Friday, 21 November 2014


I've been having a bit of a clear-out this week, partly in despair at the enormous tottering mountains of magazines, paperwork and books in every corner of the house, but mostly in a desperate effort to make the annual pre-Christmas house-cleaning less arduous in a few weeks.

It started more or less by accident yesterday, when I was sorting out laundry. I ought to draw a critical path analysis diagram to illustrate the path of progress I took.

Step 1:  Sort out a load of laundry and put it in the washing machine.  Decide to tidy up my Heap of Shame in the corner.

Step 2:  Pick up assorted items of clothing on the floor, sort through and either hang up or place in laundry basket.  Stand back and admire empty spot where Heap of Shame previously lived.  Decide to hoover the bedroom.

Step 3:  Fetch hoover, realise that Mr WithaY's Heap of Shame threatens to overwhelm his half of the bedroom.  Suggest* he sorts it out.

Step 4:  Decide to clean window frames of black filth and mould while he sorts out the Heap.   Fetch cleaning wipes from the bathroom.  Clean bathroom sink, bath and shower with cleaning wipes, as they're all a bit grubby now you look at them.

Step 5:  Return to bedroom.  Clean all black filth from window frames.  Decide to dust window ledges, as they are grey and fluffy rather than white and shiny.

Step 6:  Fetch duster from study.  Find furniture polish cleaning wipes in box with duster.  Realise desk is very grubby.  Clean with furniture polish wipes.  Move dressmakers form out of study onto landing to be put back in the loft later.

Step 7:  Mr WithaY, taking a break from sorting his Heap, scrambles up into the loft to put the dressmakers form away.  Both stand back and admire the empty spot in the study where it used to be.

Step 8:    Return to bedroom.  Dust window ledges.  Realise every other flat surface in the bedroom is also grey and fluffy. Dust everything else.  Raise huge clouds of dust.  Re-dust window ledges as a result.  Finally, with Mr WithaY's Heap of Shame cleared, hoover the bedroom floor.

Step 9:  Hoover the landing, study, spare bedroom (in a cursory manner, then shut the door on it), and finally the bathroom.  Oh, and then the top half of the stairs.

As you see, this endless displacement activity type of cleaning goes on in an indefinite loop, until you run out of cleaning wipes or the hoover needs emptying.  In this example, it ended with Mr WithaY making us a cup of tea, thus cunningly breaking the cycle.

This morning I was planning to get all the ironing done. My ironing routine is simple, but effective.  I put the TV in the bedroom on, find something fairly unchallenging to watch (Frasier, Star Trek, Big Bang Theory, as examples) and then stand there for an hour or two, turning a basket full of scrumpled tatty-looking rags into several neat piles of pressed folded clothes.  It's deeply satisfying, in a low-grade way.

I was thwarted by the weather.  (First world problems klaxon here.)

The satellite link to the upstairs TV is badly affected by the weather. If it rains, even a little bit, the signal breaks up and the programme becomes unwatchable.  Clearly, I cannot be expected to iron without the amusing exploits of American actors to keep me occupied, so I have to put the iron back down with an exasperated sigh, and go and do something else.  And here we are.

One thing I could do is go and sort out Mr WithaY's dressing table.  I was browsing through a gift catalogue which arrived with a weekend newspaper, trying to find something that wasn't related to golf or coffee** and I spotted a Gentleman's Tidy.  Something like this, but made in faux leather rather than wood.

I seriously considered ordering it as a Christmas present, and then I thought a bit harder about what tends to occupy Mr WithaY's dressing table.

Among the usual litter of aftershave bottles, toiletries, cufflink boxes and a clothes brush, yesterday there were:

Several pairs of clean pants, neatly folded and waiting to be put away in a drawer
A plastic fork
A huge heap of old receipts and scraps of paper, none of them necessary for tax purposes
A coin sorter (almost empty)
Several coins
Cord (not the same as string)
A book about neolithic cooking
Hazelnuts, foraged and then forgotten about, in the manner of an absent-minded squirrel

I don't think there is a Gentleman's Tidy in existence which is designed to cope with that little lot.

Back to the drawing board.

Also, how do they sort out their laundry on Star Trek, eh?  I've seen evidence of a bar, a barber and beauty parlour, several places to eat, even showers, but never any laundry facilities.  I like to imagine that deep in the bowels of the Starship Enterprise is a dry-cleaners, manned by a grouchy Ferengi.

*Shout down stairs "Can you please come and move all your clothes, it's a pigsty up here."

**Slim pickings, I can tell you.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Style matters

Today I am pondering the nature of Time.

This is mostly in the context of a party we are heading off to in a bit, up there in Cheltenham.  Coo er gosh posh eh?  A dear friend is having a Significant Birthday this week, and we have been invited along to help him celebrate.  When the invitation arrived, I looked at the clever vintage-stylee design, and the large, highly visible Date of Birth thereon.

Me:  "I can't believe he's 50!  Already!  it only seems a couple of years since we all went to his 40th birthday!  Remember that evening?  That Chinese restaurant in Gloucester?  What a laugh."

Mr WithaY:  Read the date again.

Me:  1954.

Mr WithaY:  And 2014 minus 1954 is....?

Me:  (uncertainly, what with my terrible Maths Blindness affliction)  Um...50?

Mr WithaY:  No.  60.  He's 60.  It's TWENTY YEARS since we went to his 40th birthday.

Me:  But I still have the handbag I took to that party!

So, we are off to a birthday party for a friend who is, incredibly, 60 .  The lithe bugger started long-distance running a year or two ago and is fitter and healthier than he has been in all the time I've known him.  He posts photos on Facebook of him running 10k races, and 25k races, and wearing medals from races, and he looks less knackered than I do after I've hoovered the stairs.

This morning, Mr WithaY has been preparing himself for the event.  He's been rummaging in his wardrobe, selecting garments, then rejecting them, then picking them up again to see the effect with a different waistcoat.  He has, and I am not joking, just been in a quandary as to which pocket watch he ought to wear.
I suggested he forgo the pocket watch, and wear a wristwatch like any sane human, but apparently if you wear a waistcoat, you have to wear a watch chain, and if you wear a watch chain, you have to wear a pocket watch. Well duh.

Mr WithaY has two modes for clothes. He has Work Mode, which involves multiple layers of fleece, Goretex, moleskin, gaiters and heavy boots, with a complicated belt arrangement which has knives, a firelighting kit and his phone attached to it, and he has Going Out Mode, which involves cravats, waistcoats, 1930s trousers, or possibly overcoats, and the same heavy boots (minus gaiters.)  I'm pretty sure that if I didn't put my foot down, he'd wear a monocle.  Maybe two, as he's short-sighted.

To make matters worse, today he has been having to make additional holes in his belt, as he has lost so much weight due to being a manly outdoor type*, so he's smugly looking forward to showing off his svelte shape in front of our friends later.

Next week we're going shopping to buy him some sensible shoes, as all his shoes look like Ray Mears has been tromping across Africa in them.  I haven't told him yet. I'll pretend we're popping into Salisbury for a mooch round the market and lunch at Wagamama, then drag him to a shoe shop.  Bwahahahahaha.

I'm wearing a new skirt and a pretty top, and some lipstick, in order to fulfil the dress code of "smart casual" which is the most hellish of all dress codes. I can do smart - I have ballgowns, and tiaras and evening gloves and feather boas - and I can do casual - look, I am doing that right now - but Smart Casual is a nasty mixture in the middle.  Will I be too casual?  Will I be overdressed?  Will anyone care?

Thankfully, the answer to that last question is a resounding "no," because these are very old friends who for 20 years only really saw me in a field, dressed as a Seventeenth Century musketeer.  Their expectations are low.

In other news, we have had a bit of a health scare with the dog.  A peculiar lump appeared on one of her paws, just above the dewclaw, so I did what you should never do, and Googled "weird lumps on Labradors."  Immediately, inevitably, I became convinced she had terminal Death Paw Cancer Lumps, so we took her to the vet the next day for a check-up.  The vet took a biopsy and added to the alarm by telling us it could either be a cyst (not too bad) or a tumour (GAAAAH WHAT DID YOU SAY??) but that she wouldn't know till after the results came back.

A stressful few days followed, with us playing telephone tag with the vet, trying to get the results. Things were not helped by them leaving a message saying "It's not massively bad, can you ring us please?"

What the hell does "not massively bad" mean?    We only need to amputate one foot?  She could live at least another six months?  Brrr.

Anyhoo, eventually I spoke to the vet, who told me it was most likely a cyst-type thing as a result of an irritation like a bite or a sting or a thorn, and it should go away by itself in six to eight weeks. We have to take her back for a check up in a fortnight though, just to make sure.

The most encouraging thing was that they didn't find any cancer cells, which is what they were looking for.

Here she is, being all stressed out by the situation.

*And not eating 5 custard doughnuts a day whilst sat on his arse at a desk

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Holiday report


I've been on holiday. Not for the entire time since the last post on here, sadly, but recently enough for me still to want to tell people about it.  Where? Why, to Tenerife, dear reader.  That volcanic island not far off the west coast of Africa, where the sun always* shines, the sea is a crystal blue**, the beaches are pure white*** sand, and there is song**** and laughter in the air.

It's been a difficult year in some ways, this past 12 months. We lost poor old Father in law WithaY, who is still missed, despite his almost unfailing grumpiness.  I had a fairly significant operation in January, from which I have almost completely recovered now, bar a bit of lingering tenderness and some bizarre scars.  Oh, and we've had to do quite a lot of structural/repair stuff to the house, garden and garage which has been as tiresome and complex as these things usually are.

On the plus side, I still have a job I enjoy, we have a rain-proof garage, and a much prettier front garden, and have enjoyed some of the best summer weather ever.  Oh, and we have new neighbours.  That may not sound like a big deal, but our previous neighbours were a bit of a trial at times, and it is something of a relief to know they have moved on.

But Tenerife.  Let me tell you all about it.

We flew from Bristol, a great little airport, where there are enough shops and cafes to make you feel like you are Somewhere Big, but small enough that you can relax a bit and not feel completely threatened by the place.  Unlike Heathrow, the bastard.

The flight is 4 hours, just long enough to start getting uncomfortable in your teeny tiny aeroplane seat, and if you want a drink of water or a cup of tea, you have to buy it.  Bah.  I want a return to the days when you were offered a glass of orange squash from a tray, and a barley-sugar for your ears.

There was a minute or two of disconcerting confusion after landing, trying to find the transport to our hotel, but the friendly and efficient (I sound like a cheap brochure, sorry) Thomson holidays chap pointed us to the taxi minibus that had our name on it, and off we went.  Mr WithaY and I had been toying with the idea of hiring a car while we were on the island, but the short drive to the hotel persuaded us that we were neither brave enough nor affluent enough to risk the almost-certain death/car accident that seemed to lurk around every corner. Every single car we saw while we were there looked as though it had recently competed in a demolition derby.

The hotel we stayed in is called the Europe Villa Cortes, and I heartily recommend it to the house.  It's right on the seafront, and is built in an unusual, low-level rambling Mexican style around a large central courtyard. It looks like this:

Mmmmm.  I spent much of my holiday on a lounger in this very spot, relaxing under a palm tree in the shade, occasionally popping in for a swim.  There is a waterfall in the pool, which I enjoyed standing under (when I felt brave enough, it was an unheated pool.)

I saw, for the first time that I can remember, dates growing on palm trees.  They are beautiful!

I took those pictures from the balcony of our room, rather than from atop another, taller, palm tree.

The hotel is decorated throughout in a Mexican style, but with Spanish touches.  I loved the lights wrapped around the trunks of the trees around the courtyard, the many small bowls of fresh flowers, floating in water in intricate patterns, and even the rubber water lilies in a fountain. It was all so strange, and so foreign, and so very, very pleasant.

The house artist seems to have modelled their style on Beryl Cook's. There were fat naked ladies, fat saints, fat picadors and best of all, fat ponies on almost every wall. And skeletons on the lift doors.

The food was (predictably, by now, I expect) excellent. Here is a breakfast omelette, made to order, and garnished with guacamole, fresh flowers, and a tortilla.  We also had fizzy wine with breakfast.  Such decadence. I felt like I was in an episode of Poirot.

Mr WithaY added extra bacon and tomatoes, because clearly a few fresh flowers are not enough to sustain a man who intends to spend a day snoozing on a sunlounger by the pool.

Apart from waddling contentedly around the hotel, what did we do?

We went here.  Proudly billed as the most spectacular water park in Europe, I have to say, it was jolly good fun.  Mr WithaY went on every single ride. I went on a few, but still far more than I thought I was going to.

We arrived mid-morning, having been involved in a truly alarming bus queue scuffle, which involved two Spanish blokes almost coming to blows, and several women screaming and waving their babies in the air, found a locker, locked away all our stuff (sunblock, hats, sunglasses, bottles of water - you know, all the stuff that keeps you from being burned to a crisp in the boiling sun) because there were signs all over the place making it very clear that if you went on any of the rides in  hat, sunglasses, wearing a watch, carrying a camera etc etc etc you MIGHT BE KILLED.  I may be misremembering a few details, but it was something like that. Anyway, they were most emphatic about not wearing sunglasses.

Siam Park, so called because the King Of Siam visited Tenerife in about 1913.  Etcetera etcetera etcetera.

It's very cleverly landscaped, covering most of the side of a large hill, and is laid out to ensure you hear terrified screaming from almost every single point you visit.

This is the Tower of Power, a 92 feet high slide which shoots you down the front of the temple-like structure above, and through a shark tank, before spitting you out into the pool at the end.  I declined to have a go. Mr WithaY leapt up the many, many stairs with a glad cry, waited at the top for ages, and was then plummeted down again in about 2 seconds.

More to my taste was the Lazy River ride, a long, meandering waterway with a few "rapids", a waterfall, and some bubble jets, that you floated around on a huge rubber tyre thing, splayed out in the sun like a pale, damp starfish.  Perfect.  I went on that five or six times, while Mr WithaY was flinging himself down near-vertical Tubes Of Death.

We had also booked a trip one evening to go to the top of Mount Teide to watch the sunset, have dinner and then do some stargazing, but due to ridiculous admin errors on the part of the holiday company and Mr WithaY and I, that never happened, sadly.

We DID go whale-watching.  We saw many pilot whales, including mothers and babies, which were lovely.  Unfortunately, though, I am (always, ALWAYS, when will I learn) seasick, so the only photos I took were of the early part of the trip as we left the island.  There are no photos of frolicking whales, as I was too busy barfing over the side of the boat, occasionally pausing to say "Oh, they're adorable!" before being plunged back into my world of misery.

What else?  The food was superb. I drank many cocktails. Mr WithaY drank a lot of good sherry. We enjoyed chilling by the pool, walking along the seafront, looking at the blue, blue sky and palm trees, exclaiming at the sheer number of shops selling electronic items and duty-free perfume.  All the usual holiday stuff.

In short, if you are going to Tenerife, I can recommend the hotel.  There's not much to do on the island (not the bit we were in, at least) other than eat, drink and sunbathe, so having a hotel with plenty of top-quality amenities was brilliant.  One the days when it rained like the end of the world (inevitable on a WithaY holiday) we found books in the hotel library, ensconced ourselves in comfy chairs in the piano bar and spent the day looking out at the terrible weather, drinking hot chocolate and reading trashy books I'd never have bought for myself.

 And now it's November, and it gets dark at 4.30pm, and the weather has turned cold.  I'm glad to be back.

*Except when we were there, when 5 people were drowned in flash floods
**Except when we were there, when it crashed relentlessly onto the beach in a white-foamed rage
***Only the ones imported from the Sahara.  The remainder are composed of razor-sharp volcanic rocks
****Flamenco. Or, memorably, Mariachi music.