Monday, 28 May 2012


To celebrate the glorious weather, I decided to colour my hair.  Yeah. That's how I roll, me.  I am fortunate to have a nice natural hair colour to begin with - dark brown with a fair bit of red in it - and I didn't want to change it very much.  What I DID want to do was disguise the increasing number of pure silver threads which are starting to appear.  Not just in ones and twos any more, either.  No, these bastards are multiplying, and having very dark hair, they are incredibly noticeable.

Well, I think they are.

Mr WithaY gets a bit tetchy when I whine and bitch about all the grey in my hair. He makes harrumphing "retired brigadier" noises at me, grumbling that "I can't see any" and "it looks fine."  Men.  He looks distinguished with a bit of grey in his hair.  I look like a witch.  Cuh.


I went to visit my lovely mum last week, and decided to pop into town* before we went home in the afternoon.  Well, there's a Lush there.  Mr WithaY refuses point blank ever to go into a Lush shop "because of the awful smell."  I said they'd soon get used to it, but no, he stayed outside.

I stocked up on their lovely shampoo bars - these ones, if you're interested - and also bought a block of their finest, brownest, henna.

The next day, having Googled the instructions, as there were none provided with the product, I prepared to get a-colouring.  I have used henna before, and am well aware how revolting and messy it can be, so I decided to do it in the garden as much as possible.

The first thing you have to do is melt the henna block in hot water.  It looks like a giant bar of chocolate, and you break off as many chunks as you think you'll need.  I decided to go for two blocks, as my hair is pretty thick and fairly long, but I wasn't looking to change the colour very much.  I have no idea if those are the correct criteria for henna-block allocation.

So.  Into a GLASS bowl went the two chunks - it stinks, by the way - and then boiling water.  I stirred it for ages with an old wooden spoon, adding more water intermittently.  Several of the instructions I'd found online suggested that a bain marie was a good idea to keep it all warm while it melted, so I put the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stirred for bloody ages.

After about 20 minutes of simmering and stirring, it was ready.  I carried the pan and bowl out into the garden, where I had already stashed an old towel that I wasn't worried about staining, a box of clingfilm, some hair clips and several old tea towels.  It looked like someone was about to have a baby pioneer-style, and then smear it with hot green poo.  Outdoors.

There was an uncomfortable hiatus where I thought "How the bloody hell am I actually going to do this?"  I briefly considered ringing a friend** to come and help, but decided to crack on on my own, and see how it went.

After considering several options, I went for the "grab a handful and slap it onto your hair" approach.  Then another handful.  Then another.

And so the long afternoon wore on.

I spent 20 minutes working it into my hair, whilst trying not to fling it all over myself, and I was running very low on both patience and henna mixture by the time my hair was covered. I kept adding more hot water to the henna left in the bowl to eke it out, and sort of squidged it through my hair, hoping it would reach all the bits I'd missed.

Once you've created a stylish set of mud dreadlocks, you have to wrap your head in clingfilm.  TOP TIP: Don't do this outside.  Especially if it's a bit breezy.  I must have spent at least 10 minutes persistently untangling a long strip of clingfilm, trying to wrap it around my goopy mud-filled hair, only to have a gust blow it all into a spiral of uselessness, when I would have to start untangling again.

I gave up and went indoors to wrap up in the end.

This was the result.  CAUTION:  You may be struck with nausea and/or desire, depending on your tastes.

Note the attractive beetroot shade of my face after hours of standing over a hot stove, bending over in the blazing hot garden, and fighting with recalcitrant clingfilm.  Sexy, no?  You'll be relieved to know that I wiped off all the henna from my face before it stained me patchily brown.

Anyway.  I wrapped the revolting mess in an old towel, then left it to mature.

Three hours later, with a stiff neck and a banging headache, I started washing it out of my hair.  Readers, this took bloody ages.  AGES.  The instructions suggested using a lot of conditioner to help get all the twigs and gravel out, so I did just that.  Two big handfuls of conditioner later, the water was starting to be less brown and muddy, so I bravely moved to shampoo.  Ugh.

Several shampooings later, yet more conditioner, and finally the water was running clean, so I could assume I was about done.  I dried it, and eagerly looked at it in the mirror.

It looked almost exactly the same.

Gah.  Five hours well spent there, then.

Still, the silver hairs are now sort of pale brown/gold, which I prefer, and it is VERY shiny.

Also, please admire my domestic goddess pinny.

In other news:  We have arranged to have our garage converted into a storage room (for me) and a workshop (for Mr WithaY) for our respective business plans.  Mine will contain a fridge, a freezer, some cupboards and a lot of jam jars.  His will contain a lathe, some antlers and a giant heap of woodshavings, as far as I can make out.

I'm quite excited about it, as it will allow me to get Plan B underway, since our farm shop idea bit the dust.

In other, other news, we went to a barbecue with some neighbours on Saturday night.  I decided to take my little travel guitar along, as it was that sort of a day.  Well, every day is that sort of a day, to be honest, but you know, sunshine, barbecue, wine, yadda yadda yadda.   On the way there, walking through the village we ran into a friend***, so we stopped for a chat.

"Are you off to the barbecue?" she asked us.

We said yes, we were.

"Oh, is that your guitar?" she asked me.

"Yes," I said proudly.  I'm still absurdly proud of my travel guitar.

"Did they ASK you to bring it?"

"Um.  No."

Her peals of laughter followed us along the road for quite some time.

*Hello Chichester!
**Jo, it would have been you.  Sorry.
***Hello Sarah!

Saturday, 19 May 2012


I went to the seaside the other day.

Kimmeridge, in Dorset, to be exact.  Mr WithaY needed to go and forage for edible stuff for one of his bushcraft assignments, so he picked the best day of the week weather-wise and we headed out early.

Kimmeridge is famous for being part of Dorset's Jurassic Coastline.  This does NOT mean that there are dinosaurs roaming the earth just outside Corfe, or that you will see volcanoes erupting in Weymouth.

Shame, because that would be excellent.

No.  It's all about the Jurassic geology.  And there's plenty of it to see.  Creationist readers, probably best if you stop reading and go and make a cup of tea while I finish this.  WARNING:  There will be fossils.

So.  A fairly long drive, a fiver to park in a big almost-empty field at the top of the cliff, a walk down the slopey slippy path, over a trip-trappy bridge, a nasty wade through the giant heaps of festering seaweed, and there is is!  The sea!

The sun was out, the sky was blue and it was about as perfect a day as you could wish for.

We got there just as the tide was starting to go out, so we walked along the beach as far as possible - the red flags were out so the Army were firing on the range, and we couldn't go all the way around the headland as a result - but we were able to go most of the way.  Then we turned around and walked back, peeking into the rock pools that were exposed by the receding tide.

The walk was enlivened by the occasional gentle patter of eroding cliff, showers of shale falling onto the beach.  Also machine gun fire, I assume from the Army range.  If not, it was all kicking off in Corfe big time.

I love the way you can see the different layers of rock in the cliffs, and watch how the tiny shale rockfalls gradually loosen up the bigger pieces of rock to cause a major cliff fall.  Fascinating.  Just make sure you stand several hundred yards away.

Closer to the water, the rock surface is eroded into geometric lines so that it looks like the skin of some giant sea-monster.   I decided that if I ever film a low budget sci-fi movie, I will use Kimmeridge for the location, as it looks like the canals on Mars.

In my head.

We discovered these markings on a rock. I have no idea what they are, I assume they are man made but they might be natural.  Whatever they are, they are funky and tribal looking, and I like them very much.

And of course there are fossils.  Pretty much everywhere you look you can see them, and as more of the cliffs break apart, more are exposed.

There's a causeway that is exposed at low tide, and we were able to walk along it.  A chap was there with a small dog, which was whimpering and straining at a tennis ball floating in the water, too far away to be reached.  We discussed it with the chap.  He was confident that the dog would jump in and fetch the ball.  Any minute now.  Aaaany minute.

As we watched, the dog screwed up its courage and leapt into the sea. At exactly that moment the tennis ball, waterlogged and heavy, sank like a stone to the bottom.

The dog owner sighed deeply, rolled up his trousers and waded into the water with a resigned look on his face.

I got the feeling that little scenario had played out more than once that day already.

Once we had walked along the beach, wading in the shallow water in our wellies, and staggering through the mounds of rotting seaweed, we went up the path to the little marine life museum/exhibition there.  They had a small display of native wildlife that could be found in the area, and there were several volunteers outside cleaning a huge World War 2 mine that had pride of place in the flowerbed.

We passed a pretty waterfall cascading onto the beach.


Then we walked back along the cliff-top path to the car park, admiring the view from the hill.

Wellies off and back into the car to Swanage, where we walked from the car park at the edge of town through the park, and then to the excellent fish and chip shop.

If there's a nicer lunch than freshly-fried fish and chips eaten from a paper bag, sitting on a bench outside in the sunshine watching yachts on the sea, I don't know what it is.  Mr WithaY went mad and bought his own mini bottle of ketchup, which left his lunch bag looking like an axe murder scene.

Lunch finished, ketchup wiped up and leftover chips thrown in the bin, we waddled back up the hill and headed home.

At one point as we walked on the beach, the breeze blowing and the sun shining, we agreed that it was much nicer than working.

In other news: I've got some forms to fill in from the council which will (hopefully) pave the way for a new business plan.  Fingers crossed.

Monday, 14 May 2012


I went out last night.  Yes!  Out of the house, right out of the village, even.  Ooh, get me.

Mr WithaY got home from his week living in the woods on Sunday night, had a swift shower and change of clothes to try and mitigate the smell of mud/wood-smoke/squirrels, and then we scooted over to Salisbury City Hall to watch Rich Hall perform.

He was hilarious.

My favourite joke (also one of the few I can remember) came while he was talking about visiting Graceland, and being asked to leave for laughing at something he was looking at whilst the tour commentary was talking about the death of Elvis.  He said "Anyway, if he was The King, why was he buried out in the back yard like a hamster?"

The young woman sitting next to me had the loudest laugh I have ever heard, almost to the point of pain, and she found pretty much everything he said hilarious.  Well, most of it was.  I scooched away from her as much as possible, ending up leaning on Mr WithaY cosily, if a bit uncomfortably.

It made me consider the etiquette of such a situation.  What do you do?  What would YOU have done?

(A) Say "Can you please stop laughing so much?"  It was a comedy show, after all, and I was laughing too. I'd have sounded like a miserable old bag, for sure.

(B)  Say "Can you please try to laugh more quietly?" Again, she was having the time of her life, and there was no reason for me to try to make her feel self-conscious.  Also, miserable old bag-ness.

(C)  Say "Can I have some of that white wine you're necking please?"  I think that may have contributed to the non-stop screams of hilarity she was emitting.  Greedy, but less miserable old bag, potentially.

I should have gone for option C.

To be fair, her boyfriend/partner was nudging her when she was in danger of shattering the light fittings, but he was laughing his head off too.  Well, everyone was.  It was lovely.

We drove home in a fine mood, admired the glorious stars for a bit in the front garden and then came in to a ridiculously late supper of lemon chicken, pasta and grape salad.  Nom nom nom.

Today the electrician has been here, replacing the light in my study.  I had a funky lampshade made of millions of bits of metal, like tiny mirrors on springs, which I liked a lot, but it had a single low-energy light bulb in it.  Fine when I am sitting at my computer, right by the window.  I can work in comfort, enjoying an abundance of natural light and the many car accidents and near misses I get to see out of the window.

However, when I am sewing, my sewing table is at the other side of the room, far away* from the window, and the lighting is appalling even in daylight. I realised I had to do something about it when it took me almost 5 minutes to thread the needle in my sewing machine because I just couldn't see the bloody thing properly.

So. Now I have a smart little 3-halogen spotlight, providing me with task lighting for my desk AND my sewing table.  It also lights up my guitars beautifully.  The Rickenbacker is on a stand now, next to the Les Paul, both looking rather gorgeous.  If only I could play them with anything approaching real skill.  Hey ho.

I have put the funky million mirror lightshade in the spare bedroom, so I can still admire it when I want to.

The electrician had also been asked to look at one of the lights in the kitchen.  We have v posh downlighters under the cabinets on the walls, and one of them packed up a few months ago.  We replaced the bulb, we replaced the replacement bulb, we tried the non-working bulb in other light fittings where it worked perfectly, and we eventually concluded that the actual light unit was broken.

The electrician listened to this tale of woe and said "Ah, it's probably the transformer."

I had visions of Optimus Prime putting together light fitting ineptly, thus causing the problem, but no, he meant the little box of electric magic that sits up on top of the cabinet, out of sight.

He got up on his stepladder and waggled the cables about till the transformer came into view.  He inspected it and said "Hmm, looks ok."

Then he turned the lights on, and hey presto, bastard corner light worked.

Mr WithaY almost had kittens.

So.  A loose connection. Probably.  If it stops working again, we may have to get a new transformer.  But we may just need to get the electrician to come and waggle it about a bit.  Much cheaper.

Today I have applied for a couple more part time jobs, but with no great expectations of being fortunate.  I think I am too old and/or too over-qualified for a lot of the jobs I see advertised.  I am also picky.  I want something part time - not more than 25 hours a week, ideally - within 15 miles of home.  That limits me considerably.  And I don't want to do anything dull.

I read this article with interest the other day.

This quote in particular struck a chord:

Ministers are determined to change the culture of the civil service in which “lazy” staff are allowed to get away with poor performance because their managers are unwilling to have “difficult conversations”.

They also say:

Another minister, with a background in business, said there were “real problems” with the quality of the civil service. “It is far too big.  They are lazy. There is no leadership. You can’t get rid of people,” the minister said.
Sacking 90% of staff and paying the remaining 10% high salaries would revolutionise the way some departments work, the minister suggested.

Yes.  Yes it would.  For example, I suggest that a lot of Departments would simply grind to a shuddering halt, with the remaining staff squawking in terror as the sheer volume of work overwhelms them because no fucker has had the forethought to cancel projects, or cut out entire workstreams which no longer have the resources to complete them.

Be nice, too, if they remove the multiple layers of externally-imposed measurement and reporting schemes which took up about a quarter of my time in some jobs.  All "important" and "urgent" and "mandatory" so you had to spend fucking hours filling in Dashboard Reports and Progress Plans and Transition Staircase Reviews rather than actually delivering anything.

....aaaaand breathe.....

In the almost 23 years I was employed by the Civil Service, I only knew of one person who got fired, and that was for breaching the rules about publishing information on the Interwebs, the fuckwit.  I did, however, encounter a number of people who were lazy, dishonest, cunning, under-performing and sometimes downright mental, all of whom kept their jobs because they were able to play the system and make sure that they got transferred to be someone else's problem before they were put on formal disciplinary measures.

I worked with a chap once who was suspended for looking at porn on his laptop in the office.  Whilst several colleagues were in the same room, me included.  Yes, that's right.  ON HIS WORK LAPTOP.  IN THE OFFICE.  DURING WORKING HOURS.

He continued to do so after several of his colleagues asked him not to.  Eventually - after a couple of polite requests were ignored - he was reported to his boss, and then to the head of the team.

He got put on "gardening leave" for fucking months and months, there was an enquiry, he was reprimanded, he dropped a grade in pay, and then came back to work in the same office, tanned, fit and gloating about how nice his garden was looking after having all that time off to look after it.

Not very impressive.

I've also worked with people who had social skills presumably learned from bonobo chimps.

Scratching.  Hands waaaay too deep and too active in pockets whilst talking to female colleagues.  Inappropriate "adjusting" of parts whilst in meetings.  Nose picking.  Farting.  Belching.  Taking off shoes to share the stench of old socks with the rest of the office.

Yes, it was pretty much all there bar the shit flinging, and given the right combination of canteen food and boredom, I expect that could have happened.

I might not be earning much money these days, but by Swansea I am far, far less stressed and unhappy and frustrated than I was for the last 5 years of my corporate career.  

*About 8 feet.  It's a small room.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Feastival Time

May?  Already?  Gosh, is it really?  I've been so busy with, um, stuff, that I didn't notice.

Ah, I can't lie to you.  It's not true.  I haven't been particularly busy, at least not with anything interesting, or semi-interesting, or even mildly amusing.  My life has evolved into a slow, steady pattern of daily domesticity and occasional semi-inspired creativity in the sewing arena.

Actually, the Sewing Arena sounds like the world's crappiest full-contact game show idea.  Like Gladiators, but with thimbles and rouleau loop hooks.  And an ironing board.  Maybe I'll pitch that idea to Channel 5.

So. What have I been doing to fill my time, other than making frilly flouncy stuff out of fabric?

Well, I have been making a lot of chutney.  That's not a euphemism.  I went to the farmers market again last week, and bought another huge box of tomatoes for a fiver, went halves on a huge box of gorgeous red peppers for another fiver, picked up a dozen brilliantly red chilli peppers for three quid, and bore the whole lot home in a state of high excitement.

I made two more batches of terrifyingly spicy tomato chutney.  Apparently you aren't supposed to eat it for two months after you make it.  We're shovelling it down before it's cold in the jar.  Mr WithaY took some away with him to his bushcraft course last week, and the people there were asking if they could buy it.  Excellent.  He said that things turned ugly and there were almost blows exchanged for the last spoonful in the jar.  He may have been exaggerating, but even so.  Yay me.

I also made Hugh Fearnley-Whatever's recipe for sweet chilli jelly.  Unfortunately, I didn't have proper jam sugar, so it hasn't set into a jelly.  I swore a bit, considered the issue, regrouped, and decanted it into the empty vinegar bottles (washed, of course.)  Hey presto!  Sweet chilli dipping sauce!  And, dear readers, it is delicious.

Yesterday I went to the Shaftesbury Feastival.  Yes, there's a FEAST right there in the name.

I drove out with a mate* to an industrial estate on the edge of Shaftesbury, from whence we took the teeny park and ride bus.  We went via every single municipal car park in North Dorset before finally being disgorged into the marketplace, where this glorious scene greeted us.  Imagine it with a blue sky, and less of a biting wind.  That's not how it was, but it might make you feel more spring-like.

There was an impressive balloon arch, courtesy of the local dairy, who had also provided a life size model cow with real squirting teats that children were being encouraged to milk.  They didn't seem keen, and frankly I can't blame them.

Look children!  It's leaking water into that bucket!  Go and grab it by the rubber udder and have a good old squeeze!


There was a Maypole, complete with white-frocked little girls with flowers in their hair.  It was charming.  They stood there in the Siberian gale, fierce concentration on their faces, clutching the ribbons grimly.  A bloke with a mandolin played folk music, and they skipped around in complex patterns, weaving a pole-long plait.  And then they did it in reverse and un-weaved it, which I found even more impressive.

The thing that appealed to me most was the fact that Shaftesbury has a special Maypole Slot in the street, usually covered with a manhole cover.  Fantastic.  How many other towns have year-round Maypole access when required, eh?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Shaftesbury, there is a gorgeous walkway along the edge of the Abbey walls, with a view across half of Dorset, and that's where the majority of the food stands were sited.

This is the start of the Parade O' Food, and this is the view across the valley in between the stalls.

There was bread, from several local bakeries, but I liked the look of this stall best.  The owner was being very cheeky, offering us his "small soft Italian." I told him I prefer mine larger and firmer, and he said "I get told that every week..."

There was a giant paella...

A whole roast pig....

 Chillies, olives, peppers, capers, garlic and all manner of savoury nibbles......

We saw posters for the upcoming Dorset Knob Throwing contest, which made us laugh immoderately.

In the craft stall area, along the main road, there was this rather excellent hearse, full of vintage handbags.

The local junior schools were selling teas and snacks in the town hall, and as we were walking back through the town to head home, several small children had obviously decided to increase their marketing area, and were standing in the middle of the thoroughfare with trays of food, holding up the crowds, asking people "Wanna buy a sandwich?" which I thought was very entrepreneurial.

So.  A grand day out.  I shall definitely be going along next year.

Other news:  It's been raining almost endlessly for what seems like a month.  My garden is battered flat, but there are strawberries starting to grow in my newly-planted tubs.

I have also applied for a part time job locally, as I am starting to go a bit mental from not being busy enough.  Fingers crossed, eh.

*Hello Jo!