Thursday, 13 October 2011

Home maintenance...

Well, I can't say my enthusiasm for all things new during the Autumn season is still as high as a few weeks ago. The reason? Decorating.
Now, I enjoy a reinvention as much as the next person. I'm like the Madonna of the property world - new season: new look (even new house quite a few times...) but the trouble is we're at the fundamental level of re-carpeting. New carpets will be great, don't get me wrong, but we hadn't anticipated the preparation and painting of all the skirting boards and beautifully moulded (but tricky to paint) Victorian door frames that would come as part of the whole job. This has turned into a big old project.
I thought I'd get out of lots of labouring because my bit of back trouble means I can't get down to skirting board level, but this just means I get to do all the chores while my partner does sanding and painting. Usually in our egalitarian household we both do a bit of all sorts. It baffles me how people cope with the role of housewife - I go to bed exhausted every night.
The financial drain of decorating should never be underestimated either. I am always seduced by advertising in DIY shops, which means I go into any such store for a single bulb or one paintbrush and come out at least £50 lighter with lots of useful stuff, like new lampshades, doormats and a "wundermat" (its' meant to soak up wet feet / paws upon entry...) Ikea puts a similar strain on my wallet. I go in for a bag of tea lights, I come out with a rug or a sofa. I'm not allowed into these places at the moment.
Fortunately, I will be kept out of trouble by painting walls this weekend. The jury's still out on whether to do walls or skirting boards first so we're following no particular method. I'm not sure if I'm on Egyptian Cotton in the hall or Skylight in the spare room. Pretty sensible names compared to some. I've often wondered who gets the brilliant job of naming paints and what method they use to decide these wonderful but not always descriptive names? It seems the more you pay, the more descriptive the title, so we travel from "mouse's back" at the higher end (brownish-grey, fair enough) to "high society" or "hobby horse" lower down the scale. Now, maybe I'm revealing my ignorance but I've no idea what colour either of these might be without a good squint at the chart. I've pondered what method I would use - how about a favourite animal coupled with a pleasing object near at hand...
Elephant shoes, Greyhound pencil? Hmm I think I'm only a Bear's candle or a Cat's cake away from being onto something here...

Wednesday, 5 October 2011


In this fast-spinning world, just as the leaves are starting to fall, I find my thoughts drifting towards my next holiday. Even in a world where you can buy a bikini in February but not a jumper, I would really be ahead of the game for Summer breaks - No, I'm thinking about a New Year break. I've not done this before and I'm starting to wonder why not.

Where might I be going for my luxury break - Southern Spain, Canary Islands? No. Gloucester, England. The reason it's a "luxury break" is it's not in a tent. We've tried camping for several years now, mainly because we got a dog and thought the outdoor life would be more enjoyable for her. Unfortunately, she hates camping. She can't tolerate getting cold or wet any more than we can. She spends a lot of the holiday refusing to get out of the car. I have never seen a dog as happy as she was when we returned from a particularly wet weekend in Wales - wriggling in ecstasy on her back on the sofa, then she slept for about 16 hours. In fact it's a standing joke that without fail as we approach our destination rain falls like stair rods from the sky, to the point where the windscreen wipers can no longer cope. We usually sit in the car for a while, bracing ourselves before trying to pitch the tent: "It'll pass in a minute", "Yeah..."

We considered getting a caravan, but would need to get a new car to pull it, so lets face it the combined cost equals a lot of holiday money. Also, as a friend once said to me, "I don't understand caravanning, I mean you wouldn't go and spend a week in the smallest room of your house would you?" She had a point, but clearly did not understand the allure of the great outdoors! So the decision was made to try to beat the weather gods this time and we've booked a cabin. Ha! No more wet and cold for us! Snug as bugs we will be, watching the rain pouring down outside...

Yes, we'll still be in this country which some don't understand - surely the point of a holiday is to "get away"? Well, yes, but I'm such a sad sap about aforementioned dog that it would break my heart to put her in kennels, and she overheats too quickly in hot weather, so no point chasing the sunshine! Might as well stay in good old Blighty. Besides, it means I don't need to squeeze into a bikini for my holidays anymore. Well, I could but it might look a bit seedy with a mac and wellies...

Despite them sometimes being a disappointing disaster, I think my main motivation for holidays is "absence makes the heart grow fonder" - not of those nearest and dearest (they'll be coming with me), but my own bed. Nothing nicer than sinking into my own bed after time away. So whether you're back-packing, luxury cruising or (like us) having an expensive fiasco only a few hours from your own doorstep, I hope we can metaphorically click our heels at the end of it and remember "there's no place like home!"

Coughs & Colds - That time of year again!

Apologies for the pause in postings - I've been suffering from "woman-flu". Personally it has always escaped me why the common cold is often referred to as "man-flu"...I think the gene that enables many women to push on through illness just passed me by: when I'm ill, I'm ill  - and everybody knows it! I freely admit that I'm the worlds worst patient. I detest minor ailments. I like to be up and about and doing stuff with my time, so when I have to pause to blow my nose every thirty seconds it puts me in a foul mood.
In fact, my partner who is always in rude health, has frequently appealed to the gods, "take me, take me instead!" This is partly to avoid the extra demands, fetching and carrying that my convalescence causes, but also because sitting about and doing nothing would not be a source of stress for H, who has frequently argued that the sick role is to be embraced, perhaps even enjoyed.
However, germ-ridden me finds that aside from the intense frustration of being incapacitated by sneezing, headaches and temperature extremes, the frequent nose-blowing causes a big, sore, red, flaky nose where once there was a neat(ish) button number on my face. Also, my eyes (not big to start with) reduce to little puffy, red-rimmed dots in my head. All-in-all the common cold attacks my vanity with a frenzy which compounds my misery no end.
So, clearly I am the population that the multi-million pound cold and flu remedies market is aimed at. I go to the chemist at the first opportunity and fill up my basket with linctus, essential oils, tablets, inhalers, menthol rubs, soft tissues coated in stuff to soothe my nose...then to the grocers for fresh lemon and ginger. Oh, I throw everything at it. Never works. The cold runs its course as always and in a few days I'm back facing the world, but it makes me feel better to think I've tried.
Clearly, I am now embracing my preventative stage, spurred on by the belief that one day I will create an effective immune system. Open my kitchen cupboards and out falls the high strength Vitamin C and Zinc, multivitamins and echinacea, along with lemon and ginger tea bags (can't faff around with fresh stuff every day). The fight against winter colds is on!
However, it's going to be a hard battle: I called at a friend's yesterday and he told me he'd asked some relatives to stay away for a few days because he had a sore throat and swollen glands...clearly that courtesy did not extend to me - where's that antibacterial hand gel...?!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Conkers, treasure and anniversaries

It will be my first wedding anniversary on Sunday. We chose this time of year because 1) I love Autumn 2) my partner does not like Autumn & wanted to brighten it up with an "event"! More people have remembered it than we did. We've had lots of enquiries about what we are "going to do". To be honest, we're glad we found each other because we're both a bit non-plussed by the whole thing and have questioned what we are meant to do. Clearly there is an expectation that we mark this event in some way other than wash the car and clean the house, which would be usual Sunday events in our life of domesticated bliss... So, having decided to go for a long walk with the dog and have lunch out it will no doubt pour with rain. However, this will not deter us from our enforced enjoyment - well it hasn't done for any of our holidays for the past three years (camping - a whole other blog required for that topic!) Anyway, having chosen a suitable activity I've then been wondering whether to go as far as a gift.

For some people, jewellery is an obvious choice. Not in our relationship. Both of us would be too worried about losing or breaking anything too expensive. I have to take my wedding ring in to the jewellers be re-polished already after lots of bumps and scratches. So, given our own personal credit crunch, I started to think about what "thoughtful" present I might give. I believe Paper is commonly understood to be first wedding anniversary fodder according to some old rhyme, but I'm guessing I should do something imaginative with it rather than hand over a sheet of A4? So then I starting thinking about things we find valuable.

Personally, I don't think you can go wrong with a really shiny smooth conker...I mean, from an early age (and I don't think I'm alone fellow treasure hunters?) I've found it hard to resist a good conker, acorn, stone, shell. How wonderful they look when you find them - pebbles and shells gleaming wet in sunshine, a conker's rich-coloured shine on the grass in the park. I don't think this urge to collect pretty, shiny things ever really goes away. We were out walking with my mother-in-law and her partner some time ago, when he found a Jay feather with a distinctive bright stripe of blue on it. Quick as a flash, she had it out of his hand stating, "I keep the treasure!" - and she meant it. We love to collect this sort of stuff, to the detriment of pockets and washing machines.

But how they fade when you take them home! After a short time the conker goes dull & you can't make it shine like new again (unless you varnish it), worse still if you collect a carrier bag full (which some children might have done...) they soon start to smell of decay in the corner of your room. Not good. Acorns shrivel up and fall out of their little cups, a pebble never looks so good as when the stream or sea is washing it clean. So I think I'll use my sheet of paper to make an invitation to go out and look at all this treasure in the great outdoors. Rain or shine.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Grasping the nettle - The Autumn clear-out

For several months (well, getting on for two years) the house has been gradually descending into a state of dishevelment worthy of any student population. We had burglaries recently in our area and had to face facts: How would we know if we'd been burgled? The place finally looked like it had been through a spin dryer and furniture had landed haphazardly in each room. A mess. Don't get me wrong, we've still cleaned the bits that show, we're not total tramps. However, the main issue I identified after looking through an interiors magazine, was the lack of a "cohesive look" - who am I kidding, that was the main issue, but the fact remains that we've still got furniture we both brought to the relationship five years ago, which doesn't necessarily go together, but we both felt precious enough about our own pieces to avoid actually throwing anything out.

In a similar vein, we have an endless battle with stuff coming through the letter box. Relentless sheets of paper build up behind the door on a weekly basis - advertisements for local businesses including take-away menus for places I don't even know never mind would be tempted to order from. We bought a letter rack to deal with this, that's been stuffed full for months and now things build up on the floor in the hall, on top of shelves, anywhere we can squirrel it away to avoid dealing with it. This means that meaningful post which might need something doing with it, gets lost amidst the strewn batches of paper dross.

Therefore, this weekend we decided to try to give the place a fresh look, mainly to avoid living in a flea market come junk shop for the rest of our days. Usually, I would only clear stuff out to avoid doing something else more pressing and dull, such as postgraduate study - nothing like it for ensuring you've got clean paintwork throughout the house I find. However, this weekend we resolved to clear out for the sake of it, be firm, ruthless. If it's not required, throw it out! I use the term "we" loosely, it all sounds easy in principle but if you're married to a total hoarder it makes things twice as difficult. We once did a carboot sale and as I was selling things up one end of the table, my partner was buying stuff back at the other end...Subsequently, this weekend I had to endure sad eyes enquiring pitifully whether a screwdriver thing for getting staples out of the wall might one day "come in useful?" Well, it hasn't in the past five years, so I'm guessing not. I found it later in the airing cupboard.

Nevertheless, after much planning, sorting and shifting of stuff, we've ended up with a pile to go to the charity shop, the recycling bins are all full and we've got a stack of rubbish to go (things we've carried around from place to place for years, but are no use to man nor beast...) I've even filed away my bank statements. It feels great! Now, I'm not being smug, as noted above it's taken me some time to grasp this nettle but it actually wasn't as bad as I thought. It's started me thinking about all those things I put off, then when I finally do them they're usually not such an ordeal and leave me feeling that I might be a capable, organised person after all.

So I've been spurred on in all directions - I've done a stack of laundry, got a casserole simmering in the slow-cooker, booked my car in for a service and found all the relevant bits of paperwork for that (to avoid the usual frenzied, grumpy search the morning I'm due to take the car). I would have cut the lawn, but I was saved by rain starting. Ah well, there's still the ironing, and I need to find a dentist...

I'm sure I'll collapse into a slovenly heap some point soon, but until then I shall be a calm and efficient person in my nice tidy house...Is that ANOTHER FREE PAPER?!!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Briefly - Rugby and dancing

As we now know, Autumn is a good time of year for me partly because of the TV viewing on offer. One of my highlights this Autumn will be the Rugby World Cup. Apologies American readers, I know you have your own version, but I can't help but love the way our boys basically fight each other (usually in a lot of mud) for a ball that isn't even round. I'm afraid I don't have much time for English football (soccer), never have. It winds me up when overpaid young boys trip over and clutch at their ankle with agonised expressions - you don't get any of that nonsense on a rugby pitch. There's a "blood bin" an acknowledgement that at some time during the battle, somebody will probably be bleeding to unpleasant proportions and have to go off the pitch - not for the rest of the match though, just until a couple of butterfly stitches and some Vaseline have stemmed the flow, then he'll be right back out their grappling for that ball as if his life depended on it. Primal. Brilliant. And such a joy to watch men doing what they obviously enjoy and do well: running, pushing and shoving, jumping and skidding on mud, posturing, then when they've got it all out of their system in the eighty minutes allotted, they all shake hands and have a bath together. Great.
Thinking of posturing, another great but slightly overlooked male arena is ballroom dancing. When my friends first encouraged me to watch Strictly Come Dancing, I was pretty sure that it would all be a bit naff and namby. How wrong I was! I've loved watching contemporary dancing for years, so I wasn't such a Neanderthal that I didn't appreciate the strength of male dancers, but those ballroom blokes doing the Paso Doble was pretty impressive...
Don't even get me started on the female professional dancers...My goodness, what bodies?! I'm not jealous, because that would be futile and might imply that I had even an ounce of the discipline and dedication they have to achieve that tone, not to mention the length of the legs - you've either got them or you haven't. I can't comment on female rugby players because I haven't seen them on TV, whereas toned women in lots of make-up wearing next-to-sequinned-nothing, I have.
I suppose for either gender dancing is not unlike rugby, you've got to think about where you're going, be pretty light on your feet but also strong so that you don't get knocked over, fall over or squashed.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


In the past two years I have ventured into the world of dog "ownership" - I use inverted commas, because she seems to be able to manipulate me anytime to get what she wants, so I'm not sure who the owner is. I didn't grow up with dogs, so always considered myself to be a cat person - a recognised demarcation in life, you're either a dog or a cat person it seems. Dog people I always perceived to be much more robust than me, I always thought I was too much of a wimp to take charge of a dog. But it's probably been no surprise to my friends and family that bossy little me can come to the fore when required. The first test was stopping her greeting everybody with a big Maia-cuddle, which involved her reaching up full stretch to hold onto the shoulders of any visitors or friends she met in the street. Quite alarming if your not a dog person. I was adament I didn't want to come out with a phrase which had annoyed me intensely in the past (whilst scraping paw prints and mud off my clothes) "Oh, she's just being friendly...!" But I suspect that resolution is up there with - I'll never buy plastic toys or give my child a dummy.

Which brings me to the comparison between pets and children. A contentious issue. I began my adventure with my beautiful greyhound as my friends' children were growing into toddlers and beyond. I found myself biting my lip to avoid saying "Oh, Maia does that..." when they were describing some of their children's antics. It's a common mistake, not approved of by parents in general - childless people likening their pets to a precious child... I can understand, but what can I say? The wish to anthropomorphise is just too great. I can only apologise. Indeed, just like all parents I know with endless kiddie-snaps, my phone is filled with photographs of my dog, because I think she is the most beautiful, funny little soul that ever existed. However, I can see it might appear boring to have hundreds of photos of a black greyhound asleep with her mouth open...

Well, best go take her for an evening walk. Oh there's my friend, "Maia no!...Don't worry she's just being friendly...!"