All at sea…

I met my husband for the first time in a punt on the River Cam. It was a time long ago, when the nearest thing to a selfie-stick was a black wand with silver tips as used by Sooty and a ‘mobile’ was something you hung from your bedroom ceiling. My punt was tied to his punt and there were lots of students and lots of wine involved. I didn’t remember his name afterwards; I just knew he was ‘one of the brothers’ who looked alike as they both wore glasses.

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Fast forward to a marriage of many years, a brother-in-law who still wears glasses, two grown up daughters and an anniversary.

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What better way to celebrate than back on the river, in a punt? We booked a weekend in Cambridge with our four friends, packed a picnic and headed for the river early. Punting can be expensive, but alumni with Cam cards are afforded the privilege of hiring punts for a lot less. As my husband was at Trinity College which backs on to the river and has its own little fleet of named punts, we were charged £10 an hour. Kaboom! Bargain!

Typically, tourists use their hour to move along ‘the backs’, i.e. the part of the river which flows directly behind college buildings. The architecture is truly stunning, but trying to manoeuvre is a challenge since the river becomes quickly congested. Punts bump into each other, drinks are sloshed and people fall in.

 

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The Bridge of Sighs

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The Mathematical Bridge

 

As we were ‘in the know’, we decided instead to take the punt away from the melee and head to Grantchester. To do this, you have to move from the lower part of the Cam to the Upper. This involves heaving the punt up a slipway of metal rollers, dragging it over a pathway and sending down a smaller set of rollers into the upper waterway.

There is a picture of the slipway on this Wikipedia page (on the right, lower down).

Well, we’re not eighteen any more, and despite six of us pulling and panting, it got a bit stuck. Fortunately, there was many a lithe, beardy, helpful student in the periphery, and we were soon on our way up a tranquil, tree-lined section of the river.

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Not us!

Hours later, we arrived at Grantchester, parked up and had our picnic on a rug.

On the way back, the punting was a dream as we were carried by the current. By now, we had consumed several bottles of champers, some beer, plus a packet of wine gums.

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Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

All we had to do to get back to where we started was to do the reverse of what we had done on the way there. We steered the punt so that it was parallel next to the bank and got out, taking all the bags with us, then we dragged it up the small set of rollers, across the path and positioned it at the top of the larger slope of rollers. This was late afternoon, and the crowds had thickened. The banks were lined with people wondering what on earth a bunch of middle-aged couples were doing lifting a big wooden vessel out of the water and lining it up for launch.

At one end of the punt is a metal chain. We had a decision to make. Should we hold the chain and lower the punt down the rollers, or let the chain lead? The former option would, no doubt, yank the chain-holder clean into the river with the force of the punt sliding downhill. Pulling it down from below also seemed quite dangerous. Someone could get flattened!

 

 

Then, my hubby had an idea.

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This is when amber lights should begin to flash and a siren should begin its plaintive wail…

His idea was to SIT in the empty punt as it slid down the rollers.

We held it back as he got in, looking very much like a garden gnome sitting right in the middle of his boat with his legs crossed before casting his line, hoping for a catch. He didn’t turn around… Poised is the word. I am reminded of a pinball machine at this point of the story.

We let go and, with an almighty roar, the punt shot down the ramp at a speed worthy of the log flume at Thorpe Park. For a moment or two, it seemed to fly over the river, but come down it must, and it seemed to be coming down head first. In slow motion, the front disappeared for a moment under the surface, then a tidal wave rose up, engulfing the gnome who still hadn’t turned around or uttered a sound. Over his head it curled, slapping his entire body with its watery belly.

The punt didn’t stop. It was on a mission and, having been launched with such ferocity, was heading full throttle into the distance, finally floating to a bob just in front of the picnicking crowds and their mobile phones.

Meanwhile, we had the punting pole with us, back at Slipway Headquarters. You need a pole to punt.

It’s very hard to see when your eyes are full of tears and you are bent double laughing hysterically, but my poor hubby had located the emergency oar and was paddling, Hawaii Five-O-style, back to his ‘Cam’-patriots.

It took a while. The crowds were delighted that the show was continuing. Many a phone was recording the event.

When he finally reached us, we realised that the punt had about a foot of water in it. The cushions were heavy with the weight of water so we stood them upright all around us to let some of it return to the depleted river. All we had to bail out with was a disposable champagne flute so two of my friends climbed in and took turns sloshing it back over the side.

 

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We did continue on our mission, and, as expected, got caught up in the punt traffic on the backs. There were collisions galore and the odd splash as the less seasoned punters lost their balance, or their poles, and fell in. We returned our soaked vessel to its station.

Hubby spent the rest of the weekend in damp jeans – his only pair, and managed to leave one shoe behind at the hotel where it remains drying on the window sill. RIP shoe.

Our punt was called Haiku, by the way. Any poetic suggestions? Maybe a bawdy limerick would be better…

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Four at Fawlty Towers

Do you ever wonder if there is a secret camera filming everything as it goes so unbelievably awry?pexels-photo-430208.jpeg

I do.

Often.

In fact, I was convinced that was the case on Friday night and spent some time peering at the restaurant ceiling to spot it.

‘I think we’re going to end up on Saturday Night Takeaway’, I whispered to my friend, L, making sure that I sported a perennial smile and showed my best side to the camera at all times – or would have if I could pinpoint its whereabouts.

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My three friends and I had decided on a meal out. There were several restaurants to choose from on the village high street, but having decided on curry, our choice was limited to three. As we had stopped outside one of the three to have our discussion, it seemed an easy choice to just walk straight in.

Far be it from me to cast aspersions, but for the purpose of this post, let’s call the restaurant ‘Cumin’.

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We were shown to a round table set for six by the window where the radiator was on full blast, so our first priority was to turn it off. We had walked all the way, and were already warm!

The first, older waiter arrived to take our drinks order.

‘A bottle of Prosecco, please,’ I said.

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He gave me a strange look.

Surely we didn’t look underage?

Then, having contemplated my words, and having possibly become overcome by confusion at the rareness of the request, or indeed the complexity –  I know not which – he opted out. Frowning, he said, ‘My colleague will come to take your drinks order.’

A few minutes later, said colleague arrived with a smile.

‘May I take your drinks order, please?’

This time I said it slowly: ‘Pro-secc-o, please. A bottle.’

No. He didn’t get it. There were questions.

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‘Large or small? What size?’

I gestured at the company and pulled my hands apart to give an indication of the shape and size of a bottle. ‘A bottle. A normal bottle.’

‘For three?’

‘No.’ I pointed at each member of the group. ‘For four, please. A bottle of Prosecco for four of us.’

The waiter and the bottle eventually arrived and he set about opening it, possibly a brand new experience for him. This was taking so much time, that he began to participate openly in our discussion, but all the while, quietly, he threw separate questions at me:

‘Do you have a man?’ (still pulling ineffectually at the cork)

‘Yes, I’m married.’

Still pulling…

‘I can provide you with complete satisfaction.’ (grimacing and pulling)

My eyes became wide.

‘Do you have children?’

‘Two. Grown up.’

‘I see you come in the restaurant a lot.’

Actually, no.

‘What’s your name?’ (sweating and pulling)

‘Helen.’

‘What’s your other name?’ (panting and pulling)

‘Laycock.’

‘I am going to find you on Facebook.’

Eeek!

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Our tongues were, by now, hanging out, like dogs lost in the Kalahari.

 

 

 

‘Try twisting the bottle, not the cork,’ suggested my friend, G. We all echoed her suggestion and out popped the cork.

He then shook everyone’s hands around the table and introduced himself formally. He had had plenty of time to get to know us, and now it seemed as though we were old friends. As he practised our names, going round and round the table in a feat of memory, it seemed that we all now shared the surname ‘Badry.’

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He put the warm bottle on the table and left us.

Without glasses.

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A few minutes later, an ice bucket appeared at the side of the table.  I say ‘ice’ bucket; perhaps that should be ‘bucket’. There was water in it. I stuck my finger in. It was tepid.

 

 

 

 

Still no glasses.

Eventually, we asked for some.

‘Three?’ asked our friend.

I pointed at each one of us in turn. ‘No, four, please. There are four of us.’

Four huge goblets appeared. Our new friend poured a soupcon in each at such great speed that the fizz nearly overflowed. We asked him to chill another for later. When he left, we then topped up the glasses ourselves leaving the bottle empty.

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Next, we ordered food. We decided on a few sides and two main courses to share.

‘And we’d like onion bhajis,’ we said.

‘Three?’ he asked hopefully.

‘No. Four.’ I pointed… You know the drill.

‘How many poppadoms would you like?’

We suggested four, as there were ‘four of us’.

By the time the poppadoms had arrived (five of them), we had finished our drinks, so went through the rigmarole of ordering another bottle. It was colder than the first. Result!

‘Would you take a photo?’ one of my friends asked.

The waiter was thrilled, and manoeuvred himself behind us, putting his arms around us and beamed at the friend holding out her phone. Obligingly, she took one with him in it. Then someone else asked if he could take a photo, and he posed again, looking at her.

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‘We’d like YOU to be the photographer, not one of the subjects!’ someone eventually said. This seemed to upset him slightly.

The rest of the food arrived, and was very nice, as well as surprising. There was a chicken dish no one had ordered, and things we had ordered were not there. Our third bottle of Prosecco was perfectly chilled; the waiter seemed very pleased with himself.

At the end of the meal, we were the only guests left in the restaurant. Waiter One offered us free drinks. By now, they knew what Prosecco was, so a few of my friends had that. I had a limoncello. Then Waiter Two came and also offered us free drinks, so we had a second batch.

As we left, they gave us a great send off and asked us to come back the next evening.

‘We’ve still got three bottles of Prosecco left!’ they reassured us.

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Saturday was going to be someone else’s night!

 

Pug-nosed and perky

The squelching and snuffling coming from the opposite sofa yesterday evening was a sudden and stark warning:

Man Flu in the house! Man Flu!

Evacuate or succumb!

Man Flu!

Man Flu!

And I knew it would be a bad one as I could trace back its origins. This was going to be a three-weeker, and I didn’t want anything to do with it what with Christmas celebrations getting underway.

Hubby retreated to the bedroom first, and later I followed. He was still awake as I crept in. Listening to his mucus melodies, nasal trumpets and percussive sniffs was not going to bode well for my good night’s sleep, let alone the prospect of waking up healthy, so I opened the window ‘to let out the germs’ and told him to turn his back to me (and stay that way all night, I added mentally).

 

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As tired as I was, I was afraid to drift off. What if we – perish the thought – turned to face each other whilst in the depths of slumber?

I racked my drowsy brain for a solution. I could sleep in another bed, but then I’d have to launder the sheets. Nah.

Then it came to me, in a bright and clear vision. When in Rome [read as Japan]…

I hurried downstairs and rummaged in the kitchen cupboard below the sink. There it was – a sturdy roll of J-Cloths. I unravelled a few and decided that three joined together would be perfect. Placing the middle sheet over my face and mouth, I tied the outer sheets together behind my head and, intrepid and determined to defeat evil, mounted the Staircase of Doom to the Chamber of Horrors.

It was a little tight, I realised within minutes. My nose was flattened, and there was every likelihood that I’d end up pug-faced. The bow at the back was a bit bulky to lie on, as well. Eventually, I fell asleep, but continually awoke, gasping for breath; I had felt close to suffocating.

Bit by bit, throughout the night, my mask unravelled, opening up until my eyes were covered too, but on I slept. I probably looked like a badly-equipped welder. Actually, there’s no probably about it.

When I woke up, I looked through the mesh and took a selfie (yes, I know my hair is barmy in the morning and the camera has obviously malfunctioned to give me neck rolls).

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But on the bright side, I cunningly evaded the germs and, as always, am happy to pass on the survival tip.

 

You’re welcome.

Weather Gremlins

Last night, I saw Huw Edwards briefly grimace at the News at Ten desk before the screen went blank and the Apologies for the break in transmission message came up on a red background.

I must confess, I was a little worried for his welfare, lest a bunch of Ninjas were under the desk tying his shoelaces together (hence the scowl) before maliciously pulling out the plug, much to the awaiting nation’s disappointment.

 

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This morning, I switched on Breakfast for news of Huw’s fate only to hear talk of several incidents of studio electrical shenanigans attributed to ‘the heatwave’, and when I did my voluntary stint in the library today, the computers were slow and the little blue slips were not being issued through the little silver slits in the little black machines. Again, I heard talk of the effect of The Weather upon the servers at computer central, which had subsequently affected our ancient library equipment.

 

So, I guess that explains why at 5.20 this morning I was boiling the kettle for morning tea whilst multi-tasking and emptying the dishwasher with the usual self-set challenge to get it done before the kettle switched off.

 

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It doesn’t?

 

Then I’ll enlighten you.

I failed the challenge. Mid-stoop, with a sparkling clean Jamie Oliver frying pan in hand, I happened to glance towards said silent kettle at the point when it was just about to begin its contented purr, and in doing so, my line of sight skimmed the built-in ovens. I froze, puzzled, bent double and still clutching Jamie’s handle. Something wasn’t right. I stared at the oven clocks which both said 5.22. I stood up – that would surely help – and stared a bit harder.

Yes, 5.22.

By now, I had surely developed irreversible frown lines. What were these bizarre numbers doing on my oven clocks?

My trusty phone was charging on the worktop. My phone would not lie; we had been through a lot together. I rubbed my eyes and looked at the time on the screen: 5.22… so why on earth was I making tea and emptying the dishwasher?

Had I dreamed that the 7.20 alarm had rudely wakened me and that I had resolutely turned it off?

I forfeited the tea – which was easy as it was still only at the boiling-water-within-the-kettle stage – and slogged back up the stairs where, if there were answers, I would find them, godammit. Granted, I had felt unduly tired on the downward descent a few minutes earlier where, bleary-eyed, I had relied more on my sense of touch than sight to negotiate the stairs.

Back in the bedroom, Hubby was still sound asleep. I picked up my clock – an electronic thing which is meant to automatically attune itself to the correct time – and held it right in front of my face for scrutiny. Yes! In the hour column was a 7. Of all the sevens I had ever laid my eyes upon, this was a prime example.

 

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Not actual clock – quite evidently!

Still not quite convinced of the actual time, I checked the time on the house phone next to it. Maybe they would be in cahoots. But no, this device told me it was definitely 5 something.

I set the alarm on the house phone instead, and got back into bed, frightened to go to sleep for what might ensue. I could sleep until Friday if the world of technology had gone awry.

So, it seems that the heat has been affecting equipment willy nilly, my alarm clock being one of the casualties. At some point in the night, it had taken it upon itself to add on two hours and then trick me into getting up at the wrong time. And it still hasn’t righted itself.

I’m so glad it didn’t take two hours away; the reason I got up was to ensure that my daughter was up in time for her Physics A level exam this morning.

I just hope that if there were Ninjas underneath Huw’s desk, he didn’t get up in too much of a hurry.

Got to hand it to them…

How delighted I was to find a new shop in the village. The ironmonger’s was long gone and in its place was a shiny new replacement called Savers.

It wasn’t long before it was the talk of the village. The bargains to be had!

Well, yes. There were. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw nine rolls of toilet paper for a mere £1.99, or my favourite coconut oil at £1 a pot! I’d pop in regularly for toiletries – for toiletries galore were their speciality, along with, for some bizarre reason, a pot pourri of pet food in the last aisle.

For months I’d been wearing odd rubber gloves – one red and one yellow. I know many of you will be shocked by that confession.

Sometimes I shock myself.

They were both for the right hand so I wore the yellow one inside out, or sometimes, if it assumed its default stance due to a rough pulling off (yes, I have been known to be a tad rough with them: shock#2), I occasionally just forced my left hand into it. This pulled back and twisted my fourth and baby finger somewhat, lifting them up into a position where they were unusable (but quite elegant), and my thumb pointed the wrong way, but I lived with it.

I have to admit, those gloves annoyed the hell out of me, but as all you nail-varnish-wearing ladies know, washing up without sheathing one’s fingers in rubber can only result in disaster. As can many similar practices…

Well, I could hardly contain myself when I saw a pair of yellow rubber gloves in Savers at 49p. They were ‘Large’ and I am ‘Very Small’, but it’s rare to find anything less than a Medium so I snapped them up and snapped them on when I got home.

Not just for the fun of it, I hasten to add. There was washing up to be done. Who in their right mind puts glass in the dishwasher? No way, Jose!

I have worn Large before, so I knew that there would be a length of empty, flaccid glove at the end of each finger. It makes picking up very difficult; you just have to swipe and clutch, and often you have other fingertips in your grip too.

It wasn’t long before I mourned the loss of  Reliant Red and Inside-Out Yellow. My new gloves were not what they seemed for they began to stick together inside. It dawned on me that they had none of the powdery non-stick stuff that your average (or Large) Marigolds have. One by one the finger spaces became mini channels, or even cul-de-sacs, so that I could only get my digits part of the way up. There was now even more floppy finger dangling off the ends of my hands, and not only that, it was grossly deformed.

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I am gradually getting used to them. They are a bit like crab claws now; I mostly don’t bother with the finger compartments at all and just insert the odd bit of extremity where I can find an orifice. I have just cleaned out the kitchen bin in them. It wasn’t pretty. I couldn’t find the opening of the new bin bag and when I finally did, I was unable to deposit a dirty Cif Wipe into it. Over and over it fell on the floor, and over and over I grabbed at it with fingers cramped into the palm of the glove.

Savers isn’t that good, and neither are 49p rubber gloves. Don’t be seduced, folks.

As Little Red Riding Hood can attest…

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Flat shoes. Can’t overrate them enough. Abseil ropes? Something else that I shall carry from now on.

I had packed carefully for our trip to Durham University as I knew there’d be a lot of walking. Our younger daughter has been offered a place there for September and was invited back for a post-offer day this week. It’s a long ol’ journey – it took us nearly five hours, but it’s such a lovely place that we didn’t mind at all. In fact, we turned it into a kind of mini break. We booked into a hotel on Tuesday night ready for the 9 am start on Wednesday morning.

Durham, like Oxford and Cambridge, is a collegiate university. Our daughter had selected a college to apply to without ever having actually seen it. We had been to Durham’s Open Day in the summer but hadn’t got round to visiting every college. As the college tour started at 10.30, we had a bit of time to spare and decided to have a look at the sports centre first, which was right on the edge of the action – just where the town ended and the countryside began. We left half an hour to get back.

Well, now my tale turns towards my husband.

Unlike me, he has a very good sense of direction… most of the time. However, our hearts invariably sink when he announces that he (thinks he) knows a short cut. As we were heading back along the main road, the very road which we had followed to get to the sports centre (which, in case you have forgotten, is in the middle of the countryside), he stopped at a pathway which disappeared into woodland on our left. There was no signpost, but, he assured us, it was going in the right direction and would be a short cut to the college.

So, off we ambled in the morning sunshine, kicking through the leaves, admiring the view to our left – fields of horses and far-reaching vistas, while on our right was steep woodland. We had walked quite a long way, without a sniff of civilisation, when I suggested that this might not be The Way.

But, hey, what do I know?

On he marched, and on we trotted behind him. On several occasions, I brought up my concerns, but it was only as the woodland trail began to curve to the left that he reconsidered his conviction.

‘Oh,’ he finally declared. ‘It’s heading in the wrong direction.’ It was as though the path had deliberately misled him about its intentions.

‘I did try to –’

He glanced to the right and his eyes travelled up to the top of a very high, very steep slope.

‘All we have to do is take a right here to get us back to where we should be.’

‘But there’s no path –’

Undeterred, off, and up, he scrambled. My daughter, a gymnastic mountain goat, skipped up behind him and I brought up the rear, my over-sized, over-stuffed handbag weighing heavily on my right shoulder and throwing me off balance as I began to climb.

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No matter how many steps I took, the summit seemed impossibly far. The reason was that, with every step, I was sliding backwards. Although the surface was covered with dry leaves, underneath was cunningly concealed, slippery mud. I muttered loudly as I teetered and tottered, my arms spiralling like windmills as I tried to maintain my balance. But then the slide of all slides began to pull me, feet first, back down to sea level.

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There was just no stopping me. My knees eventually wedged into the mud and my hands sank beneath the leaves. That halted me all right.  Did my fellow mountaineers help? No! They did not. They just took pictures as my hair dangled in the mulch.

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Suffice to say that I eventually made it, and that when we did emerge from the deep, dark forest, we weren’t that far from the college.

At every tuft of grass, I stopped for a boot rub down, but I don’t think I made the best impression as we arrived to a meet and greet with refreshments. My boots were caked in mud, my knees were dirty, and I was still brushing off humus from the zip of my handbag. I probably had leaf-mould in my hair, too. Who knows? I avoided hand-shaking as we introduced ourselves, preferring to cup my brown hands around a white china mug of coffee instead. And for the rest of the day I picked mud out of my nails.

The moral of this story is: Never veer off the path, as Red Riding Hood would confirm. Oh, and never take a short cut with my husband.