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… 

The catastrophic combination of escalators and luggage

There are two things that I get rather nervous around, on quite a rational basis:
Escalators and trolley cases.

The first is entirely my mother’s fault (my sister and I are agreed on this). We both vividly recall an expedition on the underground when we were children where a woman in front of us dropped her travelcard as we approached the top of the escalator. She bent down to try and pick it up, desperately trying to catch the flimsy piece of card before the end of the escalator sucked it away. My mother, no doubt terrified that this woman would block our exit from the escalator and cause a human pile up, yelled at her to give up and get out of our way – which I suspect she did.

I’ve chronicled my fear of escalators before, but it is particularly acute when getting off upwards ones – the fear that if your exit is blocked you will fall back down the steps, causing injury to yourself and others. Plus, I’ve seen it happen, terrifyingly, on down escalators where someone has fallen at the bottom and people couldn’t get past and in the time it took for someone to press the emergency button 15 people were piled on top of each other. Arghhhhh!

Trolley cases are similarly awful – but I’m fairly sure I have no one to blame for the fear than myself. I strongly dislike those short ones business people tote, because you can’t see them until it’s almost too late and you fall over them. In fact, my mum was recently on a course with someone who, that morning, had come a cropper thanks to one of them. He ran to jump on a tube that was already on the platform and didn’t see the short trolley case someone in front of him was pulling along. He tripped over it, landing with his head just inside the tube doors, just as they closed – on his head. Fortunately that was the worst of it (it could have been much worse) and he lived to tell the tale.

When you combine escalators and trolley cases, things get even worse. One Christmas, en route back to the shire, someone in front of me on the escalator at Paddington overbalanced owing to the weight of the two cases she had with her. Were it not for the pre-Christmas crush of passengers, she would have fallen down a very steep escalator. As it was, I was able to hold her up and someone caught one of the cases she had lost hold of – but it was utterly terrifying.

As a rule, I’m generally very cautious when travelling with my case [yes, I may hate them, but I do have to own one – they are of course one of the easiest ways in which to carry luggage]. I have a particular routine when using escalators. The case handle moves from my right to my left hand, so that I’m able to hold on to the rail with my right, ensuring my stability and safety. Usually this is fine – unless I’m distracted…

The other week, C and I returned to London after a frenetic week working in Southport, arriving at Euston in the middle of rush hour. We chatted away as we approached the escalator down to the tube, which, combined with the crowd of commuters, distracted me from getting things into the right hands. I stepped on to the escalator, reached for the rail and lost grip of my case – I turned round to see it standing firm at the top, while I was carried away from it. Embarrassment, clumsiness and apologies followed. I tried to walk back up to claim it, but wasn’t quick enough. Luckily a Knight in Shining Armour (ok, male commuter in their early 30s) grabbed hold of it and carried it down the escalator to where I was sheepishly waiting. C had gone on ahead, clearly determined to distance himself from this utter idiot.

Do you know what the topic of conversation was that so distracted me from my luggage carrying duties? A sign, just by the tube entrance, informing passengers that 17 people had been injured owing to alcohol on the escalators and 37 had been injured because of luggage. The irony.

It wasn’t this sign, but something similar – this is Baker Street’s version.

I think I was making the point to C that surely this was a stat to be proud of? Isn’t it better that alcohol related injuries are down? Needless to say, one should be very wary of both escalators and luggage (and alcohol, but I bet you knew that one already).

When mothers get Tweeting

I’m not entirely sure if my family needed another means by which to communicate, but as of 2 weeks ago it would appear that at least the female Clutterbucks can now tweet each other. Two weeks ago, I was perusing my recently acquired followers [this makes me sound super popular, I don’t have that many new ones generally] and as I scrolled down the screen, the Twitter handle ‘RevDSClutterbuck‘ stood out. On further inspection, I read the following description:
“I am a Methodist Minister who works as a coach, supervisor and trainer. I am married and have two daughters who will be amazed to find me on Twitter.”

Amazed would be something of an under-statement. I choked on my cup of tea in astonishment. 

The parents aren’t on Facebook (this was mutually agreed) and they don’t write blogs (though they do read this), but Twitter looked as though it would have potential for my mother’s line of work and her love of networking generally. However, I don’t think we ever thought she’d get round to doing it. Further delving revealed that she had signed up while waiting for a plane at Birmingham International, following a link to Twitter on my blog. It also revealed that of her two daughters, she was only following me – hurrah! A victory for the eldest, favourite child! (Of course it turned out that it took her a couple of days to work out how to add people. Once she did, equality was restored. [It should be pointed out that younger sibling actually took 10 days to get around to following her mother…]

Anyway, mother is slowly getting the hang of Twitter (though has yet to work out how to create a profile photo) and even managed to tweet her first celebrity last week – something that stunned me. It went a little like this…
On Thursday evening I retweeted a Chris Addison tweet regarding that evening’s Mock the Week episode:

Now, Mock Of The Week is on BBC2 now. Unless you’re in Northern Ireland, where it’s on later due to the ferry bringing the VHS being late.

[This a pet peeve of mine whenever I’m in Belfast – all the good stuff’s on a couple of hours later than on the mainland, due to ‘regional programming’ which is invariably unfunny and dull.]
The following day, my mum replied to this tweet – when I saw it I was stunned. Only a week into Twitter and already tweeting celebrities? And a comedic celebrity at that?! Wow. So the next time we spoke I asked her about it and it turned out she had no idea she was communicating with someone famous – she thought that the ‘Chris’ in question was my colleague C…hmmmm, nope. Fortunately, I am proud to say that my mother’s tweet was comedy (she is not her daughters’ mother for nothing), though containing some errant punctuation: 

@mrchrisaddison that’s not actually the reason, we are in a different time zone. When it’s 20.11 in London it’s about 19.91 in NI. [No idea why she’s included the full stops in the dates – might be an iPhone thing.]

If only she hadn’t followed that tweet with one to me telling me that 30 is the age at which one should procreate…

On mothers, birthdays and technology

It’s my Mum’s birthday today, so I thought I’d dedicate this post to her – and her iPhone…

Mum has been iPhoned up for just over two years. Yes, I was rather jealous when she acquired it, but could quite help wondering if this was really the right phone for her. Not so much the fact that she doesn’t really listen to music, so the iPod element would go unused, more the fact that its myriad functions might be lost on someone not quite so technologically savvy.

It didn’t take long for my fears to be realised. A few months later I was on holiday in America and keeping my parents informed of my adventures via semi-regular e-mails. One morning, sat at a computer in a hotel in DC, I read an e-mail from my Dad in which he said that he’d read my last e-mail to Mum over the phone as she was away with no internet. Some time later I thought about this and realised that, with an iPhone, reading e-mails was possible virtually anywhere. Once home I asked and, sure enough, she hadn’t got that feature of her new phone up and running yet.

It would be wrong of me to suggest that she can’t use it – she definitely can, unlike my Dad who will talk to us using it, but hands it back at the end of the chat with the words “here you are dear, I never know how to hang up on these things!”. Sure, there are the odd mistakes we all make – yesterday she texted to ask if I wanted salad or sardines for lunch (I deduced she meant sandwiches, given my hatred of fish). She’s got quite a useful array of Apps, from Tune In radio to the English Cricket Board and Irish Weather (perpetually grey cloud and rain, apparently). However, it seems she still has something to learn about the phone’s inbuilt functions.

Last month we had dinner next to St Paul’s. She was staying in Farringdon and wondered how she would get back – so I suggested she look it up on her phone. It seems she wasn’t entirely aware that this was possible, or that while in the map feature, you could use the phone to show exactly where you are. Canny, isn’t it? She was amazed. (So was I, but for entirely different reasons). Talking about this yesterday, it seems Google Maps has become a regularly used tool for navigation – who’d have thought it?

Yesterday brought a new revelation. My sister was telling how, over the weekend, she and her husband had been sat in the beer garden of their local and decided to listen to the News Quiz to drown out the noise that the other locals were making. Mum seemed surprised and asked how they had done this, to which Mim replied that they’d simply played it on her iPhone. Mum wanted to know if they had speakers with them, at which point we realised she had little knowledge of the iPhone’s inbuilt speakers…

I had to demonstrate with this week’s Wittertainment and she was rather impressed. In fact, this could be a revelation – listening to Archers podcasts in the bath, falling asleep to Women’s Hour on iPlayer [actually, iPlayer is something else we really need to convert her to] – all things that make my life much richer.

Happy birthday mother dearest! We only mock you because we love you – and because others mock us for being girls who don’t understand technology properly.