Thursday, 19 May 2011

Sheila The Magic Pumpkin

I've had a lot of flatmates in my life, but possibly my favourite flatmate of all was a guy called Neal that I lived with when I was about 19. He was magnificent. We laughed, we played Super Mario together, he made me G&Ts which we enjoyed on the balcony, watching the light hit the buildings in the afternoon (it wasn't sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist, but you can't have everything). I may be viewing this through rose-tinted glasses, but let me tell you, some of the funniest and most absurd in-jokes I've ever had the pleasure to share with anyone began in that flat, with that guy.

One great and rather ridiculous in-joke we had began when Neal played his Sheryl Crow albums at an ungodly hour in the morning. After I'd smashed through his door, bleary-eyed, hair crazily porcupining in every direction, and threatened to do a long list of increasingly violent and horrible things to him with the CD, he decided that on reflection, it was better to have a varied musical taste. He began to play a seemingly endless line of Eva Cassidy albums. To annoy him, I would sing along in a mousey falsetto, and thus began the story of Eva Cassidy-Hamster. We created her as a way to explain all those things that Someone Did, but that No One Is Prepared To Admit To, like forgetting to replace the toilet roll, or finishing the milk. We'd blame our little-seen singer-songwriter hamster for anything and everything. The joke grew to such lengths that Neal once came home from work to find me contentedly photoshopping a feather boa and some high heels onto a picture of a hamster with a microphone.

Neal: What are you doing?

Me: I'm creating an album cover for Eva's newest live performance.

Neal: Has this gone too far?

Me: Not even close.

It was somehow comforting to come home from a long day and find little passive-aggressive notes written by an invisible hamster flatmate on the fridge. I do miss those days. 
However, my favourite story of all involves a pumpkin. We bought it at Tesco for Halloween, along with some other cheap and terrible plastic decorations and proudly brought it home, only to realise that neither one of us had ever carved a pumpkin before. Several hours and several G&Ts later, we'd named it Sheila and compromised by drawing a face onto it rather than starting drunken pumpkin surgery (also, I don't know if you've noticed, but after you name something it's somehow harder to scoop out its insides without feeling remorse, even if it is a vegetable). Sheila became an endearing, if slightly odd addition to the flat for the next couple of weeks. We would slip her into conversation when showing people around our home for the first time - "that's the bathroom, this is the kitchen, this is our pumpkin, the bedrooms are down the hall, we have a nice view..."

All was normal, or at least as normal as life can be living with a named pumpkin, until one night when I staggered in, pie-eyed (if you're not from the UK, this means so drunk that you've bought chips and at some point on the way home have performed the Chip Dance, which involves stumbling in zig zags down the street holding the bag aloft, eyes firmly focused on the next chip on your fork like it is the face of your deity of choice) to find that Neal had got home earlier, also apparently smashed, and had left me a large scrawling story on our kitchen whiteboard titled Sheila The Magic Pumpkin: Feed Her Vodka And She Will Tell You The Future. I stared at this for some time, letting my alcohol-soaked brain turn it over gently. I examined Sheila, who was sitting in a pool of clear liquid that on tasting proved to indeed be vodka, so he had definitely tested his scientific theory out. To this day, I still don't know what happened that fateful night. 
Sheila lasted for some time after the vodka incident. Indeed she lasted for a good few months before eventually putrifying and had begun to gently but inexorably seep into my food cupboard. We didn't have the heart to throw her away, however, not after all we'd been through, although Neal and I did sometimes stand together in the kitchen and regard her with increasing despair. Eventually it had to be done, for the health and safety of us humans, but it was a sad day for everyone involved. 

Rest in peace, Sheila. You truly were magical.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Twitterfests and Apple Beer

If you read the last post I published, you'll know that I had planned a Twitterfest (or rather, Otterfest, if you will) in order to meet some the awesome people I talk to on Twitter. It was absolutely brilliant. I had a splendidly magnificent time, and I'd like to thank @JenClone, @Oddtwang, @SuperRetroid, @TheNatFantastic, @Trishie_D, @JennieSue and @nicelittlestory for making that possible. We came up with some incredible in-jokes during the time I spent in Leeds and Oxford, and thankfully I managed overall not to embarrass myself too much (I think, although I do recall doing a robot dance as we exited a pub which probably wasn't the coolest or most impressive thing I could have been doing). In addition, one of our crew made little badges with otters on them, to commemorate this special occasion, which was a wonderful and very sweet thing to do. I felt like otter royalty.

There was one moment of humiliation, which I've already enjoyed telling people about, during the brunch meeting on Sunday, when we were all standing in the queue for Bagel Nash in Leeds. I was standing between two people taller than me so I was trying to keep track of the conversation as it flew over my otterhobbit head, as well as deciding what kind of bagel I was going to have. Therefore my thoughts were rather preoccupied when a slight tilt of my head encouraged my floppy Bieberhair fringe to fall into my eyes. My immediate reflex was to flick my head to the side, swinging the hair back from my face in a dignified if slightly camp manner. Unfortunately, I had momentarily forgotten that I was standing very close to a chiller cabinet. What actually happened, instead of the graceful L'Oreal Cheryl Cole style hair whip I had intended, was that I stupidly banged my skull against the side of the cabinet, in front of everyone. From a distance, it must have looked as if I could no longer stand the chat going on around me and had decided to suddenly end my existence in a very longwinded and painful fashion. What's worse, this was the response I got:

Jen: Oh my god! Are you okay? It's fine, I don't think anyone saw - hey, everybody! EVERYBODY! Did you see what Otternator just did?!

In addition to this wonderful memory, we had many exceptional moments of banter and learned some very important life lessons. Jen brought up an instance when a man on a dating website sent her an introductory email that was entirely based around watersports. Thus, the following conversation happened:

Jen: It was awful. Really. Not a good start.

Me: You know, I've always found the name very misleading. Because there are actually proper water-related sports. Jetskiing, surfing, that kind of thing. They should call it something else. Like.....WeeSports. WAIT! NO!

SuperRetroid: If you invite people round for WiiSports, you better be very clear on exactly what you're planning. Otherwise that's just embarrassing for everyone.

Oddtwang: Exactly.

In summary, I highly recommend Twitterfests. Just be certain no one's an axe murderer and be sure to take extra socks. You'll thank me later.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Wuthering Otters

I mentioned in a couple of previous posts that I joined a local book group a few months back. Let me explain a little more about this, which started off as one innocent email and has now snowballed into a giant embarrassing ball of Shame Wool, which even now is twining around my conscience like a hungry kitten. Shame Wool - it feels uncomfortable and itchy on the inside of your soul.

Back in January, I saw an advert on Gumtree for a book group. I decided, as it had been one of my New Year's resolutions to be more social (as for the other two resolutions, let's just say that one of them I kept reasonably well and the other was one of those resolutions you never really intend to keep anyway, it's just there to bulk out the list) that I would email back and ask for the details. I had just missed the January meeting, so the guy emailed me the details for the February meeting instead. We were supposed to read 'A Place of Greater Safety' by Hilary Mantell. I bought the book for my Kindle, and as I am an exceptionally quick reader, made the foolish mistake of leaving myself only one weekend to read it. Turns out the damn thing was 1100 pages long and about the French revolution, which would never have been my subject of choice on Mastermind.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the book - the humour was dry, the descriptions were good and it flowed from character to character nicely - but I hadn't expected it to be such a mountain. I had other tasks to do and they couldn't wait. I eventually gave in to the realisation that I was not going to make that particular meeting. I could have gone without reading the end, but I wanted to enjoy it alone. Foolish Otternator. Hindsight makes everything so clear.

In March, with the meeting fast approaching on my calendar, I decided I would begin reading the new book choice early. I was full of determination and zest for life in a very Bridget Jones kind of way . I got about halfway through it with days to spare, and then Other Half dropped a party bombshell on me. I wasn't too bothered, after all, the book was 'Daisy Miller', by Henry James, and while it had amused me for a bit, I had never really got into it. I told myself I would go to the next meeting. For sure. Definitely. I absolutely will. There's no reason why I shouldn't go. None at all.

And then the next meeting rolled around and I tried to read 'The Castle' by Kafka.

I don't know whether you have ever read any Kafka, but I read 'Metamorphosis' a while back, and I was under the apparently horribly mistaken impression that I liked his work. 'Metamorphosis' was everything 'The Castle' wasn't - it was direct, quirky, delightful to read and didn't make me want to stab myself in the eyes just to get away from it. In short, every time I saw the copy of 'The Castle' lying on the coffee table, I felt my inner otter cry tiny tears of fear and hatred. I don't think I've ever wanted to finish something less in my entire life. To cut a long story short, I refused point blank to go near it again, and as such, sulked for a while before conceding that I was probably not going to go to the book group in April either. Other Half reasoned that i didn't necessarily have to finish the book to discuss it, but I didn't really think that expressing my honest sentiments to a group of strangers who I'd hoped to make friends with would really endear me to them, particularly if those sentiments ran along the lines of "the book contained drivelling long-winded unsympathetic characters who I wish would all just sod off, particularly the protagonist who manages to be simultaneously an insipid fool and a manipulative, churlish dickface".

Unfortunately for me, the next book group meeting is on the 7th May. Sadly my Twitterfest journey also starts on 7th May (when I will meet some of my fellow twitters in different parts of England and spend time getting copiously drunk with them) so I won't be going to that either. In summary, for the last 4 months, I have been continually prepping for something I haven't yet been to. If I go now, it's just awkward. They'll wonder what took me so long. Frankly, I wonder what's taken me so long. I suppose that's just the kind of person I am.