Friday, 27 November 2009

Phone Pests

Our phone number is ex-directory. It has to be, really, when one is a teacher and married to a vet, for neither of us wish to broadcast our number in a directory where parents and clients can find it and call it and hassle us. It can, and does happen. So we stay ex-directory.

It is very annoying, then, when you find yourself being bombarded with cold-calls of an evening.
'How did you get this number?' is my usual response to these calls, as I never, EVER, allow them to get even part way into their sales spiel. 'It is ex-directory.'

'Oh, it's just a random number dial,' the cold-caller usually says, and I don't believe them one bit.

Anyway, for the last week or so, we've been getting annoying calls from AOL. In fact, we are getting so annoyed that we are considering changing our internet service provider, if not now, then as soon as we move house.

Three times last night I went to answer the phone and it cut dead on me. You know, because these call centres multi-dial a number and then speak to whoever picks up first, cutting off all other victims who don't get to their phone quick enough.

On the third call, I answered and it was AOL. This was the third conversation I've had with them in four days, and Heather has spoken to them too. They always ask to speak to Andy, as he is the account holder.

'He isn't available,' I said, because Andy had just walked in from work and was eating his dinner.
'Well, when will he be available?' said the person from the overseas call centre.
'Never,' I said. 'We want you to stop calling. I've already asked you to remove this number from your dialling list. I am asking you again, to remove this number from your dialling list.'
'I can't do that until I speak to the account holder,' said the person.
'Yes you can,' I said. 'Because you are intruding on our evening. Please remove the number.'

And do you know what this person said next???

She said, 'If you were to give me a time I can speak to the account holder, we would stop calling you.'


'That is so rude,' I said, because the tone of her voice was incredibly narky. I mean, who's the customer here? Who's paying their internet access bill every month by direct debit?

After telling them again not to ring, and after being told that the AOL contract had ended and that was the reason she had called, which was a load of rubbish because other wise I wouldn't be able to write this, would I, I hung up.

Andy and I then spent a very amusing evening coming up with a list of ways to deal with cold-callers. I can't go into them now, as I've just had a call from our estate agent saying some more people want to come and look at the house (the faffers are STILL faffing) so I need to do a housework binge, but I'll be back in another post with our list, to entertain and amuse.

On the upside of the day, I have completed the NaNoWriMo project with three days to spare! If you have been reading 'Poulet Nous', then thank you for sticking with it. All comments gratefully received before I start the editing process.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Time Flies Like the Wind and Fruit Flies Like Bananas

Blimey - I've only just realised I haven't posted a blog here since Sunday....where has the time gone this week?

Well, I've been hammering away at 'Poulet Nous' for a start, because it is Day 26 of 30 today and the end of NaNoWriMo is nigh. Last night I was at 44,300 ish words, which, I feel encouraged to say, means I am in the top 3% of NaNoWriMo participants this year, and am likely 'to breeze past the finishing post with ease.' This is according to the team-talking e-mails I've been getting from the NaNo Team.

I hope they're right. They are assuming I'm going to have enough plot to keep the momentum going. It's not the actual word count that's an issue - it's the content of that word count that's the concern!

On other matters more domestic, I spent Monday at my new school, seeing the classes I'm taking over, and trying to navigate my way around the site without nabbing a child every two minutes to ask where the toilets/ staff room/ reception office are. All went well and I got out alive.

And talking of schools, I still hadn't been paid for any of the adult education sessions I've been delivering since the end of September. But then yesterday, I got a salary slip, and have now been paid for 3 sessions. I've delivered 8 so far, so guess I'll be getting my final pay for the job somewhere in February. Ah well, at least something is turning up.

The house sale...well, the plot thickens because we are STILL waiting for our faff buyers to provide their proof of funds notification, and this after a promise it would turn up with our estate agent last Monday. Our estate agent is becoming hysterical with the delays; I am beginning to think that SOMETHING FISHY IS GOING ON. Still, we keep our fingers crossed, and a couple of nights ago worked out a plan for our new plot of land to include a miniature orchard and a beehive.

I've finished my Christmas shopping. I'm not sure how, exactly; probably via some kind of seasonal osmosis. But it's all in and waiting to be wrapped. I was a tad annoyed that Andy's main present was delivered on Monday whilst I was out all day and left carelessly flung behind a bush beneath our front window. Anyone could have walked up the path and taken it. And the card that had been poked through our letterbox from the delivery driver stated the parcel had been left 'in a safe place.' Hmmmm.....

I am adding La Senza to my list of 'Companies With Extremely Bad Manners.' They promised to let Heather know about a job she'd applied for with them by the middle of last week. Which was 8 days ago. Promise broken. Shame on La Senza. Oh, and Holiday Inn finally got around to e-mailing her the day before yesterday, thanking her for attending the 'recent interview', but they had employed someone else. As Heather said,'Recent? It was nearly four weeks ago!'

And get this. The Body Shop also finally got around to sending a rejection letter but they included a £5 voucher for Heather to spend in the Body Shop provided she spent £25 or more. Well, that's okay then, because a person with no job and therefore no money is going to spend £25 in the Body Shop, just so they can get £5 off, aren't they? What an INSULT!

Ooooh, there's nothing like a good rant to get one going in the morning!

Enjoy yours!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Will we EVER learn?

Last weekend, Andy and I went for a walk during a break in the torrential rain.
'Are you taking an umbrella?' said Heather, 'just in case it rains again?'
'Oh, it won't rain AGAIN,' I said, full of the optimism of a crazy fool and off we went.

We got SOAKED. Really rain-running-off-your-face-in-a-torrent soaked.

And then today, Andy and I decided to go for a walk at Leeds Castle, as the annual Christmas Fayre was taking place, which is usually good for a sneaky peak at some seasonal tat. However, before we left, it chucked it down with rain again. I'd already got slightly damp in my pyjimjams when I went to feed the chickens at the crack of dawn, so was keen to avoid another drenching.

'We'll wait to see if the weather brightens up,' I said. Which it duly did.

'Are you going to take an umbrella, in case it rains again?' said Heather.
'Oh, it won't rain AGAIN,' I said, because sometimes I never learn.


We emerged from the huge marquee in which the fayre was being held, into torrential rain. To the left was a lengthy walk back to the car park; to the right, a lengthy walk to the castle restaurant and lunch. We'd already decided not to get our hopes up vis a vis a pudding, following pudding debacles on our previous two visits. In fact, we'd already partaken of some baklava in the food section of the marquee in lieu of a non-appearing pudding.

We had a moment of dilemma. Whichever way we went, we would get drenched. But one option would at least offer a nice lunch to recompense the drenching. We ran for the restaurant.

It would have been drier to swim to the restaurant via the moat. Soaked to the skin, we stood in the restaurant, dripping on the tiles, waiting for a table because lots of other people had had the same idea and the place was rather full.

But we got our lunch, and very nice it was, too. And then, just as we were getting ready to leave, the waitress appeared.

'Can I get you anything else?' she asked.

Oh, so now we get a chance of a pudding, I thought. Typical!

And as I was stuffed with soup and a sandwich and the precautionary baklava, and Andy was stuffed with sausage and mash and baklava, even though the baklava had walnuts in it, but I didn't tell him this before I gave him his piece, we declined the pudding offer, paid the bill and went on our way.

So just remember this, dear readers: our children are sometimes wiser than we, especially when it comes to matters of umbrellas, and as you never know when you'll be offered a pudding, always carry a piece of baklava, just in case.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Piano Removal

Well, you'll be pleased to know that the faffers have finally put in an offer on our house; a decent offer. An offer we have accepted. Hurrah! This means I need to get myself into 'moving house' mode, having drifted away from it over the last few weeks because nothing was happening. And it's hard to stay motivated about something when nothing is happening on the something front. If you get my drift.

Any hooo, today Andy and I are going to re-visit the cottage in the country with the massive, massive garden/mini-field that we've been keeping our fingers crossed for. Just to make sure it is definitely right for us. And to check that the land hasn't developed into a useless quagmire following the torrential rain England has been experiencing in the last week or so. Because what's the point in having extra land if you can't grow anything in it apart from rice maybe, or hippopotomi?

So last night, after re-adjusting to the idea that we could actually now be moving, I went and stared at our piano. Yes, we have a piano. I bought it over ten years ago because learning to play the piano has been a yearning of mine ever since child-hood. I can just about hold a two fingered tune, but I really want to learn to play properly, you know with all ten digits, and with two staves of music. I know it means trying to get both halves of my brain to work in harmony, which is a challenge in itself. But the more pressing exercise regarding the piano and linked to actually moving, is how to get the piano out of the house and to the new cottage.

You see, when we moved to our current abode, there were two back doors, one of which led in a very nice, agreeable and straight line into my writing room where the piano currently sits. So there was no problem getting the piano into the house. However, when we had the downstairs bathroom revamped, the building work included blocking up this particular back door, as we deemed it excessive to have two back doors where one back door would suffice, besides we needed a corner bath, so back door numero dos was bricked up.

About two or three months later, maybe longer, even a year, either Andy or myself, we can't remember who, suddenly said,'How are we going to get the piano out of the house if we ever decide to move?'

Because in blocking up the second back door, we had created an inner vestibule, in the shape of a square, with square angles and not enough room to swing an accordian, let alone a fully grown piano. Straight line removal was no longer an option.


So Heather and I stood staring at the piano last night. Mother and daughter, side by side, against piano, on it's own but covered in photos and bizarre cat ornaments. Now, Heather and I have been through many furniture-based removal traumas before. I often think we should set up a removal firm because up until now there is nothing we have tried to move that hasn't gone exactly where we've wanted it to go. Beds, wardrobes, sofas, we have shifted these things where other people have stood and stared and sucked in their breath and said, 'Ooooh, that'll never go through/up/around there.' I think it's because Heather and I share a grim determination to get things done plus an optimism that some may perceive to be naive, but which we see as a challenge.

'It's only five and a half feet long,' said Heather, making an accurate measurement with her outstretched arms.
'And the door is, what, nearly seven feet tall,' I said, ditto with the arm measurement plus standing on my toes.
'And if that sofa got in here,' said Heather, pointing to said sofa, 'then that piano will go out.'
And we formulated a plan involving piano upended, a small trolley on wheels, bubble wrap and duvets and about eight muscular firemen.

So that was sorted, then.

When I told Andy of our plan, he seemed less convinced.
'Piano's are heavy things,' he said. 'Especially when they are upended.'
'I'm not going to try moving it on my own,' I said.
'I should hope not,' said Andy. 'Not after you got pinned under that sofa you brought downstairs on your own during the summer.'

Andy looked thoughtful, like a man contemplating how to get a piano out of a house.

'Do you have a better plan?' I asked.
'Well,' said Andy, 'it depends whose viewpoint you're looking from.'
'Meaning I've no doubt we SHALL get the piano out of your writing room,' said Andy, 'only my plan involves a saw and a sledgehammer.'
'No,' I said. 'I think not.'
'Okay,' said Andy, looking only a little crestfallen.

It will come with us to our new house, this piano. It will.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Oh dear, what can to-mato be?

Andy and I have been very bad. We haven't visited the allotment for four weeks. I know, I know, what kind of allotmenteers are we? I'll tell you...we are the kind of allotmenteers who do their best for 8 months of the year and then run out of fizzle somewhere around the middle of October when everything has been harvested and/or stops growing, including the weeds. Also, the weather hasn't been helping, the last three weekends or so being heavy with rain. And walking on land where one grows stuff is a no-no during wet weather, because it mucks up the soil structure or something - that's our excuse anyway, and a pretty valid scientific one at that.

But this Sunday we knew we had to go and sort out the polytunnel. I'd been having nightmares about it; that the tomato plants that had been so fruitful for us for the last 3 months would be reduced to a brown slimy stodge and that the rest of the allotment plot would be drowning under a quagmire, rotting our Jerusalem artichokes in the process. Some serious tidying up for winter was needed, and the dreadful deed could be delayed no longer.

So it was with some trepidation that we visited Plot 87, dressed in wellies and raincoats, our heads hanging low with shame. And guess what?? The tomatoes were still growing!! We picked, in the middle of November, 14lbs of ripe tomatoes, 10lbs of green tomatoes and a shedload of big, fat and decidely unrotting Jerusalem artichokes!! There are still chilli peppers on the pepper plants and a couple of aubergines making a final bid for ripeness. Oh, shame on me for doubting the powers of Mother Nature's growing abilities.

So we cleared out the polytunnel, tidied away the old beans and sunflowers, did some weeding, upped some cabbages for the chickens and came home with many, many tomatoes, many artichokes, some carrots, parsnips, beetroot and spinach and a feeling that actually we weren't such naughty allotmenteers after all.

We have now reached the end of our third year as trainee self-sufficiency bods. In those three years we have learned many new things. We have grown a vast majority of our veg, a good dollop of soft fruit, and flowers for the bees. Our hens have kept us in eggs for well over a year and a half now. We have learned how to make breads and jams, chilli sauces and marmalades, sausages and wine. We have acquired a greenhouse, a polytunnel and a hen house. We have made our own compost using two bins and a wormery. And some of our experiments have worked well, others have flopped like a great big floppy thing.

But the biggest thing we have learnt is that a huge amount of progress is possible in a very small space i.e our wee urban back garden and an average size allotment. We have learnt that when you pull together as a team, like me and Andy, you don't need to upsticks and move to live a dream, you don't need to have acres and acres of land to help make a difference to your world and contribute to the welfare of Planet Earth.

But what I haven't learned is what to do with all these bloomin' green tomatoes that are sitting in the kitchen! I've found a recipe for River Cottage HQ pickle. I think I might have a go at that.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Why do people do that?

Before I head off on a tiny rant which is likely to become quite, quite massive by the time I've finished with it, you'll be pleased to know that, at the half way stage of NaNoWriMo, I hit the ground running this morning with 25,075 words under my belt. Which means I am 75 words ahead of schedule, so I can take it easy for,oh, a minute or two at least. And if you're not pleased, well, you jolly well should be, because it means you only have to suffer my work for less than half the words you've already suffered and for small mercies we should be grateful.

Now, what I want to know today, specifically, is why do people say they will do things and then they don't? I have examples. Our house, to start with. And the people who say they are interested in it and keep phoning our agent to say they are going to make an offer. It has been two and a half weeks now, since they came around for their second viewing. And have they made an offer? Have they heck. Not even a silly one. They've bombarded our estate agent with faffing questions, in fact, the whole thing has been a faff, with Andy and I have been living in Tenterhook Faff City. Well, we've given up, now. No, not given up, merely lost interest. We've resigned ourselves to the fact these people are faffers, no more no less, and faffers do not keep their word.

Example two. Heather is still looking for a job. Two and a half weeks ago, she trailed miles across the county on the train and by Shank's pony, to go for an interview which this company invited her to. Have they let her know if she got the job? No. Shame on you, Holiday Inn. And then, one and half weeks ago she went for another job interview. It was two interviews, actually, one group one in the evening involving role play which Heather is very good at being a Theatre graduate and all, and then back the next day to work on the shop floor. 'We'll let you know within the week, ' they said. Have they? No, they haven't. Shame on you, Body Shop. And now she is waiting to hear back from another well-known retail outlet, who PROMISED to let her know one way or another by Wednesday if she got the job, following her interview last Friday afternoon. I shall with-hold the name of this company for now, to see if they are as good as their word, but heaven help them if there is no news by Thursday.

No wonder young people are so disillusioned these days, if this is the way the job market is treating them. And talking to friends who have graduate off-spring of a similar age, Heather isn't the only one who is being treated with such bad manners by the great British employer. I AM APPALLED, and I've had nearly thirty years experience of navigating my way around the workplace with all its quirky and sometimes unpleasant foibles. I have been hardened to the knocks, I am middle-aged and cynical about these things. But the generation who follows mine should not be taking on that hard-edged cynicism at so young an age. They are the bright young things, the optimists, the talent that is supposed to moving our country onwards and upwards. My pension depends upon it.

And thirdly...actually, there is no thirdly. Phew! Two rants, today, are quite enough.

And as I said to Heather, there are better things waiting for her out there, in her chosen field of employment. She's applied for a couple of theatre-based jobs in London. They are with smaller concerns than the likes of these multi-national companies who treat people like emotionless numbers. So hopefully, they will have more manners.

'Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you love.'

Friday, 13 November 2009

What Have They Done To Sainsbugs?

Our local Sainsbugs has been shut down for a week for a revamp. It all looked very interesting when I had occasion to pass by once or twice during the shut down. Many large lorries in the car park, plus a huge marquee. I thought, are they going to start doing weddings at Sainsbugs? I mean, I wouldn't put it past them, seeings as you can get all manner of malarkey in a supermarket these days.

And then there were the rumours of the 'NEW FISH COUNTER'. I was confused. Did they mean a fish counter that was newer than the old one, a counter that was for new fish only, or a person who was to be employed specifically to count the fish. If it was the last option, it wouldn't be a difficult job, especially as on the last two occasions I have tried to purchase some Cornish sardines there have only been three available for purchase, which is no good for a household containing three adults with healthy appetites, let me tell you.

So when the shop re-opened on Wednesday, I was there like a shot, hoping to pick up some 'Brand New Store' freebies, or a balloon at least. No such luck. In fact, the whole thing was a bit of a let-down. Whereas our local Sainsbugs was once a quirky, original place, with a bit of character to it, it has been transformed into a mini-me clone of the larger superstore Sainsbugs about 5 miles away over the other side of town. And as for the new fish counter. Well, it's no bigger than the old fish counter and there were still only 3 Cornish sardines to be had.

Ah well. I guess it just goes to show that new isn't necessarily better, as we are oft led to believe, and that sometimes it is wise to be resistant to change, as is my wont, because I am a Scorpio and a fixed sign and therefore can't help it.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

They said this would happen

It's bloomin' hard work trying to write 50,000+ words in thirty days. It works out at 1666.666666 (recurring) words every day. Last night, I was 5231 words behind schedule. I have been writing for three hours this morning and think I've probably done another 4,000 ish words which brings me down to about 1200 words behind PLUS the 1600 I need to keep up to date with today which means, unless I have a renewed burst this afternoon, I shall finish the day just under 3,000 behind which at least is better than where I started from this morning.

My back aches, my shoulders are stiff, the ends of my fingers are tingling with the constant beating against the teeny tiny keyboard of my new and teeny tiny netbook. The plot of Poulet Nous in in danger of becoming wildly out of control as I add new characters with random irresponsibility, the dialogue is becoming more camp, the raison d'etre quite unbelievable.

And yet I am LOVING IT!! I want to finish this bizarre and abstract story and I want to publish it. I don't care how rubbish it is becoming, it is going to be a marker to celebrate my year and a bit as a full time writer before I go back to the chalkface in January.

And the team at NaNoWriMo have been sending encouraging e-mails. They said that the point of disillusionment is reached on November 13th. That's tomorrow. I can understand what they mean but I'm going to work my way through it despite the aches and pains and frustrations because I AM A WRITER!!

I am sorry my blog entries here at the Manor have suffered because of my participation in this project. But I know you are all supporting my efforts and normal service will be resumed on December 1st with the Much Malarkey Christmas countdown. And now I am going for a bit of a wild dance around the kitchen to loosen the limbs and get the writing brain flowing again for round two this afternoon.

Love and hugs to you all!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

A Lot of Richards

It's always good to welcome a new follower on board, and I was thrilled today to pick up a comment for 'Poulet Nous' from a new reader called Richard. And now there are three gents called Richard who are good enough to drop by occasionally and read my work. However, I do want to point out that being called Richard is not a prerequisite for reading my blogs; in fact I actively encourage a wide variety of names, for I think diversity in the blog-reading community should be encouraged, don't you?

Oddly enough, during the last year I did start to write a long short-story involving 4 characters all called Richard but identified by various shortened nick-name forms. As you imagine, there was a fair amount of mistaken identity involved in the plot a la Shakespeare's 'As You Like It' and 'Twelfth Night', but it never got properly off the ground, coz Shakespeare I ain't. Weird, though, isn't it? Like a Richard blog magnet has been triggered by the power of creative writing.

So now I'm off to pen a little number called 'A Life of Luxury and Indulgence, With a Nissan Figaro Thrown in for Good Measure.' No, sorry, only joking...ahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!

You'll have to excuse my wild ramblings. I was awoken last night at 3.30 a.m with a bit of a delicate tummy and do you think I could get back to sleep? Could I cocoa. I gave up in the end and came downstairs to read, but needless to say I am now struggling to keep my eyes open. Ridiculous. But I've managed to knock out another chapter of 'Poulet Nous' and do a bit of Christmas shopping via the interwebbly, to boot.

And whilst I'm on the subject of reading, here is what I'm working my way through at the mo. In tandem, because I am a girl and I can multi-task, I am reading 'Julie and Julia' by Julie Powell and 'My Life in France' by the American housewife/chef, Julia Child. Now, when I went to see the film, which was very entertaining, I liked the Julie blogger character and didn't like the Julia chef character despite her being played by Meryl Streep who is one of my all time favourite actresses. And now I am reading the two books together, I am reversing my opinion of both characters. You see, the persuasive power of media is mighty, is it not? Perhaps I should watch the film again and see if I swap back and am more fickle than I realise.

And waiting in the wings are 'The Girl on the Landing,' by Paul Torday and 'The Other Queen,' by Philippa Gregory. I'm not sure how the Philippa Gregory has evaded my attention until now because I'm an avid reader of her work and have been ever since she published the Wideacre trilogy in the Eighties, but I have the book now, courtesy of Andy's close attention to my birthday wish list. And I am a very big fan of Paul Torday and gain hope from the fact he remained unpublished until his fifties, but now there is no stopping him!

Back to 'Poulet Nous' now. I'm sorry the chapters are appearing out of sync i.e base over apex, but I'm sure, if you're reading, you'll work out the order by my cunning use of sequential chapter numbering!

In the words of Julia Child - Bonne Appetit!

Oh Bum!

I have written a blog for Much Malarkey Manor, today, really I have, but it is, because I wasn't paying attention, published in the middle of 'Poulet Nous.' This was not, I can assure you, a cunning marketing ploy to get you to read my Novel in a Month effort.

And now, because I am a techno-phobe, I don't know how to shift it across to the correct blog page. I know it will involve cutting and pasting but I can't begin to tell you how much stuff I have lost to the ether through my appalling cutting and pasting technique.

So the blog will be returned to its proper home but not until this evening when my blog tekkie i.e Andy can sort out the mess for me!

Apologies one and all. Goodbye method and organisation, hello chaos!

Monday, 9 November 2009

All Behind Like a Cow's Tail

Although I feel I have been churning out much content for 'Poulet Nous' and NaNoWrimo, it's all been in my mind and I haven't actually committed much of it to actual written blog. In fact, this weekend has been so busy I found myself at least 4,000 words behind schedule this morning. However, I've spent the last two and a half hours writing Chapters 7 and 8, so may have caught up with myself a bit by now.

The thing is, I got distracted with Christmas this weekend, which, in my defence, is late for me, who usually has it all sussed by the end of October and is shouting 'Bring it on, Santa.' But then I realised yesterday that I haven't even got my Advent Candle yet, and Advent starts in barely three week's time. So then I got distracted into making Christmas lists - things to do like ordering the goose and making the cards - and things to buy, like almost everything bar my Mum's pressie which I got back in September and is currently gathering dust in the bottom of my wardrobe.

And then 'The Wizard of Oz' was on telly yesterday afternoon, which is one of my favourite films from childhood. Followed by 'The Aristocats', so no writing got done after lunch, other than a few Sudokus and Crosswords during the commercial breaks. All this time, Andy was drawing the designs for our Christmas cards and scanning them onto computer for the adding of colour and the printing onto shiny photographic paper thereof. The designs are very good and I am thrilled with them all, especially the 'God Nest Ye Merry, Gentle Hens, ' and 'Good Queen Henselas,' which I think might be the two final selections to actually send to people. So sometime in the next week or two, I need to finish the final cards, with Andy's drawings as the central feature, and some Christmas tat by me in the form of ribbons and stars and stuff around the edges.

And talking of hens (now there's a rare thing in this blog!), all three girls have survived the pops and bangs of Bonfire Night, with little more than a couple of days of wrinkly eggs to show the effect of them being startled by the experience. Poor things. A good case for campaigning for silent fireworks, I think.

Back to writing 'Poulet Nous,' now. I hope you are enjoying the read so far, those who are coming along for the ride with me. I am enjoying writing it, so might just have a copy printed at the end of the whole malarkey for my own entertainment and to remind myself that I have made someone laugh with my writing, even if that someone was only me!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

The Leeds Castle Pudding Debacle

Andy and I enjoy going to Leeds Castle. We have a season ticket because it is a good place to go for walking and for having a spot of lunch at the Castle Restaurant. Previously, once you'd got your table in the restaurant, you selected your meal from the menu, then went to the service counter to place your order, giving your table number and paying up front. This was a good and effective system. You could take your time choosing your repast, you didn't have to faff about trying to catch someone's eye for the bill at the end of your visit and if you wanted any pudding, you could guarantee getting a pudding.

Which brings me to my point of the day.

Which is that Leeds Castle has changed this perfectly good system for a waitress system which is not so good. Sans pudding not good.

We have visited the Castle three times in the last six weeks. We have enjoyed walking through the grounds, watching the leaves changing colour from their cool, green summer dresses to their firey auburn autumn robes. We have laughed at the antics of the ducks and swans and geese, of the birds of prey (especially the snake-throwing road runner), wandered the aviary and been inspired by the gardening works that are taking place.

And then we finish our visit with a nice lunch. At least, that's how it's been since we started getting our season tickets a couple of years or so ago.

However, on our visit six weeks ago, the new waitress service had been employed. We had our lunch. It was very nice. The waitress returned to clear our plates. 'Can we order a pudding, please?' we asked. 'I'll be back to take it in a minute,' said the waitress.

She never returned, no she didn't. She had clearly decided we were the kind of people for whom pudding was not necessary. So we paid our bill and went, pudding-less, home.

On the visit we made four weeks ago, we secured a pudding!! Sticky toffee pudding. With custard. I'm not keen on custard. I wasn't given the option to not have custard. And to be honest, the sticky toffee pudding itself left much to be desired. Quite disappointing, in fact. We ran back to the car to work off the excess calorific value of a disappointing pudding experience.

Then, yesterday, we went to the Castle again, and again we stayed for lunch. We were seated in a corner by the window, which was nice, as we had views of the lakes and some birds cavorting in a bush. The waitress, who reminded me a little of Mrs Overall, appeared.

'Are you ready to place your order?' she asked.
'Yes please,' I said. 'I'd like a pot of tea...'
'For one?' said she.
'Do you do pots of tea for two?' asked Andy, who clearly fancied a diversion from his usual Leeds Castle hot chocolate.
'No,' she said.
'Okay,' said Andy. 'I'll have a pot of tea for one, also.'

This seemed to confuse the waitress. It was like only one pot of tea for one per table was allowed, or something. She wrote T x 1 on her pad, then T x 1 again, then crossed about both markings and replaced them with T x 2.

I ordered a jacket potato with cheese and Andy ordered fish and chips, which she coped with, and the food arrived promptly and was very nice.

Now, whilst we were perusing the menu, we noticed that the pudding options had changed. Not a sub-standard sticky pudding with custard whether you like it or not in sight. But there was a chocolate tart, an apple pie with custard OR cream OR icecream option, and something else I can't remember which means I can't have fancied it that much.

We sat and waited for nearly 20 minutes. We tried to attract the attention of the waitress, any waitress, by re-arranging our empty plates and pots of tea for one times two. We fidgeted, we talked about pudding options in loud voices. We pretended we were getting up to leave without paying the bill, but to no avail.

And then Andy did a funny winky thing.
'Aha!' he said. 'I have her attention. She's coming over.'

And over came the waitress, who plopped the bill on the table and said there was no rush to pay. And then she disappeared. Pudding? No chance!

Well, we were in fits by now. Were we victims of the you're-both-too-fat-for-pudding Government anti-obesity campaign? Were we on camera? Had we been surreptitiously weighed as we crossed the restaurant threshold? Or was our waitress really Mrs Overall, brought forth from retirement to torment us in our quest for a proper pudding end to our lunch out?

I guess we'll never know, but as we left the restaurant I filled out a customer feedback card, with details of our disappointment in the pudding department. I didn't whinge or moan. I used humour and wit (or as much humour and wit as a small postcard-sized form would allow me) and I also added my name and address. In the hope of a free-pudding voucher.

Well, one can but hope.

Friday, 6 November 2009

The Artist At Work

Andy was mooching yesterday. In between mooching, he was disappearing to his study to play ever-so-important- and-exciting action adventure games on his PC. Although I don't understand this particular aspect of the male psyche,I don't object to it either; Andy works extremely hard and when he's on holiday I think he has the right to do as he darn well pleases.

Anyway, he appeared half-way through the afternoon and created a massive slump 'n' sigh combination move onto the sofa, just as I had succumbed to some tatty day-time TV to do the ironing to.

'We should start designing our Christmas cards,' I said. 'It's only seven weeks until Christmas and we'll probably need to think about posting them next week if these postal strikes continue.'
'Okay,' said Andy. 'What did you have in mind for the designs?'
'I think they should have a chicken theme,' I said, because, as you may have gathered, we are very keen on chickens.
'So do I,' said Andy.

So I got a pad of plain white paper and a very new, very sharp pencil, put on the DVD of 'A Muppet Christmas Carol' to get us in the festive mood and we started bouncing some ideas through the air.

I always find that if I start these projects, at some point in the proceedings Andy will be appalled at my incompetent drawing skills and remove the pencil and paper from me and continue the job himself. Again, I don't mind this because although I can see very clearly in my mind what I want to appear on the paper before me, somehow, between the brain and pencil, the skill of a huge gorilla trying to handle a tiny purple wax crayon seems to take over.

We decided to design a set of cards, just in case WHSmiths sees them and wants to sell an assorted boxed set.(Be prepared for all eventualities, that's what I say.) The designs were to be based on Christmas carols, with a cunning chicken twist. So, after much searching through our vast collection of Christmas song CDs, and discarding the more tenuous ideas, we came up with these four on which to base the pictures - 'Good Queen Henseslas Looked Out...On the Feast of Steve's Hen,' 'O Little Town of Bethle-hen...How Still We See Thee Lay,''God Rest Ye Merry, Gentle Hen...Let Nothing You Mis-lay,' and 'In the Beak Mid-Winter...Long Time Egg-O.'

(And if you think these titles are a bit dodgy, you should see the one's we discarded!)

My attempt at the drawing of a hen looked like a very fat banana with a rubber glove attached. Andy took over almost immediately, gentle removing the pencil from my gorilla-like grip. And the thing with Andy and his artistic skills is that he doesn't like to blow his own trumpet and he should because he is a very talented artist. In fact, in the words of Blackadder, 'You could have at least told us you had a trumpet.'
'You do the main drawings,' I said. 'And I'll take charge of sticking Christmas tat around the edges. And writing the Christmas poem inside.'

And so the deal was done. Christmas card production at Much Malarkey Manor is well underway. And I can't wait to get out my glitter and glue!!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Pay Where Pay is Due

I'm a tad annoyed that I haven't as yet been paid for the Adult Ed tutoring I have delivered thus far. Last night I presented lesson number 5 of 11. After next week I shall be more than half way through the course. I was thinking, a couple of weeks ago when I was expecting to be paid, that I could start Christmas shopping with the extra money, especially as my bank account has become rather depleted of late with the purchasing of carpets and stuff for Chris and Leane's new flat, in which they are now happily settled.

But my Christmas shopping plan has been scuppered. So last night, before I launched into my teaching of poetry and writing frames, I went in search of someone who might be able to sort out payment for me. In my mind's eye I was going to come home with a pay cheque. In reality I came home with four Cox apples and an equal number of Kiwi fruit, which were, to give them their due, whoppers in the world of Kiwi.

'What's this?' said Andy, as I unloaded the fruit from my handbag. 'Apples for the teacher?'
'No,' I said. 'Leftovers from the Year 9 Focus Day - Making Smoothies.'
'Any luck with tracking down your pay?' said Andy.
'No,' said I. 'Unless I have inadvertently fulfilled the pay contract by accepting the gift of leftover apples and Kiwi fruit.'
'So did you speak to someone as you had planned?' said Andy.
'I did,' I said. 'But my plan failed at the point where I envisaged being presented a pay cheque for services rendered so far.'
'Oh dear,' said Andy.
'Oh dear indeed,' I agreed.

Apparently, the reason I wasn't paid last month was because the date for submitting pay requests has changed from something to something else because Payroll is now exported to an external agency who require all relevant paperwork before it can be filled in and submitted, like MONTHS and MONTHS ago, for retro-back dating or something or nothing or something, I don't know, I was lost at this point in the explanation, I was thinking, just give me a cheque. Or cold hard cash. Either is acceptable at the bank of moi.

'So when will you get paid for last month?' said Andy.
'At the end of this month, I think,' I said.
'And this month?'
'And December?'
'Somewhere around next Easter, if Easter falls in March,' I said, because all I really wanted to do by now was put the fruit in the bowl to stop Pandora playing fruit salad football with it overnight, and then settle with a cuppa and some birthday cake in front of Waterloo Road, that oh-so-true-to-life TV drama snapshot of education as it really is in 21st century Britain.

'Not much good for Christmas shopping,' said Andy.
'No,' I said. 'Unless we postpone Christmas until June.'

And then I got thinking about what life would be like for us chez Much Malarkey Manor by June next year. God willing, Baby Bug Grandaughter will have arrived safely in the world, hopefully the foundations of the Manor will have moved to the wild sticks of the countryside, I shall be settled into my new teaching job and looking forward to the summer hols, and my bank balance will once more be returned to such a healthy state I can once more treat myself to a refill of Chanel 19, and the occasional massage.

And maybe, just maybe, I might have made further progress up the steep hill of being a published writer. Maybe...

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Faffing? Make a list...

I am a great one for making lists. Even if I feel I haven't achieved much at the end of a day, as long as I've made a list, then at least I've done that.

I made a list this morning. I am glad I did, as I hadn't realised how much stuff I actually needed to write down to remember to do. Things, it appears, have been creeping up on me. I think it's because we are waiting for news about a potential offer on our house. The potential offerees (I don't know if that's a real word, but I'm going to use it any way)have been faffing. That's the only word I can use to describe the tenterhooks they've left us in for the last week. I mean, call me old-fashioned but I think if you like a house enough, you'll put in an offer straight away. You don't faff. If you faff, then surely that means you don't really want the house that much and perhaps shouldn't be buying it. Like it, buy it, that's my mantra. No faffing.

So we are in mid-faff with these people. I think even our estate agent is growing slightly annoyed with their faffing. They keep phoning her to tell her they are definitely thinking about possibly putting in an offer (what???), and then they get her to phone us with what I regard to be daft questions, which, I hasten to add, are questions I've already answered in their viewings. And now I'm going to stop going on about the situation because I'm starting to type in an aggressive manner and my new baby laptop doesn't like it one bit.

Back to the list. Today's list has 10 items on it; I have so far achieved 5. And when I was topping up my diary from the calendar for the next couple of months, I noticed it's only 7 weeks until Christmas. I was hoping we might be moved house by Christmas, but what with all the faffing (did I mention the faffing?) it looks like we shall still be here in this house. Christmas requires the making of a different set of lists. So there's number 11 added to today's list.

And then there's all the preparation for starting work again in January. I'm spending some time in the school during December in order to orientate myself and meet the classes I'll be taking over. I am already envisioning bringing home piles of paperwork, schemes of work etc etc so I can hit the ground running at the start of the New Year.

I wonder if our potential offerees are list makers? Perhaps that's what holding them up. Perhaps they are working their way through a question list, a financial list, a pros and cons list. They've definitely got a faffing list.

I asked Mrs Miggins whether chickens make lists to keep their lives in order. She said, 'Lists schmists....pah!'

So I guess the answer to that one is 'no.'

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Was It Him??

The tickets Andy bought for 'La Cage aux Folles' were from one of those 'get-a-deal-at-the-last-minute' websites and we didn't know where we would be sitting until we actually picked the tickets up from the box office last night.
'Could be front row stalls, could be in the Gods,' said Andy, as we dismounted the train and headed for the Ambassadors, checking out potential eating places as we went. Finding somewhere to eat in London before we see a show has always been a source of angst for me - I like somewhere that isn't too crowded, where the food is edible and the waiters actually look at you and don't serve your meal a la 'slam it on the table in a surly manner mode.' Luckily, I spotted a Little Frankie's which is a tiny version of Frankie and Benny's, one of those restaurant chains I've come to know as being fairly reliable on the hospitality front.

We found the theatre and collected the tickets - middle of Row F in the stalls - result!!Close enough to see all the action, yet far enough to be away from the danger of having a six foot six transvestite thrust his frilly knickered clad bottom in my face.

Oh yes, I'd heard disturbing tales of 'La Cage aux Folles.' Of the tables that are placed near the stage for some audience members to sit at so they become part of the nightclub scenes. A risky breach of the fourth wall, I think.

So off we trotted to eat, before whiling away half an hour in the nearby ginormous Waterstones, and then returning to the theatre.

The show was great. John Barrowman was fantastic, and we finished the evening on our feet singing along to 'The Best of Times Is Now,' which has always been a favourite song of mine from the days when it was played on Sundays mornings on 'Family Favourites.' Ah, 'Family Favourites' - happy memories revived of coming bcak from Sunday School to Mum cooking roast lamb, me being allowed to make the mint sauce, 'Family Favourites' on the bakelite radio sending messages across the world from Mary and Jim in Leicester, to their son Barry and his wife,Linda in Sydney, Australia - 'And here's Max Bygraves with 'Your a pink toothbrush, I'm a blue toothbrush.'

Anyway, we dashed back to Charing Cross, onto the train and settled for the journey home. Andy nudged me. He was writing a text message on his phone. It read, 'that guy opposite looks like Ian Gisloon.' I looked at the guy sitting opposite. I had no idea who Ian Gisloon was, for this chap looked the spitting image of Ian Hislop to me, but that's predictive texting for you.

Andy kept nudging me and flicking his head at the Ian Hislop look-a-like sitting opposite. Andy is never very subtle when we spot a potential celebrity. I didn't want to stare, but curiosity was getting the better of me so for the next hour I cast surreptitious glances at our travelling companion. He was eating his way through a pile of what I would class as junk food - station-bought pasties, crisps, sausage roll. I thought, Ian Hislop wouldn't eat that kind of rubbish, surely? But then he began working his way through a one and a half litre bottle of posh water and an apple. Hmmm.

I looked for clues. The briefcase on the seat next to Ian was battered but clearly very good quality. Important looking papers were sticking out of the various pockets. He was also wearing an Ian Hislop tie. But he was reading the Evening Standard. Would Ian Hislop read the Evening Standard? Well, yes, I suppose, what with his appearances on 'Have I Got News For You.'

I decided, as I watched Ian Hislop fall asleep with his mouth open and his face pressed against the carriage window in a frankly quite unattractive manner, that if he got off at the same station as us, then it was indeed he, because the station we were parked at is the closest to where Hislop lives in Sissinghurst.

And he did! At out station, as we got up to leave, so did he. And the couple who had been sitting behind him for the whole journey gave a double take and had an 'Is that Ian Hislop' conversation. And as we waited for the train to stop, Ian Hislop cast a weary look in Andy's direction that said 'Yes, yes, I am he,' before running off into the darkness and diving into the safety of his convertible BMW.(I think it was a BMW - I didn't like to run after Ian to check for certain.)

A perfect end to a perfect birthday! John Barrowman AND Ian Hislop. Who'd have thought it??!!

Monday, 2 November 2009

A Lucky Birthday Girl

First of all, a very happy birthday to Olly, who reads my blog and whose birthday it is today, too! Happy Birthday, Olly!! :-) May this be the start of a happy, healthy and productive year for you.

I am writing this blog on my new Mini Netbook that Andy has given me. It is a lovely little thing, in a shiny burgundy red, with a cute little carry case that Pandora has already commandeered as her bed. Andy also gave me several books, including Hugh's latest cook book, a couple of DVDs, a singing Bagpuss mouse, and a bag of chocolate brazils.

'I got you chocolates with nuts in because I won't be tempted to eat them,' said nut-hating Andy.

And this is the measure of my hubbie, of his kindness and thoughtfulness. Because last night, he waited until I went to sleep and then he crept into the kitchen and made me a birthday cake!! He was up until 1 a.m completing his surprise. What a guy! (And he even purchased a stand-by cake in case his baking went horribly wrong, so now I have two cakes to go with the one my friend Jane gave me on Saturday, which means I have three cakes. And my Mum is popping around later, and she usually makes me a cake, so that'll be 4!! Everyone around mine for cake, then!!)

I am especially thrilled with the singing Bagpuss mouse. I have one already, that Andy bought me as a gift when he went on a trip to the Lake District a few years ago, but it no longer sings the mouse organ song because I was constantly squeezing it and making it sing for my infantile amusement.And I was sad when it ran out of singing power. But now non-singing mouse has a singing companion! Hurrah!!

The sun is shining, I am having a lovely birthday and this evening we are off to see John Barrowman in La Cage aux Folles.

What more could a girl wish for on her 44th birthday?

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Sunday Blog Number Two -NaNoWriMo A Go-Go!

Hello! Here I am, riding high on the wave of a writing buzz. Having spent the last couple of hours or so kicking off my NaNoWriMo 2009 project, I can now announce I am 1,600 words into my 50,000+ words target and if you want to read the novel so far, it can be found at

It is called 'Poulet Nous - The Race to Save Much Malarkey Manor' and is a roller-coaster, rip-roaring action adventure story with a song or two thrown in for good measure. Well, that's the plan anyway, and we all know that plans, no matter how enthusiastically entered into at the start, will go through a phase of disillusionment at some point or another.

Please comment, criticise, remark etc as we go along, as I have a feeling this novel could end up on Lulu for self-publication and it's going to need all the reader feedback (good and bad) it can get in order to help me start the editing process next month. Well, I've got to get one of my books inbetween some shiny covers, haven't I, and if a regular agent/ publisher won't do it for me, then I'll jolly well do it myself! But only if you, loyal readers, think it's worth it.

Also, the nature of the writing project means that I am going for content not quality i.e I won't have time to keep stopping and editing. I have to 'go with the flow', so please excuse any typographical errors, spelling, punctuation or grammar-wise, plus any glaring plot or character errors. But whilst I ask you to forgive them in this first draft, please feel free to point them out to me so I address them in Draft Two. Also, tell me what you like and what you don't like, what makes sense and what doesn't (leaving aside the obvious bizarre and abstract nature of me and Andy talking to and interacting with a bunch of chickens!!)

Happy Reading and thank you all, especially Olly, Diane, Gemma and Andy for your constant support and constructive comments re: my writing.

Hallowe'en and Stuff

Okay, so I didn't wait up until midnight to start NaNoWri as I had planned. Mostly, this is because we went to our friend, Jane's, for dinner and she fed us well on cobbler and pudding and cake. Much cake. And my system went into digestive mode which required all other bodily systems designed to keep me awake to go into sleep mode. So I was spark out by 10.30. I make no apologies - the eating of much cake was GREAT! Thank you Jane!!

And last night was Hallowe'en, too. Whilst I'm not averse to the private celebration of the date itself, I am averse to being harrassed in my own home by bunches of marauding children demanding sweets/crisps/financial recompense for doing nothing more than dressing up in a 'Scream' mask. Yes, I am a 'Trick or Treat' grouch. I do not like it, no I don't, not one jot. When I am an old lady, and if this 'custom' still persists, I am going to sit on my porch with a shaky hand on an air rifle, or spud gun, and see off the local youth in defence of all little old ladies who are left in terror from these intrusive door knockings every 31st October. And when I am brought up in court, which is bound to happen because despite my apparent shaky hand I'll be a darned good shot, I shall plead insanity on account of my being 83 years old. I shall dress head to toe in purple, too, to ensure my acquittal.

Andy made a pumpkin lantern. It was like pumpkin massacre in the kitchen afterwards but, as you can see by the pictures, I'm sure you'll agree the pumpkin did not die in vain. And now I've got a massive bowlful of more slimey pumpkin seeds to deal with.

Back to NaNoWriMo. I haven't been lax on this front this morning. I have been trawling the interwebbly to try and find an alternative blogging site on which to start my month long writing frenzy. I don't have to publish my efforts; I can write everything on Word in the privacy of my own laptop if I so desire, but I don't see why I should have to suffer this artistic endeavour alone, so you lucky and devoted followers of Much Malarkey Manor are coming along for the ride, too! And guess what? After hunting for alternative blog sites, I came full circle to So I am now signing off in order to create another blog spot for NaNoWriMo.

I'll let you know the details by the end of the day so you can join me on the writing rollercoaster should you so desire. Sick bags will be provided. The management will not be held responsible for the quality of the in-flight entertainment.