Monday, 11 June 2018

Is there a statute of limitations in Florida?

11 years ago I committed a crime.
Recently, I admitted it to someone I only via Twitter. Only she and my eldest knew what I'd done.
That felt awkward, so I have since 'fessed up to a Very Excellent Mate and then my other half.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am a thief.

In April 2007 we went to Orlando for a family holiday.  It was brilliant, we all had a superb time. Theme parks, swimming, NASA, terrible food, brilliant weather - it was a marvellous trip.

Luke was 8 at the time and VERY MUCH deep in his Lego obsession. Lego in the US is vastly less expensive than Lego in the UK and Luke had saved accordingly.  In fact, both times we had an entire suitcase full of Lego on the return journey. It's a good thing we pack light.

In 2007 the ability to make personalised minifigs was unheard of in the UK.  The Lego shop in Orlando had a station (as does Leeds now) where you could assemble 3 minifigs and buy them. You could choose one accessory to go with it and mix and match hair/hat, heads, bodies, legs as suited you. Alien firefighter carrying flowers? You've got it. Mermaid wearing a chef's hat and carrying a fish? You bet. Go wild!
Coolest. Concept. Ever.

Luke made his 3 figures and proceeded with Mark to the till. I messed about with minifigs whilst toddler B dozed in the pushchair.

Being an ENORMOUS and wonderfully stocked building station, there were more combinations than I've ever seen before or since. I was having a wonderful time.

Back then I dyed my hair various shades of red or burgundy. I had a bob. I love bright red lipstick, always have. I used an online moniker with the surname Reckless, the ACTUAL name of one of Mark's ancestors.  It's a brilliant name, makes me think of a saloon keeper or pirate queen.

Faffing about, I made myself a red-haired pirate minifig with a sword in one hand and a wine goblet in the other. She was PERFECT. I had to have her.

Wait a minute - I had TWO accessories, and you're only allowed one.  And I don't want two other minifigs to fill a pack; I'd already created the greatest one possible.
Also, she is a pirate. You can't purchase a pirate, that's not how piracy works. It's un-piratical.

Readers, I stole her.

Later on, Mark said "I didn't see you at the till, when did you buy that?"
Umm... Little Luke and Zach, 8 and 5 years old, were right there with us. Able to hear every word.

I compounded my sin by lying to my partner of 31 years... "While you were dealing with the kids."

My pirate alter-ego stands on my shelf next to the coffee mat and my stack of books-I'm-still-reading.  She's my avatar online. She's still the greatest minifig I've ever seen, although I need to find a grey-haired bob for her one of these days.
It's nice to have a partner in crime.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Talk is cheap (but remarkably effective)

Loquacious. Verbose. Garrulous. Gabby. Gobby. Can talk the hind leg off a donkey.
Have you met me face to face yet?

I talk all the time, to pretty much everyone. Actually, I talk to non-people too. The animals (obviously) the plants (Aren't you doing well! good on you), the appliances ("Don't you DARE burn my bagel, you rotter"), the timer ("Oh, belt up, I heard you the first time!). 
I started as a chatty toddler at an extremely early age and haven't shut up since. This can be useful, friendly, charming, wearing, crass, irksome or bloody annoying depending on one's mood and temperament.

On Thursday, my Best Woman SJ, my Very Ace Mate Kirsty and I went to the RHS Show at Chatsworth. The sun was shining, the flowers and gardens were glorious, the picnic was extensive and delicious. It was an absolutely wonderful day - as are all my days out with SJ. 

There's always a section of food and drink stalls. For the last 5 years gin kiosks have been A Big Thing. (Before that flavoured vodka, before that whisky, and the “new” thing on the rise is rum).  As usual we have a fair few tiny samples (Mason Gin from Yorkshire does a lovely Lavender gin, and I don't generally like floral stuff. There was a lovely baked apple and almond moonshine as well.)

Moving ahead of me as I tasted a mature cheddar (a bit dull), Kirsty called me over to see the product on a stall a few metres along.

It was a Scottish gin in a really beautiful ceramic jug. Lovely stoneware, a real heft to it. I went to look, and a couple of women already there were making a purchase. They told me to definitely try it, it’s lush.
I said it was the gorgeous bottle that attracted me, and we chatted a bit about the things we'd sampled while the seller got the card payment ready.
Paying for their gin, they were offered a free empty bottle “to use as a vase or make a lamp”
They said No
I asked the salesperson “how much is it for one of the empty bottles?"
She did a snooty face.
“One is free when you purchase a bottle of gin” (you ghastly peasant)
Oh, ok.
My new gin-tasting friend said “I’ve changed my mind. I’d like an empty, please!”
As the salesperson passed it to her she said “I’m sharing the happiness “ and passed it straight to me, smiling broadly.
The salesperson looked like she’d sucked a lemon. I was chuffed to bits.

When I showed it to Kirsty she started laughing. "How does this happen with you? This never happens to me, and it happens to you all the time!"

She's right, it does.
I talk to people. I chat away, all friendly and open. Sometimes it's annoying, sometimes people are abrupt or ignore me, but mostly people are friendly back. On the whole, I think people like an opportunity to connect. Sure, not everyone likes an extrovert but enough people do that it's worth being friendly.

I also got a photo with Joe Swift, my absolute favourite of the Gardener's World team. (They were filming for a segment on the programme.)
We saw him around and about while we were enjoying the show.
Clearly the RHS aren’t a selfie crowd, but lots of people were taking surreptitious photos.
A little later we saw him by a stand, waiting while the crew were sorting the technical bits.
I said to him and the production assistant “while you are still setting up, could I possibly have a quick photo with Joe? Would you mind?”
She said “no problem “ and Joe said “what do you mean?”
I took that as a yes.

(Of course I did!)
She used my phone for a photo. Joe said “OOOOOOHHHHH. Setting up! Of course! I thought you said ‘sitting up’ and thought I’m not that old, of course I can sit up!”
I laughed and said, “while you can hear me, Hiya Joe, I’m Jay and I’m delighted to meet you.“
“Lovely to meet you too, and enjoy your day”
As I rejoined Kirsty and SJ I noticed some people in the crowd shooting me funny looks - it seemed a bit "how dare she," or at least "how rude." But heck, I saw a nice person I wanted to meet, he was standing at a loose end for a moment and I asked politely.

Y'know, using my words.
And that worked.

Chatting. It's an under-appreciated skill.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

The happiness of being a fan

I am a fan. A proper, fully-fledged, deeply uncool and overenthusiastic fan.
I get all excited  - during the trailer for the new Mary Poppins film I actually squealed out loud in the cinema because I saw Lin-Manuel Miranda.  I have release dates for telly shows and books in my calendar. I fall in love with things at the drop of a hat.

Mark is not a fan. He likes stuff - sometimes he loves stuff. He has books, games, films and bands he really enjoys. He is measured in his enthusiasm, doesn't wig out in exuberant excitement.  This can make it awfully hard to buy him presents - who knows what he'd really like? - but it definitely makes him easy to live with. He's much steadier than I am.

But I do feel all non-fan people are missing out. There's something about that pure joy, throwing yourself into something and utterly loving it. Surrendering to the uncool, being the antithesis of cynical, being a bit absurd and really not minding at all.

My principle fangirl obsession at the moment is the work of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Since I first watched Moana, the glorious song You're Welcome (as performed by the most enthusiastic human on the planet, The Rock) has been one of my favourites. It's lyrically adept, full of charm, self-delusion, cheekiness and fun. In our house it's The Mum Summoner - Luke put it on YouTube loudly in the living room when I was messing about in the kitchen and he wanted my attention and as predicted I dropped everything and rushed into the room. Now they all do it.
I can't help it, You're Welcome makes me very happy. And it sure beats someone bellowing MUUUUUUUM to attract my attention.

Some months later my Very Excellent Mate Alison mentioned they had pre-registered for Hamilton tickets because her kids were obsessed with it. I was bemused - to me Hamilton is a declining steel city in Ontario and not exactly the thing shows are made of. (Except maybe a Canuck Full Monty, I guess.)  However, Alison's gang have outstanding taste and have introduced me to good things over the years so I thought I'd have a listen.  I didn't realise it was by the person who wrote The Mum Summoner. I knew nothing of the historical figure. That was 14 months ago.

"How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman..." I was hooked from the opening line.

Not a week goes by that I don't play it.  (OK, it's nearly daily.)  Zach knows every single word of the 2.5 hour set, bless his ace self, and I know a hell of a lot.  I never get bored of it. I find new nuances, call-backs, witticisms, and clever touches each time. I still cry. I think Daveed Diggs is brilliant, Thomas Jefferson was a Grade-A asshole, Lin himself is clearly a genius and I'm with Angelica, I want Women in the sequel (Work!)
I have to actively remind myself to play other stuff because I know the rest of the house wants a bit of variety. Tom Petty and the Hamilton soundtrack is pretty much all I need. I'm almost afraid of seeing it live in October because I know and love the Broadway recording so well. But I'm also incredibly excited that we ARE seeing it eventually. 

I am also a massive fan of Springwatch. To the frustration of my offspring - who would rather watch paint dry - I watch every single second of every series. Sometimes I watch twice because there was a cool bit. I follow what else the presenters are up to, mark the transmission dates in my calendar so I don't miss anything.
I look up the places they visit.  It was Iolo waxing lyrical about the Farne Islands that had me desperate to go.  Seeing the nesting puffins and terns was so brilliant I still bounce on my toes when I think of our trip last June - absolutely glorious. 

Other telly I am a big fan of: The Wire and Game of Thrones, both of which I have watched all the way through numerous times. It's the complexity of the stories, I'm transfixed.  Because I go to the beginning each time a new series comes out I can nearly do Season 1 of GOT by heart. I am still angry that one of my very favourite characters didn't even exist in the books, making them even more turgid to read. Roz is AWESOME, damn it.

Then there's the Regency novels of Georgette Heyer which I re-read several times a year. I'm VERY good on obscure trivia from the Heyer world. I love the period language, the daft habit of naming people after towns, that the heroes having grey eyes and the heroines frequently wear celestial blue gowns with silver spider-gauze. I love that Lady of Quality and Black Sheep are basically the same novel and I enjoy both versions anyway.  I love that I'm on my third copy of Frederica because the earlier ones have fallen apart.

Being a fan, however you express it, is a force for good.  Conventions where you hang out with other fans, online discussion groups, reading and re-reading, watching and re-watching, singing at the top of your voice whether or not you're any good, allowing the stories to sweep you away or the music to become the soundtrack of your life - to hell with a cynical, bitter and depressing world. I fully recommend opening our arms and hearts to something that makes us properly happy. 

You're welcome.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Not my favourite day

I am a fortunate soul. I have a wonderful family, I know many amazing and inspiring people, we can afford (just about) for me to work for free at things that matter to me. I have far too many animals and a veg garden prone to flooding but that's OK.
And I love my city very much indeed.

However, sometimes it all goes a bit tits up. Yesterday was one of those days.

First of all - women, cross your legs. My apologies for this bit.
Today I had my 3-yearly cervical smear test. Like every woman in the country of screening age, I received the notification letter with a glum sigh. Yes, I know we have to do it, it's the smart course of action but still...
I procrastinated just long enough to side-step the Easter school holidays and scheduled it for first thing on a Monday. "get it over with first thing."
The speculum isn't exactly comfortable and I actively dread the noises they open it.
Unfortunately, the nurse was inexperienced.
(I did warn you to cross your legs)
She's a total poppet. She's warm, friendly, kind, well-meaning and has a terrific manner with patients. She has the sparkly blue eyes of an old Hollywood movie star. She's great at taking blood and doing inoculations. She's just not quite got the hang of cervical smears.
It took 8 goes.
I had to ask her to stop, I couldn't take it anymore.
She fetched an experienced nurse who sorted it - without pain - in 2 minutes.
Talking to one of my Very Excellent Mates afterwards, she'd had the same nurse with a similar result (fewer tries, more bleeding).
I thought that was the worst my week would be. Everything's on the up from that, surely.

After dropping Z's forgotten lunch at school and buying the approved summer uniform polo shirts at the shop down the road, I drove to work on my lovely Vespa.
The roads are generally quiet at that time of day but a combination of road works, building works and changed lane marking mean a couple of sections are more awkward than usual. This resulted in the cars in the lanes either side of me simultaneously deciding to be in my lane, which they did without indicating and seemingly without noticing me on my scooter. Cars in front and behind, and moving in from either side - adrenaline spike! Luckily the car behind blasted its horn and they both swerved back into their lanes. People tell me scooters are dangerous. My experience is that no, it's dozy car drivers that are dangerous.
After that burst of near death excitement I went to the marvellous Play Lab.
Play Lab is a pop-up play space in the centre of the city. It's brilliant and if you are local to Leeds do come ad see us. It's on New York street opposite the post office, on the road down Kirkgate Market that leads to the multi-story carpark and the bus station. We're there 10-4 every day, sometimes later as well.
We have an empty shop that we've filled with Lego, toys, pillows, hula hoops, craft bits and a visiting coffee shop. We've pompom makers, chalks, markers and paper, stuff for den building, plenty to mess about with. That's the drop-in-and-play bit, totally free.
Downstairs we run workshops and inventors clubs to get kids exploring what they can build and create.  It's flipping lovely.

I'm acting as a self-appointed intern at this community-based project. It was clear to me the founder, Emma Bearman, couldn't possibly manage all her plans with the workforce she had funding for, so I nominated myself. I do a few days a week - mostly just being there to welcome people, help kids with activities, do the odd errand, clear up and so on. Having an extra body to (wo)man the play space can be a help.  It's very rewarding, if occasionally very noisy!
After a 4.5 hour shift I locked up and headed across town to collect a book from Waterstone's. My arthritis hasn't been great, so I was walking awkwardly and was jostled a couple of times. I put that down to my clumsiness.
When I got to Waterstone's and went to pay, I discovered my wallet was missing. On the unlikely chance I'd left it at work, I went back to Play Lab and searched for it. No wallet. I'd definitely had it when I bought those school shirts. I definitely had it when I tucked it in my cotton shopping bag when I got to Play Lab, and tucked it out of sight in the back of the cubby under the motorbike jacket.
There wasn't a lot in it - frustrating things to replace like loyalty cards, membership cards, drivers licence, credit and debit cards, and a couple of gift vouchers. Things I'll now have to reset on all websites I buy from. Hoops to go through because I bought out Hamilton the musical tickets with that card and I need it to collect the tickets.
Oh, and two really nice commemorative £2 coins in the separate compartment for my coin collection
(I know, I know, coin collecting is lame. Don't judge me. I've had a rough day.)
I'd been pickpocketed on my way through town.
That pretty much broke me.
It was such a crappy thing to happen, with so little advantage to whomever stole the wallet. It had been a really lousy morning followed by a nerve-wracking commute, a lovely but draining shift with my bad knees and now lots of inconvenience and frustration, as well as costing me about £50 to replace things.
I sang fed up songs on my way home (thanks to Lily Allen and Belle and Sebastian for their excellent work in this field), felt thoroughly narked with the world and went to bed early feeling drained.
Monday the 16th can piss right off.
So here I am on Tuesday.
I have an open bouquet of daffodils on my kitchen counter., which is enough to brighten my day. Yes, living in a city means there is crime and it's damned annoying when it happens to you. However, living in the city also means there are amazing things like Play Lab, providing a warm and welcoming space for families. There are large bookshops like my lovely Waterstone's, and fun places to go like my beloved Everyman cinema. There are Kirkgate Market traders who call out and wave when I go by, friends to commiserate with when rotten things happen, and thousands of connections and intersections of communities that make life richer.
I'm shaking off yesterday and looking forward to tomorrow. There are rumours of sunshine.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Further Adventures in Yarn

Last month I went to the 5th Yarndale festival of all things woolly. If possible, it was better than the earlier years, as the logistics are managed with even more careful planning and the range of stalls on offer grows ever wider.

I felt a bit of a fraud, as I had entirely lost my crafting mojo in the crushing depression of last autumn and winter. I hadn't finished any of the projects I'd begun after last year's purchases, and they lurk in the other room, oppressing me with guilt whenever I see them. If I still had those things to finish, what business did I have shopping for new projects?

However, I hoped a nice wander around amongst the crafty women, surrounded by beautiful things in vivid colours would inspire me. If nothing else it would be a chance for my Very Excellent Mate Rachel to come for a visit.

I needn't have worried. A quiet train ride and chatty bus ride on the Yarndale Express built my excitement, as did the gloriously yarn-bombed show area. I love the bonkers souls who send in bunting, mandalas, flowers, sheep and hearts each year to turn an agricultural building into a Mecca of yarn and bright colours.  I did find my crocheted heart among the display somewhere.

There are so many people wearing their own creations; some are true works of art. Others resemble the output of fevered minds with access to too many colours, but at least they are happy. A sneaky game of "just because you can doesn't mean you should" keeps Rach and I entertained for hours. Crocheted granny square trousers were definitely a sartorial step too far.

I found loads of lovely things and small (ish) projects to try. I've had to crop the photo as there was a Christmas present amongst my purchases, so I can't show you absolutely everything.  I also held back from purchasing the *GREATEST* book of crochet patterns I've ever seen, the Toft book of crocheted people and costumes.  I knew I have no time to do that level of project just yet, but it was so brilliantly laid out I was sorely tempted.

I'm learning Corner to Corner crochet to to use one of the beautiful self-coloured yarns I couldn't resist. This proved to be a bit complicated - being left handed so having to reverse everything when I'm struggling to picture how it goes can sometimes send me into a tailspin, and I had to undo about a third of my work when I realised where I'd first gone wrong, making it bigger and bigger every row. Then I messed up the decreasing bit too much and had to redo another sizeable chunk, with fine yarn that snagged and broke. 

However, I think I've *finally* got a handle on it. The trick for a rectangular scarf is to chain 6 as you start a row from the top of the diagonal row and to slipstitch and chain three when you start a row from the bottom of the diagonal - increase as you go downhill, decrease as you go uphill, like riding a bike.

And here it is, modelled by its discerning owner:

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Some Diems Need To Be Carpe'd

the fairy-like elegance of the Arctic Tern

Much of the UK tracks the televisual seasons of the year by Strictly, talent shows or celebrities in a jungle. Those aren't really my sort of thing.
I count down the days to Doctor Who, Game of Thrones and, most especially, Springwatch.

Springwatch is one of those creations that is so much a part of BBC's culture it's like the Beeb distilled. It's earnest, a bit geeky, silly, incredibly local and yet also national, and is grounded in a will to educate and inspire. I love the presenters even when they drive me crazy, I love the stories that carry across from year to year (Monty the Osprey! Chris the Cuckoo!) and I especially love how excited it makes me about new species every time.

A while back, Iolo Williams reported from the Farne Islands. As well as the adorable puffins, it was the Arctic Terns that amazed me. They had put a tracker on a tern to see if their estimation of the distances he flew was accurate.  Not a chance - he flew 97,000km in a single year. What a champion.

I wanted to see them myself - what an incredible sight it was, those thousands of birds ad grey seals  coming to stay on these rocky islands. Last year we just didn't have the opportunity. This June, we grabbed a two day gap while Mark was still not working and went north.

The Farnes were everything I'd hoped - stunning, exciting, teeming with wildlife and lit up by warm summer sun.

It was only through help of my ace friends that I could seize the chance to abscond overnight and see this marvellous sight, and I am very grateful.  The trip will stay with me for the rest of my life.

The stacks - more birds nesting than is plausible 

Glossy, gorgeous guillemot and her brood

Arctic terns thought Mark was a well dodgy geezer

keeping a watchful eye for the thieving gulls

every dot is a returning puffin

Razorbills are very handsome

back on the mainland, looking over a beautiful sea

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Accentuate the positive

In July last year I started a list of happy and interesting things I'd like to do before January 1st 2020 - i.e. before the end of the year that Mark and I turn 50.  I have been thinking about other things I want to add to my list. This is about inspiring me, making me happy, stuff.  I'm not after a scary challenge but a "gosh I'm glad I did that!"  

Like the worst of list cheats I'm adding two things I've already done and can tick off instantly.  That isn't as audacious as it sounds - I mentioned it in the first draft of the list as something unattainable. Thanks to my amazing parents, it became attainable; they gave me a weekend in Tromso, Norway and I could fulfil a lifelong dream to see the aurora, and do whale-watching too. I'm astonishingly lucky.

Here's how my list of things to do stands so far:
  1. Go fishing  - Woo hoo! Did this at the end of last summer 
  2. See the Giant's Causeway I'm making plans, hope to do it either July or the Autumn.
  3. Try salsify and Jerusalem artichokes -  Still not tried them. They are in season in winter, so that's one for later.
  4. Go rock pooling Definitely a summer activity
  5. Sing in a choir - I admit, I bottled it. Was absolutely going to do it and panicked. I'm a wuss.
  6. Grow cut flowers Some setbacks here - slugs had my seedlings and Mark accidentally dumped a mound of compost on my freesia bulbs, but I have a few other irons in the fire.
  7. See live music  I did this! With mates and neighbours, we went to the OnRoundhay festival as a family and saw James. They were fantastic. Of course they were. 
  8. Visit Hadrian's Wall - Done!
  9. Spend all day at the movies - Not done this yet.
  10. Learn to apply make up properly Thanks to my fantastic mate Heather-in-London, I've got a makeup look that works for me. She gave me links to tutorials and product recommendations, and was so amazing and supportive. Heather is a beauty product guru, as well as one of the best parents and most thoughtful people I know. She's as generous with her knowledge as she is with her time (Apparently, I have sexy hooded eyes, like Lauren Bacall and Ava Gardiner. Go me!)
  11. See the Northern Lights - TICK! Best thing imaginable.
  12. Go whale-watching - Also TICK! A morning watching a pod of orca hunt for herring before a night chasing Aurora Borealis. What a day.
  13. Learn a new range of cooking - North African, Middle Eastern, Indian or Thai would be my thoughts but I'm flexible. I've learnt to make ramen recently and I want to expand to incorporate other dishes. NOT European food, though, because I understand the flavours of that already. Learning from Sabrina to make a curry was one of my favourite days, and it's time I tried to level up my culinary skills.
  14. Sew something I can wear - This is all about fear and ineptitude. One day I'll manage it. I'm such a wuss. I can't even cut into nice fabric. I have an almost-finished dress I was working on when I lost my job and I just couldn't face doing it again.
  15. See a new ballet company - I see New Adventures and Northern Ballet regularly, and English Ballet occasionally but Id like to experience another dance company. I may seek advice on that.
  16. Learn to play a song on an instrument - Even if it's Happy Birthday on the recorder, I want to play an actual song on something again. I have re-strung Mark's ukulele to make it left-handed and am thus far rubbish. I can only improve.
  17. Go Birdwatching on the Farne Islands - This is Springwatch's fault. I'd love to see in person the remarkable sea bird colonies they've shown me on the telly.
  18. Return to Paris - After the holiday from hell 9 years ago when Zach and Bonnie had a stomach bug and I was washing bedding and clothes every single day of the trip, I can't think of Paris without a shudder. Mark, who was NOT the one dealing with an exploding toddler morning and night, has incredibly fond memories of the holiday. I need to nice experience to banish the vile one.
  19. Cook a decent roast dinner - OK, this one is scary, because I don't cook or eat big slabs of meat and I think a roast dinner is all about the roast itself. However, I feel there is a veggie alternative out there I could work with, and surely it's not The Law that the vegetables are boring. It seems a skill all competent cooks here should have and I'd like to nail this one at some point.
  20. Build sandcastles - because it's fun yet I never do it anymore.
Here are a few photographs from the marvellous weekend in Tromso. I had no idea I could love a place plunging in darkness quite this much - I adored it from the moment we arrived. And two days before the solstice is a very dark time of year in the Arctic! The water, trees and mountains thrilled me to my core and I could have stayed forever. Except for the cost, obviously.