Friday, 30 January 2015


As you will know by now, I'm a self-confessed scaredy-cat.

Slip roads, space hoppers, rounders, and checking voice mail, all give me the willies, as does the line: It puts the lotion in the basket. And don't get me started on that feathered monstrosity from the Seventies, Emu. But now, following a recent visit to Bounce Below, a disused slate cavern featuring suspended trampoline nets, I have to add trampolines to the shit list.

I should have known better, of course. Anything that describes itself as “offering a degree of physical challenge” is not for me.  But, as we are on a family holiday at the time, and there has already been an awful lot of visiting national monuments, a trip to a subterranean playground seems in order.
We make our way to Llechwedd Slate Caverns, boarding the underground train to the trampolines.
“This is the actual old mining train”, I say, reading the leaflet. “It’s Victorian.” 
“OMG. We’re not in school!” says the nine-year-old, shooting me one of her famous, withering looks. 

Three giant nets, hung at different levels, linked by walkways and slides, greet us on our arrival at the cavern. My son runs into the centre of the net, squealing with joy.  My daughter follows him, as do our friends’ children.
“I’m coming”, I say, stepping forwards.
My foot sinks into the net, as if it were quicksand. A queer melting feeling travels up my legs to my solar plexus.
“It feels weird”, I say, turning to my friend. "Not sure I can move!”
"Think I'm getting used to it!" says my friend, bouncing off gleefully. 

Somehow I make it back to the edge of the net. My son tells me he wants to use the slide to get to the bottom trampoline.  The ‘slide’ is a chute made of rope. The main problem with it is that it appears to be vertical. In fact, if you were to ask anybody to describe the slide's main characteristics, they would say it was a) vertical, b) vertical, and c) FUCKING VERTICAL. I’m guessing it would be a cinch if you were, say, Father Christmas, or a bag of laundry, but that’s it.
"I want to see if any other children your age go down first”, I say.
“He’ll be fine!” says a supervisor, listening in.
Seconds later, I see him on the bottom trampoline, 50ft or so below, with my friend’s husband, waving excitedly.

But as I'm working up the courage to join him, a massive teenager bounds towards me. He jumps up and down like a fucker. Like somebody has given Zebedee crystal meth. The net tips away from me at a sickening angle, like an anomaly opening up in the fabric of space. I crawl on hands and knees to the edge. Meanwhile, the rest of the kids have climbed to the top trampoline. I figure I can make it to the walkway that takes me up a level instead, if I just stick to the edges.

“Is the chute the only way of getting back down again?” I say to the supervisor, when I get there.
“Yip, but it’s easy! C’mon. Get up there!” he laughs.
The supervisor is like some kind of norse god. Admittedly, he is not the type I usually go for, but the thought that he may see me as a palsied old lady, run to seed, is distressing. At the very least, the absolute fucking least, I want him to think I’m capable of mind-blowing sex moves. I clamber up the walkway, sucking in my butt cheeks, wondering whether I have what it takes to become a survivalist.
“It’s AWESOME here!” says my daughter, when I reach the top. 
I bounce a tiny bit and say “Wheeee!” 
(I say bouncing, but what I really mean to say is 'bending my knees to create the illusion of bouncing.') I have already knocked the dream of becoming a survivalist on the head.

Five minutes later, a whistle blows, denoting the end of our session. The others throw themselves down the rope chute like it’s nothing.
“It’s easy”, says the supervisor, when I am The Only One Left. 
“I can’t”, I say, my legs dangling into the chute.
“Cross one arm over your front. Cover your nose with the other hand.”
I literally don’t know what he’s talking about. I am the kind of person who gets confused trying to do the actions for the Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes song. Also, why you need to cover your schnoz is beyond me. I think it may have to do with the possibility of it getting caught in the rope, and coming the fuck off. Eventually I master the actions. But the fact that I now have no way of holding on to anything, except air, deepens the horror of what is already a bastard of a situation. The only way it could get any worse would be if Emu appeared out of nowhere, and whacked me down the chute with his cock. I mean beak.
“I can’t move”, I say. “I just can’t let go."

The supervisor confers with another supervisor. They take so long over it I get a distinct sense that this has literally never happened before. “See mam, I AM special!” I want to shout.
Eventually, they decide to close the entrance to the one-way walkway and let me use it as an emergency exit, which means clambering down the walkway, backwards, bum cheeks first, as onlookers wait patiently behind the cordon. I look like Bridget Jones sliding down the fireman’s pole, broadcasting her ass to the nation, but without the firming Magic Pants.

The kids are waiting on the train with our friends.
“You said you’d do it”, says my son, turning away from me.“You’re a CHICKEN!”
I am pathetic and ridiculous. I have a huge comedy ass. Worse, I have let my children down.
“It was kind of funny though”, says my daughter, piping up suddenly.
"The best bit was when everybody was waiting for you!” says my son, laughing now.
We laugh all the way to the reception area.  Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha!

“We can go on the underground Victorian mine tour after lunch, if you want”, I say hopefully, a little later.
The prospect of a gentle educational activity fills me with so much joy I could weep. It’s just as well there’s no Art Gallery.
“There’s a LIVE slate-splitting show!” I add, still emotional.
The kids look at me as if I’m completely mental.
“OMG! No way!” they say in unison.

Emu. Puppet or predator? You decide. 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015


At the risk of sounding like a hater, I HATE flashers.

I don’t mean folks who like to show you their bits. Unless you’re talking about Rihanna. If I ever see any of Rihanna’s bits, ever again, I will pluck out my own eyeballs.

I mean motorists who think it’s the done thing to flash you with their headlights for no discernible reason.

Take the other day. There I am, driving along the country road into my village, when a motorist flashes me.

I check the speedometer. The instrument panel. The mirrors.  Nothing.

A second motorist flashes me, then a third, this time with eye-melting LED headlights that emit more light than a nuclear explosion.  In a state of high anxiety, overwhelmed by the mind-altering pain of the retinal burn, I consider the following possibilities:  

a) There is a corpse on my car roof.

b) The radiator grille is spewing out Plague.

c) The flesh-eating flying demon from Jeepers Creepers is preparing to swoop down on my car and eat my head.

d) I have become invisible, rendering the car (apparently) driverless.  

e) There is a gigantic bomb strapped to the bumper. 

I pull into a cul-de-sac of executive housing.  I am five minutes from home, maybe less, but if I continue driving, the car will explode. I also notice a police car parked in a lay-by up ahead.  Drive onwards, and I will be committing an unprecedented range of serious motoring offences.

A man walking his dog meets my gaze. He looks concerned. I get out of the car to look busy. I check the tyres. I check the bonnet. I have no actual clue what I’m looking for. I may as well be looking at a diagram of the Higgs Boson particle. 

"You allright?" says the man. 

“Yes, fine thanks, just checking for locusts, intestines, explosives, wraiths, that kind of thing! Ha ha ha! You know how it is!”

Obviously I don’t say any of this. People here have a positive outlook. They get up early. They have good jobs. They are not the kind of people who freak out on the side of the street. They are not the kind of people who frisk their vehicles for entrails.  

I text my partner.  

Hi hun. Can u ring me back ASAP.  In car. Three people flashed me.  Have pulled in. Afraid to carry on, especially as police car in lay-by ahead.  Something HORRIBLY wrong, obvs. PLS ring. PLS xxx

Up ahead, the policeman gets out of his vehicle, looks in my direction. I absolutely shit myself. I start to cry a bit, because of all the stress. My partner phones back. 

“That text was hilarious!” he says. “They’re trying to warn you about the speed trap!” he adds. “It’s fucking obvious.”

As soon as he says it, I know it's true. The policeman returns to his vehicle. 

“It’s not obvious to me”, I say, angry now.

“That’s because you’ve got no common sense!” he says, laughing heartily.  

I don't wish to rant, or digress, but the worst part of not having any so-called Common Sense is that most folk think it’s a fucking hoot. Totally OMG, ROFL and LMAO. Whether they’d be rolling in the aisles quite so much if you didn’t have any, say, working elbows, is doubtful. The second worst part is feeling like you’re not really a grown-up: that somewhere along the line, you missed the class where the teacher gave out secret little notes about Life, including answers to questions like a) What the actual fuck is going on in Eraserhead? b) What is a goddamn annuity? and c) WHERE EXACTLY IS THE BASTARD iCLOUD? As well as information about when and where to flash your headlamps at people.

“There’s definitely nothing in the Highway Code about flashing people to warn them about police cars parked in lay-bys”, I say.  “I got full marks in my theory.”

I didn’t get full marks in my theory. I got 49 in the multiple-choice part. Which is still awesome.

“It’s a common sense thing”, he says. Again.


I drive home without incident, albeit filled with the sudden, thrilling realisation that I was tipped off. I shoot the police officer a smug smile as I pass. "D'you think I was born yesterday?" I want to shout. "I know the score mate!" I walk with renewed confidence towards my front door. I find my keys easily. I am part of a clandestine network of experienced motorists who use coded light systems forbidden by the authorities to communicate! I am a grown-up! 

But then, as I’m making myself a nice cup of tea in the kitchen, I remember something else. The school of thought that says that if you’re speeding through a residential village, where there are children, well, maybe you deserve to get caught.  I remember all those not yet baptised in the gritty jizz of Common Sense, and all my fellow scaredy-cats, for whom flashing is ALWAYS alarming. And I decide that I hate fucking flashers.