Saturday, 10 December 2011

A family affair

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, and I’m buggering off abroad and missing the lot.

Well, not exactly, but I am going away for Christmas. When I tell people this, and they hear the exotic overseas location, they are somewhat envious. You see, I’m off to South Africa.

I say I’m leaving, and their minds drift to those daydreams they’ve had, no doubt whilst queuing in John Lewis or elbowing their way through bad-tempered shoppers on Oxford Street, dreams of running away – abroad, specifically.

Running away from the stress of being unable to find that elusive gift for your second cousin once removed, from the surly unappreciative look on your mother-in-law’s face as you present an undercooked turkey, from the hideous chaos of it all.

Yes, a Christmas that involves heat, beaches and does not have cranberry sauce or a distant relative in sight – that’s what people are dreaming of.

But it’s not that simple. Because I’m going to South Africa with the family. The entire Brown contingent will be getting together.  And with an age range from 8- 85, there’s not even a Mattel game that’s suitable for us all.

I know a couple who decided that they simply could not face another Christmas with their respective families. So they invented a well timed skiing holiday that was going to take them away from home for the festive season. And what happened? Well, they stayed at home alone, in peace, but then daren’t leave the house for fear of being spotted. They spent their Christmas hiding in the living room with the curtains drawn, in constant fear that their families could drive past and discover the truth at any moment. They couldn’t even pop to Asda to replenish the Quality Streets.

So you see, perhaps a family Christmas is preferable after all. 

It’s a good job. Cause this Christmas, we’ll be getting all the family, blood and extended, former and future, nice and tiresome, old and young,  sticking them in a room and celebrating the day.

A room that is 6000 miles from my room, with my things, my habits and my sanity.

Luckily for us all, we’re all far too British to actually fall out, so it will be sunshine, bbqs and a hearty dose of emotional repression.

So, turns out I’ll be embracing the Christmas chaos after all. I’ll just hopefully be embracing it from the poolside.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Lidl doesn't sell prosecco

One week: a crisp twenty quid note. A fellow blogger asked if I would be up for the challenge of only spending £20 over the course of the week. ‘Why the devil not’ I said.

It has not gone well.

I mean, I was cocky enough at the start. 3 days in, and of my £20 weekly budget I had almost £16 remaining.

I had caught the bus to work on Monday and Tuesday and walked the return leg. The bus fare is £1.30 a pop, but I had illegally chucked in a few foreign coins that I’d found in an old handbag, and thus on 2 days travel I’d only spent £2.29. I surprised myself at how quickly I’d turned to crime; but I suppose self awareness is an important lesson in itself.

Food already in the cupboards and fridge was not included in the £20 spend. Yes, I know, giant cop-out – but hey - they weren’t my rules.

In a disastrous spot of poor planning, we ran out of teabags. No problem I think, there’s a free supply at work.

Packed lunches were covered. I had purchased a pack of 5 tesco value bagels and a tub of philadelphia as my lunches for the week. Week’s lunch: £2.01. Excellent.

£15.70 left. Easy.

And then, dear readers, it went pear shaped.

On Wednesday I took the notion that what my bedroom was lacking was a valance. Yes I know they’re a bit 90s, but I’ve decided they’ve come back into fashion. And besides, a valance would hide the ugly bed legs perfectly.

And so, what did I do? Well, on autopilot I load up ebay, find a very reasonably priced valance, and, you guessed it, click ‘Buy it now.’ Credit card details saved in the system. £9 down before I remember where I am and what I’m doing.

£6.90 remains. This is a disaster. I cannot afford the bus fare.

Thursday and it is my birthday. Luckily I am at work. I pay the full fare on the bus –imagine the shame of being pulled up for fare-dodging on your birthday. I have a hair-cut scheduled. Thank God it’s already paid for with a Groupon voucher. I don’t tip the hairdresser, even though my fringe is straight and I am happy. Sorry love,  that 2 quid will pay a bus fare.

Furthermore I shun office policy of buying treats for colleagues on your birthday and steal some of the mini chocolate rolls remaining from someone else’s special day earlier in the week. I am finding out a lot about myself that I do not like.

Friday and I am off work for a birthday ‘day of fun’. The boyfriend pays my bus fare to town as a birthday treat. We go to the fair but it begins to hale and thus the ferris wheel suddenly seems unappealing. I buy us both a cup of tea to thaw us out. 'That's £5' the woman says. I wonder if the woman is joking. I ask her if she is joking. She obviously wonders why anyone would think this was a joke. I pay up.

I now have £1.90.

The boyfriend has run out of change for the bus-journey home. I refuse to walk 2 miles in hale on my birthday-ish. £1.30 is grudgingly coughed up.

60p left and one day to go.

It’s Saturday. Surely, I think, I can just enjoy this stunning sunny wintery day in the city for free. That's until I remember that I’m having friends round for a drink before we go out for lunch.

Right. A drink. I’m not sure I can offer them lemon barley squash. Lidl. I’ll try Lidl. Lidl, it turns out, does not sell prosecco. I am disappointed, although I do realise that even if Lidl did sell prosecco it would not be 60p. I move onto Tesco. Even the half price stuff in there is £7.99 a bottle.

So I just give in. I’m going to overspend, so I decide to sod it. I buy 2 bottles of fizz, fresh strawberries and some of their ‘finest’ range treats. At the till, for good measure, I chuck in a £4 glossy magazine.  Total spend in Tesco £26.

Lunch, in the end, was free. My lovely friends picked up my share as a birthday treat. But I didn’t know they were going to make this sweet gesture and had not gone for the soup, (as I had planned to do during the frugal days that had proceeded) but instead had ordered the steak.

And so the week ended. My willpower, well, let’s not ever talk about my willpower. I had stolen from the bus company, from the teabag store at work, and from a colleague’s birthday treats.

But I was tiddly on prosecco and full of steak, so it wasn’t a total disaster after all.

My fellow ‘frugal livers’ faired much better than I. You can read about their weeks at  <Lucy's blog> and <Helen's blog

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Glitter tastes funny

I’ve come over all Kirstie. This year I decided stop trying to buy a lovely Christmas and instead attempt to craft one. And who wouldn't agree that a handmade anything is always lovelier than the poshest version from the shops? Well, we’ll see.

I gave myself plenty of time. The decision was made in October – Christmas was months away.

I turned to the new hero of the crafting world, Kirsty Allsopp. The problem was that some of the things I was expected to copy for my own gifts were a little ambitious. Not because I couldn't do them, you understand, but because they required so many out-of-reach materials. I’m not sure I have a spare £30 to splurge on gold leaf to decorate a couple of pears, and I certainly don’t have acres of woodland from which to forage for evergreen foliage for my wreath.

So, as a city dweller, how was I going to use the materials I found on my doorstep to fashion a Christmas wreath? I look out of my window at the block of flats across the street: popping out to find some festive-looking twigs is rather more difficult when they are buried under a great mound of concrete. 

Newspaper seemed the only available option, and so, in a spirit more ‘Blue Peter’ than Middle-Class-Allsopp, I began. 

For several weeks it sat, looking a lot like a wire coat-hanger with newspaper wrapped around it. Ahh, festive. Even when I started adding ribbon the boyfriend could only muster, “That will be such a lovely gift for someone who appreciates effort.” Thanks love.

I don’t have an artisan lurking around my house, and heaven forbid I have a full-time job to go to, so I haven’t quite managed to glass-blow my own baubles.

But I have made, painted, varnished and glittered angel tree decorations. There was a disastrous morning when I was multi-tasking – finishing off the glittering whilst simultaneously eating my breakfast – and I got a bit confused, but we’ll gloss over that.

My fabric stuffed robins are a little wonky, but will certainly brighten a friend’s tree.

And the wreath? Well, it came together quite nicely, thank you very much. 

“I just couldn’t see its potential”, the fella finally conceded.

However, a final word of warning: making your own Christmas presents will not be a cheap alternative if you manage to get paint all over your coffee table. 

Just saying.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

I didn't think I was the type

A few months ago I stumbled upon something you might have heard of. It’s called Twitter. A friend gave me a quick overview.  I didn’t entirely get it.  I did not understand what this "twitter" thing was.

But I joined, because in the end this technology lark catches up with you, and I began casually tweeting, without a clue that it would one day TAKE OVER MY LIFE.

I am not exaggerating.

I have begun having Twitter dreams in which people turn into 140 character messages that dance madly about. I’ll be halfway through a conversation and start considering how I could turn our chat into a re-tweetable gem.

I have started hashtag tweeting through tv shows. #xfactor #kirsty #downton.  Two months ago I had no idea what a hashtag was. This was a happier time.

I could barely contain myself when I got my first celebrity retweet.

I am about to reach the milestone of 500 tweets. Maybe I need to kick my habit?

Rachel is drinking tea, Rachel is at work, Rachel might brush her hair in a moment, Rachel does nothing except play on Twitter, really.

Rachel is making some changes. 

Rachel needs to get out more. Rachel cannot seriously be about to choose a new phone based on its tweeting ability. Rachel shamelessly wants followers. Rachel should get a life.

So goodbye. I’m going. I am definitely leaving. I need to leave before I start using haha and lol at the end of every sentence.

But first I should probably tweet this new blog post. And really, Stephen Fry is so witty. Actually why don’t you just follow me for a little bit?

Turns out, I really am a twit. Lol.

You can follow Rachel about Town on Twitter here

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

A blogger bereft

Downton has finished. I got a telegram with the news and I’m heartbroken. I’m not entirely sure what I will do on a Sunday evening now. Songs of Praise just doesn’t cut it.

Let’s face it, Downton Abbey is brilliant because it looks like a costume drama but behaves like a soap.  The characters change personality every few minutes, and the plot has moments of absolutely lunacy; but as it’s about posh people and is loosely based on historical events, we conclude that it must be acceptable to watch.

And acceptable it was. The nation was hooked.

Who amongst us will forget Matthew’s tingle?  We didn’t see that coming did we? That miraculous leap when paralysed Matthew jumped from his wheelchair to rescue Lavinia from a falling tea-tray.

Lavinia sadly lost out in the public vote and died. Too obvious? Apparently not. Thank god for Spanish flu as a useful device for bumping off characters.   "It's a strange disease with sudden savage changes," said the doctor, as Lavinia began to look distinctly peaky.

Mr Molesley however did not have Spanish Flu. No, turns out he was just pissed.

And who was the mystery mummy – the one who’d survived the sinking of the Titanic, woken up with a Canadian accent and remembered that he was the long lost heir of the Abbey? Even the Eastender’s writers couldn’t have dreamt that one up.

Luckily for us all, Lord Grantham remembered just in time that he was not a lothario, and will be sticking to discussing port and dinner jackets rather than groping the maids.

Sir Richard will be starring in panto this Christmas as the wicked witch of the west.

And Edith, who used to be a bit evil, is now throwing concerned looks left right and centre.

But of course Mary and Matthew can never be together; not least because of Matthew’s over-reliance on white-face paint. “We're cursed, you and I, and there's nothing to be done about it," Matthew told Lady Mary.

I would guess that there's at least another series to be ‘done about’ exactly that.

We certainly hope so, because how would we cope without it? I’m not sure. But I won’t be defeatist. After all, it’s so middle class.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Do you know who I am?

Yesterday a rather haughty customer in Natwest made the bank clerk cry. Ok, so the girl working in the bank was making some pretty fundamental mathematical errors, but there was really no need for the tone the woman adopted.

I mean, I agree that a job in a bank wasn’t the best choice for a girl whose mental arithmetic was ropey at best, but the poor lass, it was all too much.

As someone who held a part-time job in the glamorous Wolverhampton City Centre branch of McDonalds for 3 years, I am well versed in the manners of the general public, and have a high level of sympathy. 

People are so rude. Let me tell you now: a baseball cap does not an idiot make.  I had stars.

So, in light of the crying Natwest lass, and of the Saturday’s I spent serving surly teenagers big-macs, I thought I’d share my favourite story about the revenge of the ‘staff.’

Take heed. Don’t be mean to the Saturday staff, they might be quicker witted than you're  expecting. 

A parable: On why not to be rude to ‘staff.’

A crowded flight was cancelled. A single agent was rebooking a long line of inconvenienced travellers. Suddenly an angry passenger pushed his way to the desk and slapped his ticket down on the counter, saying. “I have to be on this flight, and it has to be first class.”

The agent replied, “I’m sorry sir. I’ll be happy to try and help you, but I’ve got to help these people first, and then I’m sure we’ll be able to work something out.”

The passenger was unimpressed. He asked loudly, so that the passengers behind him could hear, “Do you know who I am?”

Without hesitating, the gate agent grabbed the public address system and began, “May I have your attention please? We have a passenger here at the gate WHO DOES NOT KNOW WHO HE IS. If anyone can help him with this problem, please come to the gate.”

With the rest of the passengers laughing, the man glared at the agent, gritted his teeth and swore “[expletive!] you!”

Without flinching, she smiled and said, “I’m sorry sir, but you’ll have to stand in line for that too.”

For more of my McDonalds exploits read this previous blog post

Sunday, 23 October 2011

On image management

I think I might have to start lying about what I’ve been up to at the weekend.

Sunday night is upon us, and as I reflect over the past 2 days, I’m a touch concerned at what confronts me.

Saturday night saw a roast chicken, red wine, X-Factor and an early night.

Friday night I didn’t even bother with the wine.

How can I face the Monday morning office interrogation?

“What did you do this weekend Rachel?” “Why, thanks for asking, esteemed colleague. This weekend I shouted at the TV, shampooed the carpet and did two loads of laundry.”


Time to get the story straight.

Perhaps I had a couple of romantic meals, a night out filled with riotous merriment and debauchery and, hey guess what – I rounded off the weekend with a spontaneous Sunday night dinner party with the neighbours.

Confessing that in reality I lay on the sofa in joggers and a blanket will not do. There’s no harm in engaging in a touch of image management.

Besides, I’m not yet quite ready to admit to myself that these days, if I go out for an evening raving, I need two days of rest to recover.

So for now I’ll keep up the charade. No-one needs to know I’m middle-aged just yet.

But maybe we’re all the same. What did you do this weekend? Front-row seats at the theatre? A meal out with happy, carefree friends at a Michelin-starred restaurant? Or maybe a night of cocktails and dancing?

Did you? Did you hell. Admit it - you’ve been sitting in, watching Gary and the gang, just like me.

Well thank goodness for that.

Now if you could just keep it down for one more evening, I’ve got a hot date with Downton to keep.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The tables are turned

Regular readers and fans of the ‘ridiculous-things-my-other-half-utters’ posts may be interested to learn that the other half appears to be getting his own-back.

Yesterday, I stumbled across a piece of paper, on which my own words were written.

Turns out he’s been keeping a note of things I’ve been saying.

I am not happy with this sudden and unexpected turn of events, but thought I would share the single entry he’d written on a torn out page of my note pad.

Rachel: “Luckily for you, you are funnier than you are annoying.”

Me: (meaning him, not me) "Ha, great."

Rachel: “Considering how incredibly annoying you are, this really is quite the compliment.”

Gosh, I really do say the nicest things.

To see what I have to put up with, you can read my previous post right here.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Is someone shooting at us?

My gym is full of naked women.  

Well, not the gym exactly, but certainly the women’s changing rooms.

Large naked women. Who wander around - starkers - for what seems like hours. I can arrive, change, swim, steam in the steam room, and they’re still in the changing room, rubbing moisturiser into their naked form. Leg up on the bench, rub a dub dub.

So this weekend I decided to give the gym a miss a miss miss, and went for a bike ride instead.

I have not been on a bike ride for many years, but turns out there is truth in the saying – you really don’t forget how to do it. I even roped in a willing bike-ride companion.

She had not been on a bike ride for a while either.

“Can we take our handbags with us?” was one of many questions that revealed our amateur biking status. We decreed the answer to be yes. We even packed a pump and a bike lock.

Obviously we hit the bike path: neither of dared brave actual roads and traffic.

And then 10 minutes into the bike ride, disaster struck. I thought we had been shot at. Luckily we had not been shot at, but my fellow rider’s inner tube had exploded. Boom.

In the process of exploding it had lovingly tangled itself around the wheel/spokes/ brakes and taken her back wheel totally out of action.

The boyfriend’s question on my return home was “why didn’t you just take the inner tube out?” Thanks love. We hadn’t thought of that.

So, 2 miles of huffing and puffing later, with us taking turns to drag/push/attempt to carry the bike, we arrived at a bike shop. Our legs were bruised from the bloody pedals crashing into them and our clothes were drenched with sweat, but we had survived.

We had not (as my companion had so wanted to) admitted defeat and called someone with a car to come and get us.

Of course the man at the bike shop repaired the wheel no problem, and did not seem to appreciate the epic struggle of wills that had brought us to that point.

He even had the cheek to comment that we clearly ‘hadn’t been girl guides.’ Well,  matey, I certainly was a girl guide, and no-where in the ‘Brownie Guide Promise’ does it say anything about the ability to repair a ruptured inner tube.

It was around this moment that my fellow rider remembered that whilst she had packed the bike lock, the key was sitting safely back at her house.


As we asked the bike shop men if we could ‘borrow a lock’ we pretty much wanted the ground to open up.

And then we tried to lock our bikes up on the railings in front of the bikeshop. But they wouldn’t fit. No, really, they wouldn’t. I am not technically illiterate. I can programme an alarm clock, build ikea furniture and own ‘no-more-nails.’ So I am telling you now that the lock would not physically go around 2 bikes and that rail. But there we were, standing outside the shop, a large glass front revealing our struggle to the men inside. Oh god, we're sweating again.

I could cope with the embarrassment no more and insisted we shuffle down the street out of sight of their pitying glances.

Bikes locked up successfully and the sweats subsiding, surely it was time for lunch?

Maybe I could get used to this cycling lark.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Blueberry blip

I don’t have a BlackBerry. I can glean from heartbroken users on the news and the sad looking teenager at the bus stop that the phone has a glitch. Judging by the news coverage this is second only to an apocalypse.

I thought we’d all gone off BlackBerrys? The last time I looked they were responsible for the riots and were having a similar brand crisis to Burberry in the 90’s, when Wolverhampton market started flogging baseball caps in their iconic plaid print.

But turns out man cannot live offline alone. I don’t even know what BBM is, but I seem to be mourning its passing.

Blackberry users -  you should be rejoicing, not demanding compensation. Your boss can no longer contact you on your lunch/ loo/ fag break. You can once again communicate in more than 140 characters. You might actually have to speak to your friends.

Actually, I can’t believe I’m giving this the time of day.  

I’m going the same place as BlackBerry.


Sunday, 9 October 2011

Next stop

I used to love train travel. There was something romantic and adventurous about cutting through the British countryside, the world rushing by, with nothing to do but stare out of the window, daydream or crack on with my book.

Now there’s wifi, enhanced network and goodness knows what else, which means that we all have to  endure the woman next to me loudly giving her husband step by step instructions on how to cook the dinner. 

And every-time I take the train there are less and less carriages and I am forced to stand in closer and closer proximity to dozens of strangers.

People do not always give the same attention to personal hygiene as I would like. Don't make me stand in their armpit. Please.

But the thing that has really gotten my goat is this: Have you noticed that whatever form of public transport you travel on nowadays, the same robotically-voiced woman appears, every 30 seconds, reminding you of the type of public transport you boarded, your destination and every stop on the way? Are we all idiots who need to be reminded constantly where we are and what we’re doing?

No, it’s too much.

I’m getting off the train. Before I actually do need someone to remind me where I am and where I’m going, and the robo-voiced woman makes a mockery of us all.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Heatwave? What heatwave?

The boyfriend recently relocated from Brighton to Edinburgh. You might have seen Brighton in the news this past weekend. No? Think pictures of a packed beach, bikini clad southerners and plenty of white flesh. Yes – that was Brighton.

The hottest weather in October, ever.

Not here in Edinburgh. We were enjoying a spot of very seasonal (and very heavy) rain. He was not best pleased.

It’s for the best really. Brits don’t really know how to cope with the summer. We can’t even dress for sunshine. I don’t blame us of course; it isn’t as though we have much opportunity to practice.

So those of us north of the border may have missed out on a vitamin D dose, but at least we also missed the spectacle of ‘British men burning with their tops off.’ 

It really is a national horror. Why don’t our men turn that glorious olive shade of the men on the med? Why do they all go lobster pink? Why do none of them wear sun-cream?

When the sun finally puts his hat on, well people go a bit mad don’t they? You see them in Sainsbury's, in their flip-flops and shorts, buying the last disposable bbq, forgetting they live in Manchester - not Melbourne.

They walk down the high-street baring flesh. Flesh that last saw sunlight in the ‘heatwave of 2003.’ Then they pass a woman who clearly didn’t read the weather forecast and is wearing her winter coat. It’s totally bizarre.

And the weather- forecasters. Their delight at being able to announce the good news. Finally summer has arrived, and they are going to be the ones to tell us. Yes, it’s only going to be 2 days long - and yes - we know that your sarong is packed in the loft because summer is theoretically over, but quick – find your flip flops . Oh and that bbq you couldn’t use in August because it rained non-stop? Well it’s time –so get the burgers in.

And then the weatherman briefly turns his attention to Scotland, muttering in apologetic tones that there is a high chance of rain. 

But whatever the weather, we Brits can fine reason to complain.

Well yes of course it’s gorgeous having the sun out – but really; it’s too hot isn’t it? Bloody hell I’m sweating- are you sweating?  Best pop inside for a lie down.  I actually got sun-burnt in October, can you imagine? And we’ve got the central heating all set up, so we didn’t want to turn it off. Yes, the parks were packed with people, and the beaches – you should see the bodies. You can’t enjoy it when it’s like that can you?

No, my boyfriend should be glad we were spared the heat-wave. The uncertainty of it would have been too much.  I really have no idea where the flip-flops are. We waved farewell to daylight in August, and that’s just fine. Who needs vitamin D anyway?

Thursday, 29 September 2011

It's only a metaphor

I like to think I have a pretty good sense of humour. Maybe saying that is like when someone says they’re ‘laid back.’ Anyone who says they’re laid back definitely isn’t.

Anyway, I always try to laugh at myself.  I laugh and smile often. My face regularly hurts from the above.

And just in case, the fella certainly keeps me on my toes with regard to whether or not I am taking myself too seriously...

Many people have messaged me to say that they loved the ‘s**t my boyfriend says’  post. So I’d been making a note of some of the more ‘amusing’ things he’d said with the view to compiling a second list.

They included the hypothetical

“Do you think our daughter would get your fat arse?”

And, after looking at some recent photographs,

“You probably shouldn’t wear that dress that makes you look pregnant again love.”

Yes. I think I can still laugh at myself. Thanks my darling.

But then last night he was out on the pop. When he came home we had the following exchange:

Him: “You know us; do you ever think that we’re only together because no-one else would have us?”
Me: “ Umm no. And that’s not a very nice thing to say.”
Him: “I’m joking.”
Me:  “What?”
Him: “Ok then, it was a metaphor.”
If you missed the first post in this series, you can catch up with it here