Sunday, 31 March 2013

World Book Night 2013 - listen like a Slav

What ho, folks! How are your respective weekends going? Have you consumed diabetic quantities of chocolate, or are you somehow managing to pace yourselves?

If you're having a quiet weekend, then I hope you are settled down with a good book to read. Oh, go on, then. Have a bit of chocolate. And a nice cuppa.

When it comes down to settling in for a good, hard read, I like to have a little music on in the background. It won't usually have much in the way of lyrics, as that would distract me. As there aren't many (decent) albums that are limited to instrumentals and/or lyric-free vocals,* this generally means classical music.
I have a few favourites, but there is one composer I tend to keep coming back to; Dvorak. I was a young lad when my father played the composer's Slavonic Dances, but I loved the sound and it has stayed with me ever since. If I'm sat with a book and I want something upbeat to accompany my reading, on goes that CD.

And you know what?
We're going to be sharing that opportunity with you. Yep, another one of the prizes for that one lucky person is going to be a copy of that CD.

Nice, eh?
Stay tuned for more prize announcements in the coming weeks!

Friday, 29 March 2013

Ballooney tunes

Caution - slightly NSFW due to language.


Julie's been singing again.
There we were, having a nice little drive through the countryside. We'd turned the radio off and didn't fancy music at all, so we didn't bother with a CD. Instead, we looked through the window and enjoyed the views (or, in my case, as much as a driver can and should).
At one point, a random thought was started in Julie's mind and she tittered and sang a couple of lines...

Funny... I don't recall that being in the English version or the German original. I'm pretty sure Nena might have something to say about it...

Sadly, due to restrictions, I can't post a clip of the song here. Never mind, you can just sing those two lines over and over until they've become a level 9000 mindworm.

Apologies to everyone. Because I had been so fixated on posting the video for the song Julie misquoted/paraphrased, when it became clear that no video was available to me, I forgot to adjust the blog to reflect this.
Of course, the song in question was Nena's '99 Red Balloons'.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Running and rambling

A while back, one of Julie's colleagues announced that she was going to take part in the Cancer Research Race for Life.

At the time, we congratulated her and didn't think much of it. After all, there is so much in the way of charity events taking place these days.
And then, in July last year, my father was diagnosed with a massive and aggressive brain tumour. Less than six weeks later, he died.
After that, our heightened sensibilities couldn't help but notice that so many people's lives had been touched by cancer. It's been tough, to be sure, but we're coming to terms with it now. Yes, we do find ourselves in situations that affect us. The first time I saw this video was hard for me, but I now see it as a positive thing.

Back to our friend. When she told us of her intention to take part in this, we wished her well and backed away. Not from sponsoring, but from the actual activity. You see, neither Julie nor myself are what you could term 'svelte' or 'athletic'. Not by a long shot. For my part, I like to walk; I'm built for a slow, solid pace and Julie is generally happy to accompany me.
Running? Uh... no, thanks.

Julie put it slightly differently, of course.

Heh. Dad would have loved that one.

Monday, 25 March 2013


The body is a wonderful thing. Rather like the age-old comparison with the apparent grace of the swan, there is so much activity beneath the surface that it would be fair to describe the human body as a battleground, one that will only be calmed when one side it vanquished for good. Sorry, but you know which side that is. As the phrase goes,
"Life is a sexually-transmitted disease with a 100% fatality rate."
Cheering, eh?

Let's steer things back to lighter matters.
Everybody likes a fart gag, don't they? Gaseous emissions have been a staple of comedy since time immemorial, but it's as much about timing as anything else.
Imagine a hall full of students taking their final exams. Despite hours or revision and weeks of preparation, it's turning out to be far harder than any of them had imagined. Half an hour in, and already, despair is setting in. The tension in the air is palpable. Then, from between clenched buttocks comes a noise, a sound like a cornet being blown to a tone of E flat. There's silence at first, then a muffled snigger. Soon, the whole room is full of students trying not to make any noise and failing dismally. However, the mood has been lifted and who knows - some of the students may have relaxed enough to improve their score.

"What you see might not be real" is a sculpture by Chinese artist Chen
Wenling. It's an unsubtle dig at the financial crisis. The bull represents
Wall Street, and the human is Bernard Madoff. He was convicted
and jailed for 150 years for being a Ponzi schemer.

Alternatively, let's pretend you are watching a sitcom. The main character works in an office. He's been stuck in a meeting for what has felt like the longest hour of his life. He has spent most of the meeting regretting the full English breakfast. It was tasty enough at the time, but it's given him some terrible gas. Finally, the meeting is over. He grabs his papers and dashes out for his own office. When he gets there, he bangs the door shut behind him, but doesn't notice that it has bounced open again. He leans his knuckles on his desk and carefully relaxes certain muscles. The resulting fart is loud, sonorous and meaty enough to be put into pies. Them, just as he sighs with relief, he hears the boss behind him, "I hope you feel much better for that." Oh bugger.

See? It can be humorous. Obviously, it can be taken too far. An entire programme of fart gags is a bit much (although Bottom seemed to get away with something very close to it for several series).

On the other hand, when you feel the need and you happen to be in public, it's really not done to simply let rip. In that case, one will surreptitiously glance about, making sure that the coast is clear. Only then will we allow ourselves to let something out. Hopefully, it will be as discreet as your attempt to clear the area.
Yeah, right.
Poor Julie, on this occasion, managed to create a passable impression of a foghorn. I was gasping for breath, I was laughing that hard, and Julie was laughing just as hard. Then, just as I felt I was beginning to calm down, Julie decided to justify herself.

And I was off again...

Saturday, 23 March 2013

World Book Night 2013 prize announcement #2

Here at Julie's Gem's, we're pretty much all about humour. Especially humour that derives from misunderstanding things that have been said. Or just plain not understanding what has been said...
That said, we do like to appreciate some classics.

Humorous postcards are pretty much a British phenomenon. In fact, you could probably be more specific and say 'English'. The humour plays very much on the prurience that originated during the Victorian period, making allusions to sex, 'naughty' body parts (mostly boobs), and other 'taboo' matters. If you have ever watched a Carry On film, then you'll know just what I'm talking about.
Essentially, it's double entendres all the way;
"I can see your point."
"Yes, these trousers do need repairing."
Yes, I know it's not exactly side-splitting stuff now, but at the time this kind of banter was considered to be absolutely hilarious.

The undisputed king of the naughty postcards was Donald McGill. At the time, his cartoons and illustrations were fun, bright and entertaining, but there is now a massive following. Original drawings sell for thousands and even some of the rarer postcards can fetch a few hundred at auctions. Obviously, such a national treasure doesn't remain out of the spotlight for long and there is now a museum dedicated to the man and his work. Located on the Isle of Wight, it should be well worth a visit (sadly, I haven't been yet). Visit the website for more details.

Back to the postcards. McGill's style was very idiosyncratic. Men were usually hugely obese, as were their wives. However, if the husband was straying and the wife was on the warpath, then he would be drawn as dishevelled and she as either brawny or stringy. Yep. Stereotypes were the way to go; anaemic vicars with small spectacles (yes, I do mean eyewear). Leggy young ladies providing temptation and cause for puns. Red-nosed alcoholics. Confused newly-weds in their honeymoon bed.

Tell you what. Why don't I shut up and give you a couple of examples?

Possibly the defining Mcgill naughty cartoon, and the title of
a book about these postcards.

I bet he did...

This one is one of my all-time favourites. In case you don't get it, it's playing
on the fact the unfortunate lady doesn't really know the meaning of the word
'predicament'. All she knows is that her skirt is raised and it sounded rude.

So what? I hear you cry. What has this got to do with World Book Night 2103? Well, as you know, we are running a free draw with a copy of Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair for five lucky people. One person will also win some more goodies. The first was announced last week; a copy of the out-of-print 'Skallagrigg' by William Horwood (my all-time favourite book). This week, I am please to say that the quirkiness is maintained; we will be throwing in a fridge magnet depicting another classic naughty seaside cartoon. Not a book, but it's a fun little thing.

NEXT WEEK: Another prize announcement!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Cause and effect overturned

Julie likes to enter competitions in the magazines she buys, the sort where there are loads of puzzles and prizes of varying worth. I'm not condemning this, not at all. I enter prize draws whenever I can myself. The main difference between our habits is that hers come from printed magazines and mine are generally found online.

We haven't won any holidays yet, although we have both got some decent prizes. I have won a fair few books and Julie got various games. My personal best was a brand new blender and a month's supply of Greek yoghurts. The yoghurts were rather tasty, although after a month of them, I was glad to see the back of them. My sister was a happy camper though; she had just moved into a new flat and called dibs on the blender. As we already had one blender, one which didn't see much in the way of action, it made sense for me to pass the blender over to a suddenly cheerful sibling.

Julie, in the meantime, stayed with the gaming theme for her top prize - a Mario Kart Nintendo Wii box set. Sweet. It's not my wife's cup of tea, but I was most definitely chuffed to bits.

Some time after Julie's big win, her brother came round for a visit. It didn't take long for the subject of the win to be raised. Never mind the pride and excitement, it's a little difficult to cover up a gaming console when it's attached to the front of the TV...

Colin, Julie's brother, was properly pleased for her, and asked how she had managed to win it. Julie then explained that it was one of the many contests she played for in her magazines. In this case, a sudoku puzzle magazine. As we chatted about the contests, we both had to admit that while we had had a few wins, it was more often the case that we didn't win anything. In fact, Julie has yet to win anything from any magazine other than the sudoku one. It's a little frustrating, as there are lots of decent prizes in the other periodicals. However, as I have pointed out a few times, it's all down to how many people actually enter the competitions. The sudoku puzzles are very specific, which means the fewer people chancing their luck have better odds. It hasn't put Julie off them though. As she says, you have to be in it to win it.

Well, that's not strictly true. What Julie  actually said was this:

I'm not sure, but beneath the loopy language, I have a feeling Julie just violated the laws of time and space...

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Something in the way she derps.

Last week, we featured a Gem from the category of Trivial Pursuit, that board game version of a pub quiz. The question asked of me was "What language boasts the most words?" I got the answer correct (English) and then Julie came right out and admitted that her personal lexicon was somewhat less than extensive. During the short discussion that followed, we established that perhaps half of her word count was taken up by the word 'wotnot'. Most of the time, 'wotnot' will be a noun, one for an item whose correct nomenclature seems to escape my struggling wife. On rarer occasions, the 'w' word would take the place of a verb.

And when 'wotnot' features twice or more in a sentence, you know Julie has had something of a brain-fart and come up with a sentence where that word takes the place of a noun or two, a verb and, if you're really unlucky, an adjective too.
Mad stuff. "Wotnot - not even once."

I only bring this up, as it would seem 'wotnot' has a rival, of sorts.

Julie came home from her morning job one day, and it was patently obvious to me that some matter was giving her concern. When I asked her if she was alright, her reply was along the lines of, "Hmm? Oh, I'm fine, I'm just trying to remember... " However, she then pulled a face and tried to explain...

Well, that's cleared that up...


PS - while writing this article, I wanted to avoid using the word 'something' too much myself. However, I couldn't think of one right then, so I went to and had a bit of a chuckle when it turned round and told me that it couldn't find a suitable synonym .
Mind you, it was not much better at my preferred thesaurus site, - there were a few words, but all were less than apt for my need. Oh well.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Go forth and do baffle!

The weather in our part of the world have been fairly constant for the last few months; Variations on three central themes - cold, wet and windy. The days where it has been none of those three have been very rare and it's been wet enough that I don't think we'll have to worry about any hosepipe bans until at least April...

For a driver, those low temperatures, the rain and the high winds can be especially problematic. In fact, possibly the worst of the lot is the wind.
My own car is not a large car, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, as it means it catches a lot less of any strong gusts. The works van, on the other hand is a different prospect. It's not a large van by any stretch of the imagination, but there is a noticeable difference, one I definitely noticed when I one day moved from an enclosed banked stretch of road onto a very exposed bridge crossing an estuary. I was already overtaking a car when a side wind suddenly blasted from the left. I'm pretty sure I left dents in the steering wheel from the grip...

Yeesh. So very glad I'm not a truck driver by profession.

I was talking about this incident to Julie recently; I had been reminded of it by the very strong winds that were currently blasting through Eastbourne and the south of England in general. In fact, I wouldn't have been surprised if the bus company had suspended services along the coast road East of Brighton. It's a very exposed stretch of road with a sheer cliff dropping into the English Channel, so it's fair enough that the company doesn't really relish the idea of a busload of people being suddenly swept off by the wind to a watery doom.
Sat in the relative comfort of our front room, however, we had the heater on full blast, a mug each of nice, hot tea, and feeling very happy to be on that side of the window. I took a sip of Lapsang Suchong and grimaced as a fresh gust sent a wheeled dustbin skittering down the road.

It may have been a tad windy outside, but my mind had just been very effectively blown.
By the way, this is the Forth rail bridge - the Forth on the Firth of Forth...

Friday, 15 March 2013

Good guy Uruguay?

Staying with Trivial Pursuit from Wednesday, here's a Gem that ticks a great deal of the boxes; Geography, a quiz game and that wonderful ability to blag an absolutely daft and improbable answer with humour and aplomb.

Generally, trying to explain some geographical concept to Julie is rather awkward. Not so much for the question or any lack of ability to understand the answer, but more the timing. Why is it that Julie tends to ask something that generally requires some visual aid to explain when we're in the car - or sat on the sea front, with a frustrating lack of flip charts and black markers.

On the other hand, if you don't know the answer to a question in a game and you're just having a bit of fun for a change, then just throw caution to the wind and make whatever your 'guess' may be a highly entertaining one.

Bwahahahahahahaha! Good answer!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

What a lot of wotnot!

We decided to cheer ourselves up the other night by playing a game of Trivial Pursuit. It was... entertaining...
Part of the problem was that wave both been ill recently, with a combination of heavy colds and a virus picked up from Julie working in the hospital that made sure we didn't stray too far from a toilet. As a result, we were mumbling fairly often and our concentration was shot to pieces. And thanks to the cold, both of us had a mild tinnitus going on, which meant that we had a little trouble hearing things.

Of course, you also need to bear in mind that Julie (and, occasionally, myself) can find difficulty with some of the questions at the best of times. Admittedly, there are some which are pronunciation problems, but they're something that doesn't really affect us that much. Generally, though, it's simply Julie's approach to the game that wins through; if you don't know the answer, bluff it. Big time. Over-egg the pudding, spoil that broth and go the whole hog.

But, whatever you do, please remember what makes you you. Julie does. Even if she doesn't have the wherewithal to say so...

Now, that's what I call honesty. Facing up to your own shortcomings and turning them into strengths. It's amazing how much work a 'wotnot' does...

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

World Book Night 2013 - update

Hi folks, you may recall that for the last couple of years, we have been involved with World Book Night, which encourages people to read by the wonderful process of giving away brilliant books for free.

Well, we're at it again. This year, out of the twenty titles available, I chose to give away copies of Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair.
However, in keeping with our previous efforts, we will also be giving away other goodies too. Over the next few weeks, I will be introducing them. Here's the first; Skallagrigg by William Horwood.

This is my all-time favourite book. It's not a fantasy novel, but it has an invented mythology within it. It challenges you to face up to facts of life that are extremely uncomfortable. What would you do if you suddenly found you were the father of a cerebral palsied baby and that the child's severe handicap was due to the car accident that also killed your wife?

The threads in this book are woven together with such care and skill that you not only find you are able to follow Esther Marquand's life in various care homes and schools, but that you also want to. You want to help her along, cheer her on and doff a cap to her when she achieves something amazing.
I love Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. When Frodo leaves Middle Earth at the end of the book, I will cry rivers for him. Esther Marquand is different. My emotions for her are nowhere near as primal. However, for a middle-aged man with no severe handicap to find himself identifying with a frustrated, heavily cerebral palsied young girl (and later, young lady), that indicates writing of the highest calibre.
Don't just take my word for it, though - here's a great blog about it.

Skallagrigg is going to be one of the prizes for one lucky person in our free draw. Since it's been out of print for a long time, the copy on offer is not of the highest quality, but it's readable and won't fall apart on you.

That's it for this time - next week, I shall reveal one of the other prizes that will be up for grabs.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Cleanliness is next to Godliness, apparently.

On a bright day recently, Julie and me decided to go for a little drive. Sunglasses on, Madness on the CD player, we headed off westwards along the A27. This route takes you right into the heart of the [newly declared] South Downs National Park, which features lots of old river valleys, broad and shallow. It's a nice place to be, and very popular with walkers, hikers and other people that don't mind getting rained on.

Since it's chalk downland, people in the past felt the need to make their mark on the landscape. Like the White Horse at Uffington, these marks are large and tended to on a regular basis. The Sussex Downs has two such things in our area. A solid horse on a hill near Alfriston, and the rather more famous Long Man of Wilmington.

As we were driving past the Long Man on this occasion, I noticed what I can only describe as a flock of paragliders circling over the hillside.
For those not in the know, paragliding is rather similar to hang gliding, except that when you throw yourself off the hill/cliff/whatever, your means of support is a lot less sturdy. It doesn't help that you have to have someone make the run-up with you, holding the parachute - in pretty much the same way someone would help you to get a kite up in the air.

For all my snide comments above, I have to admit that they did look especially graceful when they were up in the air and drifting about.
Julie, on the other hand, is nowhere near as enamoured with the paragliding idea.

...yes, lovey.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Drawing a blank

You may have noticed that Julie can go through something of a spate of Gems. And then there will be times when she is almost silent. This is not to say that Julie says nothing on these occasions, just that anything she utters is utterly unremarkable and fairly sensible.

We're not interested in that, though, are we?

At the other end of the scale, many Gems are wasted simply because of the rate they stumble from Julie's mouth. I will be frantically scribbling in some kind of spastic shorthand, usually trying to shelter the notepad from wind and/or rain. Julie, in the meantime, will be stood to one side, trying to rein herself in and to explain herself. Obviously, the two activities are at odds with each other, and the conflict inevitably results in yet more Gems.
All while I am still trying to jot down the previous ones.

You know what the sad thing is? Usually, the stuff that Julie comes up with is solid gold and miles better than the scrawl meandering across the notepaper. Unfortunately, by the time I finish with the first Gem, my brain has let me down and I can't remember the slightest detail about The Golden One.

Just occasionally, though, the situation is reversed; I will be busy scribbling, but on top of things. And Julie will be the one with the memory problems. Sort of. Except she tries to blame it on me.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A beast in a bad place

Eastbourne is a seaside town, and as such has a history of providing activities and places for tourists. One of these places is Princes Park.

It's a pleasant place, with a recently renovated play area for the kiddies, a small lake for model boats and feeding the birds. There is also a bowling green and a small putting course, and a series of nicely planted walkways. On the Eastern side, there is a decent sized grassy area for staging events such as circuses and concerts. When the Olympics were on this year, the council erected a massive screen so people could come and watch various events and ceremonies - all for free.

One of the attractions from days of yore has lapsed nowadays. More commonly associated with Blackpool, Julie recalls that there used to be donkey rides in Prince Park.

Julie also recalls not being too keen on the idea. Her mother, however, seemed to be very fond of it and repeatedly asked the young girl that was Julie then if she would like to have a ride. As I say though, Julie remembers this with fondness, but also a certain determination. She never wanted to ride a donkey, and she never did.
Mind you, she could have phrased it better when she told me about it all. comment.

Monday, 4 March 2013

It's a weird, weird world

I may just have this as a sort of occasional series - just to show that Julie still isn't as baffling as what people do out there in la-la land.

Today, browsing the net as you do, I came across a video clip of Whinny the Pooh.
I have to confess to being rather trite, as I didn't report that bit quite right.
'Winny Puhh' was how I then read the name, and wondered just what was the game.
With trepidation did I press 'play', and hoped there was no cause for me to pray.
With WEIRD I was fully lambasted, my eyes with terrible oddities blasted.
With jaw on the ground, and brain spinning round, and about to enter a fit.
I hit the pause button and wondered, "Just what is this shit?"

Ladies and Gentlemen - and others - please welcome, all the way from Estonia in North East Europe, Winny Puhh - don't they look a treat...

And, for you gluttons for punishment, here is a clip of them performing... something...

How to assign gender roles. Or not.

It's nice to sing along to songs, isn't it? Especially when you're in the car and a nice, catchy tune comes on the radio. Maybe the radio isn't even on and a song has just popped into your head apropos of nothing. I usually like it when that happens, because it's more often than not a decent tune. Only rarely do I suddenly have in mind a real stinker (the last time, it was a Peter Andre tune.. *shudder*)

Of course, if Julie happens to be along for the ride, then that 'apropos of nothing' tends to have a certain extra, random element...

...of course he did...

I was going to post the original song, but I wanted something a little different. Not the Suggs cover, much as I like him. Then I found this one by a ragtag bunch going by the name of The Local Natives.

For more music visit The Local Natives Youtube page.

Friday, 1 March 2013

The conundrum of the cupcake in the container

When we reached Canterbury, there were two things foremost in our minds, both of which involved liquids. Lucky for us, then, that we very soon stumbled across the most delightful tearoom.

Set in one of the oldest buildings in Canterbury, there is much that is good about this place. The tea is loose leaf and you have a varied selection. For something more substantial, there is a special menu based around the theme of eggs benedict, along with a few daily specials. However, if you are not in the mood for cooked food, then you could always sample the baked wares, of which there are plenty and of wide enough variety to give you much pause for thought.
The portions will also give you pause for thought, too. The kind of thought that goes, "I'm not sure I can finish this..."

One cake caught my eye immediately - it was a cupcake in a jar...

Please note these are not from Tiny Tim's. I didn't get a photo of
those cakes, so I pinched this from The Swelle Life. Link at the end.

What a brilliant idea; if you didn't want to eat it at that time, you could take it away and maybe even give it to someone as a little gift. I was very much taken with this idea, as was Julie when I mentioned them to her. Unfortunately, Julie is a little... traditional in her cooking methods, and had difficulty in working out the mechanism of the concept...

When I pointed out that the cakes had actually been baked inside the jars, Julie was a tad incredulous. I had trouble with the situation myself; I facepalmed hard enough the thump drew attention from the other customers.

In case you're interested in having a go, here's a recipe for carrot cake in a jar; a good idea for Easter, perhaps?
Why not visit The Swelle Life - they feature some amazing baked products.
Finally, here's the site for the Tiny Tim's Tearoom - which is also allegedly haunted!