jofuller

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Life: Heatwaves, Ladybirds and Tizer

Life: Heatwaves, Ladybirds and Tizer

Phew! What a scorcher! We have just had the driest start to a summer since modern records began in 1961. Could this unusually inclement weather be due to global warming? As I wallow selfishly in yet another glorious day of sunshine I am guilty of ignoring the bigger picture, the impending destruction of the planet.

    I am more than happy to put up and shut up with arctic snowstorms in April if they are followed by endless months of tropical heat.  The ‘Beast from the East,’ central heating and bowls of stew, are but a distant memory. For a sun-worshipping, avid vitamin D absorber like myself, days of sunshine such as these have been but a dream. Our summers have routinely turned out to be pretty lacklustre, pretty damp and pretty disappointing. But now I find myself horizontal on the beach day after day after day, eating double raspberry Magnum after double raspberry Magnum.  I am, at last, living the summer of my dreams. 

     In between slurping ice-cream and cooling down in the sea, I have also managed to devote some quality time to another of my favourite pastimes reading. One recent beach read was the most enjoyable Instructions For a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell. Set in London, it’s the story of a loveable Irish family during the record-breaking heatwave of 1976.

    1976 was the summer The Sun first published the classic tabloid headline above, as the temperature in the UK reached 28+ over twenty-two consecutive days. There was no rain from the beginning of June until biblical thunderstorms hit at the end of August. Subsequently, the minister for droughts immediately became the minister for floods. 

   I was six during that epic summer and apart from a memorable bout of miserable measles on my birthday, I also remember the plague of ladybirds that besieged the country. Hungry and thirsty their only option for survival was to drink the sweat of the very sweaty human population. I was not particularly svelte as a child and I recall squeezing into a beloved swimming costume by the now extinct clothing brand ‘Ladybird.’ The costume was emblazoned with their logo, you guessed it, ladybirds. Needless to say, I was pretty much camouflaged during this macabre couple of days. And due to my clever branding, I quite possibly escaped having my perspiration syphoned off by a ravenous aphid.

    I don’t recall sunscreen with SPF or UVA filters existing in 1976. We were unaware of the ozone layer back then, and the damage the sun could do to our skin. I do remember regularly burning the skin on my back, and on more than one occasion, it blistered. Standard sunburn procedure was a hot bath to take out the sting, before being liberally coated in pink calamine lotion from head to toe. The layers of lotion dried to form an attractive crust that encased my body, and fortunately, still allowed it to breathe. The following morning the lotion was rinsed off and after all that effort, the sunburn would still be there. But off I went, outside again, this time with a t-shirt on over my cossie. That was sun protection in 1976.

     During that long hot summer, with my both parents working I pretty much had to fend for, and amuse myself, under the not so watchful eye of my elder sister. Space Hoppers and Raleigh Choppers where the predecessors to mobile phones and tablets. Armed with a survival kit of marmite sandwiches, crisps, Tizer and a vivid imagination, I played on the street, unsupervised. Dodging moving cars was a way of life. This reckless, feral lifestyle might today be seen as neglect, but back then it was just what kids did. That was childcare in 1976.

    Shockingly my parents didn’t have a clue about recycling and had never heard of prosecco. The only gin available was Gordon’s, and Schweppes produced the only tonic. Findus crispy pancakes were considered a food group and if you could stomach prawn cocktail flavoured crisps, you had a sophisticated palate. 

    Whilst Elton John and Kiki Dee were topping the charts with “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” the powers that be were giving out invaluable advice 1976 style.  “Bath with a friend” got printed on t-shirts to encourage people to conserve the water supply.  A well-respected doctor at one London hospital famously recommended the sweltering masses drink a pint of beer and eat a packet of crisps to replenish the liquid and salts lost through sweating. 

    Writing this has made me yearn slightly for the relaxed attitude of the 70’s. Studies by economists have shown that financially, the UK wasn’t at it’s best in 1976. However, they looked at the broader picture and the factors that contribute to the quality of life and concluded that 1976 was Britan’s happiest year, especially if you were a child. If they took into account bouncing around all summer on a space hopper, with little parental control, burping warm Tizer, then I’m not surprised, it really was a joyous year.

 

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Stamina, Parties and Hangover’s

Stamina, Parties and Hangover’s

My friends and I are all approaching or have reached the big 50, and I totally agree with the old adage that like good wine, we improve with age. This improvement can be interpreted in numerous ways. Many of my quinquagenarian friends are challenging themselves physically, extremely physically. Having taken part in the Brighton Marathon two or three times, it no longer presents itself as a challenge. Eager to push themselves further, ultra marathons and Iron Man (and woman) triathlons are the new (horrifying) events that they are voluntarily signing up for.

        For some however, the improvement has taken on a slightly different guise. They have shown remarkable development in their ability to stay up late and party.  It is not their alcohol consumption I admire, it’s their ability at our age to push on through the hangover’s and function as normal human beings the next day/s.

    Having been remarkably good at staying up late in our formative years, there was a slump in this particular activity once the majority started producing children. I never belonged to this camp, so my training and dedication to this discipline never really went into decline. I was committed to my practice of late nights, Marlborough Lights and vodka. Physically exhausted and mentally depleted, I had no choice but to announce my retirement in my early 40’s.

    I’ve become an early bird with age, productive and energetic upon waking. I like to be in bed by 10pm and asleep by 11pm. Occasionally I can have my arm twisted and happily stay out late drinking Margarita’s and dancing badly. Lost in music, I forget about the impending and inevitable consequences that come with having too much alcohol fuelled fun – see below. 

    As a rule, if I don’t get eight hours sleep I’m a miserable old bag that not even a double shot of caffeine can cheer up, and nobody deserves to be subjected to that.

    I do however have friends who supposedly also need eight hours sleep and rarely get it. Enviably they come alive at 10pm just as I’m putting on the kettle to make a cup of sleepy tea and preparing to hunker down with a book.

    Very recently, on an unremarkable Wednesday in April, one of my best friends turned fifty. An unfortunate day of the week for such a momentous birthday to fall on, so one would think. The best you could do would be to mark it with a quiet supper with your family and a handful of close friends? You’d have the big blow out celebration the weekend before or after? Who would consider throwing a fiftieth party on a Wednesday, a school night?  In his newly acquired, age-associated wisdom, my friend decided to host a low key celebration in a local pub on a Wednesday night, the invite read drinks and food 7pm-11pm. 

    I did the 7pm-10pm shift, yes readers, I lifted my bedtime curfew by an hour because he really is a very special friend. As I gathered up my belongings and stuffed one last halloumi fry in my mouth, I suffered no FOMO as I exited the building. I believed the party would be naturally winding down, being a Wednesday.

    The next day I dropped the Birthday Boy and his wife a text to thank them for a lovely evening. It was then that I discovered that they had accepted a lock-in at the pub until 2.30am and then escorted a large proportion of the revellers back to theirs to carry on, on a Wednesday! When their eight year old got up for school, she was delighted, yet puzzled, to see various family members and close friends passed out on the sofa’s and floor of her lounge.

    I am in no way chastising the dirty stop-outs, I am just in total awe of their stamina and their resilience to their hangovers. They didn’t spend the following day/s feeling utterly dreadful, forced to take to their beds with a litre of diet coke and a cold pizza. Enviably they functioned as perfectly normal human beings.

    I am writing this on a Monday morning with a hangover that is deciding whether or not it has had enough of my company, or whether it is going to stick around for another 24 hours. On Saturday I helped another dear friend celebrate her 50th. What started out as a genteel lunch, slowly unravelled into total carnage. Too much rosé, pink champagne and a playlist that had us all up and dancing made sure that Sunday was a total write off. I was nil by mouth, totally light sensitive and had to stay very close to my toilet, the penalty for having too much fun, again.

    Surprisingly, I do remember with fondness all the celebrations I have shared over the years.  In my mind we partied hard, but to date, the 50th’s are wiping the floor with the 21st’s, 30th’s and 40th’s. What kind of improvements are we going to make over the next ten years? I think I need to start organising a dedicated training regime to prepare me for the Sixtieths. Pass the rosé……

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.” 

George Bernard Shaw

This article also appeared in the Brighton & Hove Independent 

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Life: Snow And The Joy Of Reading

Life: Snow And The Joy Of Reading

I have and always will be a total ‘bah humbug’ when it comes to snow. I don’t want to be anywhere near it, never mind play it in.  As a nation, we were updated continually on the advancement and impending implosion of the Beast from the East. Forewarned is forearmed, and so I sensibly prepared myself for the unavoidable Baltic conditions. It wasn’t a complicated military operation by any means, but it did require a certain amount of planning. I had my boiler serviced, panic bought an emergency supply of milk chocolate hobnobs and dragged my body and my duvet to my sofa along with a pile of books. Operation “snowed in” was successfully completed without a hitch.  The Beast arrived. The world stopped. Others appeared to be more than happy sledging and throwing snowballs. I lay down and read. Bliss.

Every time I pick up a new book, I know that I am going on an adventure. One that I may or may not enjoy.  I could be taken to a different country, a different place in time or a fantasy world. I may find myself inside the head of a murderer, a drug lord or a dying man. I can laugh, I can cry or on occasion, I can be haunted by what I have read.  The journey of turning each page and being led safely into the unknown as the story and the characters unfold, is for me, the joy of reading.

Even though the snow caused travel chaos, I still managed to travel quite a lot without setting foot inside an airport or indeed a time machine. First stop Northern Iceland in 1829 and the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir,  a servant woman in her thirties accused of a brutal murder. There being no prisons in Iceland at that time, the condemned woman is sent to work for a local family on a remote farm, to await her fate. Hannah Kent’s, Burial Rites is as bleak as it is beautiful, and chillingly based on a true story.

From Iceland, I found myself in Russia where I had the good fortune to meet (and fall in love with) a man of true honour, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov.  Amor Towles’,  A Gentleman in Moscow is, without doubt, one of the best books I have ever read. It is 1922 and the Count has been deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik court. Instead of an all expenses paid trip to Siberia, he is put under house arrest in the grand Metropole hotel on Red Square, conveniently located opposite the Kremlin.  I eeked out the last one hundred pages of this six hundred page book, wishing there could be six hundred more. The strapline for the novel is “he can’t leave, you won’t want to,” That pretty much sums up this delightful read.

From Moscow, I let Rohinton Mistry’s, A Fine Balance, take me to India in 1975 and story of two tailors, a widow and a student.  These four characters get thrown together during the political unrest and human rights violations of Indira Gandhi’s, Emergency. An incredible, but traumatic story, I couldn’t help but become attached to the four protagonists, and emotionally invested in their fate. By the end I was sobbing, really, really sobbing and totally humbled.  Yet again reminded of the priceless value of family and friendship, and just how incredibly lucky I am.

By the time I had gathered enough literary air miles, to fly around the world and back, the snow had melted (for the second time). I clocked a few subtle clues that spring could be on its way. The temperature hitting a scorching five degrees was one, and Easter eggs dominating every supermarket, another. If like me, this endless winter is really starting to get you down and you feel a desperate need to escape, pick up a book, grab a packet of hobnobs, and curl up on your sofa. Reading really can take you anywhere.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you will go.” —Dr. Seus

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Life: Comfort Eating, Netflix & Internet Dating.

Life: Comfort Eating, Netflix & Internet Dating.

“January is over! This is not a drill! I repeat *shouty voice* JANUARY IS DEFINITELY OVER!” *does a happy dance*.”

This year I rebelled against the January trend of strict deprivation. I refused to repent for my overindulgence during the festive season, and I chose to deprive myself of nothing. It was hugely satisfying. Forget ‘New Year, New You,’ it’s too cold and too dark to think about re-inventing yourself. Cream Eggs and Piña Coladas taste delicious in January, especially when you take away the guilt. Here are a couple of suggestions on how to survive 31 days of bleak midwinter:-

Comfort Eat – Red wine, meat and chocolate are basic survival rations. I have total admiration for those who go cold turkey and take on the challenge of dry and/or vegan January. In my world, self-deprivation is not a coping mechanism, get the slow cooker on and invite friends over. Drink good red wine, eat generous bowls of rich beef stew, coronary-inducing amounts of buttery mash and moan relentlessly about it being January.  Repeat at least once a week.

Binge on Netflix – Netflix kindly sent me an offer I couldn’t refuse, one month’s free subscription. I Od’d, devouring The Crown in less than a week. Before I had digested the Royal family properly I went straight into S1-3 of Narcos. I already had a morbid fascination with drug cartels, yet thankfully I didn’t feel attracted to any of the real life, sadistic cartel bosses. I did, however, develop an unhealthy crush on the fearless DEA Agent that was intent on bringing them down, Javier Peña. There is something very attractive, (especially in the depths of January), about a Hispanic man from the 1980’s. I questioned my taste, his clothes were too tight, his moral compass dubious, but his full moustache strangely alluring. I blame January. Repeat daily for at least 4 hours.

Tackle Tinder – This isn’t really a survival tactic, more a lifeline when boredom sets in around the 14/15th of the month. I think my motivation for this was the unrealistic hope that I might meet a fearless DEA agent, with tight clothing, dubious morals and a full moustache. Alas no. I tried it, but swiping wasn’t for me.  The experience did, however, provide some interesting anecdotes to tell over a glass of red and a bowl of stew. Read on.

There was the guy who loathed crab. I love crab. We started out with an amusing exchange on the pros and cons of crabs. There are, however, only so many crab jokes a girl can come up with, and after a few days I grew weary of our ‘crab banter.’ He seemed reluctant to move off the subject, so I moved on. I have no doubt whatsoever, that somewhere out there, there is a girl for him.

I also received the invitation of a lifetime from a 50 year old, who proudly suggested I come over and play with his remote control helicopter and his huge Scalextric. He wasn’t being suggestive, there was no hidden meaning to his invite, he genuinely thought this was an offer I couldn’t or wouldn’t refuse. I made my excuses, wished him all the best, deleted my dating profile and turned my attention back to Narcos.

And so the month that is January has ended. My brain is frazzled from too much American TV and trying to fathom out men and their idiosyncrasies, without being overly judgemental. As I roll into February there are many welcome, and sociable distractions to speed up the arrival of spring. Six Nations Rugby, Pancake’s, Chinese New Year and of course Valentines Day. I doubt that I will receive any cards this year, but I might just send one. Does anyone happen to have the address for the DEA?

 

This article also appeared in the Brighton & Hove Independent

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Life: Lurgy, Miracles and Appreciation

Life: Lurgy, Miracles and Appreciation

I’ve been proper poorly. I have heroically bumbled through the past six weeks in a lurgy infested fug. Usually the pious one, I observe sympathetically as those around me are taken down by the seasonal cold and flu mutations. This year, however, it was my turn to take a bullet – or two.

Apparently this year, the H3N2 virus has come all the way from the Antipodes. If I were lucky enough to be basking in glorious sunshine, BBQ’ing my food and living in flip flops, I could quite possibly tolerate a dose of Australian flu. But I am in Hove, struggling with thick cloud, living off mushy carbs and wearing thermal socks. All of which have contributed to my bout of Aussie flu being even more insufferable.

The first sign that my health was on a downward spiral was a sore throat. This evolved into an epic cough, which many compassionately compared to a death rattle. The cough disrupted my sleep to such an extent, that I went for almost a month barely surviving on four hours a night. I tried to tackle the cough with an inordinate amount of vitamin C, local honey and homemade ginger tea. In hindsight, I should have gone straight to the chemist for some hard drugs.

Once the cough had abated I was left with 50% of my hearing and a dizzying amount of snot. The continual blowing of my nose and wiping of my eyes, prevented me from wearing any form of make-up. Having not slept for some considerable time, a total lack of makeup added to my misery. I spent what seemed like an eternity mimicking a corpse. I was unable to make eye contact with anyone, for fear of imprinting a lasting image of my undead self on them forever. As luck would have it, just when I thought I was on the road to recovery, I was hit with a bout of nausea, a very upset stomach and an outbreak of adult acne.

In the darkest of times, there is however always someone worse off than you, and that person was my friend Karen. Karen thought she had woken up with conjunctivitis, but when she sat in front of her GP, she was informed that she was producing so much mucus it was actually seeping out of her eye sockets. Thankfully I escaped the humiliation of ‘snot eye’- the GPs words not mine. Mucus forcing its way out of my eyeballs would most definitely, have tipped me over the edge.

You must by now be thinking to yourself, that it truly is a miracle that I’m still here and able to tell you my tale of seasonal woe? Indeed, I am one of the lucky ones. There is always a lesson to be learnt when things get tough. My lesson this time around was how very, very blessed I am to have good health. Until it was momentarily taken away from me, I didn’t appreciate the enormity of it. How very grateful I am that it was just a temporary hitch and not a chronic illness.

As we move into 2018, I wish only good things for us all. I am not setting myself traditional goals this year, my challenge is to appreciate all the great things I already have in my life. To stop striving for the material things that I think will make me happy. I have my health, I have my home and I have the love of my family and friends. It’s not an abundance of mucus in my eyes that is stopping me from seeing just how great my life is, it’s my own limiting perception. I really do have it all.

This piece also featured in the Brighton & Hove Independent

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