Monday, 30 January 2012

Flaked out

Hello hello hello, no, not dead yet.

I've just not really been in the blogging mindset, I suppose.  It's strange, I feel as though nothing interesting enough to share with all you lovely readers is happening in my life, but I don't feel bored or miserable about it.

I have been doing some business-style organising, both for the Big Long Term Business Plan and my interim ongoing dressmaking thing.  I had some dressmakers business cards printed by - heartily recommended for fast service and nice-looking products - and some fabric sew-in labels for the stuff I make, and I am very pleased with both.

Almost professional, even.

Today, I woke up to snow falling.  Outside, I mean.  Well, we had the roof fixed in the summer.  The weather forecast said that it would have turned to "white cloud" by 10am but it was still falling at 2pm.  Perhaps Winter has decided to get its arse into gear, finally.

I prefer to think of it as the weather deities acknowledging that today is my birthday with a splendid, totally organic biodegradable ticker-tape parade for the whole area.  Yay, and indeed wahoo.

I had a fine cup of tea in bed, made by the equally fine Mr WithaY, exclaimed delightedly over my lovely presents, then we had bacon sandwiches (in the kitchen, not in bed, that would be far too decadent) while watching the snow falling outside.

After that, Mr WithaY went out to the garage to do stuff with deer*, and I cleaned the kitchen in a slightly frantic and anal pre-Mother-in-law-visit kind of a way.

Yes, Mother-in-law WithaY is coming to visit later in the week, having left the delightfully sunny South of France to visit the damp, cold and now snowy UK for a while.  She must be loving it today.  We spent a Christmas over there with her one year, and I recall sitting out on a terrace in the warm sunshine, sipping chilled white wine and eating delicious French snacks. On Boxing Day.  December the 26th.  I think I wore a sleeveless dress and a light cardigan, if memory serves.

It's not like that today.  We're going out for tea later, I plan to wear at least five layers for the walk across the village.

Maybe it'll snow some more.  If it does, I don't mind.  I have a toasty new hot water bottle, thanks to my lovely Mum.

*Nothing dodgy, honest.  He's got a proper game dealer license and everything.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Too much information

Once again, my car has been a complete and utter pain in the arse.

I went to visit my lovely Mum earlier this week.  Just for a day, more or less on a whim, off out for lunch somewhere nice and a chance to chat and catch up.  We were both looking forward to it very much.

She has a camellia in full flower in her front garden, incredibly early.  Look:

I left home bright and early, driving carefully through a thick frost and threatened (but not actual) snow flurries, and hit the motorway in fine time.  The radio was on, the weather was improving with every mile, and all was well with the world.

Until I got to the outskirts of Southampton.  The Salisbury side, not the Portsmouth side.  That's approximately the halfway point on the the journey, in terms of time, if not mileage.

At that point, me chugging along in the middle lane of the motorway, the needle on my car's speedometer started acting oddly.  First it bounced up and down, as if in time to the music.  I watched it with cold foreboding, wondering if I was perhaps kangarooing along without noticing.  Nope, still cruising along at about 75.

The it dropped to 0.  No miles per hour.  I knew this was wrong, as I was overtaking a slower-moving lorry at the time, and he was doing at least 45.

My heart rate compensated though, and climbed steadily as I continued to drive along the motorway, now without the benefit of speed indication.

Every now and again the needle flickered, bouncing up to 10 or 20mph, then gave up and sank back to 0.  The remainder of the drive was stressful.

Unfortunately, I was so stressed by this that I ended up cutting my visit shorter than I had planned so as to drive home in daylight, which I felt would be safer.  A few miles into the return trip I had to brake sharply at a roundabout (thanks, insensate old man in the silver Audi, you know who you are) at which point the needle jerked back into life for the remainder of the journey home.

Rather than travel all the way back to the Toyota garage which recently replaced the turbo - £1500 thank you very much indeed - I took it to the local 4x4 garage in town.  They diagnosed and repaired the problem within an hour, all for less than £50.  Apparently there was "dirt on the speedo sensor" and once they'd taken it apart and cleaned it, everything was fine.

It made a refreshing change from "Aaaaah yes, we know about this.  It's a known fault...Toyota did offer a free repair for this but you missed it by a month/100 miles/a roll of the random Dice of Fate.  Sorry about that.  That'll be four billion pounds please."

I have had speedo issues before, but that time they were much less straightforward to fix.

All's well that ends well. I have a car that tells me how fast it's going, and I am still able to afford the thin gruel and dry bread that Mr WithaY and I are subsisting on  now that we're both unemployed.

Actually, I was wondering about this.  Am I technically "unemployed" when I am not registered as such, or actively seeking work, or claiming unemployment money?

I did apply for a job recently.  It didn't go well.

I mentioned it a while ago - a local, part-time job.  Only a couple of days a week,and not even full days.  Low money, but really easy to fit in around other stuff, and the opportunity to meet people on a regular basis.  It sounded quite handy, so I filled in an online application form and waited to hear from them.  The next day I had a phone call from their HR department, inviting me for an interview.

Readers, the next time I am at an interview for what is basically a part-time cleaning job, I won't mention developing and delivering secondary legislation to a tight timescale when asked "Can you give me an example of when you were under pressure at work?"  Or managing a billion pound contract replacement project, when asked to give an example of working in a team.  Or talk about briefing hostile high-profile stakeholders  when asked to give an example of dealing with people I didn't get on with.

Ah well.

I was told that I would hear from them within seven to ten days.  I think they'd sent the rejection email before I actually left the premises.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Ear slugs

It seems as though winter has remembered what it's supposed to be doing, and we have had a much colder couple of days over the weekend.  Heavy frost, even.  Alright for me, I was snug at home with an abundant supply of tea, cake and duvets.  Mr WithaY, on the other hand, was living in the woods for a week, sleeping in a hand-made bender for at least one night.

Not, as I hoped, a wooden facsimile of the wise-cracking Futurama star, but a rude shelter crafted from sticks and tarpaulins.  Apparently it was "bloody cold" and a slug fell in his ear.  He said he removed it "immediately" which was a relief.

Ah, life in the wild.  I'm glad I'm only BY the woods, and not actually attempting to live in them.

Ah, slugs.

Years ago, when I was living in my teeny little student house in Winchester, Mr WithaY used to come and visit at weekends.  One night, one chilly damp night, I asked him to fetch me a glass of water from the kitchen.  The kitchen was downstairs, and it got visited by slugs.  I had stuffed all the cracks and ingress holes I could find with paper to try and keep them out.  I had put salt on the floor to stop them coming in. I had even, on the advice of a probably mental friend, put garlic on the floor to offend the slimy bastards.

Nothing worked, and most mornings I came downstairs to find slug trails all over the place...on the floor, up the walls, on the was revolting.

This particular night, Mr WithaY scampered downstairs to fetch the glass of water (he was young and in love, so was eager to please) and I heard an anguished cry of "Oh God NOOOOOOOO!"

I knew exactly what he'd trodden on with his bare feet.

I've been busy while he's been away, which has been very pleasant.  I hadn't realised quite how easy it could be to become isolated when you don't go out to work, and a few days of bad weather can make it very miserable.  Luckily for me, there are some fab people living in the village who don't mind me popping in to drink their tea and eat their biscuits every now and again.

Apart from socialising, I have been sewing.  And knitting.  And baking.  I made a chocolate cake as I had a mate coming over for tea one day, and it worked rather excellently, though I say so myself.  It's a cake with no flour in it, so it is potentially very mousse-y if you undercook it, but even if you do that, it's lovely.  It's made with dark chocolate and butter melted together, and sugar, eggs and vanilla, whisked up till it's huge and fluffy, all mixed together, then baked in the oven.  Nom nom nom.

I might make some more this week.

I've also been pruning things in the garden.  Roses, the crabapple tree and the flowering trees at the side of house  have all been chopped up tidily to within an inch of their lives.  Hopefully they'll all revive in time for the Spring.  We've already got a crocus in flower in the lawn, which is ridiculously early, and the snowdrops in sheltered corners are in flower.

Business developments are creeping along, but I'd rather we get everything sorted out now than discover in 3 months time that we didn't make the right decision, and have to start again.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

...Written on the back of my hand

Ah, the cold harsh light of the new year shines into the cobwebby filth of my brain, much like the sunshine streaming through the windows and highlighting the cobwebs festooned across the ceilings.

Mr WithaY and I have recovered from the horrible snotfest that began immediately after Christmas, and are getting on with New Year stuff.  In his case, this has been attending an interview (successful, yay) and making more excellent bushcraft stuff.

Look, he made these:

Moccasins, made to an authentic pattern, hand-stitched out of elk skin*.  

They're a lot better than my dire iPhone photography would indicate.  Plus he looks like Will Ferrell in Elf when he wears them.

I've been sorting out my burgeoning dressmaking business, although I think calling it a "business" is optimistic.  But regardless, I've ordered some business cards and fabric labels to sew into stuff I make, which is a start. Oh, and I've registered myself as "self employed" with the fine people at Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, so I have to pay my own National Insurance for the first time in my working life.  I have no idea how to do that, perhaps a plain brown envelope full of cash through their letterbox once a week?

The other BIG ongoing long-term business plan is still in early stages, but I am quietly optimistic about it.

As part of the whole "enjoying the new way of life" mindset we are actively cultivating, last week we had a big day out in Salisbury.  It's a rare treat these days, and it was fab.

We had lunch at Wagamamas, nom nom nom, picked up some bargains in the sales, and went to the pictures to see the new Sherlock Holmes film.

When I say "bargains" I mean "things we intended to buy anyway but found at a vastly reduced price", not "random things we bought because they were cheap."  In my book, buying something you didn't already know you needed is not bargain shopping, it's wild and crazy impulse buying, a very different animal.

One of the bargains I found was a new pair of trainers/outdoor shoes, which were reduced by £50. Result.  But even better than that, the young man who sold them to me had a Story To Tell.  I noticed he sported the remains of what had clearly been a spectacular black eye.

Me:  That must have been a spectacular black eye.

Nice Young Man:  Yes!  Yes, it really was.  *laughs*  I got it on New Year's Eve.

Me: Oh no!

NYM:  Yes, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Yeah....Bristol...

He stared off into space for a moment like a war veteran remembering the day they lost the company commander and the flag and all their rations.

Me:  Oh dear.  What happened?

NYM:  Well, we were in a pub in the wrong part of town, it turned out.  There were blokes betting in the pub, big stacks of £20 notes all over the table.   (Note - this is illegal in the UK, so clearly a dodgy pub if it was going on in full public view.)   Anyway, one of the blokes must have thought he was being cheated because a huge full-scale bar-room brawl broke out!  One minute we were having a quiet drink, the next minute there's pool balls flying across the room!

Me:  Wow!  What did you do?

NYM:  Legged it.

I took my new shoes and left, greatly cheered by his tale of drunken Bristolian idiots walloping each other.

Other news:  Mr WithaY has traded up and got himself an iPhone.   Yesterday afternoon, I was fortunate enough to be party to the long and infinitely complex "Transferring of the Phone Number" ritual.

When I did it, there was one step - ring O2 and say "please will you transfer my phone number to the new SIM card that is going into my iPhone?"  and it took about 6 minutes in total.

When Mr WithaY did it, it was like watching an ancient and venerated ceremony, the kind  invented by monks living in a remote mountain monastary, where time passes slowly and they like to fill their days keeping busy.

Step 1:  Ring O2 on the landline.  (Important Note:  We have no mobile reception in our house.)  Ask them to transfer the old number to the new SIM card.  Explain why you have called them on the landline, not the mobile.

Step 2:  Provide O2 with the old phone number.

Step 3:  Provide O2 with some verification that the number is actually yours.  They generally ask for the amount of credit you have on your account, which you can obtain from your phone by pressing a combination of keys, including the STAR key.  (Important Note:  The STAR key on Mr WithaY's phone doesn't work. )

Step 4:  Take landline phone and mobile phone into front garden to try and get a signal on the mobile, while trying to make the broken STAR key work to get the outstanding credit balance.

Step 5:  Inform the O2 helpdesk that there is barely any battery left in the mobile now.  (Important Note:  Mr WithaY lost the phone charger several weeks ago, which was one of the reasons he decided to trade up to an iPhone.  That and the broken STAR key.)

Step 6:  Have long, increasingly stressful discussion with the helpful O2 person  to explain that you can't get your outstanding balance figure from your phone because the STAR key doesn't work and you have no signal anyway.  And the battery is about to run out.

Step 7:  O2 person tries a different verification question and asks which numbers you dial the most often on your mobile.  Try to remember, before finally giving them a number.  They then tell you that that number has not been called recently enough to be used as verification.

Step 8:  The O2 supervisor is called in to the conversation.

Step 9:  Send a text to the "frequently called" number to validate your claim that you use it often. This entails another trip into the front garden to try and pick up a mobile signal, clutching two phones, trying to text before the battery dies completely.

Step 10:  Success!  Your number has been transferred.  And it only took an hour and a half.

Step 11:  Have a nice cup of tea and a sit-down.

Step 12:  Spend the rest of the afternoon dicking about with your shiny new iPhone.  Marvellous.

Other, other news:  I am drafting some patterns for Medieval clothing which I have been asked to make.  A jacket and a sleeveless waistcoat-y type jacket (pourpoint?), to be exact.  Anyone with any advice or practical experience on this matter, please feel free to share.

*He didn't shoot the elk.  Turns out you can buy elk hides online.  Who knew?

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Working for the Man (possibly)

Happy New Year to everyone. 2012 looks to be a big year - the Olympics, the Golden Jubilee, me starting a new business, Mr WithaY starting a new business - it'll be hectic.

Although I think my personal input into the Olympics will be minimal.  And the Golden Jubilee, now I think of it.  Hopefully the businesses will take up a lot of my time.

It's still a tad too early to talk about in detail, but I am really hoping we get stuff signed this month and then I can start boring the collective arses off everyone with dull details.

There is little news of note from this neck of the woods.  Mr WithaY went down with a heavy cold on Boxing Day and is still making alarming snot-based noises on a regular basis.  I have a much less revolting version of the cold, but am still having to sneeze loudly about once every 20 minutes, and live in fear of Being Without A Tissue. Our elegant home is currently festooned with boxes of tissues, placed on every flat surface, within easy grabbing reach.

We use Kleenex Balsam, which are very good, and stop your nose getting sore.

Also, if Kleenex want to send me some free boxes of tissues* in return for my charming and entirely unsolicited testimonial, I am happy to accept.  Email me, Kleenex PR team, I await your offers.

The weather here has been appalling for the last few days.  Lashing rain, howling gales, dark and gloomy and stormy.  Yesterday morning we had planned to go to Salisbury for a bit of mooching round looking for bargains in the sales, possibly with a brunch trip to Patisserie Valerie thrown in, but when we got up it was so truly terrifying out there that we decided to stay home instead.   Seriously.  You couldn't see across the road, the rain was so heavy.  And it was coming in sideways.  Some of the garden furniture was blown over by the gale force winds.  A first, in my experience.

I decided to make a cake instead.  Cunningly using up leftover bananas that were too black and squidgy to eat by hand, I made a banana and walnut loaf.  And some sausage rolls, as I had some sausage-meat left over from before Christmas.  Don't panic, it had been in the freezer, and was defrosted properly.

I used the last little bit of pastry** to make a cheese and pine-nut tart, a recipe I invented out of my head.    I have no idea what it tastes like.  Mr WithaY and I are having a sort of Mexican standoff about it, neither wanting to be the first to crack and try it.

Oh, and this morning I had a job interview.  It's for a very small part time job a couple of minutes drive away for a few hours a week, but will:

a)  Earn me a pittance

b)  Get me out of the house and interacting with other people on a regular basis again

c)  Give me something to think about other than "Gahhhhhhh I have no money why is everything taking so long to set up with the business recession recession recession insurance electrician advertising I need to sort out tax and National Insurance with an accountant..." and so on, which is what endlessly flickers through my brain just at the moment.

I fancy doing a job that doesn't give me a blinding headache whenever I think about it, and that I can stop thinking about as I leave, rather than taking it with me wheresoe'er I travel, like a millstone of unfocussed anxiety around my neck.

I'll let you know how it turns out.

Oh, also, Mr WithaY bought me Skyrim for Christmas.  Anyone got any helpful top tips for not being killed every 5 minutes?  Thank you.

*Or money

**There's always a bit left over, and I can't bear to throw it away when I've made it myself.