Friday, 31 December 2010

New Year's Honours

Mrs Pumphrey, when in full throttle, can cover a fair bit of ground in a very short space of time. And sometimes she can go through doors without opening them. Which is what happened this morning.

There I was, in the kitchen, cooking the last piece of meat I shall ever cook in my life(more of this later), when Mrs P comes crashing through the back door, full of end of year excitement.

'She's got it!!' she shouts. 'Mrs Miggins has got it!!!'

'Got what?' I say. I am thinking, how long do I boil this piece of poor dead gammonny piglet for? Do I really care?? God bless its little piggy soul.

'Oooh, it's so exciting,' continues Mrs Pumphrey. 'I knew she'd get it one day and she has.'

'Well,' I say, thinking of all the flu that is doing the rounds at the moment, 'if she will go outside in little more than a flimsy cardi and no tights, she'd bound to get it, isn't she?'

'What are you talking about?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Bird flu,' I say. 'What are YOU talking about?' I say.
'This!' says Mrs Pumphrey. And she waves a newspaper at me.

I squint, mostly because I've had to remove my specs because they keep misting up with the steam from the boiling poor dead gammonny piglet.

'What is it?' I say.
'This week's copy of 'Cocks and Hens,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Look at page 3.'
'Do I have to?' I say, because the last time I looked at page 3 of 'Cocks and Hens' mine eyes were assaulted by a full-frontal shot of Tango Pete wearing little more than a big beaky smile and a feather duster. At least, I think it was a feather duster.

'Yes,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'Read the New Year's Honours List.'

I sit at the kitchen table and open the paper. And there, on page 3, under the list entitled CBE , is the name -'Mrs Laetitia Miggins, for services to egg-laying and comedy, sometimes both at the same time.'

'Mrs Miggins has been made a CBE!' I say.

'Yes,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'A Chicken of the British Empire!'

So, back to the poor dead gammony piglet. I've made a decision following something Andy said over Christmas which, in hindsight, he made regret. We were watching an episode of 'Celebrity Come Dine With Me,' where one of the celebs, don't ask me who coz I've never heard of her, cooked some lamb for her guests despite being a vegetarian herself. Andy thought this was a no-no. He said that if she was a proper vegetarian she should make her guests eat veggie food; she certainly shouldn't be cooking meat for them.

I, having an unusually liberal moment, suggested perhaps she was merely being a good hostess and accommodating her guests' as a good hostess should i.e by putting them first. No, said Andy. If you're a veggie, you don't even cook meat.

And I thought, he's right. Up to now I have still cooked meat for my family (including a rather spectacular goose, God rest its soul, on Christmas Day) because I thought I shouldn't inflict my personal ethics on them, but now I am thinking, no more cooking meat. So if anyone chez the Manor wants dead animal to eat, from here on in they are going to have to cook it themselves.

Including sausages.

And finally, a warm welcome to the Much Malarkey Manor blog to Deanna. Lovely to see in the New Year with a Smiley New Face.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Book of Days

I do like a diary. As you know, because blogging is a type of diary. But this year I have gone for a 'Book of Days', rather than my usual pretty-cover-but-blank-notebook-to-fill-in-randomly-but-sometimes-forget-especially-when-I've-had-a-rubbish-day effort.

A Book of Days is more like an inspirational journal, with ideas about how to make changes in your world, achieve your dreams, and live a simpler, healthier, more fulfilling life. Nowhere in the Book of Days will it say, 'Go on an extravagant shopping spree', or 'Get together with your mates for a good gossip session about your weird neighbours,' or 'Run five miles before breakfast, then treat yourself to half a grapefruit and a glass of wheatgrass. ' (Thank goodness!!)

So yesterday I turned to January. At the start of each month there is a page split into four headings - a mantra, a 'set your intention', something to practice and a project.

Thus for January the mantra is 'Follow Your Passion'. Well, that'd be writing then. And getting my holistic therapy practice up and running. Can I have two passions? Does cake count? What will people think if I start following cake? 'There she goes - the inevitable had to happen at some point. This time next year she'll look like Jabba the Hut.' Best not follow the passion of cake then...

Set your intention is: 'I'm uncovering the talents and desires that will make 2011 my most memorable year. Book of Days will keep me pointed in the direction of my passion.' Coo. My most memorable year, eh? There's a double edged sword if ever I saw one. And a cliche. Still, I think it means I need to keep my Book of Days to hand and make sure I refer to it every day to stop me being distracted from my passions towards more mundane things like ironing and watching DIY SOS.

My something to practice is 'The Passion Quiz.' This is where I came a tad unstuck, and I'm glad I've given myself a couple of day's head start, because if this was January 1st I'd be in a wild panic by now. The quiz required me to complete the following:
1) I'm proudest of...
2) I most value...
3) My ideal day is...
4) My greatest strengths are...
5) Not many people know I...
6) I feel destined to...
7) If I had £5 million I would...

Well, I didn't have any trouble completing numbers 1,2,3,4 and 7. But numbers 5 and 6 remain blank, and those answers, plus a rush of hot flushes, kept me awake most of last night. Is it because I really know the answers but I don't want to commit them to paper? Possibly, with regard to number 5. I mean, would you admit to people you've got piles? But my destiny? Oo-err. Really stuck on that one. Suggestions on a postcard please. (If I was 14, I'd say my destiny was to marry Adam Ant; or if I was being anagrammatic I'd say my density was a lettuce.)

The rest of the quiz involved making three columns entitled a) '20 things I want to be' b)20 things I want to do' and c)'20 things I want to have'. I managed 2 things for a), 1 thing for b) and 2 things for c). So a bit of work to do there then.

And the January project it to 'Assemble a Bliss-o-rama'. To surround myself with sensory input that inspires me - images, sounds, objects, flowers etc etc. Well, that's do-able, because I like our home to be aesthetically pleasing anyway. Unlike my father who, typically builder-like, covered everything with woodchip and magnolia and got narky if anyone stuck picture pins into his fresh plaster work. But I could work on my writing/ therapy room as it currently looks like a post Christmas bomb site at the mo. With an electronic piano sitting pride of place in the middle.

Oh yes! With the demise of the traditional piano, lovely hubbie Andy got me a full-sized piano keyboard for Christmas. So one thing I want to do see b) above, is learn to play the piano properly this year.

So there we are. The Book of Days. A big, slightly scary but ultimately exciting project for 2011.

('Is that anything like our Bok of Days?' says Mrs Miggins.
'Probably,' I say. 'Only slightly less noisy.')

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Into the Fog and Mist

Snow and ice replaced by freezing fog today. We took ourselves off into town to foist more books on the charity shops and play a spot of 'is there anything worth buying in the sales?' And get a hair-do. Me, not Andy. For some reason, my hair has been especially speedy in its growth this last month and a half and, on reviewing the Christmas Day video clips, I was appalled at the way my roots were sparkling in the light of the fluorescent kitchen light. So they needed sorting tout de suite.

As it was, there were plenty of bargains to be had in the sales, namely posh toiletries and titivating fripperies that I wouldn't normally splash the cash on because the splash would be too big. But many half price bargains to be had, so had them I did! I shall be beautifully smooth, soft and scented until June at least.

In the main shopping centre I overheard this conversation outside Hotel Chocolat, the chocolate shop that sells chocolate (the clue is in the name):

Man: Do you think they do coffee in there?
Woman: Well, it's a chocolate shop innit?
Man: Is it?
Woman: I think they do just chocolate...
Man: Really?
Woman: Yeah.
Man: Oh.

I took myself off to Waterstones for some immediate cerebral respite.

Heather has declared all sale shoppers to be the sub-scum plebs of an unevolved human race. Rude, demanding and unreasonable has been the general gist of her post-work reports these last three days where the queues have been long and the tempers have been short. Luckily, my girl is made of stern and resilient stuff. She also has sharp elbows and an equally sharp tongue when required. Even so, she has vowed that tomorrow, her day off, shall be spent in bed doing nothing but watching films and eating Ben and Jerry's. Sounds good to me.

In an attempt to regain his pre-Christmas figure, Andy has decided to move more and sit less. This means that in the evenings every half an hour or so he leaps from the sofa and performs a series of bends and stretches, leaps and bounds around the living room. It is infinitely more entertaining than anything TV can provide.

Two days before Christmas we went to see 'The Phaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaantom of the Operaaaaaaaaaaaaaa' which was very good, especially as one of Heather's uni friends works backstage, so we got a backstage tour after the show. There was a lot of fog and mist in performance, to add atmosphere and possibly hide the workings of the boat on the stage, and I thought the Phantom would have done better wooing Christine if he hadn't revealed the life-size dummy of her wearing a wedding dress that he was keeping in a cage in his underground cave. From that point he was little more than a stalker. But he sang a good song.

And I really liked the way that, in the scene when the chandelier crashes to the ground, two stage-hands rush forward to catch it. Something to do with Health and Safety regulations in British theatre.

But all in all a good night, given more snow was threatened and we could have ended up being stranded in London, or worse, on a train twixt London and home. As it was, the only delay was caused by someone pulling the emergency cord when they got themselves locked in the train's loo.

A case of into the bog and missed? (Dear Lord, that was laboured...)

Sunday, 26 December 2010

A Good Day

You know when people ask you how your Christmas Day was, and you generally reply 'Fine thanks,' because it generally was, but really it was like most other days only with presents and excessive food?

Well, this year I can definitely say that Christmas 2010 was one of the best Christmas Days EVER, and this is why...

... there was very much laughter - an important ingredient for any day of the year
...we didn't wake until 7.30 a.m which is previously unheard of in the history of my Christmas experiences, but a far more civilised start to the day which meant I didn't doze off half way through the evening when all the decent TV has started

...Chris and Leane spent the day with us, with baby Kayleigh celebrating her first Christmas by doing sustained 'look-I'm-standing-all-on-my-own' performances in the kitchen
...Kayleigh ate three profiteroles without with the aid of any cutlery - it was messy, it was funny, it was a moment of joyous foodie extravagance and she got away with it because she is a baby!

...we also discovered that Yorkshire puddings are as big as a baby's face

...we made lunch last well over two hours because we stopped between goose and chocolate bombe for a board game. Pudding was enjoyed much more because of this interlude
...I did not succumb to goose, even though it looked bloomin' marvellous. Instead I made a veggie Christmas pie with squash, stilton, cranberries, walnuts and herbs and oooooohhhhh it was delicious and so I don't mind being a vegetarian at Christmas!

... Kayleigh very obligingly took a one hour nap lasting from the start of the Doctor Who Christmas Special to the end of the Doctor Christmas Special - Andy was very relieved

And so I hope that your Christmas Day contained magic moments such as these and was just that little bit more special than a 'Fine, thanks' day.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Slocombe of the Antarctic

'It's no good...I can't stand it any more!! I have to get out...' shouts Captain Bingo Slocombe.
'Don't be stupid, Bingo!' says General Beakslapper Miggins. 'Listen, old chap, it's treacherous out there. I know we've been trapped for four days now, but we've got to sit it out.'
'But I can't breathe! Oh, the claustrophobia!!' yells Cpt Slocombe.
'Would a slap around the beak help you breathe better, Bingo?' says General Miggins.
'Rather unnecessary, don't you think, Captain?' says Corporal Chuffer Pumphrey, ever the peacemaker.
'Too late!' shouts General Miggins, and delivers a swift slap to the twitchy beak of Bingo Slocombe, who responded thusly -'Ouch! Bloomin' ouch, sir!!'

General Miggins sighs and leaves Corporal Pumphrey to administer a bread poultice to Captain Slocombe's slightly pink beak. She turns back to her diary and records the events of the last few days.

'General's Log, 21st December, the Year of Our Lord 1910. Minus 11 here last night, this being the lowest temperature recorded since 1823, so Granny says. Four days trapped in the tent, blizzards raging outside. We've taken in a moose for extra warmth, but food is running short and not a Harrod's delivery boy in sight.
Bingo's starting losing it. Snow blindness and signs of mental incapacity are obvious, which cannot bode well for future generations of her line. Stupid fool stuck her beak through the tent flap this morning and thought she spotted a patch of fresh greenery. The Corporal and I had to pin her down before she did something stupid. Well, more stupid than usual.'

General Miggins looks up. Bingo seems calmer now; she's eaten most of the bread poultice. After tucking Bingo safely into the moose's armpit for extra warmth, Corporal Pumphrey approaches.

'How much longer do you think, sir?' she says.
'Who knows, Corporal, who knows?' says the General. 'Could be days, could be weeks.'
'Unlikely to be back in Blighty for Crimbo then,' says Corporal Pumphrey.
'Doesn't look like it, Chuffer,' says General Miggins. 'But we'll get through this, I know we will. Even though we've only got half a tin of pilchards and three Jacob's crackers left for rations.'
'Share a pipe and a waffle?' says Chuffer.
'Don't mind if I do,' says General Miggins.

A companionable silence falls across the tent; an uncompanionable fug settles in the air as Beakslapper and Chuffer share a companionable pipe of Old Harry's Rough But Smooth.

They don't see Captain Bingo Slocombe emerge from the moose's armpit and look around. They don't hear her commando crawl along the side of the tent and open the flap a smidge to look out into the blinding white landscape that has surrounded them for over a week now.

'There!' whispers Bingo to herself. 'I was right. There is a patch of greenery out there. Grass and moss if I'm not mistaken. If I could get over to it, I could bring it back, share it with the other chaps. A spot of salad to go with the pilchards...'

She looks around. The General and the Corporal are deep in conversation, something about hanging tin foil balls from the moose's antlers as a substitute Christmas tree. She edges closer to the tent flap and recces the scene. Slip through the flap, jump onto the wheelbarrow handle, then fling herself across the patch of snow and under the garden table to that temptingly delicious patch of green.

'I may be gone some time,' she whispers, though none hear her. And she is gone.

But not for long, as it was. I saw this black feathery object fling itself across the snow from the door of the greenhouse in one graceless bound, having launched itself from the wheelbarrow handle which was parked conveniently just outside the greenhouse, and I saw the black feathery object land under the garden table where it spent five minutes smugly eating some ratty looking grass, before realising it was flipping cold and she'd rather be back inside the greenhouse with the other girls but her path was barred by a snow drift and no way was she strutting herself through that.

So Andy went outside and after a little to and fro dodging game, rugby-tackled Mrs S and deposited her back in the greenhouse.

I wonder what Bingo would have thought of that.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Fat Hens Part Two

'We, the aforementioned 'fat hens', wish it to be known that we are NOT fat, merely fluffy. Furthermore, we should like to distance ourselves from this ridiculous letter writing malarkey. Finally, we should like to finish by saying, 'Fat hen? Ha! Look who's talking? Pot, kettle and black we think. Other than that, Happy Christmas, One and All.'

July - We wrote and illustrated our first book. Three major publishing houses entered a bidding war for the right to publish but we declined their kind offers - we write for the love of the craft, not for material gain or world-wide recognition of our literary talents.

By August, the pineapples were ready for harvesting. What a successful experiment! Of course, the addition of the palm house to the back garden may have helped them on their way. Next year we're thinking coconuts. Our allotment venture continues apace and we're glad to say the minor issue with our allotment neighbour about the positioning of a compost tumbler and support wire for the grapevine, which resulted in the summoning of the police, ended in a verbal warning and the surrender of two kilos of pink fir apple potatoes, a bunch of cornflowers and a lollo rosso. Our grand-daughter proves herself genius material by passing her Maths GCSE with a 'B' grade.

With Christmas just around the corner, we set about preparing for the festivities with gusto. The end of September saw presents brought and wrapped, cards made (yes, busy though we are, we craft our own Christmas greetings - makes you wanna be sick, doesn't it??), goose ordered, and decorations down from the attic, dusted and ready to deck the halls. Well, it pays to be organised, doesn't it? Just in case of snow...

A busy October for Andy, this being his month for Autumn foraging. We can barely get near the kitchen for all the fruits, berries, greenery and dubious looking fungi he brings home to pickle, bottle, preserve, or brew. What larks! Only one bottle of wine exploded this year; luckily we whizzed through casualty in under five hours and the doctor said the damage to Andy's hearing should be minimal.

Decided to host a combined Hallowe'en/ Bonfire Night Extravaganza which went very well despite the gate-crashers from the local primary school. Good news arrived from NetWork South East informing us that the next part of the high speed rail link will not, after all, be passing within six feet of our front door...phew!

And so, here we are, in December with Christmas once more on the door step. It hardly seems 365 days since last Christmas. But don't worry - we're already stocking up on news to fill next year's fat hen letter! Andy is booked up an evening class called 'The Philosophy of the Trumpet' and I'm in training for the Rome to Home Skateboard Challenge. Looks like 2011 will be just as busy as 2010.

Until next year - Happy Christmas and All That Crazy New Year Jazz!!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Round Robin, Fat Chicken

What do you think of round robin letters? You know, the kind of newsy 'this-is-what-we've-been-up-to-this-year-it's-so-fascinating' additions to Christmas cards you receive from people you don't see from one end of the year to the other, or in one case, one decade to another.

Well, we've had a couple this year. I've been threatening for the last three or four years to do one for us, but Andy always stops me, citing madness and boredom as two reasons I shouldn't inflict our tedious little lives on our innocent friends, relatives and passing acquaintances. But I figure that as I've been writing a blog for nearly two and a half years which has done EXACTLY that, he can't really stop me now. So here is my effort, tongue-in-cheek of course, for 2010.

Dear All,

Due to a lack of round robins in our garden this December, I've had to re-format this letter as a 'fat chicken' as we have plenty of those kicking about. I've had to buy larger envelopes but I'm sure you won't mind coughing up the extra postage if needs be.

Firstly, I hope you are all well, and 2010 has been kind to you. Of course, you won't have had HALF the excitement that Andy and myself have experienced this year, but I guess we can't all be thusly blessed, can we?

In January, we entered the Winter Luge Championships in Flangerhangerinnustribrucht, Finland. There was an awkward moment when neither of us found we could fit into our Lycra/ Elastine mix all-in-one bodysuits, due to over indulgence at Christmas (who'd have thought it???!!), but the officials were very good and allowed us to enter attired in bin bags. Despite the extra wind drag caused by flapping plastic, we still managed to knock 8.7 seconds off the World Record, beating Cameroon into second place, which annoyed them greatly.

February brought snow and litter of piglets to the Manor. Andy was all for eating them, especially when he found that if he squinted they looked like a string of chipolata sausages, but being vegetarian I refused to have anything to do with his dastardly plan, and suggested instead we train them as a porcine husky team for the 2011 Winter Sledge Championships in Flangerhangerinnustribrucht, Finland. Andy agreed, but I still count the piggies every day to make sure every single sixteen of them is safe and sound.

In March we became grandparents! Yes, hard to believe I know, unbetrayed as we are by our youthful good looks, but a delightful grand-daughter is now part of our lives. She's growing so fast! Quicker than a Jerusalem artichoke, and that's saying something. The sleepless nights, colicky screaming and indiscrimate farting are now over, and Andy is almost as well-behaved as the baby! If only the persistent dribbling on my new sofa throws would stop...

April. Quite frankly, the least said about April, especially the 1st, and the so-called 'practical joke' involving a potato, an exhaust pipe and an extremely rare 1923 accordian, the better. Suffice to say that Andy is now on four types of medication for his blood pressure and I have early onset middle age piles.

Auntie Carole came to stay in May. It was almost two weeks before Andy and I realised that neither of us has an Auntie Carole, by which time she'd redecorated the spare bedroom in a nautical theme and installed a parrot with personal body space issues. Bribing the local magistrate with a dozen jars of chilli jam has hastened the issue of an eviction notice and I'm looking forward to getting to work on scraping parrot poop from the skirting boards very soon.

June was warm enough for Andy and I to take a holiday in the Upper Nadgers. It's something we've been promising ourselves having always been confined to the Lower Nadgers in previous years, and a small win on the Lottery allowed our dream to come true. The day with the Old Arkle of Pipe Abroad was very enlightening, almost spiritual; an experience we shall remember for ever. Or a couple of months at least...

...Part Two of the Fat Chicken Letter tomorrow. Because I don't know about you, but this is doing my head in!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Dress Rehearsal

The time to make mistakes in a dramatic performance is during dress rehearsal. That's the point of a dress rehearsal, and having produced numerous pantomimes and a couple of musicals and plays, I have always encouraged the performers to cock-up big time during this final run rather than cock-up in front of a ticket-paying audience and making me look a complete nurk because we all know the buck stops with the producer.

It is with trepidation then, that I am asked to sit in on the hens' dress rehearsal for their Nativity play. My sense of trepidation increases when I notice the funny look haunting the eyes of the three camels who've been hired to carry the Three Kings, or, as I have since discovered, the Two Kings plus a Grand Vizier.

'What's up with the camels?' I ask Mrs Miggins, as I nestle my nadgers on a bale of straw.
'Oh, some triviality to do with their contract,' says Miggins. 'They maintain they were hired to carry kings, not Grand Viziers and they're kicking off big-time about extra dates.'
'Performance?' I say. I think, I'm not sure I can cope with more than one performance of this Nativity.
'To eat,' says Miggins. 'Mrs Pumphrey says we shoudn't capitulate because dates give them wind.'
'And you say?' I say.
'Leave it to the lawyers,' says Mrs Miggins. 'Personally, I can't see the difference between a king and a Grand Vizier except the head gear. maybe, and a slightly bigger moustache.'

I nod in agreement.
'Vizier schmizier,' I say.

'Anyway,' says Mrs Miggins, 'what I would like you to do is tick off the items on this list as the dress rehearsal proceeds.' And she hands me a clipboard, topped with a festive piece of holly.
'Okay,' I say.
'And if you could keep an eye on the donkey I'd be grateful,' says Mrs Miggins. 'Only he has a habit of wandering off after he's deposited the Virgin Mary, and leaving enormous poops right next to the manger. And somehow it doesn't seem right to have the Baby Cheeses emerging from a cloud of dung-related steam.'
'Don't you mean Baby Jesus?' I say.
'What did I say?' says Miggins.
'Baby Cheeses,' I say.
'Are you sure?' says Miggins. 'Only that's a very old joke.'
'I know,' I say.

I can only assume the pressure of performance is getting to Mrs Miggins and making her forgetful. I know how she feels. Three years ago, during the dress rehearsal for 'We Will Rock You', I found myself having to leg it to the local builders' merchant to procure half-a-dozen yellow safety helmets for a dance routine because I'd forgotten to get them sooner. I nearly died running up a very steep hill back to school. And were the students grateful? Were they chocolate aardvark.

I digress. From the moment Mrs Pumphrey emerged from the wheelie bin, resplendent in white chiffon, tulle and organza, I was transfixed by the entire performance. Even the camels behaved.

Unfortunately, nothing went wrong. All was perfect. Which leaves me somewhat anxious for the actual, real and proper performance next week. I am almost tempted to suggest to Mrs M that they do another dress rehearsal, just to make sure all cock-ups are dragged out from their hiding places and banished forever and for good.

But I shan't spoil the fun for you by giving away the plot. (What am I saying????)

Maybe say a little prayer to the Baby Cheeses for next week? Just in case?

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Pandora Tree

Pandora is doing her darndest to do a daily de-nude of the Christmas Tree, which is now installed in the newly minimalistic living room. In a cunning plan to thwart her de-nuding efforts, I have covered the tree with tinkly sleigh bells, which act like a festive alarm if the kitten goes anywhere near them. Unfortunately, in an equally cunning double bluff, it is these very jingle bells that she finds the most attractive.

Now last year, when Pandora was merely a kitten of 8 months old, if she wanted something from the Christmas Tree she would fling herself at it with wild abandon, and execute a totally brazen grab and run assault, with not an ounce of finesse. But then that's youngsters for you.

But this year, now she is a teen kitten of 20 months old, she has develop a certain feline wile. Or guile.

(I have to say at this moment that I had a brain-dead moment about how to spell 'wile' so I asked Andy, who confirmed my w...i...l...e suspicions. Unfortunately, I chose to enhance my question with a gesture - I gesture a lot when I am talking - and now Heather and Andy are taking the very unseasonal mick out of me because they said I looked like a squid.)

Anyway, ignoring the lower life forms in the room, back to the wily kitten. She now sits on the back of the sofa just out of swiping distance of the tree. And then she does a series of extravagant padding motions a la 'I'm going to settle down now for sleepy-bye-byes.' But, and here is the cunning wile part, she gradually pads her way towards the tree and then stretches out her paw in a sleepy yawny kind of way and hey presto!! 'Oh look, I have accidentally got a jingle bell stuck to my paw; I shall now run off to the kitchen with it and bat it around until it disappears 'neath the freezer, and you won't find it until, oh, this time next year when you pull the freezer out to defrost it for Christmas goodies.'

And then she might add,' And I'll shove half a dozen biros and some dried pasta shapes under there as well.'

So I am attempting to train Pandora to stay away from the tree, mainly for the good of her own health in that I won't feel so murderous towards her if she keeps her distance.

My training involves:
1) shouting 'Pandora! Leave that b****y tree alone before I throttle you!'
2) aiming cushions in her direction with the aim of startling her away from the tree and not into it, whereby she looks at me with glee and says, 'Ha! That idea backfired, didn't it?'
3) saying plaintively, 'Andeeeeeeeeey, can you make Pandora move away from the tree pleeeeeeeezeeeeeeeeeeeeeee??????????????'
4) shutting the living room door so she can't get at the tree at all, whereby she rewards me by scratching the paint off the newly decorated door
5) reasoning with her by saying, 'Pandora, you are not a teeny kitten any more. You are a grown, sensible puss cat, like Tybalt and Phoebe. If Tybalt and Phoebe can leave the tree alone, so can you. To wit she replies, 'That's only because Phoebe is too old to hoist herself into the tree, and Tybalt does de-nude the tree, only he's very good at re-decorating it before you notice his wanton act of vandalism.'
6) sighing loudly, and saying in a resigned voice - 'Well, don't come running to me if you eat too many pine needles and end up perforating your oesophagus.'

Blimey, I hope she's calmed down for next Christmas. And don't even get me started on the baby who's worked out how to lift the carpet bar between the living room and the hall, and prefers this activity to playing with the myraid of toys I've bought her.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Artistic Differences

I have called a conference because I am having a mini Christmas crisis vis a vis what to have as a table decoration this year. There aren't many things that phase me about Christmas but the things that generally cause me angst every year are 1) Christmas cards 2) wrapping paper and 3) how to dress the dinner table. Number 1 is now solved in that we make our own cards, Number 2 was solved for this year because I found a load of paper left over from last year and thought, 'Hmmmm, this is okay, but 3) the dinner table is still there, haunting me in the wee small hours and changing colour scheme every time I think I'm drifting off to nighty bye-bye land.

Time for some assistance.

'What's the problem and what food are you going to give us to help you solve it?' asks Mrs Miggins, ever the practical one. It is her third birthday today and she is looking pretty fabulous now her feathers have grown back after her November moult. She looks like a cross between Rita Hayworth and that hen that Gonzo Muppet always used to hang around with.

'I have waffles from the Christmas Market,' I say, 'and honey roasted cashews and a yard of Jaffa cakes.'
'Well, there's your answer,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Put the yard of Jaffa cakes down the middle of the table. Should reach from one end to the other without a problem. Balance a row of conkers on top for extra effect.'
'I was hoping for more foliage,' I say.
'Tinsel,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'That's what you need. Tinsel and candles and shiny balls.'
'I did that a couple of years ago,' I say.
'Diggers,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Put a line of diggers in the middle of the table...'
'Are diggers particularly festive?' I ask.
'...or better still,' continues Mrs Slocombe, 'arrange the diggers in a circle, with their buckets raised. You can put a gift in each bucket for each guest.'
'Okay,' I say, 'I'm getting an image now...'
'Like a teabag,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'Or a snail. Snails make good presents.'
'Again, not very Christmassy,' I say.

'I think something simple and classic is called for,' says Mrs Miggins.
'Exactly,' I say. I balance a Dutch waffle on top of each mug of tea. 'Now leave these to steam for a few minutes,' I say, handing the mugs around the table, ' and then the caramel will go all soft and melty.'
'Like a snowman,' says Mrs Miggins.
'Probably not as cold,' I say.
'I mean the simple and classic idea,' says Mrs Miggins.
'Oh, right,' I say.

'Or a model of the skyline of Manhattan crafted from marshmallow and plaster of Paris,' says Mrs Slocombe, who ignores my advice about the waffle and wolfs it down in one.
'No,' I say. 'You're just being silly now.'
'A spacehopper?' says Mrs S hopefully.
'No. Stop it. Have another waffle,' I say.

'I know,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'How about a pyramid of Maltesers studded with nuts and covered in spun sugar?'
'Croquembouche,' I say.
'It was only a suggestion,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'I mean the idea sounds like a croquembouche,' I say. 'I made a croquembouche once. It looked spectacular but the spinning sugar can be a bit tricky.'
'I think a single pillar candle in the middle of a circle of oasis that is packed full of greenery like eucalyptus, fir and holly and punctuated by white chrysanthemums and roses would look good,' says Mrs Miggins.
'Yes,' I say. 'I like it. Simple, yet elegant.'
'Like Jumbo from London Zoo,' says Mrs Slocombe.
'Elegant, not elephant,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Or an elephant,' says Mrs Slocombe. 'An elephant would look fab in the middle of a Christmas dinner table. Especially if it had an meerkat balanced on the end of its trunk.'

I decide to call an end to the crisis conference and send the girls back into the garden with the yard of Jaffa cakes.

Sometimes it is best to solve a crisis under one's own steam.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Busy Bees!

This morning Andy and I were up with the lark because we, or rather I, had decided yesterday to do some furniture re-arranging. It's a woman thing, apparently, and I know Andy would rather I left the furniture where it is, but once I get an urge to shift stuff around there's no stopping me.

My reasons were: we need to find space for the Christmas tree. And, er...

Well, that was about it.

Anyway, we moved the small bookshelf and the tall bookshelf from the living room into my writing room. We moved the TV unit from my writing room into the living room where the small bookshelf had been and the coffee table into the space where the tall bookcase had been. Then we moved the other small bookcase from my writing room up to Andy's study and the tall corner unit in my writing room to the greenhouse where it will be used to grow seedlings upon.

With me so far? Good!

We also moved a lot of dust, cobwebs and cat fur, and Andy hasn't stopped sneezing yet. We hoovered and dusted and downsized our book and DVD collection during a very ruthless ten minutes which involved throwing aforesaid items into either binbags or boxes and shouting 'OUT!OUT!OUT!!!!!!!' before we changed our minds.

And then, during a break, I happened to wander into the 'conservatory.' And lo! what did I behold?? A gazzilion bees darting in and out and around the hive in a dizzy state of excitement because the weather is now mild and the sun was out and it was positively balmy in their corner of the garden. I called Andy; we rushed outside and stood by the hive. Oh the noise of buzzing! Oh the busyness of the bees!

The Malarkey Bees have made it through the worst period of cold weather we've had for years and are still going strong!!!! Allow me a 'Hurrah!' if you will...


So Andy suited up and went to get the feeder. I made more feed - they hadn't quite got through the last lot. And we stood and watched our girls with a mixed sense of pride and relief at their resilience.

Maybe, just maybe, this means they'll get through to next Spring?

And we've got space for the Christmas tree!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Faux Pier

Today, due to a combination of wild enthusiasm and an out of control pencil, I inadvertently explained the concept of a pier to a Year 7 student by drawing what looked like a set of male genitals. I don't think she noticed; if she did, she was far too polite to snigger.

I didn't realise the full impact of my artwork until lunchtime when I was having desk tidy-up. And whilst I blushed a little, and laughed a little, my faux pier drawing reminded me of a teacher I had at secondary school who used to illustrate poetry with his own dubious drawings. This was in the days of blackboard and chalk and the teacher's name was Mr Cauldwell. He must be very, very old now - he seemed old when he taught me, and that was over 35 years ago. I remember quaking in trepidation when the whole of the First Year (as we were called then - none of this Year 7 malarkey) we called together to be setted. Mr Cauldwell took the top set for English and because English was and always has been my most favourite subject, I desperately wanted to be in the top set.

However, my desperation to further my literary career was tempered by fear from the tales that abounded around the school about Mr Cauldwell and his, well, how can we say...peculiarities.

And so very mixed were my feelings when my name was called to join Mr Cauldwell in Room 14.

As it was, he wasn't that peculiar. Many of the tales were unfounded, and I count him as one of my earliest academic inspirations. He inspired hard work, he enthused passionately about his subject, he gave praise where it was due whilst making you feel you had the ability to push yourself that little bit further.

And yes, he did have a range of interesting chalk drawings which nowadays would probably have him hauled up in front of a humourless Senior Management team to be given a formal warning for use of inappropriate teaching aids, and yes, he did spend the first ten minutes or so of every Monday morning lesson telling us about his latest weekend escapades at the naturist camps he and his wife used to frequent, but we had laugh in his class and we learnt a lot and I can still recall the poem 'Oh tender under her breast, sleep at the waterfall.' And the drawing that went with it.

The same school produced teachers who were actually mad. One taught Religious Education with the clear intent of debunking the entire content of the Bible whilst extolling the virtues of the blue whale. Another was reknowned for locking students in his store cupboard and was eventually dismissed for pushing a boy down the stairs. And the lads in my form used to wind up our form tutor to such an extent that he would turn from his usual shade of pink to a violent, luminous puce so quickly I was convinced he was having a heart attack.

Ironically, my old PE teacher ended up being my classroom assistant when I qualified as a teacher myself. Oh what sweet karma that was!

Eventually, at 13, I moved on to a girls' grammar school where my English teacher proved to be nice, but wishy washy, colourless and well, just 'nice'. Ne'er was a naughty sketch in danger of soiling her chalk stick, that was for sure.

But two years with Mr Cauldwell had secured my future as a devotee of the English language and I didn't meet anyone like him until I found myself being taught by a brusque git of a tutor at the OU for two years on the trot who clearly relished our verbal telephone spars, called one of my essays on Borges 'perverse but brilliant' and, on meeting me at a Summer School for the first time declared, 'Oh, I thought you'd be a blonde,' and had the cheek to look disappointed.

And so I come full circle. I tore up my drawing of a pier and consigned it to the bin. I don't know what sort of a teacher my students will remember me as, but I'd rather they spoke of me in terms of a good English teacher than a teacher who couldn't draw for toffee.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Christmas Cards

The other day I received my first ever e-Christmas card. It was very engaging in an interactive-build-a-snowman kind of way. Kept me entertained for at least five minutes. But although they are deemed environmentally friendly, and save on postage and the angst of getting lost/ delayed in the post, you can't hang up an e-Christmas card as a decoration, can you? So for this year Andy and I shall send out the old-fashioned type.

Well, Andy has spent ages drawing a bee-themed card, hasn't he? 'Ding Dong Merrily On Hive' it's called. The design has been printed in tasteful monochrome (okay, the coloured ink has run out of the printer) and decorated with some not-so-tasteful red and green glitter ribbon. Our Much Malarkey Manor logo - Mrs Miggins in semi-profile wearing her Dame Edna specs to add a bit of gravitas - is printed on the back along with the monniker 'Much Malarkey Manor Cards 2010'.

We finished putting them together this afternoon, having spent a morning in Rochester at the Dickensian Christmas Fayre. And stopping off on the way home to buy the Christmas tree. We didn't need to use the traditional cock-a-leg measuring guide for the tree this year because we've re-arranged the living room and so had to go for a smaller tree to stand on a coffee table in the window. We went for a living one planted in a pot. We've got the wild idea of trying to keep it alive for next year. It's a nice little tree - about three and a half feet tall, evenly spaced branches and it sort of chose us so we bought it. And from the Dickensian Christmas Fayre we brought home a truckle of deliciously strong Cheddar cheese, some Dutch waffles, a wreath made from dried oranges and cinnamon sticks which smells divine, and a duck. Not real. A toy push-along variety with entertaining flippety-flop feet. For Kayleigh. But don't tell her. And a new board game for family larks on Christmas Day. Oh, and some mistletoe. For snogging.

'Let's put on some Christmas music and finish our Christmas cards,' I said, because it seemed a cosy coupley thing to do. Out came the double sided sticky tape, the ribbon cutting scissors, the address book. Andy got over-excited and made a complete ribbon-cutting pig's ear of the first card.

'Put it down,' I shrieked, immediately over-taken by control-freakery urge I develop during such activities. (Thank heavens Andy is a Taurean - so stoical and forgiving when I have these irrational issues). 'I'll do ribbons, you do writing.'

And so we did! I also had to do quality control and stamp sticking, Andy was in charge of printing extra cards and addressing envelopes. We sung along to Christmas songs, sometimes making up our own unsavoury lyrics, and we created a rather nifty cottage industry production line. Sometimes we had to put extra P.S's in the cards to explain the bee theme to people who wouldn't know that 2010 has been the Year of the Malarkey Manor Bee-Keeper.

'I wonder what our card theme will be next year?' I said. 'Last year, chickens, this year bees...'
'I don't know,' said Andy. 'I suppose it depends on what we get up to in 2011.'
'We've got the cats to fall back on if 2011 is a damp squib in the new venture stakes,' I said.
'I'm not sure they'll appreciate that,' said Andy.
'Ahahahahahahaha!' I said.

Then ducks, maybe?

Monday, 6 December 2010

Worry Bee Not

We've been a little taddly concerned for our Malarkey bees, being new beekeepers as it were and this our first Winter, harsh and snowy, cold and icy, as such it were etc et al (Sorry about the verbosity - I am currently engaged in Stephen Fry's latest tome and he don't half go on and it don't half rub off, entertaining though he is).

You see, we think we've done all we can to get them safely through to next Spring - healthy young queen, plenty of freshly hatched brood, a hive almost full with honey stores, a couple of buckets of top-up sugar feed, a sheltered spot which catches what there is of a Winter's sun. A closed floor for warmth, enough ventilation so they don't drown in bee-breath condensation. And every now and then I go and press my ear hopefully against the side of the hive and listen for humming.

But because it's been soooooooooo cold of late, there hasn't been a sound. Not a beep, nor a hum, nor a buzzette. We are trying not to think that they are all inside, well, you know...freezing to the 'd' word. We are hoping they are all snuggled together in an enormous bee ball, keeping warm, looking after their truly magnificent Queen Philibert, so when the time comes next year and the sun is more over the yard arm than 'neath it, she'll burst forth in all her majestic glory, soar into the sky and shout, 'Hear I am, boys, drone me up,' or words to that effect, and the whole glorious process of making baby bees can start again and hopefully be so successful we can make an artificial swarm to pop in our top-bar hive (current residents - 2 dead spiders and half a fly). Of course, the frustrating thing is that we can't take the hive lid off because that would let all the cold in and our bees would definitely be done for.

Good grief, bringing up bees causes more worry than bringing up children. But then they make more honey and less mess than children, so I suppose there are pros and cons to either and/or.

And then...last the snow...there appeared overnight... the dead bodies of about a dozen bees. They were fresh, because they were balanced on the new-fallen snow. We could see them. Plain as anything.

Well, you'd think this would be cause for sadness, and yes, for those bees it was, and I said a little bee blessing in thanks for their busy, useful and fulfilled lives.

But it was also cause for celebration! Because it meant that those poor dead bees had been cleaned from the hive by the bees inside the hive. Which means the colony is still alive and doing housework!! Well, I suppose there's not much else to do in this weather, is there? Not for a bee, anyway.

I took courage from this sign. Our colony appears to have made it through this really cold snap.

Fingers crossed for next Spring.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Easy come, easy snow...

It was like living in a waterfall yesterday. As quickly and as thickly as the snow had fallen over the previous three days, it all but disappeared in the space of twelve hours when higher temperatures and a goodly dollop of rain took over.

And now all that remains of snow is the odd plop here and there. Roads are clear, pavements are, at the worst, slushy, and people are appearing in their droves to catch up on all the retail therapy they missed in the three days they were housebound.

It's a bit sad, really. But such is the focus of our economy these days.

Yesterday I started knitting a frog. Like you do. It was a bit awkward on account of the fact that Kayleigh was visiting and it is a well-known fact that newly mobile babies, like cats, are irresistibly drawn to things that are of no concern to them whatsoever. And knitting with a Kayleigh baby hanging off the end of your needles and a Pandora cat determined to kidnap your ball of wool, would try the patience of the most saintliest of knitters.

I am thinking I ought to knit myself a hat. I don't normally allow my head to frequent a hat - I find hats strangely disturbing; they seem to awaken strange memories from a distant past. But with the weather having been VERY cold this last week, and my only head covering being a rainhood on my gardening coat, I found myself trying on hats in BHS and thinking perhaps a hat would be a good idea.

'They don't half heat your head up quickly, don't they?' I said to Andy, who was trying not to laugh as I performed my bizarre hat shuffle under the beady eye of a shop assistant who clearly thought I was on a middle-aged muckabout and had no intention of purchasing a hat at all.
'Yes,' said Andy, who is an ardent hat 'n' balaclava wearer and has spent much of this week in the guise of a mysterious Ninja-type.

Anyway, I overheated very quickly and thus abandoned my hat flirtation, but not before I had ascertained that I quite like the big-round-pouffe-of-fur-look-of-Lara-from-Doctor-Zhivago. I think it's because the roundness balances out my long face, and the lack of cling means the odd bumpiness of my skull remains hidden.

Have I told you about my head bump? I think I have. On the left hand side of my head about two inches above my ear, I have a bump the size of, oh, a walnut maybe? It isn't noticeable 'neath my fortunate accumulation of thick hair, but it is noticeable when I wear a skin tight swimming hat, for example, or when I say 'Feel my bump' to people. (Which, rest assured, doesn't happen very often.) As far as I know I've had this bump all my life. It's been checked by a doctor who declared it to be 'part of your head' and I like to think, that in phrenology terms, it indicates my highly intellectual disposition. Actually, I think it hovers half-way between the intelligence area and the empathy area; either way, I remain unfussed.

So I am now on the hunt for a pouffey furry hat. Faux fur, of course. Unless I can persuade one of the cats to balance on my head.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Reach For the...Stars?

Of course, it's been rather nice having some unexpected time off work thanks to the snow, not least because I've been able to catch up with housework and get on with more writing. I've started a new Nearly King Jimbo story today and managed to whip out 1500 words before I could say 'writer's block -what writer's block?' I was thinking as I wrote that this year I have become a writer. My ambition has been realised.

And it's been good standing at the living room window, staring out at the stillness of the world and wondering what 2011 will bring. According to a magazine I bought last week, 2011 sees a return of Venus to my star sign which is good (apparently) and a recurrence of the kind of good fortune I last experienced in 1983.

1983?? I can barely remember what happened last year sometimes, let alone 1983. I tried to think. I was 17, 18 years old. I had left school. I had passed my driving test. I didn't have a clue what to do with my life but was considering a career in psychiatric nursing (I started the course but it was short-lived as I soon decided that crazy people had enough to cope with without me being foisted into their lives). But then I remember thinking that 1983 was a time I thought I should work for myself, maybe start up a business. So perhaps 2011 will be a good time to set myself up as a limited company, something I have been considering for a couple of months now.

I have the urge for another ambition, another goal. Luckily, I managed to talk myself out of applying to run in the London Marathon after having spent the previous few hours thinking what a great idea it would be. Oooh, I have to be careful of my impulsive behaviour sometimes. Cor, can you imagine it? Me pounding 26 point whatever it is miles?? Perish the thought!

Some amibitions, like the writing one, I feel I've achieved. I am happy with what I've done and I know wherever it goes, my writing will continue apace. But it is time to accept that other ambitions, I think, are likely to remain unfulfilled. Like being a size twelve. (HA!) And living on a small-holding. After all, we've got the allotment, the hens and the bees. We like what we've got and we manage it within the parameters of our lives. It is good. It is enough.

But what next? Ooooh, it's like waiting for an exciting guest to arrive!

The Things I Do

So the camels for the chickens' Nativity have arrived and are taking up a not inconsiderable space on the front drive. Also, being a desert animal, they are not liking the snow.

'Ere,' they said last night, when I went to wrap them up in blankets for the night. 'Wot is this stuff, innit?'
'It's snow,' I said. 'And can I just say that if you have any issues regarding the accommodation, you should speak with the hens. They are currently ensconsed in the greenhouse, and are entirely responsible for your being here. Especially the ginger one.'

And I stomped back indoors. Indoors contained more problems of a Nativity nature. Mrs Pumphrey has commandeered my sewing machine in order to make costumes for the Angel Gabriel and her attendant cherubs.
'Wasn't the Angel Gabriel a chap angel?' I said.
'Normally, yes,' said Mrs Pumphrey. Actually she said, 'Mmmppfhh, mppphhh, esssss,' but she had a beakful of pins. 'But I am playing the Angel Gabriel and I am a girl and I intend to look as glamorous and girly as possible.'
'Hence the yards of cream silk and pink sequins,' I said.
'Indeed,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'And I want bridesmaids, I mean, attendant cherubs.'

I can't help but think Mrs P hasn't quite got over the engagement of Prince William.

And then there is the ox in the conservatory. And the lambs. Well, not lambs, because it's completely the wrong time of year for lambs, but Mrs Slocombe assures me that if you shear a fully grown sheep before the performance and squint a bit from the back of the audience they look like lambs. The oxen has taken a fancy to Andy's man chair by the radiator. Andy is not pleased.
'There's an ox in my man chair,' he said when he got home from work the other day.
'It arrived today,' I said. 'It's appearing in the hens' Nativity.'
'Can't it stay outside with the camels?' said Andy.
'Apparently not,' I said. 'Something to do with Equity rules.'
'Well, at least make him get out of my man chair,' said Andy.
I look at Andy like he's mad.
'You move him,' I said. 'I've been arguing with camels all day. There's no way I'm picking a fight with an ox.'

The sheep arrived the next day. I don't mind sheep. I find sheep rather endearing. Except when they decide to alphabetise the contents of my kitchen cupboards. I arrived home from a snowy walk to find my organised cupboard space totally awry because the sheep decided that everything beginning with 's' should be stored in the same space.
'But I don't want all the saucepans and spoons in the same space,' I said.

'What did she say?' said the chief sheep.
'I have no idea,' said the second in command.
'I think she said she is pleased we've sorted out her cupboards for her,' said a third.
'Good,' said chief sheep.

I went to the greenhouse.
'Mrs Miggins,' I said, as crossly as I could given I am very fond of her. 'Is any more livestock likely to arrive at the Manor only I'm running out of space and Andy is a bit narked that there is an ox in his man chair.'
Mrs Miggins consulted a list that was hanging from the greenhouses ventilation handle.
'A donkey,' she said. 'And three armadilloes.'
'Armadilloes?' I said. 'There were armadilloes at the Nativity?'
'Don't be ridiculous,' said Mrs Miggins, 'it's just the Donkey won't perform without them.'
'Of course not,' I said. 'Silly me.'

And so I wait with nervous anticipation for the arrival of the Donkey and its performance support armadilloes. I bet you do, too.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Three Toasty Hens

'Well, this is more like it,' says Mrs Miggins. 'Far more Orangery than the Orangery.'

With the snow still falling non-stop 48 hours after it started, Andy and I made the executive decision this morning to move the hens into the greenhouse. They were refusing to leave their pod and we were growing concerned about their little legs getting all stiff, and the fact they didn't seem to be eating much.

So we removed edible stuff like our new strawberry plants, and spread a load of straw over the floor. We transfered the pod and now the hens are having a whale of a time in the greenhouse, eating spiders and digging up a flower trough that has been retired for the Winter but is still full of potting compost thus making it into a lovely dust bath.

With the chickens now warm and draft-free, able to stretch their legs, dust-bath and eat and drink properly, we set off into town for a spot of exercise.

And what a lovely morning we had! The snow fell non-stop but town was very empty. Lots of shops were closed, but the important ones like Waterstone's with their coffee shop were open. We popped in to see Heather who was at work being bored because there were no customers, so I bought a pair of red and white jim jams decorated with polar bears just to give her something to do and probably doubling the morning's profits in one fell swoop. Then into the virtually deserted coffee shop where we had a hot chocolate with whipped cream and a chocolate muffin sitting by the window watching the world go by. A quick visit to Sainsbugs, a quick visit to BHS to try on hats and then a slow walk home through the snow.

And still it snows. The sky is the same colour as the snow-covered roof tops. Although the forecasts suggest it should be stopping, the sky doesn't seem to be taking any notice. Andy and I are snuggled by the fire watching 'A Muppet Christmas Carol' and wondering when would be the best time to go and clear the driveway in anticipation of going back to work tomorrow. I'm just thinking about knitting a frog. Like you do.

Wherever you are I hope the snow isn't causing you too much grief. And even though it is cold outside I hope you are with people who are making you feel warm and loved.

And that your chickens (and other assorted livestock/ pets) are toasty and realise how lucky they are to have you as an owner!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Blowing a Blizzard

In an attempt to be nice to the birdies during this bleak, blizzardy weather, I managed to grate my thumb on the grater whilst grating some bread. It still hasn't stopped bleeding, so now I'm worried I've got some kind of clotting disorder as I'm well past the bleeding time for this kind of scrape. Actually, it reminds me of that moment in one of the Doctor in the House films when Sir Lancelet Spratt says to a medical student, 'You, boy. What's the bleeding time?' to wit the student replies, 'Five past eleven, Sir Lancelot,' or some such witty malarkey.

Normally I wouldn't grate bread. I'd just do a finger crumble or a whizz in the blender, but 1) the blender jug is the fridge as I've just cooked and squished up the last if this year's tomatoes into passata, and 2) the bread I used was the leftover of a particularly full-bodied and chewy wholemeal soda bread I made at the weekend which even my fingers were having trouble crumbling. My fault - I think I added too much black treacle just to finish up the tin, and the bread came out more biscuity.

Anyway, school is closed because we are breeding a generation of wimps who can't get to school for whatever pathetic reason they deem fit to offer, and I find myself with an unexpected day at home. This is okay, because it means I can get on with odds and sods of stuff and sit in the warm listening to the county chaos unfolding on local radio. It's bitter outside - wind, snow, wind, ice, wind, get the idea. Andy has gone to work because he is good like that and has a high sense of moral duty. The journey was twice as long as usual, but he texted that he'd arrived safely and was now on gritting duty. Did he mean 'gritting'? Yes, I'm sure he did...

So, I've passata-ed, I've baked. I've wrapped up Christmas presents, I've tried to entice the hens from their pod. They're staying put, so I've concocted a complicated food 'n' water station which means they can eat and drink without having to step outside their cosy little house. But if the weather continues in this blizzardy vein, I shall have to de-camp them to the greenhouse just so they can stretch their legs properly.

'We should have a small-holding with a barn,' I said to Andy. 'A barn would be ideal for chickens in this blizzardy kind of weather.'

And then we sighed at the impossible dream...

Meanwhile, the cats are squishing up together on the sofa, or squishing up against me which is impeding elbow room for typing. One of them has wind; I think it might be Pandora. Phoebe is squished up in an empty shoe box. Radio Kent is awash with people moaning about the appalling train services and the appalling council gritting services. It is also awash with people offering help to vulnerable people - for example there is an eleven year old girl talking at the moment offering to help elderly people near to where she lives by clearing paths and driveways or taking them dinners of stew that she and her mum have been cooking all morning. Awwwww.......

I am glad I am at home. I have knitting and sewing and telly watching planned for this afternoon. It's cold, it's Winter, it's Advent. I can feel 'A Muppet Christmas Carol' coming on.

It's all good.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Natchickity Story

'We are putting on a proper Nativity this Christmas,' announces Mrs Miggins. 'Mrs Slocombe says her crotch still hasn't recovered from last year's Winter Extravaganza and she'd prefer to do something far less strenuous this year.'

She is in the kitchen of the Manor, sifting through the rustic basket that contains my selection of dodgy but much loved tea towels. 'Have you got anything in stripes?' she continues.

'No,' I say. 'As you can see, my eclectic collection extends to plain and spotty, and sometimes to novelty but not to stripey.'

'Oh,' says Miggins. 'Er, will you be in later today? Only I'm expecting a delivery that needs signing for.'
'Which is?' I say.
'A camel,' says Miggins. 'Possibly three.'
'I'm not taking delivery of three camels for you,' I say. 'Absolutely not, no way, no how, never.'
'But we can't do a Nativity without camels,' says Mrs M. 'What will the Wise Men sit upon?'
'How about chairs?' I say, thinking there would be a lot less mess to clear up if three leather high backs were installed on set rather than three automatic poop machines.
'We'll discuss camels later,' says Miggins.
'Anyway, why can't you sign for your own camels?' I say.
'I have auditions,' says Miggins. 'Mary and Joseph, Angel Gabriel, Angel Delight and Shepherd's Pie.'
'Shepherd's Pie and Angel Delight?' I say.
'Luncheon with Tango Pete,' says Miggins. 'He's schmoozing me for a role in the Nativity. First King as long as he can wear his gold lamee pants.'
'Mrs Pumphrey won't like it,' I say.
'Oh, she won't mind,' says Mrs Miggins. 'She's way too busy sewing sequins on her Star of Bethlehen costume.'
'And what of Mrs Slocombe?' I say. 'Which role is she to play?'
'Scrooge,' says Mrs Miggins.
'Scrooge isn't in the Nativity,' I say. 'At least not in the version I know.'
'There's your problem,' says Mrs Miggins. 'This is a different version of the Nativity. A cutting edge, hot new take on an old story. With a twist of lemon.'

'I can't wait,' I say.
'I bet you can't,' says Miggins.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Away in a Manger

There is a knock on the back door, which is unusual because any visitations from the back garden are generally preceeded by the crashing open of the door, the letting in of an icy blast of chill air (at this time of year anyway) and a chorus of 'COOOOO-EEEEEEEEE!!!!! Any cake to be had?'

I open the door. I can see why knocking was the only option available to the knockee, who is Mrs Miggins. She is dressed in at least three Winter jumpers topped with a huge scarf, and thus her wing stretch ability is limited. Actually, she can't move her wings at all, and has had to attract my attention using her beak.

I check the garden thermometer. Minus seven and a half degrees.

'Morning Mrs M,' I say. 'What can I do for you?'
'It's about this here Orangery that Andy has installed,' says Miggins. I glance behind her and see Mrs Pumphrey and Mrs Slocombe installed 'neath in the Orangery, their toes er...well, toe deep in the straw I strewed yesterday. Mrs Pumphrey is practising her American Smooth for the Strictly Come Dancing semi's and Mrs Slocombe is singing thus...

'Good King Whatsisface looked out, on the beast of Bodmin
Lots of snow lay hereabout, some robins they were bobbing,
Brightly shone the moose that night
Though the frogs were cru-el,
Then an aardvark came in sight
Boasting of his toooo-oooo-ellllllll!'

...she sang.

'That's not the right words and you know it,' I call to here. She waves back. At least I think she's waving - it's difficult to tell when she's wearing mittens.
'It's your fault,' says Mrs Miggins.
'How so?' I say.
'They are thinking the Orangery is more like a stable,' says Mrs M. 'Especially since you strew the straw. She's cranking up for Christmas.'
'I'm expecting a visitation from the Angel Gabriel,' shouts Mrs Pumphrey, mid-rondez.
'I'm just waiting for the one with the gold,' shouts Mrs Slocombe. 'Bring me grapes and bring me cheese, but not too much, they make me sneeze....' she continues singing.

'I suppose they do look a bit Nativity-esque,' I say. 'So which part are you playing in all this? The Virgin Mary? Ahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!'
'Watch it,' snaps Miggins, 'or I'll invite you out to play the cow.'
'I apologise,' I say. 'But what do you want me to do about the Orangery/ Stable/ Manger issue? It's dry, it's warm, it'll be good to shelter in from the snow the Met Office keep promising. And you've got to admit that you love the straw that I strew.'
'Well, yes, we do,' says Miggins. 'But could you have a word with Andy and ask him if he can make it look a bit more, well, Orangery?'
'Like painting it orange?' I say. 'Ahahahahahahahahaha! Blimey, I'm on fire today, aren't I?'
'Hmmmmm....' says Miggins giving me a bit of a look. 'I was thinking more along the lines of installing a wood burning stove, some comfy chairs, a few angora throws and a cocktail cabinet. Possibly a toasting fork.'
'I'll see what I can do,' I say. 'Anything else?'
'Yes,' says Miggins. 'Roll me back to the others, will you? I can't move. My feet have frozen to the ground.'

Saturday, 27 November 2010

A review and keeping toes warm!

I should like to say thank you to Sarah who posted notes of delight on her blog following her reading of Nearly King Jimbo. She enjoyed it enormously, and has called for there to be sequels. She has even suggested ideas for titles, one of which was a bit iffy and involved a certain genre of adult film; Nearly King Jimbo wouldn't get involved in such shenanigans, I'm afraid, well, not if he wanted to stay off the front page of the News of the World anyhow. And Alice would be appalled. (However, I shan't bring up the past of his mother, the Queen, as she might take offence and sue me.)

But thank you anyway, Sarah - it means a lot that you have bought the book, read it and felt it worthy enough to recommend to other people. Bless you, and come around for some cake when you're next passing by.

So, up with the lark this morning and out into the garden to scatter straw hither and thither amongst the grounds of Cluckinghen Palace. I am convinced that the recent plunge in temperature (minus 6 this morning - brrrrrrrrr!!!), means that I'm going to come home from work one day to find Les Mesdames iced to the ground and unable to move.

'Well, that's not going to happen,' says Mrs Pumphrey who has got over her disappointment at not being a Queen of England in waiting by going shopping and treating herself to a pair of Ugg boots. 'Not now I've got these babies,' and she waggles her feet at me and promptly falls over because one should never waggle both feet in the air at once unless one is sitting on one's assets.

'And I've got these,' says Mrs Miggins, showing off her Fat Face Furry Slipper Boots. She got a pair after seeing the ones Andy got me for Christmas last year which I ADORE because they are so soft and warm it's like walking around wearing a cat on each foot.

'And as long as I can stay balanced on these stilts,' says Mrs Slocombe,'my feet shall ne'er come in contact with the ground all this Winter.'

I am suspicious of this. I know what she's like after a Christmas sherry or five.

'That's as maybe,' I say. 'But I am still worried about the freezing ground and your skinny little chicken feet becoming as one. Therefore, I am going to scatter a goodly layer of straw around the place, so get over it.'
'If you must,' says Mrs Miggins.
'I must,' I say, and set about scattering.

I scattered in the bivouac, I scattered under the new orangery. Oh yes, Andy has built an orangery at the Palace. Okay, it's a wooden frame with a bit of corrugated roofing plastic tacked to the top, but it forms another light and airy shelter for the Winter and you know what the girls are like about naming the various architectural aspects of their abode. I tried to scatter under the pod, but the eucalyptus tree that was, is still determindely sending out baby branchlettes, so I need to crawl into the undergrowth and have a prune if a want to stand even a snowball's chance of getting any straw under there.

And then the chickens followed behind me and had a riotous time scattering the straw out of the bivouac and out of the orangery and all over the place.

But even they had to admit it was a jolly good idea and would keep their toes extra toasty warm in this weather.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Can I just say...?

Can I just say that all I have to say about AOL is their customer service deserves 'nil points?' And that they don't understand the concept of a) keeping their customers fully informed of doings with their account and b) what 'automated customer service line' means? Can I just say that Wickes' customer services deserve 'douze points?' because a) they are cheerful, polite and b) they ANSWER THE FLIPPIN' PHONE rather than letting it ring and ring and ring before putting you on hold FOREVER so they can take your money at x amount of pee per minute in order to boost their coffers?

And can I just say that only one of the encounters with aforesaid customer services has this prevented me from writing my blogette and I'll leave it up to you to ascertain which one?

And can I also say a BIG huggly 'thank you' to you if you have supported the efforts towards making 'Nearly King Jimbo' a global literary success by purchasing a copy from Lulu?

And that I was rather thrilled that I got a lovely tax rebate with my salary this month and I did a little 'Yay! Christmas!' jig in the office where I have nested in order to do tutoring?

And can I just point out to one of my tutees that arachnids are NOT called arachnids because they come from Iraq, despite what he thinks he might have heard on the telly once?

Can I just say that my grand-daughter is turning into a very knowing little human being, which suggests to me she is in possession of a highly intelligent brain, and that I could squeeze her until she squeaks because she is soooooooo scrummy?

And can I say that I hope Phoebe's tummy upset clears up soon because all this week I feel like I've done little more than clear up cat doo-doo and am beginning to think I'd rather eat rice pudding and we all know how I feel about rice pudding?

Also, can I say that even though I fight very hard against fuelling Andy's obsession with Doctor Who, we actually had a cake to celebrate Doctor Who's birthday yesterday?

And finally, that I am glad Ann Widdecombe is still in Strictly Come Dancing because she caused me to laugh so much at her performance last Saturday that I almost wet myself!

Go Ann!!!!!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

A Right Royal Let Down

I am afraid I cannot stay long today as I am tending to Mrs Pumphrey who is bereft at the announcement that Prince William is to marry Kate Middleton.

Mrs Pumphrey was led to believe she had an 'understanding' with the aforesaid Prince, and that when she came of age (next week) it would be she who would become Gloria, Princess of the Kent and Light Sussex Borderland, and ultimately Queen Gloriana Windsor I.

She was even taken last weekend by a Royal bodyguard to H Samuels to choose an engagement ring; however, on hearing the Royal announcement yesterday, in a fit of understandable pique she climbed onto the roof of the Manor, declared the Prince a love-rat and promptly swallowed the engagement ring.

This facilitated a visit to casualty in order to retrieve the ring which, had Mrs Slocombe not interferred with its descent by tossing an ill-timed swede into a prevailing wind, would most likely have gone down the hatch and out the other end without a problem.

Tango Pete, who has long held a torch for Mrs Pumphrey (especially when she has to go into the cellar to bring up the coal) rescued her from the roof using a fireman's lift and a bungee rope. And since that hour, Mrs Miggins and I have been administering tender care to our beloved and broken-hearted friend. Mrs Slocombe has been less sympathetic, mostly because she is appalled at the waste of a perfectly good swede.

We have suggested that there is another Prince waiting in the wings but Pumphrey will have none of it. Apparently, she couldn't possibly marry someone with ginger hair and pink cheeks who regularly falls out of night clubs wearing dubious fancy dress uniforms and spend his weekends flying helicopters. Something to do with her high standing at the Ladies' Crochet and Croquet Guild.

I shall keep you all posted...

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Return of the Psycho Penguin

It's that time of year when you find yourself greeting the morning in the dark. This is okay, because after 45 odd years one becomes adept at stumbling around in the gloom to get dressed so as to avoid startling one's high blood pressure hubbie by slamming on the lights and shouting 'Wakey, wakey! Up and at 'em!! Start the day with a smile and get it over and done with!'

And only occasional does one find oneself at some point in the day walking around with one's pants on inside out or an ill-matching sock combo.

Anyway, on rising yesterday, I could hear something odd going on upon the landing. There came a noise like Bagpuss sings Fiddy Cent (or whoever that disgraceful rapper type person is or was, they all seem to get shot these days, or possibly Dappy from N that right???). So I stood on the landing trying to gain my bearings. Did Heather have a new alarm clock, I wondered. If so, I much prefered the beep-tiddly-beep-tiddly-beep-tiddly one she had previously. Was it coming from next door? Was it coming from outside? I waited until my hearing achieved its usual bat-like sonar quality, and then I realised it was coming from the loft. And then I worked our what it was.

'I love you....Merry Christmas! I love you....Merry Christmas! I love you....Merry Christmas!'

Over and over and over again on a madly incessant loop.

'It's those bloody penguins!' I said. 'They're in the loft in the Christmas decoration bag and somehow their magnetic beaks have become locked in a penguin kiss and set them off.'

I banged open the bedroom door and slammed on the light.

'Can you hear that?' I yelled at Andy. (At this point, to my shame, I showed a blatant disregard for his blood pressure.) 'That possessed penguin toy you bought me two years ago has set itself off in the loft!'

And then I crashed about, unravelling the loft ladder and making a quite unholy racket for 6 in the morning. And all the while, the psycho penguins carried on - 'I love you....Merry Christmas! I love you....Merry Christmas! I love you....Merry Christmas!' Arrghhhhhhhh!!!! (That was me, not the psycho penguins.)

Anyway, Andy went up the ladder into the loft to sort them out because I was convinced at this point the Christmas decoration bag had been set flying by a giant rat that had taken up residence, or possibly an escaped convict or a Doctor Who monster or Andy's until now unrevealed lunatic first wife a la Mrs Rochester in the attic.

The psycho penguin beaks were duly unattached, Andy took his blood pressure pills and all was well.

Until I got home from tutoring. It's an early finish on Monday, more like a half day really, which is nice. I picked up the post from the doormat. One for me. From an insurance company offering me cheaper home insurance because I am over 50.

'Nooooooooooo!!!! 45....I am 45!!!!!' I ranted, remembering the blog I wrote a week or so ago and thinking Saga will be after me next.

And then, an hour or so later, my mobile went off. Unknown number. I answered, in case it was a hospital or police station or the Ernie bonds.

'Hello?' I said.
'May I speak to Mrs Denise Hunt?' said a voice.
'Speaking,' said I.
'Hello Denise, my name is Mike and I'm calling from hfwq[48hnfrag;bfr;ng'' said Mike.

Well, two points of irritation here. 1) I don't know Mike from byf8pqbuyapbfrai;fbrya;b so his address seemed rather familiar I thought and 2) what the heck was hf79qpyapb;bgfsbgy;qg'qb? Honestly, some people do mumble.

Anyway, h7[wygt[ahnu5gnpa;hgn'[wgh turned out to be a company who ring people to offer free (ha!) reviews of their pension arrangements because they want to make sure people are getting the best deal especially since the Government have brought in recent changes to pension schemes. Have they? I thought. Actually, I was still feeling tetchy about Mike's over-familiar and persistent use of my Christian name so I wasn't really absorbing his sales patter.

'So, Denise,' Mike continued, 'what provision have you made for your pension and what are the current values?'

'Pardon me?' I said.

'Your pensions, Denise,' said Mike, who clearly wasn't picking up the subtle undertones of irritation that were peppering my responses, 'how many pension plans do you have? What are their values.'

'Quite frankly, 'Mike' ' I said, 'my pensions arrangements are none of your business and I am NOT prepared to discuss them with you.'

At this point he hung up on me! How dare he!!! I was the affronted one. If there was any hanging up to be done, it was to be done by me!!!

Well, Andy arrived home at this point so I had a bit of a rant and all was well.

But if you're reading this 'Mikey pal', my pension arrangements revolve around paying off the mortgage as soon as possible, selling the house and then swanning around the countryside staying in posh hotels until the money runs out and then dumping myself on the doorstep of either and /or both of my children and making as much nuisance of myself as possible until I go to the great retirement home in the sky.

Is that 'plan' enough for you.

Today's blog was brought to you by 'PossessedByAPsychoPenguin. com' for all your irrational pension ranting needs.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Full Stop

Well, the excitement when our copy of Nearly King Jimbo arrived! I felt a little ridiculous, feeling so thrilled about it really, but it has turned out sooooooooo well! I mean, it looks like a proper book for heaven's sake.

'The only thing,' I said to Andy as we sat staring at our artistic baby, 'is that I don't think I can bear to read it in case I find any errors.'
'Yes,' said Andy, who had already picked unnecessary holes in his wonderful illustrations. 'I know what you mean.'

For we had edited and edited and gone over the final script with a fine tooth biro and it seemed that every time we looked at it, we found something not quite right. But finally we convinced ourselves the copy was as perfect as it was going to be and Andy pushed the 'Send' button and away it went.

I am doing quite a bit of reading at the moment. In fact I have just finished 'The Red Queen' by Philippa Gregory which was very good. And as I read it, because I still had my editor's brain to the fore, I found three very obvious typos. So today, when I read a bit of Nearly King Jimbo, I wasn't too upset on finding an errant full stop. Just a little bit, but not too much. Well, if a multi-million selling author like Gregory employs a proof reader who lets obvious mistakes slip through, I think that me, the amateur, can be forgiven the escape of a little full stop. Maybe. Still a bit irksome though. Stop thinking about it....okay....I've stopped...

So, this week has gone really quickly. A bit of part-time tutoring has brought in some cash, and a visit to the theatre yesterday brought in some cultural stimulation. We went to see 'The Rivals' by R.B. Sheridan. It was very funny, and because it was a matinee and the theatre wasn't full we got free upgrades to better seats, too. And whilst we were dawdling around waiting for the performance to start, we booked tickets to go and see 'The Phaaaaaaaaaaaaaaantom of the Operaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!' just before Christmas.

I went to find the Assistant Head at lunch time for her to sign my time sheet for this week.
'Ah!' she said. 'Just the person,' which, a few months ago would have been a phrase which brought a sense of impeding doom to my shoulders, but since I am enjoying what I am doing and know I can put a full stop to it at any time I like without having to do ridiculous things like work out notice, it doesn't bother me at all now.

'How would you like to do some internal exam marking at the beginning of December?' she continued.
'Tell me more,' I said, because marking is, like tutoring, a very lucrative sideline for teachers. Especially if you have a bottom set class with lazy boys in it who don't do writing because they can't be arsed and they manage about three paragraphs before their wrists come over all limp so they down pens and spend the majority of the exam time slumped in their seats staring at the ceiling and sighing a lot.

So she explained. Two sets of exam papers from bottom set Year 11 and one set of papers from bottom set Year 10. And I agreed. I thought, there's next year's holiday paid for.

And then she looked at me more closely.
'You're very flexible, organised and determined, aren't you? I don't suppose you'd consider applying for the Head of English post would you?' she said. 'Only they could do with someone like you.'

'Absolutely not,' I said. 'Full stop!'

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Tutor Time

So I return to my last school, at their request, to deliver one-to-one tutoring to a selection of very special children. Most gratifyingly, when I appeared yesterday, I was swamped in the corridors by students I taught last year who were very excited to see me back.

'Have you come to teach us drama again?' some of them wanted to know.
'Absolutely not,' I said. 'Do you think I'm crazy or something?'
And I explained the whole one-to-one tutoring malarkey.

To wit some of them wanted to know if they could have a session of one-to-one tutoring.
'No,' I said, 'because you aren't special enough. Except you, Cameron, so come and find me at the top of the English Department Block lesson 6 please.'
'Yes!!!' said Cameron, punching the air with delight. But that could be more to do with the fact he'd be missing Geography.

Anyway, I've been given a mixture of years 7, 8, 9 and 11. Worryingly, one of the Year 11s is the same boy who coughed his germs over me last February and gave me a nasty ear, nose and throat infection that resulted in my having to take a lengthy course of anti-biotics which my innards are still recovering from (there is only so much pro-biotic yogurt one can ingest in order to rebalance the flora of one's guts, but we're getting there slowly.) So I am thinking perhaps I should wear a mask when I see this student. Except he has 'anger management issues' so he might object to my outward display of disdain for his potential as a disease-ridden bug host. Or perhaps I've developed an immunity from him. One can only hope...

One Year 7 was INCENSED that he was on the list for extra tuition.
'I think my English is fine,' he informed me. 'I think my English teacher has given me the wrong marks.'
Anyway, we had a bit of a chat and a laugh in our first session and he agreed that actually he wouldn't mind coming back for more tuition after all, because he might get the hang of spelling if he did.

Another student, whom I taught last year and has the habit of turning into a stroppy mare with the fluctuations of the moon,was thrilled to be selected for tutoring and has decided I am going to help her to write a book. I found her skulking in the Behaviour Support Unit, looking contrite-yet-slightly-sulky.
'So why are you up here?' I said.
'I hit Emma,' she said. 'She was annoying me.'
Oh, if only...I thought. The price we have to pay for being a Grown -Up.

Anyway, me and the Emma Thumper are going to write a book. A bit of a drastic method to help conquer appalling punctuation habits I suppose, but I'm a bit of an educational pioneer like that.

Stewart is also happy I am back. We practised some subject-specific vocabulary; Stewart has just started Food Tech GCSE and is struggling. We made a spelling list of all the different ways one can cook an egg. Three minutes into the exercise I sensed his concentration was drifting. I glanced up and found him staring at me really intently.
'How were your pumkins this year, Ma'am?' he said. Stewart, like me, grows his own veg.
'They were tiddly,' I said.
'Mine didn't even germinate,' he sighed wistfully.
'Oh dear,' I said.
'Beans were good though,' he said.
'Yes,' I agreed.
'And I'm still picking carrots,' he said.
'Me too,' I said. I can't believe I'm having a vegetable competition with a 14 year old, I thought.
'What about your bees?' he said.
'Never mind the bees,' I said. 'Spell 'scrambled' for me.'
'S..K..R..U...B..B..L...I...D,' he said.

You see what I am up against?

But the students I have been allotted have all been lovely. They have all worked hard, they have all shown keenness for their special sessions. They all have different needs so no two sessions are the same. They have all been cheery and polite. It's like I am doing proper teaching after all these years.

Big black lorry update - the police visited the owner. They discovered he had a white van also untaxed, a car also untaxed, no lorry operator's license, no excuse for the lorry being left in the road when it should have been parked in a designated yard other than it has 'broken down'. And then he swore at and argued with the police officer, which is never a wise move, especially when one has just come out of prison.

So my nerves are back in retreat, the sledgehammer remains in the garden storage box and Andy is saved the trauma of trying to install a set of vertical blinds in the bay window.


Monday, 8 November 2010

Baby Sitting, Baby Sales

So yesterday I had a call to arms, of babe-in-arms to be precise. Could I go and collect Kayleigh and look after her for a couple of hours? Of course I could, I said. That's what Grans are for.

So off we went, and gathered Baby plus a bag of accoutrements. We struggled a bit to get the car seat in the car, and then we struggled a bit to get the Baby in the car seat but Kayleigh was very good-natured and smiley about the whole chaos and with all parts secured, off we went.

Chez the Manor, Andy and I set about the process of Entertaining Baby. We spread some toys over the floor and plonked her in their midst. She immediately made a bee-line for the new cat water fountain. Copious amounts of kitchen roll were used to mop her up, and one or two strops were thrown until she realised she wouldn't be able to shift me from blocking her further access to the fountain until she is at least 14, and she headed back to the living room, leaving me to get over my stropping.

As with all babies of my acquaintance, Kayleigh isn't really interested in toys. She is more likely to be entertained by, in yesterday's case, a wooden salad server spoon, the cardboard tube from the aforementioned kitchen roll, an empty egg box and the colour supplements from the Daily Mail and the Guardian. Interestingly, she seemed to show more rage when ripping the Dail Mail supplement to shreds. Is she her grandmother's grand-daughter I ask myself.

Then she ate two oat cakes, half of which she schmooshed into the living room rug. And then stared at Andy who was eating an apple until he capitulated and gave her a slice to share. And then she added a load of appley dribble to the oat cake schmoosh in the rug. And then she had a drink from her tippee cup. More dribble. Mmmmmm.......

And then she started getting a bit grumpsome, so I changed her nappy( a first in over 20 years - they're a lot more stretchy than I remember) and snuggled her until she went to sleep. And then I showed I was a sterling Granny stalwart by remaining utterly still for a good half an hour even though my arm went dead within the first ten minutes and my bladder was bursting for a tinkle.
And the best bit was that Andy held several conversations with Kayleigh and Kayleigh didn't cry once. She stared at him in a very solemn way, especially when he was explaining oxymorons and galaxy systems to her. And somehow I felt she was taking it all in. Andy is very determined to play a full part in her education. He is also determined to build her a doll's house, but that will be a different story all together.

On more baby notes, I am THRILLED to report we have secured sales of 3 copies of Nearly King Jimbo. I suspect they have been bought by my pal Sarah, but nonetheless I have written a book that has sold 3 copies that weren't bought by me! I am soooooooooo excited!! So if it was you, Sarah, bless your heart and roll on our 'beside the sea-side weekend'. And if it was someone else, thank you too. The sales may be baby, but you have made my year!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Knock at the Door

Finally I have bought a doormat to put atop the new wood floor in the hallway in order to save me from having to kneel atop the new wood floor to clean off the wet mud malarkey that gets wiped atop the new wood floor every time people enter the front door with their November weather feet and have no mat to wipe them upon.

But they do now! Aha!

Yesterday, a big gruff police officer knocked at the door. Actually, I thought he was breaking down the door, so firmly did he knock - me and the cats fair jumped from our skins. But I guess that's what police officers do in order to make their presence felt.

Anyway, the reason for his visit was the re-appearance of the big black lorry outside the front of the house. You remember the big black lorry? The one that caused me much angst earlier this year because it was THERE outside the window IN MY FACE being an EYESORE and making a RACKET at all ungodly hours and BLOCKING the drive and the road and GETTING ON EVERYONE'S NERVES?? So me and the neighbours waged a war against its presence by reporting it to VOSA, the council, the DVLA and the police because it didn't have a tax disc, and, it turned out no insurance either. And parking our cars on the road so it couldn't. It got a bit petty, all the car shuffling, but was ultimately very satisfying when the lorry appeared in the afternoons and had to drive away because there was nowhere for it to park.

Well, after eight months of lorry-free bliss, it pitched up again. I could have cried when I opened the curtains on Friday morning and there it was, in my face again. My neighbour across the road appeared and said he had already reported it to the police because it had nearly run him over when it arrived the night before. And did I know that the reason it was back was because the owner had just been released from prison. Again. And did I know it didn't have a tax disc.

Aaarggghhhh!!! So in order to off-set a potential nervous breakdown, I said to Andy that if the lorry was back for good then could we install vertical blinds in the front bay window so I wouldn't be able to see the effing thing. And possibly install some wooden fencing atop the front brick wall to make it 7 feet high?

And Andy, who is very understanding of my irrational, middle aged and menopausal moments said yes, of course we could.

And then the police officer arrived. Did we know who the lorry belonged to, said he. I told him all I knew and said how much it aggravated me and the neighbours being there. I thought it prudent not to mention I really wanted to take a sledgehammer to the windscreen and/ or fill the back of it with cat poo. The police officer said that unfortunately, although it was an eyesore, it wasn't causing an obstruction (well, I'd like to see a fire engine get past it into the road), but he noticed it didn't have a tax disc, so leave it with him, he'd make enquiries and see what he could do. And six hours later, it had gone.

And I hope it stays away. For the sake of my fragile sanity and the windscreen.

The doormat looks nice, though.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Thermal Undercurrents

Well, that's it then, isn't it? I am OFFICIALLY OLD. Two days after my birthday, and what arrives in the post? A Damart catalogue, that's what. Did I request a Damart catalogue? No, I most certainly did not. And its arrival has more than convinced me there is some Big Brother data base somewhere which, when it flagged up I was 45, automatically sent out the thermal undie 'n' polyester skirts with elasticated waistbands booklet because now I am clearly entrenched in middle age I must be in need of a different fashion approach. I'm just waiting to hear from Saga, Stannah Stairlift and the company who sells those tall sit-up baths with the door in the side and then I'm calling it a day and taking to my bed like Grandma Josephine in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

I have no need of thermal undies because a) I have gas central heating and the wherewithal to pay the bills due to my recently acquired and very lucrative part-time tutoring job b) I have a coal-effect electric fire in the living room ditto a) and c) I have my own personal summer heating system called Hot Lady Flushes Galore. And if I am still chilly I shall put on an extra jumper and get the cats to sit on me in a big furry pile-on.

Damart catalogue indeed! Pah!!

And talking of cats, we have brought them a new toy. Well, more a piece of equipment vital to their health actually. We have got them a drinking fountain! An indoor water feature! It's in the kitchen now just waiting to be kicked over because we had to stand it in a hitherto unoccupied area of floor space in order to plug it into a spare socket. I am guessing it is only a matter of time before someone kicks it over when taking the corner a bit quickly but I expect we'll get used to it being there eventually. and our feet shall remain dry.

The instructions said 'Your cat may take a day or two to get used to the free-flowing movement of the water.' Various websites suggested the same timescale but reviewers all said their cats got used to it and really love it as a water source. Andy the Vet said it was a good idea, especially for Phoebe aged 14 and a quarter and Tybalt aged 8 and a half who both need to keep their water intake up as they are getting on a bit.

Once installed it took Phoebe about 2 minutes to drink from it, Tybalt 4 minutes and Pandora 4 and a half minutes but that was probably because she didn't like to think they were getting something she wasn't. So they all conquered the water fountain in under five minutes. In fact, Phoebe especially loves the water fountain, so much so that I half expect to come downstairs tomorrow morning and find her sitting in it wearing a spangly swimming cossie and drinking champagne whilst the bubbles tickle her fancy.

As I suspected, we clearly have very intelligent cats who knew exactly what the fountain was for and weren't going to embarrass the feline populace by skirting around it in a suspicious manner for a day or two like a bunch of weirdos.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Cover Girl

We've done the text, we've done the illustrations. We've done the 'About the Author and Illustrator' pages, we've done the back of book blurb. We've done even done a dedication.

'How about putting a Much Malarkey Manor logo on the back cover?' I say to Andy. 'You know, like Penguin Books has a tiny penguin and Faber and Faber have funny fuffs.'

'Yes,' says Andy. 'It could be our trade mark.'

So we have a think about what we could use as our trademark logo. It didn't take a lot of thinking about, of course, because the obvious choice was chickens.

'All of them, or one of them?' says Andy.
'Well,' I say, 'I have always been rather fond of the cartoon you do of Mrs Miggins. The one with her wearing her Dame Edna spectacles. And Mrs Miggins was our very first chicken and she is the best chicken, isn't she?'

'Yes I am,' says Mrs Miggins, who is listening in like she does. She's popped into the kitchen to warm up her chest embrocation on the hob. Although her feathers are re-growing after this year's moult, they are taking a little longer to reach their full fluffage and she's doing her best to keep warm now the Winter drawers are on.
'Would you like to be our cover girl?' I say.
'Would it be tasteful?' say Mrs Miggins.
'Of course,' I say. 'Tasteful and dignified.'
'No tassles or cleavage?' she says.
'No tassles or cleavage,' I say. 'Your portrait is an exemplar of the height of decorum. It's the one Andy drew of you wearing your Dame Edna spectacles and looking superior.'
'That's because I am superior,' says Mrs Miggins. 'Would I get paid to be the cover girl?'
'No,' I say. 'Because the copyright of Andy's drawing belongs to him. I could ask him to get a bag of sunflower seeds next time he goes to Pets R Us At Home City if you like.'

Mrs Miggins gives this some thought. 'Okay,' she says. 'And some corn as well. We haven't had corn for a while.'
'I'm a bit loathe to let you have corn,' I say. 'On account of it turning Mrs Slocombe into a nut case.'
'It does make her a bit wild, doesn't it?' says Mrs Miggins.
'Like feeding meat to Oliver Twist,' I say.

'Okay, perhaps not corn,' says Miggins. 'Extra apples then. And grapes.'
'Done,' I say for I am just thankful she hasn't mentioned getting her agent involved in the negotiations.

So, we are ready to roll with the publication of Nearly King Jimbo. We have been so motivated by the project that we are even thinking about next year.
'We could do a Christmas Annual,' says Andy.
'Like a Much Malarkey Manor Almanac?' I say.
'Indeed,' says Andy. 'In fact, we could put together Much Malarkey Manor Hampers for everyone. We could include a bottle of dodgy home-made wine or sloe gin, a jar of marmalade, a jar of chilli jam...'
'A calendar, 'I say, catching onto the whole merchandise thing. 'I could knit novelty chickens and bees and make cakes and biscuits.'
'Oh, the possibilities are endless,' says Andy.
'Indeed they are,' I say.

We are soooo excited about the whole enterprise it's ridiculous!

Let the consumer beware!