Thursday, 25 October 2012

The elective


“There’s nothing quite like it,” she told the class, minds already wandering outside to the school field, basking in the early September sun. “We will spend autumn reading and learning about the great thinkers in history, we will debate and muse over their philosophies and how they changed the world. You will discuss your thoughts and ideas. You chose this course, remember, and as the nights draw in, you will have an excuse to stay in and read these great works. Excited?” Silence. “And winter will bring your final exam. Marked by me.” Twenty eight faces slowly turned her way.

Today I found a great blog with a weekly 100-word writing challenge. Julia's place shares links to people's entries and connects writers using the same prompt, but with very different results. If you've got an imagination and 100 words in you, have a go. In the above challenge we had to include the words And winter will bring .

Thursday, 11 October 2012

A bit Lost


Martín and I are not cool when it comes to all things music, movies and television. We can't follow a series as it goes out because our brains don't work remembering to be in the same place at the same time every week. We have no idea what's at number 1 in the charts, if they should be at number 1 and where the hell Downton Abbey is.

What we do is wait until something has finished being popular and amazing and then get it. With television series we download them and watch at our leisure. We finished House this year and loved it. Before House, we watched The West Wing. Our latest nighttime viewing has us back in 2006 with the series Lost.

When we were living in Buenos Aires, students would come to classes red-eyed and yawning. "Why are you so tired?" I would ask. The reply was always: "I was watching Lost until 4am."

At the time I thought What? Who would watch a series all night like that? Then The West Wing finished. And Dr. House biked off into the sunset with Wilson. And then we were Love Film subscribers and Lost was always there to watch so we took a deep breath and went for it.

We finished the first season in just over a week. Television watching at its most ridiculous, if you ask me. And although I couldn't see why anyone would go to work on two hours' sleep each night just to watch it, we were also addicted to the mystery, cliff hangers, weirdness of it all.

But as much as it has captured our imagination, there is something missing watching Lost compared to something like House or The West Wing. We don't learn anything. After watching House, I know what a lumbar puncture is (and almost how to do one, they seemed to do them so often); I know the symptoms of syphilis; I know that parking in a hospital can be political and I know what lupus is. Every episode held nuggets of information, parts to be pieced together from a real world.

In The West Wing I would learn about history, religion and philosophy as the characters walked the corridors of power at the White House debating, arguing, reasoning, explaining and resolving on an intellectual level that I have never seen in any other workplace I've been to. It was fast, slick and comforting in the sense that there was going to be something new explained to me. I had to pay attention.

Now, we're in season five of Lost and simply trying to get through it to make sure the pieces all fit together in this now absurd (in my opinion) time travelling jigsaw. Time travel. That's the extent of our learning.

Of course, watching television is not always about increasing knowledge. But it's good when it's time well spent, something gained.

And you're not just sat there after switching off feeling a bit empty having lost a few hours.





Sunday, 16 September 2012

Where do we go, really?


There are people who come back from a long weekend in, for example, Madrid, and say, "We've done Madrid."

Really? How? Oh, that museum and that famous tapas place and coffee in that square and that park and that fountain and that palace. No, you haven't done Madrid. You haven't tried to pay your phone bill in Madrid. You haven't protested there. You haven't wondered how you're going to get back with all those bags from the supermarket. You haven't got on a bus and realised you don't have enough fare. You haven't read the local paper from cover to cover. You haven't looked churlishly at someone because they come from a certain neighbourhood in the city. You have visited. You've had the pleasure of stopping by.

Because that's inevitably what we have to do when we travel. Glimpses and mouthfuls, dances and strolls. One croissant, one ruin, one hike, one painting, one smell, one song, one bite, one look. We want everything, instantly, all of the time, it's so easy to live without smelling the flowers when we travel. Then again, that's why it's called travelling places and not living in them. You've got to grasp as much as you can. You've never "done it".

That's why books written by brilliant writers are so fabulous. You can travel to places and live there, side by side with the inhabitants. You smell their smells, you breathe their air. The rusting cars, the torrential rain, the annoying neighbours, the slow post, the trees that grow by rules of their own: they are all yours as well. You wander their dusty streets, you taste their golden chickens, you are afraid of their brutal policemen, you sleep with their smell of jasmine.

Right now, I am travelling in Columbia with doctors and photographers and women with broken hearts in García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera. It is a place you read about and feel on your skin. I was there the moment early in the book that I read this:

In summer an invisible dust as harsh as red-hot chalk was blown into even the best protected corners of the imagination by mad winds that took the roofs off the houses and carried away children through the air.

Who wouldn't want to live in a place like this? Who wouldn't want their imagination opened by that dust and watch children flying past as their window as they make lemonade? It's a place where the tinkling of the piano reaches your ears between the turning of the pages; a place where in your own siesta you dream of swimming in its rain. There is time for you to be awakened by sadness too.

I would like to stumble sweaty out of an Egyptian pyramid, to pull faces at the pong of geysers in Iceland, to drink tea listening to the quarks of parrots in Costa Rica and to follow a shark-shaped shadow under the waters around Australia. Maybe one day I will do those things and maybe I won't. But I am comforted by the fact that someone who loves words, somewhere, has written about those places and I can live there too by opening their book.




Wednesday, 5 September 2012

A Window on Venice


The American author and poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote: "Let there be many windows to your soul, that all the glory of the world may beautify it."

I am reminded of this when I think about my little photography project while I was in Venice: its windows. They did so much to beautify and personalise the city. Each street of this magical city is a new world. Houses, hotels, cafes, shops, gondola yards and stacked together in a colourful rugby scrum, all different characters in a beautiful play. I became interested in their different windows; their shapes and colours, sizes and beauty, flowers and materials. Just like people, it seemed, they told their own interesting stories of the worlds on both sides of the glass.

Looking in or looking it out, no view is ever the same. It's good to remember that.

Here is my photo set of A Window on Venice.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/lbirdalonso/sets/72157631403697816/



Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Restaurant review

I love reading restaurant reviews. I always wonder how you get that job. You have to able to write, but what gives anyone the right to say what tastes good or not? One man's caviar is another man's gruel.

Anyway, I've decided to give it a go, so read on for my review of The Turfcutters Arms, East Boldre, Hampshire.

A Meaty Cut Above

On entering a drinking and eating den, it's never pleasing to see empty tables. However, on closer inspection, it is perfectly fine when you realise they are all pre-booked and those patrons are just a couple of minutes behind you from piling in. The Turfcutters Arms sits on the main road in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it village in the heart of the New Forest, Hampshire. It is a traditional English pub covered in black and white photos of the area, old tankards and lamps, fishing rods, antlers and, while on September 2nd there was no need for a roaring fire, the warmth of the locals' laughter was the perfect welcome.

Being Sunday lunchtime, the specials board was packed with roasts. Just what was needed on a wet afternoon. Boring I know, but M and I were both after some meat and two veg. I also fancied some soup and today's homemade bubbling pot was tomato so I ordered that to start.


A generous helping was delivered and I had to remind myself we were in the country. No London thimble portions here. Great. The soup wasn't smooth which made me happy - I am always suspicious of soups smooth as you get from a tin. It came already topped with black pepper and basil. The tomato was flavoured with garlic, which I love and it wasn't too oily. I like my soup to stick around the chunks of bread I dip in it and hold on. The bread wasn't homemade, but it was warm, which brought another "Ahh" from my lips.

Then came the roast dinners. M ordered roast pork and I chose roast beef. M being Argentine and me having lived there for some years, we are both used to great slabs of meat on our plate. This was heaven. Though why they served it in a swimming pool of gravy on the plate I have no idea. The gravy needs to go last, and just like soup, not be so liquidy. Maybe I should have asked for it on the side, but seriously, who plates up a roast starting with the gravy?

The pork was pale; it looked too pale until I tried its tenderness which melted in my mouth. It was a pig explosion, so subtle only I could hear it. My beef was also excellent, cut into a huge round chunk and pink in the middle. It tasted of meat, which isn't a strange description when you consider some of the meat you can pick up in the supermarket these days.

The wonder of the meat meant the vegetables were a measly side show unfortunately and nothing to write home about. The crackling was perfect, though as always, there wasn't enough. The potatoes were not cripsy enough for my liking, but this could have been due to the swimming pool gravy effect they'd been put through by the time I got to them. All this aside, however, we polished off the lot and sat back, contented and bellies full.

The Turfcutters Arms is not trying to be anything other than it is; a traditional country English pub. It's a warm, relaxing space with friendly staff; it is not over stylised nor does it try too hard and it keeps its menu in the realm of good pub grub. The food is well cooked, fancy free and the meat provider is obviously excellent.

Just put the gravy on the side.

You can find out more about the Turfcutters Arms here: http://www.the-turfcutters-new-forest.co.uk/





Monday, 20 August 2012

When the music's over


I haven’t written on this blog for a few weeks as a lot has been happening. There was a graduation (at last!); a holiday to Italy (hoorah!); getting married (best day ever!); and, of course, London 2012. No sooner had we sent my in-laws back to the land of Cristina the Botox Gaucho than we were sat on the couch with a decanter full of wine and Danny Boyle’s imagination in bonkers overflow.

And there we stayed. Well, that was when I wasn’t donned in purple, red and beige for my two weeks as the welcoming face of Britain; as a helpful hand; as someone who was trying to make the Olympics the best games ever. Yes, I was a London 2012 Games Maker. It was an incredible experience.

We had just got married and then I left him. I left him each day for the Athlete’s Village where for eight hours I would greet, chat to, marvel at, help out, wave on, celebrate with and congratulate athletes, coaches, VIPs, fellow workers, press and families. In a team with other Games Makers and security professionals, we had one of the best vantage points of the games. True, we weren’t on the finishing line; or with a camera and microphone; or in the dressing room, but we got snippets of triumph and disappointment, agony and ecstasy, medals and stories as they passed through security. We made it an easy and pain-free experience and always tried to give them something to smile about along the way.

In the few hours I wasn’t working at the games, I was watching it. We lucked out and had tickets for a men’s volleyball session in which Argentina played, and a men’s hockey session in which both Team GB and Argentina had games. Music, lights, cheerleaders, Mexican waves, interviews, playbacks, chants and incredible sport made each session an unforgettable experience of highs and lows. It seemed each venue had its own character, and characters which would make history there too.

Even watching what I could on the television gave me goose bumps. I think one of the most incredible moments personally was watching a rerun of Charlotte Dujardin’s gold medal-winning performance. I’d never seen a horse do that, and to that music… I was overwhelmed. Simply: WOW.

But there were so many WOW moments over those two weeks. The personal WOW of meeting some of our gold medal winners and congratulating them; the collective WOW of Katherine Grainger’s top-of-the-podium moment; the personal WOW of wishing Mo Farah good luck before his 5000m; the collective WOW as Eric Idle finally took the closing ceremony by storm and we could ignore George Michael and the Spice Girls’ efforts.

There had been so much to look forward to. Now there is so much to look back on. The music is over and London has temporarily turned out the lights. For me, it’s back to reality: teaching, running, wedding planning (we’re having two), writing. It’s not a bad reality by any means, but I am missing London’s energy, music and expectation, those strangers’ smiles and tears, my tiredness, our pride.

I await the beat of the Paralympics with baited breath. Let the music start again…

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Marriage

I sit in the darkness, typing, near midnight. The Argentines sleep around me. Do they ponder, as I ponder, the how, the how, the how?

How can two people truly spend their lives together and still love each other until death do us part? Are we really animals of lifelong monogamy, or as usual are we being blinded into these things? In the green corner we have the condors, squawking away about the bliss of mating for life. Sharing a nest, a view, the upbringing of chicks, is unique and wonderful, they claim. Together you make some thing, grow something and make it fly, they say. It's special. And there's always someone there, warming the nest for when you return.

It's interesting that many animals that do mate for life are birds. I mean, they have more freedom than most, being able to fly away whenever they want and not come back. And yet they do.

In the red corner we have the elephants. No one hardly ever messes with them (except those human bastards) and they do OK. They get it done, with hard work and patience. Their time spent in pairs is sporadic, yet with purpose. I applaud that. It reminds of being at university.

With two weeks to go until 'I do' why am I dreaming about all my ex crushes, boyfriends, trysts and lovers? During the night my mind is somehow dealing with my upcoming nuptials in a way that during the day doesn't even occur to me. How many lines must be drawn? People I haven't even thought about for years pop up and must be buried in the sand. That's fine, I don't want to build a castle for them. But the more this goes on, the closer it gets, the more every breath with the word marriage strikes me across the chest and my heart stops beating a second longer.

It stops beating because I love him, adore him, am in love with him. It stops beating because I've never done anything so enormous with anyone else. It stops beating because this is the most serious thing I'm ever going to do. It stops beating because there was me and him and now, always, there will be us.

And then I breathe again. Another second passes and I am still me. And I can still fly.

So I do.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Last moments before sleep

The dress. The flowers. The list. Its gone too long.

Burgundy shoes, black laces. Horrible little boots to wear to school.

If Martín was an animal, what would he be?

Cream curtains slightly too short, slightly too creamy, too light.

I wish I could lie on my front. It looks cosy. I'll regret it.

I remember when we were walking up to Uritorco and you said that it would be good to do more hikes.

Stick my feet out of the covers and then tuck them in between his sleeping legs. Crisp and cool.

It's only dinner time in Argentina. I wonder what they are doing.

I want to get up early. No dreams. A clean sleep.

Conditional tenses chain game, write that down tomorrow for last class.

Where is that car going? A hammock in Brazil. A pub bench in Somerset.

Follow a butterfly for a day, watch it live, watch it die. Is it really a day to live or a day to die?

Liver in gravy with mashed potatoes and cabbage, where to hide, not a clean plate.

Walk into Waterstones and see your book.

There was a sandpit, inside and outside. But a mistake was made, and we never went back outside.

Green mists rising from a bus in Colombia. Don't sleep.

Be happy tomorrow. You are happy. Look at this.

If I could take colourful photos, or black and white, sunflowers, Iguassu Falls, giraffes at the watering holes bending carefully.

Sitting on a train, some vodka, Siberian sunsets, a breeze flicking the book's pages.

Will we have separate armchairs when we are older, or we will stay together on a couch. Like we are together in bed. Like we are together, juntos...



Thursday, 24 May 2012

Lives and lessons of others

Every week I work in an old second-hand bookshop in Kew Gardens. I love sitting in the window as the sun works its way round, writing without the distractions of email and internet and browsing and reading all the weird and wonderful books. And another great thing about it is the mix of people who pop in with their interesting stories, lives, reading preferences and questions.

Last week a lady came in and we talked for over an hour. She works locally and has known the place for years. As soon as she came in, she felt at home and sat on the floor stretching. She has multiple sclerosis. She works hard. She does a paper round at 6am seven days a week. She is a full-time carer for an ex-SAS soldier. She also delivers papers in the afternoon. She was tired, but not too tired to talk. We chatted about the Leveson Inquiry; we discussed the saga of the Chilean miners trapped in 2010. We shared stories of where we’d studied, instruments we had learnt. She told me about her bullying neighbours, about living with MS, about her experiences of doctors and nurses. I told her about my travels, about teaching, about working in the shop. We talked about people’s attitudes to health, to work, to life. I really liked her. Having MS for 12 years hadn’t stopped her. She was in pain and was the one looking after someone else. “You’ve just got to carry on, haven’t you?” she said.


A writer came in the week before, looking for books to help him with his research. He stayed for half an hour, telling me all about the two true stories he was going to combine in his own book about the Vietnam War. The more I listened to him, the more I realised how brilliant an idea he had and what a fascinating story it would make. Unassuming and modest, the man’s face didn’t agree with me when I told him I thought it would make interesting reading. “Well, I hope someone reads it,” he said.


A while ago an old man came in. It was a cold afternoon and he had been the first customer for over two hours. He browsed for a short while and then sat down on one of the chairs. I was writing my book at the time and he just sat there, waiting for a pause in the tapping of keys. It came. He then stayed for an hour and a half, telling me all about his two marriages, especially the second to a Russian woman who he was thinking of leaving. He revealed all the things she had done over the years, how she made him feel worthless, how ungrateful she was, lazy and manipulative. He hadn’t seen his grandchildren because of her. His eyes were sad; sad and tired. I listened. He looked up: “I don’t know what to do. I’ve been thinking of leaving her.” I told him that in my opinion it sounded like he would be happier that way. He stood up to leave. “Yes, but I love her,” he said.

These are a handful of characters I have met in my three months at the shop. Each one weaves a tiny square on my tapestry of life. And each one offers a life lesson, a memento to take away.


Love is enough.
Keep writing.

Don’t give up.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Soul Food

Every Sunday I read the Soul Food column in Stella magazine. I love the snippets of foodie childhood memories the chefs share; and how, more often than not, they have taken those important dishes from their childhood and worked them into their own menus. I am not a chef and nor do I own a restaurant, but I have always thought about what I would write for the column if I had to. It was hard. There are so many wonderful kitchen memories and dishes up for grabs that still loiter about today in my kitchen, popping up when the need hits. But I decided to keep to their word limit (220) and so here it is; my soul food. What's yours?



Soul Food
Laura Milsom, teacher and writer

Grannie grew up on a farm in the Ukraine and was used to cooking fresh and filling fare. Her generation had learnt how to make a lot from very little. Grannie’s soup was one of these dishes. She would use seasonable vegetables added to Sunday’s leftover carcass.
      Her huge pot would bubble away for ages. You would hear the salt and pepper grinding and knives skimming chopping boards adding more ingredients. You waited, knowing it was best to be hungry. Finally we would sit round the table to eat. Her soup could be lunch or dinner because you didn’t have to follow it with anything. We ate it with bread and butter and took our time. It was thick, full of goodness and delicious beyond reasoning for its simplicity. There was its hint of meat; then suddenly carrots, greens, potatoes, parsnips. It was like an allotment had exploded in your bowl. And the bowls kept coming; there was third, fourth portions, and plenty more for later.
      Grannie never said exact amounts of what she added. I believe there was a secret ingredient, which she has taken with her. We try to make it and get close: close enough to be taken back to our childhoods and those hearty bowls of soup; that warming taste of goodness, always made with love.

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Bandage, part two

This is the second half of the short story I posted on Friday, The Bandage.

The Bandage, continued.

*
“Michael, stop fidgeting. You’ll make it worse.” Abigail put a calming arm on his plaster cast. At least it used to be calming.

“It itches. How much longer does it have to be on for?”

“Two more weeks. Then you’ll be as good as new. Christina, sit back down please. We haven’t finished.”

“That will be the end of the season! I was going to get player of the season for sure. This is shit.”

Christina looked at her father and Freddie looked up from his plate. Abigail closed her eyes a second too long.

“Michael, language.” Her husband’s voice surprised her, although it was too soft for her liking. She added, “It’s making you better, Michael. It’s not just for show. Christina, please.”

Christina slumped back into her chair. “You shouldn’t have been such an idiot then.”

“Whatever.” Michael shovelled more food into his mouth with his good arm. Peace again.

“Dad,” Christina said, “can I go to Russ’s band’s thing this weekend?”

“Where and what time is it?” Freddie pushed his plate away and sat back. His hands went behind his head.

“Why should she get to go out, she never finishes her dinner, never tidies her room.” Michael had suddenly finished as well and threw his fork down. It missed the plate and crashed into his glass.

Freddie turned to his daughter, incredibly thin and incredibly beautiful. She reminded him of an energy he had lived by a long time ago. “It’s a good question, Teenabopper. Why aren’t you eating?”

“Not hungry.” Arms folded like swords across her chest.

Abigail hunted her daughter’s face. Seeds of shame had been sown somewhere. She couldn’t think why. “Darling, you need to eat.” She said it as gently as she could.

Christina got up and glared at her. “What? So I end up like you?”

The kitchen door slammed. Freddie stood up.

“Please don’t go after her; that was rude.”

“I’m not. I’m going to the gym and then I’ve got a call with Japan. Back soon.”

Michael felt sorry for his mum. He wished he could take away the sadness in her face. She looked defeated. “Shall we have some ice cream, Mum?”

*

“Doctor, I love my wife. Or I used to. No, of course I still do. But she used to be so different. I couldn’t get enough of her. What do you mean in what way? In every way. I’m a man. I have needs and she filled each one of them. Oh, she was so beautiful. And she taught me things. We used to play this word game after sex. I don’t know why we stopped. Yes, the kids came along. She was always seeing to them. She was perfect and then I just didn’t notice her. The affairs? Not really affairs. They weren’t anything. I suppose so, they were fun and exciting. No, it didn’t mean anything. The weight? Not really. It just crept on. It did annoy me, but I had to keep the money coming in. Sex? Not much. Maybe she was getting it elsewhere.”

“No, Sarah, I never even looked at another man. I always loved Freddie. He remained so beautiful, so handsome. That’s why I felt so ugly and betrayed. He didn’t have to tell me he was disgusted with me, I could see it in his face. The diets helped, he started to notice me again and that felt good. But it was like so much time had gone by. He wanted me back to my university days. That was impossible, we were different people. The kids had finally gone and it was just us again. That was better for him, he got all the attention. What do I want? I just want him to love me for me. I’m fifty-six years old. I’m not nineteen. Yes, we’ve been having sex again. Better for me than him. I do feel guilty about that.”

“Of course I feel guilty, Doctor, but we’re past that now. And I think it’s great she’s back to normal. I mean, I didn’t leave her because she got fat. I’m still here, aren’t I? No, I’m doing this because she wants me to. OK, I can make this easy for you. Perfection. That’s what I want. I love her. So much. Yes, I’m sure about that.”

“I just want to be me, to be happy. He will still say some things. But I think he loves me, maybe too much. Sarah, there’s just a physicality with Freddie. It’s always been there. Oh, I relished in it when I was younger. But now. It’s just good to have my husband back. I know he won’t cheat anymore; we’ve reached a good understanding. It took a while to patch things up, but this has helped. We’ve healed and mended bridges, I think. But you know, Sarah, the plaster can always come off, you know?”

*

Freddie sat in the car outside the hospital. His thumb hovered over his mobile phone. He couldn’t do it. They could all wait. He threw the phone into the passenger seat.

“SHIT!” He banged his fists on the steering wheel, yelling at it, pounding it, crying to it. He rested his forehead and let the tears flow. He had never been afraid to cry. Tears dropped onto his trousers. He felt cold.

In one decisive moment, Freddie got out of the car. He ran over to the hospital. The woman on the front desk knew him and didn’t stop him as he tore past her, red face and clenched fists. He took a sharp left, running faster, crashing through doors, and bounded two at a time up the stairs to the second floor.

He collapsed at the nurses’ desk. “I need to see her. Please let me back in.”

“You can see her, Mr Balding. But you’ll have to wait. Give me five minutes and I’ll take you to her. All right? Take a seat just there and wait for me.”

Freddie sat and stared at his wedding ring. He hadn’t noticed it in so long. But it had always been there. It felt tight. He tried loosening it, turning it round in his fingers. He remembered first putting it on. It hadn’t been the done thing in those days, but he’d wanted to. Abigail had been right. She had been right about so many things.

“Mr Balding.” The voice was at the end of a long tunnel. He allowed his arm to be taken to a place, sterile, cold and shiny. He followed his arm. There was Abigail.

“I’ll leave you alone.” Someone closed the tunnel and there was silence.

Freddie stepped towards his wife. “Darling.” The vowels echoed off the walls. “Abigail.”

He reached out and touched her hand. There was no need to squeeze it, let her know he was there. He stroked it with his fingertips as he looked towards her face.

The bandage was still partly there. Her eyes and nose were both free, but her cheeks, chin and forehead were still hidden from him.

“I wanted it, didn’t I? Can I see you now? Can I know?” He brought his hands to her face and gently stroked her closed eyes. He felt his wife was there, all there behind those eyelids. That’s what he had first seen, that is where he had fallen all those years ago. He leaned down and kissed them, his own tears on Abigail’s closed eyes.

“You’ll get bored of me. You’ll find someone else.” Had she said those words, laying in his bed, half naked, totally beautiful? “No I won’t. You’re perfect, bloody perfect.”

Freddie rested his hands on her bandaged cheeks and kissed her mouth through it. Abigail would have to stay as she was; perfect inside and him blind to it as he always had been. He walked out of the room to go and call his children. No more cover-ups.


Friday, 4 May 2012

The Bandage, a short story

In The Bandage, I am interested in the notion of physical beauty and what it represents to different people; how it comes to define them in their and others' eyes. I wrote this short story a couple of weeks ago while working in the bookshop where there is peace and inspiration aplenty. I am going to post it in two parts. Let me know what you think.


The Bandage

“I can’t wait to see you.”

“I’m just here, Freddie. I’m right here. You can see me right now.”

“I know that, Darling. Don’t be silly, you know what I mean. The package. Everything all new again. It’s going to be amazing when the bandage comes off.”

“Right.”

Abigail sank back into her pillows and closed her eyes. Pain tingled around her face. Her heart felt like it wanted to escape her chest. She was hot, inside; not sweaty. She tried to think how she had gotten here.

“I brought you myself. Is something wrong?” Freddie went closer to the bed and leaned towards his wife, not quite reaching touching distance.

“I… sorry, did I say that out loud?”

“Get some rest, Darling. You’ll need it for the party on Saturday. I’ll be back in a bit.”

She didn’t open her eyes as she heard his soft leather shoes tap out of the room. It was just her, her pain and her unknown face.

*

“Abi, he’s a wretch! Freddie Balding? You serious?”

Abigail curled her fingers round the wine glass stem. Just hearing his name sent fire through her body. She sat more upright and looked at her friend, who was covered in frowns.

“He’s not.” Her voice was soft. “He’s the sweetest person you’ll ever meet. I know he’s got this reputation, but… oh, you don’t even want to see the poetry he’s written me. He’s passionate. He’s brilliant. When I’m with him-”

Lucy held her hand up and smiled. “OK, I don’t need to hear any more of that. If you’re sure. I just assumed what everyone else does about him. I mean, he’s been linked with some pretty famous faces around town.”

Abigail sipped the last of her wine. Lucy’s face was now full of smirks and questions. She would have to explain. Somehow she would have to tell her friend that Freddie Balding had fallen madly and passionately in love with her and that what had started out as a flirtatious adventure had soon blossomed into something real, something more than sex and pet names. There were now plans to live together after graduating, plans for them to get married on his parent’s ranch in South Africa, plans to have children and a long, wonderful life together.

Later that evening as she biked home Lucy thought about her best friend’s news. She choked on the thought and laughed out loud, full of wine and gossip. Her best friend was going to marry Freddie Balding! The bike hit a cobble and swerved. Lucy went flying into a lamp post. At the wedding that summer people were told Lucy was lucky to be alive, let alone wearing only an ugly bandage around her head.

*

He woke to the smell of sex and soap. The shutters were down, but the slits of light bursting in orange on the floor said it was another beautiful day.

Freddie rolled onto his side and ran his fingers through his hair before playing with Abigail’s nipple. She had been awake for over an hour, debating whether to leave him while he slept and enjoy the peace of their private beach, invigorate herself in the sea.

“Morning Sexy.” Freddie nuzzled into her side and came around to lie on top of her, his tongue stroking her collarbone and neck.

She shifted under him, he suddenly felt heavy.

“What?” He rolled off and she got out of bed.

“Let’s go outside,” she said, putting on a sarong and opening the blinds. The sun poured in with the sounds of morning birds and waves lapping.

“I’d rather stay here with you. Your drive me wild.” He softened his face. Blond curls fell over his forehead. His bottom lip, plump and pink, stuck out. His green eyes swirled, smooth like homemade ice cream.

Her heart lurched. She smiled at him and pushed it back down. There was no getting over his beauty, his love for her.

“Come on Abs, don’t leave me here all alone. I’d die. My heart would break. I’d bleed to death without you. You would come back and there would just be a pile of blood.” He laid back, hands resting behind his head. She watched his stomach muscles clench and ease and his shoulders relax into the pillows, his tanned skin like toffee over their snow.

Abigail took a step towards him. The sun was warm on her bare feet. It looked so beautiful out there, a whole paradise just for them. She slid onto the bed. He slipped his hands under her sarong.

“You can’t have a pile of blood. It would be a puddle.”

“Well, you saved me, Abs,” he murmured into her hair as she leaned in closer. “You bloody well save me.”

She kissed him on the lips and covered him with her body.

*

“I’m sorry, Mrs Balding, I can’t tell you where he is. I simply don’t know. The diary says Fletcher meeting, which is a new development south of town. He’s probably running late from that.”

Abigail wondered if secretaries all went to a special school to learn how to speak with the same clipped and feminine tone. And to lie for their bosses.

She put the phone down as Michael walked in the door. “Mummy, Christina’s spilled her milk.” He stood in the middle of the kitchen, a spitting image of his father except in Thomas the Tank Engine clothes. Abigail gathered her son up and took him through to the living room, where his sister was making hand prints from the milk which hadn’t soaked into the carpet.

“Puddles!” she cried when she saw her mother.

Abigail laughed. “Come on you two, come over here. Thomas the Tank Engine will be on in a minute. Wait there. I’ll clean this up. No more hand prints, OK Christina?”

Thumbs went in mouths and silence prevailed for some seconds until the theme tune started. Her children sat happy in their world and Abigail cleaned up the milk listening to the Fat Controller tell off a train.

“Mummy, is the Fat Controller your brother?” Michael looked over at her from the couch.

“No Darling, why do you say that?”

“You have the same faces, Mummy, don’t you?”

Christina shouted, “Mummy Fat Controller!”

Abigail looked at her children. “I’ll bring you some more milk,” she said.

*
The second part will be posted over the weekend.

Friday, 13 April 2012

The Snow Goose

You wait for a bus and then four come along at once. You have a day where all you see is pregnant women. You spend a week where a song you love that you haven’t heard for ages comes on the radio at home, in a passing car, in a shop, in a restaurant.
I love it when things like this happen. It wakes us up a little bit and makes us take notice of what’s going on around us. It stirs us to talk about the oddities of life and its random daily occurrences. We can celebrate them.

Something similar recently happened to me. It jolted me back into something I haven’t done in a long time. The short story. Let me explain.
Once a week, I work voluntarily in a bookshop in Kew, west London. It’s one of those fabulous little places which you can get lost in and now I spend an afternoon each week sitting in the sun in the window, randomly reading tomes off the shelves, drinking tea, planning classes and writing. A couple of weeks ago I came across a first edition of Ted Hughes’s short story collection Difficulties of a Bridegroom. I didn’t know that Hughes had written short stories, so I sat down and read one of them. It was brilliant. Chris, the bookshop owner, then gave me the book and on the bus home I read another one of the collection’s stories.

Last week, Chris was sorting out some books in the shop and passed me The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico. It’s a skinny, pale blue hardback book with a picture of a goose flying imprinted in silver on the front. “Read this,” he said.
By the end of its short 31 pages, I was almost in tears.

She came running to the sea wall and turned her eyes, not toward the distant Channel whence a sail might come, but to the sky from whose flaming arches plummeted the snow goose. Then the sight, the sound and the solitude surrounding broke the dam within her and released the surging, overwhelming truth of her love, let it well forth in tears.

It is a descriptive and emotional story of love, art, nature and the power of kindness. First published in 1941, it is truly a story for those wretched years; what it means to be a man, to lose a love, to do your bit, to see beauty where others see ugliness. It is a testament to man’s relationship with nature, to man’s relationship with himself and to the sacrifice some will make in order to make the world a better place.

The snow goose in the story is the unexpected visitor, the messenger, the bridge between worlds. It is the symbol of freedom, of choice and of loyalty. It shares the protagonist’s isolation and it comforts his heart by bringing a young girl, and eventually her heart, to him.
And this story, as well as the previous short ones I read by Hughes, have brought short stories back to me. Ideas for short stories pop into my head all the time; how many first lines I have mentally written while on the bus, on a run, in the middle of a class. But now I am making myself get back to one, work on it and post it. Thus, I declare that my next post will be a short story.

Or The Snow Goose did not work its magic.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Kentucky Fried Crap

Martín came back from his classes last week with a story about how one of his classmates is in love with Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). They had had a discussion about fried chicken and how, for Martín, it was a completely weird concept. You put chicken in the oven, or on the parrilla, but you don’t wrap it in some golden stuff and fry it. Do you? He was totally intrigued.

I could tell his curious nature was getting the better of him because he wouldn’t stop talking about fried chicken.

“Have you ever tried it?”

“What, fried chicken?”

“KFC.”

“Ah, no.”

“But it’s not like McDonald's or Burger King, is it?”

“If you’re asking if it’s some massive fast food chain which dishes out fairly dreary meals that all taste the same and are full of salt and sugar, my guess is yes.”

“Can we try it?”

So, a couple of days later, we went on a fried chicken expedition. Martín even knew where our local KFC was in Ealing. How? Father Google, of course.

The menu, surprisingly enough, was full of chicken. Chicken in strips, chicken in balls, chicken in bread, chicken with a dip. Twisters, Zingers, Ranchers. The menu read far more like a fairground map than anything I’d want to put in my mouth. We opted for dipping strips and a couple of pieces of the original stuff. It came to nearly £9, and those were the cheap options.

There’s a reason besides the food I don’t like fast food restaurants. The tables are so square and the chairs are so awful. The walls are bright with ridiculous colours and smiley-faced graphics. The ‘free’ drink on offer is a fizzy one. People leave their leftovers and litter lying about. The posters magnify the artificiality of the food. The serviettes don’t do anything. These are soulless places.

And yet all manner of people go there. On this Monday lunchtime there was a suited and booted businessman; two grandmas; a biker all in leather; mums with young kids; two teenage boys and, unfortunately, us. We sat in the sun by the window.

It wasn’t so disgusting I had to hurl. I finished my three dippy chicken bits. But it wasn’t great. It wasn’t even near good. The chicken was the colour of death; pallid and pasty. And it was chewy in a wet kind of way. I know chicken should be moist, but not like it’s got little streams running through it. That’s not what Delia means, surely?

Martín’s foray into fried chicken went well, but then, with Argentine taste buds the extra salt and sugar would go down extremely well. “I think this is much better for me that a burger, don’t you?” he said. “It feels a lot better, and there’s no bread.” This is very much progress from the man who asked for a basket of bread in a Chinese restaurant.

An hour later, we were both reaching for the water and feeling that post-fast food stomach lurch.  This always happens to me: the thirst and feeling of a brick being in my stomach, solid and stubborn. How can people eat and live like this? I dread to think what that chicken’s coated in to entice uncultured taste buds back time and time again. I asked Martín to add his KFC meal to his calorie counter. He refused to find out. He obviously secretly thinks it’s all very bad stuff and doesn’t want to know.

And now, neither do I. I am no foodie snob. I have no interest in closing down unworthy restaurants with what I write. Each to their own, right? I am happy eating goat road-kill curried up in Africa; or trying an eye, feet, insects, insides from animals around the world. You have to try anything once. For this reason, I went to KFC in the first place.

But, as I won’t be eating eyes again, nor will I be munching on chicken shapes in KFC. There’s something OK about eating something in its truest form, even if you find it disgusting. But the plastic-tasting meals at KFC, or indeed any of its fast food cousins, aren’t things I can get to grips with, let alone stomach.

Friday, 30 March 2012

The silence of the skies

The enormous red and blue balloon bulged off the ground, swirling slightly with the breeze. The wicker basket started to tilt upright. Swelled to its full size, the balloon sat there, wanting to rise into the summer blue above. As it strained against the ropes, we clambered in. But our weight wasn’t enough. It wanted to fly. With one last shot of hot air, unhooked, we were free, climbing above the playing field.
The silence was incredible. I was expecting winds and noise up there, but as we floated over the Essex countryside, I got a true taste of a bird’s paradise. Gliding with the wind, we breezed over fields, farms, houses, lakes and rivers. We were a whisper from above, waving down on those below, excited to see us flying over them.
The sun was out in full force, the sky perfectly blue, shining light down on the greens and browns of the English countryside. Swooping over prickly forests and patchwork fields we were both greeted and feared by horses, cows, sheep, chickens and dogs. As we passed silently, they ran towards us, curious and brave; or they veered away, keeping their eyes on the bright coloured bubble in the sky.
It was a magical flight. At times I felt famous, waving at children from the special ship. At other times, we simply enjoyed our view over the country spreading out towards London in the distance. The peaks of London landmarks crept over our hazy horizon as we sailed further, until we turned away again and we were left with simple greenery. Lone trees in fields became my favourite thing to spot and capture: little worlds unto themselves, grand and separate.
Breaking the silence was the sudden cracking sounds of snapping branches –creatures moving swiftly through the forest below. Two large wild boars had spotted us and were pelting it at breakneck speed, twisting and turning through the trees. I never knew there were wild boars in Essex. But there are. And they can run fast for some big bellied beasts.
While our take-off had been all plain sailing, and our flight a wonderfully smooth ride, our landing was not. Our pilot chose the bumpiest field of all we had flown over, full of streams, prickly trees and fires. Still, we got into our landing positions and it was fun to land like that – just short of the fire, and on our sides like a drunken dustbin. Its contents fell out the side, laughing, delighted.
In the excitement of our landing, the silence had disappeared. We were back on land, two legged animals with voices. For an hour we had been sky travellers, enchanted by our bird’s eye view on the world below, silent and happy.
And that silence and beauty now rests in our memories. Here we are, back on earth, brought down with a bang.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Eating by numbers

Living with Martín is a bit like living with your maths teacher. Every story gets turned into sums and numbers. Instead of talking about the wonder of skiing down a mountain, Martín might work out the time ratio of how long it takes to go down on skis compared to the time spent on lifts. While others might marvel at a full-bodied red wine, Martín would do the sums to tell us the profit made on each grape squeezed into it.

His brain simply works a lot differently from mine. Sometimes this is a pain in the arse and sometimes it is endearing. But at least a few times a week, you're going to hear me saying to him: "Can we stop reducing everything to numbers?"

(A quick aside here. I truly understand the value of numbers. Especially those involved in my bank statements and wedding budget.)

Anyway, this weekend we decided that instead of going out for dinner we would roll our sleeves up and bring the restaurant to our place. It would be good bonding time in the kitchen, as we hadn't seen each other to speak to during a demanding week. We chose two new dishes to make which tickled our taste buds: Greek greens followed by a Spanish mixed paella. We headed out into the drizzle of Ealing on Saturday afternoon to search for the ingredients.

After a trip to the fishmongers and Tesco we had bags full of king prawns, mussels, pork belly, parsley, spinach and sourdough bread, plus much, much more.

"This is a great idea of mine, isn't it?" he kept saying, as if it was the first idea he had ever had. I wondered where all this enthusiasm for fresh ingredients and home cooking was coming from and going.

Then I saw the Look of Numbers. "Well, we have all this food and have spent less already than we would going out for dinner," he remarked.

That was true. I couldn't argue with that. And the wine had been a bargain, which is what always kills us when we go out. But it didn't stop there.

Anyway, onto the starter. This was a delightfully fresh tasting spinach, and red onion combination on warm bread flavoured with crushed cherry tomatoes. Simple and divine. Topped off with Greek oil and some Greek music, we imagined ourselves on a balcony in Santorini.

"And all for just £4" he delights in sharing.

Now, I have to point out, Martín is no penny pincher. He's not tight. He's very generous. It's just his obsession with numbers.

Onto the paella. This was real teamwork and it tasted amazing. Which is a good job as it was full of flavours and food. So much food! I thought my wok would explode with all we kept adding to it and as we tenderly nurtured every paella rice grain, turning and turning them. But it worked. Credit to us.

But there was a lot of it. Piles of paella. Mountains to munch on. It was inevitable that those words would come out of his mouth again:

"We've made so much here. How long is this going to feed us for?"

Three days.

"And all the other ingredients we bought, how many meals is that?"

Well, at least another five of these and then some.

He leaned back, full of paella and economic pride. When food at home tastes this good, the numbers really do add up.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Winter has left the building

Spring is here and I, for one, am very excited and happy about it. Mother's Day is around the corner, Easter egg hunts are being planned (or, in London, are already underway) and there are brushes of colour along each pavement. Daffodils have sprouted in the middle of my lawn, crocuses are poking their purple and yellow heads out from all manner of places and the blossom on the trees is getting ready to party. Our heating times have already been shortened, the bbq has been cleaned and the patio furniture is ready.

Yesterday after I had done some gardening, planted some flowers, sowed some seeds and cut the lawn we had our first bbq of 2012. What a heavenly moment: sitting in the garden in the sun, reading the Sunday newspapers with the smell of meat cooking over coals.

Welcome Spring! It reminded me of this poem by Sidney Lanier.

Spring Greeting

All faintly through my soul to-day,
As from a bell that far away
Is tinkled by some frolic fay,
Floateth a lovely chiming.
Thou magic bell, to many a fell
And many a winter-saddened dell
Thy tongue a tale of Spring doth tell,
Too passionate-sweet for rhyming.

Chime out, thou little song of Spring,
Float in the blue skies ravishing.
Thy song-of-life a joy doth bring
That's sweet, albeit fleeting.
Float on the Spring-winds e'en to my home:
And when thou to a rose shalt come
That hath begun to show her bloom,
Say, I send her greeting!








Friday, 24 February 2012

Eureka!

With hindsight, it's so obvious. Why didn't I see it coming? Why did it take me this long to get to this moment?

Some people believe in love at first sight and dive straight in. And it works. Others are great friends for years before they realise the love of their life has been next to them all along. I don't think it matters how you get there. As long as you get there.

Last night, a moment similar to this happened to me. Martín and I went to the pub for a drink and talked about the new class I had started teaching that day. As the conversation went on, it was clear to both of us what should happen. It's not just that I love teaching. I am also really good at it. It always happens. I leave my classes with a spring in my step and a love for what I do; for what my students are learning; for the creativity and energy I give and they give me back.

When we moved to London in July 2010 from Buenos Aires, it would be an understatement to say I was a little sad. I loved my life, my job and my friends in Argentina. The most difficult thing that I knew I would have to change was my job. How would I be able to have the life of an English teacher I had there here in London? I didn't see it.

So I did something else. Something else I became good at. And I liked it. I didn't love it, but I learnt a lot and I realised it was an option for me. And it involved writing, which is something I love. But I missed the buzz of teaching; the constant creativity; the new faces and different problems. I missed putting my own weeks together, directing my own work life.

So, EUREKA. Now I am going to do it again. I am going to drive my professional life here in London as I did in Buenos Aires. When it clicks, it clicks. I am older and I have more time, resources and patience. I have more knowledge, more experience and the guts to do it today that I didn't have before.

Understanding the lessons of life aren't always straightforward. But they are always there. And the moment the penny drops is as sweet outside the classroom as it is inside. As a teacher, I should know that.

And I do.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Being inspired

Today has been exciting and fun.

I have had the first of my Games Maker training sessions: the orientation session. Along with 10,000 other volunteers, who will be doing a whole medley of roles during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, I got to spend three hours being mentally prepared for what will come.

The excitement builds.

While I can't go into detail on the specifics of the training, let's just say that there was a lasting impression we all left with: inspiration. Part of our role is to inspire: positivity, teamwork, openness, diversity, culture, London and the UK. We are the faces that welcome athletes, spectators, delegates, sponsors and fellow workers at the Games. We have the chance to make our mark and leave a lasting impression.

It's inspirational stuff, and what I realised today was how inspiration works both ways; how the part we play, no matter how small, makes a difference to those competing on sport's greatest stage.

I would have thought that there was no greater inspiration needed than fulfilling the dream of standing on the podium with an Olympic gold around your neck. But there are other factors involved in all of this: the crowd, the assistance with accreditation, getting about, food, results, interviews. So many aspects of the Games, and within each sport, are in the hands of the volunteers. You feel special too, when athletes speak about their experiences and the importance of the volunteers at the Games. One volunteer, who thought and acted quickly, saved one swimmer a huge embarrassment just before their race. They went on to win gold.

It's a humbling feeling. But exciting and thrilling as well. The eyes of the world won't be turned on us exactly. Most will be being inspired by the antics and heroics on the tracks, roads, fields, pools, water, pitches.

But we will be there. As part of it. Making it happen. Inspiring, in our own small way.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Britain's Conundrum

Whilst planning one of my English classes over the weekend, I came across a survey which was in the news last week on the top 50 things that people find confusing about modern Britain.

Puzzler World 2012 questioned 2,000 adults on what they found the most difficult to understand in today's Britain. Apparently, two thirds of us hate being confused, but only half of us will actually get around to asking for help if there is something we don't understand.

Well, now I am going to put myself in that half and say that there's a lot about the results of this survey that baffles me.

There are things on the list which many people down the pub would frown at if brought up in conversation: what scientists are up to at CERN, algebra, foreign languages, the science of Stephen Hawking, politics. They'd be the one person at the pub who always ventures some know-how on the subject, but really, you'd all just be blathering on, nodding at things you have no idea about. Some people are terrible at learning languages (even their own); atoms just aren't others' cup of thinking tea; and algebra will still give some people the willies from their high school lessons (But it's maths, why are there letters?)

This is all perfectly normal and OK. We can't understand everything. What would be the point in that?

But then there are other things on the list which warn me about the state of this nation's confusion: Jedward, why Rooney bothered with his hair transplant, why Giggs' (Ryan) wife hasn't left him yet, Kerry Katona, people who crack their knuckles.

Yes, these are really things which have the minds of the UK mulling it over, working it out, thinking it through and coming up with a big fat nothing.

I am confused, it seems, about the confusion.

Why do people need to understand the likes of Jedward? Surely they would have much better luck concentrating on the other things on the list that might help them out one day: buying a house, pensions, credit cards (we are also confused about why Britain is in so much debt - I think the point speaks for itself). By making space from our pondering on the Giggs' marital status to asking for help understanding the small print, we could get ourselves out of our own sticky situations later down the line.

Which brings me back to this 'asking for help' problem. I notice that the last two items on the list are 'men' and 'women'. If we don't understand something (or someone) it's highly unlikely we'll go straight to them and ask them to explain themselves to us. Especially when it concerns the opposite sex.

Now that is a conundrum.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Happiness, happiness, the greatest thing that I possess

I loved Ken Dodd as a kid. It was even better when I started to understand his terribly dirty jokes about turkeys and women. But the song he would always sing, with diddy men prancing around and tickling sticks going everywhere, made you feel light, bouncy, without a care in the world and... happy. And you can be any age to understand that.

The other day I was working with a man connected to my old job, doing some filming for a friend. Afterwards, he was asking me about my plans now that I am unemployed and if I missed my old job. I explained how I missed those I had worked with closely, but that we are all friends and will continue to be. I told him that I did not miss the job; and that I was thinking of trying to teach more. I have always loved teaching, and although I continue with students and partners at LBS, I miss it as I used to to do it Buenos Aires.

His reply was, "But there's no money in that."

I was surprised by his reaction. I have always had respect for teachers, not just because I was brought up by two of them, but as a job goes, no matter the subject, the age, the place, there is no other feeling like giving someone the confidence of knowledge, and how to use it.

The other thing I was surprised about was how he was measuring my job choice in monetary value and little else. I'm not idealistic enough to think that the simple joy of teaching will pay my food and rent (and travels!) alone, but neither would I take ever take a job I know I am not going to enjoy just because it pays well. A job's pay, it's value for your work, is not the value you have (sometimes it's not even the value you 'earn') as a person. I don't care if I never earn loads, but I care being judged on it and I certainly care about being miserable.

Crap economy, crap job prospects, crap and high university fees, crap management, crap, crap, crap: this isn't how young people and those out of work should be thinking. This isn't New Year's thinking - it's life thinking: finding something you love to do and being happy most of the time doing it. If it makes you rich, tired, poor, stressed, fat, thin, smarter, wilder, it doesn't matter. It's your choice.

The measure should be if it makes you happy.

My reply to the man last week was in that vein: "Teaching makes me happy, though," I told him.

He frowned, shrugged and made a weird little noise. I don't think people consider their own happiness enough.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

A Christmas feast in January

I am standing in Tesco with Martín on January 2nd 2012. He loves supermarkets; perusing the aisles for things we'll never eat, need or use. I am used to this, and usually work round this by sending him off on a very specific mission, which takes an age, but means I can get the majority of the shop out of the way while he thinks about buying 18 cans of peaches.

But yesterday I could not budge him from a super-saver-end-of-aisle-Christmas-is-over-fest.

Salmon, cooked hams, fine cheeses all on offer. He couldn't get over it. He had to buy them. And there were three things in his favour, which means he won.

The first is simple: they were things we love to eat. Our weekends are not complete without a King's Breakfast of salmon, spinach, mushrooms and eggs piled high on toast laden with cream cheese. As pork addicts, everything pig related gets a full seeing to in our house and nothing is spared. And cheese? Martín would eat a whole whale carcass if it was covered in the stuff.


Keep it simple: fondue for Christmas dinner
 The second was that we don't have a normal Christmas. There's no platter of little biscuits with salmon; no turkey and stuffing; no ham and potatoes; no Christmas pudding and cheese board. By going skiing, we eliminate ourselves from the supermarket slog for Christmas food and escape to the mountains where we let ourselves be satisfied with a simple pile of French beef, a pot of hot oil, some dips and chips. Therefore, come the New Year, we are not already bored of these foods which were overbought and have been sitting wrapped in foil like fallen asteroids in the fridge ever since.

The third reason why Martín got his wicked bargain way was because these foods were half price and half again. True bargains you can only dream of before Christmas when these items are on your shopping list.

And then it got me thinking. Why don't people have their Christmas food feasts in January? For those that love the foods more than the festival, it's so much cheaper come the post-Christmas price meltdown. Christmas can still be in the spirit of giving, time with loved ones, and you can do that with any foods you like! What do you fancy? Chinese? Go for it! Italian's your thing? Why not! There is nothing that binds us to the turkey and ham and stuffing sandwiches aside from the fact we've always done them. But with January's perfect prices for all those foods, why not delay those feasts?

Just don't tell Tesco.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Little thoughts for a big 2012

So, we are over the bump that turns one year into another and here are some thoughts already on 2012 and what might be in store.

Fireworks

If you did not see London's New Year's Eve fireworks display, I urge you to watch them - there is a version here. They had us gobsmacked and forgetting to drink our champers. They also gave me goosebumps. Not just because they are fireworks and I turn into a kid around them; but also because this city gave such an amazing show anyone not excited about the coming Olympics this year in London must be living in a ravioli (stolen Argentine idiom).

Weather

The week prior to New Year, I spent skiing in the Alps. One day, as I had to rest a pulled Achilles, I was on the balcony of our apartment sunning myself in just a towel. Two days later we were skiing in such snow and cloud, we couldn't see from pole to pole going down the piste. And the temperature had obviously nose-dived. The first day of 2012 here was grey with torrential rain. My pots are flooded, yet my bird bath has filled up nicely. The second day of 2012 had bright sunshine and blue skies - a perfect winter's day.

I guess it's like my grandma always says: "You just can't predict the weather in this area." Or anywhere, anymore.

Marriage

Today I found out that one of my friend has got engaged. And with our wedding at the end of this year in Argentina; and being bridesmaid for another friend in October, there is a whole lot of wedding planning, talking, decisions and excitement to be had.

Of course, a wedding has nothing to do with a marriage, and I am sure that during the course of the year, we will lay even stronger foundations so that our wedding day will be the start of a long, happy and healthy marriage.

Olympics

I have been accepted as a London 2012 Games Maker, one of the 70,000 volunteers who will help in some way to run the show. I am really excited; I twitch just thinking about it. I've got my training for my Spectater Entry post at the Athlete's Village next month. Bring it on.

The Run of a Lifetime

In 33 days, I will be having my last sleep in a tent with my friend Maria before we set off on Cruce de los Andes.

Legs will burn, blisters will pop. Stomachs will churn, bums will flop. Sights will reveal, faces will grin. Fatigue will heal, hearts will win.


Happy New Year