Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Paint it ...cream

Today, I ache.  My arms, my tummy, my back, and most especially, my knees.

Mr WithaY and I spent yesterday decorating at my lovely Mum's house.  We painted the bedroom - a small-ish room, to be fair - in a day.  Ceiling, walls, woodwork.  We work fast when we get going.  Plus it was really nice emulsion and satinwood paint which went on easy and dried fast.  And, though I say so myself, it looked really smart when we'd finished.  And, the most important thing, my lovely Mum was pleased.

On the way home, me driving, Mr WithaY in the passenger seat, we were discussing how much lighter the evenings are now.

Me:  Wow, it's half past five and not dark.  Excellent.

Mr WithaY:  And the mornings are lighter, which is great.

Me:  I woke up really early and although the sun wasn't up, it was light.  I guess it stays light for a bit after the sun sets too?

Mr WithaY:  Yes, that's why you're legally allowed to shoot for an hour after sunset and before sunrise, as it's still light.

Me:  So this would be "dusk" about now?

Mr WithaY:  Yep, the sun has gone down but it's not dark.

Me:  And there's the morning version of dusk as well.

Mr WithaY: (After a short, incredulous pause).  Yes. You mean "dawn."

We had stopped at some traffic lights, which was just as well, because we both laughed until we cried.

Easily amused, we are.

What else is new?  Well, in big procurement news, I have bought a staple gun.  I make these pretty padded memo boards, and they require quite a lot of stapling to keep everything in place.  Previously, I have borrowed Mr WithaY's heavy duty staple gun, but I thought I should get one of my own, dedicated for girlie craft stuff rather than stapling animal skins to trees or whatever it is he does all day.

I picked one up in Homebase - almost £25, thank you very much - a few months ago, and it sat on my shelf, waiting to be useful.  It has a handy little plastic tool case, so I felt like a real professional when I unpacked it for the first time at the weekend.

Readers, it was SHITE.

Really.  Almost everything about it was awful.  The staples have to be dropped down a tube to load it, and then a separate spring-loaded stick thingy gets pushed down the hole to hold them in place.  Unless you get the angle of pitch EXACTLY right, the staples break apart and jam the stapler.  I assumed I was being too oafish and heavy-handed, and persevered until I had a cartridge of staples inserted properly.  I tried it out on a thick wad of newspaper.  There was a satisfying THUNK noise.

When I looked at the newspaper, though, the staple was only partially embedded, with a clear air gap between the cross piece and the paper.  I dicked about with the adjustment wheel thingy that alters the force of the staple, and tried several more times.  No discernible difference.  Still a big air gap.

Isn't it interesting that there are so many technicalities to stapling?  No?

Anyway.  I decided to carry on, as I had already started 4 memo boards.  I continued with the lame-ass half-stapling for a while, until I had finished the first stage of the memo board making process, and then I went and found a small hammer from Mr WithaY's study.  I like creative projects which require hammers.

I went round all of the work I'd already done and hammered all these stupid not-even-making-an-effort staples so that they were properly embedded, and then gave up in disgust.

After that, I went on Amazon and ordered a new stapler, advertised as being suitable for DIYand upholstery.  It arrived this morning, I have high hopes.

In the meanwhile, the Homebase stapler will be taken to a charity shop and left there to make some other poor sod's DIY/crafting a misery.  And I won't bother buying any of Homebase's own brand tools or equipment again.


Other news:  Progress on the big long-term business plan is being made.  I might be able to actually tell people about it on here without feeling like I am jinxing it.

In related news, I took (and passed) an online food hygiene training course last week.  I now know not to lick raw chicken blood up off the floor.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Moods, variableness of

This week I have been swerving between a pleasant relaxed "life is good, I love having the time to make marmalade and bake bread and have a cup of tea and a chat with my friends in the middle of a weekday afternoon" state of mind, and blind unreasoning panic which focusses entirely on finance:  "Gaaaaaah, I haven't got a job...there's no money coming in....we'll be out on the street by the summer, starving in the gutter...we're DOOOOOOOMED."

Yes, a strange and heady mixture of emotions.

I worked out why this has started happening again.  When I first stopped working, waaaay back in late May last year - yes, I have been Not Working for almost a twelvemonth now- I had a few weeks where it just felt like I was on leave.  Then a month or so of gloating about having the summer off work, helped by the fact that the weather was rather nice, and then a few weeks of panic.  It was probably around that panic-time that Mr WithaY decided that he too was going to give up his job, and follow his long-time ambition to become a bushcraft specialist.

So.  Two of us went from being long-term career Civil Servants in comparatively senior (and fairly well-paid) posts, to being two non-working middle-aged people intending to start up their own new businesses.

Mr WithaY is doing well.  He's now halfway through a year-long training course, at the end of which he will be a fully-qualified instructor, and has got himself onto a local apprenticeship scheme which will give him loads of useful and relevant experience.  Unfortunately, he is not getting paid for any of this.  Yet.

On the plus side, he is happier than he has been for a very long time, and is discovering he has a real skill in wood carving, making some fabulous pieces which I hope he will be able to sell in due course.

I'm feeling less positive - this week, at least - as my long-term business plan is grinding forward slowly and painfully.

I have tried to improve my mood by doing everything I can to facilitate progress:
  • I took (and passed, yay me) an online food hygiene training course.  
  • I drafted up a best-guess costs and liabilities account, trying to work out what we will need to do to turn a profit, when we finally go ahead with things.
  • I spent a while researching the grants available to small businesses, trying to establish what - if anything - we would be able to apply for.
  • I read several helpful blogs about setting up (and sometimes closing down) small retail businesses.
  • I now have a better understanding of some of the many and varied pitfalls, and have been able to start pulling together contingency plans.   
As if in answer to this burst of focussed activity, this morning I received a long-awaited email reply which we have been waiting for, and this afternoon am having a chat with my future business partner to decide how we will respond.  I'm hoping that by the weekend I will be a fledgeling small business part-owner.

Fingers crossed, eh.

Anyhoo, I worked out why the blind panic has gripped me this week.  It's because as long as I am planning and preparing to start a business, I am effectively taking myself off the job market.  I have had a few minor forays into getting a job, none successful, but by setting up this business I am removing the possibility of going and working in a local supermarket to pay the bills.  It's that whole "make a decision and stick to it" thing, which kills off the comforting "Ah, anything might happen" state of semi-denial.

It's getting real.

In other news, I have been making stuff like a madwoman to sell at a charity cake and craft sale at the end of next month.   We're all making cakes so people can come and buy a cup of tea and a cupcake or whatever, in aid of Sport Relief, but a few of us are also setting up little craft tables. I have decided to bite the bullet, take the plunge, grasp the nettle and many other clich├ęs, and see if anyone is interested in buying stuff I've made.

I'm also making some Medieval kit for Mr WithaY - he plans to do sword fighting demonstrations with a couple of other friends at events over the summer, and needs some hardwearing clothing to wear while he does it.  I've almost finished the pourpoint - a short sleeveless jacket, with lace holes around the waist to hold the hose (leggings) up.

Next on the "to make" list, a jacket with long sleeves, to wear over the top of the pourpoint and hose.  I'm not making hose. Too bloody difficult, matey.

And for those evening where the thought of sewing anything fills me with choking fury, I am knitting a scarf from a pattern pinched from Mrs Jones' blog.    If it works, I shall post a photo; if it doesn't, I shall unravel it and make something else with the wool.  It's looking rather pretty so far.

Oh, and I have reactivated my Twitter persona, but this time it's more about keeping tabs on local business and related stuff than broadcasting my own brand of trivia to the InterWeb.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012


Oh yeah, I remembered what I meant to write about in my last post, before I got sidetracked by dull domestic trivia anecdotes. If you can call a pointless whinge about nothing much at all an "anecdote," I suppose.


When I went to see my friend in hospital last week, I was a bit nervous.  Partly because I was apprehensive about seeing her after such a catastrophic event, and partly because I was dreading doing or saying the wrong thing and somehow making her feel bad.  I know that's not entirely rational, but it was in the back of my mind nonetheless.

I was also a little bit anxious...maybe that's too strong a term....apprehensive, maybe, about the actual logistics of the journey.  It struck me that since giving up my hellish 6 hour round-trip commute last May, I have made far fewer long journeys than I probably ever have in  my adult life.  I've been down to visit my lovely Mum a few times, been up to Ragdale Hall a couple of times, and travelled extensively* around and about the local area, but it was the first time I was driving myself somewhere unfamiliar in a while.

I have actually driven around Southampton quite a lot, but not recently, and the last time I went to the hospital there was about 20 years ago, to visit Father-in-law WithaY after HIS catastrophic life-changing event.  So, it was pretty likely that the road layout would have changed.

I did all the usual stuff, like looking on Google maps and whatnot, and I have my trusty satnav now, following the Watford Gap Incident last summer.


I'd arranged to get to the hospital at about 4pm, both to avoid the worst of the rush-hour traffic, and to be there at the same time as a couple of other people that I wanted to see, so I set off from home at 3.15.  It only takes 45 minutes to get to Southampton, and with my satnav glowing at me reassuringly, it was all going to be plain sailing.

Aha, well, yes.  It would have been, had I checked that the postcode I entered for the hospital was for the correct bloody place.   I got right into the heart of the city, driving all the way across it in fairly heavy traffic, arriving at the selected destination at 4pm on the dot.  Perfect.

But wait.  What's this?  No Accident and Emergency facility here?  Large signs in the carpark for the diabetic resources centre?  No ambulances? No people, come to that.

It turns out that there are TWO large hospitals in Southampton.  One is the Royal, which is pretty big, but not quite as big as the General, which is where I should have been.  So, thanking the powers that be for iPhones and 3G coverage, I found the postcode for Southampton General hospital, and made my shamefaced way there, arriving 25 minutes later than I had intended.

When you get to their carpark (much, much bigger than the one at the Royal, I must say.  And more ambulances) you take a ticket and the barrier opens and lets you drive into the multi-storey bit.  You park your car, go to the hospital, pay your visit or whatever, and then, on your way out of the building, you put the ticket into the machine to find out how much you have to pay for the parking.  Fairly straightforward really.


If it's dark, and you're a bit on the emotional side after visiting your very dear friend, and there is a huddle of dodgy-looking people hanging around in the shadowy periphery of the entrance area, it's easy to get flustered.

And if the ticket machine is badly-lit, to the extent that several of the electronic screens are unreadable, and the only bit that is brightly lit looks like a ticket slot, but it's dislodged and broken, it's easy to get a bit confused.  And, then, it's a simple matter of poking your carpark ticket into the slot, and realising the instant you do it that you have probably just fed your ticket down the side of the broken slot bay, and therefore into the bowels of the machine.

I muttered profanities, and then pressed the "Call the Assistant" button.

A crackly voice came through the intercom.

Carpark assistant:  Yerrrrrs?

Me:  I'm very sorry, but I can't get the machine to read my ticket.

Carpark assistant:  Just press the Cancel button, love, and try again.

(Note:  all of the buttons were shrouded in gloom, and impossible to identify.  I pressed a few anyway, just for the look of it.)

Me:  I think it's eaten my ticket.

Carpark assistant: (wearily)  Ok.  I'll come out.

A large, burly man in a reflective jacket** walked out of the hospital, causing the huddle of dodgy-looking people to scatter and melt into the darkness, much in the manner of a feral gang in an apocalyptic film set in a City Of The Future.

He looked at me.  I looked at him. He sighed.  I made a sad face, trying to look like I wasn't an idiot, whilst acknowledging that he would be within his rights to consider me thus. It was a tough expression to pull off, but I managed it.

Me:  I'm really sorry. I just realised what I did, I think I poked the ticket through this hole, and it got lost in the machine.

Carpark assistant:  Aaaah.

Me:  Can you recover the ticket, do you think?

Carpark assistant:  Hmmmm.  (He frowned, scratching his chin thoughtfully with the aerial of his walkie-talkie.)  I could, yeah.  But it's a right old hassle.  Tell you what, when you get to the exit, press the Call button on the ticket machine and I'll let you out.  What's your name?

Me:  That's very kind!  So...should I pay you?  (I had the right money in my sweaty paw, ready to pay my debt to the Southampton Hospital car-parking authorities.)

Carpark assistant:  Nah, that's alright, love.

He grinned at me, and his previously intimidating face lit up.

I scarpered back to my car, found the exit, pressed the Call button as instructed, and was released back into the mainstream traffic of Southampton on a dark cold night.

*I've been to Frome.  And Shaftesbury.

**It reflected light.  It wasn't asking itself thoughtful questions about the nature of causality.


The snow has gone, as has Mr WithaY's sinus infection, also his scary red vampyre eyes. Relief all round, I can tell you.

We only had a couple of days of snow, but the temperatures rarely went above freezing for at least a week.  According to the thermometer in my car, it was -7 (Centigrade, sorry, American readers) at 9.30 one morning.  A neighbour had a reading of -10 on their garden thermometer, so it was pretty brisk outside.

Mr WithaY eventually went off to his bushcraft course 24 hours late, having spoken to the trainers about it, and also booked himself into the nearest hotel, rather than camp in the snow.  Ordinarily he would have done, along with the rest of the course attendees, but given the fact that he was still on antibiotics for his sinuses, the likelihood of developing pneumonia was too high.

So, he went off, did all his bushcrafty things in the snow, passed the exams relating to this part of the course, and came home triumphant and decidedly less snotty and septic than he had been when he left.  Result.

I spent the few days while he was away frantically boiling anything and everything possible, for fear of infection.  It was like a Victorian cholera hospital.  Bedding, towels, clothes, dressing gown, scarves, gloves, pretty much anything that had had any chance of touching his conjuctivitus-y skin was put through the washing machine at environmentally-destroying temperatures.  Sorry about that, environment.

I got it all washed and dried, and then thought "I'll get some of this ironing done, as it's too cold to go out today."

Things escalated.

By the end of the afternoon, I had ironed everything in the basket.  I was deedily putting my clothes away when it occurred to me that I ought to put Mr WithaY's away too.  There were two reasons for this burst of domestic philanthropy:

1)  He was away for a few days, so unless I wanted to leave them on the floor, I'd have to climb under them to get into bed that night.

2)  It was fairly likely, on past performance, that even when he did get home, his clothes would remain in a tidy heap in the corner of the bedroom for some time to come.

So, I started putting things in drawers and on hangers.  But wait...what's this?  A wardrobe with non categorised clothing hanging in it?  Shameful.  I moved a few things, just to make it look tidier...all the trousers hung at one end of the rail.  Oh, and the dark trousers hung at one side, and the lighter trousers hung at the other.  But if you do that, then the shirts ought to be sorted out, with all the white shirts hung together, and then all the countryman check ones, and then all the heavy green moleskin ones.   And the short-sleeved ones should all be up together so that when the weather improves they're easy to find.


Other news:  Remember my friend I mentioned?  The one who had been all-but-given-up-hope-of just before Christmas?  I went to see her last week.  She is making remarkable progress.  There's still a very long way to go, but she is sitting up, talking - albeit a bit mixed up at times - but able to chat, eating "proper" food, and will hopefully begin physiotherapy shortly.  It's pretty damn close to a miracle.

So hurrah for unlikely and unexpected recoveries, I say.

Monday, 6 February 2012


Things are not good at the WithaY house right now.  Mr WithaY has succumbed to a really unpleasant sinus infection, AND conjunctivitis in both eyes.  He has spent much of the last four days blinking painfully through a haze of eye-goop at me, his eyes red and sore and scarily like an old-fashioned vampire's.  A vampire with a Y in his name.  A vampyre, in fact.

We were supposed to go and see Omid Djalili at Salisbury City Hall last week, but by that mid-morning it was clear that Mr WithaY was in too miserable a state.  Plus he wouldn't have been able to see the stage  with his scary red goopy eyes.  We were able to pass the tickets to a friend of a friend who apparently enjoyed the show, so they weren't wasted, but it was a disappointment.

I think this is a continuation of the cold he went down with on Boxing Day.  It never seemed to clear up properly and has recently decided to migrate into his sinuses and torment him for a few more weeks with a charming mixture of vile-tasting snot, eye-ooze and violent spasmodic coughing.

Mother in Law WithaY came to stay for a few days, which had been long-anticipated and looked-forward-to, but a combination of the vile weather and Mr WithaY feeling terrible meant that we weren't able to do some of the things we had sort-of planned.  Mother in Law WithaY lives in the South of France, quite near the coast, but also handily near the mountains, and she is used to warm Mediterranean weather, interspersed with the howling wind known as the Tramunta, which blows for either 1, 3 or 9 days at a time.

Arriving in England in the coldest month of the year - we had snow, even - was therefore a bit of a culture shock.  She rang to let us know she's arrived home safe and sound at the weekend.  Apparently there was snow and a 95mph wind blowing, so perhaps the English weather had decided to go on holiday to Catalonia.

The region she lives in is full of teeny little mountain villages, usually surmounted by a huge fuck-off Cathar castle, like this one at Castelnou.  We climbed up to the top once, and were able to look down at the birds lazily circling on the warm updrafts in the valleys waaaaaay below us.

They have a cheerily cavalier attitude to health and safety at their old castles, the French, or possibly just the Catalan French, at least.  It's as if they are saying "If you're stupid enough to go and peer over the edge of that friable, windswept thousand-foot high precipice, don't blame us if you are never seen again, Monsieur."

I like to imagine a local police detective viewing the shattered remains of  yet another photo-opportunity-seeking tourist at the bottom of a deep wooded valley with a Gallic shrug and a resigned sigh.

But I digress.

The reason I think things are bad* for us right now is that we are cursed.  CURSED.

Last week, in a fit of enthusiasm and feverish tidying (mother in law coming to visit and all that) I was emptying out some of the many boxes and bags of sewing ephemera which we cleared out of Father in Law WithaY's house, and which I couldn't bear to see tossed into a skip, as threatened by the house clearance people.   I found many, many mother-of-pearl buttons, which I will be able to use,  also spools of thread, some of them still in their original cellophane wrappers, a giant tangle of embroidery silks which were beyond any sorting, and several reels of perished elastic.

We also found this:

Tucked in the bottom of a box of buttons, broken thimbles and rusty needles, I found what looks like a teeny little Hand of Glory.

It really is teeny.  Look:

That coin beside it is an old pre-decimal sixpence, dated (as you can see) 1958.  It too was in the box.  A sixpence is about the same size as a modern 5p piece, maybe a bit smaller.


What did we find?  Any clues?  Is it something we ought to seek advice from the Bishop of Bath and Wells about having removed from our home?   Will a delegation of hobbits and a dodgy Wizard rock up at the front door and tell me I have to carry it to Mount Doom to destroy it? Or what?

*"Bad" in this context means "one of us suffering a distressing but entirely curable ailment which with any luck will have cleared up by next weekend."