Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Medical notes

Welcome to the House of Many Ailments. 

Today, for your entertainment we can offer:

1)  Hideous racking coughs, often with choking and gasping.  The special extended remixed version also features a weak hand pressed to the sweat be-dewed forehead, fluttering eyes like a Victorian heroine dropping into a swoon, followed by effusive swearing.  "Fucking hell.  I am SICK of this FUCKING COUGH." 

Medical advice:  Try not to suffocate, hold onto something solid and wait for it to pass.  And cut down on the swearing. 

2)  Explosive sneezing.  For best effect this happens completely out of the blue, loudly, and for several minutes, leaving the sneezer exhausted and spume-speckled.  The other person in the house must shriek "Will you STOP DOING THAT!" once they recover from their shock. 

Medical advice:  Stay out of the blast radius and make sympathetic noises afterwards to try and mask the shouting you did initially. 

3)  Snot-related trauma.  This often follows the sneezing, and is exemplified by the victim having to run to the nearest box of tissues (we have them in almost every room in the house at the moment) and making noises which would only ever normally be heard in a film about alien slime monsters.  It's like a Giger drawing being interpreted through the medium of sound. 

Medical advice:  Stand clear and make sure there are plenty of tissues at strategic points throughout the house.  And wastepaper bins. 

4)  Headaches. These are vague and usually shortlived, but render the victim incapable of doing more than flopping weakly on the sofa and flicking savagely through the TV channels, hissing through their teeth at the paucity of quality entertainment available at 11am on a Wednesday.  

Medical advice:  Turn off the TV and suggest they take the recycling out.  Fresh air is good for headaches. 

5)  Aches and pains.  These come and go, depending on the level of interest in other stuff going on in the house at the time.  For example, whilst watching a good film, nothing.  All limbs are comfortable and fully-functional.  However, when pottering around in the kitchen, looking hatefully at the accumulated debris of the past ten days it is imperative to walk with bent knees, one hand pressed to the small of the back, shuffling like an aged chimpanzee with advanced gout. 

Medical advice:  The offer of a cup of tea and a mince pie can work wonders.

6)  Knife wounds.  Always at least one of these in the house at any given time.  The sufferer will move through the various behavioural stages of Panic, Dismay, Relief That It's Not Worse, Grouchiness, Forgetfulness and finally Bragging.  During the Forgetfulness stage there will be several incidents where the wounded appendage is knocked or bashed, causing the sufferer to swear and hop about. 

Medical advice:  Ice, pressure, elevation, tea, sympathy, exasperation and finally mockery.

And remember, always ask a trusted medical professional if things seem to be getting too dull.  They always have loads of gruesome anecdotes. 

The entertainment value of injuries may go down as well as up.

Sunday, 27 December 2009


Today you get a photo bonanza*.  It's a rather eclectic mixture, as I haven't uploaded stuff from my camera for a while.  Lucky old you, eh?

In chronological order we have:

1)  The festive decorations outside the garden supply and aquatic shop.  The deer are there all year round, Santa is a seasonal addition.  I think the red noses are also seasonal, but to be honest I am not sure now I look at it again.

2) A seemingly innocent diorama spotted in the window of a charming dolls house shop in Chichester.  I did a double-take, then sneaked a photo.  Whoever dressed the window is a genius. 

Yes, she is wearing a basque and stockings.  And, as Mr WithaY pointed out, her nipples are very realistically painted.  Sorry about the flash bounce but you get the idea.  I think everyone ought to go and buy miniature furniture and whatnot from the shop by way of applause. 

3)  Some rather impressive icebound cobwebs on a garden ornament at Father-in-law WithaY's nursing home.  It was on the day of the Terrifying Ice.  At least it was pretty. 

I did a close-up as well, it was so beautiful. 

Like Narnia.  But in Wiltshire.

4)  Fish!  We have more fish in our tank.  Today we went and got some freshwater shrimp, which move at the speed of light around the tank; all the other fish are shit scared of them, it seems.  They will eat algae and help keep the tank clean.  We got five of those, they are very pretty, and, despite being fish, very appealing. 

We also got five Leopard Cory, which zip about like mad things, often crashing into the shrimp.  They also eat algae, so we will have the cleanest tank in the world, with any luck. 

Just in case we don't, though, we got a glass cleaner thingy which is powered by MAGNETS. I feel like a super-villain now.

I took more, but Mr WithaY has banned me from using the flash so they were all blurry and shite.  Sorry.

5)  Readers of a nervous disposition may wish to look away at this point. 

As I have mentioned previously, we have the remains of a large roast turkey in our kitchen, along with half the population of the UK**, I imagine.  Look:

Mmm, leftovers.

I decided to make a curry (using the Malasian curry mixes sent by Middle Sis), duly donned an apron, picked up the carving knife, and set to with gusto.

Too much gusto.

See that single slice through the leg joint at the top of the picture there?  If you look closely you will see*** that there is a finger-shaped gap in the underside of it. 

I literally made the first incision, the knife slipped and I made a huge deep cut in my left hand index finger.  Fuck me it bled.  There was blood on the floor, on the butchers block where the turkey sat, on the edge of the turkey plate, on the knife, on my slippers, in the sink.  None on the turkey, though. 

I ran to the sink, put my hand under the cold tap, and shrieked for Mr WithaY.  He was cleaning the fishtank gravel so had to stop that, dry off and then run into the kitchen to see what was going on.  His first question was "What have you done?"   I thought it was fairly obvious, what with the huge fuck-off knife and all the blood, but no.

The knife in question:

It's about 10 inches long**** and razor sharp.  Given my track record, I am lucky I didn't manage to stab myself in the head with it, I suppose. 

Mr WithaY was initially very sympathetic, but has more recently taken to waggling his stump at me and making "But did I tell you about this?" noises at me if I whinge that my finger hurts. 

So.  No curry making.  I sat on the sofa and watched the original version of "Miracle on 34th Street" instead.  Much nicer. 

Cold turkey for supper, I think. 

*Sorry, no cowboys though.

**I mean half the population also have cold turkey in their kitchen, not that half the population of the UK is IN our kitchen.  That would be inconvenient.  We'd run out of chairs after 8 of them arrived. 

***No you won't.

****15 if you're a bloke.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Compliments of the season

Hello!  Season's Greetings and all that jazz.   Hope everyone is having a pleasant time. 

We've been having a very quiet Christmas here, which has been (and continues to be) lovely.  My hideous racking cough has diminished, although every now and again it creeps up on me, leaving me wheezing, teary-eyed and panicky.  Mr WithaY has gone down with a merry festive head cold and has spent much of the Christmas period so far on the sofa with a box of tissues and the remote control to hand. 

No relenting on the Christmas tree thing, and to be honest, I've not missed having one.  When we were getting all the boxes of decorations out of the loft it felt like only a few weeks since we put the things up there, so maybe a year off will make us appreciate them more next time.

The fabulous free-range turkey was cooked to perfection, along with half a pig's worth of chipolatas, stuffing and bacon.  We managed to get through about 1/50th of it at lunch yesterday, so I can see a few curries in our future.  Fortuitously, Middle Sis and family have sent us some very interesting looking Malasian curry mixes, so we can try them out.

This is the first Christmas I think I can remember where neither of us got books as gifts.  In years gone by, I would get the new Terry Pratchett, and then spend Boxing Day reading it, but over the last couple of years I have been very impatient and bought them when they come out, rather than waiting a couple of months till Christmas. 

We did, however, get lots of DVDs, so we have spent the last few days sitting on the comfy sofas watching them.  Oh, and chocolate, which was handy whilst watching the DVDs.  The new Star Trek is still excellent, and I still want to run away and join Starfleet.  

It's thawed out now.  Tuesday and Wednesday were terrifying.  Coming back from a neighbour's house at about 11.30 at night, everything was covered in thick sheets of ice.  It looked as though a hose had been turned on over everything, and then allowed to freeze solid. 

Walking home was the most scary thing I have done for many years.  I walked along on the grass where I could, clinging to fences and gates all the way, but I had to strike out across the roads a couple of times, and it was really just luck that I didn't end up face down on the ice.  One of our friends was less fortunate and took a slip and tumble on the way to the party, giving herself some very nasty bruises in the process. 

Anyhoo, Mr WithaY was helpful, offering me his arm (which I refused on the grounds that if I was going down I would only take him with me.  Such a hero, me) and some sage advice on how to walk on ice.  You have to "straddle, and walk crabwise" apparently.  At one point I was in the middle of the road, feet slipping wildly, not making any forward progress, when a car turned the corner and headed towards me.  I stayed where I was, unable to get out  of the way, convinced I was either about to break my nose/head/arms on the ice, that or get run over.  The car slid to a stop, and the driver very kindly waited till I had got myself off the road before continuing slowly on his way. 

We went to see Father-in-law WithaY and the roads were like ice rinks, even in the Landrover we were sliding about.  But everything is thawed out now, thankfully. 

Other news:  We have fish in the aquarium!  Some little glowlight tetras, which are small and pretty, and very entertaining to watch.  We started off with eight, but one of them didn't make it, and had to be scooped.  The remaining seven are settling in, chasing each other all over the tank, sometimes swimming in a shoal, sometimes all off in different directions.  They seem to like the pipe where the water comes out of the pump/filter thingy, and queue up to take turns at being pushed away by the flow. 

I like it when they all gather in the corner of the tank and watch the TV.  You can almost hear them: "Ooh, CSI!  I haven't seen this one."

Tomorrow we are going to get some more fish, which hopefully will survive the trip home.  I think barbs are next on the list, but we will take advice from the nice young man at the aquarium supply shop.  Mr WithaY did the science stuff today, testing the pH and so on, and everything was ok for a new tank.  The plants are doing well, so we are taking that as a good sign.

It's all very pleasing, watching the fish.  And good for the blood pressure, apparently.  Just as well after three days of TV-watching and chocolate-eating, really.   Aaah Christmas.

Monday, 21 December 2009


It's snowing!  Hurrah!  We may have a white Christmas.

Spent today down at my lovely Mum's house, which was very pleasant, despite everyone still coughing.  We sounded like a Fourteenth Century peasant re-enactment group* as we walked through town, hacking and spluttering.  Also popped in and visited Youngest Sis and family, including their two new dogs, both mental Jack Russells, but very appealing with it.  

We chickened out and left Sussex a bit earlier than planned, as the weather was closing in.  I am jolly glad we did.  By the time we got to Southampton the rain had turned to sleet, by the time we left the M27 (look on a  map, American readers) it was snowing hard, and getting foggy.  Nice combination.    We arrived home about 6-ish, it kept snowing heavily for about three hours, and has settled.  Or "pitched" as the locals might say.  Well, the locals I worked with in Bath, anyway. 

If it freezes overnight it will be a bit hairy driving around tomorrow, but other than a trip to the supermarket for provisions, we are pretty much set now.  If it is still nice and snowy tomorrow, I suspect more snow animals could be in the offing.

I have not put a tree up this year.  We** got all the decorations down from the attic, and then decided neither of us really felt much like doing a tree, so we have put up a few little bits, and the rest is still in the box.  I might relent and put the tree up but if not, it doesn't matter.  We are spending Christmas at home, just the two of us, for I think the first time in 8 years, and as a result we are doing as we please. Which means being a bit lazy, it seems.

I might make some sausage rolls tomorrow.  I might not.  Ha! 

I like being a grown-up.

*Well, what I imagine such a group would sound like.  Singing Gaudete and spitting a lot.

**Mr WithaY did.  I don't do ladders due to my mighty bulk, and fear of falling.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Setting up

So, we have a fishtank in the sitting room.  No fish yet, because the tank has to acclimate first, or they will die.  DIE! 

It took a fair old bit of setting up.

First we had to put the cabinet into position, with a layer of special squishy expanded polystyrene under it to protect from frost.  Or electric shocks.  Or maybe earth tremors.  I wasn't really listening at that point. 

Then the tank itself, carefully lowered into place by Mr WithaY and I, making sure it was level.  Mr WithaY's spirit level has been much in evidence this weekend.

Once the tank was satisfactorily in position, we added dirt and rocks.  Not just any old dirt and rocks though.  Special Fish Shop dirt and rocks.  Also a background, so the fish don't press their noses to the back of the tank and comment disparagingly on our choice of wallpaper.

After that, there was the artful placing of Big Rocks and Wood.  Again, specially bought from the Fish Shop (I have a feeling they are going to see a lot of us), then thoroughly scrubbed by Mr WithaY to ensure no fish-killing germs are left clinging to them.  He ignored my suggestion that we use bleach.

Once the dirt, gravel, rocks and wood were installed, we could add plants and water.  No fish though.  Not yet.

Hmmm, maybe a bit more water than that?

That's better. 

Now we have to wait for all the sediment to settle, the filter system to get going and the water temperature to get to the required level.  That will take about a week, and then we can add a few fish.

It's all very exciting.

Other news:   I still have a cough, but I feel much better than I did, so, all in all, an improvement.  It's been snowing here today for the first time, not much, but the roads are white.  I expect it will have vanished by morning.  I hope so, as we are driving down to visit my lovely Mum for the day, and driving all the way in snow would be a pain in the arse. 

Also, I made a huge lasagna for dinner tonight, which was bloody excellent.  I can't remember the last time I made one, and it was a very satisfying thing to do for an hour or so on a cold afternoon.  Plus we got a fab meal at the end of it. 

Saturday, 19 December 2009


It's been a busy day today.  I am feeling much better, despite coughing till my eyes fall out several times an hour, and to celebrate we shifted furniture about for a while.  Well, I say "we".  In fact, Mr WithaY did it and I flapped about behind him with a duster. 

Oh, reader, the filth!  The FILTH.  We live in disgusting slatternly surroundings, despite the best efforts of the Staff. 

Why are we moving furniture? You may well ask. 

Is it because we are playing some large-scale Chinese puzzle game with the entire house?

Is it so we can get into those really tricky corners for a good hard clean?

Is it so we can finally measure the exact internal dimensions of the sitting room?


We are getting an aquarium.

It is our Christmas present to ourselves, and we are very excited about it.  It will be a tropical freshwater tank; we plan to get lots of small shoaling fish, hopefully ones which will flit about appealingly and not try to kill each other.  We had a  place for it all planned out, till Mr WithaY read one of his new "How Not To Kill All Your Tropical Freshwater Fish Instantly" books, and we learned that the place we had planned to put the tank was almost exactly wrong. 

We readjusted our thinking and decided on the diametrically opposite corner of the room, hence the need to move furniture.  Oh, and now there's nowhere to put the Christmas tree*.  Bugger.

We collect the tank on Sunday, get it set up, and a week after that we can introduce the fish. 

"Fish, tank. Tank, fish." 

Other news:  We listened to the last hour or so of the last ever Terry Wogan breakfast show this morning, and I had a little tear in my eye at the end of it.  Yes, I know.  But he has been a part of my life as long as I can remember, usually in the background to the early morning getting ready for school/college/work panic, and I will miss that.   Not that I listened much of late, either being on the train and unable to, or in my office at home with Planet Rock on, but hey, it's the thought that counts. 

Oh, also:  I saw this, and I agree. It is a tricky ethical area.

*We're really late with everything this year.  If we carry on at this rate, it will be about February before we get the tree up, and August before the mulled wine and sausage rolls make an appearance.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


Ahhh, winter.  The time when all of Nature seems to slow down and sleep for the colder months.  The time when even the little birds in the trees seem sleepy and lazy.  When the plants in the garden furl up and die rest.  Even the light is washed out and tired, pale and disinterested. 

The only exception to this bucolic placidity would appear the be the bastard rats in our garden.  They are getting extra-specially busy.  Perhaps they are swept up in the excitement of the pre-Christmas rush.

I bet they have made"to do" lists:

1)  Run out from under the shed and frisk round the garden (Note: only do this after Mr WithaY's Landrover has left the drive.)
2)  Climb into apple tree and gnaw on remaining apples. 
3)  Remember to glare into the kitchen window while doing this.
4)  Avoid the rat traps.  Especially the one in the top of the compost bin.
5)  Continue with Project S.
6)  Ignore the bread spread with peanut butter outside the shed.  It's another trap. 
7)  Buy kevlar vests.
8)  Get in touch with the mole and remind him that he is spending the rest of Winter with us.
9)  Have a word with the robin about the meaning of the word "Sharing".

I have broken their code.  I know what Project S is all about.  It's about gnawing a hole in the floor of the shed from underneath so they can get in there and play with all our stuff.  I fully anticipate seeing a team of rats riding my bicycle* round the garden before Spring. 

The garden, incidentally, which is being gradually converted from a moss-infested dank wilderness to a tidy, fertile home for all manner of fruits and flowers.  I planted raspberry canes the other weekend, before I went down with the Black Lung.  I also planted up the big stone trough with Spring bulbs, so with any luck we will have tulips, irises, crocuses, hyacinths and narcissi.  Assuming the resident wildlife doesn't start using the place as a snack bar, of course. 

I saw a squirrel in the apple tree again, he was tucking into the peanut feeder we hung there for the birds.  He stopped stealing nuts for long enough to stick two fingers up at me, then went back to his thieving.  Mr WithaY recently saw a rat in there too, calmly eating one of the apples without a care in the world. 

Earlier today I saw a woodpecker on the same feeder, tucking into the nuts.  We've also had blue tits, coal tits, great tits, wrens, sparrows, jackdaws, greenfinches, pigeons, collared doves, starlings and a crow.  Oh, and the scary robin.  He is a terror.  All the other birds seems to be afraid of him, and I can see why.

Other news:  I am on the mend.  Hurrah.  I am still coughing like a pauper from a Victorian workhouse, but the pain in my chest has lessened and I don't think I have a temperature any more. 

*And, to be honest, that would be the first time it has been ridden in 8 years.  Anyone want to buy it?

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Hack, revisited

I'm ill.  Very, very ill*.  So ill, I might even up and die**. 

Must be nearly Christmas.  How do I know?

It's because I have my annual chest infection.  Hurrah for the good old seasonal traditions. 

It started last Wednesday, made itself properly felt on Thursday, and has me coughing like a wiry old docker with a 60-a-day habit.  Knowing from bitter experience that the only thing to shift a chest infection for me is a course of terrifyingly powerful antibiotics, I made an emergency appointment with a doctor for Saturday morning.  He listened to my chest, looked down my throat and up my nose, said lots of sympathetic and encouraging things, then prescribed me a week's worth of erythromycin.

I looked up the list of possible side effects, and rather wish I hadn't now.    One of them is "temporary deafeness." 


So, my chest hurts where my "big tubes" are infected.  My lungs hurt.  My back muscles are sore from coughing.  My head aches from a mixture of the deep, echoey coughs and the lack of sleep.  My throat is sore from barking like a seal.  My stomach is decidedly dodgy from the antibiotics.  Not deaf yet though. 

We had a long-planned dinner party last night.  Mr WithaY and I had been preparing for it for several days.  The food looked lovely.  The wines were well-chosen.  I'd even made a chocolate bread and butter pudding.  Delicious. 

Our mates arrived and a good time was in full swing.  I made it through the starter and half of the main course before feeling so awful*** that I had to take myself off to bed.  Half past nine on a Saturday night.  Ever the perfect hostess, me.


I have to go into London tomorrow for a meeting, because it is one that I have already postphoned once, and really can't again.  I will go in late, come home early and hope that I don't distress too many people with my hideous, racking cough while I'm there. 

*Not that ill, truth be told, really.

**No I won't. 

***Really, really sick.  Another delightful side effect of the antibiotics.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Lord of the Pings

Hello!  Were you missing me at all?  I can't believe it's already Thursday, and I haven't hardly* been here since the weekend. 

Where have I been, readers?  Why, I have been to London, working like a slave.  A SLAVE, I tell you.  And Bristol, which was less toilsome, and rather more relaxing as it is half the commute that I normally do.  So hurrah for Bristol.

Today I had to take my work laptop to the office** to get it fixed.  It has been temperamental of late, shying at connecting me to the work system, and dropping me off the edge of the intranet world and into the offline abyss at random. 

Why?  I have no idea.  I knew I wanted it fixed, though.  So, I lugged my ancient laptop all the way to the big city, then phoned the IT helpdesk. 

"Bring it to the tenth floor" they ordered. 

"Ok..." I replied.

"Do you know how to get to the tenth floor?" they asked me.

"Why yes, of course," I replied, breezily, confidence flooding my very soul. 

But no!  It turned out I didn't.  I had assumed that you just got in the lift and pressed the button marked "10". 

No no no.

You get in the lift and go up to the NINTH floor, where you disembark, looking furtively around to make sure you aren't being followed. Then, carrying your laptop, you make your way through the offices on the ninth floor, walking briskly and purposefully.

When you get to the far end of the office, you find a small secret door, hidden behind some cupboards.  You walk through the door, keeping your eyes tightly closed, or the enchantment fails, and there is a magical stairwell, leading up to the secret IT room on the tenth floor. 

Up the secret stairs, through about fifteen fire doors, where you half expect to end up out on the roof, and there is the IT office door.  Finally! 

You open the door, peering into the room cautiously in case there is a Watcher At The Gate made of cables, or some other technology Balrog to bar your entry.  Peering around the stacks of cardboard boxes and cages full of dead and dying computer equipment, what do you see?  It's those rarest, shyest and loveliest of creatures, the IT Helpdesk Trolls. 

They all turn, like synchronised swimmers, perfectly in time with one another, and fix you with their chilly basilisk stares.  This is rapidly sucking the will to live from you, so you hold your broken laptop out like a talisman.  Their eyes immediately shift to the computer, and they point wordessly to the troll in the corner, who will fix it. 

You have to creep deep into the bowels of the office, approaching the laptop specialist.  The other trolls return to their own screens, whispering arcane mysteries into their headsets.  I think I catch a few words, right on the cusp of hearing....."Switch it off...and on again...ok, how about now?" 

It's truly educational.

I fled back down ten flights of stairs to the land of the living, and waited for them to call me back, which they did a short while later.  I will find out tomorrow if it really does work, or if they were just dicking with me.

And being dicked by an IT troll is not something I think any of us want to be thinking about. 

*Living in Wiltshire is rubbing off on me

**In London.  It was bloody heaving, what with it being two weeks before Christmas and all.  Gah.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Shopping list

Mr WithaY is out, wandering the wide open spaces of West Wiltshire, somewhere in the rain.  Where can he be, I wonder? 

Possibly sat in his Landrover stuck in a huge hole that even his mighty entrenching tool can't remedy? 

Possibly up a tree, clinging to a branch with a pack of snarling stoats after his blood, desperately trying to get a signal on his mobile to call for an airstrike*? 

Possibly sneakily shopping in Salisbury, buying me a fabulous Christmas present? 

Possibly sat in someone else's kitchen, drinking tea and eating cake?

I have no idea.  He'll be back eventually.  Given his track record, I am always slightly apprehensive if he's gone for more than a few hours, but fingers crossed, eh. 

I decided to Get Stuff Done, so went into town** and ran errands like a woman possessed.  I have ordered us a turkey for Christmas from the local butcher.  A free-range bronze, which sounds like it will be mighty tasty.  As the butcher was filling in the order form I asked him "It'll be dead, will it?"  He looked up at me for a moment, not quite sure if I was joking, then said "No, madam, but it will be in a box.  You'll just need to get it out and kill it."  He then did an exceptionally good mime of a man taking a live turkey out of a box, upside down.  If he gives up butchering the man has a career in alternative theatre just waiting for him.

I bought Christmas cards.  We decided this year we are not sending out hundreds of cards, but instead will make a donation to charity.  Most of the cards we get are just "To Name and Name love from Name and Name (and Name and Name and dog.)"   I always try to write a message in every card, because otherwise it seems like a bit of a waste of time, to be honest.  Anyway, we will send out some cards, but far fewer than we usually do.  I will have to make more of an effort and actually ring people to talk to them. 

I went to Lidl.  Ahhhhhh Lidl.  What a great shop.  You can get anything in there, if you turn up on the right day.  Today they were offering electronic keyboards, brioche pans (I bought one), slippers in a huge range of styles and sizes but only one colour*** and a drummer's stool.  A seat, I mean.  For sitting on.  Oh, and a nice little wooden cabinet with a glass-inlaid door.  Well, that's what I thought it was.  Turns out it is a box to keep tea bags in, but I like my idea better.  Anyway, I bought one.  I can't resist their weird bargains. 

I bought a couple of bottles of their Champagne which is usually not half bad, and some cheap brandy as the Christmas cake has finished all ours.  Greedy bloody cake that it is.  I swear it's started moving around the kitchen on its own, rummaging through the cupboards and mocking my crockery.

Where else...Ah yes. 

I went to Argos, as we needed a new iron**** and I can't be arsed with looking at stuff in electrical shops for hours.  All the Argos catalogues were open at the Wii pages, which I thought was funny.  I left a few open at the Ironing Accoutrement Pages so that people will think "Some poor bastard is in for a miserable Christmas present."  Heh. 

Other news:  I have been learning to play the acoustic version of "Hey Ya", the Obadiah Parker version.  Look it up on YouTube if you've never heard it.  Lovely.

Oh, and a mate put me onto Jeff Healey, who (shamefully) I had never heard of.  Disgraceful, I know.  What an astonishingly talented man. 

Unfortunately, though, when I see people who can play guitar like that it doesn't inspre me to become as good as them.  I just think "Why do I even bother?" and think about selling all my guitars.  I won't, but it is interesting to see exactly how uncompetitive I am in some areas.  Whilst still being dreadfully, inappropriately competitive in others, of course. 

Right. Time for a cup of tea.  I love Saturdays. 

*This one's my favourite idea.



****Rock and Roll, man!  Rock and fucking roll.

Creative cookery

There was a great story on the radio today.  People were sending in tales of how they had cooked meals anyway, after discovering they had run out of a key ingredient.  Using salted peanuts in a chilli when they found they had no salt, that kind of thing.

Someone sent in a tale of how they were making a lovely stew.  Mmmmm stew.

They made the stew, and then prepared to make the dumplings.  But oh no! No suet!  And we all know a stew isn't a stew without the delicious suety goodness of dumplings.  What to do?

Apparently the hapless chef looked out of the window at the bird table, and had a dreadful, dreadful idea.

He ran outside, grabbed the block of birdfood suet and brought it into the kitchen.  He shaved off the "dirty bits", then grated up the remainder to make dumplings.  And only told his wife what he'd done several days later, when it was all eaten up. 

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Hair raising

When I was on the train home the other night, amid the usual crowds of commuters, a gentleman came and sat in front of me.  Not something I usually pay much attention to, as the train is intended for the use of more than one person. 

In an ideal world I would have my own train, with a comfy sofa and an endless supply of entertaining and educational dvds to watch on the journey in every day.  I could learn other languages, or take a Masters degree, or become a silversmith.  I assume you can do all those things by watching someone else doing it?  Anyway, if not, on my perfect train, I would be able to. 

I'd also have a bed to snooze on if I didn't feel up to the rigours of education so early in the day.  Oh, and good books.  And some tropical fish in a huge aquarium for me to look at. 

There would be fresh flowers every day on my train, and a proper cooked breakfast served to me by a proper chef in a tall hat.  And a spa with a huge bath, and maybe a hot tub for the trip home, so I could arrive back all relaxed and fragrant.  And a hairdresser, a dry cleaner and an old-fashioned wise-cracking shoeshine chap to keep me smart without having to do it myself. 

In fact, sod it, let's just put my office in it and I'll work there too. 

Sadly, reality is far crueller.  The train is a packed, stuffy, uncomfortable mass transit system that gets me to London more or less on time, most of the time.  As an added bonus, if you live West of Gillingham, this week you'd be stuffed into a bus for a big chunk of your trip, due to a landslide blocking the train tracks.  Travel in the 21st Century.

Anyhoo, this bloke who sat in front of me.  Why did I notice him?


Sunday, 29 November 2009


Remember I told you about the glorious prize Mr Withay and I were awarded?  For our sterling efforts to introduce vegetable-based art to a wider audience? 

Yeah you do.

Anyway, here it is.  I ought to have provided a small red velvet cushion for it to rest on, and a series of artful, moody, backlit pictures by a professional photographer.  You will have to make do with the blurry amateur shots I have provided you with.  Hey, at least I didn't use my phone to take them. 

You're welcome.

Ooh, glitter!  All snowy and seasonal and beautiful!  But wait...what's that little object in the middle?  Wait for the swirling loveliness to subside.....

It's Belgium's most famous cultural artefact, of course, as befits a prize from Belgian Waffle.  Someone peeing.  In a glitter snowstorm.  Must be like being at a trippy 1960s music festival, in there. 

And there it is again, without the peeing.   Lovely.

Other news:  Went to see the family yesterday down at my lovely Mum's house.  We drove all the way through End of the World rain, which then kindly held off for much of the day, waiting only for us to begin our homeward trip. 

The floods!  The water running down the roads!  The spray on the motorway! 

It was all a bit scary, and once again I was glad I have a four by four with big chunky tyres.  Sod the enviroment.  When we drove through Salisbury at about 6pm, the water was gushing up through the roadside drains like fountains.  One particularly hardworking drain had a vertical surge of about 2 feet going on.  It would have been pretty if it hadn't been a sign of ground waterlogging, drain fullness and imminent flooding. 

We made it home safe and sound, although it took longer than usual, and there were several "spla-dooosh" moments.

Whilst down at Mum's, we went to the Christmas tree festival in her church.  They also had a temporary ice rink in there as part of the event.  The younger nieces and nephews flung themselves onto it with abandon.  It was great to see how they started off nervous, and gradually got more and more confident. 

Youngest Nephew was running at top speed round it on his skates after a few minutes.   Most entertaining. 

I liked the fact that the ice rink was sponsored.

And the church itself looked lovely.  Each tree was sponsored by a group or organisation, each one was decorated differently, and the individual and overall effect was impressive. 

These were taken on my phone, so apologies for the poor quality.  

Today I am mostly listening to music and keeping warm, as the weather is still shite.  Mr WithaY has ventured out in his Landrover, so hopefully will survive the floods, holes in the road and unexpected badger setts.  I once expressed concern at the size of the holes he was bumping through as we traversed a section of not-quite road.

"Please try to avoid the really big holes" I whined, fingers gripping the dashboard as my head richoched off the roof.

"I am!"

"No you aren't!  That one was HUGE!  It made me leave the seat entirely."

"No it wasn't....the really big ones are the ones that the whole truck fits in."

Apparently, in the past, people have been known to drive into what looks like a reasonable-sized crater, then the vehicle drops right into it and is effectively wedged into place and has to be dug and/or towed out.  Mr WithaY keeps an entrenching tool in the back of his Landrover for this very purpose.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Travellers' tales

I'm still afflicted with Lurgy.

Bloody London germs, with their sneaky infectious ways. In general, I am careful about avoiding people who are obviously know, covered in boils and scabs and oozing pustules.  Also about washing my hands before I eat anything, and not licking the handrails on the Underground escalators, but you can't be too careful, it seems.

It seems to be passing off a bit, but I had a high temperature for a couple of days (and nights) and a headache which has only just eased off. I feel wiped out, tired, weepy, listless and grumpy. I must be a joy to be around.

As I am feeling less pathetic than I have been since the weekend, here are some pictures of London. Mostly taken from high up in the London Eye, which was most impressive. It's a fantastic bit of engineering.

There were no creepy blokes clinging to the outside asking us if we wanted to go faster, which was disappointing.  I'd have thought they'd have at least spun the car around a few times to make us scream. 

I was intrigued by this sign:

I like to wonder how many times they had visitors plummeting past the security guards before they thought "We really must put a sign on those doors."

It is especially pleasing that DO NOT is underlined for added emphasis.  Is that in case you aren't sure why they are telling you not to lean on the doors as you slowly rise hundreds of feet above the river?  And, I note,  the sign is only in English.  Is that because other nationalities are less likely to lean on the door? Or do the London Eye health and safety team simply not care about non-English speakers? 

We must know.

Anyhoo, we were bloody high up.  Look:

That's Waterloo station, from a million feet up.

Houses of Parliament.  If you look carefully you can see the police raiding MPs' offices for evidence to pass to the CPS.

We also went to the Aquarium, which I enjoyed far more than I expected to.  I even managed to do the Shark Walk.  No, not a dance where you wriggle on the floor and bite the furniture.  It was a suspended platform with a glass floor that you walk across, above this:

It's a bit blurry because NO FLASH.  But that's a shark in there.  Yep, a shark.  There were several others too.  And I walked over their heads.  Ha!

I was very taken with the Ray Pool, too.  Look:

They* were playing tranquil music, and we stood and watched the fish in there for ages. 

Some of them stuck their noses up out of the water, which was interesting to see. People leant in and petted them, despite the many signs saying "Do not pet the fish."  I didn't. 

It was a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

The Natural History Museum was a zoo, ironically. 

We sped through the minerals gallery and looked unsuccessfully for the giant tree thingy, but eventually the hordes of proles with squealing howler monkey offspring drove us back out into the rain.  Bastards. 

I tell you what though, I couldn't live there.  London is great to visit but the traffic!  The crowds!  The sheer balls-ache of trying to get anywhere if you aren't near a Tube station.  Gah.  Sod that. 

I'd rather be here, where even though you get stuck behind tractors and run off the road by combine harvesters and delayed by herds of cows, you can at least get from A to B without having to reverse the entire length of a street because there isn't room for two cars to pass**.

*The Aquarium people, not the fish.  I'd have paid extra to watch the fish playing ambient chillout music. 

**Although to be fair sometimes you have to reverse all the way back down a little windy lane to let a big oil tanker truck get past. 

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Fancy London ways

So, the weekend in London. Away from home, and out in the big city and all that. How was it? What did we do? What did we think of it? Was it fun?

Well, I jotted down a few points to bear in mind for the future:

1) Taxis are not cheap. Even for short journeys. Seriously. You will need far more cash than you think you will.

2) When booking a hotel online, do NOT be fooled by the short-looking distance it is from Waterloo on the map. It will in fact be fucking miles away and cost you a fortune in taxis. (See point 1.) Remember, London is much, much bigger than you think, so places can be a long way apart and yet, strangely, still be in London. It's not like Wiltshire, where there are large swathes of greenery to let you know when one place ends and another begins.

3) Check the location of Tube stations relative to the hotel. If there are no Tube stations within quarter of a mile, stay somewhere else, or Point 1 will apply. Do NOT imagine that you will walk everywhere. You don't know the area, or the way to where you are going, and anyway it will rain.

4) London is crowded. Expect this. Do not give in to the desire to fling slow-walking tourists off Westminster Bridge into the river when they impede your progress. By all means imagine doing it, and add hilarious sound effects at the same time. Do not, however, allow this to become reality.

5) If it starts raining, and it will, the Natural History Museum will be full of families trying to avoid getting wet. Do not allow this to provoke you into unbecoming displays of outrage as the children shriek and gibber like howler monkeys around the dinosaur skeletons.

6) When you tell the taxi driver (see point 1) where you want to go, and he then takes you somewhere completely different, many miles away, do not get out of the cab. Simply reiterate where you want to go, as you told him at the start of your marathon cross-London journey. Give him the exact postcode to programme into his SatNav system, then sit in silence in the back till you arrive at the correct destination. Pay him a reasonable amount and make a mental note not to use that cab firm again. A magical white London cab* will appear at the right moment to take you home. Yes it will. You just have to believe it will.

You're welcome.

We went on the London Eye (so high!  So many short, squat,  loud Northern women pointing out the restaurant where they had lunch yesterday, just there, just off the edge of Trafalgar Square, look, there, see it?). 

We went to the Aquarium (sharks!  So many fish of many different colours!  So many dark corridors and small children to fall over as they blunder about, their parents transfixed by the fish.) 

We went to the Natural History Museum, where we saw the ice rink out the front and admired the huge collection of sparkly, sparkly stones (so many Christmas present ideas!)

We went for a splendid dinner on Friday night at China Boulevard, overlooking the river, with a huge screen showing Celine Dion live in Las Vegas behind us.  That was odd, but we put up with it because the food was great.  Except for the chicken curry dish.  That was weird and a bit crap, frankly, but everything else was excellent. 

We had booze!  At lunchtime! Unheard of, when you usually have to drive everywhere.  Marvellous. 

I took photos, oh so many photos, and will post some up here when I am feeling less feverish and rubbish. Because, yes! I have picked up a fancy big city Lurgy of some sort. Spent most of last night alternating between sweating profusely (usually I don't sweat much for a fat lass), and shivering as if I was in a homemade hut in the Arctic tundra, with Ray Mears mocking me from his cosy warm three bedroom semi-detached moss-lined palace.

So bollocks to London germs.

Other than that, a splendid time was had by all. The blogger/Twitter party thing on Saturday was fun. Met many lovely people, ate a million bits of chicken, drank a lot of not half bad fizz and laughed a lot. We could have done with little name badges though.

It was a bit disheartening to introduce myself to people and then watch them school their expression of "Who? I've never read a single word you've written," into "Ah yes, how charming to meet you at last."

Oh, and we got prizes! For one of the entries we submitted to the virtual Village Fete. Sadly, I have no idea which one was deemed worthy of a prize, but hey, we got a lovely** trophy and some posh Belgian chocs, so yay for us.   It might even have been for this, but I doubt it.  Or maybe this.

We need to get out more.  Lordy.   

*They are like the unicorns of the city, and only appear to the pure of heart. Mr WithaY can whistle them up like nobody's business.

**I will post a picture so all may admire its loveliness.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Town mice

We're on holiday! In London! It's very exciting.

Mr WithaY and I are in exotic Wandsworth, enjoying the glamour and thrills. Today we are heading all the way (and it's a bloody long way) back to the centre because we plan a trip on the London Eye. The Aquarium is getting a visit too, we may pop over to Chinatown, Covent Garden or maybe trawl through a museum.

The day is our own. How marvellous.

Oh, and we found a superb Chinese restaurant last night.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Hidden agenda

There's been a lot of fuss* in the press this week about a shocking survey which claims that most working mothers only have nine recipes in their regular repertoire. 

Even more dreadful, they sometimes cook the same meal on the same night of the week.  How do these people live with themselves?  Their families must be rending their garments and crying in the wilderness at the pain and woe caused by having the same meal on the same night of the week.

But hang on a minute.

Let's have a think.  How do they define "meal" anyway?  One of the press pieces I saw covering this scandal listed the "Top Ten Meals." The list included things like "Curry", and "Meat and Two Veg" and "Roast Dinner".

If I was in a restaurant and the menu said "Roast Dinner" I think I'd be asking a few questions.  What exactly did you roast?  Is it chicken?  Pork?  Beef?  Snake?  Cat?  A bit more detail would be welcome there, thanks. 

The same with Meat and Two Veg.  That, to me, covers about four hundred different meals.  Especially if you include sausages. Which I do.

Curry.  Just look at a menu in any half decent Indian restaurant.  If there was just the one entry - Curry -  they wouldn't get too many people coming back for a second visit.  Unless that one dish was incredibly fantastic, I suppose.

When you look at the actual survey results and the accompanying press release, it transpires that the whole thing emanated from Uncle Ben's.

It seems to be ok to have a small repertoire of meals, as long as some of them include ready-made sauces.

I quote:  

"Nutritionist, Juliette Kellow said: ''Parents should feel reassured that kitchen shortcuts like ready-made sauces are the perfect solution to expanding your repertoire with exciting and nutritious meals all the family will love.'' "

But where, oh where can I find a selection of ready-made sauces?   Tell me, Uncle Ben! 


Other news: We have a gardener! Yes, the Servant Question became more complicated today, as we added him to the long list** of people we pay to come and do stuff for us.

He is a very nice chap, and is going to give our poor old gnarly apple tree in the back garden a good hard pruning. He looked at my horrible weedy overgrown flower beds, at the ivy-infested hedge encroaching out across the mossy lawn, at the sad excuse for a vegetable patch, then asked me, "Shall I just come in and do what needs doing when I have time?"

God, yes. Yes. Come over whenever you can, and make my garden look nice. PLEASE. 

We've been putting off doing any kind of serious work on the garden because we want to get all the hard landscaping torn up and re-laid, so spending ages on the plants seemed like a waste of time. However, the gradual decline of the garden into a dank, frog-infested, weedy, mossy wilderness has become too depressing, so the very nice gardener is going to help us fix it.

I'm quite excited actually.

We've been living in this house almost 8 years (I think) and have been gradually getting all the serious stuff done - electrics, roof fixing, central heating, replacement windows and doors, bathroom, kitchen, all that, but now the house is more or less finished, so we can turn our attention to the extensive grounds***.

Next Spring could be very lovely. And boy, it's nice having something so pleasant to look forward to after this, The Year of Unmitigated Shit.

On that note, for those of you who have been bored witless by us talking about the SSFH****, we have had an apology.  And we are being deleted from the databases.  I should fucking well think so. 

Maybe one day when I find it all less horrific, traumatic and heartbreaking I will talk about it on here.  For now, though, we are trying to move on. 

In the meantime, life goes on and we will have flowers in the Spring.   

*I've seen two articles

**The hilarious and brilliant cleaners. And I suppose Kevin the Decorator.

***Front and Back gardens. Oh, and the bit on the side. Fnar.

****Shit Storm From Hades

Monday, 16 November 2009

Less is more

Still alive, not having been electrocuted by the wild sparking power line of doom over the weekend!  Hurrah! 

We drove up to see our lovely mates in Gloucester on Saturday morning, rather than on Friday night, as originally planned.  Apparently there were trees down all over the place, and floods, and all sorts.  We decided that trying to navigate all that lot in the dark was a bad idea, and it was more sensible to wait till daylight.  Saturday and Sunday were spent in the company of great friends, fine food and the rugby.  Marvellous.

Today, as is traditional these days, I was up in London for work.  After a refreshing four hours sleep, waking at 3.30am, then dozing, waking up with a start to look at the time, dozing some more, and finally getting up ten minutes before the alarm went off, I was shagged* by the time I got to the office.  A long day of meetings, climaxing in a load of complicated emails to write and send before I went home meant that I was in tip-top sparkling form for the train journey. 

The woman sat next to me was making notes on some industrial tribunal case (I gathered this from the bits I read sneakily while she wasn't looking), so if you are taking your boss to court after being a whistleblower, you might want to ask your legal team if they are in the habit of  doing their homework on the train of a night.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about today.  Oh no.  Much more serious matters are filling my head this evening.

A conversation in the pub on Friday night about grammatical errors on supermarket signs, specifically "Ten Items or Less" caused one of our mates to start frothing with righteous indignation at the appalling standard of grammar taught in schools today.  And presumably also in supermarkets.

"It's "Ten Items or FEWER"  not "Less"....Less is just WRONG!"  She was most insistent.  And oddly, the more we teased her about it, the more insistent she became.  Her fantastic, grammatically-correct rant culminated with a promise to find out the name and address of the Chief Executive of Morrison's and send him (or her) a scathing letter explaining how very, very wrong they are, and demanding that they amend all their signs IMMEDIATELY. 

I look forward to the reply.

It started me thinking about the whole Ten Items or Less** concept though.  If, for example, you picked up a Two For The Price Of One offer, say two boxes of cornflakes, would you technically be buying one, or two items? 

In theory, you could take 20 items through the Ten Items or Less*** aisle because you are actually only buying ten.  The other ten are free. 

Also, if you took one of the Buy One Get One Free items out of the shop without paying for it, are you stealing?  You could say that you are taking the Get One Free one, and leaving the Buy One in the shop.

Legal clarification would be helpful, before I go to the shops next.

*And not in a fun way.

**Heh, sorry Sarah

**I'm not going to stop doing it

Friday, 13 November 2009


Every year, about this time, I start looking contemplatively at the books in the big bookcase in our sitting room. 

How many of them will I read again?  Can I bear to part with those that I won't?  Where could they all go, other than in here?  Could any of my friends be trusted with them if they wanted to borrow any of them*?

Mostly on a day like today, though, I think "How quickly could I get most of those books upstairs and away from any floodwaters as they engulf the house?"  Obviously, the books get saved after the guitars are all stashed away in comfort.  Oh, and the amp. 

It's been like the End of the World today.  High winds and lashing rain, dark at 4pm (well, nearly), the whole house shaking as cold gusts force themselves down the chimney and up our trouser legs.  Brrrr.

I went into the kitchen earlier on, and looked out into the blackness of the back garden.  There was a brilliant white flash, and I thought perhaps Wiltshire's finest** had stuck a portable speed camera on the main road that I was seeing through the trees. 

I kept watching, and sure enough, a few moments later there was another flash.  And a cloud of smoke, or possibly steam, and a huge shower of white sparks.  Not from the main road, either.   At first I thought it was a firework.

"What on Earth are next door doing with fireworks in this weather?" I thought.  It was, after all, pissing with rain and blowing a gale.

I was mistaken.

The flashes and sparks were coming from the power lines stretching across to the wooden pole in next door's back garden.

I assume that a tree branch was smacking into the lines as the wind blew, making it short out.  That, or a line had broken and was snaking about wildly, shorting out on the ground.  The sodden, saturated, ground.

It's too dark to see from the house, and I am buggered if I am going out to take a closer look.  The weather out there is bad enough, but the possibility of being slammed full of a billion trillion volts of electricity is even less appealing.

I'll have a look tomorrow.  From a safe distance.

*Answer:  None.  I don't lend books.  Not after losing my entire collection of Leonard Cohen novels to a friend when I was at school.  It still rankles.


Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Can't see the wood...

Remember I said we'd been to the Wood Fair? Ages ago? Yeah you do.
In the absence of anything much making me smile today, I thought I'd tell you all about that instead.

It was held at the Larmer Tree Gardens, where we also recently went to the End of the Road festival, and had a mighty fine time.  The Larmer Tree Gardens are home to:


and (I think) Macaws:

Look closely - they're perched up on a branch in the middle there.  Boy do they make a racket.

The Gardens themselves were designed in the nineteenth century as a formal pleasure garden, and there are follies and strange little buildings scatted throughout.

This one has the name Pitt Rivers, of archaelogical fame, engraved over the door.  I have no idea why. I daresay if you check out the link above to the Gardens website it will tell you, because I certainly can't.  Sorry. 

This one makes me think of Bavarian beer, for some reason.  Or possibly sausages.  And gingerbread.

This one's my favourite.  It's a teeny little stage with an incongruous tropical backdrop.  Why?  Ask the Pitt Rivers'.

This is the Pitt Rivers one again, from further away.  I know all the technical photography terms, me.

Anyway, it being October, I took some pictures of the trees and shrubs. Here they are:

I know the last one is an oak tree, but have no idea about the rest.  This is not really an educational post, is it? 

Anyway, the actual Wood Events were varied and mildly entertaining. We bought a bee house, which is supposed to give bumble bees somewhere safe to live over the winter. We chatted to a charcoal maker, and bought a bag of this:

I sniggered unattractively at this, and had to take a sneaky photo while the charming old gent manning the stall's back was turned:

I like the idea that it is specifically for the Hampshire pimps. None of those flashy London types. Or even the New York ones. No, just Hampshire.

The climax of the day, though, was the didgeridoo workshop. I recorded a few minutes of it but can't upload it on here, as it's not a video. However, if you look at the pictures, I daresay you'll be able to imagine just how impressive it sounded.

Twenty or so people, adults and children, all trying to make noises like kangaroos hopping, or snakes slithering, or dingoes barking, through twenty or so didgeridoos, while the loud, cheerful chap running the workshop scampered about from person to person, encouraging them and playing his own didgeridoo to show them how it was done.

When they were doing the dingo barking part, every dog within earshot started barking too. I almost choked, I was laughing so hard.

Feel the power of the didge.....