Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Greco-Roman Supporters Club

My frenzied enthusiasm for London 2012 has been building since that triumphant moment when we beat France at Agincourt (sorry - at an IOC meeting in Singapore). When the tickets were released a year ago I applied for every event I recognised, not to mention all the ones that looked authentically Olympian. This meant that Handball and horse dancing were out, but Greco-Roman Wrestling was very definitely in. 
England v France

And it was with great pride that my three ticket-wielding chums and I alighted a cheery Sunday London Underground and headed out to the ExCel centre ('you have checked this is in London haven't you Kate?') for some Greco-Roman frolics. 

We'd agreed on togas. Yet when the strapping army officer chum we'll call Harvey arrived at the Pad holding little more than a stolen towel to fashion into attire, chances of fulfilling our self-imposed dress code seemed slim. We had two pins between us and my bed sheet was sceptical about its reincarnation as an item of clothing. It had just started raining.

It was the weather that sharpened our resolve. We're British aren't we? Bad weather, arts and crafts and living in the past is what we do. By this stage the two of us were holding up proceedings so Harvey and I abandoned all pretences to modesty and trusted our luck to the safety pins. We went to rescue the third and fourth members of our Greco-Roman Supporters Club (GRSC3 and 4) from station and pub respectively. 

GRSC4 had adapted the Greco-Roman theme to include a fairground Union Jack hat, facepaint and a Union Jack for a cloak. He looked like a cross between Ronald McDonald and Count Dracula if they'd accidentally fallen into a BNP rally.

Over the wrestling itself, it is best if we draw a veil. Our ignorance - despite much youtube research - was total. There were some truly surprising moves that left us all perplexed that the event had not come with a PG-13 warning. There was a good bit when North Korea fought South Korea ('Who are we supporting?' 'Good Korea obviously') though we didn't quite catch the winner. There was a very small chap who cried when he lost, but the cheering that then followed him out of the building was as heart-warming as it was deserved. 

I'm not going to rabbit on about the atmosphere like some Matt Baker lookalike, but the good-humour and enthusiasm of the crowd (despite the terror-inducing brutality before our eyes) was a sight to behold. Neighbours coveted our union jacks, though no Briton was represented that session. Others praised our costumes with un-British enthusiasm that turned out to be neither sarcastic nor fearful. 

At the end of the day, back on our Noble British Public Transport System, we wended our separate ways knowing that we'd been a part of something great. And if we'd never been quite sure who won, over at Wimbledon Andy Murray was busily claiming his Gold, so we (I) got the opportunity to blub with pride after all.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Jubilee Frenzee

Fig. 1
It was the Belligerently Optimistic Flatmate's birthday recently. Off galavanting in Dusseldorf, I could not be there, so I've been trying to make up for it with the provision of treats. 

Happily, this doubles as an opportunity to cram the Pad with Jubilee baubles. I've been cultivating a bit of a habit. This means that if I see something with the Queen's face or a Union Jack on, or (even better) some combination of the two, I buy it. Anyone in the UK at the moment will recognise that, with three weeks until Flotilla Day, this could lead to personal financial catastrophe. Shops are rammed with the stuff.

Fig. 2
And it started so well. Union Jack-flavoured Body Wash [Fig. 2] and Jubilee Marmite [Fig. 3] are - I'm sure you'll agree - perfectly useful items. Not to mention that there's a recession on: it's our duty to spend ourselves to safety. But how much shortbread can a small household of two realistically consume? Even if it does come in a tin with Grenadier Guards [Fig. 1] emblazoned upon it.

BOF, as you might expect, is very much on board with the flag-fest. He's spent the past three weeks trying to instigate compulsory bunting on his desk at work, to no avail. It's almost as if his colleagues are becoming hostile to the whole event.

Such domestic support makes my themed oniomania even harder to restrain. It's also vicarious. We don't need to actually own the tat to take pleasure in it. Much better to force it on other people.

Fig. 3
It goes like this:
BOF: Do you know I saw the most amazing Union Jack luggage the other day.
KITC: You should probably get it.
BOF: Yes! No. I'm saving for school fees.
KITC: (downcast) OK.
BOF: Is there anyone we know with a birthday coming up?
BOF: My mum could probably do with some more Union Jack crockery - let's get that.
KITC: And we'll need another Grenadier Guard tin to put it in. 
BOF: Good thinking.

It was as I found myself, all Jubilee-Special-Carrie-Mathisonbeing gently removed from the picnic section in Waitrose by a concerned BOF, grasping for 'Royal' Moet as I passed, that I realised it's becoming a problem. There is just not enough money in the world or space in the Pad for this.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

BOF and the Most Efficient Holiday

Belligerently Optimistic Flatmate had a week off recently. He used it wisely, as a springboard for money-saving initiatives. I'm not sure if this is normal. Back at university, whole weeks could slip by without the achievement of a single task. Now that we're grownups, every hour not spent in useful activity is an hour wasted. 

Case in point: last year, my friend Sam (Surprisingly A Mother) had a baby. On the first day of maternity leave from her cut-throat shiny-happy job, she tweeted: 'So much free time! What shall I do with myself?'

Being green is sexy
Oh Sam. How can this be? Was it so long ago that we were students applauding ourselves each time we produced a sentence? We spent whole weeks in Topshop; hours on Facebook; days walking to and from the library in a nonchalant fashion. Not to mention all that time playing quiz machine. The very act of tweeting bespeaks an unhealthily efficient attitude to social media. 

To return to BOF, now investigating insulation. The first step was the acquisition of meters. As I understand it, the council provides such things for free on request. Apparently, our saving on electricity may amount to almost a whole pound per month. The downside is that the cold water no longer runs. How very green.

But Project Efficiency did not end here. Next came the world's most thorough washing-up episode. Pans, spoons, unused tea-pots: nothing was forgotten. It was great. BOF even took the thin vases in hand (fret not money-saving mavens, the retail orgy* that produced them took place in IKEA). They are impossible to clean: but he did have a good go at getting a sponge stuck inside one with a wooden spoon.

I should take some responsibility for the money-saving madness. I performed a devious act a few weeks back. I discovered the bargain that is Sainsbury's own brand tea

'Bring back the PG' begs BOF
27p! Eighty tea bags! Surely they couldn't be twelve times worse than your average PG Tip? 

They are. The tangy taste of dust puts a real downer on your day. What I want to do is bin them. But we've renounced waste, so we muscle through. 

BOF thinks I haven't noticed that he has been surreptitiously buying new tea and adding it to the top of the 27p box. One day, we will stumble across our Basics Tea again, decomposed to compost at the bottom of the cupboard, a small tea tree growing from it. 

We shall use it for a window box! The greenest of city activities. Equilibrium restored.

*That will play havoc with my keyword search. I've already had 'horny cockroach' bring someone to the Kate in the Countryside homepage this week. What a disappointment that must have been.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Race Riot?

Many of you expressed horror at last week's Kate in the Countryside, which saw KITC party to the worst case of sporting sabotage this century. Or so we thought. 

Trenton, mate, if you want to be taken seriously...
Then came Saturday: the day the world met Trenton Oldfiled. A self-proclaimed Suffragette of our times, Trenton is man so committed to the fight against elitism that he ignores the elitist principles of spelling even for his own name.

It was 1pm and grey when I left the Pad for the river. In my cautiously worn Blues stash I fitted in perfectly with the baying braying crowd. The mood was obnoxious and cheerful. 

Oh who am I kidding? I love the Boat Race. In spite of the weather, the banks of the Thames were heaving with enthusiasts emboldened by Pimm's. It was impossible to find anyone or to move. Cast up between a cake stall and the entrepreneurial burger table, I was in danger of accidentally buying a hot dog when my fellow spectators found me.

One, dressed in even more stash than I, had not worn a coat. 

'You must be cold?' I asked.
'No. I've got nine Blues,' he explained.

We kept moving to avoid all the other awful people, and they, us. Soon, the two boats passed, Oxford just ahead.

'Oh God,' moaned Nine Blues, 'it's only just started. We've lost.'

'Watching' the Boat Race by the Thames is a bit of a contradiction in terms. Though you are treated to a lot of atmosphere (read: tweed) you can't see much rowing. There's a good bit for about ten seconds when the boats pass near enough for you to work out which is which but, other than that, we'd had our allotted excitement. When the group in front of us were splashed by the convoy's wake and a girl dropped her drink it was already had one of the most eventful Boat Races I'd ever been to.

We wandered back down towards the start and its giant TV screen. We observed a pigeon. We wondered whether to have another lukewarm beer.

The drink-dropper seemed determined to liven things up: 'Hey look, there's a bloke in the water. Someone's fallen in!

This seemed unlikely. Rowing is a simple sport.

'It's a streaker!' I suggested optimistically.
'It's a protest,' volunteered a radio-carrying gent who was passing.

Like I say, you can't see much at the Boat Race. We called a friend.

'Some cretin jumped in. They're restarting the race,' he explained.
We all agreed that the crews should have carried on and got him.

It was at that point we gave up on the live experience and headed to a pub. As for the #boatraceswimmer, we don't need to talk about him. That pratty little man and his God complex and his beard. And his imbecilic ranting. So we won't. You know the rest. 

But be warned Oldfeild: England is unhappy with you. And we won't miss again.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Email Squash

It was with foreboding that I opened my email last week to find a message from a Sarah Loughton entitled 'Squash'. An innocuous title, you might think. Wrongly.

An in-joke I'm afraid.
Hint: moustache
Keen followers of Kate in the Countryside (all others please consult glossary here) will know of my enthusiasm for squash. These days, the only other fans of the game are aged gents. They played when Jonah Barrington (squash player) was almost a celebrity and flares were in. Squash back then was a cool game, or so Daddy Mason likes to tell me. But then he does have a moustache. 

Opportunities for squash games down at my local Pimlico gym are numerous. Saturday's Fight Club, where we tough things out on the squash court to make up for the indignities of office work, is one example. But Sarah Loughton's email relates to the squash league. It's a friendly league for those who like to indulge in the odd gentle game.

Ah, Sarah. She doesn't play squash. At least, I've never actually met the girl but I sense it to be true. Ms Loughton is the diligent PA of Bob, one of my opponents in the league. And she takes her duties very seriously indeed.

Dear Kate

Bob would like to set up his game with you for this month. He is free on Monday 4th, Wednesday 6th, Saturday 9th, Tuesdays 12th and 19th but not Tuesdays 5th or 26th. Thursdays are usually not best. Please respond as soon as possible with your availability.


I already spend much of my life replying to emails. And not all of them about squash. Receiving an email like this usually makes me retreat to my room where I can put on Harry Potter tapes very loud and sit in a corner humming madly to myself. But Sarah does not like to be ignored:

Dear Kate,

Bob is no longer available on the Tuesdays as advised, but will be free on the 5th. Sunday 10th and Thursday 14th or Friday 15th….

Bob would like to play his games in the second week of the month this time. Tuesday 17th 3rd or Sunday 30th (not Saturday) may be best. Wednesday….

Please detail your availability at your earliest convenience. Bob's mother has….

It becomes a game. I send back impossible chains of numbers to which Sarah replies with one liners. We get nowhere. I don't even want to play this man. He wears a DT teacher's visor on court and last time we played he ran into me so hard that I was winded. Twice.

Then, last week, she strikes:

Since you never seem to reply we ['we?' What is this? Are we going for two-on-one here? Surely unfair] will be claiming a walkover if you do not get in touch.

Imagine this in email form
I spend the next two days crafting an email of such impenetrable niceness that it can surely lead to no more conflict. I can't take this any more. I have a full time job!

Next day: a forwarded email to accompany Sarah's helpful scribings. She has spoken to the League Master and he has obligingly agreed to remove me from the league. 

A sad day.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Pimlico Social Scene

Much as we worry that Pimlico is the new Clapham, Belligerently Optimistic Flatmate and I are still overexcited each time we learn of a new local university chum. Boris-Biking back from Tesco the other day (we're branching out from Sains), I nearly ran over an old friend crossing the road. 

'Whoopsy!' I cried (too jovially) - 'Gosh good to see you, old chap! It's like Cambridge all over again isn't it?' Passing youths eyed me pityingly until I, embarrassed, veered into the path of an oncoming zimmerframe. Not an edifying sight.

Another burger? Anyone?
One great thing about the influx of old university friends is that the Pimlico Social Scene is expanding into an (almost) real scene. When sunshine broke through the other day, we were summoned to an optimistic barbecue down the road. It wasn't long until the barbecue plans were canned - occasional bursts of smoke have no impact on raw burgers - but happily the meat feast continued in the kitchen. There, the quantities consumed would have made Henry VIII feel a bit awkward.

One of the girls (a hottie from Netball Crew no less) had brought 'Banana Ketchup' back from her hols. She enthused about it until people dared try it. Some were kind ('just the sort of thing I bet would taste perfect on a sunny beach'); some less so ('It looks like snot').

Holiday ketchup soon came in useful later however. Then, rendered incapacitated by meat we could only slob about flicking it at one another. 

'Let's play charades!' suggested one inexplicably lively [perhaps vegetarian?] member of the group.

I wasn't too enthused by this plan - I hate games I never win - but it soon fell out of favour. The table was held hostage to something else...

'I have a fact,' Bilbo (one of our hosts) proclaimed. 'I shall tell it. Ahem. More than ten people a year are killed by vending machines.'

There was a silence, which Bilbo took for approval.

'Also - wait for it - the world's oldest piece of chewing gum is over 9000 years old!'

Few could have guessed that the dissemination of choice facts would prove so contentious. Suddenly others were fighting for the floor. Avid Tweeting Medic (ATM) spoke first: 'I've got one! I've got one it's: Seven lions are ... no wait - that's wrong. Seven tigers are... Hang on.'

ATM's girlfriend tried helpfully to cover the hiatus: 'I've got one!'
ATM: 'No you don't.'
'Yes I do.'
'No you don't.' By this point he had discreetly found randomfactgenerator.net on his iPhone under the table. 'HA! Right - I've got one: The average female IQ is marginally higher than the male IQ.' 


'That's not a very good fact!' observed Bilbo delightedly. 'An American urologist once bought Napoleon's penis for $40,000.'

'I've got a fact about Banana Ketchup!' ventured another. And the evening descended into chaos.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Now this may come as a surprise to you...

New Pimlico Residents
There is nothing of note happening in the world apart from the Snow. So that is what this week's Kate in the Countryside is about. No punchline, no fictional dog adoption - just snowy struggles from the incapacitated capital. 

Everyone knows that the London Underground doesn't run in the snow. So as I clambered through the blizzard to a birthday party in Borough last night, full taxis passed with gay abandon. Snow can make a mockery of even the most sensible of heeled boots, so my ability to walk had taken a hit. At last an empty taxi advances into view, its light gleeful in the dark. I flag it down. 

'Hello! Bermondsey Square please?' 
'I'm not taking you to Bermondsey Square love! It's only a few yards down that way.'
I should have argued, I know that now.  His was the only empty cab for miles around. I was lost half a mile from my goal and didn't even know it. But I was weakened by snow.
'OK, thanks! Great! Thanks for your help!' The window closed before I reached 'thanks'. Who needs snow in their cab anyway?

I strode on, sustained by thoughts of snowball fights and hot drinks and cursing my lack of iPhone map. Moments from my destination, I fell splat against a bin. I almost managed to laugh.

Bonus seat padding
The morning brought another travelling conundrum. This I resourcefully solved by Boris Bike. Cycling through slush and cliché from Vauxhall to Pimlico, I was so excited by the charm of the moment that I found myself waving to complete strangers. 

Boris has obligingly stationed a bike rack right outside the front door of the Pad. So smug was my face as I replaced the bike, I almost expected someone to pelt me with snow. Mr Shop in the corner shop downstairs is not happy with the new bikes - 'What are they for anyway? Who uses them? Tourists! They'll just get themselves killed' - but Belligerently Optimistic Flatmate and I are delighted. Frankly, what could be more fun than riding without a helmet over black ice on a clunky bike that - let's face it - can't really change direction?

I raced in through the front door to share the story of my biking triumph with BOF. The Pad is a winter wonderland. The Christmas lights are still up - snow makes them less festively needy, we reason. There is also an ailing poinsettia on the windowsill, which BOF bought in a fit of festive enthusiasm. It commenced dying barely had it left Sains, but now that we're ready for it to die, it is thrusting back to life.

Outside in Pimlico the snow clears. And the deer go home.