Monday, May 31, 2004


Hurrah! We have completed the Alchemy Quest! ‘Salt’ wasn’t too tricky to find, once we’d run the gauntlet of the two black bears and Angus the cartoon bull. I’d always thought the snorts of steaming breath coming from the nostrils of enraged bovines was down to illustrator’s licence, but no, they really do that. It was a tad unnerving, especially when he started to paw (or hoof) the ground. ‘Sulphur’ was a little harder to locate, but fortunately we could keep in touch by mobile phone when the boys each followed the pointy-thing on their respective GPS, which were showing different directions, and I fussed around like a sheepdog whose flock had scattered. And luckily we all avoided tumbling into the canal as we rushed down the bank towards the towpath.

Then it was on to ‘Gold’. Now, I had the detailed instructions of where we were going, and I told the boys that the coordinates were for the parking place, and that it said we should park in the ‘Visitors’ Car Park’. You’d have thought that was fairly clear, but no. They decided the best place to park was at the side of the road, and that walking the rest of the way would be a good idea. And I was foolish enough to let them! It was a very, very long walk to the starting-point – nearly two miles, in fact. Gently uphill all the way. It was very pretty and peaceful, but that started to wear thin after a while. Anyway, we found all the locations we needed, and my sums-ability was up to the job, and we found the final cache. And that meant we had to walk all the way back again. I think it was about 5 miles on the return journey – at least that’s what my feet were telling me. By the time we got back to the cars Simon had lost the power of speech, and I was very nearly becoming girly.

Then we went to meet Marc. We arrived at the right village/town and Simon phoned him, and we were rather surprised to see that he was the lad almost immediately opposite us. After a couple of drinks in the pub we realised that it was nearly 4 o’clock and we unfortunately wouldn’t have time to go and visit the Morts, who were unable to join us this time, which was a disappointment. That meant it was only Ned, me and Simon who could share the one-off Pirate-Donkey celebration cake … it was very nice too.

Roll on the next time when the whole of team ‘Mr Edmonton’s Jig’ can go on the hunt together! Now I am off to soak my aching feet and legs (and probably the rest of me for good measure) in a nice, hot, bubbly bath ...

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Art for art's sake?

I was listening to David Shepherd on the radio today, as I took a load of garden rubbish to the tip. He had some very interesting points of view, some of which (that human beings are no more important than any other animal, so why the hell doesn’t the BBC do an ‘Environment benefit’ day, rather than concentrating so much on children’s charities, laudable though they are) are considered way too extreme by those in positions of power. I must say his arguments for this stance struck me as being very valid, boiling down to the basic fact that if Man is allowed to selfishly abuse the environment for his own ends, then there’ll be nothing for children to inherit anyway.

He was also talking about his views on art, and how traditional, representational art is scorned nowadays. His work, and that of other artists such as Beryl Cook, isn’t put on display in galleries such as the Tate Modern, even though they are modern paintings. This seems to be because they are ‘popular’ and are therefore beyond the Pale as far as the Establishment is concerned. No matter that his work sells extremely well, both as originals and also in all forms of reproduction, whether framed print or greetings card. I laughed out loud when he described the loss of Charles Saatchi’s artworks in the warehouse fire. He sympathised that CS had spent so much money and had nothing to show for it (unless he had great insurance), but exploded when he read that one of the ‘artists’ (I don’t know whether it was Damian Hirst, Tracey Emin or another) had said that it didn’t matter, they’d do another one. A work of art is surely a one-off, that cannot be ‘done again’.

Oh, and we’ve discovered that digital radio is slower than analogue! We turned on both radios in the kitchen, hoping for a stereo effect, and the old analogue is about half a second faster than the new one! Great for some music – dreadful for talk!

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Grease is the word

We had a busy day today. Once the house was emptied of teenagers (I’m not sure how many stayed over, but they were very good) and the chores (dog walking, laundry etc) had been done, we set of for our first shopping trip, into Leamington. That was successful, despite not seeing car registration 30. After lunch and the second dogwalk we went into Banbury to buy screws, glue and varnish for the trailer-lid Ned’s making. While we were there we had a look around Curry’s to see if we could get ideas for something I wanted to buy. A DVD/video would be good, seeing as our old video player died when water came down through the aerial cable. But so would a digital camera, or even a washing machine. But we don’t want to buy anything from a place like that because the staff don’t know anything about the products and are just trying to sell anything. I wonder if there’s an online version of ‘Which’ magazine – bound to be, surely?

After we got back and fed the dogs Ned got on with his woodwork, and to keep him company and be available for useful holding tasks I got out the car polish and started on the roof. Although my legs have a reasonable degree of stamina, my arms are pathetically weak. By the time I’d done the roof of the car, standing on tiptoe to reach the middle, they were ready to drop off. It was also nearly 8 o’clock by this time – too late really to start cooking supper. So Ned went for a takeaway.

Grroooooaaaaannnnn! Remind me I must resist fish and chips in future. We don’t have them often, as it’s quite a drive to the chippy (mind you it’s quite a drive to any takeaway, and nobody delivers to the villages) so every time I forget that, although I enjoy them enormously, within half an hour I feel like a bloated beached whale of blubber. I expect it’s my liver protesting at having to try to break down the enormous amount of fat. It’s soooo uncomfortable. I know if I went for a run around the village I’d feel a lot better, but it’s too much effort to get as far as the front door.

No thanks, I really don't want even one leetle waffer-theen meent ...

Friday, May 28, 2004

Me, myself, I

Following on from my hyperventilation, verbal incoherence, near cardiac arrest and general all-round pantsness yesterday (I keep thinking of all the things I should have said), I am now in a dilemma about what would be the most suitable purchase to celebrate the occasion. I'm told the spondulicks come in the form of 'High Street Vouchers' as opposed to pees in the Coin of the Realm, and until I discover which shops will accept these tokens we are open to suggestions as to their most worthwhile destination.

If I was a genuinely self-sacrificing Good Person I would donate them to charity. However, I have worked for charities in the past, and I know what a waste that would be, and besides, there comes a time in one's life when a little selfishness is in order. So there. I am not going to look a Gift Horse in the Mouth. It would probably bite me anyway.

So. What to buy? My serious ideas include a digital camera, although I am at heart a 35mm SLR girl, who has reached the stage of getting about a quarter of a film of decent shots, and who knows diddly-squat about the whole principle of digital photography; and a watch that actually tells me the correct time. Any more random suggestions are welcomed - luck like this doesn't often come my way, and I want to remember it!

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Radio Gaga

My palpitations have just about subsided now, and the adrenalin level’s almost back to normal. After a childhood of listening to Radio One, I crossed the Rubicon to Radio Two when it started playing the Radio One music I liked, because Radio One had started playing crap instead. This meant I could carry on singing along to stuff I knew, and any new stuff was along the same lines; ie it had a melody and a lyric that wasn’t too obscene, and didn’t mention the word ‘wombat’* at all. (In between Radio One and Radio Two I spent a year or so listening to local radio, but I’m better now.)

Anyway. I have the radio on a lot, and just occasionally am tempted to enter competitions. I’ve never been bold enough to have a go at Ken Bruce’s Popmaster quiz, but I’m generally way out of my league there. Johnnie Walker’s Drivetime Mystery Voice is the one I’m most likely to have a go at. Just getting through on the phone is challenge enough, and then you have to make yourself sound like just the sort of person they want on the air. So this is what I did this evening. And guess what? They picked me to go on the show!! Resisting the temptation to calm the nerves with a pint of Bombay Sapphire, I settled for a glass of water and awaited my moment. And guess what? Despite sounding like a complete ostrich* (no, I’m not going onto the BBC website to listen to it) I won! Hurrah!

*According to SimonG’s swear filter

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Brave Sir Robin

Bum, bum, bum, bum, bum. And bother.

A few days ago we learned that, because of the Motor Show being held this week at the NEC, Omally was going to be up in our neck of the woods. Never being averse to meeting fellow SimonGophytes, I got his mobile number, discovered which hotel he was staying at, and arranged that Ned and I would meet him for a drink on Thursday evening. We were looking forward to whizzing up the motorway tomorrow and paging ‘Grace Omally’ in the relevant hotel. So I rang him this evening to confirm a time, and he’s not going to be there after tonight! Grrr!

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

At the going down of the sun

I didn’t want to blog about anything particularly glum, because I was made very cheerful at work when I was told my second 6-month contract was going to be made permanent. The Big Bosses’ latest computer game project is getting terrific reviews, and it isn’t even released yet, so it looks as though the follow-up game will get the go-ahead. Our side of the company is also beginning to generate a bit of income, to the extent where we are cautiously dumping some of the totally non-productive or most time-consuming projects and put out feelers in other directions. It looks as though everyone’s job is secure for the next couple of years anyway. Hurrah!

However when I got home I found the latest issue of my old school magazine had arrived through the post, so I settled down to have a read and see what’s been going on. I read about the drama, the art, the music, the sports results (nowhere near as good as they used to be). Then it was time to turn to news of past pupils. That is when my mood changed. It’s very hard to read about your contemporaries, who you last saw going optimistically out into a bright world, and others the same age as your own child, being killed in war. Especially such an ill-conceived, illegal war as this one in Iraq. Bush and Bliar have a lot to answer for.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Dance to the music

It’s just as well I don’t get as embarrassed as I used to in my youth. Although there are still (too many) times when I wish the earth would open and swallow me, today’s shopping expedition wasn’t one of them. I scuttled around town in my lunch half-hour, getting a few girly odds and ends, then remembered I had to send a birthday card to my niece, so I pottered into Smiths to look at their selection. I don’t often go into Smiths now, so I have no idea when they introduced background music in the store, but generally it wasn’t too intrusive, and I thoughtfully perused the card selection. What would be suitable for her – a pretty one? An arty one? A saucy one? That was when it happened. The background music changed from something quiet and contemplative (no idea what it was) to ‘Happy Hour’ by The Housemartins. Now I’m very sorry, but it isn’t possible for me to hear that song without dancing. Not just a gentle sway of the shoulders or tap of the feet either; this necessitated a proper bop.

I expect people were staring in admiration at my teeshirt. I know my boss was. No doubt the orders for ‘I Thing’ shirts will be flocking in now, and Simon, Rich and Carol can go and buy their island paradises. I hope they don’t get all snooty and forget they have me to thank for their fortunes.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Fa-la-la-la it's a lovely day

Today I broke the back of the housework (vacuuming, laundry etc) while Ned walked the dogs, so we decided to take the rest of the day off to play. We went up to Burton Dassett to complete the 'James Bond' cache series which we'd had to abandon a few weeks ago through running out of time and because the microcache part had been abducted to the Hainault area. Luckily we know Burton Dassett reasonably well, so could work out roughly where each waypoint would logically be, and had a thoroughly nice (if steep) time strolling in the sunshine proving ourselves right. We found the cache still safely hidden where it should be, though SimonG's signature bookmark had been exchanged for a pair of bifocals.

It was good to have an excuse to go up to Burton Dassett again, because it's a fantastic place. We used to go there quite a lot when the Boy was small, to walk the dogs, and fly kites, and go rock-climbing (only mini-cliffs of about 10', but enough to make a five-year-old feel really brave!), and sledging in the winter. He and his chums still go up there to sledge when it's snowy, and it's also ideal for 'wargames' where they go up at twilight (and don't have to pay to park!) and play with BB guns and paintballers. Last time they did that, though, someone phoned the police saying that there were 'youths' shooting the sheep, and the lads were very alarmed when a police armed response squad arrived and pointed real guns at them! Once everything was explained, and the policemen (as relieved that it was a false alarm as the boys) had offered cigarettes all round to calm everyone's nerves it seemed like quite an adventure ...

The final happy thing is that Pandora the guinea pig, who hasn't been at all well for a couple of days, seems much better and is talking to us again. Hurrah!

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Put a chain around my neck ...

I decided not to go with the ‘three questions chain blog’ because I am trying to resist being sucked into anything else at the moment. We are (and I do not have delusions of grandeur here, I mean both Ned and I … or Ned and me … hmmm) very susceptible to persuasion and easily led, so for this I shall put my foot down.

It all started with an innocent post on another Forum, saying ‘Hey look, here’s a puzzle site, it looks quite fun’. So I had a brief look, and at first glance it was innocent enough – and there was a monetary prize! Gosh – where’s the catch? So I went back to the first site and made sure it was free to register and all that (yes it was), returned to register and found the prize had been won! Damn! But I registered anyway, and that’s when the Donkey got his first little hoof-hold into me. Through the Donkey we found SimonG, which led to our discovery of the Favourite Things experiment, which led to geocaching, and teeshirts, and having my conceptions of verbal profanity realigned more in the direction of the animal kingdom, and Consecutive Number Plate Spotting, and blogging.

From a resistance point of view, we are straws in the wind.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Don't you hear my call, though you're many years away

I am descended from a long line of hoarders, where very little is thrown away if it might conceivably be of interest to future generations. I often envy people their neat, tidy, clutter-free homes which are a piece of cake to keep clean. We have houses and lofts which are filled to bursting with what is, to some, a load of junk but which is, to us, tomorrow’s history. Clothes, photographs and letters are all stored for future reference. This now results in my wanting to locate an appropriate publisher for a collection of letters chronicling the life of one of my forebears. The papers date from his schoolboy letters to his parents to the messages of condolence sent to his bereaved family after his early death.

The main bulk of his letters date from around 1860 when he was Chief Astronomer of the British Boundary Commission marking, on the ground, the 49th Parallel between British Columbia and the United States of America. It was an incredible undertaking, involving the clearing of a die-straight line from the coast at Vancouver right over the Rocky Mountains. His descriptions of the landscape and the conditions under which they worked (clicky on the piccy to enbiggify it) conjure up tremendous images. The letter written by a night-time campfire, where blots and smudges mark when the ink froze in his pen every 25 words makes me shiver, 150 years later.

One day I shall go out there and see the land, where he left his mark, for myself.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Bad, bad, bad, bad boy ...

Today my naughty Boy decided to celebrate his birthday by skiving off school and going into Stratford for the day. He said he'd be back 'early afternoon' which, to me, means before 6pm which is when he eventually returned, but maybe my sense of time is out of date along with everything else! He was very surprised to get home and find, amongst his mail, a birthday card from the local MP, congratulating him on achieving his majority - and with no obvious "and I hope you'll be voting for me" message anywhere! Clearly going for the subliminal influence. Anyway, we had a very enjoyable meal out with the Boy and his girlfriend. She's a lovely girl, who's welcome round our house as much as she likes. They've now descended on the pub to meet friends, and I shall take great pleasure in making sure everyone who stays here tonight is up and about, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, in time for school in the morning (mwahahahaha!)

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

When you are a king ...

A reasonably successful day, although I didn’t get half the things done that I wanted to. The home-check went well, and as long as I haven’t been spun a pack of lies, X seems a perfectly suitable person to have one of B’s pups. So that’s good. As I set off I saw a car with number 21 on its plate – the next number we were after – so that was good too. Now for 22. The weather was lovely, and I saw two magpies; another good thing.

A bad thing was that the recycling people didn’t take away my garden rubbish. I am psyching myself up for a discussion with the Council bloke responsible for this. Up until recently, everyone in the village was responsible for disposal of their garden waste. You could either make your own compost; buy green bags from the Council, and the dustmen would put them in a separate part of the lorry; or you took it to the tip yourself. Then to comply with Government targets, they introduced free green-waste wheelie-bins to everyone in the village, which would be emptied every fortnight. Except for the dozen houses down our road. We are the ‘wrong side’ of the old railway bridge, which isn’t strong enough to take the weight of the wheelie-bin collection lorry. So although we pay the same council tax, we haven’t been given the same benefit as the rest of the village; a situation which I think is unacceptable. I can’t for the life of me see what is fair about our being the only few people in the village who still have to pay to dispose of the garden rubbish. And when Mr Jobsworth at the council gets back from his month’s holiday I shall tell him so.

On a more positive note, we are going out to dinner tomorrow night. Ned and I will treat the Boy and his girlfriend, and probably Boy’s Best Mate and his girlfriend, to an Indian, after Boy has taken us to his local pub and bought us a drink. Tomorrow my baby boy hits 18. Happy birthday my love.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

I'm just a girl who can't say no

Sometimes I suspect that I may have ‘SUCKER’ written across my forehead in big bold letters. I had a phonecall today asking me if I could do a home-check on a potential puppy-buyer for another Breed club member. This is something I’ve been asked to do a couple of times before, but previously for breed rescue. It’s not really an easy job, because sometimes people think you are judging them as people (though of course in some ways you are) rather than the environment, and they can get defensive.

Anyway, the breeder isn’t quite certain whether this particular person (we’ll call her ‘X’) would be suitable, because she (X) mentioned that the kennel was ready, and the breeder (we’ll call her ‘B’) wants her puppies to all live indoors – which is much better for this particular breed – they don’t thrive in kennels. So I’ve agreed to pop over to see X tomorrow, even though it’s about 15 miles away, and I had other plans for the morning. Then B mentioned in passing that another Club Member (‘E’) had told her that I lived locally to X, and would probably be willing to check the situation. Which is all very well, except that E lives several miles closer to X than I do.

Well, that was the first thing. An hour or so later the Club chairman rang me and booked me for August 7th at a do in Hanley Swan (bring rubber gloves) and August 28th at the Town and Country Festival at Stoneleigh (bring a dog). I have to admire her technique. Umpteen years of teaching at a girls' school has taught her all she needs to know to get people agreeing to things before they realise what they've said. She doesn't ask if you can do something, she asks when you can do it. Clever.

*note to self. Be More Assertive*

Monday, May 17, 2004

Just an old-fashioned girl

Today Ned returned the faulty pedometer, which had been given one last chance to behave on Saturday, when it registered about 11,000 steps till teatime then decided 371 was a much nicer figure, and exchanged it for an updated all-singing, all-dancing racing model. Which is all very well, but I can’t work out how to set it. After spending some time finding the English instructions in the three sets of enormous pages of info, it then took me 10 minutes to discover how to open the battery case. Removing the plastic tab from the first battery promptly set off the rape alarm. Gosh, that’s loud. Having silenced the damn thing I managed to set (nearly) the correct time, then turned to inputting the weight and stride details.

It was at this stage that I carefully unset everything, replaced the plastic tabs for the batteries, folded the destructions and neatly repacked it in its box. Why? Because it is all in metric. The weight is in kilos, the stride distance is centimetres and the distance travelled is in kilometres, and has no imperial option. I don’t do metric. This one will have to be returned as well. I hope he kept the receipt.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

We'll dig dig dig dig dig dig dig ...

There were so many things I'd planned to do today. Being woken at 6 o'clock yet again by Piglet singing and setting all the others off wasn't on the list, but hey - you get queue jumpers. Wombats. But to get back to the plan. Anyway, the 'things to do' list involved washing, ironing, vacuuming, cleaning, dusting, dog walking and gardening, with the rest of the day off. I vacuumed as loudly as I could outside the Boy's room to wake him enough to go to w**k, then because the weather was so good, set about the garden with a vengeance. And trowel. And long rubber gloves because of the nettles.

Five 15kg dog food bags of weeds, plus front and back lawns mown later, there was no time left to go to Burton Dassett and complete the James Bond (or Robin Hood, which I keep referring to it as) series of caches. Ned hadn't wasted his time, as he had finally got around to logging the Alchemy Quest caches we have located so far. By now it was time for cake and a pot of tea, with no time left for recreation.

Anyway ...

I discovered that my lickle baby wobbins have all hatched and successfully flown the nest - apart from one who didn't fly far enough and was discovered and dismembered by Beattie. I hope the remaining four live rather longer.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Making your kisses bang a puppet birdie

On TV tonight there were two of the scariest-looking people I have ever seen. The female had the most extraordinary make-up; her face was bright orange, in the style made famous by David Dickinson, with bright blue eyelids flashing a band of brilliant white beneath the blackest of brows, and a scarlet mouth that appeared to have been applied with a sabre. Her male companion had skin of a similar startling hue, and bore a strong resemblance to an understudy Igor fresh from the Hammer House of Horror, though he lacked the requisite number of visible stitches.

After an outrageous public display of xenophobia and bias, the star of the show, however, was Xena the Warrior Princess and her cohorts, clad in studded leather, thongs and chains and brandishing whips, who was presented with her award by a person dressed as bride who got her stiletto heel trapped in a grille on the floor and fell out of her shoe and narrowly escaped being forced to either do an impression of Shirley Bassey on the Morecambe and Wise Show, hobbling across the stage in one high heel and one bare foot, or lob the trophy the width of the stage and hope that nobody important was concussed on the way.

Well, that's the Eurovision Song Contest over for another year. Roll on Kiev 2005!

Friday, May 14, 2004

Stilettos and an oven glove

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I always like to have a musical theme in the headings for the blog. Sometimes they’re obvious, sometimes they’re more cryptic, sometimes positively obscure (though generally googleable, if anyone's that interested) … but occasionally I defeat myself and bottle out entirely.

Yesterday my heading came courtesy of Joyce Grenfell, who is one of my all-time literary heroines whose use of words was sublime in its understatement. She was a master (mistress? Damn political correctness) of subtlety and could suggest, in a short phrase, a million possible images. All it required was a receptive listener. Although I was fortunate enough once to meet her, albeit briefly, I deeply regret that I never had an opportunity to see any of her performances. Her monologues can still reduce me to tears of laughter (George … don’t do that) and her songs conjure up very clear images – I too have been in church wondering whether I turned off the cooker before I left the house …

Her modern equivalent must surely be Victoria Wood, who is also a master wordsmith and is extraordinarily observant of the mundane details of life. I sincerely hope I find a chance one day to be in her audience.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Stately as a galleon ...

There’s either something wrong with my pedometer or with the way I walk. Yesterday, after a busy day taking the dogs out twice for over an hour, going round Asda and mowing the lawn, as well as the usual pottering about, it informed me at bedtime that I had completed 995 steps.

Today I did much the same, apart from the Asda bit and mowing the lawn, though instead I hung out three loads of washing, and by teatime it said I had completed 35 steps. I’m fairly convinced that it is lying to me, since it is more that 35 steps from my bed to the kitchen.

Perhaps, rather than walking, I have started to skim the ground as though I’m on castors. Or maybe I’m turning into a Dalek.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Smoke gets in your eyes

Brrr! It’s chilly in here this evening. This is because I decided to cook chips for supper tonight for the Boy and me, along with cheese-and-ham chicken kiev-things, and beans. I usually do plain boiled tatties with things like that, being a healthier option and all, but I decided to ring the changes. So I put the oven on to preheat for the chicken, and peeled and chipped a couple of decent sized spuds. Shortly before Boy finished work I put the chicken in, so that I could start the chips as soon as he got back, and everything would be ready at the same time.

All fine and dandy so far. When he arrived home I put the chip-pan on to heat the oil, and we stood in the kitchen and chatted for a while. Then he went upstairs to change, and I took the kitchen bin out to empty it into the dustbin. While outside I remembered that I hadn’t brought the guinea-pig in for the night, so went and got her. That involved quite a long chat about how much quicker it would be if she stopped messing around and jumped into her house so that I could pick her up more easily, instead of running about like that. Anyway, she eventually decided to play the game and I caught her and carried her indoors to her hutch.

Funny smell, I thought. Bit smoky.

Oops! The chip-pan was nice and hot alright. So hot that the kitchen was full of rank oily smoke. Trying not to get too agitated, I very carefully moved it off the ring to let it cool down. After a few minutes, and with a wrung-out teatowel at the ready, I cautiously edged the lid away from the pan, fearing spontaneous combustion at the introduction of oxygen. Luckily it had cooled enough to avoid that, but the removal of the lid allowed even more rancid smoke to fill the kitchen causing all and sundry to have paroxysms of coughing. Flinging open all the windows and the backdoor to get a through draught meant all the lovely warm air had to go too.

Which is why it’s so cold in here tonight.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

On the road again

Ever since we started playing the ‘Consecutive Number Plate’ game, we’ve noticed a very strange phenomenon. You will go for days and days looking for a particular number, but as soon as you’ve spotted it (hurrah!) you will almost immediately see three more. I first noticed that with the number 3, but it has happened several times since (we decided that as far as we were concerned that ‘02’ and ‘03’ didn’t count as 2 and 3 – they had to be single digits. Whether that’s in the official rules I don’t know). And are there any number 13s anywhere? Between us we’re on the road for about 3 hours a day, in three counties, so we must have a fairly high chance of spotting the darn things!

Monday, May 10, 2004

It must be love ...

If someone asked me which sporting event I would choose to attend (as a spectator, naturally – organised sport and I have never been on good terms) my first choice would be the Veterans’ tennis tournament held at the Albert Hall. Tennis was one of the few sports I always quite enjoyed playing, despite having to walk through the streets of Southsea to the courts on the Common, wearing ridiculous tennis dresses and flashing our white knickers at all and sundry, and I don’t have too many ghastly memories associated with it. Some odd memories, certainly. I never did quite understand why, when it was too wet for us to actually play during double games on Wednesday afternoon, we still had to get changed into our kit to go and watch Wimbledon on a TV which seemed to be reserved solely for that purpose. We never were allowed to watch TV during school hours at any other time.

But that is all by the by. Because I had a few of the skills needed to play the game reasonably well, I could really appreciate the abilities of those who were masters of the game. This was in the days of Jimmy Connors, Ilie Nastase, Billie-Jean King, Yvonne Goolagong et al, and the game differed in quite a few ways then to its modern counterpart. For one thing, there were rallies, even in the men’s game. There were very few aces served, and the ball travelled appreciably slower from the old smaller wooden racquets. And the women were silent. There was none of this horrible grunting each time the ball is hit that is so off-putting. The double-handed backhand was frowned upon, and is now apparently compulsory. And although the players all took it seriously, there seemed to be more time for lightheartedness, even on court.

Which is why I so enjoy watching the Seniors’ tournament. They often play with their old racquets, and again, although they want to win, they also want to have fun at the same time. The men’s doubles partnership of Henri Leconte (phwooar!) and Mansour Bahrami is outstanding, and Bahrami’s skills are astounding. (His first racquet was broken when he was thrashed with it for wanting to play, so his determination to succeed is humbling.) I saw a televised doubles match where he ended up taking on, not only the opposing pair, but also his partner, who had run round to the other side of the net to play against him. When they bored of that, he ended up playing on his own, lobbing the ball high, jumping the net, lobbing it high in return, jumping back over the net again, returning it … he carried that on for at least ten shots. Absolutely magnificent. I’d love to see it for real.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

She's all on my mind

It’s been an interesting sort of a day today. The first amusing thing (well, it amused me anyway) was the continuance of a discussion with a very strange woman from a dog forum I inhabit, who was trying to convince me (unsuccessfully!) that my telling someone whose dog had itchy bumps all down its back and a red, sore tummy not to give it human antihistamines was the wrong thing to do, and that the dog needed to see a vet was in fact being very rude and I should be more sympathetic! Well tough! Apart from the fact that it’s illegal for a non-vet to advise on medication for any animal, without the skin condition being professionally diagnosed any ad-hoc treatment is likely to do more harm than good, and could in fact poison the dog! So I don’t care if my response of “This cannot be diagnosed over the net. Contact your vet.” is considered rude – it is still good advice.

We’ve had a lovely day thrashing the Donkey into near-submission. After the past few days of each puzzle taking about 48 hours, we’ve managed to complete 11 today, and have romped up the leaderboard. There is one (4.20) that someone will have to explain to me how it is meant to w**k – I simply suggested a word that seemed to fit and it was right, but I have no idea why!

I’m afraid I may have to juggle my life a bit this week – my elderly (don’t tell her I said that!) mother phoned me to say that she thinks her elderly golden retriever may be on the way out. He’s 12 years old and has been her sole companion all his life. She lives in quite an isolated house, and often doesn’t see another human being for days on end. When she has lost Tim she will be entirely alone, which worries me enormously. I especially don’t want her to be alone when the vet comes to ‘do the deed’, so I may have to grab my toothbrush and the car and whizz southwards. That’s the worst thing about pets – you have to say goodbye so soon. It's at times like this that I want to be with her - sadness is easier to bear in company.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

These boots are made for walking

Now where was I?
Oh yes, the walk.
The train journey to Newcastle was uneventful. The trains were on time and our reserved seats were comfortable. We were spoken to by a madman at Birmingham New Street, but that happens to me quite often (being spoken to by madmen, not necessarily at Birmingham New Street).
We knew that when we arrived we were going to have to walk 12 miles. So we shrugged our packs on and started. The day was warm and all the walking was on tarmac, not the best of starts. We got to our first stop, (a brewery) and checked in after a couple of pints. Our fireman friend who had promised his wife that he wouldn’t be drinking alcohol was keeping up with us manfully.
The next day we were up early and after breakfast set off. The first stage was to get to Heddon-on-the-Wall. A couple of miles along the river bank, then turn right and straight up a steep hill; while going up here we had our one and only sighting of Red Squirrels. Much effort and sweat got us to Heddon where we saw the remains of Hadrian’s Wall for the first time, a brief rest and photo opportunity and on we went.
We had planned our day with care and much thought. Halfway along today’s walk was a pub (as it turned out the Robin Hood) and about 5 miles further on was another.
Sorted. A long and hot walk ensued, seemingly all uphill. Then there it was - our goal! 2 miles in front were buildings; within those buildings was the first pub. Those 2 miles seemed the longest we had ever walked, but at last we got there. The pub was shut: despair! What were we to do? We had a rest and set off for the alternative pub, 5 miles away. The sun was out, the day was warm, and we were getting tired, but after 1¼ hours the pub was in sight. Hooray went we, it even had tables outside where we could imbibe a few glasses of ale. What did we find? It was shut! Two pubs both shut? I was getting worried - the whole trip seemed to be falling apart. We sat at the tables in the hope that the publican would take pity on us and open up. But he didn’t. What a hard hearted b*****d he is. We only had 4 miles to go and so the packs were shrugged on again and off we toiled.
After 2½ miles we saw a sign for a Tea Room. A cup of tea and a slice of cake would be lovely we thought. Closed Mondays said the sign. Arrrrggh. And to make matters worse, there were two ladies sipping cups of tea and eating cake at a table outside. We asked them how they’d been served, “We’re staying here” they smugly replied.
Still, only 1½ miles to go till we reached our lodging for the night, on we trudged. Turning off the path just outside Wall we walked into the village and found where we were staying, hooray they were open, hooray they were serving, hooray the beer was good, (to be honest we could have drunk anything and been happy). We sat in the bar with our boots off and feet gently steaming and replaced all the liquid that we had sweated out (plus a bit more).
The next morning (Tuesday) was a time of recriminations. I had a wound on my hand from being stabbed by Steve (the blacksmith) while I was trying to steal one of his chips. He was unhappy that as we were going to bed I told him “You’re in that room Steve” at which point he said goodnight and walked into the room (through a locked door) and disturbed a couple that were also staying at the Hotel. We met these very nice people at breakfast and had a little laugh about it, (the man said “Hey you’re the one that broke our door”. Steve shrugged his shoulders and said “I thought it was my room mate, sorry”) Ho ho ho, how we did laugh.
After breakfast, on with packs and away. Up the hill out of Wall, over the bridge, and then up the hill out of Chollerford. After 3 miles we saw the wall again (the first time since Heddon) and still we climbed, up and up we went. We left the arable fields behind and went higher onto heathland, and the landscape became more craggy and wilder.
Standing on the edge and looking towards the north you couldn’t help but wonder, Why? The wall when in use was a lot larger than it is now (according to the reconstructions that archaeologists have done). The remains of the wall and the ditches are still very substantial, and the amount of effort required must have been enormous. We came to the conclusion that as most of the construction was done by the Roman Army it was a method to keep them occupied, whilst making the statement that Rome was big and powerful. It wasn’t a wall just for keeping people out, there were too many gateways for that, one at most mile castles. Perhaps it was some form of border control?
At last we could see a white painted building which we hoped was the Twice Brewed Inn. It was. A sharp descent brought us to a road and turning left we headed downhill to the pub. We’d made it, it was 12.30. We were halfway along the walk. Was it too early to start drinking? No!
More next time….

Friday, May 07, 2004

I'm sooo tired ...

I really can't be ostriched to blog tonight. I blame the Donkey.

See you tomorrow. Night night. Sleep well.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Under pressure

Trauma once more at Genie Towers. Crisis time A-level-wise is fast approaching, and the tension has turned the Boy into Kevin the Teenager again. Nothing is fair, his teachers are confusing him, he’s been given back his Physics and Maths coursework (to be handed in tomorrow) and been told it’s crap, and is totally discouraged and wants to jack it all in. I’ve said he should take this as an opportunity to prove himself, and that if he quits now he’ll be a loser all his life (worded slightly better than that!) – but I don’t think that has really helped. I do sympathise; I remember clearly the panic I was in at the same stage; but I know that running away from the problem won’t help. He’s been told that passing or failing is unimportant as long as he knows, deep in his heart, that he has put 110% effort into it. If he doesn’t want to go to Uni, then fair enough, it’s his life. He’s not being prevented from socialising – just to get his work done first, then go out with his mates.

It’s very difficult to know what to do for the best – he’s never been one to push himself, but if others push him too hard he digs in his heels. I just want him to have as many opportunities available in life as possible. To be stuck in a dull, mundane job because he’s not well-enough qualified to get out would be such a waste.

I can see I have a few weeks of being a verbal punch-bag, and attempting to be the voice of calm and reason, ahead. Deep joy.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Do the walk of life

Thanks to the irritating rattle of the pedometer, I’ve discovered the reason why I feel blobby and earthbound. Disregarding the extra steppage of the weekend’s caching-fest (averaging about 13,500 steps a day, or 5 ¾ miles) my ‘normal’ day’s activity – when I’m at home, I mean – is about 10,400 steps, or 4 ¼ miles. So having gone back to work yesterday I was staggered to discover that a regular workday clocked up a mere 2152 steps, or 0.9 miles. With my family history of poor circulation and dropping dead at an early age (I’ve already outlived several recent ancestors) from strokes, this is simply not acceptable. Something must be done.

You remember I said we saw a lovely ruin when we were caching? Well, Google came to my aid, and I have identified it as ‘Abbey House, Ranton’. It now has no roof and is a mere shell – it must have been lovely in its heyday. I have also identified the funny little plant I noticed up on Cannock Chase. First I noticed one plant and got quite excited because it was a new plant to me, then further on there were a few more, and by the time we reached a particular cache we were knee-deep in them, and surrounded on all sides! I picked a small piece to take home and identify, and Ned photoed it too. The sample is still in the car somewhere, and the film is still in the camera, but my trusty Book of the British Countryside assures me it is a bilberry.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Ack-sen-tchu-ate the positive

You see before you a very tired and achy girl. After my week off work doing routine housewifely stuff, then a hectic weekend roaming Staffordshire and Shropshire, having to be sat at my desk in the office has meant my joints have all stiffened and seized. Once again I’m waking at some ungodly hour and not getting back to sleep again. It’s very strange that, when I’m busy and active I’m full of energy, but when I have to remain static I feel drained. I’ll have to devise a way to operate my computer whilst jogging.

Will someone remind me (NOT today, thanks!) to look through all my hundreds of photos of the dogs for a couple of suitable ones for the Club handbook? I’ve got loads of them that are almost right, but Harry’s always in a slightly awkward position and looks wrong, and a bad photo is worse than none at all. The one where he is stood perfectly looking gorgeous seems to have vanished off the face of the earth; but anyway the background was rubbish. The trouble is that I know the image I want to achieve, and can handle Harry to get him right, but the timing and angle for the shot is down to the photographer, who isn’t necessarily aware of what end result I’m hoping for. And of course he’ll stand beautifully, looking macho and noble, all on his own - when I haven’t got the camera!

Monday, May 03, 2004

Over the hills and far away

6 more caches under our belts – three to go complete the Alchemy Quest! There was one long walk (I’m sure there’s a closer place to park!) which had a view of a lovely ruin – I like ruins – but was slightly tricky as there were two other cachers approaching while we were completing the log, and they had to be ‘headed off at the pass’ and delayed till we had hidden it again. We then had to keep them talking and try to mentally spin them around three times so that they forgot where they had seen us. The only other tricky one involved MarcB, whose series it is, having a different definition of ‘near’ to that used on Planet Earth. I was slightly upset at how trampled the bluebells became, despite most of us being as careful as we could and taking circuitous routes towards our suspected goals.

The exception was Small God, who followed his arrow straight and true; only lakes (too busy to walk over them) and particularly large trees could deviate him from his course. With his mental shutters down and his eyes focussed on his GPS he would launch himself off the path and vanish into the woodland, leaving the rest of us to take the scenic route and arrive at the destination at about the same time, but with fewer slips and tumbles involved. Simon is one of those wonderful people whose friends follow him everywhere, if only to see what on earth he’s going to do next, and try to pick up the pieces.

Poor Mortlet is no doubt developing a phobia about stiles, because every one that had to be climbed saw her being ‘helped’ over by Simon. Her revenge, when it happens, will be impressive. The temptation to 'accidentally' topple him over onto his forehead when he crouched to tie his shoelaces I found almost irresistible. But I'm sure Mort will come up with something far better ...

Ned and I had a good clear run home (the fresh air caused me to blink when we got onto the M42 and unblink when we got off the M40) before the Bank Holiday traffic built up. The dogs were delighted to see us, though Harry's day of rest hasn't cured his limp. I hope he recovers before the weekend, as he has a 'young lady' due to visit him on Saturday. With any luck we'll be able to reconvene and complete the Quest next Sunday.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Cache us if you can

We rose early today to get the household sorted out (dogs fed and walked, guinea-pig put out to graze) before we loaded two dogs in the car and set off in the drizzly fog to Castle Mort, where we met with the Mort family and visiting Small God. Happily the weather cleared the closer we got to the Castle and the morning became positively balmy. The dogs got somewhat over-excited at this change in routine but didn’t disgrace themselves (or us!) too much. There are worse problems than enthusiasm.

Pleasantries over, a plan of assault was made and we set off on the Alchemy Quest. After a short but enjoyable drive through an area we had never seen before, rubber-necking at all the pretty houses whilst trying not to lose track of our guide, the first cache was located without too much trouble, but with much hilarity at our incompetence on slopes. This was where having an enthusiastic dog on a lead was a positive advantage – on the ascent, anyway. The boys got to try out their new extending leads, and overall not too many people became entwined in their intricate manoevering. In fact none of the six caches we completed were unfairly tricky, and nobody proved to be ‘cacher-supremo’; no one person located more than two. We make a great team! A group of bikers having a party on one route was a little disconcerting, as was the herd of cows who were far too interested in Harry and Piglet for our (or the dogs’) liking. In fact all the cows we went past relished this change in their routine and scampered over to meet us. Yes, cows can scamper – trust me.

Sadly we failed to complete the Alchemy Quest in a single day, so Stu doesn’t have to locate a gluten-free hat to eat, which means we return on the morrow …

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Did you miss me?

Well I’m back, eventually. British rail and Virgin Trains did their best to keep me away from home for as long as possible. Having purchased tickets, in advance to take advantage of the cheaper prices, when we arrived in Carlisle much earlier than expected, we asked if we could go on an earlier train, foregoing our reserved seats, we were told “certainly, that’ll just be £32.50 each thank you”.
We looked at each other and decided straight away that if we were going to spend an extra £32.50 then there was a very nice shop, The Howard Arms, that was more deserving. So we went to wait for our train in the nice shop for five hours. We nearly went on a rugby tour with some of the locals, but realised in time that our nearest and dearest possibly wouldn’t see the funny side of that and Ian (the fireman) had to be back at work (or at least his place of employment) for Saturday night.
We went back to the station and caught the train which left on time. Once we were on our way, a disembodied voice announced that the train would arrive in Birmingham later than I’d been advised when I bought the tickets, and also when I phoned BR the week before we left. This meant that we would miss the connecting train.
A swift phone call to JG to explain the situation and asking her to phone BR to see if there was a later train that we could catch brought the welcome news that, yes there was a later train we could catch, the train we were on was on time and we could change stations with time to spare. It did mean that JG would have to pick us up later than we had hoped but everything would be Ok.
Oh how easily we were fooled! The train, that was on time, got into Birmingham 20 minutes later than we were told when we got onto the train, making it 1 hour later than I had been told when making the travel arrangements. This meant that instead of having plenty of time to change stations, we now had to put our backpacks on and yomp across Birmingham city centre at 23.20pm.
So there we are, four tired and sore middle aged men wearing shorts and loaded down with rucksacks, walking as fast as we could go to get to Snow Hill station, being jeered at by drunken youths, although for the most part it was in good humour. We were not best pleased that when we got to Snow Hill we found that the train would not in fact go to Leamington, but would terminate at Warwick Parkway, two stations earlier, and from there we would have to get a bus. Another phonecall to JG to say “don’t worry about collecting us, we’ll get a taxi”.
When the train got to Warwick Parkway, there were no taxis but there was a coach ready to take us all further on our way. Eventually we got to Leamington at 00.30am.
There were still quite a few people around and in some ways although the crowds were quieter than in Birmingham it felt more threatening. On seeing a taxi coming round the corner I stepped into the road, luckily he decided to stop, and we all piled in and were brought back to the village. I eventually got home at 1.00am, tired, sore, smelly but glad.
Now about the walk …

(…to be continued. Ned.)