Monday, January 30

I am having an extreme financial crisis

Outgoings have increased by £200 per month.

Incomings have gone down by £200 per month.

Now, I’m not very good at maths, but I think that means I need to find £400 a month from somewhere.

Crikey.

Bar job, anyone?
The most productive weekend ever

I always like to have busy weekends, but this weekend was busier than ever before.

Babysat for my friend’s lovely daughter - cute
Watched Talk to Her, a fab Almodovar film - moving
Cleaned the house from top to bottom – satisfying
My parents popped round for a cup of tea and some cake - nice
Went to a very windy beach for a walk - bracing
Did food shopping - dull
Did loads of cooking: fennel risotto, huge vegetable curry, green vegetable soup, batch of cakes, massive Sunday lunch - yum
Went to a house party - sociable
Climbed a mountain: Borenge in the Brecon Beacons - beautiful
Watched Nightmare Before Christmas - funny

I wish it could be the weekend every day.

Sunday, January 29

Cakes of the week
Vanilla with toffee and double chocolate swirls - for Nic's birthday.


 
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Friday, January 27

The Friday List
10 laws I would pass if I was prime minister for a day (not all the time, because that would be a bit stressful).

1. All workplaces should have a cake trolley, staffed by a small, smiley retired gentleman with a fuzzy grey beard.
2. Everyone would be given hug tokens, which they could cash in at special hug centres when they were feeling sad/lonely/in need of a cuddle.
3. If you paint the front of your house pink, you get a 50% reduction off your council tax bill.
4. Grumpy people would be locked in a room full of baby rabbits, kittens and fairies until they cheered up.
5. Cars and roads would be made of soft, spongy stuff so you could run over rude people and smash into aggressive drivers without actually harming them.
6. On your birthday each year, a giant cake would be delivered to your house, and a horse would jump out of it and give you a huge present.
7. Weekend breaks in little houses by the sea would be available on the NHS.
8. Money would be abolished and everyone would 'pay' for things with smiles.
9. Cows would be shrunk so you could keep them as pets more easily.
10. Spitting, littering, SUVs and beetroot would be abolished.

That is what I would do if I was prime minister for the day.
Right, I’ve cracked it

Dear Daily Mail,
I have discovered what the problem is with modern-day Britain.

There are three things.

First: not enough people wear hats.
The temperature today is about minus a squillion degrees, so why did I only see about three other people wearing hats this morning?

Second: people wear such boring clothes.
I did a little survey in my head while walking down the street, and out of about 40 people, only two of them were not wearing a black coat.

Third: everyone is obsessed with dieting.
OK, before I start this rant, can I just say that I am not slating people who are trying to loose weight. I myself have been a bit of a chubster (take my university years when I piled on about three stone thanks to a diet of lager and cakes) and had to take drastic measures to return to my usual… ahem… svelte self. But it’s these perpetual dieters that are the problem.

I’ve just done a little calculation and 63% of people in my office are currently members of a slimming club (actually I’m crap at maths, so that is what you might call a guestimilate). Every day someone has spent the previous night paying £5 for the pleasure of sitting in a draughty hall talking about what they’ve eaten and standing on a digital scales. Some of them have been going for two or three years on and off, but haven’t actually lost any weight. Well, that’s not strictly true. They have lost weight – some of them have lost up to a stone – but then they’ve put it all back on again. Plus a little bit more.

I am actually being a hypocrite here, as I did actually join the evil Weight Watchers a few years ago. In my defence, it was a desperate time – I was getting married. 100 people were going to be staring at me, many of whom I hadn’t seen for ages. I wanted to be thin and gorgeous (if you could see my wedding pics, you’ll see that my mission failed – I have sausage arms and my boobs look really weird, but that’s another story...).

It was dreadful – people with no concept of what food was good and what food was bad sitting in a room discussing recipes for really depressing diet food.

“I get some low fat yoghurt and mix a sachet of Options low-fat hot chocolate drink with it. It makes a lovely dessert.”
“Instead of chips, get a tin of Tesco Value new potatoes (yes, really), slice them up, then fry them in a little bit of Fry Light.”

Mmm, lovely.

Most of the women had been going for years – they hadn’t actually lost any weight, but it was good to go to keep them “on track” (ie they liked going for a night out and a gossip). The average age was 55 and most of them wore tabards.

Then there was the leader, a slightly over weight, very Kairdiff lady who liked to think she was ‘a bit of a character’.

She liked a bit of double entendre:
“Ooo, girls – I know how you all like a little bit of a nibble.” (phnar, phnar)
“Sandra love, did you and Maldwyn get any exercise on the weekend?” (guffaw, guffaw)

But her main ‘thing’ was that she was a bit different to other Weight Watcher leaders – she liked to give that little bit extra by doubling up as a Butlin’s redcoat-style entertainer.

During each session, in between the nudges and the winks, the ker-azy lady would perform a little poem or a song or a dance, based around the ‘theme’ of that week’s meeting. On the first week, she came out dressed as Elvis (in the Burger Years) and sang a song about cream cakes to the tune of ‘Hound Dog’. I also recall a little ditty based around that dieters favourite slogan: Fridge Pickers Wear Big Knickers (cue side-splitting laughter from all the regulars).

And I was paying money for this? I soon saw the error of my ways and scarpered, concluding that the only way to lose weight is through good old fashioned healthy eating and exercise.

I wish I could spread the word without sounding like a patronising cow. These people eating pink and whites all day and obsessing about points and what’s the lowest calorie thing they can have from the Chinese on Friday night – they are just making themselves unhappy.

They need a nice big slice of Miss Meep’s special cake (then a quick blast of the Spice Girls to burn off the calories, of course).

You see, Daily Mail Editor, it’s not asylum seekers that are the problem as I’m sure your readers will agree.

Yours,

Disgruntled (but enlightened) of Tunbridge Wells.

Thursday, January 26

Conversations from under the duvet

Sometimes when I go to bed at night, my brain goes into overdrive and I start thinking about life, love, the universe and all those kinds of things.

Last night was one of those nights – I started reading The Alchemist again and that got me thinking...

Me: “I can’t believe people still do alchemy”
Mr Meep (Sighs and puts his book down): “They don’t”
Me: “Yes they do, it says here that Paulo Coelho studied Alchemy in the 1970s, and he was fascinated with finding the Elixir of Life”
Mr Meep: “Well, people might do it as say, Pagans might make potions, but it doesn’t actually work.”

Silence as I ponder this for a while.

Me: “What’s it all about?”
Mr Meep (A very big sigh, followed by over-emphasised putting down of book): “What?”
Me: “Life. I mean – it’s really confusing isn’t it. Why are we here? What are we supposed to be doing? I want to find out what it all means. What do you think it’s all about?”
Mr Meep: “Well, I think it’s all random and chaotic and everything can be explained by science.”
Me: “Oh.”

More silence as the cogs are turning in my brain. Mr Meep thinks that’s shut me up for a bit and carries on reading.

Five minutes later...

Me: “Sara (a friend who has similar 'issues') has asked Stan and Betty next door what it’s all about. They’re old and they still haven’t worked it out. It’s really scary. I think I’m going to read loads of books on the subject and try to find my own conclusions.”
Mr Meep: “What, even scientific books?”
Me: “Yes – everything.”

Mr Meep’s silence indicates that he is probably thinking: “She won’t read a science book – she’ll be bored after one page.”

A few more pages of reading later…

Me: “What about psychics?”
Mr Meep (really getting a bit cross now): “What about them?”
Me: “We must have destinies or the psychics wouldn’t be able to predict them. I was thinking about this earlier. If I hadn’t gone to uni in Leicester, and I’d gone to Liverpool or Manchester, would I have met you? Were we destined to meet or would I have met someone else?”
Mr Meep (exasperated): “Well, I’m glad I met you but I don’t think it was destiny.”

Gosh, where has the romance gone?

I sulk silently for a bit, then go back to The Alchemist.

Me: “The thing is, Mr Meep, how am I supposed to follow my dream if I don’t know what my dream is.”

Mr Meep carries on reading.

Me: “What’s your dream?”
Mr Meep: “To finish this book without getting interrupted every five minutes.”

Oh.

Wednesday, January 25

Cake blogging and new bloggers
Yay! My cakes made it on to the cupcake blog.

I've also inspired my lovely friend Jon to start a blog. That is quite exciting - I've never inspired anyone to do anything before. Here are some facts about the Jalepeno.

  • He knows all the dance actions to Take That's Never Forget.
  • He has a cat called Digby who has a sparkly collar.
  • He is a celebrity journalist and knows lots of facts about pop.
  • Despite all of this, he is not a gayer. He's getting married this year - to a lovely lady.
  • Tuesday, January 24

    These are funny.
    Looking haggard
    When I woke up this morning, I looked in mirror under the harsh spotlights in my bathroom, and I was shocked by what I saw. My eyes were puffy, emphasising the crows feet that are starting to form around the edges. My chin has started to become chins and my neck looks as if it belongs to the scrawny old turkey that no-one wanted at Christmas. Around my mouth, there's some kind of jowly-thing going on.

    I felt 40, not 30 - not helped by the fact that the 9lbs I have put on meant that my stomach was bulging over the top of my pyjama bottoms. And to top it all off, not only am I having an extremely bad hair day, I also ran out of magic stick yesterday, so I couldn't even cover the bags and lines and circles on my face.

    I set off on the walk to the train station feeling very old and very sorry for myself. Poor Mr Meep. What if he wants to swap me for a younger, thinner model?

    When I got to the station, I had to buy a new monthly rail pass. The man behind the counter was typing in my details.

    "Is it Miss?"
    "No, it's Mrs"
    "NO WAY! You don't look old enough to be a Mrs."

    If there wasn't a pain of glass between us, I would have reached over and given him a big snog.

    It's funny how a little thing you might say to someone can completely change how they feel for the rest of the day.

    By the way, have you lost weight? You are looking fabulous today.

    Mood: On top of the world
    Food: Porridge with mango and coconut - there's posh
    Tunes: I'm feeling a Strokes moment coming on

    Monday, January 23

    Cakes of the Week
    Presenting... vanilla flower fairy cakes with chocolate buttercream topping.

     
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    Friday, January 20

    The Friday List
    Haven't done one of these for a while, but thought it was time for a revival.

    Inspired by this lovely exercise that the fabulous Keri Smith has on her 100 Ideas list, here are:

    10 Things I Would Like to do Every Day
    1. Have a big cwtch with Mr Meep
    2. Cook something healthy and yummy
    3. Read a book
    4. Spend time outside
    5. Have lots of green tea
    6. Be creative - write, draw, doodle, bake
    7. Listen to music
    8. Run, walk or swim
    9. Have contact with my favourite friends
    10. Be happy

    Mood: Eeeeeeeek, it's the weekend
    Food: Broccoli and cauliflower cheese
    Tunes: Damien Rice 'O'

    Thursday, January 19

    It's a confusing time
    Being 30 is really odd. In lots of ways, I feel more confident - I've got a great house, a brilliant relationship, lots of lovely friends and I've totally stopped worrying about my looks and what other people think of me.

    But - and it's a big old but (and, in fact, a big old butt thanks to the Christmas lard-fest) - I'm just confused about what I want out of life.

    I hate my job but I'm too scared to leave it. I know what makes me happy, but I don't know if I'm good enough at any of these things to make them into a career. I love the city but I also dream of running away and living in the middle of nowhere. I want babies, but I don't want to become a 'professional parent' and lose sight of who I am. In fact, who am I?

    I'm confused, I'm scared, I've got too many things buzzing around my head and I change my mind about everything on a daily basis. Sometimes there are so many things going on in there that I think my head might explode.

    What shall I do? Find religion? Turn to drink? Book myself into an asylum?

    Help.

    Wednesday, January 18

    I’m a criminal – and I’ve been caught
    About two years ago, a swanky new hotel opened near the train station that I go to every day. It had a lovely gym with a pool and a steam room. When they were building it, I’d walk past every morning and think “If only I could go there – it’d be so lovely and convenient and I’d be really fit and healthy.”

    Just before it opened, I saw a competition in the local paper to win a year’s membership, so I entered – and I won! What joy I felt at my good fortune. Not only would I be super-thin and super-fit, but the membership was £70 a month, so the prize was worth almost a grand.

    I really made the most of my prize – I went swimming most mornings. They have lovely showers and they give you a big fluffy towel when you go in. On weekends and holidays, I’d spend time lounging around in the jacuzzi and steam room. I also went to aquafit and yoga and sometimes even to the gym. I was allowed to sign friends in too, so I’d often take a mate along on a Saturday for a girlie day out.

    Anyway, when a year was up, I was a bit gutted about having to give it all up. I mentioned it to the guy behind the counter one day and he said he didn’t have any record of my membership expiring. He gave me a big old wink and said “If I were you, I’d just keep quiet”.

    So I did. Two years after winning the competition, I’m still a regular posh gym-goer – until this morning. I haven’t been in for a few weeks, and when I walked through the door this morning, I saw to my horror that there was a new membership system.

    Now alarm bells should have been ringing at this point, but just as I thought “Uh-oh”, the reception blokey appeared.

    Bugger.

    Miss Meep: “Er.. I haven’t been for a while, I haven’t got a new membership card.”
    Gym Bloke: “It’s OK, your old one will still work.”

    Miss Meep does a silent ‘phew’ and swipes her card.

    Gym Bloke: “Oh, there’s a problem with this. It says your membership has expired.”
    Miss Meep (flutters eyelashes and looks confused): “Oh, really? I don’t understand that.”

    Double bugger.

    GB: “Has the money been coming out of your bank account?”
    MM: “Er… well… I haven’t checked for a while. I think so.”
    GB: “You have signed a Direct Debit form, haven’t you?”
    MM (heart starts beating): “Yes, yes – I did that about six months ago.”
    GB: “Oh well, I’ll let you in for now – the manager will be here when you’re on the way out, so she can sort it out for you.”
    MM: “OK.”

    Bugger, bugger, bugger.

    GB: “Oh, I also need to take a photo of you for the records.”

    Crikey, they’re going to have a mug shot of me!

    MM (one step away from a panic attack): “Ah, er… I haven’t got any make-up on – can you do it on the way out?”

    So off I go into the changing rooms, heart going at about a zillion bpm, thinking “Oh my god, they’re going to find me out – I owe them about £1000 in membership fees and they know what I’ve done and now they’re going to arrest me.”

    Problem is, I can’t just leave because I haven’t had a shower and my hair is greasy, so I can’t go to work looking like a homeless. So I use their showers, dry my hair, put my slap on.

    But now was the tricky part – how on earth was I going to get from the changing rooms and back out through the reception without the manager collaring me? I thought of a few options.

    1. I rush holding my mobile phone, saying “Don’t worry – I’ll be right there” – pretending I’ve been called away on an urgent family matter and can’t stop.
    2. I walk through, saying : “Gosh, it’s not my day today – I’ve left my swimming stuff in the car. Back in a sec.” Then disappear.
    3. I run for it.

    I chose option number three. There’s a big mirror in the reception area, so you can see the main counter from the door of the changing rooms (although they can’t see you). I took my coat off (bright green – very easy to spot), skulked about in the doorway until the coast was clear, then just legged it. Really fast. Out through the gym reception, through the hotel lobby and onto the safety of the street.

    It was the longest 30 seconds of my life. I had visions of turning around and seeing a herd of walkie talkie-carrying security men coming to get me. I’d have to grab the crystal chandelier in the lobby and swing through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows onto the roof of a passing double decker bus.

    But it was OK. Phew, I made it. Just as my heart was starting to slow down, I felt a strange sense that something was missing. Oh no, my wedding ring wasn't on my finger – I must have left it in the shower!

    But it was OK – I’d put it in my bag for safe keeping. Panic over. All is calm.

    But now, of course, I can’t relax ever again. They’ve got my address and phone number. They know where I work. They could send the boys round at any point.

    Bugger.

    Tuesday, January 17

    Cake of the week
    Chocolate cake with vanilla bean buttercream and bitter chocolate shavings. My own invention - ooooo, get me.

     
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    Thursday, January 12

    Cake of the Week
    To practice for my future career as cake maker extraordinaire, I'm going to make some new cakes every week in 2006. Here's the first one - spicy carrot and apricot with vanilla cream cheese icing.

     
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    Wednesday, January 11

    Inspiration

    Can't take the credit for this one though - from Howies.

    Find your love.
    You know that dream you carry around with you each day?
    It's kinda important.
    Wasn't it what you were put on planet earth to do?
    They say everyone has a calling, can your still hear it?
    Doesn't it eat away at you? That treadmill you are on, did it ever get too much?
    Did you ever wonder what it would be like to do your thing?
    Did you ever feel time was passing you by?
    Just how many days have you left before your last?
    Did you ever wonder about stuff like that?
    Did you ask yourself 'what was stopping you?'
    There is never a right time.
    You will be too old. Too young. Too something or other.
    When was last time you took a risk?
    Did you remember how alive it made you feel?
    There are no guarantees of success.
    It's not called a leap of faith for nothing.
    It's not too late, honest.
    Jump.
    You might fall.

    You might fly.

    Tuesday, January 10

    Quote from Mma Makutsi
    I'm reading the lovely Alexander McCall Smith books at the moment - currently on Tears of the Giraffe.

    I like the little passages when the Botswanan people muse about life in the Western world, not understanding the quest for possessions and the fast pace of life. I liked this quote that I read this morning, from Mma Ramotswe's assistant, Mma Makutsi.

    "The more Mercedes-Benzes there are in a country, the worse that country is. If there is a country without any Mercedes-Benzes, then that will be a good place. You can count on that."

    Mood: Anti-capitalist
    Food: Some kind of nice veg and coconut curry
    Tunes: Going all 90s nostalgia with The Verve

    Friday, January 6

    Being creative
    I haven't seen my arty friend David for about five weeks. I saw him today and we chatted about how 2006 should be the year of painting and photographing and making and creating and growing things.

    So I've been looking at some lovely inspiring blogs and sites this afternoon. Have a look at Creative Blend, Swirly Girl, India Romeo and Keri Smith and my favourite - Cupcakes Take the Cake.

    So with the New Year optimism and the creative inspiration, I'm planning on a year of cake making, developing my artistic 'skills' and generally being more creative. Watch this space for piccies of the results.

    This weekend, I'm kicking the creative process off by making some carrot cup cakes, taking some photos, starting some knitting and doing a postcard for the 52 Figments project.

    Crikey, that'll keep me busy.

    Mood: Creative!
    Food: Pasta, pesto and roasted veggies
    Tunes: 80s-tastic as going to see Footloose tonight

    Thursday, January 5

    Legal blogging
    We have blogs at work now and I'm part of the Welsh learners blogging team.

    Have a look!

    Wednesday, January 4

    Recipe for Emma Cake (for Rhys)
    This is my made-up cake, which is just yumski (even if I do say so myself).

    8oz carrots, peeled and grated
    2oz walnuts, roughly chopped
    10oz self-raising flour
    6oz soft brown sugar
    1tsp baking powder
    2 eggs
    6 floz vegetable oil
    1 ripe banana

    For the topping:
    2oz butter
    3oz cream cheese
    6oz icing sugar

    1. Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl, then stir in sugar, carrot and walnuts.
    2. Beat eggs with oil. Mash banana. Stir eggs and banana into flour mixture and beat well until smooth.
    3. Put into two greased tins. Bake at 180 degrees C for 25-30 minutes.
    4. To make the icing, cream the butter and cream cheese together, then sift in the icing sugar and mix again. Use it to sandwich and top the cake. Don't put it on until the cake's totally cooled down.

    Voila. Make someone happy. Make an Emma Cake today.
    We almost blew up
    Yesterday morning as I left the house, there was a slight smell of gas by the front door. It wasn't too strong so I didn't really think anything of it.

    Later, Mr Meep and I were on MSN and he mentioned that the gas man had been to read the meter, which reminded me about the smell from earlier. He went out for a sniff and could smell it too, quite strongly. A bit later, he could smell it in the bathroom too. It was getting worse, so he called the gas people out.

    Gas man came - he switched our supply off, but the smell was still there. He got some kind of probing device out, popped it through next door's letterbox, and registered that quite a lot of gas was in the house.

    Problem is, next door neighbour was out. In fact, we haven't seen her for a few days, so she's probably gone away. We don't have any way of contacting her either.

    So gas man declares the situation too dangerous to wait - he gets a locksmith to drill the lock off the front door and in they go. The smell hits Mr Gas and Mr Meep straight away. Mr Gas's probing thing registers a gas reading of '4.5' - at '5', probably minutes away, the house (and our house, and probably a few others) would be gone.

    Turns out she left two rings on the hob. Great - a few more minutes and I would have been homeless, husband-less, Blod-less and Evil Zeb-less.

    Blimey.

    She's still not back. And when she does get back, we have to explain why she can't get in to her own house. I'm sure she won't mind - she wouldn't have a house if it wasn't for Mr Meep's amazing skills of nasal detection.

    Tuesday, January 3

    Reasons to be cheerful
    There aren't any. It's the first day back at work. I promised I wouldn't get down, but I can't help it.

    I was going to go running in the park with Blod this morning to get the endorphins pumping, but got up at 6.45 and it was pitch black. Sat it my running gear until 7.30 and it was still pitch black, so gave up on that idea.

    There's no-one from my team in work, and no-one around my bank of desks to chat to.

    It's freezing cold - I'm sitting in my coat and scarf.

    I just opened the blinds and it's grey and raining outside.

    I have nothing in my diary to look forward to.

    Anyone know any good jokes?

    Mood: SAD and sad
    Food: Brown pasta and green beans (depressing new year diet)
    Tunes: Morrissey

    Monday, January 2

    31 things to do in my 31st year
    As a lover of lists, new year is my favourite time, as there are so many lists to be made. It's all about self-improvement - getting thinner, drinking less, exercising more, sorting out your finances, saving the planet, redecorating your house...

    This year, I couldn't really think of any 'resolutions' - I'm quite a contented little bunny really, so instead of dwelling on giving up things, I've written a list of things that I'd like to achieve in 2006 - my 31st year on the planet.

    1. Climb Pen-y-Fan
    2. Make cakes for friends birthdays, weddings and christenings to get lots of practice in
    3. Teach Blodwen to: lie down, drop, stay
    4. Learn to make tiramasu
    5. Go to the Lake District
    6. Grow the following in my garden: mint, basil, leeks, garlic, chillis, tomatoes
    7. Have winter colour in the garden
    8. Knit a scarf
    9. Do some freelance writing
    10. Make a driving compilation tape I can sing along to
    11. Visit Totnes, my spirtiual home
    12. Volunteer for something
    13. Read A Suitable Boy
    14. Paint a picture
    15. Sell something on E-Bay
    16. Get nicecake.co.uk up and running
    17. Have a weekend in Brighton and eat at the yummiest restaurant ever
    18. Save £3500 for a rainy day
    19. Read a biography of someone inspiring
    20. Quit my job
    21. Finish Year 1 of my Welsh course
    22. Make a collage/painting for my niece's bedroom
    23. Go to a rugby match at the Millennium Stadium
    24. Finish all the annoying DIY jobs in my house
    25. Start jogging around the park with Blodwen
    26. Write a children's story
    27. Go to the ballet
    28. Watch one foreign film every month
    29. Attract wildlife to my garden
    30. Stop watching TV altogether
    31. Learn the names of trees

    Mood: Optimistic
    Food: Macaroni cheese
    Tunes: REM

    Sunday, January 1

    Happy New Year!
    Cure for the New Year's Day hangover blues: grab your dog, some friends, a flask of coffee and the leftover mince pies. Wrap up warm and head for a windy beach to clear the cobwebs. Cheers!

     
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    Mood: High on fresh air
    Food: Just lots of cake
    Tunes: Elliot Smith (Mr Meep's Christmas CD)