Embiggen Your Vocabulary

There I was minding my own business, searching for decorating tips on the internet, when I came across these words:


I had a laugh to myself. After all, who wouldn't want their space "enlargened"? I think the writer has been watching too many episodes of The Simpsons. Written on the statue of Jebediah Springfield are the words: "A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man." 

When teacher Edna Krabappel questioned the word embiggen, fellow teacher Miss Hoover replied: "I don't know why; it's a perfectly cromulent word." Made me laugh - and as Ralph Wiggum said: "Me fail English? That's unpossible!"

Then I remembered William Shakespeare invented hundreds of words that have passed into common usage, so why shouldn't some wet-behind-the-ears copywriter? 

Maybe we all need to embiggen our vocabulary, just like Shakespeare did.

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Life in Camberwick Green, Trumpton and Chigley

My fellow Brits of a certain age may remember the TV children's programmes Camberwick Green, Trumpton and Chigley. They first aired on the BBC in 1967 so I'm guessing only a few of you have heard of them.


For you young whippersnappers who can't even remember Farrah Fawcett’s hair in Charlie’s Angels, they were animated shows set in the three eponymous villages.


Of course it was an idealised version of life in - I suppose - the 1950s. After all there was no need to scare children to death with stories of drugs, sex and rock and roll, even if such shenanigans were going on in some parts of the country.


The Trumpton, Camberwick Green and Chigley residents had to deal with crises like a shortage of flour or a swarm of bees, not the problem of skunk being sold in the school playground.


Episodes had hard-hitting titles like Cuthbert’s Morning Off, so you can imagine not much vandalism, wife swapping or glue-sniffing in the park went on.


There was even a village policeman, PC McGarry, keeping everyone in order. There was Chippy Minton the carpenter, Mrs Cobbit the florist,  Mickey Murphy the baker and Windy Miller  who ran the working mill, to name but a few of the characters.

The village where I live once bore a resemblance to Camberwick Green and Trumpton. We had a shop, a butcher's, a hairdresser’s and a full-time post office. All those are long gone.


But after my initial reaction of anger at losing one more village service came a feeling of guilt. After all, how often did I use the village shops? I bank online and I do a lot of shopping online.  I rarely buy a stamp. If I do, I get it from the supermarket.


Until recently I worked 25 miles away from my village so it was easier to get everything I needed in the supermarket near my office rather than make a special effort on a Saturday to use local suppliers.


There are a lot of people like me in the village so I guess I am part of the collective guilt for rural areas losing their services.


Now I work from home, I would really value those shops - but it's too late.  At least there are still plenty of local tradespeople like plumbers, carpenters and builders. And my village is still a pleasant place to live with very little crime. And for that I am truly thankful.

✋ 80s band Half Man Half Biscuit politicised the programmes with the legendary Trumpton Riots, which you can find on Youtube if  you want to hear it (I personally wouldn't recommend it!) Here are the lyrics:

Unemployment’s rising in the Chigley end of town
And it’s spreading like pneumonia,
Doesn’t look like going down.
There’s trouble at the fire station, someone’s had the sack
And the lads are going to launch a scheme to get rid of Captain Flack.
Tell PC McGarry to get himself a mate
And arm themselves with CS gas,
They’re gonna be out late.
We’ve had cant conformism since 1966
And now subversion’s in the air in the shape of flying bricks.

Someone get a message through to Captain Snort
That they’d better start assembling the boys from the fort
And keep Mrs Honeyman right out of sight
‘Cos there’s gonna be a riot down in Trumpton tonight.

All this aristocracy has really got to stop
We can overthrow the surgery and kidnap Dr Mopp
And Chippy Minton’s Socialists could storm the Market Square
And make plans to assassinate our autocratic Mayor.
Windy Militant leads his Basque-like corn grinders to war
With windmill sails and bombs with nails they smash the town hall door
But Snorty and his boys arrive with one big erstwhile crew
Whereupon they bring about a military coup





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Work From Home Tips

The pandemic has meant many more of us are now working from home rather than in an office.  I was based in an office for nearly 40 years until I kind-of-retired. Despite being a semi lady of leisure I also took on quite a  bit of freelance work so let me pass on some words of wisdom about working from home.

I read all the advice about getting up, dressing for work, having a dedicated work space, creating a timetable, taking set breaks etc etc. All that is fine...as far as it goes.

Here are the tips those articles never included.

Tip One: Never, ever tell your family and friends you are working from home. They are convinced that you roll out of bed when you feel like it, make coffee, gather snacks and switch on the computer with a box set playing on TV while still in your pyjamas. They will visit when they feel like it, phone you at all hours of the day and write you emails that require an instant response. 

Tip Two: If you are caught out, LIE THROUGH YOUR TEETH. If a friend turns up on your doorstep hoping for coffee and cake say, "What a shame. I'm off out the door for a meeting, and I'm already running late." 

Tip Three: It may seem cruel but isolate your pets, otherwise you will be trying to type a 1,000 word article with a cat lying across your keyboard or sitting on your head.  Or your dog will be continually begging for food or shaking a lead in your face every two minutes because he wants to go for a walk.

Tip Four: Lock all your snacks in a box and give the key to your spouse/partner/neighbour,  otherwise you will be nibbling on crisps, peanuts, cakes and biscuits all day long and will end up so fat they will have to winch you out of your bedroom in a crane when you die.

Tip Five: Try to get outdoors at least once a day. If you are confined to your house 24/7 you are in danger of ending up with a complexion as pasty as a zombie and will have to shield your eyes from the light when you finally make it across the threshold. 

Tip Six: Resist the temptation to do two things at once. You may think it is possible to do the ironing with one hand while simultaneously jotting down ideas with the other. Take it from one who knows, it isn’t. Things get burnt

Tip Seven: Never take any notice of those work from home tip lists - apart from this one, of course! I read an article that advised having the History Channel on low volume while you worked, especially if you were used to working in an office surrounded by the chatter of other people. I tried it and found myself suddenly fascinated by the sex lives of Victorians and consequently got no work done for an hour.

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Inspired By Quotes

If you spend very long on Facebook and Twitter, people will soon start sending you motivational sayings. I don't mind most of them - a metaphorical kick up the bum is sometimes appropriate. If Einstein has a bit of advice for you, it would be churlish not to at least cast an eye over it. (Although, a good 90 per cent of quotes attributed to Einstein were never uttered by him, although it seems the one here was.)

Sometimes they seem like good advice, but read them carefully. Are they really true? How about "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger"? Try being inspired by that when you're in a persistent vegetative state.

Here's one that a Twitter follower posted last week:  “Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”

Yeah, but I bet Michaelangelo didn't have to shower, load the washing machine, tidy up, feed the cat, make two packed lunches, get breakfast, put his make-up on and drive to work before he even aimed one paint-loaded brush at that Sistine Chapel ceiling.

When it comes to realistic advice, I'm more of a Homer Simpson fan. Here are two that will stand anybody in good stead for dealing with life:

1.  You tried your best and failed miserably. The lesson is: never try.

2. The code of the schoolyard, Marge! The rules that teach a boy to be a man. Let's see. Don't tattle. Always make fun of those different from you. Never say anything, unless you're sure everyone feels exactly the same way you do.

I'm joking, of course. Kind of.  You may laugh, but Homer's quotes are often as insightful as many a homily from a celebrity. Here's Kanye West talking about reincarnation:  “I won’t go into a big spiel about reincarnation, but the first time I was in the Gucci store in Chicago was the closest I’ve ever felt to home.”

Crikey. What was he in a previous life? A handbag?

Here's a good quote from Bruce Lee:

Mind you, he did die at the age of 32...

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Don't Frighten The Horses

This isn't me. Honest! It is, in fact, Robert De Niro, in a Saturday Night Live sketch.

My father was 47 when I was born so I wasn't best pleased to read this headline in the newspaper:

 “Older fathers have uglier children.”

I may not be competition for Angelina Jolie or Scarlett Johansson but neither do I feel the need to put a bag over my head every time I leave the house in case I cause a stampede among a herd of horses.*

Still, it’s not all bad news. The article went on to say people with older fathers are likely to live longer. So after you pretty young things have popped your clogs, I’ll be sitting in an old people’s home frightening the care assistants with my toothless grin.

I am, however, well on the way to becoming a crazy old cat lady. Although I have only one cat, I must admit she does rather rule the roost in our house! I have a certain amount of sympathy for Robert De Niro's old woman who “had dreams and then she was kicked by a horse and now she has cats.”

So don't call me crazy. I still have all my marbles - well, about 90 per cent of them.

This isn't me either, although I feel I may be heading in this direction!

* I was idly wondering where the comment about frightening the horses came from. Apparently it was quite a common saying in Edwardian England and there are many suggestions for its origins. Here's one of the earliest mentions - and my favourite!

The 1929 book All That I Have Met by Frances Ethel Beddington discussed Princess Louise of Saxony who shocked her social circle by wearing a pair of bloomers and riding a bicycle. She wrote, "In our tolerant London Society — did not a witty Edwardian say: 'I really don’t mind what people do, so long as they don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses!"

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Seventies Fashion Icon

I loved platform shoes. They turned this short arse into a towering Amazon.

It was the 1970s and I had just moved into a flat with my three friends, Marion, Gill and Pauline. Incidentally, the flat was just down the road from Exeter Prison - a fact that isn't at all relevant to this story but I thought I'd include it.

We trendy young girls-about-town were off out for a wild evening - well, as wild as an evening ever got listening to folk music in The Mint Tavern in Fore Street, Exeter. We had just finished dressing up in our best lad-pulling togs when my parents turned up to deliver some of my belongings.

My father took one look at my new bubble perm, my purple maxi coat over red suede mini and my platform shoes and shook his head in despair. 

Imagine here an exasperated dad with a broad Devon accent: "The worse you can make yerself look, the 'appier you be!" he spluttered. My mum, ever the mediator, mumbled, "It's not that bad..." but I could tell she was just trying to be nice.

After they'd left my similarly attired friends assured me I was looking pretty damn fab in my new gear.

I knew it! I was, I thought, at the cutting edge of fashion. The fact that he was right and they were wrong is irrelevant.

My non-British friends may be wondering what the Devonshire accent sounds like. Here's a little video which will give you a flavour of it. It's a joke, so listen to the end if you can.

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Trendy In My Overalls

The more astute among you have probably realised that this is not me!

I am a country maid, born on a farm deep in the heart of the country in the county of Devon in the UK. Look it up, 'tis a beautiful place.

People from other areas in the UK, tend to think we Devonians crunch carrots and walk about all day with a straw in our mouths saying "oo-arr" a lot - but I'll have you mockers know we country mice are now at the cutting edge of fashion. About time too.

I read an article this morning that anybody who is anybody is now wearing overalls (coveralls, dungarees) - and not just for feeding the cows and mucking out the horses. At last! 

As you can see these new-fangled overalls are tremendously stylish... especially when teamed with a pair of welly boots and some kind of graffiti-ridden old truck only fit for the knacker's yard.

So, here is the aspiration:

Unfortunately,  here is the reality!

So, ladies, if your husband is thinking of throwing away his old paint or dung-spattered overalls, hoick them out of the bin and take them for yourselves. 

Finally, here is the "wouldn't wear if I was freezing cold while walking naked in a snow storm" option.

There you have it: fashion advice from Around My Kitchen Table. You're welcome.

Facebook Photos

The camera and I are not friends. Stand me in front of a lens and I turn into a gurning gargoyle.

I’m the one at weddings trying to hide at the back of the family group. It doesn’t help that I’m short so photographers try to push me to the front where I think I’m smiling confidently but end up looking like a zombie extra in Night Of The Living Dead.

Even so, I was surprised to read that you can lose friends on Facebook by posting too many selfies. I found this hard to believe. It might be the quickest way for me personally to become Norma No Mates, but not my family and friends.

I genuinely like to see their pictures and sometimes save ones of young relatives. Admittedly, I’m saving some for when they get older and I can use them for the maximum embarrassment factor... but that’s another story. 

Looking through later is just like looking through a family album – and in this digital age, physical photograph albums are becoming increasingly rare.

I like to see what friends who have moved abroad are up to – how their children are growing up and pictures of their new surroundings.

Anyhow, this article said people don’t relate to friends who constantly share photos and it may even damage relationships. 

None of this sounds very likely to me but then the vast majority of my Facebook “friends” I know personally. Some people have, literally, thousands of “friends” and can’t possibly know them all. I can see that if someone with whom you are barely on nodding acquaintance starts to post hundreds of pictures of the family cat, you could get a bit fed up. 

Not me, of course, the pictures of my cat are scintillatingly interesting. She even has own Facebook account www.facebook.com/toffeekeenorleach, website at www.notsosweettoffee.com and Instagram account  www.instagram.com/notsosweettoffee. Obsessed? Me?

The report went on to say: “It is worth remembering the information we post to our “friends” on Facebook, actually gets viewed by lots of different categories of people, partners, friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances and each group seems to take a different view of the information shared.”

Which I think is a convoluted way of saying that if you put up a spoof photograph Boris Johnson riding backwards on a rhino, then your Keir Starmer supporters could take offence. (Swap Trump for Johnson and Biden for Starmer, and my friends from abroad will see what I'm talking about).

The report warns: “Be cautious when sharing and think how it will be perceived by all the others who may see it. Although sharing is a great way to better relationships it can also damage them.”

To which I would say, if you can’t be yourself with your Facebook friends, what’s the point of being on it?

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World Egg Day

Here's an anniversary that may have passed you by. October 12 is World Egg Day. So many people keep a few chickens in their gardens these days that you can hardly go 100 yards without falling over a Buff Orpington - not literally, hopefully.

I grew up on a farm in the UK in the 50s and 60s and in those days there were hens running around the farmyard all day and shut in at night away from the foxes. Most laid their eggs in the boxes provided or made their own nests out of the straw in the chicken coop but occasionally one went “rogue” and decided to lay her eggs in some random corner of the farm.

So occasionally you'd come across a nest in a hedge containing a clutch of eggs. If we kids found one, I don't think we could have been more excited if we'd found a chest of gold.

Then Mum would dump them all in water - if they sank to the bottom, they were fresh enough to use, if they floated to the top they were probably stale. These were cracked one by one into a dish and subjected to the sniff test. If they smelt OK they were used in cakes, if they made you step back in horror they were thrown out.

We very much let nature take its course, allowing hens to stay broody and hatch out chicks. At one time we had a hen called Harriet who for some reason never laid an egg of her own even though she made plenty of nests. If she found an egg in another hen's nest in the chicken house she'd push it with her beak into her own des res. We always left her to it and when she'd gathered about half a dozen eggs she'd go broody and sit on them until they hatched.

But most of the eggs produced by our hens were eaten. What's not to like about an egg? It's the perfect food item, versatile, easy to cook and packed full of goodness. As with most foods, a health scare pops up occasionally. There was the "don't eat more than three eggs a week or you'll die of a heart attack" scare, with claims they contained too much artery-clogging cholesterol. As is the way with most dire health warnings, this was recently proven to be a load of rubbish. In fact the opposite is true.

It seems the type of cholesterol that clogs your arteries isn't present in eggs and eggs are, in fact, low in saturated fat. And they are high in protein, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. One warning from the British Heart Foundation was to pay attention to how you serve your eggs. Obviously poached eggs on wholemeal bread is going to be healthier than fried egg, bacon and sausage (damn!).

Notice how I have spared you all the eggcellent egg puns that abound. That was eggstraordinarily kind of me. But you'll have to eggcuse me if before I make my eggsit, I leave you with this joke:

Where can you go to learn more about eggs?

The hen-cyclopedia.

(Sorry, not sorry!)

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Childhood Pastimes

This is one of my favourite childhood pictures; my schoolmates and I ready to galumph our way through various maypole dances. I am the one kneeling, front far right. It may be in black and white but I vividly remember my dress and matching bow were in yellow nylon and my mother had permed my hair especially for the occasion. Delightful.

It is thought the first maypole dance originated as part of Germanic pagan fertility rituals so getting a load of young girls to dance around a phallic symbol seems rather creepy in the cold light of day. But we - nor our parents - knew anything about these connotations - it was nothing more than an opportunity to show off our nifty footwork while winding coloured ribbons around a pole.

I lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere as a child and went to the village school where our pleasures were simple - putting teachers in wicker men and burning them alive, running around forests with stags' antlers o n our head and sacrificing the runt of the class to the goddess of the moon. The usual innocent pagan rituals. I jest, of course. If we'd tried anything like that, our parents would have hoicked us out of the woods before you could say Satan three times.

We played games like tag, hopscotch and marbles. At birthday parties there was musical chairs, pass the parcel and pin the tail on the donkey.

It was all a far cry of what goes on in today's playgrounds where - if you believe internet news - they play games like Spot the Drug Dealer (he's the 12-year-old with the sunglasses and bulging pockets), Mug The Old Lady, Catwalk Queen (you're not allowed to play unless you're a Size Zero-Zero) and Reality TV Star (you're not allowed to play unless you have an air of desperation and an IQ below 80).

I think I prefer pin the tail on the donkey.

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