Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Feline good

If I’m going to be reincarnated, I want to come back as a cat.

But not any old cat – I want to come back as a pampered puss who is fed on demand, given the run of the place and is never expected to contribute anything more than a purr. In short, I want me as an owner.

There’s something ridiculously hedonistic about cats. They just wallow in the sheer sensual pleasure of whatever feels good, right now. They have no embarrassment about it, no “Sorry, could you just hang on a mo’. I just want to... oh, that feels SOOOO good”.

No, when a cat is in his or her personal pleasure zone, the rest of the world can just go to blazes. Their gratification comes first.

Dogs, on the other hand, seek our permission to enjoy themselves. And then, when given leave to go for it, they launch themselves into it with unbridled joy and enthusiasm, tinged with disbelief at being given the go-ahead to enjoy themselves.

Not so cats, they are much cooler about the whole thing. Their pleasure is not something we bestow on them – it is theirs by divine right and there’s no need to make a big deal about it. The cat’s creed is: If it feels good, do it (and sod the rest of them). It’s as simple as that.

We don’t own cats, they simply deign to accept us as their chosen humans, to act as their hand-servants while allowing us to bask in the reflected glow of their regal glory. So don’t expect to gain your cat’s respect or be able to command it to do anything. Where your dog will sit there with his tongue hanging out eagerly lapping up every word you utter, the best you can expect from a cat is ‘Yeah, whatever. Have you finished?’

Having said that, your average cat doesn’t ask much from us to fill its everyday pleasure quota. So long as they are fed on demand and allowed to bugger off whenever the mood takes them, they are perfectly capable of gratifying themselves, thank you very much.

The simple act of keeping clean seems to be the ultimate sensual experience for your feline friend (let’s face it, if you could reach the parts they can, you would, wouldn’t you?). I read somewhere that cats lose more fluid every day washing themselves than they do through urine. That sounds unbelievable but if you think about it, it makes sense. They spend hour after hour licking every conceivable part of their body (usually in full view of your more squeamish visitors) and smoothing themselves into a stupour of satisfaction. And when they’re done they sit there blinking at you with a look of almost Buddha-like serenity.

Yup, I definitely wanna come back as a cat.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Putting your best foot forward

One of the things that makes me proud to be British is our attitude to good causes. As a nation, we have a knack of combining fun with philanthropy.

Growing up, every year I would pester family, friends, neighbours and my parents’ workmates to sponsor me in my latest charity efforts. Many miles were walked, often in full costume (once, running a fever and dressed as the nursery rhyme ‘Hickory Dickory Dock’ in a masterpiece crafted by my dad from a cardboard box). Endless lengths were swum – once with a rubber duck in tow. Ping-pong rallies were batted back and forth. Spelling marathons were tackled. Silences were observed.

For some reason, potential sponsors seemed keener to back my little sister for Sponsored Silences than they did me for Sponsored Swims. Maybe because she was cuter than me as a kid? Or perhaps because they reckoned she would give up keeping schtum long before I stopped churning up and down the local pool. My stubborness was always an asset in such efforts, much to the shock of my mother’s well-meaning boss who had agreed to a generous amount per length (“She swam HOW far?”).

Many British celebrities are willing to literally go the extra mile or make utter fools of themselves for a good cause. Most recently, comedian/actor Eddie Izzard completed 43 marathon runs in 51 days around the UK, raising money for Sports Aid (you can still sponsor him at
http://comicrelief.com/donate/eddie ). It was amazing, admirable and awe-inspiring.

I’m just a little worried that it may belittle the efforts of mere mortals like my Twitter Pal Fiona who will be participating in the Great South Run on 25 October in aid of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (sponsor her at
http://www.justgiving.com/fionaflaherty1/ ). If Izzard - until now not known for his athletic prowess - can run over 1,100 miles in less than two months, maybe the response to less headline-grabbing attempts might be “You’re running a marathon? Good for you. Just the one, is it? Right. And will you be juggling kittens, or on stilts? No? OK then. Yes, I suppose I could sponsor you.” You get the support, but you also get the feeling that they think they’re getting pretty poor value for money. (Bear in mind, however, that Izzard had the luxury of being able to devote the full 51 days to his efforts. Other folk, like Fiona, have babies to care for, families to raise, 9-to-5 jobs to turn up at.)

STOP PRESS: I just learned that my nephew and his girlfriend will be running 10K in aid of CHASE Hospital Care for Children on 1 November. Good on yer, Peter & Alex! Sponsor them at http://www.justgiving.com/loseley

Here in Greece, such efforts are virtually unheard of. It’s not that Greeks are not generous – they are, sometimes to a fault. It’s just that they don’t have any tradition of individual efforts (often at the cost of personal dignity) in the name of charity. Fund raisers tend to be overtly noble events, with national celebs wheeled out to look serious and tearful on TV, and not a dot of silliness in sight. We have an annual marathon – THE original Classic Marathon, run along the same route that ended with the hapless messenger uttering ‘We won’ before dropping dead all those years ago – but you won’t see any comedy costumes struggling towards the finishing line in aid of their favourite charity.

This presents me with a bit of a problem. Over the past few months, I’ve been making myself walk for at least an hour every day. I have come to realise that putting one foot in front of the other, and to keep doing it, is no big deal - and it offers plenty of benefits. I’m stronger, a little leaner (though no lighter, much to my chagrin), and much more relaxed. I have thought that the next stage might be to start running, but I’m a little worried that my pounding the pavements might spark an earthquake alert in Athens.

What does seem natural – and do-able - is a Sponsored Walk in aid of some worthy cause. But when I mentioned it to my Other Half, he looked at me and shook his head.

He’s right, the typical Greek response might be: “You’re going to walk all day. Why? For someone else? And you want ME to pay you for it? Forget that, come and have a coffee – we can do our bit for charity by buying some UNICEF exercise books for our kids.”

Like I said, Greeks have no shortage of charitable sentiments – they’re simply not used to this particular form of giving. I’m sure that once they get over the “We don’t do things that way” barrier, they would happily cough up – even in these cash-strapped times.

Now, I may regret this. But if anyone has any ideas (events for me to participate in, good causes to do it for, etc.), I’m willing to put my best foot forward so long as you are willing to put your money where my trainers go.

Just don’t expect any “Iron Man Triathlons”. “Wobbly Woman” is more my style…

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Secret Diary of a Transplanted Brit-Chick, aged 44 & 3/4

Tuesday, 22 September 2009
Caffeine intake: Too much
Alcohol intake: Not enough
Days since stopped smoking: 1,168 (v.good)
Cigarettes smoked: 0 (v.v. good)
Cigarettes craved: 93 (not so good)
Stray hairs plucked: 4
Kilometres walked: 7
Chocolates eaten: 0 (am v. virtuous)
Weight: Don’t even go there – km walked & chocs not scoffed having no effect

Dear Diary,

I know it’s not really the ‘done thing’ to start a diary in September, but I only came across you this week when I ventured into the Black Pit (a.k.a. the spare room, where all manner of junk goes to die – or breed, not sure which) to unearth an exercise book that No.1 (& Only) Son needed for school. There you were, winking at me innocently from atop of a pile of free never-to-be-watched DVDs, silently accusing me of my good intentions back in January.

Well, better late than never.

S'pose I’d better introduce myself first (it’s only polite after all).
I was born in the south of England at the end of 1964, which means I am part of Generation X (sounds much more interesting than “Hello, I’m from Surrey”). In 1989, after a stupid marriage that went pear-shaped and a series of disastrous attempts at relationships, I threw a wobbly about men, Britain, my brilliant career (ha!), etc. and packed it all in to come to Greece for six months.
Or so I thought.
Then I met Nikos – and 20 years later, we’re married with a millstone-like mortgage and a 12-year-old son to show for it.

Thanks to millstone, and habit of a lifetime, I’m a working mum. Since hitting the big 4-0, all illusions of immortality melted away, so I try to eat right, exercise every day and keep off the demon fags. Oh, AND look drop-dead gorgeous at all times and keep my man happy in every room of the house (remember what Jerry Hall had to say about the bedroom, the kitchen, etc?).

Yeah, right…

That’s the Cosmo-inspired dream. Reality bites. I keep thinking about having a mid-life crisis, but I never seem to have the time.

Aaaannnnyway… today.

Ignore 7am alarm, crawl out of bed at 7.15, kick No.1 Son out of bed & have argument about breakfast/schoolwear/homework, reject last night’s outfit choice, empty wardrobe in search of perfect emsemble, revert to last night’s choice, slap gloop on face. No.1 ignores my pleas for kiss before leaving, Other Half snores through my parting hug and I stumble out door and head for bus stop. Feel invisible (quite an achievement when you’re 5 ft 10 and unmentionable dress size).

Athens public transport for hour’s trip to office. Sit-down on bus (good, chance to read & look intelligent), stand all the way on train (bad, blisters already bubbling in new shoes). Try to adopt confident, casual and sashaying walk from station to office. Stumble over unseen pothole, lose all credibility, try to slink unnoticed to desk.

Eight hours tapping away, trying to look industrial, bashing out words for other people. Then home-time. Rewind morning commute.

Decide to be v
irtuous and walk last 20 mins from station to house. Regret decision 5 mins later as new-shoes blisters re-awaken.

Home to OH & No.1. They ignore me. Teenage pursuits and YET MORE shouty Greek party political blah on telly (elections in coupla weeks - hooray!) far more interesting than me. Make tea, ignore messy kitchen, and dive into cyberspace in a sulk.

Tired, time for bed. Bored. Restless. Can’t sleep. Remember washing not done, unironed clothes, bills not paid, zits not squeezed. Get up and shave legs. Hunt for Band Aid to stem gushing flow of blood from nicked ankle. Compromise with toilet paper. Fall back into bed.

(Note to self: Must make future diary entries more interesting – anyone who finds diary will think am most boring middle-aged wimp ever.)

Wednesday, 23 September:
Alarm screams at 7am. Hit the snooze button. 07.05 Bleeping alarm again. OH opens eyes, asks “Why’ve you gone half a loo roll wrapped round your leg?”, goes back to sleep.

Get up, turn on light in No.1’s bedroom, shower, kick No.1 out of bed….

Hey ho! Another day, another Drachma (oops, sorry, Euro).

[THE SECRET DIARY OF A TRANSPLANTED BRIT-CHICK, AGED 44 & 3/4 WILL CONTINUE AT http://transplantedbritchick.blogspot.com/]

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Hell in a handbag

Who was it that decreed, some time in the past century, that us ladies must carry bags?

I know I'm probably in the minority, but I hate handbags.

I hate the fact that I am obliged to carry one whenever I leave the house - ready for my boys to dump all manner of stuff on me so they can stroll along unfettered. Meanwhile, I have to struggle along with the leather monstrosity weighing me down, giving me a peculiarly lop-sided gait of the handbag hod-carrier (sometimes it takes all my strength just to stop going round and round in gravity-dictated circles).

I hate the fact that I am expected to coordinate my bags with whatever I'm wearing. Switching bags to accommodate my change from drop-dead red ("Lookatme!") to earthy neutrals ("I'll just sit here in the corner, don't mind me") nearly always results in me ending up wherever I'm going without the everyday essentials we're told we can't do without (keys, phone, money, sanitary - umm - essentials, etc.).
You can bet your Prada that the one time I will need to produce my Residence Permit to avoid being dumped in a police van and shipped off to Sierra Leone, it will be a day when I've switched bags and left it on the kitchen table.

I hate the fact that I can't do normal human things, like run for a bus or bend down to pet a cat, without the Quasimodo-like bulk on my shoulder flapping about or slipping down, making me as coordinated as a Womble on heat (and bashing the poor cat in the face into the bargain).

But most of all, I hate the fact that handbags turn into portable black holes, drawing in all the debris and detritus of modern life with no rhyme or reason. Along with the old train tickets, sweet wrappers, leaky biros, forgotten reminders on Post-It notes, defunct shopping lists and neglected bills, there's always a pile of utterly inexplicable stuff in there.
It's like somewhere at the bottom (maybe that hole in the lining I keep meaning to stitch up) there is a portal to another dimension that let's in all those little metal widgets with no apparent purpose, random fluff, a disposal nappy (worrying, as my son is now at High School), assorted leaves and seeds, maybe the odd small furry creature from Alpha Centauri...

Can't I just stuff it all in my pockets? Or better yet, get my Other Half a Manbag?

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Confessions of a sloven (Look away, Nigella!)

Try as I might, I just don’t cut it as a Domestic Goddess. I haven’t got that Secret Ingredient at the stove top, ironing board, kitchen sink, child’s bedside, etc. that the armies of Size Zero super-mummies the media bombard us seem to manage so effortlessly.

Really, I'm nobody’s idea of a Stepford Wife.

You want proof? Well, as I write these words my 12-year-old’s bedroom (tidied by himself) is the neatest and cleanest room in the house.

Yes, it’s THAT bad.

Today is one of the days I work from home - which is great. Or at least it would be if I didn’t have an over-developed sense of guilt. I'm having great trouble focusing on the stuff those lovely people pay me to do – largely thanks to overflowing rubbish bins, a Himalayan mound of ironing, scraps of paper confetti-ed around the place, leaning towers of pizza plates, school books yet to be wrapped in sticky-back plastic, bills to be paid, and a bathroom crying out for a bottle of bleach and a scrubbing brush.

I’ve always been a little bit of an over-achiever and tend to approach most new challenges with a Gung Ho! “How hard can it be?” attitude. So, it really riles when I fail to live up to the post-feminist icon of a Woman for All Seasons. I tell myself that there is no reason I can’t be that fabled hybrid of Career Woman/Earth Mother/Eco Warrior/Social Activist/Stand-up Comic/Champion Triathlete/Intellectual/Sex Kitten. If they can do it in the pages of Cosmopolitan, why can’t I?

Then reality kicks in, and I have to face the fact that the best I can hope for is to deliver the goods as a 9-to-5er, make sure the sprog isn’t starving or in tears, and recycle when I remember to. I must have inherited my dad’s slob-genes rather than my mum’s frighteningly-organised domestic DNA that would put a whole army of Nigella Lawsons to shame.

And the sparkling wit? Well, I can deliver the occasional one-liner when sitting down, if that counts.

I tell myself that all this guilt is a waste of time and energy. That I am an accomplished, gutsy, unique woman with oodles of va-va-voom. That I should focus on one thing at a time without beating myself up about the other stuff.

And as my gaze strays above the laptop screen to the chaos beyond, I decide there is just one answer.

I need a wife.
Someone to take care of the mundane, necessary chores of everyday existence. Someone to make sure there is food in the cupboard, that bills are paid, clothes are ironed and the milk in the fridge is not on its way to becoming cheese. Someone to soothe my fevered brow and make a fuss of me when I walk in the door at the end of the day…

…and then, I wake up.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Answers on a postcard please

Proof positive, if it was needed, that it's always worth keeping your eyes open - even on your mundane walk home from the office.

This sight caught my attention yesterday (well it would, wouldn't it?), and I reckon it is a natural for a Caption Competition. There are no prizes, just the kudos of being a Smart Alec and making me smile.

So, if any of your clever people out there have any ideas, let me know...

Friday, 4 September 2009

Snarling shouty people

The volume levels in Greece are rising - and they're not going to get any quieter for at least a month.

As announced by the PM this week, there'll be a General Election here on 4 October. And that means that our TV screens will be EVEN MORE dominated by politicos and pundits - all competing fiercely for a share of the voting public's consciousness.

Let the shouting begin.

Greeks are generally not known for their low-key nature. They're a demonstrative lot, given to fast and furious speech littered with expansive hand gestures. When I first arrived 20 years ago, I found them a little intimidating. It probably didn’t help that I got off the plane to find myself in the midst of a strike - all around me people were waving their arms and shouting.

I quickly learned that passions run high here. Voices are raised, moustaches quiver, faces turn red. Any minute, you expect to see daggers drawn and blood spilt. But then, they roar with laughter and embrace like brothers. It was a powerful incentive to learn Greek. Once I started to understand the Greek language and character I realised that they’re not at each others’ throats – well, at least, not all the time.

But the standard hub-bub of Greek life reaches a pandemonic fever pitch when politics is under discussion - so you can imagine the volume levels in the run-up to an election.

Campaign vans tour the streets of quiet neighbourhoods at all hours shattering the peace with strident calls to the polls, letter boxes are crammed with tons of election literature destined to never be read, every day brings a new party rallies to disrupt downtown traffic, office gossip switches from the trials of Toula to the flaws and failings of the would-be leaders of the country, and the TV simply becomes unwatchable.

Wall-to-wall coverage of the various parties' campaign trails, cheek-by-jowl with the inevitable innane Party Political Broadcasts (covering the full range from Seemingly Sensible to the Daft & Deluded), are just part of the telly-menu as we approach Election Sunday.

And perhaps worse from my point of view, a feature peculiar to Greek news shows goes into hyperactive overdrive. I'm talking about the so-called "windows" in which up to six guests are shown in little boxes on the screen to debate an issue of the day - a debate which consists of everyone yelling at once in a bid to convert the hapless electorate to their point of view. We, the viewers, are supposed to come away more informed and aware, but the philosophy seems to be "He who yells, wins".

I should be used to it by now, but I'm not. I grew up in a country where it's considered "bad form" to discuss politics, a nation which seems to have raised political indifference to an art form in recent years.

In some ways, I admire the Greek passion for politics - I just wish we could bypass the snarling shouty people...

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Rules for an ‘Above Average’ Life

I seem to have spent most of my life boringly ‘above average’. School grades, height, bumps and bruises, weight, and more…

And now, I suppose I am reaching ‘above average’ in terms of age. I have to come to terms with the undeniable fact that Middle Age is looming on the horizon like some kind of monolith that we all try to ignore but which casts a shadow over everything. And if I should dare to forget, my son is ready and willing to remind me.

Over the years, I have realised that there are a few simple ground rules that can help you make it through (and even enjoy) an ‘above average’ life without making much more than an average arse of yourself. And being a generous soul, I’ve decided to share them:

* Develop a sense of humour that’s WAY above average. You’re gonna need it.
(It’s better to beat others to taking the piss by choosing your own self-deprecating insults - you may even make it through adolescence)

* Don’t expect men to open doors or carry bags for you. You will have a very long wait.

* Get used to the fact that shorties will see anyone above average in height as their own personal fetch & carry slaves.
(On the plus side, you get a great view of their neglected roots or bald patches - good material for your sense of humour)

* Most men will never consider you ‘cute’ or ‘sweet’ as long as you are their equal (or more) in height, weight and IQ. That’s their problem, not yours.

* If you’re chunky around the hips and thighs, don’t EVEN think about wearing leggings – even with a long top. You will simply look like a fatty in denial.

* You will never be able to hide in the corner or disappear in a crowd, so enjoy standing out for reasons you decide - a drop-dead red lipstick, a brilliant long tailcoat (shorties can’t carry them off), an infectious laugh or sparkling eyes.

* Unless you’re aiming for the “frumpy, dumpy” look, don’t fall into the neutral and pastels trap. You won’t blend into the background - you’ll look like a lost pink elephant.

* Resist the urge to beat your petite girlfriends to a pulp every time they start moaning about their weight or agonising about cellulite (while chomping on a chocolate ├ęclair). They probably envy your height, your cleavage, your ready wit – or perhaps the fact that you shove your way through a crowd without risking serious injury.

* Stop obsessing about numbers. Sizes, calories, kilos, et al don’t matter so long as you’re healthy and happy (OK, you can check your cholesterol, BP and bank account now and then).

* Avoid frills, flounces, bows and large florals like the plague – unless you want to look like Auntie Florrie’s three piece suite (complete with antimacassars).

* Stop reading women’s magazines – stories of ladies whose total weight is less than your left thigh can only end in tears.

* Enjoy your life – who wants to be ‘average’ after all?