Discover my sagas and cosy crimes

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Zen and the art of coping with sweaty armpits

Every Tuesday lunchtime for the last five years I’ve had a slot in my diary that can not be moved. Under no circumstances am I available for lunch with colleagues, a trip to the shops or a sandwich in the park. It’s more than a weekly treat to myself, as the Tuesday slot that can’t be moved is the rock on which the balance of my life depends. It’s my weekly yoga class. Those of you reading this who do yoga may be nodding your head in agreement. Those who don’t may be wondering why I’m waffling on about an exercise class. Well, read on and find out why doing yoga is more than just exercise. It might just change your life.

No matter how long you’ve been doing yoga, it’s still called practising, the belief being that you can only progress and get better. I love doing yoga because it’s non-competitive, relaxing, gentle and fun. Uh-oh hang on, I think I’ve just described myself! I know it sounds like a cliché but when I first moved to London in 2001 life did become more stressful because of the volume of people I encountered every day. Whether it’s on the tube or on the street, in London I am never, ever alone. That’s why I seek sanctuary in my garden as often as I can and as soon as I get home from work.

In yoga there is more than just stretching and breathing. There’s an awareness of what you are doing to your body, realising your body and soul are moving as one. Shoot me, I know, I sound like a hippy but once you start doing it, you become evangelical and want to spread the word. My weekly hatha yoga class teaches me important rules of how best to move, to improve my posture, to breathe myself into calmness if I’m panicked or stressed. I can send myself to sleep any time I want to using breathing techniques which I’ve learned. You build up a stillness inside, a zen like way of coping with the world. What will be, will be… and breathe, one, two, three. I know, I’ve gone all hippy again, but it’s true.

However, it’s not all drippy hippy and big breaths. It’s also about strength, physical and mental. Yoga has taught me that when I’m on a busy tube train, never to crumple into a corner and let myself be squashed under somebody’s armpit. I stand tall, I stand firm, although I try not to breathe too deeply when stuck in that situation. Yoga has taught me that stress can take its toll physically before it affects you mentally so if I feel my shoulders hunching at my desk in the office when using the PC, I do some neck-rolling exercises before the stress in my body affects my mind and starts a bad mood.

You are never, ever too old, too unfit or too fat to start yoga. As I said earlier, it’s non-competitive, you work at your own pace and only do what you can. Only when you’re ready do you push yourself a bit more and only then, if you want to. Even after five years there are some exercises I struggle with because of a painful knee and so while everyone else is doing the pigeon (it’s a technical term, nothing rude) I take a break and relax. Likewise, balancing on one leg, for me, is a doddle while others in the class wobble like jelly and some sit it out.
So what are you waiting for? There are many different types of yoga and to help find the one that’s right for you and to find a qualified instructor, have a look at the British Wheel of Yoga website and set yourself free. It might just change your life.

[Originally written for Dollymix]

A Clothes Horse? Me? Neigh!

“They’re for everyone” said Lily Allen, interviewed on telly about her new frock range for New Look. “Young, fat, thin, tall, everyone will look good in these”. Yeah, right. And did she say they’d suit, um, anyone over 35? Did the over 40s get a mention? No, we frocking well didn’t. It’s not Lily Allen I’ve got a gripe with, I quite like the way she looks and if I was her age I’d probably be bopping around in plimsolls and a dress too. I even think I did. And it’s not the other celeb range of clothes from Madonna, Kylie and Kate Moss I’m moaning about either, it’s the lack of decent high street clothes for women of a certain age.

Ok, when I rant about clothes for women of a certain age, I do of course mean clothes for me. I’m only just over 40, yet I’m starting to wonder what to wear and where to buy it. My staples are bought from Next and M&S but please don’t tell me it’s only a matter of time and I'll be looking at polyester and nylon tops in BHS. Save me from the vision of wide-foot sandals I know is hovering on my horizon. I want clothes that won’t push out cleavage / midriff / bum. I want clothes that aren’t see-through. I want clothes that Lily Allen wouldn’t want to wear for another twenty years. So where does a sane woman over 40 with a busy life flex her Maestro card these days on the UK high street to buy pretty, hard-wearing, long-lasting clothes? Your suggestions all welcome please. I mean it. I really do want to know.

[Originally written for Dollymix]

Fancy a fruity blonde?

I love beer, me. Mind you, I won’t say no to a glass of chilled white wine or a deep and sensuous red either. But when it comes a choice of drinks in a pub and that choice is between fizzy over-priced lager with an after-taste of gun metal, or some flowery, fruity real ale, I’ll go for a glass of proper beer every time. The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) do their best to promote beer as a decent drink for us ladies but the image of the organisation is still, I’m sad to say, that of beer bellied fat men wearing sandals and smoking a pipe. Well, I can assure you dear reader that I’m neither fat nor a fella and I’m not wearing sandals today. As for the pipe, that only comes out on a weekend.

So, where to start if you’re a beer virgin and you want to give it a go in a pub? Bars and pubs selling real ale offer a confusing array of beers with names that might as well be Ye Olde Sheepdip, Bathplug Liquor and so on and it’s hard to know what to try. My rule of thumb, and beer experts up and down the land will be guffawing into their Gueuze as they read this, is this – I go for the one with the nicest sounding name. I know, it’s ridiculous, but it’s how I got into drinking beer and it’s served me well so far. How wrong can my rule of thumb be when it’s taken me to such delights as Summer Lightning, Fursty Ferret, Yorkshire Terrier and my personal favourite, Timothy Taylor’s Landlord.

Fruit beers, blonde beers and wheat beers are usually the ones aimed at laydee drinkers as they’re light and summery and easy to quaff. There’s even chocolate beer aimed at female drinkers but I’ve deliberately avoided that one so far. I’m a female beer drinker, not an advertiser’s idiot dream. And did you know that there’s a beer called Bitter & Twisted which sponsors Harlequin Ladies Rugby Football Club
[Originally written for Dollymix]


Oh, don't tell me you wouldn't have done the same. What's a girl to do when she has a dream in which she and her fella win the lottery and the next morning she can remember - vividly - five of the six winning numbers in her dream?

I put the lottery ticket on with the five numbers I remembered and another one I didn't and we waited. We sat and looked at the lottery ticket all day Saturday and waited. Well, it was raining outside and we didn't have anything else to do. I planned to spend, spend, spend just like this woman did.

And then the draw was on telly and the numbers were up. Did we win? Did we heck. Did we get any numbers? Yes, one.

50 this year

If he'd lived, Sid Vicious would have been 50 this year. Marc Almond and Siouxsie both turn 50 this year. How? When did that happen? Does that mean I'm no longer 17?

Big Brother

I loved Big Brother. I've watched it every year since it started and this year I'm giving it a miss. It's on telly now if I wanted to watch it, but I don't. Oh ok, I do, but I won't. Every year it's got worse, more outrageous, more desperate for ratings. I defended it to the end against those who criticised it... until I could no longer watch it myself. Last year I decided that nothing so bad was worth an hour of my life every night for the whole summer, so that's it. I'm not watching it this year. I can do this, I really can. I can go cold turkey on Big Brother. I just need to be brave, breathe deeply and relax, two, three, four.

Royal Festival Hall

The Royal Festival Hall has had a make-over and I'm looking forward, very much, to seeing it in all its glory. I like the building a lot. It was the first public space I felt comfortable in when I first moved to London. After learning how to air-kiss and discovering the niceties of living in London were a lot more superficial than those back up north, sitting down to enjoy an egg and cress sandwich lunch while working at a woman's mag on the South Bank somehow seemed to put things in perspective. Not every place in London is up its own backside, and the Royal Festival Hall most definitely isn't. I hope they haven't changed it too much.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Rich Stout Cake

By popular demand, here's the recipe for Green & Black's Rich Stout Cake. It's on page 85 of Green & Black's Chocolate Recipes book but there's no picture of it in the book or one I can post as the cake has all been eaten in our house. Notes (in brackets) in the recipe are my own to you, fellow cake baker. It's a gloriously rich, moist cake that isn't over sweet because of the Guinness.

225g (8 oz) butter, softened
350g (12 oz) soft dark brown sugar
4 eggs, beaten
225g (8 oz) plain flour
half a teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
400ml (14 fl oz) Guinness or stout (allow the head to settle before using - very important)
100g (3.5 oz) cocoa powder
150g (5 oz) dark chocolate, minimum 60% cocoa solids, grated

1. Preheat oven to 180C / 350F / gas mark 4
2. Butter and line a DEEP 9" cake tin with greasproof paper (such a faff but worth doing)
3. Cream butter and sugar and gradually add beaten eggs. (Never worry if you curdle, you can always beat your way out of it, or cry with frustration as you chuck it down the sink).
4. Sift together the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda.
5. Mix together the Guinness and cocoa in a jug. The recipe notes: You will have to persevere with mixing. (You will). Add the grated chocolate.
6. Add the flour and the Guinness mixture alternately to the cake mixture, stirring between each addition until completely mixed. The consistency will be soft (very soft).
7. Spoon into a deep 9" cake tin and bake for 1 - 1.25 hours. (It took our decent oven over 2 hours to cook thoroughly) until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. You may need to cover the cake with foil or greaseproof paper after about 1 hour to prevent the top from browning.
8. Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire reack to cool.
9. (Enjoy).

Chocolate and Guinness cake

The chocolate and Guinness cake was an unqualified success. Why is it I can bake very well indeed - but can't cook? I'll get around to posting up the recipe soon but it came from the Green & Blacks chocolate recipe book which I highly recommend.

And for fans of The Sound of Music, seeing the London stage show is a must. I've loved the film since I was a little girl when I was bought the original soundtrack on LP and taken to the flicks to see Julie Andrews many, many times, with my grandma. Aoife, the Irish Maria from the telly show, did a sterling job of being Connie Fisher doing Maria, but the Mother Superior wasn't a patch on the one in the film.

Chelsea Flower Show 2007

This year's visit to Chelsea Flower Show was my 6th in a row and as always, there were many things that provided inspiration for our own garden at home. The sun was out, the sky was blue and it all got a little rock n roll with an Iggy Pop garden called Lust for Life. It didn't win a million in prizes but it did get a silver medal and I loved the t-shirts that the girls in the garden were wearing.At Chelsea, any time is Pimms o'clock for the posh folk while those of us who know what a cyncil hice is take our own sandwiches and sit and listen to the band in the park.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Chelsea Flower Show

Off work for a week and a bit while blokey's mum comes to stay this weekend. It's a week spent being tourists in London and taking in our annual visit to the Chelsea Flower Show (picture here is from last years when the heavens opened and we all got wet). We'll also go to to see The Sound of Music which will need to be good to beat off competition from last year's cracking Billy Elliott. I'm planning on baking a chocolate and Guinness cake and chicken pie for dinner on Sunday.

And after she leaves and we have the house back to ourselves and a long Bank Holiday weekend to enjoy, it's a trip to the Hayward to see the Antony Gormley retrospective along with going the flicks to see the Joe Strummer film.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Sweet FA

Am I wearing rose-tinted specs of nostalgia or can anyone else remember when watching the FA Cup Final brought families and communities together round the telly? You’d get up on FA Cup Final day and there’d be women in the streets with football ribbons in their hair, flags flying from pubs and shops selling football themed treats. The telly would start at football o’clock with footage of fans boarding coaches, wearing their footy hats and shaking their rattlers. There’d be a Match of the Day FA Cup special, there’d be Grandstand on telly all day. There’d be football themed lunatic fun on every channel (was there an FA Cup It’s a Knockout?) and the day would be the biggest football event ever.

1973 is the one I remember best. I was 9 years old when Sunderland beat Leeds 1-0 and when our goal went in, my dad almost fell off his chair with delight and we could hear all the neighbours in our cul-de-sac roaring at their TV.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


After winning the lottery last year, we've just blown the lot on a weekend in Brighton. Despite the fact that a gale was howling in off the sea and it poured down with rain (in the middle of May) it was still a grand time. Shame we never got around to having an ice-cream on the pier but we did have some fish and chips.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Fish at Kew

Tribe of Toffs released John Kettley is a Weatherman (and so is Michael Fish) many, many years ago. The reason I mention this is that I saw Michael Fish yesterday on an excellent visit to Kew Gardens where the azaleas were out in force, above.

You know how when you see someone in real life that you've only ever seen on the telly before, they're usually a bit smaller / taller / fatter / thinner in real life than they look on TV? Michael Fish looked posher.
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