs (Thierry Henry, why oh why have you gone to Barcelona?).

I'm a Burnley supporter really, mainly because my Dad and brother are such huge fans. I've been to all of about five professional football matches (all of them Burnley), which, although not many, does include a trip to the old-school Wembley (which was full of people wearing claret and blue and shouting abuse at the referee - magic!).

But that was all a long time ago. I've not watched England play since, ooh, 2004, I think. Can't even remember which competition it was. We lost on penalties, anyway. Quelle surprise. And I returned home stinking of beer and sweaty blokes - we'd been packed into the Centurion in central Newcastle, and of course every time England scored, everyone in the pub flung their arms in the air and hugged each other...only they were holding onto pints of beer at the time. It all became rather sticky.

There was none of that last night. In fact, the pub was a rather sedate, if smelly affair. I'd not been into one since the smoking ban, and boy, did it reek. Of sweaty feet, stale beer and Lynx for Men. Frankly, I preferred the smell of fags. But I suppose I'll live longer. Oh well.

21 August 2007

Car wash poetry

Home Car Wash
Have your car
Washed at your
Door step

Car wash £3.00
Valet £3.00
Lager car and
Vans £2.00
Extra
Will require to
Water

No, not haiku, but a flyer through my door, which I am dying to take a red pen to. At the risk of sounding like I'm 80-odd, what on earth are they teaching them in English lessons these days?

17 August 2007

I know just how he feels...

You know how in Studio 60 Matt Perry's character, Matt Albie, is always counting down to the next show, with his doomsday digital clock ticking away? Well, in suburbia the countdown to a hip and trendy late night comedy show has been replaced with the countdown to teatime. Woo!

We all eat together now, which is great (Jamie Oliver would certainly approve), but some days I find myself dreaming of the pureed sludge, and how easy it was. No sooner have I made one tea, than I seem to start thinking about the next...and it's getting harder to come up with something different. Maybe I've just got stuck, and need to start perusing the cook books again. After all, I do have about 200 of them, and it's about time something other than a baking encyclopedia made it off the shelves.

This week, for example, we've had:

Friday: pasta with chilli/bolognese
Thursday: bacon, courgette, potato and cheese gratin (thank you Nigel - the Kitchen Diaries are saving my life at the moment)
Wednesday: sausage, lentil and tomato bake
Tuesday: chicken and courgette stir fry with rice
Monday: not sure I can even remember that far back. But there were probably tomatoes and courgettes in there somewhere.

Right, off to think about tomorrow...all suggestions welcome.

16 August 2007

More tea, vicar?

Ah, the delights of the office tea trolley. I suspect that everyone's getting maudlin about the thought of builder's tea, melted Penguins, packets of prawn cocktail crisps and those little manky two-packs of biscuits that you get in hotels. Mmmm.

Actually, I shouldn't be sarcastic about this, given that (a) I've never worked anywhere with a functioning tea trolley, and (b) I currently work from home and have permanent access to a coffee pot and chocolate biscuit stash (Choco Leibniz, since you ask). Sadly I have to go downstairs to access this, but you can't have everything.

While I'm not much cop with tea trolleys, I can tell you that the BBC canteens are every bit as odd as they're made out to be. The one in Newcastle used to do a very good line in Danish pastries on Fridays, and their tea/toast combo for breakfast was excellent. But when you pottered into a deserted canteen at 9pm to heat up your tea in the microwave, it was all a bit spooky.

14 August 2007

Ooh, telly!

By some miracle, I have actually managed to sit down and watch two telly programmes over the last couple of evenings, instead of pootling about online and wasting hours on social networking. I know Facebook's hip and trendy, but lordy, it isn't half time-consuming. Time which could be much better spent goggling in front of another box, obviously, rather than reading improving books, sorting my filing pile or painting the damn wardrobe doors, which still aren't finished.

Still, I've finally got round to watching the first episode of Heroes, which wasn't bad at all. Liked the concept, nice script and watchable characters. 45 minutes passed quite quickly, and I'll probably give the second episode a go.

Jamie at Home, however, will be staying firmly in the box, although I'll probably buy the book because the recipes were excellent. Great lad, Jamie Oliver, it's just a shame he's so irritating on tv. Nice website though - and thorough, with stuff on YouTube, Facebook, MySpace...someone knows their marketing onions, that's for sure.

13 August 2007

The vagaries of the toddler brain

A warning: if you take your two-year-old to see a fantastic art exhibition, do not expect them to wax lyrical over ghostly mirrors, echoing dungeons or balancing teacups. Instead, you'll discover that the major incident of the day, recounted ad nauseam, was that our friend ran out of snacks for his two kids.

11 August 2007

Smoke and mirrors

Saturday, 10.30am. Small child running riot around the bedroom, demanding Andrew Lloyd Webber songs (note to other parents: whatever you do, never let your child watch programmes like Any Dream Will Do. It just leads to rack and ruin, and a small child who can sing "Joseph's coat was elegant, the cut was fine" at the age of 2).

What's a harassed set of parents to do? Head off into Northumberland, that's what, in a Triumph Dolomite SE, which as it only has a radio means we can avoid the inevitable demands for songs about Jellicle cats (that's the thing about Lloyd Webber musicals, one thing seems to lead to another...).

We spent the day at Belsay Hall in Northumberland which is hosting the Picture House exhibition. It's the usual mix of stunning (UnitedVisualArtists, Geraldine Pilgrim, antony with William Basinski), thought-provoking, and plain odd (Belsayland) installations, set in an abandoned Grecian-style mansion. It's a beautiful building, and the pieces mostly enhance the setting. And some are just fun - I loved UnitedVisualArtists Hereafter mirror, which showed the room with images of past objects and previous visitors layered with a time-delayed ghost of yourself moving around - hard to describe, but wonderful to watch. M had a ball, spinning around and watching herself spookily appear on the screen.

10 August 2007

Pregancy delights

It's not often I agree with Lauren Laverne, but she's written a really nice article on the odd situation you find yourself in while pregnant. For me, the thing that really stood out was the need total strangers felt to comment on my appearance and the potential name and gender of child. In a world where hardly anyone makes eye contact on the street, it was quite weird to suddenly be accosted by random people, some of whom appeared to be more in touch with reality than others.

07 August 2007

Arts Corner: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Well, Harry Potter 5 belonged to Imelda Staunton, didn't it really, in her perfect pink suit. Everyone else was allowed just enough time to say hello and advance the plot a fraction, but she rather stole the show.

And I loved the kittens.

06 August 2007

Things to do on a sunny weekend

After a weekend away in North Yorkshire, I can thoroughly recommend the following for entertaining a 2-year-old:

  • Helmsley Walled Garden (their new Secret Garden has a swing, there's lots of apples to look at and be prevented from eating, and best of all there's a fountain in the middle in the shape of a small boy cuddling a giant fish)
  • The Moors National Park Centre, Danby (the huge playground has a slide with a house on top, there's a great bird hide in the middle of a woodland that you can scare all known birds away from and the teashop does really good fairy cakes)
  • Hutton le Hole (the Ryedale Folk Museum has sheep! and pigs! and chickens! and the odd rabbit! and best of all the freezing cold village stream is very good for paddling and making parents get their feet wet)

And the ham sandwiches are pretty good, wherever you go...

03 August 2007

HP continued...

Dark Forces vanquished.

Check.

Broom safely in cupboard.

Check.

No snakes on the premises.

Check.

Normal service is resumed.

01 August 2007

HP. No, not the sauce.

Off out to see a film shortly - will report back on the delights of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

It's been a bit of an HP week, actually - I finally succumbed and bought HP7 in Sainsburys, and have been hooked ever since. It's taken me a while to get up to speed (if J K Rowling will leave two years between books, what does she expect? I've had a baby, moved house, discovered the delights of very strong coffee and proofread god knows how many words since then) but I'm really enjoying it. Characterisation isn't her strong point, and she uses a few too many basic adjectives for my liking, but boy can that girl produce a good plot. I'm currently in Gringotts, and can't for the life of me see how to get out.

28 July 2007

The Strawbs

Today has been spent in strawberry heaven, which included several failed attempts to persuade a two-year-old that she should actually put some strawberries in a basket, and not in her mouth. Ah well. I'm sure the prices for pick-your-own include a slight uplift for the problem of light-fingered pickers, and judging by the numbers of small children with suspiciously red beards around the chin area we weren't alone.

I did some strawberry picking piecework years ago, when I lived in the middle of the Fens, and I'd forgotten the beautiful smell of a strawberry field (and the aching back, permanently stained fingers and hopelessly low piece rate available to minions like myself). It's a mixture of heady smells from the berries, straw (between the rows of plants) and warm sunshine, which creates something completely intoxicating. Admittedly, today was a little low on the warm sunshine quotient, but it was still pretty good.

27 July 2007

Arts Corner: I'm gonna live forever

Fed up with this crap weather, I decided this week that I needed to watch some people in legwarmers to remind me of the 1980s - when summer was summer, and the sun could be guaranteed to shine for more than 10 minutes at a time. The holidays were endless, ice creams tasted of fake vanilla, and no-one had heard of Big Brother. You get the picture.

So off I trogged to the Theatre Royal, to see Fame the Musical, assuming I'd get my fill of 1980s nostalgia...only to discover they've gone and updated things without telling anyone. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but you wouldn't think you'd need to check beforehand whether something called Fame the Musical actually bore any resemblance to Fame the film (not to mention the tv series). But it's horrendous...Fame lite, if you like, with a renamed cast, a poor attempt at a storyline (it plays like a series of sketches, so you never really get to interact with the characters) and none of the songs. Apart from Fame, obviously, which the cast managed to murder twice.

The dancing wasn't bad, and the singing ok (Abi Finley, one of the Marias, was fantastic), but the orchestral arrangement was horrible (plinky-plonk), and everything was fantastically overamplified. I know I'm going to sound like I'm 30-something going on 85, but I'd still like to be able to hear by the end of an evening out.

So not a success, then. Don't think I'll be going all the way down south to watch H from Steps 'star' in the London production, somehow.

22 July 2007

Arts Corner: It's a weird mix, but I like it...

Somehow, this weekend I managed to see The Sting, and Dodgeball. Hmm. Not sure what that says about my taste in films.

I know The Sting's a classic that everyone should see, but it's taken me 30-something years to get round to it (slaps wrist). The idea of watching Robert Redford didn't appeal - there's just something so smug and Jude Law about him that really puts me off. That and the fact that in every film he seems to be playing Robert Redford.

Still, I quite enjoyed it in the end. The film's not exactly zippy by modern standards, but I liked the twists and turns. And Paul Newman was excellent.

The downsides? Too many shots of Robert Redford preening, and some characters looked and sounded too similar to each other (although that was probably more of a problem because I didn't watch the whole film in one sitting, and managed to forget some of the plot in the meantime).

Dodgeball. Well, it's pure Saturday night schtick, isn't it? Funny (but blessed with warmth). There's not a lot that's sophisticated, but it steers away from the gross-out humour of the Farrellys which I really can't stand. Not bad, if you're going to watch an ironic sports movie, just for the hell of it.

Coming up shortly: Harry Potter number something or other (I'll actually have to go to a real live cinema for that one), and more sofa surfing with Children of Men.

19 July 2007

Spirit of the age

For those of you of a literary persuasion (or simply professional nitpickers like myself), there's a lovely programme on Radio 4 called Off the Page that I caught earlier in the week, discussing zeitgeist. It's funny how it turns up everywhere - Toby Young's particularly amusing on its use in fashion magazines...

16 July 2007

Yum

Do go to The Star Inn at Harome.

Do (a) eat the food (lots of it - it's gorgeous) and (b) drink lots of wine, especially the fizzy stuff.

But don't whatever you do wear high heels. It's one of those dinky little places best suited to hobbits or pixies. You might even end up headbutting the beams in the ceiling as you totter to the ladies after several glasses of Prosecco, which could all get rather embarrassing...

12 July 2007

Help.

It's Thursday, it's late and I've run out of inspiration.

What the hell...I'm off to bed.

10 July 2007

Rhyme and reason

For all those of you fed up to the back teeth with singing "horsey, horsey don't you stop", here's the alternative versions (thanks Clair). I think Ladybird, Ladybird is probably my favourite - it and several others should be taught to an elite group of small children who could infiltrate schools across the country to try and subvert the sickening tweeness that passes for children's entertainment at the moment.

09 July 2007

Canada we love you

So I'm standing at the top of the Baltic at the enormous glass window with the panoramic view across Newcastle, surrounded by assorted small children under the age of two, when a North American accent suddenly booms out "Nova Scotia?".

I look round. There's a fairly nondescript middle-aged lady with a blue neckerchief standing in the middle of the room, and rather worryingly, she's making straight for me. "Nova Scotia?" she trills again. "Are you from there? I'm Canadian, you see."

I try to look like a friendly ambassador for our country, rather than a bemused and harrassed 30-something mother who has no clue what the hell is going on. General tourist enquiries about Newcastle I can deal with. I have informed opinions on all sorts of things ranging from the delectability of Julian Rhind-Tutt's hair, the perennial argument about the Oxford comma or the merits of sippy cups for toddlers. Canada, however, isn't one of my specialist subjects.

And then I look down at my t-shirt.

In 2-inch high letters it says NOVA SCOTIA 9907.

Ah.

I then spend the next five minutes explaining that this is in fact a very ancient t-shirt, purchased in H&M when I was a student, and still being worn for reasons of (a) sloth and (b) not enough money to buy a nice new one in Top Shop. I add that I have sadly never been to Nova Scotia, although I did once go to Vancouver and had a fabulous time.

Homesick Canada woman nods politely, and decides that the giant skeleton of a cat on the other side of the room is remarkably interesting and must be investigated forthwith.

I go back to pointing out the buses and trains to overexcited toddlers.

08 July 2007

Remember, children, it'll all lead to doom and gloom in the end

You know, I'm probably way way behind the times, but social networking is fun. In fact, this Facebook business could get addictive. I finally got round to setting up a profile, searching for friends, and having a good nose about. The whole world (under 25) seems to be on there, and at least they're not drivelling on quite so irritatingly as they are on Twitter, which I looked at once for a whole ooh, 15 seconds, before deciding that it really wasn't for me.

Others that have completely passed me by include myspace (the design just drives me crazy, although do check out the superbly fantastic 35yd beat experiment site) and flikr (I don't take enough photos of anything apart from my family, and I don't like the idea of those floating round in cyberspace, no matter how well-protected). Maybe I'm just getting old. Or it might be the fact that the little spare internet time I have is taken up with blogging (I seem to have been doing this since 2002 in one form or another, which is a little scary).

07 July 2007

A

Alnmouth. Alnwick. Amble. Is there anywhere in Northumberland that doesn't begin with A? No, don't answer that. Of course there is, but I had to think of some way of beginning this blogpost, and I've run out of ironic sophistication for the week. Can you tell?

Actually, to be nerdy about it, have you noticed that although Alnmouth and Alnwick both start Aln, they're pronounced completely differently? (tip: Alnwick = Annick).

All of which serves to point out that we headed oop north to Northumberland today, and ended up in Alnmouth (Chelsea country cottage holiday territory, but with the most gorgeous beach, and a view out to sea to die for). Lots of rain, which swept across in enormous black clouds, so the sea looked black at times. And an odd smell of sewage.

05 July 2007

Pia-pia-piano

Here's the new arrival, which sauntered up the garden path earlier today on a very large trolley accompanied by two rather burly blokes. It actually doesn't sound too bad, considering the huge amount of dust lurking inside the case.*
My audience has been very unappreciative so far - whatever I play is drowned out by requests for the Bear Cha-Cha-Cha. Bear in the Big Blue House has a lot to answer for.
*UPDATE: and two old notes of monopoly money. That'll be why some of the keys were sticking slightly, then.

04 July 2007

Ah. Now how did that happen?

I appear to have bought a piano. Oops.

You see, this is what happens when you let me loose in auction rooms. I get distracted, see a piano lurking unloved in the corner, and put in a bid. And I can't even claim that it was in the heat of the auction itself - this was a proxy number. Hmm. Might have been a bit on the impulsive side, come to think of it.

Anyway, I will shortly be the proud owner of a Challen overstrung iron-framed piano. It looks rather 1930s, and if I'd not been so horribly overexcited, I'd actually have remembered to (a) take a picture and (b) write down the serial number so I could check the date.

I now have a very happy musician husband. Neighbours beware...

03 July 2007

Back for good...

Well, until September at least. Sorry about the interruption: France stopped play.

And here are the scores on the doors:

Weather 7 (two really sunny days, rest of the time a bit cloudy)
Cheese 10 (naturellement)
Wine 10 (natch)
Pool maintenance 6 (cleaning the filters is an evil job)

And all of it beats sitting at home in the frozen (and dripping wet) north.

Books read (used to be far, far more in a two-week stretch, but these days I seem to get interrupted by demands to play with sandpits, trainsets and stickers far more than I used to..):

Stardust by Neil Gaiman (good, but Susannah Clarke does it better)
Zorro by Isabel Allende (wasn't expecting this to be such a page turner)
The Good German by Joseph Kanon (not seen the film, but not sure Gorgeous George would make a good Jake Geismar. Can imagine Cate Blanchett as Lena, the girl he goes back for, though.)

Right, now you're all thoroughly up to date I'm off to deal with the most ridiculous pile of junk emails.

16 June 2007

Arts Corner: get a life

It's Saturday, and there's no weeping Josephs to watch. Quite frankly, what am I going to do with my time? Well, apart from getting a life...

  • I could go and watch Opera North perform Dido and Aeneas at the Theatre Royal (but at £13 for the cheapest of seats in the gods, I'd have to really like opera - and as you may have guessed from my viewing habits I lean more towards musicals...)
  • I could go and see a production of Peer Gynt at Northern Stage (only £7, and I'm sure quite a bargain for some experimental theatre, but my heart really isn't in it)
  • I could go and see Das Leben der Anderen at the Tyneside Cinema (in fact I'll probably go and see this in the next couple of days, but it's not really light, frothy Saturday night entertainment, is it?)
  • the Journal Tyne Theatre doesn't have anything playing, so that's a bit of a washout (although if you wait until September there's an evening with Ray Mears - Ray Mears! My hero!)
  • the Sage Gateshead is similarly dark, but there do appear to be brass bands galore tomorrow night, for those wanting to entertain Brassed Off fantasies of Ewan McGregor...
  • and that's all quite apart from places like the Star and Shadow cinema, City Hall, the Metro Radio Arena, World Headquarters...need I go on?

In short, Newcastle's a busy place. What's a girl to do? Well, cook chilli, stay in and watch telly with husband, obviously. I think it might be time for a nice (free) documentary on stadium rock.

15 June 2007

Project update

Lemon drizzle cake = brilliant. Even if I say so myself. There's not much left now.

Wardrobe doors = still not finished. White with a hint of blue looking good, but mahogany still winning.

Big project ending = new book = Neil Gaiman's Stardust.

See you when I've finished it.

14 June 2007

Fantastic, fantastic, fantastic!

Wah-hey! Big project pretty much finished, holiday just round the corner. Just time to pop back and tell you all about my exciting plans to finish painting the wardrobe doors (it's like the Forth Bridge all over again) and make a lemon drizzle cake. Hey, suburbia's where it's at, don't you know? What with the lawn mowing and washing cars, we really know how to party.

Actually, my car could really do with a clean at the moment, given that the last time it was done was when it went in for a service several months ago. Since then it's been liberally smeared in toddler goop on the inside, and Northumberland mud/sand on the outside, to the extent that even said toddler keeps remarking on how dirty it is. So far I've decided to buck the Sunday carwashing trend, but I might have to succumb.

Our carwashing avoidance tactic last Sunday was to spend the weekend camping in the wilderness of Northumberland, up past Rothbury. That's right - the bit that's practically Scotland, with no mobile phone coverage. It might have been a beautiful back-to-nature experience - the website of the place we were staying promised: "No busy roads or traffic nearby, just the gentle bleating of sheep in the surrounding fields, penetrates the tranquillity of this ideal retreat." Ah, but they hadn't bargained on the Coquet Creek Country and Western Weekend just up the valley or the Beerpigs Scooter Club taking over the nearby hotel with about 200 scooters had they?

Still, outbreaks of grumpiness aside, I've now discovered (a) it's pretty light at 4.30am (b) birds sing REALLY loudly at dawn when you're in a tent trying to sleep and (c) I can function reasonably well on three hours' sleep as long as I drink obscene amounts of strong coffee.

03 June 2007

Sunshiney day

Newcastle was bathed in sunshine today, for the fourth day running. It's a bit weird, to be honest - we're not used to this in the frozen north. Usually you can't take your vest off until ooh, at least August, especially if you're a southerner like me. My grandad was a Geordie, but obviously the Bigg Market genes that allow you to go out in nothing but a boob tube dress and a pair of sandals in January got a bit diluted somewhere along the line.

We headed down to the Quayside, seeing as how it felt continental enough to sit outside and have lunch. Most of Newcastle seemed to be out there as well, parading around in their finery and watching the bizarre sight of an enormous stretch Hummer ploughing up and down the side of the river while about 20 six-year-olds dressed in pink party dresses hung out of the windows, frantically waving. It probably made some hungover stag parties do a double take, especially as the shrieking was a little on the loud side.

We ended up at Est, Est, Est which has a nice decked area outside and pretty good food considering it's a chain. The menu changes every couple of months, and they do a mean pizza fiorentina, which is more than enough in my book. And actually, the caesar salad was good today too - it was definitely lettuce at some point in the past, which is more than you can say at some places.

And, best of all, you get crayons and pictures to colour in if you're small. For once we let M play with them, rather than nicking them all and colouring in the (paper) tablecloth. Yes, I know we're mean. But there have to be some advantages to taking small child out to lunch, surely?

31 May 2007

Drink: yes, please.

At last. Some sensible comment on the whole drinking while pregnant shenanigans. I didn't really drink much at all while pregnant with M - it wasn't so much that I thought it was wrong, more the fact that I really went off the taste, especially of wine. And as that's what I normally drink, it didn't really occur to me to have much else.

Mind, I did rather get to like champagne, although that was probably due to the fact that I had to attend five weddings while the size of a house. Watching as your friends and relatives got steadily plastered was mildly entertaining for the first couple of outings, but got steadily less amusing as time went on. There's also nothing quite like agreeing to be a bridesmaid for your best friend and watching in growing panic as your dress looks smaller and smaller the closer the wedding gets.

Whereas now, I'm happy to knock back whatever wine I can get my hands on. Small children drive you to it, your honour, what with the endless requests for "read a book Mummy" (after a week of reading particularly inane rubbish about cuttings, recalcitrant trucks and patronising Fat Controllers I could throttle Thomas the sodding Tank Engine) and "bounce, Mummy, bounce".

27 May 2007

Head case

Having just spent most of the last 24 hours with one, I can confirm that migraines are hideous.

And the weekend started so well - a gathering of friends for a sausage BBQ on a Northumberland beach in the blazing sunshine (although in typical Bank Holiday Weekend fashion the weather soon degenerated into freak hail showers and rain) followed by lots of ice cream at the delectable Cresswell Ices.

But by that point the headache had set in. Just behind my right eye, where it always lives, with the accompanying feeling of nausea and general nastiness. There's only one cure - lots of paracetemol/codeine/migraleve, one of those ridiculous cooling gel packs that sticks on your forehead, and lying flat in bed.

Didn't work.

Woke up this morning and felt like death warmed up. Which continued for most of the day, despite regular ingestion of pills and cups of tea (lemon and ginger).

I hate it when the day's a washout. Call me a neurotic overachiever, but I like to feel that I've actually done something by the end of the day. In fact I'm completely rubbish at chilling out, whether enforced or otherwise. I'm one of those people who gets through 47 novels a week on holiday, visits all the sights and then still complains that they're bored. If you left me on a beach for 10 days with nothing to read I'd probably self-combust or produce a 500-page plan on How To Take Over The World.

22 May 2007

Arts Corner: I wish

It's Tuesday, it's 10.50pm, and I think I've been staring at a computer screen for far too long. Work is a bit like buses - nothing for a while and then inevitably several things come along at once. Not that I'm complaining, but it does tend to ruin what little social life you can carve out with a small child in tow.

Here's what I'd love to go to the cinema to see:

Here's what I end up watching:

Any Dream Will Do.

Yes, I know, I know. I said I'd never watch reality tv, but I've been hooked by the weeping Josephs and by the fact my 20-month-old daughter loves the sparkly lights and songs, and starts clapping along (note to BBC schedulers, will you stop messing about with the timing of this? If it starts at 8pm it's way too late for bedtime, so can you please put it back at 7pm?).

That's my film critic credentials blown completely away, then. Hey ho.

21 May 2007

Je suis à la maison

As you may have guessed, I'm back.

France was, well, French - warmer, sunnier, and with better coffee/croissants. Why is it that even the pokiest cafe on the grottiest street corner in France can produce a decent espresso, when over here you're lucky if it even tastes vaguely of coffee? Or is that just a Newcastle problem? Actually, I must get round to posting my top tips for coffee houses in the north (don't worry, it's a pretty short list).

Anyway, M and I had a great week. Proper cheese, actual sunshine, several tarte aux pommes, giraffes and 'stipy zebas' at Bordeaux zoo, walks in the countryside past endless vines, and, not, surprisingly, some rather nice wine.

04 May 2007

Not in da house

Gone to France. Back soon.

23 April 2007

Listmania

It's supposed to give you an insight into my psyche or something (and not a lot else happened today, apart from M and I making gingerbread men and bears), so here, for your edification, is some stuff.

22 April 2007

Place your bets!

We all descended on Corbridge today, for some gambling.

It's not often you get to write that, is it? (Admittedly, if you don't live near Corbridge or aren't planning a holiday to Northumberland in the near future, you'll get to write it even less.)

But I digress. Today was an introduction to the wonderful world of point-to-pointing, complete with spivvy bookies, more tweed jackets than you could shake a stick at, and an awful lot of Land Rovers. Oh, and the odd horse as well.

It all took place in a freezing cold and windswept field just off Hadrian's Wall. Oh, how we laughed, as the old, rather rotund, gentleman in a tweed jacket and flat cap fleeced us of £8 per person at the entrance (sometimes I think they see us urban types coming. Maybe it's the lack of wellies?). Oh how we marvelled, at the assorted horseflesh (horses are LARGE, aren't they? And rather menacing when travelling towards you at high speed) as it ran past and jumped over fences. And oh, how we failed to pick any winners. Spectacularly failed. In fact all seven horses we picked (a) trailed in in last place or (b) failed to finish.

So I don't think gambling's going to make us rich and famous, or even pay for a takeaway curry. I'd say we should stick to the Lottery, if it weren't for the fact that I think we've won a measly £10 over the last two years, and most weeks fail to even get one number right. Maybe it's time for bingo...

21 April 2007

Adventures in Cinema (part 2)

Not content with sitting on the sofa and watching Any Dream will Do, I decided to be intellectual again this week, and went back to the tiny Star and Shadow cinema, to see some films by a team called Desperate Optimists. Now there's a title for a song, if ever I heard one.

They screened three short films from a series called Civic Life, and another slightly longer film called Daydream, developed as part of a cultural initiative in Liverpool. I went along thinking it would be several documentary-type films, but it turned out to be a more experimental and poetic business - the premise of the Civic Life films are that they're shot in one day, and are mostly one long-take. There's often a story in there, but you have to work out for yourself what that is. Sometimes that worked (the third film, Leisure Centre, about a young man who goes back to work after the birth of his child, managed to take you on a physical journey through the leisure centre and engage you emotionally as well), sometimes it didn't (Twilight, set on the Tyne, was technically very good, but just dull). Sadly, I suspect I'm rather traditional in my film watching, and prefer something that has some semblance of a plot, so the one that I liked most was closest to a traditional "story".

The longest film, Daydream, was harder work with ten scenes (eg a man falling from a balcony in a concert hall, a school party getting lost in the woods...) of varying length but a single take. It was supposed to show "the connection between a city during a moment of great change and how this moment can be reflected in the emotional world of its citizens", but it didn't really come across. Yes, the stories were on occasion emotional. But to a non-Liverpudlian, who didn't necessarily know the locations, the connection with the city itself wasn't apparent.

Saturday night popcorn thrillers they weren't. Interesting, though.

17 April 2007

Desk: work in progress

I'm utterly fascinated at the moment by the photos in the Guardian Review section each Saturday, that show writers' rooms. Aside from the fact that I bet they've all been tidied up before the Guardian photographer got his foot inside the door (although Claire Tomalin's desk this week was suitably messy) it's interesting to see what sort of equipment they use (a surprising number of old-fashioned typewriters), and what they cover the walls with (I can't remember who it was last week, but their walls were almost entirely covered by a regiment of Post-it notes).

So, in comparison, here's mine, squashed in next to the filing cabinet:




The pictures on the walls are all ones I've taken in Paris. There's one of the giant geodesic dome at Parc de la Villette, two of La Defense's skyscrapers and wacky modern sculptures at night, a couple of the Louvre, and a close up of the Institute du Monde Arabe's fantastic panelling. Oh, and the Eiffel Tower, natch.

As for the desk (suitably tidied):

  • my laptop
  • a mouse
  • a replica bullet train, sent from Japan in the 1970s by my auntie, containing a stapler, a hole punch and a stack of business cards
  • a picture I did, shortly before M arrived (there's the delights of maternity leave for you...)
  • a money box in the shape of a cat, bearing the legend "rainy day fund". Needless to say, it's empty...
  • a (stilton) pot of assorted pens, mainly those ones you get sent free in the post by charities
  • a coaster
  • small pile of notebooks and diary. If I lose those, I'm dead.

Not sure what all this says about me. No life? No taste? Answers on a (tidied) postcard.

16 April 2007

Arts Corner: The Departed

Dear Martin Scorsese

I rather liked this. Not sure I would have given it the Oscar for Best Picture, as I have a soft spot for Little Miss Sunshine and thought The Queen was spiffing, but it was a good, intelligent Saturday night thriller. I actually had to watch the film and think about it, rather than doing my usual trick of multi-tasking and reading the newspaper as well.

In fact, you got me a bit confused to start off with, because Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon looked so similar what with that haircut and the mumbling. But I muddled through all the same - I'd had some practice while watching Infernal Affairs.

It was a shame a lot of them died in the last half hour, though, especially that nice Martin Sheen. I was a bit surprised that his presidential bodyguards didn't manage to stop him falling off the roof, but I guess even the FBI have their off days.

Anyway, nice try - probably a 7 out of 10.

Yours etc.

Rach

11 April 2007

House porn

Otherwise known as Grand Designs. Actually, the alternative is probably porn starring Hugh Laurie, which is just too weird to think about right now.

Aaaanywaaay, I've just sat on the (sadly, IKEA) sofa thinking how it all makes suburbia look a little, well, dull. I love Victorian/Edwardian terraces, but a girl can lust after some modernist clean lines and glass, after all (even though the window cleaning bill would be monstrous). Although I'm not sure I could cope with living in the gorgeous art deco house they covered this week without a complete furniture transplant. Sadly, the aforesaid IKEA couch (at least five years old, wearing its second set of badly-fitting covers) really wouldn't cut the mustard. Neither would the raft of plastic sticklebricks currently floating around the living room floor, or the day-glo plastic mini-kitchen currently being used to produce pancakes (small raisin packets are flipped on a regular basis in our household). But hey, it's home. And I like it.

02 April 2007

Beached

Beaches are where it's at, man. Tynemouth Long Sands was fantastic this morning in the spring sunshine - one of those days when you're really glad you're looking after an 18-month-old because you get an excuse to get your wellies out and stomp across the sand, and run in and out of the waves. There were lots of kids digging sandcastles with some very swish spades. A few people flying kites. Several red-faced parents pushing buggies across the sand (will they never learn?). About 10 dogs in varying states of wetness pursuing balls of varying sizes. And a strange man wearing headphones and brandishing some kind of sci-fi scanner, who was presumably looking for dropped change.

Anyway, we got very sandy, rather wet, and topped it all off with a sausage sandwich at the weirdly named Crusoes (I do love Tynemouth but it bears absolutely no resemblance to a desert island...). It was the perfect morning.

28 March 2007

Well, I was bored with blue...

Ooh, it's gone all green, hip and urban. (That's green as in colour not as in eco-friendly. I don't know how you'd have an eco-friendly blog. Sponsored by Ecover? Or those folk who catch tuna on pieces of string by moonlight while humming merrily to passing dolphins?)

Lambs, daffodils, you get the picture?

Oh, spring has sprung, tra la laaaaaaa. Yes, it's been officially sunny for three days up here in the frozen north, so I think we can safely say it's spring. Yay! Lots more time outdoors (what do we have a balcony for, if not for swigging gin and tonics on?), and fewer cardigans. No bad thing, in my book. (Check out the link, and you'll see the most embarrassed male model ever, who is having to wear some delightful zip-up versions.)

Anyway, as you can tell, not much happening here today. A brief excursion into the delights of Newcastle to have M's feet measured (thankfully, the cute green boots still fit) and to purchase silly pink spotty sunglasses (thank you Primark for making my day when my small child stuck sunglasses on her head and said "coooool"). And that was about it. Bar a bit of meandering about outside on the balcony, drinking tea, tidying up and watering the plants. Oh, and making some fish chowder (sounds better than it actually tasted, although given that I've got the umpteenth cold of the year, most things are like cardboard at the moment). So not exactly high-flying, but rather satisfying none the less.

But don't worry, pop-pickers. I'm sure the obscure cultural adventures and terrible film reviews will continue in due course. I'm off to find an Easter egg...

25 March 2007

Arts Corner: Exploring film

I headed out to Byker last night, to the Star and Shadow Cinema, a fantastic volunteer-run project in the middle of an industrial bit of the city. They've built a cinema in an old warehouse, with a bar and performance space alongside, and now run a magnificent series of odd films - it must be the only place in the north east to be running a radical, political programme, including an Anarchist Film Festival.

It all sounds terribly right-on so far. But actually, it was lovely. Really warm, welcoming and friendly, although the smell of patchouli in the bar did take me back all the way to student land... I have no idea how they make any money though, given that there were about 20 people at the screening I went to - a film called 'Be Fruitful and Multiply', from the Jewish Film Festival.

It was all about a series of women in Brooklyn and Jerusalem who have large families (large in the Jewish context seems to be around 10-16 children), which must be a popular topic at the moment, given that Channel 5 screened '10 Kids and Counting' this week. Hey ho. We'll be back to Daily Mail-style screeching about the fertility crisis next.

23 March 2007

Arts (and Science) Corner: new stuff

I came across the most fascinating thing yesterday, while at a workshop about running a business in the creative industries (see, my life isn't all nappies. Honest.). Totally unrelated (it just happened to be in the venue they were using), but such a good idea - finally something useful being done with computers and new technology, rather than simply making a mobile phone thinner. It was rather nice to see something inspiring for once.

The venue we were at was the Culture Lab at Newcastle University (nice architecture, stripped wooden flooring - you can tell no undergrad student is going to be let within 500 miles of this place). It's developing an "ambient kitchen", which is embedded with computers and digital devices, so that it can aid those who require assistance with things like following a sequence (for example, the order in which you do things to make beans on toast). I guess it'd be really handy for people with dementia, or maybe learning disabilities (or maybe even stressed parents who get halfway through doing something and then forget why on earth they went to the fridge in the first place). We saw the kitchen under construction (rather joyously, the units are nothing fancy and are arriving from IKEA), with all the digital sensors being placed in the floor. Lots of ideas about bar codes, sensors and wireless technology, none of which I fully understood, but which sounded cool. Let's hope the finished product gets seen elsewhere - I'd love to know how they get on.

20 March 2007

Pixie-land

Watching Red Nose Day last Friday (hey, I'm always renowned for my topical posts, me) I was struck by the fact that there seemed to have been an invasion of small pixie men. Stand up (on a box) David Tennant, Richard Hammond, Mark Owen et al. All fairly interchangeable, when you look closely (although I'd be worried if I ever came across Mark Owen wielding a sonic screwdriver, given that he tends to waggle his microphone about an awful lot and looks like he's going to poke Gary Barlow in the eye or somewhere equally painful at some point in the future. Or is that just wishful thinking?).

Anyway, what is itabout them that makes them popular? At the risk of sounding like my Nanna, I just don't get it. Is it the artful bed-hair (and no, Russell Brand, I darkly suspect that (a) you've overdone matters slightly and (b) you're about 2ft too tall)? The sparkly blue eyes? The short pixie legs (note, you never see Richard Hammond's shoes - are you sure they're not pointy green boots?)? Answers on a postcard please, to Confused of Gateshead.