Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Brizzle is gurt lush, mind!

All it takes is a Brizzle girl to win Big Brother and suddenly the yoke of Vicky Pollard, everyone’s favourite Bristolian single mother, you know, the one who swapped her baby for a 'Westlife' CD, is thrown off and a Brizzle accent is the one to have ….. apparently! Brizzle is cool, Brizzle is "gert lush".

My first real-life encounter with a Brizzle accent came when Virgin Medi(a)ocre came to install my broadband and tv service. Jay and Kyle, the two installers spoke with broad Bristolian accents. They chatted away for several hours. I understood approximately 10 minutes worth of the conversation. To be honest, they could have told me they had been kidnapped by aliens and forcefed Fray Bentos pies for all I could tell.  Having spent the previous 5 years struggling to understand the local patois in France, suddenly I found myself back in my own country... doing exactly the same.

On asking if they wanted a cup of tea, the response sounded like ‘Lavonna they, ta’ which, in Bristolian means ‘Oh rather, I’d love one’ or something vaguely similar and on returning the mugs ‘eeyar me luvverr’ – yes people really do say that in the West Country, in fact, the ladies in the cafĂ© where I get my latte on the way to work, always waves me off with a cheery “ave a nice day me luvverr”. There's something about a good West Country accent that just lifts your spirits.

So, for those wishing to be seen to have their finger on the pulse of popular culture, here is Madame Marmite’s Guide to Bristolian English. Now, I should say that I am no expert and will happily be corrected on anything in my guide. Also, not everyone in Bristol speaks with a broad accent.

Firstly, a bit of geographical and demographic context, or as they would say in Bristol, “Brizzle, where’s attoo?”

Brizzle is a city of over half a million people and, until recently, only one shopping centre, Cribbs Causeway, locally known as The Maul. “gowen danna Maul is I” (I’m going shopping at Cribbs Causeway) It is described (by them) as the ‘total shopping and leisure experience in the South West.

Bristol was once described, perjoratively, as ‘A One Mall Town’ but that was before Cabot Circus opened. Now, it is home to one of the biggest shopping centres in Europe. It’s ‘a macky biggun’ in local parlance.

Bristol has many different areas including Armunsbree (Almondsbury), famous for the Armunsbree innerrchange, Embray (Henbury), Annum (Hanham) which rather confusingly also means ‘haven’t they’ so if someone says “Annum got macky jaspers” they might be saying They have got large wasps” or “Hanham is known for it’s large wasps” (OK, so it’s a pretty unlikely sentence but I’m just trying to introduce you, me babbers, to as much Bristolian as I can.) Cabry Eef (Cadbury Heath) where they don’t make choclut mind, Caynshum (Keynsham) where they ‘disn’t’ make choclut anymore after the take over by Kraft, Saffmead (Southmead, a meader is a derogatory term for someone from here), Nawl Wess (Knowle West), El Dub (Lawrence Weston… LW, geddit?) and Sadly Broke, the derogatory name for Bradley Stoke, a relatively new area of Brizzle where the residents were hard hit by the housing slump and most ended up in worthless new build properties.

Bristol is quite close to the country of Wells as in “they likes they sheep over in Wells mind”, in fact it is connected by a Spenshun Brij, and not far from the county of Zummerrzet where they make the zider, also known as 'glider' locally. A common cry on a Friday night in Brizzle might well be ‘zider I up, landlord!’ A nice glass of 'Forn' (Blackthorn cider) is often the drink of choice. The correct way to offer your friend a drink is "ee want anudder Forn in yer fry me babber?"
It's also not far from the City of Baff. Iss proper posh in Baff mind

It has two football clubs; Bristol City, known as The Pirates and Bristol Rovers, known as the Gas, whose supporters are known as Gasheads, although it’s more Gass-eds (youm a gass-ed?)

The Bristolian alphabet has only 25 letters as no Bristolian has ever been heard to pronounce the letter ‘H’. In addition, the sound 'awl' is added to many words such as 'bananawls' which you got in 'Asdawl' which you drove to in your Ford 'Fiestawl'. But don't forget to put your 'eddlice' on when the sun goes down (It's not what you think!)

Verb conjugation is ridiculously easy....
I is

You is

He/she/it is

We is
You is

They is

I has

You has
He/she/it has

We has

You has

They has.................. and so on

The word on the street is that the ambulance service in Brizzle is so efficient because their drivers are all ex-joyriders. However, if the ambulance doesn't arrive in time then you'll have a 'dedder' on your hands.

Obviously, the fact that the late arrival of the ambulance has contributed to the death of your nearest and dearest might lead you to have a 'right benny'. The ambulance driver, embarrassed at his mistake might 'ave a gurt beamer like' (be red in the face with embarrassment.) A macky eadfit might lead the ambulanceman to comment to his partner 'ees a right nutter. Ees oughta be in Barawl Gurney', Barrow Gurney being a former psychiatric hospital in Bristol.

Out on a Friday night wearing your 'daps' (plimsolls - from Dunlop Athletic Plimsolls) you spy a young Bristolian lady who you'd like to get to know better. Your opening gambit should be
"Awlrie?" to which she will give the common response "Awlrie, ow's bist?". You assure her of your good health then perhaps you might wonder where she hails from "What aereawl do eee live in?" From then on you might wish to enquire about her place of employment "Whirr you work to?" Perhaps a drink might lubricate her a little. "Canave one a they" she might say pointing at a Bacardi Breezer.

You might even want to comment on the fine gold hoops in her ears. "Thems nice yerrings. Bist gawld?But look out, someone else has their eye on her too and he's "getten right baity" with you hitting on his love interest. "Ees doggen I up" you might comment to your friends as he glares at you but not to be put off, you raise your fist at him and say "diesel gettee if ee don't shut it" but in the end, your friends advise a tactical withdrawal because "ee wansa fire you up" (which is the usual outcome of too much testosterone mixed with Dry Blackthorn cider on a Friday night)
You decide to take your new lady back to your lovenest but damn, the car is in the garage. "We gotta get at bus ohm annus".!" At the bus stop you steal a little kiss. "Oi, you casn't do at yer" says an old lady waiting in the queue. On the bus home, you pass some youngsters indulging in that favoured Bristolian sport (in some areas) of joyriding (see ambulance drivers above). As the Ford Fiestawl rounds a corner almost on two wheels you might comment "Blige, ee anked that round the corner mind".
The course of true love will not run smoothly unless you learn the proper way to address your Bristolian paramour. Suggesting she come in for a nightcap will elicit a blank stare so you need to remember to ask "yous cummin up for a coffee and a massarge like?'" And don't forget your manners on the bus home either. "Churz Drive" is the accepted way to thank the bus driver.

The following day, with the benefit of sunlight and a clear head, you look over at your luvver. "Blige, what a munter" you whisper, (or even a 'minger'). She certainly not as good looking as she was last night! Worse still, you remember she's a "meader" (see ab above) "Oi, oo called I a munter? Ark at eee, ees a bleeden minger like" she says, all indignant, lighting up a 'scutler' (Lamber and Butler cigarette). Oh well, whoever said love as easy?

So there you have it, a brief introduction to the wonderful world of Brizzle English. Mint innit! Make sure you practice every night.

NB: No Bristolians were intentionally hurt in the writing of this blogpost

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Driving home for Christmas.....

With the second 'cold front' hitting the UK, the talk on the news is all of cancelled flights, ruined holiday plans and tearful children who won't see granny at Christmas.  I have an involuntntary shudder as I am reminded of our one and only attempt to get to Sussex for Christmas with my parents when we lived in France.

I've taken this post from my old French blog and am sharing it for anyone who's Christmas plans have gone t*ts up.  You have my sympathies.

"At this time of year among the overseas community the most often asked question is 'Are you going to the UK for Christmas?'. Normally for us it would be yes but we are still traumatised by our last trip back for Christmas two years ago.

It's a long story, so pour yourself a glass of wine and pull up a chair.......

It all started a few weeks before Christmas when the Grand Gasguzzler started making a whining noise. I'm used to most whining noises (well I have two children don't I?) but this was different.

We took it to Monsieur L who has serviced our cars since we arrived in France. He kept it for the day, fiddled a bit and returned it to us. Still it whined. We sent it back, he fiddled, it came back whining. He thought it might be the gearbox but wasn't sure.

This carried on for several weeks until two days before Christmas. I went to collect the car.

"Is it fixed?" I asked in my bestest French.

"Erm, actually no" he replied in his bestest French

"What do you think it is?"

"I think there's a problem with the gearbox" he replied

"A big problem?"

He shrugged his best Gallic shrug

"The thing is" he said "I don't actually deal with automatic gearboxes. Don't really know a thing about them"

I tried to keep calm. What on earth had I been doing for the past weeks wasting my time with a garage that doesn't 'do' automatic gearboxes. I could have been sending it to a garage that did!

"You do know we are driving to the UK in two days?" I said, trying to keep the panic out of my voice. "Do you think it will make it?"

He shrugged another Gallic shrug.

I dashed home, looked at the huge pile of presents, cases of wine, food and other goodies we were planning to take, checked out the cost of flights (surely that must be the price in Chilean Pesos or something, it can't be sterling!!), had another quick panic and realised that we really had no other choice. There was no Plan B.

On 22nd December we set off, the Grand Gasguzzler stuffed to the roof with all our goodies. We decided to go for it and do the journey in one day, taking it easy to give the gearbox a fighting chance.

All went perfectly until just south of Rouen when suddenly the car started missing gears. The CH drove on, a smile (or more of a grimace) fixed on his face. I eyed him nervously.

"Should the car be doing that?" asked DD

"Don't worry, it's fine" I replied, my voice just a little too loud and high to be convincing.

Gradually, it started missing gears more and more. Finally, we came off a roundabout and it wouldn't move out of first gear. We limped along, to the annoyance of the other drivers, for a few kilometres until we found a layby and pulled in.

"Bugger, bugger, bugger" I said (or that's roughly what I said anyway)

We called the breakdown service who arrived within minutes. The mechanic did much sharp intaking of breath and pulling of chin.

"The gearbox is foutu" he said. (See earlier post for a translation of foutu)

"I could take you to Calais if you want. It would cost..... let me see..... 900 euros..... cash"

And a Bloody Merry Christmas to you too, I thought.

I phoned the insurance company (in France, breakdown insurance is included in your car insurance). They told me they would put us up in a hotel for the night then hire a car for us to go to Calais but from then on, we were on our own as they only had to take us as far as the French border.

The car was towed to a garage where the owner had a quick look, confirmed the diagnosis of a gearbox foutu and said, at a rough estimate it would cost 10,000 euros to repair.

I can't think of a suitably onomatopoeic word for somebody having a heart attack, but you get the rough idea!

"You have to be joking! I don't think the car is worth that much" I said, rapidly losing the ability to speak French.

He shrugged his Gallic shoulders.

The CH and I looked at our enormous pile of luggage and realised that there was no way we could get it all back to the UK as foot passengers on the ferry. With heavy hearts, we handed over a case of decent wine to the garage owner. Had we known that he would eventually charge us nearly 200 euros for 'parking' at his garage we would have been less generous!

A taxi (a large one) came and took us to a nearby hotel. The driver was lovely and terribly sympathetic with our plight. So we gave him a case of wine too .... but he deserved it.

At the hotel, everyone had heard of our disaster.

"Don't worry" said, the receptionist "It could have been worse" (how exactly?)

We arrived in our room, exhausted and not a little stressed. The children were wonderful. Not a word of complaint. We still seemed to have the equivalent of an EU wine and food mountain with us, not to mention the christmas presents.

"I don't know how we are going to get this lot back to the UK" said the CH, mirroring my thoughts. "Let's just hope they get us a big hire car".

Early the next day, Alain from the insurance company phoned.

"The news isn't good, Madame" he said

God, what did I do in a past life?

"There are no hire cars available in the whole of the north of France"

"What do you mean? No cars available"

"Well, actually, as it's Sunday all the offices are closed"

Damn France and its Sunday Trading laws!!

"Don't you have an emergency number or something?" I asked hopefully

"I'm afraid not. There's no car"

"Just give me a minute and I'll call you back" I said.

"What did he say?" the CH asked, knowing it wasn't good

"There are no bloody hire cars available!"

"So what do we do?"

Well with all these boxes of wine we could probably build a flaming raft and sail the Channel!

"I'm phoning my Mum" I said.

"I don't think now's the time....."

Oooooh, be quiet and give me the phone.

"Mum, can you check out the Eurostar and see if there are any seats available"

Hah! What a clever girl I am. All is not lost after all.

Eventually Dad called back to say there was space on all the Eurostars, we just had to get to Paris. Right, now we have a Plan B.

I called the insurance company. They said they would book us tickets from Rouen to Paris, arrange all the transfers and even better, it was free of charge. Hallelujah! There is a God after all.

"Right," I said to the CH. "We need more suitcases."

We dashed down to reception who confirmed there was a supermarket open for the next hour which might sell suitcases. A map was drawn and the CH and DS set off.

Nearly two hours later and they hadn't returned. That's it, they've been kidnapped by gypsies. It's all over. I'm a widow now. (Well I was just a teensy bit stressed)

They finally arrived back dragging two suitcases.

"It took longer to get there than we thought" said the CH "and the receptionist forgot to mention the 6 lane motorway that runs between here and the supermarket!"

"So what did you do?" I asked nervously.

Turns out they had to run across the motorway. Thank God it was Sunday so there was hardly any traffic. We sorted out the presents and food and made a 'Must Go' and a 'Can't Go' pile.

The insurance company rang back. No seats on the train till tomorrow morning.

"That would be Christmas Eve then, the 24th?"

Cutting it far too fine for my liking but we had no choice. The following day we packed up our 7 suitcases and assorted carrier bags. We distributed our bounty to the hotel staff, who all collected to see us off. The nice taxi driver turned up and we set off for the station in Rouen.

Now Rouen is a biggish place so I imagined it would be a bit like Waterloo Station or something with a few bookshops and a couple of nice places to keep warm and have a coffee.

Wrong..... it was a dreadful place, full of drunks, completely open on one side so it was freezing and the only cafe, which was decidedly grotty, was closed.

Never mind, only 2 hours to wait ... on cold metal seats. A girl could get piles like this!

Eventually the platform number came up. It was the only platform that was on a different level.

We took the children and a few suitcases down first, then left them there, with strict instructions to speak to nobody, and dashed off for the rest of the luggage. They looked like little evacuees with their suitcases and carrier bags slung round their necks like gasmasks!

After several trips we finally had all our bags and children on the platform waiting for the train.

"Gosh, you have a lot of luggage" said a lady standing next to us.

"Yes, our car broke down. We are on the way to the UK for Christmas"

The train arrived, we hauled all our stuff on with the help of some other passengers.

"Gosh you've got a lot of luggage" they said.

"Yes, we are on the way back to the UK for Christmas and the car broke down."

We smiled weakly and collapsed into four conveniently empty seats by the door. After a few minutes the CH asked about a sign above our heads.

It said 'These seats are reserved for pregnant women and people who were mutilated in the war'. Honest, that's what it said! Just let them try and move me, I thought..

We arrived in Paris with three Eurostars still left. All that remained was the short transfer between stations. We phoned the insurance company to make sure that there was a people carrier to transport us, spelling out exactly how much luggage we had. No problem, we were told.

Any my biggest mistake was to believe them.

We were told to go out and wait at the taxi rank. A man was standing there holding a plaque with our names on.

"Is this all yours?" he asked, indicating our luggage.

"Yes, you have got a people carrier haven't you? I specifically asked for one"

"Well, not exactly"

He led us to a large saloon car and one look was enough to realise that not even half our bags would fit in it. He said he'd call the office and get a bigger car and not to worry as he would wait until it arrived.

I called the insurance company to make sure that the message was relayed that we needed a BIG car.

"No problem" said Alain. Now where have I heard this before.

I reported back to the CH and the children that the taxi would arrive any minute. The taxi driver confirmed that his colleague was on his way, he wished us Bon Voyage and left. By now it was starting to snow and was bitterly cold.

Half an hour later we were still standing there, DD's lips were now a very unbecoming shade of blue. Right, I'm ringing the insurance company again. I took out my phone. Damn, the battery was dead. I took the CH's and rang the number. It rang a few times before starting to beep and the screen went blank. Both phones were out of battery.

I went off to find a payphone with instruction to sit on the taxi driver if he arrived while I was gone. I found a payphone which took credit cards, the only one in the station. Of course that meant it was a popular spot for making those last minute Christmas phonecalls to your extended family in Djibouti. I waited patiently in line while the caller spoke to most of her hometown before I was able to make my call.

"Alain, where's this taxi? We've already missed one Eurostar"

He went off to check.

"The taxi company says it's at the station"

Great. I ran back expecting to see the CH loading up our bags into a nice Renault Espace but no, they were all still sitting on our cases in the snow like a family of Romanian refugees.

Back to the phone and the next caller to Djibouti. I waited again

"Alain, where is this taxi?" I was starting to get annoyed.

He went off to check.

"He says he can't find you"

"Tell him we are the family sitting on a mountain of suitcases at the side entrance to the station. He can't miss us." I gave him road names, landmarks and apart from satellite coordinates I couldn't do any more.

"OK. He'll come and find you"

I went back to the frozen ones, stopping just to make sure that DD hadn't frozen to death. I checked my watch. Another Eurostar had left.

"I don't bloody believe it! It's going to be Christmas in Paris at this rate" I shouted.

"Mum," came a tiny, frozen voice "I don't want to be in Paris for Christmas. I want to be at Grandma's"

God bless them but it was the only thing vaguely approaching a complaint that either of them had made.

Another 15 minutes passed. Right, now I'm really angry!

I rushed back to the phone. Physically removed the poor woman who was using it and rang the insurance company.


"There's no reason to be angry, Madame" he said.

"Au contraire, Alain, there is every reason to be angry! I've waited for nearly 3 hours in the snow. I've told you exactly where are standing and still the flaming taxi driver isn't here. I don't want to spend Christmas in some shitty little hotel in Paris. Now get this sorted out!"

I we back to where the others were, literally, frozen to the spot. Within minutes a taxi driver arrived..... on foot.

"I'm parked on the other side of the station. Follow me"


He ran off like a scalded cat and several minutes later arrived where we were waiting. In a delicious irony, he was driving a Grand Gasguzzler!.

He whizzed through the Paris traffic to the Gare du Nord. I could feel myself visibly relaxing. We were going to make it!

We rushed into the station which was heaving and headed for the ticket desk. Us and about 200 other people. We only had 20 minutes before the last train left there was no way we'd get down the queue in that time.

I left the others in the queue and went to investigate the ticket machines.

'All tickets' it said. That must include the Eurostar then!

I put in my credit card, selected the last Eurostar, pressed the button for 4 tickets, blanched slightly when I realised it would cost us 500 euros and in a whirr of machinery, they dropped into the slot. You could hear the whoop of joy across the station.

We grabbed our three luggage trolleys and headed for the Eurostar platform.

'One suitcase per passenger' the notice said but they were obviously in festive spirit and let us through.

"Gosh you've got a lot of luggage!" they said. "

Yes we have, haven't we" I said through gritted teeth.

We ran to the platform.

"Come on love," shouted the Eurostar man. "Let me give you a hand. Hey, Ern, come and give us a hand. Gosh you've got a lot of luggage...!" AAAARRRRRGGHHHHHH!

With literally minutes to spare we were on the last Eurostar out of Paris on Christmas Eve. Our epic journey was nearly over. We were going to be home for Christmas!

So now you see why we don't go anywhere for Christmas now."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Drawing a curtain over wrinkles (or a rideau over rideaux for my French friends)

Drawing a curtain over wrinkles (or drawing a rideau over rideaux for the benefit of my French readers)

There comes a time in your life when you look in the mirror and discover that those gentle, on your face which were a mark of character during the first flushes of youth, now resemble large ploughed furrows, your crows feet now belong to an ostrich and you bear more than a passing resemblance to Churchill the dog. That time has, sadly, come to me. I put it down to an overdose of sunshine in the Middle East in my early years, followed by 5 years of French summers in my later ones. Those of my 'amis' in France who tease me about cold English summers will be laughing on the other sides of their faces when they are a bunch of weatherbeaten old hags while for me, sun damage will be a thing of the past. (Joking girls, you know I love you! Mwah) It has, of course, absolutely nothing to do with my age and the first person who suggests it will be in line for a good slapping.

So, it was time to contemplate my options:

Botox - have you noticed how many expressionless people there are on the television these days. Smooth, unlined foreheads they may have but equally they have lost the ability to emote with anything other than their eyes - their eyebrows being chemically disabled. It's led to a plethora of boggle eyed presenters who show rage, sadness and happiness with varying degrees of eyelid gymnastics, giving them the look of someone who is on a day pass from the local 'home for the mentally challenged'.

For a needle-phobic such as myself, the result of 98 blood tests in one week, this isn't really an option anyway even if I could a) afford it and b) get over the fact that I was allowing myself to be injected with botulism.

The Croydon Facelift (also known as the Romford Facelift) - this consists of pulling your hair back into an uber-tight ponytail, thus stretching the forehead and eyes and flattening out wrinkles. It's also best worn with large hoop earrings, a Juicy Couture tracksuit in a charming shade of pink and a fake Burberry handbag, said tracksuit being low-slung enough to reveal the tattoo just above your bum crack saying 'Chardonnay' and 'Ronaldo'. This has also led to the misapprehension that most of Croydon/Romford is people by Eurasians.

Sadly I've just had all my hair cut off and, in order to get it into a ponytail I would, most likely, have to wrench it out by the follicles. There's also the issue of the tattoo, being needle-phobic. By the way, just in case you were wondering, my children aren't called either Chardonnay or Ronaldo.

Expensive moisturiser - widely advertised on the television and in high-end women's magazines, which promises to be a facelift in a pot and take 10 years off your face.

With my newly earned paypacket burning a hold in my pocket, this was the option I went for and, with the prospect of our WI weekend at Kirsty Allsop's, where 'some of the girls will be 40' (I remember it so well) there might be a fighting change I'd be able to pass myself off as one of them rather than some aged aunt brought along as a charity case.

Showered, buffed and shining, I slathered said miracle cream over my face then went to bed in the sure knowledge that tomorrow I'd be a new person, or at least look like one.

Tomorrow dawned bright and clear, which is more than can be said for my complexion which looked as if I'd developed a nasty case of measles overnight. Big, red blotches had appeared on my cheeks and chin and I looked like the end result of a nasty accident with a pan of hot fat. I was, of course, going to work that day too. My skin certainly felt 'lifted' but it was more like the top 5 layers had been lifted off, leaving my nerve endings exposed to the elements.

In a panic, I slapped on some more. I clearly hadn't used enough. My face was now burning, reminiscent of the time, many years ago, when I went to a Virgin Vie party where we had to divide up our faces into imaginary squares and try out various different cosmetics. I ended up looking like a Battenburg cake.

I rarely wear foundation but in all honesty, I couldn't go out looking as I did for fear of frightening small children and curdling all the milk in Morrisons. Unfortunately, I'm not as brown as when we lived in France so the only available foundation was several shades too dark giving the impression that I was striped like an ocelot but not nearly so cute.

I went to work and spent the day rushing backwards and forwards to the toilet to check on my patches. The other ladies in the office gave me sympathetic looks, assuming wrongly that I must have cystitis. Why else would I be in the toilet every few minutes?

By the next morning, my face looked like a New Variant Croydon Facelift. My skin was tight as a bongo drum but my eyes had the crepy look of an 80 year old woman. I puckered up my lips (not sure why) in the mirror and watched in horror as deep creases remained around my mouth. Overnight I had become Mother Teresa but without the good works.

Foundation was useless as the red patches had now taken on a scaly appearance much like a carp. Even my BeneFit 'Dr Feelgood' cream, which has helped me cover a multitude of sins in the past, wasn't up to the task. I stayed in the house and didn't even answer the door when the postman called.

By day 3 I was just about acceptable for public viewing and a short trip to the supermarket confirmed that milk was safe around me. The 'very expensive facelift in a pot' is packaged up ready for it's return from whence it came with a stiff letter and request for a refund.

For the moment, E45 and wrinkles will have to do (and maybe I'll just grow a fringe!)

Vetical Running

Being one with my finger on the pulse (sometimes literally) of current fitness crazes, I know all about the latest vogue for vertical running. For those that haven't heard of it, the Vertical Running organisation describes it thus
The world’s tallest skyscrapers and towers are the scenario for this fast-growing sport where thousands of amateur athletes and top international specialists can race up 100 flights of stairs in just a handful of minutes

Hundreds of flights of stairs....... in a handful of minutes!!

I've become an unwilling participant in my own minor version of this new sport which I call 'Vertical Staggering'. In this one, a handful of unfit office workers are forced to careen breathlessly up 12 flights of stairs to reach the free levels of the carpark because the lift shuts down at 4.45pm.  I mean, who on earth shuts down a lift just before all the workers kick out from their cosy little offices? Well, Wilkinsons, that's who. They own the lift which would normally sweep us majestically to the upper levels where we get free parking for 23 hours, the odd hour being obviously to discourage any local travellers from setting up camp, but for reasons best know to them, it only operates within office hours.

So, twice a week, I join my fellow workers in the long upward slog back to our cars. The first two flights are easy as we all nip up pretty sharpish to avoid the dreadful smell emanating from the urine-soaked walls, the locals obviously finding the short walk to the public toilets just a step too far. That's where the French have it right. They just pee anywhere rather than in the relative confines of the carpark stairwell, diffusing the odour like a urinary Air Wick freshener.

By the third floor, 6 flights later, the thighs are starting to burn a little and the heartbeat is up and you try not to think about the 6 flights still to go. You reach the fourth floor and have an overwhelming urge to trip up that uber fit, tight buttocked fitness freak who's actually jogging past you. Bastard!

Floor 5b (10 flights)  hoves into view and you are breathing hard and the pounding in your chest has taken on industrial proportions. The air seems thinner and you are sure that there is more gravity here. You can feel it pushing down on you.  A woman in tight jeans with a disgustingly pert bum passes you. You wonder whether to feign an asthma attack but you worry she may call the paramedics and your sham will be discovered. You decide to adopt a more aerobic approach to your climb that will also be kinder on your muscles. It's called crawling.

You are reminded of the warning on the website

“Stair climbing is a gruelling, strenuous sport and should not be embarked on without first consulting your physician. If such a strenuous activity as this is started without being ready or fit, physically and/or emotionally, serious consequences could result, including death.”
 A nice touch that, the death bit. Just the thing to set you up for the last few flights.

By Floor 6b (12 flights) you are hanging on to the door like an old drunk, fighting for breath like an emphysemic cow.  You decide to stop and look for your car keys, for no other reason that you can't speak or walk and it will give you an excuse to try and catch your breath and slow down your hammering heart.  Bugger, you still have to walk up one final ramp. Note to self: Get to work earlier so you can park on one of the lower levels.  You dream of a spot on Floor 4a.

You reach your car and slump across the bonnet in a poor facsimile of a Pirelli calendar girl. Your thighs are numb and your lungs feel like they've been massaged with broken glass from the inside.  You think you can probably feel your eyeballs pulsating.  You struggle to get the key in the lock, the sweat leaking from every pore is now blinding you. The old adage that 'ladies glow' doesn't apply. If this is glowing, you would be visible from Outer Space, only marginally less visible than the Great Wall of China.

That's it. You've made it! Until the next time at least.  Next stop, the Vertical Rush

I don't think so.