Reality Check

Ok, I know that just recently I have had a – how shall I put this? – slight tendency to be annoyed by my fellow human beings. These periods in life happen. Human beings are, after all, frequently somewhat annoying.

So, I need a reality check.

Is this a legitimate annoyance…

…or is it just me?

On Thursday, a delivery man arrived at my front door carrying a note from my neighbour. Not a near neighbour, mind you. Not someone I like and am going through life alongside. No, he’s someone from up the road. Someone whose name I couldn’t have told you a few days ago. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t really know it. We are the good morning, how are you, lovely/awful weather, isn’t it, sort of neighbours.

The note directed the man to leave the packages at my house and to tell me that the not-so-neighbouring neighbour would pick them up that evening.

Ok, a little odd, since he never mentioned that he was directing delivery men to my door. Or asked if it was ok to do that. But, he knows I work from home. I guess it made sense to him.

And, to be honest, holding on to a small package or two until the evening wasn’t such a lot to ask. That’s what neighbours, of the near and not-so-near variety, are for.

And then the delivery man, and his assistant, started bringing them in.

Until we arrived at:Image

Ok, slightly more annoying. And intrusive. You are, after all, only seeing the ones nearest the camera. But still, only blocking the entrance to my front room until that evening.

The evening arrived.

…The neighbour didn’t.

…I went in search of him.

Only to be told that he had gone away for the Easter holidays and would be back ‘sometime next week’.

So, there you have it. Well, there I have it. Or them. To be more accurate.

Would you be annoyed that you were spending Easter walking around all this, or would you just consider it a piece of modern art – probably entitled ‘Annoying’. Although, alternative titles are suggesting themselves to me…I won’t tell you what they are. It is, after all, almost Easter.

And speaking of which, I hope you all have a very happy Easter/Passover/weekend. Well, maybe not my neighbour. It can rain on him. Wherever he is.

Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)

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Marathon (Wo)Man

I just want to say a vaguely impersonal, yet none-the-less heartfelt, thank you to everyone who has supported my beloved daughter Kimberly in her attempt to help the homeless, by running around London yesterday, in a giant circle.

She started London Marathon Day being forced-fed porridge, chock filled with bananas for potassium, Lady C’s honey for energy, blueberries for colour and nuts for something good which momentarily escapes me. And, with every mouthful, she assured us ‘never again’.  She’s been looking forward to this day for months, mostly, I think, so that she can stop spending so much of her free time running ever-increasing distances. We’ve also been looking forward to it. Mostly so we can stop buying her new trainers to run around in.

Rather late, she set off to the starting point, somewhere in the depths of southeast London. Shortly thereafter we  started off for our viewing point, on our bikes. A mere two hours and 15 miles later (Tom had mapped out a seriously insane, round-about way to get where we were going, which involved going west and north before heading south and east. The policeman who wanted to give me a fine for cycling through Kensington Gardens agreed that it was a bit off the beaten path for people heading off to watch the marathon). Anyway, hours later, and without a fine (an American accent and the words ‘I’m so sorry Officer. I’ve never been here before’ worked wonders) we were stationed in sunny Shadwell and we settled down to wait…and wait…and wait. We didn’t see Kimberly as she passed the 12 mile mark on the other side of the road. We did, however, see Mo Farrah as he streaked past the 21 mile mark, on our side. It was exciting, but I would have preferred to see my daughter.

We also didn’t see her as she made it past 21 miles. I don’t know why. We were certainly standing there long enough, and watching everyone who passed. We saw the two guys dressed as a camel, and running 26.2 miles, one behind the other. We saw the man with two blades for legs absolutely flying by. We saw an entire marching band run – well, march – past. Playing. We saw more rhinos than a person normally sees in the course of a day. We saw a few guys go past in thongs. With their running numbers written on their chests. One of them wasn’t too bad. The others needed to rethink the look. We saw Elvis, who at 12 miles was working the crowd, saying ‘Thank you, thank you very much’ every few seconds. We also saw him at 21 miles, when he was concentrating more on breathing than on connecting with his fans. We saw the fit, the fat, the serious, the funny, the crazies and the brave. And the brave crazies.  And the crazy brave. And everyone we were standing with, with whom by this time we were very good friends, agreed that we were watching humanity at its best. Pushing themselves beyond their limits. Doing some good for others while achieving some goals for themselves. And we congratulated ourselves on our abilities to stand there, for hours, shouting out non-stop encouragement to everyone who ran by. And to those who limped by. And especially to those who stood there in front of us, absolutely still, looking dazed.

An hour or so after she had undoubtedly passed by, unseen, we suddenly realised that we were no longer watching people who could actually run (Kimberly, I have no idea how or why, is beautiful to watch) and so we got back on our (blasted) bikes and headed for the finish line. Which was swamped. Everyone who had finished, or had supported someone who had finished, or was looking for someone who had finished, or not yet finished, or who had nothing better to do on a sunny day, was there. Milling around. We spent an hour shuffling along in a giant crowd, going somewhat in the direction of the Meet and Greet area. A-C section. Sadly for us, we were shuffling along behind a toddler, and unhappy toddler, held face-high by his father. I admit that I felt like crying, loudly, by this point too. Unlike the toddler, I restrained myself.

But eventually we were reunited with our Marathon runner, who was bedecked in an enormous smile and two medals – one from the marathon itself and one from the grateful charity for which she ran, and you supported. And she told us how her goal had been 4:30 but how she had done it in 4:23:01. She was ecstatic, and looked like she had just been out for a stroll around the park. The adrenaline was obviously still kicking in. The aches and pains were to come. At least ours, I don’t know about hers.

Image

And then she said those dreaded words…’I can go faster next year’.

As we got back on our bikes and began the tediously long journey home, I thought about that. And I realised that I was proud of her. Very proud of her. Some people never get up off the couch. Some people make excuses for why they can’t do things. Some people just do it. And then want to do it better. I just wish I had seen her doing it.

I don’t know where she came from, but I’m glad she’s here.

And, I’m thankful for your support in helping her achieve her goals. Without you, she couldn’t have done it. Without you, she can’t do it better next year…

You have been warned.

And, just in case you haven’t supported her yet but would like to, the place to go is: www.justgiving.com/Kimberly-Arms1.

With thanks,

Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)

 

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My New Life

Ok, that title was a little bit misleading. Actually, it was completely misleading, bordering on the outright deceptive.

I don’t have a new life.

Yet.

It is, however, in the planning stages. And, that, is a big step in the right direction. A very big step.

Because, you see, I realised, about half an hour ago, that all my earlier attempts to start a new, improved, life had failed not because I couldn’t do it, or shouldn’t do it, but because I wasn’t prepared to do it. Yes, my modus vivendi is to leap first, think later. That might work out well in fiction, except for both Romeo and Juliet of course, but it doesn’t in real life. At least, not in my real life.

Let me give you an example:

I have a few pounds to lose. The same few pounds I have had to lose for a few years now, plus a few of their friends. It hasn’t quite reached the stage where the only thing that fits is my bathrobe, but that day can’t be too far off. And, nice as my bathrobe is, there are just times in life when you shouldn’t be seen wearing it in public.

Two days ago I met a very nice woman, who was not wearing her bathrobe. In fact, she was wearing a very colourful dress. I told her how much I liked it, she told me she had recently lost enough weight to feel great in it.

That got my attention. And so, 10 minutes later, I knew everything I needed to know about the 5:2 diet. Basically, you eat 500 calories a day for two days a week and then eat whatever you like for the other five. The next thing you know, you are in a colourful dress receiving compliments from total strangers.

It sounded perfect. There might be a lot of parties coming up in the near future, but they aren’t happening seven days a week. Or even six.

I could do this.

So, yesterday, with absolutely no advanced planning, I started.

By 9:30, I realised that I probably should have gone shopping first. The only things in the house were the leftovers from the low carb diet, ie. full fat cheeses, double cream and most of a cow. And mince pies, of course. It is, after all, almost Christmas.

Since there was nothing suitable to eat, I ate nothing. Until about 2pm, by which time my eyesight was failing. Well, failing enough for me to not read the calorie count on the mince pies.

I ate two. With a bit of cream. And a large glass of milk. Full fat milk.

And then I totted up the calories. Apparently, I had already gone over my daily 500 calorie limit, by a few. Well, by more than a few. The only solution was to stay out of the kitchen for the rest of the day. And to go to bed early. Both of which I did.

It was a long night. Who knew a rumbling stomach could literally wake you up, right in the middle of a lovely dream about pizza? Not me, that’s for sure.

This morning, it being a non-fasting day and me being hungry beyond belief, I had two (2) bagels for breakfast, with butter, three sausages and some scrambled eggs. And orange juice. And tea, with milk but no sugar. Just because I can eat what I want today, I don’t, after all, want to get too carried away.

And so, with one entire day of this diet behind me, I have realised two things, other than the fact that this diet is not for me:

1. Be prepared – it’s not just for Boy Scouts.

2. Be thankful – I chose to not have enough to eat yesterday. Millions of people aren’t so lucky.

I will work on these two things for a while. And then, when I have them conquered, I will add in all the other things that I want in my new life: eating properly, drinking less, exercising regularly, being organised, keeping in better touch with people, opening the post when it comes in…

…and finding out where she bought that dress.

New life, here I come. Eventually.

Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)

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My Contribution to the English Language

I was just listening to a fascinating discussion about the Oxford English Dictionary. No, seriously.

Apparently, they add words all the time but never take any out. So, not only is it a dictionary but it is also a historical document about the development of the English language.

And rather long.

In has, in fact, over 220,000 words.

Isn’t that amazing?

Ok, so many of the old words are totally unusable because they refer to a  world that no longer exists. When, for example, was the last time you ever needed to find your bodkin?

And many, if not most, of the new words are technical, or medical, or something else ending in ‘cal’ which translates into – don’t bother trying to figure out what this word means because you will never see it used anywhere outside this dictionary.

And some of them are from a pop culture which is simply incomprehensible to most of us. Ok, well, maybe not to most of us, but to me at least.

But, even if you don’t understand the words, or use them, it’s nice to know they are there. And, it makes you wonder where they came from in the first place.

Take, for instance, the word ‘dissed’.

According to the dictionary, dissed comes from Black rap slang and is short for ‘disrespect’. As in ‘Why you be dissing me?’. Apparently it dates from the beginning of the 21st century.

Which sounds plausible, perhaps ever probable.

But, it’s wrong.

I know this for a fact because my friend Rita and I invented it in 1968. While walking my dog.

There’s no other way to say this, Patty had annoyed us. It involved a boy. The boy Rita was extraordinarily keen on. The boy Patty was not remotely interested in but was, nonetheless, leading on simply because she could.

We were discussing the situation, in detail. The dog didn’t mind, as long as we kept walking.

And so, we did.

And over the course of the next hour or so, we told each other that we were disgusted by her behaviour. Dismayed by her callousness. Disgruntled by her abilities. Disbelieving, if truth be told, of her abilities. It was disagreeable and distasteful and we were disturbed.

And disapproving.

We were also disappointed, discontented and dissatisfied, although looking back on it that might be another story entirely.

Eventually, the dog wanted to go home, and we had run out of words. So, we sadly agreed that friends could be disloyal, concluded that we were ‘dissed’, said goodbye and went home.

Where we promptly phoned each other and kept it going for another few hours. We were, after all, teenage girls.

So, there you have it. Dissed. Meaning: Having and displaying extremely negative feelings. Coined: 1968 in Astoria, New York. By: Rita and me.

And my dog.

Which just goes to show that you can’t believe everything you read, not even in dictionaries.

Rita, by the way, went on to marry the boy. So, I guess he was disinterested in Patty after all…

Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)

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Normal Service Disrupted

Having learned from my recent Barcelona experience, I am letting you know that normal service will be disrupted this week.

I am off to Cornwall for a good friend’s very special birthday.

Not sure I can blog when I get there. Who knows if the internet concept has hit that part of the country yet. It is, after all, very far from London…

Wish me luck, the countryside can be such a dangerous place, and please join me in wishing John Marquis a very happy birthday!

Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)

 

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I Tweet, Therefore, I Am

This is going to be a short post, although probably longer than 140 characters.

Because, let’s face it, 140 just isn’t that many characters. Especially for someone who likes commas, like I do.

I was told by the very nice woman interviewing me for Radio Gorgeous last week that anyone ‘flogging a new book’ needed to tweet.

And, while I pondered the difference between ‘flogging’ and ‘chatting about’, she whipped out her phone and tweeted that she was showing me how to tweet.

And then showed me how it was now in the ‘Twitterverse’.

Honestly.

When the publisher later asked how the interview went, I told them all about the tweeting incident, expecting them to be as amused as I was.

They weren’t. They were pleased, and immediately tweeted that I would now be tweeting. And sent me a very long, very detailed, ‘How To’ guide.

And so, I tried. I really tried. I read the guide, I looked on line, I even bought a book. I set up an account (@EileenRileyArms).

But, the truth of the matter is, I just don’t get it.

Yes, I know, Twitter went public this week. The people behind it are now zillionaires. The Arab Spring could not have happened without it.

But, seriously, why do people do this? Who is actually interested in what most of us are doing, on a minute-by-minute basis?

Who can be as brief as 140 characters?

Why would anyone want to know that the boys are watching the big game?

Christo and Jim

Or that Elvis has a little friend?

Elvises

Well, I’m interested in those things. Obviously. But why would anyone else be?

I do, however, want you to know that I have just followed two of the publishers’ recommendations for tweeting…involve dogs, and include photos.

I hope they’re impressed, even if no one else is.

Meanwhile, if you have any ideas on how to do this, or any suggestions of things I can tweet about, I would really appreciate hearing from you.

Take as many characters as you want.

Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)

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Not Wired

You may have noticed that there was no post last week. I realise, of course, that you almost certainly had better things to do than to notice. But, either way, there was no post.

I was visiting my boy in Barcelona.

I had thought about writing something earlier in the week and ‘putting it in the bank’, as it were, but between the launch party for my book and the search for my passport, time got away from me.

Never mind, I thought, I’ll write it when I get there.

‘There’ was the Gothic quarter, an area of such perfect charm that it was hard to believe that the Disney people had not had a hand in creating it. We wound our way down the narrow streets, skirted the medieval churches, discovered the dozens of shops and tapas bars that needed future exploring and found our ‘fully Wifi-connected’ flat.

It was beautiful, with a marble entrance hall, high ceilings with intricate mouldings and two balconies overflowing with colourful flowers. From one end of the flat we could watch Barcelona stroll past, while from the other we enjoyed views of a lively little square filled with an ever-changing parade of tumblers, musicians, puppeteers and other entertainers. Catalan flags flew in a gentle breeze, the sun cast a golden hue on the ancient buildings and the sky was the colour blue only found near the Mediterranean.

In other words, it was perfect.

After making ourselves at home and before setting out to explore, we decided to take a minute to check in and see what had been happening in the world since we had set our phones to ‘no data roaming’ a few hours earlier. We took out our laptops, iPads, Kindles and smart phones, turned on the router, punched in the code and … nothing.

We reset the router, we checked the code, we tried again. Again, nothing.

By this time my boy had arrived and so, after a bit of hugging, we asked him to do it, based entirely on the fact that he lived two streets away so he must know how.

He didn’t. Or at least, whatever he did, didn’t work.

And so, he phoned the landlady and spoke to her in Spanish, and in English, and in both languages it appeared that the man who was coming to fix the router would arrive the day after we had left.

Five days with no internet connection. No data roaming. No emails. No way to find out how the movie ended, or to download on to my Kindle one of the millions of books trapped in cyberspace, or to watch the progress of the storm that was about to hit London, or – more importantly – to check on a 15 minutely basis my book’s sales ranking on Amazon (go ahead, it’s fun).

We were world wide web-less.

In Barcelona.

Don’t get me wrong, we would never dream of visiting a foreign country and spending all our time indoors, on the internet. We are, in fact, great tourists. We have the guide books. And the maps. We explore. Tirelessly. We use the 10 words we know of the local language whenever possible and with total abandon. Usually, it must be said, incorrectly. We visit the markets, eat the food, drink the wine, chat with both the natives and each other. We take photos that never escape the camera and get to know the shopkeepers. In short, we fully experience the thrill that only travel can give you.

But, we do it all in the knowledge that we can check our emails, read the BBC website, update Facebook and watch Breaking Bad before going to sleep.

Knowing this was not going to happen, for five whole days, we started to hyperventilate, just a little.

And then, we gradually came to realise that the flat was stuffed with English books, and with CDs of Spanish guitars and American jazz. We began to accept that there was nothing we could do about the storm, remembered that the people who really needed to get hold of us had our mobile numbers and understood that constantly watching the fate of my book was not a healthy hobby.

And that we were still in Barcelona.

Where amazing things like this were happening just outside our window:

Barca castellers(which looks remarkable as it is, but click on the photo for the real experience)

And that things like this were happening inside it:

Barca flat(don’t bother clicking, nothing moves – either now or then)

It was…bliss.

But, we’re back, and I’m beginning to meld into my computer seat again, and the publisher would like me to learn how to tweet, and junk emails keep popping up in my box, and the last three phone calls were about pension insurance, window cleaning and a reminder that the article I had promised to write is due.

I’m already nostalgic for the simpler but richer days of the recent past.

We have, by the way, already booked the flat for Easter. I just hope that the internet repair man hasn’t turned up by then.

Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)

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