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When I look at a tricycle, I wonder why on earth anyone would want to remove one wheel and turn a toy that requires no skill or training to unleash its potential of sensation and fun into a machine designed to produce tears of frustration, grazed elbows and scabby knees, and hours of parental anguish. The explanation eludes me still. I mean, why stop there in our sadism? Let’s go one step further and remove two wheels; make it a common sight to see small children tumbling to the ground in parks, wiping shame from their eyes and blood from their foreheads as they attempt to master riding the unicycle without stabilisers. I ask you: why? The question sprang to my mind again recently because my daughter has just acquired a new tricycle. Not that you should assume that she had an old tricycle beforehand. She’s only 17 months old, you know. What do you think we are, made of money? Don’t forget, children have no notion of the monetary value of things, or at least that’s what they claim, and although this isn’t restricted solely to tricycles, you can be sure that they are covered in the deal. Once the decision to return home with a gift of any kind, tricycle or otherwise, has been made, only a fool would set off without expecting to be manipulated into parting with a tidy sum of money in order to quell the awkward questions about seat comfort, corner handling and top speed comparisons, especially when they are voiced mutely by a pair of beseeching, trusting eyes. But what’s that stupid expression about the exception that proves the rule? Oh yeah, that’s the one. This was an occasion that demanded no such senseless extravagance. The best tricycle turned out to be the second most expensive, or, if you prefer, and seeing as there were only three to choose from, the second cheapest; your preferred choice will enable me to assess your psychological profile and use it in any future legal proceedings you may become invol
ved in, so choose carefully. Fifty pounds. And those are the Irish kind so that probably makes about, ooh, I don’t know, what’s the exchange rate at the moment for the non-Euro-ists? It probably works out at around forty pounds sterling, although don’t base your holiday conversion cards on that. And for anyone who may be thinking that sounds a little steep for a small plastic toy, let me reassure you that you get your money’s worth, and more, the first time (and there will be many) that you see the indescribable emotion written upon those excited eyes, shiny cheeks and overjoyed smile, and the inevitable accompanying soundtrack of laughter, squeals, cheers and “Wheeeeee!”s. Oh yes. So you know the price and you know the verdict. Want to know some specifics on the set of wheels itself? No trouble at all. You’re all familiar with the basics of what a tricycle is, right? Three wheels set out in a triangular formation, joined together by various bars, a seat in the middle, two pedals to make the wheels go round, two handles to hold onto and steer? All agreed? Good. The Charton Baby Driver 2 conforms to these basic features but doesn’t limit itself to them. There is also a stylish yellow brake lever to the driver’s right. A roomy tipper skip at the back, if you will. And the most important accessory of all, without which no purchase would have taken place: the unpleasantly-named ‘parent pole’. This is not, as the name suggests, an instrument of torture for those parents who repeatedly fail to achieve maximum velocity on the hairpin bend at the top of the close. Far from it. It is a simple yet much loved saver of backs; a pole which slots effortlessly into the back of the tricycle and which allows an adult to push without having to bend or stoop. Indispensable for when your child (like mine) is still too small to pedal by themselves, and fairly handy for afterwards just for poking people w
ho get on your nerves. For the driver, then, comfort and performance are key. The seat is sturdy, contoured, with a high-ish back, providing much much much better support than the other models on offer. And the safety belt is very secure; they’ll have trouble falling off with that on. The brake lever is chunky and easy to grasp, and it gently but firmly brakes both the back wheels smoothly and progressively. The tipper skip at the back is bigger and more solid than those of its competitors, leaving plenty of room for collecting clover flowers (current favourite), pebbles, seashells and car keys that someone still hasn’t got around to moving to a higher drawer. Trivia: sometimes I put a bag of groceries in it when our promenade takes us round by the shop. The pedalling was tested for us in the shop by a volunteer from a small crowd of onlookers, and we have been assured that it is easy and ‘fun’. While we haven’t yet pushed the trike to test its top speed, it is capable of advancing at momentum enough to make trikeless heads turn and stare with envy. We are very excited at the prospect of future solo speed performances. My daughter is too little to pedal, and she’ll be damned if she’s going to start steering properly just to make life easier for us. Fortunately, the handlebar can be fixed in place by lowering a yellow plasticky thing at the front, which means that she can ride no-handed, one-handed, or she can push and pull on it like a mad thing, without it sending her hurtling into the path of an oncoming vehicle. Until she learns to do it herself, the parent pole allows the adult to imperceptibly lift the front wheel and turn the trike as and when needed. Oisy poisy. And high kerbs pose no problem either, because it’s very light and easy to tilt up and down, with no discomfort to the driver. And if you need still more proof of the level of thought that went into this design, then I’
m only too happy to oblige. You can take the trike apart and fit it into small spaces in the boot of your car! It means there’s no excuse for not taking the trike with you to the park, the beach and even on holiday (done ‘em all). And it’s so so easy. There’s a little metal thing that you push down while you slide the front part forwards and off in one effortless movement. And it’s this same mechanism that allows you to increase the size of the trike – three times - as your child grows, increasing its life span by, ooh, oodles. The age guide on the box says 12 months to 3 and a half years, so … there you go. The things that made this tricycle stand out from the cheaper model were its sturdiness and superior construction. Both were made from brightly coloured plastic, and both were light and easy to manoeuvre. But everything about the Baby Driver 2 looked better, stronger and safer, from the chunky wheels to the supportive seat. You couldn’t dismantle t’other, either, and there was no brake. And we didn’t get the dearest model because it simply didn’t correspond to our needs. For a start, instead of a parent pole, it had an unremovable pushchair / hovermower type handle on the back. I mean, would you, as an independent three year old, be happy to be seen pedalling up and down the road with a whacking great handle sticking out the back that the older, bigger, meaner kids could grab onto, slow you down, spin you around, push you the way you don’t want to go scarily fast and ultimately spoil your fun? I don’t think so. And instead of a tipper skip, there was a big bag at the back, which, admittedly, would be perfect for carrying home three or four bags of groceries, but, let’s face it, it’s a tricycle, a toy for the kids, and a big bag is no substitute for a tipper skip, now, is it? Of course not. And tut at whoever thought it might be. These days won’t las
t forever. Everyone tells me that, and so it’s probably true. So I’ll savour each moment of these glorious carefree tricycle years, knowing, even as I write this, that the time of the bicycle is approaching. May God have mercy on our souls.
I hear, from a reliable source, that the best books for babies and toddlers are often the simplest. Well, when I say ‘hear’, I’m embellishing slightly; she can’t actually speak yet, at least not coherently. But the old adage ‘actions speak louder than words’ is certainly true in my daughter’s case. “That’s Not My Teddy” is an Usborne Touchy-Feely book, one of a range of board books for very young children, written by Fiona Watt. It’s the best of all possible shapes: a perfect square. Squares are better than circles, triangles, hexagons and rhombuses for obvious reasons, and more aesthetically pleasing than rectangles. 16.7 cm by 16.7 cm is a nice size too. Yes, I’m ashamed to say I got my ruler out to measure it. The pages are nice and chunky, which makes turning them easier for little hands that lack dexterity. There are only four pages inside the book, yet the spine is 2.2 cm thick. Do the maths. Them’s thick pages. The tale begins on the front cover. Below the title is a simple drawing of a teddy holding its paws up. All the illustrations are done by Rachel Wells, and she really knows how to draw for small children. You know what I mean: large, smooth, colourful shapes, outlined with bold, black lines; capturing cuddliness and cuteness with the minimum of effort. But … look closely now. Do you see anything different about this teddy’s paws? Why, I do believe that this teddy has got woolly paws. And I don’t mean drawn-on woolly. The card has been cut away to reveal little patches of wool for little fingers to touch. Ooh, how funny! And at the bottom of the page, continuing on from the title “That’s not my teddy….” is the explanation “it’s paws are too woolly.” The book carries on in a similar style. Each different teddy bear takes up a double page; on the left side are the words “That’s n
ot my teddy”, and on the right is the reason why we know it’s not. When the teddy’s nose is too soft, the teddy has a big round nose of smooth cloth. When it’s paws are too rough, the material on its paws is coarse and bumpy. Shiny eyes to touch, fuzzy ears to tickle… you’re getting the idea, right? And all the way through, on each page, a little white mouse can be found peeping over the teddy’s shoulder, carefully appraising each one. But every children’s book needs to have a happy ending, doesn’t it? On the last double page, we find a brown teddy bear, plainer than the others, but a comforting familiar plainness; definitely the nicest, cuddliest bear in the book. And if the mouse’s victorious posture isn’t enough to tell you so, the words “That’s my teddy!” leap out at you, and “His tummy’s so furry” confirm that our long search is over. And it’s true: his tummy is the softest, furriest tummy of all. The beauty is the combination of simplicity and careful design. The repetition of “That’s not my teddy” and the following short sentences are an ideal way to teach first words and the colourful pages and big bright pictures hold small children’s attention. The different textured surfaces add an extra dimension to stimulate the senses, providing a surprise at each turn of the page. It’s also a sturdy design, with wipe-clean pages and rounded corners, that should resist rough handling. This is an ideal first book, suitable even for younger babies, who will love just to grip it and stare at the bright drawings. The other books in the “That’s not my…” range feature bunnies, kittens, puppies, trains and tractors, and they can all be ordered online at www.usborne.com. It’s books like this that encourage children to love reading, and it deserves to be praised accordingly. I do, there
I’m something of a nostalgic. Whenever I look at the choice of television programmes for today’s wee kiddies, I can’t help thinking back and remembering, with a mixture of fondness and regret, those classics from my own childhood, like Play School, Rainbow, and You And Me. They don’t make them like that anymore. Everything’s gone desperately multi-coloured and puppets seem to be getting all the lead roles. Oh, bring back Humpty, Big Ted, Jemima, Hambel and Little Ted! But no, those days are gone. We have to accept, move on, and make new friendships. And I have done. I have. “Welcome welcome welcome to the big blue house!” Months ago I would never have imagined that I would start to look forward to the words which herald the appearance of an oversized bear, an excitable little mouse, a lime-green lemur and a pair of purple otters. As soon as we hear them, my daughter looks at me, I look at my daughter, and we both turn excitedly towards the TV to see what zany happenings are going on today in the Big Blue House with Bear and his friends. Well, you know, I’m kind of putting on an act for her benefit, but I think I carry it off quite well. Bear always comes out to greet us. He always pretends that he doesn’t know it’s us at the door, but I think he does really; it’s too much of a coincidence otherwise. Most of the time he invites us straight in, but sometimes, oh, sometimes we take a walk onto the porch and watch Ray, the sun, rise over the treetops. He and Bear sing the “Good Morning” song (I LOVE that one), exchange a few pleasantries, and then we follow Bear into the Big Blue House. As soon as we get in the door, Bear, being a bear, picks up a scent. He starts sniffing the air, and identifies the odour as … well, it could be anything really: apples, waffles, grass, pumpkin pie, new paper, but always something nice. Anyway, he goes through this rigmarole of
not knowing where it’s coming from, but either he’s just having us on or he’s got a really bad memory because it always, without exception, turns out to be US. This revelation is followed by Bear hastily adding that maybe we “smell this good all the time”, and then he laughs to hide his embarrassment and incredible faux pas. But we love him, and we always forgive. As you might expect, Bear has lots of friends that are always around and ready to play. There’s Tutter, a cheese-loving blue mouse who lives in Bear’s kitchen. Tutter is my favourite. He’s really loud and enthusiastic about everything, and makes up for being the tiniest with his huge personality. When he gets overexcited he can forget himself and be a bit abrupt, but he means well and has a big heart. He’s funny. Then there’s Ojo, a sweet little bear, who loves playing pretend games. Treelo is a cheerful lemur who lives in the woods and is always swinging about excitedly, even in the house; probably wrenching all the lights out the ceiling as he goes. Pip and Pop are twin otters who live in the pond near the Big Blue House. They’re always full of beans and playing some game, usually involving water, which is why they can often be found in the Bear’s bathtub. Bear is the paternal figure and is always around to show and explain things to his friends and us, helping and teaching as he goes. He’s perfectly polite, considerate and patient; always interested in and concerned about what his friends are doing. I guess if you’re a lady bear he’s quite a catch. He always knows the best way to resolve any little squabbles that might arise amongst his friends, how to cheer them up if something is bothering them, or just how to look at things in a positive light. I love the way they all interact together; it’s sweet and nice but without being sickly and fake. You can see why they’re all such good fri
ends. Yes I know they’re only puppets, but sshhhh – don’t spoil it. Every day we also spend a few minutes with Shadow, a girl who is, wait for it, a shadow. She appears whenever Bear calls her with the “Where oh where oh where is Shadow” song. She’s always laughing in her playful way and she never fails to regale us with a short story. Her stories are enacted by other shadows; well, black and white cardboard cut-outs, actually, but funny ones who add their own twopenneth to the tale. There are a few other characters who appear from time to time, like Harry the duck, Doc Hogg, a boar who happens to be the local GP, Lois, the telephone operator with hearing difficulties, and Jeremiah, a rather forgetful tortoise-postman. Each programme has a theme. You know: sharing, words, thanksgiving, interaction, growing up, fear, washing, going to the doctor, reading, and so on. Bear and his friends always find themselves in a situation that is ideal to illustrate the theme of the day. I find it a bit cringey at times, but that’s probably because I’m an adult and adults aren’t really the target audience. I suppose it’s actually quite educational for small children, and unlike some of the other kiddie programmes, it’s not too over-the-top and nauseating. There are always some songs too that I personally could do without but my daughter loves them, especially the Bear Cha-Cha-Cha and the Mail Song. Then, at the end of each day, Bear goes up to the balcony in the attic to speak to his friend Luna, the moon. Luna is sooooo cool. Maybe she’s my favourite. She’s kind, gentle, wise beyond measure, and always immensely concerned about what happened in the Big Blue House that day. Bear gives her a brief summary of what each of his friends got up to and what they learnt, and this serves as a reminder for our benefit. Luna always has an example of how the theme of the day is to be found
in her own life. During these little chit-chats, Bear and Luna flirt outrageously; in an innocent kind of way, of course, but there’s obviously a little more than meets the eye to their relationship, believe me. It might go over the head of any child watching, but no adult can fail to pick up on the signs. And I think that’s how it’s intended to be; a little ‘wink’ at the parents who are watching, a little something for us grown ups. Just before they bid each other goodnight, Bear asks Luna if she’ll sing the “Goodbye Song” with him. As if she’d refuse. “I’d love to, Bear, I would love to,” she always replies in those low, sultry tones. And then they sing the “Goodbye Song” together. I LOVE that one too, and so does my daughter, although between you and me I think she’s far more impressed with her very own mummy’s rendition of it. As the last notes fade away, Bear says, “Goodbye now”, Luna floats away into the starry heavens to cast her moonlight over the world, and we return to the attic where Bear has a few more words to say to us on the subject of the day before he bids us a fond farewell. During term time, The Bear In The Big Blue House graces our screens twice a day (same episode) on Network 2 (that’s an Irish TV channel) at approximately 9.45 am and 1.35 am, but to try and catch us out the times vary from day to day by about fifteen minutes each way. Check the TV guide to avoid disappointment. During the school holidays, the afternoon showing is scrapped in favour of some rubbish cartoon, so make sure you don’t miss the morning session. Oh, and on the off chance that you live in the UK, I think it’s on Channel 5 at 8.00am. So that’s it really. Twenty-five minutes of fun, games and learning for pre-schoolers and maybe young primary schoolers too. Watch it. You won’t be disappointed. Nor will your ch
ildren. And Jim Henson, if you’re reading this, thank you.
You know it’s time to get some new glasses when the ones you have become violently opposed to sudden movement, hurling themselves to the ground in a temper whenever you turn your head in a way they disapprove of. That’s what my old gold-rimmed John Lennons started to do. Very childish of them, I know, and at the ripe old age of thirteen they really ought to have known better. Still, there’s no room for emotional attachment when it comes to glasses. I was moving on; they were history. I was going to get me a younger, better looking pair. Specsavers in Cork is the kind of shop you walk past without noticing until the day you actually want glasses. Or maybe that’s just a sign that you need glasses. It’s in Cook Street, which is right in the centre of town, in between the streets of St Patrick and Oliver Plunkett, nice and easy to slot into a shopping trip. So in I walked. The first half of the shop was dominated by row upon row of different frames; a common feature of opticians, I suspect. Bedazzled by the sight of so many shiny pieces of glass, I looked around desperately for something to guide me – and there it was. Poised above each display rack thingy was a simple sign indicating the type of glasses contained therein. Ingenious. Unisex, ladies’, mens’, rimless – no problems with orientation in this shop. They also all had coloured stickers on corresponding to certain prices; an excellent idea to save time when you’re on a budget. There was a really good range to choose from, lots of different styles and colours. Off I went, trying on frame after frame: laughing at the funny ones, frowning at those my husband chose, and pondering over the possibles. It was great fun. And although I didn’t care to avail myself of their help, there were several assistants hovering discreetly about who were only too willing to offer their advice to anyone who wanted it. At the time, they were r
unning (and still are as I write this) a “buy one get one free offer”; buy any frame worth IR£69 or over and choose another in the same price range absolutely free. This was extremely convenient because I have been known to be a tad indecisive in the past, and today was just such a time. Still, I’m happy to say I managed to successfully narrow my choices down to the required two. Carrying my chosen frames ceremoniously over to the counter with all the solemnity that an occasion like this warranted, I was then informed by the very nice lady that they were totally booked up for eye tests that day (well, I suppose it was a Saturday after all). Seeing me crestfallen, she quickly added that she would be happy to make an appointment for me for the following week. She even took my frames and promised to keep them for me until then. My suspicions that my beloved frames would be lost by the time I returned were quickly assuaged when I saw the professional manner in which she wrapped them up and slipped them into a plastic pocket along with a card with my appointment details on, as if she’d done it a thousand times before. Maybe she had. I wouldn’t have been surprised. Anyway, when Tuesday afternoon came around it may not surprise you to know that as the clock neared 2.30 I could be found sitting in Specsavers once more, waiting my turn to find out exactly where my eyesight would rate on the scale between 20/20 vision and blind. First of all, I was ushered behind a screen and told to put my chin on this bit and my forehead against that bit, and then look at a tiny picture of a hot air balloon. This was, apparently, to see how well my eyes could focus. Results were hurriedly jotted onto my card, and I was asked to take my seat once more in the waiting area. All very efficient. When you’re a 15 month old girl, an optician’s waiting area is as good a place as any to cause mayhem. After squealing playfully at a three-yea
r-old boy loud enough to send him running back to his mother, trying to stick her finger in an old gentleman’s ear, and almost demolishing a display of contact lens solution, my daughter’s coup de grace was to crawl away from me at breakneck speed under a row of chairs and people’s legs. My point? The waiting was a little on the long side, especially for the simmering ball of energy in the guise of my daughter. My advice? If you have a small child, it’s a good idea to leave them with someone if you can, or bring that someone with you so they can whisk them off somewhere else if need be. If you need more persuasion on that point, I have another argument. When my turn for the eye test de facto eventually came around, my daughter was a trifle upset to see a nice but strange man place a metal deathmask over her mummy’s face and then listen to her chant “first” or “second” over and over again in an unfamiliar monotone. No amount of jigging would appease her cries. Maybe it was because of this, or maybe that’s just the way they do it there, but the test only lasted about five minutes. Which is a shame because for some strange reason I love reading those letter charts; they make me think of Father Jack. Anyway, it was over; the nice man told me that I was just slightly short-sighted (he probably thought that was technical enough for me) and asked me to return to the waiting area for a third time, which I did. The last leg of this epic adventure involved another nice lady sticking a ruler above my eyes. She looked like she knew what she was doing, so I didn’t bother to enquire. She said I could have my second pair as sunglasses if I so desired, and I eagerly agreed; goodbye days of driving with two pairs of glasses on! I was also assured that if I was anything less than 100% happy with them, I could bring them back and change them. Not bad, eh?! They asked for a deposit of at least 50%, but
I paid it all, was told to collect my glasses in four days’ time, and that was it! It might have seemed longer, but I think it all only took about twenty minutes from start to finish. A word to people living in Ireland. You can claim back the cost of your eye test (IR£15) as well as IR£24 off the cost of the frames by asking for a form from the opticians themselves. Send off the completed form, and then take the paper you receive back to the opticians, and they’ll refund you. Just don’t forget to ask for that form! The main impression I was left with was how nice everyone was. I mean, everyone! And it wasn’t that trained, have-a-nice-day kind of nice, but a genuine, friendly niceness that shone through their words and smiles. I left feeling really happy and satisfied. The next four days were spent agonising over whether I’d made the right choice of frames. When the big day finally rolled around, I was directed upstairs to the collection point and then asked to wait again. In fact, I had to wait quite a long time, but luckily my husband was downstairs this time taking care of my daughter. Eventually, I was shown to a little table and given my glasses to try on. Well, to say I was pleased is an understatement. I was VERY pleased. For a start, I could see properly again; that blurred edge that I thought was just a part of everything had completely gone. Secondly, they looked great, and thirdly they made me look, hmm, quite intelligent and wise (quiet at the back!) The nice lady asked whether they were tight enough (they were), and whether the sunglasses were the right tint (they were). I left, profusely thanking everyone in sight who looked like they worked or indeed had ever worked in a Specsavers. On my way out I grabbed a few leaflets in order to make my dooyoo opinion more complete; I’m always thinking of YOU, you know. Anyway, there are several different kinds of lens available: varifocal (fro
m IR£55), bifocal (from IR£30), tinted (IR£12), and ‘thin & light’ (from IR£30), which are all fairly self-explanatory. You can also have your lenses coated with a scratch resistant coating (IR£12) or with their ‘Ultra Clear’ anti-reflection scratch resistant coating (IR£30). For IR£45, you can have photochromic ‘Reactions’ lenses, which darken in sunlight and offer UV protection. As well as these options, and on top of the ‘buy one get one free’ offer that I took advantage of, at the moment if you buy any pair of spectacles from the IR£69 range or above, they can fit them with Reactions lenses free of charge (offer ends 28 July 2001). It’s been a couple of weeks now, and I am still VERY pleased with both pairs of glasses. Before, I would only wear glasses when absolutely necessary (for driving or watching television), and to tell the truth most of the time I wouldn’t even wear them for that. But NOW, but NOW, I often leave them on all day long. It’s so lovely to be able to SEE properly, for a start, and the glasses themselves look really nice. They were well worth the money, especially because one of them was ‘absolutely free’. And if that’s not enough of a positive result from my visit to Specsavers, the roads in the Cork area have also never been safer. Which can’t be bad.
“NOTHING can prepare you for becoming a parent,” someone once said to me, a couple of years before I became a mother myself. I remember nodding and smiling politely, while thinking, “Nonsense! *I* for one will be prepared when my time comes!” I never forgot those words, though. When I became pregnant myself, I set about absorbing as much information as I possibly could to prepare myself for impending motherhood. I proceeded to buy every pregnancy and parenting magazine on the market, and spent hours in bookshops flicking through and memorising the many different books on caring for newborns. I even bought some. Antenatal classes took priority over everything else in my life, and my conversation was soon to become limited to one topic only, which I realise now must have been rather tedious for those unpregnant ones in my entourage. All in all, as the end of my ninth month of pregnancy approached, I felt absolutely prepared for the arrival of this tiny stranger into our household. I can never suppress a smile when I remember my thoughts at that time. There I was, confident and happy in my ignorance, and about to have the shocking reality revealed to me with a bang (of sorts). Nothing can prepare you. The moment the fact hit us that my husband and I were now fully responsible for a living, breathing mini human being was as we were driving out of the hospital car park. No doctors, midwives or instruction manuals present – just us and the baby. Wow. The feeling is one that I’m sure all new parents experience and is very hard to describe: a real mix of emotions. I remember thinking that our lives would never, could never be as they were before ever again, nor would we want them to be. When I say nothing can prepare you, I ought to be more specific. What I really mean is that you can never really imagine what it is like to be fully responsible for another human being, especially one
that is incapable of doing the smallest thing for him- or herself, and is therefore totally dependent on you, the parent. Not only the sheer, almost physical weight of this responsibility, but also the time and work involved in caring for this tiny bundle of joy. It isn’t always easy; sometimes it’s downright tough! Overnight, the focus of your life changes completely; gone are those selfish days where your wants and needs came first. But there are no reproaches or regrets – just an overwhelming sense of love when you see the most precious thing in the world lying there smiling up at you. Well, smiling up at me – you’ll all have to make do with the second most precious things. ;) I was an expert in my ignorance before I had my baby. I thought I had all the answers. Well, I’d read the books, hadn’t I? Trouble is, not only do the books often contradict each other, but the questions in the final exam sometimes turn out quite differently to what you studied. And this can throw a new parent into a confused panic; well, it did me, anyway! Discipline Take discipline, for example. I believed that babies’ behaviour was a direct result of the parent’s methods of raising them. I used to see one-year-olds shouting loudly for their own amusement in shops, and blame the parents for not being stricter with them. When my daughter was ten months, she liked nothing better than to scream suddenly and for no reason when in public, only to beam radiantly at the startled faces that turned towards us. Babies will often do exactly what they want to, oblivious to our embarrassed attempts to “Shush!” them. Having said that, I will now contradict myself – almost – and say that it is never too soon to start teaching babies right from wrong; the key is to be consistent. Saying “No you mustn’t play with mummy’s mobile” one day, then giving it to her the next
because you want to watch television in peace will only confuse and anger her – and rightly so. Imagine we lived in a world where the rules kept changing, meaning you never knew when an action would get you into trouble. We’d probably give up paying any attention whatsoever to the rules, and children will do the same. And while this may not seem so important when playing with mobiles or drawing on walls is the issue, imagine the dangers if our warnings not to touch the oven door or to play with the toilet bleach went unheeded. Of course, this comes down to personality to an extent; it’s not because a baby understands what is wrong that they won’t do it. Some children have more energy, more determination, more curiosity, which can drive them on towards their goal, oblivious to your chastisements. But you can help matters by making sure that they at least do understand what is acceptable and what isn’t. Principles Another classic example of my pre-baby naivety was my firm belief that dummies, or soothers as we like to call them these days, were strictly unnecessary, and that my baby would, under no circumstances, be given one. Hmmm, that lasted for all of two weeks. A dummy was the only thing that would comfort her when she was screaming from colic. It was also a life saver when she started to get fractious in the middle of a flight or at the checkout in the supermarket. She stopped wanting it after 5 months, though, which was a shame in some ways. I swore I would never use a toddler harness. “Children aren’t dogs! It’s just parents who are too lazy to keep an eye on their children!” Ha ha ha! My daughter isn’t walking yet, but when she is I assure you that if I feel it necessary I will have no qualms about using one. Okay, so maybe it’s not very nice to have to tie your child to your side. But in busy shops, it only takes a second or two of inattention to let your c
hild run off. I cannot imagine, nor do I ever want to experience the terrible panic that a parent must feel when they look up and see their child has disappeared. I would rather put my daughter in a toddler harness and be sure she’s safe, than stick to silly principles and take the risk of her getting lost. Pressure Don’t be pressured into doing things that you are not comfortable with. A classic example of this is breastfeeding. While we know how beneficial breastfeeding is to babies, new mums can often feel like they are failing their baby if they decide to bottle feed. The truth is that even with the very best of intentions many mums simply don’t get on with breastfeeding for many different valid reasons, but feel forced to persevere, resulting in unnecessary frustration and upset for you and your baby. If you are happy, your baby will be happier, and vice versa. The same kind of thing applies to all those well-intentioned words of advice, especially from older generations. Admonishments for picking up a crying baby – “you’ll only spoil her” - for example should be ignored. No one has the right to tell you what you should and shouldn’t do – you must do what you feel comfortable with. It’s not because an action had a certain effect on someone else’s child that the same result will be produced on your own. It is so difficult to know what to do at times that you really have to trust your own instincts. Welcome all advice people may care to give you, and then YOU decide whether or not you apply it. Toys I know it’s easy to be tempted these days, but don’t fall into the trap of buying lots and lots of toys. By the age of six months, with the help of her parents, her extended family, friends and strangers, my baby had acquired two full toy boxes that she was completely indifferent to. She was never so happy as when she was playing with spoons, com
bs, pens, magazines, remote controls – basically, anything that could not be called a toy. She now plays with a few carefully selected items, such as nesting cups, books and a shape sorter, but the majority of cuddly toys lie there abandoned. I have seen other children who have everything their hearts desire, and who value none of them. This is not a judgement on their parents’ behaviour – indeed, this is their way of showing their love for their child – but in my opinion, it is the wrong way of expressing it. Too many presents and toys diminish their own worth in the eyes of a child; one toy among many has little value and they become taken for granted. Development I learnt development charts by heart, and hoped, nay, knew, that my daughter would be way ahead of these average guidelines. So, at five to six months she should have been able to roll over, should she? Um, well no, she couldn’t actually. By seven months she should have been taking her body’s weight on one outstretched arm, eh? Ah, nope, didn’t seem to want to do that either. By nine or ten months she should have been taking her full weight on her legs and trying to move one foot in front of the other? No, in fact, when I held her up she bent her legs up under her as much as possible so that her feet wouldn’t touch the floor at all. She wasn’t even crawling. I think my baby had read a different book to me. But I was getting more and more worried. I happened to mention my concern in my best impression of off-hand and nonchalant to my GP on a routine visit. Her instant reaction was that it didn’t seem normal, that she should be bearing her weight by now, and she immediately wrote a letter to an orthopaedic surgeon asking him to see my daughter as soon as possible. Panic and horrible-scenario-imagining filled the few days that we had to wait for our appointment. And what turned out to be wrong with her? Absolutel
y nothing, apart from a mild case of laziness. Ten days later, she was crawling around the room as if she’d been doing it all her short life. And two weeks after that, she was pulling herself up into a standing position almost effortlessly. Which just goes to show. Development charts are the cause of so much needless worry. Every baby is different and will develop at their own pace, and nothing we parents can do to try and hurry them along will help. And it’s not because your baby doesn’t do something that it means they are incapable of doing it: they might just not want to! My baby seems to be quite lazy (I wonder where on earth she gets that from?); she didn’t roll over until she was nine and a half months! Once she started, though, it looked like she’d been doing it forever. So refer to development charts for a rough idea of what to expect and when, but don’t worry if your baby seems a little ‘behind’ (hmm, I don’t like that word as it has negative connotations). There are no prizes for being the parent of the earliest walker, and your child will not be at any advantage. Children who do seem ‘behind’ at one stage can often appear ‘ahead’ later on, and vice versa. It’s of little consequence. Sleeping Controlled crying? Letting your baby cry and cry, all alone and abandoned in her cot? What kind of cold, heartless monster are you anyway? Um, hi again. Yes, controlled crying was a lifesaver for me. Although my baby was always a good sleeper, it would take forever to actually send her off to sleep. Because of her colic in the first few months, she got used to being rocked. A lot. And rocking was the only way to get her back to sleep. Sometimes it took over an hour, and chunks of sleep being removed from my nights became … well … tough. I heard about controlled crying on www.babyworld.co.uk. While I won’t go into too much detail her
e, it basically involves teaching your baby to fall asleep on their own. And the only way to teach them is to put them in their cot, reassure them, then leave them. Yes, leave them. Argh!! If they are still crying after a certain length of time (just a few minutes to begin with), you can return briefly to reassure them and then leave them again. Repeat until baby is asleep. While the actual process is very hard emotionally (sitting there listening to your baby cry is indescribably hard to bear), if you are strong and do it properly, you will see results in just a few days. My baby cried for over an hour the first day, but by the third day she was asleep within two minutes. She was happier because she was getting more restful sleep, and needless to say *I* was happier too! ***** So be prepared to revise your preconceived ideas of parenting as you go! I have had to, as you can see; in fact, I am doing it all the time as my baby grows and reaches new stages. While I recommend you read as much information on caring for babies as possible, there are no hard and fast rules. Each author is simply sharing experiences and generalising a fair bit. And some things you just cannot prepare yourself for, no matter how much you study. Read all you can, but keep a very open mind. It is easy to look around, baby-less, at other parents and proclaim that they are doing it ‘wrong’, mutter disapprovingly about their children’s behaviour, and categorically state that you will never do THAT when and indeed if you have children. But the reality is that just as you can never really know how much they will change your lives before you have them yourself, so you can never really know what each new stage of their development involves and what steps might be necessary to ensure that they are happy, safe and aware in their little world.
I’ve wanted to buy this book for a while. I happened to pick it up once in a bookshop and start reading the first page, as you do. Something pulled me straight into it and made me want to read more, more than is polite to read without paying, anyway. I know exactly what it was, too. It was the very first words, which were, “If you really want to hear about it…” Well, you know me; I always want to hear about it. I had to read this book, and quickly. The problem? Well, I was, and still am, the victim of a self-imposed ban on buying books that will last until I’ve finished the thirty-odd unread ones on my bookshelf. However, never one to be outdone, I found a loophole , joined a library and got the book out last week. Sneaky, aren’t I? Oh yes, I had to get up very early in the morning to get that one over on me. But that’s all by the by. I read a book, and here I am to tell you about it. Holden Caulfield. A fairly mixed up kind of chap. He has a story of sorts to tell: “I’ll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy.” Well, I don’t know about you, but to me that suggested things like mental problems, irrational behaviour and possibly even a breakdown of some description. My, if that doesn’t get you turning those pages, nothing will. The whole tale is told by Holden in the first person, and the language is therefore a verbal one: simple, repetitive at times and in the style of speech of the American fifties, which is when the book was written. I love books written in the first person because we get right inside the character’s head, share his thoughts and discover his personality completely. That’s exactly what happens here. It endears us to Holden and also creates lots of opportunities for humour. The story itself is really just
a sequence of events that took place just before and then following Holden’s departure from Pencey Prep, his school in Agerstown, Pennsylvania. He’s been kicked out because of poor grades in four of his subjects, and this isn’t the first school he’s been asked to leave. There is no real plot as such, and don’t expect any clever twists or a climactic ending. But there’s something compulsive about it all the same. It’s like the main story is not just ABOUT Holden, but IS actually Holden himself, and each event is just the explanation to the more important story going on inside his head. Like I said earlier, poor old Holden seems to be quite confused, and throughout the book he shows attitudes that could be seen as immature, intolerant and even bitter in some cases. He doesn’t seem able to comprehend the world he lives in, as though he wants to live by a different set of rules than the one that society offers. It’s as if he wants to rediscover an innocence, a straightforwardness, that we somehow lose as we grow up. When these events took place, Holden was sixteen, which is a difficult age for all adolescents; the gateway to adulthood. Holden seems to be looking at the world through the eyes of a child with the knowledge of an adult … if you see what I mean. He sees the ways of the world and yet he rejects them. If you read it, you’ll understand. He seems totally unable to understand the concern that Mr. Spencer, one of his teachers, feels for Holden’s education, and remembers how he left another school because he was “surrounded by phonies”. “Phony” is a word he uses again and again to describe just about anything he dislikes: the headmaster at Elkton Hills who used to spend less time chatting with parents if they were “funny-looking”; his brother D.B. who he feels has sold out by going to Hollywood and making movies instead of continuing to wr
ite; Sally Gallagher, a girl he goes to a play with, one minute hating her for her superficiality, the next proposing to elope with her. He even considers Ernie to be phony for playing the piano so skilfully and then bowing to the applause: “He was putting all these dumb, show-offy ripples in the high notes, and a lot of other very tricky stuff that gives me a pain in the ass. You should’ve heard the crowd, though, when he was finished. You would’ve puked. They went mad. They were exactly the same morons that laugh like hyenas in the movies at stuff that isn’t funny. I swear to God, if I were a piano player or an actor or something and all those dopes thought I was terrific, I’d hate it. I wouldn’t even want them to clap for me. People always clap for the wrong things.” I thought that was really funny. What is funnier still is that despite his constant judgmental attitude towards others, Holden himself behaves like a “phony” at times. On two occasions (when calling up a girl called Faith Cavendish who “wasn’t exactly a whore or anything but that didn’t mind doing it once in a while”; and when a prostitute comes to his hotel room) he tries to give the impression he’s older and keeps describing his own manner as “suave as hell.” He sounds just like a child trying to act like a grown up. Another characteristic of our hero is that just about everything depresses him. Cheap suitcases, the weather, nuns that don’t go “anywhere swanky for lunch”, thinking about someone getting up early to see the first show at Radio City Music Hall; you can’t turn more than a few pages without something “depressing the hell out of” our Holden. At first I found the importance being placed on these petty details amusing, as if we were sharing the joke, but after a while I realised that he was actually serious, and I thought that maybe
it wasn’t really the cheap suitcases that were depressing him but a general decline in his mental health expressing itself however it could. The two people who he definitely doesn’t consider to be phony in the slightest are Allie, his little brother who died of leukemia, and his ten-year-old sister Phoebe. It’s significant that they are both children. Jane Gallagher, his childhood friend who he thinks of fondly, also really only belongs in Holden’s memory as a child, never appearing before him as the young woman she’s become. “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.” So says Holden to his Phoebe when she asks him what he wants to do with his life. The frequent references to children and to childhood indicate that his role of catcher in the rye could be some kind of wish to preserve innocence, not just for himself, but for everyone; to stop us from plummeting over the edge and into the “phoniness” of the rules and etiquette that society demands adults live by. At the same time, though, Holden does want to be accepted, and loved; he doesn’t seem strong enough to make a stand and completely turn his back on society. We see that in the way he puts on a “suave as hell” act himself when he thinks the situation demands it, and when he wears hi
s beloved hunting hat but only when no one else is around. It’s probably this constant struggle within himself that leads him on to his breakdown. I found this book hilarious. There is a brilliant, childlike, unintentional humour within Holden’s thoughts. As I was reading I found it necessary to write down page numbers so that I could come back afterwards and re-read the lines that made me laugh out loud. For example, when Holden wants to call Jane: “You weren’t supposed to call students up late at night, but I had it all figured out. I was going to tell whoever answered the phone that I was her uncle. I was going to say her aunt had just got killed in a car accident and I had to speak to her immediately. It would have worked too. The only reason I didn’t do it was because I wasn’t in the mood. If you’re not in the mood, you can’t do that stuff right.” When he goes to the movies at Radio City before meeting Sally, there’s a stage show before the film: “Then, after the Rockettes, a guy came out in a tuxedo and roller skates on, and started skating under a bunch of little tables, and telling jokes while he did it. He was a very good skater and all, but I couldn’t enjoy it much because I kept picturing him practicing [sic] to be a guy that roller-skates on the stage. It seemed so stupid. I guess I just wasn’t in the right mood.” I thought that was so funny, but even if you don’t, it shows to what extent reaches his dislike of anything rehearsed or that isn’t natural or spontaneous. Being used to reading novels with more of a purposeful storyline and decisive ending, initially I found this book slightly disappointing. I was expecting more from it. But it was afterwards that I started to think about what Salinger’s point was in writing this book, and then I did something that I haven’t done for years: I read the book through again. Not b
ecause it was the best book I’d ever read, but because I felt there must be a lot more to it than I’d picked up on my first read. And surprisingly, I didn’t find it dragging, and I didn’t get impatient and skip chapters. I enjoyed it even more the second time; probably because I wasn’t distracted by the thought of what might be coming along next in the story, but instead was focussing on what Holden was thinking right then and there. This was a different book to the kind I usually read, but I liked what it offered me. It made me wonder what inspired J.D. Salinger to write it; was he as disillusioned with the world when he was a teenager, as Holden? Is he still? I didn’t study this book at school, so I’m afraid this opinion will not offer you all the finer criticisms that I’m sure many of the other excellent reviews do. All I have written is what I, as a casual, lazy reader, read, reflected upon, interpreted, and, most importantly of all, enjoyed. Before I go, if you ever do read this book, another of my favourite passages, that’s too long to copy here, is early on in chapter five, where Holden is talking about Allie and how red his hair is. He’ll tell you exactly how red it is. It brought a smile to my face and a lump to my throat for its sweet simplicity. I hope you like it too. ********** I refrained from doing the “Really” / “Rye-ly” thing in the title. What do you think – good move?
I no longer make excuses for my taste in music; I just blame other people. It’s easier that way. ********** Heart “Brigade” If Heart as uncool as I think they are, then it is one of the most shocking travesties of musical justice that I have ever been a witness to. (Am I hamming it?) I lay the blame for my love of this group at my brother’s door. Quite literally, actually. It was impossible for a vulnerable pre-teenage girl to hear the sound of “If Looks Could Kill” blasting through her elder and much-revered brother’s bedroom door constantly for about a year, and emerge unscathed. I was one of the more serious casualties, though. If someone cornered me into a, um, corner, held a knife at my throat and demanded that I tell them who my favourite group of all time was, then I would probably have to reply, with only a slight hesitation, “Heart, and could you please stop that, you’re scaring me.” When they released this album, their third, there were five of them. Ann Wilson (the lead vocalist) and her sister Nancy (backing vocals, lead guitar, acoustic guitar and mandolin) were the most prominent members. Howard, Mark and Denny shared the rest of the instruments between them, and were kept firmly to the back of the sets so as not to put the girls in the shade with their big fringes (well, it was the eighties, after all; forgive and forget, eh?). For some reason they never seem to release their best songs; they keep them back as a reward for the faithful. “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You” and “I Didn’t Want To Need You” are pleasant enough, but they don’t have that extra special something that some of the other tracks on here do. Take my two favourites: “Secret” and “I Want Your World To Turn”. Both these songs have everything that I love this group for. Passion, intense emotion, music with a power as gentle
as it’s strong, and Ann has an amazingly strong voice that touches you with its energy. No, I haven’t been smoking anything; why d’you ask? “Wild Child”, “Tall, Dark, Handsome Stranger”, “The Night” and “Call Of The Wild” show that they know how to rock, but I’m not so keen on those. “Stranded” and “Under The Sky” are lovely feel-good songs, with some great vocal arrangements. “Fallen From Grace” and “Cruel Nights” pick up speed a little bit and allow Ann to impress you with her vocal range. “I Love You” is a very gentle song with few instruments, just an acoustic guitar for a large part of it. All the songs are about lurve, and Heart won’t win any prizes for profundity in their lyrics, but the music will blow your mind; believe me, it will. ********** Heart “Desire Walks On” Mark has disappeared without any explanation; how very rude. This is their fourth album, and even though as a whole it probably doesn’t quite compare to “Brigade”, there are a few of my all-time favourite songs here. “Black On Black II” is absolutely out of this world. What I love is the way that Ann starts off singing dangerously quietly, with the bass guitar drumming out a beat that tells you that some major piece of rockin’ will be along very shortly. As the chorus begins, Ann lets rips with “Black on black / like pleasure and a little pain / the sacred and profane....” and you get completely caught up in the music. Well, I do. Then there’s “In Walks The Night”. This is a slightly more gentle song; still powerful but not as rocky. It’s a lovely ballad with added strength from Ann’s powerful voice. The music is really uplifting and the vocal arrangement is beautiful. That’s another of my all-time favourite song
s as well. The two tracks released as singles - “Will You Be There (In The Morning)” and “The Woman In Me” - are good but were probably chosen because they sound the most commercial. Spanish versions of them both are tacked onto the end of the album. “Anything Is Possible” and “Back To Avalon” are nice, fairly slow and happy sounding. “Ring Them Bells” is a strange song, and I don’t really like it that much. Instruments are kept to a minimum, with most of the focus on the vocals. It’s sung by Ann, Nancy and some other bloke, in turn. References to saints, sacred cows and the mountains being filled with little lost sheep feature heavily. Very odd. “Rage” is a bit of a racket, really rawkin’, with Ann screeching and wailing all over the place, and I’m not too keen. It does have one of the best intros, though. “Desire Walks On”, “My Crazy Head” and “Voodoo Doll” complete this little beauty. ********** Abba “Gold – Greatest Hits” Ah now, this one is all my mum’s fault. The first record she ever bought for my brother was an Abba one, while I got ‘Hymns For Little Children’. Needless to say, in comparison, Abba was the epitome of cool – and anyway, I was only about seven years old. I had to hide this leaning during my teenage years, for obvious reasons, but my taste never changed. What’s good about this one is that I don’t have to try to describe it. One proof of Abba’s quality and timelessness is the fact that everyone knows their songs, whatever their age. And I believe that a lot of people who say they don’t like them are just in self-denial! Okay, so it’s only pop music, but it’s top-of-the-range stuff, this. I think that Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus wrote some of the catchiest, most enduring songs ever. <
br><br> Get that scary, knife-wielding person back in the room and I’d probably say that “Dancing Queen” and “The Winner Takes It All” are my favourites. They’re two different styles: the former is one of their most upbeat, happy and dancey, while the latter is slower and sadder. They also represent two very different times in the life of the group: “Dancing Queen” was when they were at the height of their fame, and “The Winner Takes It All” was towards the end, when problems in their personal lives were starting to push them apart. There are 19 of their very greatest hits on this album, and my only criticism of it is that “Angel Eyes” isn’t on it. Timeless. ********** The Corrs “Forgiven Not Forgotten” I’m not ashamed of liking The Corrs at all, although if I had to blame someone I guess it would have to be my great-grandfather who was born in Tralee and was therefore responsible for the Oirish in me. There’s something about this family group that is so clean and untouched, isn’t there? Three gorgeous sisters and a brother from Dublin, all possessed with amazing musical talent. This is their first album, and that lovely Irish folk sound is very strong here. Apart from being far too stunning for her own good, Andrea Corr is also the lucky owner of one of the loveliest voices (she plays a mean tin whistle, too). “Runaway” is the highlight of the album – another of my all-time favourite songs – because of its gentle, tuneful, Irishy melody, which gives Andrea a perfect opportunity to display her talent. And I love that violin! I keep saying I’m not a fan of instrumentals, but there are more and more that I find myself loving (must be getting old or something). “Toss The Feathers” is one such example. The basic tune is real Irish folk, a really fast, get-up-and-do-a-
jig type of thing, with Sharon giving it all she’s got on the violin. Then they’ve cleverly added electric guitars and drums and things to give it a modern, pop-y, thumping beat. The combination is spectacular, really. I can barely sit still whenever I hear it. “Love To Love You” is another great song. It’s a gentle, happy song of unrequited love (happy because the singer is the one being loved). The harmonies are enchanting (dahling), beautifully arranged. And “Leave Me Alone” deserves a little mention for being a catchy, pop song with a really uplifting tune. There are a few other instrumentals that are pleasant to listen to, and the rest of the tracks are all nice songs, all combinations of pop and Irish folk. On the whole, it’s a really cheerful, light-hearted album. ********** The Corrs “Talk On Corners” There is less of the Irish influence on The Corrs’ second album; I suppose it’s the start of their edge towards the mainstream. Still, it’s a great little album, nonetheless, with fourteen tracks of great quality. One of my favourites is “I Never Loved You Anyway”, a song about a woman telling her ex that she – wait for it – never loved him anyway, although you can detect the bitterness and resentment aimed at him and his new partner that suggests she may be lying. Apart from the wonderfully bitchy lyrics, the song has a great chorus, musically, where the “way” of the “anyway” lasts for ages and goes up and down and all over the place. I love singing that really loud (in the privacy of my own home, naturally); it makes me feel good! Then there’s “Don’t Say You Love Me”, a beautiful slow song with some sweet lyrics: “Don’t say you love me unless forever / Don’t tell me you need me if you’re not gonna stay / Don’t give me this f
eeling, I’ll only believe it / Make it real or take it all away.” Ah, I’m just a sentimental old fool. Again, this is a great song to sing along to, full of emotion and feeling. “Dreams”, “So Young” and “When He’s Not Around” (never did like that one much) were released as singles and made it to the top ten, so I’m assuming most of you are familiar with them. Most of the others are very good too, all of the same kind of style as the ones I’ve mentioned. Just two: “Paddy McCarthy” (an instrumental) and “Little Wing” get given the fast-forward treatment for being too boring and tuneless. ********** Enya “Paint The Sky With Stars – The Best Of Enya” There is so much more to Enya than “Orinoco Flow”, SO much more. I call her work modern classical music. I bought this CD on a whim during a rather stressful time of my life, in the hope that it might help calm me. And boy, did it! So what have we got? I have the feeling I’m going to be overusing quite a few adjectives in my attempt to describe, even though any textual description will be quite inadequate. Something we see often with Enya is the way she does something to the vocals to make them wax and wane, ‘move’ somehow; I don’t know exactly how to say it. But her arrangements are so beautiful, so moving, so gentle and soothing. I’ve just discovered how impossible it is to describe this music. Each and every song on here is a wonder. “China Roses” and “Shepherd Moons” are both very slow and gentle but with really soothing melodies. “Storms In Africa” is a wonderful title for this composition because you can really hear exactly that. “Paint The Sky With Stars” is a strange choice for a favourite because it’s a very slow, simply-sung song, but there’s something a
bout it that is so peaceful and lovely. “The Memory Of Trees” is an instrumental performed on a piano-type thing, by the sounds of it, but again, it’s just beautiful. Blaaaah, it’s impossible to do it justice. I feel quite humbled. But I’ll leave my feeble attempt at description anyway, just on the off-chance. If you like classical music of any kind, or if you just like to be soothed, I really recommend you listen to this. Oh, and as for blame, she’s Irish too, so my poor great-grandfather will have to take the rap for this one as well. ********** The Mamas and The Papas “California Dreamin’ The Very Best Of The Mamas and The Papas” “Bada badadada, Bada badadada!” My parents must take full responsibility this time. Surely they should have known better than to leave their old records lying about where any unsuspecting child might find them? The Mamas and The Papas were a sixties group of two men and two women with superb voices and a talent for writing some of the most catchy songs from that decade. If Abba win the prize for timelessness from the seventies, surely this group win the same accolade for the sixties. I absolutely fell in love with “California Dreamin’” the very first time I ever heard it. It was all about the harmonies, I think, a strong characteristic of most of their songs. The obvious next step was “Monday, Monday” (which is where the “bada” bit comes from, just in case you didn’t know; oh, and which planet did you say you were from?). The most well-known ones, other than the two already mentioned, are probably “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” and “Dedicated To The One I Love”. They are both such catchy little tunes. Another favourite of mine is “I Saw Her Again Last Night” (“I saw her again last night, and I know that I shouldn’t / To
string her along just ain’t right, if I couldn’t I wouldn’t”), which builds up and up into a crescendo of something really, like, good, maan. Then there’s “Words Of Love”, “I Call Your Name” (both of which are funny and so, so cheerfully catchy and upbeat) and the beautiful cover of “My Girl”. Oh and I mustn’t forget the amusing “Creque Alley” which is an account of their rise to fame (“And no one’s getting’ fat, ‘xcept Mama Cass”). All of them remind me of long, happy, carefree summer days. Brilliant to sing along to. If you have any liking at all for sixties music, you must surely find something here to appeal to you. ********** Kirsty MacColl “Galore! – The Best Of Kirsty MacColl” Even if I should want to (which I don’t), it would be impossible to blame anyone for me liking this album, because Ms McColl’s songs differ so enormously in style. From folk to country to South American, with a few detours in between, the one consistent factor here is quality. Although this is a “Best Of”, there were lots of songs I was unfamiliar with when I bought it. We all know “They Don’t Know” (although I knew it first by the cover version that Tracy Ullman did), “A New England”, “Fairytale of New York” (with The Pogues) and “Days”, don’t we? If not, shame on you. But then there’s “He’s On The Beach”, about a friend who goes to Sydney to start a new life, which is really great to sing along to. “Caroline”, another of my all-time favourites, is a strangely hilarious song about a girl who secretly steals her best friend’s boyfriend, the guilt she feels and her inability to stop seeing him. “Innocence”, “Titanic Days” and “Free World” are all excellent ori
ginal catchy tunes. “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby” is a cover version of the song by The Smiths, and she does it justice. The country sound is noticeable in “Don’t Come The Cowboy With Me Sonny Jim” and “There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis”. “My Affair” marks the beginning of her love for South American music (not quite my cup of tea but this one is all right). The album ends with “Perfect Day” that she sings with Evan Dando. This album really is fantastic from start to finish. What a dreadful shame she died so young. ********** Mindy McCready “Ten Thousand Angels” My dad. He always used to play Dolly Parton and Charlie Pride tapes in the car on long journeys. We grew up thinking it was normal; we didn’t know any different. Country music is in my soul, now; it’s one of the sounds that stirs me the most. It has to be GOOD country, though; none of this Faith Hill / new Shania Twain rubbish that is being passed off as country music. Mindy McCready has the voice of an angel, an angel from Nashville. When she sings she has that beautiful country ‘break’ in her voice, and she trills high and low as effortlessly as something really, like, effortless (sorry). The first song of hers I heard was “Guys Do It All The Time”, a funny song where a woman turns the tables on her partner and behaves like a disgusting, selfish slob – well, like a man, basically (heehee, big winks all round). Actually, it is rather sexist but she gets away with it because the woman has the upper hand (ever noticed how it doesn’t go down so well the other way round?). I waffle. The song was so quick and catchy that when I heard how good the slow “Ten Thousand Angels” was (er, gentle, haunting, beautiful – that do ya?) I decided to buy the CD. I wasn’t di
sappointed. Not many other styles of music can hold a light to country when it comes to ballads, and “Maybe He’ll Notice Her Now” is a perfect example, as is “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know”. Then again, the same can be said of fast, get-yer-boots-a-tappin’ songs, like “It Ain’t A Party” and “A Girl’s Gotta Do (What A Girl’s Gotta Do”. If you like the Dixie Chicks, or Shania Twain before MTV got hold of her, you’ll like this. ********** The Beloved “Happiness” There’s no need to find a scapegoat for this one. This is an eighties CD and that explains everything. There again, I suppose I could blame my parents again for the fact that I grew up during the greatest decade since time began. The Beloved wrote songs which were fusions of pop and indie music, and the result was this brilliant feel-good album. For upbeat and catchy there’s “Hello”, “Your Love Takes Me Higher”, “Scarlet Beautiful” and “Up Up And Away”, while for mellow and soothing we have “Time After Time”, “The Sun Rising” and “Wake Up Soon”. They haven’t dated and are still as good to listen to as ever. The album is aptly titled because all the tracks are happy ones. And that’s all I have to say on the subject. ********** Dixie Chicks “Wide Open Spaces” <grumble> So much New Country just sounds like pop music, these days. </grumble> If you want something modern but with a definite, strong country sound, the Dixie Chicks are probably what you’re looking for. Three talented women: Natalie, Martie and Emily, who write all their own music and play quite a few different instruments between them. Here we have twelve tracks, all of which are excellent little tunes, with some absolutely beautiful vocal harmonies. There’s the
slow and heartbreaking: “You Were Mine”, “Loving Arms”; and the unsuppressably foot-tappin’: “Let ‘Er Rip”, “Tonight The Heartache’s On Me” and “Give It Up Or Let Me Go”. Then there are the in-between’s, like “Wide Open Spaces”, “Am I The Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way)” and “I Can Love You Better”. Natalie’s voice is filled with all the emotion she’s singing about, and she seems able to bend it every which way she wants. Added to Emily and Martie’s accompanying vocals, the result is a piece of heaven that stirs up all kinds of feelings within you. The sound of the banjo (Emily) and the fiddle (Martie) produce a genuine country sound that as a whole make a fantastic collection of original country songs. Oh, and for blame, see ‘dad’. ********** Argh, I’m so sorry that this ended up so long. I guess I must have got carried away with my self-indulgence. Oh well, these things happen. I’ll try harder in future, promise. But before I go, let me just say that there’s absolutely no need to be ashamed of your musical tastes. As long as you can find someone else to blame, you can get away with anything. That’s the great thing about the world we live in. Enjoy!
I feel that any comments about me being Stephen King’s number one fan would be inappropriate right now, seeing as I’ve only just read this book. Oops! Better late than never, though, eh? With no further ado... The first line tells the story: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” There was something in those few words that drew me in as soon as I’d read them; maybe it was as if the very simplicity of the statement implied something huge hidden behind it. It raised immediate questions like: Who are these people? Why is the man in black fleeing? Is the gunslinger the man in black’s friend or his enemy? If he’s his enemy, which one is the good guy? What will the gunslinger do if he catches him? One of the first things that becomes clear is that the world in which the gunslinger is making his journey is one where everything seems to be rotten and decaying: “the world had moved on” is a phrase that recurs often throughout the book. You don’t need to read that to understand this, though; King’s descriptions are cleverly detailed, and he shows us this world with an ugly clarity. I’m not a great fan of descriptive writing, as a rule, but King uses such unusual words and comparisons (and keeps it fairly brief!) that it is actually a pleasure to read. The gunslinger remains unnamed until halfway through the second part, when we find out he’s called Roland. This belated introduction to the main character is very effective in adding to the mystery. The first person Roland meets while we are with him is a dweller called Brown, and Roland stops with him to eat and rest. He tells the dweller about Alice, a woman with a scarred forehead that he met in Tull, the last town he passed through; what Alice told him about the miraculous event that took place during the man in black’s own passage through the town; and the terrible, terrible thing t
hat happened there before the gunslinger left (I’m not tellin’ ya though!). Further on in his travels, he meets Jake, a boy who has been brought from the New York of our time to this strange world by the man in black. Jake joins Roland on his quest to confront the man in black, but Roland soon understands that the boy is to serve as some kind of perverse sacrifice, that it has all been destined and he is powerless to alter it. The rest of the book follows the pair on their journey. While sleeping one night, Jake wanders off and discovers an oracle that would have driven him mad or killed him if Roland hadn’t have found him in time. Roland allows the oracle to have her wicked way with him in return for a prophecy. She tells him of ‘three’. Three what, we can’t be sure, but she says that the three are the gunslinger’s gateway to the Tower. She also confirms Roland’s fear that the only way to save Jake is to give up his mission. Despite his love for the boy, the gunslinger knows this is an utter impossibility. It’s shortly before they catch their first glimpse of the man in black that Jake tells the gunslinger he knows he is going to kill him, not immediately but later. Whether he does or not is something I wouldn’t be so cruel as to give away here. During their journey, there are a fair few flashbacks to various times in Roland’s childhood, a time when things seemed brighter and less despairing, and we start to tentatively put a few of the pieces together of the big puzzle King has created. Although certain things become clearer, so many other questions are raised in their place: What happened to Cuthbert, Roland’s best friend? Why did Roland kill his own mother? Who exactly was Marten, what was his position, and how did he destroy Roland’s father? What happened, dammit?! These questions are not answered in this book, unfortunately; this is merely the first book in a serie
s of four known as The Dark Tower series. Which fact raises the most important question: What is the Dark Tower? We are given a tiny weeny glimpse of what it might be, but only enough to make you want to read the rest of the series and quickly. Although I was a little put off to begin with by the all-pervading sense of decay and hopelessness of this world, the book improved as I turned the pages and started to gather a bit more information. The gunslinger’s journey itself isn’t really all that interesting, but it serves as a backdrop to the flashbacks and reminiscences that are our clues to the past, the bigger story. The best part is right at the end when … ahaaaa! Take my word that it’s worth reading the book just to get to the end. This is the shortest book I’ve ever read by Stephen King: a mere 206 pages (and this opinion is therefore much shorter than usual in alignment (phew!); there just isn’t as much to talk about). I’m glad it wasn’t longer because it would have started to drag (the book, not my opinion, yeah?). King leaves us a little Afterword in which he says he wrote this book over a period of twelve years, but that his plans for the rest of the story are so colossal that he doubts he will finish it before he dies! Well, he did, boys and girls. Watch this space!
Perched, probably symbolically, atop a great hill that I have to go into first gear to get up (of course I drive there, you don’t think I’d WALK, do you? tut!), this, ladies and gentlemen, is my gym - Fitzpatricks Fitness Centre. Enter, safe in the knowledge that I will cough up the IR£6 guest fee for you. I would be quite willing to place a bet on this gym not being one of the best in the world. But it’s adequate, and it’s the best of the bunch that I had to choose from. And there are quite a few facilities that a lot of fitness centres wouldn’t have. There’s a … ********** Gymnasium (You don’t say) There are about twenty treadmills, ten steppers, fifteen cycles, and six rowing machines. There are also six of those all over body workout things that make you do something between jogging and cross-country skiing. I don’t know what the actual name of this particular piece of machinery is; the manufacturers assume that if we’re using one we know what it’s called, and don’t write it on them. Anyway, those things, whatever they are, are my favourite piece of equipment because they make you work hard but there’s no impact that can put strain on your joints and cause injury. If you have a pair of headphones you can plug them into a little box on the machine you’re using, tune in to the desired channel, and then watch television on one of the six screens while you work out. Technology, eh? It helps pass the time. One the other side of the gym are the weight machines. I never use them; I don’t want to build up TOO much muscle, you understand. But from my vantage point on the treadmill, there appears to be a good choice of machine, with a couple of the same type of a fair few of them, just in case it gets busy and people start queuing up. This happens, I assure you! There’s also a punch bag for you to relieve your aggression, and a good selec
tion of weights. There is a section at the front of the room devoted to the special cycles for the Spinning classes (which you have to pay an extra IR£3 a time for; what a rip off!). In one corner there is a little area with exercise mats where you can do your floor exercises (work those abs!) and stretches. There are a few posters on the walls helpfully showing the correct way to do exercises. In the middle of the far wall are the gym instructor’s offices where they assess people. The gym instructors are few and far between, but then I’ve never wanted to talk to one so far, so that’s all right. But to be fair, they always seem busy, showing people how machines work, assessing people’s fitness, or arguing amongst themselves about whose turn it is to clean the inner thigh squeezer (I made that last one up; could you tell? No, they don't argue. They draw straws). The air-conditioning seems to work all right, and the music is at the right level and is of the kind to make you want to make your body move (even though you wouldn’t catch me listening to that kind of thing anywhere else). They do a free thirty minute B.L.T. Attack class in here too, a couple of times a day. I’ll leave you to guess what B.L.T. stands for (and no, it’s not Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato!). There are some toilets down here too, which is a very important and useful detail that I must inform you of. The gym is open from 7am until 10pm Monday to Thursday, 7am until 9pm on Friday, and then 9am until 7pm at the weekend. The busiest time is between 5 and 7.30pm; during the day it’s fairly quiet and you don’t have to bother with reserving your treadmill. Children aren’t allowed on the premises after 7.30pm (some kind of variation on the Cinderella / pumpkin thing, undoubtedly). ********** Aerobics Studio My favourite part of the whole centre! When I die I want a plaque on the bit where I stand
! It’s a good size, about 30m x 10m (argh, I’m terrible at estimates), with mirrors along two walls. The floor isn’t in brilliant condition, and when I do step aerobics my step slides about all over the place. I assume that’s the floor’s fault and not the step’s. Oh, sort it out between the two of you. The air-conditioning is, so far, non-existent, but I’m hoping that they’ll get around to turning it on before summer gets underway. The windows open, though; phew! The aerobics timetable isn’t brilliant, but it’ll do. It’ll have to, won’t it? I can only go to the gym during the day, and luckily the only two actual Aerobics classes are on in the morning, so that suits me down to the ground. And they are absolutely EXCELLENT classes. The two aerobics teachers, Brenda and Caroline, are very good at what they do and are very friendly to boot. The other classes, that are mainly concentrated in the evenings, are things like Jazz Dance, Khai-Bo, Karate, Spinning, Yoga, and Circuit Training. The one MAJOR drawback is that you have to pay extra for all of these classes. The Aerobics and Circuit Training aren’t too bad at just IR£1.50 each time, but the other classes you actually have to subscribe for a certain number of weeks, and it usually works out between IR£3 and IR£5 a week. This means you don’t get your money back if you can’t make it one night. It might not sound like much, but when you add it on to your membership fee (which I will get to later) and the crèche fee (that too), it gets quite expensive. ********** 25 metre Swimming Pool Oh, it’s nice enough. A pool’s a pool, isn’t it? There are always two lanes sectioned off for the serious swimmers. The temperature of the water is usually a bit too cold for my daughter’s liking. The worst thing is that you have to wear a swimming hat; apparently, all pools in Ireland
insist upon it. As I said before, I go during the day in the week, and it’s never very busy. I imagine it gets much busier at the weekends. There are lots of swimming classes for all kinds of ages and abilities, too, and again, you have to pay extra for these, something like IR£40 for 10 weeks. Opening times for the pool are from 7am until 10pm from Monday to Friday, then 7.15am until 10pm on Saturday and Sunday. Apparently those extra fifteen minutes in bed at the weekend are an acquired part of the lifeguard’s contract that he is not prepared to negotiate. ********** Squash and Tennis You do understand I’m not talking about the vegetable, right? Sure you do. There are two squash courts, two indoor tennis courts and one outdoor. I haven’t played on any of them – to do that, I would need a friend, you see – but I’ve had a good nose around them and they are kept in perfect condition. Indoor tennis is IR£2 per hour; outdoor tennis IR£1 an hour; squash IR£1 per hour. Again, there are squash and tennis lessons, particularly for children, and they’re only about IR£1 to IR£1.50 each time. Not bad, not bad at all. ********** Jacuzzi, Steam Room and Sauna The great thing is that you can flash your gym membership card around and let people think you’re oh so healthy and fit, and then spend all your time relaxing in one of these lazy places. I don’t care much for steam rooms and saunas; what IS the attraction of sweating bucketfuls? Jacuzzis are all right, but I rarely use this one because when I’m in the pool I have my baby with me. ********** Crèche Without which I wouldn’t be able to go to the gym at all! This crèche is brilliant. It’s a fair sized room with several different areas. There’s the bench and table for eating; the colouring table; the cot for tiny babies and tired toddlers; a big space for the big toys like the
slide, the pushalong toys, the seesaw, etc; and a quiet area for quiet playing. There are lots of toys and activities to keep children of all ages happy. There’s also a TV which is put on sometimes for the children’s programmes. The staff are absolutely great, especially the two full-timers, Rebecca and Roisin. It’s clear to see they love children from the natural way they interact with them. I’ve seen them deal with ‘naughty’ children, and they do so sensibly with a patient but firm approach. It’s usually fairly busy in the mornings; the quietest time is between 12 and 3pm. This is useful to know in case, like me, you have a child who isn’t used to being left with people and children he or she doesn’t know. It costs IR£1 per hour, although they give you thirty minutes grace after the first hour so that you have time to get showered and changed (which is nice). During the week, the crèche opening hours are from 9.30 am until 6 pm (except Friday 5 pm, and Thursday 7.30pm). Saturday it’s open from 10am until 2 pm, and it’s closed on Sundays. They take children up to the age of six. ********** Beautician For those of you who like to be pampered (I don’t), you can have all the massages or beauty treatments that you want. I’ve never availed myself of any of them, so I’m afraid I can’t comment on the professionalism. They do all the usual things, and the prices seem fairly typical: Full Leg Wax including Bikini Line at IR£19, Clarins Combination Skin Facial at IR£27, Manicure at IR£11. They also do electrolysis, fake tans, day spa treatments, false tans and give makeup lessons. Oh and for those of you who want to destroy your skin and end up looking like a bag of wrinkles by the age of 35, there’s a sunbed: IR£4 per session or IR£30 for ten. The opening times are Monday 9am to 6pm; Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 9am to 8pm; Fri
day 9am to 6pm; Saturday 9am to 5pm. Why can’t people just open at the same time every day; it would make my opinion-writing so much easier! ********** Ki-Care Clinic It’s all about Traditional Chinese Medicine, you know. Ki massage, Indian Head Massage, lots of other types of massage, Reiki, reflexology, acupuncture, and Hopi ear candles are all here waiting for you. A session costs between IR£20 and IR£30. ********** The Bar Oh yes, last but by no means least. As you may remember me telling you earlier, I only go in the day, so I don’t know whether it gets busy in the evenings; I imagine it does. When I go, though, there are usually just a few tables occupied. It overlooks the swimming pool, so there are usually quite a few mums keeping an eye on their loved ones. The bar’s opening hours don’t seem to follow any regular pattern, but when it’s closed there’s a self-service machine for drinks. The food selection is mainly sandwiches and snacks, plus maybe one hot dish; I’ve never been tempted. Crisp and chocolate machines abound, which is strange for a place that’s supposed to encourage healthy habits. There’s also a TV in the bar that is usually set to some annoying kids’ programme, and you can search for the remote control until it’s time to go home. I’m sad to say the bar isn’t kept very clean. The tables sometimes aren’t wiped thoroughly for DAYS, and the vacuuming looks a bit hit-and-miss. The tables and chairs are old and in a bit of a sorry state. But at least there’s a place where you can relax after a workout. ********** So those are the main facilities available for your enjoyment. Are you hoping I’ve nearly finished? Hahaha, if only you knew! But you’d better keep reading because I’ll be asking questions afterwards (heehee). And I know that you’re really dying to hear all abo
ut … ********** The Changing Rooms If you remember just one thing from this opinion, let it be that you need to take your own padlock. Otherwise you’ll end up on your first visit having to take your chances on leaving your credit cards, keys and mobile in an unlocked locker. Bad move. Not that I’m implying that the other members can’t be trusted, but you can never be too careful these days, can you? (ooh, I sound like Hilda Ogden). The lockers are good sizes and have a little rail for you to hang your clothes up on if you’re a tidy person (not like me!). Although I’ve never had a problem, I would think that at busy times there might not be enough of them to go around. The showers are abysmal. Only two of them have shower curtains (I like my privacy, thank you) and in most of them you are unable to regulate the temperature. I wouldn’t complain for myself, but when taking my daughter out the pool, I like to quickly put her under the shower to rinse off the chlorine, and the water is usually too hot for her. Sadly, the changing rooms aren’t kept particularly clean, either (at least not the womens’; I’m not venturing into the mens’ to check out their standards, no, not even for dooyoo!). I mean, they’re not absolutely disgusting or anything, just not really up to the standard one is accustomed to *sniff*. ********** Other Miscellaneous Things That I Don’t Know Much About And So Will Group Neatly Under One Heading Children’s camps are organised during the holidays, and the kids are kept happy with various activities, lessons and competitions. At Christmas, Easter and Halloween, there are members’ parties, that children are also welcome to attend. For a mere (!) IR£15, you can have a fitness assessment. Needless to say, they “strongly advise” it! I haven’t done this myself, being so f
it that I would be off their scale anyway ;) but from posters dotted around the various noticeboards it seems that they carry out a “comprehensive of tests” and design an exercise program “specifically tailored to your personal needs”. The second reassessment is free (should think so too!). There are lots of little bits of paper lying around advertising the services of a certain Robert Williams, Personal Trainer Extraordinaire. He doesn’t mention prices but he seems to be confident of being able to transform you into something resembling lithe and svelte. The reception staff aren’t exactly the most professional receptionists I’ve ever come across, but they’re always nice and smiley and do their best to help. You can buy headphones for the gym (IR£10), swimwear and swimming hats (!) and snacky things like crisps and chocolate (they want to keep you fat so you’ll keep coming back, don’t let them fool you!). ********** Membership Fees So now we get down to the ugly business of discussing money. In fact, I’m not going to discuss it. I’m just going to list it as boringly but as informatively as possible, knowing that not one of you will read it but will let your eyes skim over it until you get to the next chunk of writing that looks halfway interesting (I’m not blaming you, mind; I’d do the same). That is, unless someone who is genuinely considering joining a gym in the Cork area happens to mosey on by (and I mean, what are the chances of THAT happening? ;) ). Okay, because of the limitations of the dooyoo page, the three figures quoted below are Rate / Joining Fee / Total, and are all in Irish punts. Annual Full Peak Membership Single....................(480 /75 / 555) Couple...................(750 / 100 / 850) 1 child family*..........(850 / 100 / 950) Family (under 16 only)...(895 / 150 / 1045) 16
-17yrs** ..............(150 / 0/ 150) Student*** (full-time)...(290 / 50 / 340) *Look at me, with me fancy stars! Children under three years of age are free; over this age they have to be included in one of the membership fees. And the “shoes on your knees” thing won’t wash. **This seems to be a supplement that a 16-17 year old has to pay in combination with a family membership. They can’t join independently until they’re 18. Seems a bit harsh to make them pay extra. ***Don’t bother turning up expecting a pair of round spectacles, an armful of heavy books and a beguiling smile to convince these people; they want to see hard evidence in the form of a current USIT student membership. Annual Off Peak Membership (Hours: 7am-4.30pm, Mon-Fri; 7.15am-9am Sat/Sun) Single.................(320 / 75 / 395) Couple.................(495 / 100 / 595) 1 child family.........(525 / 100 / 625) Family.................(650 / 100 / 750) Six Month Full Peak Membership Single.................(320 / 50 / 370) Couple.................(440 / 75 / 515) Six Month Off Peak Membership Single.................(220 / 50 / 270) Couple.................(360 / 75 / 435) And to round this section off nicely, let it be understood that NO REFUNDS will be made once payment has been made, and any adjustments can only be made upon renewal. Thank you for your custom *ting*. ********** Compared to the gym I used to go near Heathrow (Morley’s – anyone know it?), Fitzpatricks Fitness centre has a wider range of facilities on the whole, but it’s much more expensive, has a much poorer Aerobics timetable (which is, unfortunately, what I’m the most interested in), and the bar isn’t as comfortable or clean. But I’m not complaining! I love going there and recommend it to anyone living near Cork as the best gym for the money. Well, fol
ks, we’re nearly done. Did you guess what the B.L.T stood for? Ah well, I’m feeling magnanimous: it means “Bums, Legs and Tums”, and is a workout devoted to the working of the muscles in each of those areas. Yet another mindblowingly fascinating titbit of trivia with which to impress your friends; all part of the service. Ooh, 3021 words already; maybe it’s time to stop. Until next time… (All prices quoted are in Irish punts. At the time of writing, the exchange rate is something like IR£1 = 80p. You all have calculators. YOU do the sums.) ;) ***** Update ***** The creche had an Easter party today. Isn't that sweet? There was one at 10am and one at 2pm, and there was no extra charge. Crisps, sweets, cakes, games and lots of fun. What a lovely thought. Oh, and the title stays.
I love Wilkie Collins. I do, I so do. I fell in love with him when I read “The Moonstone” (still one of my favourites) and our relationship was strengthened with “The Woman In White”. Beautifully written, with cleverly constructed plots and a suspense I have rarely found elsewhere, Collins knows how to charm his readers, especially when one of those readers is me. However, “No Name” begins rather tediously. Mr and Mrs Vanstone and their two daughters, Norah and Magdalen, live a happy, ordinary life at their country home, Combe-Raven. Mr. Vanstone is an “easy, hearty, handsome, good-humoured gentleman, who walked on the sunny side of life” (personally, I found him a little too good to be true, but then he’s not with us for long). Mrs. Vanstone is a woman of intelligence, once beautiful and still retaining a “fair proportion and subtle delicacy of feature”. Their love for each other is still very much apparent, thus creating an atmosphere of serenity in which to raise their daughters. Norah, the eldest, takes after her mother, although more reserved and sullen in manner; while Magdalen is a wilful, spontaneous child of eighteen (who I found more irritating than endearing during the first act). Miss Garth, their governess, is a stern yet kind woman, who “lived on ascertained and honourable terms” with Mr. and Mrs. Vanstone, and is more of a friend than an employee now that the girls are older. In his wish to paint a picture of ordinariness, I feel Collins goes a little too far and instead creates a scene that is too rosy to be realistic. Still this also serves to produce a sense of foreboding; such contented days as these do not make a good story, and the implication of disaster to come adds to the interest. Near to Combe-Raven lives Mr. Vanstone’s very good friend, old Mr. Clare: quick-tempered, cynical and only too keen to criticise his three sons whenever the opport
unity arises. Mr. Vanstone, almost completely opposite to Mr. Clare in all his views, never fails to defend the boys, and even went to the trouble of finding an excellent position for the eldest boy, Frank, by pulling strings amongst his contacts in London. At this stage I was almost entirely convinced that it is eccentric Mr. Clare who is unjust and harsh with his judgements. My advice to you is to wait and see. The first event of importance is the decision of Mr. and Mrs. Vanstone to suddenly take a trip to London, shortly after receiving a mysterious letter from America. They remain vague about their reasons, although Mrs. Vanstone gives a short, unsatisfactory explanation to Miss Garth; they return, and life continues, with their strange trip almost forgotten by the others in the household. This apparent dismissal of the strange event will start the first stirrings of curiosity and frustration in you the reader. Frank, Mr. Clare’s eldest son, suddenly and unexpectedly returns from London, having been let go from his position after a three year trial on the grounds that he “was not possessed of the necessary abilities to fit him for his new calling”. While he is at home, Magdalen persuades him to join her in some amateur theatricals being held at a neighbour’s house. This closeness encourages a mutual attraction to develop between them, much to the distress of Norah, who deems Frank unworthy of her sister’s affections. A contact of Mr. Clare’s manages to find Frank yet another job in London, with excellent prospects. Reluctantly, Frank sets off again, but is sent back after three months for similar reasons as last time. Rather than terminating his contract completely, they offer him the chance to go to China for five years, with the possibility of returning to their London office if he has sufficiently developed his skills during this time. Dismayed by the thought of being apart from each other for su
ch a long time, Frank and Magdalen decide to get married. She tells her parents of her wish, and they give her their blessing, with the condition that Frank should prove his worth by going to China for just one year and marrying Magdalen immediately upon his return if he can justify the confidence they place in him. If ever there was an illustration of just how much things have changed since Victorian times, we have it here: Magdalen gratefully and joyfully accepts without question. Mr. Vanstone then goes to see old Mr. Clare to discuss the matter. Upon his return he appears preoccupied and addresses a letter to Mr. Pendril, his solicitor, requesting him to come to Combe-Raven the following day. As soon as he has done this, he suddenly recalls an engagement that he had previously arranged for the same time, and decides to settle that business immediately so as to be quite free for Mr. Pendril. He sets off by train straightaway, intending to return that evening. Did you notice my choice of wording there? Up until this point, I had found the book quite dull. It was beautifully written: eloquent, simple, precise. But dull. When I look back through the pages, I realise that this introductory “act” is quite short, and yet it seemed to take me forever to plough through. But then, suddenly, the Vanstones’ world is turned upside-down. From this point onwards, the book starts to become much more interesting. The characters develop, believably so, and for the better. I won’t go into the events that take place next, for the sake of leaving some mystery to be unravelled for yourself. But I’m not going to shut up just yet, because I haven’t even touched upon the main part of the book. You only have to read the back cover to discover that the book is dealing with the subject of illegitimacy, namely that of the Vanstone daughters. I hope you won’t mind if I skirt around and skim over the plot because it really is
better when you don’t know what’s coming. Skimming and skirting, then: Mr. Vanstone’s inheritance goes to his brother (with whom he had fallen out a long time ago), his daughters are left virtually penniless, and the appeal made on their behalf to their uncle falls on deaf ears. While Norah resigns herself docilely to her fate, Magdalen is transformed by her grief and sense of injustice. She runs away from her sister and governess, and hatches a plot to get back what she believes rightfully belongs to her and her sister, in accordance with her father’s wishes. The remainder of the book is absolutely gripping reading, almost wholly devoted to her scheming. She meets, through his own design, Captain Wragge, who is by far the most interesting and amusing character in the entire book. A rogue through and through, he is a professional trickster, a con man of his day, who will stoop to any depths to cheat and swindle his way through life, yet always with the most eloquent sophistication and finesse. Initially totally unpleasant, his cleverness and humour win you over until you are completely on his side, as he pits his wits against the equally wily Mrs. Lecount (Mr. Vanstone’s nephew’s housekeeper). The Wragge vs Lecount saga is my absolute favourite part of the whole book, a clever concoction of unashamed manipulation and conspiring. Throughout this, we are also witness to Magdalen’s gradual subsidence into despair and mental breakdown, as she degrades herself further and further in her obsessive pursuit of what she sees as justice. But don’t be misled into thinking that her Purpose is about the money itself. Her sole object throughout is simply her blind desire to see her dear father’s final wishes respected and carried out. The ending, although nicely told, is a little too far-fetched and hasty in some respects. However, in its favour, we are also treated to a very brief return of Wragge
, and we are afforded a tiny glimpse of humanity from that selfish creature that even he is unable to stifle, while keeping his character believable and true. The main theme of the book is the shocking lack of provision for children born out of wedlock by the law of the era. Mr. Pendril, the lawyer, sums up his opinion of the law of England at that time quite well: “It visits the sins of the parents on the children; it encourages vice by depriving fathers and mothers of the strongest of all motives for making the atonement of marriage; and it claims to produce these two abominable results in the names of morality and religion.” Despite the changes in moral and social standards since the book was written, Collins transports us smoothly back to Victorian times and makes Norah and Magdalen’s position distressingly real. The characters are strong and superbly developed; the storyline is believable and gripping; and Collins writes all this in a fluent style that anyone will be able to enjoy. There is a multitude of emotions and feelings waiting within these 600 or so pages. Sensation novel it might be, and flaws it may have, but I loved it.
“Come with me.” “No.” “Oh go on.” “Okay. Where’re we going?” “www.weirdlist.com” “Where?” “www.weirdlist.com” “I heard you the first time. I just don’t know what it is. Do tell.” “It’s a website. Didn’t the www and the .com give that away?” “No. I’m not very clever.” “Poor you.” “I know.” “After much reflection I’ve decided to be your friend despite your failings. Or at least hang around you until someone more sparkly comes along. Come with me.” “Agreed.” “Ooh look. It’s blue.” “What is?” “Weirdlist. Some say it’s mauve, but it’s most definitely blue.” “So?” “I’m just saying.” “Is there anything else worth looking at here or is colour appreciation as far as it goes?” “Not-clever and impatient. Any other shortcomings I should know about?” “Uh-uh.” “Let’s move on. Look at the front page. See those funny quotes from emails the author has received. Some people, eh? Tsk.” “Who’s the author?” “He calls himself alkaliguru.” “Oh?” “I know.” “Hmm.” “Yep. Anyway, there’s more to this website than a bunch of funny quotes. Look over there on the right.” “I’m looking.” “See that little framey bit? See the list of titles that goes down and down and down seemingly into the very depths of hell itself?” “I do.” “They’re his writings. Click on one of those links. Go on, pick a link, any link.” “Can I show it to the camera?” “Whatever. Open it up. Read it.
Tell me what you think.” “I’m a slow reader.” “It’s not very long. Quality over quantity an’ all.” “Phew!” “Quite.” “Hey, this is weird.” “Ain’t it?” “But funny.” “Very much so.” “And so many big words. I’m starting to think the author is a rather clever person.” “Shhhh. Don’t talk like that. He might read this. His ego might not be able to cope.” “But it’s brilliant. And to say it’s original is like saying jillmurphy likes the odd square of chocolate every now and then. Where does he get his ideas from?” “Search me.” “Oh, well done.” “No, I meant I don’t know. Life. People. Things. Liverpool FC.” “Gotcha. So THAT’s how Stephane Henchoz got his cheeks. Well, I didn’t know that.” “Well of course not, seeing as it’s fiction. ‘A Van, A Man, A Canam: Anava!’ is a very touching story about a purple ice cream van: ‘As people passed they would often be heard "Ooh that ice cream van is awfully purple. In fact it's so purple I wouldn't consider buying ice cream from it unless I really needed one. I don't need one, so I won't buy one."’” “Go on.” “The van is eventually sold: ‘The van's purchaser this time was a lawyer acting on behalf of his mystery benefactor. The mystery benefactor's identity was revealed, and the first half of his title was negated. He was a rich cheat who as a young boy had once dropped an ice cream and received a replacement free of charge (although Zooms were a penny more expensive the year after to cover the losses).’” “I like this one. More, please.” “Well, the benefactor wanted to send the van to
London to learn to become a gentleman, but the van rebelled and instead went to live in the trees with his ‘appleian brethren’: ‘At first the apples were wary of the intruder into their safe, acceptable world. Charisma's not something you can just bottle unless you're a really clever scientist ahead of everyone else in your field - and it helps too if your field is somehow related to bottling charisma. If charisma could be bottled and a purple van could be a bottle, then this would be a close proximination, or a reasonable facsimile of a close proximination. He wowed the apples with jokes and amusing tales of predominantly dairy-based frozen desserts; for that short but glorious summer things appeared to make sense.’” “And so what happens?” “Ah well, I’m not going to give the ending away. You’ll just have to read it for yourself.” “How cruel yet how tempting.” “Maybe I’ve already said too much.” “Ahhh, look, a children’s story! All our favourite characters from our childhood reunited for a jolly good yarn. Options the green-toed pig, Actions the bleeding cat, Help the wizened wizard, File the lizard fluent in pig, Send the uninterested pelican with a heart to match, Edit the repressed Morcheeba CD, Insert the equally repressed but unequally lop-sided puppy with attitude, and even Format the bell-endowed fish. (There ought to be lots of quotation marks in there but I can’t be bothered to add them and it’d just look messy anyway. Use your imagination). Is there a happy ending?” “Not in the traditional sense, although Tools, the inter-species translator, seems quite pleased with himself.” “That’s good then. ‘Two Claspy Clasp Things And A Necklace Bone.’ Help me out here, will ya?.” “Oh it’s just about the necklace bone.” “?”
8220;I quote: ‘Necklace bone: transitive verb, or if accuracy is important to you, then it's a noun. The small round, holed bone sticking out from the back of the neck, reminiscent of the non-claspy catchy bit of a necklace - hence its name. It's covered with the thinnest skin anywhere on the human body and usually catches on a woman's The Thing With No Euphemism during childbirth and is ripped off. Many doctors deny its existence, but then again doctors used to say that the world was flat. Then again, doctors used to say that water boils at 100ºC, so rush to your own judgements’”. “Aren’t you going to get in trouble for copying all this?” “No. Note my clever use of apostrophes to denote quotations. Quotation marks exempt you from just about everything plagiary-related.” “That’s a good one; I’ll remember that. Memo to self: write memo to self about quotation exemption.” “There is some fascinating insider information about the forthcoming film Jesus 2002 Vision: ‘It is very much Johnny Depp's personal project, with him both starring and organising the hiring of truckers. Depp plays Danny Guide, a Depth Perceiver for the militant wing of the Andean Condor - the bird, not the non-existent political adjutants.’” “Hehe.” “I couldn’t agree more. And: ’Due to a mix up with the paperwork, Guide receives a letter from the government telling him he's the second coming of your lord Jesus Christ. As you can imagine all sorts of japes and scrapes follow, with Depp thinking he can do miracles. He doubts his divinity, as is natural after making a fool of yourself on Oprah - played by Michelle Pfeiffer in a wig - but then guesses incorrectly that he's being tested.’” “That’s so funny!” “It’s all funny. Those are my favourite bits.” “I know you
217;re doing your best an’ all, but you do realise you’re not doing sufficient justice to our friend’s work. He’s probably sitting there sighing and tsk-ing because you’re leaving out all the bits he considers to be the best.” “Ah. Oh. Um. Well, the truth is you have to read the real thing to appreciate it fully. I can’t capture the intelligence, the humour, the clever use of language and the originality of ideas in a few lines. As you so kindly pointed out. That’s why I copied chunks of it; it’s the only way.” “Okay. I say, I don’t think I’d show my grandmother this (big up to the Nan); the language is a bit strong, isn’t it?” “It can be, but only for the sake of humour.” “If you say so. Is that the ‘blue’ connection?” “Who knows. If you want to receive these little opals of wit in your Inbox you can simply and easily subscribe to the mailing list. You can’t fail to notice the prompts dotted around the pages encouraging you to do just that. Do it; do it now.” “I’ll sign up straightaway!” “Should think so. I think there are three new ones each week, which is better than weekly but not as good as daily. Still, the poor guy probably has a semblance of a life to lead on top of writing stuff for us, and there’s plenty of food for thought to tide you over the in-between days.” “You’re starting to sound like an advert.” “Unintentional. Just preaching the word, the word that deserves to be heard. What are you doing?” “Just looking what else there is to do here.” “There’s a message board. Or rather, two message boards: one called Kraazy, where anyone can turn up unannounced and post, and one called Private, for which you need the secret code to enter. I’m one of the chosen few who has it
and I spend many a fun-filled moment in there having mad larks and posting mind-blowing yet secret messages and pitying the poor fools on t’other board. Obviously I can’t divulge what is said in there as it is, as the name suggests, private.” “You don’t have the code, do you?” “No.” “Thought not. Hey, this Kraazy board looks a bit weird. I’m starting to sense a theme. What are they all on about? Who are these people? Ooh it looks a bit scary to me.” “Kraazy is the best message board I know of. Would you believe it took me ages to pluck up the courage to post there in the beginning?” “Yes.” “But when I finally did it, I knew I was among friends. They may look scary from a distance, but they’re the nicest, most friendliest bunch of mad people I’ve ever had the pleasure to converse with. And converse we do. The good thing is you can post whatever you want and no matter how silly it may be you will always be made to feel that you have just expounded upon Einstein’s Theory of Relativity or something equally intelligent. Sounds like just your kind of place.” “Cheek.” “I meant that in a nice way. Anyway, it’s funny. Very funny. I spend far too much time on there to the detriment of my sanity, but it’s a small price to pay. There are a few people from dooyoo who post there, although it wouldn’t be fair to reveal their identities without their permission. Alkaliguru is there as himself, and there are some funny ladies from the States who share their slant on life with us. I’m Lucy.” “Charmed, I’m sure.” “That’s my pseudonym on weirdlist.” “Tut.” “There’s also a link to a chat room on the front page, so you can hang out with all the cool funsters in person.” “Funsters?” “Fo
rget it.” “Righto. What else, what else?” “Have a browse. There are some links to other sites that are probably almost as weird as this one. I haven’t been to all of them, mind you. Oh and one of them doesn’t work.” “Oops.” “Quite. There are some cool music links too. Would it surprise you if I told you that our friend alkaliguru composed them himself on his computer and then put them up on mp3.com for the likes of you and me to download at out pleasure?” “Nothing would surprise me anymore as far as he’s concerned.” “That’s the attitude. Read the ‘About The Author’ link too. It might not be quite what you’re expecting, but it’s funny, in a bad taste kinda way.” “Bad taste? Politically incorrect? Woohoo!” “Indeed.” “Hang on a minute.” “What?” “Stop right there.” “Okay.” “This is all leading somewhere, isn’t it? “What do you mean?” “I get the feeling you’re trying to tell me something.” “How very perceptive. I was trying to find the right moment to tell you that we’re a parody.” “Oh no. You mean we’re merely a poor imitation of someone else’s ingenuity?” “Precisely.” “But his dialogues are never this long.” “Well, we’re a parody with a difference.” “So we’re just trying to be clever, then?” “Yes.” “Is it working?” “Don’t think so.” “Darn.” “My thoughts entirely.” “This is never going to get a crown, you know.” “Crowns, schmowns.”
It’s a funny thing. People keep asking me what kind of music I like and I find myself incapable of giving an intelligible answer. Not only do I like many different types of music, but I am also very disloyal: I often love one song by an artist and hate the rest of their repertoire; or play one album to death for a couple of months, declaring it the best one I’ve ever bought, and then never listen to it again. Anyway, I have just spent half a day rummaging through my CDs in an attempt to choose my favourite singles out of my collection, in order to give you a clearer idea of what I like to listen to (the things I do for you, eh?). I’ll try and be brief. Time is money (doubly so for all you clockmakers) and we have a lot to get through. But I feel it especially important to explain that I have omitted all songs from albums in my Top 10 Album list. Whittling all the singles you have ever sung along or bopped to down a mere ten is incredibly difficult and I had to make up a rule to help me out. This will explain why The Corr’s “Runaway” is absent from the list (I just had to mention it somewhere!). A few other points before we get going: 1) There’s no particular order; 2) I’ve discovered that music is terribly hard to write about; 3) If you weren’t a child of the eighties then you will no doubt find this opinion laughable but I do in fact pity you. *********** Cher “Just Like Jesse James” From the album “Heart Of Stone”. Apart from one or two other songs, I don’t really care too much for Cher at all. But this song is quite different from her other hits; it has a country sound that conjures up images of the Wild West and swinging saloon doors – just listen to that guitar a-strummin’ those first few bars and you’ll know what I mean. It’s all about something terribly meaningless: Cher is telling some “small town dude with a big ci
ty attitude” that she isn’t going to fall at his feet like he’s expecting her to, and if he’s looking for trouble then he’s going to find it. Cowboy references abound: “You’re struttin’ into town like you’re slingin’ a gun”, “‘Til my heart is cryin’ Indian and I’m beggin’ for more”, “You’re an outlaw lover and I’m after your hide”, and more. But I’m extremely shallow musically; I don’t care what the words are as long as the tune is good. You’ll discover just how true that is as you read on. It’s also an excellent song to sing along to: no extreme high or low notes. And Cher’s strong vocals encourage one to give it all you’ve got – and I happily oblige (quick, hide the karaoke machine!) ********** Erasure “A Little Respect” Ahhhhh, now this is THE song for happy teenage year memory evoking. 1988, if my memory and CD sleeve serve me well. Again, this is about the only Erasure song that I really like, but how! Those opening bars, played on that synthesiser-type thing, make me feel all tingly whenever I hear them. It’s just a song about lurve; he’s asking for a little respect; we don’t find out if he gets it or not; but who cares! Forget the lyrics. It’s pop music again, pure and simple. Do you know what I mean if I describe it as a fast slow? If not, tough; that’s what it is. You can’t really dance to it; it’s a song to listen to, let the emotions wash over you and then generously share them by singing along at the top of your voice. A cappella you can’t fail to sound tuneless but you will feel soooo good. Happy emotion. ********** Wham “Wham Rap” I was tempted to leave a few blank lines here in order to give time for the laughter to subside. Then I thought that would just be silly; after a
ll, it’s not THAT funny … is it? Yes, I was a Whammie, probably the original. God knows what colour my bedroom walls were during my early teenage years; all I could see were George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley grinning or pouting down at me from all angles. Taken from the album “Fantastic”, “Wham Rap” was Wham’s first ever released single, although it wasn’t a hit until its second release in January 1983, after the success of “Young Guns (Go For It)”. “Wham Rap” remains one of the most timeless of their hits (stop laughing), although “Freedom” is a close second (snuck another one in there). It’s pure pop, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Back then, George and Andy were just two kids having a laugh, and this is evident in the lyrics (“I got soul on the dole / I’m gonna have a good time down on the line”, “Hey everybody take a look at me / I got street cred-ib-il-it-y”) as well as the deep, American-sounding voice George Michael sings it in. It’s fun, which was the main criterion for my mates and me at the time, and I stand by my belief that it’s the kind of song that will still get everyone on the dancefloor, especially at weddings and birthday parties. I bet that if this song was re-mixed and re-released it would go straight to number one. Yes, fantastic! ********** Primal Scream “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have” I don’t know much about this indie group at all. I heard this song once on the radio, loved it, sang it to a very embarrassed and confused sales assistant in Our Price, bought the single and never made any further attempt to acquaint myself with the group. But what a song! How can she leave him? Can’t she see that he didn’t mean to cheat and lie? Stay with him, dammit! Ah, the pain! It’s the kind of song that builds up from a single quiet
guitar to a full musical crescendo of tortured emotion. I defy anyone to listen to it and claim they don’t like this song; I think there is appeal here for just about everyone (with a few extreme exceptions, as always, *sigh*) ********** The Smiths “Bigmouth Strikes Again” Taken from the album “The Queen Is Dead”. The Smiths serenaded us with many a wonderful tune during the eighties, and this one has retained all its appeal. There was always something about The Smiths’ style of music that was a bit gloomy and prophetic of doom, and this is no exception, despite Morrissey’s funny speeded up vocal accompaniment on the “la-da-di-da” bit. Yet it is still catchy and fast enough to get my feet a-tapping whenever I hear it. The lyrics are great; I’m sure Morrissey meant them to tell us something really, like, profound, but having failed to fathom their significance I content myself with thinking they’re just funny: “Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking when I said by rights you should be bludgeoned in your bed” and “Now I know how Joan of Arc felt / As the flames rose to her Roman nose and her Walkman started to melt”. Ha! Okay, spare me your thoughts. ********** T’Pau “China In Your Hand” Shhhhh. Time for some more teenage memories, this time of a different sort. Leave me be a moment, please…. That’ll do. Right, so here we have another pop classic of the eighties. Carol Decker’s powerful husky vocals contrast perfectly with the background of moody piano and plucked violin strings, and produce a wonderfully haunting ballad. This song has to win the Most Absurd Lyrics Award, but hey, it was the MUSIC that was speaking to us. The chorus made sense though: “Don’t push too far, your dreams are china in your hand / Don’t wish too hard because they may come true and you can’t help the
m / You don’t know what you might have set upon yourself”. I remember at the time not quite understanding what Carol meant by that; now, older, wiser, woman of the world that I am, I hear her loud and clear. Oh and I mustn’t forget to mention the sax in the soul-searing climactic finale. Well it must have been good; it was number one for 4 weeks in 1987. From the album “Bridge Of Spies”. ********** The Cranberries “Ode To My Family” From the album “No Need To Argue”, “Ode To My Family” was released in November 1994. Another beautiful song, but of a completely different type. Haunting, sad, undercurrents of something unpleasant somehow somewhere. Or have I misunderstood? Deciphering lyrics is not my forte; “wham bam I am a man” is about my limit. But I suspect that it’s not particularly all fun and games that she’s singing about. Anyway, the song itself is gentle and, um, haunting (invent me some adjectives). Dolores O’Riordan is one of my favourite singers ever; her gorgeous Irish accent is able to sing oh so softly and vulnerably (as in this song), and then belt out in anger and contempt when necessary (not in this song). I love the vocal arrangement; so simple but so effective. The best songs move something inside you; something not quite physical but almost. This song achieves that each time I hear it. Dolores writes all the music and lyrics for the band too; talented lady, n’est-ce pas? ********** Lisa Stansfield “All Around The World” From the album “Affection”, “All Around The World” was Lisa Stansfield’s first number one in 1989. Look, the eighties were MY years; times when my only aim in life was to have a laugh. It’s only natural that my memories will have enhanced the songs from that decade, embedding themselves deeply within the music and becoming part of it, addi
ng a quality indescribable to anyone listening to them for the first time. Therefore, try as I might to find the words to explain what it is about this song that makes it one of my favourites, I fail. It’s another fast slow, with Ms Stansfield’s low, sexy vocals expressing the lady’s regret and refusal to let go of the lover she has driven away: “I said so many things / Things he didn’t know / And I was oh oh so mad / And I don’t think he’s comin’ back / Ooohooo”. You might think there’s not much food for thought in there, and you’d be right. But it’s not for nothing that the vast majority of songs are all about lurve. A blend of pop and soul, simple and mellow, and unsurpassed by her following singles. ********** The Cult “She Sells Sanctuary” From the album “Love”. Of all The Cult’s brilliant singles, this has always been my firm favourite. The guitar intro is just incomparable; who can resist the urge to dance when they hear that? Trouble is, I don’t have much to say about it. I just love it; that’s all. I don’t know what it’s about, nor do I have any interesting knowledge about the song. I’m even at a loss to describe it. Kind of indie rock stuff – aye? Everyone knows it, anyway, don’t they? “And the world, the world turns around.” ********** Siedah Garrett “K.I.S.S.I.N.G.” Taken from the album “Kiss Of Life”, which was released in 1988. Woohoo! Another memory blast! Who can fail to resist the powerfully seductive vocals of Ms Garrett? From breathy to orgasmic, she is outstanding from first to last. Put that intensity and passion to the fast, catchy and explosive music, and we have ourselves one of the best dance tracks ever. I don’t think it ever did all that well in the charts, though, strangely. My friends and I made this our theme s
ong one summer, hence the strong nostalgic attachment. But even when I try to listen to it subjectively, I still hear a strength and quality, in its genre, that deserved more success than it got. You want to know what it’s about? Er, did you see the title? “Ooh, baby baby, don’t you know I live for your touch / Ooh baby baby, only you can give me what I want / I wanna be touched by love.” Mind blowing, hmmm? I did tell you I was shallow. Forget the words; all that matters is the way they’re sung. Last I heard, Siedah was the new lead singer with The Brand New Heavies, shortly before they lost contact with Planet Earth. Shame, that. ********** Siouxsie and the Banshees “The Passenger” From the album “Through the looking glass”. After growing out of Wham, Siouxsie and the Banshees was my favourite group during my mid-teen years. However, I don’t really enjoy listening to them that much anymore; isn’t it funny how tastes change with age? “The Passenger” remains one of my favourites of all time, though. It was one of their later releases, and way towards the end of my love affair with them. I think it might be a cover version. Anyway, if I were to describe it as a swinging, beating masterpiece of lalalala-ing, would you have an inkling of what I was on about? I would say it is one of the most commercially tuneful of their singles; maybe that’s why I still like it so much today, while “Israel” and “Arabian Nights”, my faves during my teens, now sound tediously dirge-like. <Interlude: I remember singing “Metal Postcard” a cappella constantly just to irritate my friends; if you know the song, you’ll understand how unbearable that must have been for them. I thought it was funny, though.> Who knows what this song is about; probably about giving someone a lift somewhere. ********** The Jesus and Mary Chain “S
ome Candy Talking” From the album “Psycho Candy”. Ooh, indie music again. Cool. So is this song about drugs or the addictive properties of love? “I’m going down to the place tonight / To see if I can get a taste tonight”, “Should all the stars shine in the sky, they couldn’t outshine your sparkling eyes”, “I’m knee deep in myself but I want to get more of that stuff”. Make your own decision. Anyway, musically speaking, I could compare this song – not exactly, but sort of – to the Primal Scream one above. It starts off quietly and gently, and then gradually gains emotion and strength with the frustration and longing in the lyrics. I like songs like this; they’re symbolic of the way situations or conversations develop, they tell a story. There are no prizes for production here; it sounds like a couple of guitars and some drums being played in someone’s garage, but I love that sound. It’s genuine, not pretentiously mixed and enhanced by thousands of pounds’ worth of technology. Talent, but raw, without the gloss. There y’are. Ten of the best. Ten or twelve (heehee). I hope you won't all hate me too much now that my uncool taste in music has been exposed. I’ll see thee.
Can you imagine going so long without food that the hunger pangs make you feel like your insides are being ripped apart? Thinking constantly about food every second of your waking day, without even the respite of sleep because you only dream of gorging yourself? Battling with yourself not to give in and to try to maintain a semblance of calm and normality as you watch other people eat food that you forbid yourself? Looking at your reflection, with the skin hanging off your bones and your ribs poking out, and seeing only a hideously fat person staring back at you? Can you imagine being unable to bear it any longer, giving in at long last to the hunger, stuffing as much food down your throat as quickly as you possibly can? Being totally unselective about what you put in your mouth as long as its edible (lumps of butter or ‘raw’ hot chocolate powder if they should be close to hand)? Eating until you’re stomach is so full that it’s painful and yet still wanting more and more and more? And now, can you imagine going to the bathroom and putting your fingers down your throat until you make yourself sick, over and over again until you’re sure that there’s nothing left in your stomach? Feeling so ashamed and disgusted with yourself at what you’re doing and yet powerless to stop it? Torturing yourself with guilt about your lapse and vowing to be stronger in future? Aware of your teeth slowly rotting away with stomach acid, your hair falling out and the ache of your protesting oesophagus muscles, but quite prepared to sacrifice your health for the sake of your dress size? Sounds mad, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. An eating disorder is a form of mental illness that needs treatment as any other. The fact that most sufferers are able to carry on with their daily lives with few visible symptoms other than weight loss means that other people can sometimes be unsympathetic, labelling them as attent
ion-seekers or simply vain, in their ignorance. Instead of being given the help and support they desperately need, all too often they’re told to ‘stop being so silly’, to ‘snap out of it’, to ‘grow up’. An anorexic that I know was once told by her doctor to start making plans for her own funeral. He told her relatives that he was trying to shock her out of it. If only it were that simple. It’s impossible to say what causes someone to develop an eating disorder, despite some people’s attempts to generalise and categorise. I once read an article in a well-known magazine that stated that bulimia was caused by being abused as a child – what a reassuring thought for any bulimics reading that who had no recollection of such a thing. In my opinion, the causes are related to depression, emotional trauma and extremely low self-esteem. And the causes of those? The possibilities are as infinite as there are different combinations of events, circumstances and personality traits. The media alone do not cause eating disorders but there is no denying that it plays a very, very large part in sowing the seeds of potential problems. Today’s standard of ‘beautiful female’ is synonymous with underweight. Many of the stars and celebrities we see in magazines and on television are one or two stones lighter than is healthy, and yet it’s instilled into us that this is how we should aim to look. While many people will be able to diet more or less sensibly to try to achieve their ideal figure, critical times in some people’s lives will tip them towards something far more dangerous. The slimming industry does not help the problem, probably because there are so many people making money out of it. As a nation, we don’t eat very healthily, so there is admittedly a real need for some people to learn about nutrition and maybe to lose some weight in order to be healthy. But sl
imming clubs place too much emphasis on counting calories or points and achieving set targets taken from a chart. Everyone is weighed each week and the slimmer who loses the most weight each week is praised and earns the title of “Slimmer of the Week”. All this does is encourage rapid weight loss, which almost inevitably results in regaining the weight within the next year and sets off a cycle of yo-yo dieting. Slimming magazines show pictures of very slim models without an ounce of surplus fat on them, alongside recipes for low-fat versions of cakes and puddings. After reading them, I used to feel fat and dejected, and would crave the full-fat versions of the food I’d seen. I find it hard to believe that the magazine editors aren’t aware of the effect their magazines have on people, but despite the “we care about you” message they would have us believe, sales figures are the only things that really matter to them. I started dieting at the age of fourteen. I had gone from a size 8 to a size 10 and thought I was fat. The BBC had launched a diet plan and I was caught up in the enthusiasm. 1000 calories a day? I could do that. Not a morsel of food passed my lips without the calorie value being carefully noted in my food diary. I thought about food almost constantly, was always conscious of how many calories I had eaten so far that day, or how long I had to last until my next meal. My weight fluctuated from size 10 to size 8 to size 10, or fat to thin to fat, in my terms of the time. And although I didn’t have an eating disorder at that stage, you can see that the foundations were being laid, can’t you? Even in magazines like Jackie, which were directed at the younger teenager, diet articles were in every issue, and, what is more shocking, a daily calorie intake of 1000-1500 was recommended. To encourage CHILDREN to eat so little is absolutely unbelievable; I hope that teen magazines these days
no longer do that. But from fourteen until seventeen, this mild obsession with food and weight stuck with me, and I’m sure that it is not different for many other young people today. But fortunately, the rest of my life was brilliant: I had a full social life, a part-time job that paid very well, a supportive family for me to healthily rebel against, and I was in the top classes at school. I was happy; dieting was kept in perspective, and remained a fairly minor niggling irritation that we all had to accept and live with. When I was seventeen, circumstances in my life changed fairly dramatically. As a result, I became unhappy, I lost a lot of self-confidence, and my only solace was food. I ate for comfort, and needless to say, I put on weight. Not that I ever became excessively overweight: I think I went up to a size 14 , but for me that was as good as obese. Feeling unable to change the situation in my life, I started to channel all my energies into controlling my weight. I was unhappy, so I ate; I became ‘fat’ which made me unhappy; I dieted, far too strictly in my ignorance, and this deprivation of my comfort source made me unhappy. So I ate more, and the cycle continued, strengthening its grip on me with each revolution. Each time I could stand the hunger pangs no longer and binged, the feelings of failure and guilt were so overwhelming, that I eventually could stand it no longer. So I started making myself sick. I will never forget how superior I used to feel as I listened to my female relatives bewailing the fact that they’d over-indulged again and had put on another kilo or two. I felt incredibly powerful because I had discovered a secret way of eating whatever I wanted and not putting on any weight. I knew I had to hide it, that they wouldn’t understand and would try to make me stop, but I actually felt pity for them as they struggled with their weight while mine dropped off me! This is one of the
many reasons why sufferers find it so hard to stop once they’ve started on that downward spiral. Their new-found control over their weight compensates for the control that may be missing from other areas of their lives, and the starve-binge-vomit pattern becomes addictive. Prolonged improper nourishment in turn escalates the depression and the cycle continues stronger than ever. No one ever guessed what my problem was, despite losing a lot of weight. I became seriously depressed; I lost the ability to smile; I literally didn’t care about anything or anyone (I will never forget that feeling); I wanted to die and I started planning my suicide to make sure I wouldn’t mess up and be saved. I don’t want to sound dramatic, and I certainly don’t want any sympathy for what are events long past. I just want you to be aware of just how dangerous eating disorders can be. I was lucky, though. One drunken night I broke down and confessed all, and after the initial shock and dismay had passed, all the support I needed was there, even though at the time it was unwelcome. Reluctantly I went to see a doctor, who opened my eyes to how bad I was, and who was able to understand and make me understand why I was like I was. Action was taken to change circumstances in my life that had contributed to my condition, and slowly but surely I started to get better. It took years, with relapses along the way, but I do consider myself cured now. Unwavering support, professional help and positive action are what saved me, and I will always, always be grateful to those people who helped me. Other people aren’t so lucky. Some never get better: their lives are just endless obsessions about food they can’t eat; they become dangerously thin, have to go to hospital to increase their weight, only to leave and lose it all again. Some – too many – die. Despite all the advances that have been made in medicine and psychology, eating diso
rders remain so terribly difficult to treat. And they are being diagnosed in more and more young people - even children - than ever before. Worrying, isn’t it? To think that your child might grow up to suffer from anorexia or bulimia? As a parent, you owe it your children to try to teach them to be confident in themselves and to place little value on looks or body size. I know it’s easier said than done; peer pressure, personality and society will all play their part in deciding their future actions, but we can at least give them a good base to start from. People with eating disorders are marvellous at hiding it. With anorexics it is more noticeable, as the weight loss is usually much more sudden and severe. Bulimia is harder to spot because bulimics appear to eat more or less normally in front of people, and some lose little or no weight. Signs to look out for, other than weight loss, are a change in personality, irritability, fatigue, low spirits, burst blood vessels around the eyes, hair loss and yellowing teeth. If you suspect that someone may be suffering from an eating disorder, gently confront them about it even if you think they may not appreciate the concern. If someone was ignoring something life-threatening like a heart problem, you wouldn’t turn a blind eye, would you? Someone who is suffering from bulimia or anorexia is going through hell, a very lonely, depressing and relentless hell. Deep down, they don’t want to live like that. Deep down, they really do want to be helped. Encourage them to see a doctor even if they persist in denying they have a problem; offer to accompany them; pick up information leaflets and helpline numbers from your doctor’s surgery for them; and most importantly of all, offer your support, show you care, be there as a friend for them WHATEVER they may say or do. You would have thought that with the increased awareness of the danger of eating disorders and the
growing numbers of young people being diagnosed with them, that we as a society would have started to change the message we’re sending out. But no. While a few attempts are being made to promote ‘bigger’ models on the catwalk, the fashion industry remains dominated by the underweight and stick-thin. How many overweight or even normal-sized Hollywood stars can you name? To give you an idea, Kate Winslet and Alicia Silverstone are considered to be ‘big’. Who do our children have to look up to in the pop world at the moment? Let me see: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Steps, Backstreet Boys, S Club 7, Atomic Kitten, to name a few. Is there a single even-slightly-overweight one among them? No, although Jennifer Lopez is considered to have a big bottom (I want a big bottom like that). Did you think that not-yet-famous girl from Hear’Say (‘Popstars’) needed to lose weight? Her manager did and had no qualms about telling her so in front of her colleagues and a TV camera. What kind of message does that send out to the thousands of young girls watching? ‘Thin’ sells, apparently. Does that mean it’s ultimately OUR fault? Wouldn’t we buy records that were sung by talented people who just happened to be over a size 12? No longer enjoy watching her films if Julia Roberts put on a couple of stone? Stop buying Vogue if the models were normal healthy sizes? Do we think better of people if they are slim? Do we ignore everything else if that one criterion – being thin – is missing? Have we really become that superficial? I hope not. Eating disorders are on the increase. More and more people are dying of self-imposed famine in countries where food is abundant. Something needs to change, and quickly.
I’m lazy. Didn’t I mention that before we were married? Oh, sorry. Must have slipped my mind, what with the wedding present fiasco and those seating plan decisions (ahhh, happy days, when my life had a purpose). Anyway, it’s better for you to find out ten years down the line than not at all, isn’t it? Buy me a Tefal Steam Cuisine and you might be forgiven. Don’t act the innocent; this is as much your fault as it is mine. And you’re the one that wants a meal on the table when you come home, after all. I’m quite happy with a bag of crisps and an apple. Vegetables, eh? What a performance. You have to peel them, cut them up, turn on the ring, get out a saucepan, fill it with water, boil it, add the vegetables, bring back to the boil, stir, check the time constantly to make sure you don’t over cook them, drain them, and then maybe, just maybe, if you got everything right, serve them up and eat them. It exhausts me just thinking about it. And don’t get me started on the washing up. Knives, chopping boards, peely things, saucepans, lids, spoons ... the list isn’t endless but you can see it’s heading that way, can’t you? If you want to see a vegetable again, buy me a Tefal Steam Cuisine. I admit the peeling and cutting steps cannot be completely eradicated unless we hire a cook, but I’m not asking for that today. I can peel, I can cut, but anything more than this tends to make the room start to spin. Buy me a Tefal Steam Cuisine or the vegetable gets it. I’ve left the page of the Argos catalogue open so you can see what a Tefal Steam Cuisine looks like. What do you mean, you haven’t got your glasses on? You don’t wear glasses. Oh, I see, this is a clever excuse for allowing me to describe it otto voce. Nice one. Picture then, if you will, a tower of three oval plastic compartments (hereon referred to as ‘bowls’), one on top of the
other, fitted securely onto a base with lots of cute little drawings of foody things on. The base of each bowl is removable and has small holes in. Imagine those three bowls full of food – any food at all, from vegetables (fresh or frozen) to meat or fish to rice or pasta and back to vegetables again. Now visualise filling the base with cold water via the little spouty hole at the side and turning the little dial clockwise to the required number of minutes. And now imagine walking away, putting your feet up and watching TV or reading a book or doing something equally idle, while the steam filters merrily upwards through the little holes in each level, cooks the food to perfection, and then considerately goes ‘ping!’ rather loudly when finished. Admittedly, you have to give a bit of thought to the different foods and the different cooking times. But the instruction book is very complete, and contains a list of approximate cooking times for varying weights of different foods. Because there are three levels, you can start off cooking, say, some rice, then after ten minutes, stick another bowl on the top with your broccoli in. Give me a bit of graph paper and a pencil (blunt) and I’m sure I’ll be able to work it all out. Oh, and you do need to use a cloth or oven glove when removing the lid or adding extra bowls during cooking– steam might look nice and fluffy but it actually hurts quite a lot! Did I say that the compartment bases are removable? Yes, actually, I did, and if you’d been paying attention you would have known that. My point is that you could even stick a big thing like a whole chicken in there by fitting all three bowls and removing all the bases to make one big bowl. Are you starting to see the genius of the thing now? Hold that thought. There is a special little bowl that fits inside the big see-through bowls for cooking rice and pasta and other things that need a damn good soaking. Jus
t add water and you’re away. There’s a compartment divider, for keeping different foods separated, if the fancy takes you. And there’s a little handle that slots into the compartment bases so you can just lift the base and the food out without it all crumbling apart (like fish does sometimes just to taunt me). As if that’s not enough to convince you, they have even gone to the trouble of putting some little holes in the base of each bowl for you to cook eggs in. Tefal, eh? All those years of pushing discrimination laws to breaking point by only hiring people with disproportionately large foreheads have really paid off. Think of the energy that’s being saved! No need to have the oven, the microwave and three rings working all at once on the stove. Everything is done by this one little machine. And if you or indeed I am clever enough to fill the base with warm water instead of cold, the cooking time will be reduced still further. Think of the savings in the electricity bill. Not to mention my own energy, leaving lots of calories available for … oh … other things. Think of the vitamins being saved from an untimely death! When you boil vegetables, you lose up to 75% of the vitamin C content and much of the beta-carotene (the vegetable form of vitamin A) when you drain away the water. I won’t even stoop to mentioning frying (…..damn). With the Tefal Steam Cuisine, you don’t need to add any fat and almost none of the vitamins are lost. The health benefits are mind-blowingly far-reaching! (Tell me if I start overdoing the enthusiasm). Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Don’t cram the food in too tightly, leave room for the steam to circulate. Yes, yes, that’s obvious (but I’ll make a little note anyway in case I forget). And when steaming large amounts of food, a good old stir halfway through will go down a treat. I’ve even heard it said that you should try
and use food of roughly the same size to ensure equal cooking (which is probably true of all cooking methods) but if this is unavoidable to put the smaller pieces in the top bowl. It all makes perfect sense, I’m sure. When you’ve finished, all you have to do is tip away the water that has accumulated in the water-accumulator bit at the bottom, serve, eat and enjoy (or in the order of your choosing). Oh and wash up. There’s nothing in the instructions that says it’s self-cleaning, at least not the 1000cl model and as that’s the top of the range I reckon it’s a general drawback. It wouldn’t be so bad but the bowl bases with the little holes in don’t look all that easy to clean, unless you’re one of those efficient people who wash up immediately (jeez, get a life). But you can put them in the dishwasher, so maybe you ought to buy me one of those too. Just a thought. They even throw in a little recipe book to show you how easy it all is. I have every confidence that even I would be capable of cooking Chicken Jambonette En Papillotte or Charlotte Russe … if I should ever want to, that is. I’m sure even you could manage to rustle up a Baeckeoffe or two if you put your mind to it, which is comforting for you to know just in case I should ever die and not be able to get your meal ready. The answer’s still no, is it? I thought it might be. That’s why I took the liberty of getting one myself. (IR)£39 from Argos – a snip! I’ve even discovered that you can use to open other people’s mail without them knowing, so it has recreational uses as well (ha). Taking into account the health benefits, electricity savings, its easiness and the free time it leaves me, I think it’s excellent value for your hard-earned money. And I’m worth it. (The price of £39 quoted above is in Irish pounds. This is Dooyoo UK & Ireland, after all. You
can work out the sterling for yourself. Oh I can never resist you when you look at me like that. Off the top of my head it’s probably around £33 sterling. When did you say you were joining the Euro?).
I feel so sorry for you. Well, I’m not looking at anyone else, am I? Yes, you! Sitting there like lethargy personified, motionless except for the swivelling of your eyeballs and the occasional twitch of the hand attached to your mouse. Wasn’t it you who once caused such a hoohah about having to move your wrist two centimetres backwards and forwards, that Microsoft eventually caved in and invented the contextual menu? Well, even if it wasn’t, I’m not letting you off. You’re still guilty of being lazy, and I’m about to seize the opportunity to be as condescendingly virtuous as I possibly can. Don’t move (not that you’d want to; any excuse to save a calorie from the furnace, eh?), because I want to open your eyes to all that you’re missing out on. If exercise be the food of love, get up and do some. Isn’t that how the saying goes? And what more enjoyable way is there to exercise than to toddle along to your local gym and do an aerobics class? Rhetorical question, obviously. Ahhh, you can say what you want about aerobics, but the truth of the matter is that we all love it, it’s just that some of us don’t know it yet. Yes, I know I’m waffling, but I’m allowed because I’m the one going to the trouble of writing and you’re just sitting there passively reading like you always do. What’s more, I’ve just got back from the gym where I jumped around for an hour or so in the name of fun. And that was just in the changing room. You should have seen me when I finally got to the studio. Why oh why do I love aerobics so? Basically (and ‘not-useful’-ly) because it’s such great fun! More usefully, because you do it to fast funky music (it’s the only time I actually love to hear Steps’ “5-6-7-8” come on) and it’s uplifting. You get to jump, turn, skip and twizzle in mid-air. It’s a bit like dance for non-danc
ers. You actually work very hard, much harder than you realise, and you get such a great buzz from it. When you get the tricky grapevine-Vstep-attitude combination just right, you feel like you’re the greatest person ever to have lived (with only a slight exaggeration to help me make my point). Throw in a step, and you’re flying without wings (yes, that’s what that song was all about – step aerobics). For me, the fact that you tone your muscles and may lose weight is just an added bonus. I do it because I love doing it; it’s as simple as that. Would some useful information about aerobics go down well right about now? Let’s do the business. First of all, I don’t want any of that starving yourself nonsense. Your body is but a machine (albeit a complex and temperamental one); it needs fuel to function properly. When doing any energetic activity like aerobics, it is very important to eat well. If you don’t, you’ll just feel weak and heavy, and you won’t enjoy yourself, which is the whole idea. Eating sensibly and exercising will help you lose weight slowly and safely. So what on earth do you wear? I have two pieces of advice for you. Firstly, wear whatever you want. “Oh yes, very helpful, thank you.” What I mean is, don’t feel you have to go out and buy brand new, co-ordinated, designer-label aerobics wear. By all means do if you really have the urge, but T-shirts, leggings and anything else that will give you freedom of movement for those knee-raises and upright rows are fine too. Secondly, wear as little as you feel comfortable with. You’re going to get hot, with or without the air-conditioning, and bare skin is the only remedy. Crop vests are ideal, as are hot-pants and cycling shorts (they look better than they sound, trust me, although you might want to think twice before wearing them out in town at night). Shoes! The right shoes are so importan
t. Forget those fifteen year old school plimsolls and those old trainers you do the gardening in (yeah, like you do the gardening, uh-huh). In fact, seeing as you’ve brought the subject up, may I ask what special occasion you’re keeping those plimsolls for anyway? No, forget I asked, I don’t want to know. I’m trying to tell you about aerobics shoes, so pay attention. Arrgghh, I’m going to a new paragraph; see what you made me do. If you intend to do any sport, be it jogging, tennis, or even walking, it is of the utmost importance that you have the right shoes. Exercise in the wrong footwear and you could end up with blisters, scrunched feet (a term I invented to group many unpleasant and painful things that you pay chiropodists to sort out), strained muscles, weakened joints, and even stress fractures. Now, it is an unpleasant fact of life that in the world of sports shoes you get what you pay for. My aerobics shoes were worth £112 when I bought them, but I was lucky enough to get them for £34 (oh it’s a long story, involving a sale and the undersell department in John Lewis; I’ll tell you some other time). But my point is that you have to be prepared to pay around at least £70 for a decent pair that will last you and will treat you right. It’s very important. I’m serious now. Never just walk into a shop and choose the prettiest pair on display. Tell the salesperson exactly what you want them for and ask them about the differences between each pair. Demand to know why this pair is £20 more expensive than that pair. Hopefully, they’ll be able to advise you on what is the best shoe for you. Unfortunately, there are more and more reported sightings of the breed known as the Salesperson-Who-Doesn’t-Know-Anything-About-What-They’re-Supposed-To-B e-Selling, and for this reason I always browse through product-testing articles in magazines like Shape or Zest (or a website like Dooyoo)
before embarking on a shoe-hunting expedition. Forewarned is forearmed; if you have some prior knowledge about some of the different shoes available, you’ll be less likely to get hoodwinked into buying the most expensive pair on the market just because they’ve got a twinkly logo. And shop around. Styles and prices can vary greatly from store to store. Personally, I always go for either Reebok or Nike. They are, in my opinion and that of most sources of product-comparing information, the best in terms of foot and ankle support, cushioning and durability. And of the two, in my opinion, Nike has the edge. Their air cushioned soles take the brunt of the impact each time you hit the ground, taking the pressure off your feet, ankles, knees, hips and spine, and they also provide bounce to help you spring about and make you look nimble too. And nimble is good. Okay, so you’ve got the clothes and the shoes. You look fantastic, if you don’t mind me saying so. The next step is to get to a gym. Visit a few. Have a look to see if the times and the types of class suit you. See if you can try one or two classes before joining up. Your final decision will come down to your own personal taste, of course, and taking into account factors like whether you can afford the monthly fee, the location, creche facilities, the kind of atmosphere you prefer, the physique of the gym instructors, etc. Once you’ve found the gym of your dreams, check the timetable. If you’re a beginner, you might want to head for the classes marked “Beginner”. (What would you do without me, eh?) Having said that, any aerobics teacher worth their salt will be able to teach people of all levels in the same class by demonstrating both a low-impact and a high-impact version. A good teacher will also demonstrate a third advanced version for the very fit and the mentally unstable. The gym I go to is quite poor in the choice of aerobics classes it
offers, meaning there are all kinds of levels mixed up together in each one. The teachers are absolutely brilliant, though, and keep everyone happy. So you’ve finally arrived at the class. You now face a crucial decision: where do you stand? I don’t know you that well; you could be a shameless extrovert who wants nothing more than to have all eyes on you as you display your appalling lack of co-ordination and rhythm to the world. But I would have thought that most people would like to blend into the background for a while, at least until the moves are a little more familiar and your breathing doesn’t sound quite so much like a script from a Norwegian porn film. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can hide at the back. These days, we turn, we twist, we pivot and spin; the back becomes the front, the left becomes the right, and the only rock of constancy we can cling to is the middle. To the middle you must go. There, whatever direction the room turns to face, there will always be someone in front of you that you can copy when the teacher is out of view. It’s funny how this advice sounds so trivial until you actually find yourself leading the class and without a clue of what you should be doing. If you’re one of those people who are incapable of organising their lives to get anywhere on time (by the way, I hate people like you; hi), you might sometimes arrive to find that the whole class has inconsiderately started without you. Do NOT be tempted to jump right in at the same pace as everyone else. They, meaning the punctual people, will have partaken of a physical aperitif known as “the warm up”. A formality this is not. Ignore it and not only will you find the exercise harder and less enjoyable, but you will also run the risk of injuring yourself. Take it easy for the first five or ten minutes; stick to low impact regardless of what everyone else is doing. On one occasion in the past when I have be
en guilty of this particular sin, I ended up with shin splints (an injury to the muscle attached to the shin bone) and had to stop exercising for a month. I suffered so you could learn from my mistakes; just don’t let it have all been for nothing. Drinking is vital. You will sweat (sorry, but you will) in order to keep your body temperature from rising too high and you can lose a lot of water quite quickly, especially in warm weather when the air-conditioning is inadequate. Drink lots of water, before you start and especially during your class, to avoid dehydration. Taking a small bottle of water with you means you won’t have to fight your way through the scrum around the water-fountain. Take it eeeeasy. Don’t push yourself too hard too soon. There’ll be plenty of time for heroics a few months down the line when your fitness level has increased and your muscles are more used to the exercise. The idea is that you enjoy yourself. If you overdo things in the beginning, you’ll be more likely to give up and stop altogether, and then what would that make you? Make sure you cool down properly. I’ve finished with requests now; that’s an order. If you have to leave early to catch a bus or whatever, start slowing down at least five minutes before you have to go, and then do the stretches when you get home. When you exercise, lactic acid builds up in your muscles, and cooling down properly helps flush it out. An improper cool down will leave you with stiff, sore muscles for a couple of days. And once you’ve finished the class, be sure to go back again! The minimum recommendation for exercising is three times a week. Do this, and you will steadily increase your fitness. And don’t forget that you have to justify the price of those aerobics shoes, not to mention the monthly direct debit to the gym (ha, sucker!) Exercise has a bad reputation, but it’s undeserved. Although it c
an seem like hard work to begin with, in just a few short weeks you will see results: - In your general fitness (you won’t be so short of breath when going up and down stairs, for example); - In your sleeping pattern (you will sleep so much better, and will therefore be less tired (der)); - In your energy levels (you’ll be full of beans and will get annoyingly enthusiastic about things); - In your spirits (you’ll feel happier; it’s something to do with endorphins and serotonin); - Oh, and in your figure too (which is always pleasing if you’re a superficial, one-dimensional kind of person like me). And if you don’t give up and you let exercise become an established part of your life, then you will find yourself loving it, even craving it. Most of the time, it’s just a case of finding the right sport for you. I recommend aerobics to anyone as an enjoyable way to de-stress and forget your worries for a while. Have I convinced you yet? Oh, well, apparently not, seeing as you’re still sitting there. Well, never mind. If you didn’t like what I had to say, all you need do is move your hand a fraction of an inch (let’s go Imperial) to the right instead of the left and apply a light pressure on your mouse button. Nothing too energetic; I’m sure even you can manage it. ;)