A jubilee surprise – or two

I love a good surprise, thing is, not everyone appreciates them. In our family, it’s well known that our Dad is not a fan. [Christmas Day 2000, my Dad receives a copy of ‘How to train your puppy’ and a dog lead, indicating that his wish to own a labrador is finally being fulfilled. He spent the rest of the day asking my mother worriedly if she was sure…] However, our Mum is a fan – I still delight in the memory of my surprise visit over to Belfast nearly four years ago.

Birthdays are meant to be full of surprises, but mostly they’re restricted to presents. Mum certainly had her fair share of those – Dad did well with a spa day for her imminent trip to Oz, while the daughters excelled themselves with a monogrammed purple leather satchel (she thought we were psychic!). But there were two other surprises that took a fair amount of sororal networking and organisation…

Firstly, the birthday cake. Now, you’d think a birthday cake would be a logical thing to organise for a 60th birthday party, wouldn’t you? Not if you follow my father’s logic of thinking, apparently. Mum was organising the bulk of the festivities (Dad doesn’t really do parties) but refused to organise the cake (understandably). We ascertained less than 2 weeks before the big day that no cake had been ordered – the reply to our email asking if there was one said “do you think she wants one?”. People ALWAYS want birthday cake!

That night, around 11.30pm, I fired off an email to two of my mother’s friends in Belfast asking for help. Within half an hour, we had a response from both of them and a potential cake contact. To quote Mim’s Facebook status the following morning: ‘Mim loves that urgent cake-related emails get instant replies.’  Within a few days we had an excellent cake maker on board, in fact, the baker of cakes for Mum’s favourite Belfast cafe. It was collected under false auspices and went down a treat at both parties. [Yes, my mother had two birthday parties on the same day…she wasn’t going to be outdone by the monarch.]

Yes, I failed to get a photo of the birthday cake.

The other surprise was person, or people, related. Amongst the invitees to the parties were our former next-door neighbours in Gloucester. They sadly declined, on the grounds that they were off to Verona later in the week and Belfast’s a long way from Gloucester, which was fair enough. However, in the month leading up to the big day, a plan was hatched – I was to meet Juliet and Doris at Birmingham International and take the same flight over on the Sunday morning and they’d return with Mim the following day. Dad knew, so that room arrangements could be made, but Mum had no idea.

Arriving from the airport, we sent Doris up to the front door while we hid behind the car. A squeal from Mum alerted us to her reaction – she genuinely couldn’t believe her eyes! Bless. (We tried to persuade Doe to greet her with “I heard there was cake, and lots of it.” but I think she was too overwhelmed.) It really was the icing on the cake of a very special day – and illustrated just how duplicitous we Clutterbucks can be…

Guest of honour – using her first ever ‘proper cup’ (with extended pinky) 
and enjoying a triple-layer cream scone.

Parental tweeting goes Gaga

This post is very late in its writing, not because of my own shortcomings, but because (like any good, non News International) journalist, I needed to corroborate the facts before sharing and my mother and I have been incommunicado for the last fortnight…

Two weeks ago, I took a sneaky look at Twitter during my Monday morning theology lecture [I say ‘two weeks ago’, obviously I regularly take sneaky looks at Twitter during lectures…] and nearly burst out laughing. My mother had tweeted the following:
“The woman on the desk tells me the exec lounge is full of celebs. I am totally underwhelmed, no idea who anyone is!”

My mother was at one of the Belfast airports, travelling to London. The day before, Belfast had hosted the star-studded MTV Europe awards – possibly the most exciting thing to happen in the city for quite some time. I’d been aware that this was happening, but was fairly certain that my parents would have been oblivious, unless it resulted in local road closures and significant airtime on Radio Ulster. Obviously, all these (non-Irish) celebs needed to leave the province and flying is the logical way out…
What many who follow my mother on Twitter may not have realised is that the ‘woman on the desk’ told her about the musicians in the Executive Lounge because she is a regular user of the Executive Lounge – it’s the best use of frequent flyer points when you fly frequently. Thus, I was particularly amused when the following Twitter conversation emerged between Mum and my friend Jo:
Jo: “The lady wearing odd hats is likely to be Gaga. The person whom everyone is gaga over is likely to be Justin Bieber…”

Mum: “Thanks that’s really helpful. Woman in funny hat with big shades might be Gaga!”

Jo, until I had brunch with her later in the week, was utterly unaware that my mother had taken her tweet seriously – not realising that she was genuinely sat in an exec lounge, watching the curious celebs around her. When I finally spoke to my mother, she said that Jo’s tweet was really helpful, as otherwise she’d have had no idea who these people possibly were. Bless them both. 
To think, when my mother first joined Twitter I was worried it might be a bad idea… 

Organisation in adversity

Last week, while wallowing, I mentioned that we’d lost our water supply. What I hadn’t fully appreciated at the time was just how disastrous and newsworthy this event was. By the end of last Tuesday, more the 40,000 Northern Irish homes were without water – some having lacked this essential commodity since before Christmas. We knew things were serious when it made the main BBC news.

In the Clutterbuck household, the former missionaries rose to the occasion. On the first morning, I was the only person (out of six) to not have had a shower before we realised there was a problem. When you’re wallowing in the flu, the last thing you want is to be left in your sweat all day (not a pretty image? I do apologise), but fortunately my mother came to my rescue with a veritable cauldron of warm water – courtesy of the college’s kitchen (which still had at least a partially full tank). She did also attempt to instruct me on how to wash with a saucepan, but I reminded her that I’m a festival regular, so know all about washing one’s body without the aid of a shower…

The next day, things were a lot more organised. A bonus of living in a college was the sheer quantity of water storage and heating devices that could be borrowed. Stepping onto the landing I discovered one of two 14 litre urns producing hot water – genius. [However, on this occasion I left my showering so late that the water had returned again, in a reversal of the previous day’s events, I was the only family member to get a shower.]

But, my favourite piece of water conservation/organisation was this discovery in the guest bathroom:

The label reads ‘water for teeth’ in case it’s not obvious

Those labels are all over my parents’ kitchen – cake tins, the cupboard full of tea, home-made chutneys – so of course, it would be the obvious way to denote which water ought to be used for which purpose.

In the kitchen was a variety of bottled water, only a small amount of which was still (thanks to the national shortage which led to Scotland promising NI 160,000 litres of the stuff – but this was before it arrived) but what still there we had was earmarked for me and the dog. I like where I sit in the family hierarchy when I’m ill.

The lack of water was inconvenient, but not a total nightmare. Generally, it came back on mid-morning, no thanks to the next to useless NI Water website that never said when the water was going to be on or off. By New Year’s Eve it was back permanently. I have an awful lot of sympathy for those that were totally without water for days and days, and even more for those who have no regular water supply at all.

A taste of Ireland (with humour)

If you’re ever in Belfast on a Saturday, I highly recommend heading to St George’s Market. (It’s actually open on Fridays and Sundays too, but I only have experience of the Saturday ‘food and garden’ market.) It’s become a staple of my parents’ Saturday routine (usually followed by an exceedingly yummy brunch at the fabulous, not-for-profit Common Grounds) and is where they buy all their fruit & veg as well as organic, locally sourced meat and cheese.

Several hundred miles away, my own Saturday routine often involves a walk through the historic Borough Market after a trip to the gym, so I can’t help but compare the two experiences. In Belfast, there’s a pleasant buzz, accompanied by live music that my sister and I like to call ‘old man jazz’ [although last week it was more ‘young woman folk’, playing Amy Winehouse to Simon & Garfunkel via Leona Lewis] and a distinct lack of tourists and yuppies. Borough – particularly during the summer – can be less of a fun shopping experience, and more of an ordeal to be dealt with, thanks to the hordes of shoppers/photographers. Both have great free samples, lovely baked goods, friendly & knowledgeable stall holders and a wealth of interesting meal opportunities.

What St George’s also has, which gives it the edge over Borough, is comedy stall names…

 I’ve shared ‘Wee Buns’ before, but it is a great name.
Not entirely sure what there is to laugh about with embroidery…

You can have a lot of fun with curry-themed stalls.

This non-coffee drinker says there most definitely is! 

And last but by no means least, my personal favourite:
Just before I took that photo, a group of older ladies had lined up to have their picture taken under the sign – I like the way they think! Incidentally, another big difference between the two markets is that no one really takes photos at St George’s (unlike at Borough where you could shop for cameras almost as easily as for food) so I felt rather self-conscious taking all of these. I really didn’t want the stall-holders to think I was taking the mick, so for the record I’m not, I admire their comedic genius! 
The only area where there were a lot of cameras was the small petting zoo. Guinea pig in a basket? Very cute. Two-day old goat kids? Uber, uber, uber cute!! 

Selling stuff with Star Wars

Back in June there was:

Today, I discover that Queen’s University Belfast is running a one-day course entitled:

It’s part of their widening participation programme and will apparantly teach participants the psychological techniques behind Jedi mind-tricks. (hmmmm) There’s more info in Crib Sheet in today’s Education Guardian (you’ll need to scroll down a bit to find it).

Comically, QUB is the esteemed establishment my Dad teaches at. We used to give him a hard time when he was at the University of Gloucestershire (because my family like to be intellectual snobs) and believed QUB was a step up in the world. I did begin to wonder when one of his students wrote a thesis on the theology of Doctor Who. Clearly Star Wars wasn’t much of a leap after all.

And if you’re at all interested, the course takes place on November 15th…