Posted in Family, Travel

Travelling Light

A toy saxophone, two rag dolls, three cuddly toys and a life-sized toy border collie: these are my daughter’s ideas of essential items for in-flight hand luggage.

We’re supposedly travelling light, flying to meet my husband in Inverness where we will begin our Scottish holiday.

He’s joining us from Durham, where he’s been attending a week-long residential course in geology.  He’s travelling in our camper van, which we packed before his course with our main holiday luggage.  This included Laura’s complete collection of Barbies and their clothes and other essential toys.

Eventually I negotiate her hand luggage down to a harmonica, a meerkat keyring and her iPod,  with the rag dolls tagging along on condition that she carries one in each hand.

My husband, despite being several hundred miles distant,  manages to swell our streamlined hand luggage with a few last-minute requests.

“Can you bring my kilt in case we go to a ceilidh?” he drops casually into a brief phone call, conveniently forgetting the weight and bulk of his authentic Scottish woollen plaid.  “Oh, and my waterproof.”

This from the man who has just spent a week on a field study course in the north of England.

“How did you cope in Durham without your waterproof?” I enquire.

“Oh, don’t worry, I went through all your things in the van and found yours – I’ve been using that.”

I dread to think what state my neatly packed bag will now be in.

My own essentials for travelling light are more obvious than Laura’s, though the list has been reduced by the latest anti-terrorist restrictions.  I reluctantly set aside my tiny Swiss Army knife, hardly a lethal weapon.  I pack lipsalve, moisturiser,  iPod stuffed with podcasts and, most important of all, the notebook and pen with which to while away any delays. Travelling alone, I’ll happily scribble for hours for my own amusement, but with my daughter in tow, it’s more likely to be used for her current favourite game: Consequences.

If you’ve never played Consequences, it’s a great game with which to fill any idle moments.  Each player takes a sheet of paper and writes, in order, an  item from the following list:  boy’s name, girl’s name, where they met, what he said, what she said, and what happened next.  After each entry, you fold the paper over to conceal what you’ve written, and pass the sheet to the next player.  After writing the final item, you pass it on once more.  Then each player unfolds their strip of paper and reads the resulting story.

It’s a delightfully silly game, suitable for all ages.  Children soon fall in with it and write entries that appeal to their age and sense of humour.  When playing with a seven year old, toilets, kisses and vulgar noises feature frequently.  It’s guaranteed to stave off cries of “Are we nearly there yet?” on any journey, and I’m hoping that our flight to Inverness will be no exception.

But, thanks to Laura’s packing, if Consequences fails to keep us amused, there is an alternative – she can always get out her harmonica.

Posted in Personal life

It’s So Last Century

My sister-in-law Janet’s famed theory (“The best way to get something done is to do something else”) strikes again today as I take my car to the garage for repairs.

My objective: to cure the car of making an odd scraping sound that suggests the exhaust might be about to fall off. While the mechanics try to diagnose the cause, I’m restricted to a range within walking distance of the garage. So I hit Chipping Sodbury High Street with nothing to do but keep an eye on my phone for an update on my car’s welfare.

My achievement: one new skirt, one new waistcoat, one new jacket, one new blouse, plus a bill for £68 (so a bit of a bargain, then). This is, of course, excluding the garage costs.

A frequent target for comedians as the ultimate in rural backwaters, Chipping Sodbury High Street is actually quite a pretty place, with an old-fashioned marketplace centre and a range of shops untouched by the global brands that dominate most other high streets. Until I ran out of cats, my most frequent missions to Sodbury were for the sake of the veterinary surgery. Until the wonderful Mr Riley retired a few years ago, he seemed to spend almost as much time with my menagerie as I did. He particularly looked forward to appointments with Floyd, whom he pronounced “the most amiable cat I’ve ever met”. Even when taking an animal on a one-way trip to the vet, I always enjoyed the fact that Mr Riley’s surgery was situated in Horse Street.

Our house now being a feline-free zone, I spend today’s visit meandering down the High Street. I check out the charity shops, as you do, before wandering into a clothes shop that I’d never been into before. Having previously written it off as a shop for old ladies, I soon find myself enthusiastically trying on half the shop. At one point another customer asks my permission to try on a dress. I am carrying so many clothes that she thinks I must work there. I leave with a surprisingly full carrier bag, trying not to consider the possibility that the chief reason I nowlike this shop is that I’ve evolved into an old lady.

My car, incidentally, does not get fixed. The required part will not arrive until Monday. So my sole achievement this morning is to revitalise my wardrobe.

This comes not a moment before time. Recently I rearranged my clothes. Usually I oscillate between hanging them in order of colour and pairing them up in outfits, in between the odd bout of chaos. I flirted with the idea of putting them in order by date of purchase, until I realised that a shocking proportion of items were bought before the turn of the millenium. Never mind them being “so last year” – “so last century” was nearer the mark. Carbon-dating would not go amiss.

But one thing’s for sure: Janet’s theory is proven beyond all doubt.

Posted in Personal life

Dressing Down

Two days to go before I leave my job and I cast a critical eye over my wardrobe, earmarking my dark green suit for the charity shop.  I’ve vowed never again to have a job for which I have to power-dress, so a suit will definitely be surplus to requirements.

I’m planning to go through my whole wardrobe next week and prune it down.  It’s too full of dull black tops and brown jumpers, crowding out the things I really love to wear: soft, comfortable vests and cuddly, yielding cord or denim skirts in lush, lively colours – watermelon, lime, sky blue.  When I’m my own person, after Friday, I’m going to dress just for me.  So charity shop here I come.

I’ve always fancied a capsule wardrobe, but in its present state, a warehouse would be more appropriate.  Reducing my clothes on the old 80:20 principle will make getting dressed so much simpler and quicker. Actually, it’s probably more like 95:5 in my case – a tiny 5% of my clothes certainly get 95% of the action.

This streamlining won’t solve all my sartorial problems, though: I’ve just discovered I’ve been wearing my brown jumper back to front all day.  Never mind, at my current rate of progress, getting progressively more casual as my day of departure approaches, by Friday I’ll be pitching up at work in my pyjamas.  Well, that will certainly brighten up the office.

Posted in Family, Personal life

In Defence of My Pyjamas

A great news item on the Today progamme this morning about a Tesco store in Cardiff banning customers who are wearing their pyjamas, “in case it offends other customers”.  Apparently there is a trend among young mums to wear pyjamas all day.

On the evening news, a lady makes an eloquent tribute to pyjamas as comfortable, well-made, easy to launder, cheap, colourful, appealing to the wearer’s children and so on.  By the end of the article, it is hard to resist the argument and one begins to understand why young mums are spending all day in them, not bothering to change if they have to pop out for a pint of milk.

I am particularly gratified by this article because I spent a large part of the Christmas holidays in mine (and not only because I had two rather smart pairs as gifts).  Having been snug and warm in them all night, and intending to do nothing more energetic than a bit of gentle pottering around the house, hiding from the snow, there seemed no good reason for getting dressed.  It drove my husband mad.  (So there’ s a further justification for keeping them on.)

Of course, just wearing pyjamas is not in itself a sign of indolence. Despite being on two weeks’ holiday, I’d be up every day by 8am, make hot drinks for us all, empty the dishwasher, load the washing machine, tidy up,  write a letter or two, check my emails, feed the guinea pigs, break the ice on the birdbath, putout  scraps for the birds  – all before my husband and daughter were out of bed. As I was just about to sit down to catch my breath, my husband would trudge downstairs, having done nothing more strenuous than drink the tea I’d made, and claim the moral high ground because he was dressed.

What is it about pyjamas that makes people brand the wearer lazy?  They would have to be an excellent disguise for a spy.  No-one would think for a moment that they might be on active service.  Perhaps those Tesco store detectives had better look out.
Posted in Personal life

Crocs R Us

One of the things I am most looking forward to about going freelance is wearing Crocs every day if I feel like it.

I’ve never been fond of trainers, and before the arrival of Crocs, I alternated between boots and sandals, according to the time of year.  But Crocs (and the numerous cheap imitations) could have been invented especially for me: liberating, comfortable, practical in all weathers, not requiring socks, and available in every colour, from camouflage to brash.

It’s not just the feel or the look of them that I like.  There’s also something very levelling about them that appeals to my left-wing leanings.  Go into a hospital and you will find them on the feet of all kinds of people, from the lowliest porter to a top surgeon, all of them hooked on their comfort.
You can also use Crocs to express a certain rebelliousness against conformity and expectation.  A school lab technican I know chooses to offset his crisp white coat and top pocketful of pens with a wildly mismatched pair: one orange, one lime green (and yes, before you ask, he does have another pair at home just like them).  From the ankles up he’s sensible; lower down, he’s mad as a box of frogs that have just been disected by Year 9.

Crocs are an antidote to snobbery and a welcome escape from the tyranny of the business suit and sensible shoes. They put two fingers up (or should that be toes?) to the pain and challenge of balancing on spiky fashion stilettos.  I bet Germaine Greer likes Crocs.  If footbinding is at one extreme of podiatral fashion, Crocs are at the other.  With my size 8s having rather missed the small-is-beautiful boat of fashion, it’s no wonder that I’m hooked on Crocs.  My only footwear decision each morning from now on will be which of my many pairs of Crocs to choose – scarlet, lime, navy, black, orange…  Or, like my lab technician friend, perhaps I’ll just ring the changes.  They say that doing something different every day fuels creative thinking. Even if it does frighten the horses in the streets.

Footnote: this blog has not been sponsored by Crocs.  Other holey plastic shoes are available.  No feet were harmed in the writing of this blog.