Saturday, 29 January 2011

Week 2 - Africa Revisited...

I’d decided to arrive on time, rather than early today, to avoid any unnecessary fraternising with the enemy.
I quickly learnt that musical chairs has been outlawed, to the point of becoming illegal (punishment unknown, but likely to be death by lethal injection of Sanatagen).
It appears that you must choose very carefully where you sit in lesson one, as once your cheeks touch the seat you are immediately tied by some bizarre legally binding contract to sit nowhere else for the duration of the course.
My space-invading friend annoyed me by using an empty chair the other side of her to unload all her old-person's junk! I was left balancing my bag / pen / notepad etc on the end of my knees. The fact that last week she objected to me using a chair for such purposes did not go un-noticed.
Another morning was spent on the Continental Drift, and this week's selection of exhilarating slides consisted of maps… we didn't see enough last week!..... digital images of water, and our first real slide of a photograph of Africa....................a large chunk of rock! (Deep joy).
Break-time thankfully passed off without any major incidents, as I had the foresight to bring along 40p in loose change for my Nescafe.
I'd chosen to make myself invisible, by saying very little and trying to blend in to the background to avoid confrontation, and yet I ended up joined at my table by all the "lads". (Clearly attracted to the army combats I was wearing as camouflage). 15 minutes of War stories later, it was time to head back to my special seat in the lecture room.
It was made apparent, that last week someone borrowed a book from the book box without signing away their life for it (shock horror) which now deems this publication "missing" (with the distinct implication it’s been STOLEN!). As the youngest person in the building (and therefore a hooligan) I’m obviously under suspicion, despite the fact I never went anywhere near the front of the room where the box was located. Nobody said anything directly, but I got several side-ways looks when it was being mentioned. I hope the damned thing turns up soon.
After another 20 minutes of Plate Tectonics , I suddenly thought I was having some sort of stroke (obviously brought on by an unnaturally high output of old people pheromones in the air) but luckily for me it was simply pins and needles all down my left side, brought on by my legally obligated plastic chair digging into the back of my leg.
I must've drifted off somewhere between Igneous Rock and the Rift Valleys, because before I knew it part two had ended.
I wasn’t exactly thrilled to learn there will be no time off for good behaviour next week (half-term break) as no-body else has children of school age (or grand-children of school age for that matter), therefore it’ll be a straight run through til December. Happy days!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Africa course..week 1.

Week 1) My new adventure.
I attended my first ever WEA lecture today, and I can honestly say I’ve never been so bored in my entire life!
All I’ve learnt, is the fact I have no interest whatsoever in plate tectonics (the ground deep below us).
I had no idea a course on African History & Culture would take me back 600 million years….. and there's no sign yet of any culture…..yet!
How one man can spend two hours on the subject of "Africa has moved a bit" is mind-numbing. (As were the slides of the maps).
I’m the only one in the class who isn’t collecting a state pension, and the only one who’s never attended a WEA course before, so it really is a case of being a square peg in a round hole.
I’m now clutching at straws hoping that it improves next week.
Things weren't helped by the fact that one old crone took exception to me using up far more space than my allotted chair's width (despite the fact there was plenty of space to be had) and made me shift all my clutter so she could squeeze up next to me.
I do rather tend to like my OWN space (some might say I'm messy, but I know exactly where everything is) and I like to spread out all my worldly possessions to the limits of my arms reach whenever possible.
Another faux pas was the fact I had nothing smaller than a £1 coin for my 40p Nescafe at break time, so the old bat pouring drinks had to ‘tut’ loudly while digging about in a small pot for the 60p change.
Our lecturer only has personal knowledge of Zimbabwe & Mozambique (and geology of course!) and punctuates every sentence with "ummmm".
He’s easily distracted, and frequently goes off at a complete tangent.
During the first hour he only showed one slide (a map of Africa) as he apparently "forgot" that he had slides with him.
It was only in the final 15 minutes that we actually got to see more slides of maps.
By far the most interesting part of the lecture was the 5 minute discussion at the beginning entitled "Shall we leave the heater on and shall we open the windows?!"
Several old dears were yawning towards the end.
The room had that special `old people` smell, rather like charity shops (a mixture of lavender water and pee).
There’s a class know-it-all, who often interrupts and corrects the lecturer, and wears mini-binoculars whilst sitting in the front row in order to get a better view of the screen ……located just 10 feet away.
There’s an ancient lady, so advanced in years she could barely make it to the canteen, and she arrived just in time for her to turn around and head back to the classroom for `act two`.
There’s plenty of `in jokes` about the Second World War, which obviously go right over my head.
I found myself studying my boots when we were asked for a volunteer librarian to guard the book box…… footwear-fascination also took hold of me when a class secretary was asked for in order to take the weekly register.
I was waiting for someone to ask for a milk monitor!
At the end of the session, a newsletter was handed out which declared that a minimum of 20 students per class were needed in order to make courses financially viable................and a head-count today showed there are 18 in my class, so I'm not entirely sure if the whole course will be cancelled.
Dying of boredom will probably bring the class size down even further.
Oh well, things can only get better (surely?!).

Friday, 14 January 2011


Being on the receiving end of a constant barrage of pizza delivery leaflets and advertising bumf for the local hardware store, toy store, steakhouse, Chinese restaurant and so on, you’d think I’d have more sense than to offer to do ‘leafleting’ for a friend’s business… but apparently I don’t! When I took on the task of ‘marketing guru’ (my words, not theirs) I figured that in order to spread the word about how fabulous their business is, without it costing a small fortune, pushing carefully worded leaflets through as many doors as I could physically manage seemed like a remarkably cheap and easy option. After all, I wanted to get fit and lose weight for the fantastic beach holiday I’d booked for the spring, and I’ve never exactly been a fan of going to the gym, so it made perfect sense to combine long walks outdoors with an advertising campaign. It seemed like a win-win solution. I’ve seen sullen, moronic teenage boys doing it, and I’ve even noticed a couple of grey-haired old ladies doing it, so how hard can it possibly be? It’s rather a good job that words contain no calories at all, or I’d now be morbidly obese after eating so many of my own.

I’d never had the need to pay any attention whatsoever to people’s letterboxes before, other than my own, so my first trip around the block with my stash of colourfully printed and neatly folded leaflets was a bit of a revelation. For reasons known only to themselves (maybe personal preference, possibly vandalism) many households have dispensed with the formality of a letterbox flap, favouring the bare brushes look. These, I found, are the easiest of all to deal with, as the leaflets slide effortlessly through them. A close second are the ones with loose-hinged flaps and no brushes. Plop – another leaflet delivered. Unfortunately, these types are few and far between, as I discovered. I have no idea how some people receive any mail whatsoever, as it’d take something similar to a crowbar to prize the industrially-sprung flap open, and then, when it’s finally up, there seems to be some sort of impenetrable wall of hard bristles preventing anything from entering the property via that route. The postman must have oodles of fun!

As this was a favour rather than paid employment, I opted for the minimal effort approach, avoiding anywhere which involved pressing entry buttons on security doors or climbing up staircases, subsequently, anyone living in a flat round my way will have to find out about the wonderful service on offer via other means. There was also no way on earth I was going to continually bend down to floor level, risking a slipped disc in order to put leaflets through letterboxes just inches above pavement level. I am after all, a marketing guru and am not training for the Olympics. Other homes given a wide berth included those with complicated gate locks and long driveways. Also, I deliberately avoided anywhere where the homeowners were standing in the front gardens. I’m not brave enough (or daft enough) for any direct confrontation with residents already cheesed off with a ton and a half of junk mail. Common courtesy also prevailed, and wherever I noticed ‘no junk mail’ signs I simply moved onto the next house, after all, there’s no point whatsoever in wasting paperwork in a vain attempt at handing it to people who’ve already informed you they’re not remotely interested.

When I first started my new ‘hobby’ I had no idea what a health and safety hazard it’d be it was to push bare fingers through doors, but after 30 minutes of pushing flimsy paper through a blockade of metal and brushes most of my nails were broken and my poor cuticles were red raw. I then got the shock of my life, as somebody’s large, unruly dog decided that my fingertips were fair game and jumped up snatching the leaflet from my grasp as I pushed it through the letterbox. It was barking loudly and in a quite frenzied manner as it pounded the back of the door, presumably with its feet. I swear I could feel it’s breath on my finger tips as I snatched my hand back in sheer terror. From that moment on I avoided any doors bearing notices regarding pets on the premises, and I was far more wary about putting any part of my hands more than a few millimetres inside the letterbox.

Wandering around the village where I had lived for over 20 years, I suddenly found myself venturing down roads and alleyways I’d never noticed before. It was during one of these explorations that I happened upon a tiny gated community where ‘the cat people’ apparently live. Not a soul to be seen, but literally dozens of cats appeared from nowhere the minute I entered. I felt uneasy and the hairs on the back of my neck began to stand on end as I noticed that every door had a cat flap, and every neatly trimmed front garden was lovingly adorned with all manner of cat sculptures and feline imagery. Next to each doormat were water and food bowls, and there were window stickers proclaiming things like “Mr Tiddles lives here”. The smell was unmistakable, and I was rather glad I hadn’t arrived on a warm day. I suddenly realised that many of the garden sculptures were, in fact, memorials to deceased moggies. This was now freaking me out, and I suddenly felt like an extra in some sort of weird horror movie, so I shoved a couple of leaflets through the nearest letterboxes and hastily beat a retreat back into the real world.

Homeowners don’t seem to be at all aware that when somebody is standing on their front doorstep, albeit for just a few seconds, conversations in adjacent rooms where windows are wide open can be heard with no effort at all. It’s often amusing and occasionally quite disturbing, to be inadvertently privy to snippets of private conversations. “…..but it didn’t matter because his leg fell off anyway……!” Of course, no leafleters want to hear people swearing about unsolicited mail as they gingerly attempt to deliver their advertisements without disturbing the homeowners, but unfortunately it comes with the territory.

My own pet peeve regarding anyone delivering stuff to my front door, whether it be the postman, paper boy or someone wanting me to know that their pizzas are bigger, better and cheaper than everyone elses, is when they fail to use my path and choose to walk right across my paved front garden to my neighbours house. I used to find this infuriating, however, one particularly chilly afternoon I’d been on the go for about 20 minutes when it began to spit with rain. I must admit, I began cutting corners myself in order to get back home before I got thoroughly soaked.

This whole experience has been quite a revelation. What I’d originally believed to be a relatively painless way of cutting advertising costs actually turned out to be a rather more complicated affair. True, I had got the fresh air and exercise that I’d wished for, however, I hadn’t anticipated how sore my fingers could get or how taxing it can be on the nerves, especially when faced with the Hound of the Baskervilles just inches away, the other side of a wooden door.

So, the next time you curse out loud at the sound of yet another takeaway menu dropping onto your mat, either move to an upstairs flat with a door entry system or a house with a long driveway and fiddly front gate, not forgetting to fit your letterbox flap with the strongest springs money can buy and several inches of thick brushes, along with ensuring that your rottweiler guards your home with all the menace of a psychopath… alternatively, why not just put a ‘no junk mail’ sticker on your door.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The Swedish Massage...

Throughout my never-ending quest to discover effective pain relief for an arthritic neck, I’ve tried many different remedies. The acupuncture needles didn’t work, nor did the NHS-supplied physiotherapy (quite the opposite in fact). Heated bags gave temporary relief but it just isn’t practical to walk around tescos wearing a Hot-Pac. And yes, I did consider it! Warm baths are also fine for short-term relief but you simply can’t stay in there all day long. Herbal tablets seem to have had little, if any, impact after 6 months and I was keen to cut back on my daily Ibuprophen intake, so when a friend suggested massage just might help I was definitely up for it.

After thoroughly researching the various prices for the mind-boggling selection of different types of massages available, I resented at the thought of forking out £40 just for a consultation, and that was without any hands on whatsoever, so when I spotted a coupon in my local paper for a half price, one hour, Swedish, full body massage at a local beauty salon I jumped at the chance. At a very reasonable £20 it seemed like a jolly good idea, and I was relieved to discover, on booking the appointment, that I’d be seeing a female masseur.

I had no idea what a Swedish massage involved, and chose to ignore all the ooer missus comments I got from various quarters. I went there with an open mind (within reason) and figured that even if the treatment didn’t actually help with my pain, at least I was going to be pampered for an hour.

Arriving unfashionably early gave me ample time to fill out a medical disclosure form. No, I haven’t had botox, I’m not pregnant or breastfeeding and I haven’t got a pacemaker, I have no metal pins anywhere inside my body and I’m not harbouring any infectious diseases. Bureaucracy completed, I was led through a remarkably narrow corridor by my masseur, up a narrow flight of stairs, and around what appeared to be a labyrinth until we reached room 5. To instantly dispel one myth, my masseur, Jane, was neither blonde nor Swedish. The spatially challenged room was warm and clean, not too clinical but not resembling anyone’s lounge either, with a treatment table in the centre and candles for ambience. Relaxation music was being piped around the room and the tiny coloured ceiling lights were on a dimmer switch, presumably so that the masseur doesn’t have to endure the retina destroying sights of terminal cellulite and acres of sagging, wrinkled flesh.

Jane asked me to remove my clothing, apart from my drawers, and lie face down on the table. I breathed a sigh of relief that I remembered to put on my expensive, special occasion Marks and Spencer’s pants this morning, rather than my 5 pairs for £2.50 tescos bargain bucket undies. She left the room for five minutes to allow me some privacy, which is just as well because nobody needs to see a practically naked, fat, middle aged woman struggling to haul herself onto a high plinth. I’d been asked to protect my modesty with the thick blanket provided, but I’d also been told to lie on my tummy. Now, I’d never realised quite what a challenge it is to pull a heavy blanket over yourself while face down on a table. Luckily, by the time Jane returned I’d more or less covered myself up.

In my vulnerable state of undress I wondered what would happen should the fire alarm sound. On the back of the door I spied a large, fluffy, white terry towelling bath robe, and made a mental note that if any loud bells happened to ring out during my session I’d make a grab for it before evacuating the building. With health and safety matters dealt with I finally began to relax.

It would’ve been less of a surprise if the oils that were poured onto my back had been a tad warmer, but the massage was pleasant enough, in a slippery and slidey sort of way. After several minutes the soothing pan pipes were beginning to irritate somewhat, but thankfully the next track on the CD was a mixture of birdsong and piano, which was far more bearable. The babbling brook track was probably not the best idea as it seemed to create the urge to pee. A lavender pack was placed over my eyes, which not only smelt nice but was strangely comforting and not at all claustrophobic.

Jane was careful to ensure that the thick blanket covered up every inch of me which wasn’t currently being massaged, thus keeping me lovely and toasty warm. I though it odd when she asked if I wanted my stomach massaged, as I’d assumed it was a part of the ‘full body treatment’ which I’d booked. However, she explained that several people are simply far too ticklish and don’t like it at all. I’m not remotely ticklish so I agreed to have my flabby tummy kneaded, bread-making style.

I’m not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but it gradually occurred to me there were very few parts left that hadn’t been oiled, so to speak, other than my chest area. Now, I was less than keen for a young girl to be handling my boobs, let alone rubbing oil over them, so I began to agonize over how to politely ask her to keep her hands off my top half. However, I needn’t have worried. Jane had already placed a cloth over my lady-lumps while she massaged my belly, and simply worked around my upper body parts. She greased my arms, right down to the finger tips and up to the shoulders, then subtly moved around to my neck and throat area. I even had my ears massaged, which was a particularly strange, although not unpleasant, sensation, resulting in minimum embarrassment for both of us. I must admit that the grand finale, a scalp massage, was probably my favourite bit as it made all the hairs on the back of my neck stand up!

Treatment over, my hour was up, and Jane suggested I might like to lay there a while and chill out before putting my clothes back on. That was very welcome, no rushing about for a change. She then left me to my own devices, and to be honest I would have loved a little nap, but I didn’t want to push the hospitality too far, so I breathed in deeply and struggled to haul my slippery carcass off the table. This was a lot harder to do than it sounds, as I’m not used to lying down flat on a firm surface for any length of time, and all that muscle relaxing had rendered me jelly-like.

Good job I’d chosen to wear loose fitting clothes that day because all that oil was making it a little bit of a struggle to put things back on. Fully dressed I conquered the incredible maze and managed to eventually locate the reception area, where Jane was patiently waiting for me. I’d predicted that there’d be some sort of sales pitch and wasn’t at all surprised when she suggested I might benefit from some heat patches for my neck. Willing to give anything a go I parted with an extra fiver, which wasn’t too financially painful.

Whether the massage genuinely helped my neck or not is doubtful, as it felt no different to the way it was when I arrived at the salon, but it was a lovely treat on an especially cold, wet February afternoon. The surroundings were pleasant, the masseur was friendly, and my skin was now all silky soft. If I was able to have the treatment on the NHS I would probably jump at the opportunity, however, I suspect that the environment would be less agreeable and the regulation NHS masseur may not be quite as delicate as those found in beauty salons. I may well return at a later date for a cheaper thirty minute neck and back massage, instead of the full body version. We shall see………