Monday, 30 June 2008


Look what I saw on Sunday morning!

But now I'm back to reality. Today Bob and I emptied the kitchen, crikey I hoard a lot of crap, it took forever to get it all out. There were umpteen slimy pictures on the walls, a 'decorative' carpet beater and other crap hanging from hooks, odd things made by children that aren't even my own stuck up wherever there was a space for them, we eventually found homes for it all, a good one was the bin. Then we removed various redundant rawl plugs from the walls and filled the holes in with plaster. Stripping off the wallpaper created even more, some huge, holes so we filled them in. It's amazing what you can do with a butter knife and a bucket. The kitchen now looks like a sordid hole, as if the former occupants died and no one has dared enter for years.

My room has a pile of cookery books on the table and a bowl of fruit on the couch. I wouldn't make my worst enemy spend any time in the sitting room.

I live in hope, they say it gets worse before it gets better, and I'm sure whoever they are they know what they are talking about. Tomorrow we will paint the walls and then I will tackle the floor before, hopefully by the end of the week, getting the shelves up and turning it back into a working kitchen again.

In the meantime I will have to remember not to answer the door.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Out With the Old

Today it is raining again. It was lovely and sunny when I got up so I stripped the bed. By the time the machine had done its bit the rain had come on and now there are sheets all over the radiators and it is hot and steamy in here. The life of a housewife can be so trying.

Now I'm going to clean out the old shoe cupboard, which since the shoes were removed from it, has been stuffed full of junk: manuals for long since defunct electrical goods, wall-paper paste, old boxes that seemed too good to throw away. But I could do with the space for table linen and napkins now, so it's time to deal with it. I quite like a bit of a clear-out. The other day I emptied the old wash-stand in the bathroom, moved it to the hall, then emptied the free-standing cupboard in the kitchen - which began life as a bookcase in an educational establishment - and put that in the bathroom and refilled it with towels and unguents. The wash-stand will go to New Zealand with my friend Mark, it came to me by way of my in-law's shed where it had been languishing for some time, and fulfilled a very useful role with us for years. But now it no longer works for us, it takes up too much space and holds bugger all. So Mark has offered to take it off my hands.

Both rooms look so much better now: the old book-case has swallowed up all the bathroom stuff, and without it the kitchen seems to have doubled in size, so I'm inspired to keep going. Next week I will paint the kitchen before Bob puts up some shelves to house the stuff that came out of the cupboard. The kitchen hasn't been painted for almost twelve years, when I painted it white until I could decide on something more suitable. Now it's time to add a bit of colour I reckon so I have decided on Ikea's green 'Lack' shelves and a cool blue-grey for the walls. Not sure about the floor yet, perhaps a darker grey.

Tomorrow I'll drag Stevie paint shopping. But for now I'll content myself with transforming the old shoe cupboard.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008


I'm getting slower and slower at this writing malarkey. I start to write a post and then I can't stop re-drafting and editing. In the last week I have written three posts but not been able to bring myself to actually give up editing them so I can actually post them. I've rewritten the next installment of my camper van story about nine times now, over about three weeks, and I'm still not quite there with it yet. I started off all enthusiastic but now can't bear to look at it again. I've been taken over by a bossy grammarian. Oh no! Will I ever get my youthful just put it out there old self back? Tips please.

Meanwhile I won't let myself re-read this, so here it is warts and all.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

The Chicken Factor

The birthday trauma is over!

I got Rogan to make the cake. Just look at these snaps and you'll see what a success that was. I recommend placing an order if you live near enough to pick one up: as well as looking fabulous it was delicious. As I wasn't making it I decided to go for total culinary bling, so chose a Horlicks flavoured sponge and got him to fill it with Nuttella and top it with chocolate ganache and smarties. I would never have been quite so adventurous, in fact I would never have thought of Horlicks at all. I always think of Horlicks as the kind of thing old people think children should drink before bed. It worked really well though, the cake was moist with that desirable springyness and tasted great. As for the Nuttella, well, that is a staple in this house and one of our favourite things is smearing it onto hot pancakes where it melts slightly. Cold in the middle of the sponge cake layers it was scrumtiously fudgy. The chocolate ganache added depth and a touch of sophistication and was gloriously melty, like chocoalte butter. Actually it would be great on crumpets. The best bit, for me, though was the smarties: with the moisture of the cake the shell coating softened so your teeth were able to sink straight through to the chocolate, and they just looked so bright and cheery.

As for the gifts, luckily Stevie had recently snapped the head on his badminton racket, so after some internal debate - was it too much of a needy present? - I trawled the internet to get him a new one and had it strung to his precise specifications. I hope it is a slightly better one than he would have bought himself. Unfortunately the blasted thing didn't actually arrive on time so thank goodness I also got him a book of Norse Legends (I'll read it after him!), a chocolate pig from Rococo Chocolates, a tin pecking chicken and a book on chicken management. Those last two because we have a tradition of getting him something chicken related every year. I can't remember how it started, but am apt to believe he would be disappointed if chickens in some form or other didn't feature. The book on chicken management was a lucky find and he's been regaling us with chicken facts: did you know that a hen can suffer a prolapsed vagina if an egg she is trying to lay is bit on the large side, and the other hens on seeing her vagina hanging there will think it a tasty snack and eat it, thus killing the poor thing? There's plenty more where that came from! Perhaps next year I'll just get him a chicken suit.

Bob got him a rather nice linen shirt: roomy and cool looking, it makes him look a bit like a foreign correspondent. To ensure an aura of celebration we broke open a bottle of fizz when he arrived home from work. We meant to do it as he entered, but these things never go quite to plan and I was ironing a table cloth at that particular moment, so we had to send him into the sitting room alone while we put the last few touches to the scene: got the candles on the cake and lit, replaced the manky old table cloth and got everything on the table. I don't suppose it did him any harm.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Birthdays Letter

Do you ever have periods in which you don't know what to concern yourself with first? I've been going through just such a time. The usual worries: leaky roof, writer’s block, not enough money have been added to. First up, my best friend was due to give birth to her third child early last week. I spoke to her the day after her due date and she was feeling rubbish: muscle spasms, extreme tiredness, and totally fed up. She lives too far away for me to just pop in and see how she's doing and, anyway, due to health concerns her doctors had warned her against any excitement: no visitors. Health concerns!? So I sent her a package which included Angela Carter's The Magic Toyshop, an Anglo-Saxon poem, and, because she asked to see it, the introductory chapter to my book. She wanted stuff to read because she couldn't move. After that all I could do was wait. I knew her husband would text me when the baby was born so I’ve been jumping every time I hear the Nokia message tone. I'm not a phone person so almost no-one has my number which means I very rarely get a call or message on my mobile. But on Tuesday, as I was sitting quietly working, the phone made that sound, I jumped nearly out of my skin, grabbed it and read: 'Sally, can we make it next week for lunch as Rick has the day off on Thursday, love Caroline.' I tried to read this as 'Rhona has had a little girl' but it didn't work so eventually replied, 'You must have miss-dialled as I'm not Sally.'

Secondly: It's my husband's birthday next Tuesday. I never know what to get him. He is a brilliant gift giver: for my birthday this year he gave me, amongst other things, a Ted Hughes signed copy of Crow, a first (English translation) edition of Nietzsche's letters, and a box of the most beautiful, and delicious, chocolates I've ever seen. He manages to turn my birthday into a festival, so I always feel I'm short-changing him when it comes to his, and I worry endlessly about this as the day approaches.

Thirdly: We have a party coming up. I love parties but I won’t know anyone at this one. It’s to do with Stevie’s work and he’s only just joined this company so I have no knowledge whatsoever of what I am in for. Actually, I know that I am likely to be the oldest woman there by about fifteen years and that everyone has been told I’m a writer. Stevie has already told me that this has excited interest which means people will talk to me. I’m going to have to get my ‘right sort’ head on and I don’t know what I’ve done with it.

But things are looking up.

Yesterday I finally got on top of the birthday thing: thank goodness for the internet. Now I just have a few little things to organise, and hope that everything will arrive on time. I do still have one or two questions I’m mulling over: would he appreciate flowers? Should I make bunting? That sort of thing. But in general things are taking shape.

This morning as I was just beginning to wake, I thought I heard a distant text message tone. A ghostly pah-pa, pah-pa that could have come from anywhere. As I was making a cup of tea later I remembered this so checked my phone and found I had a voicemail: Rhona had the baby yesterday at nine o'clock, both are doing great, and they will be home at some point today. Oh my!

Now I can concentrate on searching out that head. Where will I find it do you think?

Thursday, 5 June 2008

The Camper Van Trials: Getting it Home

When I agreed to buy the house we now live in I didn't realise that it had no bath. I have bought shoes and realised only later that they are impossible to walk in. But buying a vehicle and not noticing until in the middle of a busy road that I couldn't reach first and third gears is probably my most serious omission to date.

We left the village of the van, and I'm sure I must have pulled away in first, changed up through the full gamut of the gears until I reached fourth, before settling into comfortable pootle through the Bedfordshire countryside, so I have no idea what happened. I only know that at some point I found I could not stretch my stubby arm the further inch required to get the bloody gear-lever into the position I needed it to be in to negotiate the stop-start traffic on the main road into town. Thank goodness Bob was with me.

As I panicked and Bob came up with a plan to keep moving we forgot all the beautiful gardens we had been cheerfully peering over walls at, in our new extra high position. I squealed 'first' or 'third' and hit the clutch while Bob wrestled with the lever sticking out of the floor and the van faltered before bump-starting off. Glistening lawns the colour of newly minted peas, magnolia trees in full flower, tulips to rival Amsterdam, were now, as a fiendish looking roundabout loomed, the last things on our minds. I slowed to a crawl and the van groaned, yelled ‘third!’ and secretly hoped I wouldn’t have to stop. Why were all these people out at this time on a Sunday, didn’t they have lunch to see to?

The trip to Scotland would be fine I told myself, you don’t use first on motorways. Getting to the M1 might be tiresome, but once we've had a bite to eat and a wee relax we'd manage it, no problem. Anyway we were getting the hang of things. Then, at the last set of traffic lights before we turned into Stevie's parent's road the van cut out. Constantly turning the key in the ignition didn’t help, it would not re-start: beep-beep-beep!!!!!! The other drivers on the road were failing to see the charm in our melting-butter coloured van. I rummaged about in my bag for my phone so I could call the AA and, a little moist around the hairline, decided before dialling to give it one more go: it started! I threw it round the corner as the lights went from green to amber and then just as I was trying to park in front of the house it cut out again, its back-end sticking out into the road. And this time no amount of key turning was going to get it moving.

Bob went into the house and made tea as I waited on the doorstep to apologise to any driver who came along, and for the AA. As I was beginning to regret ever having heard of these vans along came a fellow enthusiast. On his way to see his mother, four doors down, he told me how he’d travelled round Australia in a van just like mine during his gap year. He had dreamt of owning one ever since. If I ever wanted to sell, he beamed, I must speak to him first. ‘But it doesn’t work’ I said.
‘But just look at her!’ he said, ‘she’ll be back on the road in no time, these vans last forever. Have you given her a name?’
‘Tilly’ I answered.
He helped me get her into a better position by the curb and off he went, leaving me feeling much more cheerful.

But the AA man, unfortunately, wasn’t quite as enthusiastic when he came and took a look at the engine. We weren’t going anywhere in this van for a very long time.
He towed us to a nearby garage where we were advised that she should not have passed her MOT and was not in anyway roadworthy. She was in such bad condition that they wouldn’t even consider taking on the work. They got it back to the in-laws for me and Bob and I took the train home.

The next weekend Stevie and I went back to Bedford with a tow bar. There began the scariest journey of my entire life.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008


You all know that for a while in April I went off the radar because I had a biting assignment. This required me to produce polished, accomplished poems and prose and had me working round the clock, and in a bit of a lather. I was terrified of doing badly and being thrown off the course because then what would I do!

Anyway, yesterday morning I opened my emails and there was one from the course convenor entitled 'Portfolio comments and grade.' I nearly spilled my tea! I really didn't know if I wanted to open it but took a deep breath and did so. Attached were two documents: the two sets of comments from the two lecturers. One, the email informed me, had my grade on it. I opened the other one first, braced myself, and then began to read: 'Eryl's portfolio was a joy to read'.

Ooh! I read on. I could pick out all the marvellous things that this lecturer said about my work, but I won't because it will give a false impression. I have to say though that I have underlined my favourites in orange for my own satisfaction. Once I'd read these two pages a couple of times I had to open the document with the comments from the other lecturer and the dreaded grade. Just because one liked my work it didn't mean the other one would.

I clicked on it and up it came. Managing not to look at the nasty number at the top of the page I read: 'This is an excellent portfolio...' I actually read the whole thing, contrasting the good remarks with the not so good - 'strange syntax' - before finally managing to convince myself that I wasn't going to be dismissed so I could look at my grade.

It's odd when you work and work and work on something, you lose sight of it. By the time I handed in those pieces I didn't even know if they conformed to the rules of English any more, and I didn't care, I just wanted it to stop. Since, I haven't written a thing or read any of my work. But now I am back to being utterly motivated to go on. I want to get on with my book and I want to practise more poetry, and write a play, maybe a film script too, and a novel and collection of short stories and even, perhaps, a cook-book, and I want to read everything that has ever been written...

I'm tempted to share a poem that they both seemed to particularly like, but then you might feel obliged to say 'it's wonderful' or something and I don't want to do that to you. Do you want to know what grade I got?

Monday, 2 June 2008

Trip out

Oh dear! I've had a bit of bother adding all these photos, and have had to resort to two separate posts which isn't very elegant, drat...

Yesterday we went to visit Kelburn Castle. The grounds are amazing, in fact we think they are the best of any castle or country house we have ever visited. Here are some snaps.