Spiky balls and bicycles

‘Not that I go round randomly sniffing balls,’ said my neighbour Helen, remarkably seriously, and entirely unsolicited. ‘But I definitely caught a whiff of vanilla’.

‘Really?’ I said, spiky ball under nose, equally seriously. ‘Oh yeah’.

We were appraising the Strawberry How torture chamber, from the comfort of the sofas, a couple of glasses of wine into our first ‘catch-up’ of 2017. Small spiky balls, bigger spiky balls, not-so-spiky balls and the altogether bigger, smoother but entirely visually uninspiring Yamuna ball, along with the bolsters and belts, blocks and backnobbers that comprise the ‘yoga aids’ stack in the corner. A corner soon to be occupied by the latest addition to the chamber – a brand spanking new, ever so stylish, exercise bike. Just as soon as the now-stripped and forlorn Christmas tree is finally moved out of its way by the Gremlin – who spent the weekend, incidentally, enjoying an avalanche training course in Scotland, without any actual snow. Or that’s what he tells me.

Anyway, I know what you’re thinking. Exercise bike! Ha! Clothes stand, more like. Well we’ll see. And given that running is currently out of the question (thanks to the whole recovering from a bulging disc thing) – and I am not a confident road cyclist – this is the only option. That or sink into a cholesterol-choked dotage for which I am neither mentally, emotionally or spiritually ready, just yet.

Sixteen going on seventeen

Meanwhile, here we are, one week into a new year. Is it safe to come out yet? Can I put down the cushion?

‘Hashtag 2016′: a year nothing good happened.

Except. It did. Didn’t it?

Good things happened everywhere. Really.

I mean, a British astronaut spent 186 days in space. Watching us. Chatting to us. Leaving messages on answerphones. Running marathons in zero gravity. Inspiring young and old alike to reach for the stars. Okay, he blasted off in December 2015, but he came back to earth again, in July – an infinitely greater achievement than his leaving.

And what about Ed? Gangnam stylin’ his way into our hearts on Strictly. Well mine at least. There comes a time in life, I’ve discovered, when you cross a line. One minute you’re shaking your booty with the best of them. Next thing you know, you’re doing the ‘dad’ dance. Or, in my case, the ‘mum’ dance. But thanks to Ed, we’re back over that line.

The Olympics, of course. And the Paralympics. And Andy Murray.

And wild tigers: on the up. And giant pandas: off the danger list. Although probably still quite dangerous to us humans.

WIRED magazine announced – after extensive research – that the unequivocal best biscuit for dunking was the ‘humble Rich Tea’. Eat you heart out Hob Nob. And an urban axe throwing company (I’m not kidding), sold to the hipster crowd the idea that throwing an axe at a target is a pretty good way of combatting stress. They’ll be opening cereal-only bars next. Oh wait…

Closer to home, otters were found playing and fishing along the banks of Tom Rudd Beck. And Allerdale planners discovered the word ‘No’ in their Christmas stockings, choosing to throw out twenty applications to build in and around Cockermouth (front page news here this week), because ‘we’re full’. Pity they didn’t spot that earlier. Is it just me, or is anyone else cynical of this sudden desire to adhere to the Local Plan?

Last year was also the year those plastic bags we’ve all been pushing into bigger bags, and hoarding in cupboards and drawers for so long – just in case they come in handy – finally did just that. Until they all, surprisingly quickly, split or smelled of fish. Or the handles snapped. And we had to start paying, or learn to juggle. Which was good news for the charities at the receiving end of all those five-penny pieces.

And in Sweden, some earnest wonk earned good research money concluding that hotel cleaners were wasting far too many hours folding ends of toilet paper into fetching triangles. Ten million hours, in fact. No mention of the hours spent securing just-cleaned loo seats with strips of plasticised paper. Maybe that’s the next project.

Elsewhere, another survey revealed that healthy eating is making us fat. Yet another concluded that looking out the window while you eat makes you slimmer. Which brings me to supermarket bag packing and my own random findings that, while political correctness now forbids any sort of fattist comment in polite company, the field is still wide open for thinnist commentary.

There I was on Christmas Eve, in my silver glittery antlers and the Gremlin’s rescue team polo shirt, helping out with the team’s annual bag pack (a people-watching experience I would heartily recommend). Two hours in, and taking a break to chat to some pals (whilst idly gazing out towards the car park at the last-minute-food-bits shoppers hurrying towards the entrance), I was helping myself to a proffered Quality Street when one gentleman, a complete stranger, leaned in towards me. A little too close for comfort.

‘It’ll make you fat’, he said, clearly not as mugged up as me on all those ‘how to stay slim’ studies.

‘No it won’t’, said I, with a chortle, confident in the knowledge that no, it really won’t.

Not content with this, however, he pressed on.

‘You need feeding up’, he said. ‘You could do with a good meal. You’ll never lift a stretcher with those muscles’. Said, I should add, whilst staring pointedly at the rescue team logo nestling over my left breast. At which point, all clichéd out, and getting nothing more for his efforts than bemused silence, he smirked, turned on his heels and left. Ho ho, bloody ho.

And, of course, for me and the Gremlin, #2016 was just a little special. What with ‘wedding of the year’ and ‘book of the year’.

So here’s to ‘Hashtag 2017’, as it will no doubt become. My predictions? The doom-mongers will persist in their glass half empty view. Those handcarts will rumble on to Hades. Human beings (and cats) will continue to entertain and embarrass, destroy and delight us. Rock stars and film stars, and sadly even people we actually know, will depart this ragtaggle world for a better place, taking a part of us with them whilst somehow also leaving their whole selves here, with us. Forever in our hearts.

And none of us know where the roulette ball will settle next. So here’s my advice: dance like Ed, pedal like a demon, gaze out that window. Eat butter. Dunk that Hob Nob. Sniff that prickly ball. And just keep topping that glass up.

Spiny green balls © Dana Kenneth Johnson. Dreamstime.com

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