Friday, 21 December 2012

In which I reflect

The end of the year (although not the world, apparently) is as good a time as any other to reflect on the months gone before. Things I know now that I didn’t know 12 months ago are some in number and varied in nature…

Palmer’s Cocoa Butter
Yes, I am whackingly late to this particular, particularly well-moisturised party, but this stuff is practically magic. The Writer’s mother left a tub at her house in Italy where we stayed this summer, and I’ve not looked back.

Quite simply the best thing on telly. Possibly even better than The West Wing. I know – that good. If you’ve not yet joined Walter White in his descent into the basest levels of humanity, I suggest you rectify that forthwith.

But not the cheese – instead, the wine. It’s a variety I’d never come across before spending a week in Abruzzo in the summer. It’s light and delicate and honeyed and delicious. TW and I like thisone so much we have a case’s worth on the wine rack.

Fluffy headbands
Delicately termed a “head muff” by The Equestrienne, this has been a late discovery of the year, making an entrance in December (“so long as there’s a distinction made that it’s on your head,” grumbled TW when I told him). Akin to an enormous, fluffy, Russian-style hat without a top, it’s enormously warm and quite the conversation-starter, although I’m yet to get used to the fact that it possess a siren-call most audible to drunken men who rush up, desperate to stroke it.

The new journal of drink-based writing from the people who make Fire & Knives. Really quite a lovely, lovely thing for those who like good gin, good writing and nice things on the coffee table.

A genius little photo-editing software app. Tweak, filter and saturate to your heart’s content.

Ignoring form and expert advice, and backing a horse because it was the most attractive one in the paddock
Four bets placed, two winners and two runners-up. Clearly it is best to judge some things on their appearances if those judgments will pay the entire bar day’s bar bill.

TheDogs, Edinburgh
Recommended by the inestimable MarinaO’Loughlin, this unprepossessing little restaurant on Hanover Street in Edinburgh might not look much, but holy mackerel, the food is incredible. Marinated coley and mealy pudding might just be one of the most delicious things to have passed my lips this year.

Pony shampoo
This was quite possibly the best discovery in all of 2012 (other than the fact that, actually, I’m quite attached to living with boys. Well, one boy in particular) was pony shampoo, and the use of the aforementioned on human hair. It started as a dismissive tweet that became a joke; developed into a matter of vague curiosity and is now something of a phenomenon. I’m scarily evangelistic about the abilities Mane ‘n’ Tail possesses to make one’s hair shinier, healthier, thicker and generally Best in Show.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

In which I commit to the horsey project

I’ve said it before, but it’s true. Horses are like crack. They make you feel brilliant, are expensive, and thoroughly addictive.

With both of us having a day off after my extended birthday weekend in Edinburgh, I dragged The Writer to the local stables and cajoled him into joining me for a riding less – his first ever.

Despite his protestations that he was almost certainly going to fall off and die, he was actually rather proficient considering it was his first time in the saddle. Instead, considering his complete novice status, there was some excellent progression with the rising trot and a generally thoroughly successful lesson (give or take an incident with the descent from rising trot and the pommel. Ouch). There were even a few strides of canter that didn’t shift him. All of which was executed remarkably well given it must be rather harder when one’s so tall one’s lower legs dangle rather below the belly of one’s 15hh steed.

“It was fun,” TW said afterwards, a lingering note of surprise in his voice. “I think the horse and I were friends by the end of it.” Half a packet of Polos will do that, of course, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him that ponies are easily bribed. There has even been some talk of “next time”, which I’m taking as the best sign possible that there is the potential for TW to become as addicted as I am.

Of course, that’s when the expense kicks in. I’m now fully committed to the equine project, with my next outing being a long hack on the morning of Christmas Eve at the stables where I spent many formative childhood years. Of course, if Monday’s ride is anything like the experiences of my childhood, it’ll see me haring across the countryside, Thelwell fashion, yelling “He’s bolted! I can’t stop him!” (Of course, back then, the reality was usually that I’d dug in my teeny heels and relished the surprisingly swift top speed of Fred, Welsh Section B cross and approximately 13hh).

Which necessitates proper get up.

Best Mate has recently put me onto “full seat” breeches, which come complete with synthetic material over the bum which adds friction and, I quote, “helps you stick on in a crisis”. Snapped up a pair of those prontissimo, I can tell you. And rather than riding in ancient old boots that have seen a few Edinburgh winters and more than one hike up Arthur’s Seat which don’t give too much flexibility, I’m going to be investing in a proper pair of riding boots too.

And, given the possibility of a crisis across the flat Home County countryside, a new hat is most certainly in order, given that mine is somewhere in the region of an aeon old and would probably do as much to protect me if I fell off as a tea cosy. “Oh, don’t worry too much,” The Equestrienne said over lunch when I told her. “They’ll only do a quarter of mile flat out before they stop, so you won’t go too far.”

So actually, maybe horses are less like crack than they are Walter White-style blue meth. Make you feel brilliant; expensive; addictive. Comes with the faintest possibility of a violent death.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

In which I watch The Hobbit and contract an earworm

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is nothing more gently torturous in life than a persistent and pervasive earworm. I’ve come to this conclusion because, for several days, I have been victim of an earworm that’s so persistent and pervasive that I would be surprised if it wasn’t covered by the UN Convention.

Possibly unwisely following the amount of mulled wine consumed at a party the previous evening, The Writer and I hauled ourselves out of bed at sparrow fart on Sunday morning (ok, fine. 8.30am. It felt like an ungodly hour, though) to head to a preview screening of The Hobbit.

There are people far more qualified than I to give proper reviews, but for what it’s worth, I think the film is a solid 4 out of 5 stars. It’s half an hour too long and could have done with a good edit, and the whizzy new way it’s been filmed makes the indoor sets look a bit cheap and nasty (think BBC teatime versions of Narnia back in the 80s). That said, the acting is very good; it feels suitably epic; and, well, it’s just good fun, which is FAR more than can be said of some films I’ve seen recently (yes, I’m looking at you, The Master and Smashed. Shame on you).

But what’s really stayed with me in rather an unpleasant way, like a particularly potent aftertaste of garlic, is the score. It’s all beautiful and full of sweeping strings and everything, and Howard Shore is a genius, and yadda yadda yadda. But bugger me, it’s a sticky little theme, isn’t it?

Since we walked out of the cinema on Sunday lunchtime, I’ve had one of two things lodged firmly in my brain: either the main theme itself (der, der-der der, der-der derrrr) or the one from the Shire (dum-de dum dum dum dum duuum, dum de dum der dum dum duuuuum de-de-dum). Both have clearly decided they like their surroundings: they seem to be in the middle of unpacking their belongings and signing long-term tenancy agreements, showing absolutely no signs of going anywhere any time soon.

After the film had finished, we went for (a frankly disappointing) lunch at French and Grace afterwards, where I hummed through a halloumi wrap. I wandered around Tesco later to inner visuals of green hobbit holes, and I whistled under my breath. Even listening to Frank Sinatra crooning Christmas classics as I baked a test batch of Christmas cookies that afternoon (conclusion: needs more ginger) didn’t shift the musical squatters. And it’s getting worse.

Much to TW’s amusement, I hum the tunes in the shower without realising. He’s not helping matters by pouncing on me whilst I’m doing my make-up or cooking and asking, “oh, how does the Lord of the Rings theme go, again?”, thus cementing the damned thing in my brain for at least the rest of the day.

I’ve tried not thinking about it; I’ve tried humming along in the hope it’ll burn itself out; I’ve tried listening to other suitably catchy songs in an attempt to oust the buggers (Walking in a Winter Wonderland is as close as I’ve come to anything vaguely effective). But nothing works, and I’m going slightly mad.

Dum-de dum dum dum dum duuum…

Friday, 7 December 2012

In which I'm after a surrogate grandparent

It’s been several years since I had a grandparent. Which is a shame, really, as I rather enjoyed the ones I had whilst I had them.

Grandparents are quite clearly the best relatives going: instead of making sure you do your homework and eat your broccoli, they’ll let you drag them round science museums and then spend a fortune on magic trees in the gift shop; read endless hours of bedtime stories long after your parents would have downed books in protest; and bake goodies with such messy enthusiasm that there’ll be a subsequent photo of you standing on a chair in your grandmother’s kitchen wearing nothing but chocolate cake mix and a huge grin (true story).

And, given that mine are sadly no longer around, I have decided I’m in the market for some new ones.

I have given the matter some extensive thought, and have settled decisively on the following.

Granny 1: Mary Berry

Mary fulfills one role that’s crucial in any granny, and does it with superlative aplomb: the ability to bake – and then some. She doesn’t just whip up a passable Victoria sponge: Mary literally wrote the bible on all things baked. You’d blitz any office cake day with her in your corner (and, hopefully, peering into the mixing bowl). She’s a whiz with an Aga (which, although beautiful, can be temperamental beasts), and Sunday lunch would never be the same again. From her appearances on GBBO, it seems she’s partial to a tipple, and everyone knows that grannies are at their very best when they’re slightly drunk on sherry. Oh, and who else do you know over the age of retirement who can rock a floral bomber jacket? Case closed.

(Additional bonus points to Mary for being the muse behind this little gem of a site. God, I love the internet.)

Frankly, he’s brilliant. He’s been around forever, and has been around, well, everywhere. What the man couldn’t tell you about a capuchin monkey isn’t worth knowing. Attenborough’s many and varied series on the natural world are a wonder to behold, and the reason that anyone in their right mind pays the BBC license fee perfectly happily (to be perfectly honest, between just Sir Dave and Radio 4, I think £145.50 a year is a total steal, and that’s before you include all the other television channels and the website and the Olympics and Clare Balding and the iPlayer… All ad-free. Total bargain). He’s the sort of chap who would be perfect in any situation: whether you’re being charged by a rhino, or stuck on a particularly fiendish Trivial Pursuit poser, Sir David’s the one you’d want on your team. Also: he’s got a bit of a glint in his eye that tells you he’d be lots of fun on a night out. Not ideal in a real grandpa, perhaps, but a surrogate one? Ideal.

GRANNY 2: Jilly Cooper

Who else, quite honestly? The woman is practically a goddess. She writes extraordinarily brilliant books (book snobs: put your fears aside, and just try one. I wouldn’t go anywhere near a Marian Keyes if you paid me, but Jilly can do no wrong). She’s horsey, likes a drink, self-confessedly flirts with her children’s friends, and is, according to people lucky enough to have interviewed her (you know who you are, subjects of green-making envy), utterly darling. You could go to her with any news under the sun – bad, good; career, man, woman, animal, mineral, vegetable – and you know that she’d press a stiff drink into your hand, and have you both howling with laughter before you could say “Rupert Campbell-Black”. What’s not to love and admire with a passion?

But then I come to a hole. Because as easy as those three were to pick, suggestions for candidates to fill the final place of second grandfather are eluding me. Suggestions of brilliance welcome; and leases of less-famous but real-life grandparents very much considered. 

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