Monday, 1 June 2015

June is busting out all over!

One of the down-sides of being a girl is that every now and then you have to make a foray to the shops for 'the perfect bra'. Not just the perfect bra (and the perfect fit) for our own individual assets but also the perfect bra for every outfit, every occasion, every season, every mood.

In the summer, that usually means strapless.
And that means wading through a series of contraptions that make you look like you've got a pair of padded pyramids, ice cream cones or a couple of ballistic missiles strapped to your chest.

Though I am a well-rounded lass in every sense of the word, my boobs are among the better-behaved parts of my body. They're still sort of where nature originally placed them...   well, they're still closer to my chin than my waist anyway. I'm not used to being especially busty. They're definitely there, no denying that, but not in any high-profile in-your-face sort of way.

These days, I find the ever-growing array of FFs & GGGs et al (you know, the ones that look more like highly ornate crash helmets for Siamese twins)  a little scary. I don't recall there being so many of them when I first started shopping for something more than just moral support, but now the frillies section of your local M&S is swamped with the things in a variety of shapes, colours and a titillating selection of designs that bear no relation to the 'sensible' support we were urged to opt for way back then (good news for naturally well-endowed girls, of course). 


I find myself bewildered at the sheer range of colours, patterns and frills being thrust in our faces the minute we enter the lingerie section.

Maybe I'm just boring and too well advanced in years, but all I really want is something that will hold everything where it's supposed to be, make sure they stay there for most of the day and not cut off my circulation in the process.

Wooing my man with frills and flounces? Well, let's just say His Nibs has been with me for more than a quarter of a century and he has seen my underwear collection at its very best (racy black and red lace basque) and its very worst (thousand-times-washed, once-white-but-now-greying utility melon tamer teamed with saggy knickers).
So far, he hasn't run for the hills yet.

Most of the time, I just want something that will sit discreetly beneath my shirt, not day-glowing through the fabric to shout out its design and features, but just do its job and hold the girls in check. A bit of a challenge in these days when we're spoiled for choice.


Another thing, can anyone tell me whose boobs most of the moulded cups are modelled on? I was under the impression that most breasts were round-ish (mine certainly are). So why, oh why, do so many bras seems to have ambitions in the conical direction? Most off-putting. Madonna and Jean-Paul Gautier have a lot to answer for.

Whether you are super-sized or a bog-standard C-cup, it can come as a bit of a shock to my system to look down when wearing one of those shaped, padded bustenhalters and nearly poke your eye out on one of your own boobs!

If you're not used to it, it's very weird to feel like your breasts enter the room 5 minutes before you do. You feel like your body has been invaded by Jessica Rabbit or you've morphed into a reincarnation of Jayne Mansfield. Not a bad thing in itself, but definitely unnerving when you’re not used to, or keen on, being defined by your mammaries.

I could just slap on the strapless, get dressed, walk out the door and get on with my life without a second thought. And, believe me, that's what I try to do - until I catch a fleeting glimpse of myself in a mirror or a shop window, and then it’s like "What the...? Where did they...? How the hell did that happen!?"

But, there are advantages. On those days when you just don't have enough hands to do everything at once, you can simply wedge your frappe (iced coffee) glass into your heaving cleavage (bbrrr!), add a long straw - and hey presto! You're free to get on with things and enjoy your caffeine-kick at the same time. Look Mum, no hands!

Summer is coming (at least here in Greece - he, he, he!), and with it the strapless, backless etc. tops that let the warm breeze tickle your pasty flesh after the long winter under wraps.

Let's face it, most of us girls need all the support we can get.



Sunday, 31 May 2015

Come what May?

May is usually one of my favourite months of the year - but as its last few hours tick away on my oversized kitchen clock that thinks it belongs in a 1950s rural railway station, I must confess that I'll be quite happy to see the back of it.

I spent most of the month immobile, sprawled on the sofa, hobbling about on crutches and later limping around pathetically. 

It's not my natural state.
Usually, despite the evidence of my bulky bod, I'm in a state of fairly constant motion - getting up frequently to attend to some forgotten chore, striding down the street with a camera in my hand or hands in my pockets, plodding doggedly away on the treadmill most days in a bid to to ensure I'm healthy (if not hot) before the dreaded Big M hits. 

But that's just what landed me in the state I found myself in. 

It was the first Monday of May, and I was halfway through my morning commute from one of Athens' northern suburbs down to the port of Piraeus after a restful long weekend. 

The sun was shining, birds were singing, there was still a fresh spring chill in the air, and I was ready for the week ahead. After taking the Metro down to Monastiraki, I made my way up to the platform for the electric railway line down to Piraeus, to see the train doors closing. After a split-second inner debate, I decided not to throw myself at the doors at the last minute, but wait for the next train to come along.

But then, the doors opened again....

....and I decided I could make it after all.

There's a reason why most middle-aged women don't run for the train. 

There's also a reason why they say "Mind the gap".

I did. And I didn't.

As I sprinted those last couple of metres to the train, my left foot failed to land on the platform, or the carriage floor, and landed firmly in the gap, sinking up to just below knee level as the forward motion continued taking the rest of me forward.

I can now attest to the fact that those stars and exclamation marks you see in cartoons do exist. They make their appearance along with an exclamation of pain that explodes somewhere in your body.

But it was probably my pride that was hurt the worst - especially after some kindly fellow-travelers helped haul me to my feet and I managed to take the few steps to the seat one had helpfully vacated for me.

"Well, that made me look like a prize idiot," I thought as I rubbed my shin and assured those around me that I'd be fine. "If I could walk on it, I can't have broken anything."

By the time I reached the office, I wasn't so sure. 

An hour later, I couldn't even hobble to the toilet or bend my knee, and I was starting to worry that I had done some real damage. Cue a phone call to the long-suffering Ovver Arf begging him to come and get me.

Like a knight on a white charger (well, actually in a slightly grimy car) he arrived 90 minutes later, having battled Athens' Monday morning traffic, looking suitably concerned. He whisked me off to our local hospital, only to be told that A&E wasn't working that day and directing us to the hospital that was accepting patients. Another couple of hours passed in which I was steered round a maze of beige and green corridors in a wheelchair kindly offered by a porter to various admins, doctors and X-ray techs, then back to the first doctor for the verdict.

I was lucky - by some miracle (perhaps because my body can be as stubborn as my mind), no bones were broken. I had, however, suffered a nasty trauma to the knee and shin, and all I could do was rest it, ice it and medicate the pain.

On finding out I'm from the UK, my friendly doctor couldn't resist teasing me that I of all people, coming from the land that first said "Mind the gap", would fail to do just that. I smiled, I laughed, I looked suitably sheepish - and I said a little prayer of thanks under my breath that I wasn't going to be out of commission for six months. After all, I'd only just paid a year's subscription at my local gym.

So that was my May. A little different from the usual late spring riot of walks, al fesco coffees and maybe even a dip in the sea. And a lot more boring.

But June's just around the corner. The crutches have been gleefully cast aside. Though still slightly swollen and limping a little, I'm walking normally. And I'm even planning on getting back (gently) to the gym.

And at least my mangled limb will give me an excuse to hide my chunky legs under long dresses as we welcome the summer.

Leaving home – or coming home?

Ever wondered what awaits those real-life Shirley Valentines who leave a life of expected conventionality and comfort for the unknown of a foreign land with a different language, very different habits and a squiggly alphabet?

Rebecca A. Hall’s debut novel “Girl Gone Greek” will give you some of the answers – from the point of view of Rachel, a young English woman who escapes familial judgement and the accepted mores of her homeland to become the newest English teacher in a Greek village. With nothing more than a sprinkling of Greek words to get her by. And in the midst of the worst economic crisis the country has seen for decades.

What Rachel discovers after arriving in the grimy capital and taking the bus out to the Peloponnesian village confirms some of her expectations, but defies most. Peopled with colourful characters, almost incredible but somehow entirely believable for anyone who’s ever had any contact with ‘real’ Greek society, Rachel’s tale is one of love for the country she discovers tinged with frustrations and confusions of the culture clash that awaits her.

The story is written in an easy, familiar style that had me nodding in recognition and chuckling in sympathy throughout. It’s like being told the tale by a good friend over a week of afternoons featuring delicious, sweet baklava and strong treacly cups of Greek coffee.

It’s a voyage of discovery of the Greece beyond the glossy pages of the holiday brochures and the alarmist headlines to reveal the reality of ordinary life for its people – their hopes, their dreams, their struggles, their dichotomies and, most of all, their lust for life. But perhaps, more than anything, “Girl Gone Greek” is Rachel’s tale of self-discovery as her time outside England removes her from the comfort zone that always felt vaguely like a straitjacket.

It finishes as her first year in Greece comes to an end, but somehow, you know that she’ll be back – perhaps taking delight in introducing her hyper-judgemental sister to the delights and frustrations of Greek life. And, as I finished the final chapter, I found myself urging Rebecca to get working on the next chapter of Rachel’s adventure.



Thursday, 23 April 2015

By George!

So, today is St George's Day. A day when about one-third of the Greek population celebrates their Name Day, and every red-blooded Englishman or woman proudly boasts his or her heritage.

Or not.

Old George is a popular fella. In addition to being England’s patron saint for some reason (more on that later), he is also celebrated in Bosnia, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Georgia (the clue’s in the name), Greece (of course), Herzegovina, Romania and more, as well as in cities like Genoa (Italy), Beirut (Lebanon), Qormi and Victoire (Malta) and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Getting back to England, it has always struck me as strange how apathetic many of us (including me) are about our patron saint. Let's face it, despite the fact that he slayed a dragon, for goodness sake (no mean feat even in those heroic days of old), we English treat poor old St George a little bit like an embarrassing relative. Like the loopy old aunt you invite over for Christmas dinner ("She's got no-one else in the world, poor dear") who then proceeds to suck all the chocolate off the brazil nuts before putting them back in the box for other guests to enjoy. It's as if going around slaying dragons is really not the "done thing".

Like dear old auntie, St George is acknowledged, even loved, but we English aren't going to go out of our way to advertise his existence.

Not for him the revels our Celtic cousins put on for their saints. Just take a look at St Patrick's Day parades - and more - around the world on 17 March, or heady celebrations in honour of St Andrew by those from north of the border on 30 November. Even the Welsh wave their daffodils and leeks with gusto for St David on 1 March. As for the English, when 23 April rolls round, we read in the paper that it is St George's Day and say "Oh yes, so it is" before going back to the crossword.

That's not to say that English patriotism is dead - it just tends to be most visible at sporting events (at least the ones we manage to win) or by rabid isolationists with a sometimes shaky understanding of history.

Maybe that's the problem? Perhaps patriotism is now seen as the domain of hooligans, and demonstrative English pride is considered rather unseemly in polite society? I suspect that patriotism has been hijacked by those who flaunt their indigenous "British-ness" as a justification for open bigotry and thuggery, making it something rather inappropriate for ordinary moderate-minded folk.

I'm not hugely patriotic - and I wouldn't be caught dead wearing a Union Jack, Cross of St George or any other flag for that matter - but I am very proud of certain things about the English: our sense of humour; our tolerance (or even celebration) of eccentricity; the inexplicable rules of cricket; that our history has woven so many diverse cultural threads into the fabric of society; rolling green fields; Radio 4; our willingness to make fools of ourselves for a good cause; a decent cup of tea.
But as for going nuts in honour of a dead bloke on a horse, it just doesn't happen.

History shows that St George has no real link with our green and pleasant land. He was a soldier of the Roman Empire from Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), who came to be venerated as a Christian AND Islamic martyr. According to legend, when an edict was issued in 303 A.D. authorising the systematic persecution of Christians, George was ordered to take part in the persecution but instead confessed to being a Christian himself and criticised the imperial decision. As a punishment, he was tortured and decapitated, and became a martyr of the early Christian church….

….Hold on a minute, I hear you cry. What about the dragon?

What indeed?

The story of St George slaying the dragon probably first emerged during the Crusades, raising the romantic profile of a saint already revered in the Eastern Church. Apparently, a dragon had made its nest at the spring that provided water to the city of Cyrene in Libya. To dislodge the dragon from his nest for a while to gather water, the citizens had to offer a daily human sacrifice, chosen by lots. All was well, until it was the turn of a princess to be fed to the hungry dragon. Then, out of the blue, came St George (just passing through at a time when the life of a nobly-born maiden was in danger), who slayed the dragon and rescued the princess. The grateful citizens abandoned their ancestral paganism and converted to Christianity....
....and they all lived happily ever after.

Not a smidgeon of a link to England to be found anywhere in the legend.

I'm willing to bet that if it were not for the media reminding us, most English would not remember the exact date of St George's Day. Probably about as many of us who know it was also (very conveniently) the birthday of someone England can justifiably be proud of: good ole Will Shakespeare.

So, do poor old George a favour today and don't just raise a cup of luke warm tea to the Patron Saint of Apathy.

Instead, dust off your rusty schooldays Shakespeare, mutter "Once more into the breach, dear friends", and really think about where you’re going to put your all-important X when (if?) you visit your polling station on 7 May. 
Cast your oh-so-English apathy aside, and don't "Vote for change" (possibly the world's most over-used campaign slogan), just "Vote, for a change".



Friday, 20 March 2015

Lunch break




She leant back into the rain-specked anoraks and scarves, hoping their clammy embrace would swallow her up. Banish her from the world of malicious notes slipped into her bag, vicious taunts, barbed comments and public humiliation. 

The playground was too open. The library too obvious. The toilets downright dangerous.

Why had they singled her out with their sharp tongues and sharper nails? Why take out time from bikeshed snogging, smoking and carving boyfriends’ names into their arms to make her life a misery? Though dumpy and unkempt, there was nothing obvious about her to put the invisible “Kick Me” sign on her back - just some literary pretensions and words beyond the accepted vocabulary of conformist teenhood.

She put pen to paper. Words would wreak her revenge, long from now, when her tormentors had grown beyond teenage spite. Her bullies had given her a gift, which she would upwrap slowly and nurture until it bloomed to success whilst they lamented in regrets and reliving High School glories. 

The bell jangled through her thoughts, signaling the end of lunch break. Her heart thumped in her ears, she took a deep breath and prepared for Double Maths and Malice.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Headline news from humanity’s frontline

An abandoned shopping cart standing like a modern-day ‘Marie Celeste’ by the roadside. That streetlight that always flickers off the minute you get within ten feet of it. The succession of motley moochers in mismatching off-casts waiting for an undefined something on the wall outside my apartment block. The empty eyes and broken smile of the trolley jockey who greets me on my weekly trip to the supermarket.

They’re all mundane, everyday sights, but ones which arouse my curiosity. Make me wonder about the story behind the everyday, the banal. They set my mind off on a voyage of possibilities which can end up in the ordinary or take me way beyond where I usually let my imagination wonder. Sometimes, they take me to dark places – often inspired by reality. Sometimes, there are more than enough monsters or horrors in the real world.

I started my working life as a newspaper reporter, and that probably shows in my writing. I guess it’s the journalist’s inborn curiosity combined with the training to condense a story into as few words as possible without losing the facts, or the feeling behind them, that draws me to short stories as a genre.

I think of my flash fiction as headline news from humanity’s frontline. An anthology of short stories can be like a broadcast news bulletin. Sometimes, the headline tells you everything you need to know. Sometimes, it takes a few sentences to illuminate you and set you thinking. And sometimes, it leaves you with questions and the desire to learn more.

The tone of my stories often surprises me. I’m generally an upbeat, obstinately positive person, refusing to give in when the going gets tough and always seeking out the silver lining. My fiction, however, is often melancholy, dark, even sinister. But perhaps that’s another reason I write? Everyone, even those who have led the most charmed lives, have dark ghosts lurking in the corners of their soul. Writing casts out those demons and places them in tales where they can take on a life of their own, at a safe distance from my own psyche?

Story telling is as old as humanity itself. It was born long before the written word was, passed from mouth to ear around the communal fire built to keep the wolves, and other monsters, away when darkness fell. It entertains, challenges, questions. It can make us cheer in recognition, laugh, cry, or take a sometimes uncomfortable look at ourselves.

And while most writers harbour a dream of publishing some great opus in novel form, it’s the bite-sized offerings short stories that keep us entertained around that fire.

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Words have been Mandi Millen’s friends since she was a child growing up in a house filled with books and story-tellers in Surrey, UK. She started telling her own stories young, and she’s still at it – for her own pleasure, to amuse others and (occasionally) to exorcise her demons.
After leaving school, she became a reporter with weekly and daily newspapers in the south-east of England, and later went into press & public relations.
Everything changed in 1989 when she left her job, her home and the UK for a six-month working holiday in Greece. That was the plan – until a brown-eyed boy in Samos persuaded her to stay. Today, he is her husband and father to their 18-year-old son.
Mandi lives in a suburb of Athens, works in Corporate Communications for an international company, and in her spare time writes short stories and general burblings for her blog.

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This post appeared this week as a guest post in the “Why I Write Short Fiction” section of the Short Story & Flash Fiction Society website.
It's a great resource and place to connect with like-minded folk, if you’re interested in reading, or writing, short fiction, check out it at
www.shortstoryflashfictionsociety.com

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

You’re not in Surrey any more, Cynthia (Book Review)

Adrian Mole grew up, Bridget Jones left her singleton status behind, and we’ve all reached the Age of Reason. Or so they tell us. 

Now we have a new heroine to give voice to the trials, tribulations and unexpected absurdities of middle age in the person of Cynthia Hartworth, suburban Surrey housewife suddenly set adrift in an unfamiliar world by the wholly unforeseen (at least to her).

In her debut novel, “Dear Beneficiary”, Janet Kelly takes us on an unexpected adventure with Cynthia after she becomes a widow at 60 when her impeccably dull husband Colin suddenly drops dead, and she tries to expand her horizons beyond Waitrose and the Bridge Club. It’s a romp that sees oh-so-proper Cynthia dive into the unfamiliar waters of the internet, explore aspects of her womanhood she’d never known existed, travel beyond middle class respectability, get up close and personal with the kind of people she would previously have crossed the road to avoid, and become the unwilling owner of a foul-mouthed fowl.
One thing’s for sure, it changes the way she sees the Home Counties forever.

Kelly hilariously tells her tale of innocence overcome and boredom beaten, with more than a few bumps along the way. In Cynthia, she has created a character we all know or can identify with, and her journey takes us where many might imagine but few actually go.

A great read which had me laughing out loud at times, I hope “Dear Beneficiary” is the first of many more to come from the talented keyboard of the sassy Ms Kelly.

If you don’t believe me, see for yourself. It’s available for download as an e-book now at