Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Did you know…?

… that ‘busman’s holiday’ started in London in the late 1800s – early 1900s. Back then buses were pulled by horses. The bus drivers loved their horses so much that on their days off they would ride on their own buses just to make sure that other bus drivers took  good care of their horses.
Today it means spending your fee time doing the same thing you do during working hours.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Love affair

Love affair

He had always been a family friend but we first became properly acquainted when I was at school. As an impressionable teenager, I helplessly fell for his charm. 

Our love affair started in the park in the late 90s. That day I wore baggy jeans, blow-dried hair a-la Rachel Green in early episodes of Friends and my heart on my sleeve - I was helplessly in love with him. He wore mostly brown, his signature colour, the cool air of indifference around him and a smell of rain.
Ever since that first date we made a pact to meet once a year. Come rain or shine, we meet up and go for a long walk and a catch up. Not once did he fail me, nor I him.
And just like every single year, I open the door and he is already there, waiting for me. I throw myself into his arms. His embrace is so familiar; I smile and inhale his refreshing smell. It makes me remember why I fell in love with him all those years ago. 
We walk in a friendly silence, the kind of silence that only two friends can share. The memories, like gusts of wind, sweep around us. The peaceful years back in Ukraine where we spent hours roaming the parks, the aroma of mum’s apple pies she baked every time he visited and our all-time favourite - the shoe shopping trip.

Shopping has always been one of our favourite activities, although my bank balance has never shared our enthusiasm. So later on in the day we indulge ourselves in a little retail therapy. I trust him implicitly; he has such a great taste and knows exactly what suits me. He picks warm earthly colours for me and they go so well with my skin tone.

Back at home as I am cooking dinner I add a handful of chopped up chillies. A bottle of Rioja is already opened and left to ‘breathe’. It was him who introduced me to spicy food and deep rich flavours.
And as we settle on a sofa and I pull a blanket over my shoulders, I feel his breath on my cheek. I tell him everything, I share my deepest fears. He listens and strokes my hair. And with every stroke I feel better and before long I know the answers to all my questions. And I feel inspired.
At night I open my window and curl up in my bed. I watch the curtain softly flutter against the window. And as I start drifting off to sleep, I feel his kiss, his brisk fleeting kiss on my lips. I smile. He has arrived. Autumn is here.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Did you know…?

… that ‘bury the hatchet’ comes from Native American nations. They used to make peace with their enemies by holding a ceremony of actually burying tomahawks, hatchets and other war weapons. If war broke out again, they would dig them out again..

Today it means to settle an argument, become friends after being enemies.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Did you know…?

… that ‘burning bridges’ comes from ancient military history. Soldiers actually burnt down the bridge they had just crossed so they wouldn’t be tempted to turn back in a cowardly way. It also kept the enemy from following them over the bridge. Julius Caesar was known to burn bridges to toughen up his troops.
Today it means to make a decision you can’t change, to permanently and unpleasantly end a relationship.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Did you know…?

… that ‘burning the midnight oil’ goes back to the days when lamps were lighted by oil and people went to bed earlier than they do today.  When you burnt the midnight oil in those days, you were up late working or reading by the light of an oil lamp.
Today it means staying up late at night studying or working.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Did you know…?

that there are two possible theories for ‘bring home bacon’?
One was from the contest at early American county fairs of chasing after a greased pig. If you caught it, you could take it home as your prize.
Another theory is that it came from a practice in the early 1300s.  A baron willed that if any married persons swore at the church door that they had not had a single quarrel for a whole year and a day, they would get a free side of bacon to take home.

Today it simply means to support family by working, to earn living.

Monday, 22 September 2014

A photo is worth a thousand words

A photo is worth a thousand words

I have never noticed that you had freckles, a little splash of sunshine on your face. Did they only come out in the sun or did you always have them?
You are wearing a pair of stylish sun glasses which captures a magic moment of a family holiday in their reflection. There is so much motion, so much life and happiness – your family is having a whale of a time – the boys are running around enjoying the sunshine without a care in the world while he halted, tenderly looking back at you. I wonder what’s on his mind. The sun is blazing and the white sand is glittering, making the whole picture look like a fancy holiday brochure.
You positioned yourself on the sand in a very elegant manner like a queen - with your legs pulled up to your body gently hugging them with your arms - your posture and everything about you is refined, sophisticated.  Your handbag is loyally sitting right next to you like a faithful dog, the pink headscarf drapes perfectly around your head, the Prada sun glasses add that final touch of va-va-voom making you look like a glamour model from Vogue, you are picture perfect.
You are looking away - looking at the sea, taking everything in. You are tired, I know that now. And as I am looking at you being thoughtful and miles away from that perfect holiday, I realise that you knew, that very moment you knew that it was your last holiday with your boys and your man. The sands of your time were running out, fast. There was nothing left to do but make the most of it.
And the most of it you made. Having created so many happy memories with your family and your friends, you are forever ingrained on their hearts and minds like an ancient inscription, treasured and admired. They remember you, they talk about you, they miss you, they love you – you made a huge impact on more people than you can imagine.
And although you are long gone now I can still see you everywhere. You are in the colour scheme in the house; in the kitchen in the little ornaments; in the bathroom your jewellery is still hanging right next to where my electric toothbrush is charging every other weekend when I’m up in my country home; even in the bedroom you look over his bed, when I’m fast asleep cuddled into him - you are watching over me.
As I am helping to set up for yet another party, that was such a frequent occasion when you were around, I lift up my head and meet your steady gaze. And although I can’t see your eyes behind those sun shades, I know you are watching me.
The house is ready, the food is set up on the table, the drinks are chilling and the glasses are lined up like the soldiers awaiting their orders. And as I look around the sudden chill runs down my spine and a feeling of nostalgia overcomes me – not mine but yours, a party without you. And for a split second I think I see a tear running down your cheek and another set of freckles appear out of nowhere. I blink and look away for a moment; no, it is just my imagination running away with me.

But we don’t have time for melancholy today, after all we have a party to host. Drink, I decide! They say alcohol doesn’t solve anything but then again, neither does water. Yours was pink champagne, wasn’t it? I pour myself a drink, lift up my glass and toast you. Cheers! And as I take a sip from my glass I see a faint trace of a smile on your face… Or was it just my imagination?

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Did you know…?

…that ‘bottom line’ is actually an accounting term. For hundreds of years accountants have added up the profits and losses of companies. The sum appears at the bottom line of a column of numbers. While ‘bottom line’ still means a bookkeeping figure showing profit or loss, it has taken on a more general meaning since the min-1900s, and now refers to any crucial decision or final result.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Did you know…?

… that ‘turning a blind eye’ is said to have arisen as a result of the famous English naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson, who, during the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, is alleged to have deliberately raised his telescope to his blind eye, thus ensuring that he would not see any signal from his superior giving him discretion to withdraw from the battle.

Today it means to pretend not to notice something.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Did you know…?

…that ‘bite the hand that feeds you’ has been used since at least the early 1700s. It originally referred to a foolish ungrateful dog that actually bit the hand of the owner who was feeding it.
Today the expression has been extended to include people who turn against anyone who helps them; and it no longer has anything to do with real food or actually biting a hand.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Kids Come With Pets

Kids Come With Pets

When I was a child we didn’t have pets. We had dogs who lived outside (because that’s how thing roll in Ukraine) but those could hardly count as pets. However, we never had cats, hamsters, fishes and anything else that qualified as pets.
As a result I grew up vaguely fond of dogs and without any urges to stroke or even touch an animal, let alone bring it into my house. No, no, no! I like my life simple and pet free.
So when I agreed to look after the boys for three days I tried to ignore the fact that it wouldn’t be just the three of us in the house – a hamster Nibbles, and two cats, Pinot and Grigio, had to be added.
The boys and I quickly struck a deal – I look after the boys and the boys look after the animals. And the looking after meant litter trays, feeding and keeping the pets as far away from me as possible.
It all started very well until I remembered that Mr Chateauneaf asked me to clean the hamster’s cage with Little Dude. After tough negotiations we agreed that we would clean it at 3pm on a Monday afternoon and bake cookies afterwards.
We started just after 3pm by bringing the cage downstairs – hamster and all. Having safely detached Nibbles from his cage, DeeQ (aka big brother, also the only person who could touch the hamster) put him into a hamster ball and was now in charge of looking after him and keeping him away from the cats. Little Dude and I started cleaning the cage.
We opened the bottom part of the cage and were just about to empty it when the cats arrived, smelling the hamster. They are at an age when they chase flies, eat butterflies and play with dead voles in the garden. The latter is particularly unpleasant as I found out the day before while trying to eat my lunch in the garden with the boys. That day I also discovered that I had developed musophobia (the technical term for I-hate-mice-rats-and-any-other-rodents) having successfully tipped my lunch over, after one of the cats deposited a dead vole at my feet.
But Little Dude was unfazed by the cats. Skilfully moving them out of his way he emptied the cage contents into the black sack. He then emptied all the layers of the cage, filled them up with fresh shavings and proudly announced that ‘he always cleans the cage and daddy puts it back together again’.
Now, I can bake bread from scratch and I fluently speak three languages, but putting a hamsters cage back together required a skill I did not possess. The hamsters wheel ended up on the roof, the tube kept falling apart and was too short to connect the top and the bottom levels; and I had a pile of nuts and bolts, a new wrinkle and a bunch of grey hairs – all of which were not there when we started.
I had to admit defeat and called DeeQ to the rescue who fixed the damn thing in no time while casually chatting to me and stroking the cats, who were circling us like sharks wondering where the hamster was.
Later that evening we of course baked cookies, the only expertise I did have. I then cooked dinner which was significantly less of a success – mainly because living a single gal lifestyle meant I survived on bags of salad and an occasional take away. Cooking a homemade meal for three scratched the rusty surface off a skill that hadn’t been in use for years.
Much later that night, exhausted but satisfied I’d managed to keep the boys, the cats and the hamster all happy, fed and alive. I kissed the boys good night, tucked them into beds and poured myself a large glass of wine.
As I settled on the couch with The Big Bang theory, I couldn’t help but wonder…. Two hours later I woke up still holding my glass of wine.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Did you know…?

…that ‘touch and go’ came from 1800s. Ships would come close to touching the bottom of the sea while in shallow water. These dangerous situations sometimes ended with narrow escapes. If the ships touched the bottom but managed to go on, it had survived a ‘touch-and-go’ situation. This also applied to horse carriages when there was a narrow escape after the wheels of two carriages  touched.
Today it means any uncertain risky situation.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Did you know…?

…that ‘between the devil and the deep blue sea’ takes its origin in the early 17th century in the sea. The heavy plank fastened to the side of a vessel as a support for guns was called the devil. Sometimes a sailor had to go out onto this plank to do repairs to the boat. In heavy seas he would be in great danger of falling overboard and drowning because he was between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Today it means between two dangers and not knowing what to do.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Did you know…?

we started ‘beating around the bush’ back in 1500s. Hunters used to hire people called beaters to drive small animals out of the bushes so that the hunters could get a better shot at them.  So the beaters used long sticks beating around the bush, rather than directly into it.

Today it means talking about things in a roundabout way without giving clear answer or coming to the point.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Did you know…?

...that ‘ace up your sleeve’ started in 1500s. Back then people didn’t have pockets so they kept things hidden in their sleeves. Later on, magicians hid objects, even live small animals, up their sleeves and then pulled them out unexpectedly to surprise their audiences. In the 1800s dishonest card players secretly slipped a winning card, often an ace, up their sleeves and pulled it out to win the game.

Today it means a surprise or a secret advantage, especially something tricky that is kept hidden until needed.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Dual Identity

Dual Identity

I grew up in Makeyevka, a town in eastern Ukraine. I remember its busy streets that I used to roam as a child, the heaving markets selling anything and everything, ice cream kiosks scattered everywhere on hot summer days, trams rumbling cheerfully along busy streets and children’s parks open every weekend full of entertainment rides.
Today the same streets are deserted and the parks are abandoned. Instead of ice cream sellers there are armed masked men, the tanks are crawling heavily where trams used to run and the lively buzz of the town has been replaced by chilling stillness. Gun shots break the silence now and then.
This is now life for many Ukrainians today; this is the new normality for my family too. And as their familiar dear faces appear on my screen as we Skype, the relief washes over me. Knowing that even a food shopping trip can be dangerous, I am simply happy they are all alive.
My innocent cheerful niece is telling me all about the new doll she got. Life as usual for her, she doesn’t understand the scale of what is going on around her. But she doesn’t need to, she is only 5.
The cute little toddler, my nephew, who shares the birthday with Prince George, is trying to walk and beams at me with his toothless mouth, unsteady on his little feet he sits down instead of making another step.
And as I’m Skyping from my London flat, thousands miles away from the people I love, I feel powerless and useless. I desperately want to be in Ukraine, holding closely the little girl, who is the spitting image of me when I was her age, and the little boy who has barely started living; I long for a quiet night with my brothers over a bottle of good old Ukrainian vodka putting the world to rights; and more than ever I yearn to visit mum’s grave.
My baby brother, who aged over the past few months and doesn’t look so baby anymore, and his wife are telling me about their seemingly normal everyday life – they are soft-pedalling of course. And as I’m listening to their played down stories I can’t help but wonder, why me? Why am I living a comfortable safe life while my family is in danger and I can’t do anything about that?
It’s been 8 years since I left Ukraine. I’ve taken to the culture like a duck to water and speaking English is now second nature. I work in London, all my friends are Brits and I’ve sworn the allegiance to the Queen.
But underneath the British exterior is my Ukrainian identity, my core. And although I have a British passport and I think in English, the blood running through my veins is Ukrainian.
And as my country is standing up for the crucial battle that will change the course of its history, I feel closer to Ukraine than I felt in years. Their fight is my fight, their pain is my pain, their loss is my loss.
We cheerfully say goodbye and log out, we all play it down for each other. We all are aware of the dangers but we don’t talk about them. We don’t voice things in my family – we bottle them up and sweep them under the rug; we don’t confront. It’s easier that way.
A few days ago, after yet another Skyping session, I fell into broken disturbed sleep. My inflamed mind was taking me though fragments of happy childhood memories mixed with the horrors of today’s war. And as the whirlpool of nightmares was sucking me deeper and deeper into the darkness of my subconsciousness, I suddenly jolted and woke up.
My heart was pounding, threatening to break loose from my chest, my breathing was heavy, tears were streaming down my cheeks, the vivid nightmare was still too fresh in my mind. It took me a few seconds to realise why I woke up - I got a text.
A drunken ‘I love you’ text from my boyfriend at 1.35am, it yanked me out of my Ukrainian nightmare and brought me back to my British reality. I called him immediately.
He let me talk and he listened, really listened. At the end of the conversation he said: ‘I’m glad you are here and safe’. And right there something clicked, I realised that being far away from Ukraine didn’t make me any less Ukrainian or any less patriotic, it didn’t make me a deserter. It just meant I was safe and alive.
I didn’t dream again that night, for the first time in many weeks I finally fell into a deep healthy sleep.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Did you know…?

… that ‘biting the bullet’ started in 19thcentury in medical practice.

A wounded soldier was given a bullet to bite before he was operated on without anaesthetics on the battlefield.  Biting on a soft lead bullet was the way of dealing with pain. It kept the soldier from screaming, which would distract the surgeon during the operation.

Today it means to prepare for unpleasant experience; to brace yourself to endure something painful but necessary

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Did you know…?

…that ‘minding your p’s and q’s’ dates back to a time when local taverns, pubs and bars served up their patrons drinks by the quart and the pint. Bar maids had to keep an eye on the customers and keep the drinks coming. They had to pay special attention to those drinking pints and quarts, p’s and q’s.

Today the idiom simply means being on the best behaviour, paying attention.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Did you know…?


that ‘bakers’ dozen’ (13 rather than 12) was cooked a lot earlier than you probably think.

Hundreds of years ago English bakers would often cheat their customers by baking air pockets into the loaves of bread, making them lightweight. In 1266 the government passed a law which punished the bakers who sold underweight bread. To be sure they were selling enough bread to meet the new regulations, the bakers started giving thirteen loaves for every dozen a customer ordered.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Did you know…?

…that ‘blue blood’ started flowing in English since the early 1800s. It comes from an older Spanish saying.

Old, aristocratic Spanish families used to boast that their skin was fairly light because they had not intermarried with the darker-skinned Moors. The Spaniards’ veins showed through their skin as visibly blue in colour. If their skin was darker because they had intermarried, the blood would not appear so blue.

Today anybody can be called a blue blood if he or she is of noble birth, a member of high society, and so on.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Shoe Shopping With A Twist

Shoe Shopping With A Twist

Hello, my name is Natasha and I am a shoe addict. Something is either missing or not working in my head when it comes to saying 'no' to yet another pair of shoes. Interestingly, I easily turn down clothes but not shoes. I wonder if I should get it checked out…

My shoe shopping ‘career’ started in my early teens. And as any teen and a novice, I began by making some serious shoe mistakes, hurting both my feet and my bank balance.

Throughout my teens and early twenties total shoe shopping success still eluded me. And then somewhere between getting older, a ‘nothing to wear’ problem and an enormous collection of shoes crammed into my one bed flat in South London, roughly the size of a shoe box, the experience finally caught up with me and I… started making less shoe mistakes. 

So when a few weeks ago I found myself in Next with the cutest ever 11 year old little dude and a task to find him a pair of deck shoes and to ‘see what else he might like’ I felt I was just the right person for the job.

Feeling confident and positive, I gracefully sashayed into ‘Kids’ section in my strappy orange Blowfish wedges  armed with a credit card and firmly holding the little boy’s hand. I mean how hard could it be shopping for a child?..

All my British life I thought I knew the shop, until that very day when I walked into the ‘Kids’ section. I suddenly felt like I was in a museum of ‘Life Unknown’ where clothes didn’t have sizes and were marked by age, and the shoes had completely different sizing system which might as well have been hieroglyphs.

In the only area of my life where I felt super confident if not cocky, I suddenly felt like a shoe thrown out of my box.

The thing is the little dude in question was my boyfriend’s son, which technically made me his stepmother. We have known each other for over a year; and having bonded over countless family meals, road trips, board games, decopatching, baking, movies and a hamster purchase we were ready to take this relationship to the next level – shoe shopping.

And as we came up to the shoe rack I realised I had no idea what I was looking at or what was cool in the world of an 11 year old. I was blankly staring at rows and rows of shoes, blinking and wondering how on earth I was to pick anything out of that bulk of little shoes and in the right size.

But then my shoe shopper instinct kicked in and individual pairs of shoes started slowly emerging from the general mass, and as my eye sight adjusted I finally managed to distinguish what was cool. Luckily the little dude knew his size. But before I could exhale he proudly announced that he had his feet measured and they were of different sizes, one was size 1 and the other was size 2, allegedly. I stared at his feet as if expecting one of them to be twice as long as the other. It wasn’t. My boy and his feet looked completely normal.

There was only one way I knew we could do this. Having found a model we liked I picked out about 4 pairs of shoes in different sizes. The little dude was not impressed with me, neither was I.

Two sizes and four pairs of shoes later we settled on size 2. I proudly adjusted the laces, and like a true grown up pushed down the front of the shoe to see if there was any room left because my mum used to do that to me. To this day I don’t know why she did that but for all of 5 minutes it made me feel responsible and a maternal.

And as he was walking around, modelling the shoes for me I felt like I’d won a Nobel Prize. I picked a pair of shoes for my stepson, he liked them and they fitted. In the world of a newly emerging stepmother that is one hell of an achievement.