Monday 30 March 2009

Bitten 2

The allergic response to those bites received last Wednesday continues; I have a swollen hand that looks like a small rubber cushion, no knuckles visible, with a feeling of intense pins and needles, although the waves of general malaise have stopped. I don't know what those little black and white flies were, but they certainly knew how to take advantage of a very small area of exposed skin. B***ards, as the Lovely Son would say (and does).

Down on the allotment yesterday, Eddie the Poisoner saw the bloated hand (as it handed him some newly baked and buttered cheese scones, incidentally)
and responded by launching into a sorry tale of people afflicted by flesh-eating bacteria following a sand flea bite. Well, he would; he specialises in enjoying the dismal, the doom-laden and the deadly, and we know better than to allow ourselves to be too alarmed. The war on weeds continues, but this time with insect-repellent applied.

Saturday 28 March 2009

so much to do!

The Human Rotavator spent much of the day down on the allotment, slowly restoring order to the neglect and chaos, and doing all the heavy stuff that hurts my back. I waited in for a delivery, wishing guiltily that I could be down there with him instead. He had ample reason to suck his teeth in disapproval at my lack of Method, and kindly saved his somewhat robust views for when I could join him; he dug a bean trench, wheeled manure, and stored timber, and as a reward to himself, lit a fire, so that he could disapprove and stay warm at the same time.

When I joined him, rather later in the day, I could wholeheartedly marvel and praise, take photos and generally be bossed about. I was pressed into holding awkward things as he
swapped compost bins around (with much bad language and a couple of kicks when it came to the supposedly easy-click-together one). I was made to promise that in future (did he mean for ever?) I would work in an organised and tidy way, including putting things back where I found them. I meekly promised, while pondering inwardly how soon roles are reversed with one's child. He has the bit between his teeth; I can't see him going back to London till he has my allotment licked into shape, and his mother resigned to smelling perpetually of bonfire smoke. I keep telling him how grateful I am, but actually, words just can't express what a relief it is to have such a helper, even if he is a bossyboots who doesn't weed very thoroughly.

The rhubarb is coming along nicely, as it always does, regardless of either care or neglect. Our allotments could be called Rhubarb World, there is so much of it around. I was gratified to see that in Sainsbury, 400 grams of rhubarb was selling at around £3.50. We allotmenteers are the nouveau rhubarb riche!

(Soon it will be time to try rhubarb and ginger ice cream - any recipes welcome, although Ben & Jerry maintain that disasters are few and far between with home made ice cream, and so far they seem to be right.)

The biting insects seemed to have cleared off once the pond was cleaned out; good thing too, as they inflicted the worst bites I have ever experienced. The birds fluttered nearby, despite the smoky fire, and sang their Spring songs beautifully; they also cleaned the fence of the first batch of cat fur in record time. The dog signalled that it was dinnertime by finding a cauliflower stalk destined for the compost, and chewed on that with her few random teeth in a martyred way, and so we relented to plod our muddy way uphill to home and large quantities of tea, ever the gardener's reward.
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Thursday 26 March 2009


The Lovely Son is here, looking fit and toned, and is ready to dig, bless him. Yesterday afternoon we went to the allotment bearing a huge and smelly bag of kitchen compost, saved up for a shamefully long time, and we did some work on the neglected pond and greenhouse. I seem to have allowed my little pond to turn into a malarial swamp. Something truly malevolent bit me on my wrists, five times, producing strange, oval, flat red marks, hot, itchy and misery-inducing. Nothing has helped; they are my punishment for being a Very Lazy Gardener. But I am allowing myself a very early night, and am going off now to lie in my cool bedroom, arms covered in tea tree and lavender cream, and try not to scratch my bites. Tomorrow I am gardening in long evening gloves, I think.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Whirling dervish

or why my nerves are in tatters.
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and more

Oh, the joy of reading this Children's Press translation of HC Andersen, with its antiquated language, and the thrilling horror of the Snow Queen, a moving love story filled with unforgettable, vivid characters such as the terrifying little robber maiden with her cruel dagger, and the wise yet squalid women from Lapland and Finland! I have wanted to see the Northern Lights ever since (and could probably benefit from having my imaginary view of both countries seriously challenged and modernised).

And the other book, also much loved, seems to be one of those accidentally-filched ones, as I find that the inscription shows it to be a gift to my sister from me, in 1963. Sorry, Anne; you may have it back if you wish.

Monday 23 March 2009

Dusty treasures

I'm not saying or showing another trivial thing about the staircase now. I've moved on to sorting bookshelves. And am rather perplexed at the state of my bookshelves, or at least their contents - there's an awful lot of rubbish in there! - but also some gems.

I have a few old books dating from my childhood, some of which still evoke the thrill of the day they arrived, brand new, stiff and shiny, and now peeling, stained and battered from many many readings. Arthur Mee's Children's Encyclopaedia! - so many hours of pleasure, wonder and accumulated general knowledge, plus a strong dose of British imperialist patriotism that would be unthinkable in today's books for children. It was read secretly when we had measles and had to lie in a darkened bedroom, forbidden to open curtains or risk straining our eyes in any way. It's amazing that the childhood books have lasted; as Army children, we frequently moved house or even country, our belongings always pared to the bone at the time of packing, and much that was treasured had to be left behind.

There are some books that I've started and not finished for a variety of reasons, although it took me a long time to allow myself not to finish a book I wasn't enjoying. Even now, I feel a pang of guilty failure when I stop trying with a novel.

And there are some that should be there, but aren't. They are the books that were loaned out and not returned, and the sad thing is that they were loaned out precisely because I loved them so much that I wanted to share them, but as someone who will re-read favourite books, didn't expect to part with them for ever. But there are also some books on my shelves that I fear I may have borrowed and not returned, for exactly the same reason that I haven't reclaimed my own missing favourites - I forgot who gave me them. Very occasionally, an owner's name is written inside, but therein lies a hidden danger for one who is trying to dust, order and rationalise one's bookshelves - the danger of opening a book, and three hours later, to be found still sitting on the floor beside the bookshelf, reading, reading, lost to the world.

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Saturday 21 March 2009


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Friday 20 March 2009

unanimous decision

...overruled by me. I can hear you tutting from here.... but I couldn't bear to have only one door in the house left unpainted, and, ungrateful wilful wretch that I am, decided to go against all you lovely people who took the time to express an opinion (thank you!). The paint has brought out the prettiness of the etched glass, though, in a way that the plain wood didn't.
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Thursday 19 March 2009

The Apprentice

It's finished! The staircase has lost its DIY-in-the-'80s look, having been stripped of its old embossed wallpaper, had its many holes and crumbling patches repaired, lined, and repainted, and now smells violently of gloss paint, but it looks SO much better. The mantra "It will be worth it in the end" has proved exactly right.

Tomorrow, when all has dried, the handles and finger plates will go back on the doors, and Margery and I will do our White Tornado double act: she, being the Vacuum Princess, will hoover that old stair carpet to within an inch of its life, and I will damp-dust yet again (all those bits behind the furniture!) and perhaps take a picture of that new lobby door..... plain pine or painted? Wait and see.

And who has paint on their fur or whiskers? Nobody. This is a first. Who left fingerprints on the still-tacky paint, that had then to be repainted? Yes, me.

The Little Helper is going to be bored and lonely now; she bonded enthusiastically with Wally, watching him work as though she was going to sit an exam in paintbrush technique. Today, however, she took some time out to get onto the shed roof and from there into my neighbour's back yard. There are newts and frogs in there; I have watched her killer response to the bit of navy blue fur with a bell on, that she drops into my lap so that I can throw it for her to catch,
again and again, and dread to think what fun she thinks we will have with a living creature.
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Tuesday 17 March 2009

before & after: chair

This was a little old chair languishing in the attic, used only by cats, and generally in need of a bit of tender loving care. A £7 remnant of John Lewis fabric and a retired upholsterer worked miracles. Now I have to think where to put it. Wherever it goes, it is bound to be slept on by cats; they simply don't appreciate linen, or piping, or indeed tender loving care that isn't expended on them.
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Sunday 15 March 2009

positive thinking

Joiner number 2 has been, had a good, knowledgeable look at the staircase, and has pronounced it all perfectly repairable, and affordably so. Visitors have been in droves, and all have agreed that my paint colours are lovely. The sun is shining, and it is warm enough to sit outside without a coat, watching excitable little cats darting in and out of the daffodils. Tomorrow my newly-upholstered chairs come back, and just for now, I can't think of anything to worry about. Phew, that's a relief.

Saturday 14 March 2009

first landing

Just to give you the idea. Dulux white truffle and grape ash.
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Friday 13 March 2009

White truffles are what? Lilac?

Wally the decorator and I are having the weekend off, and I am having even longer, freed from middle of the road pop/mouldy oldies Radio 2 and the smell of paint. He goes to another job on Monday, but will return later in the week to finish up here. What a star that man is, neat, tidy, hardworking, and, astonishingly, offering to do things without being asked, like "I'll box those pipes in for you; it will look nicer." (And that was a long sentence for Wally, a man of few words.)

The crumbling walls caused a serious over run for him, and the second colour, plus all the gloss paint, has yet to be applied, but the worst is over. Miraculously, given her close interest, the Little Helper emerged without so much as a speck of paint on her immaculate fur.

The first colour, applied above the dado rail, and ambiguously called White Truffle, is not quite as pale a grey as I had intended, but is a grey lilac. I will need to see if it can be made to look less girly with black and white photographs on the walls. The tester patch of the second colour, Grape Ash, is a delicious darkish bilberry grey, rather smart, even with low energy lighting, which, as we all know, is death to decor.

Imagine having a job where you have to name thousands of different shades of paint....

I took a photo of the inside of the front door, aware that it needed a lot of TLC (aka kiss of life), but I was horrified to see onscreen just how much - had I really lived with my door in that state for so many years? A doorchain set made up of two cannibalised unmatched components, one tarnished brass, the other rusty chrome. Never used, because you can easily see who is at the front door from the front bay window, should you be feeling anxious, suspicious or with just-too-unspeakable dressing gown and bed hair. A hideous chrome pull handle, more suitable for a public lavatory. A tinny escutcheon covering a yawning jagged hole gouged out for the mortice key. A nasty yellow brass bolt, also never used. A vaguely silvered metal letter box flap hiding a mutilated slot in the wood where ever-larger letterboxes have been installed over the years to cope with ever-larger letters. Not all of these horrors have anything to do with me, but were there when we bought this house....over 26 years ago. No excuse.

So today I tootled off to my spiritual home, Tynemouth Architectural Salvage. There I bought a neat pull handle
in rose brass, and a nearly-matching plain brass escutcheon, for a fiver - £5! A new handle would have cost three times that amount and not looked so good. Hopefully, with new paint and no more assorted old rubbish, the inside of my front door will look less like it belongs to a squat. Letterbox covers remain a problem - they come in silver, brass (both cheap and nasty-looking), brown plastic or white plastic - why? - with creepy brushes that sweep your fingers unnervingly when you push anything through. A decision remains to be made there, but I might just spray the existing one to match the door and hope it becomes invisible, just as the assorted tat on the door seems to have been for years.

The salvage people love a problem, and respond to every query with a good rummage about in a box or a drawer. I was given a bunch of washers to cure lovely old doorknobs from wobbling. I asked about a joiner who was sympathetic to old houses (after last week's dismal experience, too depressing to relate here, where it seemed that the only cure for my old hardwood banisters, long missing their lovely ornate newel post, seemed to be to rip them and all the original spindles out and replace them with shiny new modern ones) and was given the business card of a man who is calling round on Sunday to advise on the possibility of restoration and repair. On leaving, I spotted a nice old newel post sitting in one of the antique French baths, and have had it put aside for me in case said sympathetic joiner can use it.

I shall spend the weekend cleaning and listening to Radio 4. Middle of the road pop and mouldy oldies are ok in their way, but I reckon that nothing beats Radio 4, even at its most doom-laden. And I shall graciously receive a stream of visitors whose sole purpose of calling will be to Pronounce on the paint colours and hint at the need for a lick of paint in the kitchen. Wally and I are ahead of them there - he's been booked already for May.

Wednesday 11 March 2009

The Little Helper

learning how to put up wallpaper. Feet in Alert Position.
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Monday 9 March 2009

Before and (Nearly) After

New lobby door, more in keeping with the age of the house. The joiner says it is criminal that I should be getting it painted. I say the era of stripped pitch pine is well behind me. What do you think?
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Saturday 7 March 2009

My Saturday hypnosis treatment

"Time to get up.....time to get up.....time for our are feeling very wakeful.....when we purr to ten, you will get out of that slovenly pit and lead us to the food bowls....."

Intense concentration and some direct staring. Works every time. Usually well before the shockingly late hour shown here.
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Friday 6 March 2009

One day it will all be fine....

Mmmm, smart lighting. Mmmm, great doorbell chimes.

Watch this space. The lighting will improve; the copper-pipe-lookalike chimes can actually be heard in the attics, unlike most of my friends' doorbells, and have a nice, deep, old-fashioned ding dong! sound, so will stay. The thick film of dust doesn't photograph well, but, believe me, it's there, everywhere.
My hands are like sandpaper, and my hair is like straw, and I know what I'll be doing all weekend with dusters and hoover. The kitten will help, of course.
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Thursday 5 March 2009

Dust, dust and more dust

The sainted Wally is here. In two days, he has stripped the paper off the entire staircase, all three floors (no, it's not a grand house, just a tall thin one) and revealed or even enlarged, cracks and horrible holes in the ancient crumbling plaster. Tomorrow he will fill those holes, and the gaping gaps between walls and skirting boards, and next week he will put up stout lining paper and paint it all. It will have to last another 25 years.

Meantime, the kitten is beside herself with excitement; she has become Wally's Little Helper, and is filthy, climbing ladders, diving into bin bags full of stripped wallpaper, and sitting on trestles watching Wally at work, with a look of intense, fascinated concentration. She may wish to be a decorator cat when she grows up, but I feel that her concentration span isn't up to a proper trade, and anyway, jumping into bin bags doesn't look very professional.

Lottie and the dog, too mature to be so undignified, potter round with me, although unlike me, they don't care about the ever-spreading dust. Nor do they say a word about the stupidity of my major clean-through with Margery yesterday; she hoovered everywhere, and I dusted, even polishing tables. Why, I can't say, really, except to confirm to the world that I am a first-rate dimwit with no foresight.

The dog is her former chipper self; she is cuddle-able again now that her vile breath has been cured by a bit of dentistry, and is loving all the kissy-kissy sympathy from the street aunties. We had a long walk through Armstrong and Heaton Parks this morning, in warmish sunshine
, and can sit about and snooze (her) or read (me) this afternoon and feel that we've earned a break, a cup of tea and a dusty biscuit or two.

Wednesday 4 March 2009


The dog is having a horrid week. Her over-fastidious and insensitive owner had been making rude remarks about how bad she smelled, and on Monday she had a bath, watched closely, and probably jeeringly, by the cats, who sat wide-eyed on the draining board. The bath made little difference, simply revealing her grubby, dead-looking winter hair as clean, dead-looking winter hair. Her callous owner decreed that she was desperately in need of a visit to Posh Pups, and made an appointment.

On Tuesday she had that visit to Posh Pups, where her brutal owner abandoned her for several hours to go and have lunch with a friend. The dog endured a radical haircut and another bath. She did not appreciate any of this, or even the coconut oil conditioner, but was generously delighted by the unrepentant owner's return.

Today she had a lovely, happy walk in Springlike sunshine with the false-hearted owner, through Jesmond Dene to the vet's, where reality dawned on her: she was being left there. By her murderess owner.

And worse was to follow: she had her teeth cleaned and one of her incisors removed, leaving only 7 teeth behind. She came home later in the day dopey-eyed and sleepy, and forgetting to keep her tongue inside her mouth, but she still managed a good dinner later that evening.

The cruel owner feels guilty and treacherous, and that she did not deserve the tail wagging and warm, if dozy, welcome she received, and is planning some treats for tomorrow (but only after the administration of a nasty antibiotic capsule).
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