Category Archives: Fun Stuff

"London To Paris… on a tandem? Do I look crazy?"

The Reluctant Cyclist

That time of year again. Ugh!

I loathe exercise with a passion. Oh, I’ll happily walk the dog, toil at my allotment, play badminton, even drag my cumbersome vacuum cleaner around the house until perspiration pours off me and I’m cursing like a trucker.  But aerobic classes, treadmills, rowing machines and all those other scarily complicated contraptions…double ugh!   And the worst?  Cycling.

Which does not jive well with my marriage.

A few years back, when my marathon-running, bike-racing, mountain climbing, bungee-jumping, sky-diving, fire-walking husband asked me to cycle to Paris on a charity challenge, I guffawed loudly and slapped him on the back for cracking a good one.   After all he was well aware I’d rather do an Irish jig on a bed of nails.  When I realised he was actually serious and I’d retrieved my jaw from the floor, my answer was a firm “Not on your Nelly”. He was undeterred.  Six months later, broken by mysterious powers of persuasion my husband has perfected over the years, I found myself on the back of a rickety old £100 tandem cycling through the Bois de Boulogne heading for the Eiffel Tower.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAArrival at Trocadéro

A tough 3 days.  175 miles and not without incidents.  The group had endless punctures, my bum felt like it had been whipped by a cat o’ nine tails, plus I got a bad stomach en-route. I’ll spare the details. Suffice to say there are very few public toilets alongside the River Seine.

So, challenge over, did that sate my husband’s appetite to get his exercise-phobic wife to join in with his charity fundraising? As heck as like.  Cycle challenge followed cycle challenge. Next year Redhill, Surrey, UK to:

Brussels

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA‘Bike It Belgium”

230 miles.  My my stomach held up, but my lower back kept spasming due to the flatness of the route and being unable to change positions. I blamed it all on the saddle. I raised it I lowered it. I raised it again. I popped pills. I cried (a bit). There were constant thunderstorms. We’d get drenched, then the sun would appear, we’d smile as steam would rise from our wet bodies, then we’d get drenched again.  Never have I been so clean.  Or cold. Or hot. Or wet. 

Coast to Coast

Coast to coast

C2C” – I never knew England had so many hills

Started with our back wheels in the Irish sea at Whitehaven (West Coast), finished with our front wheels dipping into the North Sea at Newcastle (East Coast). 140 miles of horrendous hills, stunning countryside, more horrendous hills, more stunning views.  We crossed the Lake District, Penrith, the Eden valley, Northern Pennines and Durham Dales.  “Push push push”, my husband urged as we tackled another sheer climb.  I felt I was giving birth all over again. I wished I was giving birth all over again. At least I could have opted for gas and air.

Montpelier,   South of France

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Red2Med” -I’m the one in the middle not wearing the “official cycle shirt”.   It emphasised my stomach. (Vain, moi?)

630 miles over ten days.  Searing heat, especially as we neared the Mediterranean.  Main memory is the last few miles, lying almost sideways on the bike, trying to keep out of the sun and saddle, begging every five minutes for a break or water.  Tearful with pain and tiredness. When we got there, all ran joyously into the sea. I just lay on the ground exhausted, shellshocked. I swore I’d never do another one.

Gibraltar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Red2Rock”

How’d I know we’d have a monstrous 4800 foot climb almost as soon as we left the Spanish port of Santander? We were almost beaten and we’d only just begun.  Had I attended the briefings, I’d have realised a) there were three mountain ranges to go over before hitting Gibraltar (otherwise known as “The Rock”) b) that that the whole trip totalled 800 miles and c) that temperatures would soar to 41 degrees (105.8F) as we neared Seville.  We found ourselves slightly insane with the heat. At one point our small group, spotting a river running by, veered sharply off-route, threw down our bikes and dived in fully OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAclothed. As days went on, to avoid cycling the 80 odd miles per day in blistering temperatures, we’d leave in the wee dark hours. Huge great trucks hurtled past with inches to spare as we’d wind our way up mountain roads – tiny head torches lighting our pitch-black path.  I faced my fears of downhills on that trip. Racing down a steep mountainside my husband told me to use my “never to be touched on pain of death” back brake.  I yanked it hard, nothing happened.

“I said brake!” he yelled as we gathered speed, now reaching over 40 miles per hour.

“I am doing!” I yelled back, “Use your front ones.”

“I am doing!” he replied. For a moment I knew I was dead as we headed for a tight bend, then he added with a laugh, “Only joking,” and braked violently.  The day I lost my sense of humour.

La Rochelle

2011 July La Rochelle - July 2011“French 500” -He even used those powers of persuasion to rope in our daughter(We’re smiling but it’s only pure relief)

We’d done France twice, so why again? After Gibraltar the sound of a challenge with no mountains seemed like a doddle.  Through the lush Loire Valley.  I imagined myself arriving early, sipping chilled wine as the sun went down.  How was I to know (again ignoring information evenings) that we’d arrive late at campsites, exhausted by the long mileage. Last day was the worst.  Cycling against a strong headwind. On and on we went heads down, legs aching, not getting anywhere.  Swimming against the current.

Amsterdam

IMG_2668“Amsterdam 500”

500 kilometers – 310 miles – through France, Belgium and Holland. Thankfully lot of ferry crossings. Which meant lots of breaks.  At least this one was flat once we hit France.

Paris twice more

2005 June Paris

The route to Paris is now firmly etched in my mind. I know all the ups and downs all the way to the first night’s stop at Newhaven.  Ferry to Dieppe.  Then more up and downs to Gournay.  I know all the staggeringly high hills in and out of tiny villages, the long flat miles along the Avenue Verte and later the Seine. I know exactly how many miles I have to do before my back goes into spasm, or my stomach starts playing up and when I have to pop the pills.  I know where the toilet and lunch stops are. I am not doing this one again.

So this year’s challenge is ‘vonderful, vonderful’ Copenhagen (as Danny Kaye once sang).  Although I may not feel so wonderful when I arrive.  Over 100 miles per day for 3 days.  First morning we have to be up at 3am to leave at 4  then cycle 105 miles to the port. AND IF WE DON’T GET THERE ON TIME WE MISS THE FERRY.

No pressure then.

As ever, I’m avoiding husband’s emails to me and the other 50 or so brave souls cajoled into doing this, preferring to keep head firmly under stone, trying to “be really, really busy” on training dates, praying for rain, faking fever, encouraging him to take his racing bike instead of the heavy old tandem with the even heavier wife perched on the back.

So… To Date:

tandem~66[1]Have I lost weight?

No.

Do I feel fitter?

No.

Does my bum stop hurting now I have some “miles under the saddle”?

No.

Will I say never again?

Yes.

Will I do another next year?

Probably.

What am I?  Mad?  Certifiably insane?

Very definitely.

10 Things We Loved About Our Mother

Since it’s Mother’s Day here in the States, we wanted to do a tribute to our ‘dear old mum’.    She was a character all right, feisty, funny, unique… Her are just ten of the many attributes we loved about her.

1.  Her Lack Of Prejudice

pam mum croppedShe loved people of all colours, races, ethnicities, backgrounds.  She accepted all, not giving a hoot where people came from or what they did for a living or what others said about them.  (Although she did secretly want us both to marry Sidney Poitier).  She was an army nurse in India during the war, posted to Singapore and Japan just after the surrender. She’d learned enough foreign expressions to be dangerous.  She’d walk in Chinese restaurants and say “Please” and “Thank you” in Japanese, oblivious of the great traditional hatred between those two nations. We were always expecting an enraged Chinese cook to burst from the kitchen and attack her with his cleaver.  But somehow she won them over.

2.  Her Hatred of Housework

She loathed housework so much that she turned the whole thing into a game for us four children. Making beds meant we had to stand opposite each other, yell “One two three” then somersault over the other side before tucking the sheets in.   Repeated until the whole bed was made. She’d wash blankets in the bath, plonking us on top to trample them under water. Polishing wood floors consisted of us all having rags tied to our feet and skating around the room to her favourite pop music – Tom Jones or Elvis.  And like Peggy in How To Survive Your Sisters she’d put aside unpleasant tasks for the maid, Mary, and then when she could procrastinate no longer she’d play-act at being ‘Mary, the maid’ to get them done.

3.  Her Love of Singing

Elvis_Presley_promoting_Jailhouse_RockBoy would she sing!  Every day, all day. Whenever, wherever, and usually at the top of her voice, which was a great source of embarrassment to all of her children.  (Like when we’d pass school friends and she’d be singing some Hawaiian song and waving her arms Hula style). Her voice wasn’t completed tuneless and she knew all the words to all the musicals and made sure we did too. We heard every war song, every music hall number from the 30s and (oddly) all the old negro spirituals and minstrel songs.  Many a long Scottish winter night was spent huddled around the fire with song sheets singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Way Down Upon De Swanee River”.  But she also loved “Elvis the Pelvis,” Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdinck – just as long as they were shaking and grinding those hips.

4.  Her Culinary Skills

She made great chips (French fries) but apart from that…  Her steaks were shoe leather.  Vegetables overcooked and soggy.  Porridge like glue. You could break a tooth on her scones – but then all baked goods were saved for unexpected visitors and given to us when well and truly stale. She’d toast just one side of the bread under the grill and tell us it was “French”. She burned everything, the oven was constantly puffing out black fumes. It wasn’t until we left home we realized fried onions weren’t always black charred cinders.  And the war had made her frugal.  Green mould on the bread or cheese? “It’s penicillin, darling.  It’s good for you.”  Clumps of soured milk floating on top of your cup of tea?  “Perfectly fine, just give it a stir.”    And she had her own way of making us eat things.  “But I made it specially for you, darling.  I knew it was your favourite.’

5.  Her Sense of Humour

There’s a scene in How to Survive your Sisters where a neighbor and friend, heading to the shops, teases Peggy about her lack of gardening skills, suggesting she’ll be lucky to get anything growing in that small dusty patch, and when she walks back, Peggy’s previously bare front yard is a riot of colour – planted with plastic daffodils, roses and tulips, given free in those days with boxes of laundry soap.   That friend laughed about it for years.  That was Mum.  And a true story.  She loved to joke, tell funny stories and find any way to brighten people’s day.  She could put a comic spin on anything, even adversity and personal disasters.    She had quite a hard life in some ways but never looked for sympathy.

6.  Her lack of embarrassment

She once stood behind a young male hippy at a bus stop and said in a loud voice, “You know they grow their hair long so they can be pulled up to heaven”.   She’d boldly walk past “No Entry”, “Keep Out”, “No Trespassing” signs with us timidly behind convinced we were about to get arrested.   She would chat to everybody and anybody. Reveal all our secrets. Tell everyone how her daughters “aren’t interested in boys.  They spend all their time up the tree at the bottom of the garden”. Fine when you’re six but not sixteen!

 7.  Her Love of the Great Outdoors

SP_A0251Life was much too much fun to spend indoors.  “Blow the housework,” she’d say, sticking on her hat, grabbing her bag and running up the road with us in tow to the nearest bus stop.  (She didn’t learn to drive until we’d long grown up).  We’d go off on jaunts, up to the Braid Hills, to the beach at Portobello or her favourite Corstorphine Woods, frequently getting lost because she refused to take the same route back. Once she spotted a rope hanging from a tall tree, grabbed it and swung over a huge bomb crater, forgetting to jump until she was at the highest point. How we laughed when she emerged covered in mud and leaves.

8.  Her Love of Animals

Sylvarr horseShe’d go out of her way to rescue animals.  Be it a bee or an ant.  Spiders would be lifted very carefully under a glass and removed to the garden.  She hated cruelty of any description and all the animals that we grew up with, cats, dogs, rabbits, were all from rescue centres.   She once went down a shallow disused well to save a dog and we two (maybe 8 and 10 years old) had the almost impossible task of pulling her back out.  Another time she walked around for three day with a baby rabbit tucked in her bosom as he had missed his brother and sister rabbits who had found good homes. She encouraged both of us in our love of horses and urged us to go and ask down at the local stables if we could help out. Later, when we were desperate for a horse of our own, she coughed up her hard earned money to help us buy it.

  9.  Nothing was Off Limits

We knew that whatever we did wrong, we had her forgiveness and her support. She was unshockable.  Not that we were really terrible kids, but we were given free rein at a young age to wander wherever, come back whenever.  She trusted us and we always knew that we could talk to her about anything.  If there was some sort of infighting between friends, she wouldn’t necessarily jump to our defence, but she’d try and make us see the other person’s point of view, while acknowledging our pain or anger.  She had a real gift for finding the right balance between interfering and just being there.  We always knew she was behind us loving us and backing us in whatever we wanted to do.

 10.  Her laugh

You could hear it a mile off.  A cross between a sealion and a braying donkey.  She loved laughing and would find numerous things in daily life hilariously funny.  If our friends were around to play, we’d be dreading somebody saying something vaguely amusing as it would set her off.  She also loved making people laugh and would think of numerous ways to brighten up all occasions.  Many years ago when she was nursing, there was a dying patient, and she’d tell him all her stories about her bicycle called Mathilda.  “Oh Mathilda and I went off to Chichester this afternoon”, “Mathilda and I are going on a ride along the sea front”, “I bought Mathilda a new bell yesterday”. The patient, a young soldier, seemed fascinated.  So, against all rules and regulations, one day, she put ribbons all over Mathilda and wheeled the bike, all dressed up into the ward to show him.  The patient was thrilled. The Matron was not. Even when she was dying herself, with an inoperable brain tumour, she would have the nurses in hysterics with her mad jokes and silly sayings.  They all came to her funeral.

Oh how we’d love to hear her laughter once more.

We love you, Mum!

Pam and Lorraine  xxxx

FREE – LAST DAY TODAY. This is the last day to get your free Kindle download of Looking For La La from Amazon US or UK.  That book deals with a mother too – and someone is sending love postcards to her husband…  Don’t miss it.

Loincloths, spankings and 'Sexy Rexys' – 10 classic movies (and actors)to make our Mother swoon.

In honor of the upcoming Mother’s Day (May 12th in the States) Pam and I have compiled a countdown of the old classic movies and stars that won my mother’s heart. And yes, there does seem to be a common thread.

10. Samson and Delilah.

Victor_Mature_-_publicity

Mum had a thing for Victor Mature. He ran around in Biblical epics like ‘the Robe” and ‘Demetrius and the Gladiators’ displaying his shaved bare chest, emanating square-jawed virility. He was what Mum called a ‘sexy rexy’. She wasn’t particularly religious so I don’t think it was the content that thrilled her so much as those muscular thighs.

9. Tarzan.

Tarzan_the_Ape_Man_1932_posterWe had to watch every Tarzan movie that ever came out and it wasn’t just for the elephants and chimpanzees. Nothing thrilled Mum more than a man in a loincloth (see Victor Mature). Especially if he was pounding his chest, yodelling and flying through the air on a dangling vine or diving into a jungle pool and emerging half-naked and dripping wet. Her favorite Tarzan was Johnny Weismuller who was an Olympic gold medallist. She liked the other Tarzans too although we were all somewhat dubious about the one who ran around in slippers. In the jungle? Really?

8. Spartacus.

Another stud in a loincloth (see Tarzan and Victor Mature) although any movie Spartacus_-_1960_-_poster (1)with Kirk Douglas was a fave. He was a bit too intense for us as children but he was the definition of manliness and Mum liked his passion and the dimple on his chin which I convinced Pam was caused by falling on a nail. She liked his son Michael Douglas too until she saw him in Fatal Attraction having sex on the kitchen sink with Glenn Close. We could never persuade her that it wasn’t real and they were merely acting. But then again who knows… After all Mum was right about David Bowie (and all the other stick-thin pop singers) being on drugs in the 70s when we as innocent teenagers hotly denied the possibility.

7. Robin Hood.  Or Captain Blood.

Robin_hood_movieposterErrol Flynn was a real Hollywood bad boy, handsome, dashing, with a womanizing reputation and a flashing blade that dared anyone to suggest his tights were in the tiniest way unmasculine. He laughed with head flung back, hands on hips, his grin was pure devilment and when he swept a woman into his arms…. Well, no wonder Mum swooned. We did too.

6. Top Hat.

astaire_rogers - CopyWe could never miss a Fred Astaire musical, not matter how often it was repeated on TV. Didn’t matter if he looked like a turtle and lacked some of the physical attributes of the loincloth brigade. My mum and grandmother always had the same eternally entertaining conversation as Fred tripped lightly around the ballroom with Ginger in his arms. Nana: “I just don’t understand why he didn’t marry Ginger Rogers.” Mum: “Because she couldn’t stand the man, Mother.” Two minute pause, then… Nana: “It’s such a shame those two never married.” Mum: “Mother, I just told you, she hated him.” And so on until closing credits.

5. Seven Brides For Seven Brothers.

Seven_brides_seven_brothersHoward Keel was big and brash with a fine head of hair, a swagger in his step, and a beautiful deep voice. Mum loved him in buckskins singing “Bless Your Beautiful Hide” and slapping his thigh and she loved him as Fred/Petruchio in Kiss Me Kate, waggling his funny pointed beard and spanking Kathryn Grayson. There was nothing like a good spanking to titillate the older generation. I seem to remember Maureen O’Sullivan was always being bent over John Wayne’s knee in all those old Westerns and given a sound thrashing to show her who was boss.

4. Going My Way.

220px-BingCrosbyTheBellsofSaintMarysTrailerScreenshot1945Yeah, Bing Crosby could always make her cry but put him in a dogcollar standing over a dying priest singing ‘Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ra’… You’d need boxes of Kleenex. Maybe a bucket.

3. Singing In The Rain.

Singing_in_the_rain_posterWell, of course. Terrific story, fantastic singing, dancing and comedy and it starred two of mum’s favorites, Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. Gene Kelly could do no wrong, especially dancing in a downpour with his good looks, natural athleticism and unstudied grace. But Donald O’Connor almost elbowed him out of mum’s heart clowning about in the song, ‘Make ‘Em Laugh.’

2. The King and I.

Lawrence_BrynnerNo offence to Rex Harrison who played the role in the dramatic film version, Anna and the King of Siam, but there’s no way he could compete with Yul Brynner. Bald head, exotic accent, open-legged arrogant stance, Yul played the fiercely unpredictable king with colourful costumes and yet another bare chest – what’s not to love! Yes, there’s some great musical numbers. – ‘ Whistle A Happy Tune could be Mum’s theme song – but Yul as the King of Siam, prowling around his palace, barking out orders followed by ‘etcetera, etcetera, etcetera’ to a bemused but feisty schoolteacher, was the showstopper. Not to mention the story of star-crossed lovers was guaranteed to get the tear ducts flowing.

1. Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.

Poitier_croppedBig stars in this one – Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn but most of all…trumpet blast, please… Sidney Poitier. He was Mum’s all-time hero, partly because he was tall, handsome and soft-spoken, partly because he’d done the unthinkable in his era, become a black leading man and box office star, the first African-American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor. And this was such a great movie. Even if Sidney spends all of it wearing a boring old suit.

DON’T MISS OUT. 

To celebrate Mother’s Day USA we’re holding a two day giveaway weekend  for our new novel, Looking for La La.  Free Kindle Downloads on Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th at Amazon.Com and Amazon.co.uk.