Wednesday, 25 January 2012

I just called to say..hang on, no I didn't

Please tell me I am not the only person who has done this.


On Tuesday I had a message on my answer machine from a well-known local lady talking about a story she wanted us to publish.

She spoke in her usual chatty, friendly style so when I called her back (also speaking to an answering machine) I had the same relatively upbeat, jocular tone.

All was going well until my sign off when instead of saying ‘goodbye’, ‘see you later’ or ‘I look forward to hearing from you’, I found myself saying ‘love you’.

In a slightly high-pitched voice.

I was aghast.

What on earth could I do to explain why I had wrongly said this without further deepening my overwhelming embarrassment?

Well I tried to salvage things by immediately re-dialling the number and telling the innocent answering machine that I was sorry, I obviously didn’t mean what I’d said (ie. don’t panic!) and if it made the lady feel any better I was now dying of acute embarrassment.

Luckily the charming woman in question saw the funny side and I’m sure will tease me mercilessly for some time to come but it did occur to me that this isn’t the first time I’ve said the wrong thing to someone. Indeed I recall when I was at college getting something off a milkman and also telling him I loved him as well. His look of bemusement was priceless.

On relating the details of my verbal faux pas to some work colleagues I was also reminded by one of something I’m sure we’ve all done before in our tender years when we inadvertently called a teacher ‘mum’ or ‘dad’. The problem with something like that is that once it’s out it sticks. And, as we know, children have a remarkable memory for juicy mistakes like that which surpasses any memory for useful things like maths or English.

But I am afraid my putting the proverbial foot in it doesn’t end there. Oh no. I have done that awful thing of asking a lady when her baby was due (when she wasn’t pregnant) and I’ve also been guilty (and I can’t be alone in this either, surely?) in complimenting new parents on their lovely-looking son only to be subtly pointed in the direction of the pink dress their ‘son’ was wearing.

The problem with all these awkward situations is that trying to get out of them can sometimes make things so much worse.

I remember when I was a young reporter we had a switchboard operator who would put calls through to you so quickly and efficiently it caught you off guard.

On one occasion she said that a certain person was calling and I said to her “oh no, not that idiot again”. But, sadly, my switchboard operator had already gone on to another call. There then followed a long, telling pause before a slow, drawn out voice said “Yes I’m afraid it is me – that idiot again.”

I tried desperately to get out of that one but we both knew the truth – he knew I thought he was an idiot and he also knew I was one for trying to pretend I didn’t mean it.

Oh well, next to that perhaps ‘love you’ doesn’t sound so bad after all.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Great cinema is antidote to miserable January

I think it’s fair to say that the middle of January is not traditionally known as one of the best loved parts of the calendar.

The Christmas festivities have long since gone – as sadly for some have their new year’s resolutions – the weather is invariably pretty grim and the bills for the aforementioned yuletide celebrations are now hitting the mat.

With a heavy clunk.

Clearly therefore this time of the year does have something of an image problem.

However, there is one area of life where January really is a fantastic month – and that is in the cinema where the film world traditionally releases a glut of great movies.

The reason for this has nothing to do with those charming people at film studios trying to put smiles on our miserable January faces and everything to do with the fact that we are now in the awards season. As such it is vital for BAFTAs, Oscars et al to have the big films showing at this time to capture the imagination of those who hand out the gongs.
So, this week I have been to see two of the much hyped new releases which have set the year off to such a fine start for filmgoers and it was pleasing to see that both had significant local connections.

First up on Saturday I went to see Steven Spielberg’s latest epic, War Horse. I’m a big fan of Mr Spielberg. and although I don’t think this is quite the masterpiece others have claimed, it certainly has many things to recommend it – not least the many scenes featuring the lovely Wiltshire village of Castle Combe.

This village has always been a genuine local gem and to see it used so well on the screen was a joy. It may also be a joy for local people to play ‘spot the face’ too because as you will have seen in the Chronicle previously, dozens of local people were involved as extras. I personally was thrilled to see a friend of my daughter’s on a couple of occasions which meant she actually had more screen time than some of the horses.

For an entirely different experience, on Tuesday night I joined two colleagues at the Little Theatre to watch the bio-pic of Margaret Thatcher, The Iron Lady.

Between the three of us we covered a wide spectrum of opinion about Mrs T but I would urge everyone (whether they think she was the greatest Prime Minister of our time or the worst) to go and see this movie, not least for the extraordinary way Meryl Streep portrays the title role.

It’s a political movie at times of course but it’s actually more of a film about a woman in her latter years suffering from dementia and reflecting on her life – a life that just happened to involve running a country for over a decade. And the local link? Look out for Anthony Head who is a superb Geoffrey Howe, bringing out the inner turmoil of this quiet ex-chancellor.

Two top films down already then – and I’ve still got the fun of catching movies like The Artist and The Decendants to come soon too.

So if January is getting you down then the message is simple. Get out, buy a cinema ticket and then say a hearty thank you for the fact that this is the film awards season.

  • Footnote - since I wrote this peice I have indeed had  a chance to add The Artist to my January entertainment salvation. It's funny, genuinely original, bright, breezy and full of life. Rather like The War Horse I am not 100 per cnet convinced it yet deserves 'masterpiece' status as some have suggested but it is still a fine piece of work. And the dog in it is truly AMAZING.     

Monday, 16 January 2012

Clothes maketh the man wince

They say that “clothes maketh the man”. And if that is the case then clothes madeth me look rather foolish on Monday.

For when I arrived at work and as I settled down at my desk I realised something was not quite right.

I had a black jacket on but when I looked down I realised that my trousers were of a totally different colour – a lightish grey.

Yes, I had managed to put on a different part from two different suits and although I don’t think anyone else noticed (or at least I don’t think so but there may have been titters I didn’t hear), I did feel very self-conscious and for the rest of the day it was shirt sleeves all round. And even when I left I just had my jacket over my arm.

I suppose this is something that can happen to a lot of people but it was only when I thought of it later I realised that it wasn’t the first time that I’d made a mistake in the wardrobe department.

It is said that some people when it comes to dancing have two left feet. Well, on one occasion when I went to the gym so did I.

In a rush to pick up my kit for a gym assessment, I inadvertently grabbed two different trainers – both of which were for the same foot. I had no choice but to carry on because I had a pre-booked session with a trainer but I can tell you I would not recommend this to anyone and I think it is quite a “feat” that my squeezed tootsies managed to survive the session at all.

However, I must confess, there is one thing worse than forgetting the right clothes – and that is forgetting clothes altogether.

I can still vividly recall the time I decided to go swimming during a lunch break (all of this is making me sound very healthy, don’t you think?) and I duly turned up at the swimming pool, went into my changing cubicle, took off all of my clothes off and realised that I’d not brought any trunks. Or a towel.

I had picked up my work bag rather than my gym bag and so I was left naked in a cubicle where I realised, for the first time, that when you go red from embarrassment, it’s not just on your face . . .

So, I then faced the humiliating walk past an attendant who had seen me five minutes before getting ready to undress in a cubicle and then past a receptionist who also looked at me very strangely and must have thought “that was the quickest swim in history” – and also the only one not to have made someone’s hair wet.

It all goes to show, I guess, that how we look truly can affect how we feel and although it doesn’t matter a jot in the grand scheme of things if I had the wrong jacket on or two left trainers (OK, I admit it would have mattered a bit if I’d attempted to go skinny-dipping in a public pool), it does prove that what we wear affects our minds as well as our bodies.

Oh, and here’s a final thought about clothes. Considering many of us shop at the same shops and probably have very similar tastes, don’t you find it amazing as you walk round the streets to see how very few people ever truly look the same? Just look around and see what I mean – but perhaps not if you are reading this in North Korea.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Have you resolved to stick to your resolutions?

There is a very good chance that many of you reading this today will have made New Year’s resolutions.

And, sadly, I suspect that some of you will have already broken them.

The annual January 1 ritual of resolving to improve our lives is as much a part of the festive holiday as turkey and the countdown to Big Ben. It is thought as many as three-quarters of us will have seriously sat down and thought about the resolutions we should make this year and the vast majority of us will have had every intention of sticking with them.

The statistics for successfully staying with such resolutions are not great, to be honest, but that shouldn’t put people off. And if you’ve already slipped away from your resolution, bear in mind that January 1 is only one day of the year and you can resolve to put your life back on track at any time.

The reason perhaps most people do fail with their resolutions is because they are, perhaps inevitably, quite negative and unrealistic.

If you’ve resolved to give up chocolate for example but you’re an ardent choccie-lover, then I fear that such a resolution may cause you so much pain it will fall the first time you walk past Hotel Chocolat. And the same goes if you like the odd tipple or two. If you suddenly go all 1920s America and impose a prohibition on yourself it may be doomed to end in a St Valentine’s Day massacre of the drinks cabinet.

The best resolutions are probably not to cut out but to cut down, and so if you resolve to do that then you may have a better chance of success.

Surprisingly perhaps when I did some research about the most popular resolutions although the obvious ones were in there – to quit smoking, to lose weight and to get fit etc – the number one choice was something which all of us can aspire to. It was “to enjoy life more”.

For this resolution to be number one was something of a shock to me but it does make you realise that a lot of us feel we’re not living the life we should and although it is quite hard to define the success of this particular resolution, to have it as a goal is something which I’m sure we can all relate to.

Personally I’m actually one of the 25 per cent of people this year who didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions  - mainly I think because I’ve had too many ill-fated 12 month gym memberships start in January to make me realise I should think about the timing of these things more.

However, I do know of lots of people who have set themselves New Year goals and aims and I wish them all well because if they do manage to achieve them, then they will actually go towards succeeding in that “enjoy life more” ambition too.

Of course, the cynics may say there is no point in doing any of this and may even subscribe to the quote I heard once that “a New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year – and out the other”.

But for one week at least, let’s try not to share such cynicism. Let’s all, instead, resolve to support those with resolutions and if we, or others, can’t sustain or maintain the more tricky ones we have set ourselves, let’s at least try and just enjoy life that little bit more.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

How Downton, Eastenders and Great Expectations soaped-up Christmas

I suspect like many of you, I had plenty of “smellies” in my Christmas stocking this year. But the soaps that made the biggest impact on me were on the TV screen rather than in the bathroom cabinet.

For over Christmas I managed to watch only three full set of TV programmes (Downtown Abbey, Great Expectations and EastEnders) but amazingly I managed to enjoy them all thoroughly. And what linked all three – dare I say it – was that they were all soap operas of sorts, even though I am sure such a term would be a shock to Carson the butler or the wonderful Mr Charles Dickens.

OK, I accept putting our greatest storyteller in the same bracket as the people who write Neighbours is somewhat controversial. But, if what defines a soap is an ongoing dramatic series full of interlinking characters and many often intricately-plotted different storylines then it could be argued that Charles Dickens is the grand-daddy of all soap writers.

His earliest novels were all written via monthly installments and he understood all about leaving the reader wanting more. And that is why I am sure that he would have loved the fact that as the credits rolled after the first episode of Great Expectations on Tuesday we were all really desperate to see part two.

What larks Pip old chap, what larks...

But, before we even had the chance to enjoy seeing the ever loveable Joe Gargery, the ghostly Miss Havisham or Ray Winstone rolling in the mud as an especially grimy Magwitch, the Christmas period had given us a double-dose of soapy delight at Albert Square and Downton Abbey.

EastEnders is one of my not-so-guilty pleasures – a show I can go months without watching but can then get ridiculously absorbed when a good story line comes along. And this year we had a humdinger.

It concerned a psychopathic doctor, a lighter, a house full of people and boxes of dodgy fireworks. It went off with a predictable bang and as with every great OTT soap story you were left wondering who was alive, who was dead and when the next episode was on.

And what a great news week for the Walford Gazette too.

For an altogether calmer but no less enjoyable experience the two-hour trip to the middle-class soap world of Downton Abbey was a journey well worth taking.

This beautifully crafted series has swiftly knitted itself into the national consciousness and its Christmas Day special was an absolute triumph from the start to the “for-goodness-sake-Matthew-just-
flipping- ask-her-to-marry-you-will-you?” finale.

Sure, the programme does sometimes leave you with more questions than answers – i.e. in this one just who did Sybil upset not to be featured at all? – but this Upstairs Downstairs for the 21st-century generation has all the class and style of Maggie Smith’s Dowager. I suspect it is here to stay – as I hope is that nice Mr Bates for I can’t stand seeing the saintly Anna upset.

So thank you to Dickens, Downton and the dodgy doctor for our festive TV fun. It was the year where the soaps truly cleaned up.