Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Epic fail, plus sewing projects

I've been pretty busy at work this week, and this afternoon I managed to lash something up on Outlook.  I'd had a personal email I wanted to answer, from one of my best friends; I dashed off a quick reply and sent it; and it bounced.  No idea why (computers are weird).

So, irritably, as I was trying not to take extra time over it, I went >select all > copy all > new email > paste, entered the first two letters of the intended recipient's name into the "To" box and clicked enter as her name came up, and sent it.  Only to see, next moment, that I had sent it to the wrong person.  Said best friend's name begins with the same two letters as a colleague at work's name.  I email her a lot (because best friends, yup?); but I also email him a lot (because colleague of vital importance).  It turns out they are running neck-and-neck in my contacts list for that initial.

I tried to recall the email, but in the thirty seconds or so when I was still sitting frozen, staring at my screen and thinking "No... no... noo" he had already opened it.  "Recall email" doesn't work once the email has been opened.  Oh sh*t.

Scream at computer.  Write hasty grovelling & embarrassed apology.  Cross all available digits and wait.

I imagine he was still reading, and thinking "I don't need to know this, and my mother is not being a goose about my wedding - my wedding?!? - and why would I need lace and jam jars?" and contemplating how to tell me I'd cocked up, when he got the apology.  He was, of course, a complete gentleman about it, so it isn't an absolute disaster. 

But it is utterly mortifying to do something so bloody stupid; and if I can do it once, I could do it again.  And I could do it in far worse ways.  It's really shaken my self-esteem to make such an idiotic mistake, just because I'm tired and stressed and trying to do something in a hurry.  I thought I was an efficient, professional person who didn't balls things up.  Ha-bloody-ha, so much for that idea.

I suppose it is good for one, to be reminded that one is just as capable of making a really imbecilic mistake as anybody else.  If even Jove nods, then common-or-garden mortal Ims is bound to, and it's a kind of mild hubris to think I can't.

I still wanted to weep for a while afterwards, though.  Epic bloody fail, woman.  Epic.

I came home, ate felafels, felt disconsolate and incompetant, and watched "Great British Bake-Off", which is schadenfreude of the first water in such situations.

I've been trying to cheer myself up, since then, by getting on with some of my sewing.  I bought a dress in the sales for £11; when I tried it on in the shop it was one of those garments that don't quite work, but I could see it had the potential to be something rather smart, with a little help.  So I bought it anyway, and am adjusting it.  I've taken off the sleeves and taken out the zip, and I'm refitting the waistline and the bust darts, and turning the edges of the shoulders under to make it sleeveless.  It's a really unusual fabric, a screen-printed design in grey with green orchids.  I think it's going to be rather snazzy when I finish.

I'm also engaged on cannibalising two other old dresses to make a third; when finished this will have a rather 1920's cut with no waist at all, cap sleeves and a harlequin-patchwork panel down the front.  And I'm converting a black evening dress into an evening top as a present for the DipGeek.  Lots of sewing, then; and when I turn out my winter things I'll probably find more jobs there, too.  I don't have a sewing machine, so this is all hand work.  Luckily  I find needlework very relaxing of an evening.  I feel much better now.  I've almost got over the email fiasco >whimper<

Friday, 22 August 2014

Letter to Boots; latest developments (plus a sad goodbye)

I had an email reply from Boots The Chemists' customer service team. It came quickly, it was courteous, and it didn't contain any spelling errors or dodgy grammar.  So far, so good.  I was told that they were sorry I'd been having trouble finding the product I wanted, but not to worry, because it hasn't been discontinued.  Again, so far so good. 

Instead, they've been making some "changes and improvments" to it.

Ah.  Now that could be a good thing or a disaster, depending on what the changes are, and whether they really are improvements or not.

They gave me the correct product code, which should help, and said any Boots staff member should be able to assist me when I next want to find it.

Well, at the moment I still have a supply, thanks to my display of embarrassing hoarding-for-the-rainy-season behaviour in Hammersmith.  When that runs low, I will take this product code and go to look for these "changed and improved" sage capsules.  And I hope I find them.  And - since apparently "It's a good product, let's not mess around with it" is seemingly not the way business works - I hope I will find that they are improved. 

Good customer service, though, Boots. Fast and efficient.  10 out of 10 for that. 

Otherwise, it's been quite a busy week at work, and I've been doing some sewing in my lunch breaks and some writing in the evenings.  Then yesterday evening was Farewell Cake, followed by leaving drinks at a local pub, for the Redhead, one of my favourite colleagues.  She's going on to what is, for her, a dream job, so I can't begrudge her departure.  But I'm going to miss her; she's been a delight to work with.

It was a good evening in the pub, anyway.  Sometimes I sit at these things silently nursing a half of cider and feeling as superfluous as a spider's ninth limb.  This time there was a lively group and lots of people I get along with were there.  I ended up having a long intense talk about the theatre and what a great thing it is, with two people I like very much, my boss Daryl and the lovely Mr Dapper, the Man With The Answers.  It was good to get Mr Dapper, who is normally quite a quiet chap, into a proper conversation; and a couple of gin-&-tonics helped me to feel less crucifyingly shy talking to him.  He may be quiet but he's a very interesting man.  All silly crushes aside, I do enjoy his company and conversation; that kind of quiet, measured intelligence is worth its weight in gold. 

Then I had a catch-up with my previous boss, dear Paul, who seems to be busy as very 'eck but thriving on it.  Then some more frivolous conversations about random things, ending up with us going back to theatrical subjects and comparing notes on "my strange roles in school plays" - a tree, a hamster, a rock, a rose-seller, one of Emperor Ming's harem...  Sadly by this time Mr Dapper had left; I suspect he may have played the odd tree or hamster in his time.  The Redhead had got rather squiffy by the time I left, and I gathered this morning that she'd not got home till pretty late.  But she still came in to work today and spent all day writing up handover notes and training people on covering her role.  Good woman.  She leaves a gap.

Bank Holiday weekend now, anyway.  Have a good one, everyone!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

An open letter to Boots The Chemists, or A Cry In The Wilderness...

...because believe you me, the perimenopause is a wilderness.

Last December, in the weeks after that nasty bout of gastroenteritis, I began to be woken in the night by my body temperature suddenly soaring.  The first two or three times this happened I thought I was having some sort of feverish nausea flare-up.  I would stagger to the bathroom and crouch there expecting to throw up any minute.  Of course, it was nothing of the kind.  It was the long-dreaded development of another of the major symptoms of the run-up to the menopause; night sweats (I was already getting hot flushes, but finding them less hellish than I'd been led to expect - unpleasant, but quick to pass and hence manageable most of the time).

By mid-January, I was being woken an average of six times a night, running in sweat and boiling as if in a high fever.  I don't know why it started then, whether the gastroenteritis had triggered something, but there I was, sweating like a dog, throwing off my bedcovers and then having to wait until I had cooled enough to wipe myself down and try to get back to sleep.  Basically, from mid-December onwards I did not have a single uninterrupted night's sleep.  I was functioning on about four hours instead of seven to eight..

I don't believe in sitting and bewailing your lot and not trying to do anything about it, so I started trying various herbal remedies.  Red clover had no effect on my symptoms, black cohosh made me nauseous; and then I discovered sage.  Specifically, after working through the three brands on the market, Boots own label sage leaf capsules.  Their effects were little short of miraculous.

I'm not asking the menopause to not happen, I know I have to go through this experience (unless I get hit by a bus, which I'd prefer not to have happen).  I just wanted not to be woken multiple times every night.  Work was already busy and stressful enough without this.  Battling on, on around half the amount of sleep you need, gradually frays the nerves and saps the stamina, and leaves one increasingly desperate in the face of every minor difficulty.  I had begun to wonder if I could survive several years of this.

Within three days of starting to take the sage capsules I had my first good night's sleep in four months.

It got better.  Not only did my system settle into giving me only very mild night sweats, with the ones bad enough to wake me happening about once a week instead of repeatedly every single night; on top of that, my hot flushes got easier too.  They went from "nasty but bearable-I-guess" to "mildly irritating".  And with improved sleep I found my moods improved, which in turn made everything more manageable. 

Work remained hectic and stressful, and there were other troubles on my plate, in particular the horrible business of having to flatshare-hunt and move in June.  But gradually, slowly slowly, I began to cope with things better, and all because I was getting enough sleep; all because of this little capsule with the musty aftertaste that I was taking twice a day.  It felt as though I had got my life back.  I got moved, I got settled-in, I kept my head above water at work, I began to see friends and to have enough energy to do simple things like going to the flicks at the weekend or having a walk in my lunch break.  I could imagine a future in which I coped with things and didn't feel at my wits' end the entire time.

In short, I felt human again.  I felt normal, healthy, and like myself.   

But then, a few weeks ago I began finding Boots branches didn't have it in stock anymore.  The label had vanished from the shelf in each store, as well.  When I asked members of staff for help they were pleasant and friendly but knew nothing, and none of them could tell me what was happening.  When I found my sage capsules one weekend in Hammersmith I panic-bought the last boxes they had in stock, several months' supply.  But yesterday, finally, I spoke to a member of Boots' staff who was prepared to commit himself: "If it isn't on the shelf and it isn't showing up on, it's been discontinued".

I want to scream; other brands are more expensive and less effective (I've tried both the other brands I can find, H&B and Vogel).  It felt as though Boots had saved my life; and now it feels as though they've taken it away again. 

Please, Boots The Chemist, listen to this one despairing perimenopausal voice!  Boots, why would you do this to me? - why would you do this to all of the women using that particular product? 

If you've ever had to struggle on, trying to get on with a normal life for day after day on an inadequate amount of sleep - & I know that anyone who's had children knows what this feels like, for starters - you will know how tremendously difficult it is over time.  The smallest challenge becomes a horror, and real pressure is an out-and-out nightmare.  The most trivial things start to feel overwhelming, like a job being postponed, a friend bugging you to do something, a kindly rebuff...

I look back on the person I was becoming, in February and March and April, withdrawn and ill-tempered and on the verge of tears much of the time; I think of what a pain in the neck I must have been to my friends, to my family, and especially to my poor patient colleagues who had to deal with this frazzled hag on a daily basis; and the thought of going back there makes me want to weep.  Please, please, don't do this to me!

This is not a product one would buy once as a treat and then not get again; it isn't a nail varnish or something.  The perimenopause lasts several years on average, and if one finds a product that will help with the symptoms, one is going to buy and use that product loyally throughout that time.  I would potentially have spent £18 a month in my local Boots branch, for the next two or three years minimum.  And I can't be the only one.

I'm not a powerful voice in the blogosphere, I know, and I'm not calling for a boycott or anything, anyway.  I've written to their customer services to plead for a change of heart.  And I am repeating that plea here.  Please, Boots, bring back my sage!  Let my friends and colleagues and family know a sane woman who isn't hiding and crying and close to despair all the time.  And let me keep this simple, humble, blessed benefit of getting a night's sleep!!! 

Sunday, 10 August 2014

SF and the deeper layers

I've been thinking about Science Fiction.  As you do.  Specifically about just what tremendous fun "Guardians of the Galaxy" was.  I've found myself, since then, trying to figure out why it worked so well, given that a lot of the ingredients had the potential to be solid cheese (ugh, bad metaphor there, sorry!). 

It's partly the fact that I confess I went along with not-very-high expectations.  I don't normally read comic books, and haven't done since I was about ten.  So I had no idea who Star Lord, Gamora et al are, and no investment whatsoever in what happened to them.  I'd seen one trailer that made the whole thing look like standard loud, entertaining, switch-off-your-brain twaddle in the vein of "Transformers" or "Godzilla".  It sounded good fun, though, and I love my SF, so I was happy to go when the DipGeek suggested it.

And of course it's got a good deal more going for it than any "Tranformers" movie ever made.

Should I say "spoiler alert!" at this point, I wonder?  Surely anyone who reads this blog knows I love my SF; surely if you do too, you will have gone to see this cracking film by now.  But if you haven't yet, be aware that this is not a spoiler-free zone.

GotG does have some weaknesses; notably, the two female characters are distinctly short-changed in terms of character development.  I spent quite a while waiting for the moment we'd discover Gamora was double-crossing everyone; only to find she wasn't.  She really had decided to turn spontaneously into a goodie after around five minutes' screen time.  There wasn't really much nuance, much less background story, to her decision that working for a would-be genocidal murderer wasn't to her liking or her conscience.  I mean, it's an understandable decision; but one still likes to have the backstory even so.  She came off better than her adopted sister Nebula, though, who literally has nothing to do but pout and growl, before going headlong into her one spectacular fight scene. 

As a woman, of course, I know I ought to be too-much enraged by this to accord the film's good points my attention.  But said good points were legion; and although it was done a little hastily, Gamora was given a chance to be more than a high-kickin' cliche Strong Woman, too.  She had self-confidence and a sense of humour, moments of anger and confusion, and a generosity to the other characters that was shown to spring from comradeship rather than romantic interest in anyone.  This is all progress.  Rome wasn't built in a day and neither is equal representation.

Speaking of progress, I loved the way Peter Quill was treated as easily as much eye-candy for the audience as Gamora was.  Yea!  It turns out Chris Pratt strips rather well.  You'll find no objections here to a little gender equality in the objectification stakes.

But more importantly than all this trivia, I've been wondering about why it is that the Marvel films get it right, when so much good-fun SF doesn't.  Good-fun SF is good fun - and I like my good fun; but sometimes it's a genre that can go so much deeper than fun.

I think part of it is the fact they take themselves seriously, but in a very specific way.  There's no pretence that the themes are serious; we aren't meant to be getting seriously worked up about the possibility of an invasion of Dark Elves or Chitauri.  It's just an action plot.  There's no assumption that the characters need to be serious and po-faced about things, either, indeed far from it.  There are plenty of jokes, and the characters are treated lightly.  They're allowed to have a sense of humour and to laugh at one another and themselves.  But the humour isn't shoe-horned in; it derives from who these people are and how they relate to one another and to their world.  In other words, it's like a lot of the humour in my life and yours, which makes it real and grounding, instead of an irritating phony fiction trope - "Oh, in this kind of story the characters always make one-liners, so ours must too".  Things are witty and sparklingly light, but not camped up, and the humour is not played as the scriptwriters tongue-in-cheek laughing at the audience and at themselves for pandering to them, but as a recognisable part of the behaviour of real people.

There are plenty too of what I understand are known as Easter Eggs - which, bear in mind, would be called "prefigurings" and "motifs" if we were in the land of Literary Fiction (& that leads me to another thing I get exercised over, namely the cultural snobbery of dismissing certain genres, like SF, as being inherently of lesser worth than certain other genres like LitFic, when they are nothing of the bloody kind, even while holding to a doctrine of cultural relativism and "no such thing as high and low art"; but I'll leave that for now, since I'm trying not to ramble here).  Existing fans will pick up on these prefigurings and inside-jokes straight-away, and will know all their subtle possibilities, but newbies like me can still get plenty from them too, because they're always introduced with a certain care.

I think that care is part of the secret.  Marvel take care.  They appear genuinely to love their material.  They choose their scriptwriters and directors with care, they obviously put an enormous amount of spadework into getting perfect casting, and they take care of their stories.  They seem to want to please both the new fans and the long-standing ones, and to be prepared to put in some effort to try and achieve this.

And on the seriousness front, they're prepared to take the risk of going beyond the thinness of a quick-and-easy comic-book characterisation, and drawing on something rather deeper.  Look at the Marvel heroes who've popped up so far in the MCU; there's a strange resonance to their activities and emotions.  They're like Wagner's characters or those of Tolkein; they are like fairy-tale characters and biblical characters and the characters we meet in our night-time dreams.  They're archtypes, or blends of them.

We've got the True Hero, the Reluctant Hero, the Wounded Hero, the Seeker Hero and so on.  We've got the Right-Hand-Man, we've got the Outsider.  We have Brothers Who Are Eternal Enemies, who are also the Trickster and the Honest Man.  We have the Warrior Woman and the Wise Woman and the Fallen Woman Redeeming Herself (one could easily see Natasha Romanoff as a Brunnhilde/Kundry fusion, for example).  We've got some Fallen Heroes, trying to redeem themselves, too.  We even have Sleeping Beauty, for goodness sakes', in fact we've got a couple of them - and Sleeping Beauty No 1 is also the Wounded Hero, and Sleeping Beauty No 2 is both the Wounded Hero and the Fallen Hero. 

And then this morning I open facebook and find that DipGeek has sent me a link to a fascinating article pointing out another interesting resonance to the films of the MCU, and especially GotG.  You can find said article here; it's well worth a read, and I agree with the author (and not just on the fact that "Firefly" is some of the best SF ever).

The other main thing that has been going on here this morning was rain, and plenty of it.  That's now eased off, and been replaced by wind, and plenty of that.  So I'm just going to get myself a cup of tea and a bite of lunch, and then I shall spend the rest of this afternoon writing.  I have, as usual, a string of half-finished projects.  I want to make some headway, and I've picked one to try and finish, so I'm going to work on the western.

Enjoy the rest of Sunday, wherever you are!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Whole lot of random goin' on

I got in tonight after a hot busy and frustrating day at work - which is better than a hot boring frustrating day, don't get me wrong here - but oh, it was a maddening day!  Something I have been waiting ages for is proving painfully difficult to achieve, and it's setting me more and more behind in my own job with each passing day.  I sent the person who has it even worse than me a marvellous picture of a dreadnought (HMS Agamemnon, 1915, to be precise) as consolation, but I doubt if it made much difference to him.  I'm the one turned-on by Edwardian battleships, not him (I blame my brothers).  But anyway, the day wound to an inconclusive end eventually, and I picked up my bag and came home.

Poured myself a large G&T and cooked supper.  Logged on to facebook and found a bizarre collection of glorious holiday snaps and horror stories.  Eeech, what a world.  I want more of the happy and the Cornish sunshine, and less of the grief and struggle.  Not just for myself but for all of you.

That's probably the gin talking; apologies if so.

I found a bunch of theatre tickets had arrived in the post today; yippee, ballet galore.  The opera ones are yet to come, likewise theatre and concerts.  But the ballet tickets are one major element in place now.

I'm preparing for my autumn, you see.  One can feel the first nudge of it in the air, mornings, and the first scent of it too, musty and fungal and sweet, as though someone had devised a new kind of incense made of rot.  Come autumn, I need a full programme of Kulchah to keep me going through the cold dark days of winter.  Though I will hope to go away somewhere for my birthday (& to do it successfully this year instead of being spectacularly & messily ill as I was last year). 

Supper was a good one.  Last Friday when I had the chance to enjoy that rather spiffing & classy afternoon tea with my colleagues, one of the things I was chatting about with a certain very lovely chap was the question of whether or not one could take home the unused sandwiches in a doggy-bag and make a kind of savoury bread-and-butter pudding with them; slice them into a baking dish, soak in egg + milk, and bake.  We agreed it would probably work.  I realised afterwards that I was thinking of strata, which I remember having on holiday in Italy at some point, and which is pretty much exactly that, but with a rather more select choice of fillings (i.e. crab and prawns and buttery onions, not ham and cucumber and egg-&-cress and salmon).  I forgot to ask for my doggy bag, anyway; but ever since I have been thinking at intervals of the singular deliciousness that is egg and bread cooked together; strata, eggy bread, egg-in-a-basket, bread omelette, bread pudding, croque monsieur, croque madame...

So tonight I made myself a kind of Greek-inflected cousin of these; Croque Kyrie, I suppose I could call it.  Delicious, dead easy, and I imagine it would also work well with the splendid substance that is Genius Bread, for my coeliac friends.

Went down very well with the G&T, too.

For each person, you will need:
2 slices off a sandwich loaf
2 eggs
some feta cheese
olive oil
a tomato

Beat the eggs thoroughly with some pepper and pour over the sliced bread in a flat dish.  Leave to soak for half an hour minimum.  Sandwich two slices of the soggy eggy bread with a thinnish slice of feta cheese and press down hard.  Yes, you will get eggy fingers.  Tough.  Wash your hands.

Heat a bit of olive oil in a frying pan; get it good and hot to start with.  Pick up your gooey eggy cheese sarnie and slip it into the hot oil.  Fry for five minutes on a fairly high heat, then turn the heat down to pretty low and turn the sandwich over carefully with a spatula.  Continue cooking on the other side.  Turn again after a while.  Turn it two or three times altogether; gently does it each time.  The idea is never to let it burn but to get all the egg cooked and the cheese all melted and delish.  Part of the way thru', put in the halved tomato, skin side down, beside the sandwich, and fry that as well.  Ideally you want to get the tomato just slightly blackened on the skin and volcanically hot inside.  Serve hot, with some olives for an additional punch of flavour.

Incidentally, this would make very good hot canapes if you cut it into 1 inch squares.

After that I watched the cricket highlights from Old Trafford.  YEAH.  OKAY.

Not only are England doing okay in the test match but it's been a good week culturally as well.  Last Thursday I went to see "Guardians of the Galaxy", which is rollicking good stuff, thoroughly exciting, almost unnaturally well-cast (a Marvel speciality, this) and looks fantastic as well.  Last weekend I went to a wonderful show at Dulwich Picture Gallery, "Art and Life", with some stunning pieces by Winifred Nicolson, one of my heroine artists.  I've also seen "The Immigrant" recently on dvd; that looks tremendous, too, and it's brilliant as well - but heart-breakingly sad.  And finally I've been getting on with some sewing and I've written about 4,000 words on the western story.  Add in that excellent posh tea as well and it's not been a bad seven days.

And since I haven't seen the crush since then, except briefly in the distance, I am getting over the hiccough of seeing him last Friday, too.  Bless him, dear man.  I am determined to put this behind me.  I really don't want to cause him a problem (he's a very nice chap & I'd hate it if I did) so this is just as well, really.  I vow to let it go.  I will let it go.  I will.  I swear.  Or at least, the gin swears.  Gin is much given to that, after all.

And tomorrow is Friday again.  Good grief, where do the weeks go?

Sunday, 3 August 2014


(I had a very nice Posh Afternoon Tea on Friday with some colleagues.  Good tea; I had an excellent Darjeeling, a lovely clean clear taste, and no-one bugged me about my not having milk with it, hurrah! (why spoil decent tea with milk?).  Also good sandwiches - especially the smoked salmon and the cucumber with capers - good scones, some very good cakes, even a glass of Prosecco to finish off with.  Lovely.  But oh, my heart; the chap I have a wee crush on was there.  I know I'm being silly; it's always good to see him, even now when I know he's not free.  He's an intelligent, articulate, interesting man with an immensely likeable sense of humour.  I enjoyed having the chance to chat a little and to get to know him just a scrap more outside of work-based conversations.  But because I'm not yet over the crush, I find I'm still painfully shy around him.  I wrote this afterwards.)


Let no-one say
That shyness is a blessing
Or an attractive thing.
Shyness is a cord around my throat
A tremor in a healthy hand
A blind spot in the vision
An earthquake in the stomach.
Let no-one say it's charming
Who has not felt
That nausea of dread
At being among
Strangers, or friends.
Or seeing that chap you like
Pass by, when you've not
Had a chance to prepare
Anything at all to say.

Shyness is a fever
With no external symptoms,
Shyness is a wound
With no external scars.
The shaking hands,
The quaking heart;
Shyness is me psyching myself up
To go into that room
Full of my friends;
Losing a little more hope, each time
I see you pass by;
And never having
Anything at all to say.