Posted in Life, Love and Laughter, Swimming

Diary of a Swimming Snob – People Watching

I love a public swimming pool. It’s a great place to people watch. (just don’t be creepy about it or you’ll get yourself in trouble)

People from all walks of life go swimming and these are a couple of my favourite observations from my latest swims. The first three come with the subtitle “What were you thinking?” The last two “Ah, isn’t that nice?”.

  1. Swimwear. You see all kinds of swimwear, and most of it is unremarkable. Guys, thankfully, rarely wear Speedos these days, and the ladies almost always wear a full swimsuit. But there was a young lady recently in the pool who was wearing a bikini. Nothing unusual in that, you might think, except this particular garment consisted of a couple of triangles of camouflage printed fabric held together with shoelaces that criss-crossed over her hips. Nice for the beach in Benidorm perhaps, but for swimming? Really? Then again, I remember that going to the pool as a teenager was a great excuse to show off to the lads. In my case it was less about the body, (I am built more like a seal than your average Sharron Davies look-a-like) and more about how I could beat them all in a race.

    sea animal dog zoo

    Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

  2. Hygiene. There are signs around the sauna and steam room with instructions on not what to do. There’s the usual – don’t run, don’t go in the steam room if you have health issues, etc., then there are some I have never seen anywhere outside of Liverpool. ‘No shaving, no pumice stones, no food, no glass bottles containing oils’. Why do they need to put these signs up? Have I missed something? I’d have thought it’s pretty obvious that you don’t shave in a sauna, it’s not a Turkish bath, it’s a public swimming pool. Then this week as I sat in the sauna, a guy in the corner started shaving. He tapped the razor out on his leg, got up and left. Behind him another guy walked out carrying his glass bottle of Olbas Oil. When I saw them later they had carrier bags of ‘stuff’. There was another family having a picnic at the table, right underneath the ‘No Food‘ sign. Why are they allowed to bring in anything more than a swim cap, goggles, towel and a bottle of water? Shouldn’t the lifeguards be putting a stop to this at the door? So I am just waiting for someone to get the old pumice stone out and start scrubbing their feet. Urgh, my skin crawls just thinking about where those dead skin cells will end up. I think the signs must be giving people ideas.

    person swimming on pool with feet in the air
    Photo by Chee Zu on Pexels.com
  3. Then, there’s the lady with a couple of kids heading into the pool on a Sunday morning. She was shoving bags and clothes and general stuff into a locker and trying to corral the kids at the same time. She had her hands full, I’ve been there. Sometimes it seems like it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Anyway, as they were finally leaving to go and get wet, she shouts “Hey Carol-Ann, take your IPad with you.” Carol-Ann asks why. “‘Cause yours is waterproof. The others aren’t.” The kid looks at the sign that says ‘Absolutely no phones, cameras, tablets or electronic equipment past this point’ and looks at her mum. “It’ll be fine” says mum. And they say kids spend too much time online.
  4. But to end on a couple of good notes. There was an elderly couple in the pool one day who must have been in their 80’s. He was helping her to swim. I don’t know if she was learning, or if she was exercising after a health issue, a stroke maybe. She wasn’t a good swimmer, she was slow and she kept veering off at an angle, she didn’t get her face wet, she was not confident, and she was unsteady on her legs when she stood up, but he was so patient and gentle with her, it was a joy to watch. That’s how I want to grow old. Of course I could have it all wrong and they can’t stand each other most days, but I am choosing my version.

    three boy s jumping into the water
    Photo by Marc Richards on Pexels.com
  5. At the other end of the age range, a mum was teaching her little girl to jump into the pool without arm bands. I was in the lane next to them and as I was about to push off, the girl said “Look mummy, that lady is going to go underwater.” As I pushed off I heard mum say, “Yes, look, there she goes.” I smile to myself as I glide underwater. Someone had noticed me, and she might have taken it as a sign of encouragement to jump in herself. I like that. It gives me a lovely warm feeling inside.

So despite all my moaning at the annoying stuff going on in the pool, there are bright spots of sunlight to brighten up my day too. I just need to train myself to pay attention to them.  But if I see a pumice stone I’m cancelling my membership and only swimming in the docks with the eels.

Posted in Life, Love and Laughter, Writing

(Some) People are Tools

People are funny sometimes. Some are ‘Funny Ha-Ha’ and others are more ‘Funny Peculiar’. Lately I seem to be plagued by the funny peculiar type and, I believe, I am in fact a magnet for them. I don’t know if it’s to do with being a woman travelling alone, or if the whole world just went funny when I wasn’t looking.

Urban Dictionary definition of a Tool: Someone whose ego FAR exceeds his talent, intelligence, and likeability. But, of course, he is clueless regarding that fact. He erroneously thinks he is THE MAN!

Which tool are you?

The Monkey Wrench

person holding silver crescent wrench behind vehicle wheels
The Monkey Wrench

Well, this bloke really took the biscuit when it came to funny peculiar. I shared a table with two lads for 2 hours on a packed train. The longest 2 hours of my life and 2 hours I will never get back. They did tell me their names but for the life of me, I can’t remember them, so I’ll call them Bill and Ben. They were only in their early twenties, if not younger, and they had Cardiff accents, so I knew when they got on at Birmingham, I was stuck with them for the duration.

I was already seated as they made a spectacle of themselves just finding seats. Ben carried one holdall and was dressed in joggers, a sweatshirt and trainers.  Bill had more luggage than Imelda Marcos leaving a shoe sale, and he had to put some of it on an empty seat next to another stranger. Bill was a dandy. He wore big rings on his fingers, a gold necklace with a cross, shiny leather shoes and a suit reminiscent of Rupert Bear. He wore a colourful striped shirt and a poppy covered tie. Clash much? He had a green paracord bracelet on his right hand, which didn’t fit with the rest of the ensemble and he must have bathed in a vat of aftershave.

I was reading a book when they sat down and started talking. Bill did not draw breath. He talked nonstop. I have never seen anything like it. He had an opinion and advice about absolutely everything you could think of, and he was as thick as your Nan’s doorstop cheese butty. I desperately kept trying to read and he kept interrupting me and the topics were completely random.

He couldn’t remember if people had 5 toes or 6 on each foot. I could see the cogs whirring as he was obviously trying to mentally count his toes from inside his shoes. He counted wrong. He didn’t know yoghurt was made from milk. He thinks he believes the Romans existed though he’s not sure Jerusalem is an actual place. He used his fingers to add 10 minutes to 58 minutes.

But the best thing was how he was trying to keep it quiet that they had just passed Army Selection (hence the paracord bracelet). He was so covert in hiding it that he kept calling me Ma’am, even after I told him my name, he answered “roger that” instead of a simple “yes” every single time, oh yes and he kept talking about it non-stop to a crowded train for 2 hours. He told me he didn’t want to advertise the fact that he was in the Army because it would, in effect, put a target on his forehead. He showed me his Facebook profile. His name was displayed as BILL TOOL (Soldier Boy) his profile pic was of him in uniform, and his cover photo was of his soon-to-be cap-badge. He may need extra lessons in camouflage class I think. SAS or Int Corps he most definitely is not.

They were perfectly lovely young men though (wow, how old do I sound?) obviously pleased as punch to have passed Selection, and rightly so.  I wish them both well. I am sure they will have a great future ahead of them and make their families and themselves proud. I don’t have a problem with people being factually challenged, it takes all sorts. People have different strengths and that is perfectly fine.

But oh my f god – he did not shut up for 2 hours straight. If you are going to talk incessantly, please try to make sure it’s not all total bo**ocks.

The Blunt Axe 

I took another train, this time to Southport. Just an hour each away so I took my knitting to keep busy. Nothing peculiar in that, right? The trip there was pretty uneventful. A little old gentleman sat opposite me reading his book, and he didn’t even raise his eyes to mine, let alone speak.

On the way back however, I was gifted with Derek (name changed to protect the peculiar) as a travelling companion. I know his name was Derek, because he introduced himself as he shook my hand and told me I have a very unique personality.

I knew I was in trouble when he interrupted a conversation across the carriage and told them they were wrong about water meters. They told him it was the best decision they had ever made and shut him down immediately. And so, he turned to me.

axe close up dark grass
The Blunt Axe

Derek was a nice enough chap. Reasonably well dressed in jeans with greying floppy hair, 50-ish I guess, a bit scruffy but not dirty. He had one of those softly spoken, gentle Liverpool accents, similar to Roger McGough the poet. The sort of voice you could listen to for hours if he were reading decent poetry. But Derek wasn’t reading poetry.

It was the knitting that gave him a conversation starter, although I’m sure he’d have found another ‘in’. But he soon lost interest in what I was doing and started banging on about all kinds of political stuff. I have no problem with people’s politics, each to their own, but if I wanted to hear some d*ck spouting nonsense I’d tune in to Question Time.

I learned that he sees himself as a traditional man, not one of these “new -fangled New Men” (his words). He is a hard-working labourer, a man’s man, with a woman at home looking after him. I know he moved to Southport because his girlfriend wanted him to, so he obviously wears the trousers in that household. He was on his way to his ailing mother’s house with not one but two Mother’s Day cards, because he couldn’t decide which he liked best. He showed them to me. They were pretty much identical. He had no idea what to buy her for a present. He was angry about where they had positioned her smoke alarm where she could see it blinking all day and all night, and that it showed a lack of empathy (fair point). He also hated that they had cut her carers down, in a subversive move to force her into a home so they could take all her money and her house. Something he vowed would never happen “as long as there is breath in my body”. He banged his fist on his thigh and pulled a face.

Derek was a very angry man and had many an axe to grind, he was anti-establishment, disliked ‘The Man’, but he was so softly spoken that I missed most of it. I smiled and nodded a bit, and generally tried to concentrate on what I was doing, hoping he’d get off the train soon. I resisted the urge to mention BREXIT or Thatcher. I think he may have quietly combusted.

There was plenty more, but I couldn’t hear a word. Regardless, he talked constantly for half an hour. But it all felt a bit wet. The fist punching was weak posturing for my benefit, and he had no idea that I wasn’t engaging in the conversation. How he knew what kind of personality I had is beyond me.

The Mallett

egg power fear hammer
The Mallett

And in case you think it’s all men – I am actually writing this on the Library computer and next to me a woman is gesticulating and bashing hell out of the keyboard and mouse in temper as she has a Facebook argument. She is swearing and arguing at the screen, flicking the v’s, and waving her arms in despair. I’m not sure she realises they can’t see or hear her. I’d love to have a nose and see what the argument is about, but I think I might get a punch in the face.

I am sure that these three are all very nice people, perhaps they just need someone to talk to, someone to listen. It’s a colourful world we live in, and these guys make life interesting. But Christ can they make a train journey drag.

Okay, so perhaps I am being a little judgemental, but hey, they invaded my space, I was quietly minding my own business when they interrupted, so that makes them fair game in my eyes.

I love people watching, all writers do I guess, but it’s almost as if these guys came out from the TV screen and sat on my sofa. Well, they will be characters in a book someday and revenge will be sweet.  This kind of Funny Peculiar is too good to waste.

Which Tool are You?

 

Posted in Life, Love and Laughter, Swimming

Diary of a Swimming Snob

I am a swimmer – check out ‘Badass Mermaid‘ – and it is pretty much the only sport I have ever done. At school I was OK at squash, but not tennis. Netball bored me to tears and a smack in the face with a hockey stick put me off that too. I still have nightmares about my cross country running trials. I was the one at the back limping along, drenched through to the skin, blue with cold, splattered in mud and holding the stitch in my side. Running was not for me, which became even more apparent when I joined the Army.

So swimming is my ‘thing’. My brother, sister and I were in the local swimming club. We swam most nights after school, before school, at weekends and during holidays. We swam for miles. And this was back in the day when we did no other exercise other than swim. We didn’t go to the gym, we didn’t stretch, we didn’t have water bottles poolside, our warm-ups involved jumping in and swimming 20 laps. We just swam.

My brother was the kid that broke swimming club records and later went on to complete an Ironman. My sister was also a very strong swimmer, breaststroke especially. Unfortunately, she was born into the year that contained the elite swimmers. All the girls she had to swim against were awesome. She didn’t do a bad job at competing but it was an unfair time to be in her age-group. She is the middle child though, so if it was going to happen to any of us, it was going to happen to her.

I, on the other hand, had very little competition, and I still never won anything. I was a steady swimmer. I could keep up but I was no Sharron Davies. I once entered a 50 metre butterfly race. 2 laps long and I lost by 1 lap. I got the silver – because there were only 2 of us. I was up against Theresa – she really did put the fly into butterfly.

A few years ago I was encouraged by a friend to enter an adults swimming gala. I didn’t do too badly in most of the races, until it got to the backstroke. I used to be quite good at it back in the day, but not on this day.  I was slow, I messed up the turn and I had that awful pity applause as I came in miles behind everyone else – it was mortifying.

But I was (and still am) a stylish swimmer. My teachers used to ask all the other students to get out of the water and stand on the side of the pool. Then they would make me swim up and down to demonstrate how to do the different strokes properly. Style and grace I had, speed and endurance I did not.

Swimming led on to other sports. Octopush was one of my all time favourites. (Yes it has an ‘H’ on the end. To this day I struggle to say octopuss without it.)  If you have never heard of Octopush you should really look it up. Invented by SCUBA divers as a way of keeping fit during the winter season, it can best be described as underwater hockey.  I may not have been keen on getting hit in the face in regular hockey, but that was nothing compared to Octopush. It is supposed to be a non-contact sport, but it is more comparable to ice-hockey with the pushing and shoving – except it’s played underwater!

And finally a few years ago I qualified as a SCUBA diver, something I have always wanted to do but never had the chance before. I’ve still not had chance to do a great deal of diving, but I love it when I do. I especially loved meeting this little cuttlefish in Tenerife a couple of years back. It’s the only time I’ve been diving outside of the UK so far.

cuttlefish

Cuttlefish – Tenerife
underwater motorbike (2)

A chilly murky dive in an English quarry

For now though I mainly swim in a warm indoor swimming pool. I recently signed up for the Diabetes UK Swim 22. The challenge is to swim 22 miles over 12 weeks – the distance across the English Channel – and it has brought back memories of those swimming club days. I would like to tell you about in the next couple of blogs.

Posted in Art & Craft, Life, Love and Laughter, Writing

Snail Mail

It may come as no surprise that I like to write.  It is after all the reason why I set up a blog, and although I may not be a very prolific blogger, I write ‘stuff’ all the time.  My flat and my Onedrive are full to bursting with little notes, musings, observations and general mutterings from my Scattered Brain, hoping that, like those miscellaneous bits in that special kitchen drawer, they will be useful for something someday – if only I can find them when I need them.

But I miss the act of holding a pen in my hand and actually physically writing. At school when I was 10 – which was a while ago, but not that far back in the dim and distant past (I’ve not reached my half century just yet, thank you very much) we were taught handwriting.  Do they still do that now?  We had to have fountain pens and jars of Quink ink to refill them.  Then we would spend classes writing in our best handwriting on specially lined paper to get the curls and the flicks in just the right places, which may surprise you if you were to see my handwriting these days.

letters

It’s probably because of these lessons that I have this romantic (but completely impractical) image in my head of myself as a writer, not with an old style typewriter, or banging away at a keyboard, but as a scribe, quill in hand, sitting in my library, scratching amazing anecdotes and awe inspiring work onto parchment, sporting ink stained fingers on my leather-topped oak desk which is littered with paperweights, inkwells, blotters and wax stamps.

Quill and letter opener
Quill and letter opener

Well I have an ink well, a couple of quills and  wax stamps too.  No blotter, oak desk or library yet though. Instead an old kitchen table and a pad of blotting paper work just fine.

I  spend a great deal of my time at a computer of one sort or another.  PC, laptop, tablet, phone or even the TV, and I realise that social media is a massively important part of getting to know others in the writing community.  It is not my strong point, getting to know people, and especially online, but I do try with Twitter and to a lesser extent Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

So I decided to look for Pen Friends again.  Did you know that writing letters is now called Snail Mail?  Back in my day it was just called mail. A quick Pinterest search for Snail Mail ideas and the amount of stuff on there is gob smacking.  Since when did writing letters become such an art form, so expensive and so competitive?  What exactly is washi tape anyway??

I had a few pen pals when I was a teenager, and some of them are still Facebook friends 30 years later, but we don’t write anymore.  To be honest, we don’t even chat on Facebook now.  We just like and share each others posts, which is quite sad really.  I think I need to get in touch and see if they want to write again.

I found an online pen pal finder, which seemed to be legit, had great reviews and did their due diligence when it came to handling personal information.  It was also free – a bonus for a skint would-be-writer – but also has the option to upgrade for a small fee. Everything is checked and verified by real people and no one gets your address unless you say so.

Letter box
Letter box and paperweight

There is an option for you to decide how you want to correspond with people.  Snail Mail, Email, Postcards, Pocket Letters, Mail-Art, Parcel Exchange, Candy Swap, Travel Buddies.  I had no idea what half of these were, so I just plumped for snail mail and postcards.

In the last two months I have been in contact with three ladies. One each from Canada, Kenya and Germany. You can filter the people you are looking for by age, language, country, interests, gender etc., if you want to.

I received my first letter at Christmas and I have to say there is nothing quite like a little parcel from another continent dropping through your letterbox to cheer up your day.  Diane had included all kinds of little gifts, a postcard and enamel badges, nail stickers, maps of her town and photo’s of her with her kids as well as a lovely long letter telling me all about herself.  We are both really excited to get to know each other better and we seem to have hit it off really well, with common interests and outlook on life.

Ready to post
Ready to post

But I can now remember why it’s called snail mail.  It can take a month to receive a reply to your letters, by the time it takes to get there, for them to find time to sit and write and for the postage back again, so patience is definitely a virtue. There is no instant gratification of the ping on your phone.  But that makes it all the more exciting when they do arrive. And you can also write to more and more people and stagger when you write, that way you may have a more even flow of letters in return.  You just need to keep on top of the writing and finding things to write about.  And tracking what you’ve said to each friend is a task all of it’s own. For now, I think 3 is enough to get me back into the letter writing habit.

I did succumb to buying some washi tape and lovely stationery.  The tape is easy and cheap to buy, stationery and address books less so.  But they are out there, and there are plenty of online suppliers to suit all tastes and pockets – but I was trying to buy local and avoid the screen again.  I even picked up a stationery set in a charity shop for 50p. I love a bargain.

The biggest expense is probably the postage, but the contents can be as extravagant and fancy as you like.  Mine are not very fancy at all, but I do like to tart them up a little bit and include a few tit-bits to make them more interesting.  Photo’s are also great.  It’s good to put a face to a name.

I don’t write letters with a quill yet.  It’s extremely messy and untidy in the hands of this amateur, instead I use a fountain pen filled by cartridge rather than ink bottle.  And I don’t make my own envelopes and little knick-knacks to go inside them as Pinterest might have me do.  Nice as they are, life, I feel, is too short and I am really not that artistic.  They would look like something a 5-year old made for Mother’s Day, and although the thought is what counts, I’m not sure a 40 something lady in Kenya wants to keep that crap on her fridge.

Writing letters is a great excuse to talk about yourself.  It is also an interesting and uplifting way for us introverts to get to know new people, to find out about other lives and cultures, and it’s a perfect excuse to sit at your desk (oak or otherwise) and write.

writing
The wax stamp we bought for our wedding invitations now being used on my snail mail
Posted in Life, Love and Laughter, Outdoors, pembrokeshire, Pets

Unlucky Chucky

There was an old chicken named Gertie

Whose feet were incredibly dirty.

To increase her allure

She’d a fine pedicure

And now she’s fantastically flirty.

She wasn’t called Gertie as it happens.  Her name was Scrat.  Do you remember Scrat, the sabre-toothed squirrel from the Ice Age movies?  He never has any luck, seems to always get himself into bother, and is obsessed with hoarding one single acorn.

Scrat, the only one daft enough to venture out into the snow in search of our company.
Scrat, the only one daft enough to venture out into the snow in search of our company. Here she is trying to look at me through her bad eye.

We named our Scrat after Ice Age Scrat because she was an unlucky but likeable little chicken.  When we first collected her, she could barely walk because her feet were completely encased in rock hard chicken poo. She had great big solid balls of the stuff on each of her toes.  It took a lot of soaking her feet in warm water to finally get them clean, but then she could run around just as well as the others.  Almost.

scrat fruitsalad
Helping herself to fruit salad

Scrat was accident prone.  She had somehow lost the sight in one eye before we collected her, but we don’t think she’d cottoned on to this fact.  She would get all excited and go hurtling around like a headless, well, like a headless chicken, only to crash headfirst into walls or trees or other chickens.  If you threw food for her from the wrong side she couldn’t see it, and by the time she’d worked out that she needed to turn around, the other chickens had often scoffed the lot.

She was the very definition of bottom of the pecking order in our little flock, bullied by all the girls, especially Tikka, who was a gobby little madam.  Even Kentucky the cockerel wasn’t as enamoured of her as he was the others.

dustbath cloche
Scrat and Kentucky destroying the seedlings in my cloche
scrat and dustbath
Scrat assessing the damage

But, after a little settling in period,  she laid just as well as any of our ladies,  she was soon in great condition, she was curious, she was silly and she loved people. The main reason we picked her up in the first place was because she ran straight to us, so she was easy to catch.  (and the dirty feet helped.)

She was always first to greet you in the mornings.  She was the one that sussed out where the back door was and would often wander into the kitchen.  She was the one standing outside the kitchen window, just in case you felt the urge to throw out a few scraps, or under the bird table in case the wild birds dropped anything.  She was the one that didn’t mind being picked up and stroked.  She almost lost her head or a toe every time she dived in front of the spade because she’d seen a grub or a worm.  She was the one that would come running up to you as soon as you stepped out of the house, head held to one side so she could see you from her good eye.

kentucky looking out for his girls
Scrat in the centre with Gertrude and Beatrice and Kentucky looking out for his girls.

She was a clutz, she was a danger to herself, she was accident prone, and we never worked out if she was very brave or just very stupid.  But her self-preservation skills seemed to be paying off, she trusted us and she was by far our favourite.

Our first five chickens came from a barn and had never stepped outside before.  Next we rescued a couple of ex-battery hens, who were in a worse state.  But watching them take their first steps on grass and grow in confidence and feathers was an absolute joy.

tikka

Times have changed and we don’t keep chickens anymore, we don’t have the lifestyle that would allow us to keep them right now.

But, if you do have the opportunity, the resources and the desire to keep chickens, I can absolutely recommend it.  They are such characters with quite individual personalities, and they are a joy to have around.   And the eggs are a delicious bonus!

eggs

Posted in Life, Love and Laughter

Winter’s Coming – Game of Cards?

I know I’ve been a bad blogger of late. In my defence I have moved house and Christmas is coming, but even so, it’s about time I posted again, if only to get back into the swing of it.

So today I took a break from the stresses of the circus that is Christmas and had a quiet afternoon playing cards.

Hands up who plays Solitaire on their pc, laptop, tablet, or phone? How many of you own and play with an actual deck of cards?

When we were kids, I vaguely remember one of our teachers suggesting to my parents that playing games like dominoes and cards when we were little can help with maths, numbers in general and even telling the time. Likewise, Scrabble and Hangman were good for learning vocabulary and spelling.

I remember playing various versions of Patience – aka Solitaire – taught to us by my dad, and my favourite was the Clock game.

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Clock Patience

It is such a simple game to learn and is completely dependant on chance. Hence the name – Patience. There is no skill involved whatsoever, and so anyone who knows, or is learning, their numbers can play.

  1. Shuffle a deck of cards and then deal piles of 4 cards face down into a circle of 12 to represent a clock face. See picture above
  2. The Jack represents 11 and the Queen 12
  3. Place the final 4 cards face down in the centre of the circle, and this is where the King’s go.
  4. Take a card from the centre pile and place it next to the corresponding pile in the circle. For example if it’s a 6 place it next to the bottom stack.
  5. Take one card from the pile where you just placed your card – ie if it’s a 6 take a card from the pile representing the 6 on the clock.20181216_153802261275009.jpg
  6. Keep doing this with the remaining cards. If you turn up a King, it goes into the centre of the clock and you take the next card from the centre pile.
  7. To win you need to turn over all of the cards before you turn up 4 Kings. And that is it.

To some, this may seem a pointless exercise. I hear the word “Boring” shouted from every teenager engrossed in a game of Call of Duty right now. But in a world where mental health issues and stressed out kids who are feeling lonely and isolated are becoming more and more prevalent, perhaps a game away from a screen, something that is calm and requires no thinking, could be a balm to a troubled mind. Heck, card games can even be played with other people, in real life, in your own actual living room! Too sarcastic? Hmmm maybe.

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I despair sometimes of all the time people spend in front of screens. Something I am guilty of to, I am writing an online blog for goodness sake. So something as simple as a game of cards, dominoes or board games can be a great family bonding time. Or if your family is like mine – temper tantrums from the bad losers and gloating from the bad winners. Both of which are then ridiculed mercilessly and for all eternity. But it’s all a learning experience. Learning patience, learning to try and try again, and learning to slow down the pace. Finding time to breathe and relax and maybe even have some fun in the process.  It can also be a great way to while away a cold and dark winter’s evening.

The deck of cards I’ve used are Pirates of the Carribean cards we picked up on a family holiday to Disneyland Florida years ago. There are some great packs of cards out there and are worth collecting in their own right. But for the cash strapped, you can pick a simple plain deck up for just a pound or two. You might even find a pack in a charity shop – just make sure there are 52 playing cards and maybe a Joker or 2 in the deck. I remember scribbling numbers on Jokers to represent cards that were lost, but you can only do this once or twice with a single deck.

Cards are also small, lightweight and portable enough to take anywhere. Pack them in your bag for a long flight or train journey. Great for a camping or caravan holiday too. When you have no signal, or your battery has run down, you can turn to the cards to ease the boredom.

If you’re looking for other card games to play, don’t Google it. Instead, walk to your local underused library and see if you can find a book on the subject.

And cards and dominoes are not just for playing games. You can also build a tower with cards and who doesn’t love tumbling dominoes?

Posted in Books, Life, Love and Laughter

Book Review – The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

I have never written a book review before, but this blogging lark is all about new experiences, so here goes.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

I picked up ‘The Travelling Cat Chronicles’ from the Central Library in Liverpool a couple of weeks ago, and with moving house and general busyness I have only just managed to finish it. Why did I pick it up? Well as with most books I choose, I liked the cover. I know, I know – but it was soooo pretty. Blue covers seem to do it every time, but this one also had an oriental style painting of a cat on the front. It was a winner from the off.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles is the story of Satoru who rescues a stray cat and then takes him around Japan in his van to visit his friends, but we don’t why know until later in the book. I tried to finish it on the bus tonight but I knew I was about to cry, so I had to wait until I got home and then blubbed away to my hearts content.

It’s a gentle, warm story that you just can’t put down (unless you are about to embarrass yourself on the Number 82) and tells of friendship and companionship between Satoru and his cat Nana, but also between him and his childhood and university friends as well. Satoru has had a hard time, but he is never seen to complain or bemoan his lot in life, and the writer doesn’t dwell on it either. He is a truly gentle, kind soul and the story depicts that perfectly. The humour comes mostly from Nana’s side of the story, looking into the strange human world that he has chosen to live in. Anyone who loves cats will know that you do begin to wonder who adopted who. Did Satoru adopt a cat, or did Nana adopt a lonely young man?

It is also a great introduction to a country I know very little about. From the changing seasons, to the diverse landscapes and the understated customs, it is an interesting and evocative read.

The author Hiro Arikawa lives in Tokyo and her book is a massive hit in Japan. It was translated from the original Japanese by Philip Gabriel and has since become an international hit too – and rightly so. In Japan the story has now been made into a film.

I was half way through the book before it occurred to me that the cover I love so much shows a picture of a black cat, but Nana is a white cat with a black tail. When I reached the end of the story I found out why. The painting is a work entitled ‘Man and the World’ painted by Shuai Liu, a Chinese painter with cerebral palsy. They simply fell in love with the picture, so used it for the cover. It obviously worked on me. The internal artwork was created by Yoco Nagamiya.

If you’re a cat lover, you will love this book. If you’re not a cat lover, you will also love this book. At just 247 pages long it is a truly lovely short novel that will find it’s way into your soul. Buy it, borrow it, gift it, but absolutely, definitely read it.

Posted in Life, Love and Laughter

Smile :-)

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens.

In the immortal words of Julie Andrews, when she’s feeling sad she simply remembers her favourite things and then she doesn’t feel so bad.

For me it is always music and in particular the video of the the American Marine’s parody of Carly Rae Jepson’s video ‘Call Me Maybe’.  Those guys are just so cute and some are clearly not as comfortable with it as others, but they always bring a smile.   So cool. 

The Brits in Iraq parodying ‘Is This The Way to Amarillo’ is next  This one crashed the Army’s website because it had so many views when it was released.   I particularly like the toilet humour – it is the British Military after all, I would expect nothing less.

Another good one is Bobby McFerrin’s video for ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ with Robin Williams and Bill Irwin.   I can’t believe it’s from 1988 –  that’s 30 years ago!  And of course, more recently is ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams, that one is a little younger than Bobby’s.

Not seen them?  Google them – right now – they’re a must. I’ve saved them in my bookmarks.

It’s a well known fact that music can shape your moods so I also have a Spotify playlist called ‘My Happy Place’ filled with over 300 merry tunes to turn up nice and loud and sing along to.

As well as music there was a lovely train guard one day that brightened my day and when I see this in my notebook it always makes me smile.  He was a very jolly and flamboyant young man with a big beard.  I ordered coffee from him from the cart and as he passed me my cup he said in a grand booming voice “And of course don’t forget the stick of destiny.  All powerful … until … it … get’s … wet.  Oh well, maybe next time.” He was referring to the wooden stirrer that he dropped into my coffee as he said it.  I know – you had to be there – but he didn’t have to say anything and it really cheered me up on a long and boring journey where I hadn’t spoken to anyone for over 5 hours.

And finally, this sign outside a tiny church hall warmed the cockles.

“Feeling down in the mouth?  You need a faith lift.”

Add to this list my husband’s hugs, sunflowers, sunshine and the seaside, Kitty curled up on my lap, good friends and my kids banter around a dinner table and I think that’s me pretty much sorted for life.

So what is it that turns your frown upside down?

photography of woman surrounded by sunflowers
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