Thursday 31 July 2008


We are progressing at the speed of light. Cheerful and Smiley arrived at 7 a.m. all geared up for a 12-hour day, and nothing I could say or offer in the way of tea breaks would divert them from this astonishing schedule. I now have two completely gutted rooms, devoid of architrave and skirtings and everything else, and if the insulating panels and plasterboards had been delivered today instead of (wrongly) scheduled for tomorrow, the bathroom might have been half-finished. The back kitchen floor was shamefully in need of total replacement, and I was revolted to see our old cork tiles (well, it was the '80s and we had no money) exposed in all their hideousness once again as demolition took place.

The cats have been intrigued, and wandered in and out of holes in the floor for a while till they got bored; the dog has moped, as the builders said hello to her on arrival and neither petted nor fed her treats through the day, as their only stop was for a 25-minute lunch. The dog is used to tradesmen who make a fuss of her, and I suspect that her princess status has been dealt a bit of a blow today.

Now I'm off to Lesley's for a shower, then an early night, as you know what will be happening at 7 o'clock tomorrow morning, don't you....

Wednesday 30 July 2008

No problem!

Emphasis on the "No" and a big cheerful smile. And we're off; the builders have landed, and will be turning up at my door at 7 a.m. tomorrow to apply serious wrecking tactics to my bathroom before transforming it into an insulated haven of warmth and clean grouting, smart tiles and glass, and somewhere to hide the cleaning products.

Then they will turn their attention to the back kitchen, as I have always called the utility room, as it used to be my tiny cramped main kitchen before I sacrificed the gloomy dining room and turned it into a big(ger) dining kitchen instead. Somehow utility seemed a bit pretentious for the bodged-DIY site it always was, and scullery wasn't right either, at least not without a scullery maid with
hands made red and raw from washing up with soda crystals and no gloves. (Aaawwww....remember poor Ruby, the bullied and browbeaten little servant in 'Upstairs Downstairs'? I'm giving my age away here, I know...)

I have Googled a translator site, and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in mangling both English and a foreign language for fun. What you do, I discovered today, is type in some words or phrase you want to translate, in my case from English into Polish, then put the resulting Polish phrase back into the translation box and see what you get. Not what you first put in, that's for sure. For example: "What time do you start tomorrow?" in Polish (well, so far as one can ascertain), comes out, when re-translated into English, as "Every time you start tomorrow". I think I shall stick to tapping my watch and looking questioningly at the departing builders, and try not to blanch when they say something that means 3 hours earlier than I normally surface.

More as we progress.

Tuesday 29 July 2008

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Monday 28 July 2008

After the heat and dust

The Lovely Son came and went, moving heavy stuff for me, clearing jungle on the allotment, and leaving an amazing number of cups and mugs in his wake. He has pootled off back to London today, and has just rung to complain about the raging and airless heat there. Meanwhile, it is cool and grey here, with enough moisture in the air to make your hair frizz out and the washing to dry to the point of being "just right for ironing" as my mother used to say, but which I have no intention of doing.

I picked exactly 4 pounds of red gooseberries from the two tiny little plants that Beercan Alistair* gave me a couple of years ago; they are sweet and delicious, and if I had an ice cream maker, I would use them to make gooseberry and elderflower ice cream similar to the wonderful stuff we ate in Suffolk. And convert those four pounds into body fat. I spent hours yesterday with a fine needle, teasing tiny thorns out of my fingers, and dread the prospect of harvesting the hundreds of green gooseberries on the rather overgrown bush that is full to bursting. If the rest of the plot was as productive as the gooseberry bushes, I could be a prizewinner at that rather
weird allotment show held in the Civic Centre in September.

I am so-o-o-o-o tired. And the builders start work here on Thursday, not Friday. Will I survive? I must find out how to say in Polish "I am going for an afternoon sleep now; please carry on working, but without banging about".

*so called because he edges his flower beds with flattened beercans. An unusual aesthetic.

Friday 25 July 2008

And Harry?

For those who may wonder how he's doing, as I burble on in a somewhat strained way, trying not to obsess or brood, he's very very quiet. Every time I sink in despair, however, he comes to find me, demanding a cuddle or his dinner, and I am temporarily reassured. The vet warned that it would be a rollercoaster ride, emotionally, and she is right....

Confirmation, calendars and recycling junk

The Boys will be arriving on Wednesday (make triumphant trumpeting sound through your fist), and will start work on my bathroom on Friday. What isn't being delivered on Tuesday will arrive on Friday. At some point between those days I have to get myself and a following convoy of willing friends to Ikea to buy my cupboards - I need at least 12 doors plus cabinets (or carcasses as they are unattractively called) - and bring them home to store heaven knows where. Then there's handles, and hinges, and shelves....I just know something vital will be forgotten, and that I will have to visit Ikea yet again, which has to be worse than going to tea with the Dementors.

Besides which, that's a lot of stuff for the feeble-minded to remember. This was the one year in which I didn't receive a proper wall calendar as part of my Christmas presents, although a friend did give me a small desk one of a local artist's work, which was so hideously garish that I had to hide it (permanently, as in charity bag), as her paintings looked unsettlingly like roadkill of the bloodiest, freshest sort. So I'm left with the most inadequate little whiteboard in the kitchen to remind myself of important dates. Somehow that doesn't present as efficient project management, especially as it also holds reminders of Harry's twice-weekly antibiotics and when that fussy chap says he might come to pick up some freecycled stuff if he can be bothered, even though the kettle isn't quite what he wanted. He even put "hmmm" in his email.....

Freecyclers fall into two main groups, I find: the pernickety who want photos of everything as though they were paying in gold for the stuff and might sue if it doesn't meet their expectations, evidently comparing one's meagre offerings to John Lewis online, and the astonishingly grateful, like the mother of five who, after receiving my mother's huge bulky televideo, emailed me three times to tell me how thrilled all the children were to have a decent-sized telly at last.

And the team? The cats will happily stay in the sitting room while all the work is carried out; they don't do much during the day except sleep and eat, in preparation for the night, when they just sleep, and the dog will be thrilled to have builders around; she knows from experience that builders think she's cute, and that they always have biscuits with their tea.

Thursday 24 July 2008


Kevin used to be capable of the most spectacular leaps, upwards and downwards, and would often sit on the tops of high cupboards. A stepladder at the bay window was his idea of heaven.

Now, ancient and somewhat decrepit, he strikes leaping poses in his sleep instead.

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Wednesday 23 July 2008

The builders are coming. Or are they?

The friend who is co-ordinating the shared Polish builders (The Boys) was bobbing agitatedly somewhere up against my kitchen ceiling the other night, when I misguidedly asked her what was stressing her the most about "all this" (organising, planning, counting beans and advising and assisting the stupid among us) and she snapped "Everyone asking me when The Boys are coming!" She meant me.

Now, when we are almost sure that they are going to arrive next week, arranging delivery of materials is getting fairly important, and I find that I daren't ask her again when The Boys are, on Tuesday, a new bath and smart glass shower screen will arrive, and, sometime during the week, a vast and heavy amount of bathroom and back kitchen tiles, grouting, adhesive and - oh luxury! - an underfloor heating kit. And at some point in the proceedings, a large quantity of kitchen cupboards, shelves, handles, new sink, tap and worktop. Heaven knows where I am going to store it all, as every spare inch of space, including the shed, is filled with all the back kitchen stuff that was moved out a month ago, which was the first arrival date for The Boys. This is where I wish I had a garage. But if I did, I know it would be full already, a third Room of Shame.

If The Boys don't arrive next Wednesday, I might have to give in altogether, store the bath and the materials in the sitting room and live in the kitchen. Life of Grime, I see you beckoning....

Tuesday 22 July 2008

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Being here now....

Well, the worst case scenario was confirmed today, and I know for sure now that Harry does indeed have an aggressive cancerous tumour, and that his life expectancy may be around 3 months. I will medicate, groom, nurture, give supplements, frequent and delicious little dinners, and lots of tender loving care. And of course watch and wait.

But we will also get on with our daily lives, he and I, Kevin and the dog; I can't bear the thought of tearfully living out Harry's days in the expectation of his imminent death and barely noticing what else is going on around us all. There will be time to grieve in due course. Be Here Now is one of the best mantras I know (think the '60's, not Oasis), and Here and Now looks fine to me. Harry, of course, knows nothing else, and is having rather a pleasant day, replete with chicken. Cats and dogs are always in the moment, and the team will be useful role models to have around in the coming weeks.
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Sunday 20 July 2008

Fields of gold

View from our rented Suffolk cottage. I've put my holiday snaps on flickr, as I can't quite summon up enough cheerful recollection at the moment to write about my very pleasant 5 days away.
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Saturday 19 July 2008

In happier days

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Cats are braver than people

Or at least my cat is braver than me. I am a tear-sodden underslept wreck, racked with anxiety and a sense of impending doom; Harry is a sleepy, friendly, loudly-purring perfect patient, trying his best to eat despite a sore mouth, letting me wash his face and paws till he can manage for himself, and not complaining at all. This mild-mannered compliance does not extend to a willing acceptance of medication, however, which is where I score for being bigger and more determined than him, and, thanks to months of practice on Kevin, having a deft hand with a syringe. Harry can clamp his jaws like a pit bull terrier, but has to yield eventually. The vet's propaganda about palatable medicines is clearly a Big Fat Lie.

Thank you to all for the support, kind words, understanding of what it feels like when a beloved pet is sick, and, Lesley, for the Maltesers. The dog loves a Malteser too; she carries them about in her tiny almost-toothless mouth until they go soggy. (I hasten to add, before the sensible dog-people amongst you start to bristle in indignation, that the toothlessness came first, even before the dog came to live with me, and well before the rare treat of a sweetie.)

Friday 18 July 2008


Bad news again....and this time, very bad news. Harry went to the vet this morning as I thought he was too quiet, looking peaky, and bothered by something in his mouth. He'd had a tooth out in May, after which I had him checked over by the vet's nurse, and all seemed well, but the being bothered continued.

Today, Claire the vet found a large painful crater under his tongue - almost certainly a malignant tumour (squamous cell carcinoma; very poor prognosis). So he was kept in, and a biopsy done this afternoon, while I came home to weep and look online at very dismal and discouraging information about feline oral tumours. Biopsy results next week; meantime, antibiotics and painkillers and deep deep pessimism.

Harry is stoical, as cats tend to be, despite stitches and the lingering after-effects of anaesthetic. Kevin, meantime, who has had several death notices prematurely posted in his time and is 3 years older than Harry, continues to be cheerful and contented. Friends, who know how special Harry is to me, are being wonderful, and the Lovely Son is coming home next week.
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Wednesday 16 July 2008

Home again.....

Am back from Suffolk after a very long drive, too tired to think, but feel the need to state that I would move there tomorrow. But I suspect, without blaming them in the least, that escapee Londoners with more money than me have made it largely unaffordable. Pity....

More of this in due course; blogs are such a wonderful vehicle for ranting and/or raving.

For tonight, back to my own bed, in a room where street lighting can be seen and traffic heard, with my own cats for company. A few nights of sleeping in total unlit blackness, with only bird sounds, and a bed that stayed cat-hair-free, was wonderful, though.

Thursday 10 July 2008

What to do when you should be working

I don't mean working, not working at a job; I mean getting on with jobs. Essential tasks, employing lists, prioritisation and common sense. But other things and being a distractable twit just keep getting in the way. Like when the house is upside down as you thought you'd get started in good time for the builders coming at the end of July, so you fill up the spare room with back kitchen clutter, then realise that House Sitting Boy won't be able to navigate his way to the spare bed in the sea of toolboxes, paint tins, boxes of glass and that pasta maker - you know the one, the unused one - and you have to heave much of the clutter into the room next door, where the computer lives, muttering "do it right, do it once"....

And how, although you have a lot of packing to do*, you notice that you didn't use the fresh yeast you bought the other day, so you make a thrifty batch of spiced hot-cross-bun-type things - without the cross because it isn't Easter despite the cold weather - then you notice that the yeast only cost 18p, realise that using the electric oven probably cost many times more than that, and that Gordon wouldn't know if you left the yeast in the fridge and threw it away when you got back from the holiday you haven't yet packed for....And you bath the dog, but forget to throw the dog's bedding in the washing machine with the dog towels and have to run another too-small load. (Well, would you wash anything not dog-related along with that dog's bedding? Not me!)

*And where is that suitcase anyway?

Dull, dull, dull....

It's dull, grey and dreary here, after a night of ferocious rain. All that I have left to do before I go on holiday is dull, grey and dreary stuff like checking tyre pressures, filling up with petrol, bathing the dog, who smells appalling (how? why? she lives a small, citified, moderately sanitary life amidst soft furnishings and regularly-washed bedding, and has nothing vile to roll in) and packing. How I hate packing; it upsets the team, who strike attitudes of deepest despair at the first glimpse of a suitcase. They know that something is up, since the ironing board made one of its rare appearances yesterday, and are looking pathetic and martyred already, even though the suitcase is still wherever I last put it. (Note to self: find suitcase.)

The sudden extravagant outbursts of affection on my part might also be a giveaway, as I contemplate leaving them and their funny little ways/medication regime/ever-changing food preferences to the sainted Sandra and House Sitting Boy. Being clutched impulsively to your human's bosom as she tells you, in choked emotional tones, what a lovely dear old chap you are, yes you are, is enough to send any self-respecting geriatric cat into a state of alarm and refuse to eat anything put in front you for the rest of the day.

The next round of cats who come to live with me (I could never pretend to own a cat, as such; I know my place) will be trained to travel well and cheerfully in the car and will accompany me everywhere on holiday. Annie suggests that they might also be trained up to make all the holiday arrangements too. Now that would make for an interesting holiday brochure.

Tuesday 8 July 2008


A grey day in the back yard

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Sunday 6 July 2008

Busy week ahead

Lots to do: get jumble of washing ready to be turned into orderly packing, get scruffy car primed for a longish journey, get bribery-and-appeasement-standard shopping in for the team here, get spare bed made up and fridge filled for house-sitting boy, get grubby dog and her bed washed for her foster placement with the sainted Sandra, and get myself organised, calm and armed for any and every contingency, to the point where I can be away for almost a week without worrying myself to a frazzle about everyone else. And all because my friend Annie and I are off to Suffolk on Friday - hurrah! And what's more, taking a car means we can bring absolutely essential items like our favourite pillows and large towels. As both our dogs are prone to car-sickness ('prone' being an understatement for my dog) we can be joyously free of the blighters for the week - hurrah! again, but louder.

This trip is part of my retirement resolution to get to know my own country better by having short holidays in completely unfamiliar areas of it. I don't know much about Suffolk, but Annie does, and tells me we will have a fine time. She and I have had enough holidays together to know that we are tolerant of each other's infuriating foibles, like her inability to tell left from right, and my inability to read a map - yes, I know, I know, but we do eventually reach our destinations, honestly. We are capable of doing/seeing/shopping for lots of lovely things no matter what the weather, can abandon our diets completely and shamelessly, and share the same collapsing-into-slippers point in the evenings. And living as we do in the North-East, we are weather-hardy. (Though surely no English holiday could be as wet as our first visit to Amsterdam, where the ribs of one of our umbrellas actually rusted, probably because we spent so much time out in the rain trying to make sense of the sodden map, but which remains one of our best holidays to date.)

Suffolk, stand by: we're the Intrepid Travellers and we're coming for you....

Saturday 5 July 2008

An Unbirthday Present!

There go the street's waistlines.

The lovely Roger brought me this enormous bundt tin from Vienna today.

It's very heavy, and makes a lovely church-bell-like sound when rapped with a knuckle - I'll be able stand at the front door and call the neighbours for coffee and cake simply by striking the tin with a wooden spoon.

No more dainty little cupcakes for us; mega-bundts are the way to go...
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My front door

I wish. Aaaaah, Amsterdam......
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This scents the whole street on a still evening
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At the end of the street

See? Not a wheelie bin in sight. Actually, not a soul in sight either. Great sledging hill on those rare occasions when we get proper snow.
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A telling off

I've been ticked off for portraying our lovely street in a negative light - clearly bins lying on their sides are not to be broadcast to the world - so here are some slightly better pictures, starting with my own back yard, with mini-Jurassic park where once was green slime and unspeakable offerings from the cats. More to follow!
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Thursday 3 July 2008

PS: Bacteria Gardens - not as bad as it looks

Forgot to add that the wheelie bins (see below) were photographed after a night of gales; our admittedly rather squalid back lanes usually have neat rows of upright bins left permanently outside just to annoy the council, inviting would-be burglars to climb on them to test which yard contains a ferocious dog or a vulnerable-looking back door. The bins, also prone to being moved about by the wind or by footballing students, mostly sport heavily indented lids as a result, but there seems to be deep unspoken resistance to the idea of keeping this large green monstrosity inside the yard, especially if that's what our preachy council wants us to do. Civil disobedience in miniature.

When I first moved to Newcastle in 1977, I was horrified in a frankly snobbish sort of way to find that these back lanes were everywhere, all looking much the same, many still cobbled then, in poor repair, and matching the rather poky yards (many still with coalhouse and outside loo) that even the most well-heeled homes sported instead of back gardens. There have been many proposals submitted over the years to do something, anything, to improve the look of these back lanes, but nothing seems to be feasible; the most affordable means of obtaining a garden in this city would be to live in a council property. But then you probably wouldn't get a GP surgery or a dentist within daylight travelling distance. Even the street names, e.g. our own Bacteria Gardens, are a historical reference to the previous existence of allotments where our sober Edwardian homes now stand; evidently the concreting/tarmacing-over of our streets was well underway in 1900.

Despite all this, a short stroll up and down Bacteria Gardens in the evening can yield memorable sights: a large owl pausing on a chimney; a pair of pipistrelles hunting up and down the hydrangea outside my window; swallows shrieking and whirling over the rooftops; masonry bees and a solitary wasp, all building busily, and two years ago, a wonderful hummingbird hawkshead moth staking out the valerian that has become the street's most thuggish pavement-sprouting plant. Early mornings can reveal a fox trotting nimbly round the streets looking for handy fallen bins and last night's discarded fast food boxes. And, of course, the snails, the snails; they just love it round here, and demonstrate this by sheer force of numbers. What it would be like if we actually had real gardens is beyond imagining, but I bet the council would be writing new rules and regulations about them, and we would just as energetically ignore them.

Cute cute cute!

Present from Maggie, who has just arrived from Toronto.

I think I love the tin just as much as the teeny little cutters!
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Wednesday 2 July 2008

Wheelie Bin Warfare

Never a dull moment round here. We make our own drama in this street, and nothing, no matter how mundane, escapes our steely gaze and vivid collective imagination. In case war between the neighbours does break out and there are casualties, here in brief is the build-up to any future Bin Incident:
  • A few years ago, Lesley lost her 1st shiny, new but still ugly wheelie bin. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued.
  • Council eventually replaced it, albeit grudgingly.
  • Hostilities almost broke out when neighbours were seen to put their rubbish in Lesley's bin - a social crime in our genteel neighbourhood - but Lesley chose lifelong resentment instead and said nothing.
  • Lesley accidentally (she says) set fire to wheelie bin 2. Smoke, leaping flames, some flustering; Sandra extinguished the flames amidst scenes of high drama; only the axle remained, along with the shreds of Lesley's credibility as a sensible person who knows how to handle hot ashes.
  • Council, told that hooligans must have set the fire, replaced Bin 2, very slo-o-o-o-wly. (Council, tiring of the high rate of attrition in the wheelie bin world, is by now recklessly threatening residents with charging for replacement bins. Little do they know how high feelings can run on the subject of bins.)
  • Lesley repeatedly loses wheelie bin 3, but it reappears without warning, on a number of occasions. Is this a back lane bin-poltergeist? Should we mount an Extreme Haunted Vigilante Group?
  • Lesley, who is more like her suspicious mother than she cares to admit, starts to suspect N next door, now in his 90s but fit as a flea and with an overtly lecherous attitude towards her, of intermittently taking and returning her wheelie bin, for reasons too arcane, and possibly too disturbing, to fathom.
  • Sandra the Grass, who can see over N's wall from her bathroom, tells Lesley that a) N does indeed swap his old wheelie bin for Lesley's newer model, but also that b) he has another bin concealed in his back yard. The plot thickens. Lesley now believes that this secret hidden bin is her long-lost original.
  • She retires to plot revenge. Lifelong resentment is not going to suffice this time. IMO, ninja-style night-time action is clearly called for; Lesley is lithe and fit, more than able to shin up high walls, also practical enough to improvise a rope and pulley system to retrieve the long-lost wheelie bin, and slap her house number on both it and Bin 3 in brightly coloured gloss paint. This is a more melodramatic course of action than confronting N with his clandestine activities, and is more in keeping with Lesley's fitness regime and the tight-lipped but seething approach to conflict resolution in Bacteria Gardens.
  • Don't miss next week's exciting instalment: what we do about other people's cat poo in our back yards. You know you want to hear it all....

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