Monday, 30 July 2007

We had a celebratory game of Scrabble today as it was our 13th wedding anniversary. I got 'vex' and 'ken', and got 13 points on my last tile, which was a blank, by making zone into zoned. That made it a draw on 252 points each. How good is that?

I heard on the radio (Classic fm - I could only switch it on to CD or radio and so it was that or a lady singing about apple pie) that you could try out a music download thing with 50 free tracks via their website. Now, this was opportune, as R had bought me some memory for my phone and some ear plugs so I can listen to music etc on my phone. The only thing was, I thought it would be a pre selected 50 tracks of classic easy listening. BUT NO! I, a non music person, was faced with the entire back collection of someone with a garage full of LPs, not unlike my father in law. Where to begin? The Frog Chorus? Frankie Goes to Hollywood? Made a few pathetic choices and then found a '20 best ever composers' album and grabbed the lot. Then found some 'Gregorian Chant Chill' and bunged that on. If anyone finds my phone on my dead body they will have an amusing time listening to the bizzarre selection, and will struggle to work me out from the tunes. It is all a mystery to me, this IT music scene. I only go into a record shop once a year to buy a voucher for my nephew, and now he is too old for birthday presents I will not need to go anymore. This online music world is like a branch of HMV but horribly big and without any staff. OK, the staff there may be less than helpful but at least they are there, appearing human in the face of such a lot of plastic. I still don't understand how you get music out of an instrument and onto a CD, let alone onto a bit inside my phone. Lou said she was in town today and came across a boy of appox 10 years old playing the bagpipes. Keep music live!

On Friday it was our pilgrimage to Bournemouth to see the fireworks. It is our 3rd year, and the last 2 have involved sitting watching the sun set, playing on the beach, eating ice creams and the adventure of being up late. The beach has always been packed with families, and people having barbecues and a 'family' atmosphere. This year it was raining. The lady behind me was on her phone and described it as 'fine drizzle'. Only the English can have so many words for rain. In a cunning plan to avoid a long rainy walk to the car, R parked in the centre of town, so we had to walk through a throng of drunken youths to get to the beach. H watched a police officer arresting a boy, probably her first experience of up close policing, judging by all the questions after. I told her he was probably a robber, as they are the worst kind of criminals in her world so far. The fireworks were great as usual, and the whole thing of being wrapped up in rugs is what its all about, so the umbrellas and waterproofs added to the experience. I asked the girls if it had been worth it. They said yes. I told R it was worth it, that they will remember forever their adventures. He said he knew. Aah.

H and I had lengthy conversations about the names of the many hotels we passed. The Royal Bath Hotel, was, according to H, where the Queen went for her bath, and also the postmen and women (who work for the Royal Mail). My favourite was when she pointed out the 'Groovy Hotel' which I thought sounded cool compared to the Grosvenor and the Highview and other dull sounding places to stay. I thought maybe someone had done a bit of a Trinny and Susannah on the hotels of Bournemouth, with a bit of lime green paint and a Feng Shuied garden. Sadly not. It was the Grove Hotel.

Earlier on that very same day we had already travelled west as far as Ringwood, for the first of 3 toddler group coach trips, funded in part by the Cooperative Community Dividend, so thanks if you agreed to donate the pence left over when you get your vouchers. We went to Moors Valley, and the girls had a brilliant day in the company of some good school mum friends and families who we hung out with. The sun shone, or at least the drizzle didn't driz. The first time A went to Moors Valley she was 7 days old, and R carried her around in his arms. We have been back since, but that cold Autumn day, when there was pretty much only us there, and this little pink bundle in a snow suit (like Maggie in the Simpsons), is a good memory to have of the place.

Yesterday we went blackberry picking in our local woods. The blackberries are ripe and ready to go, although I told the Whitmores and they went today, so by now the bushes will be stripped bare. We had a really fun time up there, and took a friend and her daughter who are a bit more used to pavements than I am, and they loved it too. I am such a fan of free food, there were fungi growing (I found 3 different varieties in about a square metre). If I was a Whitmore, I would have swiped them and taken them home to make into a souffle. But I am not, so we just filled our take away plastics with blackberries and went home feeling proud of ourselves.

The best things in life are free. Especially when they taste good too.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

A and I went to Eastleigh today. It rained incredibly well, or badly, depending on whether you like the rain or not. Then, as we were about to leave, the sun shone. So we recolonized the damp and puddly play park as first comers, like bacterial life forms on a volcano that has erupted, paving the way for higher order plants. They came, so by the time we left there were 4 youths on the swings and some Eastleigh mums and prams, eating chips and wearing shorts. Frankly, shorts don't look good on Eastleigh chip eating mums in the sun. Good thing it wasn't 20 minutes earlier, or it would have been all that in the rain.

Eastleigh has a market, selling garden ornaments and other assorted tat, 2 days a week, Thursdays and Saturdays, since you ask. Our passage to Eastleigh was made possible by the lovely Rodgers, who have lent us their car. I don't feel bad about using it in my car ban time because calling it a car is an exaggeration, more of a scooter with a roof. It is a Fiat. Seicento, or Cinquetento? Whatever, it is a good thing the Rodgers are all slim built, because if you have thighs above a size 8 they spill off the sides of the seats and would interfere with using the gear stick. Two in the front seats of ample size and you wouldn't even get the handbrake off. Anyhow, it is great fun to drive, especially if you are used to the controls of a bus, as I am. And because it is so small the feeling of speed is ridiculous - I was hitting 20 and felt like I was out of control! H clearly did too, as she asked 'Do you know how to stop this mum? Or steer?' That was on our earlier excursion to Bitterne - I know, I know - the girls wanted to cycle as well but I am not in the mood today. H did a couple of lengths and spent ages going down the flume. I have attained that eutopian parent and child swimming experience. In the time it takes for her to queue up for the slide, I have done 2 lengths, so am always in just the right place when she shooots out the end, waiting for her, like it is all I have been doing. As we are Platinum members and the girls are under 7, we can go swimming for free as much as we like. And we will.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

David Beckham has not found himself the subject of my blog till now. I got home from the Jolly Sailor tonight (incidentally, at the bar, I heard people talking about meeting at the pontoon and the skipper, and they were chirpy, hence the name of the pub I assume), and needed to wind down after an exciting evening with some very old and dear friends. I turned on the multi channel options and found a programme about DB, and his recent move to LA. I was interested in his use of the word 'blessed' to describe how he and his wife felt to have children, and how he said that coming home to his kids, and picking them up from school were the best parts of his day. Interested that he uses such a religious language term as blessed, to describe his state as a parent. And interested that for many people who have nothing, coming home with the kids from school is the bit they dread, and dropping them off in the morning is the best bit of their day. But maybe if you really pushed underneath that, they would admit that their children were a blessing to them too.

Today I took H along to a open access play scheme at our local church hall, run by a community play charity. I remember my own painful experience of going to one of those play schemes as a child in Claygate, and feeling insecure and shy and small and lonely and getting the lady across the road to ring my mum to come and pick me up. And that was in Claygate. So, maybe H could smell my fear, but she was not keen. Maybe the incident with the boy with a knife at the door on the way in should have given me some indicators, but I have to say I would not have left my dog there unattended, even if it were a Bloodhound, let alone my child. The staff were nice and there were enough of them, but the top age kids of 11 seemed to be stretched upwards and there were too many 'big boys' being bling boys for me to feel comfortable, let alone H. We did a quiz on road safety and played table football, then left. Went to the library on the way home and started a holiday reading activity, where you get stickers for every book you read. Came home and stormed through 2, one on horses and one on a Topsy Turvey Family. I learnt a lot of new vocabulary about horse parts, and thought the Topsy Turveys were a good bunch.

Yesterday was a serious fitness and triathlon training day for the Bowens. I cycled to work and back, and in between went to the Quays for a family swim. Then in the evening went to NRG. Different instructor as Sarah is in Spain. I found out tonight that Sarah has been teaching aerobics at Bitterne for at least 20 years. That is dedication to Bitterne that deserves a medal, or freedom of the precinct or something. I stopped at Home Plus on the way home to buy some paper plates, as another aspect of yesterdays action packed day was our Girls God Gang party, complete with paddling pool, Cherry Bakewells and scotch eggs, as requested by the girls. R and the girls cycled to town to meet me for our swim and picnic at lunch time, and then cycled home again. H struggled with the uphill from sea level to 2000ft out of town towards home, and they walked almost all the way from Bitterne Station to the top of the hill near our road. But, will serve her well for the Ironman Triathlon I have her entered for next week!

On Monday I cycled to work, then to Weston, then home, most of that in the rain. And some of that was through Sholing. Didn't try anything cocky. Jut straight up Butts Road, no messing. On the way across the Itchen bridge there are lots of Samaritans plaques, as it is quite a suicide hotspot. I imagine most of those are cyclists on a whim deciding it is easier and less painful to jump than to keep your legs going until you get to the freewheeling bit on the other side. Weirdly, I freewheelingly overtook a guy on the downhill bit who was still madly pedalling. Watched the Tour de France tonight. They should try the Itchen bridge, not crummy little Alps, if they want really tough inclines.

This weekend was the Claygate Flower show. The weather was not as pleasing as is usual, with some big black clouds and even bigger sploshy rain showers, but some good bits in between. My courgettes would not have looked out of place, but not trophy winners. My dad won 8 cups for his fruit, flowers and veg. The girls entered some craft and pictures and won some sweets for taking part. I took R and I, girls from across the road, and I had a go at the sack race, but not a winner. We watched Punch and Judy - Punch needs some serious support work, as he kills his wife, baby and a police officer and a crocodile. We also watched a silly man doing silly things with a snake, had our faces painted - OK, not mine, and went on some of the fair rides. Obviously the fair people know that Claygate is at the higher end of the property price spectrum, and charge house prices for a go on the Waltzer. I looked in the property paper and found a lock up garage in New Malden that we could afford. And people ask why we don't move back!

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Another trip to Bitterne for a swim tonight. It was 'adult' lane swimming, and I found a pace maker in the fast lane and worked hard to keep up with her. The fast lane at Bitterne roughly works out as equal to the medium lanes at the Quays. Although every now and again you get some joker with goggles and a nose clip doing tumble turns like we are at the Olympics. Darlings, this is Bitterne, not Barcelona. We do sedate breast stroke, heads up, not weaving around under the water with flippers on and a float. I like the fact that when all you can see is someone's head, it is very levelling.

I noticed 2 girls in the medium lane who both had short fringes ('bangs' for my American readers). I wondered if this is fashionable, or whether they are sisters with a snip happy mother. Or maybe it was one of those things like with a chair leg, where you keep sawing until you have none left but at least its level.

We had a barbecue at our house tonight, as a kind of housegroup with all the kids. Lots of friends who live nearby came too, and we brought and shared food, which worked out amazingly well. Plenty of wine and meat, enough of everything else for everyone to have a meal that did not consist entirely of wine and meat. I tried to add up how many people there were - I think it was over 30. Our poor little barbecue! The rain started just when the last people had gone home. Perfect.

Changed in a cubical on the way out.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Sorry, forgot to tell you about H's party celebrations for being 6. Where to begin! Still getting parcels now, so not over yet. Mon eve there was a stream of adult visitors bearing gifts - Dunc, Claire and Rob G - rather like 3 Magi, but no camels. Just a bit before that, we went to Rainbows (I have been helping for a month, but, Sarah T, you will be pleased to hear I said no to continuing with it, even if that means it has to close, as part of my 'no new projects' rule). The Rainbows had a clown magician guy in, and he featured H as the star helper, dressing her up as Harry Potter, which, bless her, meant nothing to her, but she giggled lots about the glasses and cloak and waved her wand around when requested. So, that was a billy bargain bonus birthday treat!

The party was on Saturday, and we had the only day with no rain for ages before or since. So, paddling pool went up and was a big hit. Boyfriend C came, him and his harem of 11 girls. I made them make fruit kebabs and sweetie bracelets when they arrived, then paddling pool, then party games (sad that a couple of kids were sitting out - beneath them? too cool? shy? not sure!) and tea. All sat round the table and had chips and fishfingers and chicken nuggets. Then the cake - bought from Tescos, as a representation of my not having to be perfect and make home made cakes as well as do a home made party- which was 'the most beautiful cake I have ever seen mummy'. So will be purchasing every year rather than face the scathing criticism a home made cake lays you open to!
On Monday I popped up to Bitterne for a quick swim about 6pm. Oh Bitterne LC! How I missed you! Your spelling of cubicles (cubicals), the plasters in the showers, the petting couples sprinkled liberally across the pool to make the lengths that bit more diagonal. What joy is mine! The pool was full with a cross section of Bitterne's humanity. How good it is to share water with these people! People who go on buses, for example.

Yesterday my exercise involved cycling to and from work. The wind did a 180 shift during the day so I was cycling into the wind throughout. Stopped at M and S to have a drink and a bit of time out on return. Chatted to a lady from Reading for whom it was her first visit to Hedge End. She'll be back. M and S have moved their cafe downstairs, so there is an outside bit, at the back, near the bus stops that most people with cars have no idea is there. There is a non functioning but interesting looking play area there too.

Friday, 13 July 2007

The latest part of H's birthday celebrations - don't birthdays last for ever when you are 6 - was ear piercing. We went by bus to Bitterne, and walked down the noisy dual carriageway to a friend's house, who did the deed. H did not even flinch. And now has pierced ears, and is very proud of them. We walked back up the road to get the bus home. Both ways it was the same bus driver - I find that happens quite often - he had been to Millbrook and back - and both trips he only charged me and not H. Find it fascinating that he has been on a journey - but to nowhere, while I have been doing my errands in Bitterne. I was very tempted to use the car - although not 'our day' Hat was not using it - but resisted and remembered the greater reason to use public transport and thus save Planet Earth, or something. All the way back up the hill to Bitterne I explained to H how speed cameras work and what was the point of them and gave detailed explanations of how they send the images to a computer in an office, and how someone checks the numberplates and sends out letters telling the drivers off and telling them to pay some money. You know, I sometimes get in too deep with those kind of conversations, but this one did not go beyond my technical know how. I even gave an example of how the cameras measure speed with her running, and then walking, between 2 lamp posts and me counting the seconds to do the journey. Do your remember doing that ticker tape thing in Physics lessons at secondary school - think it was the same kind of thing. Sure Matthew will fill us in!

It was the school family barbecue tonight. Always makes me think of Bill Bryson's ' family butcher' comment that he wants to make when he sees that written over a butchers shop - 'How much to do mine?'. R was on bbq duties, and sweated over hundreds of burgers, his earlier experiences working in Burger King clearly worthwhile, as he flipped specials and squirted mustard - ok, maybe I am getting carried away. He got fed up when the head teacher turned up and said it was all a bit slow - to which he retorted: ' Well we could serve them raw', in a tone which I imagine only R can do. Soon after he was offered a break from duties. A was in a bit of a grump, still not totally recovered from her wipe out virus from the last couple of weeks, so it was not the evening it could have been...

But thats the beauty of blog life! take the rough with the smooth, the charred with the raw, you get the full experience here. No make up for the telly in this world. WYSIWYG is the acronym I am looking for. Life. Nits. Rain. An odd vegetable based smell in the kitchen that I can't track down.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Through winning friends and influencing people - someone should write a book on that - I was very blessed to take H to Paultons Park today, for a severely bargain price. I took along one of her friends, K. It was a blessing in many ways. First, we had promised H a trip to PP for her birthday, which is next week. It was going to cost us over £70 to get all of us and one of her friends in, so for the bargain price of £15 I got me and 2 kids in, and H was happy as she got her trip with a friend. So, financially a happy day. It was a sunny day, apart from the rain, and the rain was only for the last hour of the day. We went on loads of rides and I only said no to one that they wanted to do and which I do not have the stomach for - I was really brave and went on the teapots. Now, the weird thing was how emotional I was being there. I cried with happiness when we got in - literally - I was so glad to be there (and to be there for so little cash), and to be doing something special for H for her birthday which she had chosen. On the way there we prayed, and one of H's wishes (her word for prayer - hey its close!) was for there to be lots of pretty flowers. And there were! How good is that? There were also lots of people eating chips, and we joined in and stopped at a big multinational fast food outlet for 'Happy Meals' on the way home. Sorry everyone. But you are only 6 once, and what better way to encourage your children to fight against capitalism and for the environment than by feeding them McCrap once a year?

Last night we went to Bingo. Emma initiated this trip and there were 7 of us, with me and Em the most proficient and competent players, having been once before. It was very funny to hear myself explaining something that frankly is a mystery even now. We had 2 wins between 7 of us, with Libby's walking under ladders and stroking black cats working, as she got the biggest of those, and nearly another win but she was a bit tentative with shouting 'Housey Housey'. The Bingo was in Woolston, where I also had my hair cut and wandered around Woolworths earlier in the day. I also visited a beautician earlier in the day, in Thornhill. She shared my passion for Bitterne! In her words: 'It's got everything you need.' And she came from Northam, so no allegiance.

My recommendations for a good life: always opt for Gala bingo. And go to Paulton's Park for a fun day out. It comes highly recommended, better than Adventure Wonderland ( but more expensive, and you can use Tesco points to get in to AW). Damn me! I jut confessed to having some Tesco points, which means that I must have accidentally shopped in Tescos at some point this year. That and McDonalds, will have to not eat for a few weeks to make up for those consumer choices.

I did make a environmentally conscious choice and ordered a box of vegetables from Sunnyfield Farm. She asked me on the phone if I wanted to know what was in it, and I said no, let it be a surprise. They obviously have a policy for idiots like me, hence the enormous cabbage, enormous marrow and enormous bag of spinach. Feel like James and the Giant Peach, but in a dreadful vegetable nightmare version. Have found a recipe to make the marrow edible, and to use the cabbage leaves creatively, but think bubble and squeak will be featuring this week on the menu Chez Bowen.

So, Bingo, bargain day out and vegetables. If you googled those 3 do you think my blog would be the first choice? I am blessed with all 3 of those experiences.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Ha! Great comment from Steve about parking tickets in China. Clearly there is a market for second hand VAT receipts. Spiritual directors- well, I was on a course at a retreat centre and got chatting to a lady there who mentioned she was just finishing her course to be a spiritual director. I went to the loo, prayed and asked her to be mine (not all at once).

There are probably other ways, the Church of England have a person in each diocese for spiritual development so they would be a good starting point.. or a trawl of local retreat centres? Interestingly (perhaps for some) as we are all parishioners of one parish or another of the C of E, we are technically their souls for the curing, so I say get cured! Like bacon!

My latest reading matter is a book by a lady in the US who decided not to shop for a year, other than for basic food items... and medicine for her sick cat. The cat costs her over $1000 per year, frankly even a cat lover like me would adminsiter a little tight pillow love at that cost. That is more than it is to keep R, and I have not thought of asphyxiating him. Lately.

I made R go scrounging around Thornhill for a Guardian newspaper late on Wednesday night - some of you will be LOL at that bit by now, knowing the ridiculous nature of that quest. Anyhow, he found one, and it had a pull out section on NDC and a article all about Sanda, which is why I wanted to get it. She is one of the co founders of the toddler group that I have attended for the last 3 years, and have recently slid off the committee of.

Have you noticed that I never tell you what I am about to do, only what I have done? That is to stop stalkers from getting ahead of me and being there before I get there.

I watched the Cherie programme the other night, and was horrified to listen to myself commenting on her clothes and make up! I have been so conditioned by the media and society's view on women. Never mind that she is a super brainy multi tasking mother of 4, and a lawyer of some standing, but I am like the Sun and looking at her clothes combos. That is frightening, how conditioned I am by the world around me.

Have to go, need to apply more mascara before I go out.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

'There was once a man, expensively dressed in the latest fashions, wasting his days in conspicuous consumption. That is how the story of the rich man and Lazarus begins in the Message bible. Whoa. That is painful to read. I may not be a man, I may not wear the latest fashions, but do I waste my days in conspicuous consumption? Maybe it is all relative, and compared to some of my peers I don't - I try not to - but in the face of the global population all watching then I would look conspicuously consumptive. Maybe I should take hope that the verse did make me think about what I do and how it looks. Makes me think. Thought it might make you think.

Have veered from my original intention of this blog being for Bitterne fans. But while I am veering, I have found some other uncomfortable reading to share with you. In my Amnesty magazine (always uncomfortable reading - never leave it in the bathroom), I found a list of things you can be executed for in China. Crimes include: selling on VAT receipts, dealing in cultural relics and cattle rustling. Can you imagine if you were a crooked farmer with a shrine or something discovered on your land. You could die three times for committing crimes. Seriously, reselling VAT receipts? Now I am really bad at remembering the procedure for doing the petty cash in the office (find the key, open the tin, take out the book, write lots of things in it, staple the receipt on to the lined piece of paper, tear out the unlined, move the piece of carbon paper, take out the money, shut the lid, put the tin away, hide the key again) and it would be easily done that you accidentally sell a receipt that you weren't meant to. OK, maybe not easy to do, but I could easily forget to put the receipt in, for example, and it sounds like that would get me 20 years of porridge by Chinese standards.

Thanks to ME for the fab explantion of probability in the comments section on roadkill. You could be a maths teacher. Definitely you would be good at it. For information, the two dead animals were both seen on roads leading to the M27, but not on the motorway iself.

Yesterday I drove up to A31 and a little browny golden animal jumped across the road in front of me. I think it may have been a stoat. It looked like a ferret but smaller. I really hate ferrets, more than I hate rats, but not as much as I hate slugs. I know, they are all God's creatures etc etc, but maybe God was having a bad 5 minutes when he thought of slugs.

I went up the A31 to a Convent, called the Convent of St Lucy. I had never heard of her, but she had great gardens and lots of elderly, godly nuns (12) ( number of nuns, not average age) who graciously offered us hospitality for my meeting with my spiritual director (who is not a nun). It is so peaceful there, you can feel a different pace of life as you enter the gates. Here is a meditation that I picked up there, by Ann Lewin:

Cows get it about right.
Unhurried pace and gentle curiosity,
The natural rhythms of their day,
Giving them ample time to chew things over.
We could do worse than stand around like cows.

I do not wish to post a critique of the quality of writing here, as I don't think I could find anything good to say about it, please do try yourself if you like literary analysis. I like the sentiment of stopping, stilling, chewing things over and not rushing on to the next thing.

Only Bitterne fun this week was an NRG session as usual on Tuesday in the main hall with Sarah. There is judo or something going on on the other side of the curtain, and this week they were being unusually enthusiastic with grunting and shouting. Could barely hear the music or the groans from my dear friend Lou as we did the outer thigh exercise. And she was on the next door mat.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

These are the big and small of my potatoes unearthed today. Look at that specimen - a megapud. And no intervention from chemicals or mankind. Just God sending lots of rain and sun.
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