jofuller

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Travels: Berlin – “Everyday is a School Day”

By my own admission I tend to fall in love pretty quickly, but even by my standards, the lightning speed by which I fell in love with Berlin was a record.

Maintaining this long distance affair shouldn’t prove to be too hard, Berlin is less than two hours away from London by air and a 30 min bus transfer from Tegel Airport to the largest ‘platz’ in Germany, Alexanderplatz. As newbies to the city, this was the perfect place to stay. Like most of Berlin, it’s not aesthetically pleasing, but its central location is perfect for transport links and getting your bearings. NB Berlin is that big it has its own forest.

Alexanderplatz is in the former East Berlin, its location visible all around the city by the iconic space age “Alex” TV tower built by the GDR in 1969.  We stayed on the 26th floor of the Park Inn by Radisson. What our room lacked in space it made up for with the view. I’m a view geek, and so high up were we I could have happily laid in bed all day looking out at the low clouds that swept across the city but I’m so glad I didn’t, Berlin is fascinating and in three days we only scratched the surface.

Discovering the remarkable history….

My top tip is to take a bike tour, we did ours with Fat Tire and it was an excellent decision.  Had we just hired bikes and not joined the tour we would have seen the city but we certainly wouldn’t have learnt so much. The six hours spent with the incredibly knowledgeable Claudia was the equivalent of doing a GCSE in German history.

Berlin is many things, and one thing it is is eerie. There were many times during the course of my stay that I felt unnerved, and as my knowledge of Berlin unfolded I realised that the sensation was a feeling of fear.  Many people in the past had been terrified, so intense was this fear that it still vibrates in parts of the city to this day and it will probably never dissipate.

The first stop on our bikes was Babel Platz and the Humbolt University (alumni include Einstein, Marx and the Brothers Grimm) where the charming Head of Nazi propaganda Dr Joseph Geobbles held his burning of the books on the 10th May 1933.  My skin crawled upon the realisation that I was standing and walking on the same ground as Goebbels and Hitler, there was no getting away from the feeling that terror and evil had been overly present in this square.

The tour took us to all the main sites in the city and as we cycled round my fascination grew. Berlin was the centre of European nightlife in the 1920s, known for its ‘cabaret and cocaine’. When the recession hit in the 1930s Berlin fell into poverty. The despondent mood and dis-empowered population gave Hitler the chance to work his way up the political food chain. He promised the people what they wanted, change, and he eventually seized power in 1933 giving himself the humble title of Führer and it all went downhill from there.  As Voltaire so wisely said ‘History never repeats itself. Man always does.” A warning to us all in 2017.

We paid our respects at the open-air Holocaust Memorial.  2711 tomb-like slabs of stone in equal size but at varying heights, no explanation is given for the design, it is open to interpretation. But one thing I can say is that although on the main road, once you walk into the memorial and wind your way through the slabs you hear nothing.

A nondescript car park and another deeply unpleasant feeling, we were standing on Hitler’s bunker. By projecting the idea that he was ‘married to Germany’ Hitler conveniently avoided marrying his girlfriend of 16 years Eva Braun but as the Russian army advanced into Berlin, he realised he was losing the war, blamed the German people and divorced them. He then put Eva out her misery, literally, as less than 24 hours after they were married in the romantic setting of the Füherbunker, they committed suicide. I am pretty certain that had Eva had any input into the wedding plans, dropping a cyanide capsule on a sofa would not have been her honeymoon of choice.

On a lighter note, I am sure you will be as pleased as me to know that there is now a Jewish bakery and a gay sauna adjacent to the bunker.

Following the war, the Allies were concerned that after successfully starting WWI and WWII Germany would make it a hat trick and start a third WW, so they decided to stay. Germany was divided into four occupied zones as was the city of Berlin itself. The successful introduction of the Deutschmark to boost the economy in the occupied western zones and the continual defection and brain drain from the Eastern block prompted the Soviet Union and the GDR to close the once easily accessible border between East and West.  On the morning of Sunday 13th August 1961 the East German army rolled out miles of barbed wire dividing Berlin, on the 17th of August the first concrete blocks were erected and within a few days, the Wall had been built. On the 8th of November 1989, the border was opened once again, but the physical demolition of the wall didn’t start until the following year.

There are remains of the wall still standing, and again I got that chilling feeling. Guards were ordered to shoot to kill anyone who attempted to cross. The Death Strip was filled with landmines, dogs and nail beds.  If you ever visit Berlin, look down and if you see a double cobbled line that is where the wall once stood, a permanent reminder of the horrendous partition of a city.

Checkpoint Charlie, once the only safe place to cross the border from West to East, is now a tourist attraction in the middle of a busy road. The traffic avoids the tourists surrounding the little replica hut and for €3 you can have your photo taken with a pseudo-East German border guard – somehow that just didn’t seem like the right thing to do.

It wasn’t all learning and creepy sensations on the cycle tour, we did meander through the beautiful Tiergarten park, home to the German President – who has no political influence – a zoo, a boating lake and a number of embassies. It also has a fabulous restaurant and we stopped here for a most welcome 1.5L vat of Alsterwasser, shandy to you and I, and a delicious lunch.

From here we straddled our trusty steeds once more and headed to the Reichstag, the seat of the German government. During its turbulent history it’s been bombed and set on fire and now proudly has a glass dome symbolising transparency. The dome is open to everyone but you must book in advance – regrettably, we didn’t. Angela Merkel’s glass offices are just across the lawn and the two are apparently linked by a tunnel so she doesn’t have to trip her way through all the tourists and their bikes to get to work.

Out last stop was the Brandenburg Gate. This iconic arch has witnessed the best and the worst of Berlin’s history.  The military parades of the Third Reich took place here and when the Wall went up it found itself on the eastern side.  It later became a symbol of freedom and unification when the collapse of the Berlin Wall was televised from here around the world.

Berlin has 175 museums and we picked two because we had a rainy day. They probably weren’t the most lighthearted of choices, but they were definitely worth it.

The Topogrophie des Terror has been deliberately built on the site of the former headquarters of the SS and the Third Reich. This permanent exhibition is to tell the world about the rise of the Third Reich and the forced labour camps, the crimes of the SS and the horror of the extermination of Jews, gypsies and homosexuals. It’s tough going, but I have total respect to the Germans for owning what happened and not denying it or playing it down. Instead, they have humbly put it on display, not to shock or disturb but to apologise in the only way they know how for 12 years of terror driven Nazi rule.

The Jewish Museum is shaped as a deconstructed Star of David and explores a thousand years of German-Jewish history. It’s tough but fascinating.

Despite its dark and compelling history, modern-day Berlin has moved on. It’s too cool for school, but it’s not. The coolness isn’t contrived, it’s just there. The Berliners aren’t trying to be cool, they just are. There seems to be a general air of happiness and a really positive attitude. The people are chilled, kind and polite and have a great sense of humour. This might have something to do with the fact that beer is cheaper than water and readily available or it could just be that this massive concrete city is a fun, creative and vibrant place to live. Thankfully it seems to be harking back to the laid-back Berlin of the 20s and not the harsh realities of its formative years.

Discovering the food and drink…..and a bit of dancing

If I were to ask you which city in the world has more vegan restaurants than any other, would you answer Berlin? Probably not, but it has, it is the vegan capital of the world. It also has the largest Turkish population outside of Turkey and when I discovered these two facts I was delighted, I wasn’t going to be forced to live on bratwurst and currywurst for three days.

Sadly, we didn’t find any of the vegan restaurants that had been recommended and we naively rocked up at Industry Standard in the district of Neuköllon without a reservation. But we did get lucky at Al Andalos with a huge sharing plate of vegetarian Meze and a couple of bottles of fizzy rhubarb. It was buzzy, cheap and the heady smell of the Shisha pipes from the surrounding restaurants on Sonnenallee only added to the taste.

If you want to go ‘German’ for an evening, I can highly recommend Hackendahl on Friedrichstaße in the Mitte area of the city.  They specialise in whisky and gin, but we didn’t want to conform so we had a glass of sparkling Sekt, it’s delicious. We also had the German interpretation of tapas, an enormous meatball and a side of potato salad. It was very cool, very shabby but also very chic and full of after work Berliners. We could have stayed all night but we needed more than a meatball to eat.

The barman recommended that we head further into Mitte along Oranienburger Straße and here we stumbled on Schwarzwaldstuben, a restaurant devoted to the slow food movement. I couldn’t resist a schnitzel with seasonal white asparagus – why do we not eat them in the UK? – new potatoes, lashings of hollandaise sauce and a cold glass of Riesling, I don’t think I could have gotten more Bavarian unless I’d worn Lederhosen and plaited my hair. It was delicious.

We headed out again into Mitte on our last night, wandering down Torstrasse we had a lethal cocktail* in Brut and some much needed, amazing Vietnamese food at the appropriately named Good Morning Vietnam. As we wandered around post dinner we noticed the following:

  • How quiet and dark the streets are, they are very dimly lit.
  • People sit down in bars, if all the chairs/stools are taken no one stands up, they move on.
  • If a bar sells food, much to our delight the patrons can’t smoke.

Two free stools at the bar, the quirky paper models in the window and the serving of food tempted us into the smoke-free Altes Europa for a post dinner drink and planning session. It was make or break, we went dancing or went home. It was a Saturday night, we’d had a high brow day looking around disturbing museums, it was time to dance, we headed to the magical world of Clärchens Ballhaus.

Tucked away from the road in the dimly lit Augustraße this 100-year-old dance hall was saved from demolition in 2005. It is the popular hangout for dancers of all ages, persuasions and abilities who don’t want to partake in the popular Berlin pastime of hardcore underground techno clubbing.

The night we went I can only liken it to a Strictly vs Eurovision mash up. The super cool DJ was playing S Club Seven – yes, she was – the dance floor was packed with an eclectic mix of dancers whirling each other round in a classic style. As she switched to Barbie girl – yes, she did – they deftly adapted their dancing style to fit the beat. The DJ was temporarily replaced, not because of her terrible but addictive taste in euro pop, but because this is Clärchens and next on the bill was a three piece, sexagenarian, rock and roll band banging out Johnny Cash covers. Once again, the dance floor moves mirrored the music.

My chum and I were in awe. It was a magical place, inclusive, fun and just a joyful place to be. We did some tragic school teacher type bobbing on the edge of the dance floor but mostly enjoyed being voyeurs soaking up the extraordinary venue and its punters. We wished that there was a venue like this back home, but in all honesty, Clärchens wouldn’t work anywhere else, it is Berlin at its quirkiest and its finest and the perfect lowbrow end to our highbrow day.

Things I’d love to see and do next time I visit Berlin 

Make a reservation in advance for dinner at Industry Standard

Have cocktails at Fairytale and the Monkey Bar at the Bikini Hotel

See the graffiti at the East Side Gallery

Stare at the amazing photos at the Helmut Newton Foundation

Cycle round Templhofer Feld

Stasi Museum

DDR Museum

Käthe Kolwitz Museum

Mooch around the districts of Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain and Charlottenburg

Go shopping at the KaDeWe department store, especially the gourmet food floor.

We made a very quick visit to the Mauerpark Flea Market but the freezing hail had us run for cover and enjoy the best coffee I had in Berlin at Café Bar Central. It would most definitely be worth going back to Mauerpark on a warm and sunny Sunday morning.

Getting around Berlin

Public transport is free in Berlin, well technically it’s not but until you get to grips with buying a ticket and validating it, it’s essentially free. There is the U-Bahn which is the underground, the S-Bahn the overground, the buses and the trams. They have covered all possible options. I found it all very confusing so my choice would be walking and cycling. The Berliners are very tolerant of cyclists, you can cycle on the pavement and they get out of the way for you,  they don’t shout or swear, it’s a cyclists mecca.

Like any love-struck soul, I have put the object of my desire on a pedestal.  I wasn’t in Berlin long enough to see its flaws and I accept that like any other city it might have a not so perfect side and if that is so,  I’m confident that  together we can work through any issues that arise in the hope that my love affair with this alluring Großstadt will last for many years to come.

*Word of Warning

When the barman apologises for mistakingly making your cocktail with champagne and not soda water you know your evening is only going to go one way, but that’s another story…

 

 

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Life: Epidemics, Kate Tempest & Piercings

Chickenpox is generally a good gauge that Spring is on its way, as is the macabre tradition of hosting a chickenpox party. Should you be unlucky enough to get an invite to such a gathering, all you need to bring is a pox free child. Once the horrid mingle has come to an end, instead of a party bag the little ones hopefully all leave with a harrowing childhood disease and their immune systems boosted. As I don’t have children this is the one party invite I never get, bothered? Most definitely not.

Brighton Festival Fever has nothing to do with contagious childhood diseases, but it is contagious to those with an interest in arts and culture, regardless of age, and it also starts to slowly sweep across the city in February. I became a member this year – is that an age thing? – and accepted the invite to the member’s preview show.

It was a surreal evening, the curator of this year’s extravaganza, spoken word idol Kate Tempest, was live but not live on a pre-recorded VT from her holiday in Sri Lanka bizarrely interviewing herself. You had to be there. I have a great respect for Kate Tempest and her talent, but her words don’t really resonate with me. At one of her recent gigs, I was most upset by her obvious disapproval of people who like new shoes and drink coffee. That night I was wearing fabulous new shoes and had just had a coffee. I stood amongst Kate’s crowd as they worshipped her every word. I felt as if there were a flashing neon arrow above my head, highlighting me and my frivolous spending on heels and caffeine instead of giving it away to dis-enfranchised millennials in a bid to stop them spiralling into drugs and prostitution.

If you’re reading this Ms. Tempest, just for the record I’ve done my time as a screwed up twenty something and frankly, I’m proud to have made it this far without being sectioned or forced into rehab. So please don’t make me feel guilty for sorting myself out aka “growing up’, buying shoes and drinking coffee. I thank you.

Not sure what Kate would have made of the “Exclusive” members evening full of people with a disposable income drinking free wine and coffee, but she actively encouraged us to spend money, book tickets and not give to worthier causes other than our own enjoyment – which personally I think is a very worthy cause. I left 100 quid lighter, several events in the bag and a fun filled, guilt free May to look forward to.

As I am clearly well beyond my twenty-somethings, it must have been a subconscious midlife backlash that took me to a get my helix pierced. A totally pain-free experience and the delightful girl, that took a very large needle to my upper ear, obviously thought that this was the start of my piercing journey. She handed me a loyalty card, “have six piercings, get the seventh free”, she said. Personally, I can’t imagine having anything other than my ears pierced but I loved the way she tried to up-sell me to have my nipples lanced. I politely declined.

I love a loyalty card and get great satisfaction when I complete one, the usual reward being a free coffee. Not sure a free intimate piercing would give me the same kind of buzz, but it would defiantly make me feel more at home amongst the kids should I ever decide to go to a Kate Tempest gig again.

These words also appeared in The Huffington Post and the Brighton & Hove Independent

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Travels: Palma, Puerto Pollenca and a Philistine

I recently survived a terrifying and turbulent take off from Gatwick airport. For fear of sounding dramatic, I seriously thought I was going to die and bring up my recently ingested Pret falafel wrap. I prayed that the God I had stopped believing in many years ago would take pity on me and spare my dying on an Easyjet flight because I couldn’t remember the Hail Mary and amongst other carnal sins stole pick ’n’ mix from Woolworths. But my Catholic guilt and pathetic attempt to rekindle my relationship with God dwindled when it occurred to me that the pilot would not risk his own life to take me to the Mediterranean. He would only have taken off if he was certain the conditions were conducive to our, and ultimately his safe passage.

Three hours later, I was still alive – and I’m assuming so was the pilot – soaking up the sunshine and restoring my tattered nerves with a coffee and a suitably calorific sweet treat. Much was my relief to have arrived safely in Palma, the capital of the Balearic island of Majorca.

The purpose of my trip was to celebrate a significant birthday and the marriage blessing of two very special friends who live in the north of the island. But first I gave myself a couple of nights to explore the lovely city of Palma. Roughly two hours from the UK and a very easy 20 min bus ride from the airport to the Plaza España, makes this a perfect yet underrated destination for a weekend break.

What I love about Palma is that there isn’t really anything to see. It is a very beautiful city on a very beautiful island. Culturally you have the magnificent Gothic Cathedral Le Seu and Es Baluard the museum of modern art, but refreshingly there isn’t a long list of sights to tick off and this, in my book, makes it very relaxing. In fact on the days I was there, both the Cathedral and the Museum were shut, and the philistine in me was quite delighted, it freed up more time for mooching, and that is what Palma is great for, mooching, browsing and eating.

 

 

 

 

 

Once you’ve ticked the cultural sights off your list – or not – have a wander around the bustling Plaza Major in the centre of Palma. It is teeming with shops, cafes and street entertainers. The Passeig des Born, is a tree lined paseo, perfect for people watching, and is also the upmarket shopping area – Uterqüe and Mulberry have just opened their doors. The La Llonga district is the area to head for nightlife and it is here you will find the Teatre Principal, home to the theatre and the opera. Santa Catalina is the boho area, the slightly shabby little streets are filled with bars, restaurants and interesting shops and in stark contrast a few minutes south you have the modern and busy Port de Mallorca.

Mooching makes you surprisingly hungry and Palma is fully equipped to offer you frequent and satisfying refreshment. Head to one of the many patisseries for a standard, but exceptional Majorcan breakfast of coffee and croissant. Get a spot in the sun and relish this simple but wonderful start to your day.

For lunch, I can highly recommend the indoor market in Santa Catalina. Filled with fresh produce, meat and fish, many of the stalls have the option for you to pull up a stool and eat. The fish and seafood is amazing, fresh off the boats, onto the grill and onto your plate for around €10 including a glass of wine. It’s not salubrious it’s a working market, but the atmosphere, the smells and the noises are memorable.

A little afternoon pick me up is generally necessary and coffee and cake are everywhere. Many of the cafes encourage you to have a glass of cava as well, which I think is very civilised.

Considering its size, Majorca has an impressive nine Michelin-starred restaurants totalling ten stars between them. Two of the nine restaurants are in Palma and Restaurant Marc Fosh with its one star is located in the contemporary Hotel Convent de la Missó. Fosh is English and offers a 10-course degustation menu and wine flight in this quiet and relaxing venue, booking essential.

If you want to experience a more lively and less intimate dinner then head to one of Palmas hippest places to eat, Vermuteria La Rosa. Don’t be put off by the queue, it’s so worth the wait. Vermouth is their speciality and their simple tapas are mouthwatering, the staff are charming (and very handsome) and the atmosphere unbeatable.

 

 

 

 

 

If the queue for La Rosa defeats you, then head north to the Avenida Comte de Sallent to the acclaimed Casa Gallega, pintxo bar and restaurant. Go hungry! You may have to wait for a table, but watching the theatre of this busy restaurant ensures that the wait is most enjoyable and the generous pintxos are deceptively filling.

Like most Mediterranean cities, Palma doesn’t sleep and there are many late night bars to keep you entertained till the early hours. But, if like me, you are done after a late dinner, head home, get up early and make the most of that coffee and croissant in the morning sunshine.

After two days my time in the city came to an end and I jumped on the bus for the 75 minute, €6 ride to Puerto Pollenca in the very north of the island.

Puerto Pollenca is an idyllic spot and deservedly a Unesco world heritage site. A gorgeous bay filled with boats its dramatic backdrop is provided by the Tramuntana mountains. Pine Walk is a tree-lined promenade along the shore, home to some beautiful houses – many of them available to rent – and one very swanky hotel, the Illa D’Or . There are 10 secluded beaches in the area, some only accessible by foot or a quick tack around the bay if you are lucky enough to get there by boat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This little pocket of Spain brought together my gorgeous and intrepid school friend Katy and her handsome German suitor, Thomas. Their celebration was fabulous, drumming, dancing and food, a simple but effective combination to bring together their friends from England, Germany, Spain, Italy and Senegal.

The following day I found myself out on the water and back on the Love Boat where international relations continued with more food, more music and more singing. I spent the day basking in the warmth of not only the sun but the love of two very special friends who met each other whilst bobbing around on the water in this pretty perfect part of the Med. Sometimes you just can’t help but believe that maybe there is a God.

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Life: Valentines Love Story or  Horror Story?

 

It’s February the month of L.O.V.E. The cynical ones amongst you will say its commercial nonsense and perhaps it is, but I’ll admit, I wouldn’t be averse to a secret admirer popping out of the woodwork and declaring his undying love for me. Struggling up the steps to my front door under the weight of a vulgar, padded, satin Care Bear card the size of a single mattress, filled with enough schmultzy words to make you want to dry retch, but equally enough to make you feel loved on this most romantic, albeit commercial of days.

The last Valentines I received was my from Godson, he never fails to tell me he loves me, he’s at that tender age, where it’s not embarrassing for a boy to show his feelings, this will soon change – hopefully only temporarily. Prior to receiving regular romantic fixes from an 8-year-old, my previous Valentine card was from a stalker.
I
handed the cheap card to the police along with all the other creepy notes he had kindly sent me. They were written on A4 lined paper and stuffed into used envelopes, the previous addressees/victims details scrubbed out and replaced with my name, tardily scribbled on the front. Had he bothered to pay attention to his handwriting, spent more than £1 on a card and harangued me with good quality stationery, he might have stood a chance.

I can’t say I have ever had a particularly romantic gesture bestowed upon me for Valentine’s day. For years I used to receive an anonymous card with a Worthing postmark on the envelope. It was terribly exciting and I always wondered if he would ever make himself known to me, only to find out that the cards were actually from my parents. Yes, they actually thought it would be a good idea – WTF? – to drive to Worthing and post their emotionally vulnerable teenage daughter a fictitious Valentines card six years in a row. And my dad wonders why I had therapy?

As for Valentine’s dates, there are two that come to mind, and not for the right reasons. Number one was a very unromantic curry with an ex. We were on the brink of breaking up and we should have just broken up or gotten a takeaway. We most definitely shouldn’t have marked the occasion by going through the motions in public and putting ourselves through the agony of a King Prawn Shaslik for two.

The second memorable Valentines was a first date with a guy I met one Saturday afternoon in the pub watching the rugby. It wasn’t a particularly sober afternoon and so giving him my number was a mistake in itself. When I got a text a couple of days later saying it was cheesy and predictable but did I fancy going out that evening, even though it was Valentines night, I should have listened to my intuition and just said no. I didn’t, he could have been the love of my life. He wasn’t, and the date was as awful as one might have expected. I turned down the chance to go and watch Brighton and Hove Albion play that night, I’m not a huge football fan, but looking back on it, even if I’d have had to have spent 90 minutes standing outside in the lashing rain naked, forced to chant support for the opposition amongst the home crowd and then gotten Arsenal tattooed across my face, it would have been a better evening. Needless to say, we are not in touch.

Contrary to what you and even I now believe, my life has not been completely devoid of romance, it just does seem that Valentines is somewhat doomed for me. This is just a short list, there are some other memorable Valentines tales I could have relayed, but I think I could labour the point and start to sound cynical [sic].
So what now? The big day is looming, what will this Valentine’s day bring for me, a horror story or a love story? An old flame from my school days has just made contact with me, when I say old flame, I mean I followed him around admiring the curvature of his bottom in his tight Stapress. He went out with all my friends and I prattled around in the background trying to get his attention. But thanks to social media we are enjoying a little flirtation and who knows if he reads this he might just rock up at my front door with a Care Bear card…..
S.W.A.L.K Xx

This article also appeared in the Brighton and Hove Independent and The Huffington Post

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Life: January, Baileys & Adult Toys

Christmas is over, the decorations are down and so is the general mood. It’s that time of year when not much happens in my world, apart from procrastinating over my tax return and trying to lose the two kilos I acquired drinking Baileys and eating festive food. It’s a well-known fact that it’s much harder to lose that bottle of Baileys than it is to drink it, and FYI a bottle of Baileys equates to a kilo of wobbly body fat. How do I know this? It’s not scientifically proven, but, a client of mine once put on a staggering 10 kgs over Christmas, which by her own admission, was mainly due to the fact that she drank ten bottles of Baileys over a two month period. I’m reminded of this every time I pour myself a generous half pint on the rocks and I’ve never quite gotten my head around whether or not I think it was admirable of her to be so indulgent.  Surely drinking one of Ireland’s best exports with such abandon would have resulted in a mild case of diabetes?

Another observation that I’ve made over the years having watched my friends get married and have children is how their Christmases have evolved. Few have little enough time for themselves, but at Christmas, this seems exacerbated by their commitments to school activities, the social whirl of their offspring, and keeping both sets of in-laws happy. But once they have stopped dashing round the country seeing family, shouting out at pantos and cleaning up bloody wounds after ice skating, the time finally comes when they can enjoy their presents and the “adult toys” can come out to play.

And so the perfect day arrives, a drizzly Sunday at the beginning of January. All that remains of Christmas are a few stubborn pine needles that refuse to be vacuumed up and the stale remains of a panettone – that may or may not get made into a bread and butter pudding. The children are huddled over their devices plugged into the matrix, no human interaction is required. And there they are, unwrapped, but still in their boxes, untouched since the chaotic present opening on Christmas Day, the latest speakers, the drone and the watch that is akin to wearing mission control on your wrist, so vast is its functionality. All the toys come with the re-assuring instructions  ‘easy to set up.’ But as aware as we are of how hard it is to lose the Baileys weight, we are also aware that nothing is ‘easy to set up’ unless you have a degree in engineering, are still at school, or designed the product yourself.

The pleasurable anticipation of playing with the adult toys rapidly dissipates. You quickly realise that the manufacturer’s promise of ‘easy to set up’ is a lie and it’s triggering your insecurities about being out of touch and technologically inadequate. In total frustration and to avoid the humiliation of having to ask your eight-year-old for help, you turn to Google. This only adds to your overwhelming sense of failure, as it quickly becomes apparent that nobody else in the world has ever typed in the questions you are asking regarding the set up of your toys. So you put them back into their boxes, pour yourself a large Baileys, dunk in a chunk of stale panettone and decide a) to wait for another rainy Sunday before you try again, or b) ask your eight-year-old.

 

This article also appeared in the Brighton and Hove Independent and The Huffington Post

 

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