Saturday, 31 December 2011

Godzilla service pack

I've got several blog posts sitting in the Drafts folder, started, then abandoned, like a too-big sandwich that you thought you could manage, but it turned out you couldn't.

There are several reasons for this, including the old favourites "utter laziness", "lack of enthusiasm for the subject matter that is my life" and of course "distracted by watching a film on TV and forgetting all about the blog."

Additional reasons which are slightly less dull and objectionable include:

Christmas.  I know it happens at the same time every year, but even so.  Things were busy, what with going out a fair bit, and enjoying spending time at home with Mr WithaY and various friends who have been calling in to visit.  A couple of Mr WithaY's former colleagues called in the week before Christmas for tea and mince pies, and it was very nice to hear about how shite things are in the office.  Mr WithaY was able to enjoy the gossip and then sigh happily to think that he is well out of all that madness now.

We had a party.  It was successful, in that all the food was eaten (and I think enjoyed), nobody left in a high dudgeon (as far as I know) and nothing got smashed.  Well, only a few of the guests.  In fact, that felt like the start of Christmas, and things have been mostly very nice ever since.

However.

The night of our party, ten minutes before the guests started to arrive, we had a phone call from a very dear friend.  His wife, another very dear friend, had been gravely ill following a heart attack.  Horrible.  We'd been informed of this by her brother a few days earlier, so were already anxious.  Anyway, her husband rang us to let us know that there had been more tests run, including an MRI scan, and that the results were devastatingly bad. In fact, he all but said that they were now just waiting for the end.  Well, fuck.  We (me, Mr WithaY and our recently-married mate who was staying with us for the party) had a stiff drink, I had a bit of a cry, and then we had to put on our best smiley faces and greet our guests.

All things considered, it was a very good party, but it was a bit weird.  At one point I went and sat outside on the bench in the front garden and looked at the stars, and had a surreptitious little weep (I had been drinking a fair bit, if that's any mitigation) but other than that, it all went well.

Recent news of our friend's progress  is fractionally encouraging, but not much.  We're waiting to see what happens.

The traditional Christmas Cold has made its annual appearance too.  Mr WithaY succumbed to it on Boxing Day, and since then has spent his time wrapped in many, many layers of fleece and wool, taking Beechams and accruing a huge mound of balsam tissues on the floor beside him, which then get ritualistically thrown on the fire, in a sort of Viking burial for germs.  I thought I'd got away with it until today.

I have not got away with it, however, and today I am developing my very own germ Valhalla mound.

Also, I got my car back this week.  It had a broken turbo, it turned out, and as a result I had to spend £1500 to get it fixed.  Fucking Toyota parts.

For that kind of money, I want my new turbo personally delivered by Godzilla.  On a bed of carefully-sliced fugu fish.  With a band of high-ranking Samurai warriors as escort.

They should do that.  Call it the "Godzilla Service Pack."  I'd buy it.

Anyhoo, the car is running well again, and if I felt less shite I dare say I'd go out in it.

So, Happy New Year to you all.  Thank you for taking the time to read and sometimes comment on my blog, I appreciate it very much.

I'd still write it, but it's more fun knowing there's an audience out there.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Decorated

Christmas is almost here!  I'm excited, which is nice.  The last couple of years have been slightly odd.  Two years ago we barely celebrated at all, what with all the SSFH* crap that we had to deal with, and last year we both had heavy colds and chest infections, but this year (so far) we are both hale and hearty, and looking forward to the festive season.

I've been very busy Making Things, which has been both productive and enjoyable.  I have made (in no particular order):

1)  About a gallon of Christmas spiced cranberry and port preserve, containing cranberries, oranges, apples, sugar and port.  And spices. Nom nom nom.

2)  A beautiful rose out of wired parcel ribbon, which I just made up as I went along, and was very pleased with.  In a gesture of largesse, I gave it to one of Mr WithaY's mates who had popped in quickly for something one evening.  He took it graciously, if bemusedly, and said he'll put it in his Landrover.  So that was nice.

3)  A huge and delicious fruit salad, containing cherries, pineapple, grapes, blueberries, mandarins, peaches, lychees and figs.  It was splendid, though I say so myself.

The fruit salad was to take to my lovely Mum's house, as we had the tradtional pre-Christmas family gathering last weekend.

London Niece's birthday is around this time of year, so we all met up to celebrate that, and to exchange Christmas presents and cards, and to see each other before the holidays really got under way.   It was lovely, if noisy, everyone was looking well** and looking forward to Christmas.  We ate and drank and pulled crackers and popped party poppers, and had birthday cake.

The cake was interesting.

As we didn't have the required number of small candles (16), there was a blinding display of ingenuity, and this was the result:


Thirteen, plus two, plus one.  A maths lesson AND a cake.

Previous birthday cake entertainment involving candles can be found here.

4)  The manga-stylee frock, which was London Niece's birthday present.  Readers, though I say so myself, it turned out rather well.


  

I had suggested that the best way to create it was if a top of the correct size was bought, sent to me, and I would make the skirt to match.  Which is what I did.  In the picture I was sent, the character has more decoration on the front of the top, but I left that off, as the top already had sequins all over the front, and adding anything else might have looked a bit weird.

Anyhoo, London Niece was very pleased.

The amount of swearing involved in making those ruffles though....gah.  It would have made a sailor blush.

Other news:  My car is broken again.  It's the same problem it had a few weeks ago - when you put your foot down there's a dramatic loss of acceleration, and the Engine Warning light comes on.

I took it to a local garage who ran a diagnostic check (£58 thank you very much) and returned it to me with the diagnosis "There's something wrong with the turbo.  Or maybe the electrics.  You should take it back to the Toyota garage"

Thanks.

I took it back to the Toyota garage last Friday morning.  I rang the Toyota garage yesterday (Monday) morning to ask if they had any idea when I could have my car back.

They said they'd have a chat with the chaps in the workshop and ring me later.  At ten to five that night they rang.

They hadn't found the problem, but it's something to do with the turbo.  Probably.  Did I want to come and collect my car?

I declined, on the grounds that if it was still broken there wasn't much point me driving all the way back here, then taking it all the way back there again in a day or two.

Gah.

In other, more cheerful, news, we have put our Christmas tree up and it looks lovely.  This is the top half.


Our decorations include the Christmas Lobster.  He has a teeny sprig of holly in one claw.


There's also the Christmas Hunter, complete with hound and dead deer.


And the Christmas Lobster Pots.


And the more traditional glass reindeer.


Awww.







*Shit Storm From Hades, now thankfully very much behind us.

**Except poor Youngest Sis - hope your back is feeling better!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Flouncing about

It's a bracing 11 degrees in my study this morning.  Mmmmm.  Fresh.

Yesterday afternoon, around 2pm, I was sitting in here, pleating ruffles for a funky dress I am making.  London Niece asked me to make her a costume to wear to some Manga convention, and helpfully emailed me pictures of the relevant character to work from:


I'm not making the umbrella, hat, boots or creepy ghost thingy. Just the frock.

Anyhoo.

Radio 4 Extra was on; I think I was listening to a Sherlock Holmes dramatisation.  Well, that's what always seems to be on Radio 4 Extra.  That and endless dull dramatisations of twentieth-century political novels I've never read.  Oh, and Elvenquest.  I like Elvenquest.

So, as I said, I was sitting in here, pleating miles and miles of black satin, and I thought "Hmm, it's getting a bit chilly now. I'll put the heating on a couple of hours early."

Normally our heating only comes on for an hour or so in the morning, just before getting-up time, and then again at teatime until bedtime*.  

So, I scampered downstairs, pressed the Advance switch on the boiler, made a cup of tea and scampered back up here.  Another half-hour, and more Sherlock Holmes, passed.  I realised I was still chilly - the tea masked that for a while - and felt the radiator.  Stone cold.

Hmm.

Did I press the wrong button on the boiler?  Not the first time I'd have done so, if I had.  Back down to the kitchen, and a proper look at the boiler control panel.

All the correct lights were on.  I ran the hot tap and ensured that there was hot water.  Yep.  Checked the oil tank sensor thingy.  Yep, still loads of oil there.  I pressed the heating button uselessly a few more times, then dug out the "Welcome to your new boiler" booklet that lives in among the cobwebby filth at the bottom of the boiler cupboard.

I read all the "Troubleshooting" advice, then tried everything they suggested.  The options were limited, to be fair.  I had to turn the hot water and heating temperature dials up to MAXIMUM POWER and listen for the burners igniting.

It was like the launch of the space shuttle.

The burners ignited with a satisfying THUMPFWOOOOOOSSSSSSSSHHHHHHH but there was nothing going on with the radiators.

Fuck.

I rang the boiler people and after a 20 minute wait on hold, interrupted by repeated attempts to make me go to the Internet, I got through to a helpful lady.

She listened to my babbling account of the problem - I suspect the only thing she was really interested in was my address and credit card details - but she made sympathetic noises and assured me that a repair man would be here on Saturday.  I asked when. Oh, any time between 0800 and 1600.

Fantastic.

After that, I went out to the impossibly awkwardly-placed log pile in the shed and managed to scavenge a basket of firewood.  We have far too many sheds.  You'd think at least one of them would be easy to use, wouldn't you?  The log shed (formerly the dog shed) has our supply of firewood in it.  I discovered yesterday that it has a leaky roof, and that Mr WithaY has rigged up a complex system of boards and tarpaulins inside the shed to keep the wood dry.

Unfortunately it makes it almost impossible to reach the log pile.  I perched atop flimsy boards and slippery tarpaulin, grabbing at logs randomly, feeling the whole heap move each time I removed something.  It was like playing Extreme Jenga.

It added an element of excitement to a routine chore, I suppose.

So.  I lit the fire in the sitting room at about 4pm, as it was getting dark and cold, and then sat there like a Victorian miser, doling additional firewood out according to a complex calculation involving the amount of heat required, estimated duration of log burn, critical mass of fire needed to retain structural integrity and number of logs left in the basket to last me the evening.

I went to bed at 9pm, cheered by the thought that I have a hot water bottle in the back of a cupboard.  I was going to fill it from the hot tap in the bathroom, wrap it in a small towel and a pillowcase, then snuggle in bed under a duvet and a heap of blankets, watching TV till I was sleepy.

I may even have hummed a happy tune as I filled my hot water bottle, after running the hot tap for ages to ensure maximum warmth.  I screwed the lid on and turned it upside down over the sink to shake out the water in the neck of the bottle.  Water poured from a myriad of tiny holes all over the bloody thing.

It's old.  It's rubber.  It's perished.

Fuck.

I went to bed in a bit of a sulk and contented myself with posting grumpy and petulant messages on Facebook, watching TV and finding extra blankets.

Mr WithaY is away on his bushcraft course this week.  Every time he goes away in the winter the boiler plays up.  Every bloody time.

Anyway, the boiler man rang me at 0730 to tell me he was on his way, and he is currently up to his ears in the boiler cupboard, fixing it.

In fact, update, he has finished, and the heating is back on.

So ignore the above.

Sorry about that.










*You should see our clocks.  No numbers involved.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Extra long honkers

I've been looking at some of the search terms people have used to get to my blog.  Many of them are as you might expect - "home made cake," "lives in the woods,"  "extraordinarily talented unpublished authors of the twenty-first century" - but some are just utterly pure genius bonkers.

For example:

Elven tea.  As far as I know I have never offered recipes for any elven food or beverages, certainly not tea.  Perhaps I ought to start a cookery suggestions section for all the non-human races.  Elven tea.  Gnome quiche.  Orc battenburg.  Troll eclairs.  Fairy cakes.  Heh.  I do remember ranting about the bastard elves in Iceland who threaten to break your legs if you upset them.  Maybe that's what they were looking for.

god for harry.  Marvellous. I am attracting semi-literate people who are keen on Shakespeare.  Or Kenneth Branagh.  Or who are frantically researching Henry V for their homework, up against a deadline.  Either way, hello, non-capitalising culture fans.  Bet this wasn't what you were looking for, eh?

have a proper cold.  I like that this sounds like an order.  For goodness sake, stop sniffling and whining and just have a proper cold, can't you?  Sheesh.  No, blood pouring from your ears doesn't count.  Nor does the broken bone poking through your shin.  Come back when you have a temperature, blocked sinuses and a red shiny nose, not before.  Timewaster.

Yellow circles malta bird intrigues me.  I can't imagine what that person is looking for.  If it was you, please drop a comment and tell me.  I bet you were mighty pissed off when all you found were photos of my terrible tie-dyed sheets and some holiday snaps of Malta.  Fool.

Dalek blown up toilet seat is another mystery.  Dalek, yes.  Toilet seat, yes.  Both of those subjects have made at least one appearance on here.  Both together?  Unlikely.  Mental.

Extra long honkers.  This one made me laugh out loud, and I Googled it myself.  All I found out was that it refers to one of the magazines read by Scruffy the Janitor in Futurama, along with "Zero G Juggs."  Don't say you never learn anything here.  It could also possibly be referring to the many and varied duck/goose decoy honkers which I have commented on in the past.  However,  I prefer to imagine disappointed cartoon porn magazine seekers finding this blog, and becoming interested in cake and car problems despite themselves.




Look, the hilarious picture of honkers that I took waaaaaay back when we were in Maine last summer,  remember? Yeah you do.

In other news:  Business plans are gathering pace, to the extent that I am going to be in touch with an accountant next week.  More news once stuff is signed.  But it's all very exciting.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Dressing up

This morning I woke up to the first proper frost of the winter.  We were out for dinner last night with friends* and walking home, the stars were beautiful.  One of the many benefits of living out here is that (assuming the pub and petrol station turn off their exterior lights when they close) we have dark skies, and can enjoy the stars.

I always wish I knew more about the stars, without actually wanting to do anything so pedestrian as study them, so I point out the constellations I know (Orion, the PloughCassiopeia....um.....possibly the Dragon, the Pleiadies) and then have to content myself with sighing in an affected manner and saying trite things like "Gosh, there are so many of them.  Aren't they lovely?"

According to Wikipedia (and when is the Internet ever wrong, eh?) there are 88 modern constellations.  I can recognise 4, possibly 5.  That's not a good average, even allowing for the fact that I can't see the ones in the Southern Hemisphere.

I note with interest that the stars that make up the Dragon are located within The Black Tortoise Of The North in Chinese skies.  I like that name.  It sounds like it ought to belong to a really crap pirate, renowned for his lassitude and inability to catch anyone he chases across the high seas.  With a wrinkly neck, and an inordinate fondness for grapes and lettuce.

This week is an exciting one, as it is likely to be when we find out if the planned new business venture can go ahead as we want, or whether we will have to go to Plan B, or even Plan C.  I don't even know if we have a Plan C, to be honest.

I'm trying hard not to get too excited about things, at least until we have stuff on paper in a legal manner, but it's really tempting to start planning things and deciding what would be best to do when we get the go-ahead.

This week is also the start of a new sewing project. My London Niece has asked me to make her an outfit based on a Manga comic character, so this weekend we chose the fabric and made the necessary measurements. It will involve a shitload of frills.  It's years since I made anything that wasn't "ordinary" so this will be good practice.

Mr WithaY wants me to make him a set of Elizabethan clothing, and possibly some Regency and Medieval stuff too, so I need to get my eye back in.  I like a challenge, me.
 
At the weekend, whilst Middle Sis and London Niece were visiting, we all went out for a curry.  The curry house we go to is a way away, on the main road between here and Salisbury.It used to be a Little Chef restaurant, so it's huge, and never feels crowded, which I like. I also like the fact that the old elephant-shaped slide out the front has now been decorated to look like an Indian ceremonial elephant, complete with gold paint and eye-liner.

We ate a fine meal, paid the bill and were walking out to the car.  There was a shout behind us, and the restaurant owner burst out through the doors, scampering after us.  We all stopped, wondering if we'd forgotten a coat, or perhaps under-tipped, and were about to get the business end of a curry ladle.

No.  He was mortified that he hadn't been by the front door to wish us a goodnight, and thank us for coming.  Apparently he'd been in the kitchen, supervising a "complicated dish" and had missed us leaving.  He shook our hands, said a fulsome goodnight, and we went on our way.  What a nice chap.

Other news:  I made ginger cake from a recipe in my Great British Baking book. Readers, it was excellent.  On a not entirely unrelated note, I weighed myself this morning and was mortified to discover that I have got heavier.  It may be partly due to my gym visits, muscle weighs more than fat, blah blah blah, but I have a nasty feeling it has more to do with my fondness for cramming cake into my fat face.













*Hello Sarah!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Spendthrift

I have my PC back.  Hurrah.

It is much faster, the graphics are excellent and the box it's now in looks like something that would be capable of commanding a primitive civilisation on a distant planet if the fancy took it.

When I took the old computer in to the shop, the nice man talked me through the various things he would so to it.  He was very keen to let me know how expensive a new graphics card could be, and went over the options several times.

He asked me how much I was "wanting to spend" on the upgrade.  My honest answer would of course be "Nothing, you buffoon," but I had to lie.

He ran through the list of what needed doing, adding the approximate cost of each element.  It came to - worst case scenario - about £500.

Are you ok if it goes up to about 500 pounds? he asked me.  I agreed.  Well, having just had all the component  parts and associated costs explained thoroughly, it seemed unlikely that he would suddenly offer to do all the work for a lot less.

Cut to a few days later, and a telephone call from the computer shop.

Nice computer shop man:  Hello!  Your PC is ready for collection.

Me:  Oh excellent.  I'll pop into town and pick it up in a little while.  How much will it be?

NCSM:  £500.

Me:  Really.  £500 exactly?

NCSM:  Yep, although I'll do £475 for cash.

Me:  Hmm.  Well, I'll be there shortly.

I didn't have cash, so it was a convenient, non-itemised £500 in total.  What a strange coincidence, it costing the exact same amount as the maximum I'd said I was prepared to pay.  Good job I hadn't said "Oh, no limit..."

I'd probably have had to sell the house, all my guitars and a kidney.  Actually, I would have left my PC there and gone to buy a new one.  Just for spite.

In other absurdly-expensive news, my car needed some work doing to it this week.  Mr WithaY and I were on our way home from running a few errands in town on Saturday, Mr WithaY was driving my car.  As we went up the little hill out of town, the car lurched and struggled, then lost all acceleration.  The "engine warning " light came on.

"Fuck!" we both said in unison, as Mr WithaY pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the engine.

We sat there for a moment or two, then Mr WithaY started the engine again. The warning light stayed off, this time.  We continued home, where I rang the Toyota garage.

Remember them?  Remember when my flywheel was playing up and I had to spend over TWO THOUSAND POUNDS getting it fixed?  And Toyota declined to contribute towards the cost, even though it was a known fault, because I missed the extended warranty deadline by a matter of days?

I bloody do.

Anyway, the garage said they'd look at my car on Monday.  We dropped it off, and a few hours later the garage rang.  They said they'd found the problem with the fuel - a stuck *tech* valve - which was making it lose power.  They'd also given the car a "visual safety check" and discovered that one of the rear wheel bearings was "alarmingly worn."  Arse.

So, the optimistic "bit of dirt in the fuel line that will cost about 20 quid to sort out" scenario which I had been developing in my head turned into the "costly and unexpected yet vital repairs that cost over 500 quid" scenario which nobody ever wants.

 On the plus side, I have my car back and it doesn't seem to be about to expire in a gasping haze of smoke, or have a wheel drop off as I go round corners.  Which is nice.

Other news:  Business plans are developing, and as soon as I have something in writing I will start to explain in more detail.  Until then, it feels like tempting fate to talk about it.



 







Thursday, 17 November 2011

Problem in Engineering


I'm writing today's instalment of quasi-realism on my old laptop.  Blimey it's slow.

The keyboard is all bouncy.  And the screen's quite small.  And it's noisy.

Other than that, though, it's great.

The reason for this trip to my technological past?  My PC is in the shop for refurbishment, having its innards tweaked, upgraded, be-jiggered and finally put back into a funky new case, large enough to contain the enormous new graphics card that it apparently now needs.

I wanted to get my system upgraded, as I had started to get error messages - you know the sort - that helpfully informed me 10 seconds before my PC froze solid that all was not well.  Sometimes, for a nice change, I'd get the error message when I rebooted the machine, shortly after it had frozen solid, leaving me swearing at a black screen and a dead keyboard.

Gah.  Technology.

Once again, as I plod wearily through the 21st Century, I ask an uncaring universe why life is not more like Star Trek.  I was promised a glorious, robot-filled future.  Where is it?  Where's my personal replicator?  Where's my teleport system?  Where's my inter-galactic space vehicle?  Eh?

Nowhere, that's where.

In Star Trek, when something technical goes wrong, the Captain calls for an update from Engineering.  Engineering reply immediately, shouting through clouds of steam, sparks flying, people being buffeted across the room by wildly flailing cables in the background.  It's mayhem down there.

The Captain will demand to know what the problem is.  Engineering always know, or at the very least have a working theorem which turns out to be correct. The Captain will ask how long it will take to fix whatever the problem is.  Engineering always have an oddly specific estimate to give the Captain, usually a few hours.  In a crisis situation they might tell him something like "It'll take us at least seventeen and a half minutes, Sir...."

And sure enough, the problem is fixed within the timeframe, disaster is averted and they carry on about their business.

To summarise:  Problem is identified.  Solution is identified.  Solution is implemented.  Problem is resolved.  Tea and medals all round.

It's not like that in real life.

I put my PC on the counter in the computer shop, and the nice man looked at it speculatively.  It's four years old, which in computer terms makes it not quite a vintage classic, but certainly past its best.

Computer shop man:  Soooo....what do you want doing with this?

Me:  It needs a graphics upgrade, and possibly some more RAM?  I don't know, it's got really slow and laggy, and I keep getting graphics-related error messages.

CSM:  Hmm.  Let's have a look inside.

He removed the case and revealed a hellish filth-pit full of precariously-slotted-in computer parts and dust bunnies.  It was disgusting in there.

Me:  Oh no, look how dirty it is!  I'm sorry about that.

CSM:  Nah, I've seen a lot worse.  Hmm, you've got a *tech* operating system in here so if I add more *tech* it won't make much difference.  How about if I *tech* *tech* tech* and then it will do *tech* and *tech*?

Me:  Um.  Sure.  Yeah.

CSM:  And you don't need more RAM, but you DO need more power. To supply the new graphics card.  Otherwise it will *tech*, and you won't want that.

He pulled the memory card thingies out and waved them around, wafting clouds of filth and dust bunnies over both of us.

Me:  Oh.  Sure.  Yeah.  (Nodding wisely) Power.  Mhmmm.

CSM:  You've got a good size hard disk, and the current RAM will be fine.  So, just the graphics card and a new power supply?  Oh, and I'll reload the operating system to speed things up.  That'll make it *tech* and *tech*, much better.

Me: (relieved and slightly bored now)  Yes, lovely, thank you.  That'll be fine, I'm sure.

CSM:  But the new card is pretty big.  I don't know if it'll fit in this.

He indicated my computer with a dismissive finger as he said "this."

Me:  Um.  What?

He went across to the window display and pulled a huge graphics card out of the artfully arranged heap of techno-parts designed to lure passers-by into the shop.

CSM:  See this?  If I install one of these, it won't fit.

He put the posh new graphics card next to my poor old PC, and waggled it about, demonstrating how deficient my machine was in terms of space.

It doesn't have a downstairs toilet or a conservatory, his gesture seemed to say.  The bedrooms are too small.  The stairs are cramped and dingy.  And that kitchen...how can you bear it?

I may be reading too much into his waggling, of course.

Anyway, I agreed to have a new, larger case, and any of the old computer insides which survive the new regime will be slotted into it, along with the giant greedy graphics card, which I have no doubt will be ruling the roost, hogging the comfy chair and the remote control, demanding cups of tea and biscuits, gloating about its posh new power supply unit at the meek RAM, over in their squalid little corner.

At least there won't be any dust bunnies in there with them all.  For a while.

So.  In the meantime, I am back on my laptop.

I asked how long it would take to perform all these miracles of techno-rejuvination, and was told "Hmmm, a few days.  Probably five or six working days, as I need to test everything thoroughly." He fixed me with a basilisk stare as he said "Thoroughly."

It's not like that in Star Trek.  NOTHING gets tested.  That's why the shields fail after one shot is fired at them, every single time.

Other news:  I am pleased to report that Mr WithaY had a fab time at his bushcraft training course last week, and is sitting in his study as I type, busily writing up his homework for the next module.  He was very pleased that he passed the "make fire with your bare hands and a bunch of twigs and other materials scavenged from the soaking wet forest floor" test.  Apparently not everyone did, unfortunately.

I've been cooking new things this week, as I was getting bored with my repertoire of meals. Today I made a huge fish pie, containing salmon (which was on offer in Morrisons), smoked trout (caught by Mr WithaY and smoked by a local smokehouse) and prawns (from the freezer, can't remember where we got them from,)in a white sauce, topped with creamy mashed potato.  We're having it for supper.  Nom nom nom.

Last night I cooked a new variation on pork steaks - I cut them up and simmered them for a couple of hours in a sauce made from chopped onions, garlic, several sliced cooking apples (skin left on), vegetable stock, and white pepper.  In the last 15 minutes or so, I added a generous splosh of double cream, which worked well.  Serve with new potatoes, peas and carrots.  Delicious.

And now I'm going to go and make flapjacks.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Master Chef

Hello virtual mates!  Hello hello hello.  Yes, it's been a while, hasn't it? 

Every time something has happened which I have thought would make an interesting and/or amusing blog post, I've self-edited in my head until I think "Actually, it would be dull and a bit shite, so I won't do it."

Bad habit to get into.  Baaaaaad. 

So, what has been going on in my life since the last rambling set of unrelated semi-anecdotes I inflicted on you all?

1)  A wedding.  Remember I told you about the hen party?  Yeah you do.  Mr WithaY went to the related stag party the following weekend - beer, watching a rugby match, curry, beer, whisky, sleep, nausea and pale fragility for the next 48 hours - which he said was "fine." 

As an aside, whenever I ask him how something was, it was usually "fine."  Sometimes it was "ok,"  occasionally it was "a bit weird," but in the main his go-to review of all social events at which I am not present is "fine." 

Many years ago, he went to a re-enactment event in Cornwall without me.  It was one I had been really looking forward to, and to which practically all our friends were going. 

I had appendicitis, which for about two years was misdiagnosed as "a stomach bug" or "food poisoning" or even "a dairy allergy" and this was during that dark, miserable (but skinny) time.  Eventually I had to be rushed to hospital to be operated on, and was able to gloat, pointing at my stitches and telling everyone "See?  I TOLD you I was ill."

Anyhoo, this particular weekend I was vomiting and dizzy and feeling awful, so I said I wasn't going to go to Cornwall.  Mr WithaY offered to stay home and look after me, but I said no no no, you go, you've been looking forward to it, have fun, you just enjoy yourself without me.  So he did, the bugger. 

He returned home on Sunday evening, sunburnt, muddy, bruised, exhausted, and I said "Well?  How was the weekend?  Who was there?  What happened?"  And he said "Yeah, it was fun." 

I interrogated him for the best part of the evening.  Who was there with who?  Were there any relationship breakups?  What scandal and gossip?  Was anyone injured on the battlefield?  What outrages were committed in the pub?  Tell me!  TELL me! 

In the end I gave up and rang a female friend.  We had a two hour conversation where she filled me in on all the many and varied events of the weekend.   Gah.  Blokes.

So, yeah.  The wedding.  It was lovely.  But, lordy, I have never been to a wedding where so many people cried.  It was like some airborne chemical had been sprayed into the room to make us all weep like children whose hamster just died.  The bride walked in looking stunning, in floods of tears, which set all the women off.  The groom started choking up as he said his vows, and ended up weeping, which set all the blokes off, which then set all the women off again.  There was one small child there who took exception to the "noise" in the room, and she started weeping loudly, until her poor mother took her out, and spent the entire service weeping on her own in the bar as she was missing the ceremony.

Honestly.  It was a soap opera wedding in emotional terms.  The sun shone for the photographs, everyone looked lovely, including the specially-bathed mad spaniels, and the food was incredible.  They'd arranged a Blues Brothers tribute band for the evening, who were excellent, and I think pretty much everyone there had a dance or two. 

We were staying the night at a pub/hotel locally, along with a dozen or so of the wedding guests, so it ended up being a convivial team breakfast the following morning, then a huge mob went to the newlyweds house and drank tea, then huzzah, off to the pub for lunch.  Mr WithaY and I finally got home at about 4pm.

Marvellous.

2)  I've been making stuff. A neighbour asked me to make her some fabric-y bits and pieces.  We bartered.  She gave me a pedicure and some gorgeous nail polish (she's a beautician, not a foot fetishist,) and in return I did her the cushion covers and a noticeboard. 



I like barter. 

The photos don't do justice to the colour of the fabric she wanted me to use, or to the perfectly-matched ribbon and fabric I found for the criss-cross straps and fabric-covered buttons.  That I made.  Yes I did.

Today I have been finishing off the last cushion cover, and will take a picture of that too, just for completeness.  I bet you can't wait.

3)  Future business plans for the WithaY household are taking shape.  I won't go into detail now, for fear of jinxing things, but I am feeling positive about the future.  Plus we paid off half our mortgage this week with some of our redundancy money.  Yay.  Watch and learn, Greece.  And Italy. 

4)  We had friends round for Sunday lunch last week, and I decided to have a go at making a sticky toffee pudding.  I've never made one before, and was inspired by the delicious one I was given for my pudding at the wedding reception. 

I followed the recipe to the letter - to the LETTER - and the end result was perfect.  Rich, sticky, dark, sweet and fruity* with a light yet dense texture.  The sticky topping was perfect too, the cream, butter and sugar sauce formed a dark toffee-coloured emulsion, thick and gooey and smelling of caramel and butterscotch. I poured a little onto the pudding as it baked and it formed a sticky, unctuous topping, as specified in the recipe.  Which I followed TO THE LETTER. 

The main course was roast pork, with a selection of vegetables, stuffing balls** and roast potatoes, served with delicious meaty gravy.  Mr WithaY made the gravy, and it was perfect.  Thick, rich, dark, savoury little flecks of pork meat floating in it from the roasting dish, just enough fat to make it cling to the food, not so much that it was greasy. 

We ate our pork and vegetables, enjoying the delicious gravy.  We enjoyed the delicious gravy so much that the gravy jug was almost empty.

I asked Mr WithaY to refill it from the pan on the stove top, as he was nearest to it.  He jumped up with alacrity and returned in a moment, the jug practically brimming.  Mmmm delicious gravy. 

One of our friends poured a generous helping of gravy onto her greens.  I picked up the jug and went to do the same.  I sniffed at it, a sudden cold thrill of suspicion running through me.

It smelled like butterscotch.

Mr WithaY had refilled the jug from the wrong saucepan.

I was mortified. 

Our friends declared that greens with pork and butterscotch sauce was wonderful, so, possibly influenced by the wine we had been swilling down, I tried it.  And you know what?  It was bloody lovely. 

For pudding we had sticky toffee pudding with pork and butterscotch sauce, and that was bloody lovely too.

Last night, all on my own, I made up some more cream, butter and brown sugar sauce and had it with leftover sticky toffee pudding.  It wasn't the same. 








*much like me, except for the rich part. 

**fnar

Monday, 31 October 2011

It costs a lot of money to look this cheap

This week is the (sort of) official start to the new way of life in the WithaY household. 

Mr WithaY finished his job last week - although today is the last formal paid working day for him - and had a leaving party on Friday lunchtime at the pub.  It was very pleasant, a lot of his colleagues came to join him, some travelled some distance to be there, which was very touching.  There were the traditional semi-embarrassing speeches, the giving of gifts and cards, and then it was home for tea and medals.

Twenty eight years and one day, he's done.  It's a long time, and a lot of memories.  But now it's all change, moving forward with the new life and all that.  We're both still feeling positive about it all, despite the facts that:

a) We are no longer earning any money
b) The world economy seems to be doomed.  DOOOOOOOMED
c) Winter is coming

Hey, what's the worst that can happen?  Frankly, given the amount of shite* that we have coped with together over the last few years, I think we can handle it, whatever it is. 

So.  Today.  Dawning of a new era etcetera etcetera etcetera.

We began by getting up at a reasonable hour, drinking tea, eating porridge and listening to Radio 4 Extra, a radio station I like more and more.  All very domestic. 

Then Kevin the Decorator arrived.  He's great.  He's fixing the huge unsightly crack across the bedroom ceiling, repainting the (cracked) bathroom ceiling, repainting the water-stained patch on my study ceiling, and replacing the broken front doorstep in our porch.  He can do anything. 

Mr WithaY made him a cup of tea, then headed off to see his mate Josh in Somerset.  They are both on the bushcraft training course, and he handily lives nearby**.  Josh is having our hideously uncomfortable futon for his house (although the more I hear about the house the more it sounds like a shelter made from brash in the forest) and in return he is helping Mr WithaY make a knife.  For bushcrafting. 

Mr WithaY has lately also been making lengths of cord out of nettle fibres.  It was the homework he was given after the last bushcraft course instalment.  The mice set up home in the bundles of cord-making and fire-lighting vegetation he has been garnering, hence his determination to remove them at all costs.  Well, peanut butter doesn't grow on trees.  Unlike the bark he needs for kindling.

He is thoroughly enthusiastic about his new career choice, which is excellent. I am going to have to learn to tolerate the seemingly endless collections of twigs, bark, reeds, plant seeds and Interesting Bits Of Wood that are accumulating around him.  He's like Saint Francis of Assisi, but for woodland detritus.

I've been sorting out stuff around the house, hence Kevin the Decorator's visit, partly in preparation for the winter, partly to try and kick start myself a bit as I have got lazy over the last couple of weeks.  In fact, once I finish this, I am going to cut out a load of cushion covers that I have been meaning to do for about 3 weeks now. 

Yeah.  Lazy.

Later on this week we are off to Gloucestershire for our lovely mates' wedding, which I am very much looking forward to.  I am hoping their mad spaniels will be dressed as bridesmaids, with baskets of rose petals around their necks but I fear I may be in for disappointment.
 
The hen party I went to last week was interesting.  I'd never been to a hen party before, which for a woman in her mid-40s is remiss.  It was at a "Spa Hotel" near Bath***, and whist the hotel part was mostly ok, the spa wasn't great.  Perhaps I am spoilt by having been to Ragdale Hall a couple of times.  However, I don't think that having to walk across a car park and a fairly busy road in your robe and slippers to get to the treatment rooms is very nice, or wait in the lobby of the block while guests and conference attendees squeeze past you.  Not classy.

The treatments themselves were fine; I had a sparkly manicure:




It lasted approximately 36 hours before I'd mangled the polish to such an extent that I had to take it all off again.

We had Champagne and nibbles and balloons and all sorts in one of the rooms before dinner, everyone dolled up in their party finery:



The photo is blurred due to Champagne.  Note the straws with plastic cocks on.  Niiiiice. 

We ate a pleasant dinner in the restaurant, in a little side room that was semi-private so our laughing didn't (I hope) disturb too many other guests.  However, after dinner we went back to one of the rooms and had more Champagne, and I suspect we may have been a tad noisy.  But bugger it, I'll not be going back there, so it doesn't matter, eh?

The hotel could be really lovely, but they consistently failed to get things right - everyone's bill was wrong, so we had to get them all recalculated, and even then they didn't seem to charge us for all the wine we had, despite being asked several times to check the numbers.  The bedroom I was in was clean and comfy, despite one or two issues with the bathroom****, and the food was (mostly) good, if a bit chaotic and disorganised.  It was ok for a one night "party" awayday.  I'd have been very disappointed if I'd booked it as a spa weekend break. 

I had a two day hangover afterwards, which I am blaming on lack of sleep. 

Right.  Cushion time. 










*See multiple previous posts about ill health, various family crises, the Shitstorm From Hades, many and varied tiresome work hassles, yadda yadda yadda...

**Within 50 miles.

***We went here...the reviews are a fair reflection of my own experience. 

****The shower head was hanging on by a thread from a large ragged hole in the ceiling, and the sink drain stank of sewage.  Not nice when brushing your teeth with a hangover. 

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Powerage

I was planning on writing a post yesterday to whine about how hung over I was after a hen party, but then all the power went off - and stayed off for 9 hours - so I didn't. 

It was a very odd day.  Having no electricity makes life uncomfortable and awkward when you're utterly used to it.  I kept thinking of things to do:

"I'll do some laundry...oh, no power." 

"I'll just put the hoover round...oh, wait...."

"I'll do the ironing this morning....oh, no I won't."

"I'll make some cushion covers...gah, no sewing machine..."

"Cake! I'll bake something...oh...can't light the oven without the power*.  Bugger."

So it went on.  In the end I cleaned the windows (inside).  By mid afternoon I was stressed and grumpy, so tried to chill out and read a book, but it was really very strange. 

And of course my fallback "thing to do" - dick about on the Internet - was completely unavailable.  I'd failed to charge my iPhone overnight, so couldn't even play Angry Birds on that, a favourite time-wasting activity.  Oh, the horror. 

The reason for this all-day trip back to the Dark Ages was the upgrading of the local power supply, which mostly seemed to involve men in high visibility coats standing in our front garden, pondering where to put the new power lines.

We were given prior notice, to be fair. A man came to the door a few weeks ago, handed me a letter telling me that the electricity was going to be turned off, and asked me to sign a sheet pf paper to confirm that I had received the letter. All very organised.

It would have been even better if I had remembered that yesterday was the Big Day.  As it was, Mr WithaY and I were enjoying a lie-in - his first morning of "Not Being At Work Any More" -  when there was a knock on the front door, and there stood a cheery man in a high visibility coat and sunglasses, grinning at my dishevelled appearance.

"Sorry, love," he said.  "Did I wake you up?" 

I thought about saying "No, we were engaging in wild, uninhibited, unimaginably hot monkey sex, it being Wednesday and all," but decided not to. 

"Not at all, I was just about to get in the shower," I said with what dignity I could muster.

"Ah, well, we're turning the power off now, love."  His grin broadened.  Bastard. 

I went back upstairs and dressed - no shower, no hair wash - and reflected that I would be spending the day festering in my own filth.  Not for the first time, dear readers. 

Mr WithaY carefully wrapped the fishtank in towels to try and keep it warm once the power was off, and scampered away to find the camping kettle in the garage, checking the mousetraps while he was there**. 

When we had our kitchen renovated we decided to have a gas cooker installed, as we tend to get power cuts in the winter.  Top tip.  It means you can make tea, or even cook a meal when there's no electricity.  We have to remember to replace the gas cylinders, but apart from the occasional panic (There's no gas!  It's 6.30pm on New Year's Eve!  Crap!) it's a very efficient and useful system. 

Our long term plan for the sitting room involves replacing the open fire with a log burning stove for much the same reasons; it'll be more fuel efficient, and we can cook soup on top of it. 

Anyhoo.  The workmen set up a series of huge crane type machines all around the village, and started taking down all the power cables, which was quite interesting to watch. 

I was disconcerted when I went into the bathroom later in the day, and was waved at by a workman up the power pole in next door's garden.  Usually we don't have anyone overlooking the bathroom, so our curtains are the sort that only cover half the window.  The lower half.  He was waving at me over the top of them. 

The pwer was restored at about 4pm, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  The kettle was put on, the lights came back on, I put washing in the machine, and all was well with the world again. 

Today I have been catching up with the domestic drudgery that a combination of hangover and lack of power had prevented me from doing earlier in the week.

Thank goodness I have an acoustic guitar, that's all I can say. I made my own entertainment. 






*I think it is possible to light the oven with matches, but anything that involves me sticking my head into a gas oven with a lit match in my sweaty paw is classed as "too bloody dangerous, matey."

**7 mice caught so far.   They had set up a nest in his bushcraft supplies, and are therefore being terminated with extreme prejudice.  And peanut butter.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Inertia and other matters

The weather's turned.  Turned to SHIT. 

We had the sunniest weekend - possibly ever - this weekend just gone and how did I spend much of it?  Why, lounging idly on the sofa with the curtains closed, drinking tea and watching my new DVD set of The Big Bang Theory.  I have a wholly inappropriate, probably immoral, and certainly ill-advised, crush on Leonard. 

One of the many things I love* about that programme is the fact that I feel as though I am learning about Science as I watch.  All those years of sitting in double physics at school, praying for the fire alarm to go off, or a mysterious stranger to burst in through the door and carry me away, or a runaway horse to gallop into the corridor, or, well, anything that wasn't double physics, really, wasted.

Wasted. 

I have learned more about mass, energy, time and space via an American comedy show than I did whilst studying for my failed physics O level. 

Failed?  Oh yes.  Actually, not so much "failed" as "crashed, then exploded, then crumbled into dust."   I'm not good at listening to stuff I don't find engaging, and lordy, I was even worse at it back then when I was 17.  I used to read all the notes diligently, but in lessons my brain shut down and went skipping off o'er the hills and far away while poor Mr Andrews (I think) tried to get me to learn about Van der Graaf generators** or inertia or gravity or resistance, or whatever tedious nonsense was on that day's agenda.

It was the same in maths lessons, as I have mentioned a few times in here previously.  I would TRY to listen, but my brain just refused.  If I ever seemed likely to actually absorb any mathematical knowledge, I'd get an agonising cluster headache to distract me before I could consolidate the knowledge into something helpful. 

I must be the only person who was actually employed by the Civil Service with no Maths O Level.  Shocking.  And they gave me a billion pound contract to manage for a bit.  Fools. 

Anyhoo.  I've been thinking about my days at school a fair bit lately, probably because the gym I go to is next to the local secondary school and if I time my morning visit wrong I drive past all the kids making their way there, gloomily dragging their feet, scrapping with each other, or walking along with their eyes locked immovably to their mobile phones. 

People tend to trot out that weary axiom about your schooldays being the happiest of your life when the subject comes up. Readers, I disagree. 

I was much happier when I was at college, reading books all day, working in a pub in the evenings, spending hours and hours in the college library reading Victorian copies of Punch magazine for research purposes***.  I was happier when I started working full-time too, earning money, feeling like a real grown-up, living on my own in my teeny little flat. 

School always felt like something to be got through to allow you to progress to the good stuff. 

So. The good stuff in my life at the moment:

We are planting a few more trees in the garden, inspired by the success of the crabapple.  This morning we planted a Victoria plum and a cherry tree in the front garden. I hope they thrive, and that in a year or two I can start harvesting their fruit. 

My guitar playing has stepped up a notch (Bam! ****) and I am learning to play what my guitar teacher kindly refers to as "solos" but which are really just scales with ideas above their station.  It's all rather fab though, and I love it. 

The new song I am focussing on learning this week is the embarrassingly cheesy duet between Tim McGraw and (I'm sorry, but it's true) Gwyneth Paltrow "Me and Tennessee."  Yes, I know.  I know

I like it.  There. I said it.

I'm making some funky fabric-y stuff, specifically cushion covers this week.  I'm discovering that I am quite good at it, too.  Bam!

Oh, and I am going to brave Salisbury and go to the posh scary hairdresser this week.  I am off to a wedding in a few weeks and my hair has suddenly reverted to "woman living in the country with no mirrors in the house" so urgent remedial action is needed.

It's all good, dawg. 





*apart from Leonard

**The experimental apparatus, not the band

***Honestly.  I did my dissertation on fairy stories and their reflected influence on Victorian novels, and how it all related to society in the Victorian era.  Utterly pointless, but I loved doing it.  It was a very fashionable subject in the 1980s, darlings. 

****copyright  Elzar and his spice weasel.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Splash

I've been going to the gym  for the last month or so.  It's an attempt to stem the encroaching tide of middle-aged "can't be arsed-ness" and also to reduce my bulk to less vile proportions. 

I have actually got a bit heavier, which is dispiriting, if not unexpected, and I can't see any real difference in my shape yet. However, I am already feeling stronger, and I sweat more when exerting myself.  Niiiiice.  Apparently, according to the nice gym staff, that's a common side effect of exercising.  You get sweatier. 

So.  Heavier.  Slightly more muscular.  Sweaty.  I bet you're all having a little private far-away moment just imagining that, aren't you?

The most difficult part of the entire business is getting into a routine.  I am trying to go early in the day, to be there before 0900, do my routine, get home, get showered, get dressed and be ready to get on with my day by 1030 at the latest.  The downside to that is that I don't eat before I go, which might be a bad thing.  I may have to get up at the crack of dawn to have some porridge first.

I do 10 minutes on the cross trainer* to start with, which is ok, as long as I don't look at the timer counting down.  I try to watch the TV screen above my head, where they show the BBC News with subtitles.  There is a good deal of unintended hilarity caused by those subtitles, with the interpreters having to publish rapid corrections as they go. 

If I can't see the TV screen, I look down into the swimming pool.  Sometimes there are dozens of small children having swimming lessons, which is also hilarious.  They are all so earnest; watching them splashing about like minnows, whacking one another in the face as they attempt backstroke takes me back to my own awful school swimming lessons. 

The school I went to in London, way back in the early 1970s, took us to a concrete outdoor pool for lessons. It was very shallow, and I have distinct memories of regularly scraping my feet and stubbing my toes on the rough concrete bottom of the pool as I was learning to kick.  I never knew what the swimming teacher's name was.  It sounded like "Mr Vinehoff" but everyone in the class had a different opinion what it actually was.  We couldn't hear him introduce himself over the splashing, shrieking masses and nobody had the nerve to ask him what his name was.

I don't think they taught us how to swim, as such. I think it was more along the lines of trial by ordeal, where they threw us into the water and if we didn't drown we had to go back to school and learn about the metric system and decimalisation.

The school I went to in Chichester took us to the municipal baths for lessons, in a bus.  We seemed to spend about twice as long getting to the pool, getting changed into our swimsuits, getting dry afterwards and getting back into our uniforms than we ever did in the water.  I remember the sense of achievement I had when I swam 100 yards.  It was slow and inelegant, like so much of my school sporting career, but I did it, and I got a certificate to prove it.

I also jumped off the diving board.  There was a low board, a springy plank on the edge of the pool which was perfect for doing "pirate walking the plank" impressions when the teacher wasn't looking, and everyone could jump off that.  Well, it was practically the same as the edge of the pool.  You had to be a real chicken to flunk that one. 

Then there were the Other Boards.  I definitely jumped off one of those, but my memory fails me here.  I can't remember if it was the the middle board up a flight of scary rickety metal steps, or the "fuck me that's high" board at the very top, up abut four flights of steps.  I have a nagging feeling that I did go off the top board, because I can recall the terror when I had jumped; that feeling that there was no going back.  When I hit the water I went almost to the bottom of the pool - 12' 6" deep, whatever that is in metric** - and it was scary trying to get back up to the surface before I ran out of air.  I didn't do it again.

It may have been something we had to do for a swimming badge with the Girl Guides. 

We had to do so many odd things with the Girl Guides.  That's a whole blog post in itself.

Anyhoo.  Swimming flashbacks aside, I am enjoying the gym, and any day now will develop one of those bodies that you see on TV, memorably described by (I think) Terry Pratchett as a stocking full of walnuts. 
I can't promise photos. 






*See much earlier, older joke somewhere in the blog archives about this being a piece of gym equipment, not a grumpy muscular man in a singlet 

**I learned NOTHING at school.  Not a bloody thing.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

In the News

I do enjoy reading our local newspaper.  Not only does it feature either the Mayor, the Town Crier or representatives of the various local military units on almost every page, the headlines are reassuringly bonkers. 

It's how every local newspaper should be, really.  Plus, and this is quite an important point, the hilarious "no news is what we're all about" publishing ethos demonstrates how little serious crime we have on a regular basis around here.  So it's funny AND reassuring.

Last week almost the entire front page was covered with the scandalous revelation that the man who has bought the derelict Town Hall building has previous convictions for failing to comply with planning regulations when renovating a different derelict building.  The last two or three years have seen many and varied front page stories about how is is a disgrace - an absolute DISGRACE!- that the Town Hall remains empty and derelict.  Now there's a whole new angle to be outraged about. Our gorgeous pigeon-shit-encrusted Town Hall is in the hands of someone who might renovate it without getting the final sign-off from the planning officer to undertake internal modifications to the building.  I'll keep you posted.

Ahhh, the Town Crier is on Page 2.  All is well with the world.  Something else I love about this newspaper is the way that the publisher - our local stationer - fills all the spare space on Page 2 with advertisements for their own shop.  They sell everything you could possibly need in the stationery line.  Wedding invitations? Calendars? School pencil cases? Maps? Greetings cards?  Books about the local area?  Labels of all types?  Poster paint?  Glue?  Glitter?  Dictionaries? Paperclips?  They've got it all. 

The shop itself is a delight, rambling back into nooks and crannies, all of them crammed with treasures you never knew you needed.  It's staffed by a selection of elderly ladies who know exactly where everything is.  Sometimes they have to get ladders to reach the high shelves, delicately avoiding setting off avalanches of rolls of brown paper and boxes of treasury tags. 

Top Page 2 headline this week: 

Break In  
Nothing Stolen

Fantastic.  On Page 4 we have the almost-as-good Air Rifle Pointed, which hints at all sorts of ill-natured duelling potential.  When you read the story, however, it was a couple of blokes in a van with an air rifle, off out rabbiting probably.  They were "subsequently allowed on their way" after being given some "suitable advice" by the police.

Two stories side by side on Page 8 in an unfortunate juxtaposition. One relates how our nearest cinema, a small independent one in Frome with a bar and everything, has been damaged by fire* and will be closed for a while.  The story beside it tells us that a new cocktail bar has opened in town.  The accompanying picture shows a frosty-glass delicious looking cocktail, with the strapline "Try out a cocktail this weekend."

Why not? You can't go to the cinema, after all.

Page 11 has the menacing Children Visit Biodigester.  It doesn't say how many arrived, or - more importantly - how many left.  I think that's the sort of thing we ought to be told.  Next to that story is Chilli And Tomato Tastings.  I don't know about you, but my appetite vanished at the word "Biodigester." 

The sports pages are great as well.  Every single week, regardless of the weather, the time of the year or the prevailing economic climate, our local teams lose.  This week's football headline is Not A Good Home Day For Town.  It's interesting to see how many different ways the newspaper people can say "They're A Bit Shit, Unfortunately."  The Rugby headline is Better Performance But Still Defeated.

It reminds me of my old school reports. 

Are all local newspapers like this, or are we just lucky, I wonder?





*Probably caused by the manager making everyone a nice bit of cheese on toast to eat during the film.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Fit for purpose

Blimey, here we are in October already.  It's warmer than it was in July, which is just WRONG.  One of the most peculiar things about unseasonable heat in the Autumn is that it gets dark early, and we have to choose between sitting in the garden in the pitch black, or inside the house at 7.30 at night, sweltering.  And, it being Autumn, many, many spiders are migrating indoors, so if we have the windows open to cool the house down, they come swarming in with little cries of glee.

Sitting outside in the dark isn't as much fun as you might imagine, either.

Anyway, today it's raining, but still really warm, which is even odder.  It feels like being in the tropics, but with all the leaves falling off the trees, and everything in the garden looking tired and brown.  Including me.

I've been busy of late, trying to get myself motivated and prepared for the oncoming winter.  I am behaving like the proverbial ant in the fable, storing up for the cold days ahead.  Unfortunately, I am not storing up anything very useful, or solid, like chopped logs and salted beef.  

I spent a constructive few days making crab apple jelly, using the apples from the little tree in our front garden.  The first batch I made turned out well, crystal clear and a beautiful pink colour, so I was encouraged to make some more. Mr WithaY brought home a helpful suggestion from a colleague that I add chilli, which I did, and it made the most delicious sweet hot jelly.  It's perfect with roast chicken, and cold meat. 

Inspired, I bought a dozen small "presentation" jars and have made a load more.  Expect to receive it for Christmas, non-virtual mates!






Why yes, I did spend some time stacking them in a variety of ways, just to photograph them.

I don't have a job any more.

I also started on a commission for a friend.  She asked if I could make her a noticeboard, which I was delighted to agree to.

It all went well at first.  The fabric she gave me to make it with is gorgeous, I found ribbon to match it, and then some satin to self-cover some buttons to finish it off.  I was mighty pleased with myself, I can tell you. 



In an effort to bring my fabric noticeboard-making process into the post-Industrial age, I bought a hot glue gun recently.  They're not particularly cheap - about £25 if I remember right - and I had high hopes for it.  I envisaged a perfect series of satisfying gluey blobs being produced as required, aimed and controlled by my craftswoman-like skills to allow simple button placement and a professional finish to my work.

I was mistaken in that assumption.

Reader, it took me well over an hour to stick on 25 buttons.  You have to plug the glue gun in and wait for it to heat up - at least 10 minutes - and then slooooowly and carefully squeeze the trigger until a blob of glue is extruded.  That's the theory.  In reality, you slooooowly and carefully squeeze the trigger, and nothing happens.  You put the glue gun back on the stand, and curse quietly. waiting another minute or two, as the instructions tell you.  You pick up the glue gun and you try again, squeezing the trigger slooooowly and carefully.  Nothing happens, so you squeeze the trigger more rapidly, in a gunslinger trigger-happy pumping motion.  A blob of glue drips out, and you cheer inwardly.

You stick a few buttons in place using this technique.  You pause and make a cup of tea, smug that you have mastered the technology, and are a genius.  A glue-based genius.

You pick up the glue gun to continue your creative endeavours.  The glue gun refuses to extrude any more glue.  It is sulking.  You leave it for a minute or two and then try again.  The rapid-fire technique no longer works. You revert back to the long slow squeeze.  Nothing happens. 

You swear, louder and more fluently.  You keep trying different squeeze techniques, which makes your hand hurt.  Eventually, you coax enough glue out of the gun to stick each button down.

You are not entirely confident that they will remain in place, but by now your hand is cramping and you hate the sight of your stupid crappy not-working-properly glue gun. 

So.  I took the completed noticeboard round to my friend, and gave it to her with the caveat that the buttons might not stay put, and that she should let me know if they fell off. 

The next day she rang me.  The buttons had fallen off.  Arse.

I went and collected it, and now it is sitting on my kitchen table, looking reproachful as I try to think of a way to sort it out. 

Other news:  I have rejoined the gym.  I am hilariously unfit.  This situation will change, or I might die in the attempt.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Conversation

Me:  When you have an itchy palm on your right hand, does that mean you're going to come into money soon?

Mr WithaY:  Yes, it does.  That, or you've got a burrowing parasite.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Jobsearch

I've been looking at the jobs pages in the local paper. Employment opportunities in this area are limited, compared with less rural localities, and as I don't want to commute, I am not looking even as far afield as Bristol and Bath at the moment.

I might change my mind, though.

So far, this is what I've found: 

Job details

Elves

  • Location: Longleat Forest, Warminster
  • Salary: N/A
  • Industry: Other

Santa

  • Location: Longleat Forest, Warminster
  • Salary: N/A
  • Industry: Other
I am considering how to reframe my CV.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Basket cases

Last week Mr WithaY and I went on a one-day willow basket-making course.  You can't become a basket-maker in one day, but you can make a basket.  Here's how:

You start with 6 sticks, all approximately the same thickness and straightness.  You have to find the natural curve of the wood and follow it to get the proper basket base shape.  My sticks all looked to be either completely straight or wavy as anything, not the gentle curve talked about by the instructor.

Once you have aligned your sticks properly, you stab them with a deadly steel bodkin, pointy, sharp and scary.  Oh, before you do any stabbing, you grease the bodkin point with tallow.  It's positively medieval. 



Our instructor told us how she once had to rescue her can of tallow from a greedy dog which had its face in it.  She didn't mention it to the dog's owners;  I expect they found out later that day.


This is how the sticks look once you've STABBED them with the greased-up bodkin.  It's interesting how unnerving it is, having to stab something when usually you are all English and repressed and un-stabby. 

Once you've finished stabbing, you slide one set of sticks through the other, thus:


This is the basis for your basket.  I had to stop and have a cup of tea at this point, all the craftsmanship was exhausting.

After you've had tea and braced yourself, you start doing the next step.  It has a technical name which I have completely forgotten, but it involves weaving small willow stems to make the basket base.




See the two different colour willows?  One sort has bark on and is slippery, the other sort doesn't and isn't.  They're both bloody awkward to weave properly.  You have to hold the spokes pressed hard into your tummy as you do this.  Painful. 

Once you've got the base woven, and it is properly convex, you add long sticks to make the sides of the basket.  If it's not convex enough, you have to help it along using your knee and brute force.



Adding the long sticks was fiddly and hilarious, with all of us wrestling with our baskets on the floor.  We got there in the end.

Once we'd got to that stage it was lunchtime.  Lunch was excellent. Home-made and delicious. I recommend it. 

After lunch it was time to start building the basket up.  Da da daaaaaaaaa.



You have to STAB it once again with the bodkin to hold it in place while you weave the willow sticks.  That's harder than it looks.  Getting everything nice and even and tidy is even harder.



Once you've built up the base, you change both style and material to make the sides.  I was using a weaving technique that involved using two lengths of willow in pairs at once, in a traditional English style.  It's strangely hypnotic. 


Then, when your basket is tall enough, you do another set of the stronger weave that you used for the base, to make the top nice and sturdy.  If your basket is less than perfectly circular, you assist it with your knee and brute force.

Willow is very forgiving. 

Once you've done that, you make the top edge, using the long sticks you stuck into the base to form the sides.  Remember them?  Yeah you do. 



If you're a bit forgetful and have failed to keep your willow sticks wet, they will snap at this point.  The instructor will then rescue you and fix it so it will not show.  She was very good at rescuing people.


And at the end of the afternoon, you will have a lovely basket.

There were as many different baskets made as there were people on the course.  Mr WithaY made one with a French weave in the middle, and conveniently it stacks neatly inside mine.  There's tidy.



That's his on the left with the fancy French weave thing.  Sacre bleu.


One lady made an up-and-over handle.  Very pretty.  Those round things in the background are big bundles of willow sticks.  The barn we were working in smelled lovely. 





One chap made these rather fetching finger holes.  I shall try that next time I make a basket. 

If at any point you got bored or frustrated, and went outside to look around, you could see where the willows grow:


They had information boards up to let people know all the kinds of animals and birds you might see if you looked for long enough.  I saw bugger all.

I liked these gigantic sculptures, left over from a Glastonbury Festival, apparently. 



And the maze was fun, despite being very low.  I reckon I could have stepped over the partitions in an emergency.



So, after a long and full day, a splendid vegetable lasagna and fruit crumble for lunch, a lovely drive through the Somerset Levels, and weird bruises where I hadn't expected any, I now own a basket that I made.  And it works.



Did I mention  how much nicer this is than being stuck in the office?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Tiny tripe

Well hello there.  It's been a while, hasn't it?  I was working on the assumption that everyone would be away on holiday and therefore not notice that I had been slack and idle for the best part of a fortnight.

To be honest, that's not true.  I haven't been slack, and certainly no more idle than usual.  In fact, I have been out and about, gallivanting across the countryside like a frisky gazelle, scampering hither and thither.

Yeah, I have.

Where have I been? Well I'll tell you.

Mr WithaY and I went up to Derbyshire for a weekend.  The Chatsworth Show was on, and we fancied having a look at it.  We drove up to a pleasant B&B on Friday evening, and were advised to try a local pub for dinner. 

If you are ever in the area, go and eat there.  Really.  The food was excellent, the staff were competent and friendly and the prices were not too steep.  In fact, here's their website - The Black Swan.    It was so nice that we went back again the next night and tried their "sharing dish" of rib eye steak and big chips.  Mr WithaY and I enjoy our food* but we still ended up with a small tinfoil package of steak to take home at the end of the meal. 

The B&B was good too.  Note for American readers - a B&B is a Bed and Breakfast establishment, where you stay overnight and they feed you breakfast - usually a huge and sausage-filled extravaganza - but you don't get an evening meal.  B&Bs are less expensive than a hotel, and often more interesting.  Sometimes, though, they are shite. 

This one was lovely, though, and on a farm, our room looked out across one of their trout lakes.  People were fishing, and Mr WithaY sat with his nose pressed forlornly against the window, watching them till we went out. 

There was a degree of grumbling along the lines of  "I knew I should have packed my travel fishing rod," but it soon passed.

The Chatsworth Show was excellent fun.  We missed the Red Arrows, who flew on the Friday for the first time since the crash that killed one of their pilots, but we did see a splendid display of stomach-churning aeronautics by two small stunt planes as we were leaving on Saturday afternoon.

Chatsworth House itself was under wraps, unfortunately, possibly to deter visitors to the show from gawping in through their windows and watching the Duchess sitting there in her curlers eating cheesy Wotsits and watching Jeremy Kyle.

I took a couple of pictures of their impressive wall carvings though:




There were hundreds of different stands and displays there, ranging from the traditional country pursuits of ferret-racing (no photos, I was laughing too much to think of using my camera) and stick-whittling to formal mounted displays of the Household Cavalry, with a fairground and lots of small trade stands in between.  There were people doing clever fishing demonstrations, shooting stands where you could Have A Go, and more delicious food vendors than you could shake a stick at.

As is traditional, Mr WithaY and I Had A Go at as many of the shooting stands as possible.  It got competitive. 





I am officially Rubbish With An Air Rifle.  Mr WithaY was hoping to win an air rifle on the strength of that result, but as yet has not had a phone call telling him to go and collect his prize. 

However, the .22 rifle was more successful.  Mine:



Mr WithaY's:



And yes, that is the noticeboard I made. We have our targets displayed in the kitchen. 

We watched some lurcher racing.  It;s like greyhound racing but a bit less organised.  The dogs have to run at high speed through a field, after a fake rabbit on a bit of string that is being dragged along at even higher speed.  Blimey, they can move.



To such an extent that there are warning signs posted.  They'll BREAK YOUR BONES, so stand back.  I wonder how? Perhaps they use cudgels, although I'd have thought gripping a big twatting stick between small lurcher paws might be tricky. 

There were many different craft tents, some crammed to the gills with talented people, others less so, some just brilliantly demented.  We found these chaps in a far corner of the showground. 



They had a whole marquee full of teeny little model carts and things, all made to accurate scale.  My favourite was the butchers shop on wheels.  It had dolls-house size meat, including little teeny pigs trotters. 




You get a sense of the scale of it by comparing it to the proud creator sitting behind the table there.  He was delighted that I was taking pictures, even moving the butchers shop around this way and that so I could capture the interior properly.




Look at the tiny pigs feet!  And black puddings!  And tripe!  I was entranced.



I spotted this giant letter "R" made from trees on the opposite hillside.  No idea what it is, or why it's there.  Anyone who has any answers, please feel free to comment. 




Oh, this is me firing a 2-bore muzzle-loaded gun.  The recoil was hefty, hence the rather appalling firing stance I have there.  You could have a go with four different types of muzzle-loader, shooting at clay pigeons.  I am proud to announce that I managed to shatter a clay with a flintlock musket.  Yay me.

We also popped in to see my genius clock-making mate, and selected two of the types of wood he is going to use to make our clock.  That was interesting, and I am looking forward to hearing how it's progressing.

Where else have I been?  Oh yes.  Ragdale Hall.

I went on another - ANOTHER! - short break to the home of all that is relaxing and beautifying, along with both sisters, mother and auntie.  We had a blast, I have not laughed so much in a very long time.  I had a reflexology treatment, a full body massage, a facial and a pedicure, and loved every minute.  We all went swimming in the fabulous pools, sat in the various steam rooms and saunas, chilled out in the comfy chairs that are artfully scattered around the place, and talked and talked and TALKED.  So much to say to each other. 

Normally when we all get together there are hordes of children and husbands and partners milling around, getting in the way and preventing two-hour conversations about nothing. 

Middle Sis and Youngest Sis and I shared a triple room.  It was like the Three Bears house.  Three beds in a row in the room.  Three robes hanging in a row in the cupboard.  Three coffee mugs in a row by the kettle. Only one toilet in the bathroom, though.  I had half expected to see three of those in a row in there too.

Other news:  I have been harvesting crab apples from the tree in the garden, and making crab apple jelly. The first batch has turned out remarkably well.

I'd post a photo if Blogger would let me.  Maybe later.








*are fat greedy bastards.