Tuesday, 19 June 2012


A couple of weeks ago there was a phone call for Mr WithaY from his bank.  That in itself was enough to worry me, as generally the relationship we have with the bank is low-key and unfussy.  We don't bother them, they don't bother us.  They store our money in carefully-labelled mouseproof shoeboxes out the back somewhere, and give it to us when we ask for it.

So far, so good.

The lady from the bank was polite but insistent.  She really REALLY needed to speak to Mr WithaY.  Yes, it was important.  No, she couldn't tell me what the call was about.  When he came home that evening, I passed on the message, and the following morning he called them back.

It was not good news.  Apparently the bank had noticed a pattern of "unusual spending" on the account, had declined a transaction, and decided to contact Mr WithaY.

The transaction they had declined was an attempt to borrow money from one of those payday loan companies. The ones who charge thousands of percent APR, that are always advertising on TV, trying to persuade us to borrow money for short-term emergencies. Or holidays.  Or a new car. Or anything we want, really...after all, why do they care?  As long as we pay it back, it's all cool.

In the interests of research, I just went to one of their websites and checked out how much it would cost to borrow £250 for 30 days.  The additional interest and fees come to just over £80.  The APR is 4214%.  Over FOUR THOUSAND PERCENT.  Obviously, they intend it to be a very short term solution, but bloody hellfire.  Four thousand percent.

But I digress.  Mr WithaY spent a depressing time on the phone to the bank, going through his recent expenditure, and it was established that yes, his identity had indeed been stolen, and some filthy thieving fucker* had taken about £1000 from his account.

I have to say that the bank were extremely helpful.  Once they had established what was legitimate Mr WithaY spend and what was thievery, they said that all the stolen money would be refunded, and they would contact the police to report the theft.

We had a nice cup of tea and discussed the event, with a lot of tutting about the parlous state of morals in this country, and the bloody invidious TV adverts that encourage people to live on ever-increasing debts to support some media-fuelled aspirational lifestyle.  Gah.

Some time passed.

Last week, while Mr WithaY was away at twig camp, several letters arrived for him.  We don't tend to open one another's mail, in general, so I piled his letters up on the hall table and thought no more of it.  Then, on Friday, a postcard arrived.  It looked like one of those "Sorry you were out when we called" cards that the postman leaves when he tries to deliver your new Terry Pratchett book while you're in the shower.


I read it.  It said that due to their inability to contact him, a "representative" would be coming to see Mr WithaY on a certain date, and could he please telephone to confirm that he would be at home for the appointment.  There was a phone number, and the name of a company I had never heard of.

I did what any diligent** wife would do, and Googled the company name.  Guess what?  It was a payday loan company.

So, yesterday, once all the bushcraft kit was unpacked, and the smell of woodsmoke had dissipated a little, Mr WithaY rang the number on the card.  It seems that whoever stole his identity had successfully borrowed money from this company, and, not surprisingly, they wanted it back, as per contract terms and conditions.

Once again, the lady he spoke to was incredibly sympathetic and helpful. Whoever had stolen the money had used a real name (Mr WithaY's) and a real address (ours) but had given fake references.  Well you would, wouldn't you?

Once the payday loan company checked the references, after the money had been lent, they discovered that the roofing company the thief claimed to work for didn't exist.  Well DUH.

Seems more sensible to check references and then hand over the cash, but hey, I'm sure they know what they're doing***.

Anyway, the payday loan company said that they would talk to the bank, and asked Mr WithaY to let them have the crime reporting number so that they too could report their losses to the police, or the insurance, or the ombudsman, or whoever is responsible for making sure nobody loses out.

So now we have to wait and see if we get any more slightly intimidating postcards alerting us to the fact that a "representative" of a loan company is going to come and see us.  Oh, and whether our credit rating has been fucked up big-time**** by this tiresome drama.

And how did this all come about, you may ask?  Did we stupidly put documents in the bin that someone later picked out and used?  Did we use a public computer for fiscal transactions and left ourselves logged in?  Did we lose our bank card, and also our PIN which was on a scrap pf paper next to it?


We are both incredibly careful about all that stuff, and burn anything with our details on it once it's finished with.  

Mr WithaY recently used a reputable and supposedly safe online shop, with all the correct https protocols in place.  A little while after he had used the shop, they emailed him to tell him that their secure (ha!) server had been hacked, and that therefore his bank details may have been compromised.

So.  Be very careful, dear readers.  It could happen to you.  And if it does, you could end up with Knuckles and No-Ears Eddie paying a visit to take your TV away if you fail to pay the 4214%. 

*Technical law-enforcement terminology
**No I don't.  I think they're irresponsible and stupid.
****Technical banking terminology

Monday, 18 June 2012

The Woods. Different ones.

Another weekend, another visit to the Outside.  Brrr.  Sky.  Trees.  Weather of all descriptions.

Mr WithaY was away all last week, on the final instalment of his 10-month training course, which will (assuming his portfolio is accepted) provide him with an excellent bushcraft instructor's qualification.  He's worked really hard at it for almost a year, and I am tremendously proud of him.

Sunday was billed as the Families Day, and the friends and families of the trainees were invited to go along and spend the day doing various bushcrafty things.  We were asked to bring a picnic.  I got up early, packed the picnic and headed off.  According to my satnav, it would take about an hour and a half to get there, and Mr WithaY had asked me to try and be there as close to 1000 as possible, as the day was due to kick off at about 1030-ish.

I had a very pleasant and uneventful journey, finding the location (almost) first time, where Mr WithaY met me with black fingernails, a five day woodsmoke aura and a huge grin on his face.

We made our way along a rutted muddy track (in a LandRover...well, there was a picnic to carry) to a seemingly featureless bit of woodland.  We'd arrived.

Mr WithaY proudly gave me a tour of the site.  And now I shall do the same for you.

A couple of the teaching areas, and the tea point.  They don't have a water cooler to stand around and chat, but the giant kettle did the job nicely.

I had tea.  In the woods.

Look.  Outdoor tea.  From some sort of metal tea-bucket.

This is a view of the kitchen.  There, far away, under that tarpaulin.  When I arrived, they were all washing up after a giant fry-up fat-boy breakfast, apparently.

Anyway, tea drunk and tour completed, more people arrived and the day kicked off in fine style.  I had a go at starting a fire using a bowdrill.


It was very interesting to watch other people doing it though, and most of them managed to at least get some smoke, if not actual fire, so the chaps doing the instructing were pleased.

Then I went and had a go at making damper bread.  This is a very simple bread dough which you wrap around a stick and bake over the fire.  I made mine - made it a bit too wet, unfortunately - but I got it wrapped and placed over the fire, and wandered off to see what Mr WithaY was up to.

We chatted for a bit, and he asked what I'd had a go at.  I said "I'm making damper bread."

"Where is it?" he enquired.

"Cooking..." I replied.

"Yeah.  You need to go and watch it.  Make sure it doesn't burn."


Anyway, I had added cinnamon and sugar to the dough, so in fact it is simply caramelising nicely.  Nom nom nom.

Here are some other people not burning their damper bread.

One of the trainees' family included a teeny baby.  They constructed a fantastic Bushcraft Baby Rocker device.

Every so often one of the parents wandered over and gave it* a gentle push, and she slept happily for ages in there.

Anyway, here's my damper bread, proudly held aloft before vanishing into my gaping  maw.

The picnic was a success.  Several years ago, when we both still had "proper" jobs, and therefore disposable income, we bought a ridiculously fancy picnic basket/backpack thing.

It contains a cheeseboard, napkins, salt and pepper pots, one of those fancy cork things with a silver top to put in your bottle of wine to save some for later, and all the crockery and cutlery you might expect to need when you're eating off the floor.  In the woods.

And a picnic rug.  We're not savages.

I do like the combination of mud-encrusted bushcrafting chap's boot, and dainty gingham napkins.  We went for a stroll after lunch and collected up some logs that needed to be moved from one woodland glade to another, and then it was almost time for me to go home.

The weather was perfect. The first properly sunny day for bloody ages, which made it a thoroughly enjoyable time.

Mr WithaY and I walked back down the rutted muddy track to where all the cars were parked, I changed out of my wellies into sensible driving trainers, said our goodbyes and I set off for home.  Before I left, I pressed the GO HOME button on my satnav.

The anticipated arrival time seemed a bit optimistic, but I decided that it was just due to traffic. Or roadworks having finished.  Or goblins.  Let's just say I didn't give it much thought, and leave it at that.

I headed off through the little country lanes, listening to the radio, and enjoying the sunshine.  I drove some distance, several times thinking  "I don't remember coming along this road on the way here..."

I have a bit of a track record re: navigating, though, so I suppressed my anxiety and put all my faith in my satnav.

Schoolboy error.

I had been driving for about half an hour, and still hadn't seen any signs to where I thought I was headed, and then suddenly I was off the tiny back road meandering through the pretty country villages, and on the A3, heading for London.  I swore.  Apparently I was on the Hog's Back, where there are no places to turn around.  My satnav was still insisting that I was heading in the right direction.

I did not believe it.  

Then, as if that wasn't bad enough, I then went into the Hindhead Tunnel.  Readers, I had never heard of such a thing before, but I assure you it is a very, very long tunnel indeed.  I had to drive through it, with my radio and satnav both cutting out, the message on the display screen simply stating "Satellite Not Located" in a blunt refusal to help.

Once out the other side, I turned down the first side street I found, pulled over and looked at my satnav.

Readers, a valuable  lesson:

When you press the GO HOME button, please ensure that you have previously programmed it to point to your home.  If you have failed to do this, it will default, and send you to the satnav factory's home, somewhere in central London.

I arrived home some considerable time later.

Let's never speak of this again.

*The seat thing, not the actual baby.  That would have been unkind.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Trees

There is unrest in the forest.  There is trouble with the trees.

If by "forest" you mean" "our back garden", and by "the trees" you mean "the giant leylandii in our neighbours' garden."

When we bought our house, all those* years ago, we were delighted by the fact that there was a lovely view over the hedge at the end of our garden, across the neighbour's meadow to the river and hills beyond.  It was really very pretty, and when you stood in the bathroom in the mornings and looked out of the window at it, it was a sight to gladden the heart.

When the dairy farm down the road still had their herd of Jersey cows, we could see them grazing on the hills, which was very scenic.  There are often rabbits and squirrels in the meadow, skipping about gaily.  Egrets and herons live on the river, flying in and out in that strange ungainly way, looking like something out of a film set on a distant planet.   One with large predatory bird-like aliens.

Our hedge was flanked on the other side by a cherry tree, and a small cluster of leylandii trees, both of which were in the neighbours' garden.  The cherry tree in particular was very pretty, with blossom in the spring, and plenty of birds coming to visit when the fruit started appearing.

Time passed.

A couple of years after we moved in, the neighbours had a go at the leylandii, trimming them down a bit, taking a big lump off the top.  It was a huge job, I seem to remember they had to get blokes with scaffolding in.  This pruning encouraged it to grow. It grew, and it grew and it GREW.

More time passed.

Last summer we noticed that the bottom end of our garden was becoming a bit dank. Mossy and gloomy.  Also, peculiarly dry.  We realised that the leylandii was both shading the garden from the sun, and shielding it from  the rain. Which was a bit of a bugger, as the fruit bed and the vegetable bed are both at that end of the garden.

Over the winter, that tree seemed to loom ever larger, literally and figuratively.

Possibly because I was spending far more time at home in the hours of daylight, it became a bit of an obsession to me.  Every time I went into the garden to peg out washing, or water the veg, or mooch about admiring the wild flower garden**, I'd see it, looming darkly over the hedge.  I took to standing directly under it and seeing just how much it was overhanging our garden, muttering and grumbling.

Me, not the tree.

All the tree does is grow, grow ever taller, providing a house for the ever-increasing population of idiot Wiltshire pigeons.  It has all but swallowed up the cherry tree, one branch of which is poking out desperately, like the arm of a drowning man waving from the ocean.

The view now consists of this:

Bear in mind that the hedge is about 6 feet tall (yes, it needs cutting, we are waiting for all the birds to finish nesting) which gives some perspective on the height of the tree.

Something had to be done.

After much discussion between Mr WithaY and I, and also with the neighbours on the other side, who hate and loathe the tree with a passion, it was decided that I should write a little note telling the tree-owners that their tree was a nuisance.

That took a fair bit of thought.  It was difficult to put down just how much of a nuisance and encroachment it had become without sounding like a nimby whining busybody, but I think I nailed it.  The note was dropped round to the neighbour, and we waited with bated breath for a reaction. I was preparing all sorts of worst-case scenarios where the local planning office would be involved, and possibly the environmental health authority.  And the Army.  And Godzilla.

As it happened, within 24 hours we had a visit from said tree-owning neighbour.  She looked at it from our garden and was horrified at how big it was, and how much light it blocked.   We discussed possible solutions, and the upshot was that I got a tree surgeon to come round and give us some price quotes on pruning it, or cutting it right down.

Another little note has been written to next door telling them that the tree surgeon's opinion is that the whole thing should come down due to its size and position.  Mr WithaY and I have offered to pay for it to be removed, as we know that things are a bit difficult for the neighbours at the moment.  All we need is their go-ahead, and hopefully by the end of the summer we will have our view, and the sunshine, back.

In other news:  We are getting the garage converted, and the bloke is coming on Thursday to conduct the survey.  The work is due to start at the end of the month.  Exciting.

And in other, other news, I had a job interview last week.  Waaaay back last summer I applied for a job, a post I felt that I was pretty well fitted for, and was rather disappointed not even to get called for interview.  I put it in the "Ah well" file in my head, and moved on.  Last week, there was an email from the people who I had sent my application to.  Was I still available for work, and if so, would I like to come and have a chat with them?

Oh yes indeedy.  So I went in, had a long chat, and am currently waiting to hear back from them about the possibility of a full-time (but temporary) job which would then hopefully lead to a part-time, permanent job. Which would be perfect.

I'll let you know.

*Ten and a half

**Rampant weedy patch in the corner of the garden

Thursday, 7 June 2012


So, what did everyone do over the long Jubilee weekend, eh?  Street parties?  Picnics in the park?  Champagne and strawberries under a glorious blue June sky?  Lining the streets of London to wave a flag and cheer at the Queen?

No, me neither.

I was in a field.  In Derbyshire.

Why oh why oh why was I in a field in Derbyshire?  You may well ask.  Well.  Mr WithaY's new chosen career is that of bushcraft instructor, and he had been asked to go along to the Bushcraft Show to help out with one of the trade stands - a company he has been training, and latterly working with.

He asked me if I'd like to come along, to meet his colleagues, look at all the other stands, and see what it was all about.  I said yes.  But only on the condition that I could book us into a local B&B, as I have decided that I am too old, too creaky, and in all likelihood too wheezy to camp much these days*.

I found a pub with rooms a few miles from the showground, booked us in for three nights, and off we went on Friday afternoon.  It was a hellish journey, inevitably.  A long Bank Holiday Weekend, plus the usual evening rush hour traffic meant that it took us probably two hours longer than we had expected, but we arrived eventually.  Mr WithaY rang his colleagues to find out if we were needed to go and help set things up, but they were only then leaving home, and weren't likely to arrive much before midnight, so we were free to go and grab some dinner and have an early night, ready for an early start on Saturday.

So.  Saturday morning - having left the pub too early to enjoy the included-in-the-room-cost breakfast chiz chiz chiz - we drove across to Elvaston Castle, and this is how the showground looked:

As you can probably tell, it was a bit damp.  I did like the giant three-point teepee though.  It had a big tv screen in it.

Saturday was successful, there were a lot of people wandering around, and there were many demonstrations of various skills going on.  Flint knapping proved very popular, and drew crowds every time the knapper started working.

See how he knaps.  I asked him what he does with all the broken bits of flint once he's finished, and apparently they all get placed in a special spoil heap at a university, to ensure that the archaeological record isn't polluted with 21st Century flint arrowheads.

There was also a lovely lady making willow baskets and things.  I watched her for ages.

It made me want to have another go, after the excellent day Mr WithaY and I had last Autumn in Somerset, basket weaving.

There was also a chap there who had made several canoes and kayaks.  He told us how he'd travelled to Canada, visited some Colonial re-enactment type place and asked them if he could learn to make a canoe in their workshop.  They considered it, finally told him he could, but only if he agreed to dress as a Voyageur while he did it, and talk to the public.  He spent three months dressed up, learning canoe-making, and said he loved every minute.

Unfortunately, all day on Sunday it pissed down.  The rain woke me in the night - did I mention we were staying in a pub, not a tent? - and it didn't let up for about 36 hours.  The numbers of people coming through the show were correspondingly low.  As I hadn't packed my wellies, by lunchtime my feet were soaked and I was cold and miserable.

I think this encapsulates the mood:

Hopelessly optimistic, offering strawberries and scones in a sea of mud and cold, cold rain.

I took myself off to the car and sat there in the dry, if not the warm, reading my book, playing Angry Birds and snoozing intermittently until it was time to leave.  One bright spot was a phone call from some lovely mates who live nearby, who were:

(a) miffed that we hadn't thought to ask them if we could stay at their house, and

(b) seeing if we'd like to meet them for dinner later.

That cheered me right up.  A wet, cold, grim day was thus lifted by a lively and good-humoured evening with our mates, and several large glasses of wine.  Mmmmm wine. These are the mates we went to Cornwall with a couple of years ago.  When Mr WithaY fell in the river. Yeah, you remember.

Monday was much better.  The sun shone, there were loads of people, and suddenly everything looked cheerful and interesting again, rather than just rain-sodden and squalid.

We left at about 6 in the evening, having helped to take down the tents and so on, and had an uneventful and much shorter journey home in the bright evening sunshine.

One other highlight of the trip was travelling over to Matlock to pick up my clock.  Remember I said I'd commissioned a clock as a "Congratulations on doing 23 Years in the Civil Service" present for myself?

It was ready for collection last weekend, so we went and collected it.  Readers, it is a thing of beauty, and I am completely thrilled with it.

Look, here it is in the box, about to be put up on the wall in pride of place.  The brush is for dusting it.

And here it is in situ:

It is keeping excellent time so far, but my genius clock-making mate assures me it will need to be adjusted sooner or later.  In the meantime, I am enjoying the look of it, and the rather reassuring tick-tock it makes.

It's joined my Rickenbacker on the list of Things I Will Save In A Fire.

*Although if we get one of those funky circular tents you can fit a wood-burner in, I might reconsider