The many and various ways I pass the time now has a new addition. Usually it involves drinking coffee whilst sitting at a computer keeping in touch with chums, or sipping wine sitting on our tiny terrace catching the sun, and wondering what else I can do to avoid any cleaning or tidying or putting away of stuff and things that aren't even MINE. And now I am going to type this blog. Provided that doesn't become a chore as well, in which case...

Wednesday, 29 September 2010


I've never liked my nose much, but in recent months - perhaps the past twelve - I've gone right off it.

You see (and you will, when I next meet you, if we are personally known to one another, because I'll show you) for the first time since I was about sixteen it has started growing again.  It has, truly.  In fact, if really truly, my nose and both my ears are all growing.  The bony part of my nose is just perceptibly thickening, very, very gradually widening, and the lobes of my ears are fleshier and longer.

I am turning in to an old man. And I have decided to blame something else other than my age (because I guess this phenomenon affects older women too) and have instead turned my exasperation onto part of the adjuvant therapy I am on after my breast cancer four years ago.  Because my tumour was the type that responds rather too enthusiastically to the presence of female hormones I have had to take first Tamoxifen and now Arimadex to counteract this.  Which I guess lets the naturally-occurring testosterone all women produce to come forward and make its presence and effects felt.  It could be worse. It might have been a moustache, but so far no, my upper lip remains just sweetly and femininely downy.

I am wondering where all this may end, though.  Will I order cavalry twill trousers from the back pages of a Sunday supplement?  Buy a beige car coat or a cardigan with suede patches?  Stuff my hair up under a tweed cap?  Shuffle off shopping wearing tartan slippers and come back with pipe tobacco and a quarter bottle of scotch?  Wash, polish and hoover the car every week?  Take over all the Willy Jobs from The Husband? 

There is one comfort, though.  The Gold Standard of NHS breast cancer treatment is three years on Tamoxifen followed by three years on Arimadex.  Which means I only have two more years of tablets to do.  So my nose and ears are under strict instructions not to get carried away in the meantime. I might get The Husband to bring home some very finely calibrated calipers from work to measure any changes, however gradual.

Just so's my nose and ears know I am onto them...

That's all I have to offer you today, Dear Reader.  Sorry it's so self-absorbed.  I really must widen my interests.  What'll it be?  A model railway lay-out?  Or subscribe to a caravanning magazine?

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Farewell, Fat Frogs

Our frogs are ready to sink to the bottom of the pond at the first sign of frost.  These are the males, who choose to hibernate in amongst the rotten leaves and mud under still water so that they are in prime position to pick a paramour when the females return to the pond to mate and spawn, next April.  The females prefer hollow logs and piles of dried leaves for their over-winter bedding.

I say they are ready to sink because they are SO fat.  Given a few blasts with a bicycle pump, fat.  Fat as butter, fat.  Slowed down with carrying it, fat.  They have stoked up on enough food for six cold months of deep slow sleep, and an extra fortnight on top.  This extra fortnight is the really active bit of the mating season, during which frogs do not eat.  They are too busy making froggie lurve for days at a time, the males clutching their partners like shipwreck survivors with floating timbers.  So busy that they are skinny with the effort of it afterwards, pitifully bony.  But thousands of gloopy black-eyed eggs the better off..

Would you give up food for sex, even if it were for only two weeks of the year?  No, of course not.  So Nuff Re-SPECK to those wikkle frogs, eh?

This is all I am going to write today.  Instead please enjoy ths photograph.  I do - enormously.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Lay up These My Words in Your Heart and in Your Soul

When I embarked on this blog I had not the faintest idea what form, shape or hue it was going to take.  I thought it could be a combination of diary and general e-mail to my chums (one they were under little pressure to answer or even read), and I made a promise to myself it would be generally skittish in tone, with at least one good joke per post.  Then I decided I wouldn't use it as a vehicle to comment on current affairs or whinge about politics (or, even more so, politicians).  And so it has gone on, for the first two weeks.

But today I can't get the joke-making sausage machine to rev up and churn my recent hours into links of quips and silliness.  I  cannot seem to see above a gentle pall of sadness that has descended upon me, which feels like a duckdown duvet I cannot quite throw off.  It isn't my sadness.  I am as chirruppy as the two budgies that co-habit a cage in our dining room (more of them another day...).  It isn't even my SAD, the Seasonally Affective Disorder born of my Scandinavian genes which hits me in September and makes me sleep anything up to 12 or 13 hours a night (and morning...not possible! you cry, Dear Reader.  Yes, possible) and crave carbohydrates to the tune of a stone gained every winter.  No, this is sorrow at what life is dealing to others.  The Bad News Bear has taken up residence in my in-box.  I wish it would go away but it seems like it's dug in for a long stay.

Of late I have heard of two women whose husbands have proved to share an inability to keep it in their pants.  NO!  The men aren't having a gay triste, they've never met and don't even live in the same country.  But they have both decided to put it elsewhere whilst pretending to be elsewhere, and left their wives reeling from the self-indulgent disloyalty of it, after years and years of marriage.  I have an old uni chum whose mother has just been diagnosed with stage four cancer and is fading slowly and miserably.  I have another old uni chum who (reading between the lines) has hit the buffers of the menopause hard.  I know of a couple thick in the middle of splitting up who are living together and yet barely speaking,  I have a sister who's just taken enforced retirement at 59 after being made redundant, and almost immediately (it seemed, certainly within months) developed a chronic health issue which is scary and possibly here to stay.  What's going on?  Where did this all come from?  Is it our age? (We are mostly in our fifties and sixties).  When did life get THIS tough?

But then I realised it is from a baseline of firm friendship, trust and love that I know all this about these people.  Because we are genuinely close we get - and give - the real news, not just those ghastly self-congratulation-fests of round robin letters inserted into the Christmas cards, sent from people who know us vaguely and stay in touch out of social duty (or even so they get lots of Christmas cards back?).

If these friends didn't think we were capable of caring and murmuring helpful noises, or getting cross for them, or just listening with as little judgment as we can, they would never have told us of their pain. At a time when they need to know who their real friends they've reached out to us and rehearsed their woes  Just as when, four years ago to the month, I was diagnosed with breast cancer although not then even fifty, our front room wouldn't have looked like a florists, and our mantelpiece would not have been adorned with pretty cards brimming with good wishes, and the phone would have stood silent, if these Lovely People hadn't troubled to gather around us their enfolding arms.

The Husband and I are four years beyond what was then - at the most intense moments - an all-consumimg fear and sorrow, and as chirruppy as a pair of budgies (still will I hold off from telling you about those until another day - now is NOT the time).  I am feeling well, healed, responding to treatment and in remission.  So - all those Lovely People out there who have confided in us that they are facing separation, bereavement, ill health and loneliness - take heart from what I say.  This too shall pass.  The heartache will fade with the kind, steady onward tread of time, and you will all laugh heartily, deep and long again.

Much, much sooner than you may believe today. Maybe even tomorrow, if I can get that stalled sausage machine going again...

Friday, 24 September 2010

A Thought for Frejyasdaeg

We had thunder and lightning last night, and now, this morning, the kitchen looks as though one of Thor's bolts from his mighty hammer Mjollnir has hit it square on.  The two events are obviously somehow connected.  Well, yesterday was Thursday.  So, out of respect to a venerable and mighty pagan god, I have withdrawn to my computer to ponder the error of my ways.  Leaving the chaos intact, as punishment for a lesson yet to be learned.

Evidently my Viking heritage is catching up with me and Valhalla won't welcome me at my death for what I've been up to lately.  Perhaps it was because yesterday A Friend and I went to a huge retail complex and I didn't do any pillaging, no slashing and burning whatever. We were there four hours and I bought precisely nothing.  I did try on a delightful apple green leather glove in M&S and was fleetingly beguiled by the £15 price tag for the pair (I am insufficiently Viking, after eleven hundred years plus of successive generations settled existence in these isles, to snatch it up and wave a sword at the cashier on the way through) but I talked myself out of it.  I have serviceable black leather ones with a cute button detail on the wrist, and some darling red leather ones I've nursed through several winters and managed to keep together as a pair all this time.  I even have some moss green suede ones.  It's enough.  I have enough.  I am content with the contents of my glove drawer.

So have I not made enough burnt offerings?  Well, I can't be accused of that this week.  Two days running I've done long slow low-simmering dinners on the stove top and they were showing great promise for one, possible even two, and three-quarter hours.  Then just as the point of perfection was approached the sauce at the bottom of the pan caught and started to singe. The Husband is so forgiving when this happens.  "It'll be fine!" he assures me as we scoop all the good stuff into another cooking pot.  While I finsh reducing the liquid with an eagle eye on it this time he washes and scours the unfortunately encrusted bottom of the burnt pan. As I say "It's ready now!" he holds up his efforts for me to admire its renewed gleam.

I guess I've been a pretty piss-poor warrior lately, too.  I haven't asked The Husband to hammer me out a new breast plate since the last one became too snug a fit, and it's been an absolute age since I hauled the long boat out of the shed and polished the shields adorning its flanks.  I haven't listened to Wagner's Ring Cycle at eleven on the amp, like, ever.  Though I studied opera at music college as a girl, I recoiled from the idea of learning all those hours of discouragingly not-quite-melodic German and stuck to mellifluous Mozart. And I haven't lit enormous bonfires, caroused through the night drinking beer from wooden vessels or entertained the neighbours with sagas in the small hours. Not for many a long year.

But just think of it, an ASBO at my age...

I have been of late a feeble failure as a Norsewoman, that was my near-fatal error. I have become soft, effete and dangerously happy with my lot.  And my just penance is putting right that kitchen.  Now. Just as soon as I have plaited my hair in two braids over my shoulders and found my pointy helmet.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Sorry to disappoint my on-line literary salon...

...too busy cooking today to craft les mots justes.

Instead I offer you the recipe for our dinner.  The Lodger, The Husband and I (and titbits for The Dog) will be eating this in about 20 minutes. 



Prep Time: 20 mins
Total Time: 2 hrs
  1. 1 Remove seeds from cardamom pods and grind them in a spice grinder along with the fennel seeds, cloves, cinnamon stick, fenugreek seeds, peppercorns, corinader and cumin seeds. Set aside.
  2. 2 In a heavy skillet or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat; add the onions, garlic and ginger, cook stirring frequently until lightly browned.
  3. 3 Add the meat and continue to cook until brown all over; add all the spices and cook for 1 minute; add creamed coconut and 1 cup of water, stir to combine; or stir in the coconut milk.
  4. 4 Cover and cook on low for 1 hour, stir. If the sauce is too liquid, uncover, turn up heat to medium and cook for an additional 20 to 30 minutes or until meat is tender. If you do not need to reduce the sauce, keep covered and continue cooking until meat is tender.
  5. 5 Season with salt to taste and serve over basmati rice.
  6. 6 Please note: This can be cooked in a crock pot but liquid should be reduced accordingly.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Wine and Cheese Garden Party - Admit Two

The Dog and I have just partaken of a jolly good dejeuner sur l'herbe.  In his case quite literally.  For instance, my nibbles of Mature Cheddar were in a little eathernware bowl, his were straight off the grass, just like he likes it. I had some Californian Shiraz, but he wasn't fussed.  I sat in a rocking deck chair with my face in the sun.  He mooched about the garden sniffing for evidence of intruders.  I wore my best PJs. He had on a collar with jangly tags.  Oh, we know how to dress to impress, The Dog & I.

I had all sorts of ambitious plans for today. Shampoo carpets, redesign my blog to accept photos as illustrations, make a Roman-style oxtail stew from scratch, and hang out The Lodger's washing for him  He has a full-time day job, quite demanding enough in itself, and an evening job doing barwork in a local gastropub where they are - quite frankly - taking the piss on his allegedly "part-time" hours and working him damned near into the ground.  And he will, for his pains, be vastly underpaid on an emergency tax code, until he has any surplus energy to request and fill out a form for the Inland Revenue.  Yet still he turns up evenings and weekends and does his shifts like a trouper.  In recognition of which I am doing his washing this week, as he has seriously underslept these past few days.

So I have done that, as it is a commitment to another person who's overstretched at the minute.  But the carpets, being inanimate, insentient and (not capable of being self-cleaning,) are lifting not a finger to help themselves, can remain unshampooed yet awhile because this afternoon it's in the mid 20degreesC, our back lawn is in half sun, half shade.  In June it was awash with warmth and light, sigh, for most of the day, and like this at nine in the morning....

It's a case of Carpe Diem over Carpets. Who among you, Dear Readers, would have done any different?

Today is tolling the Last Orders bell of the autumn equinox.  Which means - bbrrrrr - it's but three darkling months to the winter solstice.  Catch it while you can, all this must go. Summer 2010 bargain-basement sunny days at 70% off original price (because 70% off original length).  Offer extends until, well, the end of tomorrow.  At which point the carpets will still be patchily grubby with trodden-in grime, that stuff ain't going anywhere.

Unlike our summer.  Which is going, going, GONE...!  

I did add a photo to yesterday's blog, BTW, of The Husband and The Dog in Ludlow.  Three very handsome sights, in my eyes. Enjoy.  And the oxtail and accompaniments are simmering low and slow.  Three out of four ain't bad.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Caution! Wicked Sinfulness - Apply Sparingly

I've been away for the weekend indulging myself and being pleasantly pampered at various Spars in mid-Wales and the Western Marches. Lucky cow, you think, until you knit your brow with puzzlement and check my spelling more closely. Yes, that's right - SpaRs.

Much more up my street, a Spar, than a Spa. They provide all those delightful necessities for a leisurely weekend away with The Husband. Not hot stones, massages and pedicures. Cold milk, Weetabix and sausages. The branch where The Rural Retreat (built on the very outermost edge of a market town in mid-Wales) is situated stays open until 11.00pm, like most of its chums, so it doesn't really matter what happens en route on a Friday evening between The Northern Home Counties and The Rural Retreat, provided we are just IN the log-jam and not the cause of it, it'll still be open when we get there. They may be mopping the floor and providing the last straggle of locals with their post-pub booze and fags to take home or to a party, but they still welcome us and serve us cheerfully a minute before closing time. It's balm to the soul for a weary weekend sojouner, a glimmer of heaven achieved on earth, and not a thick white fluffy towelling bathrobe to be had in the place.

I've never been to a Spa without an R, mind you, so I can't make a direct comparison. Except on price. A basketful of commestibles at a Spar is mere pounds and pence, virtually never over £20. An afternoon of treatments at a Spa, never less than £100. And at the end of it one is still hungry. And stone-cold sober (to be expected, I suppose, if they will insist in faffing about with hot stones). There is dinner and drinks to fork out for, probably at a country house hotel miles from anywhere, so that's another &*$%ing £££ per person to eat, quaff and sleep.

They are the bane of many a hen weekend, spa junkets, and witheringly expensive next to the cost of attending the wedding itself. Whereas a good Spar can probably sell you gadding about girls some yummy nibbles, pre-night-out cocktails AND saucy matching tinsel-trimmed costume items for £15-£25 a head. Absolute MAX.

I've managed to get through our wedding in 2003 with no Spa treatments (whereas the Spar provided all the sliced cooked meats for the evening's sandwiches), also my cancer op and adjuvant therapy (but the Spar put the S-P-A-R in many a bottle of sparkling wine) and even my fiftieth birthday. So this last birthday (53rd) The Husband offered to bankroll a few hours' personal pampering as a special treat, which was starting to seem a delightful prospect until I got the printed prospectus from our local day spa here in Herts, and my heart went out of it. The cost was eye-watering. It made me open and close my mouth like a goldfish perilously low on water in its bowl.

I asked for (and got) posh, easy to mop, fitted lino in the hall instead.

On the way back from the leisurely weekend with The Husband the weather was so mild and bright we meandered through mid-Wales and Middle England taking in the sights at two or three charming Georgian gems, market towns and county towns with a precious heritage of domestic architecture and mediaeval street plans which have evolved, matured and grown diginified through centuries of human endeavour and loving conservation. Montgomery was admired first, but Bishops Castle had to be side-stepped as it was blocked off to through traffic and thronging with people attending its Michaelmas Fair. Cop a load of how quaint that is - Michaelmas. Our next objective, Clun Castle, was clothed in scaffolding and blue plastic sheeting - encouragingly for it, somewhat sadly for us. But - just a few miles further on - Ludlow greeted us with wide open arms and free parking on Sundays.

It was just on 5.00pm, the market stalls were empty and being taken down and stowed away, but aha! There was the Spar in prime position on the broad, elegant C18th thoroughfare. The Husband held The Dog's lead and I dove in to scoop up the wherewithal for a picnic.

I netted an armful of knock-down price items; 99p each for two packs of sandwiches, 70p for sell-by-date hand-cooked crisps, a bottle of orange juice from the fridge, 25ml of chilled chardonnay colombard, £1 for the ripest imaginable lipstick red strawberries and £3-odd for a quarter bottle of own-brand vodka to add a kick to non-driver's orange juice. A perfectly adequate picnic for two, with booze left over at the end, all for £10.51.

Try getting anything in a Spa for a measly tenner. It wouldn't even get you a one-handed manicure. The swift whisking away with wax of a pair of eyebrows maybe (but legs and anywhere else still as hirsuit as ever), the barest beginnings of a backrub. The same money in a Spar was a delicious light meal for Two Humans and tempting left-over corners for The Dog, who were all rendered so cheerfully contented by it we all shone with bonhomie for the rest of the journey.

So easily pleased, so pleasantly eased, are we. Try it, you might like it. Instead of lining the pockets of the purveyors of guilt-inducing sybarism (which might be temporarily soothing for the body, but lastingly ruinous on a wallet) go away on a Spar Weekend. If you say it quickly enough when switching off your computer of a Friday evening and dashing out of the workplace your colleagues will still sigh enviously.

Which is half the joy right there, isn't it?

Friday, 17 September 2010

Dee-licious, Dee-lightful, Dee-lovely, Dee-major.

Where was yesterday's blog? A follower has already challenged me thus. She supposed I was too busy and therefore would have more to write about today. Would that were so, but it was the sort of busy I can't really expand on, full of tasks I won't enumerate, because Thursdays is my main Our Ma day when I attend to many of the physical needs of The Husband's ninety-three-year old housebound mother who lives (thankfully, at this point in her life) very nearby. I do her food shopping etc, quite a few bits of other jobs, and they are not the stuff of blogs as it's more about her life than mine so not mine to write about.

I could have come home from choir and written about that as many amusing and droll things usually happen in the course of a rehearsal, as the conducter is quite a wag, for starters. But I didn't - to my eternal shame - go to choir. I didn't go last week either (the first practice of the term) because The Naval Nephew was visiting whilst on leave. Last week I sent an e-mail excusing myself to the alto section rep.

This week I just scived off.

Two reasons. The first is that the AGM was the first half of the evening's business and I know all about me and AGMs. We are best kept apart and made to sit in opposite corners of the classroom, AGMs and I, and not - as you may think - because I have a tendency to misbehave and disrupt proceedings. Far from it. I say very little, or even nothing at all, and keep my counsel. The problem is that AGMs have a terrible influence over me. They make me volunteer for things.

What's that peculiar psychological disorder when a patient presents with a paralysed arm for no apparent medical (eg neurological or rheumatological reason)? The therapists spend many hours listening, the shrinks dole out the pills, the treatment continues until at last a full range of movement returns to the arm, the hand can grip, the fingers and thumbs can twiddle again like good 'uns. The patient is deemed cured, whereupon in a matter of days he or she picks up a knife with the erstwhile errant limb and stabs to death the person in their life who has been really bugging them.

Well, my right arm is the opposite of that. It doesn't become paralysed to prevent my doing harm, it starts moving of its own accord to make me be a do-gooder.

A postion on the committee comes up which everyone else is justifiably reluctant to fill. I can't stand the lingering silence and feel sorry for the rest of the committee, that they will have a chair at the table conspicuous by its emptiness. In a ghastly dream-like state, before my conscious mind has chance to register the slightest twitch, UP goes my hand towards the ceiling. Entirely of its own volition.

Two or three years ago I accidentally found myself the Vice-Chairman of the choir I was in then as a result of being at an AGM and not sitting firmly on my hands. I've moved choirs since, and this time I deemed it better to stay away and not risk a repeat.

And then there is the second reason, the little matter of Vivaldi's Gloria in D major. I bet you know Vivaldi's Gloria in D major, even if you think you don't. People with no interest in pre-20th century music know the Vivaldi Gloria in D major. The Husband knows Vivaldi's Gloria in D major, he can "la" its opening bars quite convincingly, and why is that? Because it is so ubiquitous, so often performed, so frequently used as a backing track whenever there's a programme about church architecture or the history of Christianity. It's second only to the Hallelujah Chorus in how hackeneyed it is.

If I were a musicolgist I might be able to explain why D major is a very approachable key, very bright and shiny and positive and cheerful. As keys go it is as sweetly optimistic as Pollyanna. If it were a person you'd probably want to slap its silly face for simpering far too much.

So I can't sing it again, Dear Reader, I truly cannot. Not even though the other half of the concert is a brand new work by a very fine 21st Composer that the choir has commissioned, which will be rhythmically and tonally varied, a challenge to learn and bring up to the standard befitting a first performance. That I'd happily tackle, but not if I have to swim through the pond of slightly-too-sweet rice pudding that is Vivaldi's Gloria in D major to get to it.

So my sciving will have to become an opting-out. I'll have to tell the choir director I will rejoin in mid-October after this concert has been done and dusted, pleading personal commitments. And it is a personal commitment, done also for the sake of my loved ones, as I cannot expect The Husband, The Daughter (or any of my usual victims when it comes to selling my quota of tickets) to spend £18 each to hear something they can appreciate sufficiently by humming a bit of it in the bath. Followed by something they never heard and can't find a single tune in.

They've never done anything to me that awful to deserve it.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

It's a Poor Workman...

The day Goldenoldenlady splashes out £9.95 in Waitrose on a large can of Cuisses de Confit de Canard for that evening's dinner is absolutely NOT the day to find out that no-one in the house knows the hell where the can opener has got to, truly it isn't.

I extolled the virtues of duck preserved in its own fat only last week. That can had been bought in Normandy for seven euros ninety-five, on our jollies, imported along with a bottle of halfway decent calvados and a few cheeses, as a souvenir. So emboldened was I that it was a runaway success I had invested a sum in sterling that could once have ransomed minor royalty to repeat the experience. What? I hear my Dear Reader cry. You spent £9.95 on a tin of something? Scarcely credible, is it? Well, I did. And the wherewithal to have with it, mangetout peas, haricots verts (cf last week) and a decent bottle of Reserve Cabernet Shiraz.

And I couldn't get AT it! WE couldn't get at it. We poked about in drawers, gazed in cupboards, checked the dishwasher, moved things to look under them, put them down and minutes later moved them again. At one point The Husband left the kitchen to look elsewehere, the dining room, the sitting room even, until I asked him who on earth would ever open a can of something anywhere except the kitchen. He conceded this was unlikely ever to have happened,. We would have to accept that something very odd indeed must have happened to it, and we were no nearer solving the mystery of its disappearance.

Most tin cans these days have ring-pull openings. It's not often the tin opener is called for, usually it hangs on our batterie de cuisine quite neglected, along with the melon baller and the butter curler. We aren't ones for tinned food, and in any case, as I just said, most nowadays have got ring-pulls. But not £9.95 tins of Cuisses de Confit de Canard from Waitrose. They are very Old School - they need an implement.

Despairing of ever liberating our dinner from its suit of armour, I left the house on foot to buy the cheapest tin opener our nearby Co-op could offer - I'd seen them often in the past; very basic, a bit flimsy, but reassuringly inexpensive. The sort you'd take camping, just the thing for an emergency. I asked an employee where they were. They weren't anywhere. They'd stopped selling them, he explained. Most cans these days have ring-pulls, you see.

I told The Husband I'd drawn a blank at the Co-op and someone might have to drive further afield. No, no, he said, digging into his trouser pocket and pulling something out with a flourish, I have THIS!

"THIS!" was the tin opener attachment on his Leatherman. I saw an enthusuastic gleam come to his eye as he unfolded the miniature apppliance from amongst its other handy little chums. So boyishly happy was he to be able to use it - at long last - I thought any second he'd rush upstairs and come back down wearing a cobbled-together Venture Scouts uniform comprising, maybe, his long khaki shorts with lots of pockets, an antiquated but never discarded safari shirt and that beige beanie hat I'd bought him in Lyme Regis to stop the top of his head getting sunburnt.

Well, all I can say is if your life might ever depend on it don't rely on a Leatherman tin opener. It was indefensibly feeble. Yes, it made a puncture hole. No, it did not saw the lid off the tin. The duck was still obdurately captive, and our dinner still a long way off.

Searching for my car keys I offered to drive to a bigger supermarket further away, but The Husband had by this time opened out a Main Couronee hunting penknife (we have several in different sizes, they are brilliant vegetable knives) and had sunk the blade into the hole in the tin. I froze. Surely not?

Oh yes, surely.

Because The Husband is left-handed I can never watch him use a sharp knife, not even to slice and chop an onion. It looks so awkward, so ungainly, so wrong, so dangerous, I want to cry STOP! I cannot ever watch. Funnily enough, and so sweetly, he feels just the same way, and cringes when I use a sharp knife in my right hand.

So I left the room for what felt about the right length of time, counting the seconds under my breath so I'd hear any anguish yelps if he sliced his hand open.
When I got back The Husband looked immensely pleased with himself - the preserved duck in its bath of cold grey grease was open to view, the ragged-edged lid bent back above it, like the upper shell of an oyster prised open to show the glistening pearl. Never was a mid-week dinner more hard-won, not in our house.

That £9.95 was only the half of it. It'll cost exactly that to replace the tin opener tomorrow.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

O de(ar it's so close) to Autumn

What was Percy Byshe Shelley on about? And what was with the Byshe, O attendants at the junior Shelley's cradle, while we're at it? Wasn't Percy enough?

You will detect, Dear Reader (only seven followers this soon after entering Blogdom, so I'll stick to Jane Eyre's singular for the present; I might add an "s" when we get to ten), from my opening salvo, that I am disgruntled with September. I can't echo Shelley in celebrating its fruitful riches. I am dischuffed. I am getting perilously close to dejected. Why? Because today I am wearing tights for the first time since late April. And over the tights I am wearing a thick leather A-line skirt, and over my t-shirt, I have on a cardigan. And I have been indoors all day.

I almost put on boots, before I told myself I was being ridiculous, it's not actually raining. I got as far as zipping up one knee-length black boot which has been aestivating at the back of my shoe closet whilst I sported open-toed things, with bare feet, and jauntily painted toenails. My feet got brown around the leather straps, leaving a lattice of white marks where the sun hadn't reached. Most days since May I have slipped on my favourite mules straight upon emerging from under the covers, and there were my feet, dressed for the day and ready to take me anywhere I wanted to go, in a trice.

Now I have to find tights of the right denier and hue, or socks that match, or at least resemble one another adequately, enough anyhow for my not to be taken as a determined English eccentric. I have to ascertain how cool, chilly or even cold it might be before deciding upon how my legs will bear up to the day. A skirt or dress, and if so what length? Trouserings? And with the trouser, is a shoe enough, or are short boots called for, the better to divert the equinoctal winds and early frosts from my ankles? Ankles are the skinniest bit of the average leg, the part least upholstered with flesh. They need our attention, our thought, our consideration now autumn is upon us. For the past four or five months our pretty bare ankles have charmed our suitors and admirers, but now they must be put away, hidden, swathed in fabric, like the legs of a Victorian piano.

Holiday sandals, easy-living slip-ons, strappy little shoes with clicking heels, insouciant sling-backs and ballerina pumps, away with you all. Into the plastic storage boxes to hibernate. By the time I see you next some of you will be hopelessly outmoded, but it seems churlish to lob you out just yet, after the many happy days I've worn you. It would be unappreciative.

Some time next month I'll have to scrummage about for the two halves of my favourite pairs of gloves. Fold away fine cotton scarves and search out the chunky knit, or even start a new one on my needles. I'll put away the straw and resurrect the felt when it comes to headwear. And I don't like it. I never will.

I count my life in summers, and when one comes to a wistful, regretful end THAT'S when I feel every minute of a year older.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Across-the-Counter Culture

We went to Glasto this weekend. I can't tell you how young that sentence made me feel, when I started typing it. Dig the abbreviation, check out the cool location. But then I think how it felt actually to be there and I've come away (briefly, I hope!) feeling old, old, OLD. Past it, redundant and defunct old. Jaded, weary and cynical old. Even puritanical, judgmental and prejudiced old.

Of course, like everyone else in the UK I believe myself to be none of these things. It matters to my entrenched sense of fair play that I aim at all times to be the exact opposite, so I make efforts to be engaged with the world and useful to my fellow man, and generally feel valued and loved in return. Enthusiastic, lively and optimistic. Broad-minded, accepting and tolerant. Mostly. Anywhere except Glastonbury I am all those things a great deal of the time. But Glastonbury just overdoes it and gets my giddy goat. In Glastonbury it all gets more than silly, until it's just not funny any more. The hippies took on the honest burghers and shopkeepers of this small Somerset town many decades ago, the hippies won, and the burghers have seemingly all moved to cathedral closes in Wells or further afield. Leaving the town in a time-warp of tie-dye.

Saturday afternoon we sauntered up and down the length of the High Street taking in the ambience. The upper parts of the buildings are elegant, historic, charmingly varied examples of vernacular architecture spanning easily five centuries. But the lowest storeys are wedged tightly in the sliver of time between 1968 and the birth of punk. Ninety percent of the shops are "head" shops, selling crystals, buddhas, incense, alternative remedies, hippy clothing and tarot tat. I looked in vain for a butcher and a non-organic greengrocers. I supposed the less right-on population must shop in the supermarket.

I have since been assured by Our Host that there is a butcher at the bottom of the High Street. The Husband had even mentioned on the drive back up the M4 that he'd seen it. I must have been temporarily blinded by the oscillating frequencies of all those effing crystals. I was starting to think a vegetarian action group had forced the poor meat-eaters underground to do deals in pubs and clubs - Hey man! Wanna score some mince? Or if you are in for something more hard-core, I have a weight of chops...

Our Host today sent me a link to the exact spot on Google Map Sreetview where otherwise reliable people claimed to have seen this butchers.

I replied to him thus; I'm sorry, I am being intensely dense, but even after two 360 degree revolves, I can see no butchers, or at least no jaunty striped awning above a shop window groaning with trays of dead flesh hedged with artificial parsley, which is what I understand a butchers to look like.

He then sent me a link to a photo from a slighly different angle and there it was. Rather small, shy and retiring even, and previously hidden behind a stone Gothic monument on Google map - a butchers. One wonders for how long.

I suppose if I hadn't done the 70s first time round in my teens - even going away to college exactly in the middle of the decade in 1975 - I'd have been pulled by curiosity to cross the threshold of some of the shops. Admired the exotic imports, marvelled at the curious embellishments on the clothing, breathed in the patchouli and been excited it wasn't the ubiquitous great smell of Brut. But I couldn't find my young self again there. Not there, not now. She is in old B&W photos wearing an Afghan and clogs, with a tragi-comic poodle perm and a faintly blissed out expression from the night before. Now she is five years off retirement, favours Waitrose and hankers after a classic car.

Ghastly isn't it? The dead hand of conformity. But have I conformed? Or did the hippies of Glasto conform with each other to the point of ossification, so locked into the dreary repetitive hedonism, the look, language and attitudes of forty years ago, whilst all around in the rest of the UK we took the best of the hippy rebellion (relaxed and loosened the laws on human sexual relationships, widened our cuisine and cultural horizons, accepted the simple fact of homosexuality as a facet of humanity and removed a lot of pressures on young people to be exact copies of their parents) and moved along with the passing decades. We evolved. Didn't we?

I am rather afraid that the Glasto "hippies" are actually no such thing, not at all, but rather cynical exploiters of our interest in recent popular cultural history, SELLING the sensation, bottling the product, pushing the past? When did real hippies start earning enough to take over an entire town, getting up of a morning and keeping shop hours, for heaven's sake?

Please don't take my desertion of your frozen-in-time horizontal dude ethos too personally, Glasto. I can't cope with Camden Market either.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Shall we Join the Ladies?

Egregious grovelling to all my faithful readers for leaving you in the lurch until this late in the day. You must have been puzzled why you felt so incomplete, cheated and strangely at a loss, then realised it was because you hadn't yet read today how Goldenoldenlady had frittered away her waking hours yesterday.

Yeah, RIGHT!

Last night I went to bed very early, considering we had A Visitor. Whom I had invited. I was pretty tired after the unseemly excesses of housework (tidying AND cleaning, upstairs AND downstairs), but that wasn't the overriding reason. It was because there were two of them and only one of me. Two Men, that is. I suppose had no oomph left to struggle against such uneven odds. So at 8.30pm I sloped off only half-apologetically to watch mindless TV, leaving the Husband and The Visitor to amuse themselves as only men can. This involved quite a lot of alcohol, a sci-fi DVD, a laptop, another gadget or two just for back up and a great deal of testosterone-induced natterage characterised by abbreviations to initial letters, a liberal scattering of serial numbers and a in-depth discussion of working parts.

Within seconds of The Nephew's arrival yesterday afternoon, after the customary enquiries after everyone's health and the offering of liquid refreshment (oh! and the usual route discussion explaining just how the new arrival managed to navigate the M-ways and A-ways of the Home Counties to reach us at all) the two of them were at it like knives taking about weapons. Yes, WEAPONS. Many and various killing machines. With great enthusiasm and a rather disturbing level of practical and applied knowledge.

I should explain (in case you think, Gosh! That Goldenoldenlady woman is a Gangsta's Bitch, I'm not sure I want to be reading this) that The Husband and The Visitor, although separated by 30 odd (very odd, in The Husband's case) years have both served in Her Majesty's Armed Forces. The Husband was in the TA for five years as an in anti-tank gunner and The Vistor, my youngest nephew, was visiting us whilst on leave from the Royal Navy where he intends to do the whole darn defending-the-nation slog of twenty-three years. He's not quite twenty-one, but will be in a couple of weeks, and yet has already done two tours of duty maintaining and arming Harriers in Afghanistan on secondment to the RAF. He joined up as a cadet - a mere boy of sixteen.

The topic of weapons, like everything else they discussed throughout the evening (computers, phones, cameras, yadda yadda), involved an awful lot of letters and numbers and had me turning from one interlocutor to the other as though watching ping-pong, absolutely flummoxed. At one point I perked up at hearing an abbreviation I thought I recognised. Bursting with enthusiasm at being given even half a chance to say something apart from "What's one of those?" I opened my mouth to speak , only to realise in the nick of time that an SLR is not only a Single Lens Reflex (camera) but a Self-Loading Rifle.

I slumped back in my seat deflated and close my mouth again.

You can't beat 'em and you sure as hell don't want to join 'em, I thought. I was outnumbered by greater forces, outgunned and ill-equipped. There would be nothing for it but to sound the retreat.

I decided to do what any well-brought-up, feminine, sophisticated, domesticated woman would do. I cooked them a huge curry, set a nice table, and plied them with good red wine. At the end of the meal I offered them coffee in the happy expectation of a refusal thereof, and did half the washing up with a request for them to finish the rest before bed. A hundred years ago I'd have gracefully and happily swished off with a rustle of silk into the drawing room to embroider nicely leaving the gentlemen to their port and cigars and billiards. Being born a century too late for my natural disposition instead I high-tailed it up to milady's boudoir to sprawl out and - as it were - loosen my stays. That is, get into my PJs and sink myself soothingly into any half-way entertaining TV programme I could find which looked a dead cert not to have an explosion or a firearm in it.

I dozed off just after Medium finished, but stirred later upon hearing a loud eruption of chummy manly laughter from down the stairs. A glance at the clock showed it was climbing towards midnight.

They seem to be getting along well, I mused drowsily. That's rather nice. Then I slept, a deep and refreshingly silent sleep, until well into the middle of the following morning.

When he and I had eventually both got up and come downstairs (The Husband having dutifully already risen and left a couple of hours earlier to earn our daily crust) The Nephew said they had polished off two more bottles after I'd left them to it, watched the DVD with many pauses for conversation and finally ended up playing World of Warcraft in the study until 1.15am. The very thought of it had me feeling like gnawing my own arm off to the elbow.

So a great time had been had by all. I was so pleased I hadn’t made the strategic error of trying to spend any longer with them than politeness – what I like to think of as my unfailing instinct for etiquette and good form – dictated. I set about making coffee and fixing breakfast, smilingly congratulating myself for being such a great military tactician.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

What do we want? Procrastination! When do we want it? Tomorrow!

Can't type for long today. I have to do some of that dreaded and dratted housework stuff because we are having An Overnight Visitor. I've known about this for a couple of weeks, at least, and progress has been made on Spare Room #2, thanks to The Redoubtable Husband backed up by my encouragement. Unfortunately this has been at the expense of the landing. Which is indescribable, so I won't describe it.

I've never been able to meet a deadline halfway. It's not until the finishing tape is twanging right under my nose that the focus, determination and energy build up under the stress of how little time is left, and the job gets done. The essay gets written the night before the tutorial, the revision is done in the wee small hours of the day of the exam, and the hem on the dress is finished half an hour before leaving the house for the party.

I could have done a lot more it yesterday evening (I managed to make the bed and suck up some of the grot) but yesterday evening The Husband and I had dinner a deux in the dining room - with candles, cut glass and fond glances - because The Lodger has gone off Oop North on work-related travel. I cooked confit de canard, with little roast potatoes done in the excess duck fat out and haricots verts. Why do haricots verts go so well with confit de canard? They don't go very well with anything else so far as I am aware. But with confit de canard it's French alchemy - the slightly sour and puritanical greenness of them cuts the unctuous deliciousness of the very naughtily calorific duck and it's a marriage made in heaven on a plate.

That was a digression from typing about housework, and typing about housework is a digression from actually doing any housework. Do you see how my mind works? It's in an eternal fugue from repetitive physical labour. But time catches up with me and waits for no woman, and The Vistor will be here late afternoon. I must bid you adieu and turn and face the horrors awaiting me on the landing, which I STILL cannot bring myself to describe. You've done nothing to deserve it, Dear Reader, that I should leave you with such a paralysingly hideous image in your mind's eye. I am away to fight my demons.

Just as soon as I've had another cup of coffee, had a bath and washed my hair.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

You've Made Your Bed, So...

Yesterday - at last - the shamefully shoddy old spare bed departed this life and found an eternal resting place at the local municipal tip.

All that needed to be done now was for the various bits of the new-to-us one to be assembled. The big sections had been making their presence felt for several days; sides, head, end, propped up on the landing, pending. TICK. We all knew where they were, especially our big toes. Then there were some slats. I'd seen them in a bag. The Lodger (whose bed it had been when he was in unfurnished accommodation before moving in with us) had stowed those in his wardrobe. TICK.

The Husband got weaving. After a matter of minutes (it could have been longer, but I was engrossed in... OK, I admit it, I was watching TV) the frame was looking good, convincing even. I was called in to admire it. The slats looked worryingly warped to me, but The Men assured me they were intended to be like that, as it meant the bed would be sprung if they were laid curve uppermost. Dur. It's not just some Jobs people need Willies for (see yesterday), they are also useful for Knowing Certain Things.

"How do they stay in position, those slats?" Fixings, apparently. The Lodger had the fixings in another carrier bag. TICK. The Husband again fell to being industrious and I went back to my programme, now partly also day-dreaming about crisp new Egyptian cotton bed linen (could I, should I, afford it?) and taking a mental inventory of what we already had that might even be washed and aired. My reverie was disturbed by The Lodger appearing at the door asking had I seen another carrier bag containing two wooden blocks and some more fixings which he'd put down on the dining room table, oh! about ten days ago.


I had no idea what he was talking about, had seen nothing answering any such description, and said as much. The Husband appeared alongside him, saying he couldn't get any further on with the bed without the extra bits. I suggested - very levelly - that they both have a Good Look Round. In the dining room for starters. And work outwards from there.

You will see from the heading of this blog that I resent tidying up "stuff and things which aren't even MINE" to the extent that I seldom, if ever, do it nowadays. My only child (The Daughter) is getting on for thirty now, and I rarely picked up after her even when she was a toddler. She put her own toys back in the toy cupboard, it was part of the game, or at least "helped mummy". So I have quite high expectations of two grown adult males to locate their own possessions, preferably having already stowed them behind a cupboard door, or on a shelf, or in a drawer, THEMSELVES. It's not unreasonable is it? Especially if it's a vital part of a large piece of almost brand-new furniture.

Apparently it is unreasonable. UNTICK. CROSS, even, or at least a gentle seethe though lightly clenched teeth. However, I didn't break off from my vitally important TV/high-thread-count-linen-day-dreaming activities to help them look. Points to me for not being a martyr.

But even bigger - HUGE - points to The Husband for using a few good old-fashioned screws for the missing plastic fixings, and two piles of left-over holiday reading paperback books of the right height, to replace the blocks meant to support the long piece of wood running down the middle of the base. And putting the mattress on. And lowering his reassuring bulk onto the completed item, even jiggling up and down a bit to show that he'd cobbled it together sufficiently for the bed to be safely used until the errant bag of bits showed up.

Once you know how to make-do-and-mend, the skill never deserts you. It's a survival mechanism The Husband has in spades, and I love him for it as well as all the other things.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

A Saw Point

I've never seen The Husband keener to embark on a task when he gets in from a day earning our crust than he was yesterday.

Normally he scans the skies for the merest suggestion of rain when I greet him with the news that it's dry enough to cut the grass, so will he please do it this evening. I try to lessen the impact by saying "Oh, the front lawn will do for a few more days it's just the back that really needs it." He's a Good Boy and never refuses. He knows by now that in my world view mowing lawns, putting the bins out for collection, and anything to do with the car are regarded as Willy Jobs, and if not endowed with a willy a person cannot do them.

But yesterday was so different. Last week we bought a bed off a friend, a much, MUCH newer bed than the heap of mouldering wood, fabric, wonky springs and unruly stuffing that has resided in Spare Room #2 for years and years. An escaping hamster has climbed the stairs and nested in a base drawer - twice - having nibbled its way in through the grubby damask. It sags and squeaks, ensuring no guests can have a romantic break chez nous in that room. Made up with nice fresh linen it fools the eye (and nose - just) but stripped bare it is a silent reproach to how long we are prepared to make do and mend and spend all our spare cash on supermarket wine instead of new(er) furniture.

Enough preamble. What was the task The Husband could barely wait to tackle? Sawing up the old bed into pieces small enough to bag up and take to the tip in a Peugeot hatchback. This would entail the use of a power tool and even the purchase of several new blades for same. Man's Stuff indeed. He got the new blades at Wickes on the way home, and after the briefest of Honey, I'm Home chats, he shut himself in Spare Bedroom #2 and fired up the jigsaw.

As the first throbbing buzz sent a gentle harmonic throughout the house The Dog leapt onto His (ie The Dog's) Sofa and curled up into a foetal ball of anxious avoidance. The Dog doesn't like hoovers or mowers, and why would he? A vibrating and highly vocal monster is being waved about at floor level, HIS level, without any permission being sought or granted. Left to himself he'd take it apart with his teeth without waiting for it to be switched off. Which is why he can't be left to himself, and he's told to get on His Sofa out of the way. Yesterday evening he didn't wait to be told.

The buzzing, banging and sawing continued in a muffled way, behind the closed door, for about three quarters of an hour, and then eventually there was enough of a break for The Dog to get off His Sofa and stretch, and for myself to go up stairs and tap politely, maybe even slightly nervously, on the door. Had The Husband decapitated himself in his enthusiasm? One reads these things, especially about chain saws. The Husband isn't allowed a chain saw.

"You can come in!", he called out cheerfully. I opened the door and stepped back as a rich wave of heavily perspiring husband plus dismembered smelly old bed hit me squarely in the nostrils. The floor was littered with tiny shards and threads of old bed, the melamine base drawers laid out on the floor with the fragmented base frame stacked neatly inside them. Once, at the point of manufacture, the drawers had slotted neatly into the upholstered frame, and now, at the bitter end of its very active life holding sleeping people off the floor, the bulky frame slotted conveniently into just two of the four drawers. To add to the coup de theatre the mattress was propped nonchalantly against the longer wall as though it were smoking a well-deserved fag.

"Lovely, darling!" I sighed appreciatively. "Shower or bath?

Monday, 6 September 2010

Labouring Under A Misapprehension

I joined the Labour Party in May 2010.

Within hours of seeing Call Me Dave and Cleggy announce their engagement, simpering and fawning and linking little fingers for the cameras in the rose garden at number ten, I decided to pin my colours (a pair of red flannel bloomers) to the mast and join up. I even checked the words of the Internationale, but decided the dwindling memory bank couldn't spare the room so I will just have to, if ever called upon so to do, more-or-less musically mumble "The people's flag is deepest red, how lovely are their branches, tum ti tum" just like everyone else seems to do.

So yesterday myself and The Husband (a floating voter, disgusting term, makes me think of something bobbing around in the local baths) attended our first local Labour Party event, the annual BBQ. It was fun, lots of friendly chat, and jolly amusing mostly until some silly sod suggested I stand for the Borough Council, even if it was only in a ward I couldn’t hope to win (he must have seen my aghast expression at the thought of power or - even more appalling - responsibility), to keep up the numbers of council seats the party contests.

I’m terrified of even finding myself on a committee, I protested, but he pointed out the active members are visibly ageing with not very many others offering to take on the mantle. I insisted I’d rather pay my subs, deliver leaflets, do some door-stepping, mebbe, and go to the social stuff. I just wanted to be a party member, not a party activist!

The Husband thought they were a nice crowd, and I snapped up the chance of half an hour in the swimming pool when the sun came out, the whole pool to myself, bliss. Champagne socialism, anyone? Top Hole!

It's a sorry thing to admit, but my main terror at the thought of being a borough councillor was the idea I'd have to keep house more consistently as well as have an e-mail in-box piling up with the moans and groans of the discontented strangers I'd pledged to represent. No more the comfortable familiar clutter of a semi-tidy bombsite if there might be any chance more people might visit. On official business, even. Eeeek!

I have gradually learnt to relish the fact that we nowadays always get several hours' notice of anyone offering to cross the threshold - peeps around here don't "pop in", in fact they mostly prefer to meet in a pub, possibly so that none of them have to do any hoovering. I thought when I first moved here they were churlish and unfriendly. Now I think they may have a point in keeping the drawbridge up at all times in this sector of the Northern Home Counties. It's that or employ a cleaner.