Thursday, March 23, 2006

A few words about shoes

I am about to get a little bit girly. (Male readers might want to look away now.) To be honest, I’m not really a particularly girly girl. I don’t have endless conversations about shoes and make up. I don’t fixate about my weight or drift from fad diet to fad diet. And I was never one to flutter my eyelashes and claim blonde idiocy to get my own way with men. (All of which might explain why you-know-who is the first proper boyfriend I’ve had in years and why I seem to be frequently mistaken for being gay – remember this?)

That said, I am not without my vain moments. And this week I came upon a revelation. I bought a pair of shoes which

a) look great
b) feel comfortable
c) give me a bit of height
d) can be worn with jeans and smart black trousers
and, the best bit
e) make me look thinner

It’s true. They’re MBT trainers. MBT is (not a yeshiva, but) Masai Barefoot Technology. The idea is that the Masai walk upright for miles every day without shoes and without any back pain. The reason? They train themselves to walk on natural terrain in their bare feet. Meanwhile, I walk for roughly an hour a day in shoes of varying degrees of quality and constantly suffer from spine twinges and back pain.

Now, contrary to what I might have implied above re. blonde idiocy, I don’t quite understand the science. It’s something about replicating the feel of unstable, rocky terrain beneath your moving feet. Clearly, I'm not the only one to stumble (no pun intended) across these shoes and not quite understand the science. These shoes (get this) come with a DVD to teach you how to wear them and how to walk in them correctly. Imagine, a free DVD with your shoes to show you how to walk in them. (Needless to say, I haven't watched the DVD. It would be a miracle if I could get near the TV to be honest, since Scrappino recently inherited another 20 odd Dr Who videos...)

But whatever the scientific reasoning, these shoes are incredible. They force you to stand tall and consequently (point e) they make you look thinner because you hold yourself (and all your wibbly bits) in as you walk. They are amazingly comfortable – like walking barefoot, only with support - and they look brilliant.

How amazing is that?

Okay, enough giggly girliness. Back to normal. What do you think of the budget, eh?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

While I've not been blogging...

Oh dear. Yet another fortnight (almost) with no blog update. Sorry. Too busy living. It looks like MC is also taking something of a blog-sabbatical, so I don’t feel too guilty. But it is rather ironic that now that I have something vaguely exciting to blog about I am actually blogging much less than I used to. Makes me wonder if the cyber-detractors are right when they say that blogging is for those with no life who make up for it by blogging about crap.

That said, I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel on SuburbanHymns just yet. I just have to find cryptic ways of getting my news across without breaking the promise I made to you-know-who that I wouldn’t divulge personal information. I could try telling you what I haven’t done and let you fill in the gaps. So, for example, I could reveal that we recently went away to York for the weekend and we didn’t see the Minster, the Yorvik Viking center or the Castle museum. Or indeed any of the tourist attractions. We were kinda busy. (Mind you, I was rather upset not to visit Clifford’s tower. I recall visiting the Tower a couple of year’s ago with Scrappino. At the entrance gate, the woman in the ticket office asked him – he was aged 6 at the time- in thick Yorkshire accent, “Do you want a Jewish Massacre Leaflet?” I replied that I didn’t.)

I love going away for the weekend. You get all the benefit of starting the working week feeling like you’ve been away for months but you don’t lose any holiday from your annual leave. And York is a brilliant distance from London for a quick weekend’s break. It’s far enough away to forget all about London but near enough to get back in time for the Antiques Roadshow. Or, in our case, for the second half of the Spurs match. Actually, that was the result some rather delicate negotiation. We were booked on the 3.00 pm train back to London when early on Sunday morning you-know-who realised that if we left on the 2.00 pm instead, he would be back in time to watch the second half of the match. Would I mind if we left York an hour earlier? The quid-pro-quo would be that he would remain silent for an hour and 15 minutes while I listened to The Archers Omnibus. He even promised that he would resist the urge to make tractor noises and repeat, in a voice of disbelief, “Do you actually listen to this horseshite?” I thought that this was a pretty good deal and agreed to lose an hour of our weekend away.

Back in London it was interesting to see the reaction from friends and family. Female friends were clearly disappointed by the blow I’d struck against my Feminist ideals and tried to give me advice along the lines of ‘start as you mean to go on’ and ‘give an inch and he’ll take a mile’. Male friends were actually impressed (either by you-know-who’s audacity or my understanding) and considered nominating me for the Girlfriend of the Month award. But then Brother #2 just asked why you-know-who hadn’t insisted on taking the 1 pm train so that he could watch the whole match?

Meanwhile, Purim has been and gone. Scrappino dressed up as a clown – not very original, I know, but it was better than being the 197th Harry Potter that turned up at school that day. There was the obligatory Fancy Dress Competition that he didn’t win. I tried to warn him that he didn’t stand a chance since he was wearing shop bought costume and didn’t have any face paint on him. There are certain unwritten rules that you have to comply with if you want to win the Purim Fancy Dress Competition.

1. You have to wear a hand made costume. (You’re in with an even bigger chance if the costume looks like a child with learning difficulties made it, rather than your parents. If it falls apart as you’re walking across the stage, you’re a safe bet for First Prize).

2. Your costume has to be based on a terrible pun that your parents thought of. (9 Caret Gold – where the kid wears orange clothes and 9 carrots strung round his waste is very popular. Ant and Dec – where the kid wears black, 2 extra legs and a pack of cards stuck to his back is also a sure winner.)

3. Your costume should be Purim or Jewish themed. (If you dress up as anything Purim/Jewish related, you’re gonna win because the judge is invariably some Rabbi that the school hauls in for such occasions and they love all that Jewish stuff. So dressing up as a Hamentash, Queen Esther or a Sefer Torah is a clever idea.)

4. If all else fails, cry. (This tends to work especially well for the girls. If you refuse to walk across the stage when it’s your turn, cry, run over to your mum and then change your mind after the judges have made their decision and cry some more, you will invariably win something.) [These girls tend to grow up into women who do not return home an hour earlier than planned so that their boyfriends can catch the second half of a football match].

Friday, March 03, 2006

arts news

Following a phone conversation with Ploni last night to find out her news (she reads the blog, so no need to tell her mine…) it transpires that she has put two and two together and arrived at five. Basically, the recent reference to the Valentines Day card (and no doubt the flying mug fiasco) plus a week’s absence from blogging equals R.x must be too busy playing boys and girls to blog. Actually, not so. I’ve been busy. Not working (obviously) but making the most of London. I get the urge from time to time to go all Mariella Fostrup and see a bit of culture. London can be such an irritating place to live sometimes – it is ridiculously expensive, congested, polluted, full of Londoners etc, that I feel the need to react by taking excessive advantage of its positive side.

So in recent weeks I have been to Sadler's Wells (get me, I’m even on the mailing list) to see the wonderful Sara Baras. She is a flamenco dancer and was in town as part of the London Flamenco Festival. I went with my obligatory GBF (that’s a gay best friend for those who don’t take their stock abbreviations from Sex and the City) who booked the tickets expecting to see gorgeous scantily-clad Latino men strutting their stuff on stage. I reminded him that he was thinking about Tango, not Flamenco, and so he wasn’t overly keen at first.

But Baras took our breaths away. She moves like an athlete but at the same time is remarkably graceful, and the costumes were stunning (so GBF was pleased after all), designed to move as part of the choreography. Brilliant. It was probably the best live performance I’ve seen in London for months. In fact, I was so blown away that I immediately booked tickets to see the same show the following night.

I’ve also been to the Barbican to see the fabulous Sophie Solomon. She’s the violinist from Oi Va Voi and was taking part in an evening billed as Genius of the Violin. The show began with the full orchestra (long black dresses, tails and bow-ties) playing something or other (you can tell that classical music really isn’t my thing) followed by some miserable looking chap (suit and tie) playing American Seasons. Then Sophie came out wearing plunging sleeveless v-neck, black leather mini skirt and fish net stockings. I could imagine the wife of the Barbican Managing Director ordering her husband to ‘close your mouth dear’ [a la Pretty Woman]. Sophie rocked. She looked like a rock star and played like a god. And if that wasn’t enough, she only went and brought on Martha Wainwright to accompany her on vocals. Yes, Martha Wainwright. Sister of Rufus . Daughter of Loudon .

My concert companion had never heard of Sophie, Martha, Loudon or Rufus so I had to conceal my excitement and squeal silently. But if you fancy listening to electrifying klezmer, check out Sophie’s new album “Poison Sweet Madeira”.

In case you think I’ve disappeared so far up my own arse that I won’t be seen for weeks, I’ve also been enjoying more mundane cultural visits. I went to see the Jonny Cash film, Walk the Line. I spent most of the week telling friends that I was going to see the Pat Cash film which indicates that I’m not exactly a Jonny Cash fan. In fact, the only thing I like about Country and Western music is the soundtrack to Oh Brother Where Art Thou? (Actually, I also like that gag about the cowboy who says “I like all sorts of music. I like Country AND Western”) It turns out that Jonny Cash’s wife, June Carter Cash (played spectacularly by Reece Witherspoon, by the way. If she doesn’t get the Oscar it’ll be a disgrace) was from the famous (well, in Nashville, at any rate) Carter Family that features on the Oh Brother soundtrack, and so it was nice to make the connection.

And for someone who really doesn’t like C&W music, I have to admit that I was gripped by the movie. If you’re wondering what to watch this Saturday night, that’d be a great place to start.

So, why am I telling you all this?
a) so that I look all cultured and interesting
b) having promised you-know-who that I wouldn’t mention him, I’m finding that I don’t have much else to blog about
c) to assure Ploni that silence does not necessarily mean too much you-know-what with you-know-who

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Weekend in Wales

So, a weekend away in deepest Wales. And a week (well almost) in London to recover. Considering that I spent my entire childhood, up to the age of 18, on the Welsh doorstep, you’d think I’d be adequately prepared for a trip across the border. But the truth is that I was totally blown away. I know that I mocked before I set off and hinted at past expeditions to the Gulag-like Colomendy. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. We weren’t sleeping in freezing wood cabins after all. (Which is a shame in some ways, since I schlepped my sleeping bag with me and consequently spent most of the car journey curled up in the fetal position with my sleeping bag rolled up in the footwell).

The accommodation was fantastic. The hostel is a converted stately home and the building was simply fabulous. We were given massive rooms with en-suite bathrooms (which is more than I can offer guests – or even myself – in my own flat) complete with tea/coffee making facilities and TV/Internet. And if you don’t believe me, take a look at this…

Now, you have to agree, compared to Ablution Blocks and communal dormitories, that’s the high life.

Even more amazing than Man’s handiwork was the natural environment. The view was breathtaking. I’m no photographer, so you’ll have to make do with this fairly grainy image…

…but even given my ropey photography, you can tell that this is pretty special scenery. On Saturday morning I woke up, opened the balcony doors in my bedroom (yes, I had a balcony!!) and listened…to absolutely nothing. Apart from the odd sheep bleating (well, I was in Wales after all) and some birds in a near-by tree there was total and utter silence. No trains. No cars. No people.

I started to wonder why on earth I choose to live in polluted, congested London.

I think part of the answer lies in the fact that Wales (or, at least, the bit of it that I visited at the weekend) really is in the middle of nowhere. Beyond the back of beyond. It took us four hours to drive there. Admittedly, we were travelling in the height of rush hour on a Friday. And yes, we probably would have got there sooner had we taken an up-to-date map with us. Unfortunately, my friend C (who was driving) had a map of Britain that was over 15 years old and had been drawn before the new Severn Bridge was built. So what had been the M4 was now the M48 and what had been The Severn Bridge was now The Old Severn Bridge. All this meant that what had been three competent adults following the signs with a trusted road map was now three lost, slightly hysterical adults travelling through the Welsh countryside without a clue of where they were or how to get back to where they needed to be.

We crossed the New Severn Bridge (£4.99) only to discover that we’d crossed the wrong one. So we had to cross back into England (no charge) and find the Old Severn Bridge and cross that one instead (£4.99). We tried explaining to the man in the toll booth that we’d just paid £4.99 crossing the other bridge in error only to come straight back again and did we really have to pay again? After he’d comprehended our position, (“Let me get this straight madam. You crossed the new bridge at a cost of £4.99. Then immediately turned your car around and crossed back again. And now you’re crossing for a third time? Only you want to cross free of charge? Is that correct?”) He just laughed and told us that was our lookout. He sits in a 2m by 2m metal booth all day handing out 1p in change to strangers thrusting fivers at him. This is the only bit of work-related entertainment he’s likely to get this month.

What made our map-reading difficulties all the more galling is the fact that I was specifically asked NOT to read the map. This is because I have a notoriously bad sense of direction. I’ve turned down dinner invitations because I know I’d not be able to find my way to the host’s house. I’ve been on my way from Mill Hill to Elstree and ended up in Whetstone. This is like trying to get from France to Germany and ending up in New York. In fact, the situation has become so awkward that I’ve recently invested in a sat-nav system. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring it along with me for the journey to Wales. No problem, decided C, because her colleague A, who was travelling with us in the car, is a whizz at map reading. In fact, he’s a qualified navigator who served in the Israeli army in exactly that capacity. He is a militarily trained map reader. And we still ended up crossing the wrong bridge and giving some shmock who works the toll booth the biggest belly laugh he’s ever had on the job.

But it’s not just the remoteness that made me feel out of place in Wales. It’s what the remoteness makes you do. I’d hazard a guess that, had I spent the weekend on a Leadership Training Course in London, the atmosphere would have been totally different. We’d have discussed the agenda, chatted about leadership techniques and compared different management theories. But locked away in the countryside, miles away from home, with the nearest farm half a kilometre away, people start behaving a bit differently. They start emoting. Opening up. Discussing feelings. And what should have been a leadership training course became a weekend of free therapy and group sharing. You may be surprised to learn (since I reveal so much on this blog) that I hate all that communal sharing. You tell me your hang-ups and I’ll tell you mine. It encourages people who have a safe keep-me-at-some-distance relationship to become confidants and counsellors. And the result is invariably messy. Some woman will cry. Some bloke will lose his temper. And the next morning everyone feels awkward and embarrassed and worried that they’ve revealed too much. It reminds me of that scene in Awakenings when Robin Williams wakes up all the comatose patients and suddenly the silence is shattered by a stampede of neuroses; a cacophony of jabbering, clapping, whittering maniacs. Of course, the people on the course were neither jabbering or whittering or maniacs. But the comparison still stands. If you herd a group of strangers together in a remote location for long enough, ply them with a little wine and suggest they chat openly, the floodgates of emotion invariably open. I squirmed in the corner, arms folded, resolutely British, and resisted the urge to share. No uncomfortable self-revelation for me, thank you very much. This isn’t the Oprah show. I was determined to get through the whole weekend without once starting a sentence with the phrase “Thank you for that” or “I hear what you’re saying”. I wasn’t about to tell a group of 9 people I’d only just met my innermost dreams, hopes and fears. I’ve got a freely accessible web-site, visited by strangers around the world, to do that.