Sunday, 30 January 2011

Running Free

An interesting few days, recently.  To summarise:

1)  Work.  I have submitted an application for early release from my job as part of the HUGE cuts to the public sector that the Government is implementing.  If my application is accepted, I will, on May 31st this year, leave Her Majesty's employ after twenty two and a half years, and be released back into the wild.   I am tremendously excited at the prospect. 

I joined the Department of Secrecy a few months after I graduated, having taken the Civil Service entrance exam the week after my finals, and then worked like a SLAVE for them for twenty years. Twenty.  Jesus. 

Two years ago, as regular longstanding readers will already know, I transferred to the Department of Less Secrecy and More Cement up in London, to see what working in a Whitehall job was like. 

I can report that it's busy, demanding, interesting and sometimes a bit scary.  Plus you see Ministers in the lifts, and there are some fab shops really close to the office.   

However, the last two years have, coincidentally, been crammed with some very bad stuff, including the (now-resolved) SSFH.  We also had Mr WithaY's horrible finger-lopping accident, several loved ones being very ill indeed, and me having the Black Lung on and off for what felt like the entire time. 

Dealing with all of that, as well as a 3 hour each-way commute to the office is proving to be just too much, and as a result my sick record for the last 2 years is appalling.  I honestly think the early mornings and hellish travelling will kill me, so it's time for a change.  This is the perfect opportunity.

Fingers crossed that I get gently coaxed out of the cage in May, and am set free to scamper into the woods, wagging my tail and sniffing at the warm Spring air.

I have no idea what I will do with my life when I stop being a corporate drone, by the way. 

Suggestions are welcome.

2)  Family.  Mother in law WithaY was here for a visit last weekend.  She had to go to a funeral, sadly, so was over from her chic pad in the South of France for a few days.  It was nice to see her, as we don't get to visit as often as we'd like.  She was bored after a few hours, and took to wandering into the kitchen while I was making dinner, demanding some ironing to do.  I ordered her back to the sofa with a cup of tea, but it was a close-run thing.  At one point I thought I might have to use a broom to shoo her away. 

Yesterday I went down to Sussex to visit my lovely Mum, and also saw Youngest Sis and the two younger nephews.  We all went out for a Chinese lunch, to the same place we went to for the big birthday celebration almost a year ago.  There was a flyer on the table advertising a forthcoming Chinese New Year evening there, which included a Lion Dance among the cabaret attractions.  It's not a very big restaurant.  I'd love to see how they manage it in the space available. 

3)  Birthday celebrations.  Yes, today is my birthday.  Again. 

Following the slight gift-giving hiccup on Christmas Day, Mr WithaY has gone to a lot of trouble to make today very special for me.  He told me yesterday evening that he had invited some of our friends over for "birthday tea" this afternoon.  I asked what I needed to bake.  I was told "You don't have to do anything.  It's all organised."  And it was.  He had bought the ingredients to make:

Smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches
Marmite and watercress sandwiches
Scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream
Hot buttered crumpets

But the piece de resistance was the cake.  A huge, chocolate, fuck-off, surprise birthday cake.


I was so impressed by this that I had to deploy my shiny cake stand for the scones.  Magnificent, no?

I also had a bunch of beautiful flowers that a friend* gave me last weekend, which had opened up for today.  Perfect timing.

And, hey, is that a CAKE there in the foreground?

The little house behind the flowers was a birthday gift from Mother in law WithaY.  It's a bumble bee house, and when the weather gets warmer I will find a sunny sheltered spot in the garden, put it out there, and hopefully attract bumble bees to nest in it.  She was puzzled when she found out that I was given an annual membership to the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust last year as a gift, but was keen to join in I think, hence the house. 

And tomorrow night I am visiting Middle Sister, who has hinted there may be baklava.  Wonder how things will go at the weigh-in this week.  Heh. 

Other news:  I met a nice elderly lady on the bus last week who was wearing a huge, gorgeous fur coat and hat.

Me:  That coat looks lovely and warm.

Nice elderly lady:  Yes.  I've been to a funeral down in Brighton all afternoon, and it was freezing cold, so it was the perfect thing to wear. 

Me:  I can imagine.  And it's such a lovely colour.  Do people ever comment on it?

Nice elderly lady:  Yes, I have had people tell me I shouldn't wear fur.  I tell them it's not real. 

Me:  Ha!  Do they believe you?

Nice elderly lady:  Well, it isn't real.  It's not WILD mink. 

She was a card. 

*Hello Sarah!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Speed 2

The encountering odd people on public transport theme continues.  Allow me to share: 

Yesterday evening, as I was struggling into a seat on the bus to Waterloo, lugging my rucksack awkwardly into the luggage space and perching on the suspiciously clammy seat, I became aware of an Irritating Loud Woman. 

Irritating Loud Woman was on her phone, using a headset so that she had both hands free for Important Gesticulation And Shit.  Irritating Loud Woman was bellowing to her caller about all the travelling she had been doing.

ILW:  God I KNOW!  Yes...yes...I was there too recently.  Yes...booked a room on your recommendation actually.  Yes, loved it.  Amaaaaazing place! 

A short pause followed where she rolled her eyes and played with her handbag strap as the person on the other end of the phone had the temerity to play a speaking part in the conversation.  Her eyes narrowed and she threw in the trump hand grenade of bragging. 

ILW:  So...yeah...yeah...I was in China.  Yes.  (slightly louder) China.  Then Spain. Then Ireland.  *loud guffaw*  I know!  I've been home like 10 days in the last 2 months!  And I'm off to the Bahamas at the end of the month!  *guffaw*

It did occur to me to wonder why she was on the bus, albeit on the back seat, and not in a taxi, judging by the details of her jetset lifestyle.  As this uncharitable thought played through my jaded brain, a tall black girl with amazing dreadlocks marched down the aisle, dragging a selection of bags and a shopping trolley behind her.   

Tall black girl with amazing dreadlocks:  (In unexpected Yorkshire accent)  Scuse me!  Scuse me!  You.  Yeah you!  Can you stop being so loud on the bus please! 

ILW:  ......?

TBGWAD:  I can hear you right down the end!  Can you keep noise down please?

ILW:  .....?

I had to suppress a snort of delighted glee as the Irritating Loud Woman blushed deeply, then continued her conversation in a much quieter voice.  She moderated it down to normal speaking tones, I'd guess, rather than the show-off bellow she had previously deployed. 

The bus started pulling away from the stop we were at, throwing the girl with the dreads and bags into a panic.

TBGWAD:  (To the bus driver)  Scuse me!  Hey!  HEY!  Scuse me!  I need to gerroff here!  Stop bus!

The driver obliged, opening the doors.  There was a long and comical struggle as several people at the front of the bus jostled to help her with all her bags.  I think had we had more time, she would have been carried off in triumph on their shoulders, frankly.

I missed my train as a result but it was worth it.

I covertly watched the ILW for the remainder of the journey.  She was mortified.  I was glad.

Other news:  My car is fucked.  Gah. 

I was driving home from the railway station last night.  It was very dark.  It was very cold. So cold, in fact, that I had had to de-ice my car (inside and out) before I could leave the station car park.  It was getting late. 

I set off on the short but time-consuming trip through winding lanes and troll bridges, through the woods, through the little teeny villages, past the burned-down pub, up hill, down dale, over the river and back to Hobbiton. 

My thoughts were filled with the delicious roast chicken dinner* that I knew was waiting for me. 

I had just emerged from the bosky glades and hit the main road (Two lanes!  Some streetlights at the major junctions!) when I realised that my speedometer was stuck on 0.  Zero.  Nil. 

I knew that was wrong.  Well, I was moving, for a start. 

I was dopily looking at the speedo, then back at the icy road ahead, then back at the speedo, not sure if I was seeing things or not, and then the orange "Check Engine" warning light came on too. 

Ohhhh fuck noooooooo.

It may have been my imagination, but I would swear that I felt the car shudder, like a wounded beast about to roll over and die. 

There was a moment where I considered pulling over and phoning Mr WithaY to come and rescue me, but I bit my lip and ploughed on.  The car juddered again.  I stopped.  I switched off the engine, then restarted the car.  The "Check Engine" light went out.  I pulled away.  The speedo was still dead. There were several heavy seconds of anticipation, then the orange light came back on.

If you were driving towards Shaftesbury late yesterday evening, you may have heard what you thought was a siren, wailing eerily.  That was me.  Well, it was if the siren sounded like someone wailing "fucking hell nooooooooooo" for 5 miles non-stop. 

So, today I rang the chaps at the garage.  They told me take my car down there for them to look at.  There followed a couple of hours of traipsing back and forth to the garage, talking to the chaps, waiting for Chap 2 to return from a delivery to confer about technical stuff with Chap 1, Chap 1 making phone calls to Toyota, Chap 2 telling me horror stories about how badly things can go wrong with cars, and finally I was given a lift back home and told to Wait.

Later that same day, a call from the garage. 

Good news:  They know what's wrong.  I'd tell you, but my brain did that Star Trek thing of just hearing " part will be here on£188 plus"  I don't do it on purpose. 

It's like maths lessons used to be at school.  I started out every time with good intentions, but after 3 minutes my brain simply refused to acknowledge what was being said, and sent me pictures of Alex Lifeson and Bruce Dickinson, or composed endless bad poems I was going to write down as soon as I could find a nice enough poetry notebook. 

I swear, if I replayed every maths lesson I attended between 1977 and 1983, apart from the two weeks we did spatial geometry, which I understood and enjoyed**, it would just sound like white noise.

Bad news:  It wil cost £188 (plus VAT) for the part they need.  Plus labour.


So.  I'm working at home tomorrow, as my car is not really safe to drive. 

And I might be selling my Rickenbacker.

*Mr WithaY is just great. 

**The maths teacher was flummoxed, and would ask me with irritation "If you can understand this, why can't you understand quadratic equations?"  I'm certain she thought I was doing it deliberately.  It never occurred to her that my failure to understand might in some way be linked to her unimpressive teaching skills.  Bah.

Friday, 14 January 2011

In the bag

Whilst travelling to the office the other morning, I was interested to see this going on:

They're updating the big "4" outside the Channel 4 TV studios.  I shall take another picture when it's finished.  I bet you can't wait.

As I was getting off the train last night, my attention was caught by a lady with many bags and bundles and cases.  She was dressed rather eccentrically, plenty of draped shawls and artistic scarves and things, her long grey hair in plaits like something out of Little House on the Prairie.

She was fussing and chattering as one of the other commuters helped her with her bags, handing them to her and then stepping down onto the platform himself.  He was still carrying a strange green wicker basket - clearly not his own - as they walked towards the car park.  She was chuntering away at him, he was trying to hand her the basket and walk off to get to his car, too polite to just shove it into her be-mittened hands and stride into the darkness while she was still talking to him.

I was stuck walking behind them, as she was quite slow, and her suitcase on wheels was giving her trouble, taking up the entire width of the path as it swung back and forth behind her.  To be honest, she struck me as someone whose things would always give her trouble.

Anyhoo.  The polite commuter kept trying to hand her the green basket, and she resolutely ignored it, chattering away at him as she wrapped her shawls and scarves around herself in the rain, struggling to keep her suitcase in a semi-straight line.
"Gosh," I thought.  "She's making that kind man carry her basket all the way back to her car."

As we all got into the car park, several waiting cars with engines running and headlights helpfully blinding everyone, another man ran up to the bag lady and her unwilling escort.

"Here!" he called, breatheless and flustered.  "Here!  Wait!"

Everyone turned round, and he said:  "That's my basket!  Give it back!"

The kind commuter was horrified.  "I thought it was hers!" he said, gesticulating at the bag lady with his briefcase, as the flustered man grabbed the green basket from his other hand.

"No!  It's mine! I saw you pick it up from the luggage rack and was trying to stop you!"


The bag lady then turned her attention to the breathless man, and the polite commuter made good his escape, running across the car park to his car and making a tyre-screeching exit.

By the time I had walked to my car, they were out of earshot but it looked like a huge row was brewing as she waved her arms at him, and he flailed about with his green basket.  A smartly-dressed man in a waiting car was beeping his horn and shouting out of his car window, trying to claim the bag lady, but she was enjoying herself far too much.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Heroics 101

Ah, London.  Still too noisy, too crowded, too filthy.  But I was glad to be back at work last week.  We have a new Big Boss now as a result of the huge changes taking place across our Department, so it will be interesting to see how things change under his leadership. 

It was a short week, what with last Monday being a Bank Holiday, but even so by Friday lunchtime I was KNACKERED.  And that was after two days working at home, and only two where I had to travel to the office.  The trains were pleasantly under-crowded, I guess a lot of people were still on holiday.  Monday will be different. 

There has been a new and delightful addition to the usual carriage-full of exhausted and grumpy commuters, though.  I shall call him Adenoid Man.  He sleeps the entire way to London, mouth agape, snorting and gruntling to himself in his own little private dreamworld for two hours.  If I ever have to sit next to him, there WILL be a recording made, I promise.  And photographs. Well, if you fall asleep on public transport, what do you expect?  Honestly. 

I'm sitting in my study this afternoon with the window open, blue sky, sunshine and birds singing.  It's like a little foretaste of spring in between the cold and rain of January.  Lovely.  There's no sign of any of the Spring bulbs coming up in the garden yet, I expect the snow and ice of December impeded them.  Another few weeks though, hopefully, and there will be crocuses.  Crocii?  Croca?

Anyhoo, it won't be long before we get some flowers making an appearance.

In other news:  I made a cake yesterday.  First cake I've made in about ten months, I think.  I bought myself a cook book and decided to try out one of the recipes.  I made the ginger and marmalade loaf, and it was marvellous.   Mr WithaY had been out shooting all day (one cartridge fired, nothing hit, not a good day) so when he got home he was cold and a bit grumpy; a nice cup of tea and a bit of cake was just the ticket. 

God, I'm so British.

The success of that recipe has encouraged me to have a go at some of the others, so I will probably make another cake next weekend. 

In not entirely unrelated news, I think I've put on about 5 pounds since my last trip to the slimming group, waaaaay back at the end of November.  In my defence, I had a month of Black Lung, and then Christmas, so I will go along in a positive frame of mind next week ready to start again.  I'm still 2 stone lighter and 2 dress sizes smaller than I was this time last year.  Onwards and upwards.

Also, Mr WithaY presented me with my Christmas present this week.  It is (and I am sorry if this repulses you) the official companion book to the new World of Warcraft Cataclysm expansion pack.  Yes, I know, I know.  Shut up.  I was thrilled. 

He still maintains that we agreed not to do Christmas gifts.  I have no recollection of any such agreement.  I have taken the precaution of noting my birthday on the calendar later this month, and have casually mentioned several time that we ARE doing birthday presents.  Just to be on the safe side, you understand.

I've been reading some more pulp adventure books on my iPhone on the train this week.  Edgar Rice Burroughs' science fiction, to be exact.  My word but it's formulaic.  I can't decide if it's formulaic because it's derivative, or because it is what everyone else copied.

Either way, I think I boiled the basics down as follows:

1)  Hero is a strapping Earthman who has found himself on an alien planet, Mars or Venus probably. Meets and falls for gorgeous high-ranking local bird.  Probably a princess. 

2)  Hero and bird embroiled in complicated and unconvincing mishap which forces them to flee the city in a flying machine.  No other people on the alien planet should have flying machines, or if they do, theirs are outclassed by the Earthman's.  Oh, plus the Earthman has a weapon that nobody else has, which allows him to mow them down in their dozens without risk of injury to himself or his bird.  Insert partonising paragraph about how bird is eventually trained to use either the weapon or to fly the aircraft semi-competently here. 

3)  Tedious and idiotic adventures follow, usually as a result of the Earthman's own stupidity.  This should entail trying to travel back to safety, seeing a city down below, and deciding to go and take a closer look despite the protestations of his bird and/or any other assorted companions he has acquired.  Flying machine is then somehow lured down or incapacitated by missile fire due to crap piloting or flat disregard of common sense. 

4)  Earthman and companions all imprisoned and thrown into Pits.  Insert horrible and detailed descriptions of natives and their vile cannibalistic/torturing/human sacrificing behaviour, sometimes with gratuitous sexual typecasting here.  There may well be an unflattering description of males of another species who are not "manly" enough. 

5)  Unlikely series of coincidences and serendipity allows Earthman and companions to escape.  During long-winded escape, hero and his companions must do at least 3 of the following:
  • find long-lost city now ruled by hideous monsters
  • uncover huge assassination plot
  • fight alien tigers
  • encounter wise but dying creature
  • encounter vile but redeemable creature
  • spurn the love of beautiful but unprincipled woman
  • reunite ruler of city with heir, presumed dead all these years
  • discover hidden treasure
  • explore parts of the world nobody else has ever discovered
  • find missing civilisation
Repeat at least five times per book. 

I don't think I'll read any more.

Not a patch on Conan. 

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


I thought I'd do another one of those "what are people using to find me in search engines" things.

Rather wishing I hadn't now, to be honest.

1)  for everything that is worth our lifes are fragile to dark, and when we got  When we got what?   What?  I must know.  I Googled it myself and it seems to be a poor interpretation of a song lyric by Nine Inch Nails, a band I am only vaguely aquainted with.  Musically, I mean.  I've never met any of them to my knowledge.  I haven't dared to trawl through the 89 pages of search results to see where my blog appears.  Somewhere near the bottom, I expect. 

2)  big snow, little snow  This is a consistent appearer in the list, some weeks it is the ONLY phrase, in a variety of configurations.  It seems to be luring readers to their doom here though, so I am pleased.  I still haven't found any kind of verification that it is an "old Indian saying" other than Mr WithaY nodding at me sagely and telling me It's All True, Honest.

As an aside, he is a LIAR. 


We were in Salisbury the other weekend.  There was a marquee thing beside the river and I commented on it.

Me: Ooh, look, a big tent!

Mr WithaY:  The circus is in town!

Me:  Really??  Shall we go?

Mr WithaY: isn't.

He then had to walk bent double for laughing, occasionally jabbing me in the ribs and calling me gullible.  Bastard.

The marquee contained a portable ice rink, if you were wondering. 

3)  sensitive new age cowpersons  Hurrah!  An excellent band, now defunct I believe, but worth a listen if you like (a) rock music (b) banjos  (c) Australians.  We saw them at a festival several years ago and they were hilarious, as well as excellent musicians.  Bastards. 

4)  so kiss me and cry for me  This is another one that comes up pretty often. I think it picks up my blog as I have the tiresome affectation of using song titles as blog titles when I can think of something suitable.  Sorry about that, lyric seekers.    Must be very annoying if you're looking for the words to a song and all you get is photographs of cakes and ranting about fuckwits.

5)  ankle flare  This is in itself a weird thing to seach for.  I like to imagine a bunch of textile design students trying to find helpful and relevant information about trouser making, and instead they get gruesome photos of my sprained fractured ankle.  Mwahahahahaaaaa.

Other news: Back to work this week, along with many other sad, sad people.  It struck me that people on the bus looked really sad.  Not just grumpy, or stressed, but actually sad.  Also shabby.  I hope it was just a symptom of post-Christmas despair, rather than the start of a long spell of ragged-trousered philanthropist-style poverty for all of us. 

The exception to this were the two young men who got thrown off the bus as I was getting onto it.  The bus came to a halt a few yards from the bus stop and the doors opened.  I hopped aboard, then stopped in my tracks as the driver was shouting "Get off my bus!  Off!"

It took me a second to realise he wasn't talking to me, and I sat down to watch the show. 

They were sitting on the back seat, where all the bad boys sit, and there was a sort of Mexican standoff as they tried to stay in their seats and look cool and dangerous.  Unfortunately for them, they looked like twats.    It took them a few moments to work out that the bus driver could simply sit there all evening until they got off the bus, or until the police showed up. 

So they stood up, shouting abuse at the driver and sauntering slowly down the aisle while all the other passengers glared at them, one large black lady making that excellent disparaging "tsssss" noise as they walked past her, which was the perfect response. 

And so we continued to Waterloo, leaving the ejectees out in the rain.  Twats.

I am still not loving getting up before 6am to go to work, but I had a constructive first day back.  Waiting to see what the application for voluntary redundancy process will look like now.  Fingers crossed., eh.