Sunday, 26 June 2011


I'm typing this slowly and painfully, moving my arms as little as possible.  Why, dear readers, is this?  Why, it's because I have:

a)  Tired old arms from a day of hard work yesterday, mostly spent carrying trays across a sunshiny lawn, whilst nimbly dodging a football being kicked around by many small children.
b)  Aching wrists after de-stoning a huge - huge - box of cherries and putting them in the freezer for "later".
c)  Managed to get sunburn across by upper back and shoulders this morning whilst enjoying the glorious sudden advent of proper summer in the garden.

Yesterday I was helping a friend cater a garden party, all very smart, in a marquee in someone's garden.  It was a cold buffet, lots of ham, salmon, asparagus quiche, potato salad, that kind of thing, and then a shitload* of fruit tarts and chocolate caramel cake. 

Everyone was anxious about the weather, it being a garden party and all, but by noon the rain had stopped, the sun was out, and the remainder of the day was just gorgeous.  The garden overlooks acres of green barley fields, so whenever the wind blew it was magical, watching the barley move like the sea.  Loved it.

However, being the lazy non-working lightweight that I am, I was completely knackered by the time I got home, and spent the remainder of the evening on the sofa, whining.  And eating a Chinese takeaway.  And watching The Odd Couple on DVD, which neither Mr WithaY or I had seen before.  It was very pleasant and relaxing.

Today - another gloriously sunny one, must be some mistake, surely - I have been doing stuff in the garden.  Things have been transplanted, pruned, watered, trimmed and moved around, and now it all looks fab.  My new parasol is finally up, and Mr WithaY and I sat under it together, reading our books for an hour earlier. 

As a result of being an idiot, and not wearing sunblock whilst weeding the garden, I have bright scarlet shoulders and upper back.  That's going to hurt when I get in the bath later. 

Other news:  I finally bit the bullet and bought a new mobile phone.  My iPhone, which is about two and a half years old, has been playing up for several months, refusing to synch with iTunes, or to backup properly, and I kept putting it off and putting it off.  Because, you know, it's a pain in the arse and all, changing mobiles.   

I did go so far as to take it in to be examined by the Apple experts at the store in Bath a couple of months ago.  Their expert opinion was "It's broken."

Yeah, thanks for that, genius.

Anyway, I had to go to Salisbury earlier this week, and as I was walking around, I passed the O2 store, so popped in and waited until one of the staff deigned to notice me.  To be fair, they did have a laminated sign on the cashdesk which said  "We're understaffed today, so we might just ignore you for a bit.  You don't like it?  Tough titty, loser."  I may be mis-remembering the exact wording.

After six or seven hours, a girl emerged sulkily from a cupboard at the back of the shop and asked me what I wanted.  I felt like replying "I want you all to kneel miserably at my feet while I lambast you at length for your total lack of any kind of customer-facing competence, you useless, useless goons," but what I actually said was "I want to buy an iPhone 4 please." 

She looked at me as though I had asked her to sell me a guinea pig curry, then slowly went and fetched the correct item of technological crack cocaine. 

We had a long, tiresome discussion about the sim card it needed.  In my head, the conversation went like this:

Me:  I would like to buy a new phone and keep my current number.  How do I do that?

Helpful staff member:  You buy the phone - here is one - and a new sim card - also here - and then contact the O2 customer services - here is the contact number - and they will migrate the number when you are ready.  Thanks for your valued custom. Oh, and please take this pretty bunch of flowers as a thank you for spending so much money with us in these hard recession-driven times."

In reality, it wasn't quite like that.

Me:  I would like to buy a new phone and keep my current number.  How do I do that?

Staff member:  Oh.  Um.  Well, we've got the phones in stock.  You want one?

Me:  Yes, please.  (there was a brief struggle until she understood which type of iPhone I wanted, but we got there eventually.)  Can I put the SIM card from my current phone into this one?

Staff member:  Nah.  S'different.

Me: Ok.  So do I need a new SIM card?

Staff member:  Um.  Yeah.  You want one?

Me:  Yes. Please.

She rummaged under the desk, pulled out a small cardboard folder and dropped it on the counter in front of me.

Staff member:  Anything else?  (She was clearly bored by now, her attention riveted by the two young men with complicated hair who were sat at a nearby table having an animated conversation with her colleague.  If she'd had some gum, she'd have been blowing bubbles at me.)

Me:  So how do I transfer my number to the new phone?

Staff member:  I can do that now.  What's your number?

Me: No, I need to download everything off my old phone before I transfer anything.  How do I do it?

Staff member:  (exasperated by my stupidity) Yeah, I can do that now.

Me:  Do I contact O2 when I'm ready to transfer?  Or what?

Staff member:  Yeah. You could do that.

I paid for the phone and the SIM card and went home, pausing only to buy a large bag of fresh cherries at the market stall on the way back to the car.

When I got home, 25 miles and 45 minutes later, I discovered that the SIM card was missing.  The plastic casing was there, but the actual micro SIM was gone, probably previously sold and the cardboard wrapping dumped under the counter.  How I laughed.

So, all the way back to Salisbury the next day to get a new SIM.  The young man who served me was less challenging, but still seemed puzzled by what had happened.  Well yes, I suggest you get your colleagues to stop chucking empty SIM wrappers in with the ones for sale, matey.  That might help. 

The story has a happy ending.  My new phone is working, and my number has been successfully transferred to it.  Yay. 

Unfortunately, my OLD phone had stopped backing itself up to iTunes in early March, so I have a bit of work to do to get things back to spec, but otherwise, it's all good. 

Oh, and I bought a great big box of cherries on my return visit, as they were so lovely.  Today I have been de-stoning and freezing cherries, and my fingers are stained black. Niiiiice. 

Other, other news:  We've all but cleared out father-in-law WithaY's house now.  The sale is progressing. I really hope in a couple of weeks it will all be over and we can stop fretting about it. 

This week I am mostly going away with Middle Sis for a few days of pampering, foot massages, swimming, nice food and (if past history is anything to go by) lots of inappropriate laughter. I am very much looking forward to it. 

*technical catering term.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Census tales

When I was at Centerparcs, one of the girls brought along a copy of their local paper.  My eye was caught by this story.

For those of you who can't be arsed to click the link, it's about a woman who decided to set fire to her Census form as a protest to the Government. 

The article begins with some rather inarticulate framing of her grievances - she is something to do with Fathers For Justice - but she seems to have got a bit over-excited at the prospect of being interviewed: 

“If the Government doesn’t recognise me and the parents I represent, then it doesn’t recognise us as a citizen so I won’t be counted. I will continue my campaign of non-compliance against the state and holding the Government to account. There is a chance I will be prosecuted and they will try and make an example of a few people but this lady is not for turning.”

I particularly like her loss of syntax in the first sentence and the Mrs Thatcher semi-quote later on.  I can imagine her bouncing up and down, lighter at the ready as the reporter tries to get all this down for posterity.

Her plan was to ignite her Census form in the middle of the marketplace, while the local MP looked on in impotent horror, possibly hammering on his office windows, shouting "Noooooooooo!"

"Saturday morning’s census form burning was designed to bring the matter to the attention of Andover MP Sir George Young and give it wider public recognition."

It didn't go to plan.

"In the event the ceremonial flames failed to flare very much as the census form is seemingly made from a fire resistant material, the MP was not looking out the Guildhall window at the time although a few market traders looked on."

I just love - LOVE - that laconic word "Seemingly."  And, oh yeah, he wasn't even watching. Perhaps next time she should blow a horn or something first, make sure she has Sir George's full attention before she tries and fails to set fire to a bit of paper. 

A friend who was at Centerparcs (another friend, not the one who brought the newspaper with this gem in it) was doing some temporary work for the Office of National Statistics, conducting post-Census interviews in a particular area of Oxfordshire a little while ago.  She said she was supposed to visit every single house in a specific postcode area, knock on the door, and try to get the occupant to take part in a survey to follow up on what was in the Census.

She told us about one row of cottages, each one occupied by a crazy person, but each crazy in a different way.  She had us agog, listening to her stories of weeping women and slightly too security-conscious older men, but the climax was this one.

She knocked on the door of one cottage, and could hear the occupant moving around inside. There was no answer, so she knocked again.  Apparently the ONS people are supposed to try for 10 consecutive days to get a reply, so she wasn't daunted.  After another, louder knocking, the occupant shouted "Who is it?"

"Hello!  I'm from the Office of National Statistics!" my friend replied cheerily.  She had to shout through the letterbox, most undignified.

"What do you want?" bellowed the occupant.

"I'm here to ask you to take part in a follow-up survey, to confirm the Census form.  It's entirely voluntary."  She said she heard him walk to the front door, and then the bolts and locks being opened.

Imagine her horror when a large man, wearing a Guantanamo Bay style orange jumpsuit yanked the door open and glared at her.  It didn't help that his face was traversed by a series of large, nasty-looking fresh scratches.

My friend said she backed away involuntarily.

"Oh yes?" said the scary scratched man.  Then, leaning forward he bellowed into my friend's face "WELL I'M NOT DOING IT!" and slammed the door shut. 

She said that one was marked down as "Declined to take part" on the form.

Thursday, 16 June 2011


Ah, weekends away.  They are a treat, aren't they?  Spending time with friends, away from home and domestic drudgery bliss, enjoying the chance to catch up and relax.

I recently went to Centerparcs with a group of girls.  Ladies.  Women.  Most of us are over 40, but this time there were a few youngsters too.  It's something we've done a few times before.  In fact I think it is the 11th year we've been there as a group

Last time I went, I noticed how downmarket the place was getting.  Readers, I have to report that things have not improved.

Once again, our group was staying in one of the posh villas with the hot tub and sauna and so on, which was lovely.  However, there are even more new villas crammed on the site, and they are building a series of "tree houses" which are being heavily advertised, so I anticipate increased visitor numbers.  It all meant that there were queues for everything, and that most of the activities - the selling point that Centerparcs advertises heavily - and treatments at the Spa were already booked up, meaning that a lot of people will have arrived and found that the only thing they could do all weekend (other than walk or cycle around the park in the pissing rain) was use the swimming pool and slides. 

We stood and watched the slides for a bit.  It was like watching a nature film of spawning salmon, dozens of people all rammed together, sqeeeeeeeeaking slowly down the slide in unison.  One day I might break in, wearing the bear costume, and stand at the top, swiping at the slower ones with a huge clawed paw. 

A new attraction since my last visit was this, the "Aerial adventure," described on the Centerparcs website thus: 

A thrilling combination of Tree Trekking and Zip Wire for the serious adrenaline junkie. You are connected into the ExpoGlider safety harness system whilst you tackle our Aerial Adventure course, experiencing many individual challenges.

Yes.  Well.

Looks nice and straightforward at the start, doesn't it? You climb up a short ladder, walk along a wooden log onto a platform, and then make your way along a series of rope and log traverses, strung between the trees.  Yeah.  Easy.

Except, it gets higher as you go along, because the ground slopes away. 

 And higher.
 And higher.

 And then, as if that wasn't quite enough, you have to zipline across the lake to get to the end, where tea and medals await you. 

One of our group* went for a walk one morning, and found herself walking alongside the Aerial Adventure.  She was enjoying the sunshine, probably whistling to herself when she heard a "terrible screaming."  She stopped, as you would, and looked around to see what was going on.  A woman was standing on one of the wooden platforms, in her hard hat, safety rope clipped to the guide cable**, part-way along the Aerial Adventure.  She had stopped having an adventure and was instead having a huge panic attack. 

Apparently it took half an hour for one of the staff to coax her along the walkway thingy - a series of short logs artfully strung on ropes like a wobbly plank bridge - to the next platform.  She was shaking so much that the entire walkway was shaking with her.  When she got to the next platform, even higher up, of course, she refused point blank to go any further, and they had to rig up a special abseil rope to get her down.  When she got to the ground, there was copious hysterical weeping and the medics had to be called. 

Ah, adventure.

Her husband/partner was just behind her on the walkway, probably having persuaded her to give it a go - "You'll be fine, love, it's not that high!  It'll be a laugh!" -  so I like to imagine the painful, stony silence they drove home in. 

Other highlights included a roebuck calmly eating his breakfast right outside our villa kitchen window.

We stood and watched him for ages, it was lovely.

And in less than two weeks I am off to Ragdale Hall for a Spa minibreak with Middle Sis. Hurrah.  This not working malarky has a lot to be said for it. 

*Hello Viv!
**Safety first

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Drying out

I have spent the last few days engaging in all manner of old-fashioned housewifely activities.  By that, I don't mean spending three days boiling water, shaving soap flakes, scrubbing and mangling linen sheets, or having to walk 5 miles to the shop just to get some sugar. 

No, I have been dicking about with roses.  I'm turning into some sort of delusional Marie Antoinette type, I think. 

Our garden looks gorgeous at the moment; all the roses are in full bloom.  I have spent quite a lot of time and effort over the last 10 years getting some traditional scented varieties to grow out there, and it has paid off.  Rather than simply admiring the roses outside, or cutting a few for a little vase in the house, I have been harvesting them.

Yeah.  Harvesting. Like a farmer.  Hence my Marie Antoinette delusion.

I am going to dry them all out and make delicious smelling pot-pourri and shizzle. 

I started with the dark red roses, which have almost black buds and smell amazing.

Then I got a bit carried away and added some Rosa Mundi stripey ones and pale pink Chaucers.

Then some yellow and pink ones.  I have no clue what they are called. 

Some of them have already dried out, and I am keeping them in a dish till the others are ready too.

The others are shrivelling up satisfactorily, and ought to be ready in a couple of days.

In my head, I am an Eighteenth Century lady of leisure, in a huge country house.  But with a washing machine.

To keep up my bucolic dream, I made some bread the other day.  I had a go making a ciabatta, rather ruining the traditional English country house dream by adding Italian trendiness.

It was shite.  Look.

That's a teaspoon - yes, a TEA spoon next to it for scale.  Laughable.

So yesterday, in an attempt to revive my flagging bread making reputation, I made some by hand, not in the machine.  It turned out alright.

Mmmmm, bread.

Here's a porn-style close up for you to enjoy.

Fwoar...look at the flour on that.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Pigs etcetera

I think I might go back to work for a rest.

I know that's a cliche, but hey, I've been too busy to come up with anything original.

Last week was a whirl - yes a whirl - of gaiety. 

Tuesday was Mottisfont Day.  It's a big annual day out for me and my lovely Mum.  We go to look at the garden there, which includes the National Rose Collection, and is just beautiful. 

The house is rather splendid too.  Look:

I am pleased with the brooding sky in this photo.  The whole day was like this, sunny and warm, with "end of the world" weather potential. 

The gardens are just fab.  Go.  Even if you live in Texas or something, it'd be worth the trip, honest.  And there's a tea shop and everything, so you know, not a wasted journey.

They've put a fence round the spring now, so you can't fall in unless you try really hard. 

Unfortunately I am an idiot, and failed to check the battery in my camera, so these last few pictures were taken on my phone.  Sorry.

More impressively dark skies on that one. 

Mum and I took shelter in that little tiled hut thingy in the corner, waiting for the downpour. It never came.  But if it had, we'd have been dry.  Take that, weather.

Anyhoo, look.  Pretty.

Later that same week, Middle Sis and family came to visit for a few days.  We had a barbecue, and ended up sitting out in the garden with the fire lit till really quite late*.  Party animals that we are.

Being the evil thief that I am, I have nicked one of her photos for my blog.  Mwahahahahaaaaaaa.

Those are my new solar-powered garden lanterns.  Marvellous.

The highlight of the week, though, was the Bath and West Show.  It's not as brilliant as the Frome Cheese Show. To be fair, how could it be?  It doesn't have the same depth of character, the same terse notes left by the judges, and the same dazzling arrays of prize silage and unfeasible leeks, but it does have pigs.  Lots and lots of pigs.

Big ones.

Small ones.

Sleepy ones with a bucket on their head.

And my personal favourite, hugely tolerant ones which were being used to demonstrate "pig handling" by very young children. I did take some pictures, but won't post them on here, what with them being of other peoples' children and all. 

Believe me, a four-year-old in a teeny white coat, whacking a huge pig with a stick to make it walk in a straight line is a sight you don't easily forget. 

Other attractions included competitive sheep shearers.  Middle Sis and I watched them for a fair while, impressed by their skill and dexterity.  Nothing to do with the muscles and vests.  No no no. 

The sheep all looked faintly bored, the ones backstage jostling and peeking over the barricade, watching their mates being shorn.  Little did they know it was their turn next.

"Haha, your new haircut makes you look like a dick, Kevin..."

The Army were there, doing lots of fun stuff, including challenging people to run about in the hot sun carrying heavy weights.  There was a queue for this.  Really.

There was a giant mounted knight made from recycled rubbish.  I liked him a lot.

And there was this.  We wantssssss it, my precious.

It's got a matching bag to put your shotgun in!  How great is that?  Perfect for nipping to the shops.  The GUN shops. 

Saturday night we went to a party for a neighbour's birthday, which was pleasant - marquees and tables in their riverside garden, with food and music and wine and chatting.  Most convivial.   I have garden envy now, though.  I want river frontage and fishing rights.

Sunday I was woken up by the most godawful thunder and heavy rain I can remember, which enlivened the morning.  Torrential rain all day, making up for all these past weeks of dry.  Dryth?  Drought?  No rain, anyway. 

Today has been lovely, not least because I didn't get up at 5:50 and then struggle in from work, knackered,  at 8pm.  I could get used to this. 

*After 10pm.  We're getting old.

Thursday, 2 June 2011


You know when you're expecting people to arrive?  Family, specifically.  You're bustling around, changing beds and hoovering up random filth, making the place look lovely for them.

You decide to go out into the garden, put the benches and deckchairs out ready to relax out there later on.  While you're out there, you might think "I know, I'll sweep up all the grass clippings all over the paths so that it looks really tidy, and people won't trail grass all through my freshly-hoovered house.

You fetch the broom, and set to, sweeping cheerfully in the sunshine.

You hear a shrill "Coo-eeee!" from around the front of the house.

"Oh good," you think.  "My guests are here nice and early.  Hurrah."

"Coo-eeee!" you reply, continuing to sweep.

"Cooooooo-eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" comes the call again, louder and shriller.

"Helloooooooo!" you reply, still not stopping sweeping, waiting for your guests to appear round the corner into the back garden. 

They don't appear.

You realise that they are playing games with you; their shrill calls take on a strangely urgent tone.

"Is there a cat in my front garden?  I can hear it mewling and squawking at me," you call, as you walk round the corner.

You come face to face, not with your sister and her family, but with the post lady. 

"Oh!  I was expecting my sister!  Um...sorry."

"Here's your post.  I knew you must be about, I could hear you sweeping."