Month: August 2016

Our new Sat Nav wears Armani

A while ago I wrote about how I have a tendency to humanize the sat nav. We have two cars. One car has an elderly Tom Tom sat nav which has been affectionately known for years as Gladys. The other car, the newer car, or, Tank II, as I call it (a C4 Grand Picasso for those of you that care about cars), has its own sat nav. This sat nav came with the car. This sat nav is built in. It is much more glamorous that good old reliable Gladys. I prefer Gladys. Is it bad to admit that? I know how Gladys works. I know which buttons to press to get her going. She has helped me out of some serious pickles. I feel very loyal to Gladys. She is a good friend. The new sat nav is, however, far sexier than Gladys.

Tank II (with its new boat on the top)

Tank II (with its new boat on the top)

The new sat nav doesn’t run out of battery. She can go on forever. She doesn’t constantly ask me if I want to connect to my computer (what is that about?). She has a better screen. She is there all the time (you don’t have to stick her into a sucker thing on the windscreen).

Gladys, as well as a Tom Tom sat nav, is a part-time librarian. She has grey curly hair. She’s kind. She likes cats. She wears M&S clothes and tan tights. She loves books. She reads voraciously. She listens to Radio 4. The new sat nav, by contrast, has shoulder length, slightly curvy, brown hair. She is in her mid-40s (like me) yet she is far, far more attractive. She is tanned and wears ‘hardly noticeable’ makeup. She sports round tinted sunglasses, even in winter. She smokes (and this has given her her sexy gravel  voice). She likes cocktails, especially mohitos. She loves to go out with the girls for cocktails. She pops into ‘town’ (what posh people call London) for a night out. In the morning there is nothing she likes better than a proper coffee, a cigarette and a croissant. She certainly doesn’t eat Shreddies or toast. Her style is designer. She likes to go to Cheshire Oaks (but wouldn’t admit it). She wears muted colours. She likes black and she looks amazing in just jeans and a black top and high-heeled boots. She always wears heels. She never wears flats. She is much admired by men, and feared by women. She is always turning men down. Women are jealous of her. They don’t understand her. She’s dark. She has secrets. She’s definitely a mistress rather than a wife. She turns heads. Gladys, sadly, doesn’t.

The sat nav's glasses

The sat nav’s glasses

When I asked the rest of the family how they imagined the sat nav they seemed rather bemused by the question. My husband simply responded that she was a red car. They couldn’t understand how I could construct a whole person and personality from a voice. They were very amused by my description of her.

Is it so strange that I have done this? She doesn’t yet have a name. But I suspect she would be a Caroline. Yes, she’s a Caroline. Caroline tells me regularly about traffic congestion on the A674 near Chorley or the M5 junction 15. She is useful. But she’s no Gladys. I love Gladys more. Sorry, Caroline.


Embracing future nostalgia

I am currently on my annual family holiday in Borth. We have had a holiday in Borth every year for the past few years as my dad and stepmum own a caravan here. Borth holds a very special place in my heart so I love coming here. Last year while we were here, I went through a period of sadness and melancholy which was about a perceived fear of future nostalgia. This year, I’ve had almost the opposite reaction.

As I watched my three boys skimming stones today while we were on a walk somewhere in the middle of Wales (somewhere near Devil’s Bridge), I thought about how happy they were at that particular time. They really were. They would have stayed in that spot, skimming stones, for hours if we, the grownups, hadn’t decided it was time to continue our walk after about half an hour. They were content. They were enjoying themselves and enjoying the moment. I was too. We were searching for the prefect skimming stone, or, as my youngest son called it ‘skimming PERFECTION!’. We kept finding the opposite: ‘skimming PERFAILURE’ (another term coined by my youngest).

Watching them skim stones made me think of my brother, their Uncle Steve, who I wished I could transport to where we were at that moment. He loves skimming stones and did the same as they were doing as a boy, and  I thought about how he would have loved at that point in time to help my three boys perfect their skimming technique. The eldest, in particular, couldn’t quite get it. I had to educate him (I’m not a bad skimmer myself).

Skimming stones

Skimming stones

When I skimmed a ‘sixer’ my three boys were very impressed. They thought that was worthy of much adoration. They managed a ‘fourer’ but not more. Mummy rules of course!

This was half an hour in the day, a point in their long lives, that I hope they remember. I want to imagine them, in twenty years time, in a pub somewhere (probably London), nursing pints of larger, and remembering fondly skimming stones in a river on some random walk that ‘dad took us on’. I see the conversation as follows:

‘Where was it when we learnt how to skim stones, to perfection, as Toby would have said at the time?’

‘Much Wenloch?’

‘No, we were on holiday, I am sure of it.’

‘Oh was it one of dad’s walks?’

‘Yes, I think it was, it was a river somewhere, so I’m thinking Wales’.

‘Yes, Wales, the middle of Wales’.

‘Do you remember how mum skimmed a sixer?’

‘What was a sixer?’

‘You know, you came up with the word, it meant a stone that bounced six times.’

‘Did that mean six bounces or six hits of the water before going down?’

‘Don’t you remember? It was six bounces including the last plunge’.

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes, there’s no way she could have done six bounces then a plunge into water!’

‘Oh yes, and do you remember how on the way back mum talked about “nature’s carpet”, that moss stuff on the ground and Josh made that joke about spilling wine on “nature’s carpet”!’

‘You made that up!’

‘No, I didn’t!’

I hope this conversation does happen at some future point. I hope it is a happy occasion when they meet up and they are all grown up and handsome. My sister, my brother and I often fall into a similar banter of reminiscence when we meet up, the three of us, now: ‘Do you remember when dad used to take us to watch the cars at Keele Services, over the bridge?’ and so on.

That’s my hope for my boys. I am sure it will happen and knowing that, makes me feel happy, not sad.

I have an incurable disease

This is something I realised last week as my sister and her family flew off to New York for a few days. To say I was envious of their travels is an understatement. I was more than envious. I was very green. I was green to the point of sulkiness. I wanted to go to New York. No, I didn’t want to go to New York, I wanted to live in New York. In fact, I concluded that morning that my life would be perfect if only I could persuade my family to pack their belongings and head off to New York for EVER!

To console my feeling of woe as I imagined my sister excitedly awaiting her flight at Heathrow, I went into town to have a cup of coffee in a coffee shop that might remind me of New York. I wanted to pretend I was there for half an hour. I thought that might make me feel better.

My all time favourite city EVER

My all time favourite city EVER

I chose a cafe in town I like called Chez Sophie. This was a bad choice. It is a French coffee shop where they serve amazing milk shakes, crepes and they play French radio in the background. This didn’t make me feel as if I was in New York at all. Rather, it made me feel as if I was in Paris. As soon as I settled down with my Americano and art magazine I thought: ‘wouldn’t it be marvelous to live in Paris?’ If only we lived in Paris, I mused. Then I’d be among the artists and free thinkers of this world. I’d be able to have coffee every day in wobbly Parisian cafes. I would be instantly attractive and well-dressed. I’d have deeper thoughts than I do in Shrewsbury. I could be the original flâneur with my sketch pad and observant eye.

I could live here.

I could live here.

As I sat sipping my coffee dreaming of an arty French life, I perused Facebook and saw that a couple of friends were planning an impromptu trip to London the following day. And the green monster lured up again. I wanted to go to London. No, I wanted to live in London. If we lived in London I’d be able to have coffee at the Tate or the National Gallery, I concluded. How amazing would that be? I’d lead this fabulous cultured life and I’d be able to shop on Carnaby Street and sip wine in Covent Garden. I could go to a well-known art college and become famous too. Yes, that would definitely happen if we lived in Lonodn.

Cycling home after this morning of woe I realised that I have a disease and it’s not a good disease to have. I have ‘grass is always greener’ disease. I live in a state of continuous envy of other places to live. Whenever my husband and I go abroad I try too persuade him that we could live there. We’ve imagined life in Amsterdam, Prague, Berlin as well as New York over the last few years. This also happens on UK holidays to Devon, Somerset, and even Borth. I have gone as far as browsing property for sale in Borth.

I love Borth

I love Borth

This is nuts because Shrewsbury is a lovely place to live. It is a very lively and cultured town which is steeped in history. It has all sorts of coffee shops which I frequent (some of which remind me of Paris, obviously that would be Chez Sophie; some of London, such as Ginger & Co.; and some of New York, for example Starbucks). I can cycle into town. I can go from front room to Waterstones in ten minutes if the wind is blowing in the right direction. How lucky am I? So it isn’t New York, Paris, Borth or London but it’s not that far off. I need to pinch myself sometimes and tell myself that I am jolly lucky to live where I live.

Having said that, we are planning to move as soon as we can convince someone else of how lovely Shrewsbury is, and in particular, how lovely our house is. I suspect that after we moved I will mourn for the Shrewsbury life I will be leaving behind.

It is an incurable disease.

Parental legacies – you can’t escape them even if you want to

This is the weird thought I had the other day when we went to see my dad and step mum for a few hours. While we were there, my dad became quite animated at one point talking about the periodic table and how different chemicals combine to create various compounds. We also talked about how batteries work. I’m not sure this is the usual type of family-get-together small talk that most families engage in. But ours does. It is the norm.

Haven't you ever wondered, how these work?

Haven’t you ever wondered, how these work?

When I was growing up, I thought my dad was in a category of his own. A category of high-level geekiness. In my mind, he was a mostly self-taught intellectual (although he did do a Open University degree, more about that later) with rather high-brow interests: science, maths, motorways, meetings, politics, electricity and books. Although we shared a love for books, mine tended to be the Beano and Enid Blyton books. His books were from the part of the library which gathers the most dust. The other topics that seemed to interest him seemed terribly dull and dry to me. He didn’t seem at all like my friends’ dads.

However, many years later, and with the benefit of hindsight, I have come to realise that I am more like my dad than I thought. Perhaps I always had a latent dad-likeness but it only blossomed as I became a grown up. Here follows is the evidence. Since leaving school I have learnt to love maths and physics a little more. I’ve read a few books on both topics and I absolutely love the annual Christmas lectures at the Royal Institution. I found our talk about the periodic table quite engaging. I think Radio 4 is better than music. I am loath to admit it but I have an odd perchance for motorways and roundabouts (there are so many interesting ones out there). I don’t think I have inherited this quirky interest from my mum. It must be my dad.

And the winner of the best roundabout in the UK is...

And the winner of the best roundabout in the UK is…

I look forward to meetings. I am a parent governor and I secretly quite enjoy the three-hour long (and the rest) meetings in which we get to discuss some very complex educational issues. It really is very interesting, honestly! Politics gets me quite fired up these days. I spent far too much time during the big Brexit debate doing a lot of debating. That’s my dad in me. I’m sure of it.

And these days I don’t just read fiction. I have three books on the go at the moment: Patrick Kelly The View from the Train, Owen Jones The Establishment (admittedly I’ve been reading this for months) and Elizabeth Strout My Name is Lucy Barton. All of which are brilliant. I’m also reading the latest Modern Painters and Aesthetica. Oh, and I’m dipping in and out of Vitamin D: New Perspectives on Drawing. That’s quite geeky, right?

Everyone needs to read this

Everyone needs to read this

As I mentioned above, I remember my dad doing his Open University degree when I was quite young. My memory is a mix of early-morning BBC2 programmes with hairy male or female presenters wearing flares, books, more books, papers, books, and a ceremony in a big building in Birmingham that scared me. But watching my dad spending so many hours learning had a huge impact on me. It gave me a determination to get myself educated. I really wanted that university experience. I had a yearning for it and I did get there (twice now).

So the best legacy my dad left me (and my mum too as she also read voraciously and spent a part of her adult life learning and re-training), one which is more exciting than roundabouts and electrical circuits, is a thirst for knowledge and a desire to never stop learning.

Are we both quite geeky?

Are we both quite geeky?

So I need to say just one more thing to end this weird thought: thank you, dad!

Now time to decided which of my four books to read before bed.




Ten interesting things about hotels

I’ve just got home from a night in a hotel. About three or four times a year, I get to stay in a hotel (so far this year, Oxford, London and Acton Trussell). I feel as if I have had enough experience now of hotels to form opinions about them. While I was in Acton Trussell, I had one of my usual weird thoughts: why are there so many commonalities between each hotel stay I’ve ever had since my first aged 14? Surely that shouldn’t be so. There are hotels all over the world (and I’ve stayed in hotels in Tokyo, Kyoto, Amsterdam, New York, Boston and Berlin as well as Nottingham, York, Oxford and Acton Trussell to name just a few). Is there a common culture of hotels that transcends languages, religions, societies and geographical borders? So I decided that as soon as I got home, I’d write a list to see if I can work out why they all have so much in common.

The Moathouse in Acton Trussell

The Moathouse in Acton Trussell

1. I always feel as if I should Make The Most Of It

I think this stems from that very first hotel stay at the age of 14. I was a runner up in a national competition and had to go to London for the night. Myself and two members of my family were put up in a ‘posh’ hotel for one night, the night before the award ceremony (with the legendary Johnny Morris). It was a suite with antique furniture you can see in old movies or when looking for an antique option of some piece of furniture. I took my mum and my sister (then aged 19) with me. My sister and I had one room, my mum the other. My sister and I decided that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us both (we didn’t then realise we’d stay in hotels as adults, at the time it seemed a one off) so we didn’t want to go to sleep. We had more than the usual 4 TV channels, we had posh beds, we had tea and coffee, we had London outside the window! We stayed up as long as we could get away with (about 2am I think). So now, whenever I stay in a hotel, I feel as if I should spend as much time as I can in the hotel room, watching TV, having a bath, wearing the robe, looking out of the window, drinking the coffee, eating the biscuits, reading the room service menu, reading the hotel manual and looking out of the window again whilst doing all of the above. I also feel as if I should check in as early as possible and leave as late as possible. I feel the need to maximize the benefits of paying for the pleasure.

Me and Johnny Morris

Me and Johnny Morris

2. I always eat too much

Every time I stay in a hotel, I over indulge with my dinner. So I associate hotel rooms with  fumbling around in the dark at 2am looking for Rennie.

3. I always drink too much

As above, for water or the toilet for yet another wee.

4. Whatever time of year it is, hotel rooms are always too hot

Hotel rooms are always baking hot and claustrophobic at night. Sometimes they have noisy air cons which don’t seem to do much to cool the room down. They always have windows which, even when open, don’t seem to do much to cool the room down. I am always too hot in hotel rooms, even in January.

5. The sheets are always too stiff and tucked in too tight (and almost impossible to dislodge)

The first thing I always do when I get into a hotel bed is pull desperately at the sheets to loosen them from their tight moorings. Why do they do that? I also throw the casual cushions, teddy bears, throws etc on the floor. It’s hot enough already without all that.

6. I rarely have a good nights’ sleep in a hotel

This might be related to all of the points above, but unless I’m staying there for more than one night, my quality of sleep in a hotel room is appalling. I toss and turn all night. I associate Sunday mornings in hotels with that tingly itchy feeling of sleep deprivation.

7. More often than not, the decor is stuck in the 1980s

I wonder if the 1980s was a bit of a revival of hotel interior decoration? This seems universal. Most hotels I’ve been in, not all, have dado rails, flowery borders, patterned carpets, dark furniture, and flowery curtains.

Occasional satin cushions are so 1980s

Occasional satin cushions are so 1980s

8. I feel as if I have to overeat at breakfast

This is related to point 1 above. I’m paying for it so, yes, although I wouldn’t dream of eating this much for breakfast at home I will stuff myself silly with cereal, fruit, yogurt, bread, cheese, ham, pastries, bacon, tomato, sausage, beans, egg, hash browns, mushrooms, and lots of toast with marmalade for breakfast. All this will be washed down with lots of proper coffee and freshly-squozed orange juice. Where is the Rennie?

9. I worry what the check out people think

I always worry they think we are having an affair and checking in under a made-up name. Why do I worry about that? I always feel as if I have to explain to them why we are there or mention our children so they know we are legitimate and not doing bad things.

10. Hotels are great for people watching

This is one aspect of the hotel stay I love. I love people watching, in reception and over breakfast: the couples, the families, the tourists, the tired, the hungover, the bride and groom, the hen do, the stag do. I love it all. I would love an artist residency in a hotel. Yes please!

People watching through the peep hole

People watching through the peep hole

So too conclude: why are hotels so similar all over the world. I have no idea why!