Thursday, 30 April 2009

Tiny Squeezy Bottles

For my last swim or four I've had the feeling that something has been following me up and down the pool. Not in the manner of people swimming behind me, because that's what happens in swimming pools (apart from the idiot flailing man who cut across me this morning without so much as a hand signal, forcing me to stop suddenly mid-length and almost drown in the wake of 'excessive bobbing breast-stroke' lady) but in the manner of something suspicious being there, right on my shoulder so to speak.

On Monday, I worked out what it was. It was a balloon of air catching 'neath the derriere of my increasingly saggy swimming cossie! As I was swimming, the bottom of my cossie was gradually inflating, poofing up and causing a not insubstantial amount of drag. Climbing from the pool at the end of my 40 minutes was like dragging the Hindenberg out behind me. Time for a new cossie, methinks, I thought.

So whilst in town on Monday I found a plain black number in BHS for £8. I also popped into Superdrug and purchased 3 tiny squeezy bottles into which I planned to decant shampoo, conditioner and shower gel to save me having to lug full sized bottles to the pool for post swim de-chlorination.

'Look at these!' I said to Andy, showing him my tiny squeezy bottles.
'They are very cute,' said Andy.
'And the bottles?' I said.
'Ahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!' said Andy.
'I'm going to use them for shampoo, conditioner and shower gel,' I said, moving on swiftly from the dubious mire of double entendres.
'Given that your shampoo and conditioner are the same colour, how will you tell the difference between the bottles?' asked Andy. (He was being particularly good at asking the correct questions that day.)
'Aha!' I said because I'd already given this some thought pre-purchase of said bottles. 'You'll notice that the tiny squeezy bottles have different coloured lids. Pink lid. Blue lid.'
'Oh yes,' said Andy.
'I am going to use the blue lid one for shamPOO,' I said.
'Because it rhymes?' said Andy.
'Exactly,' I said. 'And the pink lid one, conDINK..tioner.'
Andy stared at me. His eyes looked suspiciously narrow.
'Blue for poo and pink for condink,' I said, firmly.
'That doesn't work,' said Andy.
'It does in my mind,' I said.
'And the shower gel?'
'Well, obviously I would have liked Superdrug to provide a third colour option,' I said. 'Like yellow. For gello. But it's not a major issue.'
'So how will you tell which bottle has the shower gel in it?' asked Andy, who was growing a little weary of the conversation by now.
'Silly hubbie,' I said, ruffling his hair. 'The shower gel is orange.'
'That's all right then,' said Andy, and went off to crack open another bottle of nettle beer which, he says, has improved enormously now he's let it stand for the 4 days you are supposed to before drinking.

One last thing. I have reached a point in Indigo Antfarm ,Violet and Blue where I need to decide whether it is going to end in triumph or tragedy. Plot points need to be inserted now in order to prepare for the tidy up at the end. What I want to know is this: do you, dear reader, find a happy ending or a tragic ending more satisfying? Do I go down the 'Hamlet' or the 'Love, Actually' route? Andy reckons a tragic ending is more literary. I would go for tragedy because the characters are turning into a right nasty bunch and deserve to get their come-uppance. Also, I feel tragic endings give the reader something to think over, to philosophize about long after the novel has finished. A tragic ending provides lessons to be learned.


...happy endings are deemed more satisfying to your popular fiction readership and would therefore create more commercial power (i.e stand more a chance of helping me earn a bit of money now I'm three-quarters of my way through my year out of teaching). Also, happy endings make you say, 'That's all right then,' and smile and stride forth into the world with the feeling that everything is marvellous and perfect and whatever life throws at us, we can handle. Happy endings show the rose-tinted life we all aspire to achieve because we think it will, in turn, make us happy.

So, tragedy or triumph? Literary satisfaction or a big wodge of cash? What do YOU think?

Wednesday, 29 April 2009


I took ShockAbsorber D+ Level 4 36F for a trial run yesterday. Well, jog. Well, sort of fast paced walking with a hoppity motion. Well, hobble.

You see last week I spent considerable time at the allotment and in the front garden digging. In wellies. Which are well-known for their lack of foot arch support. When trying to extract an ancient rose bush from the front garden, one with a root system that reaches to somewhere just outside Watford, I felt something go 'ping' in the region of my left calf. Didn't give it a second thought. My pants were still up, so it wasn't the knicker elastic giving out, and that's all a girl really needs to worry about isn't it? So I carried on digging, creating a two foot wide moat around this damn rose bush's root system, but I couldn't get it to shift. I balanced on the top of the fork and bounced up and down. The root moved a bit. My ankle pinged again.

Eventually, I gave up and went inside for some lunch. It was only when I tried to stand after resting for half an hour or so that I realised I had A PROBLEM. My left ankle had seized up. The pain was somewhere between burning achiness and complete agony.

Yes, I had torn my Achilles tendon. (I know this; I had a consultation with the vet aka Andy. Always go to a vet. They train longer than doctors and lift you onto the couch rather than making you get up there yourself. Just watch where they aim the thermometer, that's all.)

It eased up over the weekend. Gentle walking, swimming, no problem. A bit twingy, but hey, I've given birth twice and sat through some excrutiatingly bad GCSE Drama exam performances, the discomfort was nothing I couldn't handle.

So into the sun I went yesterday avec my new jogging bottoms (size 14 no less. Get me!!), a cotton vest top, my red fleece, old trainers that will do for now and new bra which rendered me momentarily unable to breathe, it was so snug. I marched down the road to the back entrance to the park because I have discovered a place I can run where NO-ONE else will see me. It's a rugby pitch out the back of the leisure centre and very rarely is there another soul in sight. Perfect!

The jogging plan I wanted to try is called the '60 Second Plan.' Basically , you start by running for 60 seconds, then brisk walk for 3 minutes, and repeat 4 times. By the end of 10 weeks, you should be running for 3 minutes and brisk walking for 60 seconds repeated 10 times.
'I can do that,' I thought, visions of me leaping like a fleet footed gazelle around the rugby pitch, scattering a basket of rose petals in my wake like some sort of woodland nymph.

I reached the rugby pitch. Did a couple of bendy stretchy exercises. And, looking v. professional with my water bottle in my hand, glanced at my watch and set off for '60 second run' x 1. Within 40 seconds, something in my ankle went 'ping.'


The sensible thing at this point would have been to STOP and CRAWL HOME.

But this is me we're talking about. Tenacious me. Determined me. Woman-who-posts-a- photo-on-the-Interweb-of-herself-wearing-a-large-brassiere-on-her-head-me. I'm hardly likely to do the sensible thing, am I??

Oh no. I hobble on and complete the first day 60 second training session. I limp home, gritting my teeth through the pain. I collapse on the sofa with ankle on hot water bottle. I get up from sofa. I can't walk. And the rest of the day is spent limping extravagantly around the house like a 95 year old with their foot riveted to a paving slab. Getting up and down stairs was very interesting.

So my plans to start jogging this week have been scuppered for a few days. I managed a swim this morning with the aid of pain killers and sobbing wildly through the agony.

But you'll be pleased to know the bra worked very well. Big tick, gold star 10/10. No pinging tendon issues in that department.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Keep 'em contained!

Having ascertained that it would be unwise for me to start my running programme without sufficient boobage encasement, I located the nearest place that stocked a ShockAbsorber D+ Level 4 34/36F sports bra and was delighted to discover it was the local department store.
'Marvellous!' I thought (I was having a Jeeves and Wooster moment. Despite the rain, everything was 'spiffing' and 'splendid' yesterday). 'I can detour to House of Fraser on my way through town whilst running a few other errands.'

Off I trotted, list of 'to-do's' in one hand, brolly in the other, repeating the mantra 'When in the House of Fraser, keep turning right and you won't get lost'. It has a funny layout, this department store. Being circular, and bearing in mind I have no sense of direction, I often find myself in there wondering where on earth I am and, more importantly, how I'm going to get back outside without having a panic attack between Lancome and Estee Lauder. You daren't pause for a moment near those counters or you'll be bronzed and filled before you can say, 'Go easy on the trout-pout.'

Corners are the answer. You can't go wrong with corners.

Anyway, in I went, zipping past Cosmetics and through Expensive Handbags, Strappy Sandals (on sale - up to 70% off), past Tiny Dresses that would just about fit a pencil and into Lingerie Land. All was quiet. It was early afternoon. The store assistants, having dealt with the lunchtime rush, were now circling and sorting their 32AA's from their 48J's. They were eyeing me suspiciously. Okay, I was looking a bit raddled and bedraggled, what with having walked a mile or so in the wind and rain, trying to stop my brolly inverting. But my money is as good as anyone's and I wasn't going to be intimidated by some snooty store assistant.

Now, where were the ShockAbsorbers? I thought, I bet they haven't got my size. Ignoring my mantra of sticking to the right, I turned left, and THERE THEY WERE!! Hurrah!!!

I scuttled over to the display. Now, there are 4 levels of support in the ShockAbsorber range. I was looking for level 4. I need all the help I can get. I didn't want funereal black, I didn't want vamp red, I wanted virginal white. Found them!

I rifled through the rack. Depending on how the brand fits, I am either a 34F or 36F, the former of which sizes can be a bit tricksy to find sometimes. But no, there were white level 4's in both sizes! I gave both sizes a surreptitious stretch. The taller of the two store assistants (lingerie dept) was peering at me over the top of the Triumph range as if to say 'Will you please stop yanking on the bras like that.'

'Would you like to try them on?' she said, when she realised I had caught her staring at me.
'Yes please,' I said. I was keen to re-enact the Bounce-ometer experiment and see if this bra really would make a difference.

The store assistant unlocked (yes, unlocked ) a changing room for me. I was a little worried about the unlocking thing. I mean, what kind of activities go on in the lingerie dept at House of Fraser that you need to keep the changing rooms locked? What kind of establishment had I wandered into? And would my theory of turning right get me out safely before I was kidnapped and sold for 6 camels?

I entered the changing room. Luckily, I wasn't locked in. I had control of the lock from inside. Phew! The changing room was thoughtfully lined with 4 full length mirrors and sparkly bright overhead halogen lighting that enhanced the red and blotchy, exercise-induced rashy tones of my decolletage, neck, rib cage, lower back and upper thighs. Not to mention the muffin top, cellulite, dubious vein on my right calf and startled look on my face when I got an eyeful of the full effect in all 4 mirrors.

Never mind. I began my Bounce-ometer experiment. Joggity, jog, jog, jog in standard brassiere. Hmmm...yes, definitely some up and down movement there although not too bad. Difficult to ascertain round and round and in and out movement. I didn't feel as though I was disappearing in and out, but who knows?

Off with the standard brassiere (gentlemen, please avert your eyes. I would. No, honestly. If you don't, I'm not being held responsible your therapy bills. This next bit is for ladies only).

Joggity-jog-jog.....WHOAH!!!!!! Ye Gods!! Aaaaaarrgghhhh!!!! Whew!!! Panic over. Just stand still a moment or two to let things settle.

On with the ShockAbsorber D+ Level 4 36F. Joggity jog, jog, jog.....JOG, JOG,JOG!! Oh yes! I moved. The bazoomers stayed put. I tried a couple of experimental star jumps and whacked my hand on the changing room wall.

'Ouch! Fuffin' fuff, fuffity, fuff!' I yelled, a totally involuntary response, I don't generally swear.
'Is everything all right in there?' enquired store assistant.
'Yes. Fine!' I squeaked, shaking my hand and trying not to get blood from my grazed knuckle on the nice cream carpet.

I emerged from the changing room, red-faced and puffing, but triumphant! Perhaps that's why they lock the changing room doors...

Anyway, I am now the proud owner of an all-encasing, 100% functional and fully washable, breathable and decidedly unattractive sports bra. I hope it's worth it. I hope it prevents any further southward migration of my bosoms as I joggle my way around the park.

There's a song that springs to mind right now. You might know it...

'Do your boobs hang low? Can you swing them to and fro?
Can you tie them in a knot? Can you tie them in a bow?'

I forget the rest...something to do with keeping your knees warm I think...
Is this where is goes?? Modelling new sports wear.

Monday, 27 April 2009


It was a peculiar weekend. Andy worked on Saturday morning, and then Heather went off to a party with her 'Mum-approved' friend Elliot before heading back to uni. Then Sunday seemed to shoot by with allotment work and Jean visiting. And before we knew it, it was Sunday evening.

'I'm going to try the nettle beer,' Andy announced. 'Want a sip?'
I had a sip. It was okay, but it's not going to become a habit. Andy drank a pint and became bizarrely hyperactive for the rest of the evening.
I settled on the sofa to read about running. It's a complex business, you know. You might think it's just putting one foot in front of the other faster and faster, which basically it is, but there are CONSIDERATIONS to be er, considered. Like footwear.

Now, I choose footwear like I choose most things - by colour and texture. So, on those criteria, I shall be running in a nice pair of deep burgundy velvet pumps with possibly a trim of tiny purple feathers and a dash of pink satin ribbon. I'm not a great fan of shoes, I have to admit, mostly because I have short wide feet and until the fashion industry woke up a few years ago and livened up their short fat foot range, I was pretty much consigned to the kind of style my granny would have worn in her dotage. I much prefer bare feet. But I appreciate I am going to be running where there is likely to be all manner of delights like chewing gum, broken glass and dog poo, so I need to get decent trainers. I considered wellies because sometimes I run in wellies at the allotment but it always makes me laugh and, quite frankly, I don't think my pelvic floor muscles are up to a 5k run in wellies.

I have a pair of leggings. They make my legs look like blue parsnips - all chunky and lumpy at the top, tapering to skinny ankles at the bottom. I plan to even out this imbalance by wearing large cover-your-bum T-shirts. There is a lot of talk in running clobber fashion about 'sweat-wicking' fabrics and 'breathable' fabrics and fabrics that make you feel cool even if you are puffing like a train and purple in the face with exertion. However, until I discover what 'sweat-wicking' is I'm going nowhere near these items. A nice cotton t-shirt will do for now.

And when you are running, there are bits of you that go up whilst other bits are going down and heaven help you if the two should meet if you make a sudden stop. And this is where I had the most startling discovery of the evening. Not only to boobs go up and down in running mode, they go in and out and round and round too! Good grief, I thought, they sound like completely independent entities. I must find suitable control so they don't go off and run their own marathon.

On the advice of the fitness magazine I had bought last week, I visited which contains a useful tool called the 'Bounce-ometer'. I read the information on the site then followed the instructions to enter my cup size into the 'Bounce-ometer' and wait for the download to do its stuff. Two minutes later I am staring open-mouthed at the computer screen.
'Look at this!' I shrieked to Andy, who was over half-way through his pint of nettle beer.
Andy looked.
'Eeeeeeekkkkk!!!' he shrieked back.

Go on, ladies. Check it out, if you dare. And be prepared to be amazed/ amused and/or startled.

Anyway, once we'd both gone through the stages of shock and hysteria and stopped laughing, I set about designing an 'Activity chart' for myself and Andy.
'It's to track our daily activity level,' I explained, once Andy had finished his pint of nettle beer and was nicely agreeable to any plans I wanted to implement. 'Suitable activities are walking, running, jogging, gyming, swimming, Wii-fitting, dancing and allotmenteering.'
'What about sitting and slumping?' said Andy.
'No,' I said. 'Definitely no sitting and slumping. 'Look, there is a column for you and a column for me...'
'And the third column?' asked Andy.
'For my boobs. In case the 'Bounce-ometer turns out to be true,' I said.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

End-of-the-Week News

Nettle beer update: Yesterday, Andy decanted his nettle beer into wine bottles. All six litres of it. Andy reckons it looks like dishwater. Last night, one of the bottles expelled its cork across the room. I reckon it could be pretty potent stuff. I shall be sending Andy for an eye test after he has finished drinking it.

Allotmenteering : on the plot first thing this morning before Andy knew what was happening to plant out pea seedlings, runner bean seedlings (I say 'seedling'. Most of them are a foot tall) and start clearing the space in readiness for polytunnel construction. We have a new friend at the allotment. His name is Julian and he is a blackbird. And, oooh, isn't he bold?? He comes right up to you and stares with his beady blackbird eye. I could have reached out and patted him on the head with my trowel this morning. I nearly did, too, because he had a beak full of slug.
'Take your slug away,' I said. 'Don't you be dropping slugs near my newly planted pea and bean seedlings.'
'Mmmmfffhhmfffmppphhhh,' said Julian.
'Aaaargghhhh! Save me!' yelled the slug.

Bees: Our friend, Jean, popped in for coffee this morning. During general chatter we did some accidental bartering whereby we got another compost bin, some flower pots and a big bunch of canes and string in exchange for some strawberry plants, seed potatoes and tomato plants when they are a bit bigger. Jean has also offered to bring slugs, snails and cabbage leaves for the chickens. 'I'd thought about bringing them before and leaving them by your back gate,' she said. 'Only I didn't want you to think you were being stalked by some weirdo with a cabbage and mollusc fixation.'
Jean has also offered part of her huge garden as a site for our bee hive. We are very tempted to take her up on this offer. Very tempted indeed. The bee-keeping plan is becoming way over-due in its implementation.

Running: This week I am going to start psyching myself up to start the running programme proper. In preparation for this, my left leg has developed a pain that stretches from the middle of my calf down to the outside of my ankle. I think this is from excessive digging this week, so at the lottie this morning I took special care to dig with my right foot instead, in a sort of cross-legged need-to-go-to-the-loo-motion.
'What ARE you doing?' said Andy, in fond admiration of my yogic contortions. (Either that or he was trying not to laugh.)
'Saving my left leg for jogging,' I said.
'And mucking up the right one in the process?' he said.
'I feel it's important to maintain a balance,' I said.

Cooking: Now Heather has returned to university, I have to remember to cook for two instead of three. Or four, for the time when Chris was still living at home. I anticipate there will be excess foodage this week whilst I adjust so if anyone wants to pop in for dinner, please do. There will be plenty.

Greenhouse: having shipped out the peas and runner beans this morning, there is now space for part 2 planting which will be more beans (French), sweetcorn, lettuce and late leeks. The coriander has gone from being virtually non-existent to rampant in 3 days flat and I'm not sure what to do with it now so will need to research next stage coriander growing. The parsley, too, is doing extremely well and has just started to go curly. My Auntie Nece, who visited this week from Scotland, said 'If parsley flourishes in a garden it means the woman is the dominant partner in the house,' and she gave me a bit of knowing look. I think she was trying to say, in the nicest possible way, that I'm a bossy moo.

Chickens : Mrs Miggins's erratic, weird-shaped, flimsy and broody egg-laying seems to be subsiding and she's getting back to normal. Well, about as normal as a chicken can be, given that they are quite the most beserk creatures I've ever looked after in my life.

Cats : we still have two cats. I have a few names lined up for any others that drift our way...

...and that's about it.

Like Mrs Miggins's 'plant 'n' kickabout raised vegetable bed', (which is doing very well, even if it is a bit difficult to decipher what is coming up where. Carrots, peas, kale, radish, lettuce, it's all in there, jostling for position) this week has been an eclectic mix of the normal and bizarre. Still, we muddled through, the sun is shining and no doubt the world is waiting to present more opportunities and challenges in the week to come.

I'm off to make crumble now, for tonight's pudding. Rhubarb up one end for me, apple up the other for Andy. A bit of an odd combination, maybe, but rubbing along side by side in sweet counterpoint nonetheless.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Make me laugh

There are two jokes that made me laugh this week. Here is the first:

A man visits his doctor. 'I think my hearing is getting worse,' he says. 'Okay,' says the doctor. 'Describe the symptoms.' 'Well,' says the man, 'Homer is a fat couch potato and Marge has really tall, blue hair.'

And the second one is this. The Dalai Lama stops at a hot-dog stall. 'Make me one with everything,' he says. He hands over his money then holds out his hand for the change. 'Change comes from within,' says the hot-dog seller.

Another thing that made me laugh this week was the picture Vera at Labartere had posted of herself washing her hair. I laughed because I knew that at the very moment the photo was taken she would have been laughing too at the sheer fun of the situation.

And on Radio 7 yesterday there were many things that made me laugh. I've stopped listening to Radio Kent during the week, mostly because they've got a new presenter on the breakfast programme. She is too aggressive to listen to first thing in the morning; too loud, too forceful and downright rude sometimes. She raddles my nerves so I switched to 7. And first thing on Friday the double comedy slot is 'Beachcomber' followed by 'Desmond Dingle's Compleat Life and Works of William Shakespeare.' These, along with Patricia Routledge and Prunella Scales in 'Ladies of Letters' had me giggling all day.

And then I realised why I'm finding 'Indigo Antfarm...' so challenging to write. It's because it has no overt comedy in it. Well, it has the occasional comedic image. For example, Violet (Indigo's older sister) wakes after a one-night stand to see a pair of glasses balanced on the neck of Bailey's bottle , giving the impression of the bottle having a face. Her pink pants are stuffed in the neck of the bottle, sprouting out the top like hair. But there is no comic banter. There is black humour, as when Indigo goes to see her dead mother Nina at the funeral parlour and they have a snappy, sarcastic conversation as their mutual hatred continues through the veil of that separates this world and the next. And Jake, Nina's grandson, says he thinks Nina would rather be scattered in the food hall at Harrods than buried on a bleak hill by the coast.

Looking back over previous writing, I think I've been trying too hard to be 'funny' entertaining all the time, because that is how I am in life. I seek to cheer people up, to make them laugh. Vera will understand this pressure, this duty to entertain because it is a subject we have discussed many times over the years. Is it because we want people to like us that we do this? Do we place so little value on ourselves, is our confidence so low we have to make jokes all the time and when we don't our friends and family think that something is 'wrong?'

It's odd. You are supposed to write about what you know. But there is no place for humorous, funny me in my latest project. And perhaps that is why it is so slow in its development. I am being more precise with this writing. I am having to think, rewrite, delete,think again. I am having to go with the flow when it is there and be patient when it isn't. This isn't a Jaffa cake project, something light and easy to chew where you need half a packet to feel like you've had a decent biscuit fix. This is more like a big, double-choc chip sticky chewy cookie (like the ones Nigella made on telly this week. Did you see? Omigod, I put on three pounds just looking at them and a whole roll of kitchen paper to absorb the pile of drool on the carpet). This book will take months and months to get right. It has to be worked with care and consideration and an omnipresent viewpoint.

What a year of writing I'm having. Ever changing and learning, improving and diversifying. It is the hardest work I've ever done. It is the best career I've ever had. It is the most absorbing way to live because you never clock off. How wrong to think I was writer before now. This year has been my springboard into writing.

And now I wish I could think of a joke with which to finish this post, but I can't because I'm thinking about my latest writing project. But if I do, I'll pop back and add it. Until then, try listening to Radio 7. Especially on a Friday morning.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Alistair's darling budgie

What with all the writing, running, swimming, allotmenteering and home gardening that's been going on at Much Malarkey Manor this week, some news of apparent national importance has passed me by and it's all to do with Alistair's darling budgie.

As you know, I like animals and birds. I had a Gloucester canary once called Brian who had the most amazing hair-do and could flick birdseed way across the room straight into the Yamaha organ, much to my mother's annoyance. Never had a budgie though, so I thought I'd pick up on this missed news and see if it was remotely interesting.

'What's all this to do with Alistair's darling budgie?' I say to Phoebe who is very keen on keeping up with current affairs.
'Don't talk to me about him,' she says, rolling her eyes towards heaven. 'He's in the back bedroom. He's supposed to be helping Tybalt and I print more money for the Government's quantitative cheating, I mean, easing programme, but he's being about as much use as a bicycle to a fish.'

You'll remember, faithful and regular readers amongst you, that Phoebs and Tybs have been using the back bedroom to print more money for the Government as part of their way of helping the country out of its current recession.

'Oh yes,' I say, because I'd forgotten this particular plot line and only remembered it when I was scraping the bottom of the teapot of my mind for what to blog about this morning. 'How much have you made so far?'

'£175,' says Phoebe.
'Oh good,' I say, 'We'll be out of the recession in no time at that rate.'
'Sarky,' says Phoebe.
'So how come Alistair's darling budgie is in our back bedroom,' I ask.
'Got sent here, didn't he. Undercover. To avoid the media glare. I only agreed to take him in because I ate his great-great-great-aunt Flossie about 7 years ago when I was still a wild Scouse cat, and not the refined Southern kitty like what I am now.'
'And has Alistair's darling budgie got a name?' I ask, hoping it was a relatively short one, thus avoiding irritating my repetitive strain injury with excessive typing.
'Yes,' says Phoebe. 'He is called Reilly.'
'Reilly Darling?' I say, thinking that sounded a bit posh for a budgie.
'Don't be silly,' says Phoebe, 'Reilly Darling would be ridiculous. His second now is Oreful.'
'It can't be that bad,' I say, desperately trying to inject a bit of humour into the conversation.
'I'd stop now before you get out of your depth,' Phoebe warns.

It transpires that Reilly arrived at midnight on Wednesday via ParcelForce straight from London in a red briefcase. The paparazzi were in hot pursuit and camped out on the doorstep all night until Tybalt threw a bottle of Toilet Duck at them from the bathroom window. Actually, I vaguely remember waking to a frenzy of flashing lights outside but thought it was the firebrigade and number 11 had set fire to their chip pan again.

'What's Reilly done?' I ask, thinking it must be something pretty awful for him to be sent to live in a back bedroom in back-of-beyond Kent to assist in the printing of money.

'He made a series of wild and unsubstantiated predictions regarding the country's economy and instead of keeping them to himself, broadcast them to the nation in one of the most lacklustre and boring speeches every known to mankind,' says Phoebe. 'It wouldn't have been so bad if he hadn't got his pages muddled up and dropped his crystal ball. That's what happens when you eat prunes for breakfast,' she finishes. A stark warning to us all, I think.
'What kind of predictions?' I ask.
'Do you really want to know?' asks Phoebe. 'It's not pretty you know.'
'Yes,' I say, completely ready for a good laugh.

Phoebe takes a deep breath. 'Venus is rising and forming a trine with Neptune which means all tuba players in the London Philharmonic will have to hold their breath for an average 47% longer during Holst's Planet Suite. There will be erratic variables in supermarket staples- eggs are up...'
'That'll make the chickens squawk,' I say.
'...but balloons are down. More money will be printed and thrown at the Bank of England until everyone inside gives up and comes out waving little white flags. If you're a granny, you'll get paid to look after your grandchildren, but why would you want to do that, you've only just got rid of your own kids, for heaven's sake. You can buy an electric car for £37.50+ vat at 900% but you'll only be able to travel in radii of 15 metres until someone invents a longer cable.'
'Like Vince?' I ask, having already decided that if Vince Cable was in charge of Land GB, I would become a woolly minded lib-dem and vote for him, which goes completely against my strident right-wing tendencies, but desperate times call for wild and wacky sit-on-the-fence-and-wobbly measures.
'No,' says Phoebe. 'I don't think you're taking this seriously are you?'
'When will these measures take place?' I ask.
'2023,' says Phoebe.

I have to admit that no, I'm not taking this news seriously. My faith in politics disappeared back in the Nineties, when dear old Maggie got the boot to be replaced by Major Grey 'n' Dreary. What were they thinking? Well, they weren't, and that was the problem. And by the time 'Sell you a Second Hand Car Blair' arrived, well, I'd decided they were all as bad as each other.

Poor Alistair's darling budgie. It's Reilly Oreful.

(Today's blog was brought to you by 'Desperate 4' for all your corny joke needs.)

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Two go jogging

How to start jogging:

1) Eat evening meal. Home-made meatballs and tagiatelle are good. Make too much because daughter is home from university, I've only just got used to cooking for 2 and can't remember the quantities for 3 so I make for 4, just in case. Meatballs for protein, tagiatelle for carbs, veg for 5-a-day. Have yogurt for pud even though I feel quite full. It's good for digestion and bloating (adding to or taking away, I get confused which).

2)Start watching telly. Say (nonchalantly) to Andy 'Shall we go for a walk? It's such a lovely evening.' Find carrier bag to gather greenery for chickens.

3)Andy agrees. Wearing totally unsuitable footwear and trousers that are a tad too tight (see point 1) set off for park at a brisk pace (aka 'warm-up'.)

4) Notice park is VERY BUSY. Full of people playing football, dog walking, mucking about with remote controlled cars (I mean, how long exactly can a bloke be entertained by a remote controlled car?? YAWWWWN!), and joggers (fools). Panic a bit. Am I brave enough to jog in public in view of other people? Is it dark enough yet?

5) Maintain brisk walking pace. Stride purposefully to where path ends suddenly in middle of the park for no apparent reason. Admire lovely trees full of blossom and think 'I wish I'd brought my camera.'

6) Yomp across grass to area in park where smooth grass turns to rustic wild-life area. Glance around furtively. No-one in sight. Pick a patch of dandelion leaves for hens, all the while checking vicinity for other signs of life with the potential to laugh. (This includes ducks. Ducks laugh. Trust me, I've heard them.)

7) Say to Andy 'Shall we run across this bit of lumpy grassland?' 'Yes,' says Andy.

AND OFF WE GO!!!!!!! Jog,jog,jog,jog, mind that pot hole, jog, jog, keep a look out for people, jog, jog, joggity, puff, puff, puff, gasp and...

8) STOP! Bend over, puffing. 'Ask, 'How long did we run for? A minute? Two minutes?' Try not to feel disheartened when Andy says 'About 30 seconds.' Carry on brisk walk. Reach bottom of gentle upwards slope. Say to Andy, 'Let's run up this gentle upwards slope.' 'Okay,' says Andy. AND OFF WE GO!!!!!!

9) STOP!!! People! Resume brisk walk. Loiter in bushes on pretext of picking more dandelions until people have disappeared from view. Seek out suitable tree not too far in distance. Make a dash for tree. Have a laugh because the jog is turning into an episode of 'Secret Squirrel.'

10) Andy says, 'I'll time us to run for a minute.' A MINUTE??? Meatballs, tagiatelle and yogurt settling nicely in stomach now. 'READY?' says Andy. 'GO!' says Andy, missing out the 'Steady,' bit, most unfairly I think because I need to build myself up to these sudden bursts of energy. Jog, jog, joggity, jog, jiggle, bounce (must get a sports bra), joggity, puff, gasp, haven't we done a minute yet, jog, jog, 'KEEP GOING TO THE NEXT TREE! yells Andy, jog, jog, jog, 'AND THE NEXT TREE! yells Andy, 'WHO DIED AND MADE YOU THE PERSONAL TRAINER? yells me, jog, jog and...

11) That's a minute! The longest minute in my life. The minute where my entire life would have flashed before my eyes if I hadn't been concentrating so much on staying vertical and breathing.

My skin is pink and itchy, my heart is pounding in my ears, but my knees are intact and we are laughing so much I wish I'd had a wee before we'd set off. We do a few more surreptitious dashes between trees until we reach the busy part of the park where we slow to a brisk walk (warm down) and then more of an amble up the hill towards home. We have been out, larking in the park, for an hour, covering just over 3 miles. We have a cup of tea and a flapjack each (oats, good for the heart, sugar, good for the soul) and feel v. pleased we have started running together.

I have HUGE admiration for all those people who run long distance without the aid of strategically placed trees and without stopping every minute to catch their breath.

One day, that'll be me and Andy!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The polytunnel cometh and Denise and Andy runneth...

On Monday, I was fired up and ready to phone the polytunnel company and ask, all casual-like, that as it's been 4 weeks since I placed my polytunnel order with them and 4 weeks since they took the money from my credit card, WHEN WERE THEY GOING TO DELIVER THE B****Y THING BECAUSE THE TOMATOES/AUBERGINES/PEPPERS ARE TURNING INTO GREENHOUSE TRIFFIDS???? However, they beat me to it and called immediately after breakfast to say my order had been dispatched and would arrive on Wednesday.

'Morning or afternoon?' I enquired. The office lady didn't know but said if I wanted to call back on Wednesday morning they would be in a better position to tell me. What position would that be, I wondered. Organised??

Anyhow, it transpired the question was irrelevant because the polytunnel arrived yesterday. A very small delivery man with a single front tooth appeared at lunchtime in a very large lorry and carried many long parcels, bendy parcels and big boxes into the backgarden, arranging them artfully over the garden furniture, before getting me to sign his clipboard and disappearing toute de suite.

I have no idea if all the right parts have been delivered because I could find neither an invoice nor a piece of paper saying 'This is what should be in your delivery'. It looks like it's all there. There are wooden bits (the doors), shiny bendy metal bits (the hoops for the main frame), straight metal bits (the crop bars and side braces), square metal bits (base plates) and polythene (cover). There is hot spot tape to protect the polythene from frying on the hoops in the summer and repair tape to mend the holes in the polythene your husband made with the scissors in his eagerness to open the delivery box. (Actually, he didn't damage the polythene, but it was a close call).There are also many screw bits, poky bits, twiddly bits and a booklet entitled 'It's All Yours Now, Good Luck, We're Off!'

Andy was very keen to open boxes and read manuals when he arrived home. This is unusual for him as he isn't a great believer in the reading of instructions, preferring the 'chuck it all on the floor and see which bit goes where' method of construction. But no, he's made a list of all the tools needed to construct the tunnel and this morning, over breakfast, issued the first instruction.

'We need to clear the site of weeds,' he said.
Was this the real 'we' or the Royal 'we', I wondered.
'We'll go to the allotment this evening,' he said. 'And start clearing the site.'

Operation Polytunnel is underway.

Meanwhile, I am psyching myself up to start running. I purchased a health and fitness magazine yesterday which had a special 'Anyone Can Run' feature. I also purchased 'Organic Garden and Home' because it had an article on ethical burials and eco-friendly coffins. It's odd, isn't it, how ideas can link together in sometimes sinister ways...

Anyway, the running article was very informative and provided an easy to follow programme for building up towards a 5K run.
'How far is 5K in proper money?' I ask.
'3.107 miles,' says Tybalt.
'How did you know that?' I ask, very impressed at his mathematical prowess.
'I used the conversion feature on my mobile,' he says.

Right. So just over 3 miles. I can walk that in under an hour if I get a shift on. I try and think where I walk to and from that would give me a more tangible idea of how far 5K is and whether I could run it and remain vertical. I decide it is the distance of a round trip to the allotment.
'I could run to the allotment and back,' I say.
'Why would you want to do that?' asks Tybalt.
'It would be quicker?' I say. I realise how very feeble this reason sounds. Unless, of course, I was being chased by a bear in which case it sounds a very excellent reason indeed.

'And which coffin would you like?' asks Tybalt.
'That one there,' I say, pointing to a nice slim willow number with flowers woven in the top.
'You're far too fat for that,' says Tybalt, because tact is one of his better qualities.
'I won't be after I've been following my running programme for a few weeks,' I say.
'True,' said Tybalt. 'Are these two topics related in any way, perchance?'
'I wasn't planning them to be,' I say.

But who can tell in the Great Adventure that is Life? Who knows what is around the Corner of Fate, up the Cul-de-Sac of Co-incidence, along the Avenue of Chance, on the other side of the Fence of Frisson?

Sometimes, you've just got to go with the flow and not think too hard about these things. Because sometimes, if you think too hard, you can think yourself out of some pretty amazing life-changing decisions.

(This last thought was brought to you by 'Psychic Mentor, part of the 'Message From the Other Side' Upstairs Crew who sometimes chuck their thoughts in with mine for no apparent or sane reason. I hope therefore, it makes sense to someone out there who reads this today. If it doesn't, I apologise for my lunacy and promise to keep taking the tablets...!)

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The non-existence of me

Before writing my post every day I catch up on other blogs I follow, one of which belongs to mon amie en France, Vera, at Labartere.

'Oooh goody!' I thought, seeing there was a new post this morning entitled 'Pas Francais. Espagnol!' I clicked on it, keen to read the next thrilling adventure of self-sufficiency across the Channel. Would Lester still be down the well with a hole in his bucket? Has Vera managed to smuggle a bag of potting compost past the pile of donkey dung? A message popped up.

'This page does not exist,' it said.
'Oh,' I thought. And tried again, because every now and again Blogger will pop up a message that can be proved balatantly untrue by bashing the keyboard a bit and yelling things into cyberspace. But no. Again the message popped up. And again. I tried various approaches to gain access to Vera's latest blog entry like going to the main page and then through the individual titles and then taking it by surprise by pretending I'd never come across the blog before and saying loudly, 'OOH, this looks interesting. I think I'll have a read.'

It wasn't having it.

Then I thought, perhaps its me? Perhaps my suspicions have been confirmed and I don't actually exist. Perhaps I can't access this newest blog entry because I THINK I exist and am sitting in my office on my laptop and I have a friend called Vera in France, but really, I am a figment of my non-existent imagination.

If this is true it would explain many things. Like why no agents or publishers have recognised my writing talent. I mean , they wouldn't publish someone who doesn't exist, would they? What about ghost writers, though? Hey, maybe that's it! Maybe I'm a ghost writer! Okay, so all I need to do is find an illiterate celebrity with the intelligence of a bag of cornflakes and offer to ghost-write a novel for them and then I'd get published.

Ah, but would that compromise my artistic standards? In order to keep the standards high (ish) I would have to be a ghost-writer for a non-existent celebrity. Then I could assume that identity for my non-existent self thus rendering myself real and able to read Vera's latest blog.

Aha! I could do it you know. On Sunday morning, as Andy was sitting at the kitchen table trying to read 'A la recherche du temps perdu,' and sighing into his toast and marmalade with the effort of it all, I wrestled the book from him and did my own translation of Proust's original. My version included Mme Swann wearing a gi-normous pair of clown trousers and blowing a small trumpet for the amusement of the local children. It made Andy laugh so was instantly more enjoyable than the version he was trying to read. If I can ghost for Proust, I can ghost for anyone, including a non-existent, cerebally -challenged celebrity...

Here we go...

My nam is Luella-Lola Spanglepants and here is my storeeee. It is a storeeee of 'ardship and woe, of deprivation and more 'ardship. I mean, we was so poor I didn't get no hair straighteners until I was nearly eight years old and then I 'ad to sell mi baby brovver to git 'em but that didn't matter coz 'e was the spawn of the Devil. No really. And this is my storeee. Wiv ghosts and everyfing...

Monday, 20 April 2009

Keep on running...well, start at least...

'Sometimes,' I said to Andy yesterday, 'when I am walking briskly, as is my wont these days as walking is my main mode of transport since we sold our second car to buy the Eglu and...'

'Get to the point, darling,' said Andy, hands poised over his computer keyboard because I have interrupted him at a VERY IMPORTANT point in his virtual reality 'brave adventurer-creeping-round-a- sinister-castle-trying-to-avoid-monsters' game.

'I'm just providing a bit of back story for any readers new to my blog,' I said.

'Ahem,' said Andy, and I think he gave a slight nod towards his computer screen, but I might be wrong, could have been an involuntary tic like the time he told me to 'Sssshhh,' during an episode of Doctor Who. I mean, it was Christopher Eccleston too, for heaven's sake, not even David Tennant. Even I would have 'ssshhhed' me if it had been Tennant. But Eccleston????

Andy was, by now, staring at the ceiling and whistling.
'You'll never get off the ground with those little wings,' I said, pointing to his virtual reality computer character. 'I'd go for much bigger ones if I were you. More Archangel than Cherub. Anyway,' I continue, because although Andy is the most patient person I've ever met, even I could see he was getting a bit twitchy at my procrastination, 'sometimes when I am walking briskly, I feel like breaking into a bit of a run.'

Andy stared at me.
'Is that it?' he said.
I stare back.
'Isn't that enough?'
'I suppose,' said Andy.
'Cup of tea?' I asked.
'Ssshhh,' said Andy. (He didn't really say this. Wouldn't dare, not after the Doctor Who incident. I just added it for comic effect.)

Anyway, Andy appeared an hour or so later. I didn't ask if he'd overcome the monsters in the sinister castle because apparently these virtual reality games can go on for YEARS before any satisfactory outcome is achieved. A bit like real life only without bills, death and having to empty the bin when it's full.

'Let's go running together,' said Andy. He is clutching some sheets of A4 in his hand.
'What? Now?' I say, thinking his timing was very inconvenient as I was, by now, employed in IMPORTANT activities myself i.e watching Goldie Hawn and Bette Midler on the telly in 'The First Wives' Club.' Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn are two of my favourite actresses. In fact, I would like to have Midler's wit and Hawn's figure. Then I could be Bette Hawn. Or Goldie Midler. Or Boldie Hitler. Or Gette Hawnier...

'Well, not NOW,' said Andy, interrupting my silent ramblings, which was a bit unnerving to say the leastbut probably saved me from myself. 'In say, a month's time when I've got myself a bit fitter. I've found a beginner's training programme on the Interweb. I'm going to laminate it.' And he waves the pieces of A4 at me.

'Okay,' I say. 'Let's start running together.'

The rest of the afternoon is spent in a flurry of extensive research into running programmes (walk a bit, jog a bit, walk a bit, jog a bit more), avoiding injuries (don't start running in the first place), running shoes (stand in wet feet on a bathroom carpet to discover your foot type. I am 'normal arch', or in running parlance 'transitional'), support bras (hammock-sized moulded capsules), what to eat, what not to eat, calories burned, Aertex fabric, heart monitors (HEART MONITORS????) etc etc. It's a whole new world!
And I was very excited to discover there is a running programme called 'Fartlek!' It seemed quite complex so I think Fartlekking will have to wait a while. Or at least until we can make it down the hill to the park without collapsing in the gutter.

'Shall we register for next year's London Marathon?' said Andy, as he stood in the kitchen laminating his training plan ready to take to the gym.
I narrowed my eyes in thought (and imaginary pain.)
'Maybe the year after?' I suggested.

We looked at each other, both cuddly and amply curvacious, both a bit too fond of homemade cake and sitting on the swing in the garden reading books.

'Yes, maybe the year after,' we agreed in unison.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

A Complete Year of Chicken

We have been hen-keepers for a full year now. Last April, Mrs Bennett and Mrs Miggins arrived and took up residence in our lush, green of grass back garden. Then Mrs B, bless her, went to chicken heaven and in late October Mrs Pumphrey, Mrs Slocombe and Mrs Polovitska (aka Mrs Poo) arrived and turned the last of the grass to mud.

But it's okay because in less than a year these 5 hens have provided us with 616 eggs (yes, I have been keeping count) which isn't bad going especially as Pumphrey, Poo and Slocombe didn't join in the laying until 5 months ago. We have learned a lot from our hens. We are au fait with chicken lady bits and chicken moods. We have discovered how chickens behave -like loonies, generally, althought they aren't nearly as bird-brained as the saying would have you believe. We know what they like (lettuce, grapes, pasta, swinging on the garden swing, trips in limousines and Jimmy Choo shoes) and what they don't (pigeons, rain, bare bottoms when the March winds are blowing and Alistair Darling because of his scary eyebrows).

And now Mrs Miggins is entering her second season, we are learning what happens to hens as they grow older. Of course, if Mrs Miggins was misfortunate enough to be a battery chicken, she would have been dispatched for cat food by now because she is more than a year old. Instead, she is free to continue living her life and displaying 'older chicken' behaviour.

Two things I have noticed about Miggo. One is broodiness and two is peculiar eggs.

'What's wrong with my eggs?' says Miggo.
'Well,' I say, thinking carefully because I don't want to offend my best girl and the eggs are still excellent for eating, 'they are starting to look rather, er, novel these days, aren't they?'
'Meaning?' says Miggo.
'Meaning, well, the unusual shapes, for example,' I say, thinking about the one I collected this morning which wouldn't have looked out of place in a potato sack.
'It's art,' says Mrs Miggins. 'As you get older, you gain freedom from the perfection of youth. You can start being a bit more creative.'
'And eggcentric?' I say.
'Don't start making egg jokes,' Mrs Miggins warns.
'And does this art eggtend to the texture of the shells?' I continue, foolishly ignoring her warning.

Miggo's egg shells have taken on a chalky consistency. I've upped the amount of grit and oyster-shell in her feed, which she carefully picks out and discards.

'Yes,' says Miggo. 'I have been experimenting with a variety of textures. Gritty, mosaic, bobbles, fur...'
'Fur?' I say. 'I haven't found any furry eggs.'
'I only experimented once with fur,' Miggo admits, 'it was a bit tickly coming out and I don't want you humans thinking laying an egg every day is a laughing matter.'
'And you've been a bit erratic with your ovulation these last two weeks,' I say. 'Two one day, nothing for another two, then regular, then nothing again...'
'You're a fine one to lecture on erratic ovulation,' huffs Miggo. 'I can't help it, can I? Unless you want to get me a course of HRT?'
'Hen Rejuvenation Therapy,' she says. 'It's by L'oeufreal' and it's very expensive but I'm worth it.'

And recently there have been a couple of occasions when I've gone to collect the eggs and have had to prise Mrs Miggins from the nest where she has been crouching over them like a ginger hovercraft, clucking motherly and giving me a bit of a warning look as I open the pod.
'What are you doing?' I asked when I saw her do this for the first time.
'I'm having babies,' she said. 'So kindly close the pod and come back in three weeks.'
'You are not having babies,' I said, rooting under her tummy for the eggs. 'You need a cock to have babies.'
'That's a common pre-feminist myth,' snapped Miggo. 'Shame on you, daughter of the Thatcher revolution.'

Blimey, I think, retreating but not without the day's eggs, she is turning broody and then some.

And just to finish, here is a piccie of the eggs of today. I'll let you decide which is the work of art...

Saturday, 18 April 2009

The Book Fayre Masterclass

Despite a severe case of hormone-related bloating (me, not Andy. Andy isn't allowed hormones, not all the while mine are playing up anyway), we set off sharpish this morning to catch the train for our MasterClass at Earl's Court on 'How to Get Published.' We arrive at Charing Cross and Andy takes charge because we are bound for the Devil's Bowels, I mean, the Underground. This means he has to grip my hand (firmly), say 'Follow me, I know where I am going',(firmly) and not stand any malarkey from me like fainting and/or screaming.

I take a deep breath, do as I am told and we arrive at Earl's Court safely without any face slapping or screaming abdab incidents.

'Have we got time for a wee and a tea?' I ask.
'I should think so,' says Andy, maintaining a firm grip on my hand until we are safely across the road away from any London traffic I might decide to scream at for trying to mow me down when the traffic lights are CLEARLY RED.

But no. We have to join the QUEUE FOR REGISTRATION. It is a conference, after all, and these things have to be done properly. Behind us in the queue are two women holding a very loud conversation about their various publishing experiences. The most annoying out of the two (the American, there's a surprise), is speaking noisily about how she used to work in publicity for the Bush administration, which personally, I wouldn't want to advertise to anyone. Thankfully, the queue begins to move just before I reach the point of trans-Atlantic intolerance. (Andy, very wisely, is still hanging onto my hand.)

'I wonder if they'll be serving coffee and biscuits,' says Andy.
I snort. 'You'll be lucky,' I say. 'This is London. You don't get anything free in London. They'd charge you to bury your own Granny in London.'
'I don't have any grannies,' says Andy.
'Neither do I,' I say. 'And we won't get any coffee and biccies either in this mercenary temple of Mammon, not without handing over at least twenty quid.'

Inside, it appears we have been 'pre-registered.' I don't know how this happened. I wasn't aware I'd 'pre-registered' us but it means we can by-pass the queues and go straight to the third floor via a very fast and stomach-churning lift.

I am very good. I don't throw up once.

On the third floor we are greeted by very smiley Book Fayre people who guide us to the free coffee, tea and and mini-pastries. Sigh...

The MasterClass itself is re-assuringly positive. It doesn't really tell me anything I'm not already aware of (on account of the fact I might be an as yet unpublished writer but I AM a meticulous researcher) and one of the authors - Lola Jaye - is very entertaining and sounds like she has experienced the exact frustrations I am experiencing. Kate Mosse, author of Labyrinthe and Sepulchre, is inspiring and passionate and the two chappies - one publisher and one agent - offer practical advice in a simple-to-understand way. The only person I don't like is the guy who had self-published. He seems many things 'self.' Self-absorbed, self- promoting, me, me,me-self. He is also a shameless name-dropper who seems out of his depth and unable to answer questions properly. He also seems to think that if you write a blog, then it won't be long before you are noticed by the press and 'Bob's your Agent,' you'll be published, no probs.

'Hurrah!' I think, though not without a degree of cynicism towards his wild declaration. Still, I am open to offers, acts of Fate and happy coincidences.

After negotiating our way back to Charing Cross, Andy bribing me with the promise of a visit to the M & S food hall for nice sandwiches, crisps and cakes for the train journey home, we arrive home and I now know what I must do.

I must:
1) have confidence in my writing skills because I can write
2) keep writing because the more I write the better I'll get
3) give myself time to be a good writer and enjoy what I am doing without beating myself up about the lack of a three book deal

and 4) have fish and chips for tea because they are BOUND to be a sure fire way to get rid of my bloating. And if they don't, well, if you're already having a fat day, might as well justify it, that's what I say!

Friday, 17 April 2009

Counting my blessings...

...goodness but the list is long! Having dug myself into a pit of despair yesterday (you know, the kind where you sit on the chair of doom to find a spring sticking through the upholstery of misery and your cup of tea tastes like it's got fish in it), a whole fleet of guardian angels came to my rescue. The phone rang, just as I was about to succumb to the mind-numbing distractions of rubbish afternoon TV. It was Vera en France, ready with 'gee up' girly chat. There would have been coffee and cake if we'd still lived next door to each other but as it was she took me on a virtual reality trip of her caravan awning where, as she said 'ils sont plus de yogurt pots mais ne pas de seedlings.' She then proceeded to call me a witch because my seedlings are blossoming (literally in the case of the strawberries).

'I don't think witchery comes into it,' I said, glad that we are able to hurl insults at each other without taking offence.
'Maybe not,' she said darkly, 'but from my end, I think an excess of donkey dung might.'

We agreed that donkey dung is probably too strong to raise seedlings in and Vera has now gained permission from her Head Gardener aka Lester to get some potting compost instead. Just to give the poor blighters a chance.

And then Andy came home, bearing a bunch of flowers and two cartons of Ben and Jerry's ice-cream - Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Caramel Chew Chew in case anyone from B & J's is reading this and wants to bung me a couple of freebies for the advertising.
'I thought you seemed sad this morning,' he said.

What a guy!

And then, at lunchtime today when I stopped writing for a spot of tea and toast (yes! I have been writing ALL morning, thank heavens. Had a bit of inspiration for Indigo Antfarm and another 2,000 words were born), I picked up a couple of messages of support from Moira and Olly telling me to keep on keeping on and saying how entertaining they find my blog. Thank you both for your kind words and for being insane enough to understand what I'm talking about. I mean, sometimes even I haven't a clue what's going on at Much Malarkey Manor. You are clearly very talented and highly discerning people!!

So, here is the score... blessings are many...Andy (who is ONCE AGAIN trying to read 'A la Recherche du Temps Perdu'. Will he EVER learn????), Chris and Heather, my friends both here and abroad, my cats (furry) and chickens (eggy), my health, my time to spend as I wish as a writer/ gardener/baker of cakery/ singer of songery, my dubious imagination and my generally reliable sense of humour...

...there are bluebells appearing in the bee garden, the magnolia looks beautiful, my new lavender has a flower sprig on it and all the foxgloves are growing save one which has been dug up and pooped on by the local cats...

...the greenhouse is full to bursting with veg plants and flower plants and we shall dine well on home-grown stuff this season...

... I've managed to avoid kicking the bucket of nettle beer that is fermenting in the 'conservatory'... grass IS GROWING on the mud flat that is our back garden ('but we've got our beady chicken eyes on it,' say the hens, 'if only we could escape from Cluckinghen Palace....)....

...I AM a writer!

And as for tomorrow? Well, I am going to go to march to the London Book Fayre with samples of my writing tucked under my arm and I am going to try and foist them on as many people as possible whether they like it or not. If I can get away with kidnapping an agent or tying myself to the trouser leg of a publisher, I will.

And failing that, I shall suggest to Andy that we buy some fat chips and barbacue sauce and eat them sitting next to the Thames and he can try to convince me once more that London is lovely.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Not writing but drowning...

One of my favourite poets is called Stevie Smith and she wrote a poem called 'Not waving but drowning,' which is basically about people misreading signals. (My most favourite poem by Stevie is the very funny 'The Jungle Husband' but is totally irrelevant to this blog unless a hippo happens to charge through at some point). 'Not waving but drowning' tells of someone in the sea waving for help because they are drowning. People on the shore wave back because they are thinking (stupidly, as it turns out) that the person is waving and saying 'Coo-eee! Look at me! I'm having a lovely time out here swimming in the sea.'

I am not writing but drowning...

I counted my rejection slips yesterday. There are 22. Okay, so it's not the 197 that I'd imagined in my overactive mind, but it's enough to make me feel marginally depressed. 'Indigo Antfarm, Violet and Blue' has ground to a halt after its flying start. I've received wise words of encouragement from my writer pal Vera over at Labartere vis a vis what to do about this and I am trying to act on those words by distracting myself with other writing. Yesterday, for example, I wrote a 2,000 word essay comparing Lady Macbeth and Cleopatra's relationships with their respective partners. Today, I am contemplating writing a musical.

You see how bad it has become??

And to compound my feelings of literary drowning, Andy and I are off to the London Book Fayre on Saturday for a masterclass on how to get published.

I booked the ticket about 3 months ago when I was in a writing flourish and feeling good about being a writer and not anticipating this period of disillusionment when I am thinking I am a useless article and need to get a proper job earning proper money and maybe even go back to teaching. Perhaps the masterclass has come at the right time, I hear you shout. It will inspire you and get you back on track. This is true. I hadn't thought of that. Well, obviously I did, because I just wrote it, but the thought hadn't occured to me until a couple of seconds ago.

But because I am feeling miserable I think the experience will consist of listening to a bunch of smug people who got a publisher and a three book deal at their first attempt and then being descended on by a bunch of salesmen from the world of self-publishing who will try to sell their self-publishing packages to us lesser writers being roundly rejected by standard publishers. (I mention my suspicions of the self-publishing companies because when the fayre tickets arrived they were accompanied by many leaflets offering the services of self-publishing companies.)

Hey ho, that's how it I sounding bitter and pathetic? Sour, and like my face needs a good slap? Oh, it'll be okay. Things usually are. I'll schedule myself another hour or two of feeling miserable, then count my blessings, give myself a good slap and read 'The Jungle Husband.' At least my poet of choice today is Stevie Smith.

It's when I start reading Sylvia Plath I might have to start worrying...

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Toyz 4 Henz

Okay, I admit it. I finally succumbed to snailicide. I'm not ashamed. I feel the need to feed my hens wholesome protein (especially the floppy-combed one a.k.a Mrs Slocombe) far outweighed the protestations of Andy and Heather that it was not the done thing to assist snails from their shells by bashing them with a hammer. On the day we brought the snail mass back from the allotment and after watching the girls' ineffectual attempts to persuade the snails to be eaten, I crept into Cluckinghen Palace when no-one was looking.

'Gather round,' I said to the hens. We all huddled around the half-a-paving slab that sitting next to the food bowl.
'Now,' I said. 'Watch carefully. This is what you do.' And, with the hens all watching intently and taking notes, I selected a snail from the box, placed it on the sacrificial stone and gave it a whallop with a rock. So strictly speaking I didn't use a hammer. The snail immediately spread itself over a wide and flat area and Mrs Slocombe leapt forward and ran off with the spoils.

'So that's how it's done,' said Mrs Miggins. 'Not sure how we're supposed to hold a rock in our feet though.'
'Shall I crack open a few more for you?' I said. 'Or perhaps you'd prefer them sauteed in garlic butter and served with wholemeal toast?'
'If you wouldn't mind,' said Miggins.

I'm not sure which one of us would win in a sarcasm throwing competition but I bet it would be a pretty close thing...

It's difficult not to look furtive when squatting around a paving stone with four chickens bashing snails to death with a rock and I was soon rumbled. I could tell Andy wasn't wholly keen on my actions but I remain resolute. If the hens need protein via the medium of freshly crushed snail, then that is what they shall have. As long as I never hear the screams...

So Andy has now got a great idea. When picking up fresh pet food supplies yesterday he noticed that whilst your cat/dog/rabbit/budgie are all well provided for in the pet toy department, there is NOTHING for your pet chicken.
'I am going to develop a range of toys for chickens,' he announced. 'And I shall start with a little hat onto which will be attached a tiny hammer. Chickens will be able to wear the "hammer hat" and bash their own snails.'
'I was hoping they might work out how to use their beaks,' I said.
Andy laughed. 'Where's the fun in that?' he said. 'No, the "HammerHat" is the way to go.'
He then went on to suggest he make a human-size version for me to wear at trade fairs for demonstration purposes. I made a few suggestions of my own regarding husbands cooking their own dinners if they made their wives wear silly "HammerHatz 4 Henz' (as they are now known) in public.

And then I had an idea of my own.

'How about this,' I said. 'Get a salad spinner,' (I had to stop at this point to explain to Heather what a salad spinner was. She seemed impressed so that's this year's Christmas present for her sorted), 'and fill it with dust. Get the hen to climb inside and then turn the handle vigorously. Instant chicken dustbath!!'

Andy and Heather looked at me, open-mouthed in admiration at this stroke of creative genius.

'Actually,' said Andy, 'we are staring open-mouthed because what you've just suggested it possibly not a very nice thing to do to a chicken.'

'They'll love it,' I say. 'It'll be like Alton Towers only cheaper and without the queues. Think of the adrenaline rush they'll get.'
'I can think of plenty of other things they'll get, too,' said Andy. 'Now, back to my 'HammerHatz for Henz...'

So there we go. That's how we are going to make our millions. Toys for chickens.

No laughing at the back, please.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Andy makes nettle beer -Part One

Andy has been cultivating a patch of nettles on the allotment with a view to making nettle beer. I say 'cultivating' but what this really means is that I've been banned from weeding them until they have reached 'peak plucking time.'

Which they did this weekend.

Now, recipes for nettle beer, elderflower champagne and dandelion wine are very vague in their specifications for how much nettle/ elderflower/ dandelion you actually need. The recipes say things like '2 litres of flower heads' and 'about a small carrier bag full.' It's all very subjective. I mean, one person's small carrier might be another's medium. And how do you measure 2 litres of flower heads? Flower heads are solid. Does the 2 litres include air gaps or do you have to squish them in as tight as they'll go?

It's all very confusing...

Anyhow, Andy picked a 'large bin bag sackful of nettles'. For a scientist, he isn't very exact sometimes. I guess it's all part of the fun of home brewing, the experimental elephant, I mean element bit. I'd like to get more excited about the brewing process but because I have hypersensitive taste buds which means all alcohol tastes like vinegar and battery acid to me, I just can't work up the enthusiasm. This is one part of the self-sufficiency bus that Andy drives without a co-pilot.

Here is Andy in action yesterday, getting the brew on the go.

First, wash nettles to get rid of traces of cat/dog/fox wee/poo and/or birdie droppings. Wear gloves. Here, Andy is modelling the latest in latex. After emptying the kitchen cupboards of every large container he could find, he decided to wash nettles in the bath. And use my preserving pan for cooking them in.

Put 6 litres of water in preserving pan. Unfortunately, the measuring jug is currently in the fridge holding my latest batch of home-made chicken stock (I am very into home-made stock at the mo. It makes the house smell like you've got a roast dinner on the go, for a fraction of the cost.) So Andy was going to use the only other measuring receptacle we have which ladles out 200ml at a time. It was going to be a long process to reach 6 litres and I could see him losing hope before he'd even started.
'Why don't you use an empty squash bottle?' I said. 'That'll measure out a whole litre at a time.' 'Good idea!' said Andy, immediately back on the beer trail.
I was going to offer him one of my growing collection of squash bottles that I am saving to build an eco-greenhouse with, but luckily he found one he'd finished that morning so I didn't have to reveal the eco-greenhouse plan to him just yet and he can remain under the illusion I am still clinging on to sanity.

When water is boiling (this would have taken less time if the lid had been on the pan, but I was keeping schtumm at this point), add the nettles, turn OFF the heat, and allow mixture to cool for an hour. I think if you allow mixture to boil, you end up with green goo that you can use to dye clothes. I don't wear green. I am also very aware it's only a short step between dyeing clothes using nettle juice and weaving your own pyjamas from sheep wool plucked from barbed wire fences a la 'The Good Life'. So we shan't go down that route, shall we?

Spend an hour drinking tea and coffee and eating cake and saying 'What time is it?' Perhaps use time to sterilise fermenting bin which has been standing in the bathroom for months.

Next, strain the liquid through a muslin bag. This involves building a contraption with kitchen chairs and bits of wood. And standing well back from the scalding steam. And that means you, Tybalt.

Then, have a discussion on the meaning of 'tepid.'
'Well, it's warm, isn't it?' I say.
'Yes, but how warm is warm?' says Andy.
'I don't know. Put your hand in it,' I suggest.
'I don't want to,' says Andy.
'Well, it's your nettle beer,' I say. I'm not having any of that malarkey and being the one to end up with green hands.

It's a tricky business deciding on 'tepid.' Tricky, and at times painful. Best employ the brewing thermometer, if you can get it out of its plastic packaging.

Once 'tepid' has been pinpointed (generally when the words 'Oh, that'll do,' are uttered), add things like sugar, lemon, orange, cream of tartar and yeast. Don't worry if the yeast might be out of date. It'll either work or it won't. There are plenty more nettles about at the moment.

Finally, stand brewing bin in 'conservatory' for people i.e me to kick and fall over for a few days. Luckily, the process of nettle beer making is quicker than wine-making so I won't be kicking the bucket for long.

Things are fermenting. I'm just waiting for the bang...

Monday, 13 April 2009

Slugs 'n' Snails 'n' Slow Worm Tails

Allotment day. The mists hang heavy across the land; the air hangs humid with er, humidity. We need to get the rest of the potatoes in and move the storage bin before the arrival of the polytunnel. Optimistically, I thought I'd take some seeds to plant (beetroot - red and yellow- carrots, spinach, spring onion and kale) but one look at the old compost heap that rose like a citadel and was in need of flattening tells me seed planting will have to wait.

We march our plot and check the crops. The Jerusalem artichokes are sprouting, the raspberries are putting on much leafage. And the gooseberries have gone from sad little twigs to lush bushes with a hint of tiny flowers appearing. The first potatoes we planted are poking foliage above the ground and need earthing up. The onions are shooting green javelins toward the sky and the shallots resemble the hairstyles of Ernie and Bert from Sesame Street. I pull some rhubarb from last year's plant which is going wild with growth now I've removed the flowers. We allocate tasks. Andy to plant potatoes and clear away old brassicas, me to dig over the old compost heap and level it with rest of plot ready for planting. Andy to move storage bin to other end of plot, me to help him if it looks like he might collapse mid-move.

All is quiet, all is calm as we start work. Then...

'OMIGOD!!!!' yells Andy.
'WHAT?' I yell.
'SNAILS!' yells Andy back. And he's right. In lifting the wooden pallet the storage bin has been standing on, he has revealed a colony of about three hundred snails. Tall ones, short ones, some as big as your head.
'We'll take them back for the chickens,' I declare, throwing snails enthusiatically into a box.

Back to work. Then...

That was me.
'WHAT?' yells Andy.
'SNAKE!' I yell back. Actually, it's a slow worm. A BIG slow worm. Now, slow worms are a protected species and you aren't supposed to disturb them. However, I have inadvertently disturbed this one by flinging it across the diameter of the compost heap during my vigorous digging efforts. So I rescue it and relocate it to the new compost heap. I just hope the slow-worm police don't come after me for this transgression. Nor for the second one when I discover its mate in a similar fashion.

During the digging, I suffer my first two insect bites of the season. That'll be me itching and puffy for a week now. Still, I'm better off than the insect that bit me. That's dead.

After three hours we decide to go home. The snails in the box have made several attempts to escape. It's like they know what their fate is to be. Psychic snails.

At home, we take the box of snails into Cluckinghen Palace and place it reverently on the ground, waiting for the hens to launch themselves enthusiatically at this heaving pile of fresh protein.

'What's that?' asks Poo, suspiciously.
'Slugs with houses,' says Miggins. 'I've seen 'em before. They're a bugger to eat.'
'Well, I'm going to give them a go,' says Slocombe, 'because you know how hard it is for me to assimilate protein and I need all I can get.'

Mrs Slocombe selects possibly the tiniest snail from the box. She spends at least five minutes swinging it around by its head, bashing it against wood chippings, small stones and other chickens. In fact, all four of the hens race each other around the play area in pursuit of cracking open this one tiny snail. Behind them, the other 99 snails we've brought home are making fast their escape. Andy is sitting on the swing bench laughing like a loon at our idiot hens.

I want to get a hammer and smash the snail shells open for the chickens so they can have easier access.

'NO!' yell Andy and Heather in unison. 'That's cruel!'

I have no idea when my husband and daughter became members of the Snail Preservation Society. I mean, I haven't seen them wearing badges or anything. But it's 2 against 1 so I may have to wait until nightfall before I sneak out into the garden with my hammer...

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Easter Greetings

It was like locusts on a plain today, round the Easter dinner table. This is not to be confused with Snakes on a Plane, which I understand to be a film, although I've never seen it myself. During the week I was feeling all Ma Larkin so I thought I'd invite 'The Family' around for Easter lunch. By family, I mean my mother, my daughter, my son and his girlfriend and of course, my hubbie. Not that I need to invite hubbie around because he lives here already, what with it being his house too, along with half the wardrobe space. Look, what I'm trying to say is that there were six of us for lunch. (I've had a lot of milk chocolate today, okay? My blood sugar is haywire, I have lost the power of simple thought.)

So I thought, what shall I feed them? I wandered around Sainsbugs picking stuff up and putting it back on the shelves. Eventually, I decided on a free-range chicken and a piece of beef, which I assume was also free-range, what with cows being big and everything and not good at being confined to hen houses. I did roast potatoes, Cumberland chipolatas, roast parsnips, broccoli. carrots, peas and gravy. For pudding I made a proper trifle (none of your make-it-from-a-box-kit in this house, oh no. Bananas in the custard and everything) and, as an after-thought, an apple crumble. I decorated the table settings with little chocolate bunnies, eggs and lollipops.

'That's bound to be enough,' I thought, as I juggled various roasting tins and dishes through my wholly inadequate oven space.

By the time everyone had finished, all that remained was a chicken drumstick, a blob of beef and a two inch square piece of apple crumble.

Chris decided to go outside to visit the chickens in Cluckinghen Palace.
'Have they had any treats today?' he asked. Treats, I thought? I can't afford to give them treats, not after what you lot have just eaten. We're going to be living off cheap beans on toast for the rest of the week as it is.
'They had the apple peelings from the crumble,' I said. 'You can give them some corn if you like.'

So off he trolled with a pot of corn. The chickens eyed him with suspicion. Actually, all animals regard Chris with suspicion; this has been the case since he was a small child. I don't know why. Maybe he gives off strange vibes in animal kingdom land. Anyway, the chickens were having none of it and there was much loud clucking as they tried to escape his advances.

When he emerged from the run with the bowl of corn still full, I called through the window for him to throw it into the bark chipping area so the hens could root around for it in their own time. Now, the run is made from willow trellis with holes at least two inches square. And corn is, well, about 1 sixteenth of an inch square. Or oblong. Somehow Chris managed to miss the willow trellis holes completely and the majority of the corn bounced back and landed outside the run. The chickens looked at him with disdain. Maybe they were right to regard him with suspicion.

Andy bought me 'Take Thats' latest CD for an Easter present. I am very pleased with this gift as I have decided I very much like 'Take That' now they've grown up a bit. I think I was a bit too old for them when they famous first time round. They shall be my 'dance around the kitchen' choice for the next few weeks.

And as I sit here on the sofa, feeling very, very full of a very nice Easter lunch, and very happy that all those I love shared that lunch with me, I am thinking, maybe I should start training to run a marathon.

I'll put that thought down to the massive sugar rush brought on by too much chocolate. Don't worry, it'll be gone tomorrow.

I hope...

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Polyculture and the Hard Stuff

It's time to harden off the seedlings. It's time to send the babies into the cruel hard world that is called 'THE GREAT OUTDOORS'. It's time to regain control of the greenhouse for Round Two seed planting.

It was raining at 6.30 this morning so I thought 'Ideal time to get the seedlings outside and toughen 'em up a bit.' I scanned the skies for plant-eating vultures and the ground for plant- eating slugs (although I think our garden is a slug-free zone, thanks to Missus Miggins, Pumphrey, Slocombe and Poo). Having established that all was safe (for the next 10 minutes at least -I don;t want to tempt Fate vis a vis slugs) I put the larger tomato, peppers, aubergines and jalapenos outside for their first taste of rain and fresh air. They immediately went flat under the weight of all that drizzle but now, as I write this, the sun has come out and they are standing tall and straight and looking cockily independent.

It's a bit nerve-wracking, this 'hardening off' process. You've spent weeks carefully nurturing tiny specks of seed to tiny green shoots, then pairs of leaves, then a bit of a sturdy stem and then another pair of leaves so it's natural, I suppose, to feel a bit wary about sending them out to survive the elephants, I mean elements. It's like when your children leave home. When Chris went to live with his girlfriend, (after we'd had a serious discussion about how his lifestyle was clashing with ours and wouldn't it be a GOOD THING to maybe find somewhere to conduct his young adult lifestyle so I wouldn't have to keep nagging him and subjecting him to much tutting and sighing in my middle-aged old fart kind of way) I wouldn't hear from him for days on end. I would think, 'He's lying dead in a ditch somewhere,' or 'He's poisoned himself with his home cooking.' It didn't help that he rarely responded to text messages. But he survived and thrived and, over a year on, all is well. (Aside from the time his house caught fire and another time when he was burgled. But he handled these crises admirably and told me about them in a calm and resigned voice which, ultimately, prevented me panicking on his behalf.)

Same with Heather. She went off to university nearly three years ago. She has coped with and survived a number of aggravations that come with learning to be independent. She has been stopped by a policeman for cycling without lights. There have been only two occasions when I've had to fight my maternal instinct to go and rescue her from domestic altercations. She is now a competent 'can-doer' and heaven help anyone who gets in her way!

And so with the seedlings. They can't grow and develop and produce their goods if they are holed up and cossetted in a warm geenhouse, being fed and watered on a regular basis and protected from the wind and rain and the heat of the sun. Of course, as with my children, I shall be there to help and support them when the going gets really tough. That's what being a caring human being is all about. (Children, if you are reading this, I DO NOT include the Bank of Mum and Andy in this equation. I am talking about the things that money can't buy like wisdom, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, a homemade cake, invites to dinner and occasional baby-sitting when the time comes). I shall water the seedlings if we have a drought. I shall keep the weeds at bay. I shall keep the soil in good condition so the plants can grow to their best.

I suppose the main difference between the children and most veg plants is that the plants are annual. They need looking out for for one year only. Unlike the children. I mean, Heather came home yesterday for a 2 week Easter break before her final exams. And immediately started sitting on the sofa, eating chocolate fudge cake and frittering toilet roll! I expect she'll be wanting use of the shower next.

As an additional point of joy in this season of Easter, it has been three days since the chickens took up residence in Cluckinghen Palace and ALREADY the grass is starting to re-grow on the remainder of the lawn! We found a whole tuft yesterday. Not quite enough to sunbathe on but I reckon by this time next month our back lawn might have made a bit of a comeback!

Friday, 10 April 2009

Commercial expansion

I've just realised on the blogger home page there is a tab that says 'Monetise'. Ooooh, I think, what's that for then? Is it an option whereby I can customise my blog page in the style of that excellent artist Monet? If I click on it, will it render my page full of beautifully blended shades of green, yellow, turquoise and lilac, dotted hither and thither with lily pads, bridges and summer garden scenes. That would be nice. I like Monet. I am always impressed by the hugeness of his canvases when we see them at the National Gallery or wherever it is in London we go to occasionally, but I am too stressed out about being in London to realise where we are. Anyway, Monet's canvases are HUGE and lovely and he is the only artist I can view without wearing my spectacles, because everything is fuzzy whichever way.

So I click on the 'Monetise' tab, keen to introduce a bit of culture to my work (and Lord knows it needs it).

It's to do with advertising. It's not 'Monet', it's MONEY!

What a let down. No soft focus. No subtle tones and highlights (that sounded a bit like an ad for hair colourant, didn't it?), no French Impressionism.

Now, part of the 'Andy and Denise Grand Plan' is to get away from commercialism and capitalism and excess profit making which is why I refuse to shop at Tezzco-Every-Little-Bit-Adds-Shamlessly-To-Our-Profits-And -We-Don't -Care-About-Chickens. I can't be putting adverts on my blog. Okay, I did have a look to see how much my blog might earn if I did allow adverts to appear on it, but the information was a vague 'Try it and see what happens' which wasn't good enough.

Besides, I kind of advertise all ready, but through personal recommendation of companies I've dealt with that I like very much. They tend to be small companies with good standards whom I hope won't sell out to the big boys when the dollar signs start flashing. I hope they are companies with morals and ethics and a pride in good customer service like that smoothy drinks company who've just sold out to Coca Smola. (See, I am so disappointed I've even forgotten what they are called.)

It's a pity. I'd like some Monet on my blog page. I'm beginning to wonder if there is a French conspiracy going on. In his latest blog at Boom Penguin, Andy was talking about Fate (in a round about, car analogy kind of way) and I feel I'm experiencing a similar wave of hints from the Greater Universe. I caught myself standing in WHSmiths during the week with three 'Living in France' magazines clutched in my hot little hand. I couldn't quite bring myself to buy them, though. And one of Andy's work colleagues has offered us a place to stay at his house in Normandy if we want to go there to 'get a feel for the place.'

And now, if you'll excuse me, there is a chocolate fudge cake awaiting my attention.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

The Gardening Gloves Conspiracy

I bought a gardening magazine the other day and in it was a voucher for a FREE pair of gardening gloves courtsey of Wilkos. 'Hurrah!' I thought, because 1) I like things that are free and useful and 2) I can never have enough gardening gloves. I don't always wear gardening gloves, and I should because one day I'm going to succumb to some awful soil-borne disease like tetanus or clubroot and Andy will put on my gravestone 'I told her to wear gardening gloves.'

So off I pop today to Wilkos to claim my free gardening gloves. I find the ones that are on offer. They are very nice. Thick and sturdy yet pretty too, with a nice rose pattern on them. I take them to the counter. The checkout lady puts them through the till then stares at the voucher. She turns it over a few times. She stares at it a bit more. And then she dings her bell.

The dinging of the bell in Wilkos is like an invitation to pull up a chair, make a pot of tea and open your copy of 'War and Peace' because you're going to be there for a looooooooong time. I try not to sigh. The gloves, after all, are free. The customer services lady comes over. The checkout lady shows her the gloves and the voucher. The customer services lady looks at the voucher and turns it over several times. 'You'll have to void it on the till,' she says to checkout lady. It appears checkout lady doesn't know how to do this. Customer services lady says she would do it, 'but gardening isn't my department, I'll need to call someone from the gardening department.' It's all to do with codes, you know. And the fact the customer services lady 'can't leave the front of the shop.' Lord knows why. It's not like anything is going to happen in her absence. Not at this rate anyway.

Customer services lady goes back to her desk and telephones for someone to come over from the gardening department. Now, we're talking a fairly small shop here, all on one level. It's not a multi-storey department store. I could have yelled for someone to come across from gardening quicker. A gardening department lady appears. I am starting to lose the will to live and there are now 15 people in the queue behind me.

The customer services lady shows the gardening lady the gloves and the voucher. The gardening lady looks at the voucher and turns it over several times. 'You need to void this on your till,' she tells checkout lady. 'I told her that,' says customer services lady, 'but she doesn't know how to and I can't because it's not my department.'

I think, shall I give up and leave without my free gardening gloves. But...perhaps this is a plot by Wilkos to make me do just that? Perhaps this is all a conspiracy to save them having to give away loads of pairs of gardening gloves? I grit my teeth and steel my nerves. I am going to claim my free offer if it kills me.

The gardening lady performs several complicated manoeuvres on checkout lady's till in attempt to perform the elusive void. 'It's not having it, is it?' she chuckles when her many attempts fail. The remaining three of us and the 27 people now in the queue remain devoid of chuckle. 'I'll have to take you to Customer Services to see The Supervisor,' says gardening lady.

The Supervisor?? This is turning into some sort of Orwellian experience. 1984, only 25 years too late. I'm not surprised given the length of this simple transaction. I glance around, looking nervously for the hidden camera. Nope. It's all real. A living nightmare.

At the Customer Service desk, the customer services lady and the gardening lady explain the problem to The Supervisor. The problem? THERE IS NO PROBLEM, I want to shout. I HAVE A VOUCHER ENTITLING ME TO ONE FREE PAIR OF GARDENING GLOVES. I GIVE YOU THE VOUCHER, YOU GIVE ME THE GLOVES. ET VOILA!

The Supervisor is about 87 years old. I am transfixed by her heavily dyed hair. She isn't grasping the voucher = free gloves equation. Even the customer services lady looks like she is losing patience and is very close to pummelling The Supervisor into the ground.

And do I get my free gloves? Eventually, yes. Not until I'd finished reading 'War and Peace' and written half a sequel and drunk so much tea I was in dire need of the little girls' room, though. I'm looking at the gloves now. Covered in roses. Functional and useful.

But somehow, death by clubroot would have been a strangely attractive alternative to standing in a queue in Wilkos in order to claim them.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Project Hop Bower

We're on a roll now, oh yes we are! Having completed Cluckinghen Palace, the next stage of the garden make-over chez nous is to turn the garden swing bench into a relaxation area. We inherited the swing bench from a friend nearly two years ago and currently it is located in the border that is next to the play area of Cluckinghen Palace. It is balanced on four scraps of old paving slab to stop it sinking into the ground and it is starting to look a little weatherbeaten. I have planted the hops bines next to the swing in order to train them over the top of the swing when they get long enough. Already the bines are 9 inches tall which I think is very impressive growth for a month. Better than the British economy anyway.

And as we were sitting on the bench yesterday evening, watching the girls settle into their new abode, we decided that a bit of decorative paving was needed beneath the swing. In my head, I also decided that the swing needs rubbing down and repainting but I'm not going to tell Andy this until I've decided between tangerine and fuschia pink. (I need to gather my thoughts into a battle plan to win him round on this design decision. I suspect I may have to back down and go with something in green or blue). Inside we go to consult the Reader's Digest Book of Home DIY.

'I like that,' I say, pointing to a semi-circle patio, being effortlessly laid by a couple of cartoon drawing people.
'We'd have to check the radius doesn't clash with the projectile sweep of the gates of Cluckinghen Palace,' says Andy, getting all technical. 'Do we need to do anything to the ground before we put the slabs down?'
'It says,' I say, because I am the one in the house who reads instructions for things rather than trying to wing it, 'we need to put down some sort of sub-base.'
'Such as?'
'Sand. And/or hardcore,' I say. 'It depends on potential traffic, weight bearing and soil type.'
'What's the soil type?' asks Andy.
'Tending towards clay,' I say because I've dug a lot of the border and I bloomin' well know it.
'Right. So what's the least we can get away with?' says Andy, who, bless him, is starting to feel the effects of building a chicken palace in two days.
'Levelling the ground and some sand, I reckon,' I say, because all we are going to do is swing on the swing. There is unlikely to be any passing traffic.
'Good,' says Andy.

So we might get started on Project Hop Bower over the Easter break. Depends on the weather. Today, Andy is starting his new, temporary job as Acting Senior Vet. Today he shall be mostly acting it in the style of Richard III due to being unable to walk with a straight posture after his DIY exertions. He toyed with Macbeth and Hamlet but decided to leave those until either a) he needs to get despotic to keep the nurses in order and b) he needs to go gradually mad, a side-effect of fiddling with the rota. I said that if he was going to do rota fiddling he ought to act as the Emporer Nero but he said he didn't think his work colleagues would tolerate him lying around on velvet cushions demanding to be fed grapes.

I reckon after the last few months, being fed on grapes is the least he deserves.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Ta-dah!!! Announcing the completion of Cluckinghen Palace

Only a tiny bit of blood was split today in the completion of Cluckinghen Palace. A quick dab with some warm water and kitchen towel, a cup of tea and 2 Jaffa cakes, and Andy the Architect/builder was back in the garden to complete his task. I went to my writing room to get some notes together for the 'A' level student I am tutoring at the moment and to keep Fred the Cat company. Fred the Cat is huge, furry and ginger and we are looking after him for three days until he goes to French France to become a French France cat. He is confined to my writing room for the duration because he doesn't match the black and white theme of our other cats.

As the yard arm swang/ swung/ swingled (I'm never sure which is correct) past noon, Andy appeared. He looked weary. He looked tired. Yet he looked like a man who has done battle with several lengths of four by two, some willow trellis and chicken wire and has won!

'It's finished,' he said, flomping on my writing room sofa. This is my cue to go for an inspection.


Ahem...'This is not just any hen run. This is a specially handcrafted hen run, the like of which has never been seen before. It is unique. It has many special features. It was built by Andy. Please, come with me on a guided tour:-

The spa bath, for all your parasite removing needs. Fits two comfortably, three at a push and four if you want to get really down and cosy with your friends

The roosting bench. A smooth and soft seating area, wide enough for the biggest of chicken tushes. Sit and relax in the sun. Read a book. Knit a sweater. Or simply doze in comfort without fear of falling off.

The Woodlands. Get back to nature and ramble in the undergrowth of the eucalyptus. Grub for, er, grubs in the roots. Instant shade from the sun and a handy preening area for those inclement English showers

Camping For Fun! The gazebo area offers privacy and shade all year round. Cool in the summer, frost free in the winter. (Warning - no barbacues)

Eat 'n' Go food bar. Dangle cabbages, apples, clumps of dandelions from this novelty shrub
and exercise whilst eating. The pounds won't pile on with this handy little feature

The Long Run - ever felt like a good gallop but lacked the space? This run will let you get up enough steam to keep those thighs trim. Combined with the Eat 'n' Go bar, this stretch of ground competes with the best track and field keep-fit facilities in the country, nay the world.

The Lounge - root around until your heart's content in this deep bark scratching heaven. Pile all the chippings up in a heap, then spread 'em out again. The entertainment is endless.

And all surrounded by willow trellis, offering the ultimate in safety and beauty. (Landscaping to be completed by the end of the year, terms and conditions apply).

Good, innit??