Category Archives: humour

Tiny Curses for People You’re Just a Little Bit Cross With

There are all sorts of excellent curses in literature. You know the kind of thing: pricking your finger on your 16th birthday and sleeping for 100 years… having to spend the rest of your life as a frog, or a beast, or a nutcracker… being obliged to dance forever or always do exactly as you’re told.

The trouble is, none of them seem to be terribly useful for everyday life. For starters, the difficulty of implementing them is considerable. You generally have to either be a witch or a wizard, or at least to be very good mates with one.

They’re also not particularly relevant to the modern world. I’m not sure I’ve ever laid eyes on a spindle; and very rarely do I find myself wandering alone in a dark forest, and I’m therefore really unlikely to come across an old crone, who then curses me when I refuse to help her when she asks me.

And then, they do seem awfully drastic. You’ve got to be really, really cross with your friends and acquaintances to want to turn them into hideous beasts, or stop them from speaking until someone declares their true love for them.

It’s much more likely that you’re just feeling a bit irritated with someone. So you need to have a few very mild curses up your sleeve: things that will slightly inconvenience people as opposed to turning their lives into one of chaos and disaster.

Here are some helpful suggestions:

Curse 1

Curse 5

Curse 9

Curse 3

Curse 2

Curse 7

Curse 10

Curse 8

Curse 6

Curse 12

Curse 11

I hope that you’ll find these useful. Either way, do please suggest some more of your own in the comments section.

Readers use them at their own risk. The writer accepts no responsibility for any unwanted effects.

I originally got this idea from an internet post that I saw a while ago that was based on the same sort of idea. I’ll happily link to it but I can’t remember any details that would let me find it. If anyone knows it, please tell me!

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The Perils of Online Shopping

It was my mum’s birthday this week, and she was given a card with a cartoon on it about online shopping going wrong. It showed a delivery van bringing a box of Corn Flakes about the size of a small car.

“I don’t get it,” my mum said.

She doesn’t shop online, so she hasn’t had the experience most of us have had, of ordering the wrong size or quantity of something without realising.

It is, for example, very difficult accidentally to put 30 bananas in your shopping trolley. But it’s very easy if you’re choosing them on a computer screen to select five bags of bananas instead of five individual ones, meaning you end up with 30… as I found to my cost a couple of years ago.

Faced with this unmanageable glut of bananas, I decided that the most expedient thing to do was to knock on a few neighbours’ doors and see if anyone would like some. I asked my then eight-year-old whether he’d like to be the one to do that.

He would, it turned out. And being a child who likes to exploit all opportunities to the maximum degree, he made a banana box to hang round his neck (cinema usherette-style) with a banner saying ‘Would you like some free bananas?’, and set off to sing the Banana Split song each time someone answered the door.

Our then next-door neighbours, who had their house on the market, mentioned to me later that they had people round at the time of his arrival, viewing the property. I’m sure that the small, banana-laden boy singing ‘One banana, two banana, three banana four…’ on the doorstep wouldn’t have done anything to impede the sale. So, um, there was no problem there.

On another occasion, my dad was house-sitting for us while we were on holiday. He accidentally bought a pizza with ham on it. We don’t eat ham, so he went outside to throw it away, choosing a handy bin bag that was sitting at the bottom of a neighbour’s drive.

Moments later, said neighbour emerged from his house, picked up the bag (which was clearly not a bin bag at all but an ordinary shopping bag) and walked off down the street with it. My dad just stood and watched, pondering what the man was going to think when he opened up the bag and discovered the ham pizza.

So as you can see, online shopping can be very dangerous – especially for the neighbours.

Or maybe that’s just if you’re a member of my family.

***

Have you ever had any bizarre online shopping problems? If so, please tell me about them in the comments section.

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Missing the Car Wash and the Colour of Nuns – the Traumas of Being the Youngest Child

It’s rubbish being the youngest in the family, and I should know. When I was born, my closest brother in age was already 7, and the oldest was 14. Even Prudence our cocker spaniel was older than me.

This huge age gap meant that my brothers were able not merely to tease me, but to weave elaborate scams that I had no hope at all of seeing through. It was a completely one-sided arrangement because I was far too inexperienced ever to get my own back.

For example…

We were privileged enough to be a two-TV family. We had a colour set in the living room, with a dial to change the channel between BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. It was very similar to this one:

IMG_3577
And we had a black and white TV in the dining room with four separate channel buttons… “In case they ever bring out a fourth channel,” my dad explained to me.

If my brothers and I wanted to see something different at the same time, then of course we argued about who got to use the colour set. On one particular occasion I wanted to watch The Sound of Music. My brother Nick, maybe 13 at the time to my 6,  explained to me that I would be better off watching this particular film on the black and white TV.

“Why?” I asked.
“Because of the nuns,” he replied, completely dead pan.

And I bought it. I trotted meekly off to watch in the dining room. Although I assume that there must have been a tiny suspicion in the back of my mind that I was being had, because why else would I remember the incident 35 years or so later?

A more regular, and possibly even more surreal piece of teasing, happened every Saturday when we would all drive from Sunderland to Newcastle to visit my grandma.  My parents would sit in the front, and the four of us would be crammed into the back (no seatbelts obviously) with the dog across our knees.

Part of the way through the journey, there was a car wash. A perfectly ordinary car wash in a petrol station next to a roundabout. Every week,  my brothers would wait till we’d driven past it (with me invariably looking the other way) and then they’d chant:

“Susan missed the car wash! Susan missed the car wash!”
“AND” they’d add, “it had a white Rolls Royce in it!”

Then they’d fall about laughing. And my parents would tell them off, but you could hear that they were trying not to laugh, too.

And I’d cry.
Every single week.

Now that I’m nearly 42 my brothers are really quite nice to me. And over the years I’ve become much better at making sure I don’t miss car washes.

But still, when our youngest child (who is only 4) gets furiously angry because his older siblings are laughing at something unintentionally funny that he’s said, I empathise. I really do. Though it can sometimes be a struggle not to laugh, too.

***

Do you have any equally traumatic stories of sibling teasing? If so, please tell me about them in the comments section.

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Is Facebook suitable for Octogenarians?

This is me and my dad.

IMG_2758

My dad has an extraordinary aptitude for making friends in the most unlikely of situations.

A few years ago, on the terrace of São Jorge Castle in Lisbon, he got chatting to another tourist. Within minutes he had discovered that this man knew Dad’s family from way back, and was able to tell him the name of someone who knew the village in Lithuania from which my father’s ancestors originated.

My dad had been trying to find this all his life, without success. One chance encounter and the mystery was solved.

On a more mundane level, my dad managed to get so friendly with someone recently, while waiting outside the Apple Store in Brent Cross for it to open, that they ended up exchanging phone numbers.

Who else makes friends while out shopping? It’s ridiculous.

The thing is, though, he likes connecting with real people in the real world – not with profile pictures on a social media screen.

So we were all quite surprised when, the other day, he announced his intention to open a Facebook account. He explained that friends kept emailing him my Facebook posts, so he figured he may as well read them for himself.

I showed him how to open an account (though in fact he is extremely computer-literate). My family then had a spread bet on how long it would take him to announce he was going to leave Facebook again. I gave it three days, My oldest child suggested a week, and my husband thought by Christmas.

I was spot on.

“I’ve been inundated with friend requests!” my dad said. “I don’t like it at all!”

He has sent me his reasons for quitting, and here they are:

Dear Susan,

As you will continue to be in contact with Mark Zuckerberg I would be grateful if you would put this message on Facebook. Please advise Mr Zuckerberg that after only three days I am regretfully resigning from his organisation. I hope that this will not impact too adversely on his business and I do wish him every future success, even without my participation.

I also have a message for my family and friends, many of whom have instantly requested to be associated with me on Facebook. My refusal does not reflect any lack of affection for them and I will love them all as in the past.

You may wonder what has motivated this decision. It is not a matter of technology as I have no difficulty in understanding electronics and computers. It is a question of age. I am now eighty-one and two-thirds and this is exactly the point at which one becomes incompatible with this lifestyle.

I do like to have lots of friends, but one at a time in a predictable sequence, and without random comments from their friends and their friends’ friends ad infinitum.

I am very fond of looking at photographs but these need to be arranged in an album after due thought and perused methodically. Similarly I like videos and films, especially when listed in the Radio Times and watched at the appointed hour. Programmes on the wireless are also very much enjoyed.

So please ask everyone I know to continue to keep in touch on a regular basis. Pigeon post or the electric telegraph is preferred, alternatively by Royal Mail, and as a last resort by email.

Love Dad

So if you want to contact my dad, just follow his instructions. And if you’re not real-life friends with him yet, don’t fret – you probably will be soon.

***

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High fashion and Publishing Chic

Until last week, I worked for Macmillan Children’s Books – an ancient and illustrious publisher home to Alice in Wonderland and The Jungle Book, Judy Blume and The Gruffalo. The offices are situated in the heart of Kings Cross’s trendy redevelopment.

Just round the corner is what I believe to be a training school for Mac Cosmetics. (More below about why this is uncertain.)  Every morning and evening, employees of the two businesses walk up and down Wharfdale Road from the tube to their place of work and back. At lunch-time they take a similar route, this time to the nearby Pret.

The workforce of both institutions is almost exclusively female, and to an observer in the street, there is no question at all who works for Mac and who works for Mac-millan.

The Macmillan staff are characterised by their woolly jumpers and dungarees, colourful tights and pinafores. They carry ‘Books are My Bag’ bags and wear glasses. There is an abundance of patterned skirts, flat shoes, fingerless gloves and cardigans.

Books are my Bag

The Mac staff are dressed entirely in black. But it’s not a uniform. The brief seems to be that they can wear anything at all provided that it’s black, tight, shiny, accompanied by high heels, and complemented with make-up that wouldn’t look out of place in a Vaudeville act or a Burlesque club.

You’ll notice that I haven’t actually named any specific items of clothing or styles. That’s because I don’t know anything about fashion – I’m one of the woolly jumper and patterned skirts people. These Mac girls (and they are all very young) wear garments that I don’t even know the name of. Their clothes defy ordinary descriptions such as ‘skirt’, or ‘jumper’ or ‘dress’.

I’m well aware that I sound like someone’s maiden aunt here. But I’m actually not judging – just describing. This is clearly the way you have to look if you’re working for a high-end cosmetics brand. It’s simply that that world is so far removed from anything that I know about, that it’s like looking at an alien species.

So why the uncertainty about the identity of the Mac Training School? Well, while everyone in my office always referred to it by that name, for the purposes of this blog post I wanted to check that that was its formal title. So I Googled it.  And it doesn’t appear to exist.

A couple of generic postcode-finder sites refer to ‘Mac Cosmetics’ with an address on Wharfdale Road, but with no further information. And aside from that, it doesn’t appear under any other type of search.

So I’m coming to the conclusion that the place is actually a top-secret front for some kind of spy operation. The black clothes are possibly Ninja costumes, and the whole cosmetics-training angle is just a cunning rumour, propagated to explain the staff’s outlandish appearance and allow them to buy their lunch from Pret undetected.

But no longer – I’ve blown their cover!

Meanwhile, tomorrow I start a new job at HarperCollins Children’s Books, home of The Tiger Who Came to Tea, David Walliams and Dr. Seuss. This is situated in The News Building – a huge glass box next to the Shard, that also houses The Times and Sun. I wonder whether the styles of the people working for those three organisations will be equally distinctive.

 

So what do they wear in your office – and what does that say about the people who work there? Do let me know in the Comments section!

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How to Bake a Middle Class Birthday Cake – a Guide

This is the cake I made last month for my daughter’s 7th birthday. The fact that it exists ticks many of the right boxes in the middle class world I live in:

  1. It took me hours of effort and concentration. This shows what an engaged and wholesome mother I am and how much I love my daughter.
  2. I can post a picture of it on Facebook, allowing my friends and family to say suitable things about how impressed they are. (It doesn’t matter whether they really are impressed or not – this is the joy of Facebook.)*
  3. It allows me to do something fun and creative in a way that isn’t really acceptable as an adult with most other media.So I can’t, for example, paint a picture and stick it on my wall like I could when I was a kid – because I’m rubbish at painting. I can’t knit a scarf with wonky edges and dropped stitches because people would just think it was embarrassing.

    The very act of producing something artistic as an adult carries with it an unspoken implication that you yourself think you’re pretty good at it. But not so with your children’s birthday cakes. They are produced out of love, and therefore people will admire them if they look good and forgive them if they look awful.

  4. AND… and… best of all… this entirely self-serving exercise has the incidental benefit that your child is properly and utterly thrilled with the result. So you can pretend throughout that you’re doing it entirely for her.

A couple more tips:

The taste of the cake itself is, surprisingly, not that important. Though being not only a middle class London mum, but a Jewish middle class London mum, I do mind quite a lot if the end result doesn’t taste good.

You should preferably do the whole thing at night time after your child is in bed, and stay up till the early hours perfecting it – ideally while also having to go to work the next morning. This increases your score in all of the above categories.

The doll on my mermaid cake is, incidentally, a special one designed for the purpose. Her body is just a spike, so when the cake is cut and all is revealed, there is a risk of the more delicate party guests being permanently traumatised.

Doll pick

Good luck, and do make sure to sound suitably self deprecating when people admire the result.

* Any notion that this entire blog has been written in order to show off my cake is entirely false and without foundation. Shame on you for even thinking it.

I would love to hear about your birthday cake-making experiences – triumphant or disastrous. Please let me know in the comments section below.

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Why don’t we talk on the phone any more?

In the early 1980s, my dad, brother and I would watch Doctor Who, religiously, every Saturday afternoon.

(Religiously is perhaps the wrong word, because being Jewish, we shouldn’t have been watching TV at all on a Saturday afternoon. But anyway…)

My dad would sit in his special armchair, with me aged seven or so on his knee, and my big brother squashed in beside us. This was a good set-up as it made sure we were well protected from the Daleks and any other aliens who might wish the Doctor ill.

One day, though, we were out on Saturday afternoon, and we realised that we hadn’t remembered to video that day’s episode. My mum was at home but – disaster – we didn’t have any cash to phone her. What to do?

You remember how it was with red telephone boxes… you didn’t have to put your money in till the person at the other end answered? You’d hear ‘Hello!’ and then you’d put push in your 5p.

So, we dialled our home number, and when my mum said ‘Hello?’ we simultaneously shouted ‘DOCTOR WHO!’ before we were cut off.

Just to be sure, we phoned again.

‘Hello?’ said my mum, sounding a little bemused this time. ‘DOCTOR WHO!’ we shouted over her.

The third time, her ‘Hello’ was starting to sound slightly hysterical…

It worked, though. When we got home, my long-suffering mother had understood the message and duly recorded the episode.

None of which has got anything to do with why we don’t talk on the phone any more – it was just a quirky story about telephones.

The thing is, I think if you’d said to us that day:

‘In the future, everyone is going to carry tiny rectangular computers in their pocket. If they want to communicate with someone they’ll be able to choose either to:

a) dial their number and talk
or
b) type a message to them on a miniature keyboard and wait for them to reply…’

…and if you’d then asked us which method people were likely to choose more often, I’m pretty certain we would have answered ‘a)’.

We would possibly have added, ‘Derrrr’… except I don’t think that sound had been invented at the time.

But we would, of course, have been wrong.

So why do people (including myself) treat most phonecalls as stressful, intrusive and unnecessary? I really don’t get it. And yet, I really do embrace it.

The other day at work, I needed to contact the IT department. Being reasonably new to the company, I asked a colleague how to do so.

She helpfully picked up my phone, dialled IT’s extension, then handed me the receiver, leaving me in a state of panic.

‘Oh my god. She’s expecting me to talk to them? I didn’t want their phone number – I wanted their email address! This is sheer madness!’

Luckily, the IT department clearly felt the same way, because the call went to voicemail and I was able to put the receiver down (without actually leaving a message, obviously), find out their email address and write to them instead – like any sensible person.

It only took them 24 hours to get back to me. What more could you ask for?

*******

So, do you dislike using the phone, and why?

Or do you love doing so, and hate that no one picks up any more? 

Please let me know in the comments section.

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