Archive for December, 2008


new year’s eve sucks the big one

Oh how I hate New Year Eve. Partying by rote, enforced merriment, queues of up to six hours at any given bar – it’s like Christmas, but without magic, presents, a nice meal or good TV.

There are two ways to look at New Year. One is to think of it as a time full of promise, when you can realise your dreams and plan for the future. The other is to use it as a springboard for further misery when you realise just how little you have achieved in the past 12 months and that, on top of everything else, you’re celebrating entering the very worst month of the year, January. January, as everyone knows, is God’s revenge for Christmas, a month made up of endless Mondays. Everything is bleak – the weather, your finances, your mood – and the biggest event you’ve got to look forward to is Pancake Day. Frankly, when you’re counting down the days to a batter-based festival, things are pretty bad.

As newspapers roll out their reviews of 2008 and predictions for 2009, in the spirit of reflection, I offer you the highs and lows of the past year. Low-heavy, as usual:

Things I did not do in 2008:

1)    Write an internationally-acclaimed sitcom
2)    Write an internationally-acclaimed book
3)    Get to grips with the rubbish in the loft
4)    Get to grips with either the front or back garden
5)    Hoover my car on a weekly basis
6)    Write in my son’s school contact book every day
7)    Write in my daughter’s school contact book every day
8)    Get one of those police checks so I can occasionally swan into school on trip days like ‘proper mums’ do
9)    Come to any form of amicable agreement with my neighbours over a wall issue
10)    Lose my excess weight
11)    Kiss goodbye to my many, expensive, unhealthy and unhelpful vices
12)    Curb my charity shop and eBay habits
13)    Stop collecting plates from the 1950s – I would now need to have 278 people to dinner to justify their existence
14)    Managed to persuade my children to put their dirty washing in the linen basket
15)    Stop feeling bitter about my lot
16)    Find a toilet seat that actually fits the toilet

What I did do in 2008:

1)    Won a writing award
2)    At least started trying to solve the neighbour issue
3)    Almost wrote off my car
4)    Dropped my mobile phone in flood water
5)    Dropped another mobile phone in the playground and smashed the screen
6)    Wrote a script with a BBC3 comedian which I still haven’t sent off (or really finished)
7)    Went from Waitrose to Farmfoods in one easy step

Surely, SURELY, 2009 will be better. My horoscope in the Observer says that I’ll have to work hard to persuade people in authority to listen to my ideas over the next 12 months. It said nothing about having to offer sailors saucy cuddles for pennies to make ends meet, though, so there is some hope.


How to scare the family shitless by getting out the Crock Pot or The Day I Started Actually Cooking

I was an annoying child, an over-achiever and all-round teacher’s pet who spent all my high school lunchtimes doing extra-curricular activities and begging staff to let me take my O levels early. That I had any friends whatsoever was a miracle, and that I am earning such a pittance in my 30s considering the vast stash of qualifications I amassed in a few short years of being a total lick-arse is a continuing tragedy.

Although I was very academic, some would say pathologically academic, my Achille’s heel was mathematics. Numbers are, and have always been, a foreign concept to me. I understand that people are able to solve quadratic equations, my problem is coming to terms with why they might want to. Being single-minded and desperate to go and greet the golden intelligentsia I assumed would be waiting for me at university (a misconception which was swept away during fresher’s week), I persevered until I finally passed the GCSE maths qualification I needed to do my degree. I was lucky – the year I re-sat my maths exam was the advent of GCSEs and I swear they lowered the bar to massage pass rate statistics for the Government. I say this without political agenda – it’s just that I was really, really shit at maths.

A lasting legacy of my number blindness is that figures bore me so much that I have never really paid any attention to my pay packet. As long as I’ve got enough to make it through a month (a theory I test by going to the cash machine until it won’t give me any more money) it doesn’t bother me how much I earn or how it leaks from my account.

All that has to change. As my company prepares to shed staff to become even more productive (no comment), I need to start thinking more about what I earn, what I spend and how I spend it. Goodbye daily Innocent smoothie. Goodbye sandwich bar. Goodbye lunchtime trips to H&M. Goodbye ready meals.

At least I’ve got the last category licked – I’ve got a new slow cooker.

One of my friends, who generally buys me something decadent and useless for Christmas (which is what I genuinely want, rather than something bloody dull and USEFUL), asked if there was anything I’d like and, knowing that financial destitution could be round the corner, I asked for a slow cooker. After fending off several incredulous text messages along the ‘are you joking?’ lines, she finally accepted that I really did want a slow cooker and went off to buy one.

It now sits in my front room, oppressively reminding me of a future of stews, casseroles and, er, slow cooked things which my family will undoubtedly learn to dread the second they arrive home at night to see the red ‘on’ button glowing on the crock pot.

To this end, today I bought lots of cheap vegetables and meat cuts, some pearl barley and some stock. The experimentation starts tomorrow, the pleas for decent, recognisable food to be put back on the agenda probably starts tomorrow night.


The best things in life aren’t free. Unless your expectations are really, really low

It’s often said that the best things in life are free.

This is all very well, but in my experience, some of the best things in life are really bloody expensive and some of the free things in life are really, really shit. You have to put these things into context: a fantastic sunset on a winter’s evening may be beautiful if you’re watching it from the patio doors of your second home on the North Norfolk coast, but slightly less magical if you’re seeing it from your piss-soaked sleeping bag on the 10th floor of a multi-storey car park where you’ve bedded down for the night. Although that’s not to say that the homeless can’t appreciate a good sunset – God knows I don’t want to offend any of that lot, especially the ones with past convictions for violence.

Here are 10 things which are really good which aren’t free:

1)    Houses
2)    Cars
3)    Trinkets
4)    Baubles
5)    High maintenance younger partners
6)    Anti-ageing products
7)    Holidays
8)    A second car
9)    A second house
10)    Flights into space on Virgin Galactic

And here are 10 things that are really good that ARE free:

1)    A smile from one of your loving children
2)    A thank-you from one of your loving children. Even once would be nice
3)    A compliment from a stranger (preferably before they kidnap you and lock you in the boot of their car)
4)    Nose-picking
5)    Spot squeezing
6)    Indulging in a spot of character assassination with a really bitter friend
7)    Having a wee when you’ve had to hold on for ages
8)    Watching a teenager fall over in the street
9)    Thinking up a really great new insult
10)    Coming out of Waitrose and realising that there are several items that have fallen under your Bags for Life that you didn’t pay for. Not that I am condoning theft, or anything.

Being skinter will undoubtedly make me a better person. I will think more about the money I spend, waste less and save for the things I really want. Do I want to be a better person, though, or would I rather just be a worse person that can still afford Clinique Moisture Surge?


Credit crunch-y Cauliflower Grills at Farmfoods

And so, it has come to this: yesterday I did some shopping at Farmfoods.

Farmfoods, ‘the frozen food specialist’ (if was marketing this brand, I’d add the words ‘…that isn’t Iceland’ just to clear up any confusion) is remarkable in several ways. Firstly, by virtue of the fact that very, very little on sale at Farmfoods has ever been near a farm (*disclaimer: this may, or may not be true), secondly because it offers customers a chance to experience Eastern bloc shopping in Eastern England and thirdly because, blast me boy, it’s super fucking cheap.

Not only did I get three bottles of Diet Pepsi (which I use in the same way that heroin addicts take methadone if the Real Thing isn’t on offer) for £1, I also got nine Penguin bars for 49p. I simply don’t know how they do it. Once the Pepsi and Penguins were in the basket, I was up and running. My basket ranneth over with frozen goods – a few pizzas, some bacon, a bag of chips, some Mars ice creams and some Cauliflower Grills. The latter, I always think, look like something scraped up off the floor outside a nightclub and hastily coated in breadcrumbs. I can say this, because I don’t eat them – I save that treat for my beloved family.

By the time I’d staggered round the shop, I’d amassed around £19 of Farmfoods’ finest and was safe in the knowledge that my family would not want for beige, breaded goods or heavily-salted ready meals for several days. This is, presumably, why so many people on low incomes can afford to stay so impressively large, like Jim from The Royle Family.

I put my Farmfoods shopping into a Waitrose Bag for Life and skulked out, keeping my body close to the wall in case I was spotted. I felt like a vicar wearing suspenders under his trousers (that’s a simile, not a mission statement).

•    Note to self. Do not buy frozen bacon again. Once cooked it resembles doll’s house rations and there will be a persistent layer of sinister white scum coating the frying pan. Another glorious vindication of my vegetarianism.


Free to a good home: the tired old rubbish I can’t be bothered to take to the tip

Before financial penury beckoned and I could afford to benevolent, Freecycle was primarily a service I used to off-load the tired old shit I had hanging around the house which was gathering dust. Or, rather, the tired old shit I had hanging round the house that even I could not longer justify the existence of. It saved me a trip to the charity shop or the tip and simultaneously made me feel like a kindly lady of the manor when I handed over a bin bag full of books, an unwanted miniature sewing machine or a dismantled high-rise bed (I didn’t mention the teeth marks on the rails – they were made by my daughter when she was very young, but if they chose to think that I was some kind of reckless sexual adventurer in a single bed, so be it).

Befitting my status as an all-round benefactor to the poor, I found it helped if I created elaborate back stories for the people coming to collect my rubbish, many of which involved them having Tiny Tim type characters gently fading away on a dank mattress back at the slum, drink problems, gambling addictions and a long-term benefit fraud habit.

In reality, most people I met through Freecycle were posher than me, and probably lived in solid gold castles with Champagne moats having raised a fortune at car boot sales selling other people’s tired old shit.

These days, thanks to the credit crunchm it’s time to start accepting that people will soon start making up back stories about me when I finally pull my finger out of my arse and start applying for things which could really come in handy and which I can no longer afford. It would probably help if I actually read the message postings more than once a month instead of half-heartedly logging into Yahoo! infrequently in the hope that someone has an excess stash of Crème de la Mer they need to offload in a hurry. Today, I logged in to find 1,592 messages in my inbox. The crème de la crème (not Mer, although plenty of Merde) of that list I publish below, so you know what the good denizens of Norwich have to offer the wider world. Well, the wider world in terms of a five mile radius of the city centre, at least.

WANTED: Crinoline petticoat hoops.

OFFERED: Two freestanding ex-bakery shop display cabinets. One chilled, one ambient [presumably these would be suitable for a Hard House or a Garage]

TAKEN: Five cabbages

WANTED: Items for role play [I have seen this Freecycler. The mind boggles]

RE-OFFERED: Windchime Waterfall CD [bearing in mind that I managed to get rid of an ugly, broken lamp on Freecycle, this stands as proof that no-one, even the desperate and down-at-heel wants to listen to bloody windchimes or waterfalls on CD]

WANTED: Star Wars biscuit cutters [I didn’t know they existed. But now I want some too]

OFFERED: Lightbulbs (used)

OFFERED: The Struggle for Existence by Weber [a cheery tome I remember from my degree studies, a real page turner for the suicidal]

WANTED: My Family Christmas specials on DVD [surely a wind-up? In comparison, watching the Test Card would be positively stimulating. And funnier]

TAKEN: Drum kit [one set of neighbours rejoicing, another set about to be given an unwelcome New Year present that may well lead to bloodshed)

On the plus side, at least someone has taken those cursed crinoline petticoat hoops away giving me room for five cabbages and some used lightbulbs. And however bad things are, at least I’m not miserable AND listening to windchimes and fucking waterfalls.

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