And miles to go before I sleep…

Why, oh why do I always leave everything to the last minute? There are 11 days until my leaving date, and only yesterday did The Fear finally kick in enough to make me start panicking and trying to get organised. It’s hard to think about sitting down and writing an even vaguely entertaining blog post when the majority of your house looks something like this:

Disorganised Chaos. So just \'chaos\', really.

 And that’s the least of it. Eagle-eyed readers should be able to spot the roll of tape hanging from my laptop. This is because it is dying. Dying. I have resorted to taping it together so that all the internal connections are pushed together to an extent where things actually appear on the screen. It’s all very upsetting.

I type this hastily thrown together blog post amidst a sea of priceless (and worthless) possessions, and growing feelings of despair and panic. I’m trying to be ruthless and just get rid of anything I don’t genuinely need. The theory is that everything else will then fit into this:

Excuse me while I laugh mockingly at my own theory. The things you find, though! Carefully collected merchandise… childhood books and toys… notes passed amongst schoolfriends… mix tapes made as a dreamy teenager… gifts received long ago… hundreds and hundreds of photographs…

It is a long, emotional, nostalgic and unsettling process. And some people are just no help at all:

Let it grow, let it grow, let it grow…

Jo stands back, exasperated, brandishing the scissors dangerously close to my ear.

“No, this isn’t right at all,” she says, looking harrassed, “I just think it’s far too sensible for you. It makes you look… I don’t know…” she pauses, searching for the right word. “Sane,” she concludes sadly.

“It’s too ‘old’ for her,” agrees Jo’s next customer, who has wandered into the room and is watching the Emergency Hair Summit with great interest. I expect she thinks I’m 16, as seems to be the common misconception lately. Interestingly, looking like a woman is not actually something that will put me off The New Hair.

Jo takes a fourth run at it, diving in with hairdriers, round brushes (three of), mousse, gel, and the all-important scissors. I have not spoken in quite some time, as it appears that it’s really nothing to do with me. I am sitting obediently in the chair, and the fate of The Hair is solely in the hands of Jo and (apparently) Jo’s next customer. I have said nothing about the beehive-like monstrosity that is the top of my head. I trust Jo. She is an artist of hair.

There,” she says finally, inspecting me from all angles, cutting out a few more random chunks of hair for good measure, and spraying me with hairspray until I choke. I look dubiously at my reflection. It is a perfectly sensible haircut, but one which Jo has obsessively tweaked in a desperate attempt to make it look more “Hails”. At least there is no hairband in sight. “That’ll have to do until it grows a bit more,” she tells me, sounding only semi-satisfied. I have a sudden moment of panic, as I realise that in two weeks from now I’ll no longer be in the country and The Hair will be entirely in the hands of a foreign hairdresser. Dread fills my heart as I imagine trying to explain my image, in a foreign language, to someone who is not Jo.

Jo sighs. “You’re going to be back here within a week to get the spikes put back in, aren’t you?” she asks in the tone of one who has just wasted her entire morning. I look nervously at her, and she aims the hairdrier at me in quite an alarming way. “Don’t give in to it!!” she warns, looking slightly dangerous. Jo is very passionate about hair. “Let it grow! It’ll all be OK in the end. You have to trust me, here.”

Life is just full of major traumas and difficult decisions.

Hair and Now (and Then)

I arrive at Max and Joy’s house for tea.

Mini-Joy comes running to greet me, but stops suddenly and just stares intently at me. “Hello, Mini-Joy!” I say cheerily, crouching down. “What have you been doing today?”

She continues to gaze at me. “What,” she says finally, sounding more disturbed than I’ve ever heard a small child sound before, “is going on with your hair?”

Well, really. It was bad enough when it was just adults, but The Hair has clearly reached such unprecedented levels of horror that it’s traumatising youngsters. I attempt to explain the whole Hair situation to Mini-Joy, who interrupts me mid-rant. “Are you wearing a hairband?” she asks in disbelief. I refuse to justify myself to a 4-year-old.

We retreat to the living room to colour in instead. I am very good at colouring in, and I begin to relax, forgetting about The Hair as I concentrate on staying inside the lines. “Hayley,” says Mini-Joy thoughtfully, pausing to change crayons, “you have got to get rid of the hairband. It is really very very not good.”

It’s a surreal experience, being in the company of children. As Max and Joy are putting Mini-Joy to bed (apparently a two-person job), I am left cuddled up on the sofa with Mini-Max. He is enjoying his bottle, I am enjoying my newest most favourite discovery in the whole wide world: Nick Junior‘s Classic Kids TV slot. Rainbow! Rod, Jane and Freddy! Up above the streets and houses! Thomas the Tank Engine! The Fat Controller! Ringo Starr doing deadpan commentaries! The Wombles! Underground, overground! Uncle Bulgaria! Paddington Bear! Bagpuss! Camberwick Green!

I don’t think I’ve ever before placed so many exclamations in sequence, on this blog! And I can’t stop! Such is my enthusiasm for the delights I am experiencing tonight, as memory after memory from my childhood flashes before my eyes thanks to the magic of cable. I cling tightly to the sleepy baby in my arms, who is my excuse for the fact that I am watching these shows, despite the fact that he is too small to even hold his own head up. I feel this is irrelevant, as he is bound to be experiencing the benefits of at least hearing Rod, Jane and Freddy singing about butterflies, bats etc. It will help him, somewhere in his developing subconscious.

After all, this is what I grew up with. And look how I turned out.

Superior Tactics

Well, really. I’ve just seen the following advertisement on Facebook.

Awesome Rooms For Rent

Probably too nice for you, though! We’d rather have your friends. Do them a favour, let them know!

I feel rather offended. Obviously, such an arrogant marketing ploy failed to have the desired effect on me, and I was not curious enough click on the link to their site, where I was not at all impressed by their apartments, and did not agree in the slightest that they were perfectly correct in their initial assumption.

It’s a bit much to take when adverts start firing outright insults at you. Is this the way forward?

Lidl – because you’re too poor to shop at Sainsbury’s.

WeightWatchers – Have you looked in a mirror lately? So you do know how fat you are?  You big hippo.

Max Factor – You have a face like the back of a bus. Do us all a favour and cover it up.

Smirnoff – If everyone had a life as dismal as yours, our sales would go through the roof.

I’m not entirely convinced that it’ll catch on, but you never know, I suppose.

Red Nose Day Part II

It’s my own fault, I suppose, for being so unwilling to spend more than a couple of quid on jewellery. Perhaps if my nose studs were more expensive, they’d be less likely to fall apart, bend, and start catching on towels and tissues and things in a potentially painful manner.

I gathered all my equipment (tissues, antiseptic solution, mirror, new nose stud) and looked around at my friends, who’d called in to say hi and been greeted with Operation Insert New Nose Stud, Phase Two. “Here goes,” I announced grimly. Dirk, disinterested, grunted and curled up underneath a blanket, apparently choosing sleep over being supportive. I began to twist and pull at my damaged nose stud.

15 agonising minutes later, the stud was out and my nose was once again Rudolphesque. “OK, so now what?” asked Jay, having watched the whole process with morbid fascination. “Now she puts the new one in!” said E2 with unmerited levels of positivity. “Yes,” I confirmed, less confidently. “Argh!” I squealed 10 minutes later, as I failed yet again to find the exit point on the inside of my nose. Jay, holding the mirror for me, looked horrified at the sight of the stud that was now half-in, half-out of the piercing.

“Dude,” he remarked finally, “are you even capable of taking this as a sign that stabbing yourself in the nose with a piece of sharpened metal is simply not natural?” I glared at him, and he fell silent. “Want me to have a try?” asked E2, sounding characteristically supportive and helpful. Trustingly, I presented her with my nose. She wiggled the nose stud around for a while, and I flinched slightly.

“Oh, I can’t do it! I can’t hurt you! I’m sorry!” cried E2 in a great deal of distress. I sighed and continued alternately stabbing myself in the nose and whimpering in pain. “At least it’s good to know that it’s totally worth it,” said Jay, sounding disgusted. “I’m going home. Good luck, Hails.” He left, most unsupportively.

E2 and I continued with the battle. There was a vague stirring in the corner of the room, as Dirk opened one eye and observed the upsetting scene. “Just twist it,” he growled, half-asleep.

“I can’t twist it,” I snapped, annoyed, “because I can’t get it through to the other side!”

“It’s at an angle, you idiot,” he said calmly, “and if you twist it, it’ll go through.”

I twisted it to prove him wrong, and it went through with no pain, effort or difficulty whatsoever. “Oh,” I said, sheepishly.

Dirk shook his head and went back to sleep.

I hate it when I’m wrong, but more so when I could have been saved a lot of pain by the person who’s right just making the effort to be right half an hour earlier.


I send Jo a very harrassed text message. I’m not sure if it’s even possible for a text message to be harrassed, but if it is, then this one certainly merits that description.

Hair has reached emergency horror stage. Urgently need help. Please advise.

I return to staring gloomily into the mirror.

My problem is that I get bored too quickly. There was absolutely nothing wrong with my funky spikey haircut (ignoring Max’s opinion that it looked like I’d been dragged through a hedge backwards and then put hair gel on the resulting mess). It made me look dangerous, rebellious, super-confident and even a little bit crazy. It also took approximately 23 seconds to style. All good. However, a year on, and I feel that I need a change. When I mentioned this to Jo several weeks ago, she said “Just let it grow for a while and we’ll see what we can do before you leave the country”.

By last week, The Sister was visibly flinching every time she saw The Hair. The Sister cannot leave the house without applying full make-up, straightening her hair to ruler-like standards, and ensuring that she is impeccably dressed. This is probably why she is the one who gets asked out on dates, and I am the one who sits at home watching Ally McBeal and arguing with the cat. Anyway, The Sister has been finding The Hair difficult to cope with. After several remarks about how I “really must do something” with it, and several frustrated attempts to tuck bits behind my ears, she arrived home from the town with a hair band and child’s clips.

“Sit still!” she ordered, taking charge of the situation with grim determination.

Now I still have Mad Hair, but it is heavily decorated Mad Hair. And the other day someone thought I was 16. The whole thing is just woeful. I wake up in the morning and am momentarily frightened when I catch sight of The Hair in the mirror. It sticks out at all angles in a genuinely terrifying manner. I realise that it always stuck out at all angles when it was spiked, but now the ‘spikes’ are the length of my index finger, and that’s not so good.

And so I have sent out a cry for help. Jo phones me immediately. “Right,” she says in a comfortingly businesslike way, “there is no need to panic. How bad is it?”

“It’s bad, Jo!” I wail hopelessly. “And not only that, it’s mad, too!”

“OK,” says Jo, thinking fast. “Can you make it through the weekend?”

I peer out from behind my nose-length fringe, and observe The Hair in the mirror once more. “I think so,” I say resignedly, since this is clearly what she wants me to say.

“Tuesday morning, 10.30,” she concludes, satisfied. “Come round, I’ll look at it, we’ll talk it through. It’ll be OK. I promise.”

She does not know. She has not seen The Hair.

Someone’s Watching

It’s early in the morning, and Kat and I are having some quality bonding time. By this, I mean that she is lying on my pillow looking as haughty as ever, I am attempting to cuddle her, and she, in turn, is not swiping me across the face with her claws. It’s a precious moment.

As we lie here, Kat and I, I share my early morning thoughts with her. They mostly involve how tired I am, how much I’m going to miss her when I leave, and how I forgot to put the leftovers from last night’s Chinese into the fridge. The more I dwell upon this, the more attractive those leftovers begin to look, to my sleep-deprived mind. In my sleepiness, I half-dream/half-consider going downstairs and reheating the food, making some more rice and so on. Although it is only 6am, I can almost smell the curry. I feel ashamed to be desiring such things at this time of the morning; it cannot be normal. Kat, for one, looks extremely judgemental.

Just then, my computer makes a little ding noise from beide the bed, informing me of a new email. I yawn, stretch, detach myself from the cat, and roll over to take a sleepy look at the screen.

The email is from WeightWatchers.

Of course, I know in my head that it’s not actually possible for the internet to be intercepting my thoughts. But sometimes the sneaking suspicion that there is Something Weird Going On just becomes too powerful to ignore.

Guiltily, I delete the email and roll over to go back to sleep. I swear the cat is smirking. She knows

Nelly from the Blog

Had coffee with Nelly and her daughter, Hannah, on Saturday.

Nelly is the one you should hold responsible for the existence of Coffee Helps, being the owner of the very first blog I ever read, and the one who first encouraged me to Keep On Blogging. I decided that I needed to meet her in person before I take off on my travels, and I’m glad I did – she’s every bit as entertaining in person.

I’m increasingly amazed by the relationships it’s possible to form on the internet. It’s absolutely nothing like talking to someone you’ve never met before – thanks to regular stalking blog reading, you already know each other remarkably well. You can meet up, chat, laugh, and know that you’ve got a friend.

Not only that, but it’s a safe bet that they’re going to go home and write unashamed lies about you, and publish them online. “Hails is a total honeybun, a real sweetiepie… a pussycat”. Pah. Much as I respect the woman, I’d have written her off for that one, had she not instantly corrected her assessment to the much more accurate one of “ruthless, unpitying destroyer”. That’s better. Can’t be losing the fear-and-trembling-inducing reputation I have so carefully crafted in the Scrabulous world.

At the risk of dipping my toe in the pussycat-style pool of sentimentality, I have to admit that I will be forever grateful to Nelly for nudging me into the world of blogging. It has been – and continues to be – a move that shapes and influences my life in the most unexpected and wonderful ways, and, as Coffee Helps approaches its very first birthday, I feel it appropriate to say thank you to my very own Blogmother.

Cheers, Nelly. I owe you.

Broken People

“Your Granda was in an awful state the other night,” says Mum. “He came in looking all upset, holding his favourite DVD and saying Ye know them wee disks? Somebody told me that if ye get a scratch on them, they’re broke, is that true? If I scratch it, is it broke? I think it’s broke. I tripped and dropped it, and got a scratch on it, and now it’s broke.

“Give the TV a dunt,” Dad instructs me. I look inquisitively at him, smack the side of the TV, and the sound comes back on.

“Anyway,” continues Mum, “I told him that the best way to find out if they’re broken is generally to put them in the DVD player and press play. He wanted to know how he’d be able to tell. Well, I said, if it’s not broken, it’ll play. If it is broken, it probably won’t.”

The TV falls silent again and I look uncertainly at Dad for a moment before leaning over and gently patting the screen. The sound comes back on.

“So, was it broken?” I ask Mum. She shrugs. “I don’t know. He just carried it around gently for a while, looking heartbroken.” She adjusts herself in her bizarre-looking sideways position on her favourite reclining chair, and there is a loud clunk.

“Err, Mum?” asks The Sister. “Why are you sideways?”

“The guy didn’t come to fix my chair,” says Mum unhappily. “I can’t sit properly on it or the back falls off.”

Thump! goes the TV as I give it a now instinctive sound-prompting nudge.

Dad sighs. “Everything’s broken,” he says gloomily, and rather unnecessarily.

Fridge Art

Staring around the kitchen, wondering what I can possibly blog about, my eyes fall (“fig”) on the colourful masterpiece that is my fridge. We all gain inspriration from our own quirky sources; if my muse is on the fridge door, who am I to ignore it?

Since I moved into this neighbourhood a year ago, I’ve had all manner of visitors through the doors: from close friends to local teens; from American tourists to small children who just wander in unannounced and start tormenting the cat. The fridge thing started with a housewarming magnet. Now, guests contribute to the project with great gusto, and it’s become something of a focal point. As my time in what has been an exceptionally happy home draws to an end, I feel it’s fitting to bring my beloved Fridge Art to the attention of the blogosphere.

Cats are a recurring theme on the fridge door. I’m not sure how exactly I earned the Scary Cat Lady label (I suspect it may be my own fault), but I am frequently presented with cat-related magnets. My favourite says For a man to truly understand rejection, he must first be ignored by a cat. Things took an interesting turn with a Christmas gift from the Neighbours: magnetic fridge poetry for cat lovers. Hours of entertainment. A few weeks ago, I realised that the Sister had been standing with her back to me for the best part of an hour, not speaking. When I asked about this, she said distractedly “Shhh… I’m writing poetry”. I’ve lost the attention of numerous guests in this way, but I’ve also been known to similarly waste significant chunks of my own evenings. I’m particularly proud of this profound masterpiece:

Children like to present me with pictures for my gallery. Young McGinger is a significant contributor: her “Hello, Hayley!” quickly became a catchphrase amongst the local children, and they still greet me with these cries as I pull up outside the house in Rio the Clio. Not that it’s limited to children, of course. I was a little frightened when I went down to assist with a puppet-related matter at Sunday School one day, only for McBouncy to spot me coming in and yell into the microphone, “Look, everyone, it’s Hayley! Say Hello, Hayley!”. Eighty children bellowing “Hello, Hayley!” was intimidating, to say the least.

McBouncy, herself, has a popular piece of Fridge Art on display, with her lovingly crafted shepherd scene, torn from a child’s colouring book and coloured in with the highlighters from her desk. Kate, not to be outdone, illustrated her point in a conversation we were having by making me a delightful chain of hand-in-hand wallpaper figures.

Fridge Art is a wonderful way to keep memories alive. Whether it’s a photo of a friend, the picture I took of the Friends apartment building in NYC, the sparkly decoration saved from a Morelli’s Hot Fudge Sundae, a sweet little note from McCooney in Nashville, a postcard from France, an American flag from a 4th of July party with The Neighbours, the colourful peace sign donated by Billy, a note scibbled on a bit of kitchen roll by Jay, left on my worktop with a peace offering of coffee followng his unacceptable Scrabulous cheating, or simply a used concert ticket, it allows me to delight in happy memories every time I go to put milk in my coffee.

Of course, I can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness every time I see that headless sheep