Thursday, 23 April 2020

Lockdown libations

Now that it looks like we won't be able to go to France this summer, our rapidly reducing stock of wine is starting to be a bit of a concern.  Obviously we can buy wine in Britain, but it's so much more expensive!  When you're used to paying only €2 a bottle for very nice wine, £5 or £6 for the same stuff is a bit harsh.  So, in the interests of economy, I have been conducting a rigorous study of currently available beverages.

All of the wines tested were delivered to my door with our essential groceries, from a major supermarket chain; un-named, but well-known for rolling back prices.

The cheapest (apart from Lambrini, which I will drink if all else fails) was 'Crisp Fresh White' at £3.49 a bottle.

Not unpleasant, but completely tasteless.  Fine with lemonade, but overall far too easy to drink quickly, without noticing what you're doing.  Handy screw-top bottle, as were all 3 wines tested, although, since it goes down so fast, you probably won't need to close the bottle.

Next was the 'Zesty & Vibrant' at £3.69.

Definitely worth the extra 20p, could actually taste it.  Sadly, there was a slightly bitter underlying flavour, but this mellowed after being open for 24 hours.  Not bad, would drink it again.

Moving into the big league, we have 'Sauvignon Blanc' (oh my goodness, a named grape!) at £3.89.

This was actually rather good.  Perhaps only when compared with the previous two wines, but I have ordered more of this one, and would buy it again even after the current difficulties.  To be fair, I've ordered more of the 'Zesty & Vibrant' as well, since we're currently restricted to only 3 of anything, and you have to get up at 2am to book a delivery slot. Which, after conducting this research, I feel unable to do.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Drying tonight

This coat has been in my family for more than 20 years; I wear it every winter and I still love it.  But, rather like me, it's a bit tired and grubby now.  Yes, of course I've had it dry-cleaned - many times - but that doesn't seem to be as effective lately as it used to be.  I really don't want to part with it, so I thought, as a last resort, I'd give it a wash.  What have I got to lose?

I've been reading about fabric stripping, which apparently removes the dirt of ages from your garments, and involves very little actual effort.  Sounds good to me.  So, what you do is fill a bath with hot water, add washing powder, bicarbonate of soda and white vinegar, and soak the clothes in it for a few hours.  There were some very encouraging pictures online of people's dirty water and clean clothes, but no instructions about how much of each substance is needed.  So I just poured in what I had and gave it a good stir with a wooden spoon.  {Must remember to wash the spoon later, or I'll end up with lavender and vinegar flavoured self-raising porridge in the morning.}

It worked!....well, the water was filthy, so I suppose the coat must be cleaner than it was, but as it's still wet it's hard to tell.  It was at this point that I realised that I'd have to get it dry somehow.

Obviously I didn't want to wring it out, as that would get it all creased and I'd have to iron it.  {I do irony, not ironing.  If clothes need ironing, I don't buy them in the first place.}  It's not a large coat, but it was saturated with water and very heavy.  My first thought was to put it on a hanger and let it drip-dry, but I realised {thankfully before trying it} that the shower curtain rail probably wouldn't be strong enough to take the weight.  I don't have a tumble drier, and I reasoned that putting my beloved coat in the spin drier might not do it a lot of good - and I'd probably still need to iron it.  Also, I'd have to carry it downstairs dripping wet, and that didn't seem like a good idea either.  I do have a large clothes horse that I could have draped it on, but the bars on it tend to leave creases on things, and the floor would get all wet.

"THEY" do say you should dry woollen garments flat.  What on, for goodness' sake??  And where?  I have many woollen garments, even after conquering the Great Knitwear Mountain of 2018.

Now, I wash my jumpers after 2 or 3 wearings, so on average, in the colder months {which, let's face it, is most of the year} I'm washing maybe 4 or 5 of them every week.  More, if I wear two at a time.  I've never dried any of them flat - The only flat surface in my house that's large enough to lay clothes on, apart from the floor, is my kitchen table - and that's covered with important scraps of paper that I can't move.  Wait a minute, though.... I'm sure I've seen something else I could use......

Sometimes I just amaze myself with my genius.  I knew the ironing board would come in useful one day.

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.