Thursday, 23 December 2010

A Very Merry Christmas

Only time for a short post tonight - we're off out in a bit to commence the second day of festive celebrations (whilst still very much feeling the effects of the first day's revelries). I shall very much be relying on hair of the dog to get me through the whole experience.

Anyway, as this is the last post before Christmas day, it seems only fitting to use it to wish you one of these:

Hope you have a great day!  

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Christmas Shopping: The Hardcore Way

Thanks to the weather based distractions that have been bestowed upon us lately, it's taken a while for the Christmas spirit to make its presence known, to me at least. Whilst I was starting to wonder if it had abandoned its effort thanks to the treacherous travelling conditions, it finally completed its journey last week, thanks in no small part to the drunken event that was the work Christmas party - the usual affair of free-flowing booze, food of questionable quality, and some awful, yet undeniably energetic, dancing.

The sudden arrival of my festive spirit meant that the fact I had only bought about 1/4 of the required presents finally transformed from a vague acknowledgement lurking somewhere in the depths of my brain into a full blown realisation that SOMETHING HAD TO BE DONE QUICKLY.

Yesterday was the day for Stage One of the Christmas Shopping Operation - a visit to the huge local shopping mall to collect an item I'd ordered last week. Not surprisingly, given that it was around -5 degrees all day, every other person in the city apparently had the same idea - especially annoying given that most of the kids finished school last week and were being dragged unhappily around by their parents, for the most part in a path that coincided directly with my feet. The simple task of making my way from A to B turned into something of an assault course, with direct routes frequently requiring a child hurdle, a pram swerve or (my most hated manoeuvre) the chav-stopped-in-the-middle-of-a-busy-path-to-have-a-conversation dodge. It is experiences like this which make my belief that I should be permitted to carry a cattle prod when in public spaces all the stronger.

After spending two focused hours on forging the most efficient path around the mall, I found myself with about two-thirds of my overall shopping done - a much higher amount that I had set out expecting to achieve. I had even mustered the sense to save buying the heaviest present until last - my usual tactic tends to involve buying the bulkiest item first without fully understanding the burden I am condemning myself to carry around. Not this time though - I was ready to go home, and bask in my success.

There was just one minor flaw to my plan: I had offered Fiance a lift home from work, and that would mean I'd get home, just about defrost myself after the minuscule amount of time spent outside, before having to head out into the bitter cold again. Despite my desire to put my feet up and have a relaxing cup of tea, I decided I might as well stay out until I was ready to pick Fiance up, although my thinning patience would not condone me staying in the shopping center any longer, as more and more shoppers continued to arrive with the apparent sole intention of getting under my feet.

A trip to the city centre formed the key foundation for Stage Two of the Christmas Shopping Operation - it has an advantage over the shopping centre in that it has a much higher percentage of independent stores. This was exactly what I was looking for, hoping that a simple browsing session would provide inspiration for those whose gifts I hadn't yet purchased. It would also mean I was in place to provide Fiance with his lift home.

Somewhat hesitantly, I proceeded to put Stage Two of the Christmas Shopping Operation into motion and pointed the car in the direction of the city centre. "Yes, on the same day as going to the shopping centre" I explained to a flabbergasted Fiance, who was entirely perplexed by the idea of spending a whole day shopping in two different locations - but then, the thought of a shopping trip that lasts longer than a couple of hours generally strikes fear into his heart, so I suppose his reaction wasn't all that surprising.

Shopping in town bought it's own unique style of assault course - rather than avoiding people and children (who had all sensibly headed to, and stayed at, the shopping centre), I found I had to dodge patches of black ice, swerve the remaining piles of snow that had previously been cleared from the high street but hadn't melted yet, and brush off the totally annoying flyer-guys who seemed to outnumber the shoppers at an alarming ratio (again, the cattle prod would have proved itself a most useful tool in this situation). Also, I had to manage all that while facing a temperature of -5 degrees which, I have recently discovered, is not a particularly pleasant climate to meet when dashing from shop to shop.

However, despite all the trials faced during my dual-core Christmas Shopping Operation I pulled through. I shopped and I shopped until everything Christmas was sorted. I even shopped for a new saucepan even though it wasn't required for a present. In short, I was awesome for a day, because only an awesome person can get Christmas sorted in seven hours.

Admittedly, I became somewhat less awesome after reading one too many chapters of The Deathly Hallows while lolloping in a lovely hot bath, which resulted in me being reduced to a warm and cosy, yet mostly brain dead blogger.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Post delayed until Tuesday...

I had written about two-thirds of today's post, when I noticed I was staring uselessly into space on an increasingly frequent basis, each time snapping back into reality and noting that I had still not managed to type the words so essential to updating a blog.

I took an executive decision to postpone the post until tomorrow, so that I can stare into space without feeling guilty that I should be writing instead. I am quite convinced that the post will be better for it.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Ugg Boot and other Unsuitable Footwear

Like most women I know, I love shoes. Shoes are the ultimate accessory and can make or break any outfit. This is why I have so many pairs (and Fiance will confirm that I am talking about a pile of shoes that could probably challenge Everest's claim to being the tallest mountain) - for every outfit I compose, I have at least two sets of footwear that are capable of bringing the outfit together, and dictating whether it is smart, or casual, or quirky, or comfortable (as well as being entirely colour co-ordinated, of course).

But like many things, making an appropriate footwear choice can be a complicated affair. No matter how far ahead you plan your outfit, life can throw little things at you which instantly make your shoe choice entirely unsuitable.

Let's take my recent hot topic of disgruntlement - the weather - as a perfect example. You cannot do a look other than casual when it snows - glamorous heels just don't cut it when trying to wade through the powdery stuff. Although they did once, when I was able to use a particularly thin stiletto as a built-in crampon that actually helped me to walk when caught out in an unexpected snow fall - but it's not something I'd recommend, given that the second time I had to get through snow in heels, I ended up abandoning the effort and walking barefoot.

It is because of the barefoot experience that I will now not venture outside during snowy times unless I have donned a pair of wellington boots. They make your feet invincible, allowing you to walk confidently through the worst the conditions can throw at you - snow, slush, water, mud - you can skip happily through them all, knowing your toes within will remain clean and dry. But even wellies have their downsides - the first is their inflexibility, and the resulting hindrance of your travelling speed. This was proven all too recently when I missed a bus to work because I was incapable of moving at the necessary speed to get to the stop in time. My second issue with wellies is their lack of heat insulation. Even when wearing three pairs of socks, my toes quickly go numb when wading through the snow - and I physically couldn't wear any more socks and still be able to squeeze the wellies on.

But without doubt, nothing compares to the wellington boot when it comes to snow. Yet even with the increasingly cold and white winters we have experienced over the last couple of years, many women still haven't embraced the practicalities of a solid pair of wellies, instead opting to head out in their fashionable wool-lined Ugg boots (or any of their more reasonably priced equivalents).

At first glance, these may seem like perfect snow shoes - they are flat, flexible, have a good grippy sole and are lined with soft and fluffy niceness, designed to hold your toes in a warm cuddle of comfort. However, you should not be fooled by the apparent appropriateness of this popular boot because they hate you for wearing them in wintry conditions.

Let me expand. I ventured out in the snow last weekend, and saw a worryingly high percentage of female shoppers walking round the city centre with expressions of pure misery painted across their faces. There was a single cause for all the sad females - their warm and cosy boots had not protected their feet from the snow, but instead had maliciously soaked up the melting slush and transformed into sodden lumps of fabric attached to the end of their legs. The lack of waterproofing renders these boots not warm and cosy, but damp and cold and to be avoided at all costs in bad weather.

This isn't the only problem with Ugg boots. I have a pair - well, I have a more reasonably priced Rocket Dog version - which cause me their own problems even when the weather would not result in them turning into water hoovers. When I wear my boots to work I become electric - and not just because I wear them so awesomely.

It turns out that I don't pick my feet up properly when I walk, and the rubber soles and wool lining thus combine together to turn me into a walking charge of static electricity. This is unfortunate, because it means that this happens when I touch metal things:

My inability to open a door with a metal handle without receiving a static induced electric shock has become something of a hindrance. This is especially upsetting because I need to pass through two such doors on the way to two vital locations - the kitchen and the toilet.

I thought I could resolve the situation by touching the wooden door before the metallic door handle, thus earthing myself and stopping the shock. I have had to ensure that I drop an anecdote about the situation into as many conversations with colleagues as possible, lest they start to question my method of opening doors - which, in its current form, has evolved to stroking the door and tentatively reaching for the handle, before jumping dramatically backwards (usually accompanied by a swear word or two) and shaking my hand vigorously. It's the kind of behaviour that would draw a questioning glance without insider knowledge as to what I am doing and why.

Of course, the other foolproof method of avoiding shocks would be to ensure I don't wear those particular boots to work anymore. In fact, that is the tactic that I am likely to embrace, because I can already feel a Pavlovian association forming between the act of opening a door and receiving a shock, and being scared of doors is, quite frankly, an affliction that I can afford to live without.

To conclude: Damn you all unsuitable footwear. I love you, but you have the power to make me fear inanimate objects.

Monday, 13 December 2010

It's not always beneficial to be the early bird

I got a bit carried away this afternoon with my drawing tablet and GIMP (which, in case you were worrying about following the link, is a free alternative to the extortionately priced Photoshop) and ended up spending none of my time creating visuals to accompany the story that I intended to post today.

Instead, I did this:

It was basically an excuse to work my way through all the tools in the GIMP toolbox to see what each of them do. I still don't really know the answer in most cases but things did start to become a bit clearer towards the end - there may be hope yet, providing I manage to retain anything I picked up. I shall endeavour to practise - there is definitely still an element of the amateur about the pic that I couldn't seem to iron out. But even amateurish is impressive given that I have always been convinced I am not a person who is adept at drawing. 

Anyway, here's to another Monday without a story-based post because I let myself get distracted from my intended visuals. Somewhat ironically, I probably would have had time to get them done if I'd gotten out of bed a bit earlier this morning.

PS. I so want to live in that cute little worm home. The fireside chair looks super comfy!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Tea: why it is not an appropriate cure for everything

I love to drink tea. In fact, the only thing I like drinking more than tea is alcohol, and I have found this gets me exceptionally drunk if I try to consume it as frequently as I do a good strong cuppa. No-one bats an eyelid at me quaffing bucketloads of tea at 8 in the morning, not to mention that it is good for me, and can help me through the most trying of situations. There are certain times when nothing but tea will do.

Take this week for example, when the hot beverage has proven itself to be my saviour. As you may have picked up from previous posts, the weather has taken a turn for the worse recently, and hasn’t seen the right side of zero degrees for the last two weeks. This was fine when I was working from home and didn’t have to face the bitter temperature, but since returning to the office it has become more of an issue – not least because the heating system in the building has decided it was being overworked and elected to go on strike. 

I believe my addiction to tea helped me deal with the temperature better than my colleagues, because each cup would warm me up from the stomach outwards as I devoured the deliciously hot liquid contained within. As long as I permanently had a cup of tea on the go, I found I was able to maintain a bearable body heat, assisted only by three pairs of socks, a vest, a t-shirt, a jumper, a cardigan, a pair of leggings, lined trousers and a scarf. Oh, and a wonderful pair of USB heated slippers given to me as a gift by the lady I share a cold section of the office with. 

It’s a good job there weren’t any clients in, because I was frequently seen nipping to the toilet in my plug-in slippers – a simply unavoidable phenomenon thanks to the significant volume of tea consumed in order to keep warm. 

Without tea, I would have succumbed to the cold, but with it, I was able to face the temperatures bravely and with a smile on my face. Let me stress that this is just regular have-it-with-a-splash-of-milk tea that made me feel better by keeping my body temperature at a reasonable level – I haven’t even started on the virtues of herbal teas, amongst which is a whole world of ailment busting remedies.

Take peppermint tea for example. Peppermint tea is the king of herbal teas. Traditionally renowned for its ability in aiding digestion, I prescribe it willy-nilly to anyone for pretty much any complaint they may mention in passing.

OK, so it can’t cure everything, but it is great for settling indigestion and the menthol vapours really help clear out the nasal cavities and soothe wheezy chests – particularly effective if you cuddle the mug to your face in between sips and inhale the steam. It is a wonderful drink, as long as you can get past the initial sensation that you are drinking chewing gum.

And that is where the problem lies. Not everyone can cope with tea and its various forms and flavours. Take the lady I used to sit with at my last job, who suffered a severe bout of morning sickness with her second child and who decided to give ginger tea a go in order to lessen her troubles - which makes perfect sense because ginger is known for its nausea-quelling abilities. Sadly, the woman in question hated ginger with such a passion, the tea didn’t exactly have the calming effect she had hoped for, instead intensifying the sickness she was feeling and making her feel worse than ever. 

By the way, I didn’t suggest she try ginger tea – trying the tea was an idea all of her own. I’d hate to give the impression that I prescribe tea to pregnant ladies and make them sick.

This is one example of tea failing to be an appropriate cure. I have another example, for which I have to thank my Dad, his willingness to believe me, and most importantly my stupidity (without which, the following events could not have occurred).

Many years ago when I still lived with my parents, we went on a family visit to see my nan and granddad. During the visit, my dad’s eyes got really sensitive – red, itchy and watering, he was suffering with the full works. I wanted to help, and recalled reading at some point previously (in a publication I cannot recall the details of) that the tannins from tea can help to sooth and moisturise the eyes, kind of like cucumber does, but in tea form. Taking the role of chief of herbal medicine, I suggested he lay down with a couple of used tea bags over his eyes for a few minutes. For some reason, he agreed to give it a go – my genuine belief that this was the right thing to do must have outweighed any apprehension he may have felt.

Needless to say, this was a mistake. The tea bags can’t have spent more than 5 minutes in place, but by the time they had been removed, the skin around Dad’s eyes had been dyed strong-tea orange. It was not a good look, but it was most definitely giggle-worthy. I can’t even remember if it stopped his eyes itching because I was apparently too busy being doubled up with laughter to notice.  

I guess what I’m suggesting is that if I prescribe you tea to drink, it could be worth listening because it might just work. If I ever suggest that you use tea of any variety or form on your body, you should probably run away. Or say no. That would be equally as effective and much less energetic.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Slugs, Snails and a Day of Laziness

Well, I actually haven't written anything to post today - mainly because I was enjoying a day of doing absolutely nothing, other than a little pottering around the house. It was lovely, but not particularly productive for blogging.

So because I don't want to break my Monday/Thursday routine, here is a little something I spent yesterday working on, made by special request for my sister. 

My sister has complete credit for the idea, but I like to think I've done it justice. I guess you can be the judge.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Winter: Stop Throwing Tantrums

I believe I have proof that Winter is reading my blog.

In my last post, I mentioned that our region hadn’t been hit particularly badly by the snow storms at the weekend. Since then, our region has become the victim of a relentless snowfall that has persisted on falling and turning everything whiter than it should be.

On Tuesday, using the car to get to work was quickly identified as a sketchy idea thanks to a couple of inches of freshly laid snow on our road. We walked to a bus stop on the nearest main road, being passed by a number of intrepid (read: foolish) drivers, ping-ponging their way down the hill, using the kerbs on the opposite sides of the road as their only method of steering and/or stopping. We successfully caught a bus into the city centre, but once there my journey to work ground to a halt. I missed the bus to the business park I work at by a matter of seconds – we (by which I mean Fiance) were level with the back window as it pulled away from the stop. At this stage, I would like to stop and award a big thanks to Fiance for being a gent by running much more efficiently than me and getting a lot closer to hailing it than I managed (although I am blaming that entirely on my wellies and their inability to improve one’s running technique). 

In the end, it took me two hours to get into work, thanks to missing and delayed buses, road closures and Winter’s general maliciousness towards me. Fortunately, I outwitted Winter on the journey home, and accepted the offer of a taxi-based lift with someone from work who doesn’t live far away from me. The taxi even made it up the hill we’d seen cars ping-ponging down earlier, so I only had to trudge up the hill that forms our road – take that Winter.

I actually haven’t left the house since – my boss having agreed to let me work from home for the last couple of days. It was whilst staring into space and pondering one particularly complex Excel formula that I noticed the beginnings of an avalanche forming outside our lounge window.

It took me a while to work out why there was a mound of snow, taller than me, sitting directly outside our window – closer inspection revealed it was the result of our wheelie bins holding up our hedge that is rapidly collapsing under the weight of all the snow that has fallen on it.

I took a few pictures of the avalanche forming.

I may, or may not, have embellished them.

For the record, I still hate Winter.