Monday, 29 November 2010

In the spotlight

I was reminded the other day of an episode in my life which I think deserves a much, much wider audience than it has had to date.  Much. 

Dan wrote a post about things how he wished would happen in his life, and one of them involved becoming a karaoke god. 

Readers, I have been that karaoke god.  Goddess.  Whatever.  It happened like this:

(Cue wibbly wobbly lines and flashback music)

Picture the scene...

It was the early 1990s, and I was on a training course in glorious Bournemouth.  Two weeks in a dodgy run-down seafront hotel, along with about 25 other members of the Civil Service, all there to improve our Interpersonal Skills, like it or not. 

Some people, it transpired, had been compelled to attend by their management, as they were borderline psychopaths.  The majority of us, however, were there to learn how to deal with Difficult People and Awkward Situations, and to Improve Our Promotion Prospects By Not Punching People Even When They Really Deserve It.

Day 1 passed uneventfully, with lots of  embarrassing "ice-breaking" exercises, and stilted conversation between the course delegates.  I knew one of the lecturers from a previous training course, and he had already talked to the group about me.  I had a reputation, it seemed.  A good reputation, I mean.  I was being described as a team player, someone who was good fun, and would chip in to keep discussions moving along. 

Yes, I was famous for being someone who has an opinion on everything and an inappropriate sense of humour. 

Can't imagine why.

Day 2 began, and was a bit slow.  The group discussions were lagging, and some of the breakout sessions were painfully silent.  I had stopped chipping in quite so much, as even the dulcet sound of my own voice was grating in the flat dead pall cast by some of the other group members.  Come lunchtime, the lecturers collared me for a chat.

They were worried that the course was stalling, and it needed to be livened up.  What did I suggest?  I suggested going out and getting a few drinks down us one night.  They agreed that an off-site social event was a good idea, and then one of them said,  "There's that karaoke bar down the road.  What about that?"

Hell yes.

So, come the afternoon tea break, the lecturers announced that those who wanted to were invited out that night for a few drinks and possibly some karaoke.  Remember, this was the early 90s...karaoke was still comparatively new.  At least in Bournemouth, anyway.  There was a ripple of excitement, and the mood lifted.  We were going out.  A night on the town. 

After dinner those of us who were up for the Big Night Out assembled in the hotel foyer, and we wandered down the road to the karaoke bar. 

It was dead.  There were a lot of staff working there, but other than our group - maybe 18 people - the place was almost empty.  A group decision was made to stay and see what happened later; we got the drinks in, and sat round a big table.  Both the lecturers had come along with the majority of the course delegates, so it was nice to have a bit of a chat outside of the hotel. 

After a little while, one of the bar staff came over and handed us a big book, a ring binder really, with many laminated pages.  It was the Song List for the karaoke, which she told us was due to start "about 9.30-ish."  By now, we'd all had at least one drink, and several of us were eagerly scanning the list of titles for songs we knew. 

I was determined to get up and sing something.

I was equally determined not to do it on my own.

Eventually, after a prolonged and shouty discussion about how crap everyones musical taste was, I announced that I was going to put my name down for a shot onstage, but that someone had to come with me.  The good-natured bellowing stopped, and there was a bit of an awkward pause.

"Aw, come on, guys," I said.  "Somebody else come up with me?"

They all looked fixedly at their drinks, the temperature dropped perceptibly.  Tumbleweed drifted across the table.  Eventually, I caught someone's eye.

"Dave, you'll come up with me, won't you?"  I asked.  He nodded, too shy to say no.

"Great!  Let's pick a song and I'll go and put our names down!" 

I was quite excited.  We flicked through the book again, and settled on the Chrissy Hynde/UB40 version of "I got you, babe."  A classic duet.  I scampered over to the karaoke DJ, handed in the slip of paper with our names and the song title, and rejoined the group, all miraculously chatty and cheerful again. 

I had another drink.  Dave had another drink.  Dave got progressively more and more anxious, his hands shaking as he held his drink.  I sidled up and said "You don't have to come and sing if you don't want to - I'll go on my own."  He shook his head and insisted that he was coming too.  He'd agreed to sing "I got you, babe" onstage with me, and that was all there was to be said.

After what felt like a very long time, our names were called by the karaoke DJ.  Dave and I headed through the crowd - an influx of people had taken place and the bar was suddenly packed - to the stage.  The rest of our group followed, till everyone was stood right up in front of the stage, waiting expectantly.  The DJ handed Dave and I a microphone each, grinned and started the music.  I was very nervous, and I could see Dave standing like a rabbit in the headlights to my left, staring fixedly into the distance. 

The intro played, and I launched into the first line of the song.  It was ok, I knew I was in tune at least. 

Dave's turn came.  Dave missed his cue.  Dave didn't sing at all.  Dave didn't open his mouth.  Dave stood there motionless, staring at the sea of faces, the microphone held tight in both hands in front of his face. 

Oh fuck.

I looked at the crowd, at the group of people from our training course, at all the many others who were dancing and smiling, and I just thought "Hell's bells, here we go..."

I sang the entire verse on my own.  Both parts.  After the first chorus Dave started to jig up and down a bit, bobbing along in time to the music.  Encouraged, I took his hand and danced with him as I sang the next verse.  He looked at me, and then, miracle, started to join in with the next chorus.  He was behind the beat, and almost inaudible, but he was doing it.

By the end of the song he was giving it all he had, singing and jigging up and down on the spot, a huge HUGE grin on his face.  We finished to rapturous applause, bowing and waving to the audience, showboating.  We were swept offstage by our coursemates, and were making our way back to the table in triumph.  A large man in a smart suit barred our path.

"Scuse me," he said.  We all stopped in our tracks.  Well, you do when a big scary bloke is stood in front of you.

He looked at Dave and I, both grinning and a bit sweaty, and then handed us a bottle of champagne.

"Compliments of the management,"  he said.  "You were bloody brilliant."

On the way back to the hotel one of the lecturers took me to one side.

"We were a bit worried when you got Dave to get up and sing," he told me. 

"Why?"  I asked.  "He was a bit nervous, but he was fine when he got going."

"Yes.  But he's actually on this course as part of his therapy - he had a nervous breakdown recently and is trying to get his confidence levels back up."


I'd dragged that poor man onstage in front of about a hundred people and made him sing "I got you, babe." 

The next day we opened our prize at coffee time and had a glass or two. 

"More champagne, Dave?" 

"Don't mind if I do, Lucy.  Any more biscuits to dunk?"

By the end of the course we were all much more relaxed with each other, even the psychopaths.  Dave gave me a huge emotional hug and told me I'd changed his life.  He did that himself, but it was a lovely thing to say.

Everyone exchanged phone numbers, work numbers, anyway, and promised to keep in touch.  Some of us did.  Dave told me he was going to buy some karaoke tapes for his car to help him get into a positive frame of mind when he drove to work in the mornings. 

For about 5 years after that, every now and again my office phone would ring.  I'd answer it to hear Dave's excited voice "Lucy!  They're playing our song!"  Sure enough, "I got you, babe" by Chrissy Hynde and UB40 would be on the radio in the background. 

And to this day, every time I hear it, I think of that night in Bournemouth, and Dave, and I smile.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Winter Fashions

This morning sees a blanket of snow across the WithaY estates, and prompts the question "Which of my many, many hats is most appropriate for venturing forth into the cold?"

Readers, I have thoughfully taken some photos of the various options.  The various options which happen to be at hand, I mean.  There are many other hats stashed in cupboards and in boxes under the bed which I can't be arsed to dig out.  Maybe another time, when I am very bored. 

1)  Sensible fleece headgear.  With earflaps.  Can be flung in the washing machine if, for example, a spaniel should happen to get hold of it and run around a muddy garden with it for a bit. 

Option 1 - Flaps down. 

And Option 2 - Flaps up.

Mmmmm. Versatile.  Also, does not blow off in the wind, thanks to sensible string-and-pulley system to strap it tightly under your chin(s).

2)  Less sensible velvet hat with huge bow on the front.  Warm and slightly bohemian, rubbish in the wet.

I like this one very much, although it does make old ladies shy away from me in fear, and dodgy buskers shout sexually-harrassing compliments at me.  Mind you, I am used to old ladies and dodgy buskers commenting freely on my appearance.  It seems to happen a lot. 

Hey, it's all good. 

3)  New woolly scarf/hat combination that Mr WithaY very kindly bought for me yesterday.  Apparently one of his colleagues' daughters (keep up) sometimes travels to India to fetch back locally-made goods to sell in the UK, to help support the villages where they are made. 

I think. 

Anyway.  It's green and very soft, and I am already rather taken with it.

It does make me look a bit like an extra from Lord of the Rings, though.  I'm too tall to be a hobbit, so maybe an elf who's let herself go a bit?

See?  You can imagine the pointy ears under there.  I could be one of the elves that has been asked to stand at the back and not say anything during the crowd scenes.

"Just keep quiet, and try not to embarrass Elrond.  Again.  And lay off the lembas."

4)  The Moose Hat.  We bought this in America this summer, in Maine.  Boothbay Harbor to be exact.  Ahh, happy memories.  Mr WithaY refused to wear it again after the first modelling session we had after purchase.  Shame on him, I say. 

It's surprisingly warm under there. 

Also, I like how my nose makes it look like he's sticking his tongue out.

I love winter. 

Oh yes - if it snows enough, we plan more snow animals.  Watch this space.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Austerity measures for Dummies

I went to the supermarket today.  That felt like a bit of an achievement, given that I can hardly breathe half the time, and the rest of the time has me coughing repulsively.  Anyhoo, I went in armed with too many re-usable bags and no shopping list, never a good combination.

I resisted the temptation to buy bargain hot pies, or huge 25-bag multipacks of crisps, or gallon vats of cheap ice cream (a decision I have been regretting on and off ever since, I might add) and stocked up with all manner of sensible meat-and-potato meal makings.  And vegetables.  And washing up liquid.  Yes, I am that sensible.

In my trolley were two tubes of Pringles (plain flavour) for Father-in-Law WithaY, who has recently developed a taste for them.  All seemed uneventful as the shopping was scanned and beeped and tagged and tracked* by the nice till lady. 

She scanned the two tubes of Pringles (plain flavour) then said "There's a Buy One, Get Two Free" offer on these.  Do you want another tube of the same flavour?"

Me:  No thanks, I only want the two tubes.

Till lady:  But there's an offer on!  You can have another one and get three but only pay for one!

Me: (packing potatoes and washing up liquid into a bag with grim efficiency)  But I only want these two.  Really.

There was a slightly accusing silence as she carried on scanning groceries and I packed bags, the two tubes of Pringles sitting folornly on the end of the conveyer belt like unwanted game show prizes.

Till lady:  Well then, I will take off one of these tubes from the bill so you get one free.  But you could have two free.  Do you want two free?

Me:  No.

I must admit that by this point I was interested to see what happened next, and prepared to argue cogently for my right to have just two tubes of Pringles if I wanted to.

This happened next:

Till lady:  Oh!  Gosh, that's strange.

Me:  What is?

Till lady:  It's taken both tubes off the bill. get them both free.  I think.

She fiddled about with the till for a bit, then slid both tubes down the counter to me as I continued cramming tins of beans and pots of probiotic yogurt** into the bags.  There was a queue forming behind me, which may have affected her decision making.

Till lady:  Yes.  You get them both free.  We'll just have an extra tube on the shelves now.

Me:  (Warily)  So...I get them for free?  Are you sure?

Till lady:  Yes.  You can take them.

Me:  (not touching them)  Really?  I don't want to take them without paying for them.

Till lady:  (pushing them towards me encouragingly) But you get two free!  So you can take those.

I relented and put them in my bag, paid for the shopping - not the Pringles, though, obviously - and left the shop without setting off any alarms. 

All the way home I tried to work out how she had arrived at the conclusion that "buy one, get two free" can be converted into "buy two, don't pay for either of them."  I am still not convinced by her logic, and am waiting for a knock on the door from the Fraud Squad.

Other news:  I have bronchitis.  Again.  I went to the doctor on Tuesday.  He listened to my chest, told me cheerfully that he's heard me sounding much worse, and gave me a prescription for the scary syphillis pills he prescribed at the end of my last bout of Black Lung. 

He said "Chest infections usually only last five days or so.  Let's long did your last infection go on for?   Hmmmm....December till.....oh.  May.  Well, yes.  You were obviously a bit unlucky, weren't you?"

Yes, in the same sense that Cornwall is a bit wet at the moment.

He also commented "Oh, you've lost weight."  I nodded, and was about to expound on my slow but steady progress when he said sternly "I hope it's not because of all the stress*** you've been dealing with?"

No, not stress, but thanks for asking, doctor.  Eating fewer pies and drinking less cider, mostly.

I told him how much weight I intend to lose in total in order to be a non-overweight person according the the BMI scale; he advised me not to pay too much attention to BMI figures, and to weigh "as much as you feel comfortable with."  Interesting advice, which I intend to ignore. 

I am still up and writing my blog at 1am, by the way, because when I lay down in bed I start coughing hard enough to make my eyes shoot out of my head and slam into the bedroom ceiling.  And that gets old fast. 

Big day tomorrow.  The auction house is coming to Father-in-Law WithaY's place to take out all the stuff that is going to be in a sale next month.  So, hopefully I will be able to get in and give his place a bit of a clean and spruce-up once it's a bit less crammed with antiques.  And then who knows, we might even sell it.

Which would be nice.

*I'm sure that we are all being monitored via our shopping. 
**I'm on antibiotics. I have bronchitis again.  Yay me.
***Shit Storm From Hades, although that is receding a bit now.  More on this anon.

Sunday, 14 November 2010


Welcome to the inside of my head.

Today it has mostly been full of the echoing sounds of lung-searing coughs and whining. 

There has also been a bit of guitar music as I tried to master the intro to "Weather With You*" and gave up, moving onto the far simpler and more satisfying chord sequences of  "Nothing Else Matters**" segueing (sp?) into "Rocking in the Free World***" and "Your Decision****" by way of light relief. 

The day started early, when I woke up, coughed a bit, then gradually slid into the full heaving paroxym, ending with streaming eyes and panicked racing heartbeat, imagining I was about to die.  I didn't.  I expect you worked that out.

Mr WithaY went and made me a cup of fresh ginger, hot lemon and honey, which was great until you got to the last inch or so, which was startlingly fibrous.  Next time, I think we will deploy a sieve.  The reaminder of my morning was spent in bed, wheezing and watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine on tv, wearing what was effectively a bed jacket.  Ok, it was a really little cardigan/shrug thing, but by wearing it over my nightie I think it turned into a bed jacket. 

I was WORKING it, baby.  Working it like an OLD LADY.

Tomorrow is a bit of a big day.  We have a visit from Her Majesty's Finest***** to discuss the ongoing repercussions of the SSFH******, so there's a fairly high stress level chez WithaY today.   Once it's all sorted out, if it ever is, I think I will write a book about it all.  With a gritty dreary black and white photo on the front cover, and some quotes from Serious People saying how enthralling it is.

Once you get the cover sorted, the rest is easy. I expect.

People do judge a book by it, they say.  Need to get it right. 

*Crowded House
***Neil Young
****Alice in Chains.  The timing on that is a bugger, and as soon as I start to sing it, I lose the ability to play the chords.  Not that I was singing today, mind.
******Shit Storm From Hades

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Lexicon of the Weird

In the absence of anything unusually hilarious happening to me lately, here are some more results from the word search thingy that people use to stumble upon my blog:

1)  emma stone.  I have no idea who emma stone is, or why she doesn't get capital letters for her name.  Is she a relation of e.e. cummings?  More to the point, how did they get to my blog by typing in her name?  Very strange. 

2)  foot, leg, and ankle swelling   I'm guessing my blog is now a magnet for sprain pervs, and possibly also people who like to see freak show horrors.  I imagine there is a whole market segment dedicated to spraining injuries, possibly with its own glossy magazine that comes out once a quarter, with a section for Readers' Sprains at the back, just in front of the adverts for crutches and padded ankle supports.  Brrrrr.  It's slightly disturbing that the single most viewed image on my blog - the window, if you will, into my whole life and innermost psyche - is of my revolting, swollen, sprained ankle.    I might have to grow a beard, or develop a second head to maintain the carney-like ambience once the ankle novelty wears off.  Sickos.  Yeah, you.

3)  rick leek quarter horsesshow lucy artiscally obvious lucy  Say WHAT?  Whoever typed this into their search engine has a lot on their mind.  Leeks?  Horses?  Slightly agricultural, so I can understand why it ended up here.  Repeated mention of my name?  Irritating, but again, can see the link.  "Artiscally obvious" has me stumped, I admit.  Do they mean "Artistically obvious"?  Which is slightly hurtful, and implies that my fabulous attempts at mixed media art are not nearly as original as I imagine, dammit.  And who is "rick"?

4)  the oinkmaster pig roast  Aha.  Ahahahahahaaaaa.  Yes indeed.  The Oinkmaster Pig Roast.  I remember it well.  I think, reader, that it was in fact the Oinkmaster 3000, to be exact.  No wonder you ended up here, you're not being specific enough, you muppet. 

In other news:  The Black Lung seems to be making an early appearance, giving me plenty of time to prepare for the annual Christmas chest infection-fest.  Yay. 

Monday, 8 November 2010

Monday morning adventure

This morning's instalment comes to you courtesy of South West Trains, without whose help none of this would be possible.

I have had very little sleep. Yes, I went to bed at a reasonable hour.  No, I didn't watch scary films or read an alarming book first.

The night went as follows:

2130:  Shower, wash hair, blow-dry hair into fabulous Elvis Presley Girlfriend bouffant style. Check bags are all packed ready for the morning.

2200: Into bed, turn off light. Lay there for 20 minutes mentally reviewing contents of bags, also trying to remember details of the many and varied meetings that fill Monday pretty much back to back. Fall asleep.

2330:  Visit bathroom.  Back into bed, fall asleep. 

0215:  Woken by violent rainstorm lashing at bedroom windows.  Check time on phone whilst mentally cursing self for checking time.  Back to sleep.

0345:  Woken by howling wind and continued lashing rain.  Check time again, thinking "Did I set the alarm clock?"  Turn on light to check.  Yes, alarm clock is set.  Back to sleep.

0457:  Woken by the Apocalyptic weather going on outside.  Lie there forcing self not to check the time, trying to reassure self that alarm clock will do its job and wake me at the appropriate hour.  Try not to think how soon that is.  Back to sleep.

0526: Woken by loud vehicle going past on the main road.  Get up and look out of window.  Pitch black, rain hammering on windows.  Cars going by sound as though they are navigating a ford.  Back into bed resigned to wait for alarm to go off.

0550:  Deep and dreamless sleep, perfectly comfortable, utterly at peace.  Heaven.

0556:  Alarm goes off.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the journey to the office is taking on epic status.

0645:  Arrive at railway station in plenty of time to catch the 0652.  Overhear the very nice ticket office man telling the passengers buying tickets that the train is "suffering with it's engine" and will be late. How late?  Fucking late.  Ticket man gets repeated updates from the train driver and various other railway officials, which he relays to us gloomily.

"It's lost an's going to be at least 20 minutes won't be travelling beyond Salisbury....they'll cancel the next train because this one's so late...." The litany rolled on.

To be fair, he seemed genuinely sorry for us.  A few weeks ago our train was absurdly late, and the ticket man came into the waiting room to apologise face to face.

"I'm really sorry about this, everyone.  I know it's not much, but I've got a kettle and four mugs in my office.  Would anybody like a cup of tea?"

I was charmed.

Eventually the train crawled into the station, and the grumpy committed scrambled aboard.  The passengers already seated had a weary look about them.  I think some of them may have been there all night.

0750:  The train limped painfully into Salisbury, the guard informing us halfway there that we'd lost two of the three engines and had "no power."  

It was like being in an episode of Star Trek where Scotty is desperately coaxing Warp 9 out of the engines, all the while shouting "I'm giving it all she's got, Captain!"

When we got to Salisbury, 36 minutes late, there was a wild stampede to the "nine carriage train that is waiting for you there."

Nine carriages my arse.  THREE carriages.  All of them already full.  I have found a seat, fortunately.  Less fortunately, it is under the window.  Which is leaking.  My left arm is wet. I have improvised a small lean-to using my coat, and hope to make it to my destination without catching pneumonia. 

Send pemmican and Kendall mint cake.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010


This stats thing is horribly compelling.  Not the numbers, I ignore those now I know that the majority of my dedicated readership are crouched in some vile scam den in the Ukraine, trying to steal credit card numbers or sell their sisters to lonely vulnerable men in the UK.

No, the numbers can fuck right off.  But the keyword search, well, that's a very different story indeed.

This week, apparently, I have been discovered by people using the following search expressions:

1)  5000 chicken birds how much feets shed wanted hopw much mony   Ok....what?  "5000 chicken birds" I can sort of understand.  "How much" I can get a handle on.  Maybe someone wants to buy some chickens to start up a poultry farm.  Perfectly reasonable.  Then it goes off the rails slightly.  "Feets shed wanted" is bewildering.  "Shed wanted" again fits with the chicken farm there.  "Feets" is a red herring, thrown in to no purpose.  The "hopw much mony" again relates to the chicken farmer theme, albeit one who can't spell. 

2)  moose come out frome woods  If this is a statement, it is incorrect.  If it is a question, the answer is "no, moose do NOT come out of Frome Woods."  As far as I know, there are no moose in the woods round here, or around Frome.  Walk in peace, my friends, fear not random moose attacks in Somerset. 

3)  what animals lives in woods?  Oh gosh.  Mice.  Voles.  Deer.  Badgers.  Foxes.  Rabbits.  Toads.  And of course, famously, bears.  No moose though.  Not round here. 

4)  the difference in a person hat lives in the woods and a country   Hmm, now this is challenging.  I'm assuming it's a "town mouse, country mouse" kind of thing, and leave it at that.

5)  horror veg carving is my favourite so far.  It pretty much sums up a good percentage of this blog, and is also the name of my first death metal album, when I get round to making it.