How Was IKEA for You?

The thing with going to IKEA is that it invariably takes three hours, which still isn’t enough to shop and to scoff a bargain plate of meatballs or fish and chips in the café.

IKEA Wednesbury was no different. The shop has everything, mostly things my son and I didn’t know we needed yet soon realised we couldn’t live without.

PS 2014 light. Image from ikea.com

The PS 2014 light is a case in point. By pulling its strings, you can make it open and shut, just like a transformer. Although, unlike a transformer, it is still a lampshade whatever you do. Bargain at £60 and would look great in my son’s new home. Now, what were we here for?

I get distracted by a couple arguing about the configuration of wardrobes and whether they really need a sofa bed (and which set of in-laws they can stand having as guests). Meanwhile, their kids have a pillow fight.

The cognoscenti may take crafty shortcuts through the store, but my son and I prefer not to miss anything, and the trolley soon filled up.

I’d brought my IKEA Family Card, which is why I got an email a week or so later asking for feedback on TYSNES, VILDKAPRIFOL, FLITIGHET, and TOKIG.

I’m not sure where IKEA get their product names, but then I don’t know a word of Swedish except Volvo and that’s Latin. Turns out they use many Scandinavian languages and place names in naming their wares, as this post explains

TYSNES. Image from ikea.com

TYSNES is a village in Norway. It’s also perfect for the bathroom windowsill, especially at just £19. As for the VILDKAPRIFOL, sorry, but, despite the attractive blue pattern, they’re still in the carrier bag.

VILDKAPRIFOL. Image from ikea.com

The FLITIGHET are great, but then what could go wrong with plain white side plates? Alas, I can’t comment on the TOKIG. I’d wanted a salad spinner for ages, but had forgotten that I’d taken the train, so the thing had to stay at my son’s in Birmingham instead of coming home with me.

The thing is, you can forget a lot after 90 minutes in IKEA, and common sense goes out the window. Perhaps that’s why, when nearly leaving the store, it’s almost impossible to ignore the Bargain Corner. The trolley is never quite laden enough to resist the charms of knock-down prices for knocked-about products, like a coat rack with a couple of hooks missing.

IKEA neglected to ask for my views of the humble RӦRT, a fine wooden spoon with endless possibilities. Have you never made spoon dolls? Admittedly my children have long grown out of such rainy day activities, but all you need for this wholesome fun is a Sharpie (or, better, a Magic Marker with a scent that takes me right back to the sixties), and then some fabric for a dress. Why, I could even use one of those pretty VILDKAPRIFOL tea towels.

IKEA also forgot to solicit my opinion of the BӒSTIS. I deem it 75p well spent as it prevents everything I own from turning ginger. It’s well named, too, as Bast was the Ancient Egyptian goddess of cats and her cult centre was Bubastis.

MISHMISH. Not available from IKEA

Far and away my best buy was, on that occasion as on most others, only 50p. Aptly named, the FRAKTA is generally purchased by the checkout when everyone is a bit fractious, even they’ve managed not to drop a BILLY bookcase on their foot.

The FRAKTA after deployment

It may not look much, but it is a workhorse. As the catalogue has it, Be it shopping, doing laundry or going to the beach, it goes wherever you go.”

Except it doesn’t. I always leave mine at home and having to buy another carrier bag at the store.

We caught up at the checkout with the quarrelling couple and the bouncy children, by then pacified by the promise of ice cream. Shopping at IKEA can be stressful, but it doesn’t detract from the chain’s iconic status.

Do you have a great IKEA story? Perhaps you even know someone who met their partner there, as opposed to just arguing with the one they went shopping with. I’d love to hear from you.

***

You may also enjoy this post on Feedback Frenzy.

One Year Older, Still Alive and Kicking

On my birthday just recently, I experienced a disconnect between the joy of being the birthday girl and the reality of being, frankly, older than I’ve ever been before. One day, I’m scoring goals in the back garden. The next thing I know, I sit down with an audible Oof! at every possible opportunity.

If you’re anything like me, you don’t always appreciate how fast things are changing until something pulls you up short. Like the photo that shows how short you are compared with your children. Or a birthday card like this one.

What presents might be heading my way? Another pair of slippers, maybe, or a voucher for Specsavers. Material gifts lose some of their appeal as the years slip by, as does blowing out candles on a birthday cake. I don’t have that kind of puff. Or a fire extinguisher to hand.

But I’m not a grumpy old thing who pads around in her gardening clothes and moans about the passing years. On my birthday I dressed up in my new shoes.

Along with a top from Help the Aged. Don’t tell me the shop is now called Age UK. This purchase goes way back.

I didn’t fancy going out for a celebratory lunch. Not when we have so much in the fridge, and the tarragon on the patio is doing so well this year that it’s a shame not to use it. So risotto it was.

The old joints may be creakier than they were, but I can’t complain. Getting older is a privilege. Give me a head of grey hair and as many laughter lines as Mick Jagger (though, come to think of it, nothing is that funny).

Health problems become more likely as the years pass, but then ill health can strike at any age. Having worked in paediatric rheumatology, I can see just how challenging mobility issues can be at a young age. And of course there are many other conditions that can become limiting.

That’s why I’m delighted to get behind the new campaign from Sport England. It doesn’t have to involve a sport. #WeAreUndefeatable aims to help the two thirds of people with health conditions increase their physical activity in any way they can.

I’d need a really long blog post to cram in all the benefits of moving more. Instead, watch this lot living every moment. The clip lasts just 30 seconds. 

If you have a long-term condition, or know anyone who does, please take a look at some of the inspiration at We Are Undefeatable

Is Your Classic Car a Sex Symbol?

On a sunny summer day, the grounds of Burghley House proved a good place to ponder this question. The occasion was the annual rally of the Rolls Royce Enthusiasts’ Club on the 100th anniversary of the marque, no less. Some of the visitors seemed of similar vintage. But, if the setting of England’s greatest Elizabethan House didn’t evoke lust, the Flying Lady (aka the Spirit of Ecstasy) probably would. 

FreeImages.com/Artur Szeja

Arriving in my neighbour’s Arnage, I thought we fitted in rather well. OH and I posed in front of cars like this classic green Bentley.

If you’re wondering about the definitions of classic, vintage, and veteran, here’s one widely accepted version. Classic is over 20 years old, while vintage is 1919-1930, and veteran is pre-1919.

Some of the motors we saw were for sale, but most were for show, closely guarded by their owners as if their charges were entrants in a teen beauty pageant.

Some, like this Corniche, were watched over by dogs.

The atmosphere seemed designed to prompt extravagance. Sunshine, free fizz, and John Timms’ Jazz Band make such an intoxicating mix that a 1962 Silver Cloud begins to look a steal at just £395,000.

I had my eye on a sky blue Bentley, but doubt I could have afforded its dinky little brother.

Exploring stalls with items for sale, we admired shiny cylinder heads, members’ spares, and picnic sets for a mere £3,000.  I turned away from a perfectly lovely Louis Vuitton suitcase. It was £2,800 and it didn’t even have wheels!

Perhaps the less car-related merchandise would be within my budget. I tried on a splendid coat by Gabriela Rose Ltd. The mirror told me it fitted perfectly. The label told me it was £995.

In the Gallery Marquee, I enjoyed an affordable piece of fudge before wandering off again among the rows of cars. We traipsed as elegantly as one can in a field. Turned out to be easier without shoes. Who knew?

Owners were only too happy to tell everyone about their pride and joy. As it happens, I know something of their fervour. I did own a classic 1973 Beetle for over 25 years. It might not have swanned about stately homes, but Sauerkraut and I clocked up plenty of miles on camping trips to France and Spain.  And Wales. Mustn’t forget Wales. The speedometer gave up the ghost on the way back.

Lacking even the most basic cocktail cabinet, Sauerkraut was a tad low-tech by Rolls Royce/Bentley standards. Did it have air con? Only if you opened the quarter-lights as far as they would go and kept up a steady speed of 70mph. As for heating, what’s wrong with a coat and gloves? My very first Beetle didn’t even have a fuel gauge. Instead there was a lever for deploying a reserve tank when you were out of petrol.

Was my classic car a sex symbol? It was probably more of a fertility symbol, especially with three child seats across the back, a double buggy shoved haphazardly into the front, and a random assortment of toys meant to keep little boys quiet on long journeys.

You won’t find my beloved Beetle standing in front of Burghley House, but it has graced some of the finest NHS hospitals in the land. Here it is at the Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital, in Taplow, Berks.

When I went into general practice, Sauerkraut and I got to know every single street in Borehamwood. I recall one particular patient who called for a visit for back pain. When I examined him, I told him his back didn’t seem too bad. “I know,” he replied. “But I want to buy your car.”

Many years later, I sold Sauerkraut to a lovely family from Liverpool who renamed it Carol.

Go on. Give it a wave if you see it.  

Are You Proper Old Yet? Ten Ways to Tell

Sixty is the new thirty, they say.

Well, I have news for them, and for you. It isn’t.  

FreeImages.com/C Glass

While there’s no precise age at which one suddenly becomes old, there is a constellation of telling symptoms that can serve as a guide.  While I’ve written on the subject before, this time I’ve devised a highly scientific questionnaire to determine whether you are in fact properly old.

1. You need to sit down to put your socks or tights on. On the rare occasions that you don’t, it’s because you can’t find your socks.

2. Despite turning up the volume on the TV, you still can’t hear the dialogue, let alone grasp the plot.

3. You once had legendary nights out. These days, a nice cup of tea and a slice of Battenberg cake are far more appealing.

Royal Doulton teacup

4. Besides, high heels have become intolerable.

5. You’re shorter and your back is more bent than it used to be, and now you can no longer correct your posture by sitting up straight. Don’t you wish you’d listened to your mother?

6. You always make sure you wrap up warm, just as your mother told you to.  In fact, you now realise she was right about everything. Including those winkle-picker shoes. FreeImages.com/Terri-Ann Hanalon

7. Health is now a major preoccupation. If you and your friends were to stop discussing medical problems, there’d be no conversation at all.

8. On the rare occasions that you’re not collecting a prescription, you still make use of the chair the pharmacist keeps by the counter.

FreeImages.com/Alfonso Lima9. Of course, you groan with relief every time you sit down.

10. You may well have an iPhone and use Siri. Your most common request? “Siri, tell me what I’m doing here.”

There may be one or two other pointers as well. Please pitch in and let me know what I’ve missed out. Sorry, but my memory isn’t quite what it used to be. Can’t imagine why.

***

In case you missed it, The Times newspaper has just published a piece called Let the Elderly Make Love, Not Cocoa.

Beware: Umbrellas at Large

Has someone out there been doing a rain dance? The sun is a distant memory, the brollies are out in force, and it’s pretty clear it’s not all Mary Poppins and Singin’ in the Rain.

I know, beach parasols aren’t entirely innocent. A sudden gust can give your sunshade wings, and propel it at speed into the chest or brain

But rain umbrellas are in another class of spikiness altogether, with sharp edges and points just where you least want them. It’s hard to protect yourself on crowded pavements in the rain when’s everyone’s scurrying about brandishing their weapons as they dodge the puddles.

In Cambridge’s narrow streets, there’s the added danger of tourists stopping without warning to take selfies, and tour leaders waving extra umbrellas around to show their group where they are.

From their origins centuries ago (nobody seems sure how many) as protection for the privileged, umbrellas are now as common as muck. Hundreds of millions of brollies are sold every year, and often break just as quickly, making them even more hazardous.

My husband negotiated the last downpour uninjured, but his thumb took a hit when closing his brolly. After all, everyone knows it’s bad luck to leave it open inside the house, right?

I escaped unscathed that rainy afternoon, possibly because I kept reminding the OH not to stab me in the eye. Nearly a fifth of umbrella-related accidents affect the eye, many of these being conjunctival tears. Spokes are the main cause, but even the rubber end of a rainshade can lead to eye injuries, according to a review from Monash University in Australia.

Their review concludes that umbrellas shouldn’t be used as toys. Sound advice, especially if you’ve read about the 11-year old who impaled his little brother with a piece of wire ribbing poked through the keyhole. The 5-year old was taken to the doctor but lost his eye, shortly followed by his life. 

Swans shun brollies. Unfurl yours and you may find yourself at the wrong end of a powerful beak.

The most high profile umbrella-linked death was that of Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian writer and dissident murdered in September 1978 by a ricin pellet concealed in the tip of his assassin’s umbrella. Forty years on, the suspect is still at large. I’m told the case has links to the KGB. Obviously, I couldn’t possibly comment.

Please let me know your best umbrella stories. I’m really hoping one of you has an uplifting tale to share in this rainy season. If not, I’ll just have to stay in and listen to the Hollies’ Bus Stop one more time.

Why Heatwaves and Novels Go Together

You don’t need to read the Lancet to know that heatwaves aren’t great for health. Even without the terror of fires, excess heat is linked with deaths, especially in the elderly.

On the bright side, however, when the thermometer soars and it’s too hot to move, few things are more delicious than settling in a shady spot to get lost in a book. Yes, I have heard of ice cream, but a novel occupies the mind for longer than a raspberry ripple, and that’s got to be a bonus in the current mess the world is in.

Writers are doubly blessed in a heatwave. For a start, they may be able to work at home with next to nothing on, which is so far removed from struggling on the Tube wearing office attire that it’s almost like not working.

As a plus, there are often cool places to sit with pencil or laptop.

I’m assuming that the nice cool place isn’t in full view of the neighbours. Then again, think of all the publicity, as a fellow writer reminds me.

Best of all, though, scorching weather presents excellent material for fiction.  Author Helena Halme mentions just this in her recent blog post Five Books for a Heatwave.

I’d like to unpick this a little more.

Summertime is in itself magical, with ice lollies, flip-flops, sandcastles, and grandparents moaning about the lack of rain. In school holidays gone by, every summer was long and hot, at least in the memory. With normal life suspended, there’s an illusion of freedom, Swallows and Amazons style.

The heat does things to people’s pheromones. Well, I’m assuming it does, though the only paper I’ve seen is based on research on insects. At any rate, the brain seems to fry at high temperatures.  Even the most impassive person can become, well, hot-headed and behave erratically, which is all good news for novelists.

The human mind isn’t the only thing to abandon normal function in a heatwave. By now, most people in the UK are familiar with buckled rails and cancelled trains. In the northeast last month, a man became trapped when tarmac melted and his leg literally sank into the road surface. This happened in Heaton (no, I’m not kidding) and firefighters were called to free him. 

But these phenomena are as nothing compared to the image of Jesus appearing on a ceramic drainpipe in Joanna Cannon’s debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. This unusual manifestation of Christ brings out the neighbours and their deck chairs, and becomes a turning point in the story.

Every heatwave seems to leave its own particular memories. The legendary summer of 1976 featured beaches covered in ladybirds, exhortations to share a bath with a friend, and other references that can date-stamp a novel, as both Joanna Cannon and Maggie O’Farrell demonstrate.

While there’s no exact definition of a heatwave, meteorologists often consider it to be an increase of 5⁰C above the average maximum temperature for five days or more – with the average maximum temperature being between 1961 and 1990.

The great heatwave years of the UK include 1911, 1955, 1976, and 1983. Speaking for myself, I have a soft spot for 2013 which broke few records but did produce the hottest July for many years. This is the year in which I set my novel Hampstead Fever, and it also happens to be when I got married.

wedding

Whether you’re reading or writing, I hope you enjoy the rest of this scorching season. How will you most remember the heatwave of 2018 when it gives way to wind and rain?

***

PS You can find Hampstead Fever in all the usual places.

http://mybook.to/HF

Last Minute Reminders for the Romantic Novelists’ Conference #RNA18

Some of us authors have already packed our bags for the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference, and booked train tickets weeks in advance too. With any luck, we even chose the right rail station in Leeds (it’s Horsforth).

It’s so hot that you’ll be in shorts?  Well, I’ve studied the photos of the venue and can tell you the chairs look scratchy. A summer dress might be comfier.

And take one of these.

Remember to pack your phone charger (and bring it home again afterwards).

This year, you need to provide your own clothes-hangers.

The most up-to-date info from the conference venue is that there’s an excellent range of gins on site. This is welcome news, as drinks with the most colour, like brandy and dark rum, are more often linked with hangovers. It’s the congeners they contain – the chemical impurities that are a by-product of the fermentation process.

You might still want to take these, just in case.

Here’s to a great conference. Now, have I forgotten anything vital? Do let me know. Otherwise I will just find out when I get there, as usual.

***

You might also enjoy: What Do You Need for a Writers’ Conference?