Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Surgical intervention

Before I begin, I want to make it clear that I am well aware how fortunate I am to be living in a place and at a time where (a) surgery is a viable option for so many medical conditions and (b) it is unlikely to involve buckets of boiling tar.

At no point in my story do I have to bite down in a piece of wood, leather or bone, or quaff home-made moonshine in an attempt to reduce the agonising pain.

There is no sawdust.

As I mentioned in a previous post I was on the waiting list for surgery - gall bladder removal - and was sent to Salisbury Hospital for my pre-op back in September (2018.)  According to their website, there's an 18-week waiting time for surgery, so I assumed that I was due to be called up fairly soon. When they do the pre-op they take MRSA swabs, for one thing, which have to be re-done after a few weeks, so it seemed likely that my operation was scheduled within the next few weeks. 

I asked the surgeon whether I was likely to be seen before Christmas, and she said oh gosh no. I was pleased, as work gets very busy around Christmas, so taking time off then would have been inconvenient.

Christmas came and went.

January (2019) came and went.

At the end of January I worked out that the 18-week waiting period was almost over, so I rang the hospital to find out when I was going to be called in.

The helpful receptionist checked and told me that there's an 8-MONTH wait for this surgery, placing my operation slap bang in the middle of May.  Which is when Mr WithaY and I were planning on being on holiday in Uzbekistan, celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary.

Well, bollocks.

The holiday was booked and paid for over the Christmas holiday, as we had (foolishly) assumed that the 18-week hospital wait was realistic, and that I'd have been operated on and fully recovered in plenty of time by May.

To add a delightful frisson of pressure, we were booked on the last possible trip for that year, as it gets too hot to travel after then.  No opportunity to reschedule except to 2020.

I rang the doctor to ask if there was any way to speed things up, given that I had been waiting for months, and she advised that we start the whole process again, but selecting a different hospital to Salisbury "as it has a really long waiting list for elective surgery." 

Given that originally I was told that I could pick either Bath RUH or Salisbury, it came as a revelation to learn that in fact there are multiple available hospitals, some with much shorter waiting times.  Live and learn.

I also contacted the Circle Hospital in Bath to find out how it might work as a private patient.  Several friends and neighbours have been there for surgery and had very positive things to say about it, and I thought there was no harm finding out what all the options were.  The answer came that it was going to cost almost five grand, BUT that the waiting time was in weeks not months.

And the reason for this unseemly haste, other than the increasing frequency and severity of my gallstone attacks (biliary colic, look it up, it's fucking excruciating) was that there must be a window of minimum elapsed time after surgery otherwise your travel insurance is not valid.

That window for me closed at the end of February.

After a lot of checking available options, calculating timescales and considering worst case scenarios, we decided to bite the bullet, opt for the private hospital, and pay for surgery. It was the only way to ensure the operation took place outside of the insurance-invalidation window, thus allowing our booked and paid-for holiday to go ahead.

I met the surgeon - charming and reassuring - and was told my operation should be "very low-risk" and would take place within a couple of weeks. He commented that the only possible risk was linked to the fact that I am overweight ("but you are very tall as well.")  All my stats were normal, so there really shouldn't be anything to worry about. Hurrah.

I went back a few days later for my pre-op appointment, having already filled in and posted back all the forms they sent me - height, weight, next of kin, allergies etc etc etc.

The nurse who carried out the pre-op checks hadn't received my paperwork but she said there would be no problem, I could just quickly re-do the form - height, weight, next of kin, allergies etc etc etc - which I did while she sorted out the blood tests and MRSA swabs.

As I sat there waiting to be told I could leave, she announced "The only issue is that the anaesthetist might refuse - the hospital doesn't operate on anyone who has a BMI of over 45."


"Are you telling me that they might refuse to operate one me? But the surgeon said I was really low risk!"

"Ah but it isn't up to the surgeon. If the anaesthetist thinks it's too dangerous they can prevent the operation."

I was, not to put too fine a point on it, fucking mortified.  The surgeon had specifically commented on my weight, and then assured me that there wouldn't be a problem because my general health was very good.

The nurse finished her paperwork and cheerfully said "We'll let you know on Friday." And I was out into the cold, cold snow, appalled that after all that, I STILL  might not get my operation.

Friday came, I rang the hospital, spoke to one of the senior nursing staff and was told that yes, everything was ok, I would be operated on the following Wednesday.  No, no problems at all, see you then, bring the five grand with you.

Hurrah!  Finally we could relax, and start thinking about the holiday in a more positive way.

BUT.  WAIT. On Tuesday evening Mr WithaY and I were preparing to go out for dinner with some friends when the phone rang.

It was the senior ward sister from the Bath hospital, calling to apologise "but the anaesthetist is not prepared to go ahead with your operation tomorrow, as you are too high risk."

What the actual fuck?

She explained that the hospital lacked the appropriate "hoists and lifting equipment" should there be a problem, and that the nursing staff were not able to cope with a giant freaky killer-whale sized person like me.  I was DISTRAUGHT.

She said there was the possibility of moving the operation to a different location in Bath on the same day, she would check and call me back.  Mr WithaY rang our friends to let them know we'd be a bit late, and I sobbed uncontrollably for 20 minutes.

Then I had a bit of a think.  I know I am overweight - I have been since I was about 22 - but I have NEVER been told that my BMI is so incredibly, dangerously high.  The BMI calculator I found online said that my BMI was high (in the fat bastard category, for sure) but not anywhere near 45, as stated by the pre-op check nurse.

So how did she arrive at that figure?  Why, dear reader, by calculating my BMI for my weight, but for a height of 5'1" rather than the statuesque 5'11" which I actually am.

Fuck's SAKE.

The senior ward sister rang back.  No, sorry, the other hospital wasn't scheduling surgery tomorrow.  I'd have to speak to the admin team and get a new date for my operation.

"Do you have my paperwork there?" I asked her, still a bit sniffly.

Yes she did.

"And how tall does it say I am?"

She checked.  "154cm, so 5'1"."

"Well I'm actually 180cm tall - 5'11".  My BMI is significantly less than 45."

There was a long, very pregnant, pause, after which she apologised profusely, absolutely furious that:
(a) she'd been messed about
(b) I'd been messed about and
(c) she was going to have to go back to the anaesthetist and explain that they'd been messed about because one of the nursing team couldn't convert inches to centimeters.

We went out for dinner - our hosts politely declined to notice my swollen eyes and shiny red nose - and I was off to Bath the following morning for surgery.

All went well, I was released back into the wild the following day, made a full recovery, went to Uzbekistan in May as planned.  The only minor side-effect is that I have to eat meals at regular intervals or I get a hellish upset stomach. No skipping breakfast for me any more.

I'll talk about Uzbekistan another time.

And all this happened last year, but who's counting?

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Happy New Year. And last year.

2019? Already? Gosh.

I could attempt to sum up everything that's been going on in life since the last post on here but frankly who has the time for that?


Another trip to Japan, this time with Middle Sis as well as Mr WithaY, which was fabulous. We're definitely going back, but not till after the 2020 Olympics.

A trip to Italy - Bologna - my first visit to the country and hopefully not my last.  The FOOD!  The WEATHER!  The Food!  Oh my dears. 

Arrival of a new family member - a great-niece who has been partly named after my lovely Mum (her great-grandma) and departure of others - splits rather than bereavements, thankfully.

Left a job which was making me utterly miserable, and found a new one just over a year ago which suits me far better.  I'm now working for an online bookseller, a bit like Amazon but much smaller and far less evil, doing customer service, a bit of marketing, and a bit of book selection. I get to look at forthcoming titles, read proofs, make suggestions and try to support authors and books which I think are worth supporting.  I love it.

I've also been able to reduce my hours so that I work a 4-day week now, which gives me one non-working day a week (as well as weekends) to get on with all the other stuff I like to do.

Mr WithaY and I have been having more work done on the house and garden. We are now the proud owners of a decent patio and driveway.  With flat level paving all round the house. And a new shed. 

There's also a pond in the offing; we have all the component parts and Mr WithaY has all the plans drawn up. It just needs a few days when he's around to get it all dug out/concreted in/assembled.  I'm a bit vague on the details. What I DO know is that there will be water lilies and irises, and a few little fish to make sure we're not inundated with mosquitos.

It took about 3 months to get all the work completed so we missed much of the glorious weather last summer, but I think we used the outside space more in the remaining couple of weeks of summer than we did the whole of the previous year. I am very much looking forward to this summer so we can get out there and enjoy the outside space.

We've both had some health stuff going on, nothing too life-threatening, but I have to have surgery at some point this year which will be tiresome. I had all the pre-op stuff done back in September and was cheerfully getting on with life under the assumption that I'd get a call for my operation in the next month or so at the latest.  No. 

I rang the relevant clinic today to find out if they had any idea when I'd have to show up.  There's an EIGHT month waiting list, so I am likely to be summoned to hospital in May or June.  Which would be ok if we hadn't just booked (and paid for) our summer holiday, which happens in May.

I have let the hospital know this.

How much do we bet that even though they have my unavailability dates, I will receive a letter from them asking me to come and have bits lopped out right in the middle of that period?

I shall be in Uzbekistan.

So. In the main, it's all ok. 

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Highly decorated

We're having Work Done on the house. It warrants capital letters, as it involves major renovation rather than just eg slapping up some sticker murals, or changing the lightshades.

It all started last summer.

Our next-door neighbours have been engaged on a lengthy and all-encompassing renovation project in their house, which included replacing one of their wood-burning stoves.  The stove they took out was not very old, and in excellent condition, so we asked if we could buy it* to fit into our fireplace, and thus be rid of the 1970s sandstone crazy paving fireplace which I have loathed since the day we first viewed the house.

I've been looking through my photos to see if I ever took one of it, but I think I must have tried to crop it out whenever I used a camera in there, as it was so awful. I did manage to capture the magic of a new log burner being installed, though.

Once the chimney breast was denuded of the horrible yellow "stone" and given a new coat of plaster, the rest of the room suddenly looked dreadful in comparison.

Mr WithaY and I had several earnest discussions about What Actually Needs Doing In Here, and each time the list grew longer.  By the start of this year we had decided that the answer to the question "What do we need to sort out" was "Everything, including the electrics."  Time to make some phone calls, then.

The first person to call in any event of this nature, as longer-term readers will know, is Kevin the Decorator.  He came round, looked at the walls and ceiling, listened to our plans and then said "Yeah, I can do all that. Not the plastering though.  I'll give you my mate's number, he's a good plasterer."

So we called the plasterer.  He came round, looked at the walls and ceiling and said "Yeah, I can do all that. Not taking down the ceiling though.  It'll be much cheaper if you take the ceiling down yourselves."  Mr WithaY and I nodded in agreement.  Neither of us has very much experience taking down ceilings, but really, how hard could it be?

I said "At least you don't have to plaster the wall above the fireplace, that's only been done recently."  The plasterer ran his hand over it with narrowed eyes before opining "Yeah. But to be honest, it's a bit shit, isn't it?"  Reader, it was indeed a bit shit.  We opted to have the whole room skimmed.

Once the first blow has been struck, there is no going back.

The first cut really was the deepest. Then it was a festival of hammers and crowbars, and the unstinting practical assistance of our next-door neighbour, who is clearly a bit bored now he's finished renovating his own house.

Mr WithaY spent a couple of days removing nails from the joists, channelling all the electrical and hi-fi cabling where it will be out of sight, and left the room in a fit state for the plasterer to work his magic.

In the meantime, Simon the Electrician came round. I like Simon. He is a thoughtful man, prone to long silences when you ask him questions while he thinks deeply about the answer.  He knows his stuff, and takes electrical things very seriously.  I asked him why he was so meditative in conversation, and commented that he really does like to consider his options before replying.  He looked at me for a long moment, before saying: "That's because with plumbing, if you get it wrong you get a wet floor.  With electrics, if you get it wrong, the house burns down." 

I hadn't though of it in those terms, and with that in the back of his mind all the time, I can understand why he takes a while to get his ducks in a row.

Anyhoo, Simon the Electrician plumbed in cables and so on for the new lighting we decided to install, and went away until there was a ceiling in place he could cut holes in.

And Lo! There was a new ceiling. And it was good.

The plasterer came back, and in what felt like record time we had smooth walls and a ceiling with no visible lumps and bumps. 

A few days for the plaster to dry, Simon the Electrician returned to fit the new lights (with dimmer switches! How posh are we?) and then Kevin the Decorator was back, transforming the room into something which feels like home again.

We moved a chair back in there so Mr WithaY had somewhere to sit and review stuff for work.  I think it feels a bit cluttered now, to be honest.  Maybe the dog basket could go somewhere else.

The ceiling and walls above the picture rail are the same shade of pale green, and the walls below are a darker shade, which looks absolutely gorgeous.  I am very excited about getting our furniture back in there. 

We went for Farrow and Ball paint, which left me in a froth of anxiety about being That Woman, but apparently they are top quality and look superb, so I am prepared to suffer the opprobrium of being middle class as fuck.

I've been in touch with a company who renovate parquet floors, and they will (I hope) be getting back to me to let me know when they could come and restore ours to shiny, non-damaged loveliness.

The downside to all this industry, apart from the GAAAAH HOW MUCH cost of it all, is that the house is almost uninhabitable.  The kitchen is full of furniture (coffer, coffee table, drinks cabinet, multiple sofa cushions, various electronic items), as is the spare bedroom (blinds, curtains, rug, ornaments, clock), Mr WithaY's study (upended sofa, huge box of DVDs, CD cabinet) and the hallway (upended sofa.) 

There's nowhere to sit and eat a meal.  We've been either going out to eat, or pretending we're students/in a hotel and eating upstairs in the bedroom, which is not as much fun as you might think.

The dog has found it all a bit trying, I imagine.  She has taken to coming upstairs to sleep at night - usually she is not allowed upstairs - but as the house is in chaos I am allowing it for now.  The downside to that is that she tends to wander up and downstairs in the middle of the night, and if you get up to use the bathroom (women of a certain age blah blah) at 4am, she leaps up, cavorting around you while she wags joyfully, imagining that you might be about to do something fun.  Idiot.

HOWEVER.  The end is in sight.  The curtains are at the dry cleaner's, the painting is almost finished, the furniture will soon be rid of its thick caking of dust.

Once everything is moved back into the room, we are going to look at the vast WithaY art collection and decide what we want to hang on the walls.  There are several new items from JAPAN (we went, it was great, we're going back, more on this anon) which will be framed and hung as a group, as well as some of the pictures which were in there previously. 

Doing all this - the last time we decorated was in 2003, there was a date and our names written in the wall under the wallpaper** - has made me feel much more positive about making changes to the rest of the house and garden.  Sometimes you can get a bit stuck in your environment, and it feels like it's impossible to move on.  This has been like opening a window in a stuffy room, allowing fresh air in.

In the mean time, our kitchen table looks like this.

Don't judge me.


*As they are the best neighbours imaginable, they gave it to us as a present. 

**Prior to that it was 1975, by the previous owners I assume.

Saturday, 16 January 2016


The JFDI mantra is reaping benefits. Or am I reaping benefits because of it? Not sure about the logic of that, but I will say that since I consciously adopted it as a mantra (I like having a mantra, never had one before, it's a novelty still) I have felt as though more Stuff Has Got Done than previously used to.

Small things like loading or emptying the dishwasher in a timely manner, rather than leaving dirty dishes on the side and tutting each time I go into the kitchen and see them. Putting the hoover round as soon as I think "ugh, look at that floor" rather than waiting another day or so and being annoyed at the FILTH the whole time.  Walking the dog earlier in the day so she chills out and goes to sleep on her back with her paws in the air for the next six hours, and  I don't have the constant "must take the dog out" thing in the back of my head.

None of it is particularly significant, but it adds up to me feeling more cheerful, and the house feeling less chaotic.

One larger task which we tackled last week was the reorganisation of my study.  It's the third bedroom of our house, too small for a double bed, cosy for a single bed and (small) wardrobe, perfect for a desk and some bookcases and a sewing table.  And some guitars.  And an amp.*

Previously, the computer desk was under the window, where the light is best. I used to work from home (see many and various whiny posts about Working From Home) and needed to be able to read tedious lengthy documents without straining my eyes while simultaneously dealing with tedious lengthy emails on the work computer. I sound like Samuel Pepys, but you get the point.  However, in more recent years, the only thing I have used my PC for is playing World of Warcraft and dicking about online.

My sewing table, on the other hand, was tucked away in the opposite corner of the room, furthest from the window, sunk in gloom under the wall shelves.  The wall shelves are great, but they did mean that I tended to bang my head when I was standing over my sewing table trying to sort out recalcitrant sleeves.

In a flash of rare brilliance, I realised that if the two were swapped about, there would be both more light and more headroom for sewing, and the smaller desk (with PC screen) would sit neatly under the shelves, thus making the space around the doorway less cluttered.

Mr WithaY and I set about emptying the room, revealing many years worth of dead spiders and assorted dust bunnies in corners and behind furniture. Pleuk.  There was a brief lively bout of Language as the PC and all its hellish associated cables were disconnected, but other than that, there was minimal chaos.

A thorough hoovering of the carpet and cleaning of neglected skirting boards followed, then everything was put back in their new places.  And, dear readers, it has worked very well.  My sewing table (still v untidy, as I haven't yet finished putting stuff back on shelves and into the attic) has more space, more light and looks far more useful.  My desk is set back neatly in a smaller space and seems more practical. The only downside is that I am not able to lean on the radiator if I get chilly whilst using the PC.  An incentive to use my sewing machine more.

Mr WithaY bought me a v funky computer joystick so that I can play Elite Dangerous - a space trading/combat game he has been enjoying recently - and I have been learning how to use it.  Once I stop whirling my spaceship round in circles, firing all weapons at once I am sure it will be a lot of fun.

Other news:  I have been planning a party for my 50th birthday in a few weeks.  I cannot believe that I am this old.  Seriously.  Almost 50. What the actual fuck?  I assume that once Saga start sending me brochures for coach tour holidays and cheap car insurance I will automatically get my Old Lady white cardigan and purple rinse through the post from whichever department deals with age.  The Ministry of Elderly But Vociferous Women.

Also: Adverts.  Why are so many adverts now using the same four songs? It;s very confusing. If they aren't all using the same four songs, they have a shonky twee female vocalist with a fucking ukulele doing ear-bleeding cover versions of old pop songs (Wonderful Life springs to mind) which make me want to throw things.

That Centerparcs advert with the bears. Puh-lease.  If a bear ever got into Centerparcs it would look at the foetid throng in dismay and flee back into the woods as fast as possible.

Bears. Pah.

*I have decided to sell my amp. It's huge and powerful and does all sorts of incredible things, and I am not using a hundredth of its potential.  So, after my party it will be going.  I'm using it as the sound system on the day, which is why it's still here.

Saturday, 9 January 2016


It's January, and it is currently pissing down with rain. Ah, England, and your endless weather. We're getting off lightly down here though. The North of England seems to have been almost entirely submerged by floods, rivers bursting banks, lakes overspilling, drains backing up and exploding thousands of gallons of filthy water into the streets, and of course "localised flooding."

Localised flooding is a concept which scares the bejeezus out of me, It basically tells us that regardless of any and all flood precautions you might take, the water WILL GET YOU.  It might come up through your toilets and sinks, (see backed-up drains above) or through an air-brick, after you carefully sandbagged the front door, or, most alarmingly, via a re-invigorated underground spring, deciding to emerge through your kitchen floor.

That happened to a neighbour in our village a few years ago.

We live within sight of one river and several smaller streams, all of which are currently in spate. Thankfully we also have water meadows a little way downstream, onto which, as is intended, the rivers spill when they get too full, thus preventing all the houses being submerged. This is why it's a bad idea to build houses on flood plains.

Mr WithaY was sent a photo by a mate Up North which shows her in an inflatable dinghy IN HER KITCHEN, bobbing about on water which is almost as high as her worktops.  Gah.

We have had (I think) three frosts so far this winter. There are daffodils already in flower, wasps and bees are still flying about outside, and the roses in my garden are still flowering. I have to take the decision to cut them back, but it seems such a shame when they are flowering.  It's almost certain that there will be a month of icy Siberian weather in March or somewhen, when we least expect it to make up for this unseasonal mildness now.

I have a new Thing for 2016. I decided that the single biggest obstacle to me doing fun stuff is my own procrastination. I used to be creative in a big way, making re-enactment kit and so on, and I realised that the reason I was highly productive was that there was always a deadline to be met.

"I must get these shirts finished for May Bank Holiday."
"I promised to get this singlet to them in time for the banquet."
"I need to make fourteen fancy dress costumes by the end of August."

Once Mr WithaY and I stopped doing re-enactment, both the reason for making so much kit vanished, as did the timetable I worked to.  Last year I bought half a dozen silk saris from eBay, washed and ironed them, and they have been neatly rolled up in my fabric basket ever since. I was full of vague plans to turn them into summer dresses, or shirts or something.  So far, all I have managed is a pair of curtains and a cushion cover for my study.  Not good enough.

The new Thing, then, is a sort-of mantra in my head. It is JFDI, which as you may already know, stands for Just Fucking DO It.  Crude but effective, it means when I think about doing something, and go a bit wishy-washy, I just think "Oh JFDI" and then get on with it.  So far it works beautifully.

It means that we no longer have a three-month-old heap of ironing looming balefully at me, my clothes have been sorted and thinned out and taken to charity shops, and I am working my way through my study in preparation for a big reshuffle at the weekend.  I am going to move my sewing table to where my desk is at the moment, under the window, and thus have more light and a view for when I want to sew. My PC can sit on the other side of the room where there is less natural light, but now that I am not poring over lengthy Serious And Important Documents for work, I don;t need the desk under the window.

Small but important changes.

It's also an opportunity to chuck out a ton of old junk which has drifted into corners and onto shelves over the last few years.  Oh, and properly clean the floor.

Onwards and upwards, people. JFDI.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Three beaches

I've been to the seaside.

Several times, and in two different countries. Yes, get me.

The first was a day trip to the Dorset coast, along with Mr WithaY and the dog.  Despite it being autumn, the weather was absolutely gorgeous.  It was so nice that I even braved the water and went for a paddle.

Look at it! It's like July!

Mind you, I lost all feeling in my feet after about 30 seconds in the water. Also, I forgot to take a towel, so had to put my shoes and socks back onto cold wet sandy feet.

The dog had a whale of a time digging in the sand, and running in and out of the sea.  See note about lack of towel, above.

We walked the length of the beach, intending to sit outside the cafe and have fish and chips, but all the local smug newspaper-reading bastards were already there, refusing to move, watching passers-by with narrowed eyes that clearly meant "This small cafetiere of coffee WILL last me for the next hour, so fuck off out of it, you sad wannabe table scrounger.  And your little dog too."  We went home and had tea and buns instead.

The next beach trip was to Brighton, with my lovely sisters.  We stayed in a hotel right on the seafront, and were able to watch possibly the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen from our bedroom window.  Yes, all three of us shared a room. It was hilarious.  And noisy.

We drank cocktails, walked MILES across Brighton, around the shops, through the Pavilion gardens, up hill, down dale, along the seafront and even round an amusement arcade where we won a selection of tat for shoving hundreds of 2-pence pieces into those tipping point machines.

The weather (again) was excellent, dry and warm enough to make a trip on the Brighton Eye fun.

The view from the Eye looking out across the Pier, amusement arcade at the end there.

And the view inland, with the building that housed The Hungry Years heavy rock nightclub taking left-of-centre stage. I loved going to that place when I was young and thin. Well, thinner.  

I know sunset photos are a bit of a cliché, but just LOOK at this. It was just fantastic, all three of us took turns gawping out of the tiny window above my bed to take photos.

The third beach trip was in the South of France.  Mother-in-Law WithaY was 80 in November so as many of the family as possible went over there to help her celebrate.  Mr WithaY and I stayed in a small hotel in a place called Banyuls, where our room overlooked the sea. It was absolutely lovely.  The place has a rather funky modernist feel to it, and the food was truly excellent. 5/5 will visit again.

It was rather like being in a Jeeves and Wooster story, though, what with the sea lapping gently all night, and splendid aperitifs before dinner each evening. Not that I'm complaining, dear me no.

The view from our room.  Lovely.

The giant wine barrel at the top of the hill.  We did buy some local wine, and brought it back very, very carefully in our suitcases.  It all arrived unscathed, as did the pate, chocolates, turron ( nut delicacy not unlike peanut brittle) and black olive tapenade we crammed into our bags.

I discovered that I speak fluent* French!  For the first time in my adult life I had no worries about making myself understood to real proper French people. I told the lady in the supermarket that "nous somme touristes" and she gestured at the shopping in what can only be described as a laconic Gallic manner, and sighed deeply, as if to say "well DUH!"

This new-found fluency has much more to do with confidence and, I suspect, lack of shame, than actual skill,  I got to tell a shopkeeper " suis desolee" when they told me the fuzzy felt slippers I was admiring weren't available in my size.  That's something else crossed off the bucket list.

Note the small metal square on a pole in the bottom right of that photo. It is a conveniently-placed frame through which you can admire a perfect view.  What a great idea.  There were many of them scattered around the place.

This is it up close.

And this is the view, through the frame.  Nice, eh?

As you see, seasonal November weather. For Collioure. So, we ate perfectly-cooked fish by the bucketload, drank the finest wines available to humanity and walked alongside an azure sea in the sunshine. Not a bad way to spend a week.

In the midst of it all, we got to see Mother-in-Law Withay, brother and sister-in-law, niece and various old family friends, so that was good for the soul.  A birthday lunch in the glass-box restaurant at the hotel overlooking the sea was enlivened by a rattling thunderstorm coming in over the mountains, complete with end-of-the-world rain.  You get a lot of weather for your money down there.

Other news:  Still very sad. Trying not to be.

*very basic C-grade O-level French

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

In which I share sad news

Well, this is a post I really hoped I wouldn't have to write for many years.  My beloved, lovely, Mum died last month.  It was very sudden, and unexpected and a huge shock to us all.  She was only 70, which is (as people keep telling me) no age at all, but her health had become very poor in recent years. As you may remember, we all caught the flu when she was here at Christmas, and I don't think she recovered from that fully.

I'd been down to spend the day in Sussex with her, and we had a pleasant relaxing time together, I ferried her to a few medical appointments, we had tea, watched all the various afternoon TV shows she liked, then treated ourselves to an Indian takeaway for supper, before I headed home again in the late evening.

That night she became ill, called an ambulance and was admitted to the superb St Richard's hospital where they tried to find out what the problem was. I was worried she might have had a heart attack, but after a day or two of tests they said she had "an infection" later specified as cellulitis.  Mum had cellulitis several times, a complication of a longstanding diabetic ulcer on her foot, and despite it being a nasty thing, I was relieved as she'd been treated for it successfully before.

To cut a long and sad story short, despite getting the best possible care, she passed away a few days later, with her family around her.  It was peaceful, dignified, gentle, and she was in no distress, which is about as much as any of us can hope for I think.

We held the funeral on a gloriously sunny day in August, and many friends, family and members of her church attended to pay their respects. I will miss her more than I can say.

I take comfort from the thought that she is reunited with my Dad, who died so many years ago, and who she loved all her life.

Grief is a strange thing.  I have hours, and now even half-days, where I feel fine, almost as if I have forgotten what has happened, and then a wave crashes over me and I am inconsolable.  I know it will get easier, but my God, it's hard at the moment.

I was supposed to be down in Sussex this week to help my sisters sort out some of the paperwork, but as if by magic, I went down with a chest infection at the weekend, and have spent the last 48 hours in bed, coughing wretchedly.

I don't think it's a coincidence that I have avoided the Black Lung since I stopped working in London, and now it reappears.  Thankfully, it seems to be receding again within a week, unlike the 3-month visitations of yore, but it scared me badly.

Two positive things:

1)  Our holiday in Japan, which was booked a while ago, is now a shining beacon of "something to look forward to" even more than it already was.

2)  I joined a local spa/gym at a country hotel nearby a few days after I went down to visit my Mum and going swimming there has been very helpful.  I recently sold my Rickenbacker 12-string, so had some "extra" money in the bank, and used it to pay for a year's membership and I am so glad I did, as it means I have somewhere to go that has no associations with anything else in my life. It helps.

Friday, 19 June 2015


Events of note at work so far this week:

  • Group of Japanese tourists arriving at 7am, buying fuel for their car, and then photographing each other outside the shop, collapsing in helpless, excited laughter at our coal bunkers.  
  • Man buying coffee from the coffee machine and then demanding I add more coffee, as it wasn't coffee-y enough.  I was tempted to chew up a mouthful of coffee beans and spit them into his drink, but I managed to refrain, and merely made him a fresh cup, which was apparently "fine."
  • Being handed a crumpled five pound note with wet cowshit on it.  This happens far more often than is acceptable.
  • Man buying a pasty, then remaining at the till to harangue me (and other customers) about the terrible recent case of a young girl who was found dead after a row with her family. He was bellowing "She was hanged!  There's more to that than we're being told!" at a polite man trying to pay for his diesel for quite a long time.  
  • Being asked many technical questions about putting oil in a car by someone who has no idea whether their car is a petrol or a diesel, and aren't even sure if it needs oil, but "a light has come on so it probably does."  All this while a long, impatient queue of people builds up behind them, while they ponder what they actually want at their leisure.
  • Woman wanting a gas canister, then wanting to do complicated stuff about changing from one canister size to another, which only our managers are allowed to authorise, and then getting hugely annoyed when told how much the canister she asked for in the first place costs.  There was a degree of huffing and flouncing, which made the man in the queue behind her roll his eyes expressively at me.
  • Woman running into the shop and asking me "Did I just put petrol in my car??" When I said no, she said "I've been swimming in the sea, it's messed with my head!"

Ah, people.

In other news, Mr WithaY and I (and the dog) went to visit some very dear friends down in deepest Sussex earlier this week.  They live in a cottage on a rather excellent country estate, so we went for several dog-walks through the meadows and woods.  Their dog is a charmer, and he and ours played together most endearingly.  Our dog retired to her basket when we got home, and slept for about 18 hours solidly.  She can't party like she used to.

I wanted to take photos of The Big House there, because it is a beautiful (possibly) Elizabethan manor house with a Horsham stone roof, but I felt that  might be a bit intrusive and gawky, so you will just have to imagine it.

We travelled down in Mr WithaY's new truck, which is far more comfortable than the LandRover was, and much more practical. It's a double-cab pick-up with a roof on the pick-up bit at the back, so there;s room for 5 people and tons of stuff too.  He's very pleased with it.

But what happened to the LandRover, I hear you ask?


Several months ago, Mr WithaY was off to the woods to work, where he planned to be for a long weekend.  He packed all his kit into his car, said a fond farewell to me and the dog, and headed off.  Some hours later, I was at work, and he came into the shop to ask if he could borrow my car.

"What happened to yours?" I enquired.

"Crashed it," he replied somewhat tersely.  I gave him my car keys, with a stern injunction not to crash mine too.  He disappeared again, returning several days later with a sad tale of bouncing off a woodland track at 10 miles an hour and hitting a tree.

Unfortunately, the age of the vehicle, and the substantial nature of the damage inflicted - lights smashed, bonnet crumpled, side panel dented, bumper broken - meant that the insurance company wrote it off, hence the need for a new truck.  The tree, you will be pleased to hear, was undamaged, not even getting a dent in the thick moss covering the trunk.

Oh, and Mr WithaY was fine too.

While Mr WithaY was away over that long weekend, we had a new fence put up.  It replaced the horrible tatty broken fence which ran along the side of the gardens, front and back.  A team of charming young landscape gardeners came to erect it* and worked like Trojans from morn** till night***, pausing only briefly for cups of tea.

On the eventful Friday afternoon when Mr WithaY had broken his car, I was in the house, having been at work all morning.  There was a knock on the front door.  One of the gardeners stood there, looking anxious.  If he'd had a flat cap on, he'd have been tugging nervously at the peak.

"Hello," I said.  Have you finished already?"

"No," he replied.  "We've dug a hole for the last fencepost, but it's full of water."

"Oh, never mind about that! Our water table round here is really high. I bet it'll be fine."

He agreed with me, and said they had some finishing off to do, and could sort out the last bit of fence in an hour or so, once the water level had dropped again.

An hour or so later, there was another knock on the door.  He looked positively anguished.  The flat cap would have been clutched in nerveless hands, wrung with despair.

"Come and look at this," he said.  That's never good.  I followed him around to the side of the house where the fencepost hole was brimming with water, and a stream had formed running down onto the back lawn.

"Fuck."  I said.

He nodded sadly.

To cut a (very) long story slightly shorter, it turned out that our water main runs down that side of the house, and in digging the hole, they had managed to somehow disturb the pipe and cause a massive leak.  Several hours of panicking, phoning plumbers, phoning Wessex Water and trying to build makeshift dams with breeze blocks followed.

Thankfully, Wessex Water were able to come out the following day and fix the problem, but they suggested that if we ever win the Lottery we might consider having all our external water pipes replaced.  Cheers for that.

It is traditional for some domestic disaster to occur when Mr WithaY is away, so I'm pretty used to it now.  I ought to make a Domestic Disaster Bingo Card, and keep myself amused guessing what will happen next.


**About 8am-ish
***About teatime

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

I Spy

An overheard game of I Spy in the shop yesterday, between a boy of about 4 and his slightly older brother.

Younger boy:  I spy with my little that's with...BLUE!

Older boy:  Is it this?  (Holding up a small bag of Skittles, bright red in colour.)

Younger boy:  No.

Older boy:  Is it this?  (Holding up a caramel Freddo bar, definitely not blue.)

Younger boy:  No!

Older boy:  Is it this?  (Pointing at a bag of beef crisps.)

Younger boy:  (by now hugely excited) NO!

Older boy then wandered away, tiring of the sport.

Younger boy:  I'll help you!

Older boy:  Ok.

Younger boy:  It's somewhere in Space!

In other news:  Mr WithaY and I have bitten a large, expensive bullet and booked the holiday of a lifetime.  We are going to Japan next Spring.  This is a long-held wish, and we decided that if we wait until we can afford it, we'll never go.  So we went and booked it at the weekend, and now it's really happening.

The catalyst for the trip was this:

Forgive the dreadful quality picture, I stupidly scanned it, rather than just taking a photo, like a sensible person would.

I bought this book in 1985 in Winchester, as it was required reading for my degree, used it throughout the course, and it has lived quietly in one of the many WithaY bookcases ever since.

For no reason, a few weeks ago whilst idly browsing eBay, I thought "I wonder if anyone else has one of those weird Bell Jar books for sale?" and searched for it.  Nothing on eBay, so I Googled it.

Readers, I found out a couple of interesting things about my old book.

1)  It's jolly rare.  According to a Sylvia Plath website - this one - there are only 8 copies known to exist. I don't know if that means mine is Number 9, or one of the existing 8.

2)  The last time one was sold in the UK, it went for quite a lot of money.

Well, what would you do?  I sat there for a few minutes, looking at the Bonhams photo of the cover of the book, which was almost exactly the same as mine, and then went in to Mr WithaY's study, where he sat researching Neolithic sporrans, or some such arcanery.

Me:  Look at this picture.

Mr W:  Oh yes.  A book.

Me:  Look how much it sold for.

Mr W:  Heavens!

Me:  Yes.  I've got one of those.

Mr W:  What?

Me:  I've got that same book. Upstairs.

I ran upstairs, located the book, ran (carefully - with my track record) back downstairs and showed Mr WithaY.  We both looked from my book to the Bonhams website, and back again.

Me:  I'm ringing Bonhams in the morning.

I rang Bonhams, where I spoke to a charming chap in their books department.  I told him that I had found their auction page about the Bell Jar uncorrected proof.

"Oh yes?" he said, politely.  I got the impression he was lounging negligently in a fine quality leather club chair, possibly smoking an untipped cigarette in an amber holder.

"Yes.  Well, the thing is, I've got one of those, and I'd like to sell it please."

In my head, he sat up abruptly at this point, dropping his cigarette onto the green leather of his desktop.*

Anyhoo, the upshot was, that he told me they had a sale coming up in June, and that if I could get the book to them for evaluation in the next day or two, they could include it, assuming it was what I thought it was.

I posted it to them that afternoon, they telephoned me the following morning to say it had arrived, and that they were happy to include it in the sale, and so, with much excitement, I waited for the sale catalogue to be published.

And here it is:


So, if there are any avid Sylvia Plath collectors who read this, or you know anyone who has loads of money and a suitably-shaped hole in their library, please tell them to bid.  It's funding my holiday to Japan, at least in part.

*Yes, yes, yes, I'm well aware he was probably doing nothing of the sort, but I don't get to London much these days, and it's all morphed into a Bertie Wooster/Mapp and Lucia fantasyland now in my imagination.

Saturday, 23 May 2015


We get all sorts of people in the shop.

When I am working a late shift, it's remarkable to see the number of customers who dash in for last-minute emergency beer or wine before we shut for the night. On sunny afternoons we get quite a few people calling in for booze for impromptu barbecues on their way home from work.  There are one or two who come in for small bottles of cheap vodka, and who I suspect are not going anywhere to drink it.

The one who stands out for me this week though, is the Drunk Socks Man.

He came in for the first time mid-afternoon, buying a four-pack of chilled cans of cider. Fair enough. It was a sunny afternoon, and sitting under a tree with a cold cider would be very pleasant.

Two hours later he came back and bought another four-pack.  Ah. Maybe he has some mates there too, and they're all enjoying a cold drink together.

Another two hours passed. By this time I was on my own in the shop.  He reappeared, this time drunk. Very, very drunk.

"Hello my petal!" he said cheerfully. I said hello back, ignoring the over-familiarity. Well, you have to sometimes.

He selected a single bottle of beer and brought it up to the counter, then dug into a pocket for cash.  I told him how much it cost, and he squinted at the handful of change, old receipts and oddments he was waving about in front of me.

"Have I got enough there, darling?" he asked.  I told him no, he didn't.

"Well can you do me a deal then? Can I have it for *rapid counting of the coins he held* £1.28?"

I said no sorry, we wouldn't do that.

"What have you got that's cheaper, then?"

By now, I had realised just how drunk he was, and was beginning to wonder how I was going to get him out of the shop if he got stroppy when he discovered that I wasn't going to sell him any more drink.   Cunningly taking the bottle of beer back to the fridge on the pretext of looking for something cheaper, I was able to convince him that we didn't sell anything alcoholic that he could afford just then.

"How about if I give you a cuddle? Can I have a deal then?"

Oh fantastic.  The "drunk bloke is irresistible to women" stage has been reached. I declined the cuddle and got back behind the counter, wondering how much longer this was going to continue.  He stood there, swaying a bit, then had an idea.

"What if I give you my socks?"


"Look.  Here.  You can have my socks."  He tried to hand me a pair of balled-up socks which he pulled from another pocket.

I declined politely.

After a few minutes of loudly telling the next customer who came in how terrible it is to be an alcoholic - the customer agreed politely whilst paying for his diesel - the drunk left, staggering over to the pub.  He did tell me "I'm always around if you need me, darling," before he left.  How reassuring.

I waited with some interest, and a little anxiety in case he came back to the shop.  A police van then drove onto the forecourt and parked up, I waited for the police driver to come in and buy sweeties. They're buggers for sweeties, police.  However, the driver simply stayed in his van.

The drunk left the pub very soon afterwards, and started making his way up the road towards town.   The police van immediately pulled out into the main road, the driver got out and spoke to the drunk. I watched, interested, as they had a long chat, the drunk smoking a cigarette.   A short time later a police car arrived, and took the drunk away.

You don't get that in the Civil Service.

Thursday, 29 January 2015


Many of our regular customers in the shop wear what is loosely termed "Country Attire."  This may consist of a filthy pair of John Deere overalls, or ancient Wellington boots over waterproof trousers, or rigger boots and moleskins.  A lot of them wear shooting breeches, as they are involved with one of the local shoots.  Many customers are keepers, or beaters, or even guns on the shoots, so it makes sense.

Last weekend I was at work, serving a very elegant lady.  She was in raptures over the local honey, and the fact that we sell part-baked baguettes.  As I packed her stuff and took her money we chatted about this and that.  Whilst this was happening, one of the regular customers came in, and I handed him his newspaper from beneath the counter.  He smiled and said thank you and walked away.

I apologised to the lady for having interrupted our conversation, but realised she was staring in wide-eyed amazement at the departing customer, who was walking back to his car.

"Are you alright?" I asked her.

"I'm fine," she said, then she laughed.  "Did you see his TROUSERS?"

I glanced out of the window at the chap, who was sporting a fine pair of tweed breeks, which probably cost a fortune.

"Um.  Yes." I looked at her, she was still laughing.

"I didn't think anyone actually wore clothes like that!"  She was genuinely amused.

I asked her where she was from.



Wednesday, 28 January 2015


Ah, technology.

Once more I am able to converse on the telephone. Once more, I can surf the myriad wonderful shores of the Internet. Once more I can dick about on Facebook.  Once more, we discover that life is not like Star Trek.

Last Saturday, about teatime, I was sitting on the comfy sofa, dealing with some mindless nonsense on my iPad, eBay, possibly, when the gloomy message "You are not connected to the Internet" popped up in the middle of my screen.  I tried refreshing the screen.


I went into Settings and tried to reconnect to the relevant WiFi thingy.


I turned it off and on again.   The last resort.

Nope.  Well, bollocks.

On further investigation (going upstairs and glaring at the blue lights on the BT Homehub box) it was clear that my Internet connection was broken.  Mr WithaY emerged from his study, blinking in the light, and asked if there was a problem with the phone, as his Internet wasn't working.  A second investigation revealed that the OTHER BT Homehub box (yes, yes, yes, we have two, long story, probably going to get rid of one this year) wasn't working either.

The handset on the phone in the hall displayed the message "Check Line Cord" which we know from experience means Serious Issues With The Phone.  As we live in the Village Of No Mobile Reception, we couldn't ring BT to let them know, so left it till the next day, hoping that the phone line might have magically sorted itself out overnight.

I went to work on Sunday morning, and was not particularly surprised when a neighbour from further up the road called in to ask if our phone worked.  The shop phone did, but I told him our home phone was out of order.

"So's ours! And all the neighbours' on either side! AND the phone box!" he told me.  He'd already been on the (mobile) phone to BT to report the fault, which meant finding a spot at the top of the hill by the church where there's intermittent reception, and then spending almost £10 on his emergency pay as you go mobile whilst BT kept him on hold. He wasn't happy.

One of the more endearing quirks of reporting a fault to BT is their insistence that you listen to their instructions about resolving faults at your end.  They ought to call it It's All Your Faults.  They insist that you check that your phone isn't unplugged, or the dog hasn't eaten your WiFi box, or the house hasn't burned down while you weren't concentrating, and only then will they agree to send out an engineer.  Even then, you have to agree to pay a huge fee (almost £200!) if they find that it's Your Fault.

Anyhoo, the fault had been raised with BT, so I rang them as well, told them that our phones were also affected, and agreed to hand over a huge sack of cash if it turned out not to be their problem.  On leaving work, I spotted a BT engineer doing something at the base of the telephone pole on the corner. I wandered over to see.

Me:  Hello.  Have you come to fix all our phones?

Engineer:  Hello.  Yes.

Me:  So what's the problem?

Engineer:  Well.  Look.

The engineer gestured at the thick black cable that runs up the length of the phone pole.  It had been neatly cut in half about a foot from the ground.  A myriad of small wires poked out of the two severed ends.

Me:  Ah.

Engineer: (wearily) Yep, this is me for the next couple of hours.

He declined the offer of a cup of tea, so I left him to it.  By the time it was dark, his van had gone, and so had he, and the broken cable was all patched back up.  However, the phones still weren't working.

I went to work on Monday morning.  To my non-astonishment, a neighbour came in to ask if our phone worked.  I told her it did, and asked if her's was out of order.

"Not exactly," she told me.  "My number is now in Jean's house.  And Jean's number is ringing in my house."


As more people came into the shop, it became clear that a terrible, terrible thing had happened to our phones.  We all had each others' numbers, but nobody knew who had which, or where they were calling.  I tried calling both our numbers from the shop phone but they just rang endlessly so I gave up.

Once again, BT were called.  Once again I had to agree to give them all my money if the fault was mine.  I explained that at least 12 houses were affected, and that it was most likely that the problem rested with the massive severed cable that had been sellotaped back together inaccurately.

Early on Monday morning, a BT engineer appeared at my house.  I explained the situation at length.

Me:  BT have run line tests and said my phone is fine, but look - there's no dial tone."  My voice might have gone a bit squeaky as I waved the dead handset about.

Engineer:  (backing away slightly) phone is dead.  And yet we have a good line signal.  (He looked at his electronic handset thingy, then back at my dead phone.)

Me:  YES.  My phone number works, just not in my house!

Engineer: Ok.  I'll get on with this then.  (More fiddling with his tricorder) Ah, your phone is ringing at a Mr Sanders' house.  Do you know him?

Me: (coldly) No.

(He went back out to his van, possibly to have an aspirin.)

An hour or so later, both our phones were working, and we had Internet access once more.  Hurrah.  The engineer stood on the doorstep chatting cheerfully as we said our goodbyes.

Me: And will you be going to all the other houses now to sort them out too?

Engineer:  Um.  What other houses?

I told him about all the neighbours' phone issues, and the phone box.  He was appalled.

Engineer:  I only have two call-outs for today, and neither of them are in this village!

Me:  Well, there are at least a dozen houses with this problem.  And the phone box.

Engineer:  So why haven't they reported them?

Me: No phones! No Internet!  No mobile reception!

When I went to work that afternoon, there was a huge BT cherrypicker truck with a bloke deedily reattaching wires at the top of the phone pole.  It was there quite a while.

In other news, I am now working full-time in the village shop.  I really like it.  There's a shift pattern which suits me well, as you do four days on, two days off, so your days off vary from week to week, and even on the days you work you either have a morning or an afternoon to yourself.

The first couple of late shifts I did were nerve-racking, as you have to lock everything and set alarms and so on, but once I got the hang of it, it was fine.  It's sociable and friendly, and apart from my feet hurting at the end of a shift - there's nowhere to sit for most of the time - I like it very much.  I daresay my feet will adapt.

A customer came in the other day, bought a few bits and pieces, and then gave me a handful of change to pay for it.  As he dropped the money into my hand I realised it was sticky. Very, very sticky.

Me:  Ewww! What's all over this money? Why is it so sticky?

Customer: (who was very, very Welsh)  Oh, sorry love,  That's just orange juice.

Me:  Really.

Customer:  Yeah. Had a bit of an accident in my cab, see.  Sorry about that.

Me:  Orange juice.  Hmmm.

Customer:  Yeah, it is, honest.  Go on! Smell it!


Thursday, 8 January 2015

Glorious victory. And inglorious ailments.

Hello, happy 2015 etcetera etcetera etcetera.  To be fair, I have very little clue what day it is, never mind what year.  This is down to the usual Christmas/New Year bewilderment that happens every year, but also because this year, for a change, we all got really ill over the holidays.

I don't know why I refer to them as "the holidays," given that Mr WithaY and I no longer work a standard Monday to Friday pattern.  Every day we're not working could be described as a "holiday."

Anyhoo. We had all kinds of plans for Christmas, all sorts of parties and events we were planning on going to, or hosting.  Day trips, even.

Mr WithaY and I went to the Bath Christmas market, where we bought gee-gaws and trinkets and trumpery*.  These included:

  • A wooden trivet made of slices of wood all set in some sort of resin, which looks like an arty photograph.  I love it.  
  • Some beautifully soft grey and blue lambswool fingerless mittens which I wear almost constantly outside, 
  • A stained glass Christmas tree decoration from a very young, very silent, Belarusian nun.  
  • A wreath made from dried apples, oranges, cinnamon sticks and (I think) Scotch Bonnet chillies, which now hangs in the front porch.  
We shopped for food, we made sure there was Champagne for Christmas Day, we moved furniture to ensure the tree would fit in the sitting room.  The decorations went up, the house looked festive, we were ready.

Things started well with several members of the extended family arriving for the weekend before Christmas, much jollity and dog-walking, and a tremendous curry where we all sat at a great big long table and ate a vast selection of lovely food.  The remainder of the family arrived the next day and there was more hilarity, dog-walking, exchanging of gifts and a buffet.  We do like a buffet in our family.  Mostly because you can have three slices of ham if you want to, AND a sausage roll AND some celery AND a bit of cheese.

The majority of the family went to their respective homes again, leaving just Mr WithaY and I, and my lovely Mum here for the Christmas period.  The first few days were perfect. We went out a bit, drank lots of tea, ate lots of delicious home-made food, watched some Christmas TV, and looked forward to the Big Day.  I went to work on Christmas Eve, Mr WithaY and Mum stayed in and watched a DVD together.

By the time I finished work at 6pm, I was feeling very odd.  Dizzy. Hot and cold.  Headachy.  I got home, and the others were feeling much the same.  And that, dear readers, was that.  We all went down with the flu as if felled by hammers, and for the next three or four days hardly moved.

Mr WithaY and I, whilst feeling dreadful, were able to eat a little, and even make cups of tea and so on, but poor Mum just got worse and worse, to the point where she ended up staying with us for an extra week, and was then only taken home on New Years Day to go straight into hospital. Thankfully, after a week of top-notch care, she has returned home and seems to be much better. but it was a horrible time for all of us.

Mr WithaY and I have both been left with horrible racking coughs, and intermittent high temperatures, but we are both much better than we were.  I have no energy, and even walking the dog around the village, or pushing a shopping trolley round the supermarket leaves me shaking and exhausted, but hopefully in a few days that will pass too.

The good news is that I have lost a stone, for the first time ever over Christmas, and am definitely less podgy than I was.  A few days of eating normally will probably put paid to that, but it's nice to begin a New Year feeling like I am already on the right track.

 Other news:  Prior to the Great Flu Outbreak, I was the proud winner of this:

The Stonehenge volunteers had their Christmas party, and held a Great British Bake-Off competition, where people were invited to submit cakes for JUDGEMENT.

I made this, a coffee cake with home-made apricot jam in the middle, and butterscotch chocolate ganache icing. Mr WithaY added the Neolithic deer drawing:

And it won!  I assumed, when Mr WithaY came into the pub to tell me (I was at the work Christmas meal, so wasn't at the Stonehenge event, clashing dates, sadly) that there had only been one or two entries, and we'd all won a cup.

Oh, but no.  No.

There were apparently about 30 entries, and the judges did it all very seriously, tasting everything and making their decision very carefully.


Hurrah!  Here's the glorious cup in situ, dominating the room:

I am hoping I get to keep it forever, rather than having to return it next year.   That reminds me, I must add it to our insurance.

So.  The flu.  A quiet and very worrying Christmas.  A lingering annoying cough.  No other news.

Here's a lovely picture of the dog that my Middle Sis took on one of our family walks.  I really, really like it.  It shows you exactly what a friendly, sweet-natured girl she is.  And the dog is nice too.

Here's to a good New Year, and that nobody gets the flu again.

Oh, and once again there was no Dinotopia on TV.  Outrageous.

*you have to talk like that in Bath. It's the LAW.

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