Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Hitting the Fan

I had to go away unexpectedly because my mother-in-law was taken in to hospital. And I then stayed with her for a couple of weeks because they discharged her and she was too ill to stay alone in her house. She is still ill and awaiting tests to tell her what's wrong. My sister-in-law is with her now.

Once I have reorientated myself I will write a proper post but for now, and until I have caught up with everyone else's blogs, I just thought I'd say hello.

Actually, while I'm here I have a problem one of you might be able to help me with. It's next door's puppy, a black Lab, and it keeps getting into my garden and trashing my borders. My neighbours have increased the height of the fence between our gardens so he can't jump them, and also lowered them so he can't get underneath, but still he gets in. When I got back, late on Sunday, I found poo everywhere and all number of plants, including three lavenders, a rosemary and several scented stocks, crushed and snapped. Does anyone know of a way to make my garden a less inviting loo for a dog, I'm being driven doolally?

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Vanity Sizing

One of the requirements of the writing course I am doing is to keep a journal. I started with an ordinary Moleskine notebook but this soon proved inadequate for my particular purposes. I needed something much bigger because I wanted space to stick pictures and news paper cuttings, as well as write my own literary thoughts. I looked in all the shops but nothing grabbed me. You know how it is when you have a vague notion of the kind of thing you want, you begin all hopeful that it is out there to be got for a few quid, then slowly come to realise that no one with power over the means of production thinks quite like you do? I tried everywhere I could think, then some places I wouldn't have thought of, before giving up all hope and going back to the Moleskine. After all, I told myself, this was the pad of choice for Hemingway and Chatwin so I must be being an awfully fussy cow. But it didn't do and I actually struggled to write anything of any use, it just didn't feel right. I begun to be irritated with the very notion of keeping a journal and rather disgruntled at being made to do so. Then one day I was having one of those 'big cleans.' The kind of clean that involves moving all the furniture around and takes at least a day.

And I found this under the couch.

It was covered in dust, I don't have those kinds of cleans very often, and looked like the kind of thing that Harry Potter would find the answer to a magical conundrum in. I was puzzled for a moment and wondered about fairies and the like until remembering that I had bought it for my husband well over a year before. He had expressed an interest in keeping a diary and I had stumbled upon it in a stationery shop in Edinburgh's elegant George Street and thought it just the thing to inspire him further. I put this inscription in it for him and presented it to him one day.

But fortunately for me my marvellously poignant and generous words hadn't been enough to inspire him to mark the pages, so now I asked him if I could use it. Very generously he said of course I could, and it has done me well for nearly a year. But now it is almost full up.

So needing a new one I asked him if he would go back to that shop (he has an office in Edinburgh) and get me another. But they don't sell them anymore and the hunt began again. And, unsurprisingly, we could find nothing like it anywhere.

This morning, in a panic because I have only two blank pages left, and a pile of news paper cuttings, not to mention a guddle of thoughts a buzz in my mind, I checked the internet. I tend to internet shop only as a last resort for such things because I enjoy the mooching, touching and discovering that goes with shop shopping. I tried eBay, Amazon, and all the stationery shops I could think of, but nothing. Then I thought to merely type 'leather bound journal' into google and pah-dah, I found a site called papernation and they had the exact same one. It should arrive mid-week. Thank goodness! I won't have to bottle up my thoughts for too long, and you know what that's like.

Thursday, 10 July 2008


Two of my favourite bloggers have triggered this post: Pat and Kim. In Pat's latest post she mentions the notion of cleaning one's plate and in a recent post Kim writes that the way to keep off weight lost is to define yourself as a healthy eater rather than a dieter. These things interest me because I have been struggling with my own weight since I was nineteen.

I remember the exact moment when I realised I can no longer eat whatever I want whenever I want. Wimbledon was on and I was watching it with my sisters and brother when the doorbell went. I got up to answer it and as I did so I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror above the couch. I looked fat. My stomach bulged under the waistband of my skirt and the battle commenced. I went on a diet and lost the weight I needed to regain my self esteem, but after a while some of it came back, so I went on another diet and lost it again. And thus, for nearly thirty years, my life has gone. I never let myself get really overweight, I began to check the scales daily and eat accordingly so no one ever knew about my battle, but it was a constant.

When I went to work in a Glasgow office I was seven stone two, I'd been seven stone two for years. I guess I thought that I had got the hang of things and instinctively knew my weight and what to do about it because when our scales broke I didn't bother to replace them. Big mistake. Working in an office in the city centre there are just too many temptations: a latte and muffin for breakfast as I planned the rest of the day, a sandwich, snatched at my desk, for lunch, a 'treat' of chocolate or cake mid afternoon to help me get through the rest of the day, on and on it went. Friday night beers didn't help either. By the next time I got on the scales, about four years later, I was eight stone seven. I didn't understand, I had actually dropped a dress size, from a ten to an eight, in that time, I thought I'd lost weight with the stress of working. How could that be? I bought a new set of the best quality scales available. They confirmed the worst: I was, for all intents and purposes, a stone and a half over weight. Looking in the mirror I saw my blubbery self in all my hideous glory. Fat had won the war, and fat was building a palace on my thighs, bloody tyrant. Thin was going to have to gather all its resources and start a revolution.

But thin was in a very weakened state and was unable to see the full strength of its enemy. It really believed the number on the label of a dress: 8. It thought that that number 8 meant that it was the true prince, that somehow those other numbers, the ones on the scales and the tape measure, were lying. I had to give it a serious talking to to stir it into action. There ensued a long battle of arbitration.

I got my weight down to seven stone twelve and there it stayed. I told myself I was a healthy eater who could be allowed the odd treat and when I dropped a dress size, to a six, I believed I'd made it. I was perfectly happy to be a size six and seven stone twelve and went back to my daily weighings and that was that. Except when I saw photographs of myself when I would starve myself for a week.

Then I started my degree course and once again, with tea and cakes available in the coffee bar between classes, the weight crept up and I struggled, then gave up. Physical appearance was shallow I told myself, I was now a philosopher and so had much greater things to concern myself with. Anyway I had noticed that the size sixes in the shops were a little loose these days so I really had nothing to worry about. I unfocused my eyes when presented with a photograph of myself and got in with my studies. Then suddenly this time last year I found I was six stone nine.

And I remain between six stone nine and six stone eleven. Now I have to search out size fours. The odd thing is my waist is exactly the same size it was when I was eighteen and wore a size ten. I still have a denim jacket that I bought when I was seventeen and it still fits me in the same way it did then. So what happened?

Well, I think Nietzsche's theory of becoming fits here. For thirty years I have been trying to keep my weight down, I have tried dieting, exercise, thinking of myself as a healthy eater, I have come upon obstacles that have stopped me and others that I was able to get over with ease. And now being the kind of thin I want to be has become second nature. It probably helped that with the studying I stopped consciously thinking about my weight, so the things I'd learned were unconsciously assimilated. I don't need to weigh myself everyday now, I don't need to say no to chocolate, I don't need to think 'I am a healthy eater'. All I need do now is listen to my instinct: I know when I've had enough to eat, so I can eat anything at all, and I have found a form of exercise which I love, and therefore don't have to force myself to do. It's all just a matter of drawing all the threads together and then blending them in with the rest of your life. You have to really want it though, and really work on it for a very long time. It's no different to practising your art.

Which all probably makes me sound rather sad: for thirty years I've been practising the art of being thin. Good god, just how shallow am I?

Monday, 7 July 2008

Perfect Storm

So, off we went to the shops, only one problem, the branch of Ikea that stocked the shelves I wanted in the desired colour didn't have a branch of the paint shop nearby. Which to choose, paint or shelves?

We chose shelves. If I still didn't like the paint colour the next morning I could run into Dumfries and change it. Decision made we headed up the M8 to Glasgow just in time to hit the rush hour traffic. A one hour journey turned into a three hour slog and we finally got to the store at about seven thirty. Still, that time on a wet Thursday turned out to be a great time for shopping, we were about the only customers in the place: glorious.We were able to mooch and stroke and dawdle without getting in anybody's way. We tried out swivel chairs (wheeee!), pulled out drawers (swishhh), and wondered aloud at who would buy that! Then we got to the shelves and, 'oh my god' there were the green ones. Not pantry, or pea-soup, or apple but photo-shopped grass. I stroked the elegant birch-ply version but Bob was having none of it: we had endured the agonies of the M8 at rush hour for the green ones, and it was the green ones we were taking home. I could see his point, but...

He wrote down the warehouse location of the green shelves and off we went to aisle 8, location 3. Picking up a hanging rail and hooks, a magnetic knife holder, a wall hanging dish drainer and a pot lid holder on the way. Ikea does that to you, everything's so cheap you can't help putting a lot of it into your trolley. Still, I managed to resist the pale wood venetian blind and the large squashy cushions.

Aisle 8, location 3 turned out to be an empty hole: no shelves of any colour and just as I was thinking we'd have to go to aisle 14, location 7 and get the birch-ply after all we spotted that unmistakable colour further up the row. The label said "Lack side table" but the goods looked remarkably like shelves so Bob pulled one out. Shelves they were, so we loaded six of them onto the trolley and went off to check the bargain basement before going to pay.

We finally got home at ten o'clock where, thank goodness because I was starving, Stevie had bought Moules Mariniere for supper. As we were sitting down to eat Bob put one of the green shelves against the wall so I could see what it looked like against the paint colour.

The next morning I woke up scandalously late and staggered into the kitchen and there, leaning nonchalantly against the thunder cloud-blue wall was the grass-green shelf. While my tea was cooling I got out the paint and applied another coat. It's not a warm colour, true, it's a broody, don't mess with me colour, but it turns out it's exactly what the room needed. Or exactly what I needed, I don't know which. Anyone else might walk in and go 'arghh!'

Getting the shelves up was a bit on the trying side: the walls aren't even, the corners aren't right angles, the joists seem to just end randomly. So I didn't get my seamless run of three perfect rows of corner shelving. I got one and a half imperfect rows and a steel rail. We have used three of the six shelves we bought. On Monday we will try to put two more up on the wall above the table and the last one in the utility room. Why does nothing ever go to plan, other people seem to have the kitchens they want? But, see the pictures below, despite the problems I'm really quite taken with it. The room couldn't be more different to how it was before. It reminds me of a makeshift basement bar that serves tapas and strangely potent tequila based cocktails.

Before: this is a photo of the working corner of the kitchen at Christmas, so it's a bit more cluttered than normal.

After: this is how the same spot looks now.

Thursday, 3 July 2008


This morning the kitchen looked like this,

and we were ready to paint. So we got out the brushes and rollers and applied the first coat and it now looks like this,

and I hate it: it's too blue, it's too dark, it's just wrong. So now were off to swap the second tin for a different colour and brand. I knew I shouldn't have eschewed Farrow and Ball for the cheaper, by ten squids a tin, store's own brand but... Anyway, we'll get the shelves while we're out so all is not lost.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

There's no such thing as a finished kitchen, only and abandoned one

So, I moved a cupboard out of the kitchen and was so pleased with the newly spacious look and feel I took a photograph. But in the photograph the room looked, not bright and roomy, it looked dingy a little sordid even. And I realised I hadn't decorated for almost twelve years. 'A lick of paint is what it needs,' I thought and some nice green shelves. But...

As I emptied the kitchen of all its gubbins: pictures, blackboard, saucepans hanging from hooks, more flaws began to assert themselves. I had strategically placed all sorts of objects in order to hide such things as enormous blue plastic rawl-plugs and even the hole you see above. A large wooden chopping board stood guard there, I never used it, felt I couldn't use, even though I couldn't quite remember why. The boards I did use stood in front of it. I liked my stack of different woods there, thought they gave an air of a proper working kitchen.

For the last two days I have been filling such holes in with plaster, I'm no expert, what would take a professional seconds takes me hours. During these hours I have time to look around and contemplate the space and this morning I woke up knowing that this quick fix wasn't going to be enough. Today the real work begins...