Early Warning Signs…

Wednesday 3rd October 2012

Looks like it’s time for another chatty newsletter from me! You lucky lucky people!

London 2012

I have to admit, I honestly wasn’t all that bothered about the Olympics at first. With the exception of Wimbledon, I don’t generally get excited about any form of organised sport, and I don’t have a whole lot of national pride to bandy about. I am for the most part wholly unpatriotic, and couldn’t give a monkey’s whether or not we, as an island, are better than other geographical locations at Football or Rugby or Cricket etc.

I also found all the excitement over the Olympic torch touring the British Isles baffling. I tried hard to avoid it, but when I was accosted by the torch proceeding through Blackbird Leys, directly across my path as I tried to get to the gym, here is what I saw.
The Coco-cola corporate bus, honking and playing some obscenely loud and offensively bad music;
A series of policemen and women on motorbikes, attepting to high-five the crowd, and being met with stony glares and the occasional projectile (the Blackbird Leys massive does not respond well to authority figures…);
The Lloyds TSB corporate bus, peopled with some miserable-looking middle-aged bankers in suits half-heartedly waving mini union flags and clearly wondering what they did to deserve this dubious “honour”;
A big blue corporate bus whose origin was unclear, containing some cheerleaders prancing about in extremely petite costumes to some even louder and more offensive music and attempting to enthuse the crowd through the drizzling rain;
And eventually, a soggy, fat, middle-aged man no-one has ever heard of, panting along with the torch itself.

I literally just don’t get what’s exciting about that.
Now, if the torch in question could run 100m in 9 seconds, THAT would be worth coming out to see….

However, I must admit that after being dazzled by Danny Boyle’s fantastic opening ceremony, I was a little intrigued, and found myself getting really quite sucked in by all the drama! I also learned that we’re not supposed to say “Union Jack” anymore, as this is apparently in some way offensive to some people, so we have to call it a “Union Flag” instead. Aside from the actual sport itself, I really enjoyed the soap-opera style sideshow that went alongside the Olympics, such as the disgraced badminton players who didn’t even try to hide the fact that they were trying to lose their matches. My friend Helen and I play badminton once a week, and I can genuinely say that we play better than the Olympians. Weird but true.
And so, without further ado, I give you my personal highlights from the games:

First there was the lovely Mo Farah, who stole everybody’s heart with his look of pure astonishment when he won the 10,000 metres – and then sparked this rather fantastic meme in his honour, in which Mo Farah runs away from things, such as the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, Darth Vader, and so on…

The Guardian also provided some excellent lego reconstructions of key Olympic events, of which my favourite was the poor Korean girl who lost at fencing. It’s beautifully rendered in stop-motion lego, along with all the official commentary…

I think this video also nicely sums up the best bits of the Olympics, in lego:

In fact, I wish more sporting events were available in lego. I think I would watch a lot more Cricket/Golf/Rugby/Football/Darts/Snooker etc if it was….

There was also a fantastic story about a woman from Lesotho, an HR manager, who got a letter in the post in June 2012, announcing she had been selected to swim for her country at the Olympics! She literally had about a month to train, and only in the mornings before work, and had to ask her boss for time off to go to London! Apparently her personal best was more than double the time of the other swimmers, and she essentially had no chance of winning anything, but it’s a lovely story! And in regard to her less-than-athletic figure, I especially like the remark that “She had, it would be fair to say, a build that gave us all hope that we could still be Olympians.”

And lastly, once the Paralympics got under way, I really loved this sweet story about the team from Burkina Faso, who’s Government wasn’t able to pay for their accommodation at the Olympic park, so the bloke who went to meet them at the airport just took them home to his mum’s house in Essex instead!
“Conlon, who expected only to meet and greet the team before taking them to their accommodation, ended up housing the three male members in his family home for three weeks, while the two women were lodged and fed by nuns at the Grange in Brentwood. It has been an eye-opening, and occasionally perilous, experience for him and his family. “The very first day one of the team nearly burnt the house down,” he said. “He put the electric kettle on the hob and turned it on to boil water – and there really has been something along those lines every day.” Now Conlon, has been adopted as the team’s attache, but often finds his charges go missing or are in the middle of a picture-taking scrum if he turns his back. “They basically cause a storm wherever they go, but they are absolutely loving it,” he said.”


Getting old – the checklist

So, once the excitement of the Olympics was all over, and life as we know it returned to normal, I started to notice signs that I might be becoming prematurely middle-aged and decided that I really ought to develop some sort of a checklist, in order to identify the early-warning signs and take precautionary measures.

Obviously, I have already acquired a cat, but this on it’s own is not so much of an issue, and besides, I know lots of grown-ups with cats. That’s perfectly acceptable behaviour.
Then I started knitting my first jumper – so far I’ve made half of the body and one sleeve. But then knitting is my hobby, and I am slowly learning to do more and more complex things. Nothing wrong with that.
And then, a colleague of mine was getting rid of his rocking chair, which is BEAUTIFUL and I’ve always wanted one, AND it was ONLY £15, so naturally I bought it immediately.

And then it occurred to me that I can now sit in my rocking chair, knitting a jumper, with my cat in my lap.

Suspisciously elderly behaviour.

I immediately took some proactive measures by attending a funfair (St Giles Fair happened to be in Oxford that week). Of course this gleefully fun and childish act was somewhat dampened by the fact that it took my friend and I at least 20 mins to psych ourselves up to go on a “fast” ride, and when it was over (approximately 4 mins later) we then had to wobble over to a burger van and have a bit of a sit down and some hot chocolate to recover. After about 30mins we had regained normal balance, the world stopped spinning, and we decided perhaps we were too old for the “fast” rides after all.
NB – by “fast”, I should point out that it was one of the rides that goes round in a circle quite fast, but doesn’t leave the ground or anything too scary!

I then bolstered my inner youth by going to the circus the very same week (Cirque du Ciel was in town, and was FANTASTIC!).
So far, so good, I thought to myself. Knitting a jumper in my new rocking chair with my cat, completely balanced out by attending both a funfair and the circus in the same week!
But then unfortunately, some other stuff happened which tipped the balance yet again….

Firstly, I noticed that all of my winter boots are looking extremely shabby and past their best, but in my new capacity as mortgage-slave, I have been making lots of changes in my lifestyle recently in order to try and be more thrifty.
(Not counting the sudden impulse buying of furniture – £15 was too much of a bargain to pass up!)
So, along with switching from Tescos to Lidl, I decided to spruce up my boots and try and get them through another season or two. I went out and bought a pair of insoles (as the insides of my boots had worn away and were getting uncomfortable) and got some shoe polish. Just to give you some context, I think the last time I polished any of my shoes, I was probably about 12 and there was a very stern-looking matron standing over me while I did it!

The results were spectacular! My boots looked like new! They were so shiny and fabulous looking! And the insoles were amazing! It’s like walking on soft bouncy clouds of comfort!
It was around this point I realised that achieving a sense of deep satisfaction over a nicely polished pair of boots was definitely a very grown-up (and also frankly quite sad) thing to do. And that discovering the joy of insoles is up there with switching to orthapaedic footwear….
Essentially, I was crossing over into an extremely dangerous territory, from which it’s a slippery slope down into properly elderly behaviour. It’s also worrying how incredibly boring it all is. Or rather how un-boring I actually find it (which is worrying in itself!).

For example, I recently found myself having an extremely lively and animated conversation with a friend of mine about the extortionate cost of rotary clothes driers (or washing trees) nowadays, and how incredibly practical they are, no matter how ugly they may be. I can feel my 18-year old self staring at me in horror at the idea that THAT is what I consider interesting conversation at 31 years old.
Of course, I laugh derisively in her face, as she has no idea how hard it is to fit a large load of washing (including sheets) onto a free-standing drying rack or a straight washing line.

But I digress.

Armed with my newly-polished and cushioned boots, I marched out into the pouring rain (our cold, wet summer has now merged into a cold, wet autumn by the way).
And immediately discovered that no amount of shoe polish or insoles would hide the fact that my boots are no longer even a little bit waterproof. Within literally about 20 yards of my front door my socks were completely soaked, and water was pouring in through the toes of my poor pathetic boots. As I squelched my way into work I realised that I might as well have been wearing flip-flops.

So in spite of my thriftiest efforts, I am now forced to spend next Saturday in retail heaven, hunting for new boots.
It’s a hard life sometimes!

Garden Update

To continue the theme of “things my 18-year old self would find incredibly boring”, progress on my little garden is going extremely well!
I’ve attached a photo of my new half-finished tiki hut/gazebo thingy – work has only just started on it, but it’s very exciting nonetheless!

The rest of my garden is chugging along nicely, and I’ve managed to keep the flowers in my hanging basket alive for over 2 months now! A new record! I have also acquired an indoor bonsai tree which I am attempting to keep alive on my kitchen windowsill, and my most recent purchase is very exciting – a Mushroom log!
I didn’t even know they existed!
It was a very bizarre purchase, but my new “fruiting mushroom log” came with it’s own leaflet of instructions, entitled “Caring for your log” (I wish I could say I was winding you up with this one, but I’m genuinely not!).

Mine grows shiitake mushrooms, although you could also have Oyster mushrooms if you prefer. The log is a normal log, which has had holes drilled into it, and then they plug up the holes with mushroom spores.
There are two ways to produce mushrooms from my log.
Option 1 – leave it in a cool, shady, damp spot in the garden, open to the rain, and harvest any mushrooms that grow, as and when they appear.
Option 2 – “Shock and Soak” – drop the log hard onto a concrete surface from 2 or 3 feet up, and then immerse it in a bucket of ice-cold water for 2 days. This apparently acts as a catalyst for the mushrooms to start growing, although you have to leave it for 4 months in between shocking to let the log recover.

My log should produce mushrooms for about 3 years or so!
How exciting is that???

(At this point my 18-year old self is rolling her eyes, shaking her head in despair and threatening to top herself before she ever gets this old, sad and boring. But in fairness, she won’t begin to fully appreciate how tasty mushrooms really are until she becomes vegetarian in about 8 year’s time…)

On that note, I’d better love you and leave you with one last upbeat thought. Although I was bitterly disappointed with our awful, cold, wet, summer weather, I have now decided to embrace the cold, wet, autumn weather instead! After all, from now on, the colder and wetter the weather gets, the more mushrooms my log will produce, and I have the perfect excuse for hours of boot shopping…I have also now turned the heating back on and pulled out my winter quilt for the bed, so the cat and I are quite toasty and warm!

Hope you’re all really well!

tons of love
Rocking-that-Rocking-Chair Maya

p.s. – While I was drafting this email, something else came up that might amuse you.
I came into work last week wearing my very nice (and warm) wool dress, and put my hair up in a clip – in other words, I made a bit more effort with my appearance than I usually do, cos I wanted to look nice. And when my very blunt German manager walked in, the first thing she said (literally before she’d even said hello or good morning) was “Oh Maya! You’re looking very middle-aged today!”

The shock and horror on my face cannot truly be rendered in email form, but it looked something like this:

She then desperately tried to backtrack by explaining that she’d only said that because I was wearing the same type of hair clip that her grandmother used to wear!
So apparently I’m now dressing like my 55 year-old manager’s GRANDMOTHER.
Oh dear.
That’s going on the list.
Better go out and buy some new clothes IMMEDIATELY.

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