Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Larks, owls and other birds

What a long day. M has once again had to have his heart stopped and restarted, or as a friend rather wittily put it, 'He's been rebooted.'

I had to get up at the crack of dawn - well actually, in the middle of night in my terms - about 6.30 a.m. - to get him to the hospital. I have friends who say how wonderful it is to get up early; I couldn't share their enthusiasm; by 11 a.m. I was exhausted and ready for bed, though I continued to muddle through the day. M never has any difficulty in getting up; but he sleeps through all the evening television.

When I collected M, two people pulled in behind me in the tiny car park, as I was about to attempt to reverse into a better position. I was almost at right angles to them but had to try to straighten up to create more space for them. To my embarrassment, the car not only kept slipping back on the slight incline, but stalled as well, at least half a dozen times. When I finally managed to right it, I half expected a burst of applause, but the elderly man with frame, manfully making his way to the entrance, a la Mrs. Overall, (from the car behind) did not look so inclined.

M, condemned to staying put because of the general anaesthetic, kept thinking of activities he'd like to be doing. In the end, to stop him wandering outside and playing in his workshop with unsuitable things, I had to suggest we polished off the invoices. So more office work to sort out tomorrow. I dared not send them out today, without checking them. With my brain in sleep mode, I could easily have sent them out with the pounds in the pence column.
And now, as a special treat, my bird pictures, from which you will see that the jay and the green woodpecker, which I shot from my office and kitchen window, repsectively, a few days ago, seem eager to escape from the photos. It's the best I can do. I'll try again another time.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A housewife's lot ...

Two more tasks completed and maybe soon I’ll be able to get to the Tainted Tree edit and also my book for the reading circle, The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney. Though the prospect of starting on business and personal Christmas cards looms and I must also make a trip into Guildford to get birthday presents for two of the grandchildren. Still I have been working hard during the last few days, and I do have some feeling of satisfaction. I spent a large part of Friday cooking. I made a vegetable terrine and some onion soup, for the vegetarian ProdigalD, spouse and GD2, who were coming back from Switzerland on Friday evening, as well, of course, as our own meal – and loads of roast potatoes and veg for five people. Disappointingly, they were very late and exhausted and could hardly do justice to the meal. We had had to start a couple of hours before them.

They left shortly after breakfast and I had resolved to tackle defrosting the chest freezer. The ice on the rim was thick and hard and I was getting more and more worried that the temperature within was not as cold as it should be. But while the wasps were paying their regular visits to the utility room, I was reluctant to spend time there; or, in fact, to open it when vast amounts of poison had been sprayed into the atmosphere. Fortunately, about a week ago, there was a frost. I don’t like being cold, but there are times when it’s a necessary evil. At any rate, it appeared to have done the trick; there were only a couple more dead bodies on the floor, and then no appearance of any flying creatures. I just hope they haven’t found a little haven in there in which to start a new nest next year. So I cleared all the stuff from the freezer, wrapped it up in the spare room with the towels the family had just used – might as well get some more use out of them before starting on the marathon wash – and started chipping away. M offered me a steamer; I blenched when he unearthed it from his workroom; it had only been used twice and it was covered with dust and tar. He filled it up getting water all over the floor. At this point I banished him. He didn’t mind - there was rugby on the TV - and I cleaned up the thing and then found it quite useful. When I’d finished, I found another towel for M to wipe up the water in bottom of the freezer. I could quite see that if I attempted to reach the bottom, my feet would start waving in the air.

While I worked I listened to the new Frederick Raphael serial on the radio. I’ve forgotten the name and I hadn’t really followed the plot; I just listened to the witty dialogue, which I think is all that matters. And talking of wit, I loved listening to Katharine Whitehorn’s memoirs last week – Unreliable Memories, I think it was called. I thought she was a woman after my own heart when she confessed on Any Questions many yonks ago that her bra strap was done up with a safety pin.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I completed the VAT yesterday, with days to spare. Then M & I went off to a supper quiz with a team of friends. Great fun, though we didn’t win.

I notice from a brief look at my various site statistics that whenever I mention chocolate brownies there is a flurry of interest. Readers, if you're that keen, just let me know and I'll supply the recipe. Regretfully, I cannot supply virtual slices. My computer won't allow it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Stripping down and taking off

The week is rapidly going into a descent. From a family birthday party on Sunday, a a visit from the Prodigal D staying over with husband and GD2, before taking off to Heathrow, to er take off again (to Switzerland) and a very productive day on Tuesday, to stripping down the Dyson today and having to go to Sainsbury’s too, today, there has been a definite downward move.

The wretched Dyson was spitting out as much as it was taking in and there was no option but to change my clothes and get out my Phillips’ screwdriver (just showing off about my technical know-how). The Dyson is supposed to be such a brilliant design (or is everyone now disillusioned?) but is there anyone who doesn’t get covered in dust when they remove the lower part and extract one week’s intake? In this case, I had to change the filters, take off the cone and clean that up, and remove the base plate and dig out what seemed like a bird’s nest from the underneath and inside. (I used another screwdriver for that). Then I was left with three parts to put back and experienced a moment of panic. How had I got the thing back together last time? Was I going to have to leave the bits for M to reinstate? But no, suddenly, everything clicked into place, and all I had to do then was dump my clothes in with the other washing and vacuum all the bits that had spread themselves on to the floor. All in all the operation took nearly an hour of my – at the moment – very precious time.

I’ve had a couple of good sessions on the VAT earlier in the week, and on Tuesday, another productive Goldenford ( meeting. When I got home, that evening, instead of wasting the time, I printed out four stories and ready to send to a competition. It’s a while since I’ve sent anything off, and I had been meaning to do this for some time. They were due in at the end of this month. I’ve also spent some time updating my website with information on Tainted Tree. That took another evening, but once again, has been bothering me. I’ve also been wondering how difficult it would be to transfer the whole lot to a site with my domain name. Any advice on that would be appreciated. I’ve also updated the Guildford Writers’ News page, ( and will soon be starting on the Goldenford website with the latest information about Tainted Tree and Anne Brooke’s ( Thorn in the Flesh. The Goldenford hot-line has been buzzing with discussions about blurbs and logos. Too much time seems to have been wasted on other emails, to be read and responded to and similarly letters – and still the tower on my desk gets higher. Also had to chauffeur M to and from his garage for his van’s MOT.

I was going to upload – just for Anne’s sake – a photo of the visiting green woodpecker, as well as a jay that’s been feeding just outside the kitchen door. But it will have to wait, for I must return to the VAT and the proposed shopping this afternoon, or there will be complaints from Customs & Excise, who may whisk me away to repay my debt to society, and also from M, as there are no bananas left in the house.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cool characters, art and books, London nights and lights

We had a lovely lunch out with our friends on Sunday, at a French restaurant attached to a pub. We have a lot of poultry at home; for many reasons, it seems better to avoid too much red meat, but at this restaurant, I really enjoy it because of the quality of the meat and the way it’s cooked.

I didn’t do the bookkeeping on Monday. I did do a bit of catching up, generally. Thank goodness for a full day at home. But it’s time for statements (I am the one that checks these accounts and, where appropriate, pays the bills.) Then it was necessary to go to the bank and return Salmon Fishing to the library More importantly, I did finish Thorn in the Flesh, and emailed Anne with my comments. I found it a book full of suspense and had to concentrate on the job in hand – the occasional need for editing – rather than just following my instinct to read on and find out what was going to happen. Though, of course, Anne is such a good writer that there are very few places that need changing. Just as well I finished, though, as Anne completed Tainted Tree on Monday night too, and I must soon get down to dealing with the editing. Irene’s comments have also been coming in and it will be very useful to compare the two.

Too much to do to produce anything for Guildford Writers in the evening, but it was a pleasant relaxed occasion with only half a dozen people there. Shortly after starting, an unshaven, filthy man in his thirties, with a beret at a rakish angle, turned up and, eyeing us all commented something like, ‘You’re a funny lot.’ I would guess that it was to pre-empt our saying the same about him. Asked if he was a writer, he replied he wrote poetry, which I thought was a possibility and was quite interested to hear it. He also assured us that what he really liked was fighting, but no-one picked a fight with him, because we’re used to an assortment of people arriving at the group, with the occasional eccentric. After listening to one reading, he got up, said, ‘That was good,’ but he needed to go to the pub. We breathed a sigh of relief, particularly those closest to him, (I wasn’t one of them.) who said he absolutely stank.; they probably hadn’t been able to draw breath for several minutes.

M & I decided that ‘cool’ is definitely the in-word for the young. GD1, coming up for nine, says it a lot. Yesterday morning, M rang a customer where he’d put in a temporary heater; the customer reported it was blowing cold air. M asked him to check out a few things and confirmed he would fix a permanent one in a few days. The young man replied ‘cool’ so often M thought he was still talking about the heater.

I went to London yesterday. First there was the usual coat debate. Is it going to be warm or cold. Will the train be hot and the outside cold? Will the sun go in; will a warm coat be heavy when trooping round an art gallery or similar. Indecisive must be my middle name.

On the train, I started work on a short story; another passenger was studying property law, while the young girl opposite me was knitting. I had a good look at her, for the knitting seemed incongruous; she was wearing trendy silver trainers, a thick knitted scarf and woolly hat, but black nail varnish, and a silver ring in her nose and a dark red bead under her lower lip. (At first I wasn’t quite sure if it was a bad spot, but it was very central.) I decided I might use her in my story. I also decided that knitting must be ‘cool’ now.

Coming in to Waterloo, I heard an announcement, ‘Please leave the station immediately. Follow the directions from station staff’ and something about ‘emergency.’ For a moment I thought, ‘What’s happening?’, but it was immediately followed by, ‘That is the end of the fire alarm.’ A fellow passenger chuckled to his companion, ‘Spreading alarm and despondency.’

My friend had checked up on what was on at the galleries, and my preference was for an exhibition of Millais at Tate Britain, which I thought was marvellous. There were seven rooms of paintings, many of them huge works, and although his style changed a little over the years, his detail of people and clothing was meticulous. Wonderful dresses, where you imagined, if you touched them you would feel the silk or the velvet. Jewels that sparkled, as if he had glued a real one to the canvas. And facial expressions beautifully portraying the emotions of the subjects. I understood that at some time his work had appeared controversial, but it was always aesthetically pleasing. Unlike the controversial art of today. For another £2 we could have seen a retrospective of the Turner prize-winners. After the Lord Mayor’s Show – I don’t think so.

When we emerged, it was getting dark. The London I still love was alive with lights and colour. The magnificent buildings still imposing and impressive. When I lived and worked in London in my twenties, I hardly noticed the darkness of winter. The London nights were exciting. They still are.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The week whizzes past

Once again a full week. Much as I hate to have a week with nothing happening at all, I sometimes find that if I have an activity every day of the week, I start to get panicky about the accumulated tasks that haven’t been dealt with.

The wasp crisis has continued, and there were new half dead wasps on the floor, when I sneaked into the utility room yesterday. I managed to get the machine loaded with towels, and then rushed out, looking above and around me for zooming winged creatures and any sort of threatening behaviour. Today, I got the washing into the tumble drier and another lot into the machine. I’m well behind because I’m scared of spending any time in there.

M & I had our meal out at the Chinese restaurant and very nice it was too – I had several helpings of their lemon chicken, but managed to resist the chocolate cake; M didn’t; unusual dessert for a Chinese Restaurant and M said it was delicious. Then the next day, on my birthday, Irene and I had our signing at Farnborough, which went well. On Wednesday I met a friend for a chat over a large tub of hot chocolate, then polished off my shopping at Sainsbury’s too. By Thursday, the paperwork was building up, along with the washing. But I was out in the evening discussing Salmon Fishing in the Yemen with my reading circle. (Verdict - a very interesting and unusual first novel, but rather too many different strands woven into it for me.) And Friday, my brother in law came for dinner. Somewhere along the line, my writers’ mags arrived and they just sat on the top of the pile of papers. Still nagging at me - I must start on the VAT. It’s nearly half way through the month.

On the plus side, I have now read up to Chapter 15 of Thorn in the Flesh, Anne’s novel, and it is going along very well. It is strange how one finds common themes, for as Anne has pointed out, both our heroines are searching for information about their respective pasts. Yet the books couldn’t be more different.

This afternoon, I have been to visit Jan who is designing the cover for Tainted Tree. We spent ages trying out different sizes and positions of the font on screen, and there is still more to do. Out to lunch tomorrow with friends, and on Monday, I must make a concerted effort to deal with bookkeeping.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Books; Brownies and Bonfires

I have been too busy to visit other sites recently, so please excuse me, friends. If I had to make a list of things to do, it would have to be divided into about 7 or 8 different columns. This always presents one with a problem - which column should be tackled first?

Purely on the reading/writing front, I am now receiving Irene’s ( comments on Tainted Tree and should be dealing with them. However, at the same time, I am reading and adding my comments to Anne’s ( book, Thorn in the Flesh. Having read four chapters, I can tell you it is full of suspense and impending danger. I’m also reading, for the book circle this coming Thursday, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen which is a very novel first novel. I’m enjoying both of these books and creating time for them by having fewer games of Freecell and Solitaire.

I managed to remember my camera and took a photo of the trees on our local road. Another few days and they will have lost their leaves. I also took a shot of what was our shed, prior to its removal for Bonfire Night - Saturday, in our case.

I thought Thursday was going to be a very productive day. I made up the bed in the Pink Room – the room that was once my daughter’s, but is now used for whichever granddaughters come to stay. I had to change the sheets, as GD2 was in them last, and GD3 will be in the bed next. GD1, being big and grown-up at nearly 9, sleeps on a blow-up mattress on the floor. I was going to go to Sainsbury’s to get my shopping for us and for the family visit, and also particularly to get more chocolate buttons for a second batch of chocolate brownies for Bonfire Night, when I remembered I had some cooking chocolate, and decided to delay the shopping till Friday. Then I walked to the post-box to get rid of some urgent letters and dealt with the end of month statements, to go in the post on Friday.

My neighbour had sent an urgent message on Tuesday night, when I was at Guildford Writers. No nuts. Apparently some of the female teenagers coming to the party think they might be allergic. We are viewing this with a certain amount of scepticism – either you are, or you aren’t. And any way, how can you make brownies without nuts. Nevertheless, on Wednesday, I tried making a batch of double chocolate brownies instead. Alas, the chocolate buttons, which I put in at the last stage, melted into the mixture, so they didn’t turn out quite as I wanted. But they seemed to taste OK. With batch 2, on Thursday, I had the bright idea of adding raisons instead of extra chocolate. When I’d finished them, I was about to throw away the chocolate wrappers, when I spotted the words, may contain traces of hazelnuts, almonds, milk, wheat and egg. My 35 nutless brownies were, after all, not nut free. I have to say I was very irritated, and had to contemplate making a further batch for the party. So I hadn’t made such good progress after all. To add insult to injury, a customer telephoned during our meal, wanting a report done, so I had to take dictation after the meal, and produce four copies to go off tomorrow. Not much time for reading anything that evening.

On Friday, I braved the utility room (stick head in, observe wasps in flight, fetch spray; call back an hour later) and got some washing in the machine and numerous stuff hanging up in there out for ironing. And I did a huge Sainsbury’s shop, too, bearing in mind that the Son&Heir and his women were coming on Saturday.

Saturday was another beautiful day and the girls were delighted to help collecting timber for the fire. Our neighbour’s sons put our old shed on our trailer and transported the stuff to the site; they were all involved in building a magnificent bonfire with Guy on top. I, in the meantime, made my third batch of brownies – a total of 105 in four days. In the evening, we went to our immediate neighbour for drinks before fire lighting. The bonfire was amazing; I didn’t take my camera, but the flames were probably leaping 20 feet in the air, singeing branches of the trees around. Our other neighbour was circling with a hosepipe, constantly trying to damp it down, but the old shed was probably very dry and there were also some builders’ pallets which formed the base. It was all OK; it didn’t get out of hand, and the men took turns to keep an eye on it while the rest of us watched the fireworks’ display. Then back to the other neighbour for the food. Our girls were tired by then, and we soon took them off home.

Still to come was our trip to the Chinese restaurant for my birthday treat, where I had to open the home made cards designed by the girls (and be very surprised about it.) I also received two books from the family A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon and Grumpy Old Woman by Judith Holder. Well that sums me up then.

When they’d gone, I collapsed onto the settee (or is it sofa – wouldn’t want to show up my humble beginnings) incapable of anything other than making a quick supper and watching Andrew Davies’ version of A Room with a View. M was quite disappointed to find that he wasn’t watching Rear Window. He also complained bitterly about the time shifts – unnecessary in my view, though I enjoyed most of it. In the commercials, I read a few pages of Salmon Fishing as time is rushing on. And yet more activity tonight, when we are going to restaurant in Staines, where M has done some work in the past. They want him to come and talk about electrics, and the lady wife is invited too.