Monday, 27 September 2010
Colour comes to Greek bathrooms!
Ever since I arrived in Greece more than 20 years ago, the loo roll shelves at the supermarket have been dominated by white. Different ply, plain or quilted, occasionally embellished with a subtle pattern to keep you amused while you're sat on the throne - but white, all white.
Last week that changed.
Thanks to the truck drivers'/hauliers' continued strike, I guess stocks must be running low. For when I made my Saturday dash to the supermarket I was stopped in my tracks by empty shelves in the toilet paper aisle. Empty, except for a small splash of colour in the corner.
But it wasn't the soft pastels beloved by genteel ladies back in Blighty who like to cooridnate with their bathroom suites. Oh no.
It was vibrant magenta, shouty teal, and... wait for it... black. Yes, you heard right - black loo roll. The Goths of Greece must be in ecstasy.
But I passed. The extra dye can't be eco-friendly - and I'm pretty sure it's no good for my nether regions either.
Claims that feminism has killed the art of home cooking
If I had 'just' read about this in the Daily Mail I would have ignored it. But when I heard it over on the airwaves on my beloved Radio 4, I started sputtering with rage like Daffy Duck after three double espressos.
Apparently, it is all the fault of those nasty, unnatural, strident harpies demanding equal treatment that families never sit down together to eat any more and that our youth are all under-nourished obese couch potatoes who wouldn't know a carrot in the raw if it was shoved up their left nostril.
I take pride in the fact that I don't buy 'ready' food. I enjoy serving up tasty nourishing meals to my family - because I want to look after them. I love messing about in the kitchen - I count cooking as one of my hobbies (I can hear the readers of the Daily Mail getting ready to give me my Homemaker's gold star).
But hang on a mo. Something must be wrong, surely? For I am also a mother who works full-time - and then some (Shock! Horror!).
I am also (brace yourselves) a feminist - always have been, always will be.
(Can you hear the cries of "No! How can this be?" as they prepare to rip my gold stars from my shoulders and smear blackened chip fat over my face to mark my shame?).
But come closer, and I'll tell you two little secrets (drops voice to a whisper):
No.1 - Not all homecooked meals take three hours preparation, and
No.2 - Daddies can cook too.
More surreal tales from my dreamscape
I'm lucky. I remember many of my dreams, but I never seem to have nightmares.
What I do have are slightly bizarre dreams, ones that have me waking up with that vague "What was all that about?" feeling.
Like the one where I went to visit Mum, and pleading tiredness got into bed, only to put it into gear, drive it downtown, park it next to the local department store and go for a stroll round the shops.
Or where I was wandering thorugh some woods with my college friends, and we came across an outdoor swimming pool (which we all instinctively knew was the property of Paul McCartney). We all dove in, and as we hit the water, it turned into a multi-coloured flying carept and flew off into the sunset with us on board. (Nice, eh?)
This week is was perhaps a little more mundane but it still left me with that "What the?" sensation. I was in Argentina for some reason. With my 13-year-old son, who should by all rights have been at school. And I decided that we should go to the Falkand Islands (like you do - places to go, sheep to meet). So, I trundled up to the Air Malvinas desk with 50 quid in my pocket, only to be told the price was 4,000.
Now, I guess it's pretty clear that my desire to explore is frustrated by harsh economic reality, but why - oh why - the Falkland Islands??
So, what has made YOU go "Huh?" lately? Do tell.
Wednesday, 22 September 2010
I was enormously lucky to grow up in a family where the parents loved one another in a way that only people made for one another can, and that love was filtered down and magnified a hundred-fold to us kids.
True, we were no Enid Blyton picture-book idyll of family life, and we certainly had our problems, but we were a family in every sense.
Sadly that family is now missing one. Five years ago this month, Dad was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. A few short months later, he left us. I mourned him at the time, but in time I have come to accept that he has gone. But I still miss him every day - especially when I stumble across some little gem that would have appealed to his love of music or his quirky, slightly anarchic sense of humour.
Dad was a complex man with simple needs. Though the joker of the pack, always the one ready to put on his Dame Edna glasses and fright wig for the local carnival or a fancy dress party, he had a very shy, melancholy, even dark side to his character. Perhaps it came from some of the darker times of his childhood - or perhaps that's just the way he was made.
That's what made his smiles all the more precious to us. And he was never sparing with them. His love and pride for his family was unconditional and, seemingly, unending. And when I think of him today, I remember him with a smile on his face - even if it is just a shy grin of pride in his prize tomatoes.
Of course, one of the main things that put that smile on his face was my Mum.
My amazing, admirable, resilient, soft but ever-so strong, optimistic Mum.
She has a smile of her very own. It's a smile from the heart, one that takes up every inch of her, beaming warmth and mischief. She's a real dynamo, full of energy, viv and verve. Hers is the smile of a winner, and she's the best role model a girl could ever wish for.
This post was inspired by The Gallery, for which Tara at http://stickyfingers1.blogspot.com/ set up the theme 'A Smile' this week. It is in honour of the Mona Lisa Million Project which aims to raise money for charity and helping people to promote their (genuine!) websites. It is run by a former policeman and stay at home dad called Dave Fowler. Such a great idea.
Check out The Gallery to see a range of smiles - and reasons for them - from bloggers near and far. I bet it will put a grin on your face.
Monday, 20 September 2010
When was the last time that you actually bought a newspaper?
At the risk of being branded a turncoat as a former print hack, I have to confess that it’s yonks since I actually shelled out real money for a paper.
My Ovver Arf is another matter – at least at the weekends. Every Saturday and Sunday he nips out to the periptero (kiosk/news stand) and staggers back with something that represents an acre of Amazonian rain forest. According to my calculations, about 2% of that bulk is made up of news – and about one-fifth of that is something that either of us is likely to actually read.
The rest is made up of freebie CDs, DVDs, books (without which no household is complete - but none of us will ever listen to, watch or read) and a huge pile of advertising bumph that will be stuck in the corner where it festers for a couple of months before I have one of my Whirling Dervish style cleaning sprees and chuck it in the Recycling bag.
It all brings home the simple fact that I never wanted to admit to when I was churning out copy in a newsroom all those years ago. Like so many others, newspapers and magazines are not in the business that we think they’re in. They don’t really exist to sell information and comment to readers (who can get a much better selection for free online anyway - even now that some of the online content has disappeared behind pay walls).
No, they’re in the business of delivering an audience to their advertisers.
Let’s face it, we don’t want the vast majority of advertising that comes with our Sunday papers. The first thing most of us do when we’ve ripped open the cellophane wrapping is to shake the paper over the bin until the various offers, brochures, leaflets, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all dribble out. Then all that remains is to wade through the ads in the actual paper and all the stuff we’re not bothered about in order to reach that one article or column we don’t want to miss.
That’s why I surf the net (and tune in to good old Radio 4 on the web) for my news these days. In fact, I’ve become a bit of an online info-junkie. It’s not just a matter of getting the absolute latest news at the click of a button (courtesy of the Beeb, CNN, Al Jazeera, CBS, ERT etc.). Nor is it the joy of getting all the background I can possibly digest thanks to Wikipedia, Ask.com and others.
I can also check out the front pages and contents of those papers I no longer pay for. In addition to the online versions of The Independent (which I love for its sheer cussedness of its determinedly-different front page) and The Telegraph for its sometimes brilliant (though rather fogey-ish) writing, I can also shamelessly check out The Daily Mail without jeopardising my carefully cultivated public image (ha!). I can even play Dr Who and go back in time to check out the archives to see what they had to say a year ago.
The Internet is the ultimate democratisation of the information highway (as evidenced by the amount of crap, unreliable information and loons it hosts), and if so inclined you can get a variety of viewpoints in order to hopefully form an intelligent opinion of your own (yeah, I know, wishful thinking).
It can also (partly) eliminate the irritation element of advertising in the Sunday papers. Though my In-Box is swamped with Spam mails on a daily basis, all I need to do is hit the Delete button. Online the pop-up ads are quickly dealt in the same way, BUT discreet links give me the option of clicking for more information about that one thing I am actually interested in.
So, why do we keep on buying papers? Personally, apart from the pleasurable frustrations of the crossword or hedonistic thrill of scanning the Sunday headline over your morning cuppa in bed, I think people buy them as props. Newspapers are part of our uniform, part of what declares to the world what we want them to think of us. For both the city gent with his Financial Times tucked under his arm or the trendy media type with their Grauniad (sorry, Guardian), the paper they buy on the way to work say something about them. They help confirm our place in the world – and that makes us feel safe.
They’re also good for hiding behind on the train.
The same can’t be said for the news sites you browse through. It’s an intimate relationship between you and your screen and (hopefully) there’s no-one looking over your shoulder forming an opinion about your IQ based on your dot-com of choice.
But beware – in cyber-space, no-one can hear you scream.
Tuesday, 14 September 2010
For my part, it’s a celebration of the life of someone who helped make me who (and what) I am today - but also a celebration that should have been, but didn’t quite make it.
My Nana would have had her 100th birthday on 20 June this year. Sadly, she died less than a month before her Big Day.
As these photos show, we had good old family ‘do’ to celebrate her long life back in January, before she started going downhill and could still pass for a sprightly 80-year-old.
This first photo is far from flattering of either of us, nor is it particularly sharp, but there’s something about it that captures just what she meant to me.
Our gathering of the clan brought together all her direct blood descendants, which delighted her.
It gave her the chance to cherish her children, my uncle and my mother, who she raised almost single-handed during the Second World War when – like so many others - my grandfather was away fighting. They were uncertain years, never knowing if she would ever see her husband again, or if the doodlebugs flying overhead en route for London might stall short of their target and fall on her home.
Her many memories were captured in scrapbook my sister and cousin had lovingly put together, marking key events in her life with old photos, scraps of party dresses, copies of deeds of the house she lived in for more than 70 years. Though not sentimental in the traditional sense, Nana loved it.
She was the ultimate Little Old Lady, more than qualifying on all counts:
-- at a tad under five foot, she was definitely little, just about reaching my chest. She took great delight in telling us that precious things came in small packages – but so did poison;
-- she was undeniably old (I don’t think even she would have got cross at me for saying so -she was born before the First World War, for goodness sake);
-- and she was a “lady” in every sense of the word.
It’s one of the reasons that random people feel free to share the minute details of their lives, plant themselves in front of me to tell me what colour my aura is, or stare pointedly at me when having loud public discussions with invisible companions. It was an asset when I was a reporter – people used to open up at the drop of a hat – but it’s not so great when I’m trying to read on the crowded train during my morning commute.
But perhaps it’s more than just an open face and a seemingly approachable manner. Perhaps there’s a touch of the “there but for the grace of God – or whoever – go I” to it?
Let’s face it, which of us can honestly say we’ve never heard those little voices jabbering away in our heads? The difference between us and the crazed, addled loon on the Underground is probably little more than good fortune and circumstances.
I have had an internal dialogue going on for most of my life. Instead of a little devil on one shoulder squabbling with her angelic alter-ego on the other, a la Loony Toons, I usually eavesdrop on heated discussions between my timid Inner Wimp and her vitriolic sister, my Inner Bitch.
Just like the Devil has all the best tunes, my Inner Bitch has all the best lines. Stinging one-liners dripping in acid roll off her tongue, she takes no prisoners and has zero tolerance for morons. She always has the perfect put-down ready.
I’d love to let her out to play more often, but – as my Inner Wimp often reminds me – I live with other people and I have to think of their feelings to get on in life.
So, despite her meek ways, it’s the Wimp that usually wins the day thanks to the fact that the side of my character she represents is shored up to the hilt by social engineering that dictates that we laugh it off when someone wounds up, smile sweetly at folk whose faces we want to flay with razor-sharp nails (if I hadn’t bitten them down to their ragged cuticles) and nod wisely at the idiotic dross they spew out.
La Bitch is far more impressive and she wears LOTS of dramatic red and black and plunging necklines. So, it really makes me want to kick my own ankles when I let the beige-clad buttoned-up Wimp push me about yet again (she’s SO passive-aggressive).
When I was young, I used to hear (imagine?) two voices from the top of my wardrobe – mean, taunting voices that tried to rip away my self-esteem. Luckily for me, they stopped the day I managed to climb up to tell them to shut up (before leaping off onto my bed, flapping my arms wildly, just in case I might fly… just a little).
Maybe that’s why I can’t bring myself to condemn the wild-eyed woman walking down the street shouting at the skies.
Perhaps the only difference between her and me is that she never made it to the top of her wardrobe?
Sunday, 12 September 2010
For me, it's one of the best times of the year. I love the summer, but by the time September rolls around, I'm ready for a change.
Friday, 10 September 2010
…sad to say, it’s that “but” that seems to be my defining characteristic.
Despite my very best intentions, I seem to have a talent for disaster that can wreak havoc and switch my mood from bouncy Tigger-mode to mortified Eeyore in a wink of a gnat’s eye.
I’ve always tended to dive into everything with all guns blazing, in a fit of energy and enthusiasm to rival Bob The Builder on speed. I’m nearly always in a hurry and I don’t always look where I’m going. Add to the mix that I’m not really that scared of hurting myself (45 years have taught me that I bounce pretty well and rarely suffer more than a few bruises). The results usually produce gales of laughter in my friends (bless ‘em) but have me wanting to hide under the table ‘til everyone has gone home.
Decades ago, in a marriage that time forgot, I was on holiday in a picturesque town somewhere in central France. Armed with schoolgirl French, my pocket camera and a thirst for la belle France, I set off for a stride around the neighbourhood. So enchanted was I by the local architecture, trees, wildlife, street signs et al that I failed to notice a looming lamppost – until I bounced off it (I’m not exaggerating, I really DID bounce!).
In true English fashion, my first instinct was to apologise.
To the lamppost.
And as I skulked past assorted French townsfolk in an ecstasy of embarrassment, I could hear, feel, even taste their communal inner mutterings of “imbecile Anglaise!”
Then there was the time that I tried to stop my toddler son from destroying his godparents’ intricate display of liquors from around the world. I launched myself across the room, skidded on the polished wooden floor, missed my baby, and went smashing into the assorted miniature bottles. As the symphony of tinkle, tinkle, smash and alcohol fumes subsided, I looked up to see my two-year-old son rolling his eyes at me. He’s still doing more than a decade later.
Another time, I was sitting in a café having an animated discussion with some friends. I must have been pretty passionate about something, witnessed by the manic flicking back and forth of an unopened sugar sachet between my thumb like there was no tomorrow. And no tomorrow was exactly what I was hoping for moments later when the sachet left my grip, sailed through the air and landed – plop! – in the coffee of a man innocently reading his paper two tables away. That time, I really did dive under the table.
And I don’t just keep my general klutziness for my nearest and dearest – oh no. Shops have also been given a taste of my unique brand of… whatever. One Saturday, hubby and I were checking out the cooked food selection at our local supermarket’s Deli counter. It was a sunny day, so I was wearing shades which I had hoiked up on top of my head to get a good look at a the dish of “spetsofai” (a kind of spicy sausage stew) on offer. But I must have leaned over a too far – for with a graceful flop my Raybans slid off my head and landed in the middle of the sausage, tomato & pepper mix.
A cold sweat swept through my body and a beetroot flush rose in my cheeks – but in a split-second, I grabbed my glasses with a sleight of hand that David Copperfield would envy, and walked hurriedly away, leaving hubby staring after me open-mouthed.
Lately, I seem to have had a long period of relative grace. Until yesterday.
I’d popped into my friendly neighbourhood hair salon to have my mop tamed a little and those pesky roots touched up. And all went well, playful banter was exchanged with the stylist, I was happy with the look and feel of my bonce, and all was right with the world. Smiling my goodbyes, I tried to scutter through the chairs, sinks and hairdryers, only to catch the pointed toe of my shoe on the edge of a partition wall (whatever possessed me to abandon my usual comfy trainers?) and I went flying. It must have been quite a sight – long arms and legs flailing madly, a wide-eyed look of horror on my face, the desperate wobble of my middle-aged body as it struggled to stay upright, and the contents of my bag sprayed around the shop.
Miraculously, I didn’t plummet to the ground (just as well – the bigger they are, they harder they fall), and my biggest injury was to my pride, as I muttered abject apologies and handed over my money with a face scarlet with shame.
I just hope that I didn’t give any of those little old ladies in for their weekly set & blue rinse a funny turn.
I know it all sounds like the script for a bad slapstick movie. But it’s all true. I wish it wasn’t. Despite my always good intentions, I seem to be the Queen of Klutz. And it has passed into the lore of Mandi’s world.
So, if we ever have a coffee together or you find yourself sitting next to me at the hairdressers, you have been warned. Beware of flying sugar sachets, slippery floors, excitable Raybans and the careless newly-coiffed.
But remember, I mean well – and your chances of having a laugh at my expense are more than odds-on.
Wednesday, 8 September 2010
There, I’ve said it, and in doing so have probably firmly placed myself in the category of “philistine” and “miserable old bat” in the minds of my readers (all three of ‘em).
Don’t get me wrong. I love music. I was brought up with it, enjoy a wide selection, listen to it at all times, and quite simply cannot imagine any semblance of quality of life without it.
I also love street performers – can’t get enough of them, with two notable exceptions: those creepy painted dudes posing as statues (more on them another day) and wandering minstrels wielding a mutant instrument that is little more than a glorified squeezebox with a keyboard slapped on the side.
It seems, however, that I’m in the minority (now there’s a novelty!). If I’m out for a stroll or coffee with friends or family and we’re accosted by an accordionist, I’m the only one rolling my eyes and looking for the quickest escape route. Everyone else seems to be enchanted, as witnessed by their cries of “Isn’t it lovely? Just like in Gigi.”, “It’s very difficult to play, you know” and even “It reminds me of Paris” (no version I’ve ever seen, sunshine. When was the last time you set foot in Pigalle?).
I’m the only one silently begging the player to just go away and leave me in peace, immediately marking me as the grouch of the group.
So, you can imagine my joy on the Metro this morning when the first notes from an accordion blasted their way into my consciousness, right behind my right ear, as I tried to navigate a particularly incomprehensible article. Far from bringing a smile to my lips at a little faux-Parisian colour to brighten my daily commute, those notes produced an inner snarl and a muttered “Oh, dear god” from Yours Truly.
It didn’t help that he hit a series of jarring bum notes that even my untrained ear couldn’t help notice.
And yet everyone else in the carriage seemed unperturbed, even delighted, at the musical interlude.
So, my question is this: Am I REALLY the only miserable accordion-hater (misaccordionist? discordist?) in Athens? Or is everyone else faking it for fear of being labeled cultural cripples or - heaven forbid - music haters?
Answers - as usual - on a postcard, please…
Tuesday, 7 September 2010
Thus, Woking is walking into the kitchen only to stand there wondering what you came there for, and Shoeburyness is that slightly uncomfortable sensation of sitting in a seat that’s still warm from someone else’s bottom.
A friend and I came up with a few Liff definitions of our own after I suggested Arundelising for the weekly train trips she used to make to the rather posh, picturesque Sussex town of Arundel (it has its own castle, no less) as it sounded like an up-market, alternative version of caramelisation.
Silliness soon ensued and the gems we came out with included: Climping (the ouch-punctuated way you walk when your new shoes have given you blisters); and Bujumbura (the noise you make when trying to suppress a burp - or in real life, rather than liff, the capital of Burundi).
I decided to see if the same principle could be applied to place names from Greece. So, with apologies to Greek readers (and a plea for clemency, as the meanings I assign bear no relation to their true origin), here is a small selection that came to me as I watched the sun sink towards the horizon last night:
- Imerovigli – that itchy, tickling sensation when you first get out of bed in the morning.
- Zouberi – the over-ripeness of a fruit when the skin slides off the mushy flesh at the slightest touch.
- Kos – reaching the top of the stairs only to stop and wonder if you were heading for the bedroom or the toilet. Usually followed by a puzzled ?
- Drogaratis – a deep dark bruise that appears without you having the foggiest idea how you got it.
- Lasithi – that cavity in your tooth that your tongue just won’t leave alone.
- Salamina – the act of retracing your thoughts in a desperate bid to remember what the hell you were going to say.
- Marpissa – a fart in the bath.
- Lavrio – a never-fulfilled promise to do something “later” or “tomorrow”.
- Salakos – that wave of panic that sweeps over you when someone asks you to explain exactly what a word or phrase you constantly use actually means.
- Varybombi – the feeling, usually accompanied by a bad head cold, that your skull has been stuffed to bursting point with wet cotton wool.
- Liopesi – the state of drunkenness where you can no longer feel your lips or fingertips.
Wednesday, 1 September 2010
For today, a strict new smoking ban in all enclosed public places comes into effect. And - we are told - the law WILL be upheld and penalties handed out to those who flout it.
If you're one of 42% of Greeks over the age of 15 that still light up on a regular basis, that's bad news. Or is it?
Is that a note of cynicism we detect, you ask? (What, me? Never!).
Well, actually, yes. I am definitely in "Yeah, right" territory on this one - at least until I am proved wrong.
It's no mistake that we're talking about today's ban as the "new" anti-smoking law. It's not the first one. In July 2009, legislation that banned smoking in public places came into effect. Except that it didn't, not really. Restaurants and bars over 70 square metres were allowed to have a 'Smoking Area' so long as it was totally separate from the non-smokers (Result? The Smoking Areas of most bars and cafeterias took over the entire premises), and smaller establishments could choose not to have a non-smoking area (how about just banning non-smokers?).
Great ban, eh?
But this time - we are told - will be different. The law will be enforced and those who break it punished. OK, I'll buy that, but my two decades in the country tell me that even when fines are handed out, the offenders will simply ask their cousin's brother-in-law to have a word with their godfather who knows a man who can make it quietly disappear...
Don't get me wrong. I'm no anti-smoking nazi. I smoked myself until four years ago, and the Ovver Arf and many of my friends still do. So long as I can sit next to them without being turned into a smoked mackrel, I'm pretty easy-going. But, my Inner Pedant is screaming "Don't introduce a ban if you're not going to make it stick!".
And who will enforce it? The Police? Last time I had to visit a police station - in March this year, long after the old ban outlawed smoking in all public buildings - the officer I dealt with was squinting painfully through the smog rising from the fag clamped in the corner of his mouth.
For sure, the next week or so will see a flurry of enforcement. But by the time the weather turns chilly and smokers want to enjoy their coffee INSIDE the cafeteria, I'm pretty sure that the smoking ban will be relegated to the "Forgotten Promises" bin - along with the laws that require us to wear crash helmets on motorbikes, or seat belts in cars - only to be revived in a blitzkreig of enforcement a couple of times a year, when the authorities realise they're falling short of their Collected Fines target.
Meanwhile, my nervous nicotine-addict friends can relax for a little while yet. The weather is still warm and promises to stay mild well into November (oh, the glories of a Mediterranean climate!). And maybe a jump in sales of warm coats to enable them to enjoy their caffeine and tar fix when it gets wintry is just what the beleaguered economy needs?