Saturday, 16 January 2016


The JFDI mantra is reaping benefits. Or am I reaping benefits because of it? Not sure about the logic of that, but I will say that since I consciously adopted it as a mantra (I like having a mantra, never had one before, it's a novelty still) I have felt as though more Stuff Has Got Done than previously used to.

Small things like loading or emptying the dishwasher in a timely manner, rather than leaving dirty dishes on the side and tutting each time I go into the kitchen and see them. Putting the hoover round as soon as I think "ugh, look at that floor" rather than waiting another day or so and being annoyed at the FILTH the whole time.  Walking the dog earlier in the day so she chills out and goes to sleep on her back with her paws in the air for the next six hours, and  I don't have the constant "must take the dog out" thing in the back of my head.

None of it is particularly significant, but it adds up to me feeling more cheerful, and the house feeling less chaotic.

One larger task which we tackled last week was the reorganisation of my study.  It's the third bedroom of our house, too small for a double bed, cosy for a single bed and (small) wardrobe, perfect for a desk and some bookcases and a sewing table.  And some guitars.  And an amp.*

Previously, the computer desk was under the window, where the light is best. I used to work from home (see many and various whiny posts about Working From Home) and needed to be able to read tedious lengthy documents without straining my eyes while simultaneously dealing with tedious lengthy emails on the work computer. I sound like Samuel Pepys, but you get the point.  However, in more recent years, the only thing I have used my PC for is playing World of Warcraft and dicking about online.

My sewing table, on the other hand, was tucked away in the opposite corner of the room, furthest from the window, sunk in gloom under the wall shelves.  The wall shelves are great, but they did mean that I tended to bang my head when I was standing over my sewing table trying to sort out recalcitrant sleeves.

In a flash of rare brilliance, I realised that if the two were swapped about, there would be both more light and more headroom for sewing, and the smaller desk (with PC screen) would sit neatly under the shelves, thus making the space around the doorway less cluttered.

Mr WithaY and I set about emptying the room, revealing many years worth of dead spiders and assorted dust bunnies in corners and behind furniture. Pleuk.  There was a brief lively bout of Language as the PC and all its hellish associated cables were disconnected, but other than that, there was minimal chaos.

A thorough hoovering of the carpet and cleaning of neglected skirting boards followed, then everything was put back in their new places.  And, dear readers, it has worked very well.  My sewing table (still v untidy, as I haven't yet finished putting stuff back on shelves and into the attic) has more space, more light and looks far more useful.  My desk is set back neatly in a smaller space and seems more practical. The only downside is that I am not able to lean on the radiator if I get chilly whilst using the PC.  An incentive to use my sewing machine more.

Mr WithaY bought me a v funky computer joystick so that I can play Elite Dangerous - a space trading/combat game he has been enjoying recently - and I have been learning how to use it.  Once I stop whirling my spaceship round in circles, firing all weapons at once I am sure it will be a lot of fun.

Other news:  I have been planning a party for my 50th birthday in a few weeks.  I cannot believe that I am this old.  Seriously.  Almost 50. What the actual fuck?  I assume that once Saga start sending me brochures for coach tour holidays and cheap car insurance I will automatically get my Old Lady white cardigan and purple rinse through the post from whichever department deals with age.  The Ministry of Elderly But Vociferous Women.

Also: Adverts.  Why are so many adverts now using the same four songs? It;s very confusing. If they aren't all using the same four songs, they have a shonky twee female vocalist with a fucking ukulele doing ear-bleeding cover versions of old pop songs (Wonderful Life springs to mind) which make me want to throw things.

That Centerparcs advert with the bears. Puh-lease.  If a bear ever got into Centerparcs it would look at the foetid throng in dismay and flee back into the woods as fast as possible.

Bears. Pah.

*I have decided to sell my amp. It's huge and powerful and does all sorts of incredible things, and I am not using a hundredth of its potential.  So, after my party it will be going.  I'm using it as the sound system on the day, which is why it's still here.

Saturday, 9 January 2016


It's January, and it is currently pissing down with rain. Ah, England, and your endless weather. We're getting off lightly down here though. The North of England seems to have been almost entirely submerged by floods, rivers bursting banks, lakes overspilling, drains backing up and exploding thousands of gallons of filthy water into the streets, and of course "localised flooding."

Localised flooding is a concept which scares the bejeezus out of me, It basically tells us that regardless of any and all flood precautions you might take, the water WILL GET YOU.  It might come up through your toilets and sinks, (see backed-up drains above) or through an air-brick, after you carefully sandbagged the front door, or, most alarmingly, via a re-invigorated underground spring, deciding to emerge through your kitchen floor.

That happened to a neighbour in our village a few years ago.

We live within sight of one river and several smaller streams, all of which are currently in spate. Thankfully we also have water meadows a little way downstream, onto which, as is intended, the rivers spill when they get too full, thus preventing all the houses being submerged. This is why it's a bad idea to build houses on flood plains.

Mr WithaY was sent a photo by a mate Up North which shows her in an inflatable dinghy IN HER KITCHEN, bobbing about on water which is almost as high as her worktops.  Gah.

We have had (I think) three frosts so far this winter. There are daffodils already in flower, wasps and bees are still flying about outside, and the roses in my garden are still flowering. I have to take the decision to cut them back, but it seems such a shame when they are flowering.  It's almost certain that there will be a month of icy Siberian weather in March or somewhen, when we least expect it to make up for this unseasonal mildness now.

I have a new Thing for 2016. I decided that the single biggest obstacle to me doing fun stuff is my own procrastination. I used to be creative in a big way, making re-enactment kit and so on, and I realised that the reason I was highly productive was that there was always a deadline to be met.

"I must get these shirts finished for May Bank Holiday."
"I promised to get this singlet to them in time for the banquet."
"I need to make fourteen fancy dress costumes by the end of August."

Once Mr WithaY and I stopped doing re-enactment, both the reason for making so much kit vanished, as did the timetable I worked to.  Last year I bought half a dozen silk saris from eBay, washed and ironed them, and they have been neatly rolled up in my fabric basket ever since. I was full of vague plans to turn them into summer dresses, or shirts or something.  So far, all I have managed is a pair of curtains and a cushion cover for my study.  Not good enough.

The new Thing, then, is a sort-of mantra in my head. It is JFDI, which as you may already know, stands for Just Fucking DO It.  Crude but effective, it means when I think about doing something, and go a bit wishy-washy, I just think "Oh JFDI" and then get on with it.  So far it works beautifully.

It means that we no longer have a three-month-old heap of ironing looming balefully at me, my clothes have been sorted and thinned out and taken to charity shops, and I am working my way through my study in preparation for a big reshuffle at the weekend.  I am going to move my sewing table to where my desk is at the moment, under the window, and thus have more light and a view for when I want to sew. My PC can sit on the other side of the room where there is less natural light, but now that I am not poring over lengthy Serious And Important Documents for work, I don;t need the desk under the window.

Small but important changes.

It's also an opportunity to chuck out a ton of old junk which has drifted into corners and onto shelves over the last few years.  Oh, and properly clean the floor.

Onwards and upwards, people. JFDI.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Three beaches

I've been to the seaside.

Several times, and in two different countries. Yes, get me.

The first was a day trip to the Dorset coast, along with Mr WithaY and the dog.  Despite it being autumn, the weather was absolutely gorgeous.  It was so nice that I even braved the water and went for a paddle.

Look at it! It's like July!

Mind you, I lost all feeling in my feet after about 30 seconds in the water. Also, I forgot to take a towel, so had to put my shoes and socks back onto cold wet sandy feet.

The dog had a whale of a time digging in the sand, and running in and out of the sea.  See note about lack of towel, above.

We walked the length of the beach, intending to sit outside the cafe and have fish and chips, but all the local smug newspaper-reading bastards were already there, refusing to move, watching passers-by with narrowed eyes that clearly meant "This small cafetiere of coffee WILL last me for the next hour, so fuck off out of it, you sad wannabe table scrounger.  And your little dog too."  We went home and had tea and buns instead.

The next beach trip was to Brighton, with my lovely sisters.  We stayed in a hotel right on the seafront, and were able to watch possibly the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen from our bedroom window.  Yes, all three of us shared a room. It was hilarious.  And noisy.

We drank cocktails, walked MILES across Brighton, around the shops, through the Pavilion gardens, up hill, down dale, along the seafront and even round an amusement arcade where we won a selection of tat for shoving hundreds of 2-pence pieces into those tipping point machines.

The weather (again) was excellent, dry and warm enough to make a trip on the Brighton Eye fun.

The view from the Eye looking out across the Pier, amusement arcade at the end there.

And the view inland, with the building that housed The Hungry Years heavy rock nightclub taking left-of-centre stage. I loved going to that place when I was young and thin. Well, thinner.  

I know sunset photos are a bit of a cliché, but just LOOK at this. It was just fantastic, all three of us took turns gawping out of the tiny window above my bed to take photos.

The third beach trip was in the South of France.  Mother-in-Law WithaY was 80 in November so as many of the family as possible went over there to help her celebrate.  Mr WithaY and I stayed in a small hotel in a place called Banyuls, where our room overlooked the sea. It was absolutely lovely.  The place has a rather funky modernist feel to it, and the food was truly excellent. 5/5 will visit again.

It was rather like being in a Jeeves and Wooster story, though, what with the sea lapping gently all night, and splendid aperitifs before dinner each evening. Not that I'm complaining, dear me no.

The view from our room.  Lovely.

The giant wine barrel at the top of the hill.  We did buy some local wine, and brought it back very, very carefully in our suitcases.  It all arrived unscathed, as did the pate, chocolates, turron ( nut delicacy not unlike peanut brittle) and black olive tapenade we crammed into our bags.

I discovered that I speak fluent* French!  For the first time in my adult life I had no worries about making myself understood to real proper French people. I told the lady in the supermarket that "nous somme touristes" and she gestured at the shopping in what can only be described as a laconic Gallic manner, and sighed deeply, as if to say "well DUH!"

This new-found fluency has much more to do with confidence and, I suspect, lack of shame, than actual skill,  I got to tell a shopkeeper " suis desolee" when they told me the fuzzy felt slippers I was admiring weren't available in my size.  That's something else crossed off the bucket list.

Note the small metal square on a pole in the bottom right of that photo. It is a conveniently-placed frame through which you can admire a perfect view.  What a great idea.  There were many of them scattered around the place.

This is it up close.

And this is the view, through the frame.  Nice, eh?

As you see, seasonal November weather. For Collioure. So, we ate perfectly-cooked fish by the bucketload, drank the finest wines available to humanity and walked alongside an azure sea in the sunshine. Not a bad way to spend a week.

In the midst of it all, we got to see Mother-in-Law Withay, brother and sister-in-law, niece and various old family friends, so that was good for the soul.  A birthday lunch in the glass-box restaurant at the hotel overlooking the sea was enlivened by a rattling thunderstorm coming in over the mountains, complete with end-of-the-world rain.  You get a lot of weather for your money down there.

Other news:  Still very sad. Trying not to be.

*very basic C-grade O-level French

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

In which I share sad news

Well, this is a post I really hoped I wouldn't have to write for many years.  My beloved, lovely, Mum died last month.  It was very sudden, and unexpected and a huge shock to us all.  She was only 70, which is (as people keep telling me) no age at all, but her health had become very poor in recent years. As you may remember, we all caught the flu when she was here at Christmas, and I don't think she recovered from that fully.

I'd been down to spend the day in Sussex with her, and we had a pleasant relaxing time together, I ferried her to a few medical appointments, we had tea, watched all the various afternoon TV shows she liked, then treated ourselves to an Indian takeaway for supper, before I headed home again in the late evening.

That night she became ill, called an ambulance and was admitted to the superb St Richard's hospital where they tried to find out what the problem was. I was worried she might have had a heart attack, but after a day or two of tests they said she had "an infection" later specified as cellulitis.  Mum had cellulitis several times, a complication of a longstanding diabetic ulcer on her foot, and despite it being a nasty thing, I was relieved as she'd been treated for it successfully before.

To cut a long and sad story short, despite getting the best possible care, she passed away a few days later, with her family around her.  It was peaceful, dignified, gentle, and she was in no distress, which is about as much as any of us can hope for I think.

We held the funeral on a gloriously sunny day in August, and many friends, family and members of her church attended to pay their respects. I will miss her more than I can say.

I take comfort from the thought that she is reunited with my Dad, who died so many years ago, and who she loved all her life.

Grief is a strange thing.  I have hours, and now even half-days, where I feel fine, almost as if I have forgotten what has happened, and then a wave crashes over me and I am inconsolable.  I know it will get easier, but my God, it's hard at the moment.

I was supposed to be down in Sussex this week to help my sisters sort out some of the paperwork, but as if by magic, I went down with a chest infection at the weekend, and have spent the last 48 hours in bed, coughing wretchedly.

I don't think it's a coincidence that I have avoided the Black Lung since I stopped working in London, and now it reappears.  Thankfully, it seems to be receding again within a week, unlike the 3-month visitations of yore, but it scared me badly.

Two positive things:

1)  Our holiday in Japan, which was booked a while ago, is now a shining beacon of "something to look forward to" even more than it already was.

2)  I joined a local spa/gym at a country hotel nearby a few days after I went down to visit my Mum and going swimming there has been very helpful.  I recently sold my Rickenbacker 12-string, so had some "extra" money in the bank, and used it to pay for a year's membership and I am so glad I did, as it means I have somewhere to go that has no associations with anything else in my life. It helps.

Friday, 19 June 2015


Events of note at work so far this week:

  • Group of Japanese tourists arriving at 7am, buying fuel for their car, and then photographing each other outside the shop, collapsing in helpless, excited laughter at our coal bunkers.  
  • Man buying coffee from the coffee machine and then demanding I add more coffee, as it wasn't coffee-y enough.  I was tempted to chew up a mouthful of coffee beans and spit them into his drink, but I managed to refrain, and merely made him a fresh cup, which was apparently "fine."
  • Being handed a crumpled five pound note with wet cowshit on it.  This happens far more often than is acceptable.
  • Man buying a pasty, then remaining at the till to harangue me (and other customers) about the terrible recent case of a young girl who was found dead after a row with her family. He was bellowing "She was hanged!  There's more to that than we're being told!" at a polite man trying to pay for his diesel for quite a long time.  
  • Being asked many technical questions about putting oil in a car by someone who has no idea whether their car is a petrol or a diesel, and aren't even sure if it needs oil, but "a light has come on so it probably does."  All this while a long, impatient queue of people builds up behind them, while they ponder what they actually want at their leisure.
  • Woman wanting a gas canister, then wanting to do complicated stuff about changing from one canister size to another, which only our managers are allowed to authorise, and then getting hugely annoyed when told how much the canister she asked for in the first place costs.  There was a degree of huffing and flouncing, which made the man in the queue behind her roll his eyes expressively at me.
  • Woman running into the shop and asking me "Did I just put petrol in my car??" When I said no, she said "I've been swimming in the sea, it's messed with my head!"

Ah, people.

In other news, Mr WithaY and I (and the dog) went to visit some very dear friends down in deepest Sussex earlier this week.  They live in a cottage on a rather excellent country estate, so we went for several dog-walks through the meadows and woods.  Their dog is a charmer, and he and ours played together most endearingly.  Our dog retired to her basket when we got home, and slept for about 18 hours solidly.  She can't party like she used to.

I wanted to take photos of The Big House there, because it is a beautiful (possibly) Elizabethan manor house with a Horsham stone roof, but I felt that  might be a bit intrusive and gawky, so you will just have to imagine it.

We travelled down in Mr WithaY's new truck, which is far more comfortable than the LandRover was, and much more practical. It's a double-cab pick-up with a roof on the pick-up bit at the back, so there;s room for 5 people and tons of stuff too.  He's very pleased with it.

But what happened to the LandRover, I hear you ask?


Several months ago, Mr WithaY was off to the woods to work, where he planned to be for a long weekend.  He packed all his kit into his car, said a fond farewell to me and the dog, and headed off.  Some hours later, I was at work, and he came into the shop to ask if he could borrow my car.

"What happened to yours?" I enquired.

"Crashed it," he replied somewhat tersely.  I gave him my car keys, with a stern injunction not to crash mine too.  He disappeared again, returning several days later with a sad tale of bouncing off a woodland track at 10 miles an hour and hitting a tree.

Unfortunately, the age of the vehicle, and the substantial nature of the damage inflicted - lights smashed, bonnet crumpled, side panel dented, bumper broken - meant that the insurance company wrote it off, hence the need for a new truck.  The tree, you will be pleased to hear, was undamaged, not even getting a dent in the thick moss covering the trunk.

Oh, and Mr WithaY was fine too.

While Mr WithaY was away over that long weekend, we had a new fence put up.  It replaced the horrible tatty broken fence which ran along the side of the gardens, front and back.  A team of charming young landscape gardeners came to erect it* and worked like Trojans from morn** till night***, pausing only briefly for cups of tea.

On the eventful Friday afternoon when Mr WithaY had broken his car, I was in the house, having been at work all morning.  There was a knock on the front door.  One of the gardeners stood there, looking anxious.  If he'd had a flat cap on, he'd have been tugging nervously at the peak.

"Hello," I said.  Have you finished already?"

"No," he replied.  "We've dug a hole for the last fencepost, but it's full of water."

"Oh, never mind about that! Our water table round here is really high. I bet it'll be fine."

He agreed with me, and said they had some finishing off to do, and could sort out the last bit of fence in an hour or so, once the water level had dropped again.

An hour or so later, there was another knock on the door.  He looked positively anguished.  The flat cap would have been clutched in nerveless hands, wrung with despair.

"Come and look at this," he said.  That's never good.  I followed him around to the side of the house where the fencepost hole was brimming with water, and a stream had formed running down onto the back lawn.

"Fuck."  I said.

He nodded sadly.

To cut a (very) long story slightly shorter, it turned out that our water main runs down that side of the house, and in digging the hole, they had managed to somehow disturb the pipe and cause a massive leak.  Several hours of panicking, phoning plumbers, phoning Wessex Water and trying to build makeshift dams with breeze blocks followed.

Thankfully, Wessex Water were able to come out the following day and fix the problem, but they suggested that if we ever win the Lottery we might consider having all our external water pipes replaced.  Cheers for that.

It is traditional for some domestic disaster to occur when Mr WithaY is away, so I'm pretty used to it now.  I ought to make a Domestic Disaster Bingo Card, and keep myself amused guessing what will happen next.


**About 8am-ish
***About teatime

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

I Spy

An overheard game of I Spy in the shop yesterday, between a boy of about 4 and his slightly older brother.

Younger boy:  I spy with my little that's with...BLUE!

Older boy:  Is it this?  (Holding up a small bag of Skittles, bright red in colour.)

Younger boy:  No.

Older boy:  Is it this?  (Holding up a caramel Freddo bar, definitely not blue.)

Younger boy:  No!

Older boy:  Is it this?  (Pointing at a bag of beef crisps.)

Younger boy:  (by now hugely excited) NO!

Older boy then wandered away, tiring of the sport.

Younger boy:  I'll help you!

Older boy:  Ok.

Younger boy:  It's somewhere in Space!

In other news:  Mr WithaY and I have bitten a large, expensive bullet and booked the holiday of a lifetime.  We are going to Japan next Spring.  This is a long-held wish, and we decided that if we wait until we can afford it, we'll never go.  So we went and booked it at the weekend, and now it's really happening.

The catalyst for the trip was this:

Forgive the dreadful quality picture, I stupidly scanned it, rather than just taking a photo, like a sensible person would.

I bought this book in 1985 in Winchester, as it was required reading for my degree, used it throughout the course, and it has lived quietly in one of the many WithaY bookcases ever since.

For no reason, a few weeks ago whilst idly browsing eBay, I thought "I wonder if anyone else has one of those weird Bell Jar books for sale?" and searched for it.  Nothing on eBay, so I Googled it.

Readers, I found out a couple of interesting things about my old book.

1)  It's jolly rare.  According to a Sylvia Plath website - this one - there are only 8 copies known to exist. I don't know if that means mine is Number 9, or one of the existing 8.

2)  The last time one was sold in the UK, it went for quite a lot of money.

Well, what would you do?  I sat there for a few minutes, looking at the Bonhams photo of the cover of the book, which was almost exactly the same as mine, and then went in to Mr WithaY's study, where he sat researching Neolithic sporrans, or some such arcanery.

Me:  Look at this picture.

Mr W:  Oh yes.  A book.

Me:  Look how much it sold for.

Mr W:  Heavens!

Me:  Yes.  I've got one of those.

Mr W:  What?

Me:  I've got that same book. Upstairs.

I ran upstairs, located the book, ran (carefully - with my track record) back downstairs and showed Mr WithaY.  We both looked from my book to the Bonhams website, and back again.

Me:  I'm ringing Bonhams in the morning.

I rang Bonhams, where I spoke to a charming chap in their books department.  I told him that I had found their auction page about the Bell Jar uncorrected proof.

"Oh yes?" he said, politely.  I got the impression he was lounging negligently in a fine quality leather club chair, possibly smoking an untipped cigarette in an amber holder.

"Yes.  Well, the thing is, I've got one of those, and I'd like to sell it please."

In my head, he sat up abruptly at this point, dropping his cigarette onto the green leather of his desktop.*

Anyhoo, the upshot was, that he told me they had a sale coming up in June, and that if I could get the book to them for evaluation in the next day or two, they could include it, assuming it was what I thought it was.

I posted it to them that afternoon, they telephoned me the following morning to say it had arrived, and that they were happy to include it in the sale, and so, with much excitement, I waited for the sale catalogue to be published.

And here it is:


So, if there are any avid Sylvia Plath collectors who read this, or you know anyone who has loads of money and a suitably-shaped hole in their library, please tell them to bid.  It's funding my holiday to Japan, at least in part.

*Yes, yes, yes, I'm well aware he was probably doing nothing of the sort, but I don't get to London much these days, and it's all morphed into a Bertie Wooster/Mapp and Lucia fantasyland now in my imagination.

Saturday, 23 May 2015


We get all sorts of people in the shop.

When I am working a late shift, it's remarkable to see the number of customers who dash in for last-minute emergency beer or wine before we shut for the night. On sunny afternoons we get quite a few people calling in for booze for impromptu barbecues on their way home from work.  There are one or two who come in for small bottles of cheap vodka, and who I suspect are not going anywhere to drink it.

The one who stands out for me this week though, is the Drunk Socks Man.

He came in for the first time mid-afternoon, buying a four-pack of chilled cans of cider. Fair enough. It was a sunny afternoon, and sitting under a tree with a cold cider would be very pleasant.

Two hours later he came back and bought another four-pack.  Ah. Maybe he has some mates there too, and they're all enjoying a cold drink together.

Another two hours passed. By this time I was on my own in the shop.  He reappeared, this time drunk. Very, very drunk.

"Hello my petal!" he said cheerfully. I said hello back, ignoring the over-familiarity. Well, you have to sometimes.

He selected a single bottle of beer and brought it up to the counter, then dug into a pocket for cash.  I told him how much it cost, and he squinted at the handful of change, old receipts and oddments he was waving about in front of me.

"Have I got enough there, darling?" he asked.  I told him no, he didn't.

"Well can you do me a deal then? Can I have it for *rapid counting of the coins he held* £1.28?"

I said no sorry, we wouldn't do that.

"What have you got that's cheaper, then?"

By now, I had realised just how drunk he was, and was beginning to wonder how I was going to get him out of the shop if he got stroppy when he discovered that I wasn't going to sell him any more drink.   Cunningly taking the bottle of beer back to the fridge on the pretext of looking for something cheaper, I was able to convince him that we didn't sell anything alcoholic that he could afford just then.

"How about if I give you a cuddle? Can I have a deal then?"

Oh fantastic.  The "drunk bloke is irresistible to women" stage has been reached. I declined the cuddle and got back behind the counter, wondering how much longer this was going to continue.  He stood there, swaying a bit, then had an idea.

"What if I give you my socks?"


"Look.  Here.  You can have my socks."  He tried to hand me a pair of balled-up socks which he pulled from another pocket.

I declined politely.

After a few minutes of loudly telling the next customer who came in how terrible it is to be an alcoholic - the customer agreed politely whilst paying for his diesel - the drunk left, staggering over to the pub.  He did tell me "I'm always around if you need me, darling," before he left.  How reassuring.

I waited with some interest, and a little anxiety in case he came back to the shop.  A police van then drove onto the forecourt and parked up, I waited for the police driver to come in and buy sweeties. They're buggers for sweeties, police.  However, the driver simply stayed in his van.

The drunk left the pub very soon afterwards, and started making his way up the road towards town.   The police van immediately pulled out into the main road, the driver got out and spoke to the drunk. I watched, interested, as they had a long chat, the drunk smoking a cigarette.   A short time later a police car arrived, and took the drunk away.

You don't get that in the Civil Service.

Thursday, 29 January 2015


Many of our regular customers in the shop wear what is loosely termed "Country Attire."  This may consist of a filthy pair of John Deere overalls, or ancient Wellington boots over waterproof trousers, or rigger boots and moleskins.  A lot of them wear shooting breeches, as they are involved with one of the local shoots.  Many customers are keepers, or beaters, or even guns on the shoots, so it makes sense.

Last weekend I was at work, serving a very elegant lady.  She was in raptures over the local honey, and the fact that we sell part-baked baguettes.  As I packed her stuff and took her money we chatted about this and that.  Whilst this was happening, one of the regular customers came in, and I handed him his newspaper from beneath the counter.  He smiled and said thank you and walked away.

I apologised to the lady for having interrupted our conversation, but realised she was staring in wide-eyed amazement at the departing customer, who was walking back to his car.

"Are you alright?" I asked her.

"I'm fine," she said, then she laughed.  "Did you see his TROUSERS?"

I glanced out of the window at the chap, who was sporting a fine pair of tweed breeks, which probably cost a fortune.

"Um.  Yes." I looked at her, she was still laughing.

"I didn't think anyone actually wore clothes like that!"  She was genuinely amused.

I asked her where she was from.



Wednesday, 28 January 2015


Ah, technology.

Once more I am able to converse on the telephone. Once more, I can surf the myriad wonderful shores of the Internet. Once more I can dick about on Facebook.  Once more, we discover that life is not like Star Trek.

Last Saturday, about teatime, I was sitting on the comfy sofa, dealing with some mindless nonsense on my iPad, eBay, possibly, when the gloomy message "You are not connected to the Internet" popped up in the middle of my screen.  I tried refreshing the screen.


I went into Settings and tried to reconnect to the relevant WiFi thingy.


I turned it off and on again.   The last resort.

Nope.  Well, bollocks.

On further investigation (going upstairs and glaring at the blue lights on the BT Homehub box) it was clear that my Internet connection was broken.  Mr WithaY emerged from his study, blinking in the light, and asked if there was a problem with the phone, as his Internet wasn't working.  A second investigation revealed that the OTHER BT Homehub box (yes, yes, yes, we have two, long story, probably going to get rid of one this year) wasn't working either.

The handset on the phone in the hall displayed the message "Check Line Cord" which we know from experience means Serious Issues With The Phone.  As we live in the Village Of No Mobile Reception, we couldn't ring BT to let them know, so left it till the next day, hoping that the phone line might have magically sorted itself out overnight.

I went to work on Sunday morning, and was not particularly surprised when a neighbour from further up the road called in to ask if our phone worked.  The shop phone did, but I told him our home phone was out of order.

"So's ours! And all the neighbours' on either side! AND the phone box!" he told me.  He'd already been on the (mobile) phone to BT to report the fault, which meant finding a spot at the top of the hill by the church where there's intermittent reception, and then spending almost £10 on his emergency pay as you go mobile whilst BT kept him on hold. He wasn't happy.

One of the more endearing quirks of reporting a fault to BT is their insistence that you listen to their instructions about resolving faults at your end.  They ought to call it It's All Your Faults.  They insist that you check that your phone isn't unplugged, or the dog hasn't eaten your WiFi box, or the house hasn't burned down while you weren't concentrating, and only then will they agree to send out an engineer.  Even then, you have to agree to pay a huge fee (almost £200!) if they find that it's Your Fault.

Anyhoo, the fault had been raised with BT, so I rang them as well, told them that our phones were also affected, and agreed to hand over a huge sack of cash if it turned out not to be their problem.  On leaving work, I spotted a BT engineer doing something at the base of the telephone pole on the corner. I wandered over to see.

Me:  Hello.  Have you come to fix all our phones?

Engineer:  Hello.  Yes.

Me:  So what's the problem?

Engineer:  Well.  Look.

The engineer gestured at the thick black cable that runs up the length of the phone pole.  It had been neatly cut in half about a foot from the ground.  A myriad of small wires poked out of the two severed ends.

Me:  Ah.

Engineer: (wearily) Yep, this is me for the next couple of hours.

He declined the offer of a cup of tea, so I left him to it.  By the time it was dark, his van had gone, and so had he, and the broken cable was all patched back up.  However, the phones still weren't working.

I went to work on Monday morning.  To my non-astonishment, a neighbour came in to ask if our phone worked.  I told her it did, and asked if her's was out of order.

"Not exactly," she told me.  "My number is now in Jean's house.  And Jean's number is ringing in my house."


As more people came into the shop, it became clear that a terrible, terrible thing had happened to our phones.  We all had each others' numbers, but nobody knew who had which, or where they were calling.  I tried calling both our numbers from the shop phone but they just rang endlessly so I gave up.

Once again, BT were called.  Once again I had to agree to give them all my money if the fault was mine.  I explained that at least 12 houses were affected, and that it was most likely that the problem rested with the massive severed cable that had been sellotaped back together inaccurately.

Early on Monday morning, a BT engineer appeared at my house.  I explained the situation at length.

Me:  BT have run line tests and said my phone is fine, but look - there's no dial tone."  My voice might have gone a bit squeaky as I waved the dead handset about.

Engineer:  (backing away slightly) phone is dead.  And yet we have a good line signal.  (He looked at his electronic handset thingy, then back at my dead phone.)

Me:  YES.  My phone number works, just not in my house!

Engineer: Ok.  I'll get on with this then.  (More fiddling with his tricorder) Ah, your phone is ringing at a Mr Sanders' house.  Do you know him?

Me: (coldly) No.

(He went back out to his van, possibly to have an aspirin.)

An hour or so later, both our phones were working, and we had Internet access once more.  Hurrah.  The engineer stood on the doorstep chatting cheerfully as we said our goodbyes.

Me: And will you be going to all the other houses now to sort them out too?

Engineer:  Um.  What other houses?

I told him about all the neighbours' phone issues, and the phone box.  He was appalled.

Engineer:  I only have two call-outs for today, and neither of them are in this village!

Me:  Well, there are at least a dozen houses with this problem.  And the phone box.

Engineer:  So why haven't they reported them?

Me: No phones! No Internet!  No mobile reception!

When I went to work that afternoon, there was a huge BT cherrypicker truck with a bloke deedily reattaching wires at the top of the phone pole.  It was there quite a while.

In other news, I am now working full-time in the village shop.  I really like it.  There's a shift pattern which suits me well, as you do four days on, two days off, so your days off vary from week to week, and even on the days you work you either have a morning or an afternoon to yourself.

The first couple of late shifts I did were nerve-racking, as you have to lock everything and set alarms and so on, but once I got the hang of it, it was fine.  It's sociable and friendly, and apart from my feet hurting at the end of a shift - there's nowhere to sit for most of the time - I like it very much.  I daresay my feet will adapt.

A customer came in the other day, bought a few bits and pieces, and then gave me a handful of change to pay for it.  As he dropped the money into my hand I realised it was sticky. Very, very sticky.

Me:  Ewww! What's all over this money? Why is it so sticky?

Customer: (who was very, very Welsh)  Oh, sorry love,  That's just orange juice.

Me:  Really.

Customer:  Yeah. Had a bit of an accident in my cab, see.  Sorry about that.

Me:  Orange juice.  Hmmm.

Customer:  Yeah, it is, honest.  Go on! Smell it!


Thursday, 8 January 2015

Glorious victory. And inglorious ailments.

Hello, happy 2015 etcetera etcetera etcetera.  To be fair, I have very little clue what day it is, never mind what year.  This is down to the usual Christmas/New Year bewilderment that happens every year, but also because this year, for a change, we all got really ill over the holidays.

I don't know why I refer to them as "the holidays," given that Mr WithaY and I no longer work a standard Monday to Friday pattern.  Every day we're not working could be described as a "holiday."

Anyhoo. We had all kinds of plans for Christmas, all sorts of parties and events we were planning on going to, or hosting.  Day trips, even.

Mr WithaY and I went to the Bath Christmas market, where we bought gee-gaws and trinkets and trumpery*.  These included:

  • A wooden trivet made of slices of wood all set in some sort of resin, which looks like an arty photograph.  I love it.  
  • Some beautifully soft grey and blue lambswool fingerless mittens which I wear almost constantly outside, 
  • A stained glass Christmas tree decoration from a very young, very silent, Belarusian nun.  
  • A wreath made from dried apples, oranges, cinnamon sticks and (I think) Scotch Bonnet chillies, which now hangs in the front porch.  
We shopped for food, we made sure there was Champagne for Christmas Day, we moved furniture to ensure the tree would fit in the sitting room.  The decorations went up, the house looked festive, we were ready.

Things started well with several members of the extended family arriving for the weekend before Christmas, much jollity and dog-walking, and a tremendous curry where we all sat at a great big long table and ate a vast selection of lovely food.  The remainder of the family arrived the next day and there was more hilarity, dog-walking, exchanging of gifts and a buffet.  We do like a buffet in our family.  Mostly because you can have three slices of ham if you want to, AND a sausage roll AND some celery AND a bit of cheese.

The majority of the family went to their respective homes again, leaving just Mr WithaY and I, and my lovely Mum here for the Christmas period.  The first few days were perfect. We went out a bit, drank lots of tea, ate lots of delicious home-made food, watched some Christmas TV, and looked forward to the Big Day.  I went to work on Christmas Eve, Mr WithaY and Mum stayed in and watched a DVD together.

By the time I finished work at 6pm, I was feeling very odd.  Dizzy. Hot and cold.  Headachy.  I got home, and the others were feeling much the same.  And that, dear readers, was that.  We all went down with the flu as if felled by hammers, and for the next three or four days hardly moved.

Mr WithaY and I, whilst feeling dreadful, were able to eat a little, and even make cups of tea and so on, but poor Mum just got worse and worse, to the point where she ended up staying with us for an extra week, and was then only taken home on New Years Day to go straight into hospital. Thankfully, after a week of top-notch care, she has returned home and seems to be much better. but it was a horrible time for all of us.

Mr WithaY and I have both been left with horrible racking coughs, and intermittent high temperatures, but we are both much better than we were.  I have no energy, and even walking the dog around the village, or pushing a shopping trolley round the supermarket leaves me shaking and exhausted, but hopefully in a few days that will pass too.

The good news is that I have lost a stone, for the first time ever over Christmas, and am definitely less podgy than I was.  A few days of eating normally will probably put paid to that, but it's nice to begin a New Year feeling like I am already on the right track.

 Other news:  Prior to the Great Flu Outbreak, I was the proud winner of this:

The Stonehenge volunteers had their Christmas party, and held a Great British Bake-Off competition, where people were invited to submit cakes for JUDGEMENT.

I made this, a coffee cake with home-made apricot jam in the middle, and butterscotch chocolate ganache icing. Mr WithaY added the Neolithic deer drawing:

And it won!  I assumed, when Mr WithaY came into the pub to tell me (I was at the work Christmas meal, so wasn't at the Stonehenge event, clashing dates, sadly) that there had only been one or two entries, and we'd all won a cup.

Oh, but no.  No.

There were apparently about 30 entries, and the judges did it all very seriously, tasting everything and making their decision very carefully.


Hurrah!  Here's the glorious cup in situ, dominating the room:

I am hoping I get to keep it forever, rather than having to return it next year.   That reminds me, I must add it to our insurance.

So.  The flu.  A quiet and very worrying Christmas.  A lingering annoying cough.  No other news.

Here's a lovely picture of the dog that my Middle Sis took on one of our family walks.  I really, really like it.  It shows you exactly what a friendly, sweet-natured girl she is.  And the dog is nice too.

Here's to a good New Year, and that nobody gets the flu again.

Oh, and once again there was no Dinotopia on TV.  Outrageous.

*you have to talk like that in Bath. It's the LAW.

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.

Thursday, 22 May 2014


Hello....hello....anyone there? Yes, sorry. It's been ages, hasn't it? I wish I had a really good reason for not being more frequent with the posting, but the sad truth is that I just seem to have lost the ability to write stuff down. As a result, this might be really dull. If it is, sorry. Again.

I'm mostly fully recovered from my surgery in January, although I went to the doctor a few weeks ago as I was anxious that I was still very tired, and very sore.  She said "When did you have your operation?" I told her, early January.  She said "Well, yes, but don't forget that there's a good six-month recovery period, it's all perfectly normal."

Six months?  But the hospital literature (and the surgeon) told me a six to eight week recovery period, I said.

The doctor explained patiently that the six WEEK recovery period is from the effects of the general anaesthetic and the actual mechanics of the surgery, the six MONTH recovery period is from the total procedure. She also made the point that just because it was all done via keyhole surgery, and thus left me with several teeny little external scars, there's been a lot done internally, and I probably have hundreds of stitches which all need to heal up, and muscles which take ages to repair and so on. Pleuk.  I had some blood tests and am "perfectly normal" which is nice to know.

So. I'm pretty much ok, although I'm still unable to climb hills without it making me very sore and exhausted the next day.  It's fortunate that we live in the middle of a large area with plenty of dog-walking opportunities which don't involve strenuous hill-climbing. I have discovered a new skill in falling in the mud in the water-meadows as a result.  There are several beautiful water meadows nearby, and I love to take the dog down there, as long as there are no cows in the fields.  She gets to race around like a maniac, and I stroll through the flowery countryside, watching herons and egrets and buzzards, and sometimes having the shit scared out of me by almost treading on a partridge or a duck lurking in the undergrowth.

There is (as the name implies) quite a boggy basis to the water-meadows.  If you walk along the semi-defined paths it's mostly alright.  Sometimes it's a bit wet underfoot, but if you're wearing wellies there's no problem.  However, if (for example) you see a friend walking along a different path and decide to strike out across the middle of the meadows in order to catch up with them for a chat, there is a real risk that you will put your foot down on what seems to be solid ground, sink in to the top of your Wellington boot, fail to pull your booted foot out of the mud, and end up standing on a tussock in your socks, hauling at the stuck boot with both hands while your dog licks your face joyfully and your friend is beside herself with laughter.

That aside, it really is a lovely walk.

Other news: I have volunteered to be a helper at Stonehenge.  The new visitors centre is open, and the Neolithic houses that Mr WithaY was involved in building are due to be opened to the public very soon, and they want people to come and assist with the visitors.  So I sent in an application, was invited to a "this is what it's all about" morning, then a full training day, and I am planning to start in the next couple of weeks.

I get an English Heritage fleece and everything.

The new visitor centre is spectacular. I'd only seen it from the main road and had decided I disliked it, but once you get close to it, and see how it fits in with the wider landscape you appreciate how cleverly it's been designed.

People have been complaining about the increased admission prices, which I had wondered about too, but apparently Stonehenge almost solely supports the rest of English Heritage financially.  Also, I think a lot of people don't realise that the monument covers more than just the ring of stones.  If all you look at is that, as part of a rushed coach tour of the entire South of England in a day, then yes, you're going to feel short-changed. But if you come for the day, walk around all of the site, check out the Neolithic houses, go through all the exhibitions and galleries, and really get a feel for the sheer scale of the place, I think you'd feel like you'd had your money's worth.

Avebury is part of the same site, which I hadn't been aware of.  They've built a model of the area where you can see all the various barrows, the cursus, stone monuments and so on, all linked together over miles and miles of the countryside, and it is astonishing.

So. Go and take a look. And if you see me there, say hello.

I've also picked up a part-time job in the garage/shop in the village.  It's rather nice, I see loads of people, hear all the gossip, and have learned a great deal about the buying habits of the sole business traveller.  Magnums, Red Bull and Haribo sweets.  That's what blokes travelling around for work seem to live on.  Farmers live on pasties, Lucozade and Mars bars.  Women buy wine.  Kids buy Caleppo ice lollies when they get home from school in the afternoon, but middle-aged blokes in company cars buy Magnums and Red Bull.

One of our neighbours came in and bought an ice lolly, and told me he planned to walk home via the river, where he would sit on the bridge while he ate it.  How charming.

Me:  That sounds idyllic!  I hope you enjoy it.

Him:  I will.  Mind you, the other day the wind caught my Magnum and blew it into the river.

Me: .......

Him:  I went in after it!

Apparently it was still in its wrapper, so he squelched home triumphant, soaked to the knees, enjoying his ice cream.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Canally retentive

I've been away on a canal boating holiday! A very short one. Alright, a weekend. Well, a day and a night and a half a day.  It was very nice too, and despite the freezing wind which whipped around us intermittently, the weather was glorious.

Our lovely mates Bill and Jayne have bought a narrowboat, and invited us to come and admire it, so early on Saturday morning we set off for Oxfordshire.  The sun shone, the roads weren't too snarled-up with traffic, and we arrived almost exactly on time, to be greeted by our mates, offering cups of tea.  Marvellous.

As well as the four adult humans on board, there was a charming dog. We'd sent ours off to have a holiday with her family, and thus avoid the possibility of two excited dogs falling onto the canals.  Anyway, this is the lovely dog who lives on the boat with his owners:

He's a Bavarian Mountain Hound, and a more relaxed dog you'd be hard-pushed to find.

This is the boat, complete with gorgeous hand-painted bargeware bits and bobs:

We went from the boatyard, down the canal to Cropredy, where we went to the pub.  The Red Lion, as well as serving beer, selling excellent cheesy chips and housing a beautiful golden retriever called Shandy, has a guitar shop.  I had a chat with the guitar man, who also runs the pub, and he told me Rickenbackers are buggers to play. Yeah, I knew that.

Oh, they also had a funky clock on the wall:

A stroll around Cropredy, then back to the boat for drinks, pre-supper snacks, and then a mighty fine supper cooked by Jayne.

An evening of chatting, laughing, catching up on 30 years of friendship, then wrestling with the spare bed to allow us to get to sleep, followed by an early morning tea and Jaffa Cake-fest.  A leisurely stroll to the local shop, a look around the Cropredy battle-site memorial, and back up the canal to the mooring.

This little sign took my fancy.  You walk through the Hell Hole to get away from the church.

 The view up to the pub from the canal bridge.

Making way back towards a lock.  The pointy bit you see there is the front.  Sorry if I'm getting too technical.

I liked being in the locks, and I particularly liked this one; the gates look like the entrance to Mordor. In my head.

We passed this sad wreck, seemingly a victim of the storms, where I was intrigued by the musical instruments and amps left on board.  Just across the canal from it was a fallen willow tree, blocking the thoroughfare (is that the right term? I'm not sure) which had fallen across the canal and meant everyone had to risk bumping into the sunken boat to get past it.

As a favour to the canal-dwelling community, it was decided that on the way back down the canal Mr WithaY should wait in the front of the boat with a long trident/rake thingy, and a bill-hook, and when we got close enough to the fallen willow, he would hack away enough of the branches to clear the channel for other boaters.

What a great idea.  You can see the tree there on the left, making it difficult to pass the sunken boat safely.

We got close to the fallen tree, our stalwart captain held the boat in position, and Mr WithaY leant out of the boat with the bill-hook, lopping off the longer branches.  Most of them were so dry and brittle that they snapped at a touch, making his task easier.

Most of them.

Almost as soon as our captain cheerfully shouted "Don't drop the bill-hook in the water, mate!" Mr WithaY hacked at a branch that was NOT dry and brittle. No.  It was green and lush, full of bounce and vim.  So much bounce and vim, in fact, that on contact the bill-hook bounced off with some violence, causing Mr WithaY's hand to release his grip on the handle, and it dropped into the canal with a gentle "sploosh."

Dear readers, there was some bad language.

Fortunately, our sensible (and experienced) boat-owners had a large magnet on a length of cord, and after a little bit of fishing, the bill-hook was recovered, none the worse for wear.

The remainder of the journey to the boat yard was completed with the bill-hook and trident securely stowed away, in no danger of falling in the water.

This is the boat yard, where they had HUGE chickens roaming around outside.  I look forward to seeing it again on a less chilly afternoon.

In other news:  I am pretty much fully recovered now, and am able to drive, carry stuff, lift things (carefully) and walk the dog again, so I am much happier.

I've rediscovered my desire to sew, and have been cutting out all the bits to make a shirt.  Today I went down to the excellent Hansons Fabrics in Sturminster Newton and had a good old poke about.  Tomorrow I shall start actually sewing all the bits together, and by the weekend I plan to have a funky new shirt finished.

It's all go here.