Monthly Archives: October 2012

Hunting High and Low

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Do you believe in clairvoyants?  I want to, I really want to.  I knew a clairaudient once.  (A clairaudient hears things as opposed to a clairvoyant who sees things.)  This guy was the furthest removed from your archetypal psychic that you could get, but I think he was pretty good.  He made a career out of it and has his own books and TV shows so there has to be something; he’s a born entertainer too, so maybe that’s it.   He told me I had a problem in the area of my stomach and I should get it sorted otherwise it would change my life.  I went to a Doctor the following week and he was right.  Luckily I got it sorted.  I am not sure you can fake that kind of stuff.  Did he just guess and by some random probability get it right?

At age 18 I went to palm reader with a group of friends.  She was also pretty spot on, apart from the part about horses.  I don’t ride horses, never have and probably never will; I am scared of being that high on something with a mind of its own.  She said horses would play a large part in my future.  Maybe she meant post 40.

I know sceptics and I know those who are searching for reassurance in times of need, who have turned to mediums and spiritual churches, I know people who were lonely and racked up enormous phone bills on psychic hotlines, but most of all I know people who would just like the comfort of thinking there is something more, some people who simply sense more.  Whether it’s the murky world of psychics or the more orthodox world of alternative medicine, it’s reassuring to think that the conventional way is not the only way

I know a guru now.  Well I call him a guru; I’m not sure what he is exactly, he promotes the body’s ability to heal itself and I truly believe that he knows more. Without drugs or homeopathic medicine he uses his hands and his energy to fix people.  He has helped so many people I know that even though I can’t put a name to it or explain it, I recommend people to him time and time again.  He told me my past and present health problems on first meeting him; I hadn’t said a word. He looks like he’s related to Morten Harket and he is un-conventional to say the least; straight talking, cigarette smoking (organic tobacco), alcohol drinking (100% proof), maybe that’s why I like him. I am also scared of him, because he knows things; he can tell you if you have cancer or heart disease just by looking at you, he can recognise pains and diagnose illness before the symptoms have even manifested. I don’t think I want to know, there again if there’s something I could do to change the outcome, then why wouldn’t I want know?  Would you?

Is there really power in knowledge and fear just in the unknown?  For someone who gets palpitations when her bank statement comes I’d say fear is in the knowledge and the unknown.  Best to take comfort in the fact that we cannot possibly know the abilities of our bodies or minds so anything and everything is possible.

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Reasons to Celebrate # 2: Friends part 2

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click here for part 1 Scott didn’t seem overly pleased to see us.  The reason was probably that he’d spun such an enormous web of lies back in the UK that he knew he was going to be caught out when we arrived.  We stayed in the Granny flat attached to his house so we had our own space and we were in heaven.  Sleep, food, not sitting in an airline seat and the holiday ahead of us.

A couple of things set off alarm bells early on but we chose to ignore them thinking we were over sensitive.  He’d told us the weather was warm, the cost of living cheap and that he would take us on safari, up to the lakes to see flamingoes, we would be his guest.  All lies.  In reality after I spurned his advances on the first day his mood became considerably cold towards us.  He told us Nairobi was too dangerous for us to go out alone and therefore he had to chaperone us everywhere; to the mall, to his friend’s house to watch them play football,to his other friends house to watch Indian movies.  Not on safari by a long shot.  When he went out and he didn’t want us cramping his style he locked us in our Granny annex, literally.  They lived in a gated community with a locked gate at the front of the house so we were in fact prisoners.  We considered going to the embassy but we had in the back of our minds that maybe it wasn’t that bad, after all it was just Scott from university, his parents were somewhere in the background, how bad could it get?  We just needed to get away from him, problem was he wouldn’t let us.  He reluctantly took us out with him in the evening and we spoke with his friends about the situation.  They didn’t believe us, except one who suggested we go to Mombasa where the weather was better (it was raining in Nairobi).

We wanted to get to Mombasa as soon as possible.  Not as easy as you may think.  When he got wind of our plans he hijacked them and arranged for his Aunt and Uncle to be our chaperones in Mombasa. We had other plans but we accepted their offer gratefully and figured we’d only call them in an emergency. We decided to travel on the overnight train but it was pricey and we were skint, so we bought tickets for the overnight bus.  Scott and his friends told us we were making a mistake, that it was dangerous, but they told us that everything in Kenya was dangerous and we were beginning to think it was a ruse to keep us locked up.  For what end who knows.

Just before we left he graciously took us on the promised safari. He brought a girlfriend with him.  If a safari is speeding and skidding along dirt roads, whizzing past a couple of zebras then we went on safari.  The phrase bitter disappointment was made for times like this.  Youthful optimism and our  ability to laugh in the face of adversity stood us well.

We arrived in  Mombasa in the early hours before the sun was up and made our way to the beach to find a place to stay.   By this stage a feeling of fear had been instilled into us.  We had been locked in our prison until now and it took us a few days to realise that everyone wasn’t out to rob us, rape us or kidnap us.   We had a few days of freedom and exploring but I am not sure our hearts were in it by then.

Soon it was time to head back to Nairobi to fly home. We went to Scott’s friendly cousin on the last evening as she had offered to take us to the bus stop at midnight.  The Aunt and Uncle on the other hand had heard from Scott that we were ungratefull, terrible people and not to be trusted (?), so we had a frosty reception to say the least.  What a surprise, the bus was cancelled. We went back to the open arms of the cousin’s family and stayed the night.  Hiding in the room and 30 Mills and Boons books later (his Aunt’s only English books) we caught the bus the following night.

The holiday had been a wash out; in Kenya but no safari, in an exotic new country but locked away, there seemed to be a conspiracy between the people we had met and we were throughly disliked by all.  We sat on the bus and sang ‘Take Me Home Country Road’ and laughed about the flight home, would we  even make it?  Then out of nowhere we hit something, the bus started to roll over,  it was pitch black, people were screaming. The bus was on its side hurtling through the dust and rocks.  As we hit I shouted ‘get down’ to Rachel and we both went into the brace position.  Luckily we had already adopted the brace position a couple of times on our flight over so we were old hands at it.  I was sitting by the window and I was braced on top of Rachel, my back being scraped along the rocks as the window had magically disappeared.  Eventually it was quiet.  The bus had stopped moving; eery silence after the terrifying noise of the bus, just the sound of crying.  Within seconds people were climbing over each other to get out, pushing and shoving.  The front of the bus was on fire, I don’t know what happened to the driver.   I felt my back was hot and wet but was too scared to get Rachel to look, everything was red anyway from the dust and it was pitch black bar the fire on the bus.  Did I say, ‘move back its going to blow’, or that’s just how I remember it?  Once out, Rachel  was first to gather her senses and decided that we had to go back onto the  bus to get our passports and money.  What a hero, Rachel climbed back onto the burning bus and recovered both our bags with all our belongings.

A bus crash on that road was commonplace.  No ambulances, no fire engines, no-one knew and there were no phones.  We were miles from civilization.  We found another passenger who spoke some English and she told us that we should all walk back to the road and wait for other buses and trucks to drive past.   When we finally reached the road, we saw the cause of our accident, a baby elephant. heartbreakingly gigantic, laying silent on the road. This was the only elephant we saw on our trip and we had killed it.  We followed the crowd and stood together waiting for the first truck or bus to pass.  The first driver took 2 people, he told us to stick together and if we were still there towards dawn to light a fire as it was lion country.  Lion country?  Are we in an episode of candid camera?  2 down 48 to go including 2 incredulous Brits, not known for their pushy nature.  No doubt we were going to get the last ride.  Eventually a bus stopped and the driver let us sit in the aisles. For the pleasure of being rescued we had to bribe him.

We finally made it back to Nairobi to be met by a very unhappy Scott, ‘ You’re late’.  Picture if you will how we looked.  Rachel had bright orange hair from the dust, we were both covered in dirt, our clothes were ripped and I was bleeding.  ‘You’re late’????  That was the final straw.

Our return flight was, thank god, uneventful.  We kissed the ground when we got off the plane in the UK. I had a couple of cracked ribs and suffered for many months from the trauma of the crash mixed with the side effects of the antimalaria drugs we’d taken.  A week after returning home I received a parcel in the mail.  It was some photographs of Rachel in a safari suit hiding in the bushes in her Dad’s vegetable garden. Dotted around were cuddly toy lions and monkeys.  The note attached said that, instead of the real thing she had mocked up some safari pics for us to remember our Kenyan holiday.  You can’t get a better friend than that.

Reasons to Celebrate # 2: Friends part 1

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By the age of 40 you know absolutely the value of a good friendship.  I have one particular friend; we’ll call her Rachel (because that’s her name) who I met on the first day of University.  In the second year summer break we went on a life changing trip to Kenya.  This is our story (I’ve always wanted to say that).

Scott (not his real name) lived on our corridor in the halls of residence in the first year at University.  He was Kenyan Indian and his family lived in Nairobi.  Rachel and I became friendly with Scott and a couple of his friends at the end of the first year and when they told us the amazing stories about Kenya we were hooked.  We really wanted to go and he offered us a place to stay at his parents.  We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get to Kenya for as cheap as possible and we eventually found the cheapest and therefore longest way there.  We were flying with Aeroflot (aka Aeroflop).  People told us that international Aeroflot flights tended to be OK but the internal flights weren’t so good, i.e. they crashed.  Not to be deterred by such over dramatic stories we booked.  Remember this was before internet so we couldn’t Google Aeroflot which in retrospect is probably a good thing.

The first leg of our journey was to Moscow, on a jumbo, just your regular international flight.  We had a couple of hours in the airport before getting the connecting flight down to Nairobi.  Our plane broke down on the tarmac so we spent around 8 hours in the airport twiddling our thumbs, there was nothing open and in those days Moscow airport was far from what you would call modern.  At one point in the night we were ushered to the airport staff canteen and were offered some stew.  It goes without saying that Rachel and I were vegetarian (we were students), so we went hungry.  More fool us.  We finally got on the plane in the early hours of the morning and were told that we were now also flying via Larnaca in Cyprus before continuing to Nairobi.  Fine, why not, it’s not like we’re late already, an unscheduled stop fits in perfectly with our plans.

As we approached Larnaca the wheels went down and we could see the tarmac as we came into land, just as we were about to touch down the engines roared and we took off again.  Panic ensued, I was hyper ventilating into the air sick bag, Rachel was being sick in the air sick bag, passengers were screaming and shouting. No-one knew what was going on.  The pilot eventually told us that the sea mist on the runway was too thick to land and that we needed to circle the Island until it lifted.  So we went around and around and around, aiding Rachel’s nausea beautifully until finally the announcement told us that we were running out of fuel. We would try to land again and if the mist was still too thick, we’d make an emergency landing in an air force base to refuel.  Breathe Katie breathe.  Yes it was 20 years ago but air safety is air safety and has international standards even for Aeroflot, ‘Try again’, really?  So we tried again and once again he pulled us back up, by which time there was pandemonium on the plane.  I hid under a blanket and we held hands – Rachel was too sick to be scared.

A few moments later we were safely on the ground in an air force base. The engines had to be off to re-fuel and we weren’t allowed off the plane.  The plane stank; no air conditioning, 100s of sweating unwashed passengers in 35 degree heat.  They did open the doors to allow Rachel to puke over the side of the plane (the toilets were blocked by this point) which was very good of them. Once we’d refuelled we were back in the air, oh no, we’re not, we’re landing again, this time actually at Larnaca.  Hooray we made it and we were allowed off the plane.  Ah, the bliss of European toilets, food, hot water.  After a quick stop we were back in the air heading to Nairobi.  Or were we?

Djibouti.  Where? Well at least we’d made it to the right continent.  Apparently we didn’t have enough fuel to get all the way to Nairobi.  What? how? why?  We had been in the air up and down, up and down, up and down for around 21 hours by this point, we were beyond tired, dehydrated (did I mention the plane ran out of drinking water), and were prone to spats of hysteria.  After a while they must have realised that it was actually dangerous to leave their dehydrated passengers on the plane in 45 degree heat so eventually they allowed us off . What a shock walking into the oven of the desert, pale young English girls that we were, we’d never experienced over 25 degrees. We were given some delicious sugary bottles of Fanta in the shack and then were sent back to the plane – no, please, not that plane again.  That plane stank.

We shed a few tears as we finally touched down in Nairobi, as we left the plane we were all presented with a certificate and an Aeroflot badge, I don’t know to this day what the certificate says but I’m guessing ‘sucker’.

It had taken us 28 hours to get there and the worst part was we had to fly back.  Still, at least we had our great Kenyan adventure ahead of us before that.  We should have realised when Scott greeted us with, ‘you’re late, I was supposed to play football today’ that it was perhaps not going to be the adventure we had planned…

What Chocolate Are You?

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Have you ever played ‘what chocolate are you’ with friends? Actually, maybe it was just one of our made-up night bus journey games. Here’s what you do; think of a box of chocs, Quality Street or Roses for example (if you’re British) and decide which chocolate you are. Then you ask your fellow game players to tell you what they think you are. It’s not as interesting as spin the bottle as drinking games go but it certainly gives you an insight into how you are perceived by others. This of course is just for interest’s sake but could come in handy before a job interview, meeting the in-laws or the ex-wife/husband of your new partner. I, for example at college age thought I was a caramel; hard, a bit chewy but soft after a while – if your teeth are loosening you might want to give me a miss. However the majority of my friends at the time thought I was a cracknell. Still not sure what they meant by that but I don’t think it’s flattering.

In general we waste way too much time concerned about what other people think of us but it’s just so hard not to. I wholly admire people who really don’t care what others think but I am of the opinion that there is always an Achilles heel e.g. personally they don’t care but professionally they are sensitive as hell. In fact I would go so far as to say that not caring at all could come across as arrogance. It’s a shame really because if none of us gave a toss, people would not spend so much on clothes, haircuts, cars and gadgets etc. but then the global economy would really be paddle-less and up the creek.

There are 3 stages as I see it: As a youth you care a lot what others think of you. How many of you only listened to a certain band/followed a particular football team/wore a ra-ra skirt because your friends did? Come on, own up. Simple Minds/Manchester United/yes; stage 2 middle age, luckily the stage I am approaching, means beginning to care less and less, we drop some of the façade and start to be a more genuine representation of ourselves, less likely to make choices based purely on others opinions. These days I have no shame of my love of crap music, my complete lack of interest in football (who knew?) and my inability to follow fashion, although I do still worry way to much about what random people think of me personally. I am confident that eventually this will fade in time too because the third stage is old age, and I have observed that many old people really don’t care about what other people think of them at all. For some the pendulum swings so far the other way that it takes ‘keeping it real’ to a whole new level. Although it must be freeing to not care at all there are certainly downsides to that if you’re on the receiving end.

All things considered I know I could become a strawberry cream if I needed to, just as long as it’s not for too long. But actually a cracknell is just an acquired taste and some people think them quite delicious.  Now go on, have a play.

To Do To Done yet?

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The countdown to the big day is in double figures (55) so there are a few bits of housekeeping to take care of, not least the plans for the event itself.  I am not one to shirk from birthdays; in fact I always fully embrace them and am very disappointed when others don’t do likewise.  What’s the point of having one day you can have as your own and then ignoring it?  One of the rubbish parts of getting older is that birthdays become less of an event.  If I had my way I would have a party (with all the girls in long dresses), complete with party games and party tea every year just like in 1979.  Perhaps a little vodka in the jelly, just to make it more interesting.

So back to the housekeeping: At this point I have to confess that I haven’t even made the list of life changing things I intend to do as I approach a new decade.  I recently read a blog on the Huffington Post by a Pastor, Lisa Hickman, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-hickman/turning-40_b_1555524.html who says (amongst other interesting things) that the appearance of the number 40 in the Bible usually heralds some change.  When I hark back to Sunday school it’s true that 40 does come up a lot – 40 days and nights in the ark/desert/up Mount Sinai etc although I’m not convinced that it doesn’t just means a really long time.  Forty years is a really long time in my opinion so I am using my 40th in the biblical sense as a point of transition, a spring-board to the next stage and judging by the billions of blogs, websites and magazine articles about turning 40, I am not alone. I just need to get on with that list, surely that’s the easiest bit because so far with 55 days to go; I haven’t done any exercise, I haven’t drank any more water, I still eat sparingly or too much and usually of the wrong stuff, I haven’t started the Novel (no surprise there), I haven’t taken up a new sport and I still have an unhealthy obsession with sickness and death.  Cue hysteria, oh god I can feel the panic rising in my chest.  Must make the list, must make the list.  On the other hand I could always procrastinate a bit longer and plan my celebrations. I’m thinking big, I’m thinking double pronged attack here and in the UK.  Now I just have to figure out how to justify the expense. 1) win lottery, 2)

To Do Bible

Its all in the genes

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There are a few people in your life who remember you at all ages: as children; stroppy teenagers; young adults and are watching now as you move toward middle age (ho ho).  Your parents and extended family have seen it all (well almost all).  Do you ever wonder what they think of your adult self?  “Didn’t he/she turn out well”?  I would bet that at least 75% of you see traits of your parents in yourself; that sometimes you say or think things and hear yourself turning into your Mum or Dad. It goes without saying that the parents amongst you certainly hear yourself coming out with the corkers you heard from your own parents; ‘Don’t speak to me like that’, ‘You will eat what is put in front of you’ or my personal favourite which sometimes accidentally slips out, ‘go to your room and look for my good boy and when you find him bring him back’.  Beautiful (sorry kids).

Parents of adults probably feel a bit hard done by; they don’t see their kids as much anymore, they have to be on-call grandkid sitters, they can’t change the way their kids have turned out, their kids generally believe they know better (they probably do), and worse than that in many families (mine included) one of the parents/elderly relations becomes the object of good-natured ridicule.  You see the other thing about ageing is that you become less patient, less forgiving and more likely to speak your mind; you’ve seen Grumpy Old Men right?  Every Christmas in my house I remind my Dad of the cattle prod I had to produce one year to give him a short sharp shock every time he moaned about something. “What’s this rubbish on the telly?” dzzzzzz “Why’s your mother going to Marks & Spencer’s again?” dzzzzzzz “These tomatoes are tasteless” dzzzzzzz “Not another episode of Eastenders’ dzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  My Dad is a good-natured chap in general so I just have to gently remind him of that, it’s all in the training you know. Take note, your kids will be doing the same to you in 20 years.

So if your parents could tell you honestly one thing that they would like to change about you, what do you think it would be?  Not that they could ever really tell you the absolute truth, love is unconditional right?  But just for fun have a think about it.  I recently read a book called ‘Sh*t my Dad Says” by Justin Halpern and that Dad really knows how to tell the truth.  It’s worth a read if you need a giggle and the author is also on Twitter @sh*tmydadsays.  My paternal grandmother always told the truth, some would call it tactless but I adored her: She told my mother on first meeting her that she had rugby player’s shoulders;  she asked me at 15 what was that on my chin (acne); she also told me at 13 that I was just like her and would always be flat chested… Not what you want to hear when you’re pre-pubescent.  Ah Grandma, I want to be just like you when I grow up.  She made it to 93 and I miss her to this day.

I am lucky enough to still have both my parents and I think they think I turned out not too bad, the mix of genes, upbringing and my own personal input have stood me well.  I can only hope that I am around and as pleased with my offspring when they turn 40.  What they will think of me is dependent on how soon I introduce them to the prod.

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Reasons to celebrate #1: Experience

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There are times when I think; thank goodness I am older and wiser. I am less likely to get myself in the scrapes I did as a youngster.  Experience counts for a lot at any age and although I owe a lot of my better judgement to age and experience I also owe a lot to my husband.  Within a week of our relationship I’d been in the hospital, written off his car and been locked in a strip club, with the owner.  This must have given him a fair idea of my bad luck/naivety/thirst for a good pub story.  Although I can’t say the first two won’t happen again my husband has taught me some key skills to trusting people eg. that man owns a strip club, you don’t know him, don’t go to his club at 10am, that sort of thing.  Here’s a story of one of my scrapes from my university days. As its Sunday you might want to get a cup of tea before starting this one, it’s longer than usual.

When I was 19 I hitchhiked for charity to Amsterdam with a bloke on acid.  He’d been to Amsterdam before (of course he had) so I figured he was a good travel partner plus he was also a good friend. We were one of about 20 couples taking part for our University’s Rag Week. My partner, we’ll call him Garth, and I made it in double quick time; hitching with two rides down to Sheerness, the overnight ferry and then one very speedy ride right into the centre of a chilly early morning Amsterdam.  When my friends arrived a few hours later Garth was firmly on the road to oblivion, by the time we were due to hitch back the following day he had set up camp there and was showing no signs of return.

I led him out of the city on public transport to where I thought the main highways were but as I didn’t have more than a city map it’s a mystery how I could have thought I knew where we were going.  Eventually we reached a highway, Garth in his crazy-world wisdom was convinced we had to hitch from what I was convinced was the wrong side of the road.  Travelling alone did not seem like a viable option and even though he was worse than useless, he was familiar, and more importantly he was a danger to himself. So I bowed to his cracked judgement (more fool me) and crossed to his side.

We made slow no progress, what with taking lifts North instead of South. Garth was chattering, arguing, chuckling, being abnormally quiet or jiggling around; behaviour which made us unpopular passengers to would be rides.  5 cold hours after leaving Amsterdam we found ourselves back on the outskirts of Amsterdam heading in the correct direction for the port. FYI It’s one hour from Amsterdam to the port in Vlissengen.  By this time Garth was sober and tired and very, very grumpy.

We had a couple of hours before the last ferry of the evening when a car stopped for us with an elderly man in the backseat.  Rule number 2 of hitchhiking (number 1 being, don’t hitchhike) is, don’t squeeze next to an elderly man if you are female. After a few minutes the elderly passenger started muttering in Dutch and his hands began wandering over my thighs. I hissed to Garth that it was time to get out.  Garth came up trumps and was very gallant, yelling at the guy, ordering the driver to pull over.  Bravo Garth! Regrettably we got out on the hard shoulder of a busy four lane highway in the dark, in sub-zero temperatures, and it was snowing. After walking for a few minutes we realised the danger we were in and called from an emergency phone to ask how to get off the highway.  They told us we were breaking the law and to get off the highway. Not terribly helpful. Half an hour later at the next phone we told the police to arrest us.  Eventually a police van turned up.  We were overjoyed at the prospect of at least warming up on our way to the cells.  But no, they had come in a dog van so no back seats just a cage.  Thank goodness they didn’t make us crawl in, instead they put their headlights on full beam and we walked in the glare of the headlights down the hard shoulder – a mini chain gang – until the next slip road where they gave us directions to the nearest train station.

We had less than an hour before the ferry left.  We got the next train to Vlissingen, arriving just in time to see our ferry steaming out of the harbour with all our friends on it.  I clearly remember sobbing as it disappeared from view, never had I felt so desolate and cold. We went back to the train station, the only place open in Vlissengen port, and slept on a very cold stationary train with one ear cocked for the engines starting up.  Suffice to say, freezing and in a state of near panic that we would miss the next morning’s ferry and would be locked in the nightmare for ever, I didn’t sleep, Garth on the other hand merrily slept off the effects of his weekend. I clearly recall the smell of his socks and sound of his snores.

We were finally met at Coventry train station 24 hours later; dirty, tired, hungry, penniless and borderline hypothermic. My mother had been on the phone, the University authorities weren’t too impressed and my friends thought it was hilarious.

My unlucky travel experiences are many and varied, that weekend just one of many, fortunately it just made me want to travel more.  At a stage in my life where travelling is pretty impossible (and with Syria as a neighbour it’s also ill advised) I find myself reminiscing about the ease of living in the UK and cheaply visiting Europe.  As soon as I get the chance I will resume my travels albeit on a smaller scale than in the past and look for new perhaps less risky experiences, well, what would I tell the kids?

Other 2012 40 year olds

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I have just discovered that fellow 40 year old Gwyneth Paltrow exercises 2 hours a day 6 days a week to remain so young looking, that Dita Von Teese was also 40 this year and likewise follows a strict diet and exercise routine and finally that Emmerdale (a long running soap opera about a farming community for those of you not in the UK) also turned 40 this year.  I relate much more to Emmerdale – Northern, a bit muddy, over dramatic, with a rare splattering of slapstick humour.  Happy birthday Emmerdale.

Happy birthday fellow 40 year old