Sunday, 26 July 2009

Confession time

Kal asked on his blog the other day if any of his readers had told little porky pies. Just for fun, you know. I confessed that I had once invented a 1970s prog-rock band, but that it was too long a story for a comment and would need a post of its own. This is that post.

Many, many years ago Husband and I were still fresh-faced law students in our third year at university. We had moved into a shared student flat with 4 other people. Two we knew already (one was a friend of mine and one a friend of that friend). The other two were effectively strangers who had been recommended by other people or had answered our ad for a flatmate. One of those was the only other girl, who I shall call Ann. She became a good friend very quickly and a few years later was my bridesmaid when Husband and I finally got round to tying the knot.

The other "stranger" was recommended by a friend and his name was Alan (it wasn't really but I am changing names to protect the innocent). Alan was a straightforward sort of guy: an engineering student from the south of England, his father was a vicar and his mother (obviously) was a vicar's wife. He was pleasant and easygoing and perfectly ordinary. Then he moved in with us.

It quickly became clear that Alan was what might best be described as a "personality sponge" - he had a marked tendency to adopt aspects of the personalities of people around him, particularly people he admired for any reason (though he never copied me in any way, strangely enough!). Husband was a musician then (still is) and had a pretty full recording studio and collection of guitars already. Alan was almost completely unmusical but nonetheless purchased for himself an electric guitar (like Husband's) and a pretty large Marshall amp (almost identical to Husband's). In doing so, he left himself so short of cash he lived for most of the term on a diet of tea and instant mashed potato, but it was worth it to him if it meant he could lounge about the living room holding his guitar. He never actually got to the stage of being able to play anything on it.

Alan's tendency to copy aspects of other people quickly became a bit irritating. (Anything can become irritating if you are living in a flat with 5 other people you don't actually know that well, believe me). We started idly thinking of ways to see how far this aspect of Alan's personality could be pushed......

By way of additional background, Ann had a friend who came round to our flat quite frequently. Her name was Emily and she was a little older, quite cool and a Goth - dyed black hair and a lot of leather. Alan was besotted with this exotic creature - presumably there weren't many women like Emily in Alan's home village. And even if there were, they probably didn't hang around the vicarage much.

Alan, predictably, adopted much of Emily's style as his own. He dyed his hair black (yes, really), bought some very ill-advised clothes and got his nose pierced (honestly!). It goes without saying that Emily was also the ultimate arbiter of what was cool and what was not. He spent much time in the trendier sort of independent record shop in Edinburgh looking for the kind of records Emily approved of. Ann, Husband and I began to plot......

Not to put too fine a point on it, we decided to invent a band and see if we could make Alan into a devoted fan of music that never really existed. We roped Emily in too. The next time Emily came round we waited until Alan was on his way into the living room (he ALWAYS came in when Emily was round, so he could lounge on the kitchen counter holding his guitar and fiddling with his nasal stud) and we started a conversation specifically intended for him to walk into.

As he entered the room, Husband (the ultimate musician guru) and Emily (the goddess) were discussing the little known early 70s prog-rock band The Freedom Jets. They were waxing lyrical on the one and only album ever made by the band and lamenting the fact that the band broke up shortly afterwards, never to be heard again. They were agreeing with each other that the guitarist in the band was a forgotten genius who could have knocked Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix into a cocked hat. Husband was bemoaning the fact that his copy of the exceedingly rare album had been stolen from him at school and Emily was commiserating and saying she had never managed to get hold of a copy either.

Alan was hooked and asked lots of questions about this fabulous band. But we decided this was not enough for us. Oh no! We decided we needed to have an example of this (imaginary) musical genius. So one afternoon, Husband, Ann and I recorded a Freedom Jets track. Clearly we had far too much time on our hands and no intention of using it for ooh, say.......studying.

Husband put together a collection of completely over the top and frankly horrid guitar lines which he recorded and then mixed together to produce a riff that no human guitarist could actually play. Ann was placed in a corner of our bedroom and encouraged to wail. Loudly. Husband recorded this and drenched it in effects. I was recruited to read some german text (an excerpt from Borchert's Draussen vor der Tur if you're interested) which Husband then slowed down and layered with the wailing and with myself and Ann chanting some random words. The combined effect was horrific. We called this masterpiece "Wayside Oblivion". It was indescribably awful. To this day we cannot think about it or listen to it without collapsing in hysterics.

Husband even sampled some crackles from an old vinyl record and put those over the top to make the song sound old. As a final touch, he recorded the track onto the very end of an old cassette (remember when you used to tape your albums and if you had 5 minutes left over, you stuck any old random song you liked on to fill in the space?).

Next time Emily came round, Husband skulked in his room, waiting for Alan to make his inevitable appearance. When he did, Husband burst into the living room and excitedly told Emily about the sole remaining Freedom Jets track he had found on the end of an old cassette.

"Oh, please let it be "Wayside Oblivion"!" breathed Emily. Husband beamed. He allowed Alan to persuade him to play the song. We all struggled to maintain our composure as Alan listened to the hideous cacophony, praising the innovative guitar work. He announced that he would have to find a copy of that album and off he went. We laughed ourselves silly at the idea of Alan trogging round the trendy record shops of Edinburgh demanding the Freedom Jets and scoffing at the staff when they had never heard of them.

We were, frankly, rather unkind. But in our defence, we were young and anyone who can stay in a student flat with 5 other people for a year and completely retain their sanity and sense of proportion is a saint. Or, like the Freedom Jets, doesn't really exist.

The footnote to this story is that we recently told it to someone and First Born heard it. He thought it was hilarious and told it to all the staff at the holiday club (Hi, staff who have never met us before! We aren't really horrible sadists, honestly!). First Born, Second Born and their new friend at holiday club have also decided to form a band. Guess what they are going to call themselves? Yup, the Freedom Jets. And if they do, and if by some miracle they are successful and become well known, somewhere in the Home Counties, a middle-aged engineer's head will explode.

Friday, 24 July 2009

That's it. He's up for adoption.

Long-term readers of this rambling nonsense (or those sad enough to have read back in the archives) will know that the title comes courtesy of Second Born. He made his declaration after thoughtfully sizing me up as I was getting ready for work one day. He was 4 then and is pretty darn lucky he made it to 5.

First Born is less prone to cuttingly demoralising statements but he made an exception this morning. I was waxing lyrical on the subject of the joy of reading. I told both children that I loved seeing them reading, that watching them sitting in an airport departure lounge both absorbed in their chosen books made me feel all warm and fuzzy.

"No," said FB. "That's facial hair, Mum."

I retreated to the kitchen and made myself feel better by shouting at the television. I had a reason though - there was an article on the news (The news for Pete's sake! On the BBC!) about the Queen and the Commonwealth. The reporter said, and I quote, "the influence the Queen has had on the Commonwealth cannot be underestimated." Am I mistaken or did a BBC reporter just slag off the monarch on national TV? Or is it just another example of the sloppy use of English which is taking over even the BBC these days? I think I feel a letter to The Times coming on......

PS: Please don't point out the myriad grammatical and other errors which pepper this blog. I feel like being righteously indignant today and anyway, I don't work for the BBC!

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

It can't just be me, surely?

Right, all you North American reader-types. I need your help.

When we were on holiday (why yes, I will be banging on about my Canada trip for the next three months, thanks for asking) we hired a car. We got a really good deal whereby the canny Scots could book the smallest car possible and get a free upgrade to the next size up, which might actually hold 4 people and their luggage without the necessity of the children sitting on the suitcases on the roof. We lucked out when we actually went to pick the car up because they didn't have any of the size we had booked, so they upgraded us again! Woo Hoo! And when the car actually appeared, it turned out to be 2. Hours. Old. It had 30km on the clock. It was very very shiny.

I loved that car. Everything about it was lovely and new and smelled expensive and it had cup holders EVERYWHERE. The one gripe I had was with the boot/trunk. The electronic key fob had a button on it to release the trunk and I used this happily throughout the holiday. However, on the one occasion I went to the car (which was unlocked) to get something from the trunk, I discovered that there was no other way to get into it. No button on the boot lid, no lever or switch in the car itself which released the trunk. Nothing. Unless you had the key fob, (and presumably provided the battery hadn't died) there was no way to get into the boot. That's a bit weird, isn't it? Surely there should be some other way to get in? Our slightly ancient car back in Scotland has an old-fashioned button on the boot. You press it and the boot opens.

Oh, but wait. There was one other way to open the boot. Provided you were actually in the boot, that is. There was a glow-in-the-dark handle inside the boot so that if you got locked in there somehow (having double-crossed your local mafia don, presumably) you could pull it and get out. The handle even had a diagram on it showing a little stick man leaping ecstatically clear of an open car trunk.

Here is where you all come in. What on earth is the story with that? No-one wants to be able to open the trunk from the outside without the key fob but there is sufficient demand to justify a handle so you can do so from inside the trunk?????? If I had to guess, I would say there has been a lawsuit somewhere in the USA involving some dimwit accidentally locking Granny in the car trunk and not noticing for 36 hours. Maybe you can tell me. Seriously. Tell me. I am confused.

PS: We did consider keeping one of the kids in the trunk so he could open it for us whenever we needed but the little blighter kept escaping.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Planning next year already

I love Canada. Have I mentioned that? Less than a week back in the UK and already I am pining. And planning next year's trip, though to be fair, we were doing that while we were still in Nova Scotia. The added twist to this year's trip was that everything and everyone we met seemed to be conspiring to persuade us to up sticks and move across the Atlantic. As if that thought had never crossed our minds before.

We spent 4 days in Liverpool and we have never met so many people who were British or had British connections and had emigrated to NS. The boys made a friend in the park on Canada Day and when we got chatting to this ostensibly typical Canadian boy's mum, it transpired that her husband is a British lawyer who now lives in Fall River and works for a London law firm from home! She cheerfully spent a while telling us what was involved in moving across the Atlantic, the best websites to use etc. Husband and I could barely look each other in the eye.

Then the guy we bought the pig roast tickets from turned out to be from England. And his mother-in-law was from Blackpool. Another couple we met on the same day had moved to NS from further west in Canada and waxed lyrical on what a great place it is to bring up kids. Seriously, is the universe trying to tell us something?

Mary at our favourite B&B cackled with delight when we told her about all this and informed us that she already had plans to lure us over to Nova Scotia to take over from her when she retires! Food for thought, I tell you.

The holiday itself was great, as it always is. Liverpool was lovely, with great beaches nearby to wander along and nice places to eat. We managed not to see Jessica (my superlative organisational skills triumph again! Seriously, ask Isabelle - I can't even arrange to meet another Edinburgher for coffee without it turning into a performance)

Our cottage on the Northumberland Shore was great - really quiet and peaceful and right on the beach. It was called Sunset Beach. This was the view from our front deck. Well named, huh?

Our last few days we spent, as always, pottering about the Annapolis Valley and they were wonderful as usual. The waitress in our favourite restaurant now remembers us! And we discovered the lovely wee village of Margaretsville pretty much by accident. The boys entertained themselves by clambering repeatedly over enormous rocks (a favourite boy pastime) and Husband and I had a look at an Artist's Shack on the beach which is, well, a shack where local artists show and sell their own work. We bought a painting. We didn't intend to buy a painting but it was looking at us meaningfully. We looked back and now it is winging its way back to Scotland courtesy of UPS (and a significant amount of money!) and I only hope I like it as much as I remember liking it when we bought it!

So, life is getting back to normal. The trip back brought us through Gatwick which is frankly horrible. It is loud, dirty and really badly designed. We arrived there at 9am after an overnight flight. Our shuttle to Edinburgh did not leave until 2.05pm and we could not even check in our luggage until 11.30am. We had 2 1/2 hours to wait and gues what? There is nowhere to sit down in Gatwick before you check-in! Because why on earth would two frazzled adults, two almost comatose children and a couple of tons of luggage need somewhere to sit down for 2 hours before they check-in? It's not as if Gatwick is a major hub airport where lots of people might have to wait for connecting flights. Oh wait. Yes it is.

And when we finally did get the luggage sent off and went to pass through security, the queue was frankly horrible. The people behind us were drunk (at 11.30am!!!) and obnoxious and people going before us who had had to get rid of the drinks and liquids they couldn't take on board had just chucked them on the floor. The queue up to security was ankle deep in empty water bottles, half-empty coke bottles, crisp packets and banana skins. I was embarassed. I wondered what on earth anyone coming to the UK from elsewhere would make of our country when faced with that. Because I know for certain that Halifax airport, for example, would never allow piles of rubbish to accumulate like that anywhere in the airport, never mind IN THE QUEUE TO GO THROUGH SECURITY!!!

Ahem. Anyway, back at work now which is fine. The new job means I don't come back to piles of work so big I have to get a spade out to find my desk and I was able to just slip back into things without any problem. The boys are going to a holiday club in the mornings and are, thankfully, loving it. (They hated the one I sent them to at Easter). I pick them up at lunchtime and then have the afternoon to spend with them doing fun summer holiday type things. Like 43 loads of laundry. And emptying several pounds of red sand out of various suitcases.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Normal service will be resumed

Back in the UK today. Back to grey skies and rain (unfortunately) and to people who all look slightly unhappy (you Canadians are all so chirpy by comparison!). And - OH MY GOD - back to 464 items in my Google reader. That will keep me busy for a while. Hope you have all been behaving yourself in my absence. More lurid detail on my Maritime adventures soon.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Woo Hoo!

We're in Liverpool, Nova Scotia! And it's really cloudy and overcast and misty! Just like back in Edinburgh! And yet I still managed to get sunburn yesterday! I am the only person in a 50 mile radius with a bright pink nose! Seriously, how pathetic is that? One day, ONE DAY spent out of doors under several hundred feet of cloud cover and I get sunburn. I had better stay away from any exposed 50 watt bulbs while I am at it.

Had a great day yesterday - Canada Day! Spent wandering about the park in Liverpool eating fries and chatting to complete strangers while our kids ran around like mad things. We got a lift into town from our hosts in a 1921 Dodge car - really really cool - and had dinner at the local BBQ pig roast (First Born, the unreconstructed carnivore was ecstatic). The roast pig was wearing sunglasses. Not quite sure why but it looked quite good.

Off today to the park again (there are rides down there today apparently, according to our children's new friend Andrew) and after that, who knows. I hope you are all looking after the place while I am away. No wild parties or anything!