Sunday, 27 November 2011

Oh Christmas tree . . .

Anyone got any tinsel?
The inevitability of it is now upon me. I can't escape the fact that by next weekend, a jaded old fairy will be staring at me in the living room. No, I'm not talking about Louis Walsh on The X Factor. I'm preparing myself for the journey to the shed. Once there, I will battle my way past the lawn mower, the half tins of paint and the gently rusting garden implements in order to locate a series of elderly cases and boxes. With in these boxes of delights lies Christmas. Yes, the entire festive works, save for the turkey. Tree, tinsel, lights, worried looking fairy for the top of the tree - the lot.

I gave up on having a real tree after several years of disasters. One Christmastide, I left it all a bit late and was actually about to leave the house for New York when I hurriedly went and bought a tree from Sainsburys. Back at home, I snipped the netting open only for an entire pine forest to burst forth and fill the room. This monster of a tree blocked out all natural daylight and, more importantly, the telly. Back from the Big Apple the following week, I dragged the thing out to the garden and stamped on it.

The following year I made my purchase from a local shopkeeper who became forever known as "that thieving witch". Basically, she saw me coming. They usually do. The tree didn't seem to fit in any stand I had. I considered stapling it to the curtains but then thought better and decided to saw the bottom off. With no saw to hand ( I know, what a desperate household) I took a bread knife to the thing. How I laughed with festive bonhomie as the blood poured down my hands several minutes later.

My problems were resolved by a quick visit to John Lewis who then delivered Christmas in the back of a van. All I now have to do is find the tree, cleanse it of spiders/grass cuttings and hey presto - it's Christmas!

Feeling excited yet? No . . .
At least I'm getting in the mood. Yesterday saw me at Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland, a Christmas cornucopia of loveliness. Brandishing a turkey bap, I pushed my way through crowds of bemused looking tourists heaving into cups of gluhwein. Seriously, the scent of mulled vino was everywhere. Fair play to the organisers though. The whole thing could have been ridiculously tacky but surprisingly, the idea seems to work.

Just don't be tempted by the gluhwein before going on the fairground . . .

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Soup on a tray . . .

I've staggered to the keyboard. Yes, this brave little soldier marches on despite suffering from (weep for me dear reader . . .) man flu. This scourge of the eighteen plus male finally hit home and layed me low for at least, ooh, forty eight hours.

Of course being ill now is nothing like being ill when you are a kid. A sickness day in the 1970s had a certain kind of format to it. I would be transferred from bed to sofa just as Jimmy Young was piping up on Radio 2. Once there, I would be covered with The Sickness Blanket, a cholera-ridden piece of cloth handed down by my great-grandma. Accompanying this would be The Sickness Bucket. Whatever the illness, the blue plastic bucket, liberally filled with Dettol-infused water would slosh around within vomiting range. Also arranged nearby would be a copy of The Beano and a bottle of Lucozade, complete with crinkly yellow cellophane.

Even though school was obviously out of the question, schools programmes would be served up. And so, semi-awake, I would peer at Seeing & Doing, Picture Box and the eerie Experiment ("Write that down".) Mum would later make an appearance with the Official Sickness Meal - tomato soup on a tray. Why she never put it in a bowl is anyone's guess. This would be served against a backdrop of Pebble Mill at One, the seven year old me being entranced by Peter Seabrook's gardening tips and a song from Patti Boulaye. By the time Crown Court came on I would be feverish and demented.

Two hours that I'll never get back . . .
Anyway, that's in the past. The adult sickness day saw me slumped over this keyboard, hating myself for reading inane tweets (note to celebs: if the only thing you have to talk about is your up and coming tour dates, then please don't bother). The 'feverish' moment came courtesy of Radio 2's Jeremy Vine Show which appears to be a spoken version of the Daily Mail, a forum for the 'nuts and sluts' brigade who usually meander on to the Jeremy Kyle Show. Must be something about the name Jeremy. Faced with a TV schedule filled with greedy pensioners grubbing around at antique fairs or rotund campsters tarting up derelict terraces in Stoke, I kept the telly switched off and sweated away in a corner. With The Sickness Blanket. Great-grandma would be proud.

Monday, 14 November 2011

I heard a Rumer . . .

Yawn . . .
My search for quality music goes on. I've decided that I'm never going to find it courtesy of the X Factor which I am now, after seven years, officially giving up on. Try as I might, I am unable to summon up any interest in this year's woeful contestants namely the Pislbury Do-Boy, the four munchkins, some bint with a loaf of bread on her head, a gasping 'theatrical' type who thinks he's Bruno Mars . . . oh you get the picture. Add to that the dead-eyed Dreary O'Leary, Auntie Louie and Kelly Girlfriend. Enough already. Or ENOUGH ALREADY as Kelly would probably bellow while trying to read the name of her acts on a cue card.

Mum's gone to Iceland
I found a little solace in thirty quids worth of Icelandic CD, the joyous Gleðibankinn. This celebrates, as if anything could, twenty five years of Icelandic participation on the Eurovision Song Contest. Feast on delights such as Hægt og hljótt by Halla Margret or the finger-clicking goodness offered up by Anna Mjöll's Sjubidu (it translates as Shoobedoo by the way).

Maybe musical perfection came in the shape of singer-songwriter Rumer. On Saturday night I made my way to Sheffield's City Hall, to join the throng of weak-bladdered, middle-aged people who had turned out to to be comforted by Rumer's songs. Battling through the queue outside the tea kiosk ("We've got no milk") and the grey-headed men in discomfort outise the gents, I settled down for the musical action. Rumer wafter on in a brown mumsy frock and launched into the first of many tracks from her debut album. The next ninety minutes were an absolute joy. Aided by an excellent backing band and two well-built backing singers, Rumer eased us through a world of middle-of-the-road mid-tempo songs, soft jazz and bossa nova rhythms. Her cover of Laura Nyro's American Dove topped off a rather lovely evening.

Musical excellence was, therefore, found. I embraced the middle-aged-ness of it all and, aftr rushing for the loo, floated home on a cloud of  . . . well, Ovaltine probably.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Missed World

If it wasn't for a small article in The Guardian this week, I would have been none the wiser that London was playing host to this year's Miss World competition. I felt slightly sad and nostalgic. Back in the day, Miss World was one of the annual television highlights, along with Children in Need and the Eurovision Song Contest, which caught people's interest.

Yes, a child I was always aware that, like a visit to the funfair, the search for the planet's best-looking woman was a tacky treat. On the big day we would glance at the 'runners and riders' lists in the tabloids. Miss United Kingdom would have been installed as favourite to win, even if she looked like Janet Street-Porter. By 8 p.m., the household would be seated and glued to the screen as shots of the Royal Albert Hall were replaced by a dazzling array of mismatched hosts. Would it be Michael Aspel in a dickie-bow, Esther Rantzen in a chiffon tent or Judith Chalmers with her lacquered skin?

Then the real fun began as the 'bevvy of international beauties' clomped on stage to sing an ill-judged anthem. For several years this was the nauseating 'For only a day', a ditty so inane that it actually finished last in A Song for Europe. Of course, it was always fun to spot the non-English speakers opening and closing their mouths on the back row but enough of Miss Australia.

The national dress parade was always a laugh. Poor old Miss UK would lumber out in a Beefeater outfit, the country lacking so much cohesion that it couldn't even agree on a frock. This part of the show was educational. We learned that the national dress of Malta is a coal sack and that all African women are forced to wear wicker baskets on their heads. How we chuckled as the gangly seven foot tall Miss Netherlands struggled onstage looking like a fifteenth century milk maid. The representative of the USA (never Miss USA, note) would be resplendent with toombstone teeth and Miss Mexico would look like a bad joke from Ugly Betty. Miss Iceland, even when she won, remained a dry-eyed Stepford Wife and curiously unsexual. Our household would always indulge in the 'is she a man?' competition, won on one notable occasion by Miss Turkey.

After the girls had been crooned at by Sacha Distel (usually 'The Most Beautiful Girl in the World'), Esther, Judith or someone would ask each contestant something non-threatening ('So Miss Israel, what's it like to be a beautiful girl in the army?') whereas we wanted Judith to smile and ask Miss South Africa what she thought of the oppressive regime of her homeland.

Then it was time to meet the jury (usually of the Bruce Forsyth ilk) before the forever seedy looking chairman, Eric Morley, announced the results in reverse order. At this point, a no-show for Miss UK was always rated a disaster. Would we never get to see that Beefeater suit again? There would usually be a surprised runner-up (Miss Guam 1980 - but revenge would be hers) followed by either a bizarre winner who no one had rated (UK 1983, Austria 1987) or some glacial automaton from Venezuela. Cut to winner attempting to walk, arrange her sash and hang on to the ridiculous crown that had been forcibly jammed on to her Farrah Fawcett hairdo by the previous year's winner.

This year's contest isn't being shown on either terrestrial or satellite TV in the UK but we wish Miss England well as she steps out at Earls Court dressed in our national costume, protective armoured battledress.