Sunday, 31 May 2009

Special little moments

I was listening to some Turkish music today and recalled a lovely snippet of memories from my week in Turkey some years ago. I had wandered into a little village music store, and the young man in charge tried to interest me in the usual tourist range of CDs, Turkish pop music, and so on. Not in the least tempted, and not overly optimistic either, I said that I would like to hear something old, maybe something classical, maybe folky, something that evoked the old Turkey. Not an easy conversation to have, with neither of us possessing many words of each other's language, but he got it.

And he demonstrated this very surprisingly, by singing me an old folk song, to test whether or not this was the sort of music I would like.

And what a touching gesture! He stood very straight, looking directly at me, and without a shred of self-consciousness, sang beautifully, just for me. I found it hard not to fill up with tears, both at the song he sang and the loveliness of the gesture. Then he rummaged at the back of the shop, and brought out a boxed CD, making me understand that this had no words, just instruments, and that some of the music was very old. There was no pressure to buy; he seemed delighted that I had been interested and appreciative. After trying some of the tracks, I bought the CD for the usual astonishingly low price, and have played it many times since. The music it contains is very foreign indeed, and utterly beguiling; to my untrained ear it has no discernible links to Western music, and on hot sunny days like today, it's exactly right. And thanks to a lovely, open, Turkish boy in a tiny shop, it has to be the one of my best shopping experiences. HMV? No contest.

Saturday, 30 May 2009


For two days now, we've had hot sunny weather here in the Grim North. We rejoice, we sit outside, we get burned arms and noses and patchy, stripy tans because we can't quite remember where we put the sun cream last year, and we have a collective moan about not being able to get into our summer clothes because we are too fat after a winter under woollies. We find our sandals and wear them for too long at a time, till we get raw rubbed spots on our tender pallid feet. We go to the coast, and find that there's a nasty wind there, and that sand whipped up into sunburned skin is deeply unpleasant. And we tell each other about the optimistic weather forecast, and how this will last till Wednesday!

And it might, but it probably won't, and these few hot sunny days might well prove to have been our summer, just like last year. Not that I'm a pessimist, you understand.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Mother's Little Helper

Mother, meanwhile, is lying in a darkened room with a cold compress on her forehead, trying to remember what life was like when she had to do her own kitchen stuff, unaided.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Banners and bunting

To celebrate the notional arrival of early summer, I am to have a new blog banner. As I can't for the life of me fathom out how to construct one from my million and one photographs that denote my small life and even more pinched range of interests, Roger is making it for me. He has Photoshop and/or Fireworks, I believe, and this gives him superior firepower over me when I say "show me how to do it!", as I don't have anything so sophisticated.

He also says that it's like art therapy for him and reduces his blood pressure. So that's a good thing I'm doing for him, not just begging a favour for myself. Maybe I'll suggest that he comes over and catalogues my photos in an orderly fashion when he's done bannering, as this might help to realign his chakras or replenish his chi.

I might make some bunting for the shed this weekend, just out of wickedness, you know, to wind the old chaps up a bit. The treasurer might disapprove, of course; bunting can be so unruly!

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Pressure, what pressure?

I received this book today in the post, from Maggie in Toronto, who sent it after she read that I was considering a move away from Newcastle. She did say that it might confuse me and perhaps make my decision making even more complicated, and she may well be right. So far, though, it's the telling, rather than the deciding, that is the most stressful.

So far, reactions from friends and family when I've said, ever so lightly and carefully, that I would be looking at moving away to the west, have been mixed. That is, a mix of negatives. You'd think I was leaving the Shires for ever and taking ship with the Elves and Frodo. The Lovely Son's response doesn't really count, as he hasn't a clue about the location of any town or city that he hasn't actually lived in.

But mostly, the response of other people hasn't been encouraging either. There's been some vigorous pushing of awful alternatives such as local towns, although I've said repeatedly that I wouldn't want to live in them (too Grim-up-North, with awful weather, or dormitories for the city) but today's was the most succinct. Rose rang, and in the course of an otherwise riveting conversation about paint colours and home improvements, I mentioned timidly that I would be looking to move, perhaps to Devon, when my house was finished and fit to sell. Tersely, and in her best Lady Bracknell tone, she said "It's packed out down there!" (this from the only one of my friends who has travelled in China, where it's a little bit packed out too). More of the same was to follow; it's getting to be a familiar refrain now, distance, loneliness, expense, crowds, abandonment (mine, of friends).

My sister has been encouraging though, and says that I must live wherever I like; as she intends to be spending a great deal of her future retirement in Greece, I suppose the idea of distance and life in a strange community is less daunting to her.

Maggie, usually the optimist, says I will have plenty of time to decide where to go, as it will take ages for the house to sell. I think I will tell everyone now about my wanting to move, then not ever mention it again, perhaps right up to the day before the removals van arrives to take me to the Grey Havens......

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Different stitches

Just the other day, I was talking with fashion student Charlotte, whose major subject is knitwear, expressing a vague desire to take up knitting again after about 100 years away from it. Some people post the most beautiful knitted items on their blogs, filmy tops, glorious socks, jolly hats; not a pink nylon crinoline lady toilet roll cover amongst them. I aspired to this, but tempered with a harsh touch of realism; how much could I remember? Could I miraculously turn into a Completer-Finisher type? I know from experience that there is a Slough of Despond moment in the progress of many knitted items - even Charlotte often gives her obliging grandma things to finish for her.

Charlotte would refresh my ailing memory and teach me to cast on with needles, she said. Alas, I had charity-shopped my large bag of assorted needles years ago (see, you shouldn't really ever get rid of anything!) and would have to start collecting the basics again. Yarn and needles seem to have evolved fantastically since my primitive knitting days, and patterns have certainly improved too. Yet I have stayed firmly stuck in the early '70s, when I had actually managed quite a lot of a cable sweater for the Lovely (little) Son, but hadn't the staying power to finish it.

Then today, when walking the dog, I passed two German ladies sitting on a bench in the sunshine, each knitting the loveliest striped sock. I was drawn magnetically towards them, the dog too, although she just wanted to see if they had anything to eat, this bench being close to the local sandwich shops. We chatted about their work and they strongly recommended bamboo needles - the
equivalent in the knitting needle world of cashmere versus acrylic sweaters, they said. We talked and talked, and had they not been waiting for their taxi to take them to day 2 of their Indian friend's wedding, we might well have ended up round my kitchen table drinking tea. I had a feeling that they might be knitting throughout the lengthy ceremonies of the day.

Encouraged, I will pursue the notion of taking up the needles again, but first I want to send
out a plea to you skilled and creative knitters - where to start? What patterns are good for someone who is starting over, is easily daunted, tends to look twice her size in handknits, and wants to create pretty, wearable things that don't look like Great-Auntie Gladys has made them from scratchy cut-price Shetland wool leftovers. Sandra knits, but her taste is towards the utilitarian - balaclavas, mittens, warm cardigans; Charlotte is altogether on another plane, too avant-garde and artistic for a born-again novice, at least for now.

All advice, comments, biased opinions, suggestions and useful links exceedingly welcome!

(BTW, the picture is of a little cupcake I
once made for Charlotte; marzipan knitting is so easy to do, and if it goes wrong, you simply pop it into your mouth and start again.)

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Waste not, want not

Millie's shaved patch is growing in nicely. Her stitches seemed to take an age to dissolve or be absorbed, whatever it is they are supposed to do, and a couple of sharp jagged bits stuck out from her smooth side. Now Millie is the household groomer, and hates having a hair out of place; poor fluffy Lottie, who has tufts of hair growing out of her ears, presents a serious challenge to Miss Millie, and she sometimes looks beadily and in a calculating fashion at my eyelashes. But on the whole, she tolerated her stitches very well.

However, this jagged stitch got to her eventually, so she gave it a determined tug and pulled it out. And then she ate it.

I may start sleeping with an eye mask.


So whose clever idea was it to transform the ancient Venetian wooden shutter into modern, metal, fine-slatted blinds, supposedly ideal for long awkward windows where fabric wouldn't do?

My white kitchen blinds, custom-made by John Lewis such a long time ago, have soaked in a bath with sugar soap till the water turned tea-coloured, and are now ready to be hung up. But before that, the slats, which have only the smallest finger space between them, need to be wiped individually on both sides with a microfibre cloth, as some of the dirt won't just float off. Only then will they gleam and look like nearly-new.

So, ask me how I'm spending my Saturday morning?

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Unnaturally tidy

The finished kitchen today. Paint still wet on shelf above hob, so no rush to decide what to put up there now. The cream clock doesn't match anything and the flooring is dingy and worn, but still, it's all a great improvement.

And once I could get to the hob again, I was too hungry to wait for long before dinner, so I threw together an omelette with a little Italian ham, cheese, and fresh spinach that - oh, thrilling! - I picked on the allotment this afternoon - the first crop of the season. Delicious, even with the smell of paint.

Er, sorry

Yesterday's post was a bit revolting. And probably left too many of you thinking that I live in a vermin-infested slum. But really, I don't, just a house with overlooked areas, much like everybody else. Millie the Fly Hunter would like vermin though....

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Of flies and fans

It has to get worse before it gets better. Very true, whoever you are who said that, you miserable sod. It's been pretty bad this morning.

I am being a proper housewife today, in pinny and the Right Mood. I have unearthed the steam cleaner (thank you, mother who loved a cleaning gadget or appliance) from the loft, to tackle the hated extractor fan over the hob. It's set into the chimney, and is less than accessible unless you have an unfeasibly bendy neck and tentacle-like arms and fingers. It's also a masterpiece of bad design, full of twiddly bits just waiting to trap grease and dirt, and the cover is hinged, so that it doesn't come off for cleaning but falls downwards, releasing nasty things that have collected inside - dead flies, mostly. I knew this already, learning from a most unpleasant experience of some years ago, and now cover the entire area with an old sheet, but it's still the sort of job you would prefer someone else to do, and pay them handsomely for it. Unfortunately, Margery, who is completely unsqueamish, is taking her aged mother for a scan today, and couldn't come to do it for me - no, I mean help me with it.

Elbow grease, hot water, Cif and the steam cleaner did the job eventually, although I doubt if Environmental Health would give me ten out of ten for it - there are limits to how long I'm prepared to lean into a cloud of steam and vapourised grease with my head at an unnatural angle and my rubber gloves dripping gunge up my sleeves. Everything that sits at the back of the hob has been scrubbed or is in the dishwasher, and the tiles have regained their original colour (porridge, sadly; well, it was hard to find neutral tiles in the '80s). Perhaps I won't cook for a week or so, to allow time for admiring the results of my labours. The kitchen walls are bare, the surfaces almost cleared. The sitting room is full of china and my beloved collection of Everhot chrome tea and coffee pots.

Next to be tackled are the very long once-white slatted blinds; they will soak in a bathful of warm water with bio washing powder, as nothing else will remove evidence of months of neglect.
Blinds are a necessary evil, as the kitchen is overlooked by students smoking out of their bedroom windows, and sometimes I feel exposed as a slob, still in dressing gown at lunchtime; after all, this could erode my authority when I tell them off sternly for kicking rugby balls into my back yard. Later, I'll persuade Laurel and Hardy to move the dresser, so that I can clean behind it.

When my kitchen was new, I used to get up before the family on Sunday mornings and do this sort of cleaning, so that it never got to be this bad. Unimaginable now. And they didn't notice anyway.
Lesley came in yesterday and observed that after all the tedious preparation required, the actual painting is the best bit. She may be right, but that extractor fan ordeal has earned me a day off tomorrow, to read with my feet up, while Wally, Millie and Radio 2 get on with it. Maybe I'll buy a copy of Good Housekeeping magazine.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Clutter, cupboards, cats and keys

Wally the Painter, who is Millie's personal guru, returns on Thursday to decorate the kitchen. Heavy-heartedly, I am preparing the way, starting by emptying the old dresser that stands against one wall. It has a cupboard beneath and shelves with glazed doors above, and when full, is very heavy. The glass in one of the doors is cracked, and for some time now I've been talking about taking the door to a restorer to have it repaired. Now's my chance, I guess.

Inside the cupboard is the shameful evidence that for some people, such as me, who have inherited the untidy gene, clearing one's clutter doesn't always work as intended. I was
once given a book on the subject for Christmas by a determined friend, and in a fit of enthusiasm had sorted (i.e. dismantled) my sitting room bookshelves by Boxing Day evening. But it's the follow-through that defeats me every time.

So, inside the cupboard half of the dresser are storage boxes, holding what was once neatly organised clutter. The trouble has always been that once I put things away in a box, no matter how tidily and logically, I forget it exists, and voila! another cupboard is filled up for ever with stuff I will never look at again.
I did try to reform, but failed to follow through with the regular discipline of reviewing and discarding unused items - well, I ask you, who has the time to do that? Or the interest, or the energy, or the sheer obsessive madness to keep it up, year after year? (Oh, you do? Sorry....)

So these boxes are now standing in the sitting room, along with the newly-washed china and assorted bric a brac that adorned the shelves. The dresser stands empty, its shelves lined with a Laura Ashley wallpaper that had been a decorating mistake that I recognised in time, and that must be at least 25 years old. Millie has hopped in and out of it, and has left her trademark, a small nose print, on each pane of glass.

I found some money in a teacup. About 40 Australian dollars and a small Czech note. Nothing exciting like the time I found £100 neatly tucked away to leave for Sandra as an emergency fund while I was in Oz but had clearly forgotten about and then duplicated for her; now that was good clutter to clear! I found a pair of silver earrings that have waited for 20 years or so to be repaired, and will never be so now, due to becoming outdated - uh-oh, shameful memory just emerging of small son growing out of a shirt while it languished in the ironing basket - and to my pierced ears rebelling against any attempt to poke metal through them ever again.

I found two spare sets of house keys, so I can now free myself of the lingering resentment towards the Lovely Son who for years has maintained that he hasn't
lost his set, he just hasn't found them yet. But there is also a mysterious heap of other keys, held together by a large paper clip; these keys don't seem to belong to any door in this house, and have been kept because, well, you know....throw them out and then you'll find out within days that they contained the one that your neighbour entrusted to your care years ago, and that without it, and the neighbour gone off trekking in Peru, her house sitter had to spend the night huddled on her doorstep with a starving cat yowling on the other side of the keyless front door, and all because you didn't put the spare key where it should have gone, namely in the clutter-busting box marked Keys - Other. Best be careful and keep that bunch of keys.

Things migrate to the nether regions of this dresser; it collects dust and fluffballs underneath, towards the back, where the excessively lengthy hifi wires are pooled, and Margery never reaches with her hoover. I have no doubt that cat toys lurk there, hairy and unrecognisable, and other long-lost items too. I once took a photo of Kevin in his youth, with the dresser behind him, and on getting the developed prints back, saw where my missing slipper had gone. I also have a horrid suspicion that there might even be an unpainted patch of wall behind it, but this might be a guilty fabrication of an habitually-shamed conscience; I'll find out soon enough, when the drawers are taken out and the dresser becomes light enough for a team of strong men and a pair of dray horses to move.

And when it's all over, and the room is fresh and newly-painted? Where will all that stuff go? Guess.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Our allotments, seen from the gate.

Highly satisfactory all round

Out of 18 plotholders, nine of us appeared for what I suppose was the AGM. The sun shone, waveringly. We trooped up to Eddie the Poisoner's allotment, where there is enough paved area for us to set out our rickety chairs; Eddie did not make an appearance, and it seems that none of the regular Committee members were surprised. Eddie mutters about some of the Committee. We sat beside his impressively flourishing potatoes; I compared them despairingly with mine.

Our grand meeting began. To describe it as loosely structured would be an understatement; we rambled, digressed and reminisced, and yes! we fought and bickered most entertainingly. The first round of still-warm ginger cakes vanished silently, but I held on to the rest for later, when they would undoubtedly be needed, like wet sponges between rounds of boxing. P sat slightly behind me, and kept up a running commentary of her own, regardless of who was speaking, so that my recall of some of the discussion, including emailing of allotment-related information, is rather muddled up with P's inability to handle new-fangled things like computer, videos and mobile phones. Likewise composting toilets (oh, the things we aspired to!) versus buckets emptied over the fence....

The Committee was duly elected; Sandra refused the nomination, but to my own surprise, I agreed, although I doubt if it will prove to be an onerous responsibility; I said my main role would be to bring cakes to meetings. Elizabeth said she would want the Committee's support in dealing with difficult issues or people - at this point, P agreed eagerly to join, if she could be the one who did the dirty work in this respect. I saw Elizabeth's face tighten; she mutters about P.

The treasurer performed impressively, producing a printed report which showed us to have barely scraped through with a few pounds to spare, unlike last year's situation where empty plots had meant that we didn't break even, after paying our dues to the grasping but unhelpful City Council. So far so good. There were four people with rent arrears, and some muttering and barbed comments ensued; a note was made that these defaulters should be sent A Letter.
By this time, we were growing vengeful; consensus was reached that they should be given a 2-week deadline for payment.

Just at that point, a defaulter's girlfriend arrived, wearing large furry boots and brightly coloured pyjama bottoms, and clutching the owed rent money. We asked and were told why our rents were higher than the next door site's rents (bigger plots) and grudgingly let the subject drop, although I could tell that some people still felt cheated.

More muttering followed,
about C this time (everyone mutters about C) - not only was she a chronic rent defaulter, but her plot was in a messy state - I know this, as her rampant neglected brambles reach over like triffids into my garden and thrive on the savage and resentful pruning I give them. P muttered in my ear about C's unpruned blackcurrants.

We had a good head of steam up now, and were growing testy; subjects ranged from the immaculate and uniformly-shedded allotments to be seen in France (at which point I bleated that I liked our haphazard site; I fear I shall be mocked later on
by Roger for this euphemism) to the state of the lane outside the site, the cost of skip hire, the stupefyingly huge savings fund of the allotments further along - £3000! We voted against applying for piped water, as everyone would have to pay, whether or not they used it - pyjama girl was the only one to vote for it, on boyfriend's behalf, although she agreed that he wouldn't like to foot the bill for it.

The end plot was what set off the raised voices. P and her partner had struggled with it for years, complaining incessantly about the surrounding trees and their invasive roots. Elizabeth and her husband maintained that it had been fine when they had worked it, and things suddenly got rather lively, with P waving her arms about, deploring the fibrous roots, the rapidly growing white poplars, the early shade, quoting tree growth rates in metres that left us older pre-metric folks a bit bemused, and an equally vigorous response from Elizabeth, whose grasp of the agenda had never been firm. It was evident that this was a long-running grievance between the four of them, although P now has another plot which is turning into a productive and tidy show garden, complete with reconstructed shed with pot-bellied stove and flagged floor (and, oh, how
deeply envious I am.)

And then, over 40 minutes late, the much-muttered-over C arrived and with her rent money too. No one mentioned her plot or the brambles. She asked a question about the rent levels compared with next door's, and I nipped in to say that we'd dealt with that item already, and she had the sense to say she'd hear about it from me later - otherwise I think several people may have attacked her with dibbers and pruning knives.

We almost missed out the item on fires (NOT ALLOWED NOW) but after a mischief-making reminder from me, had a lively discussion and a proposal from C, who likes a regular smoky fire, to complain to the Council about the cut-off point of end of March as being too early. There was some digression about fires being allowed at home, and tales of rows with neighbours involving washing hung on lines.
The treasurer said that he didn't approve of fires on allotments at all. He also didn't approve of fences between plots, although I disagreed; removal of fences would cause my climbing roses to fall over on one side of my plot, and the thorny bramble-triffids on the other to continue their quest for world domination. I might have a little mutter to Sandra about that treasurer some time; he seems a bit ready to disapprove, if you ask me.

Over an hour later, and we were done. The second round of cakes had been hoovered up, the dog had been sneakily fed little morsels, although I did catch sight of her at one point quietly scratching up a little piece of well-rotted manure from Eddie's flower bed; she saw me watching her and trotted off with a guilty expression. I will be part of a working group to look at grant applications and fund raising, and another to tidy up the worst of the marginal ground, where the site next door is suspected of tipping their rubbish through a large gap in the fence. Alan took our photograph, and we all retired to our respective plots to soothe our raised blood pressure with a little weeding.

A little blood had been spilt, but not much, and, reassured in our own ability to refrain from open warfare, we had agreed to hold another such meeting in late August, this time with a barbecue. P anticipates new potatoes and sweetcorn being ready in time; from the look of my own beds, I might muster herbs and weeds, and not much else, so perhaps I'll do dessert instead.

Very Important Meeting

It's a beautiful Sunday morning, but if the weather forecast is to be believed, it won't stay that way. Yesterday we had sun, torrential rain and rhubarb-perforating hailstones. Today we would like it to stay fine for 12 noon, because something unique is planned: there is to be an Allotment Meeting.

Our allotments have always had a Committee, a shady organisation run by a handful of the old chaps, whose meetings were rare and unrecorded, seemingly taking place in the local pub, the Blue Bell. Last year, new members were voted in, although for those of us who weren't of that select group (I forgot to attend, or was in Australia, some excuse like that; after countless work Committees I have chaired or attended, I wasn't panting to be allowed onto another one) nothing much changed as a result. Except that the treasurer, who never attended, was deposed and replaced by someone who would actually carry out treasurer duties - well, give out receipts for the rent payments, at least. The deposed (absent) treasurer was furious and outraged when he found out, and later questioned me closely about the decision-making involved in this bloodless coup. I was never so relieved to be able to say, feeble-voiced, "I wasn't there"......

Election time has arrived again, and the meeting is to be held on the allotment site itself - if the weather turns, we may have to huddle in a shed, a bit risky if feelings run high with sharp tools to hand. But the agenda, already pinned to the fence, is hardly revolutionary, and at least one surprise has been spoiled in advance: Item 3. Fires (NOT ALLOWED NOW). Ok, we either knew that already, or we do now; I'll be interested to find how much discussion time this item receives.

Elizabeth (the secretary - the one who can't bring herself to issue the letters of warning to plot-neglecters) has hinted at grants being available, and that she would like us all to have an identical shed, neatly aligned along the back fence. Now that's a proposal sure to arouse strong feelings; some of us have sheds already, and have put time and effort into making sure they don't blow down in strong winds. They are mostly hideous, and certainly not neatly aligned with anything; we don't do alignment down on our site.

Mine has mice, a double-glazed window that is broken and covered in wire netting and old trellis, and a door latch that is held shut with a twig. It's home made and not in the least smart, but it's sturdy and built by a predecessor in true Allotment Vernacular style.
Eddie's is huge, and part-greenhouse, made entirely of salvaged windows and corrugated metal, with an mysteriously deep concrete floor. Stone-throwing youths on the other side of the river regard it as a special challenge. Colin's is a post-apocalyptic wreck with a swinging door hanging at a rakish angle, and sits in a heap of overgrown junk. And so on. My bet is that no one, grant or no grant, will want a new shed if any preparatory work has to be carried out, or, worse, if it means getting rid of anything.

My experience of Committees is that anything can happen, including flaring rows, bizarre alliances, the emergence of long-nursed bitterness and resentment, and occasional surprising decision. I'm looking forward to our meeting today. And now I'm off to make some little cakes to take down with me. Discussion might (I hope) be lively, and a bit of something sweet might help to prevent trowels being used in anger.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Location, location, location, or Sod It, That's Near Enough

Reading all the comments from the last post, it's a comfort to me to find that the Mad Boffins at the Live Feed laboratory have the same problems with geography as I do. Although I doubt if even my wilder guesses at your nearest-city whereabouts would be wrong by 1000 miles.

Thank you for humouring me with this new toy, and for introducing yourselves. I'm childishly thrilled.

Today, as it was gloomy and wet, and the dog wouldn't go anywhere, I sat chained to my PC and did some sorting out - Disk Clean Up first, followed by Defragmenting. Are you impressed? Good. I'm impressed myself, even though I was only following some Googled guidance after I typed in "Virtual memory problems". I don't understand a word of it, really.

The cats had a visitor yesterday, Anne the nice home visitor lady who vets would-be rescuers from the charity that placed these two with me. She came bearing gifts for them, a crinkly play tunnel and a bag of catnip. Now, they have their own crinkly play tunnel and lots of catnip already, and had declared their utter boredom with both some time ago.

But for Anne, they turned on all their charm and winsomeness, scooted in and out of the new tunnel, chased toys through it, rolled extravagantly in the catnip and staggered about dazed in drugged-up bliss, and acted as though they had never been given such a treat in their poor miserable lives before now. She was utterly charmed. Then, when she wasn't looking, they burgled her handbag, which she had left in the hall, and which had held the catnip. They rolled on her specs, dragged pens and other items out, and rather showed themselves to be the degenerate drug fiends that they really are.
When I went to clear away the tea tray, I noticed that someone had drunk all the milk out of the jug while I had been letting Anne out of the house.

After she left, they I told them they had to sit and write out 100 lines: It is neither funny nor clever to be stoned and show off in front of humans. But they couldn't do it; first they had the munchies, and then they wanted to loll on the sofa and watch wildlife programmes on tv, gazing mesmerised at the hunting lions. Crinkly play tunnel? No thanks, man; those catnip drops would be good, though....

Thursday, 14 May 2009

New obsession

That 'live feed' wotsit at the right hand side of my posts - how addictive it is! Now I want to know more - who are all these visitors (you)? What made them (you) come to my blog? What do they (you, etc etc) look like? What kind of houses do they live in? How many of them have cats? Chickens? Children? Spouses they call Hubby? Do they knit/weave/sew/bake/garden? Can they sing in key? Compose haiku? Do they like the dusk as much as I do? Will they leave a comment/identify themselves/come back a second time? Do I know them already?

So many unknowns! It's strangely intriguing, slightly unsettling, and possibly somewhat unhealthy; I shall keep it running for a week, and then gauge how barmy I'm growing before I decide on whether or not to keep it.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

One down

I told the Lovely Son about my new resolve to move house to Devosetshire*. I did it by email so that I didn't have to hear that peculiar little sound of scorn in which he specialises. I made up a figure for travelling time from London - 2 hours - and he responded with "Maybe it is two hours drive from London, but the train must take at least five days, no?" Being very, very bad at geography is clearly a genetic thing.

*see Comments on previous post

Monday, 11 May 2009

Unsettled, unsure and undecided

I'm agonising. I've lived in this house for 27 years next month, after 4+ years in a flat nearby. And I had only moved to Newcastle for 2 years, small son in tow, never intending to stay here, but career, marriage and a mortgage intervened to pin me down. And then I began to think I would move away once I retired. Two years ago....

But I have to tackle this moving thing, and soon. I rattle around in this tall thin house, now empty of family, and a magnet for clutter and hoarded possessions, and I take no advantage at all of living in a city that I have never liked - I shop in local supermarkets or online, I walk in what is the nearest thing to countryside or woodland, Jesmond Dene, and as most of my friends remain at work, I see no more of them than I did when I too held down a job. I could transfer my life to pretty much anywhere, really, if the house and setting were right.

For the past year I've been sorting out the house, with building and renovation work, and am now on the last stretch of painting and decorating. If I could get my clutter cleared once and for all, I could consider myself ready to move, but so far had thought it not a clever thing to do while the housing market continues to stagnate.

The dilemma for me is that for years I have had no idea where I should move to next. I belong nowhere, thanks to a typical Army family upbringing and boarding school, and my very small family is scattered - Glasgow, London, New Jersey. Where I would really like to live, Australia, won't have me, because I'm too old and not wealthy enough. (I know, so unfair!) I considered the Scottish Borders instead - not at all like Australia, but with its own charms.

To add to the dilemma was the sustained opposition from friends and the Lovely Son; no one would visit me, they said, I would be isolated, it was bleak in winter, there was nothing to do, I would DIE there! Why didn't I move nearer to them instead? Harrumph..... moving house was going to be super-stressful.

Then I happened to click on the house picture on exmoor jane's blog, and lo! there was my ideal house, Georgian, with garden, in a lovely little town close to beautiful countryside - just in a part of the country that I don't know at all and can't judge at this distance. The house may already be sold, but it set me thinking, and a lot of questions have come up, such as whose life is it anyway? I might be around for another 40 years, and need to live somewhere that I choose for myself, not for other people, although they, of course, would always have a warm welcome and encouragement to visit often. But if I don't make a start soon, another year will have gone by, and the dawdling, prevaricating, dithering uncertainty will not be resolved.

So now I must knuckle down. First step: get the last Room of Shame tackled. This is the small attic room, with a mountain of glass and paraphenalia from the stained glass enthusiasm of a couple of years ago (yes, I'll pick it up again some day!), bookshelves, a large mahogany tallboy of the type known in Scotland as a Scotch press, that I can't bear to part with, despite one of its twirly turned pillar things being badly chewed by a wicked dog, and a collection of handbags that I never use now that I don't wear smart clothes. I'm not sure I ever wore smart clothes really, just clothes that were slightly smarter than the Worzel Gummidge look that I favour these days.

Second step: finish the decorating. The decorator is already booked to start next week - the kitchen, and thankfully only one freestanding dresser to empty and shift - and knows that there will be another couple of rooms after that. Step three: research areas I hadn't thought of or visited before, and decide on a place to start property hunting when the time comes. Step four: market and sell this house, that I have so loved for so many years. And somewhere in there is the telling of friends and Lovely Son, the fielding of responses, the staying resolute.

Easy. I wish I didn't feel so scared about it. I should have moved after two years as intended; it would have been so much simpler.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Object of desire

Take one plastic wrapper, two covetous cats, one short but insistent campaign by smaller cat, much rustling, and then - all change! This might go on all day.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Kevin and Neil, a lopsided relationship

Kevin had always shown a tendency towards strong feelings and dramatic reactions. A new collar would be enough to create alarm, protest and flight; visitors would be welcomed extravagantly; cuddles would involve head butting and violent purring that could knock him off balance. He delighted in drinking water from odd places, had a yowl that could carry across oceans, and preferred ordinary cat food to the most exotic treats. He would not yield to sickness or disease. He had character, and many people who loved him.

Kevin’s long and peaceful old age ended in a sudden decline, as his kidneys failed and he swelled up rapidly with fluid. I had been fully prepared for his end – after all, he was very old, and had kidney disease; there would be no element of shock as there had been with Harry. But for those last few days, the continuing watchfulness over Kevin had held an added element of anxiety: who would help him out of this life when the time came? Both vets, Neil and Claire, who had known and cared for him during his latter years, had left the practice, and my experience of their replacements when taking Lottie and Millie for their respective procedures had not been reassuring.

Neil the vet had been a treasure, friendly, caring and gentle, and always willing to explain things to pet owners without treating them like infants or idiots. Alas, Kevin hated him. Over the years, Neil had looked after him, cleaning his gnarly old teeth, removing a long blade of grass stuck in his throat, diagnosing and medicating his hyperthyroidism, later operating on his parathyroid, and never complaining about the copious amounts of ginger fur Kevin deposited on his clean green tunic top, or taking the loud hostility too personally.

But Neil left the practice, and was replaced in Kevin's unremitting hatred by Claire, although she and Kevin should have bonded: Claire was also a treasure, friendly, caring and gentle, always willing to explain things to pet owners without treating them like infants or idiots, but with the added advantage of being ginger too. Claire never complained about the fur either, or, indeed, about the Lake of Wee. In true form, Kevin wasn’t keen on her either.

In time, Claire too left the practice, and the remaining vets had to be got used to; a rather uncharismatic locum, who examined Millie, pre-op, in a systematic but bored way, and a dauntingly brisk and businesslike senior vet, who micro-chipped Lottie as though she were an inanimate object, and who made me feel like a twit for worrying about Lottie's need to be coaxed to eat. Neither made me feel that they liked or were interested in cats, although with two healthy young things this wasn’t too worrying.

However, as Kevin's long and happy life drew to a close, I was alarmed to think about the 'who and how' elements of this final process of letting go and putting him to sleep. Not a bored locum, and certainly not a brisk and businesslike vet who gave the impression that clearing the waiting room was of prime importance.

We needed a Neil or a Claire, vets who understood the emotional elements of bringing a cherished pet to the surgery, and who threw in little additional extras, like touching noses with your cat, using silly pet names with them, or relating to owners as sensible adults.

And so I tracked Neil down in his new independent practice. We talked on the phone about the next stage of Kevin’s journey, and planned for the inevitable. After this conversation, I felt that a large part of my anxious burden had been lifted.

The next day, Kevin's condition worsening rapidly, the big decision was made, and, very gently and sensitively, Neil helped Kevin out of this life and into wherever it is that cats go next.

And Kevin? Well, he showed his feelings for vets to the last, with an outraged yowl - though thankfully not his scared squawk - when the preparatory moves were made. Kevin was never a cat for fickle emotions or mild responses. I will miss him, the old ginger drama queen, and I won’t be the only one.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Loved to the last

Kevin 24.09.1989 - 07.05.2009

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Dog interrupted

Go away - I'm trying to hide this dog chew in my bed. Aaaw, you've spoiled it now.....

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Oh, Millie!

Never ever before have I had a kitten whose adulthood has been as eagerly awaited as Millie's. She came as a wild hooligan, and that is what she's stayed. Full of curiosity, exceedingly distractable, naughty when there are visitors, in a perpetual hurry, and disobedient at all times. If she were a child, she'd be the one booked in by despairing teachers to see the educational psychologist, affronted mother in tow spluttering "What d'you mean, ADHD? She's just got lots of energy!" while said child climbed whooping onto the desk and knocked the flowers over.

She gets wildly overexcited by a fly coming indoors, and rampages round the house in hot pursuit, regardless of papers and objects scattered, curtains snagged, feet in cat food or water bowls. This is her one undistractable activity. Yesterday, I tried in vain to pin a fly screen net affair over the sunny back door, and before I'd finished, she'd pulled it down twice, having spotted a fly hovering on the other side. The rampage started up again, and continued until, debris everywhere, she'd caught that fly and chomped it with evident enjoyment.

But...but... what is truly endearing about her (and she has many endearing qualities) is her nose flute. When she is really busy, and concentrating fiercely (on flies, and where I've hidden her fur toy in a game of hide and seek), she breathes hard, and makes a little whistling sound through her nose.

Peep...peep...peep...Now, I ask you, who could stay cross with a little cat who does that?

Saturday, 2 May 2009

What a difference a (rainy) day makes

Some decent rain over the last two or three days, and the allotment is so grateful. So are the weeds, of course, and they've sprung up in abundance to celebrate today's warm sunshine.

I have got those taters in the ground at long last. I'm weeks behind the old chaps, but no matter; they have their reputations to maintain, and I can always help them with that by being a hapless if hopeful type of gardener. The real achievement will be if the potatoes come up in a straight line; wonky planting, even with a string and peg to guide me, is my trademark. If I had a garden (ie one attached to my house) I would plant in lovely blurred drifts, but when it comes to vegetables, I aspire to regimental lines, and largely fail.

For a long time this morning, I was the only one down there, and how serenely beautiful it was! I had only popped down to plant potatoes, but I couldn't tear myself away. I planted the peas and fenced them off to save them from the ravening hordes of pigeons. I know they were watching from the trees, muttering darkly into their breast feathers. I hoed and weeded, looked in vain for our five donated tadpoles in the new pond, and looked with success for the first signs of carrots in the sand barrels. I pulled some more rhubarb, thin, dark, rose-coloured stems, that will be used today in some form, and I tried to repair the bird table, which falls apart with monotonous regularity. Is it because of the weight of the marauding squirrels, I wonder? All of Eddie's bird feeders have had the bottoms gnawed out.

There should be a bumper crop of gooseberries this year, although I will be tormented at picking time by my failure to prune the bush into the decreed goblet shape last year; gooseberry thorns are vicious beyond belief. Nature doesn't give in without a serious fight.

Eventually, and reluctantly, I had to heed the insistent call in my head: "Cup of tea! cup of tea-eeeeeeeeeeeee!" and come home, sandpapery tongue hanging out. I will be back tomorrow though; too much to do, and those weeds won't take a day off.

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