Monthly Archives: February 2012
There’s a well-known rude joke I won’t repeat here involving Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick, Dr Watson, the punchline being the title of this post. Were Sherlock and the good Doctor actually real, and gracing the streets of 21st Century London, they might employ themselves usefully by investigating The Case of the Disappearing Lemons.
I have friends staying with me this week: my lovely girlfriend Ludmilla, and her bright young teenage son, Alexei, over from Nice for half term. Ludmilla is Russian, and grew up enduring various deprivations (which experience she could fall back on, as luck would have it, when she last paid me a visit in the summer of 2011, thanks to my fridge deciding to take the very same two weeks off fridging). But times have moved on, brand names now abound all over the globe, and most things can be acquired at the click of a mouse. Apart from lemons, that is, in the centre of London. In 2012. (Do I sound bitter? Or just sour?)
We were enjoying a lovely day yesterday – an amble around Harrod’s, a delicious lunch, shoe-shopping for Alexei, even the sun came out in the afternoon. Naturally, the teenager was eager to appreciate the real attractions of the capital city, and asked for an hour in a certain electronic gadget store (they don’t need the publicity, but we’re talking another fruit here – tsk, not pomegranate, think again), so Ludmilla and I repaired next door to one of those coffee shops identified by its chunky brown furniture and complete lack of charm. We queued for the requisite three days while the two hapless employees behind the counter were endeavouring to deal with the requests of the 143 people in front of us, each demanding one of the 17,975 slightly different concoctions of coffee beans and cow juice the management have come up with.
At last it was our turn. I asked for an Earl Grey tea with lemon. To be told they ‘don’t have lemons’.
They don’t have lemons? Well, it’s not as if they grow on trees, is it?
I shouldn’t have been surprised, for as I was sipping my lemon tea without the lemon (the taste was lacking something, can’t quite put my finger on it) I remembered having the same experience a few years ago in another branch of the same coffee house (is ‘cafe’ a four-letter word these days?), which was actually located in a supermarket. I’ll have a lemon tea please, I’d said. ‘Sorry’, came the sorry reply, ‘we don’t have lemons’. We’re in a supermarket, I pointed out helpfully. They’re just over there. And I waved my hand in the direction of a paltry display of twelve tons of the things: waxed, unwaxed, otherwise depilated, cleansed, moisturized and toned. He looked at me as if I was bananas (see what I did there?) and another lemonless beverage was had.
Didn’t another famous fictional detective, Hercule Poirot, have a secretary by the name of Miss Lemon? Her business cards would have to be somewhat larger in current times, wide enough to accommodate the monica Miss Wedonthavelemons.
I’d be grateful if someone could solve this modern day citrus mystery for me. To put it another way, I’ll have a large glass of lemon aid, please.
Rules. Where would we be without them? Personally, I’d be wearing opera glasses and those sucker things on my hands and knees, stuck to the outside windows of George Clooney’s bathroom (which could well be dangerous on so many levels. Especially if his bathroom is on the top floor). So rules are obviously a necessary part of life and the sooner we get used to that, the better.
Naturally, we’re not all in a position to write the rules. Not all of us went to Eton (well, I drove past it one rainy afternoon in an old Saab, but I don’t think that counts). Not all of us are deranged, out of touch dictators, unsure of the true meaning of democracy. (Who went to Eton. But that’s enough of British politics.) Only one of us is Silvio Berlusconi (although half of us appear to have slept with him). And what a huge relief that is, it obviously being an enormous burden to use one’s elite position to teach, guide, prescribe and proscribe to the population at large in an all-knowing, but caring and morally responsible manner.
Having recently seen the leaked 3,786
weird, nit-picking finely-tuned, well-thought out stipulations for posting on Facebook devised by plainly sexually-repressed oddball totally regular nothing-abnormal-about-him kind of a guy Mark Zuckerberg, I thought the time has come for a little stipulating and devising regarding my own blog. (I’m bored. Can’t go out ’til the washing machine’s finished).
Oh, and for the record, Mr Zuckerberg may indeed be a little pleased with himself with his 800 million site members, but much as I don’t like to trumpet my own success, I’ll just point out that this week – that’s a mere seven days! – Reversing Over Expats has increased its listed readership by a staggering 50%! That’s right; I’ve got 3 official followers now, up from 2. So stick that in your flotation portfolio, fruitcake.
REVERSING OVER EXPATS SITE RULES
1. No spitting.
2. No ball games.
3. No Ed Balls’ games.
4. Don’t sound your horn after midnight.
5. One foot to be on the floor at all times.
6. Discussion of David Cameron, George Osborne, all banking executives and Simon Cowell to be censored at the discretion of NotNiceEtoile.
7. No photographs of tits. (See point 6 above).
8. No breastfeeding of persons under the age of 17.
9. No images of pixelated Pixies. (I was only fulfilling my contractual obligation to be a Jolly Pixie, how was I supposed to know the Brownie Juice was spiked???)
10. No maps of Turkey, no pictures of turkey breasts. Even if covered in mayonnaise with tomato on rye. (Cartoon turkey breasts OK if wearing a sportsbra and thick sweater).
11. No poaching of animals. (Grilling is acceptable, as long as a range of mustards is available).
12. Pictures of crushed heads OK, especially those as a consequence of popular uprisings.
13. Offside Rule to be chanted on the hour, every hour, after five pints of best on match days:-
A player is in an offside position if he is closer to the opponent’s goal line than both the ball and the second-to-last defender (which is usually the last outfield player), but only if the player is on his opponent’s half of the pitch. “Offside position” is a matter of fact, whereas committing an “offside offence” occurs when the a player is “actively involved” which is subject to the interpretation of the referee. Goals scored after committing an offside offence are nullified if caught by the referee.
How much more clear can that be???
14. No anoraks. Especially those with the initials MZ, no matter how nauseatingly rich they are.
No appeal if you haven’t bathed for three weeks and are wearing socks with sandals. Or your trousers are too short, and/or made of cartoon polyester.
You have been warned.
Some of you may wonder how I spend my time when I’m not writing this blog or making frequent tweets on Facebook or showing my face on Twitter (why aren’t you following me, as do a load of foodstuffs and sex workers??? NiceEtoile, hop to it). Well, a normal day incorporates a couple of hours trying to find work as a jobbing writer, and 6 hours sorting out the recycling so I can distribute it into the 87 specifically-designated bins provided by the council, the contents of which they subsequently quietly ship to landfill sites in China:-
which leaves the remainder of the day to watch Come Dine with Me, Judge Judy, and Country House Rescue. No wonder I’m exhausted. Oh, and in my spare time (which is limited, obviously), I write drama.
One of my plays, Readers Wives, is about four women who meet up for a reunion, having not seen each other for twenty years since they left school. Well, in a spooky example of life imitating art, last night I spent a highly enjoyable time meeting up with three girlfriends, some of us having not seen each other for, believe it or not, twenty years. (I played me, by-the-way. I’ve almost got the characterization figured out now). We had a great time (unlike the hapless women in my play), we laughed, we reminisced, we ate and drank, we met the gorgeous son of my host who happens to be the drummer of the fab group, Swing Out Sister (she’s my favourite type of friend, if I’m honest), one of us slept off her share of the 38 gallons of wine in a lovely, warm, comfy guest bed. (Think that was me, but will get back to you as soon as the results come in).
[NB: My next play is going to be about George Clooney falling instantly into deep love with a petite, but curvy middle-aged woman the moment he lays eyes on her as she’s dribbling whilst being in the process of climbing up his leg.]
This all took place in East London, a part of town which will come to a complete standstill in the summer, thanks to traffic priority being awarded for three weeks to anyone who has anything whatsover to do with the Olympic Games (including sponsors such as McDonalds and Coca Cola) at the expense of ambulances, blood delivery services, and doctors trying to get to work to tend to those who are suffering from the effects of overindulging on McDonalds and Coco Cola. Anyway, just in case, I didn’t take the car yesterday; one, because I wanted to make a point; and two, because I don’t have one.
Which meant I had to travel on the Underground – both to my destination, and back home again this morning. You have to steel yourself to do this – not because the Tube system isn’t safe; it is, mostly – but because certain lines (notice I haven’t written ‘Central’ anywhere in this sentence) ferry around London the worst-dressed people in the city. (What IS it with Croydon Facelifts – scraggy hair pulled back so tightly over the head, girls’ eyebrows end up hovering behind their kneecaps. And let’s not even go there with dark-coloured lip liner outlining where the lips would be if Coco the Clown was applying the Max Factor. Or should that be the Min Factor?)
Anyway, even more distressing than the sight of the fashion victims was the curious case of ye olde English announcements.
My first train today pulled into Mile End station, whereupon it remained for 10 minutes. Eventually the guard clicked on the tannoy to announce there was some sort of emergency further along the line, and that if anyone was in a hurry, they could take the District Line just across the platform, and so should ‘alight’ from the train. Alight? I haven’t alighted from anything since 1863.
All the recorded announcements on the London Underground use this outdated word, as in: South Kensington: Passengers for the museums should alight here.
Er, is it not the case that a fair proportion of passengers for the museums are, in fact, foreign tourists, many of whom might well have looked at an English phrasebook published some time during the past 100 years, none of which will contain the word ‘alight’? But never mind if nobody understands when they need to get off the train, these visitors are already living the museum experience for the price of a tube ticket.
What image does this give to the world of the good citizens of this country? That we wear top hats and sport handlebar moustaches, and carry walking sticks in order to wave them about ahead of us in case we bump into something in the year-round, pea-souper fog? (The French already think we’re all called Norman and prefer to hang out in the kitchen, thanks to the way they teach English over there). It’s a country, London Transport, not a bloody theme park.
But they don’t stop there. (Well, they stop at Mile End, as we know. For a considerable time).
I ‘alighted’ from the Central Line carriage, and ‘boarded’ a District Line train. Which soon came to rest in a tunnel. Quick as a flash the driver’s South London twang filled our ears: This is due to a red signal, we’ll be onward bound very shortly. Onward bound??? Right ho, Carruthers!
Of course, I had plenty to read whilst waiting to be bound onward, like the notice I’ve written about before in these pages: Improvement work to tracks and stations may affect your journey. Well, how is that an improvement, then?
And as the train neared the final station on the line (anyone know why my journey from Mile End to Wimbledon took exactly one hour to the minute??? How does that happen???) the pre-recorded disembodied female voice informed me that the train was about to terminate (I know that some of the rolling stock is old, but that seems a little dramatic), ending her announcement with a jaunty All change please! (And yes, she definitely said the exclamation mark).
It’s a good job Transport for London, as I believe London Transport is now called – probably at a cost of billions of pounds worth of new stationery (or should that be ‘stationary’?) – doesn’t have an input into song titles. Else Elvis would have been singing You’re nothing better than a breed of dog with a long face and large drooping ears trained to pursue game; The Stones would complain of being unable to obtain any gratification whatsoever; and the Beatles would have noticed a rather attractive young woman has purchased an Oyster card in order to travel by public transport to her destination.
Oh, I give up. Transmit me aloft, personage of Scottish extraction.
Press ‘start’ to start.
Are you using your own bags?
Press ‘Yes’ if using your own bags, ‘No’ if not using your own bags.
You are? Place bag in bagging area.
No, not there, there. Idiot.
Please scan your first item.
Place in bag in bagging area.
Unauthorized item in bagging area.
Please remove unauthorized item from bagging area.
Please seek assistance.
Please scan item.
Place in bag in bagging area.
Unauthorized item in bagging area.
Please remove unauthorized item from bagging area.
Please seek assistance.
Hmm. Bottle of cheap plonk. Are you over 18? Sure?
Please seek assistance.
Place bottle of cheap plonk in bag in bagging area.
Parmesan grissini? Organic quails eggs? Black Olive Tapenade? I had that Antony Worrall Thompson bypass my bagging area once.
Finished? Press ‘Finished’. Go on then, press it.
Would you like any of our offers? 3 for 2, 2 for 3, tea for two, cha cha cha (freeze-dried version available in Ailse 27). No?
Do you have any vouchers? If so, press ‘Yes, I have vouchers’. If not, press ‘No, I do not have vouchers’.
Would you like some vouchers? If so, press ‘Yes, I would like some vouchers’. If not, press ‘No, I would not like any vouchers’.
Would you like to subscribe to our special delivery service? If so, press ‘Yes, I would like to subscribe to your special delivery service’. If not, press ‘No, I would not like to subscribe to your special delivery service’.
Would you like to pay now? If so, press ‘Yes I would like to pay now’. If not, press ‘No, I would not like to pay now’.
Nice day, isn’t it? Have you come far? Are you going on holiday this year?
How would you like to pay? Press CASH for cash, CARD for card.
Please insert notes into note slot, coins into coin tray. No, that’s the ‘coins out’ tray, you need the ‘coins in’ tray. It’s located under the ‘coins out’ tray, to the left of the note slot if your back is facing the dog food ailse, to the right of the note slot if your shopping trolley is facing the Pot Noodle display. (February to June, excepting alternate Mondays, and 2.00pm – 5.15pm on Job Seekers Training Days).
I’m sorry, your £20 note has been rejected. Please try again. Please seek assistance. Please can I have a decaff macchiato with one of those little almond biscuits on the side? You’ll find them in the Posh Biscuit Ailse next to the Detox Toxic Ox Biscuits (with essence of Roodbol radish washed in Tibetan springwater).
Thank you for using the self-service checkout tills. As you can see, they’re easy and quick to use. And also a lot of fun.
Please take your items…please take your items…please take your items…
UNAUTHORIZED BANANA IN SENSITIVE MACHINE AREA! UNAUTHORIZED BANANA IN SENSITIVE MACHINE AREA! AAARRGGHHH! PLEASE SEEK ME ASSISTANCE! AAARRGGHHH! PLEASE SEEK ME ASSISTANCE!
So, another Valentine’s Day has been and gone. (It has gone, hasn’t it? Can I come out from under my bed now? Getting a little uncomfortable…whose idea was it to buy a futon anyway?)
Astonishingly, there was yet another story in the press yesterday about yet another middle-aged woman losing her life savings of some 40,000 quid to someone she regarded as the love of her life. Even though they’d never met and he didn’t exist. Naturally, there was all the ‘I can’t believe I’ve been so stupid’ talk, the ‘I never thought it would happen to me’ rubbish…whatever chemical process takes place in these women’s brains, it’s plainly potent enough to qualify them to run for Parliament, should they ever feel so inclined. (And, in a scary twist, get elected).
Anyway, seeing as this blog is something of a public service (I’ve got 2 regular followers now), it’s naturally incumbent on me to offer some much-needed guidelines about online dating.
MUCH-NEEDED GUIDELINES ABOUT ONLINE DATING
1. Never, ever divulge your bank account details to anyone in the very first email. Be patient, you will know when the time is right. (NB: And don’t be too impressed at a Nigerian Prince writing to you. They’re not as rare as you might think – every second email I get is from a Nigerian Prince, which obviously devalues the status.]
2. Don’t promise to marry a gorgeous, fit hunk if they’re under 23 years of age and you’re an overweight, ugly woman of 67. You’ll spend hours explaining to people he’s not your grandson, but your hot live-in lover. Which, in addition, will make all your friends jealous.
3. Resist the temptation to send nude pictures of yourself in a compromising situation until after the 9.00pm watershed.
4. Be slightly alert if your suitor signs himself King Charles II, unless you have significant proof that he likes spaniels.
5. Don’t believe all the compliments he er, compliments you with, unless they happen to be true.
6. Be suspicious, when he takes time off from his job as a waiter to visit you from Turkey, if he refuses to bring you a turkey sandwich. With mayonnaise. And lots of pepper. Thanks Hasan.
7. Worry if he stays out every night clubbing. He’s far too young to be making his way home alone in the early hours.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
What makes me such an expert on matters romantic? Good question, I’m glad you asked.
Well, I have much first-hand experience of men. (Won’t tell you what the second hand has experience of. Mostly because it’s been so long, I can’t remember). My last husband (No. 3) for example, soon explained to me after we got together that a man who buys his wife flowers should never be trusted. Such as the previous husband before him, from whom I was in regular receipt of large, expensive bouquets delivered to my office when I was at the BBC. He was quite right. I subsequently came to divorce the second husband, and now – after many local florists went out of business throughout the years, thanks almost exclusively to my third husband – am divorcing him on the grounds of suddenly starting to receive the odd posy.
I would say hoisted with his own petard, if only I knew what that meant.
Anyway, bah humbug to bloody Valentine’s Day. Last year in Nice, the only thing sent to me was a bundle of divorce papers (really). And this year, yesterday, I learned the results of last week’s blood test, which revealed an abnormally high sugar level. Which is about the sweetest thing that’s ever happened to me on February 14th.
Who said romance was dead? *
* CLUE: It was me.
It’s been a bit of a rough week here in England – and that’s without the trauma of three and a half snowflakes wafting gently down from the skies, resulting in the cancellation of half the flights at the world’s busiest airport (so why would they have backup procedures, FGS?), and causing major consternation in the media insofar as winter weather choosing, for some obscure reason, to appear in winter. (Whilst when winter weather comes in summer, as is traditional round these parts, nobody is surprised whatsoever. This is Britain, for heaven’s sake).
Anyway, I’m referring to a particularly trying time for assorted members of our elite – political, sporting and royal – who have all been ‘found out’ at the same time. (It’s some sort of rare configuration in the stars, apparently – Integrity Retrograde, Heckles Rising, I think Shelley von Strudel called it).
One of the biggest stories involved Sir Fred Goodwin, former head of the Royal Bank of Scotland, the near demise of which business under his helm almost finished off the British economy once and for all (and which institution is now owned by British taxpayers, who had to bail it out at a cost of billions of pounds we won’t be seeing again). Sir Fred, a nasty piece of work by all accounts (ha!), was stripped of his knighthood a few days ago, an action which itself caused a bit of an uproar. (You can understand why – he’s obnoxious, obsessed with money and ill-equipped to do the job, with no discernible positive human qualities whatsoever – so why on earth take away his honour???) Anyway, the powers that be concluded he has brought the honours system into disrepute (bit of a puzzler that, see previous parentheses), what with him having been ennobled in 2006 for Services to Banking. (If they’d knighted him for services to Avarice, Stupidity, and Complete and Utter Ineptitude nobody would have batted an eye. Hey ho.)
His replacement, Stephen Hester, who is being paid £1.2m a year to sack thousands of the company’s employees, was forced this week by public pressure not to accept his annual bonus of £1m, which almost led to him stamping his feet and storming off in a hissy fit, but for some reason he changed his mind and is staying to ensure the bank continues in its policy of taking vast amounts of public money and not lending it to small businesses.
Meanwhile, a man who will retain his title until he dies, Prince Andrew, has been caught spending copious amounts of public funds acting as British Business Envoy, six months after he was removed from the position for lining his own pockets and upsetting swathes of foreign dignitaries with his crass stupidity and rudeness. This arduous job required him to lavish enormous wads of dosh on luxury flights, luxury hotels, and luxury erm, luxuries, and meet with convicted paedophiles and despicable despots, many of whom he entertained at Buckingham Palace. (Another cucumber sandwich, Mr Gadaffi?) None of which brings the monarchy into disrepute. Apparently.
And then there’s Chris Huhne, a Liberal Democrat Minister in the ‘Coalition Government’. (You can’t say I never write anything funny). At least he was, until he was required to resign a few days ago, thanks to an impending court case about whether he, as his ex-wife alleges, persuaded her to say she was driving when they received a speeding ticket, thus perverting the course of justice. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t this charge now mean he’s eligible for a Knighthood???)
Next: come on down, John Terry, erstwhile Captain of the England Football Team, who has been removed from his position by the governing body of football, the FA (many of whose executives became notorious for the habit of spending their days sleeping with a former secretary called Faria Alam, in an interesting interpretation of teamwork) prior to a court trial to decide whether he is guilty of racially abusing a black player. This action by the FA has resulted in Fabio Capello, the Italian Manager of the England football team (anyone remember Soap?) removing himself from his exalted role because he knew sweet FA about the FA’s determination on Terry.
In an interesting irony for those who like ironying (mind the buttons), the FA have appointed as interim England manager Stuart Pearce, a man who not only was himself once involved in an incident in which he was accused of racial abuse against a black player, but whose brother Dennis is a staunch member of the British National Party, about as Far Right an organization as you can get in the UK. (You can put away the irony now. Third shelf in the cupboard. Thanks.)
So, quite a week.
When I was a BBC Comedy Producer, one of the shows I was responsible for was Radio 4’s The News Quiz, in which a panel of comedians and journalists would answer questions about the week’s stories. Some of you might remember the former Chief Executive of high street cheapo jewellers Ratners, Gerald Ratner. (Look, I may not be funny, but you have to admit I’m ace at pointing out life’s numerous coincidences). In 1991 Gerald gave a speech to his shareholders at the Institute of Directors, in which he said:
We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, “How can you sell this for such a low price?” I say, “because it’s total crap”.
He added that some of his earings were cheaper than an M & S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long.
For some reason that escapes me now, he was subsequently replaced as head of the company. (Prawn poisoning? Hmm. Oh well, I’m sure it will come back to me).
Naturally, this strange incident came up as a topic on the show. One of the panellists – Richard Ingrams or Ian Hislop, I think – paraphrased Ratner’s ramblings, and naturally, many jokes were forthcoming.
After the recording I edited the show to time, and it went out as usual on Saturday afternoon.
I sauntered into work on Monday morning to find a letter on my desk from one of the most expensive law firms in the country, Knothing, Butt, Pure, Arrogance. (Odd how the names always sound as if they’ve been put together as a joke, isn’t it?) The letter was astonishingly badly written, to the point that I almost wrote back offering to rewrite it for them. The gist of it (as far as it was possible to make out) was that their client, Gerald Ratner, did not say ‘all his merchandise was crap’, but that ‘the cut-glass sherry decanter and six glasses were crap’.
They threatened to sue both the BBC, for broadcasting the erroneous remarks, and me personally, as producer of the series. They also demanded that a very long-winded apology, written by them (oy veh) and included in their letter to me, be read out by the quiz chairman, Barry Took, at the beginning of every show for the rest of the series. I was ecstatic! The series had just started, and there were 11 more shows to come – think of all the fun we could have week after week with this barely coherent unwarranted grovelling!
The letter had to go to the BBC lawyers, who somehow managed to convey to me, whilst rolling around on the carpet laughing their heads off, that no apology was necessary, a prawn sandwich plainly knowing more about the law of defamation than did Knothing, Butt, Pure, Arrogance. I was crestfallen. Couldn’t I make the apology anyway? NO! came the reply. Don’t you dare!
Damn. Can’t a girl have any fun any more???
Naturally we heard nothing more about the matter. Although it could be that Gerry Rodent might well have been referred to in passing in a later edition of the show. Long time ago, can’t remember.
La la laaaa.
Anyway, the moral of the story is if you can’t be nice, if you can’t be non-racist, or desist from being rapacious, or find it impossible to keep within the law (allegedly), keep your mouth shut. And failing that, get ready for a knighthood next time Her Majesty is doling them out.