Friday, April 30, 2004

Pardon me, boys ...

I had a phonecall this afternoon from Ned, saying they were safely in a Carlisle pub, waiting for their train. They enquired about catching an earlier one, but that would have cost them an extra £32 each. It’s a ridiculous system we have now. Back in ‘the old days’ you bought a ticket, either in advance for a particular day or whenever you wanted to travel, and it was for whatever time train you fancied catching. As long as it was off-peak it didn't matter, the price was the same. Now it’s for a particular train, and if you miss that one, then your ticket’s no good. Tickets should be booked in advance, but bookings can’t start till about a month before the proposed journey, and different timed trains are released on different dates. You have to keep phoning or visiting your local (ha ha) station to enquire. If you just turn up to catch a train, you might not be able to get one because they might be fully booked. Why not put on an extra carriage, then? Make a bit more money? And the closer you get to the proposed date of departure, the more the ticket costs. If you have a family crisis and need to get across the country as soon as possible, then you’re going to pay through the nose for the privilege. In fact in that situation it is cheaper and quicker to fly. So much for encouraging people to get out of their cars and use public transport.

I used to love travelling by train, and did a lot, but not now. When I have used the train in the past few years the service has been excellent – the only delay was when a stupid dork pulled the communication cord and ran away, so the train was stranded for half an hour while its airbrakes recharged. We missed our connection, and everyone getting on the train further down the line moaned and unfairly blamed the rail company.

Anyway, the upshot is that they have been sat in a pub for most of the afternoon, when they could have been steaming (dieselling? electricking?) homewards and I could have met them at a reasonable hour. Instead it’ll be about midnight when they reach Leamington and I’ll be a really tired old crosspatch.

Welcome home, happy wanderers.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Raindrops keep fallin' on my head

I managed to sleep in till 6 o’clock this morning, which, although not the 7.30 I’d rather set my heart (and alarm) on, was a step in the right direction. The weather was no better than yesterday, but the dogs, after their initial reluctance to venture out into the nasty wet, enjoyed splashing in the field. The rest of the morning was spent ambling damply round the shops in Banbury, trying to find a suitable present for Ned, but without a great deal of luck. I got a large bag of meaty bones (for free) for the dogs, which was fairly heavy to lug around the shops but I didn’t want to go all the way back to the car to leave them. Thursday is one of Banbury’s market days, so finding a parking space near to the shopping centre can be a challenge. As it was I did quite well, and was only half a mile away.

There was some interesting stuff in some of the shops, but nothing that leapt out at me shrieking “This is what he wants” so I gave up and went to test perfumes instead. No, I still can’t find one I like – they all seem sickly-sweet and make me sneeze. So I sploshed back to the car (spotting a ‘4’ number-plate on the way!) and just missed an opportunity to run down Herr Flick on my way out of town. Better luck next time perhaps.

Lost & Found stats - Lost: my good art rubber.
Found: the sharp kitchen knife.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Drip, drip, drip little April Showers ...

Hardly April Showers, actually. More like flipping April Cloudbursts. What a horrid, cold, wet day! I was woken at 5.30 this morning by the rain lashing against the window, and it seemed to set the mood for the whole day. Dismal, dull and dreary. I turned the heating on again (despite the fact that it still hasn’t acknowledged I’d turned it off) and it’s making an unnerving hissing noise. Perhaps an anaconda is stuck in the pipes.

Just as soon as we’ve organised a plan of campaign for Sunday’s rendezvous I’m going to have a hot bath and go to bed with three hot water bottles, a stuffed orang-utan and a Monstrous Regiment.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Wish you were here

As well as the day’s usual dog-walking, gardening, shopping and other routine domestic maintenance, I realised that today’s visit by a brother would, if he was to be reasonably comfortable overnight, require the rediscovery of the spare bed. I know it’s in the room somewhere, and I suspect underneath the Boy’s skiwear and the boxes of Christmas decorations which I really should have put back in the loft months ago. So that was a major task. Of course opening the loft hatch means all the dust and grime and crud and dead flies fall down onto the bedroom carpet, so rather than have a crunchy sound underfoot when you walk to the bathroom, vacuuming needed to be done.

Then it was time to wash, remove the dead flies and cobwebs from my hair, change into my identifying “I Thing” tee-shirt and go to Warwick to meet up with Lordhutton. Typically, it was colder today than of late, so I would have been happier with a couple more layers, but at least it did some advertising for ShopDonkey. (Good fortune meant I parked the car next to J3 FLE, the third in the game enjoyed by Stu of spotting consecutive car numbers, which we have been keeping our eyes out for some days, having ‘bagged’ Y1 ASW and C2 LCK a while back. Typically, there were two others ‘3’s within a hundred yards.) Anyway, I arrived at the meeting-point as the clock struck two (coincidentally, the agreed meeting time), and dutifully phoned him. As is usual in these circumstances the stranger you are calling turns out to be standing mere feet away from you, so you get the strange stereo effect of hearing their voice in both your telephone ear and the free ear. He appeared relieved that I was wearing more than just my I Thing tee-shirt, and we adjourned to a convenient watering hole. A very pleasant interlude – nice bloke, hutters.

Oh, and Happy Birthday, Ned! The beer that my bro brought for you wouldn’t keep till you get back, so were drinking it for you. It’s lovely – you’d have enjoyed it!

Monday, April 26, 2004

Feeling hot, hot, hot

I had a phonecall from Ned this evening – they’re doing okay so far. They set off from their billet (a brewery!) in Newburn this morning, aiming for a pub for lunch. The one marked in their guide was shut. So was the next one, five miles on. Their spirits lifted when they saw a sign for a tearoom. That was shut too. So they carried on foodless all the way to their next stop in Wall. They arrived there at about three o’clock, and had a drink. By the time Ned phoned me at seven they were all a tad on the tipsy side and I was his ‘best friend’. Oh dear. He’ll feel rotten for the next stage tomorrow (his birthday!).

An unusual domestic situation has arisen at Genie Towers. The weather has been so lovely the past few days I decided the time has come for the central heating’s seasonal shutdown. So last night I duly clicked the switch to ‘Off’ and went to bed. To say I was somewhat startled this morning to find the radiators warm is an understatement! I double-checked the control – yes, it was clearly in the ‘off’ position. I have had to turn the main thermostat to its coldest setting in the hope that will override the other control. Otherwise the house will be an oven.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

It’s oh, so quiet

It’s awfully quiet. Too quiet. Ned packed his belongings in a spotted hanky and tied it to a stick, and this morning I drove him and his gang to Leamington station to send them safely on their way to the beautiful Border country for their jaunt. Ian (who has packed his rucksack full of food and therefore has no change of clothing) has apparently been practicing his Geordie accent to ensure he feels at home, which doesn’t bode well for anyone. Steve has set off well greased to avoid chafing (though I dread to think what chafing could occur on the train!) and smells ‘interesting’. Paul was told that he was being allowed to accompany them in the role of emergency rations. If they get lost they plan to eat him. Ned is all of a tizzy wondering whether he’s organised everything properly, if it’s going to be too hot, what happens if they don’t reach their B&Bs in time etc. The first stretch won’t be easy. Their train wasn’t due to arrive in Newcastle till about 3 this afternoon, then it’s 12 miles to their first night’s lodging. He hasn’t taken the mobile with him, so I’m not expecting to hear any news until I go to collect them from Leamington station at about midnight on Friday.

To change the subject entirely I have a dilemma. I was doing some weeding and general tidying in the garden this afternoon, it being such a beautiful day, and the ground still damp enough to work. When my bucket was full of weeds I took it over to add to an old sack of garden rubbish which was shoved just inside the back gate some weeks ago. As I opened the sack a bird flew out, and there, neatly tucked in a corner, was a nest containing 5 tiny brown-speckled robin’s eggs. What do I do? They’re okay at the moment, but when the chicks hatch and start cheeping the dogs are going to find them. Bye-bye chickies. If I move the sack to a safer place, the mother-bird might abandon them. I think the best I can do is barricade off the sack to make the babies unreachable. Tchoh! What a silly place to build a nest. It’s like trying to raise a family on the central reservation of a motorway, or the lion enclosure of a safari park.

Phew! Two blogs in one day! Finding I'd volunteered to guest Carol's blog was a real shock. That'll teach me not to pick up such obvious gauntlets!

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Don’t stop me now …

Yesterday evening Ned and I finally got around to setting up the pedometer we bought some weeks ago, that has been sitting by the microwave ever since. There was an article in the paper recently that said, for good health, people should take at least 10,000 steps per day. I have absolutely no idea how many steps I take, and if I wander round all day counting under my breath (and what’s the betting someone distracts me and I lose count?) I shall be thought of as the local mad woman and kind men will come round and fit me with a lovely new jacket with extra-long cuffs …

So clearly that was not the ideal way to satisfy my curiosity - the gadget it had to be. After mastering the first item on the list of instructions (Opening the Pedometer) it asked us to decide whether we wanted to use real or new money specifications. No contest! Being of a certain age, we are completely happy with imperial measurements. Then we had to work out the length of my stride. This involved measuring the length of the garden, which would have been easier if the long builders’ tape-measure hadn’t suffered canine investigation in the past, reducing us to using a six-foot dressmaking tape. A suitable distance was marked out, and I duly got up steam and set on my way, imagining I was stepping out on the Road to the Isles. Realising that was silly, I eventually managed to get into a more normal, day-to-day type of stride, the length of which (27 inches) was entered into the gadget’s database. Next it demanded that I input my nude bodyweight. This was, I confess, guessed at, so I don’t imagine that the calorie-count function offered will be terribly accurate.

Then we were ready for the off! I’m not as active as I used to be, having had an operation on one foot last year, and getting a sedentary job, but I generally jog to the newsagent in the morning, and walk the dogs as well as potter about the house. We went into Leamington at lunchtime and ambled about for a while trying to remember what we went there for, and decided to buy a new printer. Then later this afternoon we went for a quick cache (because of foolishly not reading all the information before we set off we only managed to complete part of the search, but it was a lovely day to stroll anyway) so perhaps the final figure will be a bit higher than normal.

Step stats to 7.30pm? 10,632.

PS: And to bedtime (midnight)? 11327.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Power to the people!

I was completely stuck for bloggery today, so Ned applied to the chatroom for inspiration. The suggestions were "Bundebangle" from Simon (an unlikely subject that has been done before by others) and "conflagration" from MMM (likewise, from the blog about her days as a the Brownie from hell). So no obvious help there.

But it did remind me of my day job. The puzzles for our site (if I was the slightest bit au fait with technology I would have added three links by now for the various individuals mentioned) are computer generated, but as we all know, computers are stupid and only obey orders. They lack the power of discrimination. For example, all our crosswords, once created, are completed by humans to ensure the clues and answers are sufficiently varied. A puzzle where the clues are predominantly anagrams will be rejected, as is one which contains very similar words, such as 'school' and 'scholar'. Just as people get words, phrases or tunes (or 'earworms' - thanks Henry!) stuck in their heads, so does the company database. Every batch of puzzles it generates seems to have a theme, despite its theoretical randomness, which appears more than coincidental.

Perhaps these machines are more human than is safe ...

Thursday, April 22, 2004

I remember you-oooooooo

What is your first memory? The first thing that I can recall is the instant, when I was two years old, that I realised I had just started falling down the stairs. I have an almost photographic image of looking down the darkened stairs, with closed doors in the hall at the bottom, but light and music pouring from a room behind me and to my left. The only reason I know that I was two years old at the time is because, when I have drawn a picture of my memory, my parents recognised the plan of our quarter in Munster (should have an umlaut over the ‘u’ but I don’t know how to do that) which we left before my third birthday.

Memory is a peculiar thing. Why is it that I can recall our telephone number from when I was eight (Winterbourne Gunner 439) or our car registration number of the same vintage (TYY 85) yet I have no idea of today’s date? Perhaps I’ve reached that ‘certain age’ where I can remember useless rubbish (an elephant is the only animal to have four knees) but anything important (dental appointment) flies right out of my mind. Today, having made a pot of tea and poured cups for Ned and myself and taken his upstairs to wake him, I came downstairs to discover I hadn’t a clue where I’d left mine. It was eventually run to ground by the front door. I have no idea why I put it there.

Thank heavens I’m not blonde as well as senior.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Oh Carol! I am but a fool!

I was a very silly girl today, and went along with one of Ned’s bright ideas. We each read Carol’s blog (if I was clever I'd do a successful link there) and noticed she said she’d be dead impressed if anyone managed to ring her at work. Well, Ned took that as a challenge, but because he has a phone phobia, I had to do the call. My timing was bad, as I got the impression that personal phonecalls are frowned upon, and with the Boss at your shoulder it’s hard to disguise the fact. I was tempted to pretend she was Safeways and ask when she closed, but my nerve failed. However the upshot is that apparently that call meant I’ve volunteered to write her blog for her one day this weekend. I have enough problems writing my own. This could be a disaster!

And I’ve had my stupid head on for the rest of the day. I’ve been pondering and considering and mulling over a particular Donkey puzzle, having become convinced of the track I should be following. ‘Alexander Rex?’ ‘Amanda Rex?’ All flipping day I had these names going round and round, until I looked at my doodles for a second time, and there was the answer, blindingly obvious. I recall a hint (one of mine, I think, to really rub it in) in a previous Donkey that used the same terminology.

However I am managing to leave one or two hints on the Forum that I am dead proud of - I wonder if anyone will understand them enough to find them helpful?

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Brown paper packages tied up with strings

Why is it so easy to think of presents for children, whether or not they are suitable or what the child likes or wants, but almost impossible to think of something for an adult? When I was a child I recall mixed feelings about book-tokens and suchlike. I was delighted and grateful to be given the present, but it was always so dull to open. And it would usually be some days before I could get to the shops to spend it so the gilt of a shiny new gift had worn off slightly. A parcel to unwrap was always so much more exciting – and if the donor had made suitable secret enquiries and it happened to be the book I would have chosen for myself had I been given a token, then honour was satisfied all round. Choosing a gift for a teenager is fraught with difficulty. Fads and fashions come and go very quickly, and what would be received with genuine delight one week is terribly out-of-date the next, so in this case money is usually a safe bet.

Gift-buying for adults, however, is well-nigh impossible. By this stage people can usually afford to buy whatever they want when they want it, so the donor has to try to think of something the recipient hasn’t thought about, but realises that being without whatever it is meant their life was somehow incomplete. If you ask an adult what they’d like, you either get told “Oh I don’t know. Something nice” (yeah, that’s really helpful) or something that requires a substantial lottery win.

Yes, you’ve guessed it. The family birthday season is fast approaching. And I’m stumped already.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Bits and pieces

The ‘project’ – a band-based speaker cabinet – has gone back to school to be completed on site. When it was being forcibly removed from the workbench a small part of the overflowing extrusion snapped off, and to our great amusement yet more emerged – it isn’t dead yet! The whole thing is now roughly conical as opposed to pyramidal, but I have a horrid feeling that by the time the finishing touches have been applied it is going to bear a strong resemblance to a 4-foot high phallus.

It was a bit tricky being back at work today, because the job requires me to think very tightly and exactly, and I have spent the past few days thinking very loosely and laterally on the Donkey. It took a while to get back into the swing of things again, but I think it probably helped, because I managed to solve the puzzle I’d been stuck on last night almost as soon as I looked at it again. Perhaps the same thing will happen again tomorrow!

Oh, and we saw a wonderful numberplate on a motorhome the other day, on a par with the one on a bright red long wheelbase Landrover I saw a few years ago, which read P4 NTS. This one read: TW04 WUN.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

I hear you knocking …

What is the name for poltergeists that make noises but don’t throw things? Because I think we’ve got one. I’m not talking about the woodpigeons who have decided that clog-dancing on the flat roof of our extension is the perfect courting ritual. They at least stop when it gets dark. I’m referring to the something that bangs things in empty rooms. The something that thumps from inside our wardrobe. Perhaps we’re going to be invaded by Narnians – I shall have to examine the back of the cupboard for signs of faun droppings. And snow.

On a brighter note the ‘project’ is coming along surprisingly well. Ned and Boy had a hysterical moment trying to fill a cardboard cylinder with the sort of expanding-and-setting foam that builders use to fill the gaps created when they realise they haven’t measured properly. It filled. It expanded. And kept on expanding. By the time we checked it this morning (incidentally I’m very glad they agreed with my suggestion that moving it into the garage overnight would be a good idea, because it poured with rain during the night and we’d have been even further behind) it appeared that the workbench was going to have to be incorporated into the design as well. And today we managed to find a supplier of largish polystyrene, otherwise doing the same thing with the bottom half of this creation would mean the entire garage (and all its contents – everything imaginable except a car) would be integrated.

Donkey-wise, having had a horrible evening (and night – the Thumper stopped me sleeping, which kept my mind churning) due to two fundamental flaws (OED, Chambers and Collins dictionaries all confirm my belief) in a particular puzzle, we have finally got past that hurdle, and the next one, which kept Mort (clever beyond her years) stumped for almost a day, was solved within 10 minutes. As she had been so helpful and supportive during our crisis, I was thrilled to be able to return the favour. It’s not often we’re able to – she’s usually streets ahead of us!

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Silence is golden …

Things have been a little quieter on the Home Front today. It got slightly tense this morning, because the Boy said he’d bring my car back first thing (the other being at the garage – MOT – eek, don’t ask) but we forgot that his idea of first thing (11.30am) is different to ours (8.30am latest). So we had zero transport and masses of outside-the-village things to do. They had to go by the board, and the afternoon was spent with me periodically taking cups of tea out to the garage where they were working on his project, tentatively asking “All going well?” before beating a hasty retreat. I assume the silence meant there was nothing to complain about, rather than them not speaking to each other …

Me? I sat at the computer and Donked.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Those that can’t teach

Yes, I know there’s meant to be a comma before that final word, but I have purposely omitted it. We are fed up to the back teeth with the Boy’s rotten DT teacher who, at parents’ evenings, has been full of praise and enthusiasm and advice, but has let the Boy dig himself into a hole with his final project and not stopped him digging ever deeper. We (parents) have to decide whether to bin his work entirely and start again, or try to resurrect what we can and make the best of it. As it has to be finished by the end of next week option B is looking the most likely. Boy got very upset when the problems were gently pointed out, and fullscale war raged in Genie Towers for some days until he was reassured that we weren’t cross with him, we were cross with his teacher.

He’s been encouraged to have wonderful extravagant ideas, yet Mr Uselessgit has not pointed out that the school doesn’t have a) supplies of materials (which take 4 weeks to be ordered and delivered, yet in ‘real life’ I could get stuff delivered overnight if I wanted) or b) the facilities his design needs to manipulate these materials. So the poor lad’s been busting a gut trying to make-do-and-mend for months without guidance and it’s only in these last few days that we’ve seen what’s happening.

I am just so angry I could lynch Mr Uselessgit. What the wombat has he been playing at? Why the archdeacon has he not stepped in before now? It’s what he’s paid to do, for frying pan’s sake.

It’s just as well the Boy has parents who care.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

The snapping of synapses

Today's blog will be brief, and future ones will no doubt remain so for a while, now that PuzzleDonkey 3 is up and cantering.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as my brain has stopped trickling out of my ears.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Allo, allo

It was clear something unusual had happened when Ned arrived home from work this morning with a copy of The S*n clutched in his hot little hand. We have no un-housetrained puppies, so why would we need a copy of that publication in the house? All was revealed on Page 17 …

There are two traffic wardens in Banbury. One is a large elderly woman who doesn’t seem to understand the principle behind her mission (which as far as I’m concerned is to fine out of existence the PITA taxidrivers who block a very narrow sidestreet so nobody can use the crossing in safety), and a lad who looks about 14 and bears a striking resemblance to Herr Flick of the Gestapo, to the extent where he is even developing the comedy limp.

It seems that he has excelled himself recently by booking a double-decker bus that has been converted to a hearse (“Room for one more inside”). It is painted black, it was parked outside the funeral parlour and was being loaded at the time but he didn’t appear to notice that, or the 40 or so mourners shouting at him.

I’ve just noticed the wording ‘Guess what’s in it to win it’ has been painted across the front of the ‘hearse’. (If I can work out how to do a link, here is the
evidence.) Tasteless, or what!

I apologise for sullying your hard-drives with tabloid excerpts.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Boys and their toys

Anyone know how to mend printers? Ours is having a hissy-fit and the carriage won’t return to its proper place. Or are we going to have to buy another, along with the digital camera Ned wants? He’s always been keen on gadgets, but until recently was content with small examples, like his pocket saw or his flint-and-steel fire-starter. That was when he could handle his addiction, because the level of understanding required wasn’t too advanced and could usually be grasped by trial and error. Now it’s getting out of hand, and he’s getting into hard-core technology. He won’t be able to cope – this is a man who was only recently dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century, and for whom the term ‘technologically challenged’ could have been coined. In fact it probably was. I predict that before long I shall have to book him into a clinic to either cure his addiction or teach him how to read instructions first.

Monday, April 12, 2004

I could have danced all night

I blame the BBC. And ITV. And Channel Four, come to that. The cry of “There’s nothing on the telly” echoed around Genie Towers last night, which meant that we got very drunk and played music till the small hours. And because we played music I danced. A lot. Energetically, in a sort of whirling dervish way. Today I have very achy legs and arms, and am feeling very very sleepy.

We went geocaching yesterday and today as well as the group hunt on Saturday, and it’s nice to have a hobby that Ned and I can do together. It’s like the old days. :)

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Going underground

What a fandabbidozy evening that was! I had been looking forward to it for as long as the idea had been mooted, and was afraid that it might not live up to my expectations. But despite not being able to lose half a stone and have a facelift in the few days’ lead-up to the event (though I did have my hair attended to by a sober professional rather than the drunken amateur who has been responsible for it for the past 15 years) I felt confident enough to actually meet real people rather than cyber-folk.

Anyhow, the Mort family were first to arrive at the meeting-point, followed by Ned and me, then Simon. We glared at the occupants of all the cars that came down the road trying to see if they looked like people that we had never seen before. And they did – just not the right people, and I think we scared them away. Eventually Stu and Sarah and the others arrived, despite one carload getting lost on the way out of their road – an impressive feat considering it’s a cul-de-sac.

Simon had previously muttered something about not having any waterproof footwear, and when Mort’s mom’s suggestion that he wear flip-flops and accept having wet feet fell on stony ground I offered him the Boy’s old walking boots. These had fitted Boy for approximately 15 minutes during one of his adolescent growth-spurts, and were in almost mint condition. They now fitted nobody in the family, and were unlikely to in the future, unless Ned plans on having all his toes removed or my feet get trodden on by an elephant, so Simon promised to wear his most malleable feet and assured me they were fine. If he fibbed that’s his own lookout.

Ned and I proudly wore our ‘I Thing with SimonG’ teeshirts which were exposed to public view in the pub (oops, how did that happen?) at halftime. The beer was nice (Abbot) and it wasn’t too smoky, so that was pleasant. We’d spotted what we were searching for earlier on in the evening (though Mort and Simon didn’t know because they’d scampered on ahead) and located it on our return journey. The water in the canal was a little on the murky side – the only fish to be seen was the small one gently bumping its upturned belly against the remains of Simon’s Christmas tree, and Mort’s Mom didn’t think Mrs Mort would like it taken back for the nature table.

There was an exciting adventure scramble when we got back to the open air, with some of us requiring more of a shove to get started than others. MM impressed us all with her grace and elegance (though Ned misheard and was looking for her ‘grey elephant’).

What nice people everyone turned out to be - and almost all of them looked almost exactly how I'd imagined. Top fun!

Saturday, April 10, 2004

It ain't what you do ...

Yesterday was baking day at Genie Towers. I made Carol’s chocolate bananana (I do find it difficult deciding where to stop with that word) cake as well as Aussie neighbour’s coca-cola cake. Carol’s recipe appears to have been successful but hasn’t yet been sampled. The Oz experiment was certainly interesting, and I was fascinated at the way the cola fizzed in the pan as it was combined with the butter and cocoa. I had wondered why the destructions for the cola cake called for the cake tin to be lined with foil rather than greaseproof paper until I saw the finished mixture. I suppose, if a pint of various liquids is used in conjunction with very little in the way of solids then an impermeable container is necessary to minimise the exploratory qualities of the batter.

However, despite my following the instructions to the letter, the cake failed. It set, rather than cooked, and came out of the oven denser than it went in. However I optimistically made the icing and poured it over the bulk, causing it to resemble the Quatermass experiment. In fact I may have discovered the secret of black holes – it certainly has an immense gravitational pull, and I fear I may have lost some of my kitchen into its mass, never to be seen again. However, brave souls that we are, we risked clogging up our alimentary canals and each tried a slice………

I have now scraped the (successful!) icing from the vile object and transferred it to Carol’s cake, to be tried this afternoon. The ‘beast’ has been dragged to the dustbin – I pity the poor dustman who tries to shift it. There’s the possibility that it might engulf him.

Friday, April 09, 2004

You've got a friend

A short off-the-cuff blog today because my mind is otherwise engaged. The world of a friend has reached crisis-point where the choice is between keeping the peace or doing what his conscience demands. With option A) his world stays intact but he is unhappy in his soul. With option B) his world falls apart but he is morally in the right. How can one advise? My sympathies are entirely with him, and if ever he needs someone to talk to I hope he realises I am here.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Have some Madeira, m’dear

I’ve looked through all my cookery books (all the relevant ones anyway; obviously not the curry or ice-cream ones – or even the curry ice-cream one) for a nice cake recipe so that I can use up a few of Ned’s adventure-eggs, and I simply can’t find one I like the sound of. I like a particular Victorian raisin cake I used to make, but that didn’t seem to meet with the approval of the menfolk. Ned likes rich fruit cake, on the Christmas cake lines, but neither I nor the Boy are keen. Victoria sponges with jam and cream are lovely, but they seem more of a summer treat. Cherry cake is nice, but not inspiring at the moment. Chocolate cake with buttercream filling and icing should be a safe bet, but in the past have been disastrous. Lemon drizzle cake is delish and successful, so I make that most frequently, and familiarity breeds contempt.

One of my baking problems is that I’m simply not very good at it. Cakes, instead of being meltingly moist and scrummy, tend to end up very dry in texture, which is a profound disappointment. I’ve tried adding glycerine to the mixture, but it really doesn’t seem to help very much. I tried putting a bowl of water in the bottom of the oven to maintain the humidity, but again, no joy. In my youth I was pretty good at cake-making – or perhaps I was hungrier and less fussy then.

Bingo! I’ve just remembered a cake an Australian neighbour of ours made and presented us with. (Either she thought I didn’t look after the family properly or it seems that Neighbours is true to life in one aspect, as she would frequently pop round with food for us. It was very kind, but slightly unnerving.) Tomorrow I shall go out and buy the ingredients and make a coca-cola cake. It's about 15 zillion calories a crumb and sends your blood-sugar levels through the roof but it was rather moreish.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

I just don’t know what to do with myself

I’m feeling a bit guilty because I had to turn down a job offer today. Friends of ours own a ‘Pick Your Own’ farm, and the asparagus season will be starting very soon, closely followed by strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, loganberries and currants, and I was asked if I could run it for them. I feel really bad about having to say no, because they were amazing last year when they took me on for the last few weeks of the season. Okay, so it was helpful both ways, because the woman who used to pretty much run it had had enough, and my asking for a job came at exactly the right time for all of us. It was one less worry for them, and kept our heads above water because at that time Ned hadn’t been paid for three months, despite working his usual hours, and money was incredibly tight. The few quid I earned there (and it wasn’t difficult work, just time-consuming, and in the height of the heatwave I was being paid to sit in the shade and read a book) saved our sanity.

It was after that seasonal work stopped I managed to land the job I have now (well done Ned for spotting the small ad tucked away in the local paper), and when Ned’s been paid the money he is still owed we should be on a more even keel. I really love this job, and it’s going well, the company is thriving, we’re landing contracts with major companies and things are busy, busy, busy. Although I’m on holiday now I may have to go in if things get too hectic, so right now I can’t promise our friends that I can help them out even part-time because I don’t know if I’ll be able to. Besides, I see little enough of Ned as it is.

Yet they were our lifesavers last year and I feel honour-bound to help them.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

I hope you like yamming too

Last night’s family supper featured an adapted guest recipe from another blogger. Her version of sweet potato fries involved chipping the sweet potato and cooking it on a baking tray with olive oil. I got the impression that her family hated it (‘oily mush’ appeared to be the consensus of opinion), and roundly mocked her culinary abilities, but hey, I thought it sounded interesting.

Never having cooked sweet potato before I wasn’t sure for what it would be suitable accompaniment, so decided to play safe and serve it slightly differently. So with the tasty Cumberland sausage and beans I also prepared some champ (mashed potatoes and spring onions with butter and nutmeg), and my adaptation on the sweet potato theme. My thought was that, if the SP chips were soggy when roasted with olive oil (though it sounds yummy) perhaps if I cut them finely like American fries and deep-fried them in very hot oil they might be lovely and crispy.

They weren’t. Don’t misunderstand me, they tasted nice enough, but they didn’t live up to my hopes. Ned and the Boy duly ate them, though in a markedly unimpressed way, and happily weren’t very scathing.

Now all I have to do is work out what to do with the three dozen eggs Ned took canoeing and brought back. Options are limited because the Boy doesn’t eat eggs unless they’re cunningly disguised in cake. I think perhaps I may do some baking tomorrow.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Just Messing About on the River

At last we’ve done it. It’s taken us three years but now it’s over. The Thames Navigation, from Cricklade to Teddington, has been well and truly paddled.

It all started in the summer of 2001. F&M was at its height and we wanted somewhere to paddle. Many places were out of bounds, footpaths were closed and there were restrictions on a lot of the canal system. We needed a stretch of water where we could get in and out of the water without jeopardising any farmland. We tried some canals in Birmingham, which although did get us onto the water weren’t very satisfying.

So when we realised that there were no restrictions on the Thames, because of the navigation, we bought our licences and off we did go. We did a couple of day trips of between 15 and 17 miles and all was fine. Then on our next day trip we ended up at a pub, and as we had used their car park, it seemed to us that we had to at least go in and say thank you.

A few hours later, when we were still saying thank you, somebody chirped up, “wouldn’t it be great to go the whole length of the Thames, camping overnight, carrying all our gear with us”. As with any idea in a pub after saying thank-you for about four hours it sounded like something that had to be done. Unfortunately over the winter whenever we got together at parties, we would reach the same level of intoxication that equalled four hours of saying thank you, and the same conversation would ensue, “Wouldn’t it be great…..”

It got to the point where we didn’t need to be so intoxicated before someone said “Wouldn’t it be great….”. Eventually we could remember the conversation the next morning. So there we were on a Friday, 6.00am, overcast skies, the weekend before Easter 2002, in Cricklade. That first year we went from Cricklade to Oxford. The next year we went at the same time of year and paddled from Oxford to Henley-on-Thames. This year we paddled from Henley to Teddington.

That’s nine days of paddling over three years, to go 135 miles, existing on a diet of beer, whisky, chocolate, sausages, bacon and eggs. A lot of memories to cherish (although some evenings have been lost by a few of us), many different birds seen; Grebes that disappear under the water as you get close to them, a flash of turquoise as a Kingfisher dives, Buzzards that glide seemingly effortlessly overhead and, as we got closer to London, Parakeets. I kid you not, lots of them. I thought that they were in my bird book as a joke.

The problem now is where next? We’ve got used to paddling the weekend before Easter now. Coming soon to a river near you. Be afraid ….


Sunday, April 04, 2004


That was the sound of my brain imploding in the chatroom last night. I seem to remember a scarily serious discussion on the hypothesis that every person is an individual, therefore unlike any other, therefore unique. As ‘normal’ is synonymous with ‘usual’, it is clearly normal to be unique. (Do you follow me so far?) Unique means distinctive, remarkable, peculiar. This is where it gets tricky. Peculiar means abnormal, and the definition of ‘freak’ is an abnormal person or thing. It follows that normality is abnormal, and as Simon stated, normal people are, by definition, freaks.

It was very late.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

And we’ll have fun, fun, fun …

Hooray for the weekend! Get up, run to and from the newsagent for the paper, feed the dogs, have breakfast, put the guinea-pig out, walk the dogs, change the beds, do the washing, hang it out, vacuum upstairs, bring the washing in because of the rain, go to the supermarket, put the shopping away, hang the washing out again, have lunch, wash up, vacuum downstairs, bring the washing in, walk the dogs, start the ironing, tidy the kitchen, do some baking, do some more ironing, take time out to watch my selection for the Grand National romp home in first place!, finish the ironing, feed the dogs, bring the guinea-pig in, cook supper, wash up, have a bath, go to bed.

It’ll be similar tomorrow, though if it’s fine I can mow the grass and dig the vegetable as well. If it’s wet as forecast I shall plant up the greenhouse and bake a cake instead.

It’s an endless whirl of hedonistic pleasure.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Madness, madness, they call it madness

It’s been a strange sort of a day today. It started particularly early because Ned had to get up to go canoeing with his chums. Over the past couple of years they have been canoeing the Thames in weekend stages, and this weekend's jaunt is the last non-tidal section. Anyhow, his alarm went off at 5am and I kicked him out of bed. The alarm also went off a 5.10am because he’d set it on ‘snooze’ and I woke then too. I got up at 6.30 to take the dogs out for a good run before work so hopefully they’d settle till the Boy got up – lunchtime-ish was my guess.

I left work a bit earlier than usual because I wasn’t sure if he would have remembered to take them out this afternoon, and I didn’t like to think of the poor things sitting there with their legs crossed from 8.30 this morning till a quarter to five. (It seems he hadn’t let me down, so that’s good.) There was a different feel to the traffic at the earlier time, though – it seemed as though all the loonies were out. (My own driving is, of course, faultless ;) )There was a suicidal scooterist riding at 40 mph who, whenever someone tried to overtake him would swerve into the centre of the road and scare the living daylights out of the driver, especially when there was traffic coming in the opposite direction. There were a couple of people for whom a refresher course on the Highway Code wouldn’t come amiss (speed limits vary for a reason – driving at 45 mph on the open road (limit 60 mph) and also through villages (limit 30 mph) demonstrates blissful ignorance of the world outside that tin box); and the person who was merrily driving along with his dog leaning out of the side window, ears flapping in the breeze. I wonder if he gave a thought to the possibility that, if he had a crash, or even braked sharply, the dog would at best be seriously injured, and at worst decapitated?

I never did find out if the Boy had been skiving or not - anyone in officialdom at school last night was keeping well away from the rest of us. When I saw who the 'official guest' was, I dared Boy to say "We must stop meeting like this" when he received his prize, because it was the same bloke (local MP) who presented him with his last prize several years ago. But he thought it would draw attention to himself - and being up on stage doesn't I suppose?

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Rely on the little people

The more I hear about dishwashers the less I want one. We have one at work for all the hundreds of mugs and glasses that a dozen people can use in a day, and I often have to wash the so-called ‘clean’ crockery when the machine has finished doing its thing, to remove the remaining tidemarks. It’s wasteful and time-consuming running one that isn’t full, and I’ve often seen friends who have bought one have to remove a teaspoon, wash it, make cups of coffee and replace the dirty teaspoon again. Why not just wash it and put it away?

The dishwasher tablets are also terribly harsh in action. You can’t put quality glasses into them because the caustic action will ruin them. I’m not sure I want to eat from anything that has been solely chemically washed.

The final lunacy is that you can’t put dirty crockery straight into the thing – it all has to be rinsed first! Well, what’s the point of that? If you’re going to rinse it anyway why not just wash the darn things properly and call the job done?

It’s a lot safer and easier to rely on the washing-up fairies.