The Archive - 2000

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Oh dear, another festive season over and now straight on to considering whatI should be giving up for my New Year's resolution.
I say should because I never give up anything for long. Nor do I lose the weight, begin the task or start as I mean to go on. In short, I fail miserably at the first hurdle when it comes to resolving anything for the following year.

I figure it's enough that I survived the holidays relatively in tact and that my family is still speaking to me as of January 1st.  Forget that I should begin cutting down on something or doing it better!

But I'm increasingly alone in my dislike of resolutions. We're fast becoming a nation of soul-searching individuals, intent on pretending to be perfect.
And there are an uncountable number of organisations ready to exploit those who feel compelled to better themselves this time of year, regardless that the concept is basically just a frivolous tradition.

Already I've seen several notice boards asking for participants to join a weight loss club to lose the holiday flab. Quite humorously, about 10 identical posters were spaced only 20 feet away from one another. What? We heavy people are that forgetful? We can't read as we walk cuz we're too busy eating a chocolate bar?

A little further on there was a large sign inviting all us sinners to repent for our trespasses for the year 2001. Oh yeah, how do they know we've sinned already?  Last year it took my other half until June before he realised I had binned the office Christmas cards instead of posting them as he so trustingly instructed me to do.

There's only one thing for it, those of us with a shred of self-respect should resolve ourselves to the fact that we'll never be flawless and give up even trying to be. I think from now on December 30th should be "I'm me, get over it!" day.
I know several people in my family alone who would be card-carrying members of that club!

Now that the season of good will has ended I can openly address something that bothers me, especially this time of year. It's the cutsie card thing.
Each run up to the Yule season I find myself sifting through row after row of greeting cards, all of them with cute little Santa puppies or daft looking teddy bears under a Christmas tree on the cover, supposedly conveying an adult message.

My search is always futile. Not only do I have to settle for the sappy front, I can never find one that says what I want it to. I end up with some Disney style animal wishing the receiver mushy nonsense instead of the simple salutation I'd like.

Just once I would love to come across one that read, I really don't want to send you this but since you married into the family, I have to. Anyway, Happy Birthday.

Or, one that precisely illustrates what I really think of a particular celebration: Why you need me to send you a card just because you've passed your driving test and can now terrorise the rest of us is beyond me. But here it is! Congratulations.

I long to come across a greeting card company for people who don't want to be made to feel a hypocrite. Perhaps I'll start my own. It could be the "Really Honest Card Company". Of course, each one would come with the warning: Contents may be insulting, but refreshingly sincere, senders beware!

Every year when I hear the sound of faint Christmas carols in the distance I roll my eyes and brace myself for the intrusion, knowing that the music is coming from the annual hospital collection vehicle.

When the singing becomes loud enough I go upstairs and grab a handful of change kept for just such occasions and await the knock (actually it’s quite a loud and unnecessarily aggressive rap) on my door that lets me know my pennies would be much appreciated.

And every year I complain that it’s too early. I grumble because my programme is on and I’m going to miss some of it or that my dinner will get cold if the goodwill visit should happen to coincide with our tea…

But to be honest, I like carol singing – even the artificial, mechanical kind. And I like the feel of the cold air on my face as I open the door to whoever is collecting.

I like the cheerful greeting I get even if I think Christmas is still too far off for such salutations.

Why am I bothering to confess this? Because I missed the van this year. I must have been out when it came to my neighbourhood therefore didn’t get a chance to hand over my meagre offering. I didn’t get to feel the chilled air as the sound of Come All Ye Faithful came wafting into my house.

Even though I had previously treated the event as an irritation I felt let down that they had called while I was away. No one was more surprised than me to realise how much a part of my preparations their visit is – missed dinners or not.

Oh well, I’ll just have to wait until next year. But it’s just not going to be the same.   

Aren’t titles important these days? It seems that everyone is something. No one is just Mr. or Mrs. Or this or that anymore.

Not that I begrudge the affirmation. If a person has earned a degree or studied long and hard, so they should be rewarded with a decoration or title. But geez Louise, it’s getting a bit out of hand.

No one is satisfied to just do his or her job. It’s as if they only feel validated with an unrecognisable epithet attached to their position.

For example: What the heck is a Housing Liaison Officer? Or a vehicle sequencing technician?

I suppose it would be too common to be referred to as a counsellor or a parking attendant!

In my opinion it only confuses things when you get all hoity-toity. No one is ever impressed because you only have to embarrass yourself when you are forced to explain that a Domestic Liaison Officer is snob-speak for housewife.

A very Happy Christmas to you all. This year the deBondt's will be celebrating minus a very special member of the family - our Nanna - but nevertheless, thinking of her with every toast we make and all the good cheer we will be enjoying.

And I suspect we'll give her a good show. The mother-in-law (nanna's daughter) is coming over to our house to help prepare the Christmas feast.

You might recall that I have written about how my entire family usually unites in choosing to eat out on Christmas day. Well, to be fair, they suffer my less than adequate culinary skills 364 days out of the year, they're entitled to a day off.

So, with the mother-in-law at hand, this year's banquette will be a success and my kith and kin should be in for a real treat. You know, I'll bet there are parts of my oven that are going to be used for the very first time - and I've had it for over 7 years.

Anyway, I have purchased the animal to be cooked. I've filled the freezer with enough vegetable to satisfy an army (I'm hoping HRH M in Law won't require proof that I peeled, diced and spliced the veg cuz she can get pretty testy about how fresh produce looses its flavour when frozen). And I've even dug out the linen napkins, carefully unstitching the hotel insignia on each of them so she won't notice that they're from the Lodge we stay in on holiday.

The desserts are in hand - actually I already had two Sarah Lee fruit pies and a cake batter in store so all that's needed now is a Christmas cake and a couple of boxes of mince pies.

The wine rack has been restocked and the children have been drilled on what aspects of my shortcomings to eliminate from all conversation. The dog was sent out to be de-flead, tick-dipped and shampooed and its kennel spruced up just in case there's an impromptu inspection.

Last on my list of preparations is an inventory of my forks, knives and spoons. I'll never forget the year I overlooked this most necessary task. It wasn't Christmas but the guests were every bit as important! Everything was going well until it came time for dessert. I realised too late that the forks needed for pudding were now floating in the sink along with left over bits of dinner! To cut a long story short I frantically washed and dried them, at one point even contemplating using the cartoon character spoons left over from when my children were young, and all the while trying not to alert the guests to what I was doing. I don't know about you but I find it impossible to wash dishes quietly. My husband says it always sounds as though I'm standing on top of the counters and throwing the plates in from across the room such is the din I create.

But anyway, all went well in the end. I even managed to serve coffee without having to swipe the silverware away again. Quite an achievement since we only have two teaspoons in the entire household. Well, three actually, but the third one is bent and chipped beyond all recognition from when I used it to grout the tiles in the bathroom.

So, as I was saying, the day should go off with a bang! Oh, that reminds meaI must get some Christmas Crackers!

A very Happy Christmas to you all.


I saw the most comical sight the other day. Now, to my husband it was just a vacuum cleaner left outside someone's front door. But because I am prone to bouts of wild imagination it looked more like a protest to me!

In fact I chuckled all afternoon picturing the wife getting her duster in a twist and boycotting her chores over some internal dispute. In my case it would only have to be one of the children daring to 'need' me just as the hoover revs up (I covered this topic in a previous article) and my appliance could be found flung into the bushes.

It's not a bad idea, ya know. I can see it now, vacuums, brooms, pots and pans, ironing boards and washing up bowls all heaped on the doorstep where the housekeeper downed tools (or as in this case, outed them) when things got ugly.

It could also serve another purpose… in future I won't have to describe where I live or the colour of my garage doors so that the taxi driver can find me. I'll just tell him to look for the house with a washing machine, cooker and a few children perched on the front step!

You've' got to be kidding! Charlie's Angels? Why? It was bad enough when Hair-do, Hair-all-over-the-place and Harebrained were on our television screens the first time around.

Even in the psychedelic 70's it was difficult to believe that ladies with a holster-cum-handbag strapped to their pretty little figures could overpower
big fat criminals without so much as breaking a fingernail or mussing up their pretty little outfits - I always got a kick out of the tights under the
shorts costume complemented by high heels - but in the twenty first century, on the big screen? Please!

Surely there has got to be better material out there than old, rehashed piffery. And if not, just bring back the originals, they're still good for a belly laugh, no need to spend millions on tarting up the tarts.

The one where the three pert fillies roughed up six burly goons wielding machine guns (of course, every bullet missed its target) and apprehended them before the real police showed up still makes me howl to this day! Perhaps it was the poison lip-gloss or maybe the toxic hair spray.

I know it's 'Tis the Season' and all that stuff, and typically I could out-scrooge scrooge when it comes to commenting on the absurdities at this time of year but there was the most ironic article in a local paper the other day that made me look positively jolly!

It reported that a Cambridgeshire homeless man had been fined £30 for begging and another £35 court costs.
Ah, ahem, far be it from me to state the obvious here, but you don't have to be Einstein to figure out that if the guy had £65 in the first place he wouldn't have been begging!

Get your pens ready, I'm gonna cause a stink!

But perhaps instead of stuffing the courts with such non-sense the magistrates could have had a tad more compassion and sentenced him to a spell in a shelter or re-hab centre for 30 days. Oh yeah, I forgot, the natives don't qualify for such luxury, he wasn't a defecting refugee trying to get residency in this country.!

I've finally been served a full cup of coffee - and without having to resort to hostilities too.

You might remember that I wrote a while back about feeling frustrated whenever I was served half a cup in a restaurant or café. And how the waitresses would always smugly reply that they only pour half a cup to leave room for milk and sugar when I question their frugality. (I could back-flip into the cup and use sugarcubes the size of boulders and still not spill any with the small amounts I've been served!)

Well, since then I have continued my avid determination to put the injustice right. And despite being moderately successful in my plight, I still come across more places than not where I am forced to bully the server into being generous. So you can only imagine my delight when a full cup was brought to my table while I recuperated from a morning's shopping at the Waterside Tearooms in Ely. It was a genuine, full to the brim cup of coffee without me so much as having to raise an eyebrow.
I could have wept.
Well, ok, maybe not weep but I was pretty close to it. Needless to say I plan on becoming a regular there. Every Saturday afternoon it's gonna be me, seven full cups of coffee and my newspaper.

Life is sweet!

So, the Dome has been sold at the eleventh hour. Who'd have thought there was another sucker that gullible?

But what's even more ludicrous than our government actually managing to sell off this flopped soufflé is that, according to a labour politician appearing on a Sunday debate programme, the project was devised and the location chosen so as to bring awareness, trade and prosperity to Greenwich, South London, an otherwise depressed and run-down location.
Call me a cynic, but wouldn't it have just been wiser to spend the £839 million on local improvements?

All this fiasco has achieved is to give the public another reason to avoid the area. It's bad enough that I feel intimidated every time I walk through the speciality food section of a grocery store - the odd looking ingredients might as well be car parts for all I know, such is my bewilderment - but now I can't even turn on the TV without some knot-head in an apron blabbing on about zucchini preparations or frying pan techniques.

You see, it took years before my family would eat something as simple as mashed potatoes without complaints.
Well, to be fair the lumps were peculiarly crispy. Once I even boiled the pan dry in my attempt to get the stupid things to cook thoroughly, and still it sounded as though we were eating potato chips instead of potato mash. In the end I started calling the stuff spud crumble, it seemed to take the mystery out of the situation.

So news that the NHS has gotten in on the act by employing Loyd Grossman to pep up hospital meals has left me utterly defeated. Not that I don't think the patients need decent food but who goes into hospital expecting cordon bleu cooking?

I'd rather the government spend our money on medicines, thank you. Not Quiche Lorraine! I fear that with all the attention cooking gets these days my family is bound to suss that I haven't got a clue in the kitchen.

It was a close enough shave when I mistook the microwave for a mini dishwasher!

Isn’t it ironic that the political party with the best team of lawyers will be the one who wins the American presidential election? I mean, we’re used to such nonsense as pedestrians suing owners of cars for parking obstructively – causing the careless nitwits to walk into the bumpers because they overlooked a big fat car in front of them, I presume. Or an employee taking legal action against the boss for stress and humiliation because the lunchroom coffee was stale. But when the best “spin” will be what decides a position as consequential and powerful as the president of the United States of America, it’s time to worry.

And if you ask me it’s not even as if the people have a decent choice. There’s either Hang em’ high George who’s clocked up more deaths than the James gang or a man with less personality than a speaking clock! Every time I hear Al Gore speak I’m reminded of the announcement I get when I’m put on hold. “Please wait, the office you are trying to reach is aware you are waiting. Your call is important. Please wait the office you are…”   

Still, all this folly must be filling Bill Clinton with self-satisfying smugness. And who could blame him? Here we were accusing him of shaming the position with his lies, half-truths and faulty zippers.

Hey, I wonder if he could be persuaded to stay on a bit while Beevis and Butthead sort out who’s gonna run the country…What’s a Lewinsky between friends? Suddenly that all seems so trivial.

Suddenly I’m in need of a lie down. 

Aren’t there a lot of household gizmos available? All the newspapers and magazines are filled with brochures for battery operated or solar-panelled, rechargeable thing-a-me-bobs I didn’t even know I needed – or existed.

I can shave without using water or an electrical outlet– I suppose this is for when I decide to camp out and spruce up. You know, those times when you want to look particularly fetching in nap-sack and matching mountain boots. Or I can illuminate a ten-mile radius with just two AA batteries (not included) with a nifty one-inch torch for the moments when I need extra lighting but don’t want to carry my interrogation lamp around in my handbag. Or, better yet, I can feed the entire family with the handy one-size fits all mini rotary meat defroster and cooker that runs on solar charged batteries.

Presumably I should keep this near a window for sunlight…but then I wouldn’t need the contraption to defrost the meat, would I. I could just leave it out in the light…

Sheesh! I’ve instructed my daughter to forget what I said about becoming a doctor. If she’s smart she’ll just invest in batteries!
This last bit is for the mother-in-law. It’s only right that I publicly thank her for my Brass Throne. After a long running family saga I am touched that she has seen fit to bestow upon me the status of Keeper of the Stool. I promise to cherish it always (or at least until it needs polishing) and pass it on with care when the time comes.

It presently rests in the corner of my front room and will only be sat upon by worthy individuals (obviously that means no children).

She needn’t worry that she has created a monster. I won’t let such an honour go to my head. I will remain the shy, withdrawn lass she knows so well…

Ohh, I wonder if I can get a tiara and sceptre maker to deliver?

It is a sad day in our household. My husband's grandmother has passed away at the ripe ole' age of 91 - she would have been 92 in February 2001.
Instead of the intended quips and comments I was planning for the article I would like to devote my space this week to the memory of a woman who lived a seemingly unremarkable life yet will be missed by so many.

Nana wasn't the typical grandmother or great-grandmother. She could be as ornery and feisty as she was entertaining and understanding. And despite having a knitting bag permanently beside her armchair, I never once saw the woman knit. I used to tease that she kept contraband under the wool. And, true to character, she neither denied nor confirmed my suspicions.
She could however be relied on to scold me for being spoiled and lazy when it came to household responsibilities - and I was the granddaughter-in-law, at least third down on the list of offending women in our family!

For example:
Once, early on in my marriage I pulled out all the stops to impress this matriarch of mischief when she had been invited to our humble home for dinner. I laid the table with my new dinnerware and took great care cleaning and preparing so that she could see how equally effective I was at keeping the household… I needn't have bothered. Far from appreciating the trouble, she reduced my ego to peanut size by chastising me for wasting my husband's money on new dishes when the other set was perfectly acceptable! It was just my luck to have married her favourite member of the family! I soon learned that short of curing world hunger and deprivation, (of course, I would only have been able to do this because I had had the good sense to marry her grandson) nothing I did was going to impress this lady. She made me wince with stories (some of which I mentioned recently) about her life as a homemaker during the war years. Never one to "hold her row", as she would say, she was brutal with her opinion of today's waste and frivolity.

But she could also be the life and soul of the party. Breaking all the rules with her priceless, if not risqué, sense of humour and the occasional cigarette and sherry. Her card playing abilities are legendary.

From the age of twelve she worked hard and knew only good management when it came to money and making ends meet. In later life she survived two husbands- both of them fine and caring gentleman. 
I'll miss the tough ole gal that I eventually came to know and love so well - despite that I never did achieve complete approval from her even after three children, twenty years of trying and tolerating being married to her perfect grandson.  She was a woman who could be relied on to say not just the "right" thing but the "honest" thing. A woman who made me both laugh and cry with tales of her hardships and happiness throughout over 90 years of life.

Good-bye Vera Hobbs Smith Hayward (Cis). Her lifetime was spent being all of these women, and more.  God bless and rest in peace.

P.S. God help them up there if the bed sheets aren't ironed properly!

I had no sooner prided myself on being a woman of today (in last week’s article) than I was abruptly faced with the sad fact that my nano-second in the hot seat was over – and before I even had a chance to stock up on Sanatogen too!

The day began well enough. I was out with my daughter shopping for something pointless and frivolous. I now leave the hubby at home since he hasn’t the least amount of appreciation for such activities. He always complains “Why if you’re looking for a black dress are we in the pyjama section?” And similarly, “Why do you always try on fifteen different shades of lipsticks before purchasing the one you came to buy in the first place?” And, “Yes your backside looks big in that.” That’s my cue that he’s had enough for one day. You should hear what he says when I ask him to wait for me outside the ladies changing rooms!

But I digress…

There I was, happily out and about when I saw a huge poster advertising a house and garage sale. But because it didn’t appeal to me I dismissed it. After seeing it several more times around the mall though I finally blurted out, “It must be a really big house and garage judging by the amount of posters they’ve put up. My poor daughter was crimson with shame. She did the obligatory eye rolls and head shaking before she clued me in.

t seems the circulars were promoting a rave of some sort with House and Garage music, not a house and garage sale as I had so disgracefully presumed - although I did wonder why a stadium was needed just to sell off domestic goods. I guess it’s just as well then that I didn’t tell her how I’ve always thought Puff Daddy was a character on a cereal box until I saw a picture of the guy on her CD label…

I know, she’ll be leaving me at home with the hubby soon.

If there’s one thing I really hate it’s perfume samples in a magazine. Especially since you can’t be sure how much of it is the scent or the page itself you smell.

I made the mistake of hastily buying a magazine before getting on the train and ended up leaving the publication behind unread when the fragrance steaming from within began to make my eyes water before I even opened it up.

I just knew that somewhere amongst the articles on how to be a better something or other and what to do with leftover string was a glossy picture of some half-witted model looking longingly into the lens wearing no more than a bed sheet in the middle of the day (you know this because there’s a window conveniently in the shot and the sun is shining brightly through it), trying to tempt you to smell the way she supposedly does.

Is that right? And let me guess, if I rub the pre-scented strip on my skin as instructed I will suddenly look like her as well as smell like her?

That’s possibly why the pages are soaked in the stuff. One sniff and you’re inebriated enough to believe such nonsense.

I’ve vowed that from now on I’ll just be buying a newspaper. At least that way I can solve the crossword puzzle without the risk of being perfumed against my will. Unless of course some bright spark spoils that by inventing spell and smell! 

 I never intend to eavesdrop. But even if I was capable of respecting someone's privacy - which, let's be honest, if I were, I wouldn't be writing this article - I would've had great difficulty ignoring a couple discussing their wedding day with a vicar. I was in a hotel lobby awaiting my family's return from a day in the wilderness and was happy to spend the time reading a magazine in front of a large fireplace.

I have an aversion to all things wooded, mossy or rustic. Personally, it baffles the hell out of me how anyone can consider climbing, hiking, camping or trekking in a cold, damp climate a holiday. Especially since we now have the luxury of central heating, buffet lunches and waiters. Not to mention,
room service, hot running water and indoor toilets. 

My kids have learned from experience that if I am forced to participate in their nature adventures, I will out-whine, bitch and complain them throughout the entire event even though they out- number me three to one.
- So I was turning the pages of my glossy publication without so much as a glance at the words while listening intently to the couple describing their choice of colours, flowers and hymns. But when the soon-to-be-bride chirped that her soon-to-be-groom didn't want to wear a wedding band, my nosiness

reared its ugly head in earnest and I all but pulled my chair up to their table, forgoing all pretence that I was respecting their privacy.  
The fact that the man babbled the barley credible excuses 'I don't see the point, and most men don't wear one anyway', was bad enough. But his blushing bride took the wedding cake when she responded that she didn't really mind!

Didn't really mind? Didn't mind did I hear her say? I had to bite down on the pages of my magazine to restrain myself. It was all I could do not to blurt out… mention that you won't wear a ring either and see if Romeo minds you pretending to be single even though you've vowed to love honour and, incredibly in this case, obey till death do you part.

Honestly, the poor woman is a glutton for punishment. Had I not been convinced that she'd eventually come to her senses I would have voiced my opinion even with the entire magazine crammed in my mouth. Although her awareness probably won't come before she bares his children, gains thirty pounds for the privilege and loses all sense of self-worth. But educated she will be!

The vicar must have held out the same hope because he seemed to ignore the unfairness of the arrangement. Instead, he cleverly expressed words of wisdom about his own marriage and the mistakes he had made in the beginning. He talked of what each should give to the other, not expect. It was impressively obvious what he was doing. I began to calm down as he spoke, confident that he was getting his point across. Albeit in a much more dignified way than I would have.

Still, dignified or not. Healing words they may have been, but it was all I could do to control the overwhelming urge I had to pelt the back of Romeo's head with wadded up pages of my magazine as he walked away. Maybe not subtle but satisfying!

I heard a young girl trying to pronounce as though it were a sentence. Even after asking her mummy for help she was confused. Poor kid. And I thought reading was tough when I was her age.

It's only fair I make an amendment to an earlier article where I was less than flattering about the labourer who did some decorating work in our house. And before you get all excited at the thought of a slanging match between me and the National Protection of Decorators and Builders, my incentive for redress is solely out of the goodness of my heart. Although, I agree, it would be rather entertaining to swap verbal insults with a mister fix-it. The last time I was in a good ole' spit-n-swear contest it was with some guy who tried to take cuts in front of my family and me at the cinema. In the beginning when one of these public altercations took place my husband would step in and break things up when the insults became too offensive. But he got tired of having to apologise for my violations of decency and now just pretends he's a single father and doesn't know me …but I digress. The problem was elementary - repair the leaking tap in the kitchen with a new washer. Or so we thought. Two plumbers and a very wet floor later and we ended up having a completely new sink unit installed! But what changed my outlook wasn't the job itself. It was that the second plumber to try and stop the leak was a young whippersnapper that couldn't have been more than ten years old carried it out. I half expected him to stop for a cookies and nap break!

He removed, cut (with big boy scissors), filled and replaced without so much as a sideways glance at the instruction booklet. He even cleaned the shelves before returning my assortment of cleansers, detergents and whatnots under the sink!

In the end I was so impressed with his competence that I made a point of getting his name should another plumbing emergency arise. Hell, forget the plumbing, I'm not above sabotaging the bathroom drains just so that he'll come back and give the tub a wipe!

I heard the first Yuletide jingle on the radio today.
I dragged myself up to the bedroom window looking for signs of icy cold weather and bare trees, concerned that I must have really overslept, but was blinded by bright sunlight and leafy greenery instead. I hate it that we are forced to celebrate events out of season! I'm the type who dares to shop for summer clothes in May. But because the items were available in February they are now sold out - unless of course I want to settle for my chosen outfit in small elephant size or in a colour that could rival the BBC test pattern. And I'm no happier about hearing endless cautions and warnings about skin cancer and the perils of too much sun when there's a foot of snow on the ground.

It makes me feel as if the world's out of sync. It's like watching an oriental film dubbed in English where the actor's lips stop moving but the dialogue continues.

Is it too much to ask that we save a little something for the moment? Who says everything has to be worn out, trampled over and exhausted by the time it comes around?

What's wrong with saving Christmas until Christmas? I would be satisfied if we could just save it until autumn!

How can our government get it so wrong? How can someone elected by the people, for the people be so arrogant as to ignore the very voices that granted him his position?

But don't worry I won't spend the entire article lambasting Mr. Blair and his assemblage of puppets for the petrol crisis, I'll contain myself and just make two points that our leader would do well to keep in mind.

One: It would behove the Prime Minister to remember that it's always easier to lose something than it is to get it back.

Two: He needs to be reminded who he works for. A rigid, inflexible employee is of no use to anyone - too much more of his ego-inflated self-importance and he's likely to get Thatchered!

I've only ever watched the often talked about programme "Changing Rooms" a handful of times - and two of those were reruns. But last week's was a doosey. By the time the decorator had finished the room it looked like something from the set of Dr. Who.

But what can you expect? No one in their right mind would allow anyone to decide on their intimate decor without first giving explicit instructions on what they liked or didn't like. Hell, I don't even allow the kids to leave their shoes in the doorway, let alone choose the wallpaper.

While the latest victim was sobbing into the presenter's shoulder in utter dismay at what she's now forced to live with until Homebase opens, I began to ponder as to which of my neighbours I could inflict the Duluxe treatment on.
The answer, none!

It's bad enough when your pet soils their lawn - again. Or one of your darling children happens to put a ball through their window - again! You know that, despite your apologies being sincere, they're only being met with forced tolerance because it's better to be civil than hostile when residing so close. At least the two parties can retreat into their sanctuaries and talk disparaging about each other in the comfort of their own preferences.  

But how do you exchange pleasantries once you've reeked havoc on the inside of their abode? You'd probably be pelted with fruit every time you showed your face until one of you moved.

With professional unknown decorators the plans are meticulously combed over, giving you the assurance that it isn't personal should something go wrong. Although, the last time we had improvements done by an outsider the guy drilled a hole in the wall big enough to let in small animals before realising he was working on the wrong side. That's a decorating event I'll never forget. At one point I thought I was going to have to put an R on his right hand and an L on his left just to keep him from pot-holing our entire living room. How he got to our house in the first place was a stumper. Hell, the fact that he had his shoes on the right feet was impressive once you spent five minutes talking to him.

Had I suffered such calamity at the hands of my neighbour I probably would have taken it personal presuming she still hadn't warmed up to my child (aka the terrorist) yet or was still peeved about the ball in the Bar-B-Q incident. Whereas the builder was just left to fill the abyss without interference - once we rehearsed the R and L thing again, that is.

Besides, how can you gossip about your neighbour's god awful decorating ideas if you're responsible for the god awful decorating?

Finally there's a sight at the dome worth paying money to see!

In fact, not only would I pay (ignoring that the British people have already paid £128.00 per head, whether we've gone or not) to gawk at this particular display, I would even make it a point to take home any booklet, leaflet, brochure or instructional pamphlet they might be handing out, such is my change of heart. The attraction? The group of organisers and administrators currently siphoning off more money from the lottery fund to keep this sinking ship afloat. Obviously no one has told them that the last time a vessel had this big a leak it sank to the bottom of the ocean and stayed there until Hollywood decided to distort all known facts and make a movie about the disaster…

No, but seriously, these guys are a must see. There might not be another opportunity to witness such chutzpah again in our lifetime. We shouldn't let the chance pass us by.
Just a question though…

Where will they work once the circus tent comes down, gets sold off or collapses from the weight of all the sanctimonious twaddle heaped on it? Who would hire these guys? Surely they wouldn't dare put the Dome on their respectable CV's. They wouldn't get a job selling off junk at a garage sale after this fiasco.

Ok, get paper and pen ready. I'm about to prompt another furry of complaints. Actually, I quite enjoy doing this. My postbag is never so full as when I offend…

Here goes:
I am declaring war on all parents who permit their children to run free in restaurants. In future I solemnly pledge to send their kids back to the table empty-handed should they be allowed to run around with a balloon, whistle or toy of any description. I can no longer count the number of foreign objects that have landed in my salad!

Furthermore, I will forcibly remove anything a child bangs on the table or highchair weighing more than a digestive biscuit. I could have throttled one particular couple who happily carried on an intimate conversation while their child continuously whacked the table with what sounded like a brick. Obviously they had perfected the art of lip-reading. But everyone else seated in a twenty-yard radius was ready to feed it to the offensive little monster. I will also personally escort any child who screams and yells to the restroom and lock them in- parents will only be permitted to collect their offspring once I have paid my bill.

And last but not least, should a party of celebrating tots happen to sit next to me - this floors me, the parents are fully aware that their kids eat like wild animals therefore opt to feed them away from treasured household objects, yet don't mind inflicting them on the poor unsuspecting public- I will loudly voice my displeasure (louder than the little cherub bawling because he isn't allowed to eat the complimentary crayons) and insist that they be moved to a more suitable location… like the carpark!
I'm standing up now, hand on heart: I am prepared to defend my right to eat in a restaurant without the aggravation of unruly, spoiled brats whose parents are oblivious (or rendered witless by the constant strain) to the disturbance they cause until my death - or theirs, whichever comes first!
Now you can't say you haven't been warned!

By all accounts I should be as healthy as a horse. In fact, If today’s product advertisement is to be believed, I’ll live to be at least 100!

This fact dawned on me the other day as I sat reading the declarations on my cereal box… I’ve replaced my morning newspaper with this innocuous material because I was getting so depressed by the world’s news that I found myself in desperate need of a lay down only moments after getting out of bed.

Anyway, according to the box, I ingest added vitamins and minerals with every bowl of Cornflakes. I then noticed that I also get a boost of vitamin fortification from my shampoo. It doesn’t stop there!

This is as well as the dose of calcium I get from my toothpaste (which I don’t really need since I loaded up on the daily-required amount in my cereal). And I top off the morning with a body lotion jam-packed with even more E’s, A’s and unheard of necessaries for glowing, healthy skin. By the time lunch rolls around I should be feeling as fit as Rocky. Not to mention, resembling Raquel Welch!

So why don’t I? Surely the constant influx of added vitality throughout the day should put a bounce in my every step. And the stuff they pump into my cosmetics either doesn’t work or it takes so long to achieve the desired affect that I’ll only just be starting to reap the benefits in my 90’s. I can see it now, me all supple and radiant twirling my zimmer frame around like a baton- yet actually, by three o’clock, I barely have the energy to drag myself into the kitchen and boil water. Where does all the goodness go?

I think it’s time I experiment and boycott the vitamin/health thing and see if I feel any worse. I’m going to make a point of eating only plain, unfortified foods and use toiletries that just clean my teeth, wash the dirt out of my hair, and moisturise my skin. No A’s, E’s or rejuvenating oils. No added stuff that not only stops my skin from chaffing but makes it glisten with youthfulness.

Just a funny little aside…I was given shimmering body lotion for Christmas one year and since I don’t frequent places that require me to shimmer, I put the decorative bottle in the downstairs loo for ornamentation only. The problem was that I failed to inform my other half that he shouldn’t use it. Poor man, it took him a week to figure out why he resembled a bronzed statue every time he used the downstairs hand cream…

So, by next month I will either be writing from my hospital bed recovering from a severe case of vitamin deficiency, or I’ll be just the same, writing from my office, complaining about not having enough energy to get everything done. I don’t think there’s going to be much of a difference!  

Perhaps it was long overdue but just recently two articles in my daughter’s teen magazine caught my attention.

One was “I killed my baby, I’m sorry.” And the very next one was “Ten ways to bait a guy!” as if the two naturally harmonised.

For goodness sake, I thought these things contained instructions on how to dress and wear make-up. I thought they, at worst, gossiped about celebrity nonsense. Or at the very worst, explained what to do in embarrassing situations.

No wonder a child’s innocence vanishes at such an early age. I was at least twenty before my reading material contained that type of debauchery.

Goodness, I’m glad that’s all over with! Now that Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt have finally and uneventfully tied the knot I can get on with the rest of my life.

I’m certain you’ve heard of the doting twosome. You know, the latest gazillion dollar Hollywood-couple? The same lovebirds that will be divorced before the bride can wash the exotic confetti out of her gazillion dollar hair-do. Or before the groom has time to complain that the wedding photos were all taken on his bad side?


It’s not that I begrudge actors their special day. Or that they don’t deserve to squander their money on something other than nose jobs. But what’s with all the pre-show palaver about wanting privacy and keeping the event intimate when the pompous pair import a ton of brown sugar candles from Thailand for goodness sake. What, not a shop in town sold wax candles? If that isn’t a blatant cry for attention, I don’t know what is.

And dare I mention that the exclusivity rights were sold to People magazine- bagging another squillion dollars for the wedding purse by the way - just so the event remained secure? Yeah, that’s why overhead flights were cancelled and an awning the size of Texas was erected, to keep out terrorists!

Hell, with brown sugar candles burning in the California heat, threatening attention was the last of their worries. I’ll bet the guests didn’t know whether to swat away the flies with their feet and eat with their hands or visa-versa.

I know England has it’s own celebrity over-kill too. I mean, if I see one more “sexy image” photograph of Carol Vorderman and her handkerchief dress I’ll throw-up! That woman is everywhere…if she’s not selling yoghurt she’s flogging health insurance, and all because she can add- what’s that all about?

Anyway, as I said, I can sleep at night now that Mr. and Mrs Pitt are happily wedded. I just hope they don’t announce the arrival of any petite Pitts for a while. I don’t think there’s enough ice in Antarctica to sculpt the stork and baby figurines they’ll just have to import so that they can announce the special event in true Hollywood style!

Did I read correctly? Is there a shortage of Ely women (in particular, housewives) that want to be fire fighters? I had no idea such an opportunity even existed.

Well sign me up.

And this is in spite of the fact that my cooking has been known to raise the occasional four-bell alarm.

Actually, the fact that I burn more food than I cook is a plus. You know, my children had no idea that toast came in a choice of browns. They thought everyone had to scrape the black off vigorously before buttering it?

Anyway, not only do I have experience in dousing cooker fires, I am a dab hand at getting ash and soot out of just about all materials  – god knows I’ve had enough experience.

So wouldn’t I be just the candidate for this particular profession? Can you see it now…me showing up with mask, hose, helmet and stain removal kit?

I could be on to something here. Where do I go to sign up?    

I often see labels on the backs of lorries and hire vans inviting fellow road users to call 0800-something-or-other should they want to comment on the driver’s proficiency, or in some cases, the lack of it.

I guess the objective is to keep the operators on their toes – that or give a habitual complainer something to do while they’re stuck in a traffic jam. And just in case you’re wondering, yes, I am forbidden to call the courtesy number while in the car with my husband. Evidently he still hasn’t forgiven me for the time we were dangerously cut up by a lunatic in a van.

You see, I was a passenger and hastily dialled to lodge our complaint while my other half tried to avoid the canal. My furry was so intense that not only did I not consult him before I took action, I persisted even though a cheerful lady answered reciting a number I hadn’t dialled. Of course, only after the incident did I distinguish this.

I fumed, raged and swore as I gave the numberplate details along with my opinion of the person responsible. I used every expletive I could think of as I described what had happened. When satisfied that I had made my point I fell silent, waiting for the inevitable apology and assurance that something drastic was going to be done to teach the idiot a lesson.

After a short pause a fragile voice did apologise but only to inform me that I must have dialled incorrectly. Unfortunately I had put the fear of god into an elderly woman completely unrelated to the party I was trying to reach. I think the poor soul murmured something else about a heart condition, but I can’t be sure as I abruptly ended the call at that point.

I contemplated not telling my husband what I had done. Except that I knew the lady was bound to have dialled 1471 the second I hung up and had probably already alerted the police to a crazed female making crank calls.

I couldn’t allow my husband’s phone to be confiscated for misuse so I confessed. He took it pretty well. Although, to this day he still won’t unlock the keypad on the mobile. And as a further punishment I’m forbidden to even so much as finger gesture to offending vehicles.

Anyway, aside from my own inadequacies, I think it’s still a great idea to have personnel on hand, prepared to take complaints if you should be dissatisfied with their services. So much so that I think the practice should be extended to all walks of life, not just to drivers.

For instance, there’s a real need for one on the backs of some waitresses (you just knew that’s where I was going with this, didn’t you). And, unfortunately, on the backs of a few parents. But the ideal place has got to be on the backs of all politicians!

I would like to say thank you to a young girl called Victoria who helped me find the jelly section in Waitrose last Thursday afternoon. After obtaining permission from her mother she walked me to the item while informing me that she would like to be in the upcoming Harry Potter film and has already tried out for a part in the movie.

I wish her luck with the venture. But as helpful and dear as she is…she’s already quite a star. 

I thought I had heard wrong when a voice blasted from my daughter’s radio calling for local people to take part in a “sleeping with the enemy” competition. Certain that I was mistaken, I listened harder. I even stopped performing my morning grooming routine and headed towards the noise to get a better advantage.

But to my utter amazement, I had been right. There was actually some deluded DJ asking for volunteers to get into bed with their ex-partners for 96 hours in full view of the public at the Grafton Centre - to what end I couldn’t tell you because at this point my stupefaction meter went off the scales and my jaw dropped to the floor, further comprehension was impossible.

Sleeping in public with anyone is undignified enough. But this nonsense beggars belief.

In the end I insisted my daughter either turn off the radio or find another station so that I could resume my preening without stabbing myself in the eye with the mascara wand, such was my disbelief.

What’s the world coming to when this sort of thing passes for entertainment? More to the point, what does it say about anyone daft enough to take part?

Not to mention, the friends of these morons who helped get them through the painful break-up in the first place. Hopefully, passing their chum sprawled out in public with the “enemy” will give them the perfect excuse to be too busy the next time their sympathies are required.

I owe an enormous thank you to a neighbour whose graciousness and hospitality made for a very unexpectedly pleasant afternoon.

My friend visiting from America and I were in the middle of ooooh’s and ahhh’s outside an intriguing property we had presumed to be empty when suddenly the owner appeared from out of nowhere and caught us in the act.

Fortunately there was only an awkward moment or two of apologies for our obvious intrusion before we two lasses resumed our compliments to the gardener and asked about the restoration work.

We had been satisfied to guess at the answers. But since the lady seemed friendly and ten minutes had passed without her attempting to drive us off with a broom, we now felt confident enough to fire our questions at her as though we were on a paid tour.

Before long, and far from being intimidated by two over zealous Americans, the woman asked if we would like a look at the inside…. Inside? Inner sanctum? 

So much for long lost friends and bosom buddies, I practically trampled my houseguest to the floor, eager to take advantage of the lucky break.

My enthusiasm wasn’t futile. The place was beautiful and every room restored with traditional consideration. Once fulfilled, we said our goodbyes and strolled off home, contented with the outcome of the adventure.

Of course, you know what this means, though…now that we’ve been let in once, there’ll be no stopping us. There’s already another house facing Cherry Hill Park in Ely that we plan on standing outside of until the owners take similar pity on us. Or, unlike the previous time, they feel compelled to set the dogs on us!

Children of today love luxury too much. They have appalling manners, flout authority and have no respect for their elders. They no longer rise when their teachers enter the room. What kind of awful creatures will they be when they grow up?

Ironically this is a translation from the words of Socrates shortly before his death in 399 BC 

Oh dear, I’m in the doghouse again!

Actually, I’m rarely out of it so it’s a bit misleading for me to imply that this is a recent predicament. In fact, I should just install electricity, drag my computer table into my doggy domicile and set up camp here, foregoing the pretence that I’m ever anywhere else…

According to Mrs Eaton in last week’s Ely Standard it was the petrol station workers whom I’ve offended this time. Hell, if she thinks my attendant attack was offensive, she obviously didn’t read what I wrote about fast food services in a previous article! I think it’s safe to say I won’t be frequenting those places without body armour (or stomach lining).

All joking aside, I want to atone myself. I am truly sorry for any offence caused by my observations. I am sick with shame that I could have lost even one reader. But if I promise to behave and write something nice about humanity, could someone please let Mrs. Eaton know since she no longer reads me and ask if she’ll give my column another chance? And if not, could someone please ask her to rip out the page my column appears on (after reading the other articles, of course) and send it to me so that I can cover the floor of my new abode with it?

Here goes, I’m going to write something nice now. For those readers stimulated by my weekly criticisms and bitchiness, you may want to avert your eyes. I just hope I don’t break out in a rash from all this pleasantness…

Uh, well, let’s see…there’s the bit about another van getting stuck under the railway, that’s not cheerful. Although, it must be the 100th incident this year, that’s sort of humorous. No? I’ll try again…
Ok, what about the item where a cat owner found his cat after a worrying two month separation? Wait, it died shortly afterwards… that won’t delight anyone, least of all the cat owner. I know, there’s a story currently circulating about three American sisters looking for family members in Ely with the name Dent. This might be worth a shot.

As luck would have it, I was the first person to encounter them as they got off the bus from the train station, Now, I know what you’re thinking, but what transpired afterwards wasn’t entirely my fault. And had I known their plight was to appear in this very paper I would have been far more helpful. It’s just that I get a bit resentful at the constant insinuation that I too have just gotten off the bus due to my American accent. And I stand by my comment about the “twang thing”. Come to think of it, this is probably another apology letter in the waiting rather than a good will story. So, perhaps I’ll leave it.

It’s not looking very good, is it? You know this wholesome act is a drag. How is someone like myself supposed to make amends when there is nothing nice to write about?

I have an idea. How about the readers write in and tell me what they think will make a nice story? And I solemnly promise to write about it without any sarcasm- you can’t see this, but my hand is over my heart. Unless of course some knot-head sends me an account of how his pet turtle learned to communicate with humans and persuaded him to take up yoga…
I mean, come on, I’m still Anne deBondt, not Mother Theresa!

I know, I know, more apology letters for that one!

Almost every phone conversation I have with a family member from the States begins with one of them asking how much our petrol costs over here. The answer – inevitably increased since the last call - seems to be a real pick-me-up for them. They then feel obliged to commiserate.

So you can only imagine the next long distance conversation when I tell my kith and kin about the one-day pump boycott planned for August 1st.

Like me, my family will presume anyone pretending to take part will have discreetly filled up on July 31st. And you can guarantee that the petrol station managers know this and will jack up the price three days before the supposed demonstration to balance out any loss.

But what real impact is this day of abstinence supposed to have? What real difference can it possibly make even if it all goes to plan and the entire UK refuses to buy petrol for the determined period of time?

None at all except to the staff working at these unmerciful establishments. They’ll be forced to idle away their shift time by reading a magazine or two. Maybe serve the odd customer now and then, someone obviously unaware or uninterested in the important point being made. Perhaps sample a chocolate from the nearest sweet rack while they finish the crossword. 

You know, come to think of it, this strike isn’t going to change a damn thing.

There is an unflattering female characteristic that completely puzzles my husband. And although I am not proud of it, I’m aware that I am far from alone in my failing.

For example, He and I are at a dinner party, all old acquaintances; everyone’s enjoying themselves. After a little wine, a fine dinner, soft music, some scintillating conversation, we say goodnight and retreat to the car.

Yet despite not having given the slightest hint of my displeasure, I begin to insult or complain about at least two of the other women with us at the gathering before we have even approached the first set of traffic lights.

I hack the knees off of one for daring to wear that dress with those shoes. And what does she think she looks like with all that make-up on at her age? And then proceed to bitch about the sudden increase in bust size of another. At this point I’m taking it for granted that he agrees with me – or even knows whom I’m describing.

When I finally pause for breath my husband’s only response is to incredulously ask how am I capable of being so harsh towards someone I just exchanged carpet-cleaning tips with two minutes earlier.

When I asked how he would handle such an affront to maleness, regardless that the guy was able to talk tools with him he shrugged and said, “Avoid the bloke if you don’t like him.”

Well, if you’re going to get all sensible about it…

Is there another national pastime as troubled as football?  Is there another crowd gathering event that warrants the amount of policing and vigilance as football? Is there a single person left in Great Britain who still feels it’s safe to take their youngsters to a football match?

The answer to all the above has to be no! Because if there was another sporting event, pastime or gathering that caused even a fraction of the distress, death and hardship as football it would have been long since eliminated, regardless of the cost to the organizers, sponsors or patrons. 

Yet, here we are once again, the scourges of the sporting world, hanging our heads in shame due to the behavior of a few hundred thugs from our country, with nothing more than ineffectual postulations and sound bites as deterrents.

But when scenes such as last weeks are viewed around the world, and good-for-nothing drunks are allowed to be interviewed on TV defending their intoxicated behavior during Euro 2000 as “Just good football fever, a right to cheer on their team”, it’s well past time hard, decisive action was taken.

And someone should tell these supposedly flag-waving nitwits that they cause the very team they pretend to support more embarrassment than any loss of competition ever could. Anyone with half a brain knows that throwing lawn chairs and beer bottles before or after a game hardly incites victory. Such conduct is puerile, not patriotic. As for morale boosting, name one player who’s felt motivated by the riots.

So why are the authorities dragging their feet and passing the buck instead of coming up with a real solution to the problem?

Or has the death toll and number of people seriously injured not reached its quota yet? And on a lesser scale, dare anyone calculate the cost to property and belongings, here or on foreign soil?

No, there has to be a good reason why the government hasn’t banned the sport. And it can’t be because it penalizes innocent patrons. Or that only a few ignorant impostors are pretending to be supporters therefore shouldn’t be allowed to ruin it for the many law-abiding participants. Hell, they’ve not had trouble enforcing that concept before, so why now?

And perhaps, instead of wasting time and money protecting the wily fox, the pink winged gnat or the long tailed dragon fly from abusive humans, our government should strengthen its backbone and supervise the welfare of a far more important species… humans endangered by abusive humans!

I fear the campaign to deter smokers by enlarging the printed caution and warning on cigarette packets will be a waste of time. Especially since billboards have been advising of the perils for some time now – the largest public notice available – and that’s barely made a dent in the number of new smokers choosing to addict themselves to the nasty habit each year!

I also read that the government is considering exploiting a picture of the yellowed, stained teeth of a heavy smoker, as another way of scaring off would be puffers.  All well and good but I can think of a more effective approach than that. And it’s more terrorizing than rotten teeth, blackened lungs or certain death.

They should show the effects cigarettes have on the aging process. Photograph two women of the same age side by side, one a smoker the other not, and plaster their images everywhere. No one will be able to ignore the unbelievable contrast.

How ridiculous is it that women spend millions of pounds a year on youth enhancing creams and surgical treatments and then light up a fag (poison to youthfulness) either while they wait for their pampering or as soon as the bandages are off?

If the government wants to discourage self-inflicted cancer it should aim for the obvious target, where it will have the greatest impact. Not in the pockets or consciences of the public…right in the ego!

I read with interest the letter defending bus drivers and their commendable attention to duty in last week’s Ely Standard. But as difficult as it might be to ferry people to and from their chosen destinations, I sympathies more with passengers who are at the mercy of other drivers not so smitten with the job they do.

One in particular…

When my daughter and a friend took the bus from Mepal to Ely they were chastised and ridiculed by the driver for attempting to pay the fare with change. He actually turned to the already seated travelers and mockingly announced that they might be late due to the inconvenience.

Poor man, can he not count up to £ 3.45 using modern coinage? Or is he only used to dealing with twenty-pound notes?

When the girls returned and told me of the reprimand they received I was incensed. What else would two fifteen year olds pay with? What was he expecting, Master Charge or Visa?

Dedicated bus drivers there may be. But if the one in question didn’t want to count change as part of his duties perhaps he should have looked elsewhere for employment. And if he doesn’t want to be made extremely late one fine day not too far in the future, he should think long and hard about giving his young fare-paying customers a hard time.

If he thinks counting out £3.45 in twenty, fifty and ten pence pieces is time-consuming; he’s really going to hate counting out a handful of coppers from a crankier, older customer demanding to be taken to Newmarket and back!

The government’s questionnaire hoping to find out what the public wants from the NHS has got to be their biggest boob yet.

What, none of the organizers of this latest smoke screen thought it might be more effective, not to mention, more convincing, to actually study a patient’s case? Or, better still, how about donning a white coat and stethoscope for a weekend following a doctor around, pretending you’re up to your elbows in cutbacks and shortages instead of fat cat lunches and expensive resorts?

I find it hard to believe that with all their resources this government doesn’t already know the answers. I find it even harder to believe they think we’re dumb enough to expect an improvement once we’ve filled in the blanks and sent back our opinions.

This sort of thing reminds me of my Catholic upbringing. As a child I could never understand why no one thought it strange we had a church leader who abstained from the game, yet felt qualified to dictate the rules. It never made sense that a priest could counsel couples on topics he had no experience of.

I guess like the Pope, Tony Blair considers himself qualified to rule a contest he doesn’t take part in. Or am I mistaken and the Blair baby was born in a hospital at risk of closure due to shortages and looked after by exhausted, overworked staff?

I knew I detested the Dome. Any money wasted on its existence always makes me seethe. But my loathing reached new heights when I read that the Dunkirk veterans were refused money from the lottery fund for their anniversary travels after another £ 29 million pounds from the same financiers was squandered on the Dome.

How can a hut with a bad reputation outrank soldiers who fought for the welfare of this country? 

I have never been to the blasted thing and never will. But I hope for the sake of all servicemen that the organizers haven’t added insult to injury and boast a war memorial, complete with a statue of Winston Churchill, as one of the attractions. The man’s probably turning in his grave as it is.

I received a neighborhood watch booklet the other day. It was full of helpful tips on how to keep your household safe and what to look out for as a neighbour. It also had a nifty set of bright yellow and black stickers for the door.

One warned off unwanted salesmen, the other was a checklist of things to do before answering to a stranger and one for the letterbox instructing the paper boy/girl to push newspapers the entire way through, not to leave them hanging half in, half out.

But what I really need is a sticker warning that a Rottweiler lives on the premises. My husband thought I was being unkind to myself when I suggested this to him. He thought I was more like a terrier…or was that terror? 

Is there anything more romantic than a husband birthday shopping for his wife? Well, if he refers to her as his “old lady” while grumbling about having to get her something, there is.

I stood behind a gentleman (that’s stretching the description a bit) while he moaned to a queuing companion that he had been sent out to get his old lady something for her birthday. And that he had no idea what to get his old lady. Especially since he had no idea what size his old lady was…

It took every ounce of self-control I had not to butt in and offer my suggestion that he might want to start by offering to drop the term old lady. Not to mention, he might want to think a bit before broadcasting to all and sundry that he obviously cares less about his wife’s feelings than he does about venting his frustrations.

I mean, far be it from me to judge a marriage by one half of the union, but this guy was actually in a strop because his wife had managed to live for another year and dared to expect him to celebrate the fact. Wouldn’t you have just loved to see the birthday card he picked out?

I made a point of catching sight of the item he was waving about and so begrudgingly waiting to purchase.

All I can say is he may well get what he hopes for. After opening the gift his wife will probably decide not to burden him with another year of her presence. Forget the card, I would have loved to see her face when she unwrapped a ladies shaver and two extra blades.

Why are two separate phone books published when both books contain all telephone number in our area, just printed in different colours?

When my volumes are delivered I dutifully place the White Pages on the telephone table and toss the other in the bin straightaway. 

I could never find anything in the yellow pages anyway. Once I even tried to locate a company that I knew had been trading for over thirty years just to prove to myself that I could use the damn book. I was confident because I knew how to spell it, I knew the address of it and knew it was in there somewhere.

But to no avail. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find the listing. I even resorted to concentrating on the illustrations just in case I had overlooked the small print.

Eventually I gave up and decided to thumb through the White pages. And, once I remembered that I should be looking under St. not Sa for Saint, found what I was looking for.

I don’t mind two books if there’s a good reason for separating the information. Like what about one for e-mail listings and one for telephone numbers? It can be printed in crimson for all I care, just as long as I can understand it!

I have never participated in a public demonstration. Nor have I ever felt so immersed in a cause that I risked imprisonment in order to promote it. Not that I’m incapable of compassion, it’s just that I’ve always been more of a coward than a warrior. Unless of course I come across a particularly snotty waitress…

But not that long ago I became unintentionally trapped amongst protesters as they chanted their rhetoric and ideology. It was my own fault. I should have waited for the throng to pass before I tried to cross the street. But I was impatient and wanted to get to my destination before the shop closed, or nightfall, whichever came first.

I tried to disentangle myself from the crowd once I realized my mistake but was pulled along with the march regardless.

Before I knew it, I was up to my hairdo in waving placards and abusive complaints being hurled at passersby who didn’t agree with the cause. (A sign, if ever I saw one, that you’re not having the hoped for effect).

It didn’t matter how ill tempered I became to escape. The rabble just assumed my struggle was in aid of their goal and appreciated my energy, completely unaware they had a frightened dissenter amongst them.

And judging by the look on the surrounding faces, I was right to be afraid. We radicals risked being pelted with something nasty by the audience, not congratulated for our empathy due to the inconvenience we were causing them.

When I finally broke free (several hundred feet from where I had intended) I dusted myself off and took a quick assessment of my extremities before loudly venting my animosity and taking my rightful place amongst the intolerant bystanders.

But what kept me awake that night wasn’t the near death experience of being mistaken for a screaming zealot. It was the ‘what ifs’.

Like, what if the multitude of TV cameras present had focused on me as I attempted to elbow my way out? How would I ever explain to family and friends my involvement in a cause this forceful when I’ve never waved anything more threatening than a till receipt before?

Or what if I had assaulted the lady to my left who kept a death grip on my arm as she pledged her life, and mine, to the brawl? Honestly, had she not let go when she did, there would have been an unruly affray for a completely different reason!

But most important, no matter how emphatically I pleaded, once arrested, no policeman worth his badge would have let me off believing that I was innocently on my way to collect a bottle of strawberry and banana shampoo from Boots when all hell broke out.

To be fair, they must hear that old excuse all the time.

You might recall that I mentioned Internet grocery shopping in a previous article and how great I thought shopping in pyjamas and curlers was going to be. I was right; and it's more than great. But it has also created an unforeseen dilemma.

I had no idea I was so unacquainted with the products I use every day. I couldn't have imagined the trouble just getting things in the right size was going to be.
For instance, without looking, can you say what weight the tub of butter you buy is? Or do you know what brand of coffee you get for the coffee maker without getting the packet out? I certainly couldn't.

I have used the service three times now and have odd proportions and unheard of brands cluttering up the kitchen to prove it. I won't even repeat the comment my family has made about the scented bath soaps.
There's an enormous tub of butter taking up half the refrigerator, two small packets of sliced and cooked ham that isn't enough to make one sandwich and a brand of coffee supposedly made in a country I've never heard of - according to my husband though the brand I chose does rhyme with the brand we usually get so I wasn't so off the mark there.

I just know the people at Tesco's are having a laugh every time they deliver to my humble home. I can see them splitting their sides at the catering size tuna I ordered and yet figured the minuscule amount of washing up liquid in a disposable pouch would suffice a family of five for a week.

I bet they can't wait for my Christmas order. We'll be eating turkey for months and having to ration the box of four mini mince pies intended for a party of twelve.

I can't for the life of me understand all the fuss being made over the use of mobile phones and its possible health risk to children.

Cancer causing cigarettes and unprotected sex is legally permitted at 16. Young adults barley old enough to choose a profession can vote in or out a government. A driver's license is granted at 17. And drinking (an equally perilous pastime) is considered doable at the ripe old age of 18.

And there's worry that the young of this country might be causing themselves unknown damage by using a mobile phone? At least while they're out driving, cohabiting or drinking they can phone home and let us know they're still alive!

But more to the point, if we've learned anything from juvenile behaviour at all it's that if you want to stop kids from harming themselves, don't strap a government warning to the product telling them of the probable harm it will do them, tell them that they have to use it. Make it compulsory.

That's more of a deterrent than the frightful skull and crossbones!

Unfortunately unisex loos are being considered for the work place. And all because a few people thought the idea provided laughs and giggles for the cast of an American television program, so reckoned they’d be a big hit in real life.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, social psychology lecturers agree that combined washrooms could be a good idea.

They say having communal facilities can bring work mates closer together. That the benefits of seeing each other as equals instead of separate entities can make for a better working environment…Yeah, but in the toilet? Couldn’t a person just realize the guy across from them is a decent human being because he’s polite, efficient and conscientious? Surely bonding in the bathroom can only lead to trouble.

And what’s next, topless Fridays to build better team spirit. Or speedo Wednesdays to raise creativity?

I know some offices already have a single facility shared by all due to lack of space. But they’re mostly one at a time accommodations. Not the multi-chambered extravaganzas you see on Ally McBeal.

But more importantly, marriages have dissolved when wives got fed up with their husbands repeatedly leaving wet towels on the floor or the seat up…do men really want to risk being sacked for the offenses too?

And can you just imagine the poor guy who has to explain to his wife for the umpteenth time why he smells of another woman’s perfume? The fact that he stood a little too close as his colleague surrounded herself in a fog of expensive scent while touching up in front of the mirror will only satisfy just so many times.

Even though I am long overdue to complain about second-rate food or snotty service, I must pay my compliments to the White Horse Inn at Witcham and delay my inevitable fault finding for another time. 

I was sure the evening had got off to a bad start when the proprietors of the pub told us they were short staffed and we might have to wait for our order.

Ordinarily the minute my husband hears of such a deficiency he races us back to the car before I even get a look at the napkins. He’s never forgiven me for the time I was banned over some altercation with a shortsighted waitress. What’s the statute of limitation on how long a food incident can be held against you anyway? I mean, really, the man has the memory of an elephant.

Nevertheless, we were hungry and the place was only a stone throw from the house so we decided to take a chance. Of course, not before I was threatened with being bound and gagged if I didn’t behave myself.

But my husband needn’t have worried. The hostess was the nicest lady. And the food was exceptionally good. Had we not been told of the staffing problem we would never have guessed.

And what’s more, it’s nice to finally find somewhere where my husband actually admits to being with me.

Artistic symbolism is completely wasted on me. I even have trouble with the male/female silhouettes on public toilet doors.

The problem is that I can never remember what my particular character is supposed to be wearing, a skirt or pointy trousers. And by the time I've figured it out other users have inevitably passed by, no doubt curious as to why I'm stood there.

So you can see why modern art leaves me cold. A big red dot splashed on a white canvas looks like, well, just that. I can never see the aesthetic depth, no matter how hard I try. For example: A friend purchased what he thought was a masterpiece. After the hanging he invited us to inspect the treasure.

I looked, peered and even pretended to appreciate the thing. But to be honest, it just looked like colorful blobs to my untrained eye. Although, at a certain angle, I thought one blob looked suspiciously like a tree. Of course I didn't dare ask if it was supposed to be a landscape - the last time I voiced my honest opinion of someone's artwork was the last time I was invited over - so I go along with the flow now, similar to the fable of the Emperor's new clothes. I pretend to see what everyone else sees, and be damned the truth. But what ever happened to normal oil paintings? Where are all the watercolors of blue skies and green fields? Doesn't anybody want portraits that resemble actual human beings, not some creature that looks as if they just got off the Starship Enterprise? And it isn't just framed artwork that's affected by this trend towards the absurd. I tried to find a nice greeting card for a special occasion just recently and was horrified to see what was passing off for Birthday cards.

In the end I decided It would be much easier to create my own than to have to accompany it with a two page explanation as to why I thought a two headed lady holding a bunch of bald flowers said Happy Birthday!

I'm just pleased I wasn't looking for a birth announcement.

It's amazing how girlie one can get when an old school chum calls. I haven't heard from Laura in years but in a matter of seconds we were reduced to tears of laughter with our 'remember when's' and embarrassing stories long since forgotten as if it had only been yesterday since we last spoke.

For just a little while I was catapulted back to the days when I had nothing better to do than worry about hair-do's and fashion don'ts.

We'll be staying in touch through the Internet now. And since I lied about being exactly the same size as the last time we were together and every bit as youthful, I can enjoy hearing about all the other school gals who have fared less well. I'll just have to make sure I'm busy for the next reunion!

Why do we need to have the same frustrating quarrel every time we purchase an electrical appliance?

I needed to replace our much-abused coffee maker, but while browsing in the shop I noticed matching toasters on offer. I don't usually fall for such colour-coordinated hooey, but the kids had been complaining that they were frightened by flames leaping at them when the toast was ejected from the old one, so I took advantage of the sale and indulged the family (although, I now have to find another way of testing the downstairs smoke alarms)

Anyway, as I approached the counter with my chosen items I silently began to count how long it was going to take a shop assistant tagged 'Carol' to ask me if I would like their extended insurance coverage on the appliances.

I didn't have to count long. All of three seconds into the transaction she began her well-rehearsed speech. And continued with the patter even though I showed no sign of interest. She warned, cautioned and advised me to the best of her ability that, as well as the free two-year guarantee, I might need to cover the machines for a further five years in the event of malfunction or costly repair bills. She finished by telling me the price of such additional protection would only be a modest ten pounds.

Now, aside from the fact that the accessories don't require a home-secured loan, I have never owned an electrical gizmo yet that functioned for longer than a year (this probably has something to do with not using the thing as the manufacturers suggest, like the time we combined all the left over emulsion into the food blender and ended up with beige frappe on the walls). But to get back to the point, what sort of salesmanship are these people being taught?

How can they not see the irony of discussing possible flaws and failures before the item has seen the light of day? How is the customer supposed to have faith in the workmanship when they are alerted to the eventuality of a breakdown before they've even plugged it in?

But what really aggravates me is the treatment I get when I decline the additional coverage. You'd think I was refusing a blood transfusion. And Carol was no different. Once I had convinced her that I was willing to brave the future without the store's sanctuary, she huffily slapped the rest of my details into the computer and handed me the receipt without another word.

Instead of being testy, the Carol's of this world should be grateful for my audacity. If I'm paying extra for warranties, they're likely to find a rather haggard looking appliance awaiting them one fine morning due to an unforeseeable problem - Like marmalade gumming up the works of sandwich maker or pizza dough cementing the waffle iron shut.

 I once read that the only reason we act sensible, more mature, as the years roll on is because we see our image changing in the mirror. If we could go through adulthood without the ravages of age affecting our appearance we would be content to act like 16 year olds.

This has to be why some women continue to wear Lycra even after gravity has taken its toll. Or who refuse to give up the leather even though it causes a hazardous friction with their nylon tuck-and-hide panty girdle.
And it can be the only credible explanation for those few men who insist on growing their hair long despite their ever expanding foreheads and driving ridiculously fast sports cars when they can’t even operate a video recorder.
And it could also account for why The Monkey’s are still selling their god-awful albums.
Still, the illusion can also have advantages. Not inspecting yourself during the advancing years can save you a fortune. Just think of all the youth enhancing gimmicks you haven’t fallen for because the last time you took a close look it was 1972…

If  I read one more word about Posh Spice and her husband the thong wearing Baldy I’m going to scream.
Last week’s newspapers were full of photographs of his shaved bonce. And as if that wasn’t enough excitement for us, his wife was there too sporting her own imitation of a hairdo. Oh yes, and carrying the shopping.
What’s up with that girl anyway? If she gets any thinner I won’t have to worry about trying to avoid her, there won’t be enough left to photograph.
And I pray that it’s just an April fool’s gag but I hear students can achieve a Master’s Degree in the field of David Beckham. What’s he done that merits studying?  How educationally valuable can it be to marry a rock chic and shop-til-your-lackeys-drop? 
I’ve tried to be fair. But aside from the fact that he only plays football when his kid isn’t cutting a tooth and she only sings in a girlie band when she isn’t deciding what meal to throw up, I still don’t see what generates the ludicrous interest.
Forget a study group to honour them. There should be a support group for those of us who want to get away from them.
Just like it isn’t Christmas unlit I hear Nat King Cole sing, it isn’t summer until I see a weight-watcher’s poster.

I know it’s predominately women these invitations to lose pounds are aimed at and, god forbid, I should take offense at the unfairness of it… but some signs are just a little too obvious.

One simply asks “Are your thighs ready for summer? If not call this number now.”

It’s doesn’t come right out and say ladies but what man cares about his thighs?

How would men feel about a non-specific sign asking “Is your gut ready to be exposed?”

That might wipe the smirk off their faces.

I had the nicest time at Strikes Bowling Alley in Ely last week even though I didn’t partake of the sport. I have nothing against it. It’s just that I seem to spend more effort trying to stay upright than I do hitting the pins. So it’s always been wiser (and safer for spectators) for me to be the scorekeeper.

And since that’s now done electronically I took the opportunity to do a little people watching while my nearest and dearest hurled their hearts out.#
One woman coaching her two boys quickly absorbed me. Far from being relaxed and content to watch her offspring she barked orders from behind the partition whenever they missed their targets. They didn’t appreciate her enthusiasm though. Each time she turned her back they pulled faces and mimicked her well meaning admonitions.
And on the other side of me was the dearest little toddler called Clare who thoroughly enjoyed knocking down nothing. She actually hopped up and down with excitement even though her ball only managed to dally towards the end of the lane, barley nudging a pin.
But what delighted me more than anything was how clean and comfortable the place was.

I’d happily spend another leisurely evening there. Although, I must admit, I have an overwhelming urge to be wearing a shirt with my name printed on the pocket for my next visit.

I'll never forget my English teacher asking us to write a short essay on whether we thought it would be better to inspire or provoke people with our writing.
Of course we all debated the choices with conviction. And some students even added another option to the composition. But the majority of us decided that it would be better to inspire someone. Mostly because we were full of delusions that one of us was bound to be a future Pulitzer Prize winner and thought such hooey sounded quite noble….

We were all wrong, in many ways.

The correct answer was both. The teacher went on to justify that if you inspire you have captured the heart of the topic. To provoke gives the opportunity for genuine, open deliberation. But to do neither is a waste of the reader's time.
I only mention this because I am about to provoke many of you with my article this week. And I just wanted to defend myself in advance of all the complaints that are sure to follow.

I don't know whether to be incensed at the sight of the new fast-track refugee centre at Oakington Barracks or insulted.*** I stared at the photographs of the £4.5 million pound refurbished residence, including everything from a generously equipped gym to legal assistance, in disbelief and had to stop myself from reading further.

All I could think of was the effort it took our local boys just getting a skate park. Or the struggle our youth groups are still having trying to find proper facilities- I won't even mention the trouble they have with funding.

What do the youths of our area have to do to be treated as compassionately as asylum seekers, sneak into their own country as a refugee so that they qualify for the use of a fully stocked game room?

Never mind crimes against humanity elsewhere. I'm crying foul right here on British soil. Where's the asylum for our ignored, left out, patronised and depressed juveniles? Where do they go with their discontent?

If our government has such compassion, not to mention dosh, to take care of the worlds ha rd-done-by why are we suffering with an unacceptably inadequate NHS? Why are we forced to watch school after school struggle with insufficient budgets? Why is Tony Blair still referring to himself as the people's Prime Minister? It would be more accurate for him to use the term "Everybody else's Prime Minister"!

I'm all for generosity when there is a surplus. But I'll be hanged if I understand how he justifies spending money he tells us the government doesn't have on people he doesn't represent.

Why is parking in Ely causing such problems?

There's trouble when an old building is removed. Difficulty when a new one in built. Fracases each Thursday when more people than usual visit the city. And don't even get me started on tourist season. Excuse me, did someone not attend class the day the planning committee instructors covered increase trade = increase traffic?

And now there's to be a meeting held in the Cloisters to give us a say! Us? Why ask us now? Not only will our views be condescendingly overlooked, they won't even be reviewed until June. By that time the original plan "Why bother, I don't live or trade there" will have been reinstated.

But just in case someone is reading this who can make a difference, it's very simple. Allow handicap parking on Market Street on Thursdays only. Loading and unloading to be done at 8:00am to 9:00am and 5:00pm to 6:00pm weekdays. The rest of the time (including weekends) the city centre should be pedestrians only.

This way elderly people can move about with greater freedom - granted it's only one day a week but it's more than they get now. Goods can be loaded without obstructing or obstruction and we gentlefolk can walk about without the risk of being mowed down. And from now on, maybe asking the public in the first place might be an idea!

I know I shouldn't poke fun. And really, I don't mean to offend. It's just that the articles about a purse-snatcher in Ely caused me to consider what would happen should I ever be in such a predicament.

I'm sure the mishap was less than pleasant for the woman whose belongings were taken. But I carry so much garbage around in my handbag that I actually pity the lout who attempts to wrench it away from me.

Not only would he need muscles like Rocky in order to make a good escape, he'd be mightily disappointed once he was back at the hide-out only to find he risked a hernia for nothing more than twenty pounds of debris.
I deliberately emptied the contents out on the bed just to have a look at what the thief's booty would have been had he chosen me as a victim.

There was an out of date credit card, two packs of gum (one aniseed flavor I mistook for'd think the salesgirl would have warned me. Honestly, who would knowingly choose that flavor?) One telephone book with half the entries crossed out and a useless CD I keep meaning to return because it skips tracks. And approximately two years worth of used tissues and a ball point pen.

I'd like to think the purse he did get away with was similarly filled. But I bet not. Thieves are usually jammy rats with an uncanny knack for accuracy. But eventually they draw the short straw.

Oh yeah, I had a few McDonald straws amongst the rubbish too.

I haven’t actually cleared this with the National Toilet Association (there is literally such a group) but I feel fairly confident that my opinion, although blunt, will be shared by enough readers to risk a mention.

The politically correct add-on of the word challenged to maintain integrity was bad enough. You know, referring to someone as vertically challenged instead of short. Or saying a person is intellectually challenged when it’s obvious they’re half-witted. And then there’s the equally idiotic monetarily challenged to spare being labeled broke. Like affecting a catchword makes going without food more bearable! My personal favorite is martially challenged. Although, to be fair, that is a much nicer way of saying you’re too ugly to get a date.  

But now there’s the utterly ridiculous attachment management taking over. For example, a parent should refer to the task of getting their offspring out of nappies as potty management, not potty training because it leaves the infant with self-doubt and insecurities to use such a solemn word. A child should be allowed to manage the event.

Perhaps I shouldn’t confess such abuse in case the potty patrol are reading this, but not only did I use the “T” word while forcing my little darlings to give up overpriced diapers, I made them wash their hands as well!

So, what are they saying, Jack the ripper would have been a sweetie had his mother let him participate more in his one’sies and two’sies? I think not.

Come on, we can’t be that lazy. We can’t allow some fame-seeking nitwit to do the job for us by writing a book pretending they know your children and household better than you do. 

And if diligent toilet training has scarred my brood then whatever has insisting they say please and thank you done? Or worse yet, I actually made them clean their bedrooms. 

Kids don’t need whimsical buzzwords, they need honesty. We should be more concerned with teaching them to recognize a fraud. And we’re only likely to do that when we’ve managed to challenge one!

Until now I haven’t written one belittling word about the recent Ely Railway Bridge collisions.

But the motorist who blamed the position of the bridge and not his driving for the crash (and who deserved a separate penalty for such chutzpa) prompted me to come out of my self-imposed silence.

If I didn’t know better I would have sworn he was American with such an attitude. It reminded me of the burglar in Texas who sued the homeowner he was robbing for injuries sustained after he jumped from a second floor window, unaware how far down it was to the ground, the pillock!

Unbelievably, the thief won his case. Which brings me to the point.

It’s only a matter of time before someone tries something similar here. Claiming that the bridge is at fault for being too solid or too immovable. That they would have avoided the crash all together had the span just been a little more giving.

Does the incident where a couple was arrested for alleged sheet smuggling alarm anyone else?

Just to recap in case you didn't read about it, a traveling pair spent seven hours detained in a police cell because hotel staff accused them of stealing a bed sheet. Only to have the missing item turn up in the laundry of the accommodation, having been there all the while, just as the couple had said it was.

Not that I have pilfered precious stones or valuable baubles. Or that anyone was even likely to miss what I took. But in light of the recent absurdity, I now realize I stood a chance of being jailed for my one and only moment of patty thievery, all the same. Actually, my husband would have been penalized for the offence because it was his suitcase I hid the contraband in.
He happened to anger me as we were packing to leave the hotel so I put a fork and spoon in his suitcase with his clothes.
I had my act all prepared. I was going to be just as disdainful as the person finding him holding the loot, should he be discovered. I was ready to tch, tch with conviction and offer my humble expression of regret while ushering the reprobate to the car.
Not knowing how straight-laced my other half is might take the humor out of the story a bit but trust me, the man actually drew attention to an undercharge at a store once - can't take him anywhere. Anyway, As it happened, nothing happened! We passed the manager and the little girl behind the reception desk without so much as a glitch. And I simply added the filched cutlery to my drawer of utensils.
Just as well. I was prepared to comfort him in his hour of humiliation, even confess, eventually, if his shame became too great.
But never in my wildest dreams had I anticipated having to visit him in the clink for tableware rustling. But what's worse, originally I had attempted to put a silver ice bucket in his luggage but couldn't get it to fit. How could I ever have faced our children again after getting their father life for a measly ice bucket?

I would like to say a big heart-felt thank you to Esma of Ely, also known as Jenny's grandmother, for taking my daughter to a spectacular ice skating performance on Sunday- that she thoroughly enjoyed.
Not only was it nice to have my child so delightfully entertained for the afternoon, it was nice not to have the inevitable arguments with her while I prepared the house for family coming from the States.
Instead of the usual scuffles that occur while she and I decide who's doing what chore (more like, her whining about what chore to get out of doing) I was able to see to every last minute detail without having to threaten bodily harm once.

Thanks again Jenny's grandmother.

I have only just recently been for a gander at the much-lauded Cloisters Centre in Ely. And I wish I hadn't bothered.
I was sorry to lose the passageway of shops that existed before. But I thought that with such a vast amount of money being spent someone somewhere would do his or her homework. Care would be taken so that the new structure would be suitable for Ely and its quaint character.

Oh, but I was wrong.

At first I thought I had taken a wrong turn and ended up behind the shops. My confusion was added to by the lack of people milling about window-shopping, probably because there are no windows, it's all brickwork!

Ely isn't Cambridge (and if future developments go according to trend Ely won't be Ely either) so why attempt to imitate the big city with such an unnecessarily large structure? I don't understand why the developers didn't just refurbish the nearby walkway that existed before. Fair enough, get rid of the old post office but make good the endeavor with an open plan courtyard. A fountain or two, flowerbeds, benches away from the traffic, the possibilities were endless. Not to mention, it would probably have cost a damn sight less than £5 million to accomplish.

But instead we now have what looks like a prison. Where are all the window displays that lure shoppers in? Why all the blandness? Does change = cheerless? Was there an abundance of concrete blocks on the council books?

It just so happens that two days after my visit I came across a stinging article about the new structure and the disappointment of Sportsworld already closing down before most of the sites had even been occupied once. I couldn't have said it better myself. The report echoed my feelings exactly.

I only have one thing to add, a grim kickoff this may be, but it's not as grim as the fact that at least the post office, although an eventual eyesore, took thirty years and endured considerable usage before the architectural style was out-of-date!

What is it about becoming a celebrity that make them dress like bums? Every magazine I look though has picture after picture of the latest sit-com or soap star dressed in beggar's hand-me-downs.

You'd think with all the millions they earn from pretending to be someone else they would at least be able to dress themselves properly. I mean, how difficult can it be to instruct your lackey to fetch you a suitable frock or a pair of shoes not worn by the armed forces?

These people live in mansions, eat at the finest restaurants and spend more on fast cars than ordinary folk earn in a lifetime. So why do they insist on looking as if they don't earn enough to afford a washing machine?

Maybe it's just because they never got the script on how to work one!

There are uncountable books, videos and TV programs available to instruct women on how to stay looking younger for longer.

Or how a teenager can cope with the onset of puberty. And then there's the all-important when to use make-up and where to buy it information. Even the weight loss business is geared up for the proud 50 minuses. The amount of money generated by these ventures is incalculable.
But there's a worrying gap in the beauty industry. Where are all the books, videos and magazines on when a woman is too old to wear denim? Or how old should she be when she stops worrying about the saggy skin under her arms. I have yet to find one page in print or a video for me to take home and watch in private that tells me when to give up the lip gloss. Do older women just know when to stop shaving or waxing? And I'm certain I'm not alone in wanting to find out when to throw out the wonder bra and replace it with a vest. These are very serious issues.

I fear I will waste years worrying about my waist when I could have been spending my time and money on something far more meaningful.

There has to be experts out there somewhere who can help. I mean, is it fair that I have to decide by myself when to stop exfoliating, tweezing the facial hair and painting the toenails when every nubile young thing with pocket money only has to open the pages of a teen-mag to find out what's next on the list of body parts to pierce?

St. Valentines Day is just around the corner. And you can always be sure of two things on February 14th.

One is that for every man purchasing a chocolate heart shaped confection for his beloved, there are twenty who forgot.
And the second certainty is that for every woman, who receives a skimpy negligee in the right size, there's at least a dozen who opened the store wrapped box to find one in the size of saleslady, not the size of the wife.

Makes you wonder why we continue to tolerate the damage such a man-made ritual creates.
Still, it could be worse. When I was a youngster it was customary to distribute cute heart covered cards to our entire class on this day - including the teacher. You think it's silly sending lovey-dovey nonsense to a partner you have either erased from your memory or can't recall the measurements of …try giving one to the battle-ax that's just given you an 'F' on your math homework!

Oh dear, I fear the Americans are at it again. Not that it’s of any great importance over here but the recent and long drawn out nonsense of the immigrant Cuban child washed ashore without his mother is becoming obscene.

It’s the same old Yankee story, if a thing’s worth attention at all, it’s worth blatant milking, regardless that humanity is at stake.

Can anyone forget the sham of the O.J. Simpson trial or the circus created around the Louise Woodward case, all because the public was allowed a soapbox?

Unfortunately I fear this present absurdity will have even worse consequences.

The child’s mother drowned while trying to illegally smuggle herself and her son into the country. And you can be fairly certain that had the offspring of the dead woman been 16 instead of a malleable toddler, the show would have ended there. Instead of being given the well meaning, albeit deluded, asylum he would have been sent back to his native land before being allowed to dry off.

But since he’s a dear little soul with potential for dressing up and showing off, not to mention, taught a few valuable Americanisms while he’s visiting, the opportunity for exploitation was too good to pass up.

I personally don’t care whether he stays or goes. Whether he lives the rest of his life comfortably on money sent by big-hearted viewers or learns to play baseball, turns professional and advertises ADIDAS; it’s of absolutely no importance to me. But why the costly confiscation at all?

The child has family in Cuba who want him returned and who are currently locked in a battle to do just that. Yet, in the meantime the kid is being paraded around like a celebrity, wearing clothing and sporting toys even the Trump offspring would be proud of. Hell, treat me as though every day was Christmas and you could get me to immigrating to Timbuktu.

But what happens when, the courts having finally come to their senses, the media lights go out and the families are reunited in Cuba where they belong?

A parent knows only too well what their kids are like when they’ve spent just a weekend at the grandparents, having been completely indulged for only forty-eight hours. I know it was the closest to being put up for adoption mine ever got.

But if the do-gooders really cared wouldn’t they be concerned about the effects all this attention is going to have? Or how the boy will be entertained from one day to the next when he is made to live the life of an ordinary, humble child? It’s unimaginable how he’ll cope when toys and expensive clothing don’t just appear with his every whim as if from Santa.

When will they ever learn that their misguided interference only creates a worse tragedy than the one they came to gawk at?

My husband will be pleased. I can finally put away the exercise equipment and retire my leotard -

I never actually used the gadgets, I just left them about the house so it looked as if I did. And the Lycra all-in-one outfit was never going to see the light of day. I couldn’t even stand up straight in it, never mind pump iron. I deliberately bought it two sizes too small to avoid the embarrassment of having to ask for it in a hefty size. 

But all that is behind me. Health authorities now say that strenuous aerobic routines are not as good for you as it was first thought. It seems that having gone for the burn in your youth could aggravate some conditions in your later years.

I’ve always suspected this. It never made sense that athletes burned out at such young ages. If sports are supposed to be so good for you why do most players retire before they are thirty? Why do we have athletes spending more time in physiotherapy than on the field? I won’t even mention the million pound prima donnas currently sitting out football games because of a sprained hairdo. Or the amount of athletes who travel with vast teams of medical specialists just in case they should, god forbid, burst a blood vessel. 

As I said, this finding won’t change my routine in the least. I’ve never even come close to having a healthy, compact physique. It’s just that now when I reach for the cream cakes I have a clear conscience. Instead of fretting, I can indulge myself that the sugar and fat, not to mention the lactose, emulsifiers and E additives, are actually good for our old age.

Mine because I eat a lot of cream cakes and my husband’s because he can now walk through the house without tripping over the rowing machine. 

With today’s computer technology why do banks still insist that it takes five working days to clear a cheque through our accounts? And treat instant access as though they actually hand carry the document for you?

It’s common knowledge that every detail of your existence is logged on to their database. So it can’t be that they don’t know who you are and therefor can’t trust you.

Hell, once I merely gave the bank teller my surname and postcode and with the touch of a few keys she reeled off an alarming number of little known facts that I assumed only my nearest and dearest were aware of. Not that I care who knows what I eat for breakfast, it’s just that I didn’t realize it was financially pertinent information.

So why the delay in processing our money?

I suspect it’s because banks like to make the customer squirm. And they know you can’t complain about it because the guardian of your dosh behind the glass partition has enough dope on you to satisfy an extortionist.

I am certain there are many others who found themselves spending money hand over fist lately. What with Christmas, The Millenium and back to back Bank Holidays, one could be forgiven for having blown nearly a year’s budget on pretzels, nibbles and beer just for the guests.

But I wonder if anyone else minds the abusive way in which shop owners or checkout attendants receive our hard-earned cash.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of spending but I was unprepared for the unfavorable, nay disrespectful, treatment our currency endures.

First your proffered note is rubbed harshly into a scrap piece of paper, wiping off a portion of its revered images. Then it’s ripped so that the innards are visible. And, last but by no means least, the now shredded money is held aloft, supposedly in search of some tell-tale sign of forgery that might have escaped the previous dissection, before it is allowed into the drawer with all the other successful victims.

One of the worst examples of this was when my daughter attempted to pay for a purchase. We watched in horror as the young lass behind the till transformed into the “cash patrol” and immediately began her inspection. I half expected her to take a bite out of the twenty-pound note as part of the procedure.

When no fault was found she returned to her good-natured self, overlooking that we resembled Bonnie and Clyde two seconds earlier, and wished us a cheery-bye as she handed us the bagged item. 

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m insulted by the prejudice we cash paying punters get. Several customers ahead in the queue paid by credit card and not one of them had their choice of payment sliced, diced or mutilated before it was swiped through the magic machine. And credit card fraud is a lucrative business.

Similarly, the young man standing to our left paid by check and only had to produce a measly bankcard before his particulars were shoved into the substitute for advertisement (shop bag). Not the slightest hint of suspicion that he might have stolen the documents and was attempting to furnish his flat with the proceeds. 

Why such focus on the cash paying public? Why are we singled out as though anything other than a coin might have  “made in Taiwan” printed somewhere obscurely on it?

I understand the need for caution, but shouldn’t it be evenhanded? Shouldn’t all forms of payment be subjected to the same rigors?

And no wonder our currency has such a short shelf life. Two rounds with a checkout girl and it’s confetti.

Well, glad that’s over with. The tree has been stripped and deported back to the loft. And the decorations are once more in their boxes, waiting for next year.

The bottles to see off another passing year are safely on their way to wherever empty bottles go to die. And I can actually walk through my living room again without being assaulted by low hanging baubles (it usually takes me a week to get used to them being there and another week of unnecessarily walking hunched back when they’re not). I have survived the season of festivities unscathed.
And all in all, it’s been a pretty good start to the New Year. So much so that it has given me the confidence to take another stab at a resolution. What, with it being 2000 and all, I figure I might as well start the millennium as I mean to go on.
The problem is that I have so many bad habits to choose from it would take me the better part of a year to decide which ones to stop doing or which to do more often. Add to that the overdue sacrifices I should be making in the name of weight control and future health and the reason I abstain from the resolution thing in the first place begins to rear its ugly head.
It’s not that I haven’t already made some improvements. I could consider myself lucky not to have poisoned the guests with my home cooking. And it has to be worth something that I haven’t offended anyone this year. Almost every family member who visited is still speaking to me.
This is in reference to an episode last year when a relative asked me for the recipe to a store bought cake and I thought she was taking the proverbial Mick. Only after I suggested she dig out the box from the garbage with her teeth did I realize she was actually paying me a genuine compliment and didn’t know Sarah Lee created the sponge.

Anyway, as I was saying, perhaps I should just leave well enough alone. With my luck, any attempt to better my behavior could result in all out family war. I shudder to think how offensive I’d be if I were perfect.

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