Friday, 21 November 2014


I've been having a bit of a clear-out this week, partly in despair at the enormous tottering mountains of magazines, paperwork and books in every corner of the house, but mostly in a desperate effort to make the annual pre-Christmas house-cleaning less arduous in a few weeks.

It started more or less by accident yesterday, when I was sorting out laundry. I ought to draw a critical path analysis diagram to illustrate the path of progress I took.

Step 1:  Sort out a load of laundry and put it in the washing machine.  Decide to tidy up my Heap of Shame in the corner.

Step 2:  Pick up assorted items of clothing on the floor, sort through and either hang up or place in laundry basket.  Stand back and admire empty spot where Heap of Shame previously lived.  Decide to hoover the bedroom.

Step 3:  Fetch hoover, realise that Mr WithaY's Heap of Shame threatens to overwhelm his half of the bedroom.  Suggest* he sorts it out.

Step 4:  Decide to clean window frames of black filth and mould while he sorts out the Heap.   Fetch cleaning wipes from the bathroom.  Clean bathroom sink, bath and shower with cleaning wipes, as they're all a bit grubby now you look at them.

Step 5:  Return to bedroom.  Clean all black filth from window frames.  Decide to dust window ledges, as they are grey and fluffy rather than white and shiny.

Step 6:  Fetch duster from study.  Find furniture polish cleaning wipes in box with duster.  Realise desk is very grubby.  Clean with furniture polish wipes.  Move dressmakers form out of study onto landing to be put back in the loft later.

Step 7:  Mr WithaY, taking a break from sorting his Heap, scrambles up into the loft to put the dressmakers form away.  Both stand back and admire the empty spot in the study where it used to be.

Step 8:    Return to bedroom.  Dust window ledges.  Realise every other flat surface in the bedroom is also grey and fluffy. Dust everything else.  Raise huge clouds of dust.  Re-dust window ledges as a result.  Finally, with Mr WithaY's Heap of Shame cleared, hoover the bedroom floor.

Step 9:  Hoover the landing, study, spare bedroom (in a cursory manner, then shut the door on it), and finally the bathroom.  Oh, and then the top half of the stairs.

As you see, this endless displacement activity type of cleaning goes on in an indefinite loop, until you run out of cleaning wipes or the hoover needs emptying.  In this example, it ended with Mr WithaY making us a cup of tea, thus cunningly breaking the cycle.

This morning I was planning to get all the ironing done. My ironing routine is simple, but effective.  I put the TV in the bedroom on, find something fairly unchallenging to watch (Frasier, Star Trek, Big Bang Theory, as examples) and then stand there for an hour or two, turning a basket full of scrumpled tatty-looking rags into several neat piles of pressed folded clothes.  It's deeply satisfying, in a low-grade way.

I was thwarted by the weather.  (First world problems klaxon here.)

The satellite link to the upstairs TV is badly affected by the weather. If it rains, even a little bit, the signal breaks up and the programme becomes unwatchable.  Clearly, I cannot be expected to iron without the amusing exploits of American actors to keep me occupied, so I have to put the iron back down with an exasperated sigh, and go and do something else.  And here we are.

One thing I could do is go and sort out Mr WithaY's dressing table.  I was browsing through a gift catalogue which arrived with a weekend newspaper, trying to find something that wasn't related to golf or coffee** and I spotted a Gentleman's Tidy.  Something like this, but made in faux leather rather than wood.

I seriously considered ordering it as a Christmas present, and then I thought a bit harder about what tends to occupy Mr WithaY's dressing table.

Among the usual litter of aftershave bottles, toiletries, cufflink boxes and a clothes brush, yesterday there were:

Several pairs of clean pants, neatly folded and waiting to be put away in a drawer
A plastic fork
A huge heap of old receipts and scraps of paper, none of them necessary for tax purposes
A coin sorter (almost empty)
Several coins
Cord (not the same as string)
A book about neolithic cooking
Hazelnuts, foraged and then forgotten about, in the manner of an absent-minded squirrel

I don't think there is a Gentleman's Tidy in existence which is designed to cope with that little lot.

Back to the drawing board.

Also, how do they sort out their laundry on Star Trek, eh?  I've seen evidence of a bar, a barber and beauty parlour, several places to eat, even showers, but never any laundry facilities.  I like to imagine that deep in the bowels of the Starship Enterprise is a dry-cleaners, manned by a grouchy Ferengi.

*Shout down stairs "Can you please come and move all your clothes, it's a pigsty up here."

**Slim pickings, I can tell you.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Style matters

Today I am pondering the nature of Time.

This is mostly in the context of a party we are heading off to in a bit, up there in Cheltenham.  Coo er gosh posh eh?  A dear friend is having a Significant Birthday this week, and we have been invited along to help him celebrate.  When the invitation arrived, I looked at the clever vintage-stylee design, and the large, highly visible Date of Birth thereon.

Me:  "I can't believe he's 50!  Already!  it only seems a couple of years since we all went to his 40th birthday!  Remember that evening?  That Chinese restaurant in Gloucester?  What a laugh."

Mr WithaY:  Read the date again.

Me:  1954.

Mr WithaY:  And 2014 minus 1954 is....?

Me:  (uncertainly, what with my terrible Maths Blindness affliction)  Um...50?

Mr WithaY:  No.  60.  He's 60.  It's TWENTY YEARS since we went to his 40th birthday.

Me:  But I still have the handbag I took to that party!

So, we are off to a birthday party for a friend who is, incredibly, 60 .  The lithe bugger started long-distance running a year or two ago and is fitter and healthier than he has been in all the time I've known him.  He posts photos on Facebook of him running 10k races, and 25k races, and wearing medals from races, and he looks less knackered than I do after I've hoovered the stairs.

This morning, Mr WithaY has been preparing himself for the event.  He's been rummaging in his wardrobe, selecting garments, then rejecting them, then picking them up again to see the effect with a different waistcoat.  He has, and I am not joking, just been in a quandary as to which pocket watch he ought to wear.
I suggested he forgo the pocket watch, and wear a wristwatch like any sane human, but apparently if you wear a waistcoat, you have to wear a watch chain, and if you wear a watch chain, you have to wear a pocket watch. Well duh.

Mr WithaY has two modes for clothes. He has Work Mode, which involves multiple layers of fleece, Goretex, moleskin, gaiters and heavy boots, with a complicated belt arrangement which has knives, a firelighting kit and his phone attached to it, and he has Going Out Mode, which involves cravats, waistcoats, 1930s trousers, or possibly overcoats, and the same heavy boots (minus gaiters.)  I'm pretty sure that if I didn't put my foot down, he'd wear a monocle.  Maybe two, as he's short-sighted.

To make matters worse, today he has been having to make additional holes in his belt, as he has lost so much weight due to being a manly outdoor type*, so he's smugly looking forward to showing off his svelte shape in front of our friends later.

Next week we're going shopping to buy him some sensible shoes, as all his shoes look like Ray Mears has been tromping across Africa in them.  I haven't told him yet. I'll pretend we're popping into Salisbury for a mooch round the market and lunch at Wagamama, then drag him to a shoe shop.  Bwahahahahaha.

I'm wearing a new skirt and a pretty top, and some lipstick, in order to fulfil the dress code of "smart casual" which is the most hellish of all dress codes. I can do smart - I have ballgowns, and tiaras and evening gloves and feather boas - and I can do casual - look, I am doing that right now - but Smart Casual is a nasty mixture in the middle.  Will I be too casual?  Will I be overdressed?  Will anyone care?

Thankfully, the answer to that last question is a resounding "no," because these are very old friends who for 20 years only really saw me in a field, dressed as a Seventeenth Century musketeer.  Their expectations are low.

In other news, we have had a bit of a health scare with the dog.  A peculiar lump appeared on one of her paws, just above the dewclaw, so I did what you should never do, and Googled "weird lumps on Labradors."  Immediately, inevitably, I became convinced she had terminal Death Paw Cancer Lumps, so we took her to the vet the next day for a check-up.  The vet took a biopsy and added to the alarm by telling us it could either be a cyst (not too bad) or a tumour (GAAAAH WHAT DID YOU SAY??) but that she wouldn't know till after the results came back.

A stressful few days followed, with us playing telephone tag with the vet, trying to get the results. Things were not helped by them leaving a message saying "It's not massively bad, can you ring us please?"

What the hell does "not massively bad" mean?    We only need to amputate one foot?  She could live at least another six months?  Brrr.

Anyhoo, eventually I spoke to the vet, who told me it was most likely a cyst-type thing as a result of an irritation like a bite or a sting or a thorn, and it should go away by itself in six to eight weeks. We have to take her back for a check up in a fortnight though, just to make sure.

The most encouraging thing was that they didn't find any cancer cells, which is what they were looking for.

Here she is, being all stressed out by the situation.

*And not eating 5 custard doughnuts a day whilst sat on his arse at a desk

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Holiday report


I've been on holiday. Not for the entire time since the last post on here, sadly, but recently enough for me still to want to tell people about it.  Where? Why, to Tenerife, dear reader.  That volcanic island not far off the west coast of Africa, where the sun always* shines, the sea is a crystal blue**, the beaches are pure white*** sand, and there is song**** and laughter in the air.

It's been a difficult year in some ways, this past 12 months. We lost poor old Father in law WithaY, who is still missed, despite his almost unfailing grumpiness.  I had a fairly significant operation in January, from which I have almost completely recovered now, bar a bit of lingering tenderness and some bizarre scars.  Oh, and we've had to do quite a lot of structural/repair stuff to the house, garden and garage which has been as tiresome and complex as these things usually are.

On the plus side, I still have a job I enjoy, we have a rain-proof garage, and a much prettier front garden, and have enjoyed some of the best summer weather ever.  Oh, and we have new neighbours.  That may not sound like a big deal, but our previous neighbours were a bit of a trial at times, and it is something of a relief to know they have moved on.

But Tenerife.  Let me tell you all about it.

We flew from Bristol, a great little airport, where there are enough shops and cafes to make you feel like you are Somewhere Big, but small enough that you can relax a bit and not feel completely threatened by the place.  Unlike Heathrow, the bastard.

The flight is 4 hours, just long enough to start getting uncomfortable in your teeny tiny aeroplane seat, and if you want a drink of water or a cup of tea, you have to buy it.  Bah.  I want a return to the days when you were offered a glass of orange squash from a tray, and a barley-sugar for your ears.

There was a minute or two of disconcerting confusion after landing, trying to find the transport to our hotel, but the friendly and efficient (I sound like a cheap brochure, sorry) Thomson holidays chap pointed us to the taxi minibus that had our name on it, and off we went.  Mr WithaY and I had been toying with the idea of hiring a car while we were on the island, but the short drive to the hotel persuaded us that we were neither brave enough nor affluent enough to risk the almost-certain death/car accident that seemed to lurk around every corner. Every single car we saw while we were there looked as though it had recently competed in a demolition derby.

The hotel we stayed in is called the Europe Villa Cortes, and I heartily recommend it to the house.  It's right on the seafront, and is built in an unusual, low-level rambling Mexican style around a large central courtyard. It looks like this:

Mmmmm.  I spent much of my holiday on a lounger in this very spot, relaxing under a palm tree in the shade, occasionally popping in for a swim.  There is a waterfall in the pool, which I enjoyed standing under (when I felt brave enough, it was an unheated pool.)

I saw, for the first time that I can remember, dates growing on palm trees.  They are beautiful!

I took those pictures from the balcony of our room, rather than from atop another, taller, palm tree.

The hotel is decorated throughout in a Mexican style, but with Spanish touches.  I loved the lights wrapped around the trunks of the trees around the courtyard, the many small bowls of fresh flowers, floating in water in intricate patterns, and even the rubber water lilies in a fountain. It was all so strange, and so foreign, and so very, very pleasant.

The house artist seems to have modelled their style on Beryl Cook's. There were fat naked ladies, fat saints, fat picadors and best of all, fat ponies on almost every wall. And skeletons on the lift doors.

The food was (predictably, by now, I expect) excellent. Here is a breakfast omelette, made to order, and garnished with guacamole, fresh flowers, and a tortilla.  We also had fizzy wine with breakfast.  Such decadence. I felt like I was in an episode of Poirot.

Mr WithaY added extra bacon and tomatoes, because clearly a few fresh flowers are not enough to sustain a man who intends to spend a day snoozing on a sunlounger by the pool.

Apart from waddling contentedly around the hotel, what did we do?

We went here.  Proudly billed as the most spectacular water park in Europe, I have to say, it was jolly good fun.  Mr WithaY went on every single ride. I went on a few, but still far more than I thought I was going to.

We arrived mid-morning, having been involved in a truly alarming bus queue scuffle, which involved two Spanish blokes almost coming to blows, and several women screaming and waving their babies in the air, found a locker, locked away all our stuff (sunblock, hats, sunglasses, bottles of water - you know, all the stuff that keeps you from being burned to a crisp in the boiling sun) because there were signs all over the place making it very clear that if you went on any of the rides in  hat, sunglasses, wearing a watch, carrying a camera etc etc etc you MIGHT BE KILLED.  I may be misremembering a few details, but it was something like that. Anyway, they were most emphatic about not wearing sunglasses.

Siam Park, so called because the King Of Siam visited Tenerife in about 1913.  Etcetera etcetera etcetera.

It's very cleverly landscaped, covering most of the side of a large hill, and is laid out to ensure you hear terrified screaming from almost every single point you visit.

This is the Tower of Power, a 92 feet high slide which shoots you down the front of the temple-like structure above, and through a shark tank, before spitting you out into the pool at the end.  I declined to have a go. Mr WithaY leapt up the many, many stairs with a glad cry, waited at the top for ages, and was then plummeted down again in about 2 seconds.

More to my taste was the Lazy River ride, a long, meandering waterway with a few "rapids", a waterfall, and some bubble jets, that you floated around on a huge rubber tyre thing, splayed out in the sun like a pale, damp starfish.  Perfect.  I went on that five or six times, while Mr WithaY was flinging himself down near-vertical Tubes Of Death.

We had also booked a trip one evening to go to the top of Mount Teide to watch the sunset, have dinner and then do some stargazing, but due to ridiculous admin errors on the part of the holiday company and Mr WithaY and I, that never happened, sadly.

We DID go whale-watching.  We saw many pilot whales, including mothers and babies, which were lovely.  Unfortunately, though, I am (always, ALWAYS, when will I learn) seasick, so the only photos I took were of the early part of the trip as we left the island.  There are no photos of frolicking whales, as I was too busy barfing over the side of the boat, occasionally pausing to say "Oh, they're adorable!" before being plunged back into my world of misery.

What else?  The food was superb. I drank many cocktails. Mr WithaY drank a lot of good sherry. We enjoyed chilling by the pool, walking along the seafront, looking at the blue, blue sky and palm trees, exclaiming at the sheer number of shops selling electronic items and duty-free perfume.  All the usual holiday stuff.

In short, if you are going to Tenerife, I can recommend the hotel.  There's not much to do on the island (not the bit we were in, at least) other than eat, drink and sunbathe, so having a hotel with plenty of top-quality amenities was brilliant.  One the days when it rained like the end of the world (inevitable on a WithaY holiday) we found books in the hotel library, ensconced ourselves in comfy chairs in the piano bar and spent the day looking out at the terrible weather, drinking hot chocolate and reading trashy books I'd never have bought for myself.

 And now it's November, and it gets dark at 4.30pm, and the weather has turned cold.  I'm glad to be back.

*Except when we were there, when 5 people were drowned in flash floods
**Except when we were there, when it crashed relentlessly onto the beach in a white-foamed rage
***Only the ones imported from the Sahara.  The remainder are composed of razor-sharp volcanic rocks
****Flamenco. Or, memorably, Mariachi music.

Thursday, 22 May 2014


Hello....hello....anyone there? Yes, sorry. It's been ages, hasn't it? I wish I had a really good reason for not being more frequent with the posting, but the sad truth is that I just seem to have lost the ability to write stuff down. As a result, this might be really dull. If it is, sorry. Again.

I'm mostly fully recovered from my surgery in January, although I went to the doctor a few weeks ago as I was anxious that I was still very tired, and very sore.  She said "When did you have your operation?" I told her, early January.  She said "Well, yes, but don't forget that there's a good six-month recovery period, it's all perfectly normal."

Six months?  But the hospital literature (and the surgeon) told me a six to eight week recovery period, I said.

The doctor explained patiently that the six WEEK recovery period is from the effects of the general anaesthetic and the actual mechanics of the surgery, the six MONTH recovery period is from the total procedure. She also made the point that just because it was all done via keyhole surgery, and thus left me with several teeny little external scars, there's been a lot done internally, and I probably have hundreds of stitches which all need to heal up, and muscles which take ages to repair and so on. Pleuk.  I had some blood tests and am "perfectly normal" which is nice to know.

So. I'm pretty much ok, although I'm still unable to climb hills without it making me very sore and exhausted the next day.  It's fortunate that we live in the middle of a large area with plenty of dog-walking opportunities which don't involve strenuous hill-climbing. I have discovered a new skill in falling in the mud in the water-meadows as a result.  There are several beautiful water meadows nearby, and I love to take the dog down there, as long as there are no cows in the fields.  She gets to race around like a maniac, and I stroll through the flowery countryside, watching herons and egrets and buzzards, and sometimes having the shit scared out of me by almost treading on a partridge or a duck lurking in the undergrowth.

There is (as the name implies) quite a boggy basis to the water-meadows.  If you walk along the semi-defined paths it's mostly alright.  Sometimes it's a bit wet underfoot, but if you're wearing wellies there's no problem.  However, if (for example) you see a friend walking along a different path and decide to strike out across the middle of the meadows in order to catch up with them for a chat, there is a real risk that you will put your foot down on what seems to be solid ground, sink in to the top of your Wellington boot, fail to pull your booted foot out of the mud, and end up standing on a tussock in your socks, hauling at the stuck boot with both hands while your dog licks your face joyfully and your friend is beside herself with laughter.

That aside, it really is a lovely walk.

Other news: I have volunteered to be a helper at Stonehenge.  The new visitors centre is open, and the Neolithic houses that Mr WithaY was involved in building are due to be opened to the public very soon, and they want people to come and assist with the visitors.  So I sent in an application, was invited to a "this is what it's all about" morning, then a full training day, and I am planning to start in the next couple of weeks.

I get an English Heritage fleece and everything.

The new visitor centre is spectacular. I'd only seen it from the main road and had decided I disliked it, but once you get close to it, and see how it fits in with the wider landscape you appreciate how cleverly it's been designed.

People have been complaining about the increased admission prices, which I had wondered about too, but apparently Stonehenge almost solely supports the rest of English Heritage financially.  Also, I think a lot of people don't realise that the monument covers more than just the ring of stones.  If all you look at is that, as part of a rushed coach tour of the entire South of England in a day, then yes, you're going to feel short-changed. But if you come for the day, walk around all of the site, check out the Neolithic houses, go through all the exhibitions and galleries, and really get a feel for the sheer scale of the place, I think you'd feel like you'd had your money's worth.

Avebury is part of the same site, which I hadn't been aware of.  They've built a model of the area where you can see all the various barrows, the cursus, stone monuments and so on, all linked together over miles and miles of the countryside, and it is astonishing.

So. Go and take a look. And if you see me there, say hello.

I've also picked up a part-time job in the garage/shop in the village.  It's rather nice, I see loads of people, hear all the gossip, and have learned a great deal about the buying habits of the sole business traveller.  Magnums, Red Bull and Haribo sweets.  That's what blokes travelling around for work seem to live on.  Farmers live on pasties, Lucozade and Mars bars.  Women buy wine.  Kids buy Caleppo ice lollies when they get home from school in the afternoon, but middle-aged blokes in company cars buy Magnums and Red Bull.

One of our neighbours came in and bought an ice lolly, and told me he planned to walk home via the river, where he would sit on the bridge while he ate it.  How charming.

Me:  That sounds idyllic!  I hope you enjoy it.

Him:  I will.  Mind you, the other day the wind caught my Magnum and blew it into the river.

Me: .......

Him:  I went in after it!

Apparently it was still in its wrapper, so he squelched home triumphant, soaked to the knees, enjoying his ice cream.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Canally retentive

I've been away on a canal boating holiday! A very short one. Alright, a weekend. Well, a day and a night and a half a day.  It was very nice too, and despite the freezing wind which whipped around us intermittently, the weather was glorious.

Our lovely mates Bill and Jayne have bought a narrowboat, and invited us to come and admire it, so early on Saturday morning we set off for Oxfordshire.  The sun shone, the roads weren't too snarled-up with traffic, and we arrived almost exactly on time, to be greeted by our mates, offering cups of tea.  Marvellous.

As well as the four adult humans on board, there was a charming dog. We'd sent ours off to have a holiday with her family, and thus avoid the possibility of two excited dogs falling onto the canals.  Anyway, this is the lovely dog who lives on the boat with his owners:

He's a Bavarian Mountain Hound, and a more relaxed dog you'd be hard-pushed to find.

This is the boat, complete with gorgeous hand-painted bargeware bits and bobs:

We went from the boatyard, down the canal to Cropredy, where we went to the pub.  The Red Lion, as well as serving beer, selling excellent cheesy chips and housing a beautiful golden retriever called Shandy, has a guitar shop.  I had a chat with the guitar man, who also runs the pub, and he told me Rickenbackers are buggers to play. Yeah, I knew that.

Oh, they also had a funky clock on the wall:

A stroll around Cropredy, then back to the boat for drinks, pre-supper snacks, and then a mighty fine supper cooked by Jayne.

An evening of chatting, laughing, catching up on 30 years of friendship, then wrestling with the spare bed to allow us to get to sleep, followed by an early morning tea and Jaffa Cake-fest.  A leisurely stroll to the local shop, a look around the Cropredy battle-site memorial, and back up the canal to the mooring.

This little sign took my fancy.  You walk through the Hell Hole to get away from the church.

 The view up to the pub from the canal bridge.

Making way back towards a lock.  The pointy bit you see there is the front.  Sorry if I'm getting too technical.

I liked being in the locks, and I particularly liked this one; the gates look like the entrance to Mordor. In my head.

We passed this sad wreck, seemingly a victim of the storms, where I was intrigued by the musical instruments and amps left on board.  Just across the canal from it was a fallen willow tree, blocking the thoroughfare (is that the right term? I'm not sure) which had fallen across the canal and meant everyone had to risk bumping into the sunken boat to get past it.

As a favour to the canal-dwelling community, it was decided that on the way back down the canal Mr WithaY should wait in the front of the boat with a long trident/rake thingy, and a bill-hook, and when we got close enough to the fallen willow, he would hack away enough of the branches to clear the channel for other boaters.

What a great idea.  You can see the tree there on the left, making it difficult to pass the sunken boat safely.

We got close to the fallen tree, our stalwart captain held the boat in position, and Mr WithaY leant out of the boat with the bill-hook, lopping off the longer branches.  Most of them were so dry and brittle that they snapped at a touch, making his task easier.

Most of them.

Almost as soon as our captain cheerfully shouted "Don't drop the bill-hook in the water, mate!" Mr WithaY hacked at a branch that was NOT dry and brittle. No.  It was green and lush, full of bounce and vim.  So much bounce and vim, in fact, that on contact the bill-hook bounced off with some violence, causing Mr WithaY's hand to release his grip on the handle, and it dropped into the canal with a gentle "sploosh."

Dear readers, there was some bad language.

Fortunately, our sensible (and experienced) boat-owners had a large magnet on a length of cord, and after a little bit of fishing, the bill-hook was recovered, none the worse for wear.

The remainder of the journey to the boat yard was completed with the bill-hook and trident securely stowed away, in no danger of falling in the water.

This is the boat yard, where they had HUGE chickens roaming around outside.  I look forward to seeing it again on a less chilly afternoon.

In other news:  I am pretty much fully recovered now, and am able to drive, carry stuff, lift things (carefully) and walk the dog again, so I am much happier.

I've rediscovered my desire to sew, and have been cutting out all the bits to make a shirt.  Today I went down to the excellent Hansons Fabrics in Sturminster Newton and had a good old poke about.  Tomorrow I shall start actually sewing all the bits together, and by the weekend I plan to have a funky new shirt finished.

It's all go here.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Spud U Like

I'm mostly better now, thank you.  Still getting a few twinges when I do something unwise, like e.g. lift a polythene box full of packs of sugar off the floor to get into another box underneath, or take the dog for a walk and have her tow me through the village like a water-skier, but otherwise I am about 98% fighting fit.

In the 8 weeks - almost 9 actually - since I had my op, the outside world has started to become Spring-like. There are snowdrops and crocuses in flower in the garden, and daffodils in bud. I assume they're daffodils. They might be irises.  Or hyacinths.  I'm not sure.  The mole made a brief appearance in the front lawn, much to our delight*, but seems to have buggered off again.

To mark the "new beginning" feeling, this weekend we are doing a catering job for some neighbours, which I am very much looking forward to.  And yes, we have asked one of our excellent helpers to come along and lend a hand so I don't end up overdoing anything.

So. Other than recuperating, and some low-key socialising, what have I been up to?

Well.  This:

Mr WithaY and I went along to a willow heart-making class in a nearby village, and I made the above work of grace and beauty.  It took me two hours, and hasn't fallen apart yet.  When I get round to it, I will secure it to the fence at the bottom of the back garden so all may admire it.

And how did we hear about this willow-weaving class, you ask.  Well, by attending THIS event:

Which I found out about on Twitter.  I love social media.  The potato day was held in the Cheese and Grain venue, which hosts all manner of events.

Sci- Fi!  Anti-Fracking Protests!  The Wurzels!  Ah, the West Country.  Everything you want, and quite alot of stuff you'd prefer not to have to look at but can never unsee.

So here's some of the highlights of potato day:

And here are the throngs of visitors, eagerly eyeing up tubers:

The vantage point is from the little meeting room upstairs, where we went to listen to a chap talk about foraging.  It was next door to another meeting room, with this stern note taped across the window:

It was a little distracting, listening to the chap talk about the types of plants which could be found locally and were good to eat, with the enthusiastic clomping of trainee burlesque dancers going on in the next room.

What else?  Oh, I had my hair cut off!  I was fed up with feeling frumpy and old and tired, partly due to post-op malaise, I suspect, so I went to the excellent Toni and Guy in Salisbury who did me a funky modern cropped choppy look, which I love.  It's funny, a mate** posted a photo of me on Facebook which he took when I was a student, 25-odd years ago, and I HAVE THE SAME HAIRSTYLE.  Just goes to show.  What goes around comes around.

Only now there's some grey in it. Bah. And gah.

I have decided to try and be a bit less lackadaisical with posting on here too.  I used to get so much genuine pleasure from interacting with people, and just the simple act of writing stuff down was cathartic.  So I will make more of an effort to be here more frequently.  Can't promise photos of potatoes every time, though.

*well, to my amusement and Mr WithaY's speechless rage.

**Hello Martin!

Monday, 13 January 2014


I'm bored.  Bored bored bored bored bored.  This is a clear sign that I am on the road to recovery, but it's frustrating to think I am only about halfway through the first stage of "take it easy" recuperation.

I'm having my stitches out this afternoon, which I am both pleased about and horrified by. Part of me wants to see the "wounds" as they are delightfully termed by medical people, part of me wants them to remain forever concealed under waterproof dressings.


I'm still freakishly tired most of the time, and have been doing that thing that very small children and puppies do where they just fall asleep in the middle of whatever is going on at that moment.  Fortunately, most of what I am doing involves sitting on the sofa half-heartedly watching TV, reading a book or dicking about on my phone. It would be rather more alarming if I were, say, a brain surgeon or an offshore undersea welder.

It's great that I am feeling more like doing things, but it is frustrating because I think "Oh, I'll just do some ironing," or "I'll clean the bathroom windows," and then I think again and realise that no, no, I won't.  Not for a couple more weeks.

Mr WithaY is being hugely helpful, and our lovely neighbours are popping in with books, sweeties and chat, all of which are much appreciated.  On Saturday Youngest Sis and her husband came up to visit, bringing our slightly belated Christmas presents, which was lovely.  We sat and chatted, ate lunch, chatted some more, opened our presents and drank tea, while the dog went BANANAS with her Christmas gift:

She gnawed it till the squeak stopped working, and then contented herself with rolling around on her back, holding it between her paws and playing with it.

Hopefully later this week I will be able to go out for a walk with her and Mr WithaY, at least partway round the village.  I can't tell if my legs are wobbly because I am still so tired, or because I have hardly used them for 10 days.

I'm missing being able to cook anything much.  I might order a box of marmalade oranges and pop them in the freezer to make some more Seville marmalade when I can heave pans about again.  I'm also planning to make fruit jellies; I always loved them as a child and recently found some interesting recipes to try.  I think I ought to wait a few more weeks before I start experimenting with boiling sugar though.  Safety first.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Sick notes

I write this from my sickbed.  One thin, pale hand faintly gripping my quill pen, ink bespattering my fine lawn nightie as I scratch down my thoughts, the servants tiptoeing around me as they add more coals to the fire and bring me my morning gruel.

Well, almost.

I had to go into hospital last week for some non-life-threatening but fairly significant surgery, and am still very weak and feeble as a result.  I was kept in overnight, which is incredible - isn't it wonderful what they can do with keyhole surgery these days - and have only had to take paracetamol and Ibuprofen to manage the pain.  The single most tiresome after-effect is the tiredness, and physical inability to do Stuff.

I can't lift anything heavier than (for example) a half-full kettle, and bending over to try and pick something up from the floor is slow and painful.  I'm becoming adept at using my foot to flick things up to within hands reach.

Not everything, obvs.  Soft, flexible, grippable things like a sock, or a tea towel, or a tissue.  If I drop a book on the floor, there it stays until Mr WithaY can pick it up for me.

I'm not allowed to drive for a month, possibly 6 weeks, which is already becoming irksome.  Thankfully the weather since Christmas has been appalling, reducing my desire to go outside and stand in it.  I am hoping that by the middle of next week, after my stitches have been removed, I will be able to go out with Mr WithaY and the dog for short strolls.  I won't be able to hold the dog lead myself, as she instantly behaves like a world champion sled dog when put on the lead, but I will be able to accompany them.

Speaking of the weather, which of course I am, being British and all, hasn't it been wet? And windy?  The river out the back has been raging, and a couple of times has overspilled the banks onto the meadow which our back garden is bounded by.  According to The Internet, which is never wrong, most of Salisbury is under water, and the valley between here and there is now some sort of aquatic haven for all manner of waterfowl and (possibly) sea serpents.

Just to make things that bit more amusing, Mr WithaY has contracted the Village Cold, which all our neighbours had over the festive season. He is shuffling round the house, unable to breathe or hear properly, flushed of face and hoarse of voice.  I look forward to catching that myself in due course, but hopefully it won't make me sneeze too often, as that hurts my poor hole-punched tummy.

Also, the dog had to wear one of these for a few days as she managed to stab herself with a stick (we think) whilst cavorting through the woods like a maniac:

I might get one too if my stitches start to get itchy.

Sunday, 8 December 2013


I was going to get loads done today, but instead I am crouching over my PC with a hangover, feebly flicking between Twitter, Amazon and Facebook, the unholy trinity of time-wasting.

The plan was to get up early(ish), drive over to Salisbury and get a car-full from the Cash & Carry, then perhaps saunter into town for a bite of lunch and a look at the Sunday Christmas market.  That's not happening.

What actually happened was rather less festive.  I woke up at 6am and  stumbled out to the bathroom, where I encountered Mr WithaY, pale and shuddering, red-eyed and hollow-voiced, possibly drinking water from the cold tap, I'm not too sure.  My eyes seemed to be somewhat defective. He announced that he had a hangover.  I said something vaguely sympathetic and went back to bed.  He then crashed out in the spare room, where I found him several hours later, supine and inarticulate.

I made us both cups of tea and bacon sandwiches, and made him drink a very large glass of water before he had anything to eat. He is now asleep on the sofa downstairs, the dog asleep on his feet.  This sudden malady might be explained by the excellent dinner party we were invited to last night, but I suspect Mr WithaY was already dehydrated.

Yesterday morning he decided to go over to the Ancient Technology Centre for their Medieval Day.  This entailed him scampering up into the loft (in his dressing gown, in high excitement) to retrieve the Medieval kit I made for him a while ago, and various other bits and pieces required to turn him into a fashionable Medieval crossbowman-about-town.

Off he went, clutching his boar spear*, his crossbow and a packed lunch, to spend the day wandering around in the rain, delighting visitors with his well-made jacket.

As usually happens when he is off doing this kind of thing - and yes, he does this kind of thing a fair bit - he failed to keep himself hydrated throughout the day, so when we went out for dinner last night, the finest wines known to humanity had a devastating effect on his delicate physiology.

As a result, this morning he is stretched out on the sofa like a Romantic poet on an opium binge, a glass of water at his elbow and cruddy daytime TV in the background.

I'd like to be smug about it, but I am not much better myself. We're supposed to be taking part in the pub quiz later this evening, but I'm not entirely sure we'd be up to our usual brilliant standard.

In other news: I have the date for my surgery. January 2nd, with the pre-op on Dec 23rd, neatly bookending the festive season.  The good thing about having it done so soon is that hopefully I will have recuperated fully by the time things start to get busy in the Spring, and before Mr WithaY has to be away a lot for work.

Before then, though, we've got a couple of large-ish catering events to deliver, as well as the Christmas stuff.  Lots going on.

*Not a euphemism

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Unexpected item in the bagging area

I popped in to the supermarket last night after work.

Scene: The checkout.

Cashier:  Hello!  Can I help you with your packing?

Me:  No, I'm fine thanks.  (Loads shopping onto conveyor belt.)

Cashier:  Ooh, sprats.  We don't see those often.

Me:  No?

Cashier:  Ooh, Ciabatta.  I love Ciabatta.

Me: Yes, me too.

Cashier:  Monkey nuts!  It's funny.  I never really thought of monkey nuts being a Halloween food thing.

Me: .....

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Dogs, Mice, People

This week I have mostly been making some biggish life decisions.  Well, one decision.  The last few weeks have been sad and stressful and strange, and I know that's not a good time to decide stuff which may impact on your future.  Best to wait until things are more settled and less emotional.   Despite knowing that, though, I did it anyway.

About 18 months ago I found a part time job as a cook at the care home in our village. Only for a few hours a week, and in the early evenings, so it fitted handily around other stuff I do.  Occasionally they asked me to come and cook lunch on the days when the full-time cooks were away, which I really enjoyed, as it is "proper" cooking.  Lots of home-made soups, cakes, puddings and meat and vegetable main courses.

It was all useful professional catering experience in a comparatively safe environment, as the menu is planned days in advance and there aren't huge numbers of people to feed.  The scope for failure is limited to service being a few minutes late if (for example) you forgot to make gravy. Getting positive feedback from the residents is lovely, and knowing that my apple cake, or cottage pie, or pea and ham soup has made them enjoy their day a bit more than they might have otherwise is a great feeling.

The experience we've had with father in law WithaY living in residential accommodation has really brought it home to me how important the food is in someone's day.  Sometimes lunch is a really big deal.

During the time I worked there, they built the huge new nursing home behind the old house. This was the place we moved Mr WithaY's dad to in May this year, and where he was able to enjoy the views, the top-of-the-range accommodation - he loved the hydro bath - and the interesting and well-made food.  I would say that, of course, but the team of chefs and cooks there are genuinely very good, and the quality of the food is brilliant.

Anyhoo, as a result of father in law's death, it now makes me very sad to go to work.  Walking up the drive, looking at his old home, it's a forcible reminder which means I go into work with a heavy heart.  I know it will pass, as everything does, but even so.

This is in itself not really enough of a reason to quit, but there have been a few other issues.  My upcoming surgery will mean I will have to take at least 3 months off work, which will be a nuisance.  The catering business is ramping up for Christmas, and a lot of the bookings are on days when I would be working at the care home.

Add to this the feeling I now have that the time I am at work is impinging on my life annoyingly - yes, it's only a few hours, but if Mr WithaY has been out all day, he arrives home almost exactly as I leave for work, and I value the "cup of tea and how was your day?" ritual we have - so I thought I'd hand in my notice.

If nothing else, it's a good incentive to make sure the Christmas fĂȘtes and bazaars we are taking part in with the catering company are a success.

It's surprising how easy it was to give notice.  I think over the last few years I have got better at major change. Leaving the MoD, then the Civil Service, starting a small business, learning to work in an entirely different profession, managing my time when I have so much more of it free than I have ever done in my life.  It's all good.

I think I'm going to find a course at the local college and learn something new this winter.  When we first moved here I went to Frome college and did an evening course in stained glass making, which was great fun.  I never managed anything really huge, like a window, but I made some nice smaller pieces for the house and for friends and family, and I still like looking at them and thinking "I did that."

Time to do something new.  I rather fancy learning how to make hats.

In other news, has anyone else been driven to FURY by those awful mini adverts that Channel 4 are showing around the Simpsons?  They're for some shop or other, I can't remember who, and feature a variety of pretend families. The plot runs thus:

Child (who looks at least 25, and who is seen lying on the sofa, or on their bed with a laptop) screams the word "Mum" or "Dad" continuously for the length of the snippet.  This in itself is fucking irritating.

Parent (dopey looking simpering doormat) then appears at the door of the room, summoned by the bellowing slightly younger person.

Child then demands a new item of clothing, presumably seen on a website on their laptop. No use of the word "please" is made. Not once.

Parent agrees. WITH A SMILE.

NOTHING about those adverts makes me want to use the product they are advertising. And whilst I understand the concept of targeted adverts - if you don't understand it, you're not the target market - I genuinely struggle to see who their target market is.  Is it the parents?  If so, portraying them as spineless walking wallets at the beck and call of their appalling offspring seems like a peculiar way to get them to buy into the concept.

If it's the children, why are they shown as being so old? My reaction to the bloody things (and this may be the point of course, some smart advertising concept person has come up with a way to make people sit up and take notice, even if it's only in fury) is to ask:

"Why doesn't that mother give that squawking great oaf of a son a clip around the ear for being such a bone idle, demanding, obnoxious bastard, instead of saying "Oh alright then..." with a simpering smile when he bellows at her and then orders her to get him new trainers?"


The obvious answer is to stop watching TV, of course.

What else has been going on?  Well, Mr WithaY and I went to the excellent Frome Super Market on Sunday. This is a monthly event held in the town centre, with all sorts of stalls selling foods, coffee, sausages inna bun, arty crafty stuff, dog treats, wooden doorstops, bunting and enamel baths. It's eclectic.

I bought some chocolate moulds from the organic Real Chocolate stall - most of what is sold is either Organic, Artisan or Hand Crafted.  Frome is a bit like that - and have been amusing myself making chocolate mice for the upcoming Christmas fairs.  Some have been more successful than others.

I made a batch of my delicious Chinese Style Plum Sauce, and am currently working on labelling that is more interesting and gift-friendly than my current style.  Unfortunately my handwriting is readable but dull, so hand-written labels might be off the agenda.  I might ask Mr WithaY to write them, as he can do gorgeous calligraphy, but that would take a lot of time, and time is money.  Hark at me.  That's a small business person right there.

I've also made a batch of mincemeat, and am planning to make some mini mince pies to take as free samples, in the hope that it will encourage people to buy the mincemeat.  And if not, at least they'll know we make lovely mince pies if they're thinking of having a Christmas party catered.

Oh, I bought a recipe book for treats for dogs too.  I know, via certain dog owners of my acquaintance, that people like to buy their dogs treats, and so I am going to make some festive dog biscuits and see if they sell.  I will ensure they are clearly labelled FOR DOGS even though they will be safe for human consumption.  The environmental health are funny about stuff like that.

Oh, and I bought a dog bed cover for Hester, from a company called Tuffies.  It arrived before they said it would, it fits perfectly, and the dog loves it.

So well done Tuffies, and if you'd like to send me a free dog bed in return for all this advertising, I'd like a large one in flame red please.  Ta.

Thursday, 31 October 2013


I was going to begin this with "Hey! I'm not dead! Hurrah!" but on reflection that seemed a bit crass, given the events of recent weeks.

We have suffered a bereavement here.

Mr WithaY's father died suddenly at the start of October, and despite the fact that he has been ill for a long time, it was a shock.  At the latter end of the summer he was diagnosed with an unusual form of chronic leukaemia, on top of the multiple severe health issues he already suffered with.  Mr WithaY went with him to the hospital in Bath and the various treatment options were discussed, but to be perfectly blunt, they picked the only practical one, which was to treat the illness without hoping to cure it.

Mr WithaY said that the oncologist was lovely, kind and helpful and considerate, and very anxious to make sure that all of the possible treatments were explained and understood.  The cure option involved some sort of radical gene therapy, but would have required frequent trips to the hospital, and massive bone marrow injections, which would have been cruelly invasive and uncomfortable for a frail, immobile old man.

Anyway, that crisis passed, and life continued as normal for all of us, with Mr WithaY and I popping in to see father in law at the nursing home as often as possible.  We bought him a new TV, as the one he had in his room was "too small, bloody hopeless, I can't hear the bloody thing," etcetera, which he liked.  I baked him caramel cookies, and he enjoyed those now and again, despite his diabetes.  He complained about the "bastard birds" avoiding his window-mounted feeder.

The glorious weather over the summer meant that the view from his room was truly beautiful, the hills and woods, trees, animals, birds and the old house in the foreground.  Father in law enjoyed sitting and looking out of his (thankfully floor to ceiling) window at people coming and going in the car park, it afforded him pleasure to see movement in the outside world after having spent so long in his previous care home without the ability to look outside except at the sky.

A worrying new development began, though.  He became rather confused, telling us things which made no sense.  In hindsight I think he was suffering a series of mini-strokes. At this time he became considerably more frail too, unwilling to leave his bed to sit and look out of the window.  He even stopped watching television, seeming to be content to doze, only really waking up to chat to the staff and any visitors as they came and went.

One Saturday afternoon - Mr WithaY was away working at a country show - I had a call from the senior nurse at the care home, telling me that father in law was poorly, and they had called an ambulance to take him to hospital for tests.  This was a concern, but he had suffered so many trips to hospital over the years that I wasn't particularly alarmed.  I left a message on Mr WithaY's mobile to tell him his father had been taken to hospital, and that I'd let him know how he got on.  We've left each other a lot of messages like that over the years, so neither of us panics early.

When the hospital rang me a couple of hours later to ask "Who is his next of kin?" I did begin to worry.  I answered the hospital's questions as best I could, and then I left another message for Mr WithaY, asking him to call me ASAP.

An hour passed, the hospital called again, this time to tell me that "It might be best for the family to come in."   By now it was past 10pm, things sounded very serious.  I called Mr WithaY's brother and let him know, but as he lives at least 4 hours away, I said there was little point in him coming down that night.  Thankfully, Mr WithaY had managed to pick up my messages, and he rang to find out what the situation was. As soon as I told him what was happening, he said he was coming home.

So, by 1am we were both at the hospital, and were able to be with father in law.  It was peaceful, tranquil, dignified.  The nurses at Bath hospital were wonderful. They gave us privacy but checked in on him every half hour or so, brought Mr WithaY and I tea and biscuits, and offered sympathy and practical advice at the end.  We left the hospital at about 4.30am, walking out into a gloriously clear starry night. It seemed appropriate, somehow.

In the days which followed we learned about the administrative burden which a death confers on the nearest and dearest, on top of the sadness.  Mr WithaY's brother came down for a day or two and helped out, which was appreciated, and we set about organising a funeral, notifying those friends and former neighbours we had contact details for, and clearing out his remaining possessions from the nursing home.

The funeral was on Tuesday this week. It was simple, respectful and gentle, and, I hope, such that father in law would have wanted.  We buried him in a pretty little Dorset churchyard, where his mother was buried.  It's close enough that we can visit if we want to, but I don't imagine we will.  Visiting graves has never been something Mr WithaY or I have ever done, but I am glad it's in a lovely spot.

One thing which is comforting is that he saw almost all of his family in the weeks before his death,  and a few of his old friends had been to see him too.

Apparently he died of a stroke, simply going to sleep and not waking up.  We are very sad, but it is also a relief to know that he is not suffering under his many and irreversible medical problems, any more.

So.  A solemn start to this posting, but as it's been in my head for weeks, it seems right to share it here.

In  other news: I have to go and have some routine but possibly major surgery next year. I've been having a few problems, went to the doctor, was referred to have a scan, and as a result will be having an op (hopefully) in January next year. Nothing terrible, but I'm not looking forward to it much.

Gosh, what a medical post.  I promise to try and be back to my normal self soon.

Friday, 16 August 2013

In which I am self-indulgently reminiscent. Again.

It's A-level results week.  I still find it hard to think back to the day I got my A-level results (first attempt) with anything other than a chilly twinge of embarrassment.

I also find it hard to come to terms with the fact that I took my A-levels almost 30 years ago.  Lord above, how did I get to be this old, eh?  In my head I'm still a sprightly youngster, not a grouchy middle-aged woman with a knackered back and bifocals.

But results.

Back when I was a youngster, you had to go into the school to collect them.  The headmistress sat in her office, and handed them to you to read whilst she sat and watched your reaction.  She, of course, had already seen them.

I imagine it was a satisfying and cheering job for her, at least when she was dealing with the girlie swots who had got their predicted brilliant results and thus secured a place at the top University of their choice.

My school was not one of the ones which regularly sent girls to Oxbridge, but they did have a small group who were expected to get places at Exeter and Durham and Cardiff and other such second tier universities. They were the girls who took Latin and Italian as additional subjects while the rest of us were sent to the art class to learn to weave terrible pictures out of bits of string and nails hammered into fibreboard.

I remember that coterie of girls as being very short (but to be fair, most of the other girls at school seemed very short, as I was - and still am - significantly taller than the average female) with pale, earnest faces, neatly-pressed school uniforms, glasses and overly expensive shoes. One of them wore a pair of boots which, it was whispered in class, her mother had paid £150 for.  Bear in mind this was back in 1983, and the majority of her peers were wearing Clarks desert boots or sandals to school.

Also, they all used to sit at the front in class.  Every lesson.  Every classroom.  We kept the same configuration of who sat where almost without modification for the entire 7 years I was at that school.  Multiple changes of classroom, teacher, classmates, subject, and we still all retained the same positions relative to one another.

There were several girls in my class - for all those years - that I don't think I ever spoke to.  I didn't sit near them in lessons, we didn't spend time together at lunch or break-time, and as I was appalling at all manner of sports and games I was hardly ever on a sports team with them.  I can't imagine that now.  Spending so many hours a day with the same group of people in a small room, yet failing to interact with an entire chunk of the group.

Were all schools like that?

Looking back now, if I had spent more time sitting at the front in class, paying attention, and less time sitting at the left hand side at the back, idly staring out of the window, I might have passed more exams.

Some classes were allowed to put posters on the walls.  I used to hate sitting in certain lessons with dozens of tatty pictures of The Police and Adam and the Ants, torn from Smash Hits and Jackie magazine, plastered all over the walls around the blackboard.

I know it's probably wrong of me to try and shift some of the blame for my own idleness, but I also feel that if some of the teachers had been less keen on fostering up the nascent talent of the "good" girls at the front, the rest of us might have done a bit better.

Maths, for example.  I can't remember how many times my maths teacher shook her head sadly at me, saying "But you're top of the class in English.  Why are you doing so badly in MY class?"  When I shrugged in embarrassment and annoyance, she'd hand back my maths book, covered in reproachful comments in red pen, and return to the front of the class to continue encouraging her little gaggle of star pupils, leaving  the rest of us to carry on staring out of the windows, drawing pictures on our rough books and exchanging hilarious notes with one another.

God, we must have been tiresome.

Anyhoo.  Getting back to the results.  I can still remember the exasperated tone with which the headmistress said "No-one else in the ENTIRE SCHOOL has had results like you, Lucy."  She did not mean it as a compliment.

Turns out you can't just walk into an exam room, pick a selection of questions more or less at random, write for three hours about whatever occurs to you based on a few key words, and get a decent grade.  Who knew?

I passed two exams with flying colours, well, with A grades - we didn't have the fancy A* thing they have nowadays, pah, kids, they don't know they're born etc etc etc - and failed the other two horribly.  I mean really horribly.  One grade up from the "didn't bother to turn up to sit the exam" horribly.

It was a bit of a shock.  I had genuinely imagined that it would all be alright in the end, and that my native wit, charm, delightful smile and good teeth would ensure I passed with the grades I needed to get a place at any University I fancied, and that a few short weeks after being given my exam results (and possibly some sort of medal) I'd be on my way to a new life as a Student.

Finding out that not only was I NOT going to University like all my friends, but that I was also going to have to go and resit those two subjects after an extra year at the local technology college was like the proverbial cold shower.

Not that it taught me much except that getting a nasty shock is, well, nasty.

So, a year or so of attending the local college, along with working at a local tea shop as a waitress, as I wasn't doing enough hours at college to be eligible for any kind of Government benefits, and THEN I got good enough results to get a place in tertiary education.

Mind you, having taken two attempts to pass my A levels meant that once again I received a slew of rejection letters from all the Universities I had applied to, and was left to the future horrors of Clearing. Lord, that was stressful enough the first time round.  I think the only offer I got was from the University of Ulster, to study politics.  I declined, having already enrolled to resit the A levels.

This time, however, I decided to take matters into my own hands, and went to talk to the Citizens Advice Bureau.  The young lady in there was attentive and kind, and when I had finished my (probably) rambling and anxious explanation - I was too lazy and careless to pass my exams first time round! I've passed them now, but I'm no longer a good bet for a University!  What do I do? - she said:

"Ok.  Well, I went to King Alfred's College in Winchester.  They were great, I'll give them a ring and see if they have any places left."

And she did.

And they did.

And two days later, a kind mate took me to Winchester on the back of his motorbike for my interview, where I was offered a place on one of their non-teacher training degree courses.  And three days after that I left home to go to college.

Talk about cutting it fine.

I'd like to say the whole experience made me a better person, but I don't think it did. It did make me take deadlines rather more seriously though, and I never assumed I'd automatically pass anything, or qualify for anything, or be selected for anything again.

Is there a moral to the story?  No.  But I am comforted by the thought that there is always something else that can be done; there is no need to consider one set of dodgy exam results as the End of Everything.  I mean, just look at me.

Actually, maybe best not.

Monday, 10 June 2013



Where the demons dwell.  And the banshees live.  And they do live well.*

Yes, last week I went to Stonehenge.  I know the Solstice celebrations aren't till the 21st but I like to be early.  Beat the traffic and all that.

Inevitably, I took a bazillion photos. Well, of course. It's a spectacular place, even more so on a glorious early morning in June.  We were fortunate to have been invited to go along as part of a small group by the English Heritage team with whom (posh grammar eh?) Mr WithaY has been working recently. So at 0730, bright and breezy, we rocked up in the car park and met the rest of the group.

It immediately became apparent that we had dressed over-optimistically for the trip, as a stiff wind was blowing, but being British we gritted our teeth and ignored it.  Take that, weather.

There are some semi-tame rooks living in the monument, some of which were interested enough to come and watch us.

This one is called Gerontius and is trained to peck out your eyes if you fail to return your audio tour.

We were given strict instruction not to touch the stones because the acids in our skin would damage the lichen, apparently.  Perhaps they had a bad experience with a visiting group of Geiger aliens.  We were also warned not to climb on the stones, deface them, lick them or try to push them over, or they'd set the rooks on us.

I've always thought Stonehenge was a tad unimpressive, to be honest. I know it's a world heritage site and all that jazz, but when viewed at 50mph from the A303, it seems underwhelming.  Even when I've paid to get in, and walked around the outside with the audio tour (which I was careful to return, for fear of Gerontius) it's felt a bit, well, commercial and dull.  Plus you're always surrounded by massive crowds of tourists, probably all feeling as disappointed as yourself.

Last week, though, it was very different.  The stones are HUGE.  Really, really big.  And when you stand next to them, you appreciate how incredibly hard it must have been to move them from where they were found, organise them into the correct alignment, and then stand them up.  And then, incredibly, somehow hoist the equally-massive lintels onto the tops of them.

The guide, bless him, tried to explain all about Stonehenge, but was hampered by the fact that he did not have answers to the burning questions we all wanted to ask, viz:

1)  What's it for?

2)  How was it built?

He gamely explained various theories, backed up by the archaeological evidence, but basically had to reply to many of our questions with a smiling "We're not sure..."

Here's one of the rooks, keeping a wary eye on the group:

We were there a few hours too late for sunrise, but it was still lovely to see the long shadows crossing the centre of the circle.

That's a view of the Heelstone between the central pillars, thankfully without any traffic passing by on the road behind it to ruin the atmosphere.

This is one of my favourite pictures which gives a sense of the circular-ness** of the monument from the inside.

And this is the view off to the north west, across Salisbury Plain.  Usually there would be a thick crowd of people in an unbroken line around the path, so it's gorgeous to just see the stones and the big sky.

When the new visitors centre is opened, it will be a very different experience, and I am looking forward to seeing the changes.

Mr WithaY and I amused ourselves as we walked around by quietly exchanging comments in the "Neolithic Accent" as seen on Armstrong and Miller's TV show.

One careers option I was made aware of that day, and never offered at school, is "Astro-archaeologist."  I demand to know why not.  Is it because it sounds like a load of made-up bollocks?  Or just that the people who write horoscopes AND have a keen interest in digging holes want to keep it secret from the rest of us?

The truth will out.

In other news, the catering business is making slow but steady growth, and I am selling more of my home-made chutneys to people.  Mr WithaY has been carving some beautiful wooden bowls recently, and I am trying to persuade him to sell them online.

We've been making the most of the last week of fabulous weather to get stuff done outside and have  replaced the roof of the shed, planted more fruit bushes, cleared a huge (and I mean HUGE) amount of assorted shite out of the garden, and planted a lot of mixed wildflower seeds.  I have high hopes that in a few weeks we will have more flowers.

This of course, is a celestial cue for torrential rain until September.

*I still adore Spinal Tap.

**Yes, it's a word.  Shut up.