Monday, 31 October 2011

It costs a lot of money to look this cheap

This week is the (sort of) official start to the new way of life in the WithaY household. 

Mr WithaY finished his job last week - although today is the last formal paid working day for him - and had a leaving party on Friday lunchtime at the pub.  It was very pleasant, a lot of his colleagues came to join him, some travelled some distance to be there, which was very touching.  There were the traditional semi-embarrassing speeches, the giving of gifts and cards, and then it was home for tea and medals.

Twenty eight years and one day, he's done.  It's a long time, and a lot of memories.  But now it's all change, moving forward with the new life and all that.  We're both still feeling positive about it all, despite the facts that:

a) We are no longer earning any money
b) The world economy seems to be doomed.  DOOOOOOOMED
c) Winter is coming

Hey, what's the worst that can happen?  Frankly, given the amount of shite* that we have coped with together over the last few years, I think we can handle it, whatever it is. 

So.  Today.  Dawning of a new era etcetera etcetera etcetera.

We began by getting up at a reasonable hour, drinking tea, eating porridge and listening to Radio 4 Extra, a radio station I like more and more.  All very domestic. 

Then Kevin the Decorator arrived.  He's great.  He's fixing the huge unsightly crack across the bedroom ceiling, repainting the (cracked) bathroom ceiling, repainting the water-stained patch on my study ceiling, and replacing the broken front doorstep in our porch.  He can do anything. 

Mr WithaY made him a cup of tea, then headed off to see his mate Josh in Somerset.  They are both on the bushcraft training course, and he handily lives nearby**.  Josh is having our hideously uncomfortable futon for his house (although the more I hear about the house the more it sounds like a shelter made from brash in the forest) and in return he is helping Mr WithaY make a knife.  For bushcrafting. 

Mr WithaY has lately also been making lengths of cord out of nettle fibres.  It was the homework he was given after the last bushcraft course instalment.  The mice set up home in the bundles of cord-making and fire-lighting vegetation he has been garnering, hence his determination to remove them at all costs.  Well, peanut butter doesn't grow on trees.  Unlike the bark he needs for kindling.

He is thoroughly enthusiastic about his new career choice, which is excellent. I am going to have to learn to tolerate the seemingly endless collections of twigs, bark, reeds, plant seeds and Interesting Bits Of Wood that are accumulating around him.  He's like Saint Francis of Assisi, but for woodland detritus.

I've been sorting out stuff around the house, hence Kevin the Decorator's visit, partly in preparation for the winter, partly to try and kick start myself a bit as I have got lazy over the last couple of weeks.  In fact, once I finish this, I am going to cut out a load of cushion covers that I have been meaning to do for about 3 weeks now. 

Yeah.  Lazy.

Later on this week we are off to Gloucestershire for our lovely mates' wedding, which I am very much looking forward to.  I am hoping their mad spaniels will be dressed as bridesmaids, with baskets of rose petals around their necks but I fear I may be in for disappointment.
The hen party I went to last week was interesting.  I'd never been to a hen party before, which for a woman in her mid-40s is remiss.  It was at a "Spa Hotel" near Bath***, and whist the hotel part was mostly ok, the spa wasn't great.  Perhaps I am spoilt by having been to Ragdale Hall a couple of times.  However, I don't think that having to walk across a car park and a fairly busy road in your robe and slippers to get to the treatment rooms is very nice, or wait in the lobby of the block while guests and conference attendees squeeze past you.  Not classy.

The treatments themselves were fine; I had a sparkly manicure:

It lasted approximately 36 hours before I'd mangled the polish to such an extent that I had to take it all off again.

We had Champagne and nibbles and balloons and all sorts in one of the rooms before dinner, everyone dolled up in their party finery:

The photo is blurred due to Champagne.  Note the straws with plastic cocks on.  Niiiiice. 

We ate a pleasant dinner in the restaurant, in a little side room that was semi-private so our laughing didn't (I hope) disturb too many other guests.  However, after dinner we went back to one of the rooms and had more Champagne, and I suspect we may have been a tad noisy.  But bugger it, I'll not be going back there, so it doesn't matter, eh?

The hotel could be really lovely, but they consistently failed to get things right - everyone's bill was wrong, so we had to get them all recalculated, and even then they didn't seem to charge us for all the wine we had, despite being asked several times to check the numbers.  The bedroom I was in was clean and comfy, despite one or two issues with the bathroom****, and the food was (mostly) good, if a bit chaotic and disorganised.  It was ok for a one night "party" awayday.  I'd have been very disappointed if I'd booked it as a spa weekend break. 

I had a two day hangover afterwards, which I am blaming on lack of sleep. 

Right.  Cushion time. 

*See multiple previous posts about ill health, various family crises, the Shitstorm From Hades, many and varied tiresome work hassles, yadda yadda yadda...

**Within 50 miles.

***We went here...the reviews are a fair reflection of my own experience. 

****The shower head was hanging on by a thread from a large ragged hole in the ceiling, and the sink drain stank of sewage.  Not nice when brushing your teeth with a hangover. 

Thursday, 27 October 2011


I was planning on writing a post yesterday to whine about how hung over I was after a hen party, but then all the power went off - and stayed off for 9 hours - so I didn't. 

It was a very odd day.  Having no electricity makes life uncomfortable and awkward when you're utterly used to it.  I kept thinking of things to do:

"I'll do some laundry...oh, no power." 

"I'll just put the hoover round...oh, wait...."

"I'll do the ironing this morning....oh, no I won't."

"I'll make some cushion covers...gah, no sewing machine..."

"Cake! I'll bake something...oh...can't light the oven without the power*.  Bugger."

So it went on.  In the end I cleaned the windows (inside).  By mid afternoon I was stressed and grumpy, so tried to chill out and read a book, but it was really very strange. 

And of course my fallback "thing to do" - dick about on the Internet - was completely unavailable.  I'd failed to charge my iPhone overnight, so couldn't even play Angry Birds on that, a favourite time-wasting activity.  Oh, the horror. 

The reason for this all-day trip back to the Dark Ages was the upgrading of the local power supply, which mostly seemed to involve men in high visibility coats standing in our front garden, pondering where to put the new power lines.

We were given prior notice, to be fair. A man came to the door a few weeks ago, handed me a letter telling me that the electricity was going to be turned off, and asked me to sign a sheet pf paper to confirm that I had received the letter. All very organised.

It would have been even better if I had remembered that yesterday was the Big Day.  As it was, Mr WithaY and I were enjoying a lie-in - his first morning of "Not Being At Work Any More" -  when there was a knock on the front door, and there stood a cheery man in a high visibility coat and sunglasses, grinning at my dishevelled appearance.

"Sorry, love," he said.  "Did I wake you up?" 

I thought about saying "No, we were engaging in wild, uninhibited, unimaginably hot monkey sex, it being Wednesday and all," but decided not to. 

"Not at all, I was just about to get in the shower," I said with what dignity I could muster.

"Ah, well, we're turning the power off now, love."  His grin broadened.  Bastard. 

I went back upstairs and dressed - no shower, no hair wash - and reflected that I would be spending the day festering in my own filth.  Not for the first time, dear readers. 

Mr WithaY carefully wrapped the fishtank in towels to try and keep it warm once the power was off, and scampered away to find the camping kettle in the garage, checking the mousetraps while he was there**. 

When we had our kitchen renovated we decided to have a gas cooker installed, as we tend to get power cuts in the winter.  Top tip.  It means you can make tea, or even cook a meal when there's no electricity.  We have to remember to replace the gas cylinders, but apart from the occasional panic (There's no gas!  It's 6.30pm on New Year's Eve!  Crap!) it's a very efficient and useful system. 

Our long term plan for the sitting room involves replacing the open fire with a log burning stove for much the same reasons; it'll be more fuel efficient, and we can cook soup on top of it. 

Anyhoo.  The workmen set up a series of huge crane type machines all around the village, and started taking down all the power cables, which was quite interesting to watch. 

I was disconcerted when I went into the bathroom later in the day, and was waved at by a workman up the power pole in next door's garden.  Usually we don't have anyone overlooking the bathroom, so our curtains are the sort that only cover half the window.  The lower half.  He was waving at me over the top of them. 

The pwer was restored at about 4pm, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  The kettle was put on, the lights came back on, I put washing in the machine, and all was well with the world again. 

Today I have been catching up with the domestic drudgery that a combination of hangover and lack of power had prevented me from doing earlier in the week.

Thank goodness I have an acoustic guitar, that's all I can say. I made my own entertainment. 

*I think it is possible to light the oven with matches, but anything that involves me sticking my head into a gas oven with a lit match in my sweaty paw is classed as "too bloody dangerous, matey."

**7 mice caught so far.   They had set up a nest in his bushcraft supplies, and are therefore being terminated with extreme prejudice.  And peanut butter.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Inertia and other matters

The weather's turned.  Turned to SHIT. 

We had the sunniest weekend - possibly ever - this weekend just gone and how did I spend much of it?  Why, lounging idly on the sofa with the curtains closed, drinking tea and watching my new DVD set of The Big Bang Theory.  I have a wholly inappropriate, probably immoral, and certainly ill-advised, crush on Leonard. 

One of the many things I love* about that programme is the fact that I feel as though I am learning about Science as I watch.  All those years of sitting in double physics at school, praying for the fire alarm to go off, or a mysterious stranger to burst in through the door and carry me away, or a runaway horse to gallop into the corridor, or, well, anything that wasn't double physics, really, wasted.


I have learned more about mass, energy, time and space via an American comedy show than I did whilst studying for my failed physics O level. 

Failed?  Oh yes.  Actually, not so much "failed" as "crashed, then exploded, then crumbled into dust."   I'm not good at listening to stuff I don't find engaging, and lordy, I was even worse at it back then when I was 17.  I used to read all the notes diligently, but in lessons my brain shut down and went skipping off o'er the hills and far away while poor Mr Andrews (I think) tried to get me to learn about Van der Graaf generators** or inertia or gravity or resistance, or whatever tedious nonsense was on that day's agenda.

It was the same in maths lessons, as I have mentioned a few times in here previously.  I would TRY to listen, but my brain just refused.  If I ever seemed likely to actually absorb any mathematical knowledge, I'd get an agonising cluster headache to distract me before I could consolidate the knowledge into something helpful. 

I must be the only person who was actually employed by the Civil Service with no Maths O Level.  Shocking.  And they gave me a billion pound contract to manage for a bit.  Fools. 

Anyhoo.  I've been thinking about my days at school a fair bit lately, probably because the gym I go to is next to the local secondary school and if I time my morning visit wrong I drive past all the kids making their way there, gloomily dragging their feet, scrapping with each other, or walking along with their eyes locked immovably to their mobile phones. 

People tend to trot out that weary axiom about your schooldays being the happiest of your life when the subject comes up. Readers, I disagree. 

I was much happier when I was at college, reading books all day, working in a pub in the evenings, spending hours and hours in the college library reading Victorian copies of Punch magazine for research purposes***.  I was happier when I started working full-time too, earning money, feeling like a real grown-up, living on my own in my teeny little flat. 

School always felt like something to be got through to allow you to progress to the good stuff. 

So. The good stuff in my life at the moment:

We are planting a few more trees in the garden, inspired by the success of the crabapple.  This morning we planted a Victoria plum and a cherry tree in the front garden. I hope they thrive, and that in a year or two I can start harvesting their fruit. 

My guitar playing has stepped up a notch (Bam! ****) and I am learning to play what my guitar teacher kindly refers to as "solos" but which are really just scales with ideas above their station.  It's all rather fab though, and I love it. 

The new song I am focussing on learning this week is the embarrassingly cheesy duet between Tim McGraw and (I'm sorry, but it's true) Gwyneth Paltrow "Me and Tennessee."  Yes, I know.  I know

I like it.  There. I said it.

I'm making some funky fabric-y stuff, specifically cushion covers this week.  I'm discovering that I am quite good at it, too.  Bam!

Oh, and I am going to brave Salisbury and go to the posh scary hairdresser this week.  I am off to a wedding in a few weeks and my hair has suddenly reverted to "woman living in the country with no mirrors in the house" so urgent remedial action is needed.

It's all good, dawg. 

*apart from Leonard

**The experimental apparatus, not the band

***Honestly.  I did my dissertation on fairy stories and their reflected influence on Victorian novels, and how it all related to society in the Victorian era.  Utterly pointless, but I loved doing it.  It was a very fashionable subject in the 1980s, darlings. 

****copyright  Elzar and his spice weasel.

Thursday, 13 October 2011


I've been going to the gym  for the last month or so.  It's an attempt to stem the encroaching tide of middle-aged "can't be arsed-ness" and also to reduce my bulk to less vile proportions. 

I have actually got a bit heavier, which is dispiriting, if not unexpected, and I can't see any real difference in my shape yet. However, I am already feeling stronger, and I sweat more when exerting myself.  Niiiiice.  Apparently, according to the nice gym staff, that's a common side effect of exercising.  You get sweatier. 

So.  Heavier.  Slightly more muscular.  Sweaty.  I bet you're all having a little private far-away moment just imagining that, aren't you?

The most difficult part of the entire business is getting into a routine.  I am trying to go early in the day, to be there before 0900, do my routine, get home, get showered, get dressed and be ready to get on with my day by 1030 at the latest.  The downside to that is that I don't eat before I go, which might be a bad thing.  I may have to get up at the crack of dawn to have some porridge first.

I do 10 minutes on the cross trainer* to start with, which is ok, as long as I don't look at the timer counting down.  I try to watch the TV screen above my head, where they show the BBC News with subtitles.  There is a good deal of unintended hilarity caused by those subtitles, with the interpreters having to publish rapid corrections as they go. 

If I can't see the TV screen, I look down into the swimming pool.  Sometimes there are dozens of small children having swimming lessons, which is also hilarious.  They are all so earnest; watching them splashing about like minnows, whacking one another in the face as they attempt backstroke takes me back to my own awful school swimming lessons. 

The school I went to in London, way back in the early 1970s, took us to a concrete outdoor pool for lessons. It was very shallow, and I have distinct memories of regularly scraping my feet and stubbing my toes on the rough concrete bottom of the pool as I was learning to kick.  I never knew what the swimming teacher's name was.  It sounded like "Mr Vinehoff" but everyone in the class had a different opinion what it actually was.  We couldn't hear him introduce himself over the splashing, shrieking masses and nobody had the nerve to ask him what his name was.

I don't think they taught us how to swim, as such. I think it was more along the lines of trial by ordeal, where they threw us into the water and if we didn't drown we had to go back to school and learn about the metric system and decimalisation.

The school I went to in Chichester took us to the municipal baths for lessons, in a bus.  We seemed to spend about twice as long getting to the pool, getting changed into our swimsuits, getting dry afterwards and getting back into our uniforms than we ever did in the water.  I remember the sense of achievement I had when I swam 100 yards.  It was slow and inelegant, like so much of my school sporting career, but I did it, and I got a certificate to prove it.

I also jumped off the diving board.  There was a low board, a springy plank on the edge of the pool which was perfect for doing "pirate walking the plank" impressions when the teacher wasn't looking, and everyone could jump off that.  Well, it was practically the same as the edge of the pool.  You had to be a real chicken to flunk that one. 

Then there were the Other Boards.  I definitely jumped off one of those, but my memory fails me here.  I can't remember if it was the the middle board up a flight of scary rickety metal steps, or the "fuck me that's high" board at the very top, up abut four flights of steps.  I have a nagging feeling that I did go off the top board, because I can recall the terror when I had jumped; that feeling that there was no going back.  When I hit the water I went almost to the bottom of the pool - 12' 6" deep, whatever that is in metric** - and it was scary trying to get back up to the surface before I ran out of air.  I didn't do it again.

It may have been something we had to do for a swimming badge with the Girl Guides. 

We had to do so many odd things with the Girl Guides.  That's a whole blog post in itself.

Anyhoo.  Swimming flashbacks aside, I am enjoying the gym, and any day now will develop one of those bodies that you see on TV, memorably described by (I think) Terry Pratchett as a stocking full of walnuts. 
I can't promise photos. 

*See much earlier, older joke somewhere in the blog archives about this being a piece of gym equipment, not a grumpy muscular man in a singlet 

**I learned NOTHING at school.  Not a bloody thing.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

In the News

I do enjoy reading our local newspaper.  Not only does it feature either the Mayor, the Town Crier or representatives of the various local military units on almost every page, the headlines are reassuringly bonkers. 

It's how every local newspaper should be, really.  Plus, and this is quite an important point, the hilarious "no news is what we're all about" publishing ethos demonstrates how little serious crime we have on a regular basis around here.  So it's funny AND reassuring.

Last week almost the entire front page was covered with the scandalous revelation that the man who has bought the derelict Town Hall building has previous convictions for failing to comply with planning regulations when renovating a different derelict building.  The last two or three years have seen many and varied front page stories about how is is a disgrace - an absolute DISGRACE!- that the Town Hall remains empty and derelict.  Now there's a whole new angle to be outraged about. Our gorgeous pigeon-shit-encrusted Town Hall is in the hands of someone who might renovate it without getting the final sign-off from the planning officer to undertake internal modifications to the building.  I'll keep you posted.

Ahhh, the Town Crier is on Page 2.  All is well with the world.  Something else I love about this newspaper is the way that the publisher - our local stationer - fills all the spare space on Page 2 with advertisements for their own shop.  They sell everything you could possibly need in the stationery line.  Wedding invitations? Calendars? School pencil cases? Maps? Greetings cards?  Books about the local area?  Labels of all types?  Poster paint?  Glue?  Glitter?  Dictionaries? Paperclips?  They've got it all. 

The shop itself is a delight, rambling back into nooks and crannies, all of them crammed with treasures you never knew you needed.  It's staffed by a selection of elderly ladies who know exactly where everything is.  Sometimes they have to get ladders to reach the high shelves, delicately avoiding setting off avalanches of rolls of brown paper and boxes of treasury tags. 

Top Page 2 headline this week: 

Break In  
Nothing Stolen

Fantastic.  On Page 4 we have the almost-as-good Air Rifle Pointed, which hints at all sorts of ill-natured duelling potential.  When you read the story, however, it was a couple of blokes in a van with an air rifle, off out rabbiting probably.  They were "subsequently allowed on their way" after being given some "suitable advice" by the police.

Two stories side by side on Page 8 in an unfortunate juxtaposition. One relates how our nearest cinema, a small independent one in Frome with a bar and everything, has been damaged by fire* and will be closed for a while.  The story beside it tells us that a new cocktail bar has opened in town.  The accompanying picture shows a frosty-glass delicious looking cocktail, with the strapline "Try out a cocktail this weekend."

Why not? You can't go to the cinema, after all.

Page 11 has the menacing Children Visit Biodigester.  It doesn't say how many arrived, or - more importantly - how many left.  I think that's the sort of thing we ought to be told.  Next to that story is Chilli And Tomato Tastings.  I don't know about you, but my appetite vanished at the word "Biodigester." 

The sports pages are great as well.  Every single week, regardless of the weather, the time of the year or the prevailing economic climate, our local teams lose.  This week's football headline is Not A Good Home Day For Town.  It's interesting to see how many different ways the newspaper people can say "They're A Bit Shit, Unfortunately."  The Rugby headline is Better Performance But Still Defeated.

It reminds me of my old school reports. 

Are all local newspapers like this, or are we just lucky, I wonder?

*Probably caused by the manager making everyone a nice bit of cheese on toast to eat during the film.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Fit for purpose

Blimey, here we are in October already.  It's warmer than it was in July, which is just WRONG.  One of the most peculiar things about unseasonable heat in the Autumn is that it gets dark early, and we have to choose between sitting in the garden in the pitch black, or inside the house at 7.30 at night, sweltering.  And, it being Autumn, many, many spiders are migrating indoors, so if we have the windows open to cool the house down, they come swarming in with little cries of glee.

Sitting outside in the dark isn't as much fun as you might imagine, either.

Anyway, today it's raining, but still really warm, which is even odder.  It feels like being in the tropics, but with all the leaves falling off the trees, and everything in the garden looking tired and brown.  Including me.

I've been busy of late, trying to get myself motivated and prepared for the oncoming winter.  I am behaving like the proverbial ant in the fable, storing up for the cold days ahead.  Unfortunately, I am not storing up anything very useful, or solid, like chopped logs and salted beef.  

I spent a constructive few days making crab apple jelly, using the apples from the little tree in our front garden.  The first batch I made turned out well, crystal clear and a beautiful pink colour, so I was encouraged to make some more. Mr WithaY brought home a helpful suggestion from a colleague that I add chilli, which I did, and it made the most delicious sweet hot jelly.  It's perfect with roast chicken, and cold meat. 

Inspired, I bought a dozen small "presentation" jars and have made a load more.  Expect to receive it for Christmas, non-virtual mates!

Why yes, I did spend some time stacking them in a variety of ways, just to photograph them.

I don't have a job any more.

I also started on a commission for a friend.  She asked if I could make her a noticeboard, which I was delighted to agree to.

It all went well at first.  The fabric she gave me to make it with is gorgeous, I found ribbon to match it, and then some satin to self-cover some buttons to finish it off.  I was mighty pleased with myself, I can tell you. 

In an effort to bring my fabric noticeboard-making process into the post-Industrial age, I bought a hot glue gun recently.  They're not particularly cheap - about £25 if I remember right - and I had high hopes for it.  I envisaged a perfect series of satisfying gluey blobs being produced as required, aimed and controlled by my craftswoman-like skills to allow simple button placement and a professional finish to my work.

I was mistaken in that assumption.

Reader, it took me well over an hour to stick on 25 buttons.  You have to plug the glue gun in and wait for it to heat up - at least 10 minutes - and then slooooowly and carefully squeeze the trigger until a blob of glue is extruded.  That's the theory.  In reality, you slooooowly and carefully squeeze the trigger, and nothing happens.  You put the glue gun back on the stand, and curse quietly. waiting another minute or two, as the instructions tell you.  You pick up the glue gun and you try again, squeezing the trigger slooooowly and carefully.  Nothing happens, so you squeeze the trigger more rapidly, in a gunslinger trigger-happy pumping motion.  A blob of glue drips out, and you cheer inwardly.

You stick a few buttons in place using this technique.  You pause and make a cup of tea, smug that you have mastered the technology, and are a genius.  A glue-based genius.

You pick up the glue gun to continue your creative endeavours.  The glue gun refuses to extrude any more glue.  It is sulking.  You leave it for a minute or two and then try again.  The rapid-fire technique no longer works. You revert back to the long slow squeeze.  Nothing happens. 

You swear, louder and more fluently.  You keep trying different squeeze techniques, which makes your hand hurt.  Eventually, you coax enough glue out of the gun to stick each button down.

You are not entirely confident that they will remain in place, but by now your hand is cramping and you hate the sight of your stupid crappy not-working-properly glue gun. 

So.  I took the completed noticeboard round to my friend, and gave it to her with the caveat that the buttons might not stay put, and that she should let me know if they fell off. 

The next day she rang me.  The buttons had fallen off.  Arse.

I went and collected it, and now it is sitting on my kitchen table, looking reproachful as I try to think of a way to sort it out. 

Other news:  I have rejoined the gym.  I am hilariously unfit.  This situation will change, or I might die in the attempt.