Monday, 31 March 2014

Number 13

At first glance I thought 'a nice trick' meant a trick that works really well because it catches someone properly by surprise and gives them a nasty scare / burn / sweet / bruise / insect / death. I'm not a fan of practical jokes, and haven't attempted one since I almost blinded my cousin John with the 'look down the hose and see what's blocking the water' trick in 1974, so I was pleased when I noticed nice was in italics so the idea is to make someone smile. But that still means you have to make them vulnerable in order for the nice bit to work. I'm inexperienced at this, and worried I might misjudge it:

Me [in hired police uniform, knocking at door of acquaintance's house]: Are you the wife of David Thomas Saunders?  
Mrs Saunders [suddenly pale and shaky]: Yes
Me: Did he leave home in a red Vauxhall Cavalier this morning?
Mrs Saunders [holds the wall, legs crumble]: Oh my God
Me [producing daffodils from behind back]: Well he's got you these!'

I'm going to see if I can come up with a trick, or if anyone suggests one – otherwise I may have to interpret it as 'Give a stranger a nice surprise'.

Number 12 update

So on Thursday the nightly children's taxi service will be suspended, and I will be attending the beginners' modern jive class in Kidlington: beginners' lesson is at 8, then the experienced dancers arrive and beginners are removed for a recap and a nervous sweat. 9.30 is 'lights off' and a free for all. Claire, who is a dancer, has been to one of these classes (but isn't going on Thursday), and could barely describe what I can expect without collapsing in giggles. But she has at least supplied me with the fireproof leotard and ostrich feather which she explained everyone has to wear, so at least I won't look like the odd one out. Any non-dancing wooden-legged brothers or sisters would be extremely welcome!

Number 11 update

My attempts to contact people I've lost touch with have first taken me back to Milan in the mid-80s, where I had my first proper job. As soon as I got there and moved into my old friend Gary's cupboard, we decided to start a band. The very next day he found not only a very good guitarist – the boyfriend of a colleague -- but also a semi-pro and beautiful singer who was a student at the 'College for Maidens' where he 'worked' (= spent his time drooling). We wrote a couple of quick songs, took the name 'Men's Rubbish', and we were off, meeting up every Saturday morning in a studio to rehearse. After a few months, before we were anything like ready, we got offered a big gig, playing outdoors at a major international volleyball tournament, with an audience of 5,000 people. When the moment came we were cacking ourselves so badly that we didn't notice the drummer still hadn't appeared until we were actually climbing onto the stage. It didn't matter – as I put my foot on the first step, a giant thunderclap set off the worst hailstorm I'd ever experienced – golf-ball-sized chunks of ice smashed glasses on the tables, a swarm of roadies dragged away the huge PA system, and that was the end of Men's Rubbish. We took it as a sign that a) there IS a god, b) health and safety is not his priority and c) he didn't rate our music (We found out later that our drummer had fallen off his motorbike on the way to the gig and broken his arm, which only confirmed this). Apart from me and Gary, we never met up again. It would have ended badly in any case, as we were all in love with the singer. So the anticlimax is that I've tried every trick to contact guitarist Carmine Sirimarco and singer Stefania Martinelli without result, apart from finding out she went on to higher things in her singing career.

                         Stefania Martinelli (bottom left): higher things

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Number 12

According to anyone who's ever seen me dance, and me, I can't dance. Putting together the comments over the years – people have been quite free with them – it seems like a) my legs look like they've been swapped round, b) and are made of wood, c) and my arse sticks out. In my youth I perfected a style which some cruel people called 'prawn dancing'. The prawn part, I think, came mainly from the way I kept my head down and my arms bent in front of my face (my bright pink face and bulging eyes possibly also contributed). If I had to dance, I was determined not to be recognised.
So now I just have to decide which of the following local dance groups (there are millions – what the hell is wrong with people?!) is in for a laugh / awkward silence:
  • 'Folk dancing for fun' (Sorry? Did you say 'Driving a nail through your own foot for fun'?)
  • Morris dancing (as a vocal life-long supporter of fox dancing and morris hunting, would need heavy disguise)
  • Scottish country dancing (a coward's way out, as have done this drunk at weddings)
  • Argentine tango (would require most bravery - picture Al Pacino in 'Scent of a Prawn')
  • Balkan dance (have 'spoiled' this while drunk at a wedding, they said. Why should they decide which direction the circle goes round, I say)
  • Modern jive (has potential. I don't)
  • African dance (I have done, not through choice, the Kikuyu circumcision dance. A large crowd of Kenyans from all over the country was watching and guffawing. Some, I discovered afterwards, were crying with laughter. In a country racked by tribal divisions, I like to think my dancing briefly brought them together. There is a photo of this below – the only known photo of me dancing; I am the one with the swapped round wooden legs and the sticking-out arse)

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Number 11

Nothing is springing to mind. All the people who I've known in the past and got on well enough with to see again ... I have done. Or at least I've tried and failed. Same as anyone's done on Facebook. There's also an additional rule which I was given verbally and firmly: I can't include any women that I said anything more then Hello to*.
I'm blank. Would the old chap in the library count? I said 'Hello' to him** yesterday (technically 'in my past') and haven't seen him since. A pedant might argue about whether or not I 'knew' him, though, as I'd never seen him before and he didn't look up or reply to my hello. Even though I sensed a connection as we shared that table for ten minutes, I suppose it wouldn't be in the spirit of the challenge.
A quick initial riffle through the people I went to school or university with or have worked or shared a flat with since rules them out. But already a few faces and places I'd forgotten have popped up, and even if most of them made me wince and immediately pop them back down again, that's going to be the value of this challenge – pulling out the mental shoeboxes from under my mental bed and going through them, mentally.

*Actually, an expression was used here which I've only heard once since the early eighties, and which made me blush.
**Not a euphemism. Definitely not the early eighties thing.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Number 10 update

So I screwed up my courage and went into the Blue Cross charity shop. It was very busy. Oh dear. I waited till one of the ladies - let's call her 'Jackie' * - had a moment, and told her I had an unusual favour to ask - could she photograph me each time I came out of the changing room. A less confident woman would have screamed or reached for the panic button, but she just said 'You'll have to show me what to press.' Two things caught my eye straight away: a black shirt with large leaves over it - something you might wear in a casino in the Florida Keys. And a fez - something you might wear ... erm ... never.
I got changed out of my greystuff, came out of the cubicle and handed the camera to Jackie. She didn't seem to recognize me. She took the camera and put it up against the middle of her face, the wrong way round. 'I've never used one before', she said. I felt a twinge of bad luck. Out of 7 billion people, the only one ... 'Turn it round, Jackie', I said. 'When you see me on the screen, press the big button'. She turned it round and pointed it at my navel. 'Oh yes, that's it'. 'Can you see my head?'. 'Yes'. She clearly couldn't.  Three pensioners had stopped their browsing and were smiling. 'Maybe it would be better like this' I said, gently moving it up so it pointed at me. 'That's much better now' said Jackie, as the camera slipped down towards my navel again. What the hell was she seeing on the screen? I tried to think of how I could say 'Can you see my head?' in a more simple way, without the difficult words. I moved it up again. It slipped down again. 'I'll tell you what, Jackie. I'll squat down a bit.' I squatted. A couple with a toddler had noticed, and came over to watch. 'OK, so now press the big button'. I did a big smile. Nothing happened. 'Have you pressed it?'. 'Yes'. She hadn't. 'The big one ... the one I showed you'. 'OK'. I did another big smile. 'Just getting your face in focus'. 'It's OK - the camera will do that - just press the BUTTON ... erm, please.' She stood motionless. 'Here, I'll show you' I said standing up and taking a step forward. The button clicked. 'You moved!'. There was some suppressed laughter from the dozen-or-so onlookers. I squatted back down and did a smile from memory. Jackie waited till my thighs were going weak and there was no mirth left in my smile, and clicked. 'There you go'. I thanked Jackie, hung the Florida shirt back up, and went back into the changing rooms to try on my next outfit. It was way too small, and I could sense the onlookers were lingering outside, waiting. I put my greystuff back on and came out of the cubicle to buy the Florida shirt and just go. One of the onlookers was buying the shirt. It had all been for nothing. I thanked Jackie as I left. 'I'm going to buy one of those', said Jackie. I think she meant the camera.

                                       I've never used one before

                   Press the big one ... the one I showed you ... yes ... PRESS it!

I just wanted to get it over with now. Helen and Douglas house next. All the men's clothes were grey, and either minuscule or massive. Sue Ryder Care the same. And Oxford Animal Sanctuary Shop, African's Children Fund, even the obscure Zimbabwean splinter charity shop which no one has ever been in apart from the widows of the tiny and huge men in grey. I'd given up when I remembered Sobell House. When I went in, the two ladies were talking about which churches in Witney are 'high church' and which are 'happy clappy' - obvious code for talking about where to score the best crystal meth. Glancing around the sea of grey, I spotted a blue shoulder poking out. A denim shirt. An urban cowboy ... at 50? It was my only chance. I interrupted the ladies and explained to Helen ** about the challenges. Two minutes later she had the camera. 'I'll take it from a low angle with the posters in the background' she said - she was clearly from the opposite end of the spectrum to Jackie. 'Keeping it on?'

                                           Helen **. High church.

                       Straight shootin', whisky swillin', mid-life crisis

* Her real name
** Her name was Janet.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Number 10

Ha ha - nice one.

If you gave George Clooney a string vest, a jumper you found in a bin and some paint-covered tracky bottoms, he'd still manage to look sharp. I am the opposite. If someone put me in an Armani suit – and I can't picture any sequence of events that would lead to that – I'd still look like I'd put my clothes on with a shovel. 

I've also never been interested in clothes, although I do usually wear them so as not to embarrass the kids. I've never really got fashion – suddenly everyone decides that what would have been a sign of severe mental health issues six months ago now looks good. 

Recent beardies, I'm talking to you - if you wanted a bushy beard, why didn't you grow one before, so you could be special? 

But I don't have the courage or desire to wear clothes that stand out, so I have evolved over the years a wardrobe that you could fairly describe as dull, limited, and crap. 
The charity shop part of this is no challenge at all – that's where I buy my clothes anyway. The challenge is the fear of ending up looking like some kind of navvy-clown. Or maybe in six months' time everyone will have swapped their beard for the new, 'navvy-clown' look.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Number 9

This week's challenge was connected to Lola's lifebook -- a picture book we made for Lola telling the story of her early life and adoption. As that's her story to tell, I can't really share it on a blog. Instead, as it's her eighth birthday tomorrow, I thought it would be a time to look back on her top ten comedy moments from the ones we've collected over the years. Her comic timing is second to none; she can not only pick out the moment and phrase of maximum embarrassment, but she is a master of the comic pause. And although she generally disapproves of swearing, she knows where to slip in a profanity for highest impact. So here's the countdown ...

10 (age 7)
Claire: Do you like my new top?
Lola: You look like Cinderella. (long pause) In scene one.

9 (age 7)
Claire's asking Lola about a dish she'd had.
Claire: What did it taste like?
Lola: I can't remember what it tasted like - I haven't got a photographic tongue!

8 (age 2)
Claire's away for a few days.
Me: What do you think Mummy's doing now?
Lola: Don't know.
Me: But what do you think she's doing? Have a guess.
Lola: I don't ... flippin ... know.

7 (age 6)
After weeks of rain.
Lola: God spoke to me. He said, 'Lols, build an ark'.
Me: He knows you well enough to call you Lols, does he?
Lola: He knows everyone. (pause) He calls you Jimmy.

6 (age 3)
Climbs up onto my knee.
Lola: I think it's time you knew how babies are made.

5 (age 6)
I come down in the morning with Lola. The magnetic letters on the fridge have been arranged into the word 'fucker'.
Me: Did you write that?
Lola: No! (long pause) I only added the 'er'.

4 (age 5)
Lola: I don't chatter all the time, do I. I'm not Irish.

3 (age 3)
An ENORMOUS lady comes to buy our hermit crabs. She's so large that Claire has to open both doors of the porch, which has previously only been done for the piano and sofa. The lady makes her way to the crab tank tucked in the corner of the room. Lola waits for her moment.
Lola (loudly): That's a very small space isn't it, mummy ...
(Looong pause to allow Claire to freeze with dread)
... Too small for HER fat bottom!

2 (age 3)
I've just been out with Lola, and I'm in the kitchen. I can half-hear a sound from upstairs – 'Mmf, mmf, mmf', 'Mmf, mmf, mmf'. I go to the stairs. The sound is human, and now sounds like a muffled 'Noi, noi, noi', 'Noi, noi, noi'. I go up into our bedroom to investigate. Lola is face-down on the bed with her arms behind her, stuck in her coat. I extricate her, and she's fine.
Me: What were you shouting when you were stuck?
Lola: Nine, nine, nine. You told me that was the number you call when there's an emergency.

1 (age 2)
We're in a restaurant with Granny and Granddad, Lola's in a highchair, waiting for a quiet moment to strike. The moment arrives ...
Lola (very loudly): Lola got a normal fanny ... 
(long pause; conversation in the restaurant stops)
... Mummy got a hairy fanny ...
(long pause; Granny's fork is frozen in midair; Claire is suddenly extremely engrossed in her food; time stands still ...)
... What Granny got?