Tag Archives: About Me

Out Of A Job – And Into A New Blog!

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. I’m not in the habit of plagiarising Dickens, but the two of us do have one thing in common: We were both paid by the word. Were being the operative one in this lamentable context. I shall explain…

Tuesday two weeks ago, at 11 am, I received a devastating call. I had lost my writing gig. “A change of corporate focus,” I was told. A decision taken by management in a far-away head office, by people I had never had any direct dealings with. Unlike all the other times, this latest reshuffle within the company, which had supplied me with a steady flow of work for the past twelve years, had not turned out to my advantage. To put it mildly.

There would still be some work for me, I was assured. However, it was going to be of a different nature and – as far as I could tell – there wasn’t going to be enough of it to keep me in fodder.

In short, it was the kind of news which puts the wind of existential panic up a freelancer’s arse. Or make that a hurricane.

The state of red alert lasted for about 24 hours. A fellow freelancer, bless her kindly soul, shuffled me a contact promising me regular work in my field. A couple of days later, another potential client registered an interest.

Maybe, just maybe, I was going to be OK.

But August being August, nothing happens fast, so I’m having to exercise my very puniest of mental muscles: my patience. A bit of distraction was called for, and seeing as I’d been sitting for absolutely ages on the desire to start a fresh blog venture, I decided to go for it, and my brand spanking new dedicated language blog Multilingual By Choice (it’s meant to make me sound like a purposeful and focused individual who doesn’t spend three quarters of her day lounging around in pyjamas ogling cake porn) was finally born.

No need to groan quite so heartily, people – I won’t be attempting to “make grammar fun” or go on about the aspirated phoneticisation of gerundiated nouns. It’s going to be more about life than linguistics. Take a look: http://www.multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com

But before you dash off to coo over my shiny new baby, do have some cake! I’ve a splendid selection prepared for you, all sampled and approved by yours truly:


Holiday Cake 🙂


Lemon sponge cake. One of my Mum’s creations.


Posh Shopping Centre Cake


Made by one of my Mum’s friends with apples from her garden


Another friend, another cake 🙂 Apricot & custard this time.


And here it is in its entirety


Oh, and I’ve got a new blog, did I  mention that?! http://www.multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com


Seven Things I Should Like, But Really Don’t


Is this appetising? Really??

Deep Fried food
I know, I know. It’s precisely the kind of guilty pleasure one should indulge in with fervent panache, but my consumption capacity for grease-soaked fare is pathetically limited.

Fish and chips is pretty much my nightmare meal experience. Afterwards, I always feel like I’ve swallowed both Kathy Burke and Jo Brand dissolved in a gallon of lard. I lived in the UK for two decades and there’s some truly fabulous food to be had, but it’s definitely not this sorry excuse for “a national dish”.

A little back rub, fine. But don’t ask me to go all the way, please. I can’t imagine anything worse than being splayed out on a table like a pig carcass ready for quartering, and then have a white-coated ‘professional’ inflict deep-tissue bruising and crank all my hinges out of alignment. In Medieval times, they strapped heretics to the rack, but WHY would anyone PAY to have this done to themselves?!


Flamenco Music
It’s the singing, not so much the dancing, just to clarify. I detest any kind of yowling. Especially when it emanates from short, tubby, medallion-adorned males, bawling forth about some woman having turned them out into the dusty street. Most likely because they were forever tinkling on their guitars, drunk as skunks, never bringing home any dough. “Get a proper job!” is what I want to shout at them, “and if you absolutely *must* be an artist, can’t you do it quietly?! Preferably with a spray can in an underpass in Brixton at 3am.”

Flamenco Singer

Yes, yes, she did you wrong, but pleeeease go cry over it AT HOME!

I resent having my three working braincells clogged up with the eternal question of  “what am I going to have for dinner”?

As far as I’m concerned, Sisyphus had it easy. At least, he didn’t have to come up with different ways of boiling, broiling, frying and stirring that boulder up the hill. Unlike my weary old self trudging along the supermarket aisles with that blasted trolley.

You see, when I’m not working or spending time with other people, I just wanna think about what I wanna think about. Which is NOT, “is this onion brown enough yet?” And by the time I’ve chopped up the peppers, the soddin’ onion will inevitably be the colour and consistency of coal tar.

Should I ever have more than two nickels to rub together (and it’s not looking particularly good on that front), you know what I’d splash out on first? No, not a shopping pilgrimage to Dubai. Nor a world cruise. What I truly want in my life is a personal chef. Someone who serves me up delicious, healthy food three times a day. (Followed by cake, of course). Someone who forages for it, cooks it and clears up the blasted mess afterwards. If I don’t ever have to set foot in a kitchen again, well that’s just fine and dandy by me.


People are not, in fact, flowers. Curiously, many do not seem to be aware of this. To me, dousing oneself with overpriced, piss-hued concoctions is the olfactory equivalent of romping up the high street clad in animal print: Bloody ridiculous. And just as offensive.

Smelling ‘clean’ sure is nice, and there there may be a faint whiff of shampoo, soap or washing powder drifting about the person. These are perfumes, too, I realise, but they don’t grab you by the throat and make your eyes water if you get too close.

I really don’t know which is worse – someone chomping on an onion burger with a side order of whitebait sat next to me on the metro or one of those hyperscented wenches bent on fumigating the entire carriage.

This is how I get sucked in: A bunch of people I really like asks me if I might want to come to the theatre with them, and I think to myself, “oh well, it might be fun this time…”, but it ALWAYS turns into an ordeal.

After the first ten hopeful minutes, when it becomes evident that it won’t get any better, I sit there, for the next six hours, in drowsy disbelief. (My time perception goes awry in three places: the dentist, the gyno and the theatre).

I start counting and categorising stage props. I imagine the actors nude. Or, even better, mute.  Once, I fell asleep. In a Broadway theatre. During Annie Get Your Gun. I feigned jet lag to my mortified friends.


I’m sure getting “dressed up” in old curtains and prancing about in your parents’ bedroom was all very cute when you were five…

Cream Cakes
OK, this is a total shocker coming from me. But I have to fess up at some point. I quite like a dollop of fresh cream, but cloying layers of vanilla, caramel, chocolate or whatever-flavour-gloop they employ in the construction one of those impressive patisserie towers – it’s just not my thing.

Pretty... but... meh!

Pretty, but…

Give me a nice bit of sponge cake, a slab of cheese cake or an entire poppy seed strudel any day.

So, what about the rest of you? Any deep-seated, irrational, Luddite dislikes to report?

A Fool’s Errand

My laptop has developed some kind of motor neurone disease. It starts with mouse paralysis, which then extends to the trackpad and the keyboard. After an unsuccessful repair attempt, which involved a two-week wait, I decided I could not be doing with this. Christmas is looming, and the thought of being stranded in Germany for a couple of weeks without a computer, never mind the money I’d lose by not being able to work from there, is more than I can bear, financially and mentally.

So, today I schlepped all the way to the Apple Store in Madrid. I had thought of everything: My passport (shops in Spain routinely ask for ID at the checkout), my Apple ID, a bag to conceal my purchase. OK, Madrid is not Maputo, and you can call me paranoid, but I don’t want to be drawing the attention of any shadies in the very place where they all hang out: in the heaving centres of capital cities, waiting to lighten the loads of hapless shoppers and unsuspecting tourists.

I was relieved to find that the product I wanted was in stock, as was a type of semi-exotic cable I’d been looking for. But when I tried to pay, card was declined, despite sufficient funds in my account.

It turns out that the one thing I had evidently not thought of was that there might be a daily transaction limit on my card. I’d never tried to make a purchase of well over a thousand bucks before with my Spanish bank card.

The store was better prepared for this than I was, because, apparently, this happens all the time. The nice assistant pointed me to the number to call to get them to up the limit.

My bank, the Santander, has a very affable marketing slogan: “We want to be your bank”. But not on a Sunday, it transpired, when all you can do by phone is to check your balance and block a stolen card. As for anything that’s not automated and requires the input of a human being… forget it!

I had a couple of hours to kill (rather than my bank, which would have given me infinitely more pleasure), so I wandered around town for a bit.


He cheered me up 🙂


So did a dose of this. It’s six hours later as I type this, and I’m still riding out the sugar high.

Escaped balloons

I wonder if the balloon seller was as pissed off as I was after being left empty handed…

A couple more shots from Plaza Mayor, already decked out in its festive seasonal trappings, (using the “drawing” setting on my cheapy camera):

Merry-go-round 1Plaza Mayor




I Hate Weddings. I Really Do.

“Everyone loves a wedding” – so went the first sentence of a post by one of my favourite bloggers, an intrepid self-sufficiency enthusiast braving the vagaries of the Lithuanian outback.  I guess I must be the only person in the world who can’t stand weddings.

Maybe weddings are a bit like cats – you either love them or you hate them. Or maybe weddings are like other people’s kids – if you want people to be nice to yours, you have to stop yourself from kicking theirs, however much you’re itching to test those steel-capped boots.

People certainly seem to be in love with their own weddings. Theirs are always superior to other people’s, because, so they will insist, “tacky component X” was omitted, and replaced by “über-unique” ingredient Y”.

This “tackiness factor” they so decidedly spurned could be just about anything: the much-maligned white meringue dress, garish flowers, crab cocktail appetisers, bubble-gum-pink bridesmaids’ outfits with puff sleeves, etc.

Same goes for ingredient Y. The only criteria is that the guests pretend to buy into Happy Couple’s assertions that nobody had ever thought of it before, and that they laud its originality forever after, whenever the topic of weddings comes up.

The whole thing reminds me of a German muesli company I came across some months ago, who lets its clients customise their own personal muesli from 80 different ingredients. According to the company, this results in 566 quadrillion possible product combination. Well, I don’t even know how many zeros are trailing behind that figure, but there’s one thing I do know: Muesli is muesli and a wedding is a wedding, whether you have orange lilies or pickled Scottish thistles as your table centrepiece.


This was once considered the cutting edge of fashion. As was the dress. Both were sustained by hot air.

The instigating couple will usually insist that their Big Day is all about “spending time with their loved ones”, rather than the bride gliding up the aisle in her decidedly-not-tacky outfit with all eyes on her.

Let’s do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation here. For the numerically challenged (and I wearily count myself among them), let’s assume there’s a total of 100 wedding guests. Half of these are the groom’s and half the bride’s, leaving each with 50.

But, let’s be honest – nobody really *loves*  all of the people they’ve invited to their wedding, do they? We are probably only fond of half of our family (and that’s being generous). As for friends, only about half attending a wedding will be actually be friends of the bride or groom, the remainder being made up of their friends’ other halves. In essence: 50% of the guests are just there to stop the other 50% from killing themselves.

Now we’re left with 25 “loved ones” on each side. But wait! Quite a few of these, maybe not half, but let’s say just over one third – are “political” guests, like bosses, work colleagues or other acquaintances, who’d be mortally offended if they hadn’t been invited and your life just wouldn’t  be worth living forever after.

The upshot is, any bride or groom will have warm fuzzy feelings for 15% of the people sipping their bubbly. But it’s not like they can spend any appreciable amounts of time with them. After all, they are duty-bound to “do the rounds” like a pair of frantic mayflies who’ve spent the last 23 hours idly sunning themselves on a lily pad.

I should, perhaps, mention at this point that I don’t just have an aversion to weddings – it’s big social gatherings in general. My wonkily engineered social skills circuits go into deep freeze mode when exposed to a stampeding multitude of more than four. You see, I don’t really have the standard-issue “group of friends” where everyone has known each other since they were knitting mittens in Mrs Meyer’s needlework class. And although some of my friendships go back decades, I don’t tend to know their other friends very well. Having moved towns and countries several times hasn’t helped.

This gets me into some abysmal situations. Some twelve years ago, I attended (under duress!!!) the wedding of a friend from Uni. It was a mercy mission – she was new to the UK, so her local social circle was very small, so I felt obliged to “make up the numbers”. I didn’t know anyone at the wedding but her. And – horror of horrors! – I ended up on the leper colony equivalent for social outcasts: The Singles Table. Oh Dear Lord. I found myself wedged between Dreary Banker and ER Doctor, who needed to broadcast his professional superhero status to all and sundry. If only the Happy Couple had known back then that their wedded bliss would last a mere smidgen longer than my Singles Table ordeal… but that’s another story.

I have to concede, from the average guest’s point of view, that, if the food is good (and that’s a big IF), if there’s a bunch of good old friends to chat to, and if they enjoy drinking as much as Rod Stewart is bound to enjoy an all-female nudist resort in Sweden, I can see how the event would go down as a fun day out.

But if ever you happen to spot me at a wedding – and the likelihood is about as high as Halley’s comet coinciding with a solar eclipse during the leap year when the Middle East Peace Treaty is signed – I just want you to know that I’m inwardly reciting to myself that “this, too, shall pass” 566 quadrillion times.

Caught In The Act…!

On our Andalusia trip three weeks ago, rather than snapping away at the region’s dramatic landscapes, outstanding culinary delights and splendid beaches, Maria decided to turn her camera on me instead.

I was totally oblivious to her surreptitious mission to capture my hunchback poses and contorted grimacing until it was all over.

Here is what she sent me:

Seducing a dessert

Cornering a defenceless dessert in a tapas restaurant. If only I could muster that degree of concentration while I was doing the work I’m actually paid to do …

These were taken in sunny Cádiz:

The seagull proved even trickier. My own pics didn't turn out...

The seagull played hard to get. Every time I’d lock it into focus, the blasted bird would hop an inch further away from me. I’m guessing the Medusa hair didn’t help…

Blue flowers

Flowers can’t escape. But don’t these damn things shake, rattle and roll in a stiff seaside breeze!

Cádiz cathedral

At least a cathedral can be trusted to remain steadfast.

Cadiz sea

There’s nothing like getting your lens splashed with murky salt water…


Those trees are amazing.

A pic from Algeciras beach, with Paula (Maria’s sister) and her happy, bouncy, delightful dogs:

Homing in on Gibraltar

Am too busy for jollities. I’m homing in on Gibraltar…

And here we are, on Gibraltar:

Gibraltar Harbour

Gibraltar, Lighthouse

No wonder the monkeys dashed off in a wild panic earlier on, I must have given them the same scary look…!

The last two pics originate from the little mountain top village of Castellar:

Castellar Lane

Cute village lane

Castellar, Orange tree

I do love a handsome orange tree 🙂

So, has anyone played candid camera on you recently? And are you still talking to them…?

The War Of The Shoulds

I’ve been poorly for the last couple of weeks*. Nothing serious, hold the grapes and the flowers (but do send the chocs). In short, my life has been very much restricted to the sinister Computer-Bed-Bathroom Triangle.

At times like these, suddenly nothing is more compelling than playing mind games with oneself, like the Destructive Thought Spiral (this involves making up future-life scenarios so horrendous that not even Quentin Tarantino could have dreamt them up in a booze-fuelled, fever-ridden nightmare). But absolute favourite mind fuck, by a long shot, is The War Of The Shoulds.

It’s a wretched battle, where one’s brave little Think Positive soldiers, deployed by a ramshackle, atrophied Self Esteem Unit, are macerated in the maws of the Shoulds. Not only are the Shoulds invincible, but they multiply with every blow they are dealt.

My last skirmish Waterloo went something like this:

I should call the Student Loan Company. It’s this week’s BS (Big Should/Bullshit). They wrote to me, I need to negotiate new payment terms… I so don’t want to make that phonecall! Fret, fret…

My Spanish should be perfect by now. This spawns another whole slew of Shoulds: I should be living in shared accommodation (meh!) with Spanish speakers. I should get a part-time job that has me interacting with the general public (double-meh!). I should get myself a Spanish boyfriend (mehmehmehmeeeeeehhhhh!)

I should maybe colour my hair. Then I could go blonder and blonder and blonder in accordance with The Middle Aged Women’s Directive. I’m fascinated by this phenomenon, you see, especially here in Spain, where hordes of greying, swarthy females with smouldering black eyes suddenly feel compelled to reach for the bleach bottle in a quest of fulfilling their life-long ambition: being a Blonde Bombshell. Now or never!


Fun. For Halloween.

I should aspire to be a homeowner. Good God, as averse as I am to dealing with day-to-day mind-numbingly boring crap, I’d be sprouting even more grey hairs every time the roof tiles needed changing, the gutters dredging, the termites shooing, etc. And then there’s the damp problem. There is always a damp problem. And no taking up sticks and leaving it to the landlord to sort out his shit hole, no, it’ll be up to me. Not in a million years…

I should have had a child. Only kidding. This is the one thing I’ve always known for sure I should NEVER EVER do. On the other hand, I could at least have offered my squealing, blood-dripping first born to the Student Loan Company, seeing that I’ll never be able to repay them in actual money, even if I live and work until age 101.

KnotI should have internalised the ins and outs of the German spelling reform. It came into force in 1996. That’s nearly two decades ago. I’ve a 105-page pdf clogging up my hard drive, which explains the whole shebang, in gruesome minutiae. Sometimes, when I’m feeling brave, I take a peek at a random chapter. But, but, but…. THIS IS JUST NOT HOW I LEARNT IT! It used to make sense to me, German spelling, I excelled in dictation tests. Now my Teflon brain twists itself into the Gordian knot. The only way to make any of this newfangled codswallop stick, it seems, is when my friend Tanja posts withering corrections below my comments on facebook (“Look, I’ve explained this to you before – if ‘ss’ follows two vowels, it becomes ‘ß’!”). Oh God, I’m slowly turning one of those egits I despise with a passion – people who cannot string an intelligible sentence together in their own bloody language! And down I careen into a Destructive Thought Spiral, where I’m mute and illiterate, languishing on a street corner with all my possessions crammed into a laundry bag. And donning a head of golden locks.

I should do more housework. I’ll do it tomorrow. Right after I’ve called the Student Loan Company.

[*I’ve fully recovered from the lurgy by now. I’ve even had some positive thoughts. Mostly about cake. ]

70’s/80’s Flashbacks: My Love Affair With Cakes

As most of you know, I was recently leafing though old family albums, and since birthdays are a classic occasion for taking photos, you won’t be at all surprised that I’ve stumbled upon some highly incriminating evidence documenting the early days of my life-long cake addiction.

Actually, these photos are from the early 80's rather than the 70's, as evidenced by these horrendous perms.

A quick look over the shoulder to make sure nobody’s about to swipe my piece… That’s my mother on the left, the other people are her aunts and her cousin. [Hideous 80’s perms alert…!]

I absolutely love marzipan, so my birthday cakes were always densely populated by marzipan fauna and flora, as well as covered by a layer of marzipan:

She's touching my precious....!!!!

Whaaaahhhh, she’s touching My Precious….!!!!

Finally, she's gone... and I get to be alone with MY CAKE

Finally, she’s gone… and I get to be alone with MY CAKE!!!

Ooooooh, a two-tiered construction! Right behind me are my mother (right) and by grandma (left)

Ooooooh, a fancy two-tiered construction! Just what I’d ordered. Right behind me are my mum (right, in the blue) and by grandma (left)

That's not me, but my little brother with his birthday cake

My little brother with his birthday cake. Yes, wee boy, just don’t you take your eyes off it… not even for a second…!

[For the rest of the 70’s Flashback series, bursting with embarrassing photos, click here.]

70’s Flashbacks: My First Day At School, aka ‘Schultütengate’

It’s the 1st September, and the start of a new school year beckons. Last month, when I went through some old family photo albums, I came across this picture, taken on my first ever day of school, in September 1978:


I’m the one on the right. The reason for my jealously guarding that strange missile-shaped accessory will soon become clear.

On their first day of school, German children receive one of these cone-shaped receptacles made of cardboard, called a “Schultüte”. And guess what’s in it? Sweets! (‘Candy’ if you’re North American) Why else would I be clutching it so tightly?!

However, my Schultüte harboured a dark, rustling secret (which explains why I’m not smiling): My parents stuffed it to three quarters with old newspaper. Precious caramels, chocolates and other mortal enemies of tooth enamel occupied only the top layer. They told me that the Schultüte would break if it were completely filled up with sweets. It’s the first conscious memory I have of my parents lying to me. It may have been for my own good, but they seriously plummeted in my esteem on that day.

There was another traumatic revelation that would hit me a few months later: I had assumed that I would get a Schultüte at the beginning of every new school year. But that turned out to be just wishful thinking on my part… it’s very much a once in a lifetime affair.

Do you have any special items or rituals that take place on the first day of school in your country or region?

[To view the rest of the 70’s Flashbacks series (including the fabled ‘naked pictures’ post), click here.]

70’s Flashbacks: Meet My Best Friend. Ever.

Which one is it...?

Which one is it…? (I’m the one on the left, btw.)

No, it’s neither of those queer looking girls, heaven forbid! The one on the right I fell out with when we were 11, and we haven’t spoken since (sounds pathetic, which it is, and were we still living in the same country, we’d have fixed this by now). Her cousin, the one in the middle, who looks a bit like a mole, was totally insufferable. She always had to be the leader in every game, regardless of whether one was required or not. Even my mother only ever referred to her as “The Boss”. I’m by no means a natural-born leader, but equally untalented as a follower, so the three of us were doomed from the start.

But I digress. My bestest friend of all time, as you’ll probably have guessed by now, was the dog. My dad acquired him from a US airbase nearby. The owner was returning to the States and could not take him. His original name was Snoopy (yes, very original…!), but as this is awkward for Germans to pronounce, it was approximated to Schnuppi. My mum, terrified of all dogs, turned the poor animal’s arrival into a huge drama, and Schnuppi had to be tied up to the railings outside the front door.

This state of affairs didn’t last long – three hours at the most – before my mum was won over by his heartbreakingly sad eyes and rabbitty back legs. Schnuppi was as stubborn as dachshunds come, and just as loyal. He was not a yapper, but when he did decide to voice his excitement, his bark was sonorous, low pitched and slightly husky.

A pampered family pet, he lived to the ripe old age of 15 and was buried in the very centre of his kingdom that was my grandparents’ garden, beneath a voluptuous spruce.

You never laughed at me, even when they stuck me in the  most ridiculous outfits

Aw, my precious friend…you never took the piss, not even when they wrangled me into the most ridiculous outfits

hough your back may have been turned, you were looking out for me as I plodded wonkily through the garden, toppling over and grazing my knees every five stepsI

Though your back may have been turned, you were looking out for me as I plodded wonkily through the garden, toppling over and grazing my knees every five steps

I shared my toys with you, and what a good sport you were :)

I shared my toys with you, and what a good sport you were 🙂

Do you have any fond memories of a beloved childhood pet?

[I have posted a bunch of embarrassing childhood pictures before, here they are, if you want to see them]

What The World Has Been Waiting For: Naked Pictures Of Me!

It was too hot to go out yesterday, so I went through old family photo albums with my brother instead. Excuse the poor quality, they are photos of fuzzy 1970s photos.

I do look a bit apprehensive on my grandad's shoulders. He was a very nice man.

I do look a bit apprehensive on my grandad’s shoulders. But he was a very nice man.

With my dad

I’m a lot happier with my dad

Not so much with my granny… I don’t think it’s her … what I must be pissed off about is this totally ridiculous outfit!

With my mum in my grandparents' garden

With my mum in my grandparents’ garden

As promised...

As promised…

Swing set antics

I was a sprightly four-year-old.

This ultra-short haircut may look quite cute, but it’s the tear-blighted result of my first hair-related tragedy. My dad had made a real botch-job of cutting it, and this is the best the hairdresser could do to save my dignity.

These are chocolate bears. Right in front of me. What do you think will happen next...?

These are chocolate bears. Right in front of me. What do you think will happen next…?

What else?!?

What else?!? Whoever’s hand that was, it just wasn’t fast enough to save them.

The last three are of my brother and I, taken in the early 80s. (He’s ten years younger than me.)

He was always easy to please ;-)

He was always easy to please 😉

Rose garden

I did want to kill him back then. Now I’m glad I resisted the urge