Monday, 24 July 2017

Up the wall and round the bend

I’ve given a lot of thought to how I want to celebrate my 60th birthday.  I know that sounds like it’s some distant, future event, but I have to confess that it was earlier this year.  True to form, I haven’t really done anything about it yet – apart from think about it with varying degrees of mild depression and strong disbelief.

I don’t like parties. {The only reason to go to a party is in order to get off with someone new – and since I have no need or desire to do that, the whole, getting dressed up, putting on shoes and talking to people thing seems a bit pointless, and nothing like a celebration.}  I do enjoy a nice meal or even just a drink {quiet or otherwise!} at home with my family and friends, but we do that fairly often anyway; on this occasion I want something a bit different.

I really want to do something significant, memorable and a little bit mad.  But, despite the fact that my nearest and dearest have been listening for years to me rambling on about wanting to walk the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall, it took me a while to realise that I now have the ideal opportunity, and no excuse to put it off any longer.  It’s all booked, and I’m going in a few weeks’ time.  Walking for six days, reflecting on the last sixty years.
 Picture: Hadrian's Wall Sunset  © Paul McGreevy. (Text added by Val Ross)
Licenced for re-use under this Creative Commons licence.

The obvious {and conventional} thing would be to do it as a sponsored walk.  But I need to know that if for some reason I can’t complete it, I won’t be letting anyone down.  Also, I’m not very keen on the whole idea of asking people to give money to charity just because I’m doing something that I enjoy – after all, you wouldn’t pay out for me to sit in a nice warm bubble bath, eating buns, would you?  Not unless photos were involved, anyway. {And possibly not even then.}  If you feel inspired to give to a charity that I support, then I’d suggest you take your pick from Refuge, RNLI or Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue.  Which, if you take a philosophical viewpoint, all do more or less the same thing.

I’d love to say that I’ll post daily updates of my walk on Facebook, but I’ll probably just be lying in the bath, weakly nibbling buns.
{Yes, I know it's a muffin.  But I can't draw buns that look in the least bit appetizing.}

Friday, 21 October 2016

Cheese and whine

In 1170, Henry II bought 10240 lbs of Cheddar cheese.

What in the name of all that’s yellow was he thinking of?  Actually, I can imagine….

Maybe he was passing through the Cheddar Gorge on a bit of a progress and chanced upon a couple of dairy maids - well, knowing Henry, he’d have insisted on escorting them home and they, being perhaps of a hospitable nature, invited him to stay for breakfast.
As he’s riding away in the morning, Henry remarks to his loyal knights, “Ooh, that was a lovely feast last night! Go back and buy me some of that cheese for my personal consumption.”

Unfortunately, Henry’s loyal knights are a bit hard of hearing; they think he said, “Buy me the sum of that cheese”, so they negotiate a deal for the entire year’s production of all the local dairies.  The whole nine yards.  Yep, a wall of cheese 9 yards long, a foot wide and over five and a half feet tall.  {One cubic foot of Cheddar cheese weighs 65.44 pounds.  Source:  So 10240 lbs of cheese is 156.48 cubic feet.}

So anyway, the cheese gets home before Henry {he being delayed by more hospitable ladies} and Queen Eleanor has to decide what to do with it.  As it’s labelled “For the King”, she can’t just send it to the kitchen where anyone can get at it.  To be honest, she’s a bit put out that it’s taking Henry so long to return, so she has a bright idea…

When Henry does eventually turn up several months later, he finds he can’t unpack because the few garments he left at the palace are strewn across his bedroom floor, and all three of his wardrobes are full of cheese.  {Assume a wardrobe four feet wide, two feet deep and six feet tall, i.e. having a capacity of 48 cubic feet} There’s also a substantial block of cheese on his bedside table but, as Henry’s feeling a bit peckish after all the progressing he’s been doing, that soon disappears.  In fact, as he offers Eleanor a bit, she forgives him for neglecting her and lets him have a mouthful of her Golden Delicious to go with it.

 What to do with the rest of it, though?  Cheddar cheese does keep for quite a long time in the right conditions, but Henry hates living out of a suitcase, and he wants his wardrobes back.  He decides to have a cheese and wine party but, as neither pineapples nor grapefruit have been invented yet, his cheesy hedgehogs don’t look quite as exotic as he’d hoped.

Also, his loyal knights point out that the cheese was, by his own command, for the king’s personal consumption and so, if they can’t have any cheese, it’s only fair that they get to drink all the wine.

Now, Henry does, as we all know, have a bit of a temper, and not getting any wine irks him somewhat.  “They’re not doing that at my next party!” he rages.  “What can I do?”
Eleanor, being of a French persuasion, (and devious nature, as we’ve already seen) suggests a delicacy from her homeland - fondue.  “Ha! Yes!” Henry agrees.  “I’ll mix all the wine in with the cheese, and have it all myself!  Those knights can just have the little bits of stale bread.”  This was, he realised later, a bit of a mistake.  When you’ve got the worst cheesey hangover in history you could really do with a bit of stale bread.

Christmas was fast approaching now and, with two and a half wardrobes still full of cheese and nowhere to hang his new jumpers, Henry toys with the idea of sending some of the Cheddar as seasonal gifts to his fellow monarchs in Europe.  “It’s labelled, ‘For the King’, but it doesn’t say which king,” he points out.

“Unfortunately, your Majesty,” the Lord Chamberlain informs him, “under French regulations it can’t be classed as ‘cheese’ because it’s the wrong colour and it’s far too hard.  They won’t even let it pass through their country, I’m afraid.”

This is just the last straw for Henry.  {He had tried cheese straws, but the crumbs got everywhere and Eleanor had come out in a rash from when he’d been eating them in bed.}
“Will no-one rid me of this troublesome cheese?” he demands.  Sadly, as we know, his loyal knights are somewhat deaf and they miss-hear him again.  Which leads to the unfortunate events in Canterbury on 29th December that year.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Hot house blues

My house was lovely and warm when I came home last night - which was a little worrying, as I hadn't put the heating on.  Maybe I'd actually had it on all summer, but it hasn't been cold enough for the thermostat to kick in? {Or maybe the heating had been on, and I'd only thought it was a nice summer.}  No, the dial on the control box was definitely in the 'off' position... but the display was flashing madly, and telling me the time was 12.15, which it wasn't.  Perhaps we'd had a power cut?  "Perhaps it just needs new batteries," my Beloved suggested.

What did he mean, batteries?  Surely the control box is connected to the electricity, otherwise how does it turn the boiler on?  Oh yeah, wi-fi.  And, on reflection, I did remember being told when they installed the boiler that I could have the control box anywhere.  But in my defence, it is next to a light switch, and I wasn't there when they set it up, so for all I knew they could have connected it to the mains and just replastered the wall very well.

Anyway, I decided to check the instruction booklet.  Yes, I do keep instruction booklets.  I selected the appropriate one, and discovered that the unit did need new batteries.   But not just any old batteries.  "Only good quality alkaline batteries should be used",  it informed me in bold type.  "DO NOT use rechargeable batteries".  Why ever not?  All I have are rechargeable batteries, and they work perfectly well in everything else.  I have them in my kitchen clock, and that's got physical moving parts - surely clock hands take more effort to move than sending an electrical impulse to a switch?  I mean, there's air resistance trying to stop the clock hands moving, to say nothing of their weight.

I should perhaps admit that I only have CSE Grade 2 in physics, and I only have that because we had to do a science.  Chemistry seemed interesting, but I was too scared to light the Bunsen-burner.  I couldn't face the idea of cutting up frogs and eyeballs, so biology was out, and domestic science didn't count. {But since that also involved lighting flames and cutting up dead animals, I couldn't do that either.}

Reading on in the instruction booklet, I discovered that the boiler was now intending to operate continuously until it got new batteries of acceptable quality.  How ridiculous is that!  What if I'd been on holiday?  My smoke detector beeps when the battery is running out, and then just stops working.  I have a combi-boiler, which spends most of its time not doing anything, so why is the fail-safe mode to suddenly start doing something it wasn't doing before?  And without even a beep to warn you!

Anyway, I bought some batteries today, and prepared myself to change them within the 30 seconds allowed before all my settings were lost.  Despite managing to drop one of the new batteries and the unit cover down the back of the bookcase, I thought I'd managed it in time.... but the display is still flashing.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

To tweet, or not to tweet....

In an effort to raise awareness of the fact that I've written a brilliant book, - nav-subnav
and to 'build a social platform' I've started using Twitter.  Not the most natural environment for a loner with punctuation issues, but I'm doing my best.

Apparently it's not enough just to compose a brief, intriguing profile, attach your most flattering picture {Yes, I'm afraid it really is my most flattering picture.}  and write succinct, yet profound {and, hopefully, amusing} comments on a daily basis.  You also have to find people to read them.

I'm not really comfortable with asking people I know to 'follow' me.  It seems a little egotistical, if not downright creepy.  So the alternative is to attract total strangers.... hmm, not creepy at all!

 (Picture: Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet by C. E. Brock (1895) “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.”)

 The recommended way, so I'm told, is to check out what other people are tweeting, follow people you find interesting, and hope they'll follow you back.  Ok, I can do that.
I have found some interesting people to follow, and I'm discovering books to read that I wouldn't have found otherwise, but a lot of the time I don't understand what others are saying.  I've worked out that the @'s simply mean, 'to'.  {Or, "Hey, I'm talking about you!"}  I even - sort of - get the #'s {although I did just have to google how to type the thing} but what is all this 'bitly' business?  And why does it so often sound like you're eavesdropping on a conversation where one party is drunk and the other is Norwegian?  Or is that just the sort of people I find interesting?

What I'm saying is, surely 140 characters are more than sufficient to craft an intelligent, witty and well-punctuated sentence.  {That sentence has 127 characters, including spaces.}  Failing that, a good quote is usually entertaining or thought-provoking - and you absolutely can't go wrong with a cute kitty picture!
I'll follow you, you're funny!
I'm sure I'll get the hang of it, in time.  Meanwhile, if I'm following you please be tolerant, 'cos I don't really know what I'm doing yet.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Team Building

Any employer contemplating a corporate team-building exercise could do a lot worse than a day out in Hull, at the moment.
Avoiding the pigeons has always been a challenge for me - I hate birds - and for the last few months there've been flocks of huge seagulls, too.  I skulk along the side of buildings, rarely breaking cover unless I can follow closely behind some large random stranger, taking advantage of their unknowing protection.  If forced to go it alone across open ground, I walk in short, sharp bursts of speed, with frequent abrupt stops, freezing, then changing direction as I try to avoid the avian enemy.
Now, to add to the adventure, new obstacles have appeared throughout the city.  Most of the pavement has been dug up, and replaced with holes surrounded by orange plastic fences, inside which orange-clad people move in mysterious ways.  As it's in preparation for the City of Culture celebrations next year, I did wonder at first if it was some kind of performance art, but no, they're just replacing all the pavements, and a large chunk of road surface.  All at the same time.

Ok, I exaggerate.   Some of the fences are wire mesh, and some of the pavement is so far untouched.  It'll look lovely when it's finished.
Meanwhile, most of the city centre is an obstacle course.  As soon as they complete one bit, they move the orange barriers to block off a different path, offering a new and exciting challenge to pigeon-fearing pedestrians in a hurry.  I can never be sure that I can take the same route twice.

I did go on one of those team-building thingys once, a few years ago at the Elsham Activity Centre.  It was brilliant, and the best time I've ever had with work colleagues.  {Apart from snogging a co-worker in the bank strong room in 1977, but I don't suppose that counts.}  We opted for laser tag rather than paintball and, when we saw the paintballers we realized it had been a good choice - they were huge, and all had matching camouflage gear, whereas we were mostly skinny clerks with new trainers.  It was a great day out with a lot of laughter, and we certainly saw a new side to some people.  {In my case, usually my backside sticking out when I was trying to hide.}

As you may know, I don't like sport and, like many writers, I'm a bit of a loner.  I think the word 'team' is vastly overused in the wrong context, {I am a colleague or co-worker, not a 'team member'} but I was actually in a proper team, once. Second reserve for the school netball team, which I took pride in as a real achievement; it got me out of lessons, but I didn't have to do anything except sit on the ground at the edge of the court, wrapped up in everybody's tracksuits.  {Or, rarely, sunbathing.}  The first reserve had to play occasionally, but I was pretty safe.

Back in Hull, my commuting is probably safe, but not easy.  Which brings me back to the team building challenge - "Your task is to get from across town to the furthest platform of the railway station in twelve minutes or less.  Do not swear, do not collide with anyone or anything, avoid anything with wings."  At least I don't actually have a team to worry about.  I nearly made it yesterday but got stuck halfway at the end of a slow-moving procession of people following a small, pavement-sweeping truck.  Given the amount of exposed earth in the area, I wouldn't be surprised if it was still there this morning.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Rash Behaviour

It's official; I'm allergic to my trousers.

It all started with a few little insect bites on my leg - except, on me, insect bites never remain little.  They go bright red and grow to the size of a 2p coin - and that's the smaller ones.  But they usually disappear in a few days, so I never bother with any treatment.  Big mistake, this time.
After about a week the marks {aka 'First Bites'} had gone, but then a whole load more turned up on my back.  OK, so I'd worn the same T-shirt, maybe that was the problem.  {Of course I'd washed it!  But only at 30 degrees, which obviously wasn't hot enough.}  This lot {Bites 2 - the return} were an irritable, itchy bunch and lasted a couple of weeks.  Then, just as they were going, a huge, 3-bite red mark appeared under my arm {The Blob - children of the Bite}.

After about six weeks, I realized the Blob wasn't going anywhere, so I went to see the nurse.  She said it looked like eczema, and had I recently changed my deodorant?  Well, actually, I had.  The Blob wasn't exactly where I apply deodorant, and it was only under one arm, but I threw out the new (cheap) stuff and bought some more of my usual (not cheap) brand.  She also suggested that I "try this cream".  That didn't work, so three weeks later I saw the doctor.  {The delay wasn't my procrastination, this time.  It just takes that long to get an appointment.}  At least he recognized a bite when he saw one, prescribed stronger cream and some tablets.

Before I could even begin the treatment, I noticed a nasty rash on my legs.  {Why do we always say, 'A nasty rash'?  Has anyone ever had a nice rash?}  It looked like a heat rash, only it wasn't hot weather and it got worse.  Thankfully, it seemed to respond to the tablets - but after the weekend, it was back.  Could it be unrelated to the bites, but due to something I wore to work, perhaps?  Or, {and much more likely, in my view} was I being consumed from within by some alien virus that would make my arms and legs drop off?

I think the surgery receptionist could hear the panic in my voice, as she gave me an appointment for the Thursday.  Now I have different cream, and stronger tablets that I have to take for a month and can't drink with!  And, apparently, because it's gone on for twelve weeks, I'm now even more sensitive to allergens than I was before.

Whilst this was in some ways reassuring to know, it has created a few problems.  I was due to have my hair coloured, but decided it probably wouldn't be a good idea to coat my head with chemicals at the moment.  Should I still have it cut, though?  Which is the better look, spikey and stylish but grey, or fluffy and floppy but black?  {I opted for short, because at least that looks intentional.  Even if people do think my intention is to look like a badger that lost an argument with a ceiling fan.}  On a more intimate note, should I really be using deodorant at all?  It can't be helping, but I hate the idea of being less than 'nice to be near'.  Also, it's quite possible that I've become allergic to the fabric of my work trousers.

Fortunately, I only have to wear my uniform for a few hours, and some days not at all.  {Because I work part time, not because I have that sort of job!}  I can wear a skirt to and from work, and change when I get there.  And, because I'm incognito, I can go without deodorant and scowl at people on the train without worrying that I'm bringing my employers into disrepute!

Friday, 22 April 2016

Travelling hopefully

I like maps.  My first Girl Guide badge was map reading and, even though I say it myself, I'm good at it.  However, Belgium has defeated me.  Part of the problem has been that it's impossible to find a decent map of Belgium in the first place.
Our holiday rental is, literally, on the border; go out of the back door and you're in Belgium...

...go out of the front door and you're in France.

The closest town to where we're staying is actually in France, so I suppose I should have realized that the local bookshop would only sell French maps.  {"Ha, you want to go to Belgium?  You don't want to stay in la belle France, then it's your problem."}

However, we did find what looked like a very good map, at a scale of 1cm to 1km - ideal for exploring obscure places down country lanes.
 Except it didn't work.  I've spent the last 3 days insisting that the map had roads missing, junctions in the wrong place and was not using any consistent kind of scale, while my Beloved was equally insistent that this could not be.  He holds a touching faith in all things vaguely official.    Finally, I did what I should have done in the first place, and looked on the internet.  {How anyone managed to plan military campaigns round here without Google Maps is a mystery.}
And I was right!  I must confess that we'd found it a little odd right from the start that our map had shown Belgium to be much emptier than France, with far fewer roads; on closer inspection we discovered that several roads starting in France just stopped abruptly at the border.
What we have is not a map, it's an artist's impression!  They might as well have coloured it all grey and written, "Here Be Belgians".
It doesn't help that most of the minor rural roads don't have numbers, they have names.  Which is all very quaint, but doesn't help at all, since the names are obviously too many letters to print on a map, always assuming that the road itself is on there in the first place. What's worse, most of the junctions don't have road signs and, if they do, you don't see it unless you're travelling in the opposite direction.
"Satnav", I hear you say.  Well, yes, we have borrowed one, but it's Homer Simpson, and I don't altogether trust him.  Also, it needs recharging, and the plug is bent and won't stay in.  But so long as we can stay on the motorway, we should get home alright!