Wednesday, August 31, 2005

I’m losing a lot of hair, well, enough to notice it. Yesterday I counted how many hairs I lost, and it was over 200. Any advice (causes, cures) will be much appreciated.

Co-worker is picking his nose. And as I sit opposite him, it’s kind of hard not to notice.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Summer holiday

It’s a clichĂ© to say that there’s something magical and timeless about the New Forest, but that’s only because it’s so true. We left London on Thursday morning, frazzled by six weeks of non-stop police sirens and terror alerts, and as the train pulled out of Waterloo and sped through the countryside and we cracked open the picnic, it began to really feel like a holiday.

We alighted at Brockenhurst and walked to the guest house, a large detached building at the end of a gravel drive. It had only two guest rooms: ours was lovely, with mahogany antique furnishings and a giant bed, and curtains printed with kissing parrots. The bathroom was big and our hosts had provided large bottles of shampoo and body lotion, cotton buds, lots of towels and a big bar of soap. So different from all the miniatures you usually get in a B&B. We unpacked all our clothing (to make it feel like we lived there), and went to pick up our bikes. Rather than gangs of hoodie-wearing youths, Brockenhurst has groups of wild ponies hanging around on street corners or loitering by the post box. And like hooded youths, you need to give them a wide berth as they’re unpredictable and can be violent.

We decided to do a 14.5 mile ride, which was a bit optimistic seeing as neither of us had cycled since we were kids. The route was mostly off-road (at our request), and took in dark, dense forests, a pond surrounded by ponies and donkeys having a paddle, and a pub. Standing on a rough path, under a canopy of giant conifers, we could have been in the 11th century, when the forest was founded by William the Conqueror. We stopped and let the silence wash over us, the forest quiet save for the twitter and rustle of its thousands of inhabitants. The ride was free of mishaps, but I did get a bit anxious riding along a winding country lane with trucks overtaking us. As we’d burned off a lot of calories with all that exercise, we went for dinner at the Rose & Crown, a pub with a huge, lush garden, where we ate burgers that appeared to have been deep fried, bun and all, and were all the more delicious for it. Then we went back to the hotel and I fell into a deep, fatty sleep.

Friday we’d reserved a couple of horses, and sloped off to the stables after a fry-up consisting of egg, bacon, sausages, hash brown, tomatoes, beans, mushrooms, and toast, preceded by a big bowl of fruit (for health). We had to borrow coats from the stables, and the barn they were kept in was full of spiders, and a giant rat. We dusted down a couple of cobwebby jackets and mounted our steeds: Freckles (Steve’s fearsome beast) and Pie (my aptly-named mount). Pie was a lazy old thing, requiring a jab with my heels just to stay moving. We walked across heath and went into the forest, and when we trotted S realized why he was the only male on the ten-person ride. Saddle-sore, we waddled off to the Buttery, an olde worlde cafĂ©, for some lunch: broccoli and stilton soup, and home-made cakes to take back to our room. I don’t know what the Buttery put in those cakes, but I think it was Mogadon. We ate them and the next thing I remember was fuzzily waking up on a drool-covered pillow several hours later, S snoring next to me. He went for a walk to clear his head (and cos he likes to have ‘alone time’ on every holiday we take – I do too, but it usually involves shoe shopping), while I watched a programme about the very lovely Dr Mo Mowlam. I’d arranged to meet Steve at the Rainbow Fish Bar for a spot of dinner, and, for the third time that day, as soon as I set foot outdoors, it started to rain. Luckily he had an umbrella, and I’m sure we provided amusement for tourists and locals alike as we shared a fish supper on a bench, huddled under a National Trust golf umbrella.

On Saturday we took a heritage train (basically an old slam-door train painted dark green) to Lymington, a freakishly quaint town on the Solent, just across the bay from the Isle of Wight. It was market day, so we inched along behind senior citizens before heading off to the harbour and taking the one hour ‘cruise’. I’m still bitter about this (and I think Steve will take his anger to the grave). The ‘cruise’ entailed going to the Isle of Wight, dropping off some passengers, and coming back. We were going to ask for a refund, but on reading the board again it did say that the trip ‘provides good views of the Needles and Hurst Castle in the distance’. It’s only the last three words that count: the Needles and the castle were specks on the horizon. And I would argue that the views were not ‘good’. Disgruntled, we cheered ourselves with sandwiches made with fresh crab, and a Cornish pasty we nearly came to blows over (it wasn’t even nice – Steve just gets really, really mad when I take giant bites).

In the afternoon we saw Steve’s family, and went for a walk in the forest before getting a lift to Lyndhurst to look at St Michael and All Angels, after which we had one of the worst, slowest meals I’ve ever eaten. Did you know bruschetta and a pizza takes an hour and a half to make?

On our last day we hired bikes again, this time following the ‘Tall Trees and Deer’ route, and taking a picnic. We did indeed see deer, and used Steve’s new binoculars to watch some buzzards and spy on other cyclists. Again, no major accidents, except for when, after a pint of bitter shandy, I veered into a ditch and got horseshit on my jeans. We stopped in a field and lunched on quiche, crisps, a sausage roll, raspberries, cereal bars and ginger beer. It was a lovely holiday; I only wish we’d been there for a week.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Sometimes I really like my job

This afternoon we had a shandy taste-test to decide which beverage the Victorians would have drunk, as shandy will be served at Thursday's launch of a book about Brunel. Lager + ginger beer or ale + ginger beer? The ale one was much nicer.

Also, one of my colleagues has become something of a tea connoisseur, and I now get to sample all his teas.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I realise there’s nothing more boring than strangers’ dreams, but this one was so bizarre I had to share. I dreamed I had a baby. The newborn had the face (and shoulder-length hair) of my niece, Sabrina. But it was the size of a hamster and about as active, running over my hands and sitting up unaided. Also, in the dream I felt fine about an hour after giving birth (think I also rang Steve after the baby’d popped out, and he was going to try and drop by later to see us), and went to Starbucks with the baby. While glugging my latte it struck me that I hadn’t read any parenting books, and had absolutely no idea how to look after my little bundle of joy.

Also, in the dream Therese and Anna Wintour were in a swimming race in a lake. And no, I didn’t get to find out who won.

The giant Chinese restaurant near Lambeth North station is pulling out all the stops in a bid to get people to eat there. A sign boasting ‘All you can eat, £12.99’ has the subtitle ‘126 DISHES!’ and ‘children under 5 feet, £4.99’.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Somebody stop me
Or, How I spent £55 in my lunch hour

1 rushed, badly-done bikini wax, which took 5 minutes, ruined a nice pair of pants, and cost £12.50. Don’t lawyers charge less?

1 pale green racer-back cotton vest, £9

1 hot pink polka dot racer back bra/tank top thing, £10

1 white top with ribbon trim, for a present, £10

Raspberries, blueberries and a yogurt in Tesco, £4

That adds up to £45, true, but I also got a tenner cashback in Tesco, which counts.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

One of the funniest things I saw last night was on the 10 o’ clock news. There was a piece about Iran wanting nuclear power and the reporter was speculating as to why they’d want it, when they already have so much oil and gas. As he was talking, footage of a lorry bearing the words WE WILL TRAMPLE AMERICA BENEATH OUR FEET rumbling down a dusty road was shown. Me and Steve laughed a lot, in a slightly terrified way.

Speaking of terror (a word I can never think of without hearing George W Bush’s pronunciation of it: ‘teer’), I am jumpy these days. Armed police on the streets ain’t helping things. On the bus this morning, as we drove up Whitehall, I looked out of the window to see two police, cradling machine guns, squinting up at the top deck of the bus. At every station there are at least two police in high-visibility jackets, usually carrying guns, scrutinising everyone entering and exiting. I know that the heightened police presence is supposed to reassure Londoners, but it just makes me more scared. I’m not sure why. Maybe because if I didn’t see police every time I stepped outside, the ‘terrorist threat’ wouldn’t be at the forefront of my mind. But I do, and so it is. And also the fact that the Met is taking it so seriously (rightly so), and has clearly stopped bothering trying to hide the gravity of the situation from us, makes me think oh shit this is real. And I should be scared. And OK, the terrorists haven’t ‘won’, in the sense that most people* are still taking the bus and the Tube, but also, on one level, if you count ‘keeping people in a constant state of low-level fear’ as ‘winning’, they have.

* I have spoken to several people, friends and family, who now refuse to travel on public transport, instead walking, taking cabs, or just staying at home.