Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Heat Wave!

And now I return, a mere few hours after first blog post of the day to report that in Kent, the sun is shining, and all is warm. Tootsies (bare), hands (pink 'n' glowy) and jumper-free body (toasty). The hens are sunbathing in the borders, the cats are sprawled on the kitchen tiles because they are cool (the tiles, not the cats - well, obviously our cats are cool in a hip 'n' trendy way, but otherwise, covered in fur, they are expressing their over-heatedness.)

Sunshine action today includes:

1) the arrival of a wedding dress purchased from e-bay. The VERY SAME wedding dress that Leane fell in love with during our wedding dress foray a few weeks ago. Only less than a third of the price and complete with hoop! Okay, it's been worn. Once. And it needs to be dry-cleaned. But hey, what a result! Leane is very happy.

2) taking aforesaid wedding dress to Dry Cleaner Number 1 who wanted £70 to clean it. Minor panic attack at cost SO took wedding dress to Dry Cleaner Number 2 who wanted £110 to clean it. Major and potentially lethal panic attack ensued SO took wedding dress to Dry Cleaner Number 3 who asked £45. Phew! Heart rate returned to normal. That's more like it.

3) standing in very long queue in Post Office, being ticket number 74 with 17 people ahead of me. Stared into space. Watched Post Office TV - wouldn't recommend it 'cept for cure for insomnia. Time in queue was inversely proportional to time spent conducting transaction in a very HUGE way.

4) quick shop in Sainsbugs. Tried to make witty banter with old lady assistant who was manning the self-service tills. She gave me a look that would freeze over Hell. Such cheerful customer service! Such charm! Such joy! Ha!

5) gee-ing myself up for return to work tomorrow. Think of all those little brains, ready to absorb the wonders of English literature. Think of the eager faces waiting to be inspired into life-long learning. Think of the money....think of the money....

6) printing off CV for Heather whose printer is currently devoid of ink. She's up to London. She heard of a vacancy at Phantom of the Opera for backstage crew. She is getting in there QUICK. No faffing with the post (very wise, given how much of my life I wasted in the Post Office this morning). Present yourself at the stage door. Say 'HERE I AM!' in a loud and theatrical manner. It's the way one does it in the Arts, don't you know.

7) a rare visit to Santander to use their facilities and managing to conduct all of my business without speaking to a soul. They used to have a 'meeter and greeter' by the door who'd at least say 'Hello, do you need any help?' Now even that 'service' seems to have fallen by the wayside. Still, lots of doughnuts in the staff-room waiting to be eaten I suppose. Why waste time with the personal touch??

8) cutting a swathe of MMM lavender, which is now arranged artistically in blue 'n' white jug in the window and making the living room smell gorgeous.

But it's clouding over again. I may yet need my fluffy socks.

1st September tomorrow. Blizzard, do you think?

Bank Holiday Curse

Blimey! Last day of August and it feels like the middle of October in Kent. I'm sitting here in my customary bare feet thinking, 'Hmmmm, a pair of fluffy socks wouldn't go amiss,' and my hands are doing passable impressions of ice-blocks despite the wamr-up they've had this morning, what with being overcome with a fit of the writing muse.

Darn it, I may have to go and put on a jumper. I'm definitely going to make a cup of tea in a mo. And last night, I was covered in cats who always home in to a warm lap when the weather starts to turn.

Anyway, we had to buy a new washing machine on Monday. For the Bank Holiday curse struck again. In our house, whenever there is a Bank Holiday, it is a pretty dead cert that some household appliance will give up the ghost. This time, it was the washing machine. It was to be expected, really. For the past few weeks it has been difficult to hold a conversation in the kitchen when the washing machine is spinning. Even shouted conversations. It's been like having a pneumatic drill hacking away in the corner.

'That doesn't sound good,' I've been shouting for a while.
'No,' Andy has been shouting back.
But we didn't want to give up on the machine - I mean, it was still washing, just washing VERY LOUDLY!
And the frisson of excitement as one waited for something to bang or crash or explode or rocket across the floor added a spot of fun to the dullness of a wash day.

But on Monday it all became too much. I don't like noise at the best of times, but we had finally reached Raddled Nerve Status 100% and then some. A quick interwebbly search confirmed that the bearings were the likely cause of the Boeing-worthy delivery of decibels, and that repair was not a DIY option and calling someone out with spares to do the job was likely to be an expensive option compared to the one of purchasing a new machine.

Another interwebbly search brought up a trillion choices for washing machines, so we literally stuck a pin in the cheapy options and the choice was made in about three minutes. Andy was dispatched to purchase machine (in stock - hurrah!) and it is now stood in the middle of the kitchen awaiting him to plumb it in tomorrow when I shall be back at work and unable to hear the swearing and huffing and puffing.

And that's the Bank Holiday Curse for you.

Monday, 29 August 2011


Before I get started, the verification word of the day was 'someraca' which I believe is a small percussion instrument in the style of a tambourine filled with dried lentils for the adding of rhythm to a sad song.

So, this morning, Andy performed a dawn raid on the damson trees in the park and returned with a colander full of damsons. Whether this fruit theft will result in a visit from the damson police remains to be seen but there is a frisson of tension in the air as we await the knock on the door.

'I'm going to make jam,' he announced after I'd shown suitable admiration for his subterfugal fruit gathering prowess.
'Okay,' said I.
'Only this year I am going to de-pit the damsons before they go into the jam pan, because last year it was a complete faff skimming the pits off after the jam had cooked,' said Andy.
'And if I remember rightly,' I said,' there were some rogue pits who refused to be skimmed and remained in the jam to be discovered later in a gruesome teeth-crunching fashion.'
'Yes,' said Andy.
'And finding a stray stone in your jam by biting down on it is second only to finding a piece of gunshot pellet in your pheasant,' I said.
'Which wouldn't bother you now as you are a vegetarian,' said Andy.
'Quite so,' said I. 'And it would be nice for my teeth not to have to worry about jam either.'

So Andy set about the de-pitting of teeny tiny stones from teeny-tiny damsons and it was a bit painful to watch because even though his is a surgeon, a damson 'n' veg knife combination is a slightly different ball game to say, a scalpel 'n' Great Dane combination.

So I joined in, being marginally more nimble of finger and messy of technique. And it only took us an hour. Sheesh!

'The recipe doesn't mention exact sugar quantities,' said Andy.
'What do you mean?' I said. 'Of course it does. What sort of recipe doesn't mention exact quantities of sugar?'
'The one in this book,' said Andy, waving the jam-making book at me.

He was right. It merely said, 'Add sugar.'
'How about I use the quantities mentioned in the recipe for plum jam?' said Andy. 'Would that make a difference?'
I shrugged. 'Plum schmum, damson schmanson,' I said. 'It's all the same to me. But why would the book be specific on sugar quantities for plum jam and not damson jam?'
'I don't know,' said Andy. 'P'raps it's a charming quirk of the author.'
'There is no room for charming quirks in the making of jam,' I said. 'It's an exacting process. You're a scientist. You should know these things. I can't believe you are being so lacksidaisical about sugar quantities.'
'Calm down, dear,' said Andy, 'it's only jam.'

Well, I thought, for someone who was very insistent about removing all the pits before cooking, I find the whole lack of sugar precision thing most strange.

But the jam is made. We were woefully inadequate in the spare jam jar department, because of honey harvest, so there is a large jug of jam in the fridge along with seven jars of random sizes.

And yesterday, when we were on our way back from bee-checking our apiary, we popped into a farm yard that was selling large quantities of apples, plums and pears for very little money, so I suspect there may be some more jam-making in the offing. And possibly some wine-making, too.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Gombric and Ousali

In between taking a lengthy, health-improving walk in the park and waiting for the bee feed to cool down so we could go and feed the smaller of the four colonies and give them a fighting chance of surviving Winter, I did a bit of blog reading, and left a couple of comments here and there like you do.

And one of my favourite bits about leaving comments is the weird verification words you have to type in to prove...hang on, what exactly do they prove? I'll ask Andy...okay, Andy says it's to stop automated programmes leaving comments on blogs, because you have to read the word and type it in. Ah, so it proves you are human! Or have opposable thumbs. Or gained the majority of your education before 1980. I see.

So, two of the words I had to type in today were 'gombric' and 'ousali.' And I wondered if they are or were actual words with real meanings or if they are purely random made-up jobbies. So I had a look in the dictionary. Nothing for 'gombric' but I did find 'gombeen' which is an Irish term for a usury or moneylender, and 'gongoozler' which is someone who stares curiously at something. Like cats. Not staring at cats, I mean. Cats doing staring, as in the sentence, 'What's that cat gongoozling at?' (Can you turn it into a verb? I don't know. I don't care. I just did.)

'Ousali' was no more successful. There wasn't even anything interesting on the pages where 'ousali' would have been had it been a proper word. Except maybe 'ottava rima' which is a stanza of eight lines of 10 or 11 syllables rhyming abababcc. Filed that one away for future teaching use though.

I like the words 'gombric' and 'ousali.' I think they should have meanings. Therefore I am going to give them meanings. Choose whichever you prefer and apply accordingly. Choice is the order of the day. Unlike dab, which is Fish of the Day, and aubergine, which is vegetable of the day which reminds me, I have three in the fridge that need using tout-de-suite.


Gombric - a sense of solemnity e.g aunt Sylvia was giggling during the funeral oration; her sister Maud thought she should be more gombric.

Gombric - a type of beetle native to Kent e.g Mrs Brown screamed as the gombric ran across the dahlia borders but Mrs Pumphrey was glad of the extra protein.

Gombric - layers of tannin that build up on the inside of your tea-pot (and presumably your stomach) e.g 'I'm afraid you've got a touch of the gombric, Mrs Fishcake. Have you cleaned your tea-pot recently?'

Ousali - the sharp pain and resulting damage received from treading on bits of cat litter/ Lego/ the plug on the vacuum cleaner e.g 'Will you pick up your toys, Tarquin? Your stickle bricks are going to cause serious ousali one day.'

Ousali - the layer of oil found on top of pesto, tahini paste and other such condiments e.g add some more ousali before you screw on the cap or there will be mould before Christmas.

Ousali - tension e.g Carol could sense the ousali in the room as she asked for volunteers to cover the Bank Holiday evening shift. Also, an unhealthy trance - 'Denise asked Andy an important question but received no reply because he was watching Doctor Who and in a state of ousali.'

There you go! New words, new meanings. I hope they'll make the Oxford English Dictionary one day, along with 'tulipine' which is lying on your stomach on the floor and waving your legs waftily
in the air.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

End of the Week Snippets

Best Veggie News - my favourite living-the-good-life celeb, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, is bringing out a vegetable cookery book in September. I knew he'd start making his way over from the dark side one day!

Best Financial News of the Week - we have secured a very low interest rate life time tracker mortgage for when our current deal comes to an end in a couple of months and, bizarrely, a £20,000 overdraft which our financial advisor was highly excited about. Said he'd never seen anything like it in his life. I said, 'What does it mean?' and he said, 'Cheap holidays and cars for the rest of your life.'

Best Laugh of the Week - Mrs Pumphrey chasing Mrs Slocombe around the garden in hot pursuit of a damson from the tree. I nearly wet myself.

Best Chips of the Week - lunch out on Thursday at the Stile Bridge Inn. Yuuuuummmmmm!!!!

Best Handyman of the Week - Andy, putting pictures on the walls in the Big Picture Re-Jiggle. Apparently, we have VERY HARD walls. And picture nails aren't what they used to be. There was hardly any swearing. Well done, Andy!

Best Celebrity Transformation of the Week - Joint Winners: Pauline Quirke for her 7 and a half stone weight loss and Hugh F-W for a very tidy hair cut that makes him look ten years younger.

Best Comedy of the Week - Rerun of Miranda on BBC 2 and Rob Brydon and Frank Skinner singing 'Don't Cry Daddy,' together.

Best Radio of the Week - The Diaries of William Holland 'Paupers and Pig Killers' on Radio 4 Extra, and Clive Anderson hosting a show live from the Edinburgh Festival

Best Fur Ball of the Week - Pandora Kitten, Tuesday, 11.30 a.m

Best Sudden-Jump-in-a-Startled-Fashion of the Week - Tybalt, Thursday mid-day, for no apparent reason at all.

Best We're-Awake Moment of the Week - Andy setting off the smoke alarm by grilling extra fat fish fingers on Thursday. Actually, that's what might have set Tybalt off.

Best Walk of the Week- this morning, 1 hour, brisk, around the edge of the park, 9,000 steps in one fell swoop- result! What does this mean? This means I can spend the rest of the day writing or sewing or watching a film on the telly. Which is just as well as it looks like rain again.

Happy Bank Holiday!

Friday, 26 August 2011


Dashed into town today to get a battery for the kitchen scales, and birthday guff for our recently-moved in house-guest who, despite his protestations that he 'doesn't do birthdays' will have to get over the fact that here at the Manor we do do birthdays so he WILL have card/ presents/ cake etc on Sunday whether he likes it or not. But I shall hang fire on the banners and balloons as he is new to the whole Malarkey and a full-on birthday experience could be a tad too much. But when in Rome etc etc blah blah blah. You know.

So it rained, of course, which I guess is the rain that should have arrived yesterday for the non-picnic, and whilst I was hurrying along getting puddle-sprayed by cars and buses, and shoved into water-drenched gutters by young mums with buggies and old ladies with shopping trollies, I was having a bit of a mutter to myself about the GCSE exam results article in the Daily Moan. It said that teachers were FORCING students to take exams a year early i.e at 15 in order to boost their school's position in the Government league tables, and in doing so were setting them up to fail because they weren't getting the grades they were capable of getting if they took the exams at the correct time i.e 16. And this practice has been going on since 2005-ish.

Well, let's just get one thing straight shall we??

Most of the teachers I know, myself included, object to the practice of entering students early into an exam unless they are VERY talented/ brainy/ intelligent/ have highly pushy parents. And those students are a rarity. A teeny tiny rarity. Most teachers I know would prefer to enter students for exams when they are supposed to be entered i.e at the end of Year 11 because we want them to achieve the best grade they can and not just the 'C' grade the league tables are based on. It's the management teams in the schools who want them entered early. I have sat in many meetings about this early entry malarkey and each time us classroom teachers have voiced our concerns and objections. But do you know what? Management (as I suspect is the case in all other businesses and organisations) will do what they darn well like regardless. So, Daily Moan, it's not just the students who end up demoralised, a lot of us teachers do, too.

Then, as I was muttering about what I deemed another teacher-bashing article, I heard shouty voices ahead. A boy, about 7 or 8 years old was trailing along after whom I assumed was his mother. He was shouting, 'We go into shop after shop after shop after shop and you neva buy me nuffin. Neva!' and his mother turned around and shouted back, 'Oh yeah? Is that wot yoo fink, you ungrateful little b*****d. Just yoo let me tell you exactly....shouty....shouty...shouty....shout...SHOUT!'

I switched off at that point. This is what is wrong, you see. With our society. If the parents shout at the children, the children will shout back because they think that's a good and healthy way to communicate. Then those children will go back to school next week and shout at their peers and at their teachers, because it's all right to shout at anyone as long as they get what they want. And of course they want everything. They can't go out, socialise, have a trip to the shops without thinking about what THEY should get out of it. I expect that little lad, if asked what it was he wanted, wouldn't be able to say. All he knew was that because his mum had bought something for herself or someone else, then it was his right to have something too. And don't even get me started on the appalling grammar and double negatives.

It's becoming more and more common at school, if you ask a student to help you with something, like carry some books back to the store cupboard or plug the laptops back into the lap safe, that they want to know what's in it for them. My usual response is, 'A nice warm glowy feeling that you've helped someone,' which is generally met with a grunt and look of derision.

There were more grumpy people in town today than you could shake a stick at. Snapping and snarling, glaring and growling, it was like full moon at Battersea Dogs' Home. I didn't hang around. The kitchen scales are re-batteried and ready for the making of an enormous birthday cake. And I shall dance around the kitchen whilst I bake, and most likely sing, too.

For today, despite the rain, despite going back to school next week, I am NOT a grumpus!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Non-Picnic

So where was it then? The rain that was supposed to be deluging the south-east today? The rain that stopped us going on a picnic?

We had a picnic planned, you see. We were going to take Chris, Leane and Kayleigh out for the day, to Bedgebury Pinetum, to the lake full of water lilies, for a picnic. But the weatherman - the BBC weatherman - said it was going to rain. Oh yes, he did, because when he said it, I distinctly remember saying something along the lines of 'Bummer. That's going to scupper our picnic plans. I'll have to come up with a Plan B.' Which is something I didn't really want to do, because when I make a plan I like to stick to it and not deviate in any way. And I'm feeling particularly inflexible, planwise, these days. And it's August. August should be sunny.

Anyway, I decided to wait until it was actually today before calling off the picnic and implementing Plan B. Because call me Mrs Cynical, but I don't wholly trust the weathermen. I mean, they are only predictors after all. Soothsayers. Guessers of the future. They might be wrong about the weather. It could happen.

So this morning the sky was bluish with a bit of greyish flat cloud. Bit windy. Plan B was looking preferable. And then the sun came out! Bright blazing sunshine, bright blue sky and white fluffy clouds. My shopping dead-line for picnic purchases (quiches, sausage rolls, coleslaw, Cadbury's mini-roll, fizzy stuff and crisps) was 10.30 a.m.

At 10.23 a.m the sun had gone in, the wind was up, the rain-clouds were gathering and rain looked imminent. The weatherman looked like he was going to be right. Picnic shopping was cancelled.

But then, at nearly mid-day, when Plan B had been decided thereupon (which was to go for a pub lunch), the sun came out again and it was pretty obvious there would be no rain today, thank you very muchly.


Anyway, the pub lunch was good. I especially enjoyed the view of the sunshine from the window. And then we came home and I put a load of washing out on the line and it's dry because luckily...... IT DIDN'T RAIN!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011


I am sitting in the kitchen whilst Mrs Pumphrey applies a poultice to the burn on my hand. The burn on my hand is a result of some over-zealous bashing of a small white loaf from the breadmaker loaf tin and the slipping of an oven glove. Thusly, skin came into contact with some very hot metal and some very unlady-like language ensued.

'What exactly is in this poultice?' I say to Mrs Pumphrey.
'Best not to ask,' she says. 'The most I can say is that it's a good job I got to you before Mrs Slocombe. The last time Mrs Slocombe applied a poultice, Tango Pete couldn't sit down for a week.'
'Goody,' I say. Actually, I think a poultice is unnecessary. Okay, so a blister has come up, but it's barely the size of a sixpence. And yes, the ball of my thumb is bright red and feels hot to the touch, but as burns go, it's fairly insignificant. My initial plan of treatment was to get Andy to kiss it better when he comes home from work.

'Did you know,' says Mrs P, because she's never one to pass up the opportunity of a captive audience, 'that it's forty days since St Swithin's Day?'
'No,' says I, 'I did not. Is that significant?'
'Yes,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'It means there will be a turn in the weather.'
'I should bloomin'well hope so,' I say, especially after this morning when it rained a la stair-rods for a good twenty minutes, causing rivers of water to flood the roads, and the back garden to turn into a swamp.
'There's a saying,' says Mrs Pumphrey, who is now applying a bandage that looks suspiciously like a dock leaf, 'St Bartlemy's mantle wipes dry all the tears St Swithin can cry.'
'Who is St Bartlemy?' I say.
'St Bartholomew,' says Mrs P. 'It's St Bartholomew's Day.'
'And were St Bartholomew and St Swithin great pals?' I say.
Mrs Pumphrey shrugs. 'I don't know,' she says, 'but St Bartholomew is patron saint of bee-keepers, so I guess he was an okay kind of chap.'

The poultice is starting to tingle, nay sting, with a not inconsiderable zealousness and I mention this to Mrs Pumphrey who seems unconcerned.
'Are you sure this is okay to put on a burn?' I say.
'Can you still feel the burn?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'No,' I say, because the initial discomfort of it is being overtaken by something far more sinister.
'Then the therapy has worked,' declares Mrs Pumphrey.
'What therapy?' I say.
'Pain diversion therapy,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'The premise of which is that if someone has got a headache, you stamp on their foot and they soon forget the pain elsewhere. Also,' she continues, in an effort to prevent me questioning her medicinal skills further, 'today is Wayzgoose, traditionally the day that London printers had a holiday to mark the shortening of the days and having to get out the candles to work by.'

I can understand this. Yesterday I had to put on the lights in my writing room because it was so dismal outside. The glare from my computer screen in the gloom was positively scorching.

'How did the printers celebrate their holiday?' I say.
'Employees were given a bonus to fund either a goose feast or a trip to the seaside,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'Anything else exciting happening today?' I ask.
'Beating the bounds in Grimsby,' says Mrs Pumphrey. 'But you'll have to make your own judgement about the excitement of that event.'

Once she has gone, I remove the dock leaf 'n' poultice combo and run my burn under some cold water. Aside from a funny smell which I think will follow me around for the rest of the day, there appears to be no further damage caused by Mrs Pumphrey's eager ministrations.

One can only be grateful for small mercies.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


I have decided I quite love my Kindle.

1) I like the thrill of being able to buy a book without leaving the house and enjoy the instant gratification of having it delivered in under 60 seconds. 60 seconds!! 'I'll have that one - paid - voila! And read...' Magic!

2) I like the smallness and lightness of it. I have bought a flowery canvas Kindle cover for it (by Lente Designs on Amazon - very good value for money and vegetarian-friendly to boot) and it is still small and light. It slips into the purple shoulder bag perfectly and there's no ruckling of pages and crumpling of paper. And the book mark doesn't slip out when any process of shoulder bag rootling has to take place.

3) I like the push-button page turning. No having to hold the book open, which, let's face it, can be a chore if the book is an 800 page blockbuster that requires fingers of steel to keep the pages apart. You can lie on the living room floor (my favourite position for reading) and go 'read-click-read-click-read-click' with the merest pressure of a thumb. Or index finger, just for variety. I imagine the calorific burn is similar, so no obvious danger of developing fat hands.

4) The variable print size suits my fuzzy eye tiny reading prescription moments first thing in the morning and last thing at night when I am tired or just awake. No varifocals for me! Well, not just yet anyway...

5) Some of the free books are fabulous. And some of them are rubbish. Lots of the books are under a £1. Some of those are fabulous. And some of them are rubbish. I downloaded what turned out to be a rubbish one but it also turned out to be the best 98p I've ever invested, because as I read I thought,' This is dreadful! This woman is a much-published and professional writer. She earns her living writing. I can write better than this. Much better.' And it got me re-editing 'Indigo Antfarm, Violet and Blue,' and the first three chapters are ready to go off to agents and publishers. Just need to write a synopsis now, and if you are a writer you'll know that this is probably the most tricky and tedious part of trying to get published. But I'm so happy with the book, I may just upload it to Kindle anyhow, like we did with Nearly King Jimbo. I reckon it's worth a pound of anyone's money.

I have embraced the e-book. P'raps I'm not such a Luddite after all. Of course, I shan't reject the booky book because some books will always be better in their booky book form than their Kindle book form. But for the reading of a novel-type book (especially your light-weight holiday chicklit reads), the Kindle is great! And it takes up a lot less space on the shelf, too.

Monday, 22 August 2011

All Change

Today, in 1485, the War of the Roses ended. Richard III died from being murdered and Henry VII, collecting the crown from where it had fallen beneath a hawthorn bush on Bosworth Field, became king. I hope he washed it first. Funny they both had the same sized heads, too. Or did he have to nip it into the local blacksmith and ask for a quick upsize or downsize? Was Henry VII a bighead or a pinhead? We shall never know...

And so times changed.

Things are always changing which irritates a lot of people because, generally, people don't like change. But there you go, change happens.

Last week Andy and I were up in the loft for 'Ruthless Clean Out Number Three.' This was because we have found ourselves with an unexpected house guest who brought with him a pile of lifetime possessions. At first, the aforesaid possessions were spread hither and thither around the house in any available corner that could take a box or a suitcase or a near-to-bursting carrier bag. But the Lady of the Manor (aka moi) knew that this state of cluttered affairs would do nothing for her already mildly frayed nerves, so she decreed thusly that a space be allocated in the loft for the storage of the new house guests tat/ guff/ accoutrements.

Up we went. We looked at stuff. Had we needed this/wanted this/ used this in the last year or so? No! Then out it went! Many trips to the tip. Many trips to the book bank and to the charity shop. We done good!

Next change was the rewriting of the address book. I bought a new one ages ago, with daisies in it and on it. It is very daisified. I went through the old address books, two thereof, and transfered up-to-date names and addresses. The old address books are VERY old. I had names and addresses of people in there whom I'd lost contact with, who'd moved house three times and whom had chosen not to keep in touch with us despite the sending of highly original MMM Christmas cards. I had names and addresses of people I couldn't even remember.

And then I went through my e-mail account and deleted myself from various newsletters and marketing doo-dahs that have gathered over the years. And some of those I can't remember signing up for either. I created a new e-mail account for professional 'n' business purposes, given that my current e-mail account has an odd name and I get odd looks when I give it to people of a professional 'n' business-like nature. My new account is very ordinary and sane and raises no eyebrows. Trouble is, I gave myself a password which (and this is VERY BAD for a teacher of English) I inexplicably misspelled when I set it up, so every time I go into it I spell the word of my password correctly, the log-in system tells me I've entered it incorrectly, I get mildly tetchy and say 'No, I haven't,' and then I remember I misspelled it, so enter the incorrect spelling BUT correct password and all is well and accessed. I must change the password.

There's a lot of change going on. I put it down to the approaching September factor. You know, that new-pencil-case feeling of an approaching academic year. It generally fades once a person leaves school but remains with those of us who have children and then perpetuate the phenomenon by doing something idiotic like becoming a teacher.

Other changes in the offing are a proposed hedge along the wall of the front garden (privet or hornbeam? Hmmm...decisions, decisions), serious exploration of the world of opera, and saying 'goodbye' to the allotment after six years.

Life is starting to look very tidy.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Bears in the Wood

Andy, as you know, is a FAB bloke. His overall fabness more than makes up for the Doctor Who thing although this is in no way a go-ahead nod for the Doctor Who thing to expand because I definitely draw the line at any form of dressing-up and/ or role play.

Anyway, one point of Andy's fabness is that he knows how to assuage any signs of stress within me, and there has been a lot of stress over the last few weeks, one way or another.

And the assuaging takes the form of countryside + historic house/ mansion/ castle + nice lunch + huge displays of lavender + a reasonable quality gift shop full of reasonable quality tat.

Hence yesterday a trip to Penshurst Place. Countryside? Tick. Historic? Very tick. Nice lunch? Better-than-Leeds-Castle-which-is-becoming-way-too-commercialised-tick. Lavender? Scented tick. Gift shop? Admirable tick for admirable tat. De-stressed by the end of the visit? Big tickety-tick-tick-TICK!

An added bonus was that it seemed very quiet i.e few children kicking and screaming, so plenty of room to swan about the house and waft around the gardens in and out the topiary and roses like a proper Lady of the Manor.

It also had a rather lovely and expansive picnic ground and childrens' play area, so definitely a place to take the grand-daughter in the future when she is old enough to understand the subtle nuances of the reign of Henry VIII, how to plant an Elizabethan flower border and respond sensibly to the words, 'Stay away from the edge of that pathway unless you want to plummet fifteen feet onto the gravel below.'

There was a nice woodland walk, too. In fact, as we entered the woods, a grandad 'n' grandson combo emerged, and the grandson, aged about 5 or 6, informed us that it was VERY DARK in there.

'Really?' I said. 'Then we shall be very careful. Are there any bears?'

'We thought we may have heard a bear,' said the grandad.

'Yes,' said the grandson. 'And if you see the bear, then you must run away from it VERY FAST.'

'Okay,' I said. 'And if we shout 'HELP!' will you come back and save us from the bear?'

The grandad assured us they would; his grandson looked less enthusiastic. We continued on our way into the very dark and bear-infested wood.

Andy said,'Of course, the worse thing you can do if you meet a bear is to run away from it,' which is true because we had watched a wildlife documentary about bears only two days before. Apparently, you have to hold up both hands to show them you have no food. Which is okay if you happen not to be mid-picnic at the time and are scoffing an egg mayo sandwich. It also sounds like a good way to get your hands chewed off, but I am sure the experts know what they are talking about.

'But,' continued Andy, 'I didn't really want to get into a conversation with a five year old about the correct way to manage a bear attack. I thought it might complicate the issue.'

I agreed that he was very wise to keep his bear attack knowledge to himself. We didn't want the child to have nightmares after all.

And five-year-olds can be VERY pedantic if provoked. More so than a bear I reckon.

Anyway, we had a thoroughly calm and relaxing day, and just to prove the effect it had on me, I purchased a piece of high-quality tat from the gift shop which took the form of a magnetic notebook to hang on your fridge for writing shopping lists thereupon.

Friday, 12 August 2011

On-line in the Writing Room with Murder Most Horrid

It was decided that my writing room computer should go 'on-line'. I can't remember the whys and hows and wherefores of this decision except that alcohol was not involved, me being tee-total and Andy off the wine at the moment in an attempt to stop his snoring. Whatever. The idea was mooted, deemed a good one and the plan set in motion.

The necessary dongle equipment arrived on Wednesday and now I am able to access the interwebbly from my writing room which is a good thing because it means I don't have to chug up the net book if I want to blog or download teachery stuff, and a bad thing because it means that when I am writing or dealing with school malarkey, the temptation to hop on-line and do a bit of surf-shopping and general fiddling about is there, right under my nose at the click of a mouse.

Also, my writing room computer seems to be over-excited at being on-line and yesterday, I kid you not, performed 3 synchronisations and, get this, 104 updates!! I managed to do 5 sudokus, one crossword and the weekly shop at Sainsbugs whilst this was occurring.

I related this irritation to Andy. 'What has it got to up-date anyway?' said I.
'Well,' said Andy, 'a year's worth of not being on-line possibly?'
'Nope,' I said. 'I don't get it. All I've been doing on that computer is writing and studying and playing a game or two hundred of Mahjong Titans.'
'I can disable the update facility if you like,' said Andy, sensing a spot of computer rage on my part.

I'm not sure this is a good idea. I mean, given that computers do what they like anyway, what if mine decides to undisable itself and perform 3867 updates when I am in the middle of a particularly excellent piece of writing and I lose my creative momentum? It could be the crucial difference between the creation of a best-selling novel and the usual type of tat I write. (I need to say 'thank you' at this point to Diana, who lives in New Zealand and is currently plodding her way - voluntarily! - through 'Poulet Nous - The Race to Save Much Malarkey Manor' 2009 ed. It tickles me enormously to think someone over the other side of the world is reading a novel I wrote in 30 days about chickens. It tickles the chickens, too. Mrs Pumphrey is already practising her autograph. Bless you, Diana!)

So I think the updates doo-dah needs to stay put so they occur in small and manageable doses.

Against all the odds, I did manage to crack on with a story of sorts yesterday. And what was really odd is that it seems to be turning into a thriller. In the first three pages, the heroine murders her husband with a Stanley knife because he complains about the cost of the wallpaper she's just bought to decorate a feature wall in their living room. Now, my usual style has a comedy bent to it, and this story is no different, but there is definitely a dark side emerging. I'm not a fan of thrillers and murders and the like. You know me - I like the world to be fluffy and pink and full of cute kittens and everyone being nice to each other and eating cakes and smelling flowers in the sunshine.

But I'm thinking, perhaps I ought to expand my knowledge of the thriller murder mystery side of literature. Perhaps this is where I've been going wrong. Perhaps I've been pursuing the wrong line of writing. Perhaps I am of the Dark Side...

...oooh, hang on a minute...I've just spotted a fur ball under my desk. Pandora has been yacking them up on an almost daily basis this week. I'm beginning to think she's more furry on her insides than she is on her outside...won't be a mo...just get some kitchen roll....euewww...yuk!

I think I'll see where this story goes. The plot has necessitated my investigating how law and policing works and all the jargon and terminology that goes with it, and I am also having to fight my natural urge to get my heroine away from the scene of the murder and to the nearest olde worlde tea-shoppe as soon as possible, preferably wearing a Laura Ashley frock and rescuing an injured puppy on the way. And I'm not sure which writers to read to get to know the format of the murder-mystery- crime-thriller genre better. Andy has loads of such books, because he is a fan, but then he also seems very caught up in the latest series of Torchwood which is, as far as I can tell, 12 episodes of exactly the same plot each week set alternately in California and Cardiff.

And I much prefer John Barrowman when he is singing and dancing and doing jazz hands than when he is swanning around in a long floaty coat trying to look cross.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

An Apple a Day

The Much Malarkey Manor apple tree has done itself proud this year. Now in its fourth year of growth, it has shot both upwards and outwards and is positively groaning under the weight of fruit. I skip into the garden ever other day and fill up the fruit bowl. I'm going to need a ladder soon, so skipping will probably become inappropriate, dangerous and a Health and Safety issue, and quite frankly I can't be doing with all the paperwork so please don't mention this to the authorities.

Now, Mrs Pumphrey has discovered that if she stands on the fence surrounding the herb garden, she can fling herself with sufficient force at the tree and knock an apple or two from the branches to the ground where Mrs Slocombe is waiting to grab the spoils and rush off for a spot of apple chomping. This is bad.

'Well, we're fed up with courgettes,' they say. I suppose I can't blame them - I'm getting pretty fed up with courgettes, too. But they need to stand back from the apple tree. Or there will be trouble.

So, not only do I find myself rushing into the garden waving tea-towels at the pigoens to stop them pinching the chicken food, I give an extra tea-towel wave at Mrs P to get her off the fence and away from the apple tree. If only, I think, the chickens would eat the chicken food. Then the pigeons wouldn't go after it and the hens wouldn't go after the apples. If only it were that simple.

Chickens are such life-enhancing creatures.

Today I am hiding. The house is silent. There is a cat curled up asleep either side of me and I am losing myself in the writing of a short story that I started early yesterday morning and is proving to be a load of tosh. (I am trying to detosh myself by having a blogging break, but find myself aimlessly rambling instead.) I am also fiddling with my Kindle and going, 'Cor, look what it can do,' a lot. I've finished 'Northanger Abbey' and am on a mission to download as many freebie books from Amazon as I can. One of them is 'Diary of a Nobody' which is proving very entertaining ; Pooter is in the process of painting everything in his house with red enamel paint. And I am wondering at what point in the plot his wife is going to leave him, because I'd have been out the door by page 8.

Later, I may go into the garden and do some weeding. This is only because I now have in my possession a green waste wheelie bin from the council which is going to cost £30 per annum for the privilege of using, and I feel obliged to fill it up for collection every fortnight in order to get my money's worth. Luckily, the buddleia is coming to the end of its flowering and is in need of drastic pruning. And there are some pretty ropey-looking lupins in the front borders that need dealing with, too.

And I have just remembered that I have a £15 gift certificate to spend on Amazon so should I develop a sudden consumer urge I can satisfy it with some random purchase. Today, I am mostly feeling like randomly purchasing a copy of Puccini's Madame Butterfly, or the latest Paul Torday novel, or a new key ring, or a gastric band.

A man has been out this week to assess the replacement of a couple of roof tiles, and the sorting out of the boiler. He is a multi-tasker. He is also bi-polar, though I'm not sure how that helps in roofing or boilering nor why he felt the need to tell me in the first place. He is going to get back to me vis a vis costs and dates which I sometimes think is tradesman talk for 'I can't be bothered to deal with such a trivial job.' Still, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, the country being in economic straits and all so surely no job can be too small, and await his getting back to me with eager anticipation - well, okay, mild interest.

I have been assessing our finances (because we are taking out a new mortgage deal and such activities forces one into assessing one's finances) and have decided that we can at last get the upstairs shower-room done properly. And by 'properly' I mean 'professionally' and not 'bodgily' by which I mean by me and Andy, because although we are a very good vet and a very good teacher between us, we are rubbish with plumbing, tiles, lights and showers. Therefore, a bathroom man has also been out, and has said he will provide us with a quote in a week's time. I'd rather he provide us with a new shower room, but if he feels he needs to kick off with a quote or two I hope it's Oscar Wilde or Shakespeare. Or Dorothy Parker. She's always good for a laugh. Ahahahahahaha!!

The bathroom man did provide a verbal quote before he went, which didn't scare me too much, so I expect we shall go ahead anyway.

Right, back to the short story tosh. Have a good tosh-free day!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Fluff 'n' frou-frou 'n' flounces 'n' frills

For a wedding that is almost two years away yet, Chris and Leane are careering ahead with the plans as if time is of the essence. The venue for the ceremony and the reception are sorted - windmill and cute little barn - and if Leane had had her way, then I think today she would have bought her dress and it would be taking up space in my loft until the Big Day!

Yes, today we have trawled the bridal shops of the town - we have been sucked into the mysterious world of princess line and fishtail and ballgown, of taffeta, silk and lace, of cathedral veils and tiaras and ice white and ivory and oyster. And now I feel drained of all energy, both physical and emotional, and want to go for a lie-down except there is a Thai curry waiting to be cooked for dinner and if I go and lie on the floor then Pandora will sit very close to my head and STARE at me and freak me out big time.

Leane has strong ideas about what she doesn't want in a wedding gown. 'I don't want anything that makes me look like a fish, or anything that is too pouffy,' she said. But because she is tall and slim, she actually looks wonderful in fishtail dresses AND pouffy dresses, which means she has the choice of pretty much any dress there is on the market, unlike me who tried on all sorts of gowns and managed to use all the adjectives from 'good' to 'okay' to 'hideous' in one fitting appointment alone.

There wasn't one dress that Leane tried on today that she didn't look fab in. Varying degrees of fabness, yes, but all fab none the same. There was one that was super-fab, though. It is what I call a 'proper wedding dress' and when she came out of the changing room I actually gasped and Kayleigh, who had begun to develop wedding-dress fatigue two shops previously, stood and stared and then sat on the floor with a 'flump' and stared as though she was looking at a real life fairy-tale princess.

And for a brief moment, I thought I caught the look of a looter in Leane's eye. A look that said, 'If I run for it, wearing this dress, they'll never catch me, and I'll get away with it because everyone else seems to be at the moment.'

Luckily, Leane has stronger moral fibre than a looter, thus saving me the embarrassment of having to rugby-tackle her in public and drag her kicking and screaming from the dress of her dreams.

Unfortunately, the dress of her dreams comes with a pretty hefty price tag, and Andy and I are already paying for the venue.

More thinking and praying to do, I believe. Something will come up though. I'm sure it will.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Ashamed and Outraged

Today, I feel ashamed to be English. Rioting and looting going on in the name of 'justice'? Wild, and misguided youngsters stealing and committing acts of violence against their communities in cities of which we are supposed to be proud? Law-abiding citizens seeing their businesses go up in smoke, their property being destroyed, their livelihoods and lives threatened? To say that these yobs are behaving like animals is an insult to animals.

And some of them mere children, too? As a teacher, I always feel a sense of responsiblity that my job isn't only about teaching the structures of complex and compound sentences. or exploring the historical and cultural contexts of a society that produced our literary classics. It's about trying to instil some sense of moral and social code in youngsters who don't have that guidance from their own parents (and believe me, there are lots of them out there.) It's about trying to show this new generation that there is more to life than owning the latest mobile phone or gaming system, than watching reality TV shows that promise fame and fortune for everyone, than living their friendships through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter or their ambitions through DVD games like Grand Theft Auto and World of Warcraft. But it's difficult - are they prepared to listen to an old fogey who keeps hens and bees, grows her own veg, reads books and likes making cakes and growing a few flowers? And who doesn't even know her own mobile phone number and cancelled her Facebook account after 6 months because she could see the aggravation it was causing?

It's not easy to say...

No, it is not okay to take someone else's property just because you want it and can't be bothered to save for it yourself, or earn your own money because that will take time and you want it NOW.

No, it is not okay to verbally abuse someone because it is 'funny', because it 'amuses' you, because you lack the empathy to understand the distress you are causing someone else.

No, it is not okay to taunt someone to the verge of tears, because you are bored and want a bit of excitement in your life, because you enjoy winding someone up for revenge or whatever other petty and pathetic excuse you can come up with to justify your behaviour.

No, it is not okay to blame someone else for your revolting behaviour just because you can't be bothered to put in the effort to learn how to behave in a civilised manner towards your fellow human beings.

No, it is not okay to spread gossip and rumours about each other because she said that he said that she said that someone else told them that someone else said that she said that because he said that.

Teachers spend almost as much time sorting out the arguments and poor behaviour of a minority of their students as they do trying to teach their subject to the majority. I would be lying if I said this situation wasn't demoralising.

Of course, the majority of our students are well-behaved. They want to learn. They know how to be courteous, they know the value of education, and whilst some may not in possession of the greatest brains in the world, they will always try their best and that's all that can be asked.

But it doesn't take many to spoil the endeavours of the majority. For I think that the majority of British citizens are law-abiding and respectful, that we go about our daily lives working hard, paying bills and taxes, caring for our environments, policing our lives so as not to upset and inconvenience anyone else. And it's us that will be paying for this vile behaviour of the few. We'll be lumbered with rising insurance costs and council tax bills. We'll be clearing up the physical mess if we inadvertently get caught up in some yob's path of destruction. And these yobs are the parents of the next generation.

I'm lucky, really. I have a good family, good friends, a job and a brain. I have a nice little house on the edge of a town (although I woudln't want to be in the middle of that town in the wee small hours at a weekend.)

What can I do for this country that I love? Keep teaching? Keep praying? Switch off Radio 4 and confine listening to the comedy stations?

I don't know.

God Bless England. I think, at the moment, she needs it.

Friday, 5 August 2011


Two things...

...the piano. Yes, a waste company said; they would come and collect the remains of our dead piano. It would cost me £50 for the privilege but hey, it would get rid of it from the driveway and negate the risk of it falling onto my car and smashing the lovely metallic blue paintwork to smithereens in a high wind. The company would collect late afternoon, possibly tomorrow. So, mid-afternoon there was a knock on the door. A small and smiley and muscley man was on the door step.
'I see you've got the insides of a piano on your drive,' he said.
'Are you from the waste company?' I said.
'No,' he said. 'But if you want to get rid of it, I'll take it now. No charge.' And he showed me his official card that proved him to be a properly licensed scrap merchant and not some shyster who would dump what he didn't want in some Kentish beauty spot somewhere. Not that there are many Kentish beauty spots left, not since John Prescott started concreting over the county, but I digress....

So what are the chances of something like that happening? Mr Small - Smiley- Muscley loaded the piano innards onto his lorry using the dinkiest crane I've ever seen, I refilled his squash bottle for him, and he went off happy with his spoils leaving me happy at saving £50.

...the bees in the roof. Which turned out NOT to be bees after all, but WASPS!! What a relief! Not for the wasps, obviously, who are now in the process of becoming ex-wasps, but ooooh the angst I've been suffering thinking I was going to be party to a bee massacre. You spend the whole season nurturing your numbers up to an excess of a quarter of a million, then you commit an act of deliberate murder.
The Wasp Man came out and stared at the roof for a while. 'Are you sure they are bees?' said he.
'No, 'said I, 'it's an assumption based on my being a bee-keeper and the fact we've got a full-to-bursting top-bar hive at the bottom of the garden.'
Wasp Man hummed, got out his binoculars and stared at the roof a bit more. 'Definitely wasps,' he declared. 'That's a relief, isn't it?' he added. Obviously he had picked up on my bee-ocide guilt.

So he got out his cannister of insectijollop and had a good old squirt around and declared his job done.
I apologised for not being able to tell a wasp from a bee at 45 feet.
'Don't worry,' he said. 'It amazes me the number of people who think that bumble bees are wasps. I knew what a bumblebee looked like when I was two.'

I thought that was very impressive. My only memory from when I was two is walking around the back garden with a yellow bucket on my head and banging into the fence.

Two good things to end this stressy week, then. I'm keeping everything crossed that more stresses on my list will meet with equal efficiency next week.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

You May Have Noticed...

...that yesterday I was feeling quite narksome with the world. So much so that I have created a new word - 'narksome' - in order to describe the feeling of 'WHY IS THE WORLD CONSPIRING 'GAINST ME?? WHY, WHY, WHY???? (wails, stamps feet, beats bosom, howls at the moon, tries to resist urge to comfort eat and fails dismally).

But today I feel better and I have been getting on with the task of dealing with the list of narksome stresses.

So far I have a) engaged the services of someone to sort out bees in roof b) engaged someone to take away dead piano c) found a reliable sort of chap to deal with loose roof tiles and boiler.

I have contacted, and am awaiting reply from, someone to sort out dodgy bathroom window.

I have found a possible and affordable wedding venue - a WINDMILL! How cool would that be? Literally!!

I have stood in back garden and conversed with the chickens using very mild expletives regarding the constant banging and drilling coming from next-door-but-one that continues today.
'Mild expletives?' says Mrs Slocombe. 'My Great Uncle Norbert the Naughty Navvy would have been proud and slightly pink of cheek to hear what Denise said this morning.'

My letter of appointment was apparently 'written yesterday' and 'should arrive by the end of the week'. But I shall believe that one when I see it.

I have been helped in this sudden burst of grabbing-the-problems-by-their-horns-and-staring-them-in-their-beady-eyes by the arrival in my life (via lovely Andy who is ever sensitive to my needs) of a Kindle! I have already downloaded for free 'Northanger Abbey' by Jane Austen which is highly entertaining, and I have a list of other books I intend to get (mostly for free) this afternoon. I'm also listening to an adaptation of 'Cold Comfort Farm' on Radio 4 Extra, which is one of my favourite books and, consequently, am thinking that no matter how bad things get, Aunt Ada Doom and her 'something nasty in the woodshed' will probably always be worse off than me, especially as we don't have a woodshed for anything nasty to hide in.

I have also decided to abandon Capt. Corelli and his Banjomandoukele.

And so I continue onwards and upwards, like some mad Revolutionary from a tear-jerking French novel. It's Wednesday, Mr Mybug is in equal mad pursuit of Flora, Mrs Pumphrey is back in lay, there's a vast quantity of apples that need picking from the tree in the back garden and it's just about cool enough today to bake a cake.

Plan 'Get on With Your Life You Miserable Bat and Stop Whinging' is back on track!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


... with bees in the roof space
... with boilers on the blink
... with daughters and their boyfriends
... with sons and their weddings
... with pianos and their innards
... with mortgages and their rates
... with incompetent lawyers who make assumptions
... with having to go places you don't want to be seen dead in

... with dodgy bathroom windows
... with awful books to teach (esp. Captain Corelli's Mandolin - eurghhh!)
... with friends who aren't very well and worry you
... with allotments overgrown with weeds
... with days too hot for baking
... with a mind fed up with it all
... with the sudden onset of bingo wings
... with a school that STILL hasn't sent a letter of appointment even though its nearly eight weeks since the interview

... with gangs of spitting, swearing youths roaming the road with their idiot haircuts and penchant for lager for elevenses
... with the people next-door-but-one who have been BANGING and DRILLING non-stop for 4 days now
... with trying to think of what to cook for dinner tonight after more than 25 years of thinking what to cook for dinner tonight
... with too many expectations to be Wonder Woman... and all that jazz... you know what I think? I think I might just pack a bag and RUN AWAY FROM IT ALL NOW...