Saturday, 30 August 2008

And the prize goes to........

So, the showday is here. I was up before the dawn (ok, about 8.30 but you get the general idea) and carefully pacing the kitchen garden to look for entries. This didn't take long as it is only 3 metres by 1.5 metres, so I did it several times to make it look good. Finally, my choices were made. Having pulled up ALL my carrots, several of which would have underwhelmed a dolls house tea party, I selected the only four that were straight and carrot coloured.

Next came the potatoes. Having stabbed through the best one with the garden fork, and accidentally picked up a giant toad (eeurgh), I found four that looked like they could hold their own.

Next row - beetroot. These were a bit of a joke as none of them look particularly like beetroots. They are more like purplish truffles with an excessive facial hair problem but I was in the spirit of things and lobbed these into the basket.

On my way back to the kitchen, the loyal hound distracted me by trying to dig up a particularly shouty shrew under the rhubarb. Since he was in the process of destroying the entire crop, I rescued four of the least mangled stems and took those in as well.

Back in the kitchen, the vegetable beauty salon began. I scrubbed, I plucked, I polished. By the end of at least four minutes hard labour I had 4 sort of evenly sized potatoes, 4 completely different sized carrots and three very lumpy beetroot. The rhubarb was glossy and pink and I was just going to have to hope that the judges didn't notice the teeth marks on one of them.

In the middle of this, glowing like a nucleur warning, sat the Lemon Curd. Fired with enthusiasm I cut up an old napkin up as a top for it and searched out one of the post rubber bands to seal the deal. I was ready for the go.

When I arrived, the hall was quiet. A few early birds had left their entries but the main bulk was still to arrive. I carefully arranged my entries on the remaining, uncut up napkins and a glow of pride came over me. The Lemon Curd looked like a Best in Show entry, and as none of the other categories had any other entries at that stage I have to admit, I had high hopes. These didn't last long....

Half an hour later I returned to help the aged parent unload her entries. She had gone for the Baghdad blanket bombing technique and had even lugged down the kitchen sink in the hope of entering it. She had also shown strategy and had cunningly entered categories unlikely to be entered by anyone else. (I have to tell you this technique worked - the woman cleaned up and had TEN PRIZES (8 of which were uncontested but still....)

On arriving back at the hall, laden with produce, sinks, flowers and everything else she owns my heart sank. The place was awash with entries. My lemon curd with it's napkin top was being jostled by crowds of shinier jars with prettier tops. My carrots were dwarfed by mutated giant specimens and it took ten minutes to locate my truffle shaped beetroots amongst the threatening shadows cast by the other entrants. What hope was there for me?

Skip to 4.00 o'clock this afternoon. Having given myself a strict talking to about 'taking part being everything, not winning' I wend my way down the side of the mountain to the village hall. First stop - the lemon curd. NOTHING - AGAIN! How could this be? What did I do wrong? It smelt lemony, it tasted lemony, it had a napkin lid. There was nothing else I could do. I suspect bribes, chicanery and backhanders. I pick up the losing pot and hurl it into the basket where it lies at the bottom like the LOSER that it is.

Desolate, I head towards the beetroot. NOTHING. Surely a beetroot with facial hair and no roundness to it all deserves a prize for originality at least? Apparently not. Next, the rhubarb. Apparently the judges did care about the teeth marks in the rhubarb 'cos they didn't give them a second glance. Most unjust.

I have little hope for the potatoes or the carrots - they are hotly contended categories and bitterfly fought over. I turn to look, with my brave face firmly in place. But what is this? A yellow card? by my potato entry?

Third Prize is mine! Oh the glory, the adulation, the overwhelming sense of victory! I will be worshipped wherever I go. People will whisper and point and it won't be because I forgot to brush my hair - again. Then, miracle of miracles, the carrots catch my eye. Glowing orange in the afternoon sunlight they are the proud receivers of ANOTHER PRIZE! Third prize in the carrots. My cup runneth over, my joy knows no bounds. Who cares about the lemon curd (well, I do actually - feel a bit bitter actually). My carrots have come third, and not because there were only three entries - they came third out of a massive six entries. Just call me Alan Titchmarsh - I am invincible.

I take a deep breath and walk outside. I must look cool, calm, collected. As though I expected such a bounty and can take it in my stride. I can't take away my prize winning entries (or the losing ones for that matter) for another half hour so wander down to the sheep dog trials to pass the time. But when I return - DISASTER.


Who could do such a thing? I knew that being succesful would cause envy in those around me, but how was I to swallow such a bitter pill? They even stole the prize winning card. Now my beautiful carrots will go into somebody else's stew. The prize winning card will be propped on their mantlepiece and the glory will be theirs. My first real victory and it is taken from me. Who cares about the potatoes now? I have lost all my faith in the rural community - they are all thieves and vagabonds and somebody is gloating over third prize carrots that aren't theirs............

I am composing a letter to the Home Secretary to complain about rural crime. When will it end and why oh why couldn't they have stolen the lemon curd instead??????

Friday, 29 August 2008

Don't curdle the curd

The pressure is getting to me. The show is tomorrow and I still have to make the lemon curd if I am to have an entry by tomorrow morning. The prize avoiding jam is sitting in it's jar waiting to be snubbed, but I have high hopes that the curd could be a winner. I mean, all I have to do is make some. How hard can it be?

The fact that I hate the stuff doesn't seem to be fazing me, though there is one snag. How will I know if it is any good when I will want to throw up spontaneously on tasting it?

At least I won't have to eat much of it - I'm off to London next week and plan on inflicting it on the poor sods having me to stay. I like to try and fulfill the cliche that all I do is sit around making jam and lemon curd whilst wearing a flat cap, chewing a straw and milking cows...............

Ok - I'm off to harvest my lemons (or decant a pot of Waitrose's best 'Curd de Limon' into a suitably homemade looking jar.........)

Thursday, 28 August 2008

You can't take an urbanite to the country......

One of the things about moving to the centre of nowhere is that you start having people to stay, rather than just seeing them for a cup of coffee, or dinner. This was something I was looking forward to. I had visions of myself transforming into a Nigella like figure who casually tossed together endlessly delicious meals, showed the glories of Wales to impressed friends and sent them back to their particular metropolis with a longing to live my life, not their own. Naturally this is not how things have worked out.

It turns out that my southern based softie mates all find the idea of travelling to Wales traumatic to say the least. It takes six months of nagging and cajoling to persuade them that they can make the journey at all and when they arrive with a vision of a Welsh Babington House, they are usually horrified to find that the gates have to be operated manually and that real sheep and cows have not been housetrained, but instead have chosen to use any road near said gates as a literal dumping ground.

The start of the weekend usually goes well. They are so relieved to arrive at all that this overwhelms everything else. Having invested in electric blankets that stay on all night I can be sure that they will not freeze to death before morning and I can then look forward to their reactions in the morning when they wake up and see the hills climbing in front of them, and not a house in sight. That thrill lasts for about half an hour. Then reality kicks in.

My sophisticated guests turn into three year olds. It's too wet to go outside, they are bored inside. They want to go to a shop. They can't understand that the shops are shut because this is the backend of nowhere and people have other things to do than shop. They want to go out for lunch and don't believe that the ex Little Chef is the only place nearby. They offer to help with the gardening until they realise it is a chore, and will involve getting wet / muddy.

In the meantime I am running round like a headless loon, trying to make everything look effortless - lighting fires, cooking, washing up and making beds - anything that will make them feel that they are having a fabulous time. In between I have to run outside for a breath of fresh air because the heating is on all the time to stop their thin southern blood freezing up and I am about to suffer from heat stroke. I drag them all out for a walk and they panic when they realise there really is no phone reception, and that there are no footpaths or cafes at the end of the walk.

They come home and flinch at the sight of the peaty bath water, however much of my precious Space NK lavender and peppermint oil I have put in it. By Sunday morning I am exhausted and thanking my lucky stars that they are only houseguests, not small children who I can't send away after lunch.

Now, obviously not all guests are like this. One of my oldest friends came to stay last weekend and is the epitome of the perfect houseguest. This is blissful. We had a great weekend, getting extremely wet every time we ventured outside and finding it funny, not traumatic, before returning inside for restorative cups of tea / glasses of wine and the general knowledge crossword. We explored tiny lanes that might have houses for sale at the end of them, and shared in the cooking / cleaning chores. We played cards and bitched about celebrities in the magazines that she brought up with her. She is always really good company and the definition of a good houseguest - willing to pitch in but also extremely happy to entertain herself for the odd half hour. She also understands that this is Wales, not a film set of Wales so has no unrealistic expectations. All in all, exactly what I had looked forward to.

This was just the start of my big social week which has been in the planning for many months. After friend number one, I had 24 hours for a changeover before friend number 2 and her daughter arrived to stay. I had changed and ironed the sheets and picked flowers for the bedroom, mopped the floor in the kitchen and tidied to within an inch of my life in preparation. I have known Friend number 2 since school and am godmother to her daughter, who was also coming to stay. They normally lives in Qatar, which she loathes, and which means I get to see very littl of them but they have been home for the summer and this visit has been planned since the dawn of time.

Unfortunately a summer of single parenting (her husband stayed in Qatar) had driven her to the edge of desperation and when I rang to check she had everything she needed for her trip she burst into tears and sobbed so hard that I had that horrible impotent moment where your friend is beyond miserable and you can do nothing but listen to them cry.

The upshot of this was that she was exhausted, depressed and driving four hours to Wales with a one year old was, it seemed to me, the straw on the proverbial Qatari camels back. I immediately refused to have her to stay and promised to come to London to see her at the weekend instead. The tears turned to hiccups and I could hear the relief in her voice at not having to set out on such an epic journey with a 1 year old and a famed ability to get lost on a straight road with no turnings. Despite being sorry not to have the long promised visit, I was glad that telling her not to come was a help and made things a little easier for her.

Guest 3 was supposed to be arriving tomorrow night, for the weekend. The ultimate urbanite she has been promising to come and stay for two years and this date has been in the diary for four months now. She rang yesterday to say that she had got her diary in a muddle and forgotten she was going out for dinner on friday night so couldn't come. I am confused as to why going out for dinner with someone she sees all the time takes priority over coming to stay when this was arranged so long ago, but forbore to comment. She has promised to put a new date in her diary which she can then cancel at the last minute. I am now officially thwarted of my endless life of houseguests and Nigella impersonations and have resorted to my normal slovenly self but with a fridge full of food to tempt the delicate appetites of guests who aren't here. The Loyal Hound and I are going to be eating very well!

All this thwarted effort at having people to stay in Wales reminds me of when I was fifteen and asked a friend from Nottinghamshire to come and stay. The day before she was due to arrive she rang and suggested that instead of coming to stay with me, perhaps I should come to her "as it was closer".

Need I say more.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

It's Showtime!

The end of August and beginning of September means showtime in Wales. Every other field is filled with sheepdog trials and normally sleepy towns are gridlocked with traffic. The shows here are a muddy and unglamorous event and a fixed part of the annual calendar. Today is the county show. Now to some, this will conjure up a vision of endless tents filled with things to buy - you haven't been to a Welsh show have you? Picture a sea of mud, 50 vintage tractors, a half deflated bouncy castle and a horse box with some paintings of, well, horses, inside and you have summed it up. And that is the county show.

The thing is that here, it is not about the shopping, it's about the gossiping. Everybody turns up at some point and a couple of hours drifting around the show ring is enough time to do six months worth of socialising. In between the air kissing and grumbling about the weather, a phalanx of small children on unruly ponies charge around the ring putting Thelwell to shame before sobbing that they didn't get first prize, possibly resorting to fistfights on the way out of the ring. In the next door ring there is the sound of showjumps being smashed to smithereens or the tannoy announcing in Welsh and English that little Dilys and her pony Hoity Toity have been eliminated, could they please leave the ring.

Whilst all this is going on people produce squashed sandwiches and boiled eggs from waterproof coats so ingrained with mud and livestock that the coats run away on their own if you take them off. Luckily various people also seem to produce alcohol from poaching pockets. Hurrah for the boy scout mentality.

This is only the start of the show circuit. The pressure will start mounting for me on Saturday when the village show will dominate the scene. Now, it is a moral obligation to enter as much as possible into the show. It costs 50p for each entry and you win NOTHING but kudos and a piece of card saying you won nothing. Despite this, the community spirit lurches into action around this time of year and I will prepare to humiliate myself by entering various categories. I think I can manage three pieces of rhubarb, and three carrots (even though my carrots are really more like those very expensive miniature ones that supermarkets sell). I will attempt the Lemon curd category, and the fruit jam category though I am bitter about this last one.

Modesty aside, I make a mean pot of jam. I have to as I have such a ridiculous quantity of raspberries each year that jam is the only way to use them all up. Despite this, every year, my jam is SNUBBED. It never even gets a bloody look in and I don't know why not. I think there is a plot, a conspiracy and possibly some backhanders going on. I have high hopes for this year's batch and will be gutted if I don't even get third prize of nothing.

I can probably take the longest thistle category with ease. I walked past one the other day that was taller than me. Then there is the hugely competitive cactus entry. For 10 years now I have swept first place with Spike, the lethal cactus that I only have because it is too spiky to actually throw away. It has now become a tradition to enter the wretched thing, even though it stabs me enough times to make me into a colander on the trip to and from the village.

The other part of the village show is the sheep dog trials. These take place in a field down the road, and are highly entertaining. People travel miles to enter, going to several trials in a day and being notified in the post if they won. The whole thing will take about 12 hours to complete - seriously. Now, I'm not dedicated enough to watch all 12 hours, but I will go down for an hour or so. This is what I will see:

At the far end of one of the larger fields are some of the younger boys from the village with a pen of sheep. They are in charge of letting 5 sheep out at a time for the intrepid trialler and their dog to hustle round the course. The problem is that the boys usually manage to stash a crate or seven of beer in with the sheep, beer that they steadily work their way through as though their lives depend on it. By the latter half of the show they are seeing double and shouldn't be in charge of a woolly jumper, let alone a woolly mammal. Sometimes they let out ten sheep, others two, sometimes none at all.

Meanwhile, the sheep, who may also have imbibed some of the alcohol judging by their behaviour, come hurtling out of the pen with the sole intent of humiliating the contestant and their dog. It is strangely gripping to watch. The shepherd is not allowed to move from their post other than to close the gate on the sheep once they have penned them. The cool shepherds whistle calmly and you watch their dog streak up the side of the field and dash and dart around the sheep taking them round the course with the minimum of fuss and very little instruction from the shepherd. They whisk the sheep through the posts and into the pen as though the whole thing were remote controlled. To be honest, when you see this happen it is true poetry in motion - the ultimate union of man and dog, it appears effortless and calm. Then you get the amateurs.

On they come, quivering with nerves, and blow the first whistle command. The dog runs up the side of the field and the sheep run down the other, the dog cuts across the field to catch up with the sheep. The sheep have a quick conference and decide it would be amusing to split up and chase the dog. The shepherd is going red in the face from whistling so much and resorts to shouting. The sheep approach a set of posts and then whisk around the outside of them. The shepherd starts crying, the audience are crying with laughter. Finally, the judge takes pity and eliminates them.

It's all good, clean, muddy fun. Unless my jam doesn't win......

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Tales of the Neighbours

There is a big pond just up the hill from me. There are brown trout in it, and in the spring, hundreds of thousands of tadpoles. The dragonfly season is nearly over, but the daddy long legs season is just kicking off. The swallows love the pond and swoop over drinking on the wing in the still of the evening. I like to go up there before supper, with the loyal hound. He jumps around like a crazy thing on springs looking for mice. This involves him shoving his nose into every likely looking hole in the ground or tempting tuft of grass and snorting down it, before possibly tearing said patch of ground up with his teeth and flinging grass and soil everywhere. He's actually a useless mouse catcher. I have once seen him do his 'tuft ripping' exercise and fling a nest of mice around himself without actually noticing them all scrabbling for safety.

Every March, like clockwork, a pair of Canada Geese (named Mack and Mabel if you are interested) come and make their nest on the small island in the centre of the pond. For 4 weeks they take turns sitting on the nest, and paddling round the island to guard from intruders. Finally, the goslings hatch. Usually 5 of them, they are balls of dark brown and egg yellow fluff which follow their parents intrepidly wherever they go. They trip over the grass, fall into the water off a steep bank and have no concept of their own vulnerability. That's probably why only two or three of them survive the summer.

Mack and Mabel are good parents. In fact, if they were people, they would sum up the nanny state. The goslings never leave their parents geese eyes (seemed odd to say eagle eye about a goose). Every morning and evening, without fail, Mack parades along the edge of the pond, where the ground drops away and he gets a view of the entire valley, and any approaching danger, whilst Mabel shepherds her flock of fluff balls onto the water. They then spend the day foraging, gossiping and bickering with the occasional duck who foolishly thinks they might be able to share the pond for an hour or so.

By July they are ready to fly and the noise as they finally take off for the first time is astonishing. They shout with a combination of joy and fear that they are finally flying. For a week, they practice, using the roof of my hobbit house as a marker point on their practice runs. All during this time they call to each other with loud cackles. "look at me, I'm flying / diving / crashing / spinning/ loop the looping." Each night the wheel of their journey increases until they are traversing the whole valley, going ever higher and higher. When they come back to the pond they land with a great splash and crash, cackling with glee and then instantly swimming along as if they haven't just somersaulted onto the water, but are in fact sophisticated and stately birds who would never be caught clowning around. Last week, they left for the year. I expect the terrible weather made them think it was autumn already, rather than the supposed height of summer. If I could fly, I would have gone with them.....

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Trigonometry and the Big Bad Wolf.

Failure to blog yesterday - slapped wrist for me! Good excuse though. I was learning to draw! I have always wanted to just casually sketch a fabulous little drawing to show people what I am failing to explain to them. This fabulous intention is rather undermined by the fact that I have seen work done by four year olds that is better than mine. So, this year's new year's resolution was to learn to draw. (I don't believe in giving things up, I always take something up at New Year). On the basis that I have the self discipline of a child in a sweet shop with no cctv, I decided I would have to go down the lessons route.

This has been an expensive choice. A group of six of us go (the other five just for a laugh) and it is a whole day with lunch included for THIRTY POUNDS EACH. I know - bargain!

So, whilst the others giggle a lot, flick paint at each other and all turn out to be remarkably talented I sit there in the corner swearing as I try to understand the rules of perspective, shadows and reflections. I am completely reassessing my view of 'arty' people. The thing requires a maths degree and a thorough understanding of trigonometry, and probably other 'ometries' as well.

Things didn't start well. We were doing ink wash paintings and I was doing a rather ravisihing headland scene. Unfortunately my insatiable curiousity caught me out again. I only wanted to know what would happen if I put more water on it - it turns out that it ruins it! Well, almost ruined - did you know that you can turn a headand painting into a picture of little red riding hood and the big bad wolf?

I was banned from the paints and allowed nowhere near the water. With pencil and ruler in hand I started to try and get to grips with the maths bit. Having drawn a box from seven hundred different angles with shadows from every type of light I was given free rein to draw a room interior. I chewed my pencil, I wore out three rubbers, I squinted and muttered but by the end of the day I had drawn my own bathroom and it was recognised as such with no prompting by the others. Miraculous. I have a skill!

Now, must go as I have a friend to stay for the weekend who has finally emerged from her bedroom and needs breakfast. I also have to use my artistic talents to keep going with the Sisyphus type task of painting my house which I started three months ago and have been unable to keep going with because of the fact that I apparently live in a rainforest. Thank god it doesn't require more trigonometry.....

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Yes, I am a hobbit.

I've just spent the last 36 hours or so in London and I can't tell you the relief at getting back to my hillside again. I spent 9 years living in London and there is no sense left of it feeling like home. In fact, it sometimes feels positively alien. This is partly because it is hard to be rootless in a place where you used to have a home, but it is also because I don't think London wants you to feel at home. It wants you to feel overwhelmed, a little uncool and envious of all those with whom the force is strong because they live there and you don't.

I think the thing I find hardest is the superiority that so many Londoners seem to feel towards anyone who chooses not to live in the same place as them. I am somehow made to feel as though I have hay in my hair and in place of my brain. This isn't from strangers particularly, but more from London born and bred friends who just can't understand why anybody would leave London. It drives me crackers.

I know it is pointless trying to justify it - they think the whole 'living in the country / not in London' idea sounds like terrifying hard work. They panic at the thought of no coffee in a paper cup (so do I come to think of it), no access to beautiful shoes (valid point too) and probably no electricity, newspapers, internet, radio, or Waitrose. They certainly seem to think that anyone not in London is unlikely to know about what is on at the theatre, or the galleries or the news for that matter.

The irony that vexes me about this is that as a general rule London is so insular it has very little idea of what is going on in the rest of the country, whereas my experience of people who live in the country is that they have a fairly accurate sense of what is going on nationally and give the crime rates in Newcastle the same importance as a tube strike in London. If you don't believe me, look at how snow is reported. Northern Scotland had endless snow this year, with entire areas cut off but the only time the snow gets into the news is when the M25 grinds to a halt because three flakes of snow drifted down onto an unsuspecting car causing untold trauma to a the London driver. It is a terrible divide that I think I notice far more because of having chosen to leave one world for the other.

I know that this is a bit of a rant, but I feel ranty about it. I am fed up with the assumption that because I live in Wales I have given up on any mental sophistication in favour of bucolic bliss. I can survive on a hillside in Wales, and in London. Could they??? So to cheer you up a little and give you a taste of the best example of this type of stereo typing here is a little tale for you - entirely true and pretty much verbatim........

On a trip down to London I went into PC World to look at a laptop. One of the drones working there spent some time trying to persuade me to buy a PC that I didn't want and wasn't remotely what I was looking for. I resisted, strongly and was considering stapling a notice to my head saying NOT INTERESTED when he came up with a plan. In a wheedling tone, he suggested I buy the offending article and take it home where I could appreciate it's true fabulousness. If I still felt the same inexplicable hatred towards it then I could bring it back to him. Fed up by now, and desperate to escape, I pointed out that it was a little impractical as I lived in Wales so couldn't just pop back in and see him with the offending article. The look of amazement on his face was extraordinary. He did a genuine double take before asking me in a lowered, respectful tone the following question:

"You live in Wales, really? So do you live underground then?"

I assured him that yes, I was indeed a hobbit and left, without a computer, to go home to my burrow. Need I say more?

Monday, 18 August 2008

What officially makes a stalker?

I can't work out if I am stalking one of the cybermen???? The pilot one who lives in Dorset and who on initial survey seemed a genuine part of the human race. Really, he seemed nice and there was even a faint hint of normalcy about him. I mean, unlike some others I could mention, he doesn't get stuck in wet suits in the middle of the night, or kiss ducks, or call me Rascal (which I have discovered I really hate as it can really only be used with charm in the 1920's when referring to 5 year olds).

His sub with the web dating thingummy that we met on has expired so I can't e mail him anymore but he did warn me that this was going to happen and left me his number. This leads me to believe that he wated me to call him, I mean I don't think he was just cancelling his subscription to get away from my deranged ramblings. So here is the dilemma:

I have called him a few times. Most of those times, his phone had one of those 'abroad' ring tones so I hung up before realising that my number would show up on missed calls. Then I rang and it was an 'at home' ring tone. His answerphone message was nice - he didn't sound like a deranged axe murderer or a nerd (both these species have a recognisable drooling quality to their answerphone recordings), so I left a message with my number on it. Since then NOTHING!!

So, do I call again? Do I? or does that make me look like I am stalking him? I mean it took me a while to call him to start with so maybe he thinks I was playing hard to get and he is paying me back? Or maybe he never got the message? Or maybe, he saw that I have called him 8 times and he is now getting his number changed and going in for plastic surgery to change his face so that I will never accost him in public?

Oh god, this brings back all the reasons that I like being single, and all the things I hate about 'dating'...........

Friday, 15 August 2008

There's my personal banana skin then.....

For three years now, I have been looking for a house to buy. The one I'm in is great, but it is rented and there are frustations to that which I won't bore you with now. Basically, I want the same sort of thing that I have now, only for it to be mine!! So, ridiculously remote, too high to be practical and with views to kill for.

After several thwarted efforts to buy houses in a rising market I rather guiltily greeted the 'credit crunch' with an element of glee. Finally houses might start becoming affordable. Now, there is a house in the same valley as me, at the same sort of height on the hill and with killer views (makes mine look suburban) and I have had my eye on it for a while. It's been on the market for over a year because, frankly, it is a terrible house. dark to the point of ridiculousness, and facing a farmyard that it doesn't own. The first time I went to see it I dismissed it out of hand. They wanted silly money for it and the location may have been amazing but the house was terrible.

A couple of months ago they dropped the price for the third time and I thought I would go and have another look. Whilst drinking some disgusting wine that killed the plant that I tried to discreetly tip it onto inspiration struck. There was a cunning and genius way to adapt the house so that it became light filled and faced the right way. This was a method that did not involve hiring a giant to lift the house up and turn it around, but involved a cunning extension.....

At this point things got awkward. The planners were unhelpful to say the least, suggesting a single storey lean to would be more than enough and that they thought that 'the house looks very quaint as it is now' despite the fact that it was unsellable because of the pitch black nature and the shambolic view of somebody elses farmyard. This meant that I didn't dare put an offer in without a more professional opinion on what might be possible. This did not stop me mentally planning where the furniture would go, how everything would look and where all the bookcases could be built.

I called a couple of architects that I know. One said in a very snooty way that they were booked solid for six months and he couldn't even waste time talking to me on the phone about it. The second said he would come and have a look in the next couple of weeks and give me an idea of what I would be up against. Hurrah. Well, not hurrah actually. This was six weeks ago.

Now, here is the banana skin. Finally the architect rings me at lunchtime today to say that he could come and have a look this evening. I leap around for joy and call the owners to check that this is ok. They say, 'hmm, errr, ummm we just accepted an offer this morning'.

Goddamn wretched banana skin. Three and a half years of trying to find a house and I am thwarted at the last minute by the wretched architect taking six weeks to come and see me. The Cosmos hates me.


Nekkidness and Making Merry in the Hills

My heart is not in my work today. I have done some epic sorting out this week and there are no more piles of suspect paper that could harbour paperwork time bombs. Everything is filed and alphabetised to extinction. This makes my office feel very odd - I've never seen it so tidy. Consequently I have no sense of urgency about any of the things that I probably should be doing. In fact, it feels as though there is NOTHING TO DO, which I know to be untrue.

So, instead of seeking out all the odds and ends of work that I should be doing I have instantly turned to blogging. This makes me feel as though I am busy without me actually having to do any work - fabulous result methinks!

The radio is burbling on in the background and a headline just caught my shell like ear. 'Councils are powerless to stop the spread of lapdancing clubs'. This conjured up a vision of innocent grocery stores and ironmongery shops looking a little bit seedy and off colour one day, only to transform into Spearmint Rhino clubs the next time you saw them. Has anybody else out there noticed this happening? What are the warning symptoms that we should be looking out for (other than despairing council men rending their clothes and gnashing their teeth at the suspect spots)?

Can't see it happening here somehow. Welsh hill farmers don't really go in for 'nekkidness and making merry'. They only put on their set of clean check shirts and best cords for chapel and funerals. So unless the lapdancing plague has attacked funeral homes despite the best efforts of the helpless council, I think the boys are safe from the corruption of bored, near naked women.

Having said that there is a rural myth (sort of like an urban legend but without the axe murderers and idiot college studens waiting to be hacked to death) that on one night a year the local pub's bar maids all work topless. This could be exciting for the local menfolk if it wasn't for the fact that the bar maids are three generations of the same family and the youngest is 35.........

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Now I'm drenched.....

However, the water is running again. Since I will now have clean baths and the suicidal frog has been removed and sent off for therapy I shall count this as a good day. Honestly, all I need is a set of bracelets and a sparkly bikini with a cape - oh, and a lassoo, and I could be wonder woman!

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink

About three times a year, usually when it is raining so hard that Noah would be doing a jig for joy, my water runs out. I have a cunning system of ancient tanks buried in the mountain side that siphon water off the spring through some ancient plastic pipe to my house. Every now and then, to make sure that I don't take anything as luxurious as running water for granted, this system has a nervous breakdown and stops working. Today is one of those 'now and then' moments.

A couple of evenings ago I had gone to help a friend exercise some horses (faintly terrifying experience as they are both retired racehorses that don't know they have retired). I got back home in one piece and decided to run myself a luxurious bath to wallow in. I started running the taps and wandered off downstairs to watch something gripping on television and eat toast. Returning slightly more brain dead and overladen with delicious calories I found a wonderful, hot bath that was the colour of Coke Cola. Now if you think a bath filled with Coke (other brands are available) is a luxury then you should have been at my house, you would have been delighted. I was less happy about it.

I'm not obsessively fussy about these things. When the weather is particularly bad my water usually takes on a faintly muddy hue, rather like Scottish bath water in the far north which is permanently peat stained. However, this particular bath was well beyond Scottish. A lot further - greenland maybe. It was a lustrous dark colour that could have maintained an entire eco system. This is usually a sign that there is trouble at the tanks.

I released the Loyal Hound out into the wilds and donned my galoshes. Having fought my way over the raging torrent that is the stream, and hacked my way through a forest of thistles I made it to the first tank. Sure enough it had water sitting in it, but no water actually entering it. This is a bad sign. The next tank up revealed all. It was merrily overflowing in a cascade of joyous waterfalls. Much experience of this has taught me that there is no way to tackle this problem without getting drenched so I wrestled the concrete cover off the tank, releasing yet more torrents of water as I did so. Water was coming at a terrifying force into the tank but none was going out. Having pulled the Loyal Hound out of the tank (he fell in trying to see what I was doing) I then rather uselessly prodded at the outflow pipe in the hope that I would discover some suicidal frog wedged in the front end of the pipe. No such luck (well lots of luck for the frog you could argue).

I have now gone and borrowed some drainage rods from the farmer and am about to trek back up the mountain in the hope of sorting the problem out.

The really frustrating thing about this is that every single time I have run out of water it has been for a different problem. There is no easy fix that would prevent this ever happening again. Then again, it could be worse. I could have friends staying. They are amused by going to the pond with buckets for the first ten minutes and then start grumbling under their breaths before coming up with weak excuses to return to their own homes and running water as quickly as possible. The last time this happened, friends were on their way to stay with me and thought they would ring and find out if there was anything they could get at the shop on the way. They took the news that 10 litres of water would be useful with impressive restraint. I then had to suggest that they bath their baby in my kitchen sink using Evian water. (To be fair, they went for the idea with gusto!) Who says life is dull in the country.

Now, wish me luck - I'm going back in........

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Is Mars stalking Uranus?

I think there is something strange going on in the cosmos this week. It seems that every night I get a phonecall from a friend whose life is being turned upside down as carelessly as though they were rubbish in a skip. The problems vary; my brother crashed his car and totalled it. A friend's mother is teetering on the brink of a breakdown because she is looking after her dying mother and sick husband. Two nights ago the sweetest terrier in the world, just turned two and the perfect illustration of the joys of being alive, got hit by a car and died instantly. I could go on but it doesn't achieve anything to list all the disasters..

Now, I am not somebody who remotely believes in astrology. I mean how on earth can 12% of the population have the same day as each other? And how ludicrous are the predictions anyway? Quite obviously it is all bunkum. However, weeks like this do make me feel that maybe there is something in Mars getting stuck up Uranus. I mean something must be going on that so much seems to be in turmoil at once.

Times like this should make you feel grateful if you haven't had to suffer some horrible upheaval but instead they tend to make me nervous. Is fate waiting behind the white picket fence and the shrubbery ready to trip me up on a banana skin and gouge out my heart with a spoon???

So to all those who are being tortured by the cosmos, my thoughts are with you. To those who have escaped unscathed - watch out for banana peel, picket fences and spoons......

Monday, 11 August 2008

Tag - you're it on the Finishey-Sentencey Meeeeeem

OK - blame Katyboo, Bevchen and Little Red Boat for this one............. They started the sentences, I just finished them. So here goes with the great Finishey-Sentencey Meeeeeem

1. My uncle once: called me by my brother's name. What was that about? It could have warped me for life and I have been bitter ever since.
2. Never in my life: has sex been like it is in the books. Are they just making this stuff up? No wonder they call it fiction......
3. When I was five: I got given a galaxy bar in my stocking. My sister told me it had nuts in which I knew to be the food of the devil so I gave it to her and SHE ATE IT!!!!
4. High school was: nothing like Mallory towers. Still a source of disappointment to me.
5. I will never forget: tobogganing down the hills of Wales on a frosty moonlit night when we were children and snuck out of the house 'cos it had snowed and we were worried it would all be gone by morning.
6. Once I met: a Chippendale (one of the original American ones). He asked me out but I said I was busy playing Monopoly that night. I still treasure the look of shock on his face that anyone would turn him down (or maybe it was that I was so sad I was going to play Monopoly. I wasn't - it was just the only thing that came to mind at the time ok).
7. There’s this girl I know: who can put her feet behind her head. It makes me feel queasy and inadequate at the same time. Perhaps she has great sex like it is in the books though?
8. Once, at a bar: I was proposed to by a cowboy. He was 5' 3" at the most and he had driven his mother 300 miles across the state to meet me. I had met him twice before!
9. By noon, I’m usually: running late....
11. If only I had: size 7 feet. Then I could buy any shoe I wanted. Instead I have size 9 feet and only get a wide choice of Wellington Boots.
13. What worries me most: Never having great sex. OK - now I'm looking sex obsessed. I'm not - honest!
15. When I turn my head right I see: six months of filing that I haven't done and will get round to just before the pile topples over and squishes me. To the left in case you wanted to know is the loyal hound, lying flat on his back in his bed which he has moved into the middle of the floor.
16. You know I’m lying when: my story becomes more and more convoluted and involves improbably action sequences and CGI effects.
17. What I miss most about the Eighties is: being able to eat what I wanted without knowing that it might make me put on weight. I had the original pair of hollow legs then.
18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be: Kate in Taming of the Shrew. That woman has some great lines and she gets the guy.
19. By this time next year: I will have won the lottery jackpot and all my school year will have to bow down before me....
20. A better name for me would be: OK - I used to want to be called Alopecia. I was six and I didn't know what it meant. I just thought it sounded exotic.
22. If I ever go back to school, I’ll: try and actually learn to speak French or Spanish
23. You know I like you if: I am not excessively polite to you. I only manage politeness with people I can't stand or people who bore me. Everyone I like gets the demented stream of consciousness
24. If I ever won an award, the first person I would thank would be: Hmm, never planned for this as I don't really live an award living life. I'd like to thank 'everyone who knows me and isn't ashamed to admit it'.
25. Take my advice, never:eat Hummus past it's sell by date. That stuff is dangerous.
26. My ideal breakfast is: one that involves the Saturday Telegraph general knowledge crossword, no washing up afterwards and really crispy streaky bacon with sunny side up eggs then toast and marmite and lots of coffee or tea (I'm easy like that)
27. A song I love but do not have is: Sinnerman by Nina Simone.
28. If you visit my hometown, I suggest you: contact the Ordnance Survey so that they can put it on the map.
29. Why won’t people: smile at each other and say hello for no reason?
30. If you spend a night at my house: the Loyal Hound will probably raid your suitcase and carry your shoes / knickers / pyjamas round the house in delight at having visitors. I'd iron the sheets though.
31. I’d stop my wedding for: shock at finding I was getting married when I don't actually have a boyfriend.
32. The world could do without: Big Brother. It's pointless and encourages pointless people to think that they are vital to the nation. They're not.
33. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: touch a scorpion. Eeeegh. They're horrid - and poisonous, and did I mention Horrid???.
34. My favourite blonde(s) is/are: do you know I don't think I know ANY blondes I think I'm blondist. OK, just pick one. any one. Oh - oops - my nephews are blonde and when they are not horrid they are lovely and my favourite blondes by far.
35. Paper clips are more useful than: junk mail. Has anyone ever bought anything that was advertised on a free piece of paper shoved through your door? And pizza menus don't count as junk mail. They are important circulars.
36. If I do anything well it’s: refuse to get up in the morning, even though I have hit snooze thirty times and am already running late. I'm also good at staying up too late watching rubbish on television and generally faffing about (that might explain the reluctance to get up in the morning)
37. I can’t help but: wonder how it is that I'm single when some of the oddest / dullest / most ordinary people that I know aren't. Is there some secret that everyone was told behind the bike sheds at school that I never found out?
38. I usually cry: when I’m really, really tired or really frustrated, or deprived of chocolate unnecessarily.
39. My advice to my child/nephew/niece: Don't tell people that you want to be called Alopecia. You will be mocked for ever however good your intentions at the time.
40. And by the way: I can't do the butterfly stroke. I've tried and tried but all I do is swallow a lot of water before sinking.

Line of Lemsip anyone?

Being ill is so DULL. I have spent the last three days constantly feeling terrible or nearly better only to feel terrible again. It is a dantean circle of hell that should be inflicted on all Big Brother contestants for the entire duration of their incarceration. Happily I wasn't ill enough to actually have to watch the wretches frolic in front of the cameras in the hope of Z list celebrity status. Maybe they all have flu and weren't doing any frolicing? I live in hope.....

And another thing - why is it that if you are ill it always at the weekend???? I had plans - ludicrous and highly improbably plans but plans all the same. Now the weekend that I was going to take up sky diving, invent the cure for the cold (would have been useful that one), relandscape my garden using only a plastic trowl and some double sided sticky tape, and invite glamorous people that I don'tknow round for dinner is shot to hell.

I've tried everything to shake this thing off; lots of gin, lots of sleep, hot bath, cold bath, drinking lemsip, downing medicine that horses would sneer at, I am even considering snorting lemsip. And what do I have to show for it? A yellow nose, a cracking hangover and a cold from the constant baths.

So, I have decided to just ignore the bug. I shall crush it into obscurity by snubbing it at every opportunity. That'll teach it a lesson!

As I am on a whingefest could somebody explain what happened to August? I have just cleaned up my third flood this month. Is somebody having a joke? At some point I am going to have to brave the summer weather and abseil off the hillside. I've been living off potatoes and beetroot from the garden and of course, lemsip and the cupboards are nearly bare. The ancient bottle of cherries in brandies that live in my cupboard may finally be at risk of being opened.

I should have an amazing view from my house and yet it is like living in suspended animation here. The whole view is smothered in driving rain and cloud and there is a strong possibility that my small patch of hillside has shaken free of its mooring and is in fact drifting through the upper atmosphere. I daren't drive down my track in case I discover that there is nothing there anymore. I wonder if I get air miles for floating through the stratosphere on my own patch of hillside???

Friday, 8 August 2008

Sick and Tired.....

So, I'm back but I'm sorry to say that the bloody pixies did get me and I am malingering horribly with flu / death like symptoms which stalked me through my holiday and have now caught up with me and are beating me round the head with exhaustive glee.

Consequently this means that having staggered over to the office to send waves of adoration and sneezes in your direction I simply don't have the physical strength to do anything other than go and have a bath of lemsip and wonder how and if I will survive.

If Ido survive, I'll be back but right now it's back to bed for me.


internet stats
Rent DVD Movies