God made everyone right handed. Only the truly gifted can overcome it.

Picture the scene; it is a cold, frosty early nineties December morning and you are looking at a small suburban primary school. Moving in closer, you can see the six and seven year olds sitting around the miniature tables and flecks of tissue paper sitting in pools of glue where they are attempting the gargantuan task of creating snowflakes, paper chains and other Christmas decorations. All of which, incidentally, invokes every adult to coo appropriately just before throwing them immediately in the bin. In the midst of the children sits a little girl, whose glitter and glue coated hands are clasped uselessly around some now grubby paper and a pair of safety scissors. The paper has now stuck itself to the little girl’s hands and is now torn and bereft of its decorative beauty. But this doesn’t matter because no matter how hard she tries, she cannot cut that clean, sharp line through the paper, slicing it in neatly in half. She holds the scissors in her left hand, but alas the blade is set upside down this way. She must either get someone else to cut it for her or she will have to suffice with an inferior creation. She cannot join in.

A few days later, the class is learning to write and this little girl is struggling no end. She is trying to follow the teachers’ instructions, but she cannot work out how to replicate the letters. She tries turning the paper sideways, which allows her more space to curve her pencil round and craft the letters, but then the teacher comes along, straightens the paper and tells her that she must make her work neater. She looks at the letters earnestly, bites her bottom lip and tries again. This will keep happening to her as she goes through her school life; teachers try desperately to get them to tidy up their writing, but not really knowing how to help. As she moves from the pencil (whose lead is so oft snapped from the heavy pressing from the little girl’s left hand) to the pen, she encounters a whole new set of problems; as she writes, the palm of her hand covers the freshly penned ink. It would take a good few weeks for her to work out how to write without getting ink coated hands and her life’s work illegibly smudged. Eventually, the little girl will establish a writing style and work out how to write in a legible way, but it will take her a great deal more time than the other “normal” boys and girls.

As the little girl grows older and she moves to secondary school, she finds herself having to take sports lessons and it is here that she finds more prejudice. She will always have to stand at the far end of the line when throwing the javelin or discus in order to prevent any untimely accidents. Equally, she will have to wait until the end of the lesson before she is allowed to practice a lay-up in basketball as all of the cones have to be changed to the alternate direction.

It is tales such as these and many others, which begin to show you how difficult it can be to be different. Most kids would have adapted and given up trying to survive as a leftie in a right-handed world, but this little girl didn’t know how. She wears her watch on her right wrist, plays tennis with her left hand, always has the element of surprise in a game of rounders and her writing is like that of a doctor. She has learnt to cope and has overcome adversity in a way that no right hander has managed – they do not realise the struggles inherent in opening a can of baked beans, of being taught sports and musical instruments by a right handed person or of trying to write a cheque in a normal chequebook.

The left handed people of the world have had a lot of stick over the years with many modern languages translating the words wrong or evil as a synonym of left. (I bet David Cameron loved that!) Modern day slang for being left handed is “cack handed”, which sounds fine until you remember that cack basically means shit. They believed that left handedness could cause stuttering, dyslexia and schizophrenia. Some doctors still believe this stuff today; the modern quacks think that we are more likely to get breast cancer and allergies.

For years, children were beaten and made to sit on their left hand at school so as to change them to a conventional and “normal” child. It seems strange that people felt so strongly that people should be right handed that they beat it out of our left handed forefathers (and mothers.) So why did they feel so strongly? Were they threatened by us? Damned right they were; people of the left handed persuasion are said to use the artistic side of our brain far more than the rest of you. Not only do we have more access to our creativity, but we are also natural leaders and strive for independence. Only 10% of the population is left handed, yet 4 out of the 5 Apple Mac designers were left handed and 66% of the American Presidents of the past 30 years have been lefties.

Most of the best people in the world are left handed; Barack Obama, David Cameron, Rafael Nadal, Dan Aykroyd, Emma Thompson, Sue Perkins, Julian Clary, Jonathan Ross, John McEnroe and most famously, Maradona! As I say, it’s great to be left handed – there aren’t many of us, but most of them have made it to the top of their field. If you are left handed, don’t let the majority oppress you. Don’t let them stop the revolution that us lefties will bring; we are what they fear most and never forget that!


Apparently Argentina has got messy…?

A Dummies View of the World Cup

I enjoy a bit of sport as much as the next person; there is nothing better than willing your favourite team to victory. If you were playing yourself, you would feel tired and at times defeated, but from your vantage point at the sofa, you have no weaknesses or fatigue. You are the master and the king of sport. You would have scored where they missed and your defence would have remained strong when theirs slipped. But I am not going to lie to you; I am no expert when it comes to football. Despite all the stereotypes, I do vaguely understand the offside rule (I think we called it goal loitering at school), but I have no idea about the tactics or strategy involved in the game, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the occasion.

As with any kind of national event, our office is running a sweepstake; the Grand National, Wimbledon, who killed Archie Mitchell… you name it and we’ve done a sweepstake for it. However, one particular member of staff *cough* Charlotte *cough* is incredibly lucky and wins every single time, so we tried to make it fairer by picking a couple of teams each and winning money for first, second and most excitingly, the most goals conceded in the group stage.

To be English is a curious thing; across the world, people are taught to be competitive and to make the most of themselves, but the English seem to have a strange pride in our own failure. I’ve mentioned them before and no doubt, I’ll do it again, but the Top Gear boys epitomize this. Unlike our foreign counterparts, like the Aussies and the Germans, we are quite happy to have had fun and winning makes it all the better. I expect some of the best Aussie athletes left Beijing in 2008 gutted that they only won the bronze medal, whereas the Brit went home delighted to have a bit of a suntan and met loads of great people. I’d like to say that we know the value of fair play and as such, we are happy to have taken part. But I think it’s more likely that we protect ourselves a little from the imminent failure by not being seen to be bothered by losing. I’m the same with board games and pool; if I don’t think I can win, I will put all my efforts into making it harder for the other side to win.

There are certain people who we really don’t like to see winning. Sometimes this depends on the sport; in cricket, we detest the Aussies. (I refer you to Jiggery Pokery- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B64PAw7NT3k – for full proof of that.) In eventing, we hate the Germans beating us and in rugby it’s the Scottish. Actually, as a country we are quite hateful. As a small island nation, we are like little Jack Russell Terriers, knowing that we are vulnerable, so jumping in first. There are two nations that we particularly hate seeing win anything and by the luck of the draw, I pulled them out in the sweepstake; France and the USA. My third team was South Korea, which I am not altogether convinced is going to be a winner.

Having drawn my teams, I have busied myself with decorating the sweepstake board in true English spirit; I have covered the USA in a very large oil stain and as for the French, well there are white flags, monkeys and cheese, so I think that all the bases are covered. I daren’t even start on Korea. As for the games, well I will not religiously watch them. I will watch the England matches, but I have to say the most exciting element of them is the fact we can finish work early to catch the matches. Now that is a way that sport really can benefit everyone. We can all finish work early and do what the Brits do best; run down to the pub and get obliterated, which my local is encouraging by offering free drinks for every England goal scored.

My favourite World Cup moment so far happened today when a colleague of mine was foolish enough to leave his car (complete with England flags flying proudly in the breeze) at work to go out for the afternoon. So I did the only thing that was right and fair and just. I snuck outside and pilfered the flags from the car and ran as fast as my legs would carry me back to the office. The menfolk at work tried to convince us that it was mean, cruel and unfair, especially as our first match was tomorrow, but we have done it anyway. As a compromise, we have hung them from our second storey windows so that he knows no one has stolen them. I know that I don’t celebrate the football in the way it is intended, but I struggle to celebrate sportsmen who are paid hundreds of times more than anyone of equal standing in any other sport and I can’t really think why. The World Cup being in South Africa is a little like the Beijing Olympics in that the local community is so impoverished and has probably been destroyed to make way for these millionaires to kick a ball around and so I can’t take it too seriously, but don’t you worry I intend to have plenty of fun along the way. I will watch the matches and get as involved as every sofa expert, but it won’t stop me from poking fun out of my colleagues for taking it all a little too seriously.

Shoop Shoop – Bridget goes Skiing

The last four days have been a formative part of my life. Likewise, I think that the last four days may have provided a steep learning curve for the Austrians about us Brits. There were a variety of things about Austrian culture and their lifestyle, which surprised, perplexed and downright baffled me.

When I think of tourists and the way us Brits are viewed, I am reminded of a routine by sometime stand up Greg Proops.

“English tourists are good fun on holiday too right? You guys know how you are. English tourists have one goal on holiday and that is to get lobster beet red and then perhaps at some golden moment, projectile vomit on a statue in the town square. ‘Look, look, f*cking Nigel just f*cking threw up on Al’s Head. Nice one! I tell you what I want, what I really, really want, what I really, really want, I want a huh, a huh, turn us all around and shag us from behind.’ and then f*ck off to the Benny Hill pub in Majorca to complain about all the foreigners that live in the country you are visiting.”

I don’t think that we behaved like this, but when it get’s written down on paper/internet blogosphere, it does start to look worryingly familiar. I’ll leave you to be the judges of that.

The first thing that struck me was the food. For breakfast, we were served a plate of parmesan, Emmental, Stilton and parma ham. Now, I’m British and consequently love food. But, who could actually stomach Stilton or parmesan at 7.30 in the morning? Deciding to bypass yesterday’s discarded lunch, I decided that an egg would most definitely be safe. It has to be said, that when I ordered an omelette, I did expect them to ask what I wanted in it. Imagine, if you will, a 2 egg omelette, with nothing but an incredibly liberal dash of salt, for your breakfast. To add insult to injury, the egg had not been sufficiently whisked before cooking, so it was a kind of pebble-dash effect omelette. Still, it’s best not to overindulge at breakfast, after a couple of hours of skiing on the slopes, I’ll have a cracking lunch. On our trip down the mountain, we saw a cabin restaurant with an amazing view of the Glacier, so we stopped for a rum and hot chocolate to peruse the lunch menu. It seemed a little peculiar that the only options available to us were a variety of sausages or soups with sausages in them. Thinking this was some funny place, we decided to ski back down to the village where there would be decent food. Shelley was brave enough to try the salad with bacon dumplings; this appeared to be made of a bowl of grated carrot with a liberal dose of balsamic vinegar and the dumpling was a fist sized lump of heavy suet with about four flecks of bacon interspersed through it. The dinner menu was equally exciting; starters of omelette soup or noodle soup, followed by an entire unseasoned trout for mains. Ok, so the Austrian food isn’t great, it tends to be schnitzels and sausages, which leads me to ask you if you have ever been to an expensive restaurant in Britain and been offered a Bernard Matthews breadcrumbed lump of meat? This is essentially what a schnitzel is. I could not see Gordon Ramsey serving a turkey twizzler up at Foxtrot Oscar. As a point of interest, I direct you to this picture, which was the only day I found food that tasted of food. Although, it still came with half a tonne of grated carrots.

So on day one, we’ve come to the conclusion that the food isn’t brilliant, but a good strong drink will make up for that. The majority of wine in Austria is taken from the great wine making countries of the world; The Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Hungary. Any wine from a country, which is known for actually making wine was over 40 Euros a bottle, so completely out of the question. A carafe of pink balsamic vinegar and very little food later, we were soon turning into the archetypal British tourists. Shelley and I were busy examining the tongue of our trout, which did involve cutting the head off and using it as a hand puppet. As Shelley was using the trout’s head as a finger puppet and driving it around the table on the pepper pot, the owner of the restaurant stopped by our table to find out how we were. Now, at this moment, Shelley and I were crying with laughter and all we could utter was “the trout’s got a tongue! And it moves!” The restaurant owner did a sterling job at hiding her disdain; she picked the plate up and said “Yah, I see the trout tongue. I have not looked before” and promptly left us to our special brand of peculiarity.

Another peculiar thing about Austria, but this time, one that I feel a slight affection towards is the public transport system. It’s so incredibly flawed, but I wish it were the same in London! We were told on arrival that if there were special ski buses, which ran from the village to the mountain and were free to those with skis/boards. Fantastic we thought. So we diligently waited for the free skibus on the Monday and the Tuesday and off we went. Tuesday evening, we planned to go into the city (Innsbruck) to explore and for dinner. So we picked up a bus timetable, got on the bus, showed the driver where we wanted to go and paid our fare – typical tourist behaviour, I suspect. However, the bus driver seemed to find us really funny and put our bus fare in his pocket and not in the till. As our journey went on, we noticed that everyone got on the bus at the back and curiously not one person paid or showed a bus pass. Admittedly, the service was a little shaky; we were forcibly removed from the bus two stops early after the driver couldn’t get past a riot in the streets. It was a very peculiar demonstration/protest, which seemed to involve thousands of angry men with placards stating “STOP FASCIST CONTROL!” and yet there was a bouncy castle and children running around playing games. Knowing Austria’s slightly turbulent past when it comes to fascist control, we moved swiftly into the side roads to find some dinner. Eventually, we stumbled into a heaving German/Austrian pub on the basis we recognised “rumpenstekke” on the menu. After a couple of pints of weissebeere and a rumpenstekke, we went off to find the bus again. This time we decided to act like the locals; we boarded the bus, cheerily cried “Halloo!” and walked past the driver and sat down. We didn’t pay to travel on the buses or the trams all week, which was fantastic. I think that London should consider taking this kind of policy up, if you want to pay, then go ahead, but no-one is going to force it either way. I have no idea how Austria can afford to run such fantastic public transport with so little funding, but they manage somehow.

Rereading my earlier words, I have come across a bit like Al Murray and this concerns me; I loved my holiday and my week in Austria. They just had a terrible idea of what constitutes food. The skiing in Austria is fantastic; the slopes were practically deserted and there are so many resorts that you can get to. We really wanted to go to the Stubaier Gletscher because apart from being an absolutely amazing spectacle, the skiing (as always is on glaciers) is amazing. Our trip up there was quite an adventure. Again, we made good use of the public transport, although I’m not quite sure what everyone thought of us as we got onto the 8am commuter bus into the city centre in all our ski gear! Once we got into the city, we had to find the Skibus that would take us up to the Glacier and after wandering around aimlessly for a few minutes, we saw someone with a snowboard and followed them. We ran over to the coach and went to load our skis on the back, when we noticed the signs in the window were all in Japanese. Thankfully, two lovely men stopped us from getting on the bus and going on a Japanese Sightseeing Tour! In a bizarre twist of fate, we got chatting to these blokes and they live just five miles away from Shelley; they were great fun and spent the hour travelling in the coach, taking the piss out of her for living near South Molton. We bumped into them again on the bus down from the Glacier and really weirdly, at Innsbruck airport waiting for our flight; they were incredibly helpful and even offered to smuggle Shelley onto their Brizzle flight. So perhaps not all Brits are total prats on holiday, it was just us.

The city of Innsbruck is beautiful.

However, I am a little unsure how anyone can afford to live there or clothe themselves from the shops. Everything was overwhelmingly expensive; Clarks shoes were about 120 Euros and every single shop (bar the one selling Clarks shoes) was a big designer with even bigger prices. Perhaps this is why their public transport is free?

The other slightly curious fact about Austria, is that they seem a trifle obsessed with wandering about in the nud. What is wrong with wearing a swimming costume to swim in? And is it really necessary to lie around with all your bits dangling about dangerously close to frying in the sauna? No-one wants fried gonads. Not even in the dodgy Austrian diet. At first I thought it was just me being a prude, but every single English person we spoke to said exactly the same thing. The two Devon lads said “but it’s not naked Tuesday!” and they are right, every day in Austria is naked Tuesday. And you have to question the sanity of anyone who thinks it is a good idea to get in a plunge pool starkers. For a start, women become reminiscent of a Cherry Bakewell and the blokes? Well, they just seem to internalise. Not that I was staring I’ll have you know, it was the blokes who shared this nugget of wisdom. With regards to this, don’t choose a potential hubby in an Austrian sauna. Or after bodyboarding mid-winter in Devon come to that. Anyhow, it was only us Brits who seemed so concerned about sitting around flashing our bits to the whole world, but is it really necessary? I don’t just mean that they preferred to be nude, the swimming/sauna area was a strictly nude area; they got quite cross if you tried to hide under lycra. Although, it’s amazing how adept you get at keeping your towel covering all until the very last bit of you has submerged, it’s quite a skill. I think that they enjoy having nude areas simply to embarrass the British tourists.

So, my advice to any Austria bound travellers is to be prepared to diet or about a month before departure take up a Bernard Matthews/sausage based diet. If you don’t eat for the duration of your trip, you will feel more confident when using the Spa facilities.