Thursday, 25 June 2009

OK, so you can go further North than Thurso...

I wrote some great posts whilst I was away. Unfortunately, as ever, they were all in my head whilst I drove several hundred miles at a time. Wish you could have heard them. They were witty, anecdotal, enraging and amusing, and that was just the titles.

I even wrote a couple of posts on my mini laptop but now I can't find my USB stick thing to move them to this computer so that was a waste of time.

To amuse myself on my journey I took photos through the windows of the car as I drove along, about one every hour. They are thrilling stuff and illustrate very clearly how this country is NOT overpopulated. As does the fact that I drove for an hour at about 60mph and didn't pass a single house.... I did pass deer, sheep and one cyclist who I think was lost.

I worked my way up the country and on my day off I decided I hadn't gone far enough North and caught the ferry to Orkney. It's an odd place. Much more cultivated than the mainland and covered in the ugliest houses you have ever seen. More surprising is that there was NOBODY there. Not tourists, and not locals either. The place was abandoned. Maybe they had all gone for Sunday lunch on another island? Or they were in a Midsummer Day Druid ritual somewhere? Who knows?

Things that are worth seeing there? Well, they aren't beautiful but the Churchill Barriers are an amazing feat. Much more fascinating is the Neolithic Village. This is three thousand years old and is a village that was underground. Everything was made of stone; the beds, the furniture, the rugs, the works. There was a reason they called it the Stone Age. They really loved that stuff. Having said that they feasted on lobster and scallops and built underground villages. If you happen to be dropping by Orkney in your travels it is definitely worth seeing.

So is the Italian Chapel. Built by prisoners of war out of Nissan Huts it is tiny and look innocuous enough from the outside, but inside it is beautifully painted to look as though it is made of stone. All the metalwork was done with salvaged metal off shipwrecks and it is strangely moving.

Monday saw me back at work on the North East coast of Scotland and at half three the hound and I piled back into the car and drove the nine hours home. The next day the book club was convening at the new hovel so I went foraging for food. Unfortunately, as I stepped into Somerfield, there was a powercut. A harassed manager shouted - you have five minutes to do your shopping before the batteries run out in the tills. Supermarket sweep in the dark. Where is Dale Winton when you need him. I'm sure he glows in the dark.

Shopping in the dark on a time limit though. Not so easy. Why oh why didn't I take a torch shopping with me? I normally do of course. I must have been jet lagged from my drive. So I ended up with pork (which I thought was chicken), parmesan (which I already had at home), a bag of salad with cabbage in (eerugh), a punnet of raspberries that I thought were blueberries, a pack of lard instead of butter and a bag of pre buttered new potatoes. We feasted like kings, as would anyone if lard were involved....

I am now repacking to leave again tomorrow, this time on holiday. I have had the normal vile time before going away where work escalates to improbable levels of franticness not experienced the rest of the year, and you wonder why you are going away. I have thrown anything clean into my suitcase and the loyal hound is sleeping on it in a rage that I am packing again.

I'd love to come back and have some time at home but NO. Instead I have to go to France for work the week I get back, and then fly to Edinburgh for a day as soon as I return. All the good work my holiday has not yet done is already undone.

Also, why is it that when you go on holiday, the weather at home is always idyllic? Cerulean skies, hot sun with a cool breeze and starry nights.

I will stop wibbling now (wibbling is what happens when I start typing a blog entry at midnight) and leave you with some photos of my road trip.

There was a lot of motorways - like this:

I saw this on a client's bird table:

Then there was several HOURS of this:

Followed by nearly three hours of this (an extra hour was thanks to a FORTY MILE DIVERSION due to a lorry slewing itself across the A9.

Welcome to my life. Glamorous isn't it.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

A crafty nudge for Charity!

I know you all do a lot of stuff for charity but you might like to hop over to Lettuce Eating as she, along with others, has set up a fab charity auction involving handbags, which must always be good. What is even better is that they are vintage craft handbag things... Oh - just pop on over and have a look. I promise you will like them and they are raising money for Darfur which is always a good thing.

I am in the midst of packing as I have one of my leisurely trips ahead of me. "Where to?" you eagerly cry Why, in about an hour - Manchester and then on to London. Tomorrow Staffordshire, then Edinburgh on Thursday, then Pitlochry, Brora and Thurso on Friday(yes, it isn't possible to go much further north without gettting seriously wet feet!). Monday sees me back at Brora then on to Lancaster for Monday night and finally home to the hovel on Tuesday. The Loyal Hound has already packed his bag as he is accompanying me on this merry jaunt. I have packed very little but have strewn an awful lot of stuff around the house and lost all the chargers for my phone, laptop and camera.

We won't be back until next week so, unless I manage to track down a squirrel with internet access in the wilds of Scotland, I'll be back then... Must go and pack.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Raise a glass to yourselves.....

It's thundering at the moment and I can see lightning flickering in the next valley. The air is still and tremulous with the occasional bird song sounding startlingly loud against the waiting silence. This is a good thing as I need to be inside working and good weather would have lured me out into the wilderness beyond my windows.

In contrast to today, we were blessed with great weather over the weekend. This meant that my visiting friends and their children, who had arrived wtih macintoshes, wellington boots and all other manner of rain gear, were instead scrabbling for sun cream and got to enjoy an idyllic weekend of Wales at it's secretive best.

We walked through sun dappled woods, the children looking for fairies and listening out for bears. Their two and a half year old son marched ahead of us with a big stick 'to stab the bears and dragons with' and their morbidly fascinated 5 year old daughter pointed out multitudes of 'dead fairies' which she took great joy in. The baby slept in the shade then sat under an umbrella to play on a rug. We threw stones in the lakes, built dens out of boxes and old sheets, and the children ran around barefoot and delighted on the grass. It went well.

I had enough food of the right kind (though not enough kitchen roll which turns out to be a vital implement in the child rearing process). The playdough was a success, the lego provided amusement and I even remembered to prerecord stuff of CBeebies onto Sky+. We ate, we drank, we walked, we lolled, we gardened, we had more friends over for lunch; to sum up, we had a proper weekend. It was lovely.

By the end I was exhausted and am yet again amazed at how you all do the whole parenting thing. It is relentless and selfless and never ending (unless you are me in which case it ended at 7pm on Sunday night when they left). I say raise a glass to yourselves parents out there. You do an extraordinary thing every day.

Friday, 12 June 2009

How to kill a town....

As you may know, if you read my earlier, panicked posts, I have friends coming to stay this weekend. Living in the back of beyond, as I do, this means that preparation is required. Lists must be made, menus planned and the shopping tackled. If I forget it now, that's it for the weekend unless I want to do a 30 mile round trip for milk. So this morning I headed off, list in hand, to a local town to do the food shopping.

From the new hovel I have three towns to choose from. They are all about the same distance (16 miles or so) from me. One of them has a large Morrisons, one has a Tescos, and the other has a smaller Somerfield. The last town was the most convenient today as I needed to head off in that direction in order to drop some things off at a neighbour's house.

Due to the fact that my money cupboard is virtually bare, I had done a cunning menu plan which would look as though I had gone to vast effort, whilst in fact spending very little. Or so I thought.

One small trolley later I was a HUNDRED POUNDS poorer. What? How the $?@* did that happen? I always mentally have a figure in my head for how much my shopping will cost. My worst case scenario for this one was seventy pounds. If it wasn't for the fact that I simply didn't have the time to drive the now 40 miles to the next town and back home again, I would have refused to pay. It was daylight robbery.

Shopping is getting more and more expensive, whatever they say about inflation. It's not like I was buying scallops on the shell, caviar and blinis. I was buying value chopped tomatoes, bread, milk; ordinary things. The cashier watched me go white and sway slightly with interest.

"Expensive isn't it." She commented.
"Euurgh, splutter, swoon, YES" replied I.
"They can charge what they want here, no competition see." she explained.

And that is the nub of the problem. There is no other supermarket within a good 30 miles of this one and they can charge what they like, so they do. The thing is that this is a surefire way to kill the town.

I had been to the bank, the post office and the hardware store before I went to the supermarket, as I imagine do lots of other people when they come into town. However if Somerfield doesn't get its act together people will stop deciding on that town for their shopping. They will head in the other direction instead. At that point, not only does the wretched supermarket suffer, but also all the other shops in town. Slowly but surely, it will die. All because Somerfield are too greedy.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Do Animals want to be Celebrities?

I ask this question purely because this morning, upon sitting down at my desk to work I saw these photos in an e mail. They were both taken by someone stopping to get petrol at a garage in Mexico.

You can imagine the way your heart would race upon realising that instead of the standard alsation chained to the wall (standard movie casting I know), this particular garage had the equivalent of Vin Diesel as security. Padding across the forecourt is the celebrity of the animal world - a lion.

Those of us who watched Tarzan films as children may have wondered how we would fare when a lion turned to give a baleful and hungry glare. The thing was usually we were improbably surrounded by imaginary jungle (should have been savannah, I know) not innocently trying to buy fuel. So, are you ready? Stare down the beast....

Good Dog!

So, in answer to my question, apparently Animals do want to be celebrities. This one went to the hairdresser and said the equivalent of 'I want to look like Jennifer Anniston', but instead of being told 'I'm a hairdresser, not a miracle worker', this particular scissor holder thought, 'why not? I could do this' and set to, and voila! Celebrity animal lookalike.

I suspect it is wrong, wrong, wrong. Where will it end? Goldfish having prosthetic shark fins added to their backs? Finches wanting a Golden Eagle makeover? Spider monkeys longing to be Silverbacks? We could be witnessing the start of the end (or the end of the beginning?) and a new culture of animals obsessed with celebrity is to sweep the world. Don't say I didn't warn you. Watch carefully for the signs. I have banned the Loyal Hound from reading Heat Magazine, and I send him out of the room when I watch The National Geographic and Discovery channels in case he starts getting ideas....

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Do Dogs Speak French?

I'm sorry everyone, I can't help it. You see, I drift about my house and my life with nobody but the Loyal Hound to bounce my thoughts off. Most of the time this isn't problematic. He has a charming habit of agreeing with everything I say, and looking at me with a worshipful gleam in his eye the rest of the time. He's an excellent listener. However, every now and then (or every ten minutes or so) I have a crazy thought which I want an actual response to, and this is where you come in.

You see, most of the time I resist plaguing you with inane questions, or I forget what they were before I get to the computer. Not this time. This time I need answers and as you lot are the equivalent of a long suffering husband / lover / boyfriend / flatmate etc then you are the ones that I have to ask. It's a downside to reading the ravings of a single woman who lives at 1200 feet with little to no oxygen and only mad neighbours.

Ok, so to my deranged question: are you ready? Pens to paper, pencils sharpened? OK. Here goes. DO DOGS SPEAK OTHER LANGUAGES???

I mean, does a dog from France speak in French? Is the french poodle totally incomprehensible to the English Cocker Spaniel? Does the Irish Setter have such a thick accent that none of the other dogs know what he is going on about? Assuming that animals have vocabulary is there just one 'language' for the same species wherever they live on the planet? In the Tintin comics Snowy doesn't say 'Woof Woof', he says 'Woo Woo' so obviously french dogs bark differently. I mean Tintin wouldn't lie would he?

I mean is 'dog' a universal language or are they all speaking individual languages? If we do, why shouldn't they? And if that is the case then do all animals have the same problem? Does that mean that migratory birds are bilingual or are they like the British on the Costa del Sol and refuse to speak a word of the holiday countries language? Swallows could be sitting in South Africa in the winter speaking very loudly and slowly to the locals and asking for "FLIES AND CHIPS PLEASE" then saying to each other "I just don't know why the locals won't TRY to learn English".

If my theory has merit then the zoos must be very confusing places. It could explain the failure of the mating programme for the Pandas. I mean there are loads of chinese dialects so if you get two pandas from different places they probably have no idea what they are saying to each other. Sex is not going to be on the cards until they have found some common vocab and that could take a while....

If they don't have different languages though, then how come? Why would dogs the world over speak the same language but people wouldn't? I need answers and as the wisdom of the ages is out there in the interweb thingummy then I figure I am asking the right people.

P.S. Now that you get a glimpse into the deranged workings of my mind perhaps my single status is less of a surprise.

P.P.S. Obviously I don't mean actual French - I mean dog version of French, though perhaps there are dogs out there going "Je voudrais un saucisson. Possible but highly unlikely

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Mothers out there - help please!

I'm panicking and I need help (more than usual!). This weekend, I have friends coming to stay with their three children who are aged between 9 months and 5 (I think she is five anyway).

I am now in a complete panic about what to buy in the way of food and what to do about toys etc. Their mother has been very lacksadaisical about what I need to get in the way of food. I don't think she has really understood the lack of local shopping if I don't have the things she would have in her store cupboard. What should I stock up on? Do five year olds and three (ish) year olds eat the same as grown ups?

The only experience I have is of Chutney Mary's boys who eat strange food free of gluten / dairy / taste and definitely don't eat grown up food.

I'm also worrying about the toy status of this house. My toy supply does exist as I got fed up with children arriving and saying "do you have any toys" and then seeing their look of horror when I said "No." Consequently I have a little Noah's ark and a couple of other miscellaneous things. I also have packing boxes which I have found to be hugely successful as child entertainment. Various forts can be constructed and there is always the ever popular option of 'how many children can fit into one box'. I do also have a few children's books. What else should I bed / borrow / steal?

I am used to children who live up here and can spend hours playing outside but these are London children who are used to on tap entertainment and the equivalent of Hamleys in their own house.

I thought I could make some fairy cakes that they could ice. Perhaps I should borrow some DVD's? What else?

All ideas and suggestions are welcome, and much needed......

Saturday, 6 June 2009

The calm after the storm

I haven't had a moment to show you the landscape that I have moved into. Last night, during a brief break in the torrential, Malaysian style rainstorms, I took the Loyal Hound along the track from the house and took these photos for you of the nearby puddle.

This is what lies round the corner from the hovel, quite literally three minutes walk away.....

I know, it's pretty terrible isn't it? Wait till I take some pictures on a sunny day, then you'll really see how awful it can be.....

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Oh God No. Not Big Bloody Brother again....

If I had a list of Bete Noirs, the top five things on it would be stupid Big Brother. I hate it with a passion. All those people with no merit whatsoever and an insane desire to be famous. Famous for what? For their erudite interpretaion of Thomas Hardy's bucolic novels? For their ability to knit faster than the speed or sound? For blindfolded wedding cake icing? Singing like Susan Boyle? Composing verse in Iambic Pentameter and knowing who Milton is? NO. Instead they seek fame for snogging someone of their own sex in the hot tub or smothering themselves in spaghetti and then rolling in lawn clippings or whatever it is they do that generates headlines for weeks and weeks of the summer.

The initial idea of Big Brother was interesting. How would 20 odd people get on if locked in a house together for what seems like a lifetime? The actual reality is not remotely interesting. It is an excuse for silly vain people to leap up and down and say 'love me, love me, vote for me I'm meritless but here'. No thank you.

I have a cunning plan for a highly entertaining Big Brother series. The contestants would enter the house in top secrecy and live out their pathetic lives for the cameras etc WHICH WOULD NEVER BE TURNED ON. At the end of each week one contestant would be 'voted off' by the producer, and on exiting and expecting the media and country's eyes to be on them would be greeted by a psychiatrist with a lone camera who would interview them to find out how they felt about the fact that all their scrambling for attention in the house had been for nothing. Now that is an interview I would watch.

I don't understand what grips everyone about this series. The contestants never ever talk about anything except themselves and each other. I'm not even sure if they can read. After all, you never see them with a book, or hear them discussing politics or plays or the world outside their tiny, pea like brains. There are so many things they could do while in the house.

They could make them all read a classic novel and then have a debate about it. They could make them all learn yoga, tai chi and knitting. They could teach them to speak another language, to grow their own food, oh a million things. Instead they treat them like spoilt ten year olds, incapable of doing anything other than bickering, crying and doodling. It's patronising in the extreme and the tragedy is that the thousands of wannabe entrants all think it looks like heaven. I would say it is more like hell on television.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Neighbourhood Watch

Things have been so hectic I haven't really had a moment to tell you about my neighbours. Having neighbours is a new thing for me. The previous hovel had no neighbours at all. The nearest house was three quarters of a mile away and I liked it like that. The new hovel has a house on the other side of the road which was one of the things on the 'con list'. However I decided that since we weren't in eyeline of one another and this location was remote enough as it was I could live with neighbours.

Then I met them.

It took a few days. With moving and everything I simply didn't have a moment to go over the road and introduce myself. When I finally made it over one evening it was an interesting experience. The neighbours, let's call them Bob and Peggy, had just arrived back and I called out a cheery 'hello' over the fence. Bob turned around with a friendly smile but Peggy ducked behind the car. I know that I'm not an earth shattering beauty or anything but I've never had anyone duck and hide at the sight of me before.

Bob came to the gate to chat and some minutes later, Peggy followed. She apologised profusely for hiding and announced that 'she thought I might not want to meet her so she had hidden.' This isn't normal behaviour but she was effusively friendly from this point, almost disturbingly so. She told me she was a mental health worker and that she housed unwanted horses, which I was welcome to ride at anytime. I admired the horses and after five minutes of chat I left and retreated to my garden.

We didn't particularly see much of one another for the next fortnight. A quick hello here and there, the perfect lack of communication as far as I was concerned, and I was just starting to feel at home in the new hovel. Life was looking good. The night after my birthday I was having a Mrs Tiggywinkle moment and hanging sheets out to dry on the line. The washing line is in the one spot that is in eyeline with the neighbour's house. Within moments of starting to peg out my washing I hear Peggy's voice shouting over the road.

"Hello there, I hope we didn't disturb you last night?"

I turned and smiled in her direction. She was hanging out of a window beaming at me.

"No, I didn't hear a thing" This was almost true. I wondered if I had heard some shouting earlier that morning but it honestly didn't intrude. My walls are 70cms thick. It would take a Harrier Jump Jet landing on the house for me to hear it. I waved and turned back to the washing.

"I've been up since 3.30 this morning you know. I haven't even had a cup of tea yet"

I'm not sure what to say to this but I call back in as cheery a manner as I can muster. "Perfect time for a cup of tea now though"

"I like mine black and weak. Haven't had it yet though". There is a disturbing note to this conversation. We are virtually shouting to each other and she won't move from the window. The word I realise I would use to describe her today is manic.

"Did you have a good birthday dinner last night?"

"Yes, thank you I did. I hope we didn't disturb you" I'd mentioned to them that I was having friends over for my birthday earlier in the week and she had latched onto this

"No, not at all. I wish I'd known it was your birthday..... I must get you a present. What colour horse do you like?"

With a faint feeling of horror I realised that she might actually mean this. She houses horses for people and all credit to Peggy they are fantastically healthy and happy horses, but she does collect them in the same way that some people buy reduced books at the supermarket.

"No need to get me anything" I call back with a desperate note in my voice but it isn't enough.

"What's your favourite colour? Tell me?" There is a demanding note in her voice. I don't want to get on the wrong side of her. There are rumours in the village about her. It seems she isn't a mental health worker but a mental health patient and like a small child, she doesn't like to be thwarted. Tales abound of the odd revenges she has taken on those who have displeased her. Most of them are probably exaggerated gossip but it isn't a truth I want to discover for myself by vexing her.

After more shouted 'casual conversation' and persistent questioning I said that I liked Black horses and scarpered back to the house. The whole conversation had made me feel horribly nervous. Suddenly my hovel felt less secure.

The next day a friend came with her children for coffee and a nose around the new house. We decided to walk down the forest track to the lake. As we left the garden a voice yelled out of the window. "I haven't forgotten. A black horse. I won't forget!" Oh dear I am in trouble. More shouting followed us as we walked away and I realised that now I was nervous of seeing Peggy, or being seen by her, and getting caught in conversation with her. I wondered if she would start stalking my garden and presenting me with horses every time I came out of the door? My hovel suddenly felt a lot less like home. I decided to try and catch Bob and mention to him that I did not want a horse but the moment did not arise.

I hated feeling nervous in my own house about going outside and getting stuck in conversation. There are millions of different types of people that you can end up with as neighbours. People who become friends, people you never talk to, people who will water your lettuces while you are away, people who will steal your lettuces when you are at home. It seemed I had got the bipolar mental health patient with nothing else to do but sit at the window and wait for me to emerge from my lair. The only good thing was that she was apparently too shy to emerge from her house and actually descend on mine.

This morning, resolved to catch Bob and talk to him about Peggy's disturbing longing to give me a horse I emerged from the house to see Bob and a friend sitting outside the gate. To their right was a police car and another car was parked along the verge. Bob came over to me and explained that Peggy, who was 'not well' had been getting increasingly worse and had that morning let all the horses loose onto the road, and had been getting increasingly upset, and he had had to call the police and the doctor to her. It seemed she was being sectioned as life had got to be too much for her.

My overriding feeling was one of relief. I feel as though a weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I can live in my house without looking over my shoulder every minute. I feel bad for Bob, though it seems he knew this was coming. He is a quiet and gentle man and he obviously is very fond of her (she is his girlfriend of some years and technically lives in the village though her horses live with him). He said she has 'two sides to her and unfortunately the wrong side was ruling at the moment'.

I am now feeling giddy with happiness that she is gone, and correspondingly guilty to be so happy about her misfortune. If I am being honest, I am also hoping that this is a long term solution. I know this makes me a terrible and selfish person but if you are living in the middle of nowhere on your own the one thing you don't want is a mentally unstable neighbour. God, that makes me an awful person but I can't help it - I feel as though a great big burden has suddenly been lifted and I look out of the window now and feel happy.

internet stats
Rent DVD Movies