Where I Am From

I’m from a lifetime of Marks and Spencers underwear, from last season’s clothes bought on sale and from the dizzy limit of wealth being enough spare cash to buy a jacket from Jaeger.

I’m from a favourite cousin’s hand-me-down sailor dress, and from a family of women who each in turn convinced themselves that they never suited a hat, even for weddings.

I’m from flat open countryside less than half a mile from home.  From bicycle rides and mud pies and potatoes burned on campfires.

I’m from long-abandoned industrial yards broken into to provide us with the most dangerous of playgrounds, and from new houses that sprung up eventually and brought strangers into the town.

I’m from a girl next door who scared me by telling me that unfolded sticks of chewing gum would cause sudden and certain death, and from a girl two doors down who made me feel so brave when I realised how frightened she was of thunder.

I’m from travelling the two hour journey to the beach at Scarborough in the middle of winter just to watch people dodging the waves.  I’m from sheltering from the rain on Cornish beaches in high summer when it ought to have been roasting.

I’m from the sounds of laughter and the smell of cigarette smoke drifting through to my bedroom when Aunty Margaret visited on Christmas Eve.

I’m from gambling with pennies at Boxing Day card games, and from fights with my sister after rainy-day rounds of Monopoly had gone on too long.

I’m from “because I said so” and “we don’t do that in this house”.

I’m from from Battenburg cake, Yorkshire puddings and a grandmother who indulged us with Heinz baked beans instead of vegetables on Saturday lunchtimes.

I’m from blackberries and rhubarb being free and freshly picked, and from salmon and peaches coming only in tins.

I’m from from Live Aid and Blue Peter Appeals.

I’m from showtunes and brass bands and learning to play the piano by ploughing through the Beatles Complete.

I’m from Adrian Mole and Bridget Jones and Nick Carraway, and from my grandmother’s month-old passed-on Woman’s Weekly magazines.

I’m from a scrapbook made in the last year of my teens, and from the yellowing clippings of childhood achievements carefully cut from the local newspaper.

I’m from a box of my memories kept on top of the wardrobe, and from a suitcase of my mum’s dreams tucked away in a corner of my spare room that holds the blonde curls of my first haircut and every Mothers Day card I’ll ever send.

 

I came across this a couple of days ago and thought I’d attempt it myself.

Schmutzie.com has a Mr Linky widget where lots of people have linked to their versions. There’s a template to follow here.  I’m not used to writing poetically, and I’ve departed from that structure quite a bit.

Now featured at Mama Kat’s writing workshop – there are some great versions over there too.

Planning my First Speech

Picture by Marc Wathieu.

“So, have you volunteered to do your speech yet?”

There had been a flurry of emails last week about the planning of last night’s Toastmasters session; up until the middle of the week, there hadn’t been any speeches scheduled. And I’d happened to mention to Mike that I’d had an email about it.

Toastmasters is many, many things aside from Public Speaking, but the speaking part is very much at the centre.

I’ve been going along for about three months now. So that’s around six sessions (ours are second and forth Mondays). I’ve taken small roles on; ah-counter (counting ‘ah’s and ‘um’s and other hesitations) and timekeeper, and I’ve done one table topic (an instant one minute speech). I’m still swimming around the shallow end, and even that’s not been entirely plain sailing.

The next step, really, is getting started on doing the prepared speeches.

There are ten to do in the first set; they cover all sorts of themes and tasks, and I think that by the end of it most people would be worthy of the ‘Competent Communicator’ title.

The first one is the Icebreaker. An introduction. A kind of “Hello, group. This is me.”

There’s some comfort in that other components of speaking well come later; there are speeches focused on getting to the point, body language, vocal variety, using visual aids and being inspirational. It’s all about building each of those things in turn.

In the beginning, it really is just about having the courage to stand up and talk. The speech needs to be between four and six minutes. Sounds like the simplest thing in the world, doesn’t it?

It’s odd, I know, to take on a hobby that’s real ‘out of my comfort zone’ stuff. But then imagine having a couple of hours every two weeks to spend in the company of 20 other people all stretching themselves, learning together and really – and this is the magic – just willing each other to succeed.

(There are Toastmasters groups just like ours all over the world – click here to find one close to you).

Ageing

Photo by Bob AuBuchon

Mrs Button, who has been putting up with working with me for almost 10 years, is contemplating a hobby as she plummets into her late-middle 30s and realises that it’s time to take life by the scruff of its neck.

It started with that peculiar documentary about the rock choirs full of middle-aged people dancing about in shopping centres, and morphed into an ambition to join the Womens Institute.  I’m sure we’ll hear more as time puddles on and she starts bringing scones to morning coffee.

But we’ll not pre-empt; that’s not what this post is about, really.

It’s about the fact that the WI website looked funky. For a second, when I looked in last night, I though “Oh, they’ve gone ever so up-to-the-minute”

And then I realised that they haven’t really. It’s just me that’s suddenly become ancient.

All around me, there are other small signals that I am getting old.

1 – I worry about putting itunes on pause for too long. Something to do with stretching the cassette and wearing it out.

2 – I can’t stay in bed. Until fairly recently, I’d fairly regularly spend at least one weekend day laid in until lunchtime. Now I feel I’ve wasted the day if I’m not up and at it by eight thirty.

3 – Last time I dyed my hair, it occurred to me that I no longer do it to perk up the colour. I now do it to hide the grey.

4 – I’m increasingly walking into rooms, cupboards and so on and forgotten what I’ve come in for. I’ve taken to making myself a note and carrying it with me.

5- I ache all the time. Often in places where I was never even conscious of having a place before.

I’m beginning to wonder whether there’s a special potion for the over 40s. Something that I’ll perhaps receive a consignment of on my birthday. A secret that I can’t be told until then.

Or whether people of my age just manage to plaster a smile on, put up with it and pretend it’s just a few aches and pains. Better that, I guess, than giving in to it all just when life’s supposed to be properly beginning.

The Nearest Window

window

Picture isn

In response to yesterday’s WordPress DailyPost Topic #176: Find the nearest window. Look outside. What is the most interesting thing you see?

I do a lot of my blog procrastination sitting on a little sofa in the bay window of our front room.

 

Having the curtains open means that I can see most of the world passing by (the window nets make sure that that the world can’t see me unless it really squints).

There’s normally a steady stream of people and cars passing along our road as we’re between one part of town and another. We have a lot of rush hour people cutting through, and a lot of younger people walking down here on their way to and from nights out. But on the whole, it’s reasonably quiet and a great place to live.

The first thing that normally catches my eye when I look outside the window or step out of the front door is the house opposite. Paul’s house.

Paul’s life seems to focus almost entirely on looking after his very elderly mum and dad. He drives occasionally, usually school buses at the start and end of the day, but mostly he’s at the house being a carer.

We don’t know them well, but they do occasionally come over for something or other. Sometimes if Paul’s gone out and they’ve become confused about something. It’s in those moments where we realise how much he has his work cut out.

I know that there are thousands upon thousands of people like Paul all over the country. All over every country I suspect. Caring for people who once cared for them. Putting their own lives on hold as someone else’s drifts into its final years.

And yet, the thing that most often happens to catch my eye and notice Paul’s house is that he always seems to be at either the window or the front door. Standing there really cheerfully with a smile and a wave for anyone who walks by.

I know that we all have difficult bits in our lives, but I’m not sure that many of us could remain that cheerful.

Pastryless Quiche

As I become more deeply attuned to the alchemy of Slimming World, I’m building quite a repertoire of tricks; Pizzas made with a bashed-to-stretch-it-thin chicken breast in place of dough, Ferrero Rocher recreated with a crushed up Ryvita and a dollop of nutella.

 

And my absolute favourite, for all the wrong reasons.  The Pastryless Quiche.

Now, I like quiche as much as the next girl.  We’ve come a long way in the past ten years, and the quiche world has seriously upped its game so that it’s rare now that I come across a soggy one.

And then Slimming World comes along and moves the goalposts.  Takes them off the field altogether, actually.

The fact is that I like quiche because I like pastry.  I love pastry.  In my darkest afternoons of extreme mathematics and wrestling with quarterly returns, it’s pastry that I turn to for comfort.

But in a moment of lapsed concentration, I found myself agreeing to give it a go and report back.

So. Eggs, obviously, cottage cheese for flavour and lots of super free veg for virtue. All whisked together with a healthy extra bit of real cheese sprinkled on top. Then in the oven for half an hour or so and Voila! The Pastryless Quiche in all of its glory.

And we play this peculiar game.  Like four year olds at a backyard tea party pretending that the water in the toy cups is tea.

We pretend that this weird thing we’re eating really does taste every bit as good as a Pizza Hut pizza, or a luxury chocolate worthy of the Ambassador’s Reception.  Or, in this case, a crisp-bottomed, perfect snack-fix, full-of-tastiness quiche.  When in fact we’re tucking into a stone cold omelette with some slightly curdled cheese trickling away from it.

And we know – surely we all know – that we’re fooling no-one. Not even ourselves.

But we share the joke, and laugh along with ourselves and each other for creating these funny little work-arounds that wouldn’t ever exist anywhere other than Slimming World.

Sometimes, the daftest bits are those that are the most charming.

Scan Bran Curly Wurly cake, anyone?