Builder Etiquette, Mini-Eggs and Stupid Things You Do In January

This week, I’m…

Admiring my cat’s ability to get comfortable everywhere. We’ve got the builders in and the house is covered in scaffolding. A nice sunny day and a bird’s eye view over the surrounding gardens? I’ll take that, he said.

Pondering builder etiquette. How many cups of teas and coffees do I offer? One in the morning, one in the afternoon? Should the tea be dead strong, as builder mythology suggests? And biscuits? Do Marks & Spencer’s salted caramel teacakes spur them on to finish more quickly than a bog standard Rich Tea?

And what, in the name of everything, is acceptable re the loo? I don’t know where they’re going to the toilet. This haunts me. Do I offer ours? You know what I’m going to say next. “Chaps! Please, use our toilet. But not, you know, for a number two…”

Watching The Frankenstein Chronicles. Seriously creepy, but seriously good! I do love finding a series to watch twelve nights in a row.

Wishing I hadn’t impulsively entered the Glasgow half-marathon. Seemed like a cool idea in January. When it was eight months away. February and StormEmma happened. Then I got a bad cold and ended up in hospital. The regular as clockwork runs stopped.

Plus, running for two hours?! I don’t mind pounding the pavements for half an hour or so. After that, not so much. Ah well. I can always walk it.

Persuading my pelvis to tilt back and forth. I do love a Pilates class or two, but isolating your pelvis is a tricky move. Seriously. You try it. Bodes well for my old lady future, tho’.

Gearing up for a family gathering. We’ll be marking Easter at my sister’s home in Edinburgh. EB and other half, siblings one and two, their husbands and kids, my mum, her partner and his daughter. A big roast* and a tonne of chocolate will feature. There’ll be a mini-eggs hunt post-lunch. And I’m warning you kids. I will win this. You don’t get concessions just because you’re young and wee**.

Googling things to do in Crete. At some point, hopefully soon, I’ll go outside and be warm. In the meantime, I fast-forward myself to October and imagine cloud-free blue skies, turquoise waters and the sun shimmering above me.

 

 

*Fingers crossed for lamb! But buying lamb to feed fifteen would bankrupt you.

**Actually, all but two of them are now bigger than me.

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Counting Down the Days Till You’re Flat On Your Back (15+)

 

Ah, the advent of take-away coffee and the days before Facebook. Another wee spot of nostalgia for you. Part one here.

2006.

“Gareth, you’d better have anticipated my every need this morning!”

Gareth raised his eyes to the heavens and let out an exaggerated sigh. He specialised in those, sucking in his cheeks and blowing out breath loudly. “When they all warned me what you were like to work for, I said, ‘No, no Gareth! One can’t allow oneself to be unduly influenced by the naysayers. I’m sure ‘unreasonably demanding bitch’ isn’t at all true’.”

When he said, ‘I’m sure’, he reminded Lillian of that terrible sitcom from years ago—Keeping Up Appearances. The main character, Hyacinth Bouquet, had tried her best to emulate posh tones. Gareth (real name Gary) decided long ago to get ahead in fashion meant disguising his native accent. Sometimes it worked.

“Ay’m sure”. Not so much.

She poked her tongue out and grabbed a coffee from the tray he carried. A stint in New York ten years ago had given her a taste for strong, syrupy take-away coffee. The coffee shop trend was only just beginning to take off in Glasgow. Fashionistas were obliged to buy it in lieu of breakfast. John had stared at her in disbelief when he witnessed her buying herself a hazelnut Frappuccino with soy.

“Two pounds fifty for a coffee? You’re kidding me. You could buy yourself a bag of beans at that Italian deli in Merchant City and have hunners’ of them for that price.”

“Hungover, are we?” Gareth carped, plonking himself down at his desk. He waggled a paper bag at her, the grease stains marking it out as something deliciously fat and sugar-filled. She snatched from him. Last-minute crash diet plans be damned.

The headquarters of Glitz were on Bath Street. Lillian paid fearsome business rates for the privilege. But in fashion you had to appear successful, and the appearance of that meant locating yourself in the heart of the city. Their basement office was shivery-cold eight months of the year. They burned extra calories thanks to trying to keep warm, Gareth said—something to be thankful for.

Glitz wasn’t something Lillian had envisaged as an art school student. In her first year though, she’d discovered she loved working with textures and materials, and that’s what she had focused on during her four years.

Post-art school, she drifted. A rich background had many benefits, not least that of not needing to work. Then, a friend of the family got her an internship at an up-and-coming fashion house. Lillian fell in love. Because it was a small company, she got to experience everything. From design to pattern cutting, to sourcing fabrics, making clothes and then fussing over models as she sent them down the catwalk.

It was every bit as glamourous as it looked. She dressed Kate—the highlight of her time there. Even snorted a few lines with her. When the internship ended, she persuaded her mum and dad to pay for yet more tuition; this time at a polytechnic that concentrated more on the practical side of clothes designing and making.

Glasgow was the natural choice. It was far cheaper to set up a business there than London. And she had all her old art school friends, who’d welcome her with open arms.

Right? Sort of.

Glitz started life in 1999. Then, it had been her, two professional tailors who called themselves seamstresses and an assistant, a shy and retiring Gary who had long since come out of his shell. There had been ups and downs, but the last few years had seen solid success. The catwalk shows were greeted with enthusiasm and praise. Clothes sold in reasonable quantities and she achieved a reputation for quirky menswear.

“At least I can claim I’m single because I’ve been working too hard to establish myself.” It became a mantra; a comfort blanket of a statement. Love was for those who had time to spend on it. Lillian’s working hours ate into her evenings and weekends. Holidays happened seldom as she was too frightened to take time off.

But the aching loneliness hit her now and again. She was in her mid to late 30s. Lately, evidence of how easily other people found partners seemed to be everywhere. The unlikeliest of folks made it look easy.

“What did John say?” Gareth wore her clothes exclusively; the reason she put up with his backchat. Today, he’d prematurely anticipated spring. He wore the sandstone gilet and matching chino shorts with a long-sleeved pink shirt. She’d need to get pictures of him later.

“About Richard? He gave a useful gay guide to blow jobs. And advised on clothing.”

Gareth nodded, stretching out an arm to switch on his computer, and rattling off the subject lines of the emails that had come in. Lillian said yes and no where necessary, the coming weekend with Richard distracting her.

A whole weekend with someone you barely knew! Yes, they’d shared some drinks. Even gone out for a couple of meals together. She knew about his job, some of his personal history and that he’d been married before and had a daughter. He knew…less than that about her. On a first date years ago, Lillian blurted out intimate details of her life. Her date stared at her, muttered platitudes and bid a hasty farewell not long afterwards.

The first and last date she had with him.

“Haud your wheesht, Lillian,” as Kippy far more Scottish than her or John might say.

The paper bag held a large chocolate chip croissant. The flakes scattered everywhere as she ate, Gareth watching her in fascinated disgust.

“Are you sure Richard agreed to take you away for the weekend?” he asked. “If he’s been with you while you’ve eaten anything?”

She poked her tongue, realising too late it was covered in half-chewed bits of pastry. Gareth screwed his face up.

“Yes. And fuck you. Get on with your work.”

The croissant finished, she got up and made her way to the back room where they kept rails of clothing. Lillian favoured an androgynous style. As a tall, straight up and down shaped woman, tailored trouser suits, over-sized jeans and shirts suited her. John had said stick to that style but choose the more flamboyant stuff.

“Are you sure?” Lillian queried. Sixteen or so years in fashion taught her that men who appreciated the style and clothing she loved weren’t the majority. Shouldn’t she be picking out pencil skirts, wrap dresses or those full-shirted, narrow-waisted skirts? And stilettos, preferably Louboutins?

John smiled ruefully. “Yes. If you wear clothes you aren’t comfortable in, it’ll be obvious. It shows in your face. And didn’t you tell me Richard talked a lot about how you’re not his usual type and that’s amazing?”

The back room smelled of clothes, brand new fabric and overtones of hot cotton that came from ironing. Lillian took deep breaths of it. She came here to refresh, the sight and smell of the clothing charging her up, battery-like.

John told her to choose the shorts from 2004. That collection was on the third rail at the back. She took out a hanger and held them up in front of her. Men’s shorts, brocade pantaloons embellished with Swarovski crystals roughly modelled on pre-French revolution court fashion. They hadn’t sold well.

Worn with bare legs and sliders though, they’d work. A silky tee shirt on top would complete the look. Glitz did a line of silk tees that sold in industrial quantities, bought by men and women who loved their quality.

She picked a Paisley-patterned purple one from another rail and then changed her mind. Plain black would be better. Perhaps Richard did think her difference from his usual type a virtue. Best not to push that to the limits though, eh?

Main outfit picked, she added a few other basics. Two more silk tee shirts in various colours, the super skinny jeans that made a virtue of long legs and a utility-style jumpsuit that doubled up as daywear and evening wear if dressed up with heels and a silk scarf.

Her phone buzzed. “Can’t wait! Don’t expect too much sight-seeing. You’ll be too busy on your back…”

Seconds later. “Sorry! 😊 Seriously, tho. Can’t. Bloody. Wait to get you into bed.”

Her heart and stomach clashed together, the one beating super-fast, the other squirming in a combination of super-charged nerves and excitement. And something else. A man had only ever told Lillian once before he couldn’t wait to get her into bed. It hadn’t ended well.

She folded the clothing she’d chosen over her arm. “That was then.” Another mantra. “This is now.”

Wouldn’t every woman be flattered that a man counted down the days, hours and minutes until he tumbled onto a pristine-clean bed with you?

©Emma Baird 2018* Copy this and claim it as your own and I. Will. Hunt. You. Down.

Anyone else remember the early days of match.com? Here’s a wee bit of nostalgia for you…

2006

“… so, I’m trying this new thing. I refuse to proactively do anything. They have to contact me. If a man wants to see me, he needs to make all the arrangements. Thanks. Not too much! I’m also trying to cut down how much I drink.”

John filled her glass anyway. He knew her of old. If he didn’t pour the wine to the top, she’d only bug him in a few minutes’ time, demanding more. And the sofa wrapped itself so well round his old, cold bones. He’d no desire to give up its embrace any time soon.

“How’s it working out for you, the new thing?”

Really, this was unfair. When Lillian had arrived at their flat a few hours ago waving a bottle of Cava and desperate to talk about her love life, Kippy had promptly vanished. Oh, there was this painting he was working on, he claimed airily. Desperately sorry he couldn’t hang about to listen.

Lillian could claim dibs on friendship with them both, but she and Kippy had been close at art school back in the early nineties. And she’d always shown huge interest in his life. The rules of friendship and fairness surely demanded he repay the favour?

It wasn’t so bad for John though. Lillian made dramatic pronouncements. And she was so dreadful at intimacy, tales of her love life were almost always comedic.

Tragi-comedic, John supposed. There ought to be someone out there who’d be the willing recipient of Lillian’s considerable energy and intensity. Together, they could scream and shout at each other, and then make it up with mad, passionate sex. It was impossible to imagine Lillian in a relationship where a couple sat opposite each other in a restaurant and found they couldn’t be bothered with conversation.

Lillian had two relationships with married men behind her. One was careless, two made it look like a pattern, Kippy always said. When the second one ended disastrously—he promised to leave his wife, did so then returned to her weeks later, managing to wreck her happiness and Lillian’s in the process—Lillian turned to match dot com.

Her stories kept John and Kippy entertained for months. Her complaints were wide-ranging. Firstly, there were the unrepresentative photos. “Honestly!” Lillian exclaimed. “That picture was at least ten years out of date. All his hair’s disappeared. Did he think I wouldn’t notice?”

Then, there were the conversations that started up and suddenly went silent. “I thought we’d established a rapport,” Lillian said. She showed them the emails. Back and forth, back and forth went witty exchanges. Lillian would mention something, and the man would fervently agree. And then, nothing.

The first time it happened, Lillian had written plaintive messages. “Is something wrong? What did I say?” After a while, she left it. Ghosted, they called it. It was nothing personal. Maybe Mister ‘I’ve Got So Much in Common With You!’ had been conducting such conversations with a few other folks. And he’d met one lassie and fallen for her.

Lillian’s first “new thing” she applied to her dating life was to meet people very quickly. No point in getting into these long email conversations. You had to see the person as soon as and work out if there was a) chemistry; and b) well, just chemistry. A shared liking for Placebo’s songs played loudly on a Sunday morning mattered not a jot if you didn’t fancy a dude.

Lillian took a gulp of wine, the liquid turning her teeth and tongue black the way it always did. John wondered if those men she dated noticed that and it put them off. He and Kippy were lucky, he supposed. The mysterious gene that made some people prone to the black staining effect of red wine didn’t apply to them, even when they drank cheap shit.

“My new thing is working very well! John, I think this might be IT.”

Oh. Genuine pleasure. She was a terrific pain in the arse. Nosey, bossy, irritating and capable of outstaying her welcome every time, but John and Kippy discussed Lillian a lot. They rolled their eyes considerably as they did so, but they wished her well. Kippy said Lillian in love would be a God-send. She wouldn’t come around to their flat half as much, for a start. It was affectionate though. Who didn’t want their best friend to experience love? Happy ever after was too simplistic, but that’s what you wanted for anyone you cared about.

“He’s taken his profile down from Match,” Lillian said, tilting her glass perilously close to John and Kippy’s beautiful cream sofa. The glass righted itself and John’s alarm eased.

“And as I say, I leave all the arrangements up to him. So freeing!”

John perked up at that. Oftentimes, Lillian contradicted herself. As she said, “so freeing”, doubtless she believed it. But there was no bigger control freak John knew than Lillian. She spent her life bossing others about. Allowing a man to make all the arrangements must kill her. He nodded anyway. You don’t disagree with people’s assessments of themselves. It never worked.

“I think it’s a variation of that old ‘treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen’ thing,” Lillian added. “He thinks I’m not that bothered if I hear from him or not. Conversely, this makes me more interesting. I’m just unsure how long I need to keep it up.”

Ah, the crux of the matter! Yes, Lillian claimed it was freeing for her not to worry about arrangements, but he heard the longing in her voice. She desperately wanted to take control.

“How long have you been doing this, your new thing?” John asked, and she jumped in with her reply. The ongoing tactic had lasted three weeks so far. She and Richard (never Dick, obviously, Richie for short) had seen each other two times a week. And the last text message from him has suggested they go away for a weekend together.

Torture for someone like Lillian to leave all the arrangements for a dirty weekend up to someone else. “We’ve not had sex yet either,” Lillian said, wide eyed. “That’s another of my new rules. I decided I had to get past date six till that happened.”

John smirked at that. He had never been a promiscuous gay, but the thought of not sleeping with someone until you’d been with them for a set amount of time was an anathema. You had to shag early on.

“Katrina,” he said. “She did that years ago with Mick. Refused to fall into bed with him until a bit of time had passed. Just as well, really.”

Lillian frowned, summoning up long-ago memories. Mick had been a notorious ladies man. When Katrina found out his dark secret, she’d thanked the stars she’d never slept with him. Maybe it was more of a female than a male thing. You couldn’t separate the personality from the body.

“Oh yes,” Lillian said. “What was it he did again? I saw him a few months ago. Did I tell you? He was at this launch I was invited to.”

Asking lots of questions and not waiting for replies was typical of Lillian. John decided to address the last.

“No? How is the Rock ‘n Roll chef?”

Mick was a childhood friend of Kippy’s. He’d found fame and fortune in the early 90s as the first of a new generation of TV chefs. In the early noughties, he’d gone through a very public breakdown. Too much cocaine—as the experts always said, a sign you’re making too much money. He’d gone into rehab and these days, promoted a raw food diet as the cure for addiction and did TV, magazines and events as the Rock ‘n Roll chef gone good.

Lillian made disparaging noises. She was no more a fan of avocado smoothies than your normal punter. “Still far too good looking,” she said. “And these days fucking women he’s old enough to have fathered.”

They both grimaced. Was there anything worse than the man who refused to hang up his shagging shoes? Everyone looked at him and thought, Give it up, mate. You’re not twenty-five anymore. You’re beginning to look too much like Sid James.

“Two days’ time!” Lillian said, pushing her glass at John. A hint that he hadn’t anticipated her quickly enough. He pulled himself to his feet once more, telling her to keep talking as he searched out the red wine.

“My mini break, as Bridget Jones would put it! Because I’m doing this ‘no-show too much interest’ thing, what the hell do I pack? It could be abroad. Do I take shorts, for example?”

John filled her glass and prayed to the House Design gods that she still had the motor neurone skills not to spill it all over the lovely sofa. The glass tilted again, and a drop spilled out, the redness fanning out against the cross-grain of the fabric. They both watched it.

“Oops,” Lillian said.

John touched her shoulder. Years ago, he’d been in a flat where he’d spilt vodka and coke. The host had shrieked fit to wake the dead. He’d vowed from then on he would never make someone that uncomfortable. Even if the sight of that spillage kept drawing his eye, the minute spreading of maroon too attention drawing.

“Take shorts,” he said. “But only if they’re the 2004 spring-summer collection you did. Now, do you need me to discuss the perfect blow job? Gay men offer you amazing advice. Together, we’ll have him coming back for more every time.”

She nodded at that. Sex tips from a gay guy. Always a winning strategy. “Do you think this is it, John?” she said, the glass shaking slightly. “I want it to be.”

Oh. Who knew the secrets of the human heart? All you could do was offer optimism.

“Yes!” he said, fixing her gaze with his. “Absolutely! Now, tell me everything you plan to wear and what you’re going to do. We’ll work this out.”

A Wee Trip to Berlin!

As you’ll know, the Best from the East didn’t just hit Great Britain. It did a wee European tour too, stopping to blow icy kisses wherever it went.

Snow in Barcelona—I ask you!

We travelled to Berlin last Sunday (the 25th). #StormEmma* didn’t make an appearance, but the temperature barely rose above minus two. The storm kept away, but it meant our four-night break turned into six. Aside from industrial quantities of snow, nothing was getting into the UK’s air space.

Ah well. Enforced holidays have something to be said for them, once you’ve got past the ‘Argh, who will look after my poor frozen cat?’ and ‘Didn’t budget for this—wow, the pound goes far these days, doesn’t it?’**

I’ve been to Berlin before. There’s a tonne of things to do, especially if you’re museum-minded and you find history fascinating. This time, we did:

The Spy Museum. Berlin’s an obvious place to plant a spy museum, and this place details the history of spying. James Bond bears as much resemblance to a real spy as… well, me. But he’s maybe the best-known fictional one, so the museum pays him homage too.

The Topography of Terror, which is sited on the grounds of the building that housed the Secret State Police Office, the leadership of the SS and the Reich Security Main Office. Chilling.

The German History Museum. I tried and failed to imagine the collective worth of the artefacts in this museum which documents some 2,000 years of German history. If you go to this one, allow more time than we did… (two hours).

Bunker toured. The Underworlds Association runs underground tours, and this one explores an old bunker used by the population as an air raid shelter during the Second World War.

Found out about the Stolpersteine. Outside our hotel, we spotted these. Stolpersteine are part of a project that has been ongoing since 1992. The German artist Gunter Demnig designed it as a tribute to Europe’s holocaust victims.

They mark the last known sight where a Jewish person lived or worked voluntarily, and they are in 22 countries in Europe including Germany. They also include tributes to others murdered by the Nazis, such as Roma and Sinti people, gays and people with mental or physical disabilities, and political opponents.

Look them up on Wikipedia as they are fascinating. And controversial. Some cities have refused them. They see stones on the ground that people could walk over oblivious as disrespectful.

Took ourselves off to the Harrods of the East—KaDaWe, Berlin’s biggest department store and the second largest in Europe. My wee stock of euros would be viewed disdainfully in there, but the food department is lust-worthy. Wander those stalls with your tongue hanging out. There’s a champagne bar, an oyster bar, seafood, currywurst and Vietnamese cooking stalls and more chocolate than I’ve seen in one place for a while.

FOOD

German food is well suited to the cold. If you’re not a fan of pork and potatoes, the native cuisine’s not for you. My husband adores it. Sausages, pork knuckle and a lot of great beer. You could say he’s a male cliché when it comes to eating. He wouldn’t argue.

For those not so keen on the Pig and its multiple products, Vietnamese restaurants are everywhere. You don’t have to wander far for a kebab in Berlin either. The Turks flooded into Germany post World War Two and the Germanised version of the kebab is a thing quite different from what you might have eaten in the UK. Lighter and fresher I reckon.

Berlin’s also jumped onto the vegan bandwagon. (I imagine its founding fathers spin in their graves at that.) If you’re looking for veggie and vegan options, you need not go far. This isn’t a vegan dish (spot the goat’s cheese) but I found it in a restaurant serving up an equal number of meat, vegetarian and vegan choices.

I wish Mama Nature had made me like beer. Had she tapped me with the hops-lovin’ wand, I’d have been happy as a pig in the proverbial. But I discovered a German sparkling wine I loved. You could even buy this stuff from vending machines in hotels.

EXTRA HOLIDAY

On day four, we decamped from our hotel. The Thursday flight back to the UK was cancelled, and we needed somewhere cheap to stay. We went deep east, an area surrounded by huge tower blocks and little in the way of amenities even now.

On the theme of making your euros go as far as possible, we walked everywhere, skipped one meal a day and ate out in kebab shops.

Proof that a lot of walking was done (left). I had to take the picture to share with my family WhatsApp group. What are WhatsApp groups for, after all, but petty point-scoring?!

We also ventured into an old-school pub that’s easy to imagine being there when the divide existed. I don’t think it has changed since then. You could even smoke there if you wanted. It’s a long time since I’ve been in a public space where folks puff away. But a pint and a wee bottle of afore-mentioned German fizz cost five euros. We choked and bore it.

There are plenty of free things to do in Berlin. For a start, signs posts are dotted everywhere telling the history of a place.

Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial is free too. I’d been before, but we visited again to pay our respects. Particularly moving are the displays that feature individual families from different countries. You learn the before stories, how they lived and who they were.

This isn’t an extensive exhibit which perhaps is controversial. The installation outside is obscure, but then surely art’s point is to make you think?

The House of the Wannsee Conference is free too. It’s a trek, as you need to get a train out to Wannsee and then it’s a two-and-half kilometre walk from the station. It’s worth it, though. Transpose the beauty and tranquillity of the place with the evil of what was planned there.

Another freebie is the Willi Brandt museum, which offers a fascinating insight into arguably German’s most famous post-war politician.

 

 

*Kind of weirdly flattered such a huge weather event was in my name. Wrong, I know.

**It does NOT. The pound-euro exchange rate is terrible.