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!

Saturday 13 February 2016

Moral Dilemma

A couple of blackbirds have started eyeing up my plum tree for a potential nest site.  This fact alone should give you a clue that they're not the brightest pair - I know the blossoms look lovely, but it's February, for pity's sake, there are no leaves and there was a frost yesterday morning!

 I suppose they have some excuse though, as it has been quite a mild winter so far - even the geraniums are still hanging in there. Maybe the mirror you can see behind them has been reflecting the light onto them, or something like that.

However, I don't think Mrs Blackbird is too keen to set up home just yet; she doesn't seem convinced about Mr B's fidelity.  You see, she caught sight of a rival the other day - yep, that's right, just behind the aforesaid geraniums.  She's been sitting in the flowerpot, pecking angrily away at her reflection for the best part of two days now, while Mr B stands a few feet away on the path looking rather embarrassed.  Whether that's because he really has got a girlfriend in the background, or because he knows that it's only a mirror and is having second thoughts about Mrs B's intellectual capacity, I can't be sure.  Or perhaps he's had a look himself, obviously seen another male, and is ashamed that he's too much of a coward to do anything about it.

Anyway, my dilemma is this: given that I thoroughly dislike birds and the last think I want is a nest just above where I walk through my gate every day, {particularly if the birds in it are not very intelligent} should I turn the mirror round and end their anguish?  But then they'll build a nest.  Or should I leave it, hoping their relationship will flounder and they'll both go away?  If I leave it, could she actually break the mirror?  I'd be really annoyed about that!

She was at it again when I came home this morning and, as I wasn't brave enough to walk past her to get to my back door, I had to walk round the block in the freezing wind to get to my front door.  I do feel sorry for her, but this is my territory, and this is war now!
{This last photo is not very good, as I took it through the window -  no way was I going outside with her there!}

Wednesday 13 January 2016

Chop chop!

The problem with not cooking is that when, very occasionally, I get the urge to bake something, I have nothing to do it with.  So I have to be inventive... and me being inventive with cookery can get a bit messy.
I rather resent paying well over £1 for a piece of flapjack, so when I came across a tasty-sounding recipe for snacks I could {probably} make myself, I thought I'd give it a go.  It looked simple enough....
"Blitz 35g pistachios in a processor..." The only processor I own is the one in my computer, and even I know that foodstuffs shouldn't go anywhere near it.  However, I do possess an evil soup blender, maybe I could put the pistachios in a saucepan and use that?  Not without a lid, apparently.  Fortunately, I also possess a rather serious chopping knife. 
It was in a box of assorted kitchen equipment given to me by a friend when I moved north.  Goodness knows what she thought I was going to do with it, I was only going to Yorkshire, not Yosemite!  Ok, so my garden is a bit of a wilderness, but I've been here nearly ten years, and I've yet to meet any bears.  Although perhaps it's been put about in the ursine community that I have cutlery and I'm not afraid to use it.

After successfully chopping pistachios and cranberries, I was suddenly thwarted by, "Blitz 150g rolled oats...."  I was rather doubtful about the efficiency of the chopping knife for that.  Perhaps I could put the oats in a plastic bag and then crush them with the rolling pin?  Well, maybe if I had a plastic bag.  I do actually have many plastic carrier bags rolled up under the sink, ready to use as bin liners, but none of them seemed quite clean enough.  Then I remembered the loaf of bread in the fridge - that was in a plastic bag!  I quickly re-wrapped the bread in tinfoil, tipped the crumbs out of the bag and re-filled it with the oats.  I wasn't sure how fine I was supposed to crush them, but after I'd rolled them for a few minutes the bag started to get holes in, so I decided that was enough.

Right, what next?  "Add warmed honey and orange flavouring and mix well.  The mixture will be very sticky."  Yes, it was.  And rather gritty, so perhaps I should have rolled the oats a bit more.  It was also too crumbly to roll into balls, as suggested by the recipe.  All I could manage were unattractive sausage shapes, so I squidged them up a bit between my thumb and forefinger, so they looked more like mini granola bars and less like giant owl pellets.

I am now waiting for them to "set before serving" but it doesn't say how long I have to wait; an hour? 24 hours? until Hell freezes over?  I'll probably wait until tomorrow, and if they're no good by then I'll leave them out for the bears.

Tuesday 5 January 2016

Decisions, decisions

I noticed recently {well, for the last few months, actually} that the inside of my washing machine smells a bit musty.  This surprised me, as it's the only kitchen appliance that I use with any regularity or, indeed, competence.  {I do not class as 'kitchen appliances' any items that can reasonably be used in the bedroom, eg kettle or toaster.}  Also, since my previous washing machine died of the Black Death, I've been careful to dry the rubber bit inside the door after every use.  Although I still can't decide whether to use yards of kitchen roll {efficient, but extravagant with resources} or a cloth {re-useable, but pretty useless}.
So do I have to leave the door open now, when I'm not using the machine?  This goes against every instinct I have; I don't think my OCD could stand it, it's probably terrible feng shui and, as anyone who's ever kept cats will know, you don't leave the washing machine door open. {Or the toilet lid, but that's another story}.

  Ok, so I don't have a cat, but what about mice?  How dreadful would it be to find a mouse spinning round in your knickers?

I know, I know, the chances of a mouse getting indoors, never mind climbing inside the washing machine, are rather remote... but then, I didn't ever think a bat could get in through my bedroom window.  I have decided for now to continue drying the rubber seal with a cloth, leave the door open very slightly, and give the drum a good manual spin before every use.  I think I shall use the dustpan brush to rotate the drum, just in case a mouse does drop out.  Or perhaps I should get a cat after all.

Another thing I'd noticed lately is that I could do with some new glasses.  I've had varifocals for some time but, since starting my new job, I've found them rather frustrating.  I work in a museum now, where information is displayed at every level, from next to the floor right up to somewhere above my head.  If I were to lie on the floor I could focus through the correct part of my lenses to read the lower texts, but it's too dark to see anything down there because of dim lighting to protect the artefacts.  Also, I don't want to trip up the visitors.
I can read the higher displays by standing on tiptoes and lifting my glasses so that I'm looking through the right bit.  In extreme cases I can manage by tipping my head back as well, but I don't think that gives a good impression either.
Since new varifocals are rather expensive and I don't really need glasses for just walking around, I thought I'd try some cheap reading glasses from Poundland.  {Unfortunately I had to ask the assistant to help me find them, rather proving that I do need them all the time.}  They'd have been ok if I could have dealt with constantly putting them on and off, but I have to carry a two-way radio and often a cleaning cloth as well, so that didn't work.  I tried keeping them on all the time and peering over the top, but that just made me dizzy.  Eventually I decided to give in and get new varifocals, but with a larger lens, which I was assured would help.  Thankfully, it does; I can now both walk and read reliably, but can't afford to go anywhere or buy any books.

Now that I can see properly, I realise that I can no longer put off buying a vacuum cleaner.  My old one stopped working rather suddenly when we were clearing up after I had my new bathroom fitted, and I rather think it ate something that disagreed with it.  I've managed without my own vacuum for nearly a year now, by borrowing one from my Beloved whenever I think I need to.  He's been quite happy to bring it round whenever I've asked {and sometimes even when I haven't} but it rather takes the spontaneity out of housework, which is actually the only way I'll ever do any.  If I don't deal with dust when I first see it, I get used to it and it never looks any worse.  Also, his vacuum is a large, heavy upright, which I struggle to just carry upstairs, never mind about hanging on to while I clean the stairs.
I have therefore decided on a lightweight, cordless model with a detachable hand-held bit for zapping hard to reach places.  Apparently the battery only lasts for twenty minutes before it has to be recharged, but who on earth wants to be vacuuming for more than twenty minutes?  Certainly not me!