Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Hunt for the Christmas Tree

To keep the festive spirit going strong into the new year (and Christmas Tree Death Day), Kate in the Countryside brings you a happy tale of Christmas Tree hunting in urban sprawl. 

BOF and I have been excited about acquiring our tree since last Christmas. Back then, pre-Pad, it seemed a little bold to acquire a festive shrub when we had nowhere to house it. So I spent my time wandering the snowy streets of London gazing jealously at window dressing to a soundtrack of James Blunt through frostbitten homeless ears.

This year all has changed. Firstly, no snow. Secondly, I am housed. Thirdly, I am in the process of becoming a grown up. Symptoms of this include (but are not limited to): negotiating rent with landlord; fixing internet so it no longer dies every time BOF and I youtube a song; wrapping presents in advance of Christmas day. And achieving The Christmas Tree before Christmas.
Friendly Giant
looked nothing like this

So, on the day allotted Tree Day, defying torrential rain, BOF and I met to hunt a Tree. This could not wait. Never mind that, post walk from work, I was already as drowned as a rat at swimming class. On the Titanic.

Rousing ourselves with carols, we scurried to Battersea Park to find (thanks Twitter) a charmingly ramshackle tree operation in the car park. Staffed by two men in kilts, one of whom was jumper-less and giant, the shop looked like an example of amateur entrepreneurship from a worthy Battersea resident. The tree chaperone was more rained on than I, this Friendly Giant, and looked positively gleeful. Only a true tree enthusiast could muster that much cheer in the face of such soggy adversity.

Poor BOF didn't know what he was getting himself into on the tree decision.

KITC: 'I want this one.'
Other Tree Man (OTM): 'That one is 52 pounds.'
KITC: 'What?? (teary) But I love it! And we can't afford that much. It's Christmas! How about … ten pounds?
OTM: This isn't really a bartering situation. We're a franchise.
BOF: Fifty-two pounds you say? Fine! Good! OK. Actually that is a lot why don't we find another tree? Maybe a shorter one? They might be cheaper you know.
KITC (lip wobbling): NO! I want this tree. It's the best tree by far. Can't you tell it's the best BOF?
BOF: We could get a littler one and put it on the table? Maybe?
OTM (gently - concerned I may be a child): OK how about I throw in some holly? And a stand?

Tree! Also Wellies. 
Finally everything was organised to our (my) satisfaction. A marginally smaller tree at a deeply superior price was purchased. And dead holly into the bargain! I was delighted. 

I carried the holly, BOF carried the tree. As we passed other soggy folk on the bridge I called 'Merry Christmas' to them all with levels of cheer that bordered on the hysterical. It was bloody brilliant. 

But, dear readers, next year I resolve to get the bigger one.

NB. It should be recorded that BOF carried the tree by himself all the way to the Pimlico Pad. From Battersea. Fan-mail should be directed to his agent (KITC in this instance) by postcard. Or in comment form below. Or Twitter (@kvlmason). Thanks.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

For Late Adopters

Late adopters of Kate in the Countryside have observed that - for the uninitiated - such an acronym-dense landscape can sometimes be tricky to navigate. 

It is for them, and for those whose knowledge of Kate in the Countryside is not as exhaustive as they might hope, that the crib sheet below came to pass. Diligent members of the readership would be advised to print out what follows and keep it in a handy place for reference. Perhaps an opportunity to familiarise oneself with laminating machine? 
Laminated items do keep better.
Just a suggestion
Kate in the Countryside began a year ago after the demise of my Carefree University Life at Cambridge. Returning from a month at the Edinburgh Festival, I found myself unemployed in The Countryside living with MD (Mother Dearest - of whom more later). The curious folk I found there proved an excellent source of solace and fascination. So the blog was born. When someone generously gave me a job months later, the blog travelled with me to London, where I found that the oddballs of Oundle were no stranger than those of Pimlico who now populate these pages.

KITC: Acronym of the name of This Blog. Also represents Kate the character at moments of dramatic importance.

Kate in the Countryside: name of This Blog. A misnomer (as is often observed) since I am no longer domiciled in The Countryside. Knowledge for the in-crowd, that. Like Magdalene being pronounced Maudlin. 

Pimlico: where Kate in the Countryside now lives with flatmate and co-star, BOF.

BOF: Belligerently Optimistic Flatmate. Formerly Belligerently Optimistic Future-Flatmate. This sobriquet refers to a sad time a year ago when we were both yet to be homed. But BOF's unflagging - if occasionally a little manic - optimism eventually secured us The Pad. A place with no graffitied doors and good-looking neighbours thrown in.

Pretty Neighbour (PN): Apple of BOF's eye. Attempts to seduce her / convince her to come over have as yet gone unrewarded. Though we did meet her once. Recently waking up to the fact that she may not be interested in boys. Bit galling, hence KITC's silence on the subject in recent months.

Spinning: one of London's gifts to the blog. I find myself being shouted and sworn at on a bike in a small room at the local gym with more regularity than I imagined possible. Run by...

The Shouter: Australian Spinning Trainer Man. He shouts. Suspect he may be in league with PG, who first introduced me to the local Pimlico hang outs and Spinning class.

PG: Pimlico Guru. Collaborator in Spinning sessions. Resident of Pimlico. Advisor in all things local. Word on the grapevine is that she may be leaving the gym. Updates impending.

Tactful Friend (TF): Non-Pimlico resident and regular facilitator of Nights Out. I have recently realised that such evenings always lead to encounters with London's Gits, for which this blog is very grateful.

Dogface: My dog. Interestingly, this is his real name.

Mother Dearest (MD): Mother of KITC. Teacher. Resident of Oundle. Recent adopter of Twitter. Follow her in real life (@msoundle) for the full metafictional KITC experience.

DM: Daddy Mason. Not to be confused with MD, DM lives in the Bahamas where he keeps swimming pigs. This may or may not be true.

Mysterious L: Most significant external contributor to KITC. True identity a mystery. Some say she exists only within the confines of the KITC world. 

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Paradise and Pigs: One Year On

Trips to the Bahamas to see Daddy Mason have been frequently reported here. One of the earliest episodes of Kate in the Countryside saw me duped into a race with some swimming pigs. This week I'm back on Paradise Island with the luminous Americans and their burgers, determined not to repeat that debacle.

Oundle Pig
[True, the Caribbean is not The Countryside, as many followers of Kate in the Countryside have somewhat pedantically observed. However, since even in Oundle the pigs cannot swim we will overlook this for now.] 

In a trip riddled with sporting activity as usual, DM and I started the week with an extremely curious run. It was with a group of people (ranging from youthful to extremely aged) who do jogs interspersed with beer stops. To give you some idea, the running group is sponsored by Sands, the local Bahamian beer. Apparently these Hash House running things take place all over the world. They even  have  a song. This week's run bafflingly took us through rotting rubbish and snakes in one of the most beautiful places in the world. 

But afterwards there was singing and beers on benches in the darkness. It felt like university - though with old people and warm weather. It was brilliant. 

And yes, we did return to Staniel Cay to catch up with the Swimming Pigs and their offspring. Shoot the breeze, admire their athletic physique, that sort of thing. This time last year, the Pig Leaders were first to the boat, pounding the waves with earnest desire for food, while their sweet little piglet chums (see above) paced the shallows, dreaming of when they'd be allowed on the waves.

Feed me Seymour: Bahamian Swimming Pig
I'm afraid to report that on our return this year there were only four pigs to be seen. No piglets. A passing American told us he'd heard there used to be fifty Swimming Pigs on the island. Perhaps they were all resting?

'Where are the piglets?' wailed KITC (devastated).
'I imagine someone's eaten them for supper,' said DM.

Last time their efficiency at swimming / eating / fighting seemed pleasingly noble. Over the past year they have become more terrifying than you could possibly imagine. Hungrily scrabbling at the sides of our boat, they nearly managed to launch themselves in and topple us out.

'Hit them!' advised DM, eagerly taking pictures.
I tapped one with the scraps bucket, which only seemed to exacerbate the problem. 

An American turned up and fed his bacon sandwich to one of the marauding beasts:
'Hah! Look at that y'all - he's eatin PIG!'

We left, trying hard not to think of the implications of this for the missing 46.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Zurich and the Zoo

Clearly the product of a country
that knows how to enjoy itself... 
Zurich might seem an odd place for a holiday. Efficiency and high prices seldom make for the best jaunts. But when an old bandcamp friend, Maestro-in-Training (MiT), moved out there, a visit was planned. And this is how I found myself in the wilds of urban Zurich last weekend with Pegson in tow.

MiT's encyclopaedic knowledge of Zurich was such that, if the conducting thing goes to pot, a fallback guided tour career awaits.

After local architecture, interesting geographical features and places of worship had been covered, we took a tram to the zoo. There are only four topics of conversation possible at any zoo. As follows:

1. Levels of liveliness of favoured beasts. Subtitled: 'Is it dead?'
2. Enclosure size. A certain space meets layman understanding of what is  appropriate for [large-ish animal] to live in. All others declared cruel.
3. Security of dangerous beast enclosures. Subtitled: 'That tiger could absolutely get out of there if it tried'. (Taking into account moats, electric wiring etc.)
4. Physical similarity of beasts to mutual friends. (This should really be at 1. My oft-remarked facial similarity to a monkey makes zoo trips endlessly hilarious. I love it, obviously.)

Passing the Chimp Enclosure for the fourth time that day, I finally dragged Pegson and MiT into another enclosure - the Seal House. They were still chortling about the monkey thing when a seal slid down the window and lay on its back on the tank floor not moving. At that moment a parent carrying its child pushed in front of us to get a closer look at the cute seals.
For Reference: A live seal

Fearful that seal death would scar the child for life, we knew we should intervene. 
'Right.' [whispered]
'Is it dead?'

The seal just lay there. On its back. Not moving.

'Did we just see a seal … die?' I ventured. 

Roaming meant googling 'how do seals sleep?' was out. The silence of death came upon the Seal House. Even the neighbouring months-old child had started to stare.

Other seals slipped by: their cheerful swimming highlighting more and more the stationary dead-ness of our floored friend. 

'Let's hit the gorillas!' Pegson said, gratefully seizing the opportunity for more monkey-based gags.

Nothing to be done. We scuttled past the forlorn seal-loving crowd. The Dead Seal opened one eye. He waggled a fin. Relief broke across the city.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

(Lucky) Escape to the Countryside

Apple Day happened last weekend. For those of you who are not familiar with this illustrious occasion, it celebrates the end of the apple harvest. It is not - as PG (in her other guise as the Apple Hostess) was quick to clarify - the one day in which all apples are picked on all farms. Thank God. It's more an educative opportunity regarding apples.

The weekend's warm up to Apple Sunday was not so cerebral.

Friday's quiet drink with friends involved an accidental visit to the m&m's 'World' in Leicester Square. There, bouncers wore m&m's ties while shop assistants with sad eyes danced uncomfortably to the hyperpop next to m&ms inexplicably arranged to look somewhat like the Beatles

'Just look at all the different flavours of m&m's!' enthused Unlikely Militant Raver, one of the chums, trying to stay upbeat. [There were three (3) flavours.] Failing to fight the place's atmosphere of canned hopelessness with enthusiasm, we left.

It became clear that - to UMR - such an experience could only be topped, post pub, by a visit to a strip club. No matter that it was 9.30 and a third of the party was female - UMR would not be deterred. Attention transferred from chocolate pellets to naked chicks, he struggled to get us on board.

'Come on you bores! It's this great place my Grandad's told me about. (Pause. Confusion.) We'll walk past - see what's going down.'

The club of choice is just by where I work. Which is nice. We approached the bouncer: 

'Oh look! What about this place?' (UMR, acting) 'We could just grab a drink in here guys.'
Bouncer: 'Lads, lads, er, this place is not the sort of place you go for - er - "drinks".'
UMR: Right. What sort of a place is it then?
Bouncer (both awkward and smarmy. Think apologetic Jeremy Kyle): Well, it's got girls in. 
UMR (politely, in manner of enquiry): Girls?
Bouncer (coy): So - er - a bottle of champagne will be … so I mean you'll have to buy drinks for the girls. 
UMR (feigning sudden understanding): Aaah! The girls take their clothes off!
All look at me.
KitC (scrambling for taking-charge-of-the-conversation pleasantries): Er … busy night so far? Good ... turnout? So. Shall I leave?

Thank God for Sunday and the wholesome opportunity to sample the repertoire of this year's apples. Down in the countryside I found an idyll of apple-enthusiasts - not to mention the highlight: PG stashed up in farm outfit. Occasional animals and aesthetically-pleasing children ambled past the apple juice like extras in an Austen remake. Though the long-promised Apple Quiz did not materialise, there were plenty of Enid Blyton activities (apple bobbing, old-school pinball) to make the day an extravaganza of loveliness. Kate in the Countryside restored.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Lads who Lunch

It's true that Kate in the Countryside ferrets around the outskirts of the fact that I have a job. I am not planning to break the habit and mention it now. But here is something that happens in the crux of working hours: lunch. More specifically, Pizza Hut

In software, in which I make my career, it is impossible to discuss things unless they're turned acronym. We're businesspeople remember? We haven't got time to sit down and bloody spell things out. We have deals to be doing. Levels of Angry Birds to be achieving. Cups of coffee to be drinking. 

So much you understand. For this reason, all of life must be slimmed down to as few characters as possible: Pizza Hut is PH. Benito's Hat (another old fave) is BH and Free Lunch Friday is FLF (I made that one up. We don't acronym Free Lunch. I don't know why not. Must check).

At about half eleven on your average day, the first hunger pangs will make themselves known in our office corner. We (the young folk) segregate ourselves onto a single table each day, largely for ease of lunchtime planning. It's a big decision, lunch.


Most days, our resident gourmet (known as Meesli) will look up, cast his eyes to the near distance, sniff the air for inspiration and muse, 'PH?' 

I find this enthusiasm for the All You Can Eat Pizza Hut deal fairly confusing. I imagined that I had left it behind when I found myself, aged seven, diving out of the way of a vomiting chum on his record fifth bowl of Ice Cream Factory. Happy days. For the Grad Lads though, it's the highlight of the week.

So last Tuesday we found ourselves at the Piccadilly Circus branch of the esteemed chain. All six of us grad scheme youth were in attendance. Given how often the chaps frequent this place, it was disappointing to find that the PH waiting staff didn't reward commitment with preferment. Crushed in a corner, a sizeable distance from the buffet counter, our table glistened with semi-wiped offerings from the party that preceded us. 

We sized up the - frustratingly sparse - buffet counter. Swiftly, the tallest and biggest of our number, Don, dived in. Knocking aside tables, chairs, small children and the occasional meatball, such was his enthusiasm, he sneaked in in front of a crowd of hungry Russian tourists.

Shepherding the rest of the team through the Volga brothers, Don seized a couple of pizza platters. As the crowd grew mutinous Meesli employed the vegetarian serving knife on a meaty pizza. Oblivious to the wrath of our Cold War cousins, I took the green-handled knife from Meesli to serve myself some veggie pizza, cross-fertilising the issue. The resulting fracas could have been heard in Beijing.

Keen not to seem the appetite wuss, I then snuck across to the salad bar to pad out my (frankly unambitious) plate, before returning to our grimy den. Alas, the mouldy salad collection was more noxious than the pizza. I unearthed two hairs, an egg and some extremely unusual-looking carrots.

And after that, all that remains is digestion. And a chocolate sundae. A perfect Tuesday.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Only Way is Chelsea (Part 2 - The Escape)

Scurrying from the previous episode's cosy Chelsea nightspot and its preponderance of gits, we hunted for a night bus. As the four of us walked along, we found ourselves being showered with CDs. Git 5 now stumbled up, apparently considering this glass-based attack a perfect way to charm the group. Tactful Friend attempted (tactfully) to dismiss him. So tactful was she he did not notice. Unlucky Friend asserted herself with more vigour, and dispatched the yob.

The best Google Images can do on the Flying CDs front
The presence of flying CDs yet unexplained we parted ways: the rest of the group south; Kate in the Countryside striking out alone the opposite way - back to the wilds of Pimlico

As I waited at the bus stop, the door to the flat opposite was abruptly flung open. Two boys fell out and started picking up the remnants of the flying CDs. 

They spotted me. I pretended to be fascinated by my book ('The Rum Diary' in case anyone's interested) but it was a fragile conceit.

'Come to a party!' Oddly, this chap seemed to be Not A Git. I looked up.

'Thanks - I'm afraid I have to catch a bus. Another time.'

Undeterred, he rolled out a string of (at the time, incredibly compelling) reasons why I should attend. At last, sizing them up as non-rapists and assessing their hallway to be neither the hallway of a crack den nor a Mormon haunt, I agreed. It's the King's Road remember. What could go wrong?

Up the stairs I ventured to a flat full of people I did not know. Here I was waylaid by Pensive Git (Git 6, for those of you still counting). Pensive Git had reached the contemplative stage of his evening and decided I was the perfect person to share his revelatory mood.

First I heard about his brother and his brother's plans for the future. Soon after, I was told about his early years at boarding school and the difficulties he'd had settling in, problems that were connected in some way to cattle farming - though I may be misremembering. We then moved on to a breakdown of his life objectives and career goals. He has a job interview in a couple of days and is planning to move into asset management, in case you were wondering. At this stage, he had yet to ask my name. However, since I'd just stumbled into the party of a bunch of people I'd never met, I couldn't really complain that the company wasn't up to scratch.

As he took to categorising the life lessons he'd learned up to and including tonight, he began to fumble at my knee. I realised at this stage that it was time to go. Hailing NAG, I announced my intention and thanked him for his hospitality. His enthusiasm was overwhelming, badly expressed - 'It's been seminal!' - and frankly quite sweet. Unfortunately Pensive Git seemed to believe my departure a come on.

'I'm leaving too!' he exclaimed. He groped for my name. 'Er... I'll show you, her, out yeah. Yeah. Bye then NAG.' He paused to embrace his old schoolfriend and, seizing my chance, I darted for the door.

Seminal indeed.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Only Way is Chelsea

I have recently realised that nights out with Tactful Friend always lead to encounters with London's Gits. This weekend was no exception. 

That'll be £64.50, thanks
On Saturday, we attempted an elegant and - yes - cripplingly expensive round of cocktails at a cosy Chelsea hangout. Two drinks in, the bar was so busy we were being made forcibly friendly with the lads beside us. And we couldn't afford enough cocktails for that.

Soon Git 1 lunged past, nearly smashing both Tactful Friend's face and drink. In moments our group turned chav, abusing the wretch with all manner of gestures. The X Factor's most illustrious judges would have been proud. 

Next, Git 2 arrived. Not a man I recognised, but two members of our party turned steely. Both recounted Git 2's actively aggressive (and repeated) attempts at charming them, instances I then realised I had witnessed. They went as follows:

Unlucky Friend (dancing uncomfortably and at some distance from Git 2) tries to edge away from his pursuit.
Git 2: 'Lighten up why don't you? Can't you just chill out and have a good time?!'
UF's lack of enthusiasm becomes so pronounced it's almost a condition.
'Come on!' Git 2 grabs wrists of UF, in manner of domestic violence infomercial, and enforces complex gyration.
UF bobs, casting increasingly repulsed looks to the rest of the group. At last, recalling the old failsafe, UF moves in to structure a line or two of conversation.
[Git 2 delighted.]
Pleasantries commence. Then, the bombshell:
UF: 'So I was saying to my boyfriend the other day…'
Git 2, scandalised, drops wrists with embarrassing haste - 'Boyfriend?! Thanks for wasting my fucking time' - and flees.

And so it's with horror we realise he's here again, approaching the bar and UF and clutching an unsteady drink.
'I wanted to apologise,' he slurs.
(UF hostile)
'This [proffers drink] is for you.'
(UF thawing) 'Aw. Thanks Git 2. It's OK - don't worry about it.'

Brent: A regular
Gits 3 and 4 approach at this point to replenish Git Quota:
'Need drinks, girls? Course you do. I'm getting them. (Loudly) Anyway so I said to him "Mate let me remind you - you're not the only son of an oligarch in this fucking place."'
Git 3 dissolves into laughter looking around at us all to check we're giving the riposte the wild enthusiasm it deserves.
We manage weak smiles, which seem to buy us the drink. Git 4 talks at me for a bit while Git 3 engages TF. Within moments we both develop a crippling need for the loo. 

As we depart, Git 2 warbles up, spies Unlucky Friend and smoothes back his hair:
'Well hey, you look like you need to chill out and have some fun tonight.'
'I have a boyfriend.'
'Right. Yeah. Oh fuck off then. [Sudden recognition] And you owe me a drink.'

Monday, 5 September 2011

Not to go on about Spinning, but...

There is no better Spinning image than this
Regular attendees of The Shouter's Spinning Class know that if you arrive late, you won't make the cut. All the spaces will be taken. You'll be left outside, bike-free, with nothing more than your own motivation between you and slobbery

Even traditionally early is not early enough. For a 7.15 start the class will be full by five past seven. One advantage of this is that if you're not really feeling up to it, you can turn up at 7.13 and tell yourself that it's not your fault that you just can't fit into the class, before returning to your Haagen-Dazs. Others are not so sanguine, and there have been aggressive scenes from those anticipating but deprived some sadomasochistic cycling.

Yesterday I was there the necessary fifteen minutes beforehand, to bagsy my bike with assertively placed water bottle. Despite this, I still had to satisfy myself with the dodgy one at the back by the giant speaker - all the others were already gone. Being at the back has its advantages, I consoled myself, in sheltering from The Shouter and his kind.

Yesterday was different to most days. In came a woman I had never seen before. She was coming to have 'a word' with the class, she explained.

'There have been complaints.'

Silence, but for the whirr of the bikes. (The serious keenos missing no opportunity to warm up.)

I've been away for a bit (getting concussed at netters, amongst other things) so I cowered in my corner, baffled. 

'Is there going to be fighting every week? Or was last week a one-off? Do you really think it's acceptable to reserve bikes so that others don't have the chance to get one?'

I was really starting to enjoy this now.

'For all of you who don't know me, I'm The Shouter's Wife (TSW),' she explained (I assume she works there too, but she might just be over-zealous). 'I have to come and talk to you because there have been so many difficulties with this class. So many complaints from and to management. You need to agree amongst yourself whose bikes are whose.'

By now, I felt like a seven-year-old Kate in the Countryside, sitting in front of Miss David at primary school as she explained to the yeargroup why it wasn't fair to leave Sophie out of games when she wanted to play too. But then, Sophie was a bag.

McEnroe: Banned from Spin Class
TSW was now explaining the intricacies of fair play. It was acceptable, she said, to save a bike before going to the loo - 'you need to be sensible' - but not before going for a lengthy stroll. I feared the lecture would never end. I was not the only one. 

At last: 'Are you going to behave?'

'Yes!' Shouted some errant fool, pre-emptively caught by the Spinning Room's adrenalin rush. They just love audience participation, these oldies.

'Right. We'll see if you can work things out for a month. If there's any more problems, we're going to have to … do something about it.' 

'Have a great lesson then you guys! Good to chat!'

In walked The Shouter, looking sheepish. You could almost hear the yummy mummies in the front row thinking how much nicer they were than his wife. If he'd only notice.