Wednesday, 19 December 2012

My year in numbers

It's around this time of year that many newspapers start doing their  'fascinating' articles about Britain's year in numbers. Long lists of statistics about anything and everything... How much more rain we've had in 2012 compared to last year; how many more visitors London has had; how much fatter we are, but ironically, how much more we've exercised; we haven't pre-ordered as many turkeys this year but we have donated more to charity; we are better educated in 2012 yet our average salary is not as good as last year. The lists are endless, but it got me thinking about my own statistics. 

How does my year break down into numbers? I'm not talking about how much I've spent on food or how many hours I've wasted traveling on public transport... just trying to work that out would put me into a coma. I wanted to work out how I spend my time and how social, or not, my life has been in 2012. So armed with my diary, I worked out the following. 

I watched 17 films at the cinema. 
10 of those were subtitled and come under the category of wrist-slitters, according to my friend Mark. The 'film noirs' that send you into floods of tears or an instant depression. Most of them I went to with my friend Lisa, some with other friends, and a few I went to on my own. 

I went to 3 music gigs and 1 opera.

I was invited to 6 Private views at the Tate Gallery (all thanks to the brilliant gift of membership from my family, which takes queue jumping to a whole new level) and I saw 12 other art exhibitions.

I cried once, at two different ballets.

I spent silly amounts of money going to the theatre. 17 times this year, but worth every penny. Mark Rylance in Jersualem and Cate Blanchett in Gross und Klein were my highlights... achingly good performances. For the first time ever, I stood in the rain with my friend at the Stage door, desperate to get a glimpse of the genius that is Mark Rylance. After 15 minutes and soaking wet, we gave up and headed for the pub over the road. It was there that we realised we could see into his dressing room and watch him take his make-up off and get dressed... slightly creepy 'peeping Tom' but brilliant.

I met friends for dinner and/or drinks 48 times... usually in Central London.

I happily attended 18 parties... some merrily drunk with adults, others hyperactive on sugar with children. 

I spent 13 weekends away, staying with friends.

I went down to Hampshire to visit my parents 14 times. Gold star!

I had 3 holidays this year, one was a 3-week holiday in America visiting family and friends, the other two amazing weeks were in the Lake District.

So, there is my life in a nutshell. When I wonder where my money goes... I can now confirm that it is not spent on clothes and expensive furniture but on experiences and memories. Seeing lots of stuff and spending time with family and friends. Money very well spent.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

All the drama of the theatre

A few weeks ago, I did something completely different. It was a spontaneous idea because it is highly unusual that I am awake before 9:00 on a sunday morning, yet for some strange reason, I was sitting up in bed, bright eyed and bushy tailed at 7am! Good lord!

I looked out of the window at the spotless blue sky and thought what a lovely morning it would be to go for a walk through the chilly streets of deserted London. London is never wholly deserted but there are parts of it in the city, around Bank and Temple that are ancient and beautiful, with narrow lanes and old leaning buildings, tiny churches nestled down cobbled lanes with names like Hanging Sword Alley. It's filled with history and ghosts and I love it. For some strange reason it doesn't attract too many tourists either, especially that early on a weekend. It is fairly near St. Paul's cathedral though.... that was when I realised it was Remembrance Sunday. So I decided that as well as my walk I would pop in to the Cathedral and attend the service. I texted a few friends to see if anyone wanted to come with me but was greeted with complete silence as everyone else, quite sensibly, was still asleep.

Now I'm not the most regular of church goers. I was brought up Church of England and nearly always went to Christmas, Easter and Family services. I was made, by my Mother, to deliver parish magazines in my village and asked to do the occasional reading in Church. The alternative was to be in the choir, but that meant being clean and well behaved and I was much happier racing round on my bike, going door to door with the magazines. Every wedding and funeral I've ever been to has been a Christian service yet there has always been something that hasn't quite clicked with me. I suppose the years I've spent travelling, experiencing different cultures and seeing how other people live their lives has rubbed off on me. Meditating with Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka, being blessed by Hindu priests in India, sitting next to a catholic nun on a plane for 9 hours and chatting to Muslim elders in my local cafe... all have impacted on the way I think. I have Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim friends and work with all sorts of people with very diverse backgrounds and upbringings. Over time, I seem to have taken a little pinch of this and a sprinkle of that and cooked up my own religion. I certainly have my own God. He is a he, not sure why, but he's not white or really old and he doesn't have a beard. I picture him about sixty, with a kind olive-skinned face, a large belly and always relaxed and wearing pyjamas. Ha ha, I've just realised I may have described my future husband! Some people call it pick-and-mix religion... greedily taking what you need from each belief system. The other day I actually googled "what religion am I?" and up popped all these websites, each offering to help you find out just what religion you are, based on a few pages of questions. There were moral questions, political questions, sexual questions... It took about 20 minutes and a few clicks later, there was my answer. Apparently I'm a Hindu. Well hello there. Namaste.

But back to the other day. Just because I'm a little confused as to how to label what I believe, I still adore going to church. Maybe it's the tradition, the pomp and circumstance, maybe its the drama? I see all the same things in a church or cathedral that I see on stage and as most people know, I'm never happier than in the theatre. The leading actor is of course the Archbishop, Dean or Vicar, his robes are his costume, his sermon his dramatic monologue... able to hold the attention of the audience with sharp delivery and humerus overtones or lose everyones interest with a bad script and monotone voice. So going to St. Paul's, on a very special day like Remembrance Sunday, was like seeing a sold out play, except its free with better seats and much shorter!

I arrived about half an hour before the service began and realised I needed the loo. Churches, even St. Paul's, do not have loos, and so I was sent out and around the corner to some public conveniences. A pee for 50p. Bloody hell. What I find extraordinary is that the Church of England constantly complain of dwindling numbers and lack of interest, that the average age of a regular church goer is 60-80 years old but even they are on the decline. I'm not surprised... they are the same people that need the loo a little more regularly. Maybe if they put a discreet Holy 'portaloo' at the back of churches, more people would attend.

I walked out into the crisp bright morning and watched the soldiers and officers of different ranks and regiments congregate, before marching down to the Cenotaph. There was a beautiful moment when they all were suddenly in place, perfect silent lines of men and women, their buttons and swords and spurs shining in the sunlight, buffed boots and spotless uniforms, chins strong and lifted. I asked a policeman if I could quickly step into the middle of the road to take their photo. He looked at me, smiled and said "Go on then, make it quick". I stepped passed him and strode across the street, stopped and faced the proud line of faces. I held up my camera as they began marching towards me. The noise of 500 pairs of boots on the cobbles was explosive. At the front were three dashing naval officers. The one leading suddenly looked terribly familiar, and at this point was only 10 feet away from me. I slowly lowered my camera as his face came into focus. Oh no. I sprang back behind the policeman, and crouched down slightly, muttering expletives as I realised it was my ex boyfriend. Thank god they were all 'eyes forward' because it would have been utterly humiliating if I had made eye contact. The policeman was not so reserved, turning around to give me the most peculiar of looks as I cowered behind him. The other people around me all stepped back a little too, giving a bit of space to the 'crazy lady'. It was fine by me, when I plucked up the courage to stand up and look, I had a very good view for the rest of the procession.

Anyway, by the time I had found change, had my pee and was back in the cathedral it was packed, but because I was on my own, I managed to find a spare seat on the aisle very close to the choir. Aahhh, the choir.... That's the other reason I love these services. There has been a boys and gentleman's choir at St. Paul's for over nine centuries, since 1127... That's extraordinary. Originally, a choir of 40 boys and 18 men were thought essential to achieve the necessary vocal power to fill the cathedral, nowadays, they have 30 boys and ten men. Are they louder now? I have no idea, but when they sing, the hairs go up on the back of my neck and invariably I'm in tears within seconds. Thank god I had been to the loo because I remembered how emotional I get and grabbed a bunch of loo paper for such moments. I was in the most beautiful cathedral in the world, listening to the most exquisite music and heart-wrenchingly pure voices, surrounded by the heads of the church in their finest robes and on an occasion where we remember those that have served and are serving our country in wars around the world. I was an emotional wreck. Silent tears ran down my face and a huge lump remained in my throat for the whole hour. At the end of the service the choristers filed out, these sweet little boys aged 7-13, some still with ruffled bed heads, others picking their noses or fiddling with their high starched collars, others yawning or itching their bums... Boys will be boys no matter how angelic they sound.

Friday, 30 November 2012

The Art of Noise

Last weekend I was listening to the chirrup of tree frogs while ocean waves crashed dramatically in the background. There was also a cat purring in front of a crackling open fire. Doesn't it sound heavenly.... if not a little bit of an odd cacophony of sounds? That may be because I was trying to design my own background noise, desperately attempting to muffle the early morning tirade of toddler tantrums and hysteria blaring through the wall, the other side of my headboard, at 7am on a Saturday morning

I was staying in a stunning converted barn in the Peak District, celebrating my friends 40th birthday with four other couples and their children. Rolling green hills as far as the eye could see, the distant mooing of cows, a whinny or two from the horses in the field next door... and the screams of a three year old. Bliss. It wasn't anyone fault, certainly not the children's. I have five Godchildren, two nephews and plenty of friends with children. I know noise and the incredible volume that can come from these tiny humans but usually i can escape from it when it threatens to drive me insane. In this instance my bedroom was a very thin wall away from the main ground floor room in which everyone congregated. When I first saw that my bedroom was just off the sitting room, I had a slight momentary panic that noise may be a problem, but I had remembered my earplugs and there were plenty of pillows to muffle any unwelcome noises. Not a problem I thought.

I have been used to sleeping with earplugs since moving to London. I think anyone brought up in a tiny village in the country with only the sounds of nature to fill their heads, finds it quite a struggle when suddenly greeted with city hubbub. Noisy neighbours, blaring car horns, the rumble of bus engines, police and ambulance sirens, late night revellers, early morning bottle bank collectors, frisky foxes, bin men and the bane of my life... yapping dogs. It never ends, it doesn't stop. It is there 24 hours a day. Ear plugs have saved my sanity... Almost. I think the noise that's most disturbing is the non-constant noise. Washing machines and dishwashers set off late at night, no problem. I've always managed to sleep through traffic noise too unless a angry hooting of a horn suddenly blasts me awake. I've had neighbours that were annoying with nocturnal habits but weren't offensively loud. A couple who lived above me used to have very very early morning sex at the same time every Saturday and Sunday for the same duration. There were no sudden gasps or screams so it was fine. Another neighbour would strum his guitar late at night and that was lovely too. My old neighbour in my current flat would come in at 4am and play Claire de Lune by Debussy on his piano. I could never complain because I had told him that it was my favourite piano piece so although it was too loud and too late at night, I would never tire from hearing it. The same neighbour disgraced himself though, years later, by using my spare key to come and 'borrow' a bottle of wine, thinking I was away for the weekend. I don't know who was more surprised when he stumbled into my flat, knocking into every piece of furniture, andfound me  asleep in my flat having cancelled my trip. Thinking it was a burglar I screamed so loudly that he almost had a heart attack. Another drunken night he lost his key and pressed on my buzzer for several minutes. I didn't hear it, of course, because I had my earplugs in, but my Mother (who was staying at the time) had to let him in, make him a cup of tea to sober him up, and pretty much undress him and put him in her bed. I only knew what had happened when she clambered into my bed, scaring the life out of me, and explained why she was there! She thought it was 'such a hoot'. I didn't. Once woken up, all I could hear was a combination of his snores through my wall and my mothers snuffles next to me.

Sometimes though, earplugs have not been able to block out the noise entirely. My opposite neighbours, until recently, had three staffy/pitbull cross terriers (oh yes, I'm in a classy area) that they would let out at night and leave to fight and bark for hours. It went on for three months until all the neighbours complained to the local dog patrol, the dogs were found to be not only dangerous but illegal and they were re-homed. But those three months were hell. The only way I could cover the barking was to not only to wear earplugs but to turn on my oscillating fan to high. Extreme measures but genius. The constant hum blots out everything. It also silences the late night OCD cooking and cleaning that my Muslim neighbour does all night. It dulls the passionate bedtime arguments of the other downstairs neighbour and it muffles the club music coming from the Aussie house at the end of the block every other night.

So on my first night of the 40th birthday weekend, I was hopeful that with my earplugs in, I would be in blissful slumber by midnight. The reason I was in bed so early on a party weekend, was that I was recovering from a chest infection, so had decided to be sensible (unusual for me), and had taken a last antibiotic with a glass of wine over dinner and was tucked up in bed, saving myself for the Saturday night. At 12:05 I realised it was utterly pointless going to bed until everyone else had. The walls were like tracing paper and so I was pretty much 'in the room' with everyone as they drank and chatted into the night. I got up and joined them in the sitting room, po-faced and tired, creased cheeks, hair in topknot, pyjamas on, not pretty. Of course, the grumpier I got, the more hilarious it was for them. At one point, about an hour later, I got up to attempt to go back to bed and saw two men walking passed the front window. On reflection, it may have been a hallucination caused by strong antibiotics and exhaustion but I was convinced they were either ghosts or creepy locals come to murder us in our beds. Of course, the girls thought this even more hilarious and were in fits of giggles as I slumped off to my room, convinced I would just pass out or be killed in my sleep. Minutes later, I heard the girls outside my window, unsubtly trying to scare me by scraping on my bedroom window. When I didn't react they just banged on the window for a few minutes. Hilarious. I tried the earplugs combined with a large pillow over my head but got up again when the boys came in from the games room and joined the girls. Finally at just after 2am, mostly inebriated, they went to bed. Joy.

Five hours later, I was rudely awakened with a 'boink, boink' noise followed by screams of delight. I swore loudly and got up, looked into the sitting room, trying not to be spotted, and saw two very tired hungover mothers on the sofa and three children man-handling a poor Tigger toy. This toy, when slammed on the floor, emitted this very loud, very annoying, electronic bouncing noise. I went back to bed and lay there thinking bad thoughts about Tigger, when I suddenly remembered reading an article about 'white noise'. White noise is that fuzzy hiss that used to emit from your tv in the days programming would shutdown at night. More and more people are finding sleep a problem and are resorting to noise programmes to help them drop off. A few minutes later, with eyes drooping, I managed to find an App on the Internet called White Noise... mine for only £1.49. I bought it and seconds later was utterly mesmerised as I saw what was on offer as far as noises. 

Amazon rainforest, beach waves, rain on car roof, distant thunder, wind chimes, crickets, fast running stream, cat purring, tumble dryer, hair dryer, oscillating fan, vacuum cleaner, city streets, motorway traffic, train tracks, you name it, it's there. What's even more brilliant is that you can create your own combinations which is why I was listening to tree frogs, waves, a log fire and a thunderstorm all at the same time. It's brilliant, it works and it's really fun. For me, my favourites are the sounds that have always made me feel safe and are comforting. The sound of rain on a car roof reminds me of one of my favourite memories... going on trips in the car with my family, a warm snug interior with the sound of rain outside, the change in the car engine as my father slowed down and the crunch of gravel under the tires as we turned into our driveway, and knowing, as I pretended to be asleep, that I would be carried into the house. I also suppose that because I have lived near fields, woods, and the ocean until I moved to London, those are the noises I most feel relaxed with. I wonder if city people stay in a B&B for the weekend in the country and have to listen to 'city streets' because its too damn quiet. There is even a 'Tibetan singing bowl' soundtrack for goodness sake. Has the Dalai Lama downloaded the app and is meditating to that as he sits in the hustle and bustle of Dharamsala? Who knows. The only thing I know is at 7:10 I went back to sleep listening to a distant thunderstorm with light rain. Tigger was no more. An hour or so later, when most of us were up, I excitedly tried to demonstrate my new discovery to a host of bleary eyed, recipients and felt quite smug that later that night I would sleep through anything.

As we had dinner that evening in the conservatory, it began to rain. As the rain got heavier and pattered loudly onto the plastic corrugated roof, one of my friends said "Jules, is that coming from your phone?". 

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Bloodhounds and Lost Horses

(Or should I say, lost causes!)

Most people would assume that a visit to their parents house in the countryside would be little more than lovely food, great conversation, long walks and peace and quiet. It is never quite guaranteed at my parents for the simple reason that my Mother always seems to have a surprise in store or a plan hatched.

I was aware that I was going down for my nephews 18th birthday lunch and then a trip, en famille, to see the new James Bond film, Skyfall. The birthday lunch was wonderful and the film was superb (best Bond film ever? Just possibly. Best villain ever? Most definitely. Javier Bardem is fabulous!) but I digress, the day was lovely and without dramatics. 
On Sunday, however, it began with a rotten egg, quite literally. My Father very kindly offered to bring me breakfast in bed (princess moi?) of boiled eggs and toast. Lovely... until I whipped the top off the egg and was greeted by a green gunge and an odour I can only describe as pungently vile, filling the room in a matter of seconds. My Mother then announced the plan for the day... going to watch a pack of bloodhounds chase someone across a field, for fun...  but that we would be back in time for lunch. Well thats okay then! I didn't ask too many details but gathered from scant information that it was a hunt with human instead of a fox. Crikey, sounds perfectly medieval!

Since fox hunting was banned in 2004, the county hunts have carried on the sport without killing anything at the end. Which is nice. It began with drag hunting, where a trail would be laid using a scent laden cloth, across several miles of fields, woods and streams. The riders and hounds would gather, sherry would be drunk, hunting horn blown and off they would all go. Such fun. Of course, there was nothing at the end apart from more sherry, a packed lunch and some Pedigree Chum for the dogs. Much better than a poor little fox but hardly thrilling. Now it seems, the hunts have come up with something a bit more exciting. 
We turned up to the start location, not really sure what to expect. There were two dozen horses, a dozen or so bloodhounds, the master of the hunt in his smart red coat... and a slightly nervous looking woman in shorts, a neon vest and running shoes. Most peculiar. I started talking to a man standing next to me and asked about the runner. "This is her first time" he said nonchalantly. He then explained that he had been the runner a few times too and how it really got the adrenalin pumping. I'm not surprised... being chased by a pack of dogs across the countryside would make my heart beat a little faster too. This man had become involved in the sport when he had been cornered at a drinks party. He had been talking about his hobby of cross country and fell running and his host suddenly looked delighted and sped off to fetch another guest. The other guest asked him if he was fit enough to run across country for 16 miles. He would, of course, be given a 20 minute head start before a pack of bloodhounds would be released. "Oh my God" I said, "it must be terrifying". He laughed and said "well it certainly makes you run a little faster, especially when you hear the baying of the hounds getting louder and louder as they gain on you." I was aghast. "So what happens when they catch you?" Imagining the poor man beset upon by drooling, blood-thirsty beasts, wanting to rip him to shreds. "It's a bit disappointing really. Most of them ignore you, the rest of them try and lick you to death." Aaah, how sweet... and just as I was thinking how adorable the bloodhounds were, one of them tried to mount me. I pushed it down and it made do with thrusting against my arm. Not so cute after all.

A few minutes later the hounds and riders took off. We followed in the car for a few miles and as they disappeared over another hill we went home for lunch, knowing that an hour or so later they would be coming through my parents village. We had lunch and were just settling down to read the papers when I heard the sound of hooves outside. I leapt up and cried out "horse"! My mother followed and we both shot out into the road. This is where things turned a little odd.

We both looked up and down the lane and saw nothing. I had definitely heard hooves but there were no horses, no dogs and definitely no runner. My mother started walking towards the end of the lane saying "I'm just going to see if they went down here." She turned the corner and disappeared. A moment later, I heard her voice along with another persons. I waited about 5 minutes but it was freezing - we had both hurried out of the house so fast we had forgotten our coats - so I went back inside, thinking my Mother would be right behind me. I said to Dad, "It's really weird, there were no horses and Mums gone missing but don't worry, I think she is talking to one of the neighbours." Being the kind of thing she does, we weren't worried. But ten minutes later and still no sign of her, my Father and I were thinking it was a bit peculiar. My Father then said, "I saw something a bit strange when you were outside... a big white flash went past the hedge in the back garden." Oh dear. "What do you mean? What was it?" I said. My father leaned back in his chair and frowned, "I think it was a big white horse." Oh dear. Senility really is upon us.  "Daddy, are you sure? A horse, running behind the hedge?" He laughed. "Well, it was either a big white horse or a very tall large person wearing white flowing robes and running really fast." Okay, I know Halloween is almost upon us but this is getting ridiculous. Ignoring his weird sighting, we decided I should go and find Mother, taking her coat with me. I donned my coat and boots again and went out into the cold, dark autumnal afternoon. Shouting "Mummy" every few seconds, I wandered off around the village. I came across a man with a leaf blower. "Have you seen my Mother? She came this way about 15 minutes ago wearing a hat?" (I forgot to mention that. She didn't have her coat but she had remembered her stupid 'outback' hat!) He nodded and pointed back in the direction of my parents house. "Are you sure she went that way?" I asked perplexed. "Yup" he said and turned the leaf blower back on. I went to the end of our long lane and looked up. Nothing, totally deserted. I saw another neighbour in his garden. I'm not sure he recognised me because when I shouted, "Have you seen my Mother... she's gone walkabout... she's wearing a hat." He looked a bit scared and sort of nodded at me, not making eye contact. On reflection, saying that to a stranger must have sounded odd, as if my Mother had recently escaped, wearing only a hat! I carried on up the lane and spotted three women coming in my direction. They shouted out "Are you looking for a loose horse?" What? "No" I shouted back, "I'm looking for a loose woman." And laughed a bit manically. "Ok, that sounds a bit weird. I mean I'm looking for my Mother. She's around here somewhere. She's wearing a hat." They looked at each other. "Oh you mean Anne?" Now I have to add another little aside here. My Mother has a habit of  introducing herself to everyone. We will be anywhere where there are other people and she will break away from our family group like a silent ninja and we will hear the words, "Hello, I'm Anne." So for three complete strangers to know my Mothers' name was not unusual in the slightest. "I think she's in someone's garden looking for the bloodhounds." The taller woman said. "She's also looking for our horse." The smaller one said. The middle one remained silent, staring at me without blinking. They were like the female rural Marx brothers. I thanked them and carried on walking, holding on to Mothers coat like Frodo with his ring. I was determined to find her. I shouted her name a bit more, peering into neighbours gardens and walked to the end of the lane and back. Nothing. No horses, no hounds, no runner and even more annoyingly, no Mother! I was getting cold and a bit fed up so I started to walk home.

I passed 'Toms Wood' which backs onto our house and then had a brainwave. Dad could very possibly have seen the escaped white horse everyone was looking for and it may very well have galloped into the wood behind our house. So I ventured in. Windy and dark it dawned on me how ironic it would be if I went out looking for my Mother and then I went missing myself. I laughed as I imagined falling down a badger hole and lying there as everyone came looking for me. Just as that thought formed in my head as a vivid picture, I got my foot tangled in an old fence and went flying head first into the leafy floor. Ouch. I lay there trying to figure out if I had twisted or broken anything and then I heard a distant cry. Not a bird, not a animal, my Mother. I got the complete giggles as I heard my Mother calling "Oooohweeee, Darling?", "Oooowooo, Doodles?". I got up, brushed the leaves off and limped out of the woods. My Mother didn't look at all surprised to see me limping or coming out of the woods but was totally incredulous as I explained it was all her fault for going missing in the first place.

Of course, her explanation for her movements was perfectly normal. She had gone to find the hounds and bumped into a neighbour who had seen the hounds but only heard the missing horse. They then met two other neighbours who had both seen and heard the missing horse but not seen the hounds. Three horsey women then approached and my Mother introduced herself. The horsey women knew the missing horse and were also looking for it. None of the above had seen the poor runner. My Mother and the neighbours decided to track the missing horse. They followed the hoof prints (yes, she is now officially Tonto), with the help of some local children (Famous Five), climbed through woods and muddy fields and with no luck and no horse, they came home. All with no coat. Perfectly normal.

They say daughters eventually turn into their Mothers... God help me!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Tough Times

There are times in our lives when everything terrible seems to happen at once. When you are afraid to check your emails or answer the phone in case there is more bad news. The last few months and weeks have proved to be just that and my heart goes out to all my friends and family who are going through really tough times. Life changing accidents, debilitating illness, losing a family member or going through a break up can all be utterly devastating and I hope this period of sadness can be over soon and we can all find strength from those around us and find some brightness for the future. 

Stress from upset manifests in different ways for each of us. My emotions, thankfully, usually come out in tears and conversation but they sometimes bypass my brain and heart and lock solid in my body. It's a way of coping I suppose... pushing the tears below the surface and putting on a brave face until you can privately grieve or let bad news gradually sink in. When it does happen physically, each piece of bad news seems to form a giant knot in my back or send a muscle into spasm. I end up walking around rigid with pain, hot water bottle stuffed down the back of my trousers and pain killers administered on tap. It's not a great way to deal with it but sometimes there is no other way. 

After three quite horrendous weeks, each part of my body seemed to have a problem... my lower back spasmed in sympathy for my stiff shoulder, my neck locked up in compensation for my sciatica, and my knees and ankles cracked in bereavement for my hips. I started to resemble a limping hunchback, walking around with cries of 'oohs' and 'aahs' with every step. I realised that if I didn't sort it out soon, I might cause permanent damage! A hasty call to my osteopath proved a quite unusual visit. 

Torben, my wonderful Danish osteopath came to this country about 12 years ago with only a handful of clients and a dingy treatment room in east London. I found him simply by walking past his practice one day and spotting a terribly designed, badly spelt poster outside the door, advertising his services. I had been having awful neck pain for some weeks so I ignored the diabolical typography (I'm a designer!) and walked in. Torben looked thrilled to have a new client. He had been very successful in Copenhagen for his skills over the years but starting again in a new country was proving quite challenging. He promised me, on the spot, that as long as I was a client, I would pay the same price for each visit. 12 years later and he has stuck to his word, even though his waiting room now resembles an actors 'green room' combined with an athletes gym. His office displays photos of himself with Usain Bolt and members of team GB. In another, he is beaming at the camera with his arms around Dustin Hoffman and other esteemed actors. But to this day, he still only charges me £35 and will fit me in to his busy schedule whenever I ring. That is loyalty for you. 

Torben truly has magic hands and a very physically robust approach, thinking nothing of clambering onto your half-naked body and putting you in a series of headlocks and leg holds the WWF would be envious of. He also has a very off-putting room... in the middle, a treatment table. Normal. A wall covered in charts and diagrams depicting the human body, bones and muscles. Again, normal. A mass of paperwork and books on a messy desk. Normal. A giant floor to ceiling window made of one-way glass. Not normal. Passersby see a mirror, often stopping to readjust their hair or straighten their jacket whilst you cringe with embarrassment in your bra and knickers, thinking they can see you. It's been 12 years and I still want to leap off the table and hide when someone stops. Torben, with his crazy Danish ways, thinks it's hilarious of course.

So this particular visit was unusual because Torben literally didn't know where to start. The neck, the shoulder, the upper back, the lower back, the sciatic pain running from my buttocks to my knees, the excruciating headache... he shook his head and said "You are a mess". No kidding Sherlock. He then leapt on me, pulling and twisting, cracking and massaging until I could bear it no more. He looked at me, eyes wincing with pain, patted me and grinned, rubbing his hands together like some manic inventor. "Do you trust me?" he asked, "I want to experiment on you." Now just as an aside, the last time he said this to me, a few years ago, he did some weird gymnastic manoeuvre and I passed out cold. "Torben, I'm not sure... what are you going to do to me?". I frowned. "Juliet, trust me, you are my human guinea pig. It's good. I will get rid of your headache". Oh God. He disappeared from the room and came back with a big metal suitcase which he lay gently on the floor and opened it with a look of awe, as if it contained 100 gold bars. 

Inside the case were a few dozen wires attached to a small box, lots of dials, a few buttons and some small, round, plastic pads. "Okay," he paused, taking out an instruction book and squinting at the pages, "we start with some small electric shocks". WHAT? It doesn't fill you with a huge amount of confidence when the word 'electric' is used and an instruction book is introduced into the picture. Imagine your Doctor examining you and saying "Ooh, not sure what that is, let me just look it up on the internet!" No, not good at all. "Torben... can I ask when you learnt how to use this machine?" He looked up from the book, "About 3 weeks ago, but you are the first person to let me use it!" and he looked at me with such gratitude, I couldn't resist. A few minutes later I was lying on the table with 5 electrodes attached to my face and head. Torben squatted down by the machine fiddling with the dials. I clenched my fists waiting for a jolt of electricity to pass through my brain... I held my breath. 30 seconds later I exhaled loudly and said "For Gods sake Torben, when are you going to do it?". Torben stood up. "I finish now", he said. "But I didn't feel anything" I moaned. Honestly I was quite disappointed. He explained that they were only tiny electric currents that pulsed so quickly it was very doubtful I would feel it. He sat me up and asked me if my headache had gone. I blinked a few times and tried to focus on my head. No pain. Bloody amazing. Gone. I hugged him, paid and left, buyount and headache-less, waving into the mirrored window as I passed, knowing full well the next client would have leapt off the table in fright. 

A week later, my headache had crept back and my bad back was still troubling me. I had a long think about what would make me feel better and decided I need a massage. A good old fashioned full body massage. That would certainly help my aches and pains. I googled 'massage in Balham', and suddenly realised that was not the best thing to do when all sorts of 'ladies' popped up advertising their particular brand of 'special' massage. I then remembered the amazing Ayurvedic massages I had in India and Sri Lanka and so I googled that instead. Up came the website of this Indian girl who had just finished studying Ayurvedic medicine in Kerala, South India. Brilliant. I rang her up and she explained that unfortunately her treatment room was not set up yet. I must have let out the biggest disappointed sigh because she then offered to do the massage in my flat. Even better. Yay.

An hour later Sonal arrived... a tiny little Indian girl with a huge bag of oils, candles, stones and towels. I cleared a space in my sitting room and put a yoga mat and some towels down on my wooden floor. She lit some candles and began asking me questions. "How do you sleep?", "How is your diet?", "Are you stressed?" etc. She then went a bit left-field and asked me what star sign I was. I laughed and said I didn't think horoscopes was particularly Ayurvedic and she looked at me quite seriously and said, "I like to mix it up a bit". Okay. She then heated some oils, lit a few more candles and began pummelling my body. I had asked her for an hours massage and so I drifted off quite blissfully, happy in the knowledge she would just stop when the time was up. I became a little concerned when I noticed it was getting dark outside. Had I drifted off? I tried to rouse myself into consciousness and said "Sonal, what time is it?". "6;30" she said casually. I closed my heavy eyes and then sprang awake as I calculated she had been in my flat for over two and a half hours! Oh my God. "Sonal, you've been here too long. Oh no. Why didn't you stop?" She looked at me quite matter-of-factly. "Because you needed more time. Don't worry, no extra charge. I just wanted to fix you." Wow. I thought of that Coldplay song and nearly burst into tears. 

I sat up and slowly looked around my flat. It looked like a cookery demo gone wrong. My floor was slick with oil. There were sodden towels everywhere and stubs of candles and wax pooled on every surface. Oh dear. Sonal began clearing away her things completely oblivious to the mess. Never mind the chaos, it was amazing. One of the best massages I have ever had. I did pay her extra, how could I not, but as she was leaving she went off on another bizarre tangent. "You are Cancer and another client of mine is Scorpio... both water signs. The perfect match in fact. Can I give him your number?" I laughed. "Are you a matchmaker too Sonal? Do I have to pay extra for that?" She smiled and just nodded. "I know you will like him. He is a carpenter. Very good with his hands. You are the kind of woman who needs a man who knows what to do with his hands." Um... Cough... embarrassing.

So after electric shock treatment and an afternoon of Ayurvedic delight, I may also have a date! Maybe it's not all bad news.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Birthday

It was my Father's 75th birthday last weekend. As a family, we traditionally celebrate this special day with a trip to the coast. Never mind that his birthday is at the end of September and the weather is transient... we go to the beach, picnic in hand, rain or shine.

The last few years have been verging on a Ray Mears survival expedition. Trying to keep hold of your sandwich in gale force winds whilst balancing a scorching cup of tea between your knees is challenging to say the least. Sand blowing into open mouths with every bite just adds to the flavour and so many additional layers of clothing makes moving impossible so we all just sit there, hunkered down in a sand dune, looking like we are having fun. No matter what the weather is doing, a birthday cake will appear from one of Mother's baskets and we all sing happy birthday as enthusiastically as possible until hysteria and tears of laughter ensue as my mother tries to light an indoor firework (on Dads birthday cake) outside... whilst a hideous "singing" candle whines out a tinny high-pitched rendition of "happy birthday" and we all look at each other with the same thought of accidentally burying that appalling "singing" candle so we will never have to hear it again! 

This year, however, my Mother decided it would be "such fun" for the whole family to learn how to fish. Groans of negativity from my sister and I as we imagined a freezing, wet day out in a tiny boat in a small pond, bludgeoning fish to death as they pile up in the boat next to our pork pies. We also asked the pertinent question that surely if Daddy wanted to take up fishing, he would have done it before now. But my Mother reassured us that Daddy seemed quite keen because we were to be 'fly' fishing, not just 'fishing' fishing, on the banks of a gorgeous fresh water lake in Hampshire and the weather forecast was quite good. Well that didn't sound too bad at all. I did have visions of getting a few unwanted piercings from errants fish hooks or being dragged under the water by an over zealous trout. I imagined sighs of boredom from my nephews or disputes over fish size. A sudden downpour would certainly dampen spirits and ruin our picnic... but I can honestly and surprisingly say that there was not one mishap, one arguement, one accident or one drop of rain the entire day. The sun shone for 6 beautiful hours, our wonderful teacher Steve was kind and patient and encouraging, we all quickly got the hang of casting and within a few hours had all caught a fish or two (except my poor brother in law who only had an hour after lunch and the fish had gone to sleep). We had an amazing picnic in the sunshine and it was well... just wonderful. We all fell in love with fly fishing and I take my hat off to my Mother who came up with what we thought was a ludicrous idea but resulted in one of the best birthdays ever. 

Just one thing to add... as we finished our lunch and sat back in the sun, happy and full, and took in the peaceful surroundings of the beautiful fishing lake in the middle of nowhere, listening to the distant cries of a Kestrel and the occasional sound of a jumping fish, my Mother started rifling around in a basket and the silence was suddenly and hideously broken by the bloody "singing" candle! 

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Mattress Saga - Part 3

The Final Hurdle

Many of you have been asking what is happening with my mattress. Frankly I'm flattered you care... I thought I might be banging on about it a bit much but it seems my bed drama is fascinating, so here is the latest.

I left off my last mattress blog with a visit from the mattress inspector imminent. The mattress inspector came, he saw, he bounced. He was very serious about his inspection... measuring, prodding and poking. He concluded that my mattress definitely did have an indentation and also crackled in a bizarre manner. I offered him a cup of tea in gratitude as he wrote up his report. He then gave me the report to read and sign. I thought this was perfunctory because he had pretty much admitted I was right and it was faulty but as I read down the paragraph I dribbled out a bit of tea, suddenly aghast! Nice, Mr Inspector had written that although my mattress had an indentation and a crackle, it was possible this could have been caused by wear and tear by the owner. “WHAT???” I said. He explained that because he was only inspecting the mattress after I had already been in possession of it for 25 day, it could be a natural compression caused by me sleeping on it. “WHAT????” I said again, incredulous, “But that's impossible... I called the shop after sleeping on the damn thing for only 2 nights, it couldn't have been caused by me.” He said he had been given no past details, that he was giving his inspection based on how the mattress was now... today. Now I hate to admit this because it's such a low blow, but I burst into tears. Spluttering and gasping I said, “But that's so unfair, it was faulty before I even slept on it. I sent all the dates of my complaints to head office already and Derrane at the bed shop already agreed there was a problem so how can you say I caused it??” I'm not actually sure I said that with a degree of clarity because I was smothering my face in a tissue. The mattress inspector was terribly embarrassed and couldn't meet my eye. He coughed gently and proffered the clip board again, “So I take it Miss Sellars, you are refusing to sign?” I wailed dramatically, “Of course I'm not signing, it's all so unfair!” He looked at me with resignation, apologised that there was nothing more he could do and promptly left. I threw myself onto my bed, sobbing hysterically, until I realised it was so damn uncomfortable that I had to get up and throw myself on my sofa, sobbing hysterically.

The next few weeks passed in a haze of frenzied email writing, angry phone calls and threats of involving my non-existent solicitor if the matter was not sorted out to my satisfaction. Over this period, I got quite attached to my imaginary solicitor who I named James. Indeed, James was very good at his job and basically scared the bed shop silly when he mentioned the evil words ‘Consumer Rights’ and ‘Compensation’. I obviously did a ridiculous amount of research on James' behalf and now know everything there is to know about beds and what the customer can and cannot expect. James was so successful in his negotiations that the Regional Manager (no less) finally offered his most sincere apologies for everything I had been through and said he would happily let me have any mattress in the shop (within reason) whenever it was convenient for me to pop to Croydon again. Oh God!

So six weeks ago, I popped down to Croydon and was greeted by a very happy Derrane. He was beaming from ear to ear, almost went in for a hug and said how thrilled he was that it had all worked out for me. He said he was so very happy to show me all the new Sealy models. “Oh no,” I said, “No more Sealy beds for me. I want an old fashioned mattress... a semi-firm pocket sprung. No latex toppers, no memory foam, no bells and whistles, no nothing”. He looked terribly disappointed and shrugged, rubbing his chin. He then grinned and took my arm, leading me to the back of the shop. He stopped in front of a plain mattress and did a ‘ta dah’ gesture with his hand.

"This mattress, Miss Sillas, is perfeck for you. It's got 1700 pocket springs right, it's hand crafted in engerland innit and lots of famous have it so it's gotta be good right?" he said. I leapt onto the mattress with eager enthusiasm. It was firm and comfortable and just... normal. Derrane hovered over me expectantly. "You know sum fink Miss Sellar, this mattress is wot we sell in fousands to the harmed services. All de hofficers have dem". Well, that can't be a bad thing I thought. "Derrane I think I've found my mattress." He grinned. "So who else have you sold this mattress to... You said famous people?" I wanted to be in good company you understand. "Oh yes, Mrs Sella, lots of famous people. The harshbiship of cantbry has one and that bloke who lives at number 10." He frowned. "You mean David Cameron, our Prime Minister?" I asked agog. He did that snapping thing with his fingers and laughed. "Yeah man, that's him. David Camroon". Ha ha, so I potentially have a mattress that our PM sleeps on, our armed forces sleep on and the head of the church of England. Not bad. I shook his hand vigorously and Derrane put the order in, saying the mattress would be delivered in six weeks (handmade again you see). I thanked Derrane again for all his help and headed for the door, relieved that I would never set foot in the place again! "You'll stay in touch though innit Miss Sellar?" That stumped me. "Well I don't think so Derrane, this whole thing has been a truly hideous nightmare." He did that sucking teeth thing and shook his head, "But if you need anover mattress then you'll come back right?" and he laughed a sort of evil villain laugh. That must be mattress manager humour because it certainly didn't tickle my funny bone!

I then went on holiday and when I came back, I rang Derrane at the bed shop to see when the mattresses would be delivered. A strange voice answered the phone. "Is Derrane there please?" I asked. "This is Winston, the bed department manager, how can I help?" Another Jamaican accent. I honestly think Paul Simon bed shops single-handedly recruit all the bed managers in Jamaica. I personally have met 3 in 4 months! "Um, is it possible to speak to Derrane?" "Yes, this is Winston." Oh no. Try a different tack. "Hi Winston, is Derrane in the shop today?" "No, Derrane doesn't work here anymore, can I hep you?" Oh dear. So, first Stan and now Derrane. Do I have a curse on all these poor men losing their jobs? I tried asking what had happened to Derrane but Winston was having none of it so I finally just asked about my mattress and he said I would have it by the end of the week. Wooohhhoooo.

My mattress arrived on a sunny Friday afternoon and I jumped on it with wild abandon. I almost broke my back, my God it was hard. I'm talking, slab of concrete hard, not just a bit firm. I checked the order and it was absolutely correct... semi firm 1700 pocket sprung. I lay there for a moment and thought, well... better firm than soft eh? Maybe it's like a pair of shoes or a horse and just needs breaking in a bit? Possibly the one in the bed shop had been compressed a bit by all the bodies testing it. My first night was not good though, I spent hours rolling around trying to get comfortable to no avail. I then thought, I'm creative, I can customise my own damn mattress. I stripped the bed, unzipped a lovely squidgy sleeping bag and put that on top of the mattress. On top of that I put a quilted mattress protector. On top of that I put a thick goose down duvet and on top of that my fitted sheet. It looked like something out of the Princess and the Pea, but ahhhh, much better. I think a few years of bouncing around and it'll be perfect!

I collected all the paperwork together to file away and guess what... this whole ordeal started on April 1st, with the first mattress order. I couldn't belive it. Ha-bloody-ha!!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Is it safe to go back in the water?

Dur Dum Dur Dum...

Two weeks ago I was staying at a friends’ farm in Connecticut. We were reminiscing about being at Uni together and the weekends we spent away at the beach, surfing and partying and so on. I asked him where he surfed now and he told me that he usually drives 45 minutes to the nearest beach but unfortunately they were all closed right now due to sightings of Great White sharks. Oh, what a shame! WHAT? Apparently, he calmly told me, the sharks had been spotted in Cape Cod and Massachusetts too and all the beaches had to be closed due to the sharks swimming too close to shore... only 3-4 feet deep! Blimey. My friend showed me a photo that had been taken a few days before.

Oh my god! The poor man in the kayak was totally unaware of what was 6 feet behind him until people started screaming “shark, shark” at him from the beach. I would have simply poo’d myself, then fainted, fallen into the water and been eaten. But it actually makes you think... what would you really do in that situation, how would you react? 

It then reminded me of a time in Australia, when I was on a road trip with my Mother (I know that sounds a bit dull but if you know my Mother you would certainly know the trip was ‘such fun’!) We had walked along the coast path from Manly (a boat ride from Sydney Harbour), to a sweet little cove where only a few people were on the beach. I decided to go for a swim and was probably about 12 feet deep when I heard my Mother shouting at me from the beach. She was waving frantically and shouting something. I couldn't hear her and she continued screaming something at me and then started pointing towards the open water behind me. I honestly froze. I thought there was a shark behind me and from watching ‘Jaws’ numerous times, knew that splashing was bad. So I was trying to tread water without actually moving... trĂ©s difficile! I was only just keeping my head above water but I daren't turn around. I then realised my Mother was smiling whilst screaming and not actually screaming in abject terror. I slowly turned around, praying all the while to God, and saw..... a penguin. Not a killer shark but a small sweet penguin, swimming in tiny circles around and around, having a lovely time. I was so relived I think I peed myself... that, or I swam through a bizarre warm current. I searched for the American shark story a few days later on the internet. The sightings are quite terrifying. Dozens of beaches have been closed, not only because of the actual danger of being eaten by a shark but also, and this is a bit gruesome.... of coming into contact with dismembered seals! Yuck! They are asking the public to stand 300 feet back from the shoreline so as not to walk into a seal massacre! Yuck! One spokesman added: “If you are going out in the water (as if), be aware of seals while swimming. If the seals scatter from an area then it is likely that a shark is present”. No... really?? Then I remembered an article I was was reading last year about all the basking sharks in Cornwall. Now they aren't killers because they are plankton eaters not human eaters but they are huge!!! Again, other than having an accident in the downstairs department... what would you do if you saw one?

And then, in yesterdays morning newspaper I read what I most feared... ‘Killer sharks found in English waters’. These are blue sharks, seen in the last few weeks off the north coast of Cornwall. This is not that unusual I think, they have been spotted before, far out in deep water. In fact, crazies pay loads of money to go and dive with them but then I read these new beauties were seen in shallow waters! Nooo! Blue sharks are one of the most vicious breeds, smaller than great whites but they will still chew your limbs off in seconds. I haven't got a photo of the actual ones seen but this scary little bugger is bad enough! 

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Age is not relative to the Relative

Even at the tender age of... um... 44, my parents still worry about me. I don't mind the concern, I think it's quite natural for any parent to worry about a child, no matter how old they are. What does drive me slightly up the wall are the questions from my Father. He asks me the same sorts of questions as he did when I was 17. 

Before I had a car I would have to rely on British Rail to get back to London after a weekend at their house. Sometimes, before I had even got through the front door, my Father would ask, "Now Darling, don't take this the wrong way, I don't want to get rid of you, but what time is your return train?" My usual response was, "Oh for God's sake Daddy, I've only just got here!"" in a fairly stroppy tone. The following morning, still only 12 hours into my visit, the question would most likely appear again over breakfast. "Any idea what train you're getting back?" One of my "looks" would usually stand in for a negative.  

Since acquiring a car, however, the train questions were blissfully void. Joy. What I hadn't bargained for we're a brand new set of concerns, and with new concerns came new questions. At the end of every weekend, my parents will come outside with me to the car and wave me off. Daddy will inevitably ask me the following questions before I've even started the engine:

Have you got enough petrol? 

Yes Daddy.
Do you need some money?
No thanks.
Are you sure?
YES thank you.
Checked your oil and water?
Uh huh.
When does your tax disc run out?
This is when I sometimes pretend I haven't heard so he'll walk round the car to check the windscreen.
Do you know it runs out next month?
Yes I do.
Did you remember or are you just saying that?
YES, of course I remembered, I'm not 12! (sounding very much like a 12 year old)
Have you got enough money to pay the tax?
Yes Daddy.
Kisses, hugs, quickly in reverse. 
Call us when you get back to London darling.
Will do.... Byeeeeee.

I've got quite used to it now, in fact I quite look forward to it but today I got into my car with not one question. Weird, not normal. Then I realised it might be because of an email I sent him last week, an email pre-empting every question he might possibly ask me before I fly to America tomorrow. "Traveling abroad" questions from my Father are in a different league. When my sister and I took my Mother to Morocco last year I spent 2 days writing an itinerary for him with flights, names, numbers and times of every single thing we were doing while we were there. It was much appreciated. So I thought to save him the bother I would do the same with my trip to the States.

My email began with my flight details and who was picking me up from the airport but then I added:

And before you ask...

Yes, my passport is valid until 2014
Yes, I have my new visa waiver
Yes, I have travel insurance
Yes, I have enough of all medications
Yes, I have my driving licence (both parts)
Yes, I have enough money and
Yes, I have an emergency credit card.
If I've missed anything, I will stand on one leg and sing the national anthem in your driveway. Love me x

This morning, Dad remembered something I had forgotten and demanded I go and sing in the driveway. I persuaded him that since it had taken him 5 days to come up with anything, the forfeit should be cancelled.

But yes, just to reassure you Pops:

I have a photocopy of all my prescriptions just in case my bags get lost.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Wise Words

It's not often I read something and agree with every word but a friend found this article and I wanted to share it.

Northland College (NZ) principal John Tapene has offered the following words from a judge who regularly deals with youth.

"Always we hear the cry from teenagers 'What can we do, where can we go?' ... My answer is, "Go home, mow the lawn, wash the windows, learn to cook, build a raft, get a job, visit the sick, study your lessons, and after you've finished, read a book.""Your town does not owe you recreational facilities and your parents do not owe you fun. The world does not owe you a living, you owe the world something. You owe it your time, energy and talent so that no one will be at war, in poverty or sick and lonely again.""In other words, grow up, stop being a cry baby, get out of your dream world and develop a backbone, not a wishbone. Start behaving like a responsible person. You are important and you are needed. It's too late to sit around and wait for somebody to do something someday. Someday is now and that somebody is you..."

I think quite a few adults could benefit from this too...

Wednesday, 8 August 2012


I'm not sure whether this is normal or not. I have cried on average three or four times a day, every day, for the last eleven days. I have cried more often and more passionately than at any other time of my life, including all my heart wrenching break ups! 

But don't worry, these are not sad tears, these are happy tears. Tears of pride. Tears for the amazing athletes of the Olympics. It's not just Team GB that I'm crying over, its all of the athletes from around the world - although I must admit, when a Brit is winning something and the whole nation holds their breath as one, then begin cheering as the astounding wall of noise builds up from the audience, and you get goose bumps on your arms because the energy is so electrifying... then it's all I can do but sob openly and unashamedly with flaring nostrils and trembling lip and scream encouragement at the top of my lungs. Phew! I'm absolutely exhausted from it all... and hoarse... and we've got five more days to go AND the Paralympics still to come! Don't get me started on those... That will probably be a years' full of sobbing for just one race.

Is it just me? Is anyone else watching the Olympics obsessively? Watching sports they don't even like, have never watched before with teams that are from countries they have never heard of (Burkina Faso for instance)? Well, I am. Greco wrestling at 8am? Handball at 10? I'm also listening to it at work through the Internet which is quite strange... Listening to the sailing for instance, is not the most exciting way to spend an afternoon. I listened to the shooting too, which again, was a bit odd. More like listening to a spaghetti western, all guns blazing... but we did win gold in the shooting, therefore I cried. I couldn't even see the winner but as soon as I heard him speak and noticed the crack of emotion in his voice, I was a goner! 

To be honest though, this outburst of emotion is not that unusual. I have always cried at everything, happy or sad. I cry at the news or reading the paper, for lost children and found pets. I cry at people's achievements and hardships, at the joys and pains of life. I cry when I hear friends are pregnant and when I see newborn babies. I cry at the beauty of ballet and the intenseness of the opera. I often stand in ovation at the theatre with eyes welling, clapping my hands until they smart. I watch sad films in the privacy of my flat and find my tops soaked with tears, wailing "why, why" at the terrible endings. I've read paragraphs in books that have reduced me to a babbling mess, then read them again to see why it made me cry, only to repeat the process all over again! 

You may think all those things are perfectly natural to cry about but I also think I have a slightly overactive empathy gene if that's possible. I saw a girl on the tube the other day who had obviously has some terrible news and was trying desperately to keep her composure as tears rolled down her face. I watched her and just felt myself go. Tears started pouring down my face too and I just wanted to reach out and grab her hand, but then she got off the tube and I was left puffy faced and red eyed with several passengers looking at me with undisguised astonishment. On another occasion, I was flat sharing and had returned home quite late and I admit, a little tipsy. I thought I'd watch a film and saw a DVD labelled "wedding", so I watched it. The groom, I discovered later, was a relative of my flat mate but at the time of watching, I didn't recognise anyone. An hour later my flat mate came back and found me sobbing uncontrollably. Apparently I just kept saying "it was such a beautiful wedding" over and over.  Oh dear. 

My emotions frequently get the better of me but I think during the Olympics they are on overdrive. I'm having to drink an extra litre of water a day because I'm so damn dehydrated! Crying openly and publicly used to be terribly un-British but I defy anyone to not get choked up watching our nations' successes and failures. Winners or losers, I know I'm not alone. As I've watched our medal winners stand on the podium and shed a tear or two themselves, I think I'm in very good company.