Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Dress sense

In a serendipitous manner, Belgian Waffle recently posted about sartorial mistakes.  Purchasing errors, really.  She asked her readers to let her know about their own such errors, which got me thinking.

It so happened that I spent a good deal of yesterday up to my oxters* in clothes, what with all the ironing that has built up.  When the weather is good, I get the all washing done, and it dries on the line really quickly.  This is great.  Except that it then turns from "washing" to "ironing" whereupon it lurks accusingly in the basket, eyeing me with big, reproachful eyes.  Yeah, eyes made of buttons**.

I cracked, finally, and yesterday, as the weather had turned a bit cooler, I decided to Do The Ironing.  Fortunately, several reruns of Star Trek DS9 were on TV, so I had a couple of hours of sci-fi nerdiness to keep me entertained while I slaved like a Victorian skivvy.

Once you've ironed everything to within an inch of its life, you have to put it away.  This leads to a whole new set of issues.  My wardrobe*** is large, and usually pretty well-organised, but of course, with the change in the weather and the impending end of formal employment, I need to rearrange everything.  I dicked about with hangers, moving "work" stuff back and forth, putting summer clothes closer to the front, and so on, until I'd had enough, and thought  "Ahhh, bugger it." 

Everything was taken out, and laid on the bed.  Lord I have a lot of black clothes.  If I were a witch, I'd be laughing.


I decided to get rid of the last remaining suit in my wardrobe.  The others were all put in the charity recycling collection skip thingy a while back, as they were too big.  This one, being a skirt suit, was less baggy, and at least I didn't run the risk of my trousers falling off, but it looked boxy and unflattering. Plus, I've had it for at least 10 years, possibly more, and despite it still looking smart and un-worn-out, I can't see myself wearing it in the near future.  Into the bag it went.

As did several cardigans (too big, too boring, too work-like), a few t-shirts which I never wear, and a couple of dull skirts I bought in ill-advised shopping sprees and then wore maybe once, probably while visiting at Christmas.  Gone, gone, gone.

I still have far too many pairs of black trousers, and at least 8 long black skirts which are really only suitable for office wear, or maybe to a formal-ish party with a really pretty top and nice shoes.  They might be going to join their friends in the skip later in the year. 

On the plus side, I found three pairs of sandals which I'd forgotten I had, lurking at the bottom of the wardrobe. I bought them in America last summer so they are already worn in, which means I can use them this summer without giving myself Medieval peasant feet for the first fortnight.

The point of all this rambling is that I don't have many clothes which I actively regret buying.  There are a few things I have bought on a whim - usually in a sale, usually at Long Tall Sally - and then never wore, but I seldom think "I wish I hadn't bought that." 

I do regret getting rid of a few things over the years. Not things that were loved to rags amd just wore out, but things I decided to sell or swap or give to charity, and now wish I hadn't.  In fact, there are some clothes that I still look for from time to time, before remembering that I don't own them any more. 

Top of the list is definitely my first leather jacket.  It was a birthday present from an ex-boyfriend when I was 18 or 19, and I loved it.  It was very 1980s, as it had long tassles along both sleeves and across the shoulders.  It was made for me by a bike shop in Brighton, so the tassels were specially commissioned - they were 8 inches long, and I adored them. 

Once I started riding motorcycles, rather than just perching decoratively on the pillion, I had to trim them to prevent them from interfering with the controls, but they were still pretty - they went in a diagonal line from elbow to wrist, from 8 inches long at the elbow to about 3 inches long at the cuff, and looked excellent.

A few years later, a very talented artistic friend painted a Celtic design across the shoulders in shades of blues, greens and purples, and it was stunning.  The same friend also painted a Green Man on the back of Mr WithaY's leather jacket, which, if I can find a picture of, I will post on here.

Anyway, time passed and I got much fatter than I had been at 19 and eventually my beautiful jacket didn't fit me any more.  I bought a "proper" bike jacket with padding and kevlar and bulletproofing and ninja protection and my tassely painted jacket languished at the back of a cupboard. 

Years later, another friend (hello Fiona!) who is a dressmaking GENIUS accepted the painted jacket as part payment for some fabulous item of clothing she made for me - a ballgown or a seventeenth century corset or something - so it went to a good home.  I assume it emigrated to Canada with them when they went.  I am too fat for it, without a doubt, but I still miss it.

Another garment I pine for is my kaftan. Yes, yes, I know.

It was a floor length dress, with dozens of small fabric buttons and rouleau loops all down the front from throat to navel, and long sleeves that had faux historical pointed bits, meaning that when you held your arms out you looked like a pre-Raphaelite lady.  In a kaftan.  It was made of ultra soft Indian cotton, printed all over with a small paisley-esque design in shades of red, amber, gold, brown and black.  I adored it. 

I bought it in a second-hand shop in the Lanes in Brighton, for something ridiculous like £3.50.  Nowadays it would be classed as a "vintage" dress, and would probably cost about fifty times that much.

I loved it, and whenever I wore it - almost constantly in my first year at college, as I recall - I felt like someone slightly exotic and offbeat.  I looked, as my family will attest, like a girl with very little dress sense and a lot of colourful second hand clothes, but that's neither here nor there.

My mate Martin, now a respected and media-friendly archaeologist**** told me that the first time he saw me - Freshers Week at college, when I was a first year and he was a worldy-wise second year - he said to his mate "Oooh, she's statuesque." 

I was almost certainly wearing my kaftan, and probably several Indian silk scarves artfully draped and tied all over me.   We still talk about it now, more than 20 years later.  Gah.

I might have to recreate that look when I am not having to look smart for work.


*Just for you, badgerdaddy

**Neil Gaiman has a lot to answer for

***Mr WithaY's clothes are left in neat heaps on the bed for him to stash away as he pleases.  He lacks my anal "everything has a place to be" mindset.

****He's on Time Team a lot.  Media darling.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Cry "God for Harry, England and Saint George!"

It's so strange, waking up to day after day of glorious sunshine.  It feels like Abroad, somewhere not quite real.  And of course, it's so early in the year - April! - that it is still Spring here, pretending to be Summer.  We've got daffodils in the garden, which seems faintly bizarre in blazing 26 degree sun.

I spotted an anemone this morning too - gorgeous dark purple, the solitary show from a whole pack of bulbs that we planted.  There are also some Mystery Plants coming up next to it, also from bulbs, but I have no idea what they are.  It's like a very sedate whodunnit - what will they turn out to be?  Alliums?  Irises?  Exotic lilies?  Deadly Triffids?  We have to wait a month and see.

The clematis is starting to flower - it is covered in buds so in a day or two will be covered in brilliant white flat flowers that look a bit like Tudor roses.  Love it.  Even the roses already have loads of buds forming, so it's easy to visualise how pretty everything will look soon. 

We've got cowslips growing in the lawn, and some lily of the valley colonising a dank corner under the hedge out the front.  Mr WithaY and I planted more lavender.  We are making a hedge alongside the path at the side of the house, ooh get us, which I have high hopes for.  Yesterday I bought a new bench to go out the front too, as the old one creaks unnervingly when sat upon*. 

I like the fact that conversations for the last week have all followed the same pattern.  They begin with "Wonderful weather! Isn't it fantastic?  Hottest Easter for a decade/century/thousand years, they said on the news last night.  Yeah, we're having a barbecue tonight.  Got sunburnt on Bournemouth beach yesterday."

Then the tone changes slightly and we get the qualifier(s):   "Let's hope we don't pay for it later, eh?  It can't last much longer, can it?  It's bound to piss down all through July now."  There may or may not be some sort of half-arsed gripe about global warming too, and of course dire predictions about smog. 

I love that we can't just enjoy a spell of sunshine without having to add all the riders about how it can't last forever.  Neither can any kind of weather.  Britain is famed for its weird and variable weather.  The fact that we've had more than 3 days of the same weather - in this case sun - on the trot is unusual.  Remember the snow in the winter? That went on a bit too.  That's why it made the news.  Gah.

Other news:  Looks like we may have finally FINALLY sold Father in Law WithaY's house, thank the lord.  The estate agents overvalued it in the first place, and then, of course, all the offers we received were way lower than the asking price.  We have managed to convince Father in Law WithaY that the market is a bit crap at the moment, and that it makes more sense to sell the place than to hang on to it, empty and unloved for another year.  Plus Mr WithaY won't have to risk losing more fingers mowing the lawn down there.

So, I reckon we need one more trip to clean the remaining rooms, a skip to get rid of all the accumulated crud that is not sellable or recyclable, and a man with a van to take away the furniture that didn't get sold at auction, and the place is ready to go.  I can't say I'm sorry.  It's been a millstone around our necks, knowing it was empty, and until fairly recently, crammed with a lifetime's collection of antiques.  At least all the stuff that could be sold at auction has gone, so all that's left is more mundane stuff.

Plus, with the hideous price of diesel (£1.42 a litre!  Fuck!) the journey there and back isn't cheap either. 

Mr WithaY has taken himself off today to volunteer at this place.  Now that he's booked onto his axe-head forging course, he is all inspired to do more prehistoric technical shit.  And stuff.

I declined, on the grounds that I am not keen to spend the hottest day of the year so far up to my oxters in an Iron Age cess pit, or digging a well.

I might make some new curtains for the bathroom. If I can be arsed.  Or I might just have a long cold drink, sitting on my new garden bench, reading a book.  I've discovered the Classic Rock digital radio station, and am loving it. 

Happy St George's Day. 

*Possibly only when sat upon by two large adults, but I am not risking my life, tea or dignity any longer.

Monday, 18 April 2011

The Sock Game

Today I am mostly typing with my hideous, scaly, thorn-embedded, scarred, muddy fingers.  Yes, I have been gardening.

Mr WithaY and I are both on leave from work for a couple of weeks, and despite many conversations about Where Shall We Go For Easter, we are still here at home. 

I have to say, I don't mind at all.  The weather has been gorgeous for the last week and a half, and looks set to continue that way for a few more days, so being at home is no hardship.  This weekend we did a lot of sorting out in the garden, clearing crap (not real crap, metaphorical crap) off the patio.

Things we cleared included:

- Broken garden umbrella, which was lying on its side on the floor, and had been left forgotten about for months and months.  Note: When testing a garden umbrella for broken-ness, try not to stand under it as you open it.  It will invariably be full of dead leaves, mud, litter, woodlice and snails. Top tip.

- Assorted garden detritus, plastic buckets, broken flowerpots, sticks ("for poking the drain with" according to Mr WithaY - too late, sunshine, they are in the green bin,) and blown-in litter that was all tangled up among everything else.

- Huge builders sacks full of old loft flooring material, which we have been meaning to take to the tip for ages.  In fact, we discovered that as it is made of compressed sawdust* and other wood-based goodness, we can smash it up with a spade and then put it all on the bare patch behind the shed to suppress weeds.  Plus it will give the rats somewhere cosy to sleep. 

- The dead camellia that I have finally admitted is dead, and consigned to great compost bin in the sky.  The cold winter did for it.  I moved the other camellia (they're both in tubs) round to the front of the house where it is more sheltered, and where it will hopefully be a bit happier and actually produce some flowers next season. 

With all that lot out of the way, we were inspired to begin the vegetable planting.  Mr WithaY carefully put courgette (2 types) and squash seeds into little pots, then put the pots in the plastic greenhouse thingy.  I planted "mixed salad" seeds in a big tub.  Next month the aubergines, carrots and French beans go in. 

Today I planted six lavender plants in pots and along one border in the front garden, some golden thyme in a different border, and a rosemary plant in a large pot.  I need to get a new bench to go out the front though, the old one - at least 16 years old now - creaks alarmingly when it is sat on, and I have visions of us crashing to the ground in a miasma of tea and bad language one sunny afternoon.

Unfortunately, having been out in the garden so much, I noticed the bastard sparrows.  The bastard sparrows who are nesting in the hedge are using my car as a sort of avian amusement park, sitting on the wing mirror and shitting liberally all down the driver's door.  Sometimes, for a change, they hop down onto the rubber window trim and fight with their own reflections in the wing mirror.  This is clearly alarming and makes them shit themselves.  If they win the fight with themselves, they have a celebratory great big shit.

I tried folding the mirror back, but they still manage to get themselves between it and the car for a good old mirror fight.  And a shit, of course.  Bastards. 

I wouldn't mind so much but we feed them, we have a little bath out there for them, we have nesting boxes all over the place, and how do they repay our kindness?  By covering my car in a thick, copious layer of second-hand birdseed.

I have been washing huge amounts of sparrow crap off my car for three days now, and every time I go out there it is encrusted again.  I might admit defeat and harvest it to sell on eBay. My own Organic Guano business.

Other News:  It was Mr WithaY's birthday at the weekend.

Me:  It's your birthday soon - what would you like as a present?

Mr WithaY:  Oh, something bushcrafty please.

Me:  ....? *thinks* Ohhh fuck...

"Something bushcrafty" could mean almost anything.  An interesting stick?  A pet squirrel?  Snowshoes?  A canoe?  A week in a Youth Hostel in the bleakest corner of the North of Scotland?  A banjo?  I have no clue.

I chickened out and gave him some money. 

Guess what he plans to spend it on, readers?  I bet you won't, not in a million billion years.

He's booked himself onto a bronze axe-head forging course in Wales.

He's very excited about it. 


Anyhoo, in a slightly less mental birthday vein, we went out for dinner with some friends on Saturday night to a fine local eaterie.  We ate and drank like kings** then sat around chatting and drinking coffee.  The owners of the eaterie have a splendid dog - a Rhodesian Ridgeback, to be specific - who came trotting out to say hello.  We all made a huge fuss of her, and she was charming company, greeting everyone and being good-natured and friendly. 

It came time to go, and we stood up, putting on coats and jackets, the lovely dog still milling around, sniffing hands and wagging her tail.  One of our group pulled his jumper on, and was pulling the sleeves up over his hands and up his arms when the dog went mental


Still wagging her tail, she jumped up and put her paws on his shoulders (she's a big dog) and started mouthing and biting at his hands, still hidden in the sleeves.  She was clearly playing, but it was all a bit sudden and unexpected, and the owner rushed over to grab the dog and pull her away.

"I'm so sorry," she explained.  "My husband plays a game with her where he puts a sock over his hand and they romp about - she loves it!" 

She'd spotted our friend with his hands hidden up his jumper sleeves and thought "Great!  Not only are these nice people making a huge fuss of me, but they also know the sock game!"


*If any builders out there know that the stuff is actually impregnated with deadly toxic chemicals, please keep it to yourself. 

**Greedy kings who like steak.  And booze.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Serious vs. Normal

Blimey I'm tired.  Yes, yes.  I know it's Saturday morning, and the sun is out, and the birds are tweeting cheerfully.  I should be bursting forth into the world with a spring in my step and a song on my lips.  But really.  No.  Just no. 

I wish I had a dazzling array of adventures to relate, explanations for being so exhausted, but I've got nothing.  NOTHING.  It's all down to work, boringly.  And train fuckwittery, so nothing new there. 

As a result of me being asked to help out with a couple of short term projects, I had to change my working pattern, and go up to London for 3 days in a row.  I hate doing that.  My working week is usually 2 days in London, a day working at home, another day in London, then the final day at home.  I can cope with that reasonably well, although by the end of the second day in London I am washed out.  Having to get up at 5.45, do my usual 3 hour commute to the office, do some pretty intensive stuff all day long, then travel 3 hours home, only to get up and do it again for 3 days in a row was a stretch. 

Things weren't helped by the massive - yes I mean MASSIVE - fuck up on the trains on Wednesday night.  I got to Waterloo in time to hop onto the 1750 train, which usually gets me home by 8pm, all being well.

All was not well.

On arrival at the bustling concourse* I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of hundreds, possibly thousands, hell, maybe a million people, all standing transfixed like zombies, staring up at the array of screens.  Usually the screens are populated with information about which train is going where and when, all that stuff. Wednesday night, however, was different.  Only three of the boards were populated, and they showed local trains.  The other dozen or so were ominously blank. 

The little teeny TV screen in the middle of the board had a scrolling message, running in an endless, heartbreaking loop.

"Anyone who wishes to travel to the West of England, please take the first train to Basingstoke and change there."

Well arse biscuits.

I ran** onto the platform where the Basingstoke train was parked, and then walked along the entire length of the platform, agog at the number of people who had crammed themselves into the train.  It looked like those pictures of the Tokyo Underground, where guards with peaked caps and big hands force everyone in so the doors will close.  I decided not to try and wedge myself in, rather to wait for the next train and hopefully find a bit more space.

There was another train waiting on a different platform, far less crowded, so I hopped aboard and found a place to stand.  All the seats were full, but there was a fair bit of standing room.  Plus the train had air conditioning which was working intermittently, so it wasn't all bad.

Well, that trip to Basingstoke seemed to take weeks.  We trundled along at a casual pace, stopping frequently, I assume at signals, although it may have been the driver simply wishing to admire the view.  Every now and again the guard's voice crackled through the intercom, apologising profusely for the disruption to everyone's journeys.

At one point he explained that the reason for all the chaos was "a serious fatality at Surbiton."  I am sorry to say, readers, that this provoked an unseemly outbreak of laughter in the carriage as everyone tried to understand how a serious fatality differed from a normal fatality.

At length, we made it to Basingstoke, and the train terminated.  Everyone got off, and milled about on the platform, peering anxiously up at the information screens.  These were not informative.

An announcement told us to go to Platform Two, where a train to Exeter was waiting.  Hurrah!  The mob surged across the platform, down the stairs, along the tunnel, UP the stairs and onto Platform Two.  There was indeed a train, but it was going back to London.  A few people got on, then hastily off again.

The electronic board told us that the train was going to Exeter, but we didn't believe it.  Sure enough, after a few minutes it headed off, towards London. 

A chap next to me sighed, and said sadly "When I was a child, my grandad used to tell me if I was naughty I'd be sent to Basingstoke.  And here I am."

We agreed that he must have been very naughty that day.

It got quite pally, all of us standing there on the platform in the sun, watching wasps buzzing about in the roof.  Announcements kept scrolling along the electronic board, bearing no relation to either the time, or the number of trains coming and going.  After another lengthy delay, someone told us over the loudspeaker that the Exeter train was on Platform FOUR, and would be leaving shortly.

Once more the mob surged down the stairs, along the tunnel and back up the stairs.  Everyone, as if choreographed, clambered aboard the train and wedged themselves in. 

I got home by about 9.15, having left the office just after 5, in time to have supper, watch half a TV programme, and then crash out so I could get up at 5.45 and do it all again the next day.

Did I mention that I am leaving my job next month?

Other news:  Following the appalling tie-dye debacle, I bought some new bedlinen on the Internet.  It's lovely, and needs no half-arsed titivation from me. 

Yesterday I had my first ever singing lesson.  Apparently I have a two and a half octave range, but I have no idea if this is average, more than average, less than average, or what.  Anyway, the teacher seemed to think I sounded ok, and I am going back next week for another lesson.  I want to learn how to breathe properly, so that if and when I ever get round to performing in public I can get through a few songs without singing myself hoarse or running out of puff. 

*I'm trying my hand at travel guide writing.  I'll be unemployed soon, I need to get some money somehow.
**Artistic license

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Finding my way

Well hello strangers.  It's been a while, hasn't it? 

Not because nothing of note has happened, either.  No, it's been more of a "not getting round to sitting down and writing" thing.  Also known as either "laziness" or "procrastination."  I prefer the latter.  It sounds as though I was busy doing other, more useful, stuff instead of writing. 

A mate suggested recently that once I finish work I'll be much happier, and will have more things to blog about.  I am actually wondering if I am already happier (in fact, I know that I am) and therefore my ranting and whining on here is less of a necessary vent, so happens less often.

What have I been up to?  You may well ask. 

This week has been a week of new things, in part.  A while ago, a mate asked me if I could help her out with a party she was catering, which sounded like fun.  I took the day off work, and agreed to meet her at the party venue.  Bear in mind that the party venue was in a small town/large village about 12 miles from where I live.  I had been asked to be there for 11am, so allowing for traffic (tractors, flocks of sheep in the road, pheasants dive bombing the car etc) I planned that by leaving home at 1030 I'd be there in plenty of time.

Come the day, come the hour.  I was ready to go by 1000 so thought "I'll get there early, it'll be fine."

That's me.  Punctual.  Well-prepared.  Willing.

Except - and it's a big except - in the map department.  I had checked the route on Google Maps the night before, so was confident that I knew how to get there.  I am aware that everyone who knows me in real life is by now slapping their forehead in despair, knowing all too well what is coming next.

Google maps did their best, I have no word of blame for them. 

West Wiltshire roads and signposts department, on the other hand...  Fuckers.

I have prepared a helpful visual aid to accompany this story.


1010 - leave house, spirits high, sun shining.  Set off along road through village, turn down smaller road and then immediately experience twinge of self-doubt.  Continue along road, certain that a signpost will soon tell me whether or not I am on the right road. 

1020 - no signposts.  No junctions.  No indicators of any kind that I am n the right road.  No helpful passers-by, or indeed any other traffic.  Wonder briefly if there has been a huge natural disaster in the night and I am the only person left alive for hundreds of miles*.  Try not to panic about this.

1030 - only junction seen so far was to a dead end with an "unsuitable for motor vehicles" sign.  And a ford.  Decide not to go down that road.  Still fairly relaxed that I have plenty of time to get to the party venue by 1100.

1035 - see a junction signposted to the Village of the Damned.  Recognise the name, and decide to take the turning, determined that I am on the wrong road, and need to take an alternative direction.

1040 - drive drive drive.  No traffic, nothing.  No signposts.  Enter the village of the damned, take the (wrong) turn at the only junction, continue along the endless road to nowhere.  Fuck.  Am now lost.  And likely to be late.

1050 - arrive mysteriously on a busy dual carriageway with signposts to many places, none of them where I need to be.  Head back towards Longleat, swearing copiously and fluently.  Am definitely going to be late.

1055 - Ooh Longleat.  Consider throwing myself to the lions, but decide to wait until after the party.

1110 - arrive at the party venue town, and then realise I am unable to find the actual venue location.  Stop in the middle of the street and hail the postman, who is very helpful and kind.  Abandon the car in nearby car park and walk the rest of the way.

1115 - arrive to help at party, only 15 minutes late.  Hurrah.  Am given glass of Champagne and a pinny.  Things are looking up.

The party was a 4 course meal for 60 people, to celebrate an 80th birthday.  It went very well, the food was praised, the atmosphere was lovely, and we more or less stuck to the timetable. 

Look how nice it all was:

The only slight glitch was the dishwasher.  It failed dramatically on first use, pissing water all over the kitchen floor, and we ended up having to wash everything by hand.

Aching back, dishpan hands and wet feet aside, it was great fun.

Plus we got to have some cake...

I was KNACKERED when I got home though.  I can't remember the last time I spent a day actually doing physical stuff, rather than just dicking about on computers. 

One of the highlights of the party for me was being introduced to a lovely German chap, who, when he shook my hand, did that heel-clicky thing.  Excellent.

Other news:  Yesterday I went to Bath to meet a friend, and spent a few hours very agreeably wandering the shops.  I found another lion. Remember the Elvis lion? Yeah you do.

I spotted a mini version of the same shape, different colouration, in a cafe where we had a cup of tea and a nice sit-down. 

Also took my phone to the Apple store there, to get it looked at by a professional.  It's been playing up lately, failing to shut down, or to restart, or to backup when I synch it with the PC. Not every time, just often enough to be a pain in the arse. 

The verdict of the Apple Genius I spoke to, after 20 minutes of careful examination and cross-questioning?

"'s broken.  You need another one."

Well, glad I brought it in to you, Dr Obvious.  You've saved the day.


Oh - if you are looking for gift ideas for someone you dislike, perhaps an irritating colleague, or an unloved family member, I recommend this:

It's an alarm clock that plays birdsong, or so it claims.  But look at it.  LOOK AT IT.  I bet you anything that when the alarm goes off, there's a sinister red light in that eye slit, running back and forth.  It looks like a cross between Darth Vader and the Iron Chicken.

I'd never sleep again, with that mere inches from my head all night long.

It comes in several colour variations.

Flesh pink, to match the colour of your vulnerable, sleeping body as it bides its time and waits. 

Or bright red, the colour of blood.  BLOOD.


*I often wonder this.  I have a whole contingency plan ready for when that day comes.