Monday, 31 August 2009

Wild Claim of the Day

Well, this is exciting news for all of those who may be seeking immortality and all the wrinkles that go with it. An article in the Daily Rant today states that 'A Walk A Day Halves Death Risk.'

Cor! Is that all it's going to take for me to up my chances of beating the Grim Reaper? A quick nip around the park will keep me one step ahead of dying? Given that my current risk of death is 100% (being a living, breathing creature and all) it seems I could halve that risk to 50% by walking.

Of course, once you read on, it is revealed that things aren't quite as they seem in the headline. 'Take a brisk walk every day for at least 20 minutes halves the risk of an early death, say researchers,' the article continues.

Ah, so now the truth is coming out. Truth and provisos. At least 20 minutes, eh? Well, that covers everything from 21 minutes to 24 hours, doesn't it? It's not very precise. I need to know numbers. I need to know times. I'm a busy woman for heaven's sake. I have things to do. In order to factor in my death defying 'at least 20 minutes' of walking time, I need to know EXACTLY the amount of walking minutes I need to well, walk. And how brisk is brisk? I mean, I can get a shift on when I want, but if determining briskness requires buying a stopwatch, taking my pulse and dividing it by my desire to live forever, you can forget it.

And what's this? Early death? Not merely death, it seems, now the probing has started, but early death. You see, once you start reading for the truth of a matter, things don't seem as rosy as the headlines imply.
Also, define 'early' for me. My Dad died when he was 56. Which is early for an eighty year old, but then my sister died when she was 22, so 56 would have been very late for her. When I tell people I get up at 6 a.m, they say 'That's early.' Well, not for me it isn't. But when certain other people in the household don't surface until gone 9, then yes, I can see that my 6 o'clock start is quite sharp for the get up and go.

Reading on, I find this research was done in America. On men. Aged 70 to 92. I'm afraid I did a snorty laugh when I read the name of the chief researcher who was called Professor Kokkinos. (It's hanging around with Andy, I'm afraid. I've developed a very juvenile sense of humour since we got married.)

So, given I am an English female aged 43, I started thinking maybe this research didn't apply to me. And by the end of the article when Prof Kokkinos stated that 'Although ageing and death are inevitable, the rate for both can be modulated by maintaining a physically active lifestyle at any age,' I knew I'd hit upon the Daily Rant's Article of the Day for Stating the Bleedin' Obvious.

Talk about building up a girl's hopes and slapping 'em down.

The article finished with the observation that 'In the UK most people do not exercise five times a week for 30 minutes or more - the Government's official recommendation.' At this point I reached a sense of impending doom. My odds on defying death were zilch.

At least, I would have been doom laden if I believed this bumpf. Instead, I am decidedly cheerful with life at the moment and if the Grim Reaper arrives on the doorstep today he'll have my Mum to deal with as she is coming for lunch. We're having chicken cobbler and trifle. And it is a well known fact that Death prefers beef. The fruit and veg are all organic and home grown. Harvested by me and Andy at the allotment yesterday (2 hours exercise) and created after a brisk hour's walk into town and back this morning to get some chicken, some cream and some custard powder.

It's all relative, this being alive malarkey. We go when we go and there's little we can do about the timing and the circumstances (other than not walking across in front of speeding buses, of course).

And now you must excuse me. The art of proper custard making calls and Mrs Slocombe is doing her daily shout of 'I've laid an egg, I've laid an egg, I'VE LAID AN EGG!!!!'

Ta-ta...for now!!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Title in Deed

'We've been thinking about a title for our book,' say the hens, excitedly.

They have worked out that by standing on each other's heads and using a clever combination of levers and pulleys, they can get into the house via the 'conservatory' windows that I leave permanently open during the day to lessen the aromatic effect that occasionally escapes the cats' poop trays. They no longer need to wait for me to open the door to let them in.

'Invitations are so passe,' says Mrs Miggins when I question their sudden arrival. I was in the shower, you see and the last thing you need as you make your morning ablutions is to turn around and find three wild-eyed hens peering through the cubicle door at you. It was one of those occasions when I wished I hadn't been so thorough in banishing the lime scale that had previously graced the glass, thus forming a hazy veil of privacy.

'Can I get dressed first?' I say, as Mrs Slocombe waves an A4 loose leaf file at me.
'If you must,' says Miggins.
'Have you thought of using a minimising body scrub?' asks Mrs Pumphrey, peering closely at my thighs. 'I can give you some of mine, if you like. Does wonders for the cellulite.'
'She makes it herself,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'From bananas, apricots, oyster shell and ground up snails.'
'I'll pass, thank you kindly,' I say, reaching for a towel.
'Suit yourself,' says Pumphrey. 'But it'd cut back your excess wobble no end and...'
'GO AWAY!' I shriek.

When I go into the bedroom to get dressed I find the hens lounging across the bed draping themselves in my collection of floaty scarves.
'Can you wait in the kitchen please?' I say. 'Just whilst I get dressed.'
'Oh, we're all girls here,' says Miggins. 'Modesty is very passe, you know. Besides, we have lots of ideas about our book that we want to share with you. We've been working on them all night and we're very excited.'

As she says this, she bounces up and down on the pillows.

'Please don't do that,' I say, as feathers fly into the air. Actually, when I take a closer look, the pillows seem rather flat.
'Mrs Slocombe,' I say as sternly as I can whilst wrapped in a bath towel. 'Have you been eating feathers from my pillows?'
'Mmmmmm, mmmm,' denies Mrs Slocombe, shaking her head. A tiny feather drifts from the corner of her beak and her comb turns a slightly darker shade of red.

'Okay,' I say. 'Tell me these great ideas for my book.'
'Our book,' says Miggins. 'Let's get that straight from the start. You'd be nothing as a writer without us.'

I give this concept a moment's thought. I'd certainly have less eggs without them, but would I be a lesser writer, let alone a nothing? Hhmmmm...

'Fire away,' I say.
'Right,' says Mrs Pumphrey, balancing her pince nez on the end of her beak. She opens the file and coughs.
'You haven't caught Mrs Slocombe's cough have you?' I ask.
'No, I am merely clearing my throat in preparation for the enormity of the genius I am about to digress,' says Pumphrey.
'I see,' I say.
'Firstly, the title. We've come up with a selection, but the one we like best is this one,' says Mrs Pumphrey, and she hands me the file, pointing to where a line of text has been highlighted in luminescent green.

'Cluckinghen Palace - Our Life of Servitude,' I read. 'You are joking, aren't you?'

The hens look at me. Not a glimmer of irony tickles their faces.

'I think it sums up the premise of the book exactly,' says Mrs Miggins.
'Me too,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'We had a vote. We all agree.'
'So that's the title sorted!' says Miggins brightly. 'Now, the dedications page. We thought that...'
'Woah,' I say. 'I think I need to consider the other titles first before we commit to this one.'

The hens give a collective sigh.
'If you must,' says Miggins. She hops from the bed, quickly followed by the other two. 'We'll be back later to check on progress.'

And off they trail, down the stairs, bump, bump, bump. Just as I think they've gone, Mrs Miggins shouts back up the stairs. 'By the way,' she calls, 'the eucalyptus has shed all over the lawns again. Clean it up, will you, there's a good girl.'

'Our life of servitude indeed,' I mutter. 'Pah!'

Friday, 28 August 2009

Going publico-loco (Part 2)

Trying to crank up the creative writing muse yesterday was hard work. There was a lot of staring at the laptop screen until I started seeing floaters before my eyes. So I switched off the laptop and stared at an A4 notebook until I started seeing lines before my eyes. I tried wandering around the house a bit, flicking imaginary dust off the cats with my multi-coloured extendable handle feather duster. But nothing doing.

So I gave up and did some embroidery instead.

A hen appeared just after lunch. I was concentrating on a particularly tricky piece of brickwork on my farmhouse- many different shades of one colour, putting one stitch here, and two there, then changing colour for another couple there and one way over there, you know how it is with embroidery, anyway I didn't notice her coming into the living room and when Mrs Slocombe coughed, I jumped out of my skin and stabbed myself in the thigh with my needle and 'Light Tangerine 067'.

'I thought you were on holiday,' I said.
'I was,' said Mrs Slocombe. 'But I came home because I caught a cough from a pig.'
'So you weren't just trying to attract my attention to your presence then?' I said. Stabbing myself in the thigh had caused me to leap up from the sofa and it was at this point I discovered I'd embroidered myself to my needlework.
'No,' said Mrs Slocombe, coughing again like a consumptive Romantic poet. 'If I wanted to attract your attention I'd do this,' and she flung herself at my other thigh and gave it a good hard peck.

'OW!' I yelled. 'What was that for?'
'I wanted to attract your attention,' said Mrs Slocombe. 'I want to know about this book you're writing about us.'

'Oh, I tried to get started on that this morning,' I said. 'But the power of creative thought isn't home today, I'm afraid.'
'Mrs Miggins and Mrs Pumphrey said you'd already been writing about us in your blog. What's a blog?'
'Well,' I said. 'It's like an on-line interwebbly diary. Blog is an abbreviation for 'web log.'
'Oh,' said Mrs Slocombe. She hopped onto the sofa and started fiddling with the TV remote control. 'Like in Star Trek. Captain's log, star date 2746 and all that jazz.'
'That's right,' I said.
'So is a Captain's log a clog?' said Mrs Slocombe. 'Ooooh, 'A Home in the Sun,' my favourite.'
'No,' I said. 'A clog is a type of shoe. From Holland, I believe.'
'I've been to Amsterdam,' said Mrs Slocombe. 'Got a mouse friend there. Lives in a windmill.'
'Nice, ' I said.

Mrs Slocombe turned to me. I could hear her brain ticking on over-time.
'So if the Captain was a pirate and had a trunk, would it be called a caplunk?'
'I think,' I said, 'you are getting confused with a children's game that uses marbles and sharp pointy sticks.'
'Oooh, you shouldn't give children marbles and sharp pointy sticks to play with,' said Mrs Slocombe. 'According to the Health and Safety course I went on when I was thinking of opening my 'Bagel and Schnitzel Bar', if you give a child a marble and a pointy stick, all amount of trouble will ensue.'
'I can imagine,' I said. 'Heather pushed a marble up her nose when she was 3. Or was it a dice? Anyway, it got well and truly stuck.'
'You didn't use a pointy stick to get it out, did you?' said Mrs Slocombe, clearly horrified at the thought.
'No,' I said. 'But only because I didn't have one to hand at the time.'
'No Kerplunk?'
'Only Hungry Hippos,' I said. 'And Chicken Limbo.'
'Tango Pete does a good chicken limbo,' said Mrs Slocombe. 'Apparently it's all in the cunning blend of secret herbs and spices.'

'Anyway,' I said. 'Back to the book.'
'Ah yes,' said Mrs Slocombe. 'Is this a new series of 'How Clean is Your House?' or just one in a series of interminable repeats?'
'Repeats,' I said. 'The new series is on this evening.'
'I do like Kim and Aggie,' said Mrs Slocombe. 'I'd give anything to have legs and hair like Kim.'

I give an involuntary shudder at the thought of Mrs Slocombe, small black hen, wearing a blonde plaited bun atop her mad little head and with a pair of long legs clad in spangly tights peeping out from 'neath a pencil skirt.

'I'm not sure they'd suit you,' I said.
'So, the book,' said Mrs Slocombe.
'Yes,' I said. 'I think there's quite a good market for anthropomorphic fiction.'
'Say again,' said Mrs Slocombe.
'Anthropomorphism,' I said. 'It's where human attributes are given to animals. For example, the ability to speak English, or to experience abstract thought. Or be able to flower arrange, ice skate or hold antique sales in a front garden.'

'But we can talk,' said Mrs Slocombe. 'And ice skate. We made £2, 467 at our antique auction.'
'Yes, but only in my mind,' I said. Oh Lord, I thought, this is going to be difficult.
'So you are saying that everything we hens say and do is a product of your over-active imagination?' said Mrs Slocombe. She picked up the embroidery I'd managed to extricate from my trousers. 'You've missed a bit there,' she said. 'By the chimney.'
'What I am saying,' I said, already realising I was about to open my mouth and say way too much, 'is that in order to make you hens more, er, interesting to my readers, I employ anthropomorphic techniques to your daily activities.'

'Oh,' said Mrs Slocombe. 'I see. What you are saying is that we are BORING!'

And she got me in the thigh with her beak again.

I'd upset the mad hen.

'Well, just for that I'm not going to let you have the present I brought you back from Heaven, ' said Mrs Slocombe.
'Devon,' I sighed.
'You say Devon, I say Heaven,' said Mrs Slocombe. 'Whatever. All I know is that wherever it is they make bloomin' good fudge!'
'I'm sorry,' I said, trying to make a desperate apology. 'I didn't mean to upset you. You're all very interesting, really you are and I love you all to bits.'
'Too late, too late!' sang Mrs S. 'I'm off to tell the others exactly what's going on in this so-called book of yours. Over a nice box of fudge! Hmmpphh!!'

And off she strutted, pausing to cough on my knee on her way past.

You see, it's not easy being a writer. Especially when you find yourself working with a sensitive and temperamental subject. Not easy. But quite fun.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Going Publico-loco

'We're ready to go public,' says Mrs Miggins. She is standing on a garden chair, peering though the kitchen window where I am standing on the other side at the sink wrestling with a pumpkin. 'What exactly are you doing?'
'Don't ask,' I say. Dismembering a pumpkin is a tricky business. I've toyed with standing on a chair myself and dropping the pumpkin from a great height, but the thought of the resulting mess that would need cleaning up is too much for me to bear, so I battle on bravely with assorted knives, mashers and rolling pins.

'Anyway,' said Mrs Miggins, who can tell my thoughts are in danger of running away with themselves, 'back to us going public.'
I put the pumpkin to one side and give Miggo my full attention. If I don't, she'll paint over the kitchen window with whitewash. It's the chicken equivalent of giving someone the silent treatment and it takes an age to scrape off.
'How do you mean?' I say.
'Well, I've been talking to Mrs Slocombe and Mrs Pumphrey,' says Mrs Miggins. 'And I would have drawn Mrs Poo into the conversation, too, only she seems to have disappeared.'

I hold up my hand. 'Now hang on,' I say. 'I've explained what happened to Mrs Poo. You remember? When I sat you all down and told you she'd gone to Chicken Heaven?'
'You mean Paignton?' says Mrs Pumphrey, appearing suddenly besides Miggo. There is a minor pause in the conversation whilst they tussle for ownership of the garden chair, then they reappear clinging onto each other like that film still of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in 'Some Like It Hot.'
'No, not Paignton,' I say. 'Heaven.'
'Well, my Aunt Florence told me she was hatched in Paignton and she said it was in Heaven,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'In Devon,' I say. 'Paignton is in Devon.'
'Is it?' says Pumphrey.
'Yes...look, come inside,' I say. Call me psychic, but I can already sense this is going to be a complex discussion requiring sitting down with tea, cake and paracetemol.
'RESULT!' yells Mrs Miggins. 'See, I told you she always gives in to absurdism!'

'Where's Mrs Slocombe?' I say, opening the back door for Miggo and Pumphrey.
'Gone to Heaven,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'I mean, Paignton. In Devon.'
For a moment, I panic. Is Mrs Pumphrey being ironic? Is she beating me at the game of puns? Or is she trying to tell me that Mrs Slocombe is demised, no more, an ex-chicken?

I rush into the garden and run around. 'Mrs Slocombe!' I call. 'Mrs Slocombe! Betty!! Where are you?'
'I've told you,' says Mrs Pumphrey from the back door. 'She's gone to Paignton. On holiday. To recover her sanity. She reckons a week'll do it but I'm not so sure.'
'Really?' I say because I am suspicious of this news. Since Mrs Poo died, and Cluckinghen Palace has been undivided allowing the remaining three girls access to the entire grounds, Mrs Slocombe has been unable to prevent herself from annoying the other two and I wouldn't put it past either Miggo or Pumphrey to accidentally bury her under the patio and ornamental fountain. It's a nice fountain though. A replica of the one at the front of the Palace of Versailles. If I was going to be buried alive under a fountain, it's the kind I'd choose. Unless I could get a copy of the one in Copenhagen harbour with the mermaid and...

'Oi!' says Mrs Miggins. 'Will you pay attention? It seems to be escaping your notice that WE are the MOST IMPORTANT thing at the moment. And our plan to GO PUBLIC.'

I return to the kitchen. The contents of the cake and biscuit tins are already on plates on the table and on the front of Mrs Slocombe's feather bosoms.
'I'm not sure eating flapjack is a good thing if you want to hold an important discussion,' I say, seeing Mrs Pumphrey's beak all ready clogged with stickiness.
'Mmpphh, mmmgggrrbbble, hmppphhg, burp,' says Pumphrey.

'Ignore her,' says Miggo. 'She's talking rubbish. Basically, we want you to write a book about us.'

I look from one hen to the other. I can feel my limbic system failing and my mouth starting to hang open in disbelief.
'You do have the interwebbly in Cluckinghen Palace, don't you?' I say.
'Oh yes,' says Miggo. 'And Freeview, Sky Sports, Sky Film, Sky Rocket and Way Up Sky.'
'We like Sky Sports,' says Pumphrey, swallowing down the last of her flapjack and starting on a Jaffa cake. 'Especially beach volleyball. All those buff cocks in tight trunks and...'
'Hush!' I say. 'Way too much information.'
'So will you write a book about us?' says Miggins. 'We won't pay you, of course, because our entertainment value should be payment enough but...'
'I've been writing about you for the last year,' I interrupt.

There is a silence.

'You've been what?' says Miggins.
'In my blog. I've been catalogueing your adventures in my blog on the interwebbly. Andy has been saving the entries in a file and we've already talked about putting them together with new material into a book,' I say.' And cartoons.'
'Well!' says Miggins. She sounds a tad affronted. 'I hope you've been telling the truth.'
'Every single word,' I say. 'I'm not going to compromise my integrity as a writer by writing anything untrue or libellous, am I?'
'You were hitting a pumpkin with a rolling pin earlier,' says Miggins. 'I wouldn't put anything past you.'
'So the book project is already underway, you see,' I say.

Miggins chews thoughtfully on a cheese scone. 'We'll have to read what you've done so far,' she says.
'Of course,' I say.
'Have you written about the time when you had to replace my prolapsed bottom?' says Miggins.
''Fraid so,' I say.
'Hmmmmm...' says Miggins. 'And do all the blog entries ramble on for as long as this blog entry?'
'No,' I say. 'This has been an especially long ramble.'
'Thank goodness for that,' says Miggins. 'We don't want the readers falling asleep with boredom do we, Mrs Pumphrey?'
'Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...' says Mrs Pumphrey.

Mrs Miggins and I let out simultaneous sighs. We're so alike, I think.
'We most certainly are not,' says Miggins.
'Did I think that out loud?' I say.
'No. I can mind read,' says Miggins. 'A skill I learned from Sky Par-hen-ormal. And if you're going to put cartoons in this book, I insist on being portrayed from my left profile. In fact,' she continues, giving Mrs Pumphrey a kick as she jumps from her chair to wake her up, 'I think I'd better consult Tango Pete vis a vis the legal aspect of being in a book.'
'I thought Tango Pete was a ballroom dancer?' I say, walking with them to the back door.
'He is,' says Miggins, 'but he has to do something else to earn a living when Strictly Hen Dancing is off air, doesn't he?'

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Money Matters and So Does Poop

Just as I had got used to not being in paid employment, paid employment is coming to find me. I've already picked up a monthly tutoring session starting in September - and then yesterday my friend Jane called and asked if I could do something about her neck using massage.

'What have you done to it?' I asked.
'Oh, I don't know,' she said. 'But it's very stiff and knotty and it's becoming a permanent annoyance.'
'And how long has it been like it?' I asked.
'About a month,' she replied.

So I got out my massage couch, my almond oil and the lavender burner, Jane duly arrived and I pummelled and pressed her back, shoulders and neck until everything eased up.

'You should do this professionally,' she said as I was putting on the kettle for a cuppa. 'Now, how much do I owe you?'
'Don't be silly,' I said. 'I'm not going to charge you. You're one of my best friends.'
'Well, I'm going to pay you regardless,' she said.
'Okay, a fiver then,' I said.

Jane placed £20 on the table.
'No, no,' I said, because although that would have been the general going rate, you don't charge friends full whack when they insist on paying.

'I insist,' said Jane.
'So do I,' said I.

So we arm wrestled and settled on a tenner.
'I'm coming back for more,' she said. 'That was really good.'

Okay, I thought, as I was pondering this gradual turn of events that is happening in my life. Perhaps I'm supposed to do a little bit of tutoring and a little bit of massage therapy to support my writing. I can do that. It seems like the right thing to do.

We'd had an offer on the house earlier in the day. I didn't think the couple who came to view liked the place as the first thing the bloke said on seeing the living room was 'this is too small.' But it seems they liked it enough to consider buying. The offer they put in was rather low; we rejected immediately, having already decided on the minimum we were prepared to accept. The couple have gone away to 'have a think.' Whatever that means.

There's another viewing lined up for this afternoon and I am trying not to jump every time the phone rings.
'I am prepared to revise the minimum amount we are willing to accept,' said Andy, as he left for work this morning.
'I'm not,' I said,' I'm hoping to start a bidding war.'

Besides, I've done a boot fayre with Andy and I am fully aware how big a discount he is willing to consider to off-load our unwanted possessions.
'Of course we'll accept an offer of one hundred of your finest English pounds for our charming 3 bed semi,' I could hear him saying.
The man, as they say, needs watching...

Anyway, my other issue vis a vis house selling is the pooping of the cats. Because the cats are indoor cats, they have indoor toilet facilities. Their indoor toilet facilities are cleaned out daily, but that doesn't help when one of them decides to have a poop. Pandora isn't too bad; she's a first thing in the morning gal, so a quick dip with the pooper scooper sorts out her offering. Tybalt is more random but his poops aren't too niffy.

It's Madame Phoebe who causes me the biggest poop issues. Madame Phoebe is reliable with her pooping habits in that she will choose to poop either a) as we are about to eat a meal b) two minutes after we have started eating a meal c) ten minutes after a guest has arrived in the house d) three minutes after I've cleaned out the litter tray (or whilst I am cleaning out the litter tray if she can get away with it) and now e) 5 minutes before someone is due to view the house.

So yesterday I had to do a litter-tray-clean-out-and-air-freshen in three minutes flat with Phoebe sitting in the kitchen doorway looking at me a bit too smugly,I thought.

And as I don't like commercial aerosol air freshners because they just announce the fact that pooping has just occurred somewhere in the house by some creature or another, I have come up with a series of alternative aroma-poopa-disguisers. These are 1) a mug of freshly made hot coffee 2) a tin of beeswax furniture polish 3) an oil burner with lavender or rosemary or 4) constant baking of bread and cakes.

And keeping the conservatory windows open at all times.

Yesterday, our HIP arrived, in the form of a fairly thick A4 book. I had a bit of read. Very boring. Thin plot and no characterisation at all. And to think we paid £450+VAT for this pile of poo, I thought.

But then it's true, isn't it? That where there's muck, there's brass.

Today's blog was brought to you by 'Tying it in Tenuously, For All Your Tenous Blogging Needs.'
The managing director would like to apologise for the poor quality of this publication only she's bloomin' tired at the moment and really wants to sleep for a week and then some. Clever witticisms are the least of her current worries...

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Hentique Sale

Our house is situated on a main road between two schools. During term time it can be a bit of a job getting out onto that road of a morning, what with all the mummies and daddies dropping their offspring at one or other of these two schools. They make a constant stream of traffic, these mummies and daddies, but it is generally so slow moving that some-one will let you into the queue if you smile like a loon, and if smiling like a loon fails to charm, then taking a right turn out of the drive will lead you round the back of the houses and onto a convenient roundabout so you can join the morning rush that way. There's always a way to participate in the human race, you see.

Anyway, during the school holidays, the traffic is very much reduced. This morning, however, it seemed extraordinarily heavy. I woke late - I've been feeling very tired this last week and slept in, which is unheard of for a dawn chorus body like me - and my first thought was 'Have I slept for a whole week and the schools are now back?'

On closer inspection I noticed the majority of the traffic was turning into our road. And on even closer inspection, once I'd donned my specs and the world seemed a less fuzzy place, I noticed the front garden and drive was full of tat, rows of chairs, an auction podium and people waving little cards with numbers on. Something was occurring.

I opened the window.
'What is going on down there?' I yelled.

Mrs Miggins looked up. She was wearing a long brown overall; a monocle glinted from her eye in the early morning sun.
'We're having an antique sale,' she said. 'Do you mind the neighbours seeing you in your floral jim-jams?'
'A what?' I said.
'Antique sale,' said Mrs Miggins. 'Lot 7...a genuine cut glass crystal chandelier from the reign of Louis the Twelfthty- something.' And she held aloft a chandelier. The sun caught the crystals, which dazzled back into my eyes, blinding me temporarily. By the time I had dressed and got into the front garden, the hammer had gone down on the chandelier. Luckily, nothing was broken.

'Sold to the lady at the back with the blue rinse beard,' shouted Mrs Slocombe, who seemed to be in the role of auctioneer. She banged down the gavel and took down the woman's number.
'Is it wise to let her have a hammer?' I said to Mrs Pumphrey, who was reclining on a chaise longue with a LOT 18 sticker on it.
'Well, once she got hold of it we couldn't get her to let go,' said Mrs Pumphrey.
'Where did all this stuff come from?' I asked, casting my eye around the garden. Heavy oak furniture sat alongside paintings and ornaments. A suit of armour was leaning against the magnolia tree.
'We had a clear out,' said Pumphrey. 'Excuse me, I need to go and model that genuine Moorcroft vase.'
'You had a clear out? Of Cluckinghen Palace?' I said.
'Yes,' said Pumphrey. 'We thought that as we're moving it would be a good time for a tidy.'

I knew what she meant. Perhaps that's why I was feeling so tired. I must have climbed that loft ladder at least a thousand times last week.

'You seem to have an awful lot of stuff,' I said.
'Lot 9,' squawked Mrs Slocombe. 'A Clarence Clift tea-set complete with coffee percolator and sandwich toaster.'
'Does she know what she's doing?' I said, as Mrs Miggins held the tea-set, percolator and sandwich toaster in the air.
'I doubt it, but would you argue with a mad chicken in charge of a hammer?' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'And we have a lot of stuff because Cluckinghen Palace is steeped in hundreds of years of history. You can't spend all that time in one place without amassing a certain amount of tat, I mean, treasure.'
'Cluckinghen Palace is less than 6 months old,' I pointed out.
'Yes, in your world maybe,' said Mrs Pumphrey, 'but in chicken world, where the average life span of a hen is 5 or 6 human years, then the sense of perspective lengthens, doesn't it?'
'Does it?' I said. I didn't want to get involved in anything too mathematical. I hadn't had breakfast yet and had already failed to do the most simple Sudoku in the morning paper.

'Guess how old I am,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'Go on, I won't be offended.'
'You're one year and two months,' I said, because I knew this to be true.
'WRONG!' said Pumphrey. 'I am nearly 18.'
'Gosh,' I said. 'Nearly old enough to vote.'
'Vote?' said Pumphrey. 'No sane chicken would ever vote. There is a different sort of social justice in the chicken world.' And a strange glint came across her eye.

'Right,' I said.
'So by the time you've calculated a chicken's age in real chicken time, subtracted leap days times 4, multiplied by the average number of eggs laid over 15 weeks and then added 200 years for chicken luck, we've actually been living in Cluckinghen Palace for 457 years,' said Mrs Pumphrey triumphantly. And she balanced the Moorcroft vase on her head and juggled three Victorian Toby jugs.

I backed away at this point. And bumped into Mrs Miggins who was hefting a box of books across to the autioneer's podium.
'First Edition Pookie Puts the World Right and other assorted Pookie the Rabbit books,' she said. 'Highly collectable. Do you want to bid for them?'
Having recently divested our house of 300+ books, I declined her kind offer.
'By the way,' said Miggins as I made to go indoors for some extra strong tea with 5 sugars and a dose of amphetamines, 'where are we going to live in the new house? Are we taking Cluckinghen Palace with us?'

'Don't worry,' I said. 'I've already got Guy the Builder lined up to build your new accommodation.'
'Is it going to be bigger than what we've got now?' said Miggins, her eye ever on social advancement in the property stakes.
'Yes,' I said. 'But you may have to share it with more poultry.'
'Poultry?' said Miggins. 'Sounds disgusting. What's poultry?'
'Oh, more hens, some bantams. Ducks. A couple of geese,' I said. I thought, is now a good time to mention the beehive that is likely to be arriving for my birthday, or the piggies that will be joining us when we move.

Mrs Miggins gave a shiver. 'Geese, eh? They make an awful racket,' she said.
'But they taste good,' I said.
'I wouldn't know,' said Mrs Miggins, imperiously. 'I've never licked a goose.'
'Probably wise,' I said.

'Now if you'll excuse me,' said Miggins, 'we have a sale to manage.'
'What are you going to do with the proceeds?' I said.
'Never you mind,' said Miggins. 'We have plans.'

It's never a good thing when a chicken comes over all enigmatic. Trouble is bound to follow. But I have great affection and respect for my girls. We've been through a lot together. They have taught me many things. Well, more than I have taught them (although Mrs Slocombe's counted cross stitch is looking a lot better since I showed her how to adjust the back tension of her thread.)

And should I be worried about the brochure that arrived this morning, addressed to Mrs Miggins and entitled 'Build Your Own Traction Engine in 83 Easy Steps and Other Heavy Metal Projects.'


Monday, 24 August 2009

Camper Vanning

We are umming and aahing about getting a camper van. A volkswagen camper van for two.

'You won't be able to stand up in it,' I said to Andy, aware of his wont to bang his head on things in general, let alone low slung camper van ceilings. 'But we could get an awning to attach to the side. You'll be able to stand up in that.'

I'm not keen on awnings having spent many a caravan holiday in the 70s stuck in one with my brother whilst our sister lived it up inside the caravan on the bunk beds. He trod on my little travel alarm one year and broke the hinge. I was livid. I was sure he'd done it deliberately but I couldn't prove it. I mean, it was safely tucked under my camp bed. How could someone had stood on it there unless they had very big feet or the intent to commit a deliberate act of vandalism?

The consensus of opinion re: VW camper vans seems to be 'don't buy one. Get a Peugot/Ford /Toyota instead.' Of all the people we've consulted on this issue, none have actually given us a solid reason why we shouldn't get a VW; they have merely made random coughing grumbling sounds that mean nothing. So until someone says to me 'Don't buy a VW Camper because it is a well-known fact that the bottoms fall out of them after six months/ the stove will explode if you go over 30 miles an hour/they have a habit of migrating back towards their native Germany,' then I am going to continue my investigations regardless.

You see, the house we are hoping to buy is considerably cheaper than the house we are hoping to sell. Which means we can either a) pay a big chunk off the mortgage or b) go on a spending spree e.g buy a camper van. Of course, this is all circumspection at the moment. I'm sitting here, having spent most of this morning giving the house a once over tidy 'n' clean (after my deep clean 'n' chuck out efforts last week) in anticipation of people coming to view. All the little 'just jobs' that we've been meaning to do for the last three or four years have been done. Actually, I was thinking, as I finished off a bit of paintwork, it wouldn't matter if we didn't sell because the house is looking rather fab at the moment.

Anyway, back to the potential camper van purchase. We'd already explored caravans earlier in the year when I happened upon a new model on the British market called a T@B. It is like a little teardrop and is very cute - a pod made for two. It could also double up as an extra bedroom for visitors, provided we secured it to the drive so the visitors didn't wake in the morning to find they'd been stolen by thieves during the night and were now in Amsterdam or Cherbourg.

But again, I was slightly against getting a caravan. Not because of the actually living in one, because my childhood summers were often spent in caravans and one of my greatest joys was pumping the water up into the sink using the manual peddle pump or being allowed to light the gas lamps, but because of the moving it around the countryside malarkey because you knew you'd always meet something bigger and less flexible coming the other way and your dad would end up having an argument about rights of way with some stranger in the middle of a single lane bridge. Also, I used to hate it when you'd be travelling along the motorway with your Eldis or whatever chugging along behind you and a lorry would whoop past causing massive drag and wobble. I had visions of being sucked beneath the lorry and dragged along the road, the caravan being crushed like an aluminium drink can.

So a camper van seemed the obvious practical alternative. No bigger than the people carrier we currently own, but with infinitely more character and the ability to provide a cup of tea a darn sight cheaper than a motorway service station. And other camper vans we've looked at seem so, well, boring by comparison. All boxy and charmless.

Yes, I can see us with a VW camper. But then again I used to be able to see us living in a gated mansion with 200 acres.

Sometimes dreams aren't as grand as you first imagined them to be. Sometimes you realise that it actually takes very little to bring happiness and peace into your life. Sometimes, less really is more.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Me and My Teddy Bear

'I suppose,' said Andy yesterday, 'that I'd better go to the attic and start sorting through my 'stuff.'

He said the word 'stuff ' with the kind of emotional, heart-wrenching fondness one might use to emphasise the words 'the love of my life'. My own heart gave a little hoppity-skip. I knew how difficult this task would be for him. Because most of his 'stuff ' was related to Doctor Who and science fiction, a collection he's been amassing for nearly 30 years now.

I admit I have trouble getting to grips with understanding this 'attachment to a collection of things' malarkey. I've never really collected anything, you see. I went through a spate, when Prince Charles and Diana Spencer got engaged and married in 1981, of collecting everything to do with the Royal nuptials. I filled about 20 scrap books with newspaper and magazine cuttings, collected souvenir editions etc etc and I suppose, reached the closest point I've ever come in my life to obsession. But I was only 16 then, and by the time I was 17, the whole lot had been despatched to the bin because I woke one morning and couldn't see the point of having these things.

I have certain items I am attached to, of course. I have a little box of memories - Chris's first shoes, Heather's first bonnet, their christening gown. A couple of cards they made for me when they were at primary school. And my wedding dress and tiara. And all the letters and cards Andy has sent me over the last nearly 8 years since we first met. And until last weekend, my four foot teddy bear.

As a child, I never had a teddy bear. I don't remember missing not having a teddy bear. Perhaps the lack of teddy bear is the cause of my unsentimental nature. I don't know, but on my eighteenth birthday my Nanny... (who wasn't my real nanny; she was my Mum's nanny - my Mum grew up with 3 brothers and 2 sisters so they had a nanny, like in the film Nanny McPhee which is on telly later I rambling? Shut up Denise)... gave me this teddy bear. He was big, she said, to make up for 18 years of not having a teddy bear.

Well, this bear, whom I called Sam, has been with me ever since. In two months time, I shall be 44 and he shall be a mere stripling at 26. Last weekend we did a boot fayre. (Me and Andy, not me and the Bear, that would be stupid). For the couple of weeks b.b.f (before boot fayre) I'd been building myself up to say goodbye to Sam and selling him. The house we are (hopefully) moving to is small and we're going to need all the room we can get. I determined I wasn't going to sell him for less than £20 and that the people who wanted to buy him would have to look 'right' and not seem the kind of people who would jump on him, vandalise him, or let their dog wee up his leg.

At the boot fayre, everyone who passed by our stall commented on Sam. In fact, if I had a pound for everyone who said 'Oooh, look at the size of that bear, isn't he lovely?' I would have made about £400 and could have brought him his own shed to live in.

I was hoping some kind of community group might pass by and buy him for a mascot. Or some nice people with nice children and a big house. But although many people enquired after him, no-one laid out their cash. So home he came.

And he 's been standing in my writing room staring reproachfully at me ever since.

So perhaps a strand of sentimental attachment was holding him to me. Perhaps he and I are due to live out our lives together.

I popped my head into the attic yesterday, after Andy had been up there for a couple of hours. Little piles of Doctor Who stuff were starting to accumulate.

'I think,' said Andy,' that you may need to take this stuff away quickly, before I change my mind.'
'You don't have to get rid of any of it,' I said, as my hubbie was looking a little forlorn and angsty.
'No,' said Andy, 'I do. I suppose I could sell some of it at a boot fayre or on e-bay.'
'Yes,' I said. 'There are bound to be masses of...'
'...other Doctor Who idiots out there who'll buy it?' Andy finished.
'That's not what I was going to say,' I said, because in truth I wasn't. 'But yes, it's the kind of stuff that will go to a good home.'

It's hard letting go of things that have outlived their purpose. But sometimes, if you're lucky, those things won't let go of you.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Tumble World

Yesterday was a day that just didn't stop. It was a tumble drier day, a day when life didn't let up, spinning and twirling and jumbling around. It's good to be busy, I kept reminding myself. It's good to be purposeful.

Guy the Builder arrived with Russell the Plasterer to do the six little jobs around the house that we'd arranged on Monday.
'We'll start with the roof and the patio,' said he. 'There's supposed to be rain later.'
I looked at the clear blue skies and allowed myself an internal snort of disbelief.

'I'll pop into town and get your money,' I said. I also needed to get some cocoa powder and bin bags so thought I could nip to Sainsbugs and use the cash machine there.

On the way back, I got soaked by a small but very wet shower of rain.

I made Guy and Russell a cup of tea and gave them some cake and biscuits.
'Have you got a pair of tweezers?' said Russell. 'Only I've got a splinter.'

I inspected the proffered finger. The splinter appeared to have gone into his finger at a 45 degree angle. Russell was looking a bit pale.

I located the tweezers. 'Can you take it out for me?' asked Russell, looking even paler.

So I set about splinter removal with a firm but kind manner. Russell did a lot of wincing and gasping. 'I think I'm going to go,' he said, now having reached ultra-pale on the human skin tone chart. I was thinking, for heaven's sake, it's only a splinter.

But when I pulled it out, and it put up a huge resistance before it finally gave way, I did feel a bit more sympathetic to poor Russell's plight. It was a whopper. Almost as big as a twig. But not quite.

My friend Maggie phoned. I told her about my impending Grannyhood, about Heather having graduated and about the house being up for sale.
'I'm expecting the surveyor at 11.30,' I said. 'He's coming to do the energy thingy for the HIP doo-dah.'

The surveyor arrived at 11. He looked alarmingly like Pierce Brosnan and was entranced by Pandora who stole his biro and his ruler. Anyway, he wandered around the house taking photos of things like the utility meters and the boiler. I thought, you really need to get out more. And then he asked me a few questions and we both tutted about the appalling waste of time and money that these HIPs are, and then he went.

The phone rang again. For the last two weeks a call centre in India has been trying to get me to participate in a survey that will only take ' a few minutes.' In my experience, they usually take considerably longer and once you've responded to one survey they'll keep coming back for more. I keep telling this call centre to remove our number from their dialling list. Obviously, I am not being clear enough in my request but I'm being very good and haven't yet resorted to screaming and swearing. However, if they persist in calling I am going to employ a selection of funny accents and characterisations, if only to make this daily disturbance more fun for me.

Guy and Russell were racing on with the jobs. I sat down to do the household accounts to make sure we'd be solvent at the end of the month. Chris appeared.
'How did Leane get on at the boot fair?' I asked.
Chris muttered something which sounded like English but didn't make a huge amount of sense. I caught the words 'nineteen pounds', 'sunburn' and 'tennis racquet' and that was about it.

Chris left and the phone went again. My friend Alison. Alison and I started school together. That means we've been friends for 39 years. She'd called to tell me that her daughter had got an 'A' grade in her English AS level. 'She wouldn't have got it without your tutoring,' said Alison. 'So would you carry on tutoring her when she continues with the A2?'
'Of course,' I said. I was thrilled for her daughter. She was fun to tutor and it just shows that all youngsters need is someone who is enthusiastic about their subject to give them confidence to be enthusiastic about it too. I thought, I ought to do more tutoring. So maybe I will.

Guy appeared. 'We're all done,' he said.
'Good grief,' I said. 'That was very efficient.' And I inspected the work, which was all excellent. I paid Guy for the work.
'And don't forget,' he said,' if you ever want any livestock - pigs, goats, chickens, ducks, geese, even a cow, give me a call and I'll put you in touch with my mum.' Guy's mum has a farm. I'd already showed Guy pictures of the house we have made an offer on. 'Plenty of room there for a couple of pigs, goats and more poultry,' he said.
'I agree,' I said, feeling suddenly very excited about this house. 'And bees.'
'Even a little orchard,' said Guy.

And then Andy came home. We had dinner, then went to the allotment. Now, a few weeks ago we planted a dozen or so tomato plants in the polytunnel. I thought, they're well enough apart, it'll be a doddle to pick the tomatoes, unlike last year when it was like beating your way through the jungle in our much smaller greenhouse.

The polytunnel looks like a jungle. I could see many ripe tomatoes, I just couldn't reach them very well. But I am a Tuesday's Child, so full of grace and light of foot. I tiptoed through the tomato jungle and collected the tomatoes. We also brought home beetroot, runner beans, French beans, raspberries, courgettes, spring onions, ordinary onions, rainbow chard, spinach and cauliflower. Several pumpkins stared ominously at me from the squash patch. 'Pick us if you dare,' they seemed to say. What am I going to do with you lot, I thought.

So a very busy day. A good day. A satisfying day. A hurrah to make me smile day!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Three Really Clever Things To Do on the Hottest Day of the Year

It is the hottest day of the year. Do you:

A- decide to cut the wildly overgrown front hedge with a pair of rusty shears
B - decide to clean all the downstairs windows, inside and out, plus the window frames and front door
C- decide to move, single handedly, a sofa from upstairs front bedroom to downstairs conservatory
D - do all of the above

Well, I thought it was a good idea at the time.

My Mum was thrilled when I phoned her to ask if I could borrow her garden shears. She's been commenting about the state of the hedge for several weeks now and has been wholly unconvinced by my wildlife garden theory.
'I've just tried cutting the hedge with our shears and they were bloomin' useless,' I said.
'I'll bring mine along immediately,' said Mum.
'Don't make a special journey, ' I said. 'When you're passing by will be fine.'

But Mum had been champing at the bit to 'tidy the eldest daughter's hedge,' and she wasn't going to let the opportunity slip by. Its window was, she could sense, very small.

'Stay out of the sun between 11 and 3,' recommend the Government agencies. 'For it is then that the sun is at its strongest.'

Time of cutting hedge - 1.30 to 2.15 p.m. But pah! to the Government. The Government have just insisted we spend £450+VAT on a HIP before we can sell our house. What a useless bit of paperwork. Still, as long as the revenue goes towards the upkeep of a ministerial Jaguar, it'll all be worthwhile.

I'd cleaned the windows earlier in the day, about the time the sun was creeping above the surrounding trees and highlighting the dust and murk and mire on the glass. And clean glass only serves to highlight grubby window sills so I had to do those as well. There are a lot of spiders nests around this time of year.

And the sofa? The sofa has been languishing in our bedroom for the last 3 or 4 years and is a dumping ground for clothes, books, bath towels, newspapers, magazines, pens, blood pressure monitors, hot water bottles and cats. Periodically it gets cleared off so it can be sat on but that state of affairs never lasts very long.

'Do you think we should move the sofa downstairs?' said Andy. 'To make the bedroom look bigger?'
'I think that would be an excellent idea,' I said.
'We could put it in the conservatory,' said Andy. 'To show the versatility of the space in there.'
'It will fill up the whole conservatory,' I said.
'But you could still sit on it if you climbed over the arm,' said Andy.
'True,' I said.

So I decided to move the sofa.

In hindsight, moving a sofa on one's own (especially when one is the only person in the house), is probably not the brightest idea in the world. But you know me - once I get an urge, I've got to act on it immediately. I thought, I can do this, it's only a two seater for heaven's sake.

Getting the sofa out of the bedroom involved shifting it onto the bed on one side and then off the bed on the other side avoiding various things like lamps and the telly. I had to make sure I had the angle right to get it through the door, using the open bathroom door as extra swingage space. So far so good. Admittedly, I was trapped at one point between the sofa and the bedroom door. But I wriggled through the gap made by the arm of the sofa leaning against the wall and thanked God I'd lost over 3 stones or I'd have got well and truly stuck.

Half way down the stairs I realised the sofa was considerably heavier than me. At the bottom of the stairs an audience of curious cats had gathered. I thought, if I let go of this deceptively heavy sofa there will be a instant cat rug formed in the hall. I'd been feeling pretty pleased with myself up to this point as I'd had the foresight to take my collection of Thelwell pony plates off the stairwell wall in order to avoid potential breakage.

'Steady as we go,' I said to myself, lowering the sofa inch by painful inch.
'What's she doing?' said Pandora.
'Being mental,' said Tybalt. 'I think we should get out of the way. I'm getting a sense of impending doom.'
'You can stay there if you like though, Pandora,' said Phoebe.

What I had failed to do in preparation for lowering the sofa down the stairs was to move the shoe cupboard at the bottom. As me and sofa reached the bottom of the stairs, me and the sofa became wedged against the shoe cupboard. I could go no further. I could go up. I could go up into the bedroom and abseil out of the window, nip around the back of the house and in through the back door, move the shoe cupboard and release the wodged-in sofa. That would have been the easy option.

But it was the hottest day of the year! Where would the fun have been in taking the easy option?? I was boiling. Sweat was pouring down my face and into my eyes. The easy option would have been the unadventurous option. So instead, (and I'm glad Andy knows I am alive and well as I haven't told him this part of the story yet) I limboed UNDER the very heavy sofa. And got stuck.
'What's she doing now?' said Pandora.
'Still being mental,' said Tybalt.

'This is good,' I thought. I couldn't move. The sofa was above me, hanging precariously twixt wall, bannister rail and shoe cupboard.

'What happens if I do this?' said Tybalt. And he threw himself against the shoe cupboard.
'DON'T DO THAT!' I shrieked, as the wobble of the shoe cupboard moved up into the sofa.
'Touchy, isn't she?' said Pandora.
'It's her hormones,' said Phoebe.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I sat under the sofa for a while wishing I had a book with me as it's the most boring way to spend time. I wouldn't recommend it. I thought, if I could reach the phone I could summon help from the Fire Brigade. That would be entertaining, being rescued by the Fire Brigade. All those burly firemen and their choppers...

...but then I thought, think of the publicity. It would be just the kind of story that'd make the Kent Messenger. I'd come across as a complete moron. 'WOMAN GETS STUCK UNDER SOFA ON HOTTEST DAY OF THE YEAR. "SHE'S A COMPLETE MENTAL CASE," SAID HER CATS.'

I did escape, dear reader. There was a lot of wriggling and sucking in of breath and edging of sofa and shoe cupboard bit by bit, but I emerged with all my toes and fingers intact and only a tiny bruise to my right thigh.

So if you want three really clever things to do on the hottest day of the year, can I recommend you do anything you like - just stay away from hedges, windows and sofas.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Engaged with the Future

I have found my Gran's engagement ring! Possibly you have no idea how much this means to me. But I am sitting here with a big grin on my face, and Gran's ring safely on my finger, nestling snugly between my wedding ring and own engagement ring so it will never get lost again.

I 'inherited' Gran's engagement ring many years ago. Not as an official legacy, you understand - a lot of hoo-ha has happened in my Dad's side of the family because of their reluctance to make proper Wills and the fact the middle brother goes funny with a full moon, but I won't go into it all. Suffice to say, I have never and will never become rich due to an inheritance. No, the ring was rescued by my Mum when she was helping clear out Gran's house following her death in 1986 (the same year Chris was born). And then she passed it on to me about 10 years later.

'You are the oldest grand-child,' she said. 'And I think this should belong to you.'

Although it's a very attractive ring - three diamonds on a gold band - it is too big for me to wear safely without it slipping off. I took it to a jeweller to see about having it made smaller but the jeweller wasn't keen to undertake the task.

'It's a lovely ring,' he said. 'But where your Gran has worn it for 50 odd years, the gold has thinned. I can't guarantee it surviving having a bit cut out of it and being re-joined.'

He suggested I wear it with one of those plastic ring cuffs, to make it artificially smaller.

And so it stayed in its box. Every now and then I'd take it out and let it twinkle in the sun. I thought of having the diamonds made into a different piece of jewellery, but this didn't seem right. Gran had worn this ring all her marriage; it was part of her. It had absorbed her energy and her being. I couldn't dismember it.

On my wedding day, the ring came with me, tucked into my pink fluffy feather hand bag. It went back into its box on the dressing table. And then I put it away for safe-keeping. And I forgot where.

So for the last year I have been turning the house upside-down trying to find it. I've rooted around the edges of carpets, I've turned out cupboards and drawers, I've looked in all those places where you think you might put a precious thing for safe-keeping. But no luck. I even resorted to asking Saint Anthony to help me find it.

And where did I find it? In the bloomin' attic of course!! Safely in its box, in another box filled with wedding day memories like confetti and champagne corks, an Order of Service and a bottle of bubbles.I was so excited when I found it! Andy thought I'd gone quite mad.

It is a sign, the finding of this ring in the attic that I have been clearing out. I found it on my Dad's birthday. On the same day Andy and I found our new house and decided to put our current house up for sale.

My Gran and Dad are looking after us. Andy and I are now engaged with the next part of our future! Hurrah!!

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Happy Blogiversary!

It is official! I have sustained this blog for a whole year. Actually, the official anniversary date was 2 days ago, but I've been stuck in the attic for nearly a week now cleansing my tat and have completely lost track of time.

Fancy, though. A whole year of writing drivel. Entertaining drivel, I hope, but let's face it some of it was a bit weird. I've learnt a lot in that time vis a vis the wonders of networking across the ether. I can even put photos on my blog now. And add gadgets. Blogger holds no fear for me.

Today, I think I've broken two things. I say 'I think,' only because I am feeling too cowardly to go and check for certain. It's very hot in Kent at the moment and I'm not quite up to dealing with broken things. I'll wait until it's cooler and not so likely to lose my temper.

The two things I think I may have broken are Andy's paper shredder and the loft ladder. Today, I have been mostly shredding paper. After about an hour, the shredder made a clonking noise and stopped. It may have just overheated and once cooled down, will resume normal service. Our vacuum cleaner tends to do this. Stops, mid-vacuum, when it overheats. Much as I have done now, actually, only I didn't go 'clonk' first. I would have done, only there is no one here to hear me 'clonk' other than cats and chickens, and cats and chickens are remarkably disdainful of human exhaustion.

Anyway, I was very careful in my use of the paper shredder. I followed the instructions very careful - removing staples, feeding no more than 5 sheets through at a time, keeping my tie well out of the way, not immersing fully in water etc. Oh, it must have just overheated. Surely?

And the loft ladder? Well, the loft ladder has two struts that insert either side at the top, for what reason I know not what. I imagine it's for something to do with bracing the top of the ladder where it fixes to the loft hatch, but these struts are very flimsy, little more than those old wire coats hangers you used to get that left rust marks on your best blouse. Anyway, with me stomping up and down the ladder carrying various boxes for the best part of a week, the two struts had taken to pinging out of their holes. They were easy to put back in. That wasn't the problem.

By lunch time today I'd had enough of the loft and sorting stuff out. The PDSA man had been and taken away a veritable truck load of stuff, so I was feeling pretty smug about how much weight I'd alleviated from the house. I thought, stand back from the loft. So I descended the ladder, stood on the landing and was just pushing the ladder sections back up and getting ready to heave the whole thing back into the loft when the two struts popped out. The ladder will not fold properly with the struts popped out.

'Oh blow,' I said. I re-extended the ladder, climbed the ladder, re-inserted the struts, descended the ladder, re-folded the ladder and 'ping!'. Out they popped again.

'Oh bother,' I said. Down came the ladder, up went me, in went the struts, down came me, 'Ping!' went the struts.

'Oh for effing effing's sake,' I said. And so it contunued. Well, not for long actually because my boredom threshold for this kind of game is incredibly low. In the end, I got my wild up so much I managed to heft the ladder into the loft with its struts hanging out and I shut the hatch quickly thus avoiding potential fall-out. 'Hurrah for magnificent biceps thanks to my regular swimming sessions,' I said out loud, for despite there being no-one here to hear me other than cats and chickens (oooohh, deja vu!), I wanted them to know how relieved I was to win the battle albeit temporarily, with the loft ladder.

So I may have broken the loft ladder. This may facilitate me standing on Andy's shoulders, or Andy standing on my shoulders at some point in order to get the ladder down again and do something about the struts. I would say we'd use our outside ladder to get into the loft, only the outside ladder is IN the loft. We have a step ladder which may be tall enough and ...oh, I don't know, it's too hot and right now I don't really care. I'm sure the ladder and the shredder will sort themselves out eventually.

And finally, a plea to Andy's work colleagues. Please don't gaffer tape him to the wall again. If you do, there will be no more cake. Thank you, from me, Denise, Patron of the Gaffer Tape Preservation Society.

Monday, 17 August 2009

On a roll...!!

Enthused by our relative success at the boot fayre yesterday, I have spent today preparing piles of stuff we no longer need/want/require ready to be sent off to various other locations that aren't our house. I've been up in the attic again. And in the wardrobes. And in the kitchen cupboards. In fact, I've been EVERYWHERE. It was a bit like giving all the nooks and crannies an MOT. I've had to stop now as the outside bin is full, but it's bin day tomorrow so once the waste collection operatives have been I can start again.

There is a pile of stuff waiting for collection by the PDSA tomorrow morning some time between 10 and 11. I phoned and said, 'I've got a load of stuff to donate, do you collect only there is a lot of it and if I walked it into town I'd have to do about 20 trips.' And the nice lady said, 'Yes we do collect. Our van is in your area tomorrow morning,' so that was sorted. My criteria for charity shop donation is 'Would I buy this myself?' And if I would, then it went into the PDSA pile. (Of course, I wouldn't really buy it. I mean, it's already mine and besides, I'm trying to get rid of it, so buying it back would be pointless and wasteful and fill up the cupboards again. But you know what I mean.)

My second pile is of books. We sold many yesterday but there are still nearly 300 hundred left. Fiction, reference, science, classics, even some antiquarian medical books and encyclopaedias that belonged to my great grandparents. I phoned a bookshop in Rochester called Baggins. They buy second hand and antique books. It's the biggest book shop ever. It's rather scary going in there because it's a bit like disappearing through the back of the wardrobe into Narnia and you feel that the shelves might collapse at any moment and you'll suffer death by book drowning.

'I have about 300 hundred books to sell,' I said to the lady who answered the phone. 'Varying types,' and I reeled off a list of genres. 'Only do you collect only I don't have transport.'
It appeared I had been talking to a person of foreign extraction. She informed me in stilted English, but with a very musical tone, I thought, that I would need to call back tomorrow at 10 and speak to the manager. 'Good,' I thought. 'I'll do that, and if he doesn't want them, I'll give them to the PDSA man.'

My final pile is of electrical equipment. Charity shops won't take electrical goods, even if it's a brand new coffee percolator. So the coffee percolator, the video recorder, the foot spa, the nail polisher and the many redundant printers, bits of computers, stereos etc are going onto 'Freecycle'. You post your goods on the site and if someone wants them, they just come and take them away! Simple!

I even managed to off load six novels, an earthenware bowl and a Shaun the Sheep on my Mum when she popped in this morning.
'I only came for eggs,' she said.
'That'll teach you,' said I.

And Leane is doing boot fayre on Wednesday. 'If you want any extra stock, I have some,' I said, when we had a quick chat on Facebook. 'Especially if that stock is some of Chris's tat that's been cluttering up the loft for that last year and a half.'

Guy, our builder, arrived promptly this morning to assess the damage to the 'one less tile roof.

'Oh, that'll be simple to fix,' he said. 'I'll give the others a wiggle whilst I'm up there, make sure they won't come crashing down.'

'Whilst you're about it, can you do some other jobs for us?' I said.

So Guy is not only fixing the missing tile, he is also filling in an old plug socket in the kitchen, re-sealing the shower with new sealant (I would have done this myself only the last time I played with a sharp knife I ended up with a nasty cut that has left me unable to feel the side of my left index finger), plaster over the gap in middle bedroom's ceiling where the old wardrobes used to be, finish off the wall behind the butler sink where the kitchen fitters failed to finish 2 years ago and sort out a paving slab on the patio where the eucalyptus tree has being behaving like a triffid this year and pushed up a big root and made it wobble. (I have been having visions of Andy tipping base over apex over it and cracking his head on the south wing of Cluckinghen Palace.)

Oh yes, I am on a roll today! Nothing's gonna stop me! Except a full to the brim rubbish bin.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Money for Old Rope

Today was boot fayre day. Up at 5.30 we were! Five thirty!! It was just getting light and we needed to load the rest of the car up with our tat, I mean, treasures, from this week's attic clear out, the boot itself all ready crammed to bursting.

Anyway, off we set, the car barely able to keep its undercarriage off the road. I'd raided the chicken's piggy bank for change for a float and we had a tenner for the pitch fee. The boot fayre itself was only a ten minute drive up the road.

'I'm going to ask twice as much as I want for everything,' I said, 'because I am anticipating a lot of haggling and bargaining going on. I need to build in a good profit margin.'
'You're not going to take this too seriously, are you?' said Andy, who had already hinted he was willing to sell stuff for 10p a shot just to get rid of it.
'No,' I said, 'but neither am I going to be taken for a mug.'

We are boot fayre virgins, Andy and I. The woman on the pitch opposite us was the equivalent of a boot fayre strumpet. She was a wonder to behold as she worked her pitch, accosting unsuspecting men with her faux lady bosom stress balls and her selection of entertaining hats and suspect books. At one point she was brandishing an 18 inch curved knife, the kind you might have seen in Carry On Up the Khyber tucked into Bernard Bresslaw's belt. I'm sure there are laws against selling things like that at boot fayres, especially when the only people interested were a couple of ten year old kiddies. To the boot fayre strumpet's credit, she did say she couldn't sell a lethal weapon to minors and then did a pretend chase with them, waving the knife in the air until they disappeared, screaming, from her pitch.

There are many things to be learned from working a boot fayre. Here are some of them, in list form as I am too tired to work them skilfully into the main body of the text:-

1) That stuff is not worth nearly as much as you imagined it to be
2) That people will eat beefburgers at 6.30 in the morning without being sick
3) That tea from a polystyrene cup tastes better than tea from a plastic cup
4) That some people will argue over 20p
5) That the environmental efforts of supermarkets to cut down on plastic carriers means that plastic carriers are in very short supply and hot demand at boot fayre's for carrying loot away
6) That it is best not to think how much you paid for that book/DVD/ ornament/ pair of curtains originally when you are selling them on for less than a pound
7) That even if you're feeling a bit rough around the edges, you can feel quite the glamour puss in your pinny as you watch other people go by
8) That not all parents take responsibility for their light-fingered, lolly dribbling, noisy, stick waving off-spring
9) That old people like to stop and have a chat about Jane Austen, and 'B' movies, and how it's taking a long time for the tomatoes to ripen this year
10)That someone will be aware your husband is a vet and bring over their Doberman with it's head wrapped in sticky tape for an impromptu consultation.

Yes, this really did happen. The poor thing had had half its ear bitten off by another dog the previous day and the owners were keeping the bandage in place using that dark brown, 3" wide packing tape. I have never seen such a world weary look on such a patient dog. I gave her some healing and wished her well.

At about mid-day it seemed the whole field gave a sigh and people, almost as one, started to pack up to leave. I reckon we'd sold nearly half the stuff we took with us. And a quick tot up at home revealed we'd made a grand profit of £54.25.

'Well, that was better than I thought,' said Andy.
'Me, too,' I said. 'And I reckon I've only got a dozen trips to make to the charity shops this week instead of two dozen.'

I was amazed at what people would buy, and what they wouldn't. I guess it's true what they say - that one man's rubbish is another man's treasure.

And when we got home we found a tile had come crashing from the roof and smashed onto the path. So that'll coat us about fifty quid to repair, I reckon.

You see how the universe gives and then takes away? It's all swings and roundabout, life. It all balances out in the end.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Revamping the 'conservatory'

After I'd finished painting the technohub yesterday evening, there was a third of a tin of paint remaining. Hhmmmm, I thought. I could repaint the 'conservatory' with that.

Those of you who know Much Malarkey Manor will be aware that the 'conservatory' is a very grand term for what I would describe, if I was an estate agent, as a 'sun room' or 'lean-to'. I think calling a room where you can stand at the kitchen door and leap into the back garden in one enthusiastic bound a 'conservatory' is pushing the limits of description a little too far. However, that is what the estate agent who sold us this house called it, and so it has remained. (We added the inverted commas ourselves as a point of irony. No planning permission required.)

Re-painting the 'conservatory' however, required a bit of shifting and moving. This little space has become home to 2 cat litter trays, bags of chicken feed and cat litter, a desk, a kitchen trolley loaded with all sorts of gardening equipment and chicken potions, welly boots, bubble wrap and other things that we didn't quite know what else to do with. Andy was planning on taking the desk to the technohub to place with the desk already there thus creating an uberdesk, a bit like a Star Trek control panel. (If a picture of deep space appears in the window, I'll know that this was his motive all along.) The kitchen trolley I thought could go into the greenhouse, along with its assorted gardening equipment. Everything else I would deal with as I went along, mainly by shutting my eyes and chucking it in a bin bag.

All started well. Andy removed the desk, so I was able to clean one end and paint that with no problem.

And then the cats started taking an interest.

'What ya doin'?' asked Pandora, appearing around the corner of the kitchen door.
'Painting,' I said. 'And speak properly, please.'
'Is it like wallpapering?' said Pandora.
'No. It's much, much messier,' I said.
'In what manner?' asked Pandora. She was now sitting next to me on the floor where I was lying next to the skirting board trying to get a straight line with a much too big paint brush.
'In the manner of it being wetter and stickier and more attractive to cat fur,' I said.
'I can help if you like,' said Pandora.
'Thank you for kind offer,' I said,' but I can manage.'
'Ooooh, no need to get all huffy,' said Pandora.
'What's she doing?' asked Tybalt, appearing around the kitchen door.
'Getting all huffy,' said Pandora.
'I'm not getting huffy,' I said. A spider shot out from beneath the radiator and made me jump.
'SPIDER!!!!' yelled Tybalt and Pandora, and went in pursuit of it at the same time, caring not upon whom they trampled in their efforts to secure a piece of living protein.

I turfed the cats into the kitchen; a pointless pursuit as there is no door twixt it and the 'conservatory'. Pandora was back in a nano-second.

'What's that?' she said.
'It was the outlet pipe to the old tumble dryer,' I said. There is a hole the size of a saucer in the corner of the 'conservatory.' It is sealed from the outside but open from the inside. I'd had a quick look earlier on. It was full of dust, brick debris, dead spiders and hair. I'd quickly painted it over and left it.
'Ooh,' said Pandora,' does it go anywhere? Like Banarnia?'
'It's Narnia,' I said. 'And no,it doesn't its just...'

Too late. Pandora was into it head first.

'It's a bit dusty,' she shouted. 'And full of dead spiders.'
'Will you get out of there now,' I said.

And so she did. Covered in dust and debris and dead spiders and hair. And on her way out, she added a nice circle of wet paint, just to complete the look.

I stared at her and sighed.

'What?' she said. She looked like some raddled creature from the jungle. 'WHAT???'

And finally, a question to ponder over the weekend - 'Pumpkin - as big as my head? Or as big as Andy's?'

Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Much Malarkey Manor Guide to Wallpapering

With the technohub a.k.a the back bedroom a.k.a Andy's study now devoid of wallpaper, it was time to redecorate.

So here is the Much Malarkey Manor Guide to Wallpapering.

1) Once your room to be papered is clear of bookshelves, desks, books, paper shredders, Daleks, Globes of the World and swivel chairs, decide on your mode of wallpaper. Try not to choose anything with a) a pattern that needs matching up b) something very expensive that will cause you to curse the expense when you inevitably rip a piece or c) anything that is so smooth and delicate it will highlight any bump and inperfection in the plasterwork.
My Dad was a builder. His idea of sartorial elegance when decorating a property was woodchip and magnolia. But this is the 21st century so we went for hessian effect anaglypta and soft cream.

2) Into the room to be papered insert the following : 2 adults of slightly larger then average proportions, one old dining room table to act as pasting table, one large bucket for wallpaper paste, several pasting and smoothing brushes, a pair of scissors and a Stanley knife (to keep you on your toes), three rolls of wallpaper, one small set of steps, one small very curious kitten, one larger marginally curious cat who will wander off when a tin of tuna fails to appear, one bin bag. This combination will work well if said room to be papered is at least 12 ft x 12 ft. Not so good if room is nearer to 7ft x 7ft. Open a window in anticipation of sweat and cursing.

3) Read and ignore all instructions on wallpaper paste packet. Add more paste than required. It always looks too thin, anyway, and although they SAY it thickens up after stirring, surely it won't thicken up THAT much...will it???

4) Choose starting point. Ignore wallpaper manuals that suggest starting in the middle of a wall and working outwards. Start by a door. You'll need something to lean against whilst you get used to popping up and down a ladder. Also, a plumb line is superfluous. Accept your walls will never be totally straight and you will need to do some creative 'pleating' in one corner somewhere. Make sure it is a corner where you can hang a long dangly plant in a macrame basket. Or a windchime.

5) Measure length of wallpaper. Add on a little at each end to allow for trimming and mis-measurements e.g if a kitten, for example, gets between the wall and the wallpaper and you don't notice.

6) Paste wallpaper. Ignore the 'wait 5 to 7 minute for paste to soak in' instruction. You want to finish by lunchtime, don't you? Well, just get on with it then.

7) Climb steps and using a smoothing brush, smooth the first piece of paper onto the wall. This will go extremely well and lull you into a false sense of security. You won't be quite so smooth with the papering as the morning progresses, trust me. In fact, if you're really lucky, you might reach a state of frantic desperation. Trim top and bottom. Stand back and admire. Hopefully, your decorating partner will have by now measured and pasted the second piece of paper thereby setting up a seamless motion of cut paper, paste paper, hang paper, trim paper productivity. Yeah, right!

8) Do not worry about any minor creases, air bubbles and ever-so-slightly wonky edges. These can be camouflaged later by the cunning use of pictures, photographs, bookshelves, thick paint and calendars. Remember to tidy up as you go or you'll end up wearing sandals of gluey anaglypta if, like me, you decorate bare foot. Remove kitten from bin bag where she is sleeping amongst wallpaper trimmings.

9) When you are in sight of the winning post and have kept a calm temper whilst cutting glue covered paper into window recesses, chimney stacks, radiators, light switches and plug sockets, remember to run out of wallpaper. This is an important part of the process as it allows you to send husband out for another roll of wallpaper whilst you sit on the landing with a sticky kitten on your lap listening to Radio 7, doing Sudoku, drinking tea and eating flapjack.

10) The above break will renew your energies and you can put up last three pieces of wallpaper in record quick time. If, by now, you are uttering phrases like 'Oh, that'll do,' or 'Who looks at skirting boards anyway?' you know you have mastered the full amateur decorating experience and the job has been well done. At least you saved some money by doing it yourself. And it'll look better once it's had a coat of paint.

Finally, check walls for stray peeling edges, air bubbles and kitten-shaped lumps. Allow yourself a pat on the back.

Then join your decorating partner in a fish finger sandwich for lunch. There's nothing like the mutual appreciation of a fish finger sandwich to reconcile the fractiousness between a couple brought about by decorating the back bedroom. A.k.a. the technohub. A.k.a Andy's study.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Hot Up Top

Blimey it was hot in the loft yesterday. I mean, it was hot outside, a really nice sunny day when we should have been wafting around the garden with a long cool drink, then resting on the patio with a good book and maybe some cheesey nibbles and fresh fruit. But did we waft? Did we read and nibble? No. We went into the even hotter attic, where there was not a breeze to be had, and we lost about a stone each in sweat as we tried to be ruthless with our myriad collection of tat.

'Where do we start?' I said, after we'd spent the first ten minutes moving things from here to there and back again and achieving nothing. Andy shrugged. He was feeling edgy. He was twitching every time I laid a hand on one of his sci-fi books or electronic gadgets. He was like a coiled spring, ready to leap into action should they make their way towards the area marked out for 'Tip.'

We'd got as far as designating areas. Three to be precise. One for things to go to the tip, one for things to go to the boot fair or failing a sale there, to the charity shop of our choice. And one for 'Keeping.'

'Right,' I said, 'I am going to start in that corner there.' And I pointed to that corner there. 'And I am going to be RUTHLESS!'

As I clambered across the mini-tat mountain range to that corner there, I sent up a prayer to the God of Ruthlessness who is called Clive.

'Dear Clive,' I said, 'give me the strength to be ruthless in my task of clearing the attic. Make me firm of mind and void of sentimentality. Make mine eyes clear to the fact that if I find something I haven't seen or used for the last five years I am unlikely to use it in the next five years. Help me put aside childish things like 'Mousetrap' and jigsaw puzzles. But please let me keep my wedding dress, amen.'

I experienced a moment of weakness when the God of Clutter, Sandra, interrupted my contemplation and said, 'Better keep the Junior Scrabble. You want your grandchild to be a good speller, don't you?' but as I said to Sandra, by the time Grandchild goes to school the Government will probably have done away with literacy in favour of basic grunting, thus rendering Junior Scrabble redundant.

For the two hours we managed to survive the desert heat of the loft, we made good progress. Luckily, most of the stuff we got through was mine and as I was being ruthless we got rid of a boot load of stuff down the tip, and have another boot load and a half to go the the boot fair and/or charity shop of our choice. There is an impressive space in the loft now. And I'm not quite sure how we came to have so many duvets. Or stereo systems. Or soft toys. But now we don't. Except for the duvets because they all seemed new and you can never have enough duvets.

And now Andy has seen how ruthless I can be and what a liberating experience having a good clear out is, I am hoping he will be just as enthusiastic when it comes to clearing out some of his stuff.

But I fear I may need to ply him with copious wine and then sneak into the attic when he isn't looking and set about his boxes of treasure myself. And when he says 'Where's my collection of 'The Rhibard Xening Tales of Kfling Dint Burble (1959 ed)' I shall have to say (with fingers firmly crossed behind my back), 'Oh, you sold those on e-bay AGES ago. Don't you remember?' and then run for the hills until the fracas dies down.

Don't worry, Andy. I won't really do that. (Bluff.)
'Is she bluffing?' thinks Andy.
'I'm not bluffing,' I say. (Double bluff).
'Or is she double bluffing?' thinks Andy.

It's a cunning craft, the clearing out of a loft.

P.S There are various areas of the Much Malarkey Manor website open for business now. Yesterday I created the Culinary Experiment Blog which can be found at and details Mrs Flanbottom's experiment into making yeast (Part 1). I hope you find it as entertaining as this blog.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Bob a Job Week

I was never in the Scouts. Well, I wasn't a boy for a start, but you know what I mean. I was in the Girls' Brigade. They had hats like Thunderbird hats. I didn't realise this at the time as I was distracted by the scratchiness of the fabric on my delicate forehead, but looking back, the hats we wore were definitely Thunderbird hats. Except when you were in the Explorer section. When they were like flying saucers. But when you're 6 years old, the only thing you worry about re:hats is their frisbee potential. And Explorer hats made GREAT frisbees.

Anyway, this week Andy is on holiday and we have many 'jobs' to keep us busy. Decorating, for example. There is only one room in our house that we haven't touched since we moved in nearly 5 years ago and that is the smallest bedroom a.k.a Andy's study or the 'technohub'. It hasn't been decorated mainly because when we moved in it became instant home to 5 book cases and about 3,000 books (I kid you not!) and once they were in there it seemed like an awful lot of effort to hoik them all out again and redecorate.

However, the time has come to tackle the technohub. Heather has been summoned to the Edinburgh Festival to do some guiding type work. She doesn't get paid, but she gets free accommodation and networking and it means we can dump 3,000 books in her bedroom without worrying about where she is going to sleep. Andy has spent all yesterday and two hours this morning moving stuff out of the room and stripping off the wallpaper.

'Do you need any help?' I shout up periodically.
'No, I'm fine!' Andy shouts down. He's up there with a bucket of water, a sponge and scraper. He's happy.

So I'm letting him get on with it.

It's a surprisingly big room when it's empty. Big enough to swing at least 3 cats. The plan is to move 2 of the bookshelves to the alcoves in our bedroom, (which are currently empty), move the desk that is currently in the conservatory upstairs to go with the desk that is still in the technohub, put one of the bookshelves downstairs in the conservatory, keep two bookshelves in the technohub and leave one wall free of shelving thereby maintaining the air of space that currently pervades its four walls.

'I think we'll have to re-paper the walls,' I say. 'They are a bit too bumpy just to paint.'
'I could use really thick paint,' says Andy.
'I don't think so,' I say.
'Really, really, really, REALLY thick paint,' says Andy.
'No,' I say sternly.
'Okay,' says Andy.

Meanwhile, inspired by our recent visit to River Cottage HQ, I am venturing into the world of home-made yeast. Oh yes. Apparently, you don't need to buy yeast with which to make your bread. You can grow your own. Yeast, like love, is all around. We are surrounded by yeast. Actually, thinking about it is making me itch so suffice to say I am making my own yeast (in a pot, in a POT!) and so far it is going to plan.

This is leading onto my second job for the day which is creating the web page for the Much Malarkey Manor kitchen. So by the end of the day there should be a description of my adventure in yeast making posted there.

And my third job of the day, also River Cottage inspired, is to make beetroot houmous and flat bread. I have the required ingredients - home grown beetroot, a jar of tahini which has been languishing, unopened, in the back of the cupboard for Lord knows how long, and unfortunately a bulb of garlic.

I say unfortunately because my great-great-great-great-uncle Vladimir was a vampire and whilst the genetic legacy has been very helpful in the creation of my children's book character Limonquill the Hampire (a cross between a hampster and a vampire), it has also left me with a distaste for garlic. Even now my nose is recoiling in horror.

I know garlic is supposed to be good for you. I know it has antiseptic properties and is good for the circulation and blood and for fending off all manner of unpleasant bugs and germs. But have you smelt the stuff???


However, since nearly all recipes these days require the crushing of a garlic clove, (including the beetroot houmous) I feel I need to get to grips with my natural urge to vomit when faced with the scent of this noxious little bulb. So I've got a box of face masks, some industrial strength rubber gloves and with all the windows open and a good dose of patchouli oil in the incense burner I think I might be okay.

And my fourth job today is to tidy out the kitchen cupboards. They have become full to bursting with accumulated crockery and gadgets and I have to slam them quite hard now to get them to stay shut. I managed to off-load a spare set of kitchen scales on Chris and Leane the other day after Chris carelessly broke their set. (At least, that's what Leane said - Baby Bun Grandchild, I'd shut your ears now. Listen to some Mozart. Or Chopin. The piano concertos. Very soothing. And remember, in the words of Philip Larkin 'They f**k you up, your Mum and Dad.' Just ignore them. It was only a set of kitchen scales.) But whilst seeking the aforesaid scales I noticed how cluttered things are. I mean, how many mugs does one actually need?

So I think my boot fayre collection needs starting today. Which will entail another visit to the loft.

And what with the massive back garden clear out we did yesterday, and the planting out of new plants in the pots and the moving of the chilli peppers into the greenhouse to help them spice up a bit, it's all systems go here at the Manor.

The Devil popped in for a visit last night. He'd heard a rumour of idle hands.

'Not here, mate!' we said, seeing him off with a flea in his ear and a clove of garlic up his left nostril. 'Not here!'

Monday, 10 August 2009

A River Cottage HQ Experience

Oh to be at River Cottage, now that Summer's here,
To see the hens and pigs and veg, and taste Hugh's Stinger Beer.

To see the fruit trees growing, to wander midst the trees
And fields and gardens therewithin, and hear the buzz of bees.

And eat good food that's simply made, from Nature's larder found.
And feel a life that's meant to be, with peace and calm all round.

We met with other diners in the car park at the top of the hill. There is a small barn for shelter during inclement weather, and a brazier that is lit during winter months to keep people warm whilst waiting the ride down to the cottage itself. But we needed neither shelter nor warmth. At seven in the evening it was warm and balmy with the sun barely touching the rolling hills that greeted us. A pleasant young man asked us to sign his dining register and said that transport would be arriving shortly.

A massive trailer attached to a massive tractor duly appeared and we climbed aboard for a higgedly-piggedly ride down a steep track to River Cottage HQ itself. Past a wind turbine, some goats, some chickens, some cows and into the farm yard where we were greeted by another very pleasant young person who led us through the yard to a large teepee-effect tent where a welcoming champagne toast was made and canapes pressed upon us. We were then told we could wander freely around the farm and that dinner would be about 8.

I couldn't decide if River Cottage HQ seemed smaller or larger than it appears on TV. But it was certainly a world of its own. Vegetables growing in conventional beds and unconventional containers, a lovely fruit walk. Flowers interspersed throughout. Many chickens, some ducks. A couple of cows and their calves. We walked to the top of the yard in search of Hugh's pigs. Led by our noses, we found 5 young saddlebacks.

'Hooey, hooey hooey!' I called, because I understood that to be the language of pig. And they came running!! And then they look dis'grunt'led when they realised we had no food for them.

And thoughout our wanderings, River Cottage HQ staff appeared bearing more canapes - beetroot houmous on flatbread, Bloody Mary sardine on toast, mutton meatballs in a dill dip, courgette and goat cheese on toast. Lovely!

Before dinner was served, the chef, Gil, gave us a brief talk through the menu for the evening, filling us in on cooking methods and the provenance of what we were about to eat. A charcuterie plate with beetroot and fresh bread to start, then a fish soup with cheddar cheese -on-toast. This to be followed by wild rabbit with carrots, potatoes and chard, then a blueberry creme brulee with lemon shortbread for pud.

All to be topped off with coffee and chocolate truffles!

It was DELICIOUS!! I had already decided to try everything that was served, my only fear being that eel might make it onto the menu. But I didn't see one plate return to the kitchen uncleaned. The whole meal took three hours, but it didn't seem like it because the seating arrangement (two long tables side by side) meant you were sitting next to people you'd never met before. And people soon got chatting and swapping life experiences.

There was a moment of excitement when a light bulb exploded. Everyone jumped, there was a brief silence and then laughter. And as dusk fell, the fairy lights strung inside and outside the dining barn came into their own and before we knew it it was gone 11 p.m and the tractor and trailer had arrived to start taking diners back to the car park.

This wasn't just a meal out. It was an experience. It was more than I expected it to be. It was fun and relaxing and the best way to spend an evening.

So thank you, River Cottage HQ for delivering your ethos with such style, friendship and aplomb.

And thank you, kissy-kissy, to Andy for arranging such a fabulous anniversary present!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

West Country Weirdness

The West Country has a magnetic field around it which becomes strongest as one approaches the area surrounding Stonehenge. This magnetic field was created back in the early Druidic days in order to prevent the rest of England invading the rolling hills, dales and coastlands of Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall in order to lollop around on gorgeous beaches, ramble amongst the woods and fields and pig out on cream teas and pasties. (More about pigs later. And possibly pasties.)

It is possible to break through this magnetic field, of course, but in order to do this one needs tenacity, patience, air conditioning, a sense of humour and a packet of chocolate caramel bisuits. Oh, and a camera, some reading material and an acceptance that your car will be powerless to go above 20 miles an hour for the last 100 miles of your journey.

So, a journey that Google Maps promised would take us 'three hours and twenty minutes' actually took us five hours and ten minutes. But it was okay. We only got mildly fractious with each other (it being our wedding anniversary and all) and once we'd stopped and taken the biscuits on board, tempers improved enormously thanks to the sugar rush.

'We're going past Stonehenge in five minutes,' I said, all excited because things like big rocks sitting randomly in a vast landscape are strangely alluring to me. I got out my camera, ready to snap away.
Andy said, 'As we drive past, shall I hold up my thumb and forefinger so it looks like I'm holding Stonehenge in my hand?'
'Yes,' I said, 'then I can take a photo of the look of surprise on your face as you ding the car in front.'

Anyway, half an hour later and we were still crawling towards Stonehenge. But we had biscuits by then and we'd also passed a huge field of pigs so I had entertained myself by taking piggie photos. I like seeing pigs in fields. They looked very happy, rolling around in the mud, sunbathing, playing chase. There's some happy bacon in the making, I thought.

And then Stonehenge loomed above us looking impressively surreal despite the hoards of tourists wandering around it. I took photos. Andy sulked because I wouldn't let him do entertaining 'holding Stonehenge' poses.

And on we went to Chard.

There's a funny place. It was shutting down as we arrived, but we went for a hopeful walkabout anyway. There were several benches dedicated to 'The Lace Riots' which brought to mind images of old ladies poking each other with crotchet hooks and slapping each other with antimacassars. Other than that, Chard consisted of hairdressers and strange independent shops with jigsaw puzzles for sale in their windows, the boxes faded and yellowing after years in the sun.

We did go past one cash point. Andy said, 'I must get some cash before we go to River Cottage tonight,' and as he approached the cashpoint a young chap appeared in an otherwise empty street and started faffing about getting his own cash.
'I'll stop on our way back to the hotel,' said Andy. 'Save us hanging about like a pair of muggers.'

On our way back, we approached the cashpoint. The street was empty. Andy reached for his wallet. And then a woman appeared from nowhere and nabbed the machine. So we walked past and loitered about fifty feet away. And when we turned back, there was a queue of five people at the cashpoint! A queue! In a street that had, until 30 seconds previously, been completely deserted!

We never did get the cash, but we did have a good laugh that the people of Chard are clearly determined to prevent 'outsiders' using their cashpoint!

And then we went to River Cottage. An experience that deserves a whole blog to itself.

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Mrs Poo, who died in the wee small hours of this morning. It was very sad.