Sunday, 26 July 2015

Evidence that Fran isn't a fan of pastel colours

I'm in love with this colour. I think it's called teal. Here's a square of teal.

I have the following possessions, all in teal.

1. My laptop. (I think I told you that story. The man in the computer shop wasn't impressed that I chose a piece of kit based on its colour alone, without asking questions about megabytes or other such young-people nonsense.)

2. The cover for my Kindle Paperwhite. (My daughter gave me this. She thought my reactions overstated when I realised it matched my laptop cover, but she was probably worried I would dance on her ginger cat if I didn't calm down.)

3. Some teeshirts.

4. Some jumpers.

5. Some scarves.

6. Some socks.

All I lack is a pair of teal trousers and some teal shoes, but one can overdo things. If I went out dressed all in teal, perhaps with a teal hat, I would be mistaken for a bright summer sky and that might not end well.

What I didn't know, until a minute after I began this blog post, was that a teal was a duck and that we get the colour teal from some of the bright-blue colouring these ducks have on their feathers. The colours are more apparent when the ducks are flying; most of the time they're quite coy about their bright bits, like this one below. I can imagine them swooping up into the air and saying, 'Ha ha! And there was you, thinking I was wearing a boring brown speckled coat!'

According to, my favourite word-origin site, the colour teal was only used to refer to clothing from 1923, whereas the meaning 'small freshwater duck' was used in the 14th century.

This duck doesn't look in bad shape at all considering it was born in the 14th century. 

Now, my life's ambition is to get myself one of these ducks, add it to my list of 'Things I Have in Teal' and find some way of wearing it so that it matches my socks.

Or, I could have it on my desk in the study, so that when I'm writing on my laptop, or reading my Paperwhite, there's a pleasing amount of coordination in the room.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Evidence that Fran will never be a marathon runner - if you needed more ...

We're all wired so differently.

My youngest sister's approach to crossing roads is this:

Cross the damn road.

Mine is this:

Spot a level crossing or zebra crossing in the far distance with a pair of binoculars. Walk a mile to it. Wait, checking carefully that cars have stopped, and that the light is green/the way across is clear. Check again for feckless motorists who don't believe in stopping despite the presence of a human body. Cross the road, checking all the time. Walk the mile back to original position.

I am not a risk-taker. She is. I like to check, do a risk assessment, then move. She just MOVES.

She's the same sister who hates public transport because it doesn't go straight from A to B. For me, I like the fact that my favourite bus, which could get me from home to work in five minutes if it went directly, travels via four housing estates, stopping seventeen times to pick up locals with whom the driver has a long chat about the weather or Mrs Jones' operation before it moves on.

For me, this pace is just right. I think I was a tortoise in a former existence. One with a limp. Or maybe I was a stone. I hate to feel harried or rushed. I don't even like a stiff breeze, pushing me along the road like a nag, saying, 'Come on, come on.'

I took my sister on a long bus journey only once. Half way to our destination, she said, 'This is really annoying me. It's just stop, start, stop, start, stop, start all the way.'

'But,' I said, 'how else would people get on and off?'

'Hm,' she said.

If I hurry a little, thought the tortoise, I can pass that plump lady with the glasses easily

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Evidence that my loyalties are wearing thin

I am very suspicious of vouchers, offers and free gifts from stores, given out in an attempt to create customer loyalty. Here are my thoughts.

1. Whenever we do an online grocery shop, I'm about to press 'Pay' when my husband scuttles in with a sheaf of tiny vouchers he's just found in a drawer, like a bird who's collected bits of torn paper for its nest. 'Can we use these?' he says. He's always been more save-the-pennies than I have, I think it's safe to say.  Cue fifteen minutes of squinting at minuscule numbers on vouchers for bleach, and shortening the lifespan of my eyesight by ten years, tapping them all in. Then the store tells me, 'You have saved £3.02 on your £110 order by using your vouchers. Well done!' Hallelujah, I'm thinking. I'd rather have had the eyesight. It's hard, plucking middle-age upper lip hairs with blurred vision.

2. I went to a department store last week and spent £60 on two tops for work. I don't often buy good-quality clothes. But having started a new job, I was trying to impress by wearing outfits NOT so obviously from the Save the Children charity shop and onto their fifteenth owner. With my receipt, the assistant gave me a voucher. 'If you spend £60 in the store before 1st August,' she said with an aren't-we-good-to-you smile, 'you can get £10 off.'  I wanted to say, 'I'll pop in again tomorrow! I've money to BURN.' But I didn't. She seemed a nice girl. Only thirteen-and-a-half, I'd say, and too young to be out after 4pm, but a nice girl.

3. At the beginning of the summer, in a store I won't name, but its initials are M and S, I was humming and hawing over whether to add another item to my basket. A man approached wearing a badge. He was called Emotional Blackmail, or it might have been Dave.  He told me that if I spent £60 in the store that day, I would get a free box of really fabulous toiletries worth a million pounds. Possibly he didn't say a million, but he made it sound that way. In the basket went my 'maybe' item, and at the till I was given my toiletries box as a reward for emptying my purse. At home, I opened my free gift. What was in it? Hardly anything I would use. Mainly self-tanning items. Self-tanning ointment. Self-tanning cream. Self-tanning spray. And a bottle of nail varnish the size of a toenail itself. I'd like to go back to the store, find Emotional Blackmail, and say, 'Next time you offer me a free box of toiletries, can you make it wrinkle cream, Immac, and a pumice for the hard skin on my feet? Otherwise, pick your target more accurately.'

Speaking of tanning .......

4. Everywhere I shop now, I'm offered a loyalty card. 'Do you have one of our loyalty cards?' I was asked this morning in a well-known British department store I won't name but it rhymes with Mouse of Blazer. 'No, I don't,' I said, trying to add a hint of 'And don't ask me if I'd like to get one today.' 'Would you like to get one today?' said the assistant. I declined. There are so many redundant, forgotten loyalty cards in my purse that loyalty has become for me an abstract, distant concept, so much so that I fear I would even dob my dear husband in and tell the world about the fact that he can't peel a potato without making me laugh at his efforts.  Oops.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Evidence that notes for your loved ones can carry the most tender messages

If I've posted this poem of mine before, it was back in the Edwardian era when I started the blog, and those followers have died now, or got bored, or perhaps died of boredom, so here it is again.

It's called Love Note, and I think you'll sense the fond feelings and affection coming through.

Love note

You're late - I've gone to Mother's.
Your stew is in the dog.
The Peugeot’s got a teeny dent.
I’m never good in fog.
Johnny's at the Youth Club
and needs picking up at ten.
Kate’s at that new boyfriend’s house.
She didn't say 'til when.
The washer in the kitchen tap
is letting water through.
The dog has chewed your slippers
And your brand new ipad too.

The cat’s had tummy trouble
and has had some in your shed.
The rabbit’s looking peaky
and the hamster’s looking dead.
The CD player goes uh-uh-uh.
I can’t work out what’s up.
The dishwasher won’t open
and the freezer door won’t shut.
A tile slid off the roof today
and cracked a paving stone
as well as an old lady.
A lawyer said he’d phone.

The bank has sent some letters.
I’ve put them in the rack.
We’ve had five bills from Barclaycard.
One of them’s in black.
Your mother’s sent a letter too.
She says she’s changed her will.
She’s leaving you with fifty quid
and the mansion to uncle Bill.
The neighbour’s jukebox just arrived.
Their party starts at nine.
I might be back by Monday.
or might not.
Love Caroline. 

And this poem wasn't one of them. 

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Evidence that I have plenty of material should I wish to write a sitcom

You know when you feel like you're starring in your own sitcom?

Here's what happened. Prepare to feel better about yourself.

Awkward pause before story begins. I can't believe I'm telling you.

A confession.

For a week, I'd been on a no-carbs diet, eating lean meat and salad, salad and lean meat, lean meat, lean salad, and lean meat salad.

That evening, I sat with my husband and ate lean salad and lean meat again, only he had salad, half a cow, and a pile of potatoes higher than a crack den. I tried to look happy, forking in my lettuce, but I was expecting to have lost three stone in my first week, and disappointment made me miserable.

We had a meeting to go to. 'I'm going on my bike,' he said, as we washed up.

'I'll go on the bus,' I said, 'and meet you there.'

We often travel independently like this, because he likes to get exercise, and I .... and I ... anyway, on with the story.

'You'll be early,' he said. 'Don't arrive early. It doesn't start until 7.45.'

'I'll find something to do,' I said. 'I'll sit on a bench and read. It's a nice evening.'

I got off the bus at 7.30.

The bus stop was outside a fish and chip shop.

The first humiliation of the night was that two girls from school appeared behind me in the queue, giggling as the assistant packed up a large portion of chips for me with more carbs than a paddy field. 'Salt and vinegar?' he said, as if to say, 'If I have enough supplies, that is, to cover this lot. I may need to ring the Cash and Carry in the morning.'

I wandered along the road, looking for a place to stand and scoff my chips. I was unwilling to do so anywhere those girls - or anyone else from school - or any other human - or thin, snide cat -  might pass me. There's no elegant way to eat three hundred and ninety fat chips with your fingers, especially when they're so hot that you're going, 'Hoo hoo, huh huh huh' like a steam train but still stuffing them in as though you'd been told you had ninety seconds to live.

I then realised I was on the road my husband would cycle along in the next five minutes.

Near the house where the meeting was, alongside the road I stood on, is a spinney, a small wood. I strolled into it, as though keen to study wildlife, and checked over my shoulder that no one was watching. But a curtain twitched in a row of houses opposite. I must have looked suspicious clutching my paper-wrapped parcel, as though I were about to bury a small body. Or part of one.

I ate the chips while standing in a clearing. It had rained, so all the logs I could have sat on were wet, and I didn't want a muddy bottom as well as burning shame. I hoped no one else would walk through: a man with a couple of dogs, perhaps, or two teenagers hoping to grope each other in peace against a tree and not expecting to find a middle-aged plump woman feasting in secret.

The chips tasted good, but I prefer them laced with ketchup than with guilt. And it was nearly 7.45, so I didn't have time to eat them all. But there always is tragedy in comedy.

The next challenge: to find a bin. No way was I going to say at the house, 'I've just eaten three hundred chips. Can I put the remaining ninety in your kitchen bin?'

But the only bins I could see were at the ends of long drives so that people in their living rooms would have seen me coming down the path.

My conscience wouldn't let me dump the package over a wall into someone's garden. There were too many potential observers behind too many suburban curtains and blinds. And I didn't need to add littering to my list of offences.

Approaching the house, I saw other people arriving, climbing out of cars. One waved 'Hi!' My husband arrived, too, on his bike. I still clutched the package. What to do? I stopped, turned my back so no one could see, opened up my handbag, and stuffed the package into it, screwing it up as tightly as I could, and squeezing it in between my diary and purse.

I couldn't do the zip up on the bag.

Inside the house, trapped in my own subterfuge, I left my open handbag in a corner of the hall, and over it I draped my jacket in case the chip smell emerged. There's a dog in this particular family home. I spent a worried evening in the living room during the meeting, hoping I wasn't about to be exposed as a chip addict by a terrier, nosing at my bag like a Customs and Excise hound.

'Would you like a lift home, Fran?' a man said after the meeting.

'No, no, I'll be fine walking,' I said. And I would have walked the whole 50 minutes back, there being no evening buses, to avoid being in his car with my aromatic contraband. But he insisted.

He didn't say to me, 'Why are you clutching the edges of your handbag together as though stopping blood from an artery?' as he drove me home. But I'm sure he wondered.

As I got out of his car, my husband appeared on his bike, home before me. Damn. Now I couldn't get my illicit package into our garden bin before he saw.

In the end, I dropped it into a neighbour's bin, emptied that morning by the council. The package made a big 'DOOM' sound as it hit the bottom. I hated doing it ('Darling, did you by any chance put half a packet of chips into our bin? ... Are you sure?') but I knew I would hate more admitting that I had consumed a bag of chips the size of the Americas when I was meant to be on a lean meat salad salad lean meat diet.

I avoided looking at any curtains as I ditched the evidence, in case I saw twitching. Was someone saying, 'Why is Fran putting something in the Brown family's bin? Isn't that what alcoholics do?' 'Maybe she's just dumped a load of English essays, dear, like people do with double glazing leaflets when they don't want to deliver them.'

The next day, my husband said, 'Do you have any tissues in your handbag? Can I look?'

I leaped up from the sofa so fast to get them for him that he must have thought, 'I haven't seen her move like that since the man with the Indian takeaway knocked at the door in February.'

But I couldn't take the risk. My handbag still smelled like the inside of a pickle jar.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Reasons why I should stay in

I walked past a man doing his gardening this week on my way home from work. 'Good evening,' he said. 'It's getting warm, isn't it?'

'Yes,' I said. 'Nufney wedder.'

I don't know why I couldn't pronounce 'Lovely weather' so that he would understand. It just didn't come out right. So, he looked at me askance as if thinking, 'If I'd known she was Dutch, I wouldn't have started a conversation.'

As I walked the rest of the way home, I remembered other 'encounters in the street' that have left me red-faced.

1. Once I walked past a lady who still had her umbrella up even though it had stopped raining five minutes before. 'You know it's stopped, don't you?' I said. I thought she hadn't noticed and that I was being helpful. She snarled at me as if to say, 'I can judge that for mySELF, thank you,' and carried on down the road, with her umbrella still firmly up, like Noah, despite everyone else's scorn.

2. Then there was the day I click-clacked in my work shoes past some men digging up the road. One looked up and gazed as I walked by them - I was indeed surprised as I'm no Sophia Loren - and as I made my way down the street, I heard the other one say, 'You didn't get any last night, did you, mate?' I'm guessing he didn't mean fish and chips. I still blush when I remember that. Cruel, or what? If I'd had my wits about me, I'd have yelled, 'No, but I did, and I think Johnny Depp was perfectly satisfied.' But I didn't. I was too busy clacking down the street as fast as I could, away from humiliation.

3. Some tourists stopped their car once - a distinctive silver car - while I was walking and asked the way to a local visitor attraction. I pointed them in the direction I thought right. As soon as they'd driven off, their faces shiny with grateful smiles, I realised I'd sent them the wrong way. I could do nothing about it, so I kept walking. Then, in the distance, I saw their silver car coming back. I squeezed behind someone's hedge, privet tickling my nose and ears, until they'd gone past. That was a couple of years back, but if you see a silver car with some puzzled East Asians in it, tell them I'm sorry, and that Hampton Court is still very nice if they fancy trying again.

Have a lovely weekend. Unfortunately, the wedder's not been very nufney today, but Sunday should be better.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Reasons why Fran needs a personal fashion adviser (and some self-esteem)

Is there anyone else as useless as I am at choosing and buying clothes? In the past week, I have had all these fashion disasters.

1. I bought a pair of linen trousers which fitted perfectly in the changing room, forgetting that after an hour's wear, linen trousers stretch to two sizes bigger, bagging around your bottom as though you'd lost three stone and flapping across your thighs like a tarpaulin in a strong wind. Then, of course, it's too late to take them back to the shop. ('It says these were size 18, Madam, when you bought them. How come they're now big enough to camp a family in?')

2. Conversely, I bought a pair of black trousers for work, which seemed fine in the changing room, early in the morning on a breakfast of yogurt and fruit. However, the next day, after porridge for breakfast, a lunch at work of ham sandwiches and someone's birthday cake, a few Party Rings someone left on a desk, and five mugs of restorative teacher-tea, I walked home feeling as though I'd been shrink-wrapped ready for the freezer. All I could think was: is there anyone walking behind me, and will they be wondering if at any minute I'll burst out of these trousers like a Cumberland sausage on a too-high heat?

3. I bought a dress. I thought perhaps it was time for a style change from my usual uniform of black trousers and variously-striped-and-patterned cardigans. With a pair of black tights, I mused, examining myself in the changing room mirror, perhaps I'd get away with it, despite not having worn a dress since my son's wedding in 2008. Then I got home and put it on and twirled this way and that in front of my bedroom mirror. Let's just say, I've never felt more as though I was a woman who's really a man in drag as a woman. What didn't help was that the only pair of black tights I owned were some I wore as an infant in 1964 which I found stuffed in a drawer and, as I pulled them on, fourteen ladders appeared, running down my legs like zips out of control. The tights went in the bin. The dress is going back to the shop. And I won't be going to the pantomime this year in case I haven't yet achieved closure and the Dame brings it all back.

Fran's pupils found it hard to concentrate on the punctuation lesson she was delivering. 

I have had one success. I went into the charity shop and found a pair of blue summer trousers for £3.99. They are also linen and despite being ironed get as creased as Gordon Ramsay's forehead after thirty seconds of wearing unless I stand still and do nothing. But they fit, not being too baggy, or too tight, or too similar to sex-change clothing. 

And they'll get good wear, nothing else in the wardrobe being suitable for public view.