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, 5 September 2012

Giddy-up, Girl!

I was asked for a progress report on my riding lessons a while ago, and I suppose I have some progress to report, but only just. Such equestrian skills as I have acquired I have picked up very slowly, by infinitesimally gradual increments.  No-one learns new stuff fast at my sort of age, I guess. 

Until April this year I hadn't been in the saddle since a touristy hour-long ride over the semi-flooded plains of the Camargue in a string of white ponies led and herded by a proper Camargue cowboy, through rice paddies, and along the cicada-echoing sandy tracks between them. This will have been in about 1992, as the Infant Phenomenon who was The Daughter as a child was also riding that long distant summer's day. She'd only been having lessons about a year, but managed to stay on despite having a wayward and wilful pony who detected a lightweight on his back and played up a lot.  She had been nervous at not being given a hat, which was very British of her, and mighty relieved to dismount at the end.  As was I. I would have been 35 in 1992. Which makes me exceedingly old, wise and creaky now.

I am very pleased to say I can now get on and off without getting stuck halfway. My legs and pelvis are relaxing and some muscles are strengthening, my teacher tells me, but you'd never know it to look at them. Apparently my core strength has improved. I am just starting to learn how to steer with my legs as well as with by opening the rein. Last week I learnt how to get the horse to step backwards and turn moving hind legs only, though I can't remember the technical term for this. I can also do a rising trot with my feet out of the stirrups, though when this concept was first put to me my mind could not fathom it. Computer says NO! But hey! it can be done.

I am not terrified all the time any more and this has helped my muscles to relax. Some lessons I enjoy all the way through. I have yet to be allowed to trot without the bridle being held by the teacher running alongside, and cantering seems aeons off, although I used to hack with the village "riding school" as a pre-teen and canter and even gallop when riding out. I use the term "riding school" loosely and ironically as until this year no-one properly taught me anything and I had no technical ability beyond being able to stay on most of the time and not immediately giving up if I fell off.

So that's how far I have come after 30 minutes' tuition a week for four months. I have ridden three different geldings in that time, most recently two Welsh Cobs of about 15 hands. It feels a long way down to the ground still, though perhaps it always should feel like that. After all, it IS. So one doesn't want to make the journey by the quickest route, ideally...

Sunday, 12 August 2012

My Olympic Overview

I had not thought I would watch much of these Olympics. I might have tried harder to avoid them, but in the end I didn't, I gave in with something approaching good grace and joined in, a bit.

But I did not cheer, I was not swept along. I did not experience ecstasy and euphoria, I did not eulogise and yodel. I just watched and witnessed and thought oh! well done. I didn't think WE won anything. I thought THEY did tremendously well.

I wondered at how much Lottery funding had helped Team GB in the past decade or more, and mused about whether (in the UK) our Music, Art, Dance and Theatre might also impress the world and improve exponentially if its exponents and proponents received more kudos, congratulations and cash. I wondered whether we'd have even better medics, nurses, social workers and carers if we all got our shoulders and shekels behind them and SHOVED. I pondered if our Maths, Science and Technology teachers and the talented youngsters in their classes might like to have pedestals and medals. I even strayed wildly off-piste into the idea of international competitions for poets, orators and sit alongside the athletic Olympics again, as once they did.

Being an ex-teacher I see sport as just a part of the curriculum. I'd like to see other equally valid subject areas given a boost. Am I a grumbler or a grouch for thinking this? I hope not...

Friday, 25 May 2012

Well, hello, it's been are you?

I haven't posted anything on Blogger for weeks now, for a multitude - nay, a plethora - of reasons.  Heavens!  When did I last use the the word plethora? Aeons ago.  Probably in an essay.  Yeah, THAT long...

Number One is that The Husband, The Dog and I have been in a swirling state of flux, with Big Things to see get done, like decorating and cleaning and tidying a four-bedroom house so it can be sold, and deciding how to invest The Husband's redundancy payment.  Then secondly there are the lots of little things that are the routine stuff without which people starve, smell, have no utilities delivered to their house(s), can't get to the front door for weeds and waist-high grass, and can't function.  You know.  Shopping, cooking washing-up, putting away, setting tables, clearing tables, bathing, washing and drying clothes, packing and unpacking clothes, reading bills, checking bank accounts, paying bills, bracing oneself for yet more bills, weeding, tidying, mowing, watering, scrutinising, etc etc.  Have i missed anything?  Oh yes, eating and sleeping and walking The Dog.

Then - big number three - there is the squeezing in of FUN and ENJOYMENT.  It helps if one can make as many of the activities listed above fun while one goes along, but it's a bit of a bloody stretch for many of them to bring a chap or chappess unalloyed bliss. You will note that ironing is NOT on the above list.  This is because it cannot be made to be fun, so I do it about twice a year, just before a holiday (so stuff is flat and more will fit in a suitcase) and one other random date when I can't see the bed in the smallest bedroom for the clean washing draped over it or residing in baskets thereupon.

FUN that isn't a chore made to seem interesting and amusing can include talking, laughing, watching telly, pooting, blogging, facebooking, on-line bridge, riding lessons (my brand-new activity, started a fortnight ago since moving full-time to Wales) photography, playing with the dog, going to the seaside, going to the pub, visiting nice people, window-shopping, sitting in the sun, drinking wine, having a long hot bath, gazing at the scenery, watching the antics of the local wildlife, talking on the phone to nice people, and reading in bed.

I decided in my late forties if I hadn't yet worked out what i most enjoyed and arranged my life so Ii could spend as much time as possible doing or experiencing those things then it was a Poor Do, as we say Oop North.

I have even engaged the services of an estate agent who makes me laugh and who laughs at my jokes.  She will be paid 1% of the eventual price we get to sell the house, so we are utterly leaving her to it, getting out of her way and out of her hair as much as possible.  She rings us once a week. It's enough. The market is slow.  Little else can be done.

The Husband and I are quite good as a team, covering all the bases, and we also have a similar ethos in that we like to tackle those things we can change, alter, improve and achieve, and side-line those things we are powerless to prevent and unable to alter.  We can moither and fret too much otherwise, so we have trained ourselves out of fruitless worry, wherever possible. It's an age thing.  Being in one's mid-fifties is a huge help there. It's why serenity comes with age, or can if you let it.

Is it possible to be too contented?  Is it likely that Life with a capital L will leap up and bite us in the bum if we carry on being this happy? I catch myself fearing so, but as I can do nothing to stop it if it has a mind to, then I mustn't worry that it will, must I?  Or I will waste good times dreading bad, and that would be very sad indeed.

Your very good health, one and all!  Raises glass, looks for sunspecs (aah! of course, they are on my head) and prepares to press PUBLISH then log off to go and sit in the sun

Somebody's gotta do it...

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Sunday Lunch-Tea-Dinner

We have one meal on Sundays, and it is usually eaten at home after at least a couple of hours' cooking time.  It might be Lunch, or a Late Lunch, or High Tea, or an Early Dinner, or Dinner.  It might fetch up on the table at any time between 1.00pm and 8.00pm.  I might cook it, I usually cook it, or The Husband might.  It will usually involve some part of a dead animal being put in the oven (purist say it is a misnomer to call this a roast, as roasted meat is spit-turned in front of radiant heat; what we do in the oven and erroneously call a Sunday Roast is in fact Baked Meat). 

I like to do lots of root veggies with it, which I suppose I am also mistaken in calling roasted vegetables.  And something green might be boiled or steamed on top of the stove.  There will be gravy, there MUST be gravy, done the English way, not a poncey French reduction or jus. I will use my covered vegetable dishes if we have guests.  Or I will serve straight from the cooking pan if there are not, as I don't like making washing up.  The Husband will sharpen knives and perform surgery. I will open a second bottle of red before the first is finished, because it is Sunday.

But today I am going a bit on a limb by serving slow-"roasted" pork belly with black crackling (previously marinated in garlic, salt, Chinese Five Spice, sesame oil & light soy sauce) and served with a mound of stir-fried vegetables, including bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, and we will be at the table at about 7.15pm.  Two bottles are already open and breathing...but there will be (shock horror) no gravy.

But it's still a close approximation to our usual fare, because it's Sunday, and some things are sacred and must be observed.  A proper sit down Lunch-Tea-Dinner to round off the weekend is set in stone. 

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Rest and Respite

Such a busy April so far, what with starting our move to live permanently and full-time in mid-Wales and getting The Husband's house ready for sale, that I didn't get a chance just to sit still and listen to some Bach for Easter.  Finally, though, I have a morning off so I am cuddled up with the laptop and a cup of coffee and my headphones on so I can soak up some of this.

I mentioned to my Big Sis, Perpetua, that Handel and Mozart are supremely uplifting for me too, as she had said they were for her, but that Bach had wormed its way into my very being, or some such phrase.  This opening chorus of the Johannes Passion is in quite some way resposible for that.  It drills through me...

Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Final Countdown

Redundancy/Retirement Day -2

The Husband got home last night full of things to say about his day, mostly retelling as much as he could remember about the hour-long presentation he stood and watched being given by some Bloody Suit or other, all about the future of the place where he has worked for thirty-two years.  A future that more than twenty of the people in the room will not be sharing.  The husband's small department is the first to shut and others will close in the next few months. 

Staggeringly, it wasn't until a lady from HR whispered in his ear did the Bloody Suit mention the men leaving this week and thank them for their work.  The Husband said the mood was low and sullen, lots of folded arms and dropped heads, but he just stood with his arms by his side and gradually an irrepressible smile formed about his lips as he realised that none of the unfeasibly optimistic management-speak guff being spouted would have anything whatsoever to do with HIM!

I am hoping leaving work will have a similar effect on his posture that getting Our Ma safely stowed away in her Bide-a-Wee Home for the Bemused, Baffled and Bewildered did.  I could see the weight of the burden fall away from his huge and impressive shoulders when that happened, just shy of a year ago.

I expect him to become lighter of step very soon, and not just because he won't have to wear steel-capped safety shoes any more.

Today it is set to be 23C in the Northern Home Counties, and yet we are still in March.  I am just off out to increase my crop of freckles.  I have a book, a strappy dress, and some bubbles in the fridge left over from a little party we gave at the weekend.  I want for nothing except for The Husband, and as from tomorrow at about 3.00pm I get him too.  Happy Happy Days. He said to me very seriously in bed last night "We will be all right, won't we?"  I said "Are we all right now?"  He said "Yes we are."  I said, "Right then, so we will be in the future as well". 

We are very good at all right now.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

In Search of a Better Way of Putting It

Is anyone else apart for me fed up of seeing the press lazily reach for the phrase "lost his/her battle with cancer" whenever anyone in the public eye dies after cancer treatment? It's so hackneyed and - even worse - inaccurate.   Here is an excellent argument against using the phrase, from Mary Kenny, who says everything I think but far, far better than I could.

This week I was discharged from my local Breast Care Clinic, said goodbye to my lovely consultant surgeon and his nurses and trotted off into the future with a blithe step.  I am now more than five years on from my cancer treatment and still alive, and - better yet - cancer-free, so I am one of the happy statistics, with a good outcome.  But I will not pretend for a moment that I fought a battle, or embarked on some existential quest or personal crusade.  I was diagnosed, operated upon, had radiotherapy and took hormone treatment for a few years. I didn't run a military campaign!  I was lucky - others have endured much, much more, especially if they have chemo or a series of operations, but even they didn't "fight a battle" with their malignancy, in my view.  We underwent treatment, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't.  It's more a lottery than a war.

End of, as The Young like to say.

However, I suppose the press will reach for the cliche if we cannot provide them with an equally easy but more honest alternative.  "So-and-so has died of cancer..." is my favoured one.  Anyone else got any ideas?

Sunday, 26 February 2012

A Sprat to Catch a Mackerel

After years of being a devoted follower of The House Doctor (and not just in the days when the divine Alistair Appleton fronted it) I am finally getting the chance to put into action some of what The Blessed Ann Maurice preached on Channel 4 when she was doyenne of property programmes, before being usurped by The Right Honourable Kirstie Allsopp.  In Ms Maurice's view if it didn't initially prove enticing to buyers, to get your house off the estate agent's books without a big price drop one might need to be prepared to spend around 1% of the asking price on de-cluttering, modernising, refreshing and de-personalising a property so that even a viewer who is totally blind in their mind's eye can imagine himself living in it and plan where his furniture will go to the extent of making an offer. 

Having also sold Our Ma's house in the same area of town less than a year ago I know from the estate agent we used then, and will use again, the first fortnight of marketing is key, when one usually gets the by far the most viewers and interest.  In addition to this, the second quarter of the year is usually the one in which most domestic property is sold.  So April is when we intend to put the house on the market, and we will have house-doctored it before we even start, to miss out (one hopes) any lengthy nail-biting stage when a house is for sale but receiving no sensible offers.  

This is particularly important for us, as The Husband will have to carry on paying the mortgage on it even after he has no earned income, which would eat chunks out of his redundancy pay - eeek!  Not a situation we want to see carry on for long.

The sprat to catch a mackerel of my title is how I choose to think of a house-doctoring process.  And being Lancashire born-and-bred 1% is far too big a sprat for me.  Northern canniness, an eye for a bargain, a liking for the secondhand (inveterate eBay and charity shopping) and a willingness to expend some effort (which is 100% free, after all) leads me to think I can manage it for no more than £50-£100 per room in a four-bed house. 

Absolutely top-whack.  Even £100 on every single room would be 0.4%. And I won't be spending that much, I promise you!

It seems wise to concentrate our resources, both of money and energy, on the Big Four Rooms; Kitchen and Bathroom (C21st obsessions) and Sitting Room and Main Bedroom.  There is also the House Doctor's "curb appeal" which will need to be assessed and adjusted as necessary, and the back garden needs to look its best and most aspirational (which it can - in May and June in particular, it is usually very lovely indeed).

I've had house-doctoring in the back of my mind for years as we have always intended to sell this house when The Husband retired and move full-time to our smaller house in Wales.  So any alterations or redecorating I have done has been in her recommended muted "natural" palate of soft earthy colours, mostly light browns, cream, stone or pale yellow, with sparing use of accent colours.  On the ground floor the accent is a fresh grass green, to tie in with the gardens as seen through the windows and patio doors. Upstairs the accent colours are shades of blue or green, as seen here in the bathroom

 I do realise there are too many toiletries out - I will thin the articles further before marketing the house

Happily for us Sitting Room and Kitchen need no more than a good clear-out, spring clean and carpet-shampoo (we own a Vax, so there's no hiring outlay) having been re-decorated quite recently, only last autumn in the case of the former.  I need to get the kitchen looking smart with a freshen up and deep clean, re-grouting the tiles back to their pristine condition (below) and removal of a lot of the equipment we have out; even this is too much

Other rooms need more work to bring them up to scratch.  The study/fourth bedroom is presently lilac and silver, and that will have to change.  Lilac was fashionable around the time of the millennium, but is much less so now.  There is also a "red flag" in that room, a narrow crack in the painted wallpaper where there has been expansion in the gap between the brick chimney coming up from the sitting room below and the stud wall abutting it. That isn't as bad as a patch of the dreaded damp, but nevertheless NO RED FLAGS ALLOWED!  That wall will need to be stripped and re-papered, so I may as well repaint the whole room and have done with it.

I made a start on all this on St Valentine's Day, of all days - so romantic - by embarking on the sprucing up the main bedroom (I refuse to call it anything so Edwardian - nay, Feudal - as the Master Bedroom - as no-one who knows me would be surprised).  In any case we have three double bedrooms of roughly the same square footage, so it isn't a stand-out room but for the fact it is the only one with extensive fitted clothes storage.  And we sleep in it, all three of us, The Husband, myself and The Dog (note to self, ensure their is no "off-putting doggie-odour", a bĂȘte noire of The House Doctor, although we may need a kind visitor to sniff that out as we will have long-ago been habituated to it).  Ten days later this room is now pretty much done, just a little more painting needed and the new curtains (50% off in the Sales, of course) to be properly hung.  At present they are pinned up at the window so we can use the room over the weekend whilst we have a visitor in the main guest room.

I know this darling shade of duck egg blue isn't the bland magnolia that most people seem to think is the least objectionable colour to the largest number of people, but the decor has to tone with the light grey cupboards and wardrobes.  Magnolia would have been bland to the point of unappealing with grey units and white woodwork, I feel.  And anyhow, just LOOK how cute The Dog looks in his new quarters! 

Not relevant when we are selling up and moving on, I know, and very much anathema to Ann Maurice, who in her sterner moments has threatened to ban particularly large smelly dogs to an outhouse or kennels until a house is sold, but we aren't actually going to be in the house once the keys are handed over to the estate agent, except for a visit every couple of weeks to touch base with Our Ma in her Bide-a-Wee Home for the Bewildered.  We are leaving it as near immaculate as we can muster, then packing up the ol' jalopey and heading for them there (Welsh) hills, so the pets don't shower the place with hairs and feathers and the humans don't mess it all up in the process of having a life...

Monday, 2 January 2012

All Change...!

The train conductor of life has called out that to our family quite a bit of late.  Both The Daughter and The Husband had notice of redundancy issued in 2011, my girl being ahead of my man by three months.  She is 30, and a newlywed with a daft dog to support, so had to get her finger out pronto and find something else to do.  Happily, the very first set of interviews she had led to her being offered the job, and she starts it tomorrow, still in fundraising but no longer for a major NGO (as one cog in whirring clockwork wound up by someone else, with a team to manage) but this time as the sole professional fundraiser for a small local charity with only the director to report to, and volunteers below/alongside her. Good Luck, darling, with all that!  I have spent a few minutes thinking of all the millionaires I am aware of who might be a soft touch for a charity such as hers, and told her my list.  She was good enough not to laugh my ideas out of touch.

The Husband is another matter.  As I said in my last, he has been working full time for forty years solid and in my view this means he has no obligation to look for other work, especially as we can sell his house and move to mine so don't have the worry of wondering how to pay the last six years of the mortgage on it (assuming we can sell it quite quickly...eek!).  Forty years is long enough.  Had he done A Levels and a degree, like most people I know well, he wouldn't have had his first serious job until he was about 22, so he's six years ahead of the game.  He's done enough.  Come on, and let the good times roll!

We had a week over Christmas in the Welsh house entertaining guests and practising for retirement.  It was a week of almost non-stop unmitigated filthy weather where the sun hardly broke through for a moment and it rained an unconscionable deal of the time.  Between shopping on Christmas Eve and going out for a drive to see someone on 29 December I didn't actually leave the house, my choice, and really not a problem.  We had enough food for an army and the appetites to do justice to it, so I cooked up a storm once a day and spent the remainder of the time asleep or resting, mostly curled up on a couch with festive lights twinkling, fire glowing and the telly pouring out entertainment into the room in a steady flow; comedy, new drama, vintage movies, a smattering of news and weather (more wet stuff coming, as if we dodn't know) and the occasional documentary or quiz to stiffen the spine and rouse the little grey cells.

We discussed possible changes to the house that will be needed to make it a perfect retirement home for the two of us.  Once The Husband's equity is available we may well do some building, extending out at the front which faces northwards so's not to use up any of the southerly elevation or the sun trap that is the back garden.  These houses are back-to-front in that the sitting rooms face backwards with views over the fields and the kitchen-diners are at the front facing the street.

We hope to push the house forwards a bit and make a soopah-doopah, 50% bigger, all-singing, all-dancing, eat-in kitchen, and add a downstairs cloak to the other side of the front door and a porch in the middle.

I'd like the kitchen extension to have a glass roof, a conservatory in effect with brick walls up to worktop height, to get the most possible natural light, but then there is also the two story extension option which (if affordable and passes a planning application) could add extra space above the kitchen extension to enlarge the second bedroom.  If we did this I'd want a dormer window above it fitted into the roof to bring light into the loft.  We may or may not do a loft conversion one day, so why not design a new facade to the house that prepares the way for this?  Even if we don't do it, the next occupants might.

So, as I say, All Change!!  To working life, to where we live, to the fabric of the building we intend to spend our retirement.  If that isn't an exciting and challenging start to a new year, I'd like to know what is.