Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The wind of change

It’s nearly time to say farewell to an old familiar friend.
Don’t worry, I am not referring to myself, I’m not going anywhere. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me for a very long time.
My sentence is in relation to - our old mate called 2008.
So how do you feel about that? Are you dancing a merry dance and singing, “Good riddance to bad rubbish!” Or have you got kind of attached to 2008 and you’ll be sorry to see the back of it? Was this year your favourite year, your worst year, or a mediocre year?
As for my answer, I would say it hasn't been a bad 2008. I shouldn't complain because I haven't personally experienced any tragedies or disasters. My arms and legs haven’t mysteriously and suddenly dropped off, and my house has not been ripped from its foundations and landed on the Wicked Witch of the West. Or was it The Wicked Witch of the East? Remember the scene from The Wizard of Oz? (I love that film and I've stared at it far too many times, so you'd think I'd have the decency to remember which witch the house lands on.)
Anyway, back to the point. But on the other hand, I can’t say 2008 has been exactly life changing.
My friend and I were discussing this over a birthday lunch the other day - pasta, spinach, blue cheese, and garlic bread, if anyone is interested. We weren’t grumbling but we both agreed life seems to have hit a stand still. I for one fear I am drifting along. Still at my parents, still at the same job, still paying debts off (although one mammoth debt has finished) and I’m still drinking too much wine with friends.
Life could be worse. I’m happy enough, but I can’t help feeling there should be more to my life. I should be doing more. I should be achieving more. Can you understand my dilemma?
Next year, in 2009, I think I need to make a few changes. I don't wish for out of the blue uncomfortable changes, but I’d like to set myself goals. I might cut down on my social life and spending money, and try saving it for a welcome change.
Saving money for a home to call my own! This is want I really crave and fantasise about. And my knight in shining armour. And a family of my own. I know, I know, you can't magic these things out of thin air. When the time is right, you don't know what's around the corner, you can't change fate, etc, etc. I'm queen of the cliches, so I should learn to practice what I preach.
But maybe, dearest FPE readers, the wind of change is heading my way. Whistling and breezing along, shaking and waking anyone who dares to stand in its way. The wind of change could be long over due and making its way to me.
Can you sense it too?

I wish you all a happy and prosperous 2009!
Thank you for continually reading and commenting, and for not deserting me.
It would be lonely here without you.

The cheeky new year cocktail.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

'Twas the night before Christmas...

I knew I shouldn't have opened my big, don't tempt fate, mouth.
So much for my organised 1st of December state of mind, during The Enormous stopwatch in the sky post. Although I did warn you (and myself) that the organisation and calmness might not last long.
True to form, I was dashing around with a puff of smoke behind me - well, that's how I imagined I would have looked in cartoon land - on Christmas Eve. I realised I'd left a present at a friends house, discarded a forgotten present at the cash register in M&S, and I discovered the gift card I'd purchased for a requested birthday present did not have any money to spend on it. Don't ask me how I managed to mess up all three things, but somehow I did.
I popped to my local shops on Christmas Eve, trying not to scream and panic, pushing my way through the crowds, and trying to rectify my errors. I bumped into the world and his wife. I suppose it was my local shops and I have lived in the area for 35 years, so I guess it was only to be expected to bump into people I know and stand and politely chat to them. Whilst trying not to look at my watch and stress about the length of time I had until the shops closed early for Christmas.
I finally breathed a sigh of relief when I returned to my house, with the new presents and gift card, at 4pm on Christmas Eve.
"You've been ages!" my mother noted. I know! I disappeared to my bedroom to wrap the last of my presents. Finally, at last, everything was bought and wrapped and completed.
So I went to the pub with a friend for a glass of wine or two, before Father Christmas visited my house on his reindeer driven sleigh, and slid down the chimney to deliver our presents and nibble on our mince pies. What a guy.

I hope you had a glorious Christmas, dear readers.
Did everything go according to plan?
I trust you have a nice time with family and friends?
Did you eat far too much?

Christmas in my house was a pleasant affair.

With lots of Christmas food.

It wouldn't be Christmas without new socks and slippers.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Never give up hope

Something very good and very unexpected has happened to me, dear readers. And I thought I would share my joyful news with you.
Have I caught your attention? Are you now sitting bolt up right in your chair and trying to guess what this news could be? Or perhaps you are casually sprawled on the sofa, in a nonchalant frame of mind, wondering what to eat for your dinner.
For those who are interested in my announcement, let’s eliminate what my news could be.
Okay, firstly, I haven’t won the national lottery, at this rate I never will. George Michael hasn’t fallen head over heels in love with me. Sigh. Again, I fear this is an impossible dream. Hmmm. What else could it be, I hear you eagerly cry. Unfortunately I haven’t won a years supply of free cheese and chocolate. And I haven’t won a trip around the world, all expenses paid – that would be nice!
But…wait for it…drum roll and pause for a dramatic affect...I have a calendar.
As the keen FPE reader will know, I have been rather disappointed with my lack of calendars this year - see eight calendars post. This has now all changed.
Monday night I walked into the hall where my photography club is held, and I was greeted with the words, “Would you like a calendar?” Those five magic words were music to my ears.
Unbeknown to me, my photography club arranged for calendars to be printed, boasting fantastic pictures taken from the members, and all proceeds for the calendars will be donated to the local hospice. How about that. Not only do I own a calendar to keep track of very important dates next year, but I have one containing glorious pictures, photographed by people I know. And my money will be helping those less fortunate than myself, at St Francis Hospice. What more could I ask for? Apart from winning the lottery, George Michael's love, free cheese and chocolate, and an all expenses paid trip around the world.
But that’s not all folks. Just as I was thinking luck had finally shone my way, I was reminded of something else by a photography society member – my £30 cash back claim for my new camera. That’s right, Canon are offering £30 cash back on all cameras bought in the last couple of months. But hurry, all claims must be made before January 10 2009. I’d almost forgotten. I thanked the member for reminding me, and the very next day I filled in my form and posted it.
And I haven’t finished yet! Whilst searching in my camera box for proof of till receipt for my cash back claim, I came across a £50 voucher towards camera courses in 2009. What a brilliant idea! With hands practically shaking with excitement, I filled in the form and posted that too. For us much as I am loving my photography club, the appreciation of seeing the world beyond a camera lens and being transported to the vision behind the button, I do think I would also benefit from attending a structured course, where I can learn the technical side.
So you see, dearest readers, you must never give up hope. I am walking proof of this. I now have my 2009 calendar, with pictures. And a couple of other unexpected delights too.
I am a happy girl.

Monday, 15 December 2008

The fairy who has a dream

The fairy is proudly perched on top of the tree. She is smiling, pleased to be out of the pine chest and guarding the Christmas tree once again.
She looks down from her resting place and approves of the brightly coloured decorations. The checked star shaped garland, the ornate stockings and the delicately painted toy soldiers. She greets them like old friends, happy to be re-united with the familiar looking pieces of material.
Arr, what’s this, she has spied something new. It’s an angel. A pretty angel with golden hair and golden wings. She wonders if the angel is enjoying her new home, but she can’t help feeling relived and grateful that this angel has not replaced her. The fairy is glad that she still has the prime position, the top of the Christmas tree.
She looks at the presents beneath her. Red and gold colours gleaming, with bows and ribbons elaborately placed around the shiny wrapping paper. How lucky these people in the house are. Mystery parcels to gleefully open on Christmas Day, with carols playing in the background and the aroma of turkey wafting through from the kitchen.
The celebrations are always exciting to watch. She loves to hear the laughter and the chatter, and gaze at the contented faces.
The fairy is sad that the festive season does not last longer. She wishes it could be Christmas all year long. Or she never had to return to the pine chest again, so she could witness birthdays and summer months, things she has heard the family speak of, but she has never seen them with her own twinkling eyes.
Maybe she could try and ‘accidentally’ fall from the top of the tree? Perhaps she could then hide in the cupboard under the stairs, the one with all the tins of soup, and she could play with the teddy bears at night time, when the family are safely tucked up in bed. Hmmm. The fairy likes the sound of this. She has heard about all the teddy bears in the house, she has seen them briefly when she has been lifted from the pine chest. One of the teddies guards the pink chair in the lounge, and wears reading glasses and a long white, flowing dress. She thinks it would be nice to get to know her and ask her how life is on the pink chair.
She hopes that one day she can run around on the carpet and explore the house. What fun she would have. The fairy winks at the new angel, she imagines the angel would like to join her on her adventure.
For now she is just the fairy on top of the Christmas tree. The faithful fairy who watches over the house every December.
But she has plans and ideas of her own.
Because even fairies are allowed to dream.

The fairy who has a dream.

The Christmas tree.

The presents.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Eight calendars

The credit crunch, the impending recession, call it what you may, but it all boils down to the same thing – cutbacks.
I know times are tough and restrictions are being placed on spending, because normally I would have received eight calendars by now.
Eight glossy, decorative calendars, from various suppliers related to the office. Eight calendars with pictures of birds, boats and butterflies. “Oh another calendar,” I used to say, and sigh, before asking if I could tempt anyone in the office with my latest offering.
This year I have received the grand total of 0 calendars. How the mighty have fallen!
Another clue to these dark times is the announcement that our annual awards evening has been cancelled. Every year a gigantic marquee is erected and decorated for all the UK employees who are employed at my company. Circus acts, a casino, dancers, and a celebrity guest are amongst the lavish entertainment, and that’s without the cost of food and drink.
As a sign of the times, the chairman thought it would be sensitive and sensible to not hold such a flashy and expensive event next January. I’m not complaining, it’s saved me from forking out the money for a new and suitable outfit. I would also rather the total bill was spent on our wages, and not a celebrity guest fee and a big fat champagne fuelled headache.
As much as I love a glass of bubbly, I do realise in the current economical situation you have to make certain cutbacks. And I would rather be employed than out of work with nothing to show for my hard work, other than an outfit I will never wear again and a photograph of me looking flushed, standing next to the latest over-paid star guest.
However, I would appreciate a calendar arriving on my desk before 2009 commences. It doesn’t have to be glamorous, it doesn’t have to be printed on a heavy paper stock with a sparkling gold, five colour, printing process - you don’t work in publishing for 17 years without learning a thing or two regarding print. A simple calendar would be fine. Mono, A4, flimsy paper. Something I can tape to my hard drive and stare at continuously, to remind me of press dates, mailing dates and dates with friends. Pretty pictures would be nice, but I understand the costs and hassle involved, a plain one will serve the same purpose.
Has anyone in blog land received an excessive amount of calendars and care to share their 2009 months with me? No? Are you sure? Oh well, it was worth asking. It looks like I will be turning to the Internet to assist me. Again.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

3,001 office Christmas parties

It feels as if I have been to 3,001 office Christmas parties. In reality it’s not nearly as many as that, but the theme is always the same – I always loose something.
This time the lost item was my right contact lens. Today I can only see out of my left eye. It’s rather an unbalanced feeling, but I figured it’s best to see out of one eye than not at all. Unfortunately they were my last pair, and my glasses are sitting beside my bed at home (a fat lot of good they are at home, I hear you say) and I haven’t been home yet.
Last night I stayed the night at my work colleague and friends house, after the Christmas party. It took us a very long time to reach her house as we managed to walk to the wrong train station, board the wrong train and journey in the wrong direction. We realised our errors after we stopped singing, and then we realised we’d missed the last train home. So it was an expensive black cab for us. That will teach us for being so careless. And for singing when we should have been concentrating.
Oh and my work colleague and friend forgot to collect her coat at the end of the night. Not quite as silly as it sounds, she was wearing my coat, therefore she did not feel the cold, otherwise she would have remembered that she had forgotten it. I had two coats with me, as I really feel the cold and tend to wear far too many layers in the winter. Luckily for her, the venue still has her coat.
I’m just glad I sensibly left my new and heavy camera at home, thus making it impossible to absent mindlessly leave it on a window sill/table/chair/dance floor. A right contact lens I can cope with loosing, but not my precious camera.
Alas, there are no pictures from the office Christmas party. You’ll have to use your imagination and imagine the breaded goats cheese, turkey with vegetables and potatoes, raspberry cheesecake, and many wine bottles. And the packed dance floor. And me dancing to George Michael in a very animated fashion. That was before the forgotten coat, the missed (correct) last train home and a lost contact lens.
All in all, a typical office Christmas party.

Friday, 5 December 2008

The night I met a blogger

I awoke to the sound of police sirens. Or maybe it was my alarm clock? Yes it was my alarm clock. Forgive me for confusing the sounds, but they’re two very similar noises.
I’ve managed to break two mobile phone handsets this year (if anyone can do it, I can) and my recently loaned handset, from a dear and kind friend, contains an alarm clock which rather resembles the commotion of a police raid in my bedroom. I’m always relived when I realise it’s not a police raid, merely my alarm announcing it’s time to get out of bed.
I got out of bed and pulled my curtains so I could see the outside world and the weather conditions. I smiled when I realised it was not snowing or raining, just cold and grey. At least the UK weather wasn’t too unfriendly for the arrival of my fellow blogger from Singapore. For the day had arrived, it was Blur's visit to the UK and we had arranged to meet in London for food and drink and chats.
After my cinnamon and marmite bagel with coffee (they’re a hard habit to break) at my desk in the office, I called the restaurant to confirm my booking for the evening. All booked and confirmed! I then printed out directions to the restaurant and to Blur's hotel. I even saved the restaurant's telephone number in my mobile handset (the handset with the police sirens for an alarm clock) just in case I got lost. I always worry about loosing my way, this has happened quite frequently. I checked I had not accidentally deleted Blur's mobile number, which I would need in case I got lost finding her hotel, and to welcome her with a text message when she landed in the UK. So far so good. It was then time to do some work.
At five thirty on the dot I raced out the office and my journey to Paddington commenced. I surprised myself by finding the restaurant and the hotel straight away.
And there was Blur, all smiles, in real life, not a photograph on a blog! We greeted each other like old friends and made our way to the restaurant.
It was an authentic Middle Eastern/Lebanese restaurant with rose petals on the tables, and cushions, lanterns and wood carvings everywhere you looked. We sat down at our table and grinned at each other. It felt good to be sitting opposite someone I have spent many, many lunchtimes and evenings reading about her life and replying to comments regarding my life. Even though we had never met before it was as if I’d known her for years, and I immediately relaxed and was looking forward to our evening ahead.
The menu was mind boggling, so much choice, so much food! We ordered, wait for it:

Halloum mekleh. (Pan fried cheese with chili spiced jam.)
Samboussek jibneh. (Awaki & feta cheese with parsley.)
Falafel. (Chickpea & broad beans. Tahini & garlic yoghurt sauce.)
Soujoc. (Homemade spicy sausages with cherry tomatoes and parsley.)
Jawaneh. (Chargrilled chicken wings marinated with lemon juice, garlic & coriander.)
Machaweh. (Mix of kafta. Lahem meshoue, taouk & marinated cutlets.)
And warm breads, marinated olives and salads.
Plus a bottle of Lebanese wine.

You were discussed dear readers, in between sampling food and sipping wine. All bloggers were mentioned and our mutual love for blogging. We both agreed how ones personality develops through ones writing and how honest and sincere bloggers can be about themselves and their lives. Apparently I am exactly as Blur expected me to be! Yep, my writing is rather like myself, nothing fancy, just little old me rambling on about my interpretation of life and anything else that pops into my head.
We then danced around the tables, with the belly dancer.
It was a real pleasure to meet the writer behind ‘The day flew by so fast it was a blur’. We chatted and laughed like two old friends, already knowing so much about each other through our blogs and our writing and our photographs. It was a shame the evening had to end, but I would like to thank blog world for bringing such a warm, sincere and lovely person into my life.
And thanks for the chocolates Blur!

Pictures of the day:


Our table.

The food.


More dancing.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Family traits and that coffee table

"I keep hearing George Michael songs in my head, and the other day he was singing on my coffee table!"
I know the feeling. Apart from the coffee table bit, I can honestly say George has never sang on my coffee table. Not that I would mind if he wanted to. I would even go as far as to say, I would love it if he sang on my coffee table! However, I don't think my mother would be too pleased about it, seeing as it's her house and her possessions. Oh hang on a minute, what am I saying, we don't even possess a coffee table. Perhaps he could sing on the kitchen table instead?
Perhaps not. My mother is likely to go bananas if she walks into the kitchen and witnesses George singing Fast Love, with his size 10's on her checked table cloth. I can picture the scene. "Do you mind!" she would say. "You may be a superstar, but that cloth has just been washed and we have to eat our dinner on that table! How would you like it if I came to your house and stood on your table?" I would plead with my mother to let him finish the song, and suggest he takes his shoes off and sings the remainder of his lines in his socks. Forever the peace maker, that's me.
You may be scratching your head, with a puzzled look on your face, and wondering what all this coffee table talk is about.
Well, dear readers, it's about Eli Stone, my cousins and I. Have you seen Eli Stone? He's a lawyer with an inoperable brain aneurysm. He grew up listening to George songs, and at the worst possible moments he hears George's voice and he can't resist singing and dancing along. When my cousin Sarah heard about Eli Stone - he is not a real person, by the way, merely a fictional character created for our amusement - she knew that myself and my other cousin Paul would appreciate the television show, and so she's recorded the episodes for us to watch. Yep, the George addiction runs in the family.
Tuesday night was our second Eli Stone evening. Lasagna, wine and chocolate at my cousin Sarah's house. Every time we heard a GM lyric we practically jumped out of our seats, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. So far he has only sang on the coffee table but we have our third Eli night next week and we are waiting with baited breath to see him again. Apparently there is a shower scene and George talks to Eli - IN PERSON! I can barely contain myself. Of course it will be lovely to see my cousins again. It's not all about George!
They say you can't choose your family, but in this case, I would definitely choose my cousins. I love them both dearly and I have many happy memories of them from childhood to adulthood. Family picnics and barbeque's, summer fairs in my nans garden, playing with our Sindy dolls (not my male cousin, I hasten to add), and pretending their house was an underwater world (yep, we extended our imaginations to the fullest). We've holidayed together in Majorca in our teens, where the dress code in one particular bar was 'white clothes only'. It was the weirdest sight ever, I can honestly say it looked as if we'd entered a house for mad people. I've also experienced the honour of bridesmaid duties for Sarah and I'm now thoroughly enjoying watching her kiddies grow.
So you see, even if my cousins hated George with a passion, I would still choose them to be my cousins. But between you and I, I'm mighty glad they don't hate him with a passion. It kind of helps that we're on the same wavelength and it's nice to share my George dottiness with them. Not everybody understands it, but I'm happy to say my cousins definitely do.
Roll on next Thursday.

Picture of the day:

The floral arrangement.

Monday, 1 December 2008

The enormous stopwatch in the sky

Can you believe it’s the 1st of December already?
I’m starting to suspect something. I think the older you become, the faster time is passing you by. I’m beginning to imagine someone is looking down upon me, dangling an enormous stopwatch, and every year this someone is speeding time along, with the aid of this enormous stopwatch.
Can you remember when you were young and carefree and a whole year seemed to last forever? Those were the days when life was one huge playground. The days when I had nothing to worry about except how many sweets I could buy in the corner shop, and how many times I could whiz around the park on my roller skates before the sky turned dark and I had to head home for my dinner.
Life is simple when you are young. You don’t have bills to pay and deadlines to meet, life and love are not wearing you down and stressing you out. Your parents take care of everything. All you have to do is play with your toys, and go to school and learn.
Okay, senior school wasn't as simple. I realised at senior school that not all teachers, and not all pupils come to think of it, were very nice. And maths had turned into algebra and geometry. Arrgg! Who said maths had to be so complicated? But I behaved myself around the not-so-nice teachers, avoided the ‘wrong crowd’ and tried to bribe my dad into completing my maths homework. And still the days, weeks, months, years would tick by slowly. It would seem ages from one December to the next.
Because December means Christmas! I used to think Christmas was the most magical and special time ever. I would be so excited on Christmas Eve that I literally couldn’t sleep. This was a great source of worry - if I wasn’t asleep, Father Christmas wouldn’t leave me any presents! That was my biggest fear during the festive period. How tightly I would close my eyes and will myself to fall asleep, imaging the big man in the red and white suite entering my bedroom and saying, “Sorry little girl, you know the rules. If you’re not sleeping, I’m not leaving any presents!”
As the years passed, my doubts escalated towards this Father Christmas lark, and I began to suspect something wasn't quite right. (Rather like my suspicions over this time thing now.) How could one man visit every single house in the whole wide world, in one single night? And if he was as big as his pictures lead us to believe, how could he possibly fit down all those chimneys? Especially after feasting on mince pies etc, which the children had thoughtfully left out for him. Surely his belly would become stuck half-way? And could reindeers really fly? It didn’t add up. I hated to admit it, but my parents were looking more and more likely to be the reason behind the presents which were left at the end of my bed. Especially as one year I noticed the wrapping paper was the same as the roll propped up against the kitchen table. “Look mum,” I said. “It’s the same wrapping paper as over there!” “Gosh,” my mum replied. “Father Christmas must use the same wrapping paper as me!” See how astute my younger self was?!
I still love Christmas. A time to be with your loved ones, reflect on the real reason behind the season of good-will, not the commercial present side. You reach a certain age and you realise it’s not all about presents. Well I did. But it seems to come along way too fast these days. What with bills to pay and deadlines to meet and life and love to worry about, December is soon upon my older self faster that you can, “Jumping Jack Flash!”
Which is why I’ve tried to be organised this year. Too many years I’ve been caught out and dashed around the shops on Christmas Eve, desperately searching for inspiration. I have even prised myself out of bed on Christmas Day to wrap presents. Shameful. Just thinking about leaving things to the last minute, as I have done many a time, stresses me out and makes me feel queasy.
Therefore, this year, I am pleased to report, it’s the 1st of December and I have made all my Christmas cards, ready to circulate to family and friends. And every present I have bought, I've wrapped and placed in a big box underneath my bed. Which allows me plenty of time to help with the food and decorating, and to enjoy myself in the merry month of December. This sounds a good deal to me.
Although I can't help wondering how long this deal and organised state of mind will last? Probably not very long. I’ll probably leave something very important until the last possible moment. And then I’m bound to blame that enormous stopwatch in the sky for unfairly speeding time along.
"Hey," I'll say. "Whoever you are, can’t you put that stopwatch away?!"

Picture of the day:

Christmas cards.