Monday, 28 November 2011

Dressing up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Hello Sarah!

Thursday, 24 November 2011


I have my PC back.  Hurrah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NCSM:  £500.

Me:  Really.  £500 exactly?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I bloody do.

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

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

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

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


Thursday, 17 November 2011

Problem in Engineering

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

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

Other than that, though, it's great.

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

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

Gah.  Technology.

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

Nowhere, that's where.

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

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

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

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

It's not like that in real life.

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

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

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

CSM:  Hmm.  Let's have a look inside.

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

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

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

Me:  Um.  Sure.  Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me:  Um.  What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Master Chef

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

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

Bad habit to get into.  Baaaaaad. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

I like barter. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It smelled like butterscotch.

Mr WithaY had refilled the jug from the wrong saucepan.

I was mortified. 

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

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

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

*much like me, except for the rich part.