Category Archives: WI

The starting gun

One summer’s evening ten years ago I sat on the sofa while my guts moved nine foot to the left.  This placed them about a yard outside the house I was sitting in, which is a tricky sensation if you are trying to have a rational conversation.  But when your partner of 15 years says he wants a divorce, it does that sort of thing to you.

It was, not surprisingly, the start of an entirely new phase of my life.  It took us a long time to shift from where we were then to where each of us is now; it took us a good two or three years just to sort out the legals.  It would have been much quicker if we’d divorced in bitterness and acrimony. (Doesn’t acrimony sound like a wind-swept purple wild flower or a homoeopathic remedy for – well – acrimony perhaps).  But we were remarkably leisurely about the whole thing.  It’s irrelevant now if that was because of laziness or denial.

Suddenly I realise that something which has always felt very recent was in fact a long time ago.  For ages the late 1990s has been just before now, and suddenly it’s a decade behind me.

1999 – I am with a group of colleagues in the centre of Glasgow – a place I had run to out of dire economic necessity and where I was finding my feet in my brand new single life – and someone hands out a card advertising a nightclub.  I realise that the only words on the card I have any cultural references for are ‘the’, ‘of’, ‘to’ and ‘and’ and the dates.  I guess I’m not in my 20s any more.

2000 – I cross a road in Hamburg from a business hotel to the offices of the multinational company where I have a shiny new contract.   What happens if it all goes horribly wrong?  What makes me think I have anything to offer this giant company in this foreign country who are paying top dollar for my unexpectedly rare skills?

2001 – I walk back to the friend’s house where I’m staying in Sweden through sunlit suburban woods and find myself thinking fondly of the way my lover talks almost entirely about himself when we go out for a meal.  In a moment of self-awareness I realise that I’m falling in love.  I stop myself almost physically, by reminding myself that – no – his self-obsession isn’t endearing; it’s actually rather discourteous.  And a good thing too, since our affair has run its course and he leaves a few days later.

2002 – I unpack my suitcase one Sunday night in the business hotel where I have been staying for three months; I’ve been to Sweden for a wedding.  As I unpack, I find myself thinking “It’s nice to be home”.  Then I realise that, no, the Holiday Inn in Leopoldstraße in Munich is not my home.

2003 – I pick up a car from the airport just outside Stockholm, and drive it carefully north through Uppsala. “How’s the driving?” – “Fine; I could go right the way up to the Circle” – “You mean that, don’t you!” I think about it for a moment and realise that yes I do.  So we drive through hundreds of miles of austere Swedish woodlands right the way up to the Arctic circle, and photograph each other wearing sunglasses at midnight when we get there.

2004 – My life becomes briefly like a French art-house movie as I spend afternoons in a hotel with a married man whose name I never know and I become a way for middle-aged men to experiment with infidelity in the same way that they’d experimented with drugs in the 1970s, and I spend one unexpected night in bed with a bisexual woman and a transsexual man.

2005 – I accept a job with a Great Big Company in the spring and in the autumn I buy a small and awkward house on the edge of nowhere with a fabulous view.

2006 – I sit among fellow-members of the WI while a moan of appreciation emerges unanimously from 20 different female throats as we watch a cookery demonstrator fold melted chocolate into whipped cream.  It is exactly like the scene in Catch 22 when the Colonel’s secretary crosses her legs and the entire gathering of enlisted men groan.

2007 – I rage, endlessly, futilely, week after week as the government destroys an entire generation of junior doctors.  My energies are almost entirely taken up with this.

2008 – I take stock, and realise I’m surprised to that find ten years have got behind me, that I’m older and – as Pink Floyd remind me – shorter of breath and closer to death.  But I sure as hell heard that starting gun.  And I sure as hell have had an interesting time since.


Bowling with MILFs

Bowl me over, in the cloverLast night I dreamt I was participating in what could only be described as a “7-in-a-bed Lesbian Sex Romp” with members of the WI.

That’s what comes of spending the evening Bowling with MILFs.

Er… that was too much information, wasn’t it?

Oh well.

Four impossible things before breakfast

For reasons which escape me completely now, I undertook to provide four entries for the WI Show tomorrow.

I’m not usually nervous about, well, about anything very much, though I do get inarticulate around people who are either famous or powerful because fame and power always seems to be in slightly poor taste, and the prospect of global warming makes me fidget. However, this time I am nervous.

I’ve made some vanilla shortbread based partly on the Sainted Delia’s recipe and partly on the fact I had some vanilla sugar in the cupboard. It looks … adequate. It’s shortbread. It smells nice. But this is the WI for goodness’ sake! There are up to 4 marks for External Appearance (colour, shape, uniformity) another four for Internal Condition (depth of crust, texture, distribution of ingredients) and 12 for Flavour and Aroma. You drop a mark for every aspect of flavour which is missing. 8-9 is “average”. 5 is “not acceptable” and the notes warn sternly that “if it is not acceptable, the exhibit will NOT be marked”. So now you know.

I over-reached myself with the mask, and it is – if I say so myself – extremely disappointing. I wanted this sexy-dangerous thing in dark green velvet, but it just looks like the green man’s come out of the closet. It’s an entry, but one cannot say more than that.

I’ve only ever taken one action photo in my life. You’ve seen my photos. I tend towards scenery shot asymmetrically with strong angles and contrasts. My “action” photo is no exception. It looks like a soviet propaganda poster.

The Worker at Play

My only real WIfely skill is knitting but there I am a one-trick pony. I knit impossible scarves. They are moebius strips cast on in the middle and worked out to the edge. This is a skill I feel smug about. It’s clever.

Now all I need are a pair of moebius mules to go with them.

The site, alas, is down for refurbishment. I worry that they won't be selling them any more.

Still, they’ll all be set up by 10.45 tomorrow and I can come home and do nothing but please myself all weekend. And I am looking forward to that.

Category Errors #2 – Ann Widdecombe

Ok, not a category error as such, but a mental derailment all the same.

There I was, chatting away at the WI Christmas party with another member. It turns out that she’d had a pub about 20 miles from where I used to live. It further turns out she used to work for the local MP running his constituency office. It further further turns out she is a raving, raging, spittle-frothing tory.

We had a slightly one-sided conversation about Wonderful Tories She Had Met. “Michael Hestletine, he’s a very interesting man”. “That Boris Johnson, everyone under-estimates him”. Even, “Jeffrey Archer did a lot of good” and “Margaret Thatcher, what a lovely lady”.

I made suitably non-committal replies. I was brought up nicely. I have good manners.

Then she said

Ann Widdecombe, I’m a big fan. She talks such sense in the Daily Express every Wednesday”.

(The Daily Express thinks that Prince Philip took out a contract on the Princess of Wales, so we are not talking about evidence-based news-reporting, really).

Now it may be that there is much that is great and good about Ann Widdecombe, but unfortunately friends of mine used her name as a safe word during what the Daily Express would probably call “kinky sex sessions” and this struck me as being a rather good idea. You see, unless you are Paul Merton (who is a twisty so-and-so if ever there was one) you cannot think about Ann Widdecombe and sex at the same time. Or not in a good way, anyway.

Try it.

It cannot be done.

Not without feeling enormous physical and mental discomfort.

On the other hand if you have summoned the spirit of la Widdecombe to rescue you from pleasure past bearing, then she is inextricably bound up in your mind with kinky sex. Not a pleasant image I grant you, but that is rather the point.

So there you are. Not actually a category error. But while “rabid Tories I have known” might be a suitable subject for a chat at the WI, “choosing and using a good safeword for bondage games” isn’t really.

Or not at the one I go to, anyway.

Laughter the best medicine – available on prescription only

Bloglily produced the rather chilling statistic the other day, that children laugh thousands of times a day, but adults manage to laugh only 14 times.

So, plagiarist that I am, I conducted my own laughter audit.

8.00-9.00 – driving to work, listening to Sir Terry et al on Radio 2 – several giggles but no laugh out loud guffaws.

9.00-10.30 – da nada.

10.30-10.45 – some general purpose wise-cracking at work – I can’t remember the details, but the mood was jovial. It took me three months to get that team to lighten up.

10.45-3.20 – da nada.

3.20-3.30 – more wise-cracking – I do like working with bright, sarcastic, clever peeps.

3.30-5.45 – da nada.

5.45-6.00 – my boss claims that someone else was “agressive” in a meeting. Think pot. Think kettle. Think Aphra saying so. Think boss looking sheepish. Not guffaws, but gentle ribbing.

6.00-6.30 – driving home listening to the news. No laughs there.

6.30-7.00 – driving back from work, listening to the evening “funny”on Radio 4 – one smiley moment, but no actual, you know, laughy stuff.

7.00-7.30 – talking to a girlfriend on the phone, lots of goss and giggles – she thought she’d pulled a tennis coach, so she booked herself in for a complete de-fuzz, but then the bugger stood her up. Or “sobered up” as her best friend put it.

7.30 – text from the one I like to get texts from – private but laugh out loud funny.

7.30-10.00 – Christmas cooking demo at the WI– do you know the scene in “Catch 22” where the entire hall of enlisted men starts moaning at the sight of the Colonel’s tottie? – well there was an unanimous moan of hungry appreciation from an entire hall of middle aged ladies as the demonstrator folded melted chocolate into whipped cream to make a torte, which gave me a private silent giggle. Chocolate and cream aside, (and that is a hard phrase to type), there were l moments of individual and shared laughter at the WI too.

10.00-10.05 – talking to friend who’s visiting tonight and tomorrow, including a couple of laughy moments about why he was late setting off (he was tarting around on IM, trying to pull – I’d put him in touch with the girlfriend from earlier in the evening, but she’s got her eye on the tennis coach’s second service) and the fact that he is doomed to get lost on the moors a la “American Werewolf”.

11.00-01.30 – with said friend, (I don’t ususally entertain this late, but I wasn’t going to stand up the WI, and he’s coming to the theatre with us tomorrow night). Lots of laughter. He’s a clever and witty bloke. Favourite anecdote was one he told about his mother’s hyper-flexive cat. He picked it up, folded it nose to tail and showed it to a friend who was mildly impressed and said, “Very good, can you make it into a bird”.

So no rolling-on-the-floor-laughing-my-ass off episodes, but not bad for a weekday. But it would be much duller without the sarcastic buggers I work with.

Big Brother and the W.I.

I went to the WI last night. I’m not sure what the equivalent of the WI is in other cultures. I go because I like to belong to an organisation which slow-handclapped Tony Blair and one where middle aged women get naked for charity. The point about the Womens’ Institute, I guess, is that an organisation based on the solid virtues of rural life, feminine handicrafts and baking is an unlikely hotbed of such subversive activism. The other reasons are that I finally feel old enough, it is a pleasant way of meeting local people, and I like and respect middle aged and elderly rural women.

WI meetings are surprisingly formal. They start when the secretary reads the minutes of the previous meeting, and then there is a lot of business such as announcements about wine-tasting trips to local vineyards, pub quizzes and afternoon teas at other WIs. This all takes half an hour or so, maybe a little bit more. Then there is the entertainment for the evening. An Improving Talk. Last month we had a talk and a demonstration of stained glass making. This month the talk was entitled something like “musical memories”.

I found it boring, amusing, pleasant and rather sweet in more or less equal quantities. The speaker looked like Fester Addams, but had a palindromic wig which looked the same from the front and the back, and I spent a lot of the evening worrying that it would tip forward over his nose. He was in his 60s I’d have guessed, and he played us big band records from the turn of the previous century to the mid 1940s. Some of them were real toe-tappers, but of course we sat decorously, our hands in our laps. There was a soft murmur of talk through the records. It was an evening of gentle innocence. He struck me as a good man.

After the talk we ate cakes, drank tea and gossip, and I offered my help at the village gala next month, and then I made my escape. Virtuous womanhood can only go so far. When I got home, I settled down to watch Big Brother. I know that it is trite to draw a comparison between the honesty of our good-hearted and unpolished speaker and the cynical manipulations of Endemol who select shallow and vulnerable people, provoke them to mean-spiritedness and violence, place them in moral and ethical dilemmas, and prompt them into degrading themselves for money. It may be a trite comparison, but it is one I am going to draw nonetheless.

Every aspect of our life is full of actual or metaphorical E-numbers. We no longer like the honest and almost naive taste of reality, and instead prefer Reality TV.