I was going to order some little vintage side tables last week but the delivery time, from the Netherlands, was estimated at 4-5 weeks. Considering that the tables are already made – they are secondhand – what in heaven’s name mode of transport could possible take 4-5 weeks? I could construct my own tables in 4-5 weeks, whittling the frames from wood that I have painstakingly collected from the garden and dried out in the airing cupboard. In 4-5 weeks I could do a crash course in glass blowing and make the bloody tabletop!
At the very least I could hire a van and drive over to the Netherlands myself, and back, and that would only take two days. In fact: Google Maps informs me that it’s about eight hours one way and so I could feasibly do it in a day if I mainlined Coca Cola and didn’t stop for a wee.
What transport method could possibly take 4-5 weeks then? I’m finding this hard to fathom. Let’s say it goes by boat, which I’m guessing is the slowest way, how long could a crossing from the Netherlands possibly take? Is it going by rowing boat? Canoe? Pedalo? Is the boat the sort of boat that goes around the houses (or the coastline), picking up other bits and pieces from other ports before finally, thankfully, sliding wearily into the harbour at its final destination? Is it a bit like when you agree to share a minibus to go home from a wedding and a ten minute journey ends up taking three hours because you have to go to Leytonstone via Putney, Notting Hill, Maida Vale and then Putney again because Jeffrey and Toni passed out drunk and missed their stop? Is it like that? Does the boat go all the way up to the east coast of Scotland to pick up some huge crates of frozen organic salmon, and while it’s in the harbour all of the furniture from the Netherlands can be heard grumbling from below deck?
‘Fuck’s sake, Coffeetable. I told you we should have gone in the van with the bedstead and the floor lamps. Sideboard Bob will be officially an antique by the time we get to Shoreditch.’
‘It was cheaper this way, Brass Barcart, I’m sorry, I don’t know what else to say…’
More Google Map research shows that I could actually walk to Amsterdam in 79 hours. How mad is that? I’m guessing that with two solid brass side tables strapped to my back it might take just a bit longer to walk back again, but still, I reckon I’d do the whole thing in less than two weeks. For free. There is actually a collect in person option, so maybe I’ll surprise them.
‘Hi there, I’m here to collect the brass and glass Jean Charles side tables?’
‘Oh hi, yeah, they’re right here ready to go. Can I help you with them into your van?’
‘Nah, no worries. I’m on foot.’
‘Yeah, it was only ten days delivery time rather than your 28-35 days and I thought I’d save on postage. If you can just hoist them up onto my back there and pull this dubious-looking abseiling strap around to secure them, that’d be great.’
The only transport method I can think of, where it would legitimately take that long to send something from the Netherlands to Somerset, is this: sparrows. It’s a bit of a James and the Giant Peach scenario, but bear with. You tie a load of sparrows onto the tables using fine pieces of thread and when you have enough sparrows the tables lift into the air. They all fly, ever so ever so slowly, across land and sea and land again, but they don’t know where the hell Somerset is and end up in Barcelona. By then, some of the sparrows have perished and so the Spanish branch of Overpriced MidCentury Classics has to catch the tables using a man with a hand glider, attach more sparrows whilst in mid-air and send them off again in the right direction.
Another method slow enough to take 4-5 weeks would be by magical van. A van that can do all sorts of amazing things – turn into a musical fairground carousel, become a submarine, change anyone who drives it into a talking squirrel – but can’t drive in a straight line. Magic van can only drive in ever-widening circles, which means that the end destination has to be carefully calculated using the on-board Spirolometer and extra time has to be allowed for all of the pissing about the van has to do before actually getting to the place it needs to go. It wastes the first week driving around and around the bicycle lanes of Amsterdam, much to everyone’s annoyance, and once it gets to the UK the magic bus spends a good while doing both the North Circular and then the M25. Clockwise.
Give me strength. Literally. I’m setting off to get the tables tomorrow and the last time I walked more than ten miles I twisted my ankle…
After twelve weeks of complete isolation I decided to go to the post office to do some urgent returns. (I actually had to send back some clothes I had ordered and never unboxed. Because who needs clothes in a lockdown? Not I, apparently. Apart from a few special occasions, I’ve almost worn the same two outfits on rotation; the first a dress that looks like a sack, the second a pair of shorts that have taken on the actual shape of my arse, so that when I remove them they stand up proud upon the rug, and an old t-shirt that has holes in the armpits. For chillier moments, both outfits have been worn beneath the world’s ugliest cardigan.)
So I went to the post office, which is buried deep within a village shop so tiny, and so crammed full with shelves and carousels and whatnot, that it’s almost impossible to walk through it without touching anything. Which doesn’t bode well for social distancing compliance. And I have to admit I was concerned about my visit, having heard tales of people completely ignoring all distancing guidelines now that we’re allowed to fire up the BBQ and – er – play golf; what would I be confronted with? In my mind, the world had gone rogue whilst I was locked inside – it would be a Mad Max scenario, with modified sand buggies revving around the country lanes, rams’ horns stuck to the bumpers and post-apocalyptic flesh-eating zombies hanging out of the open windows.
It was fine though. At the start, at least. There was a “queueing system” outside of the shop door, so I casually merged myself into it, trying desperately to look like someone who had been outside of their house before. For some reason my legs didn’t quite work properly – they felt like cotton reels threaded onto pieces of elastic, which I think was nerves, but nevertheless made me look like a newly-born Pinocchio.
Unfortunately, abiding by the two metres rule meant that I had to position myself almost in the middle of the road, for there was no place to stand to the left or right of the queue that was prominent or obvious enough to signal my presence to queue newcomers. Queuecomers. And that’s important, isn’t it? In a country where we are borderline obsessed with queue etiquette, it’s essential that everybody – everybody – knows that you are, in fact, in said queue. This is usually conveyed with a nod and a smile and a small, pointless, forwards or backwards movement, just a very slight one, to draw attention to your presence.
In this case, there was nobody in line after me – yet! – but still, I had to stand my ground. There’s an art to queuing, after all, and one of the finest skills is ensuring that everyone who joins the queue after you knows exactly where you rank. But here was my first testing quandary/moral dilemma: to stand in the road, or risk weakening my queue presence by tucking myself into the nook-in-the-wall where the drainpipe runs down? To lose queue-face, or to be flattened by a DPD van?
The choice is yours!
In the end I opted for a bit of a compromise, darting in and out of the road like a demented badger. It was confusing for the drivers. I had more than one beep. A few motorists tried to wave me across, which meant I had to do the universal sign language for “NO! I’M NOT CROSSING!”
One mimed exchange was so painful that I just gave in and crossed the road, only to almost be hit by a fast-moving bike when I did an about to turn and crossed back again, such was my haste not to lose my earned place in the queue.
I lived to tell the tale, thankfully: it was inside the shop that everything went to pieces. I just didn’t have any experience in this social distancing thing – quite literally no experience at all. I hadn’t built up any etiquette, I hadn’t seen social distancing techniques in action: it was all entirely foreign to me. A new language. And so I entered the shop almost apologetically, creeping in an exaggerated, comedy burglar knee-lift knee-lift toe-point hop! kind of way. Bear in mind I was wearing a silk kerchief as a face mask and eyeshadow on only one eye and that I hadn’t properly arranged my nipples beneath my top so that one was about four inches higher than the other: I was quite the picture.
(Does anyone else now have to arrange their nipples to ensure levelness? It’s a right faff! If I just juggle them into position, you can guarantee that one nip will be far higher than the other, looking like a peanut has been stowed away for safe keeping. Gone are the days when they both just fell into place, like delicately-balanced teardrops.)
So in I went, my tote containing the parcels slung over my back like a swag bag, trying to greet the shopkeeper and post office man with just the joy in my eyes. Difficult to do. And then I got to the counter and it was as though a giant stopper had been removed from my brain, because the talking started. It started and I just couldn’t stop.
“I have some parcel returns! How are you? This is weird isn’t it? What happens to the protective screen once you don’t need it anymore, it would make great secondary glazing hahaha! So how many people a day come in do you think, I just need proof of postage for that one, thankfully they pay for the returns otherwise I’d be bankrupt because I pretty much do all my shopping online now, I expect most people do, which is good in some ways but not great in others. Alexa Chung was in here the other day wasn’t she? Did you serve her or do you know who she is, what is she doing here, everyone says you’re the man to ask because you know all the gossip!”
Honestly. The phrase verbal diarrhoea doesn’t even cover it. It was dysentery. Thank God for the protective screens, that’s all I can say. Even with the perspex barrier in place the shop volunteers (yes, they volunteer to serve morons like me, the mind boggles) were ducking beneath the counter, such was the ferocity of my stream of absolute crap.
“Please pop the parcel on the scales,” said the post office volunteer, which put an end to my impromptu monologue. There was a moment of awkward silence as he printed out the labels and busied himself with sticking them to the jiffy bag but then, scandal, a second customer entered the shop! Ignoring the queueing system and the one-in-one-out rule! They just marched straight up to the counter beside me and plonked down a loaf of bread.
How could I have been prepared for such a flouting of the guidelines? I’d prepared myself so well. Tied a silken scarf around my face like a luxury goods version of Butch Cassidy, queued outside on the road, to my absolute peril, and now – just as casual as you like – I was faced with a potential super-spreader. What’s the protocol for that then?
My parcel-returning finished, I was presented with the challenge of exiting the shop without going closer to the perpetrator than the prescribed two metres. Seeing as though the entire shop is around four metres square, I saw that it was impossible. It was like one of those Mensa puzzles they give to particularly bright children at primary school (just me? Oh lol! Sorry!) where you have to move the pieces about to get the square to the exit. Or something.
Anyway, the woman with the bread wasn’t bothered about distancing herself whatsoever and had started a conversation about deer hounds, so I was forced to plan my escape around her. But then the worst thing of all happened: she decided to use the post office counter! WHERE I WAS ALREADY STANDING!
“Excuse me,” she smiled. “If you’ve finished, I’ll just slide on over.”
Well this was a conundrum. The sliding over part sounded vaguely terrifying, but the bigger problem was where to put my body. I couldn’t very well disappear myself and there was no clear path past the super-sliding spreader – even without social distancing the passing of the two ships would have been tight.
She began her slide. What to do? Crash backwards through the bank of freshly baked goods? Send the Bakewells scattering, the sausage rolls tumbling from their pastry pyramid? Or should I Klinsmann-dive sideways over the tower of eggs and the boxes of potatoes? Neither option was favourable – it was the sort of evasive action you’d take if you were about to be steamrollered by an out of control lorry. Overkill, it could be labelled.
I settled, instead, for panic. I manically sidestepped one way and then the other, waving my hands in the air, looking for all the world like a crab on amphetamines. A bandit crab, complete with face mask, absolutely off its shellfishy tits, dancing to a song only it could hear.
The slider-spreader pressed herself closer to the counter, possibly out of sheer terror and I managed to side-crab my way past the baked goods and out towards the door. Another customer was about to enter, again flagrant disregard for the rules, but backed out with a look of surprise and horror as they saw the human bandit-crab side-lunging towards the exit. One eyeshadow’d, wonky-nipped, neckerchief slipping to reveal a mean, anxious mouth: small children wept, a border terrier whimpered, a man parking his bicycle stealthily hooked his leg back over the saddle and pedalled away to safety.
Haven’t been in to the shops again, obviously. You? How’s your lockdown going?
My children (three and a bit years old and almost five) have been learning to ride their bikes and it is at once a massively rewarding experience and a very new, very fresh hell. On the one hand, seeing them learn a new skill and become fully-functioning mini-people makes me brim with joy and pride; on the other, my nerves are shot to hell and I have more scratches on my lower legs than an intern at the Big Cat Sanctuary.
You have to wonder at the wisdom of putting very small humans in charge of what amounts to a welded-together collection of metal bars, sharp spikes and hard rivets. If you deconstructed a kid’s bike and threw all the pieces into a sack, it would be the sort of thing you’d have found being passed around the tavern before a medieval uprising. So you have to ask yourself whether it’s sensible to let a three year-old, who likes bashing pan lids into walls, sit astride this scaled-down weapon of destruction.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy that they’re racing along without a care in the world. Any milestone the kids reach makes me brim with joy and pride and seeing my only-just-stopped-being-babies careering away down a cycle path is somehow ridiculously liberating.
But at the same time I’m proudly watching them power away on their own steam, I’m usually pondering the new depths of pain and discomfort that I’ve managed to plunge myself into. It’s almost as though, as a parent, you have to give yourself something to make life more awkward. Sleeping through the night? Tick! Nobody biting on your nipple? Tick! Stopped having to wipe poo off the carpet? TICK!
What can we introduce now, I wonder?
I’ll tell you what: bike riding. The fear of them falling off and smashing something or other on the path, the fear that they will wobblingly meander into the path of a proper cyclist, like a drunken badger staggering into a dual carriageway. And then there’s the worry for your own wellbeing – the worry that you’ll trip over their back wheels as you jog along behind them, or get your shoelaces caught in their spokes, or have a nasty run-in with the stabilisers.
Oh, stabilisers. Stabilisers are terrifying, with their jagged metal hinges and their fast-moving wheels of certain laceration. Pushing along a child using stabilisers (this is the four year old, actually – the three year old has a balance bike) means taking the survival of your ankle bones into your own hands. You thought you were going for a pleasant Sunday jaunt to breathe in the scent of meadow flowers and look at the freshly mown fields, but really you’ve agreed to sacrifice the flesh on your shins, ankles and possible knees. But once you’re out there, with an enthusiastic cycle maniac, there’s no turning back. There’s no escape. It’s like finding yourself inside the Colosseum with one of those chariots that had the spikes sticking out of the wheels – if you’re taking a kid for a bike ride with stabilisers then you’re basically Gladiator.
And that’s not the only physical torture involved. Remember Quasimodo? That’s biking-expedition me, pushing a four year old up a hill when she’s too tired to pedal the bike. Bent double, shoulders hunched, face twisted into a terrible expression of pain and humiliation, staggering sideways in great, ungainly leaps.
“Here she comes everyone! The troll of the tow path! The bells, the bells!”
The three year old on the balance bike presents less of a problem, physically. He just races off, his little legs working away as though he’s powered by clockwork. But then his batteries run out and he gets tired and Mr AMR ends up with child on shoulders, child’s bike in one hand, dog lead (with dog attached) in the other. Like some sort of circus act.
And I’ll be bringing up the rear, huffing and puffing along, near-prostrate in the wake of the Queen of Sheba who is oblivious, upright on her cupcake bicycle and singing songs about how wonderful the world is.
“And I wake up, yeah, and the birds are amazing, the birds are great, the birds know my so-ong and the birds love my dolly, oh yeah, oh yeahhhh.”
Not a care in the world, just comfortably watching the hedgerows whizz by as I expend approximately the same amount of energy as a small shire horse ploughing a field, pushing with a gentle hand on the small of her back. She obviously has no idea how tiring the pushing is – she had the audacity, the other day, to actually yawn as I was navigating a particularly steep slope.
I fear, though, as with all things child-related, this phase will be fleeting and before I know it we’ll be onto the next level, where they race off without us, and another tie will be painfully cut. Another phase will be just a beautiful memory. I’d take lacerated ankles in exchange for a slowing down of time. Any day of the week….
I think I need a lawyer. Not because I’ve done anything illegal recently (unless plotting to kill the man who keeps strimming his bushes at night counts. Who the hell strims in the dark? Surely as an activity that presents so many dangers that it makes the whole endeavour entirely unfeasible? Decapitating badgers is one peril that comes immediately to mind. Slicing hedgehogs in two, like they’ve unwittingly volunteered themselves as participants in a magic trick with the world’s worst magician, is another. Then there’s obviously the danger to your own limbs. Although…the perfect murder seems to be developing in front of my very eyes!)
Where was I? Lawyer. Yes, I’ve decided that I need a lawyer and I need him or her to follow me around 24/7. Not for legal advice, you understand: merely to get me quickly and efficiently out of conversations that I don’t want to have and/or prevent me from doing my usual “nervous rambling on for twenty minutes at the end of meetings to the point where everyone else on the call/in the room can’t wait to get away from me” trick.
I don’t know whether it’s because I spend a lot of time alone, but as soon as I’m thrown into an intense conversational situation – whether work or social – I go into meltdown towards the end. The part where I know that someone – everyone – is going to have to say goodbye in an elegant and gracious manner.
I just can’t do it! Either I feel bad, as though I’m snubbing the other person by wanting to go, and so compensate by being overly nice for five minutes too long, or I begin to panic that I’ll be trapped for hours and hours and so say something stupid.
Which is why I need one of those shit-hot lawyers – preferably an American one – to extricate me. Whether it’s a meeting in person (you know, in the future) or an informal phone call, I want them there, smelling of Tom Ford Private Blend and writing stuff in their Smythson notebook with a golden pen.
And if all of this is confusing and you haven’t got the faintest clue what I’m on about then you need to watch more American crime series on the telly. Because if there’s one thing that you can rely on in an American crime series (and many of the British ones too) it’s that the lawyer will always know when to cut a meeting short. There’s no situation too tricksy for a Netflix/Amazon Prime attorney – if they want their client out of the room then they just utter three words:
“We’re done here”.
We’re done here is lawyer speak for “I know my client’s rights and we don’t have to say any more so there, we’re off matey!” but in television, it’s also code for “the writers have trickled out all of the tantalising evidence they want the viewer to see but are now too lazy to think of a good way to get to the next scene whilst retaining that nail-biting sense of mystery and suspense”.
“I think we’re done here.”
Ugh, so sauve. So assured. The cops never argue with it – the lawyer is usually scraping back their metal-framed chair as they say the magic sentence, standing up beneath the unflattering interview strip-light and gesturing to their client to follow them. It’s so brilliant! Just a few words and it stops everything. It’s like when you’re little and you wouldn’t go to sleep so your Mum would call your Dad and you’d hear him coming up the stairs and he’d say “that’s enough now, get to sleep” and that would be that. Eyes closed, no arguing, asleep in sixty seconds.
Bad analogy, possibly, but you know what I mean. There’s a sense of authority and “don’t mess with me f*ckhead” when the lawyer on the telly says “we’re done here”. Sometimes they get called out – we get double-bluffed and the detective has more damning evidence on the criminal/murderer/trickster than they initially let on – but not often.
Anyway, I digress. I want one of these lawyers to follow me about, to sit and listen to what I have to say (God, how boring!) and then, when they can see that it’s time that I shut the actual fcuk up they could just put a steady hand on my shoulder, look directly at the person I’m babbling to and say, confidently,
“I think we’re done here.”
To be fair, one hundred percent of the time at the moment that person would be my husband, so I’ll allow them to be a bit softer – maybe “I think we’re done here?” with a question mark – but if I’m honest, in lockdown the lawyer is needed more than ever. The number of conversations about bins, painting, hedges and grocery orders that should have been pretty straightforward but that have turned into full-scale wars could have all been avoided if we’d both had a sharp-suited LA attorney next to us.
“Oh that’s right, you always do the bloody bins don’t you and let’s not forget it! Well let me tell you sonny-Jim, doing the bins isn’t all that, because back in 2005 I did the bins for a week so I could -“
Weighty hand on my shoulder. Stern nod. “Ruth, I think we’re done here.”
Could have saved me a dozen arguments, nearly all my fault. Although, thinking about it, maybe I’d have won them more often if I’d had a shit-hot Bosch-style lawyer in a ten thousand dollar Chanel suit! And imagine all of the awkward questions that could have been avoided – all of those ones that tell you you’ve lost before you’ve even begun:
“Erm, did you actually remember to order the dog food when I said because he has none left and it takes a week to be delivered.”
Shit, shit shit.
“No….I think we’re done here.”
Ha. Wouldn’t it be great? I’d definitely my lawyer to sit in on all of my Zoom meetings, which seem to turn me even more random and rambling than usual, if that’s possible. I just can’t shut up! But sometimes it’s other people who can’t shut up, and in that case my attorney (I’m going to call her Barb Wire) would just raise an eyebrow and inch ever so slightly closer to the laptop camera:
“I think we’re done here.”
Bam! Goodbye. I’d never be the last one in the Zoom Room! I can never work out how to exit the bloody thing without looking like someone who has accidentally pressed the “change PIN” button on the cash machine. Fumble no more, my friends, Barb Wire Esq. is here to cut this meeting off at the knees! At the first inkling of anyone beginning to ask what everyone’s up to at the weekend,
“We’re done here.”
The entire group has started to talk about Love Island or I’m A Celebrity?
Oh! Here’s the best one. Barb can’t stand it when a pointless meeting is called – usually to “talk over” a presentation that has already been sent by email. She hates those meetings with lots of people on speakerphone, when one assigned representative reads out the presentation word. for. word. The presentation you’ve already read thoroughly the night before and now also see before you with your own eyes. This one calls for an early exit, if Barb is involved.
“Okay everyone, thanks for joining! I hope you all got the email with the PDF of the presentation attached – if you haven’t seen it then it’s on the email titled PRESENTATION ATTACHED. What we’re going to do over the course of this call is a) talk about what we’re going to talk about on the call and b) talk through the presentation word for painful word until your eyes and ears are bleeding and c) any questions? Yes, Barb, fire away!”
“We’re done here.”
I’ve (perhaps unwisely) started testing out online exercise videos. There’s a whole other post to be written on the various hazards to be avoided when partaking in Youtube workout classes, but I have a pressing question about the fundamental essence of my being and that is this: do I, Ruth Crilly, have the emotional maturity of a fourteen year old boy?
Am I hopelessly, embarrassingly immature or do other people chortle their way through the workouts, smirking at the utter smut-fest that is the running commentary? It’s like innuendo bingo! I have to say, too, that it is almost always the videos from the US that have the richest array of double entendre – the instructors across the pond seem to have absolutely no clue that what they’re saying sounds like it has been lifted from a porno script.
Here are some choice cuts from the Youtube videos I’ve been testing out this week:
“OK, I’m really feeling that in my booty right now, guys. Wow, that is deep, I can feel it deep inside my butt.” (Glutes exercise.)
“Oooh, that is good in my butt right now!” (Plank with mountain-climbing legs. Don’t ask. It’s no wonder the majority of people give up exercise after January.)
“Mmmm, okay, now let’s pump it, pump it, pump it, PUMP!” (Sumo squats with a “pulse” at the bottom. We will talk about “pulses” in my next exercise post when I’ve thought up enough expletives.)
I’d like to add that all of these things are said quite breathlessly, by women wearing lycra so tight you can see every gynaecological peak and trough. Nothing remotely wrong with that in itself, obviously, but it’s more than a little off-putting having a visual as well as the soundtrack. Puts me right off my stride! It’s almost impossible to balance on one leg and outstretch your arms “like an aeroplane” when you’re shaking with barely-contained mirth.
I find the word “pump” amusing in almost all circumstances, to be truthful, irrespective of accent. Depending on where you’re from you’ll know that “pump” is an alternative word for trump, parp or – as I insist on it being called in this house – bottom burp.
Unfortunate, really, when “pump” is such a commonly used word for…loads of things. Petrol pump, air pump, pump up the volume. I can deal with all of those versions, it’s just when someone’s talking about the action of pumping. Oh, the number of adverts I’ve filmed with beauty brands where I’ve had to say something like
“do two or three pumps into the palm of your hand!”
“spray two pumps onto your face and breathe deeply to inhale the scent!”
Kills me every time.
Anyway, back to the “feel it deep inside your booty” gang: surely they know what they’re saying? Do they come out with things like this deliberately, in a wild stab at humour, to get you through the workout? Or do they just assume that 99% of viewers aren’t as immature as me?
Answers on a postcard please. And happy Easter. I did mean to do some sort of intelligent, heartfelt post about new starts and beautiful life and #thankfulness but this issue seemed more important.
I’m back in the room! It’s not really as though I can go anywhere else, to be fair. Sorry for the slightly prolonged absence; I’ve been trying to get my head around the new working day, which consists of twelve hours of shared cat-herding (childcare) with Mr AMR followed by two hours of frantically trying to get admin done and, if there’s any time left over, work.
And I decided to distance myself a bit from social media for a while, mainly because I didn’t want to come on here and pour out my feelings and potentially add to your anxieties or feelings of doom and gloom. I wasn’t really in great shape the week before last.
You should see the post I wrote on Monday 16th, when we took the kids out of school early! It was a full four days before they officially closed and I just felt so weird and alone and had no idea, at that point, whether we were doing the right thing.
So the diary entry I wrote (and decided not to publish) was absolutely bonkers – more the sort of thing someone would write on the battlefield, knowing that they were living their last moments, than the diary entry of a woman faced with the prospect of home-schooling…
“Into the fray I go, not knowing what awaits us. I am locking down my family and battening the hatches and I feel as though we are preparing for the end of the world.”
Needless to say I’ve managed to gain some perspective in the eleven days we’ve been in isolation; not only do I feel incredibly lucky to have a healthy family, a relatively flexible job and a solid roof over our heads, I’ve managed to eke out some positives from the sudden, unexpected plunge into round-the-clock childcare.
I just need some time to think them up.
Haha. Only joking. It is a privilege to see your kids grow up and so a bit of extra time together should be seen as a blessing and not a curse – I think it’s the intensity with which we have all been thrown together, isn’t it? The sensation of not being able to escape or have a moment’s peace.
I feel as though I’d just got into a place where I could have a bit of my own life back when the kids went off to school and pre-school – I was even managing to work some “me time” (UGH) into the schedule – and now those windows of opportunity have been completely removed, so we’re all basically in a relationship pressure cooker.
But I shan’t moan – I’m reserving that particular click and collect slot for those that need it. NHS workers and people who have lost their jobs and those who are vulnerable and worried for their lives. Bit of home-schooling is a cinch by comparison.
Not that we’re doing any home-schooling – I mean, the phrase itself brings me out in hives. It’s my worst nightmare. I have no patience with even the most mundane daily tasks when it comes to the kids, so trying to get them to sit in one place and read sends me over the edge. Today I tried to keep things “exciting” and made “nature crowns” with them, which basically involved me burning myself multiple times with the glue gun, sticking my fingernail to the table and getting dried leaves and dead twigs all over the kitchen floor.
Did they love their nature crowns? No they did not. They think that their nature crowns are shite and they would rather be watching Mia and Me (don’t ask) on Netflix. I mean I don’t blame them, because if someone gave me the choice between making an origami dinosaur at the kitchen table or kicking back on the sofa watching Tiger King then I know what I’d choose.
On the subject of Tiger King: please discuss. If you haven’t yet seen this bizarre documentary about bat-shit crazy exotic cat owners then do add it to your busy social diaries. I know it’s difficult to fit in Netflix at the moment, what with all the garden parties and drink soirées and so on, but if you do find yourself stuck in the house and at a loose end then it’s one to have a bash at.
I’ve honestly been transfixed. But also dismayed. There are some bad, bad people out there aren’t there? It’s worrying. You can lull yourself into a false sense of security that the world is lovely and blah blah blah, and then you watch Tiger King and it’s like walking into a Thieves n’ Liars conventional. Leave your morals at the door!
I’d love to do a proper review of the series but everyone on the documentary is quite nifty on social media and I’d be genuinely worried that they would hunt me down, shoot me with a Lion-tranquillising gun and put my body through the meat grinder.
On that note, I’m off for a four-way.
Not that kind!
Social distancing has ruled out that particular pastime (LOL! Joke!) and so I’m having a Whatsapp video call with three of my friends. (I’m writing this on Saturday night.) We have a monthly (ish) dinner together and tonight was penned in as the latest date, but as we can’t see each other in person we’ve decided to be all modern and woke.
There will be wine, but I’m limiting myself to two glasses because the idea of a hangover when there is no recovery day in sight for at least two weeks is just to grim to contemplate. I’ll let you know how it goes…
I am sandwiched between two lone male diners. Not in the biblical sense, obviously, they wouldn’t be dining if they were sandwiching me (if that is even a term) and I’m not sure I’d refer to them as “lone” males if we were midway through performing some kind of debaucherous act.
No, I merely mean that I am sitting (also alone) at a table in a restaurant and the tables either side of me are occupied by lone male diners. I could have said it like that to start off with, but that would have deprived you of the lasting mental image of me being “sandwiched”.
Anyway, I write with important news, because I think I may be at the end of my love affair with burrata. You know burrata, the incredibly rich and creamy italian cheese – it looks like a ball of mozzarella di buffala, but it’s milkier and more surprising. If I was to accurately describe it, I’d call it a cheese sack filled with cream, but that has to be the least appealing description of any foodstuff ever, so I’ll leave it to finecooking.com who say:
“burrata is a supple pouch of tender mozzarella stuffed with stracciatella, a luscious blend of fresh cream and soft mozzarella shreds”.
Supple pouch. Supple. Pouch. I’m not sure which is worse: cheese sack, or supple pouch.
Getting back to the matter in hand; my love affair with burrata. We’ve been all over the world together – Paris, L.A., New York, London, Tokyo – and I’ve been faithful, dear reader, choosing burrata over almost anything else when given the choice. But things are fizzling out. It’s not actually the burrata’s fault, because I still love it, the big supple pouch of a bastard, the plump white orb of goodness; it’s what chef’s are doing to it that is turning me off. What they’re serving it with.
It seems to have become de rigueur to serve it a) completely by itself or b) with something that simply doesn’t do it any favours at all. Gives it no help. And you might say “oh, but burrata doesn’t need any help, it’s perfection the way it is!”
But try eating a whole, large burrata with nothing else on the plate. Which is how I’ve been served it a few times. It’s just too decadent, too rich. My body can’t cope with it. It’s so gloriously creamy, with its mozzarella shell and liquidy insides, but it’s (whispers) too much of a good thing.
In my very humble opinion (I say humble, but I must have eaten over eighty thousand burratas, so in a way I’m probably a world expert) the best way to eat a burrata is with something ever so slightly sharp, or tangy, beside it. My preference would be that there was something involving tomatoes, but equally it could be some peppers that have been charred, skinned, marinated in something slightly acidic. A quality balsamic, perhaps.
I don’t know, I’m just giving you my thoughts.
Of course the ultimate delight, if bodies didn’t have arteries that had to be kept relatively unclogged, would be a huge bowl of penne with an incredibly spicy tomato sauce and then a massive great big sac magique of burrata plonked on the top. Quivering. Ready to explode all over the spicy sauce and extinguish the fire. See? Balance!
Instead, I get given: a burrata on a plate, a sea of cream, some sprigs of what looks like thyme sprinkled on top. Which also makes no sense – why thyme? Or, in one overly-wholesome place, a burrata served next to an avocado purée, which was just nonsense, a triangular plate-shaped mess of expensive baby food.
And now I sit here, amongst my lone male diners, staring at another burrata creation: burrata with pine nuts (meh) and chargrilled broccoli. Broccoli!
The broccoli is offering nothing in the way of flavour, nothing strong enough to contrast with the milkiness of the cheese. It’s just faintly like guff, broccoli, and I love it but at the same time it’s not worthy of a place at the table with King Burrata.
And this meal was going so well, too. The ceviche starter was excellent. I even gave it my undivided attention, because my iPhone battery has died and I didn’t want to accidentally make eye contact with other humans. Not the ones here, at any rate. I’m not cool enough for the people here – the men all have fisherman’s beards and are wearing jeggings and there’s a girl wearing what seems to be a non-ironic tiger outfit, complete with tail. When I walked in wearing my tracksuit I saw the sea of eyes upon me; I’d have been less conspicuous had I weaved my way through the restaurant on a Penny Farthing blowing on a hunting bugle.
Now the dessert is here; deconstructed fig tatin. I thought that a tarte tatin was pretty deconstructed to start with – pastry, fruit, caramel – but here we are with it brought down to even humbler components. Wait: two of said components are missing. This is just figs and ice cream. Where’s the bloody pastry? Where’s the tatin? It costs 8.5, which means eight and a half pounds, to those of you who are used to the normal pricing system, which tends to work quite well so why mess with it, which I think is extortionate for three figs and a scoop of vanilla.
But this is not a restaurant review, I merely popped in to talk about burrata. Pressing issues, people, pressing issues. The man beside me has just leant in and asked me a dubious, conversation-opening question about wine – wine! – which means possible social contact and a potential awkward situation: time for me to run like the wind! I’ll not be the filling in your lone diner sandwich, matey!
Questions to answer: do you like burrata? If so, am I right about the accompaniments or amiright? Opinions below.
NB: the burrata in the image is actually a Claridges one, which was – incidentally – delicious, but appearance-wise scored low. Whatever the hell it was served upon looked like a bed of maggots. The cheese was, as expected, delightful, but where was the tanginess? Something contrasty? Nowhere to be seen, that’s where!
I finally caved in, after over ten years of owning an iPhone, and bought myself a protective case. Why the prolonged hesitation? I’ll tell you why. I genuinely think that most phone cases are horrendous. They’re like the tech version of Crocs. Plasticky, garish monstrosities that just seem to be needlessly bad. Design abominations. And what’s worse is that they take an object of great design beauty, the iPhone – so divine in its apparent simplicity, so streamlined! – and clothe it in fancy dress.
Whether it’s a rectangular neoprene wetsuit affair or some kind of angular, metallic thing that adds four kilos to the total weight of the handset, pretty much all iPhone cases look shite.
But anyway I bought two. (I kept my old phone – see below.) One is all gold and shiny and jagged, like a teen’s drawing of a futuristic supercar, the other is a rubbery coral-toned sheath. A kinky flesh suit for my new iPhone 11 Pro Max, which was a very kind Christmas present from Mr AMR and I had no idea quite how kind until I accidentally stumbled upon the price online whilst looking for phone tripods. It’s the sort of price that warrants full-time security and a driver, or at least one of those briefcases with a chain that you can handcuff to your person.
Anyway, back to the rubbery sheath. It has this funny pop-out thing at the back that looks a bit like a weird nipple; it pulls out with a satisfying thrrrp and helps you to grip the phone, if having a phone almost entirely covered in non-slip material isn’t grippy enough for you. Perhaps your fingers are made of banana skins or the tips produce a constant flow of melted lard. I don’t know. You’d have to be pretty bloody clumsy to not get a grip on a silicon case.
And I look at these cases and think this: why have I spent a fortune buying an iPhone, an object that has surpassed all usual standards of design and function, an absolute tech icon, and then put a case on it that’s so ugly you have to question the designer’s sanity? It’s like throwing a polyester dog blanket over a George Smith sofa, or wrapping a Ferrari FF in sticky back plastic, or clothing Michelangelo’s David in a tracksuit from Boohoo.
But I’ll tell you why I’ve put a case on: because the iPhone is too naked and vulnerable without one. With its glass casing it’s more like a phone foetus than a fully-formed piece of tech – one wrong move, one rushed pants-pull-down to go to the loo when it’s in your back pocket, one child’s clumsy swipe and the whole shebang is game over. Carrying an iPhone about is like being responsible for a Fabergé egg – you’re constantly catching it mid-air, comedy-style, and breathing a sigh of relief when a knock results in “just a small crack in the corner but it doesn’t affect the screen”.
And all of this is the fault of the iPhone designers, who have made what is now our most-used modern-world thing out of the most fragile material they could think of. They may as well have folded it out of origami paper or covered it in the crumbling pages from a 12th century monastic ledger. I just can’t even conceive what was happening in the meeting where they discussed manufacturing.
“OK guys, I am loving this iPhone idea. It’s like a cell phone, but so much more. I mean, I totally see people using this all of the time – like all the time. Not just for calls, but for everything. Schedules. Emails. Taking photos. I want this to be in people’s hands constantly, I want them to carry it with them everywhere. In the car, walking down the sidewalk, at the mall, on a family trip to the ocean…”
“Yeah boss, this is so awesome. It’ll be, like, the accessory. The most-used thing people will ever own. Question is guys, what do we make it from? This piece of expensive tech that the world will carry with them and probably put in their back pocket loads? Let’s put our heads together here guys. Over there in the corner, you there – Sam, what d’you reckon? What should we make the iPhone out of?”
“Awesome Sam. Alright team, let’s go ahead and manufacture in glass. If you could also make it super-slippy to hold, and also create weak points in the screen and casing so that if a spider sneezes it immediately shatters, that would be super-awesome. Let’s go guys, let’s do this!”
I still haven’t gotten used to my sheathed iPhone. Sometimes it takes me surprise and I look at it and think “that phone cannot possibly be mine.” Alas it is. I feel as though I’ve had a horrific hairdye job and I sort of forget about it until I look in the mirror and then, for a few seconds, I have a sense of disbelief. How could I have gone so dreadfully wrong?
But anyway, my iPhone now has the equivalent of a hi-vis hazmat bullet proof wetsuit on and so I’m sure it feels a lot safer. (It ponders upon this as it lies there on its charger-pad bed. The fact that it’s so brilliantly, perfectly formed, yet it needs so much help to survive. “Why did Daddy make me so weak?”)
I bought another case, too, for my old iPhone, the one that I didn’t trade in. WHAT? you may well ask. One always trades in, surely? Not I, friends, not in this case. And do you know why? Yes, the £350 was a massive temptation, but I can tell you a bigger temptation: having a spare phone filled with noisy/educational game apps for the sproglings to play on when I want a moment’s peace. Because do you know what I like to do when I’m having that moment’s peace? I like to play on my phone! There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting down with a cup of tea and a slice of Christmas cake (it’s still going strong, well done Mother) and realising you can’t actually scroll through Instagram or read the news because the very thing giving you a spare five minutes is the thing you need!
Anyway, I bought a case for the games phone (extravagant, but quite honestly there’s no price you can put on sanity, is there?) and good God it’s even uglier than my silicon nipple-backed one. (Nippleback. Could be a Nickelback tribute band!) It’s all angular and weird like Kryton from Red Dwarf.
The oddest thing about it is that it has a porthole cutaway so that the apple symbol can still be seen. Oh good! At least if people see the apple then they won’t think that the entire phone is an Early Learning Centre replica. It screams “there is good design inside me! You just have to look deeper! Beauty isn’t all skin deep you know!” Good bloody job really isn’t it?
Putting a sleek, flawless iPhone into the Kryto-case is like making Gisele routinely wear a suit made from egg cartons.
“We’re shooting Gisele for the cover tomorrow and we need to keep Chanel happy but she’s currently working with Dior, so…we have the bias-cut Dior drop-neck slip or we have the Chanel bikini styled with the snow boots.”
“Uhh, really? OK no, scrap those. Can you just go to fifth floor and ask if they’re still recycling the egg boxes? I’ll make them into a suit.”
“A…suit? We’re paying fifteen thousand dollars for a phone – I mean a model – and we’re going to hide her in an egg carton suit?”
“Yeah don’t worry, we can cut a hole out somewhere so that you still see how good her body is underneath.”
Don’t know where that semi-analogy was off to! Anyway you get the gist. I’m not impressed with these cases – even the apple ones look rubbish, although slightly less rubbish. To be quite honest I do wish I’d bought the silicon Apple one, which doesn’t have a Nippelback and is a nicer shade of pink. I think it was cheaper, to add insult to injury…
If you’re looking at these cases thinking I don’t actually think they look that bad then a) observe an unadulterated iPhone – isn’t it quite smooth and perfect and wonderful? – and b) you’re probably right but if I didn’t fully exaggerate all of my thoughts then I’d have nothing to write about.
Mind you, the three lens thing on the back of the new iPhones is almost as hideous as a Nippleback – I feel as though my new phone is an escapee from a robotics junkyard and any minute the front will open and little wheels will drop down and it’ll start beeping at me like R2D2. It’s an excellent camera but jeez. Chill out on the lens orgy!
Notes so that I don’t get sued: apparently Apple have made the new phone out of the strongest metal-strengthened glass known to the entire universe. The extra lenses are necessary for the super-duper image quality and both of the cases shown above are top-rated, high-performing cases that shouldn’t be mocked.
Why is it that when I have an early wakeup call, I simply cannot get to sleep? And by the way, I’m talking early-early here, when the owls are still hooting and the foxes are still tearing open the bin bags and rooting for chicken bones. Witching hour early, 3.30am early, not your pedestrian kind of early. Not 6am early. Pah! I spit on 6am.
Before Christmas I had a hideously early wakeup time – 4am – and the night before I could not get to sleep no matter how hard I tried. It didn’t help that I started packing at 11pm and couldn’t decide what to wear to travel to Paris. (Luxury problems, I know.) It was a toss-up between two terrible options; the skinny jeans that garrotte my Pleasure Garden in half with their seam, or the dress that makes my underarms overheat. And the choice of travel attire of course affected all of my other packing, because one option needed a longer coat and the other required a shorter type of coat and the whole debacle sent me into a late-night, overtired tailspin of organisational hell.
Even when I finally got into bed and closed my eyes (the kids woke up twice between 11pm and 1am) I tossed and turned for hours, unable to get comfortable or stop my brain from whirring.
And then after all of the whirring and tossing, I was too hot. Far too hot. This phase lasted for an eternity, roasting my feet and legs even though my shoulders and chest were cold. Which was a worry in itself, as I had a chest infection and we all know you have to keep your chest and back warm! God, you might get pneumonia and die! I’d already tackled death and the depressing certainty of it in the first couple of anxious hours.
It’s that first era of sleeplessness that always kicks everything off, isn’t it? The anxiety era. It starts with the worry of missing the alarm going off, then it moves to the worry of travel in general – things that can go wrong on car journeys, on trains, definitely on planes. After twenty minutes you’ve played out at least eight horrific scenarios involving masked men, suspicious packages, air hostesses with exploding tea trolleys, pilots with a death wish. Then, once you’ve exhausted all possibilities and turned your pillow over to the cool side again, you move onto life in general and all of the things that can go wrong, compiling an almost exhaustive mental list and committing it to memory so that you can refer to it again and again in times when you really need to be getting to bloody sleep.
Anyway, I finally got to sleep at three, but it could have been later because three was the last number I saw on my phone and we all know how time flies when a wake-up call is looming! And then, my friends, guess who sauntered up to the front door HALF AN HOUR EARLY?
The taxi driver. He knocked on the door at four, waking up the dog and then the toddler and then the small child who had until then been peacefully, blissfully slumbering, no worries or hijack scenarios keeping them from their beauty sleep.
I imaginary-throttled the taxi driver. Had I been living in the Georgian times and not merely living in a house from that period, I would have thrown open the bedroom sash, upturned my chamberpot and doused the man with piss. Alas I live in 2020 and we have a toilet. Also, if anyone can “throw open” a Georgian sash window I’ll give them a medal, because it takes about eleven minutes of jostling and joggling just to get them open enough to poke a hand out, even if you’ve had the frames reconditioned and all of the sashes re-weighted. Just saying.
So the kids woke up when the taxi driver knocked and – bizarrely – one child puked and the other did a poo. They were like an effluent-emitting version of a cuckoo clock, pyjama’d kids instead of cuckoos. Cuck-koo-BLEUGH! Cuck-koo-pppppllllllllllop. (That’s the universally acknowledged sound of a poo happening.)
Why could the taxi driver have not just been on time? Why half an hour early? Why knock on the door? It’s not as though we’re short of places to stop and pull over, near us. Yes, it’s dark, yes it can be slightly sinister and the trees look like witches fingers and you might get a bat flying into your windscreen, but for the love of God it’s four o’ clock in the morning! Being early is worse than late, in some scenarios – any decent person knows that. It’s as bad as turning up half an hour early for a dinner at someone’s house – you just don’t do it. They might be shaving their legs, or they could be peeling potatoes; if it’s a couple then they’ll likely be stressed and shout-whispering hateful things at each other, things about divorce and who makes all of the social arrangements and whether chicken past the sell-by date should be thrown away if it smells faintly of cheese.
If you book a taxi for 4.30AM, who in their right mind turns up early? It’s not like 4pm, when the passanger-to-be will most likely be doing that pacing, hand-wringing thing whilst waiting for their chariot to arrive. Daytime passengers are always ready for their car approximately twenty minutes before it’s due: morning passengers are not. Nobody sane chops a full thirty minutes from an already truncated sleep just so that they’ll be ready for a taxi – if you have all of your faculties then you’ll time it to a tee. Wake up, brush teeth, slide into pre-laid-out clothes, quietly creep downstairs and let yourself out of the front door – taxi idling outside, but preferably engine should be off so that you don’t disturb half the world.
You’d think that these would be basic and obvious default settings in life. Mind you, you’d also think that knowing how to pack a suitcase would be, yet I fail each and every time I do it. On this particular trip I managed to pack four different moisturisers yet only one matching pair of shoes – the other pair were both made of the same beige leather but the left foot had a 6cm heel and the right foot was a whacking great 10cm! Oh how I hobbled.
Anyway, those anxiety-fuelled sleepless nights are a total bore, aren’t they? And there’s nothing worse than finally dropping into a deep slumber and then hearing the alarm go off. I should have had one of my Epsom Salt baths (I tip five large mugfuls into a warm tub) but I was too busy hunting my wardrobe for the jeans that would leave me permanently disfigured in the nether regions.
Why don’t they make jeans with a gusset?