Monday, 28 February 2011


So Andy says to me last week, all casual-like whilst leaning against a door-jamb in a nonchalant kind of way, 'What would you do if all you could see through your right eye was a big green disc of light?'

And I said, 'I'd go straight to the optician and sit and wait until they could check my vision.'

And then I said, 'Are you telling me, in a roundabout, vague kind of way, that all you can see out of your right eye is a big green disc of light?'

And he said, 'Yes.'

After establishing that Andy hadn't been staring at a light bulb or the sun (ha! fat chance with all the rain we had last week), that he hadn't poked himself in the eye with a green felt-tip pen, and that a detached retina was possible, but unlikely and that the fear of detached retina was based on a TV programme we'd watched the previous evening, we went into town where I deposited Andy at an optician and he sat and waited for an emergency appointment whilst I went to do the weekly shop at Sainsbugs and fret about all manner of eye diseases.

Well, it turns out that the optician is almost definitely positively certain that Andy has developed a condition called central serous retinopathy, which involves a fluid bulge developing behind the retina, thus distorting vision. She is referring him for a second opinion just to make sure, but having come home and gone Google-mad for information because it sounded like something that might make your eye go pop, it seems likely she is right in her diagnosis.

What is the treatment? None.
What is the prognosis? Condition usual rights itself in around 8 weeks.
Will it happen again? Possibly. Or possibly not.
Does it affect every day functioning? No.
Can it cause long-term damage? Possibly. Possibly not.
Is it linked to high blood pressure and stress? Probably. Or not

It all seems a bit vague to me.

Anyway, Andy is being very stoical about all this. But I do catch him wandering around the house doing massive squinty faces, like he's some kind of deranged pirate who's lost his eye-patch. He says he is testing out if the big green disc is getting smaller. I think he's playing at being a pirate. In fact, I might make him an eye-patch. A padded one with lavender sewn inside to help alleviate the stress factor.

News on Nearly King Jimbo. We are going to make it available as a Kindle download. Cheap as chips. Might get a bigger audience. Might not. It's all very vague.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Dear Jack... has, as you have noticed, been 'all quiet' here at the Manor for over a week now. (Welcome, by the way - always good to have a Follower brave enough to declare themselves publically!!). Panic not - I am neither dead nor hospitalised, nor lost all my typing fingers in a freak accident involving a garlic press and a rogue patch of extra-virgin olive oil on the kitchen floor...


...although it may have seemed 'quiet' on the face of things, beneath the corsets it has been a seething mass of noise and emotion and stomping and howling at the moon in a most unladylike fashion. I fear even the restrained Mr Darcy would have slapped me if he'd been able to catch me.

I've been writing, you see. Caught up in a creative maelstrom, fraught with indecision, plunged into a chasm of artistic depression that would make any of Sylvia Plath's efforts seem like a Monty Python sketch.

Plus the ugly spectre of 'Let's Move House' has cocked its leg again with all the subtlety of a Great Dane on a heavy dose of diuretics.

I am, as always, going to blame my dwindling hormones. And my middle-age. And Life being Bumpy rather than Smooth. Like peanut butter.

It's been half-term. Andy has been on holiday, too, and even he admitted to feeling stir-crazy enough to want to go for a walk this afternoon, although his foray was short because of a wardrobe malfunction with his flies. We're both back to work tomorrow, and I think it goes to show that even though it's nice having time at home, being at work is key to maintaining one's sanity.

I say, 'back to work' when what I really mean is 'paid work.' We've both been busily engaged in 'unpaid work' involving planting fruit trees (gooseberries and grapevines - sounds like a bedroom farce, oo-eer missus) in the Somme, I mean, the back garden (this is what happens when you get a week of rain mixed with digging chickens), and more 'turfing out of tat' (in preparation for moving house??? Ye Gods!). And Andy has been sketching and drawing and I have been writing.

I am writing like a loon because I've found a competition for first time novelists into which I am determined 'Indigo Antfarm, Violet and Blue' will be entered. And 'Merrily, Kissed by an Angel' if I can manage both of them without going completely mad. To that end I've done a massive re-edit on these two babies of mine, and then I got side-tracked by a new baby called 'Freedom and Revenge' which is probably more autobiographical than it really should be (age and hormones again), but as fellow writers will know, once the words are there, they won't let you alone until you've spat them out, and constant writing births more writing, even though it may be something completely new and unconnected. Annoying? Yes. Distracting? Yes. The Best Fun in the World? You betcha!!

We have managed to get out and about this week. On Monday we went to Kew Gardens. It was freezing cold and we got rained on, but the Orchid Exhibition was magnificent and I wandered around taking arty photos like I was a proper arty photographer type. On Wednesday we had a friend to dinner - we created a Thai extravaganza topped off with that traditional Thai pudding of apple crumble. On Friday we picked up my consignment of 48 copies of 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time,' which I have been charged with distributing to the masses on World Book Night next week. And yesterday we went to Canterbury which was freezing cold and we got rained on, but I bought a lovely pure-wool-made-in-Britain blanket from the National Trust Shop. I am currently engaged in a fight for possession of the aforesaid blanket with the cats. I have size on my side, they have teeth and claws.

As for the Spectre of Moving House - well, this time we're thinking of Shropshire. Don't ask me why because I don't know. It's one of those irritating 'feelings' one gets that makes one spend hours on property websites going 'Ooooh, look at this one. This one has potential.'

Shall we, shan't we? Will we, won't we?

It's all adding to the general hysteria that is messing up my brain at the moment.

Friday, 18 February 2011


I can't be doing with the new format for 'Masterchef -FOOD DOESN'T GET LOUDER THAN THIS!' It's a bit too X-factor for me. Or should that be Eggs-Factor?! ('No,' says Mrs Miggins.) Or Popcorn Idol?! ('Even more no,' says Miggins.) Or maybe I'm a Celery, Get Me Trout of Here?! ('Just stop now,' says Mrs M, 'or your writing career will be in ruins.')

Anyway, it's too emotional now. Too dumbed down. It's like the producers have said, 'If you think you can make beans on toast come and audition for us, and we'll publicly humiliate you for burning the toast, but it's okay because you can always have an emotional breakdown, blame your failure (or should that 'deferred success') on an incident you had with a can opener back in the Summer of '88 and you'll be a celeb for the next 3 weeks.'

There have been two programmes this week - the so-called 'auditions' where 20 places are up for grabs for the proper part of 'Masterchef - PRESENTERS DON'T GET LOUDER THAN THIS'. To be honest, I barely made it through the first programme. I think I drifted off about three quarters of the way through to have a shower and read the back of a shampoo bottle. The show seemed to be full of completely deranged bonkers women cackling like crones on a dodgy batch of HRT, weird blokes who clearly had never met so much as a frying pan before and 'with-it' youngsters who were hell-bent on 'deconstructing' trifles and burgers. What does 'deconstructing' mean anyway? Surely that's just a term for 'too lazy to put all the ingredients together in the right order in the first place??'

And as for the presenters, Mr Shiny Head Gregg and Aussie Torode, well, they looked completely out of sorts having to do the X-factor thing of letting someone through or rejecting them for having lumpy mash and over-crispy fish skin. And the voice-over kept saying things like 'Having split the judges' decision...' well, I'm sorry, but in my book you have to have more than two judges in order to split them with any sense of the nervous tension that is required of this format of programme delivery. Splitting two judges just means one likes you, one doesn't, 50:50 back to square one. At least with three judges there's a possibilty of a 2:1 split and a punch up.

We all know a bloke is going to win anyway, because Shiny Head Gregg and Aussie Torode do a mean line in patronising the little ladies before sending them all home in the semi-finals because someone has to put the chicken nuggets and oven chips in for the kiddies' tea. And pop the kettle on whilst you're there, love.

It's not shaping up to be a proper cooking competition at all. It's shaping up to be a fast-food version of the classic original started by Loyd Grossman all those years ago.

And it's a big, full-fat, shouty, spoon-banging-against -the-teeth-in-an-irritating-way shame.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

And the Award Goes To...

Birthday of the Day : Heather is 23. How old does that make me feel? Not as old as next month when Chris is 25

Weird Comment of the Day : 'Have you been eating salad in here, ma'am? It stinks...' (from my after-dinner tutee who clearly survives on Monster Munch and Red Bull)

Wild Guess of the Day : Me - 'So what's a mid-mounted engine then?
Boy who thinks he knows all about cars - 'It's an engine that helps you
climb mountains.'

Hairy Moment of the Day : Kayleigh discovering she can climb up and down the step into my writing room - well, that she can fling herself across it and Gran will catch her.

Too Much of a Good Thing of the Day : Chocolate birthday cake covered in chocolate fudge icing and Maltesers and chocolate buttons

Brush with Fame Moment of the Day: Almost being stampeded by the pop band who came into school to do a show for the Year 7 and 8s. Okay, they weren't famous, but they looked very professional with their microphones and weird head gear

Male Chauvinist Pig of the Day : Him what called me Norah Batty suggesting that perhaps I could have a cup of tea ready for him at break time.

CD Moment of the Day : Michael Buble

Bliss Moment of the Day : getting home and sharing a cuppa tea and a chat with Andy

Biggest Laugh of the Day : work colleague threatening a student with a staple gun after he dared to lean against her new wall display

Chicken of the Day : Mrs Miggins, for being an all-round fabulous Rita Heyworth Hen

Cat of the Day : Tybalt, for continuing to produce the least offensive cat poos

Man of the Day: Andy, for cooking me a lovely dinner

Oops of the Day : Andy + a cup of tea + a Simon Pegg autobiography + the living room carpet

Family History Excitment Day : discovering Great- great-granny Kate Amelia Hallpike was a teacher, too!

Itch of the Day : just below my right shoulder blade

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Lynx Effect

I hate going to the PE block at school. I try to avoid it as much as possible but occasionally I have to go and hoik a child out for tutoring. The PE block is ENORMOUS. It used to be the local sports centre, and has many floors and many corridors which is never a good combination for someone who has no sense of direction i.e me.

And then there's the over-powering smell of Lynx deodorant. There's nothing subtle about the post-PE freshen up ritual of a teenage boy. It's in off the rugby pitch, off with the smelly PE top (which I suspect in many cases gets washed only once a half term, spending the interim 6 weeks festering in a damp ball at the bottom of a faux-leather sports bag), out with the aerosol and spray, spray, spraaaaaaaaaaaaay with wild abandon until every living creature within a five metre radius is left gasping for breath.

Multiply that by 15 six times a day and it's no wonder PE staff looked permanently dazed.

In my last school, my drama room studio used to share a corridor with the PE department. I used to suffer the Lynx effect there, too. I tried to counteract it with a lavender oil burner, but I was fighting a losing battle.

What's wrong with the fresh smell of Palmolive, I wonder. Or Wright's Coal Tar? Cor, that brings back some memories. Fantastic smell - fresh and invigorating. Personally, I'd be happier if the kids just rolled in some freshly mown grass.

It's funny how smells evoke particular memories. Fresh paint, for example, reminds me of Christmas, because my Dad insisted we move house (where he'd done some painting) just 3 days before Christmas. Wood shavings - my Dad's carpentry workshop. Anne French Cleansing milk evokes memories of teenage years. Plasticine, of the incessant models I used to make for an elderly and very tolerant neighbour who would display them on her mantlepiece. Raspberry jam takes me back to visiting another neighbour and being allowed to make jam tarts when I was 6 or 7. Plastic is the smell of caravan holidays where I slept on a camp bed in the awning. Ralph Lauren's perfume, Romance, reminds me of mine and Andy's wedding day, because it was a gift from my matron of honour. Wright's Coal Tar reminds me of my grandparent's out-house; wood smoke, of my other grandparent's breakfast room. Coal smoke brings memories of childhood trips on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Miniature Railway, Nivea cold cream reminds me of an aunt of mine. Cloves remind me of the dentist. Cat fur reminds me of a little toy koala I had, which in hindsight must have been made from real animal fur.

And I suppose that Lynx deodorant will always remind me of PE departments.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Saint Frankenswine's Day as told by Mrs Pumphrey

Long ago, in a land far away somewhere near Guildford, there lived a hen. She was pure white in colour (not unlike me), with comb of luscious red and knickers of frilly pink (not unlike me.) Her name was Mademoiselle de Pamplemousse and she was as sweet and charming as any hen could be (unlike a real pamplemousse which has all the finesse and charm of an acid bath).

Now, although Mademoiselle de Pamplemousse was blessed with charm and beauty and a nature so delightful that the birds would sing their way through the entire score of The Pearl Fishers whenever they saw her (not unlike me - 'Pah!' says Mrs Miggins. 'Go away,' says Mrs P, 'I'm Mrs Jackanory today') - she was unlucky in love.

For Mademoiselle de Pamplemousse had fallen foul (ahahahahahahahahaa!!!) of a terrible curse, wrought upon her many years before by the evil Count Sheep of the Romney Marsh. For when she reached her 16th birthday, and her beauty was drawing the attention of suitors from all over the land, well, as far as Swindon at least, Count Sheep came a-courting (as my Gran used to say) and was rejected by Mademoiselle de Pamplemousse. Not cruelly rejected, this isn't a Gothic genre tale you know, and besides, Mademoiselle de Pamplemousse didn't have a cruel bone in her body.

'But why?' he bleated, when she politely returned his gift of a fine pair of dingle-berries. 'I can offer you so much. A whole estate of wild and passionate landscape, a warm fleece to nest in, a fish and chip supper at the Pilot Pub at Dungeness.'
'I cannot accept your suit,' said Mademoiselle de Pamplemousse,' for my heart belongs to another.'
'Who is this blaggard?' demanded Count Sheep. 'And I shall challenge him for your love. No-one can be more deserving of your adoration than is grammatically correct.'
'I cannot reveal his name,' insisted Mademoiselle de Pamplemousse, 'for I cannot allow my passions to put his life in danger. I must remained chaste for him.'
'I think you'll find it's chased by him,' said Count Sheep, which was rich coming from someone who didn't know how to use 'I' and 'me' properly. 'Tell me, I demand it! I have the right to exercise my'
'No! No!' said Mademoiselle de Pamplemousse. 'I shall remain true to my love,' and she swept from the room, pushing her Ewbank carpet-mate before her.

Enough of this, thought Count Sheep, and he went next door to speak to Madame Slowbottom, a nosey hen who knew everything that was going on in Guildford, and Reigate and Leatherhead, too. And she spilled the beans on the identity of Mademoiselle de Pamplemousse's true love in no time at all because she was anyone's for a Ferrero Rocher.

'It's Doctor Frankenswine,' she said. 'Him wot runs that fancy new clinic across the Square.'
'Thank you, my good strumpet,' said Count Sheep. 'Here, have another Ferrero Rocher for your trouble.'
'My, Count Sheep, with these chocolates you are really spoiling me,' said Madame Slowbottom.
'Give it a rest, love,' said Count Sheep.

Count Sheep raced across the Square, his dangleberries clanging against his nadgers (that one's for Andy!) and he banged on the door of Doctor Frankenswine, the one with the big knocker.
'Who bangs my big knocker?' came a voice from within.
'Tis I! Count Sheep!' replied Count Sheep, for 'twas he as you know.
'What do you want, Count Sheep?' said Frankenswine.
'Open the door, you coward!' shouted Count Sheep. 'And you will find out.'

Well, Doctor Frankenswine opened his door and Count Sheep whacked him across the bacon chops with his man bag.

'I challenge you to a duel for the love of Mademoiselle de Pamplemousse,' declared Count Sheep.
'I am bound by the laws of Bacon and Gammon to accept your challenge,' said Doctor Frankenswine, 'although I have to say, I don't like it one bit.'

And so, that evening, at 7 o'clock, Count Sheep and Doctor Frankenswine met in the meadow on the outskirts of town, and drew their weapons. Count Sheep drew a catapult, and Doctor Frankenswine drew a conker on a string.
'This is no good,' said Monsieur Tango Pierre who had been called upon to officiate the duel, him being a goodly fair cock and all. 'You need to resolve this contretemps using real weapons, not pictures.'
'Hark at him with his French,' said Mrs Miggins who had come along for a laugh.
'Real weapons?' said Doctor Frankenswine. 'I like this idea even less. It was bad enough when I snagged my trotter whilst sharpening my pencil. I refuse to fight you, Count Sheep, using a real weapon.'

And that was it. Count Sheep, being an evil sheep with a funny look in his eye, drew forth his sword and skewered Doctor Frankenswine where he stood.
'Er, you can't do that!' said Monsieur Tango Pierre. 'That's not fair, that's not.'

'Mwahahhahahahahahahahaha!!!!' shouted Count Sheep. 'I don't care! If Mademoiselle de Pamplemousse will not have me, she will not have anyone! Curse you, Mademoiselle de Pamplemousse! ' and with that he jumped on his tractor and was gone in a puff of red diesel. (I told you there was a curse.)

The crowd were appalled at this turn of events. As the good and peace-loving Doctor Frankenswine lay gasping his last breath, he beckoned Monsieur Tango Pierre to his side.
'Tell Mademoiselle de Pamplemousse I shall love her forever,' he wheezed through his Frazzles. 'Tell her that from this day hence the Fourteenth Day of February shall be known as Saint Frankenswine's Day, and for centuries to come it shall be the day when our unrequited love shall be celebrated by the masses with the killing of a pig in a meadow using, I must say, a rather blunt skewer. And cards bearing pictures of catapults and conkers on strings shall be sent between secret admirers to declare their love.'

'She'll like that,' said Monsieur Tango Pierre. 'But I can't see it catching on myself.'

Friday, 11 February 2011

Personal Stamp

I'm driving along in my little blue car, and I'm thinking, 'Wow! This is my own little blue car; my own mobile personal space!'

And I'm thinking, 'I ought to make it more individual to moi,' because at the moment it is still in pristine showroom condition. It still has that 'new car' smell. There's not a biscuit or crisp crumb to be seen. Not that I'm likely to eat biscuits or crisps in my car but it always seems to be that the type of crumbs that end up littering a car once belonged to either a biscuit or a crisp.

So what can I do to personalise my little mobile space? I've paid a cursory visit to a well-known car accessory shop, and perused the floor mats, the seat covers, the smelly things you hang from your rear view mirror which pretend they are 'Golden Vanilla' but really smell of 'eau-de-Plasticine'. And the only thing I was a teeny bit tempted by was a furry Bagpuss steering wheel cover. Luckily, I managed to talk myself out of that one.

The last time I had a new car was when Chris and Heather were little people. And Chris personalised it by throwing up all over the passenger seat from his booster seat in the back. Ah, he had projectile vomiting down to a fine art in those days. Abs of steel, that boy.

But this is the only car of my own I've had, aside from the Mini 850, my first ever car, which I personalised with a variety of stickers of which my mother wholly disapproved for being neither funny nor clever.

So, smellies first. I have to admit that 'new car' smell makes me feel slightly nauseous, so I am planning to make a couple of lavender bags to dangle therein and hope they don't make me feel so relaxed I fall asleep at the wheel.

I quite like the idea of seat covers, but I don't want ones which are 100% nylon and/ or leather look, which seems to account for a majority of the commercial covers available today. So I thought I'd get a nice blue woollen throw for the back seat, and see if I can run up some flowery cotton jobbies for the front. I could get hold of a cheapo cover to use as a template and take it from there.

Ditto a steering wheel cover. And if any character is going to adorn it, it will be Miss Piggy.

I have a Scrat-from-Ice-Age-with-suckers-for-feet toy which I can pop on a rear passenger window. I have a dinky little pot I can install in one of the cup holders to hold change for parking. The car doesn't have a glovebox, but it has a space where the glove box would be if I'd gone for the more-than-just-basic version, so I'm going to get a wallet of some sort to hold stuff like the instruction manual and the details of the rescue service and a scraper for ice-removal in the Winter.

As for stickers, well, I've got an Eglu sticker and a Bumblebee Conservation Trust sticker, but they are in the other car, so I might have to sneak them away when Andy isn't looking. I'm not going to put in any witty stickers because, twenty eight years down the line I have turned into my mother and she was right, they aren't funny and they aren't clever, and they are strictly the preserve of the boy racers and girly ladettes.

And I shall keep a set of shopping bags in the boot, and no doubt find space for other important stuff like a book, a magazine, a pen, a notepad, a packet of sweets and a spare pair of tights, a packet of tissues and an umbrella.

Oh, and a tube of superglue in case I have to perform emergency road-side surgery on a chicken's comb.

Thursday, 10 February 2011


Me and my little blue car have been bombing around on the same ten pounds worth of petrol the dealer put in it before I took collection two weeks ago.

'This is good,' I've been thinking. 'Twenty pounds a year car tax and seems to go forever on a tenner of fuel.' So far, so good.

Now, when I collected the car, the salesman said, 'I'll just show you how the petrol cap works. It's a There's a knack.'

Oh blimey, but I hate it when techno-stuff requires the acquisition of a 'knack' in order to work it. Unless the 'knack' involves the use of a hammer in a 'give-it-a-sharp-whack' kind of way I'm a dab hand at that kind of knack. Anyway, I watched carefully as the salesman demonstrated the petrol cap knack which involved something like a firm inward turn to the left, a not so firm flick back to the right and then a generous twiddle until the thing comes off in your hand (as the actress said to the bishop).
'But it's got a quarter tank of fuel in it, which'll give you plenty of time to practice before you need to fill up,' laughed the salesman. Good, I thought, because the one thing guaranteed to freak me out is getting stranded on a garage forecourt wrestling with a petrol cap whilst dozens of motorists queue up behind me beeping their hooters, sighing and raising their eyebrows in a 'bloomin' women drivers' kind of way.

So when I got home I twiddled around with the petrol cap which spun around on its axis and refused, resolutely, to budge.

'Ah well,' I thought. 'Plenty of time before I need to fill up.'

So the petrol gauge stayed at a quarter tank full for days and days. And then, this morning, on my way to work, I went around the sharp corner by the park and the petrol gauge plunged in one fell swoop from quarter to empty and the car started beeping at me.

'What? Why? Stop beeping!!' I said.
And then I thought, 'Buggery, I'm going to run out of petrol.'
And then I thought, 'Stop being so silly. Beeping is merely a warning that there's probably a good 10 or 20 miles left before I grind to a complete and embarrassing halt. I know, I'll check the instruction manual when I get to work.'
And when I got to work I thought, 'Double buggery, the instruction manual is at home.'

Anyway, I thought that after work I'd have to go to the nearest petrol station and fill up my little blue car. And then I thought, the petrol station will be full of cars on the school run. And then, because I am plagued with irrational thoughts at the moment, I had imaginings (vivid ones) of being unable to get the petrol cap off because I had forgotten the 'knack' and I would cause a petrol station pile up, and end up looking pink and flustered.

Luckily, one of my tutees didn't show up today. Conveniently, it was the session before lunch which gave me nearly an hour and half to nip out in the middle of the day, thus avoiding school run traffic, find a petrol station, and fiddle about on the forecourt until my heart's content or the petrol cap came off.

And that's what I did!

And do you know what? The petrol cap came off easily, without delay or aggravation or violent employment of a hammer, and no social embarrassment ensued, and I scooted back to school in the blink of an eye.

I am beginning to think I am losing my marble. But at least I have the 'knack'!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011


I had a rubbish day yesterday. It started off with me treading in a teeny blob of cat poo, which I then inavertently spread around the kitchen floor on the bottom of my bestest Fat Face furry boot slippers. It ended in Andy coming home and finding me crying over a pile of ironing.

I shan't go into detail of what constituted the whole wreck of a day, but suffice to say it involved a moaning Mum, a badly treated ex-work colleague whom I bumped into in Sainsbugs, a very ill neighbour, a crowded town full of people who couldn't keep their loud mouths and pushy elbows to themselves and the sudden and over-riding feeling that I am generally crap at everything.

Of course, I shall blame my increasingly swinging hormone levels for most of it, and the human race for the rest.

On the plus side, the fruit cage arrived as did my free copies of the new Edexcel English language and literature syllabuseseses, syllabi, syllabum which are the size of house bricks but I feel I should read and digest in order to keep abreast of curriculum changes in order to benefit my tutees.

And the best plus side was Andy giving me a big bear hug and telling me I'm great and I must do whatever I want to do because he just wants me to be happy.

As my Mum and Auntie Pollie are forever reminding me, 'You struck lucky with that one.'

Today was better, you'll be pleased to know. Mostly because I was able to do some writing during my lunch break at school and the moon is on the wane. I think. Well, it looked pretty thin last night when I was standing in the garden howling at it.

Mrs Pumphrey is all better, now that she's been superglued. And the bees were out yesterday, too; I went and had a chat to them to tell them about my rubbish day. They told me to open a can of toughen up, stop blubbing and get on with life. I nodded meekly and went inside, because when you're feeling crap, the last thing you want is castigation from a few hundred bees. I thought, the cats will be more sympathetic, but all Phoebe did was snore even louder. Tybalt said he'd like to listen but he had an urgent tax return to fill in, and Pandora said, 'You think you've got problems? What about me, eh? What about me? I'm most important.' So I gave her some toast because it's the only way to shut her up these days.

I'm lucky my bad days are a rare thing. At least I know it'll be a long time before I have another one!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Waste Not Part 2

Having kicked the new food recycle bin around the kitchen for a few days, I have at last decided on its fate. It has been designated 'chicken feed bin' and becomes instantly more useful than when it was delivered a week ago. It is dry, clean and lockable, and is therefore a perfect container for layers pellets.

Problem solved.

Over the weekend, we placed an order for a fruit cage. We spent a windy half hour at the allotment making crucial measurements and decided that the best size would be 15 x 15 feet. Needless to say, fruit cages don't come in that size, so we ended up ordering an 18 x 12 feet one, which means some of the raspberry canes will have to be relocated, which is okay because they are spreading their runners well and we have considerably more canes than the dozen we planted three years ago.

The polytunnel, despite the hugely gusty winds of late, still stands proud and strong, so the erection of a fruit cage, we have decided, will hold no fear for us! (Famous last words...)

Got home from work yesterday to find Mrs Pumphrey standing on the back of the garden bench looking like someone had been at her with an axe. Blood everywhere! Ye Gods! I dashed into the garden towards Mrs Pumphrey; Mrs P dashed off in the opposite direction. Of all the three hens , she is the trickiest to catch. Despite bribes of sunflower seeds and apple, I couldn't grab her, but I got close enough to see that it looked like she'd managed to tear her comb. She didn't seemed bothered by her injury, and blood-thirsty Mrs Slocombe was leaving her alone, so I phoned Andy, informed him of the damage and waited until he got home so we could clean her up.

On closer inspection, and after a goodly mop up with warm water, cotton wool, tissue and hibiscrub, it seems she had some how lost a small piece out her comb, probably by sticking her head where it shouldn't have been. And combs, being well supplied with blood, meant a little injury spread a lot of goo, highlighted by her being a white hen and blood being red.

Andy used superglue to seal the wound (don't ask, but he and Pumphrey almost became joined for life) and she was confined to chicken hospital for the night but not before demonstrating her appreciation for my nursely ministrations by spraying me generously with bloodied water and hibiscrub.

This morning, she seems fine. The sun is shining, so sunbathing is on the agenda, and the 'got-at-by-an-axe-murderer' look has mostly faded.

Chickens eh? Who'd have 'em??

Monday, 7 February 2011

Publicity Hussy

Where to begin? Well, in the shower, of course, which is where I have many of my ideas, some of them crazy.

So there I was, getting ready to go out yesterday evening. Andy and I had tickets to see Gyles Brandreth at our local theatre. I'm in the shower (best not to imagine this bit), and suddenly...

'Take a copy of Nearly King Jimbo with you,' I said to myself.
'Why?' I replied.
'To give to Gyles Brandreth, of course,' I said. 'Stupid.'
'No need for that.' I said. 'You know I can't abide rudeness.'
'I apologise,' I said. 'But I really think you should take a copy with you this evening and find a way of getting it to Mr Brandreth. He is, after all, a writer, raconteur, bon viveur, all-round arty celeb-type personality, and I bet he knows a lot of people.' And I tapped myself on the side of my nose. 'If you know what I mean. You need to make the most of these opportunities when they come along.'
'I do,' I said. 'But how am I supposed to get a copy of Nearly King Jimbo into the hands of such a celebrity? Throw it onto the stage wrapped in a thong?'
'Well,' I said. 'You are sitting right at the front. You wouldn't have to throw it far.'

Off we went to the theatre. In my bag was secreted a copy of NKJ. At this point, I think it is fair to say, I was verging on the chickening out side of my plan.

The show was very entertaining. Mr Brandreth has a bottomless pit of humorous stories to tell; well, he leads a very full and star-spangled life, so I suppose he would.

All the while I am thinking, how can I do this? He'll think I'm some kind of mad-bonkers stalker woman if I go thrusting self-published books at him.
'He might not,' I said back to myself.
Oh, here she goes again, I thought.
'He might think,' I continued with dogged determination, 'that it's a jolly good book, and that you are a writer worth championing, or at least to pass on to someone else to champion.'
'In my dreams,' I said.
'It's where all life's magic starts,' said I.

Then at the interval, I was thrown a life line. Copies of Gyles Brandreth's book would be on sale in the foyer from his wife, Michele. And after the show, Gyles Brandreth would be signing the copies that were bought.

'Aha!' I said. 'There's your opportunity. Invest in his book - it'll be a good read anyway- and then whilst he is signing it, thrust NKJ at him, but think carefully about what you are going to say; you don't want to come across like a desperate mad-bonkers writer/ stalker.'

'Okay,' I said. 'And he did say he loved puns, and NKJ is full of puns, so shall I take that as a sign to take the risk?'
'Only if you are very superstitious,' I said.

I bought a copy of his book. I had a little chat to his wife, who was very nice. She admired my necklace and we both agreed that £5 notes are very rare these days.

All through the second half I was thinking about what I was going to say. I talked myself out of my plan at least three more times.

But when the time came, I just went for it. I waited until most of the audience had gone because I didn't want to make a fool of myself in front of too many people. My nerves were eased a little when I reached his table and he looked up at me and said, 'Hello! You look rather lovely!'

Blimey, I thought; I've just been chatted up by Gyles Brandreth!

Anyway, we got chatting to him; he is a very personable person. And then I whipped out NKJ and said:
'I have a small gift for you. It's a book I wrote. Andy did the illustrations. I'm hoping to create a 'lucky co-incidence'. If you don't read it, you might leave it somewhere where someone else will pick it up and read it. Like an agent or a publisher. It's been rejected several times. We self-published it.'

(Shut up now, I thought. You're starting to ramble).

'It's the best way to go these days,' said Gyles. 'And of course I'll read it. Look, Michele. These lovely people have given me a gift.' And he showed the book to his wife.
'Will you sign it for us?' she said. 'You must sign it for us.'

So whilst Gyles was signing his book, I was signing ours! I signed my autograph in a book I wrote!!

It was all very surreal and I got a bit shaky and wobbly at this point because I was feeling ridiculously excited at my book being in the hands of a celebrity.

And if he does read it, I hope he enjoys it and maybe as a laugh or two in return for all the laughs he gave us last night.

I'll just have one last excited shriek if you don't mind...


Saturday, 5 February 2011

Waste Not

See this? This bin.

This is a food waste recycling bin. There is a little bin to hang around inside your kitchen, and a bigger bin to leave outside. You decant your little bin into your big bin and the bin men take it away once a week.
The idea is that because householders will now be able to put their food waste in a separate bin to be collected once a week, the usual grey bin collection can change from once a week to once a fortnight.

Well, that's no good is it???????

Not for people like us who already compost all our food waste and recycle like mad things, and have been doing so since we got an allotment 4 years ago. All this bin means is that 1) we've had our weekly collection cut to fortnightly with no benefit to ourselves because food recycling will make no difference to what we have to chuck out because we can't recycle it and 2) there's another bit of tat to clutter up the kitchen/ garden/ driveway. It isn't even half the size of the grey bin, so Lord knows how people are going to manage when they start using it.
And I'm just waiting for the day when I go to put some rubbish in the grey bin and find some git has filled it with their rubbish because they don't have space in their own grey bin because it's only collected once a fortnight now. There are several families in our street with several children who overfill their bins every week let alone every fortnight.
Ah well. I suppose the council meant well (HA!). I expect someone, somewhere deep in the bowels of County Hall thought this would be a good idea.
And if I find myself in excess of non-recyclable rubbish once a fortnight, I can always get in my little car and drive to the local tip. Or to County Hall to put in in their bins.
Because that would be environmentally friendly, wouldn't it?
On a less whingy-pants note, I am considering the purchase of a pressure cooker. My reticence is guided by the fact my Gran had a pressure cooker which used to scare the beejeezus out of me when I was a child. I was convinced, mainly because of the loud whistling and screeching noises it emitted, that it would blow up at any second, scattering scalding hot beetroot/ potatoes/ swede across Gran's kitchen and into my face. The lid would rocket like a jet-propelled, er...rocket...into the ceiling, leaving a massive hole which I would then show to my own children as a chill warning NEVER to buy a pressure cooker, because of the structural damage they could inflict on a house.
I never mentioned this fear to Gran because she was a pragmatic, no nonsense woman who, in order to get this silly notion out of my head, would have put me in charge of mass producing boiled beetroot in the damn thing.
But now, as I'm starting to cook more with beans and pulses, (Andy and Heather are THRILLED at this development in my vegetarian culinary repertoire) I am thinking a pressure cooker would be a good idea, because it cooks beans and pulses more quickly than normal boiling.
I've done a bit of research on the interwebbly vis a vis different pressure cookers, all of which mention poundage per square litre type jargon, which in turn makes me think of tyre pressures, which in turn brings me back to fear of sudden explosion.
Do I get a tinky wee cheap one, just to try and see if my nerves can cope? Do I go for it big time and get a super duper enormous Tardis one with a life time guarantee that can cook a whole squash in 3 minutes flat?
Or do I put a hefty brick on the lid of one of my normal saucepans and whistle a tuneless tune?

Friday, 4 February 2011


Working with students on a one-to-one basis has offered a fascinating insight into how different people perceive different points of language.

It has also revealed what I feel to be a rather worrying link between how children hear things, interpret them, and then write them down. I'm not talking about the occasional misunderstanding here, because we are all guilty of that sometimes, but actually being unable to listen to the sounds of speech and translate them into written patterns.

Now, I know English is a funny old language, with many foibles and inconsistencies. That's what makes it such a rich and vibrant tool of the arts. And I know that a lot of spelling patterns have to be learnt by rote, because they do not correspond with the sounds the voice make when it speaks the word. But simple words that sound as they are written i.e phonic, should really cause no problems at all.

Some issues surround the way we say words. Here in Kent we are commonly guilty of saying, 'Could of,' rather than 'could have.' So children tend to write 'of ' instead of 'have' because that is what it sounds like we say. It's lazy, but correctable for the purposes of proper Inglish Gramma, innit?

But sometimes a student will misspell a word, and I'll say, 'Does that spell like it sounds?' and they say 'Yes,' and I'll say, 'Listen to me saying the word,' and I'll say the word slowly and clearly, and they'll still not get it.

Like today. The word was 'human.' I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, well, easy mistake. They might think it's pronounced 'humman' as in buzzy bee hum.

No. Matthew's attempt was 'fuman.'
'Human,' I said.
'Fuman,' said Matthew.
',' I said.
',' said Matthew.
',' I tried, slowly and careful, looking at this point like some deranged chimpanzee.
',' said Matthew, trying not to laugh.
'Human,' I said quickly, trying to catch him off-guard.

At this point, Matthew laughed. 'I can't say it,' he said.
'Can you hear that it starts with a 'h' sound and not a 'f' sound?' I said.
'Yes,' he said. 'Fuman.'
'Huckin' fell,' I thought.

I don't know exactly what it is, but I have, as I suspect you can guess, got my theories.

1) Have you heard children's TV these days? Have you seen Rasta Mice? I rest my case.

2) i-pods, personal sound systems, whatever else it is that youngsters plug into their ears FOR 12 hours a day and play at a level that is audible across all lanes of the M25 during rush hour.

3) The inability to converse with each other without SHOUTING at the TOPS OF THEIR VOICES, because they live in a society where the most important person is ME and I'm GOING TO MAKE MYSELF HEARD, even though I have nothing of value to say, I just WANNA BE LOUD AND FAMOUS!

4) The inability to take turns when speaking, ditto number 3; when I was classroom teaching I reckon every day I must have said at some point, 'I have only one pair of ears and one brain. Please do not shout at me all at once.' It's quite fascinating listening to a group of five or six girls all talking with their own agenda in mind so you hear six different topics all at once, and none of them are listening to anyone else. They aren't having a conversation, they are competing for air time. No wonder it ends in punch ups and misunderstandings sometimes.

5) The fact we are constantly surrounded by sound; traffic, music, muzak, chatter, tv, radio, internet, gossip, I grow older, I grow more intolerant of sound. This week we've barely had the tv on, and the evenings have been punctuated with no sound louder than the turning of a page, the scratching of a pen, and the occasional, 'Cup of tea, hot pants?'

So this weekend, take time to listen to the sound of nothing. To the sound of your brain ticking, your imagination working, your body breathing. I know I'm going to.

It's one of the best ways, after all, to feel fuman.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Getting Things Done

In anticipation of my tutoring work fizzling out in the Summer, (I have tried to pin the Bursar down about issues such as funding and commitment, but he tends to shy away from such words) Andy and I are attempting to 'get things done' whilst we have a bit of extra cash. Like getting another car - tick. And buying a fruit cage for the allotment -nearly tick. And getting the TV aerial sorted before one or all of us throws the telly through the front window in wild frustration.

Let me explain. When we moved here we had a telly, like you do. The aerial point was what might be termed 'a hole in the wall' because it was. It didn't connect to the telly, so, as a short-term measure, we bought one of those tiddy portable aerials to reside on the window ledge until sorting out the proper aerial (which went on the list of 'things to do' ) got done.

Six years TV is now upon us. And a cat (Pandora) who can't leave the tiddy portable aerial alone and chooses to hug it and interfere with the signal at important TV moments like finding out the 'Pass' answers to a Mastermind question, or the punchline to a potentially hilarious joke on 'QI.' And because digital TV is so great and the best thing since sliced bread (HA!) we also find that when certain cars/ buses/ mopeds go past the front window at certain points in the day, the signal is muchly disturbed, thus causing OUT-RAGE and TENSION to us, the viewees, and the longing for the good old days of analogue.


...on Tuesday, I telephoned a 'family firm est 1978' who dealt with aerials, and arranged for them to come out today, as Andy was home and I was at work and therefore wouldn't have to get involved in man chat about TV signals, being on a hill/ in a dip, and the whole sorry state of the digital TV switch over malarkey in general.

And when I got home, there was a new aerial on the roof, and the TV plugged into the hole in the wall. Andy said it was a father and son team who turned up. The son was about 60 years old, the father about 85. It was the father who got sent up onto the roof. Andy couldn't bear to stay and watch so nipped into town to the cash point to get them some money. He said the father was very short, and his head kind of shrunk into his shoulders.

I wondered how many times the father had fallen head-first off a roof since 1978.

Anyway, it's all done. No more interference. No more tiddy portable aerial for Pandora to love.

And the irony is that it's Thursday, and this week, because I've been reading and writing in the evenings, I've watched all of about an hour and a half of telly. (Including commercial breaks.)

Aerial - tick!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

World Book Night Excitement!

A couple of months ago, I registered to be a Giver of Books on World Book Night, which is on 5th March. I thought, what a great idea - helping to give out free books to people for the sheer hell of encouraging people to read a book they might not otherwise read.

A list of 50 books had been selected by 'the people who know a good book when they read one', and potential givers registered their interest in their favourite book from the list, with a second choice 'just in case.'

I have to say that some of the books on the list I either tried reading and gave up on, or I thought, who the heck thought that was a classic book? But one of my favourite books, Mark Haddon's 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' was there, so I applied to be a Giver of that book, with 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' as my second choice.

Needless to say, over the last two months, thoughts of being chosen as a Giver slipped in and out of my mind. I've never been lucky with applying for these things, but I allowed myself the occasional thought of how I would distribute the books - 48 copies - if I was chosen.

And this morning I have received an e-mail which starts 'CONGRATULATIONS! You have been chosen as a Giver for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time on World Book Night!'

And then I had to follow a link to register where I want to collect my 48 copies of the book. They will be ready for collection in about 4 weeks. I've now got 5 weeks to decide on how I am going to give away the copies I receive.

How exciting!!!!

Also, as an official Giver, I shall be eligible for other benefits, details of which will be sent at a later date. Ooooh, I wonder what they will be??