Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Narrow squeak

Ah, life.

Just when you think it's all going so well, something comes along to throw you.

There's been a period of remarkable positivity in the WithaY household of late.  I've left my job, and am enjoying a summer off work - still enjoying it, despite shitty weather a lot of the time - and not panicking just yet about running out of money.  Mr WithaY has been successful in his application for a prestigious and competitive year-long course he applied for, and has also been told that his request to leave his job was approved, so he'll be free of his 28-year office drone shackles in a few months.  We've sold Father in law WithaY's house, so that particular millstone is removed.

The house sale, inevitably, had a few final bizarre hiccups.

We had to pay for an insurance policy in case some long-forgotten Covenant on the land was found to have been breached.  Nobody mentioned it when Father in law WithaY bought the house, several years ago, but hey. 

We had to spend days and days and DAYS negotiating with the house clearance people, who, I assumed just took everything away, but it seems that some of them prefer to try and cherrypick, and just want to take the "sellable" stuff, and leave the junk there.  Um, no.  If we wanted to be heaving old mattresses and broken jamjars to the tip, we wouldn't be paying you to clear the house, would we?


Anyhoo.  Once all the tiresome faffing about clearing the house was over, and we'd cleaned it nicely, we settled back to relax, happy in the knowledge that the new owners were moving in, and all was complete.

Until we got a phone call from the lawyer. 

The new owners - bearing in mind that the contracts had been exchanged, the deal was completed, they now owned the house - were complaining bitterly about "all the stuff" left in their new house.  There was talk of legal action being taken against us if we didn't come down and remove it all immediately.


Our lawyer was nonplussed.  He said that he had never heard of people complaining about stuff being left in a house.  Stuff being removed - door handles, light fittings, kitchen units - hell yes.  But stuff left behind?  Never.

Let us examine the list of stuff we left behind:

1)  A small Victorian garden statue, stone.  In the garden.  I always assumed that things like that were included in a house sale unless specifically excluded.  It seems that it offended the new buyers, and had to go.

2)  A small, admittedly rickety, wooden bench in the back garden.  As above.  Offensive, to be removed.

3)  A wall clock, fixed to the wall, in the kitchen.  Yes, I can see why you'd want to sue us for leaving a clock in your kitchen. What bastards we are.

4)  A fire extinguisher in the garage.  Christ, I'd have had us assassinated for leaving that there.

5)  Last but not least, the wheelchair access ramp at the front door, which they had dragged off to one side. Mr WithaY went down there after work with a sledgehammer and an attitude one evening and smashed it up, put it in the back of the Landrover and took it to the tip.  He said that they had the builders in already, renovating and updating the house.  The builders had carefully placed planks outside the front door to make a ramp for them to move tools and materials about.  I hope they charge the new owners a thousand pounds extra for their home-made ramp.

But, now, finally, it's over.  I think.

Remember I said we were looking into finding a new nursing home for Father in law WithaY?  And we thought we'd found somewhere suitable?  Well, they had one of their nurses visit F-in-L the other day to evaluate him.  She phoned us last night to say that she thinks their nursing home is, unfortunately, not suited to his needs.  Arse.

We've already given notice to his current home, but coincidentally, we had a letter from the owner yesterday telling us that the matron is leaving (mutually agreed, etc etc etc) and was there anything they could do to persuade Father in law WithaY to stay, given the impending change in management.  We will go and talk to them next week,and see if we can get things improved for him there, and then maybe he'll be happier about having to stay.

Perhaps the new matron won't drop him on his head.  That would be nice.

It's all very sad.

Other news:  Today I am mostly making a linen Medieval shirt for Mr WithaY, who is off poncing about doing swordfighting again at the weekend.  What larks.  He's borrowed a jacket and hose from a mate who used to do Medieval re-enactment, but there is a slight sizing issue with the hose.  Mr WithaY put them on, walking gingerly around the room, looking, as he said, like a sausage whose skin was too tight.  I hope he doesn't try any lunges, or there could be an unfortunate burstage incident. 

I am procrastinating, though, because my new sewing machine is intimidating me.  Brrrrr.  Multiple stitching options. 

Sunday, 24 July 2011


I thought I'd use a blog post or two to share some of my friends' amazing skills and talents with the wider world.

Not the sort of amazing talents that leave everyone else in the room hooting with laughter, or feeling a bit queasy, or calling an ambulance, though.  No, no no.  Although there's probably a few blog posts right there, come to think of it.

These are constructive and marketable talents, as opposed to the sort that get you a recurring slot on Rude Tube or some low-budget reality TV programme.

Part of the reason for this is because yesterday I had an Adventure.  I went to the Art in Action show - all the way to Oxford! - all on my own.  And I managed to get there and back without going via Watford Gap services.  Yay me.

A mate of mine was exhibiting there, so I had a proper reason to visit, but I am really glad I went anyway, there was so much to see.  Anyway, wandering round looking at all the various artists got me thinking about the people I know who make great stuff, and I thought I'd share some of them on here.

So, first up, my mate who I went to see at the show.  He's called Bruce Aitken, and he makes clocks.  Rather amazing ones.  I have taken a few photos of his work, but look at the ones on his website too. 


There was a chap there doing some blacksmithing, so I watched for a bit.  I worked out that I know at least four blacksmiths.  Hello Ian, Rick, Sherman and Chris!

Madregal Designs.  If you need any fancy ironwork doing, swing by this place and see what they can do for you. 

Anvil Art.  If you prefer, go here and take a look.

Bowstock.  If you need any leather working doing for you, or indeed, some hard-to-find leatherworking supplies, check out Steve's site here. 

TymeAgain.  If you need some well-made historical toys, go here.  Their toys are just fab.  And they are lovely people to boot. 

Delingpole Studio.  Need some fancy artwork doing?  Go and look at Richard's website here

The Full Motley.  Having a party?  Get a band! In fact, get this band

I hope, in due course, to add my own little website to the list, but until I work out what I can make, and whether anyone else wants to buy it, it's staying in my head.

Other news:  We continue with the great house clearance task, but it is improving.  Mr WithaY has cleared out the shed this afternoon, moving various boxes hither and thither, and as a result there is far less junk in the kitchen. 

Several of the bookcases have been found new homes, and most rooms no longer look like they belong in Steptoe's house.  Relief all round.

To celebrate the (mostly) back to normal kitchen, I have been domestic goddessing  in it.  I made redcurrant jelly with about one third garden redcurrants, two thirds supermarket redcurrants, and it has turned out very well. 

Today I made grape jelly.  That was less successful, but hey, I had some grapes in the fridge and I was in a jellying frame of mind.  I also made a lemon drizzle cake.

Note to cooks:  When you make a lemon drizzle cake, pour the sticky lemon juice and sugar mixture over the top of the cake AFTER you do the two plates thing to invert it and get it out of the tin. Otherwise, the top of the cake stickes to the plate, leaving a sorry mess.


Sunday, 17 July 2011

Exotic blooms

I can't cook much in my kitchen at the moment, what with the boxes and all.  It's not as broken as Antonia's kitchen, but it's pretty much hors de combat.

Possibly to help me make up for that, I am finding myself looking at pictures of complicated food, sadly and longingly.  And hey, how lucky, last week we went out for a meal in Bradford on Avon, and it was so nice that I took photos.

Mmmmmm.  Food porn.

I really liked the teapots and cups.  Excellent view of Mr WithaY's shark-gnawed finger there too.

My starter - tempura prawns and onion rings, a chicken teriaki skewer and some sort-of-sushi roll with crab and seaweed.  And yes, I did share it.

Mr WithaY's starter was just the teriaki chicken.  Luckily for him, he is married to a woman with a heart of gold and a dislike of onions.

My main course was duck in tamarind sauce - a very big piece of duck, I have to say - with coconut rice and Japanese vegetables.  See the rice served up in the coconut shell there? How pretty. 

Mr WithaY's main course was a steak in some sort of savoury teriaki-ish marinade, which he had with plain noodles.  And it was marvellous.   Cooked to perfection, and tender.  Mmmmmm. 

I asked the lady who brought the bill where they got the carved flowers from.  "All hand made in the kitchen," she said, miming someone doing something impossibly intricate with a potato knife.

We'll be going back, probably on a semi-regular basis, as Father in law WithaY has decided to move to a different nursing home which is much further away from us (I don't think that was the reason for him deciding to move) and this restaurant is on the way back home.  Clouds, silver linings, all that stuff.

Other news:  We've had the hole in the roof fixed.  I was sat in my study the other day and noticed an unsightly discoloured patch on the ceiling, below the corner of the house where we know there was a hole in the soffit board thingy under the guttering.  Plus there have been birds nesting up there somewhere all Spring, so, yeah, probably not great for the water-tightness of the roof.

The builder came and had a look, scratched his head a bit, and then agreed to get it fixed for us as soon as possible.   The next day, he sent his young team of minions over to sort it all out.  They did a great job, whacking up a scaffolding tower and discovering the source of the problem in no time. 

Bastard birds had made a HUGE nest in there and pushed one of the roof tiles up so much that the rain was getting in, and they'd also scuffed up the roofing felt so that there was hardly any weather protection there at all.  The birds have long gone, so the nest was removed and all the broken bits were fixed.  Scaffolding is down and the whole thing looks far tidier.

Good job too, with the horrible seemingly endless rain we've had all weekend.  Ugh.

Bad news is that I will have to get the ceiling in here re-painted at some point, but it can wait. 

The dispersal of the many bookcases continues.  I have one in my study now, loaded with all manner of things, very few books, mostly boxes of sewing bits and guitar accoutrements.  I need to find a new spot for my huge noticeboard I made, though, as it won't fit where it was any more.  I daresay I will find somewhere suitable. 

So, that's my life up to date.  How's things with you?

Friday, 15 July 2011

Dressing up

So, yeah, this re-enactment we went to the other week.  That was fun.

It's been a fair few years since we gave all that malarky up and sold all our kit off, but we'd been asked to go along and take part in some specific activities* with some mates, so we rejoined on a weekend membership and hoved off to Cheriton to camp for the weekend.  I say "camp."  What I actually mean is "share a rather fine motorhome with our kind mates."  There was no crawling around in small, damp tents for us that weekend, oh no indeedy.   

It was a multi-period event, so there were lots of different people in many different uniforms.


French Napoleonic.

British Napoleonic.

Blokes on horses.

With sabres.

Corsairs. NOT pirates, they were most emphatic about that.

Second World War types.


And of course English Civil War.  Dashing, no?

My personal favourite was the little vintage "pub" that was set up in a sort of wooden framed tent, run by the WW2 chaps.  Mmmm whisky.  It's a bit blurry because I turned the flash off for Atmosphere.  They had a sign on the wall saying that due to a nearby broken gas pipe, no-one could smoke, which I thought was a clever touch. 

What was particularly interesting was that while it was lovely to see old friends, and catch up on people that I ordinarily only chat to via Facebook, at no point did I think "I wish I was still involved in all this."  I was perfectly happy to sit on my comfy camping chair, reading my book** in the shade, while most of the others rushed around in the boiling sun in layers of heavy woollen clothing, doing drill for hours, or queueing up to collect gunpowder, or marching off to the battlefield. 

It also made a pleasant change to come home from a re-enactment with no injuries, other than some mild sunburn on my shins.  Mmmm, attractive. 


*Swordfighting, to be precise. 
**Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - bloody marvellous.  Read it immediately. 

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Basket case

It's amazing what can cause stress, isn't it? For me, it used to be the whole getting up for work and travelling halfway across the country for work thing.  Not now.

Now it's all about bookcases.


Thousands* of them.

In my house.

It's all part of the final push to get Father in Law WithaY's house sold - the contracts are exchanged this Friday - so we have been clearing the last things out.  Our friend with a van** came over last night and he and Mr WithaY went back and forth to Dorset a couple of times to bring everything back.  The last time we were down there, I thought we'd pretty much cleared everything out, but it seems I was wrong.  Oh, how very wrong.

It took two trips, one with a van AND a LandRover, the other with just the van, and now my house looks like Steptoe and Son live here.

In the style of Hello Magazine, allow me to show you around my gracious home.

As you enter the house, you are met by an original arrangement of furniture in the hallway.

Bookcases.  Here, let us walk around them and admire them more fully.

They certainly add to the overall cosy feel of the place, I think.

Step into the sitting room and admire our library.  In a trailblazing and somewhat daring move, we aren't using the bookcases to store the books.  No, we prefer to use boxes.  On the floor.

Why yes, that IS a book about King Tutankhamun on the top there.  Every home should have one.  In fact, I will sell you this one if you want it.  Hell, you can have it for free.

Back into the hall, squeeze past the bookcases and step into the kitchen.  I'd offer you a seat at the dining table, but as you see, we are currently hosting a modern art installation. It's called Too Much Bleach and Four Tea Services.  I'm not certain what the artist is trying to say with it.

Can you see what is lurking on the bottom left corner of the table?  It's a rather teasing shot there, but I won't keep you in suspense longer than I have to.

It's a Wurzels album!  On vinyl!  In Mono! 
And it has sleeve notes.  Forgive the terrible photograph, my hands were shaking.

I can't decide whether to bury it at dead of night under a rowan tree, put it on eBay or have it framed forever.

Turning away from the art installation, we see the eclectic mix of kitchenware across every work surface.


And of course, big jugs are always nice to look at***.

Back into the hallway - another glimpse of those bookcases - and let's peek into Mr WithaY's study.  Mmmm.  The perfect relaxing little corner to sit and study, or listen to music****.

I have spent much of today hiding upstairs, ineffectually tidying up my own study, which I am turning into a sewing room.  So far all I have managed to do is shove my sewing table into the corner, with a nasty CRACK as one of the legs got stuck on the carpet (the table's, not mine) and slide my new computer desk into place. 

I keep telling myself it's all temporary.  This too will pass.  And all that stuff.

Until then, I will be in here, where there aren't dozens of bookcases, bizarre records and boxes of frankly mental belongings in every corner.  Well, there are, but at least they are all mine, and I know why they're there. 

*Not thousands.  But more than I am comfortable with.

**Hello Ed!

***Apologies, big boob porn seekers

****Or play Portal 2 or Call of Duty. 

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Finding My Way - The Revenge

When the weather is nice, I am outside, and consequently spending less time at the computer, which means I tend to blog less.  Even less than normal, which, frankly, is not that frequently, is it?

Plus I have been away.  Properly, like a mini holiday.  Middle Sis and I went to Ragdale Hall for a couple of days R&R for her birthday treat.  It was marvellous.  We booked one of their special offer three-day, two-night breaks, with a few treatments included, and had a lovely time.  Neither of us had ever been to a spa before, and I think going to Ragdale has now spoiled us for anywhere else.

Yes, everything was marvellous, and if it wasn't on the other side of the country it would be even better.

The journey up there was uneventful and smooth, and I found the place with no trouble at all, arriving in the sunshine with a big smile on my face.  Mr WithaY had kindly offered to lend me his Satnav, but I declined on the grounds that I had the route all written down on a series of Post-it notes. 

What could possibly go wrong?

Well.  I'll tell you.

Remember the day I went to help at the lunch party?  Remember how lost I got, travelling less than 15 miles?  I bet you thought that was impressive.  You ain't seen nothing yet. 

Driving all the way back from Leicestershire offers so much more opportunity for monumental navigation errors*, and I took full advantage of that fact.

I left Ragdale on our last day after a fine lunch, and drove across to visit a mate who lives sort-of-locally.  I called Mr WithaY as I was leaving their place at about 7pm to let him know I should be home in, oh, about three and a half hours or so, all being well.

All was not well.

I bowled along happily enough for an hour or so, heading for the M6, from which I planned to join the M5, scoot down the left hand side of the country as far as Bristol, go through Bath, and then home.  Easy.

I got onto the M6, making good time, driving in a beautiful sunny late evening light which made everything look pretty.  There was very little traffic, so it was comparatively stress-free, and I was pootling along listening to the radio in a relaxed and cheerful manner. 

However, the weather changed, and by the time I got towards Birmingham it was pissing with rain.  As anyone who has ever driven on a British motorway will know, when it rains hard, visibility reduces to terrifyingly short distances.   I slowed down, cursing the huge lorries which were kicking up clouds of spray and making it impossible to see the road signs.

Yeah, you can see where this is going.  Unlike me.

I saw a sign that said the M5 junction was coming up, but not when.  There were also road signs for the M42, which I had no intention of driving along, so I stayed where I was, carefully pottering along the M6 in end of the world weather and almost zero visibility.  More road signs followed, alternating between the M5 and the M42, as well as signs for smaller local roads leading to places I'd never heard of. 

There's a major junction on the outskirts of Birmingham where the road splits into two, possibly three different directions. One of these continues along the M6, going South and - this is important - East.  The other goes to the M42, headed I know not where, and the last gets you onto the M5, heading South and West. 

I squinted at the signs when I could see them, waiting for the one that said "M5 this way", ignoring the ones that said "M42".  And I continued to ignore them as I went sailing past the junction, spotting far, far too late that the M42 sign also said "Oh yeah, and the M5...go down here if you ever want to see Bristol again, sucker."

I missed it.

Well fuck, I thought to myself.

Ah well, I thought to myself.  There will be another exit for the M5 in a couple of miles, it's a big motorway.

Bound to be another exit, I thought to myself.  Bound to be. 

All will be well, I thought to myself.

Readers, I was wrong.

I drove for miles.  And miles.  And MILES.  I passed junctions to places I had heard of, but had no clue where they were in relation to each other, or, more importantly, to where I was trying to be.  I wished, oh how I wished, that I had borrowed Mr WithaY's Satnav.  Or indeed had the brains to put a bloody map book in the car. 

I just kept on going, down the M6, thinking "at least I'm heading South," and trying to gauge where the fuck I was by the names on the roadsigns.  My knowledge of the Midlands is woeful, a fact I was increasingly aware of as I drove through them. 

After several thousand miles, the M6 turned into the M1.  At that point I thought "Oh fucking hell," and realised I was seriously, seriously lost.

The car was getting low on diesel, I was hungry and needed a pee, and so when I spotted a sign for Services I said a small prayer of thanks.  That turned into a wail of horror when I saw that it was Watford Gap services. 

Bear in mind, readers, that I was aiming for Bath.

Bath in Somerset.

Almost on the other side of the bloody country.

I stopped at the Services, filled up with fuel, used the facilities, got some supper - it was 9.30pm by now - and bought a map.  I looked at where I was, and where I ought to be and sighed deeply, showering the steering wheel with service station food crumbs..

Readers, I had to backtrack miles and miles and MILES across country, driving to Northampton, Oxford, Swindon and then finally home.  It took hours, and I crashed through** the front door at close to midnight. 

Other news:  We went camping at the weekend.  But, fortunately, we have mates who own a splendid motor home, who offered us the use of the other bed, so we were warm, comfy and very smug.  Marvellous.

It was a multi-period re-enactment event, what larks.  I shall post some photos as soon as I find my camera.  I didn't dress up, though, instead spending much of the weekend chatting to old mates, reading an excellent book in the shade and wandering around in the sun admiring all the various Uniforms Through The Ages. 

*The polite term for "fuck-ups"

**Not literally