Human hot water bottles on offer

International hotel chain Holiday Inn is offering a trial human bed-warming service at three hotels in Britain this month. The “innovative” service is being provided as a response to the UK’s recent prolonged spell of cold weather.

If requested, a willing member of staff at two of the chain’s London hotels and one in Manchester will dress in an all-in-one fleece sleeper suit before slipping between the sheets, to act as a giant hot water bottle.

The bed-warmer is equipped with a thermometer to measure the bed’s required temperature of 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit).  The human hot water bottle would be fully dressed and leave the bed before the guest occupied it. Holiday Inn could not confirm if the bed warmer would shower first, but his or her hair would be covered apparently.

What?  Who in their right mind would use this service?  What’s wrong with a good old-fashioned ordinary hot water bottle?  Or an electric blanket?   And is there no central heating in these Holiday Inns?

Perhaps this service is aimed at midlife people like myself who really feel the cold; folk with poor circulation and chilblains.  Maybe it’s designed for business men and women who come in very late from meetings to find that the hotel’s heating thermostat has clicked to “off”.  Perhaps I can just about stretch to thinking that a bed warming service could be helpful to thaw out late night ice swimmers.  But then surely someone participating in such an activity would head straight for a hot shower.  Wouldn’t they?

I’m thinking that timing would have to be crucial too.  And things don’t necessarily run to schedule when one is away from home, do they?  Even the best laid plans can be blown asunder if one can’t find a taxi, or a train is delayed.  A warm bed booked for 10.30pm would be stone cold by 11pm.  And what if the human hot water bottle inadvertently falls asleep, as one is apt to do in bed?  Imagine returning to a darkened hotel room to find a fleece-wrapped stranger wearing a clinical hairnet getting some much needed shut-eye.  God, the mind boggles.  What would you do?  Wake the warmer up with a good shake and shoo him or her out the door?  Or stomp about a bit and put the telly on?

The thought of a random stranger snuggling down in my clean, fresh cotton bed sheets minutes before I climb into them quite frankly makes my skin crawl.  It’s bad enough staying in a hotel and not knowing who has used the bed the night before, but to think of a hot body thrashing about on MY sheets is just too much.  And think of the creases this body would leave behind.  Pristine ruined.

No.  This midlife crackpot feels that Holiday Inn bosses are after herding in weirdos and perverts to boost customer throughput.  And I can imagine that there’ll be no shortage of takers for this crazy, not to be missed, red hot offer.

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Winter boots for less than perfect midlife feet

For months I have been searching for a new pair of boots.

I own various pairs of boots, but have one particular favourite pair.  They are around five years old and decidedly tatty looking to be honest.  But God, are they comfortable.  And this is the pair I’ve been hoping to replace.

Being a midlife woman, my feet are less than perfect; after all they’re suffering from five decades of wear and tear.  You know the sort of thing – chilblains; deformed toes.  Now, I do have boots with heels and I do have knee high soft buttery leather flat boots, but whilst shopping for the new replacement boots I had some specifics in mind, and all the boxes had to be ticked for me to make a purchase.  They had to be flat (otherwise I tower above everyone else), leather, pointy toed ankle boots with a non slip sole (not wanting to break a hip at my age), accommodating two pairs of socks (I suffer from cold feet) and they needed to fit snugly underneath skinny jeans, which I tend to live in.

What a mission.  Obviously fashion dictates to a huge extent the style of boots in the shops each winter, and this year’s ranges just didn’t fit the bill at all.  I had almost given up hope and resigned myself to sticking with my old faithfuls till next winter.

Today, however, I found just the pair.  I think.  Well, I’ve bought them.  They seem pretty comfy, but I won’t know that for sure until I’ve properly test-driven them for several miles and a couple of midlife months.

So, here they are.  Flat, black, leather, pointy toed, non slip soles, wide enough to take two pairs of socks, and snug around the ankle.  Bonus for me – they’ve got a generous helping of studs, straps and buckles.  I know they’re a tad too shiny; give me a couple of weeks and they’ll look all beautifully battered and lived-in.

And where did I find these marvellous boots?  In a shoe shop at Meadowhall.  And the make?  Bronx.  I’m also delighted to say that they were in the sale, reduced from £80 to £40.  Winner.

No Cake For Me

Mr Midlife and I have just returned from a long trek on foot through the snow.  This is the beginning of our joint agreement to get fit; it’s also a great way to beat winter cabin fever.

On the way back we trudged into town on a couple of errands and came across a lovely newly opened coffee shop.  Needless to say, it was too much for us to get past the door without popping in for an essential sampling.  The place is cosy; each table lit by a different lamp (these are also for sale in the shop at the front), and our table had a crackled glass bowl full of fairy lights to welcome us.  The hot chocolate I ordered was very hot and very chocolatey – yummy.

And although we had no intention of ordering food from the limited menu, it did occur to me that I should never be able to eat there as the entire menu consisted of bread and cake based goods.  As a midlife coeliac I am used to this being the case here in the UK; however it is frustrating and always a little disappointing when I find somewhere I like the look and feel of.

I had a conversation with the middle aged, affable and helpful proprietor, who tells me that she would be happy to stock some gluten free goods.  The only problem is that she doesn’t get asked often enough for GF food to justify much of a range.  I reckon, however, that if she were to advertise the coffee shop as a place which does cater for coeliacs, then she’d do quite well out of it.  There are plenty of us around, judging by the speed at which the GF bread disappears from the supermarket shelf in our town.

So, sitting once more at my desk this afternoon, I was thinking about a good GF recipe that the coffee shop owner might use.  I recall my husband making us a flourless chocolate cake a while back, which the entire family enjoyed as it was so delicious.

I intend to make it again and take some down for the coffee shop as a trial.  So here it is.  Let me know what you think.

Flourless Chocolate Cake (Gluten Free)

Ingredients

260 g (9  ¼ oz) dark chocolate (55% cocoa), finely chopped
135 ml (4 ½ fl oz) milk
40 g (½oz) yoghurt
4 eggs
105 g (3 ¾ oz) caster sugar, for eggs
4 egg whites
160 g (5 ¾ oz) caster sugar, for egg whites
135 ml (4 ½ fl oz) pouring (whipping) cream (35% fat)
55 g (2 oz) unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

Method for Recipe

  1. Preheat oven to 150C (300F / Gas 2). Grease a 20 cm (8 inch) springform cake tin and line the base and sides with baking paper – the paper should rise about 2.5 cm (1 inch) above the tin rim.
  2. Put the chocolate in a large stainless steel bowl and place over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl does not touch the water – the bowl must be large enough to hold the whole cake mix. Allow the water in the saucepan to boil for 2 minutes, then turn off the heat and stir the chocolate while it slowly melts.
  3. Put the milk and yoghurt in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat – you should have a curdled milk mixture.
  4. Put the eggs and the sugar for the eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk the eggs at medium speed for about 10 minutes, or until the mixture is very light and has doubled in volume.
  5. In a very clean bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then slowly add the sugar for the whites, whisking until soft peaks form a shiny meringue. Be careful not to overwhisk. Place in the refrigerator.
  6. Whisk the cream until soft peaks form and place in the refrigerator until needed.
  7. You should have ready to fold together the melted chocolate, curdled milk, whipped eggs, meringue, whipped cream and cocoa powder. Pour the curdled milk into the chocolate and use a whisk to mix it in, then add the cocoa and whisk to completely incorporate. Fold in the whipped eggs in three batches, making sure you completely incorporate the first batch before adding more – do not worry too much if you can still see streaks of eggs with the following batches. Lightly fold the meringue into the whipped cream, taking care not to knock out too much air. Fold this into the chocolate mix in three batches, making sure you incorporate the first batch before adding more.
  8. Using a spatula, scoop the cake batter into the prepared tin and tap it twice gently on the bench to even out the mix. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes. (If you smell the cake cooking within the first 25 minutes your oven is too hot and you need to drop the temperature.)
  9. Do not disturb the cake for the first 45 minutes of cooking, after which time you should rotate it to ensure even cooking. You may need to cover the top of the cake with baking paper and lower the oven temperature if the top of the cake is starting to brown. Test to see if the cake is baked by gently placing your hand on top of it and wobbling it a little, you should feel that the cake has set through. Remove from the oven the allow to cool for about 30 minutes in the tin before removing the sides. When completely cool, slide the cake onto a serving plate, to serve.
  10. It is best to use a sharp fine-bladed knife to cut this cake. Have a jug of very hot water, dip the knife in, and leave for about 10 seconds to warm the blade through. Dry the knife on a tea towel before slicing. Repeat this process after every slice for a perfectly clean cut.  Serves 12.

This chocolate cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 1-2 days, and can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.  It tastes equally great when warmed up in a 150C (300F / Gas 2) oven for about 10 minutes to liven it up again. The cake is also delicious when cut into portions and steamed for about 6-8 minutes and topped with fresh berries and thick double cream or Greek yogurt.

Well, Yes, Sex Is Good For Your Health

An American couple recently resolved to have sex every day throughout December in an effort to curb their vices – his was cigarettes, hers was chocolate.  (Pull the other one!)  And it seems that it worked, in more ways than one.  The couple did indeed find that their cravings were reduced, but in addition they also felt healthier, slept better, and avoided the horrible winter viruses that normally affect them.  The results have been so successful that they are aiming to continue their “mission” into January.  I bet they are, and I suspect there are a good number of additional motives that they’re not mentioning.

I reckon that it would be an absolute doddle to keep this one up, don’t you, whether you’re young, middle aged or old, especially when you consider the lengthy list of possible benefits below.  Christ, sex cures all ills apparently.  So here we go – sexual activity –

  1. Helps you live longer
  2. Lowers your risk of heart disease and stroke if you have sex twice a week or more
  3. Reduces your risk of breast cancer
  4. Bolsters your immune system
  5. Helps you sleep
  6. Makes you appear more youthful
  7. Improves your fitness
  8. Helps protect against endometriosis
  9. Enhances fertility
  10. Regulates menstrual cycles
  11. Relieves menstrual cramps
  12. Helps carry a pregnancy to full term
  13. Relieves chronic pain
  14. Helps reduce migraine headache pain in some individuals
  15. Improves quality of life
  16. Reduces the risk of depression
  17. Lowers stress levels
  18. Improves self esteem
  19. Improves intimacy with your partner
  20. Helps you grow spiritually  (What … ?)

Could it be then, that more of us should be including sex in our list of New Year resolutions?  I think so, but not just because of the personal health improvement element; that would make it a bit of a chore, like going to the gym.  It should be included simply for the pure pleasure element in my view.  The rest is a bonus.

It does occur to this midlife writer though – what if sex becomes an addiction, with all this increased activity, pleasure and benefits?  Would that mean that next New Year I’d have yet another midlife addiction to resolve to fix, as well as my current addictions to cigarettes, alcohol and Millionaire’s Flapjack?  God, I might as well book myself into rehab right now.
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Winter balm for chapped lips

The winter weather is playing havoc with my midlife skin, and in particular with my lips.  They are so bloody sore and look something like this:

I have a bathroom cabinet full of possible cures, but none seem to be working efficiently, regardless of how many times a day I apply them.

There’s nothing for it then; I require a balaclava.  This particular mode of headwear is named after the town of Balaclava in Crimea (now Ukraine) and was originally worn by Russian soldiers.  It’s a sort of sock for your head that doubles up as a hat and a scarf.  They are wonderfully warm and popular with skiers, climbers and all outdoorsy types in cold climates.

I have no desire, however, to look like a dodgy criminal when I pop into Tesco, or to set off any alarm bells at my local Barclays branch, so I may have to get my knitting needles out, as the only ones I can find are black or very dark in colour.

This is what I’m aiming for as a cure for my chapped lips; I’ll keep you posted when I find a decent pattern:

Ice Swimming for Chinese Pensioners

Oddly enough, as UK inhabitants shiver in the freezing winter weather, there is a group of middle aged and older people in Harbin, China, who embrace the cold and go ice swimming, claiming that it is good for their health. Brrrrr…!

That wouldn’t do for this midlife writer – I’d probably have a heart attack on hitting the water.  I also have a feeling that this activity would not be allowed to take place in the UK, because of the health and safety risks.  Check out the solid ice they are all trotting about on.  No, it wouldn’t happen here!  This video is a small sample of “cold” clips courtesy of Yahoo News. (video disabled now – sorry)

The day the world ground to a halt

I have previously mentioned that we Brits are rubbish at coping with winter weather; in fact all adverse weather conditions present a problem to inhabitants in the UK to be truthful.

But it is really, really snowing right now.  I heard on the news this morning that this winter is predicted to be the harshest for 100 years.  And I’m beginning to believe that.  Surely if the forecasters can foresee the bad weather, then the powers that be should be able to foresee a need for salt and grit for our roads and footpaths.  But apparently not.

This lack of organisation (it’s probably a lack of funds too) is what causes our entire country to grind to a halt when it snows to this extent.  Our roads are unsafe to drive on; walking anywhere is to risk life and limb.   As a result, schools close down; people cannot get to work and our world swiftly slips and slides into chaos.

I remember my grandfather relaying tales of his life in Canada many years ago, and I’m pretty sure that life went on regardless of the terrible weather conditions they experienced.  We should take lessons from countries with a cold climate on how to cope, because as a nation we are a bunch of losers when we face adversity from Mother Nature.