Sunday, 31 August 2014

Stupidity squared

I really shouldn’t give this book free publicity. Rarely have I been more cross with myself for wasting hours and hours on a book. Another 700+pager but, oh dear me, what a lot of rubbish.

BookBub or a similar site were advertising the title as an Amazon ’special offer' ebook; as I’ve seen the author in the Guardian bestseller lists I thought I’d give him a go. Bestseller lists are by no means indicators of quality writing; I really must remember that for the future.

So there you are in a story about the intended rape and plunder of a pharaoh’s hitherto unknown tomb with the regulation sets of baddies and goodies. The goodies do all the work and the baddies reap the benefits. Once, twice, three times. The goodies (who aren’t really much better than the baddies because they also plan to smash and grab for themselves rather than a worthy cause) don’t seem to learn that the baddies are only a step behind them at every turn and merrily and enthusiastically dislodge a whole river and mountain to get at the treasure, trusting all and sundry on the way with their secret (secret? shifting a river and half a mountain?) undertaking. Scores of people are mown down irrespective of creed, colour, holiness, except, of course, our heroes and heroines (yes, two very beautiful women also figure prominently).

Naturally, the baddies die horribly, each separately and slowly and our heroes emerge victorious. Even more nauseating, the author inserts his name into the story as the famous chronicler of such derring-do throughout the book, just in case we forget who is serving up this delightful dish of tripe.

Why did I persevere?
a) because I am stupid and
b) I wanted to see the ending.

Although I skipped a lot of the book during the last third I was hoping he would surprise me and do what he did to the river: diverge into an untried channel. He didn’t, he stayed true to formula right to the bitter end.

Friday, 29 August 2014


What is it with me and, no doubt, many others.
You know that what you are doing isn’t good for you. Experience has shown that that is so and you have often paid the price. And yet, you refuse to learn.

"It needs doing”, is what you say. Or  “It’s my duty”.  Or  “But I enjoy it”.
“Maybe this time I’ll get away with it”.
“Let’s just test the waters, no more than a toe .... "
“I promise to stop at the smallest sign”.
“I’m sure it’ll be alright”.

Luckily, it was. At the first sign of trouble I stopped, terrified. Sat down, swallowed my medicines and waited. Pathetically whimpering “please, please, not again.”  Not out loud, of course, that would be too shameful. I do have a bit of dignity left, in case you’re wondering.

Stretching up into the plum tree, picking what the birds had left, then heaving a dozen heavy fork loads of damp vegetation from one compost bin into the other, following this with filling the green wheelie bin ready for garden rubbish collection and dragging it 170 yards down the drive to the road, none of that would have fazed me before. In fact, it would have been barely a couple of hours work.

I hate that I can’t do this now without repercussions. It’s not fair. Not bloody fair.

How stupid of me that I can’t get it into my head that things are what they are and that the judicious application of common sense would ensure a relatively trouble free existence for many years to come.

“Yes, but ..........

"Against stupidity the Gods themselves struggle in vain,” so old Friedrich von Schiller said.

I left the fork leaning against the compost heaps. Every time I go by I pick it up, load it up and dump the load into the next bin. One or three forkfuls at a time. I wonder how long I manage to restrict myself.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Swings and Roundabouts

Did I sound just a tad smug in my previous post almost a week ago? Being self-satisfied and boasting about how good things are never pays off. Not for me, anyway. This week has been a humdinger for stumbling blocks and domestic misery.

Paul the gardener called for a morning’s work; hardly had we got started when heavy clouds chose Valley’s End, and my garden specifically, to shed their load. Paul carried on regardless, so I couldn’t chicken out. We adjourned to the compost heaps under some large trees - the rain was less wet there - and chatted while we worked. Suddenly Paul burst into tears. “Sorry”, he sobbed, “I just don’t know what’s wrong, I’ve been very weepy and desperately depressed for days.” He knows that I understand, being a depressive myself, so I let him talk and made appropriate noises. There’s nothing else you can do. Eventually he calmed down and we continued working.

I spoke to him a day later and he said that the cloud had lifted, he felt much better and hoped he wouldn’t need to weep into my compost next time. I suggested that peeing into the compost might be better than crying. We also agreed that it would be more productive if he didn’t top himself until he’d helped me to lick the garden into shape. Gallows humour. Depressives find that sort of talk funny.

Then the dog came home with new lesions on her face. The last course of treatments was to have sorted them out permanently. Back we went to the Vet’s Surgery. “Come back in the morning”, Sarah said, “and let George have another look at her”.  George had seen her before, as had Anne and Percy, two other Vets. So that makes four opinions altogether, so far. George said all that remained to do was to take blood samples and undertake a biopsy under full anaesthetic.  Millie has become a very expensive dog, and there’s no end in sight to the Vet’s bills. But we love her.

She had her op on the same day as Beloved had to be taken to hospital for a consultation with another one of his many specialists. This pretty much meant that I was on the road from nine in the morning to near six in the afternoon, ferrying Millie and Beloved around. I get tired and a long day’s driving and hanging about is not what I had planned for my old age. I was exhausted at the end of it, looking forward to some time off.

Then, out of the blue and without any prior warning, two basins in the downstairs loo and bathroom seized up. Nothing would shift the water. A plumber was called and his attendance promised for the following day. And the day following that day. He still hadn’t called this morning. We have other wash basins, so the lack of these two in the bathrooms was inconvenient rather than serious . . . . . . .

. . . . . until the boiler which supplies hot water and heating for the whole house packed up. It sits next to one of the basins.  One minute Beloved was doing dishes under running hot water, the next the water turned cold. The boiler man from Bosch was called and his attendance promised for next Thursday.

“What?” “Next Thursday?”

We had only just had a service done and paid through the nose for it. Bosch is a very reliable firm and they pride themselves on the perfect workings of their product. We wouldn’t dream of having any other boiler, and the only engineer we would let near it would have to be a Bosch trained one. They are expensive, but worth it for the peace of mind. Until something goes wrong . . . .

“Calm down”, the lady at the other end said. “That’s just for the records. I will of course, right now, see if one of our engineers is in the area before next Thursday. I’ll be in touch”.

She was as good as her word. The engineer called this morning. “Nothing much wrong with the boiler”, he said. I’ll fix a new fan, it sounds a bit rough. Still, while I’m here, I’ll have another look”.

“Funny”, he said, "the boiler seems to be full of water. Did you say this basin is blocked?”

It turned out that the boiler is a condensation boiler and needs an outlet for the condensation it produces. (Aren’t I clever, I understood that!) And its outlet was blocked.

I was ready to go spinning down the plughole myself by now. The plumber supposed to come and fix the blocked drains still hadn’t called. I rang Kevin, his boss, the owner and slave driver of the building company involved and complained - well, threw myself on his mercy. Beloved says I’m good with people like that. Besides, we frequently use the company and always pay our bills on time.

Kevin came within the hour, had a chat with the boiler man who was just packing up his equipment and set to work.  He took apart pipes in both rooms, found nothing, opened manhole covers outside, found nothing, and scratched his head. “I’m going to have to take the bath panel off and see what’s under the bath”, he said. He did, found the blockage in a complicated junction of pipes from several directions, removed it, replaced the pipes, fixed the panel back into place, and after a bit of a clean and tidy up, you wouldn’t know anything had been amiss.

So there you are, keep flushing your pipes thoroughly, and all will be well. I wish the same could be said for Millie and Beloved. Not to mention my own pipes.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Blogallimaufrey - A Weekend in August

Sometimes, I just potter. Days without plan, without purpose,
days when I can land on any activity I fancy, at any time, suit me well.
They don’t come around very often but this weekend was a real treat.

Digging around in the ‘spare’ freezer I came upon two bags of last year’s plums.
This year’s crop is all but ready to pick, so what to do with them?
Why, make a few pots of jam, of course.


And then there’s the garden, an hour here and there is always a pleasure. It’s neither hot nor cold, fairly dry, perfect weather for some pruning, chopping back and even a touch of weeding. The clumps of daisies, faded now and wilting, have gone, weeds have been pulled from cracks in the paths and a few shrubs have been thinned and pruned. The currently freshly filled compost heap is gigantic; it’s needs turning and shovelling into the one next door, which is still filled with ripe and ready compost. That’ll be a job for Paul when he next comes.

But there’s been a lot of standing and staring in admiration as well. The flame bush is out, the shrub border which has lost all its flowers is looking very interesting and the flower border proudly presents an attractive display of late summer flowers.

Yes,  for once  I am pleased.

Just look at clematis ‘Abundance’, climbing high up into the plum tree.  It’s name is a fitting one.  In one season, after being cut right down to the ground the preceding autumn, it climbs and rambles and spreads itself without thought for any other plant in its path; even a tree doesn’t stand a chance. Up and over it goes. The flowers last for weeks, right until the early frosts. Anyone who has a tree that looks better dressed up could do worse than try ‘Abundance’. It’s fully hardy too.

Not a bad show for late summer.
Yes, I am quite pleased, for once. 
I complain too much about weeds and mess and disorder,
I should take a step back and look at the overall picture more often,
forget about weeds.


A neighbour came to collect Millie for an hour’s walk this afternoon.
That meant that we could take our time over Sunday lunch
and enjoy the best part of a bottle of Merlot with our meal.

But I didn’t want Millie to feel abandoned by her mum so I gave her a very thorough brushing in the garden when she came home. That is a big pile of dead fur. During her last illness, which was most probably due to a deep seated infection caused by mites getting into the skin and erupting into small, bloody, craters all over her nose, she was on steroids and antibiotics and parasite repellent for her coat, all of which came with nasty side effects, making her feel a bit sorry for herself. The medication didn’t improve the condition of her coat either. But she’s getting better and the thoughtful expression on her face is mainly due to the close attention she is giving to a large treat in her mouth, which takes some serious chewing.


The rest of the time I have been reading. A never ending yarn of 832 pages, ‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton, a hugely entertaining novel about the New Zealand goldrush of the 1860s. It’s a fascinating story of hardship and skullduggery,  a consummate literary page turner, intricately crafted and beautifully written. But it definitely requires staying power. I have reached page six hundred and fifteen.  An awful lot of words.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

I Want Dogs' Ears, Please

Last weekend we went to a dinner party, that high point of social interaction. Yes, there are still people who invite us; in case you are wondering why, I keep this blog secret. You know my general opinion of parties and social events, but some dinner parties are great. This one was. A group of bright, clever, articulate people assembled round the table in a convivial house, I really don’t know how we got through the IQ security gates; a temporary wand malfunction? There was a real life published literary novelist (not like so many of us blog scribblers calling ourselves writers when all we do is pen blogposts of questionable quality - yes, you in high dudgeon over there, I am including myself). There was a painter, again real life, a journalist and writer of academic books,  and assorted actors - teachers - singers. All very much real life. And, like I said, us.

A dazzling company. No wonder the host forgot about my food allergy and cooked Coronation Chicken with creme fraiche instead of mayonnaise. He gave somebody who can’t eat red onions a side dish containing lots of them and another guest carefully examined the chicken for bits of mango. Mangoes bring on an asthma attack in him. (Notice that I am handing you an idea for an icebreaker if you ever need one at one of your own lavish parties?  Free of charge. Just make the food memorably inedible for a section of the guests and you’re more than halfway to a successful evening. Provide enough quality wine and the guests will be begging you for another chance to be poisoned by you).

But the conversation was great. So was my food in the end. The host magicked me a delicious omelette in the blink of an eye. I was served before the other diners had had access to all the dishes going round.

Getting back to the conversation - the two gentlemen either side of me were extremely adept socially, each spoke to me in turn.  Just as it should be. You turn to your partner on your left and then, at a suitable break in the conversation, or when the next course is served, you dazzle the lady on your right. And so on round the table.

I  hate it when there are several conversations going on at the same time because I always want to listen to the other one. You could just have four people, of course, but then there wouldn’t be enough different viewpoints. And I admit to liking a rowdy table, particularly as the evening progresses. I noticed that the ladies sitting in the middle didn’t bother with dinner party rules: they just spoke across and to right and left as they pleased. This particular host frequently places me at the top end of the table, thereby putting me at a disadvantage, at least until we are all suitably relaxed and I can lean over, usually into the pudding, to catch what is being discussed at the other end.

This is where dogs’ ears come in. Dogs can swivel their ears independently from each other, helping them to identify and capture sounds from different directions, even pick up sound from far away. They can hear things that haven’t even been said yet. As in thunder, for instance. Mille knows about thunder in the next county when I’m still chewing on the first course and she can hear a doggie biscuit tin rattle while she is deep in conversation (i.e. with her nose up another dog’s bottom) in the field by the river.

Hang about though, I’ve just thought of another, more easily achievable way of not missing out at table: dinner parties with a round table. Then we will all be shouting across at each other! No tops or bottoms involved! In or out of the pudding.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Bertha’s Tail End

Before The Storm

Not Long Now

During The Night
(through the window glass)

Bertha Leaving Again

 Next Day

No flooding,
no serious damage,
a few broken branches littering the ground,
some carelessly unsecured garden pots strewn about,
that’s all.

Our small corner of the Marches got away with it.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Ornithology For Beginners


It doesn’t do to neglect your bird feeders. Maybe.

We have a lot of bird visitors to the garden, most of them lbjs (little brown jobs), but we are also blessed with crowds of blackbirds and, even more fortunately, several pairs of beautiful song thrushes, all of whom seem to have survived the breeding season.

We also have raspberry, worcester berry and gooseberry bushes growing close to a thick mixed holly, elder and maple hedge. The berry bushes used to be under netting in a fruit cage, but when this collapsed in heavy snowfalls, we didn’t bother to replace it. Laziness, lack of foresight, can’t-be-bothered-ness, call it what you will, we no longer have a fruit cage.

Paul, my new gardener - henceforth only gardener - said he’d take some of the tart goose- and worcester berries off my hands. Beloved uses some to make wine, but the rest of the annual crop usually remains in the freezer; I can’t eat them in gooseberry fools because of the lashings of cream and I don’t much like them otherwise.

So we took what we wanted for ourselves and left the rest for Paul and maybe any other interested parties to pick at their leisure. Unfortunately, the other interested parties turned out to be birds. Whenever I visited that part of the garden I heard scuttlings and scuddings and scrabblings and scratchings, which I took to be birds hastily seeking refuge from human intervention in the hedge; but the fruit remained on the bushes. Until one fateful morning: overnight every gooseberry, worcester berry and raspberry had disappeared,  not one single berry was left, the bushes picked clean as a whistle. A whistle and a quick cheap-cheap is all that the blighters left behind. They’re not even bothering to repay me in song.

Paul took some of our frozen gooseberries home with him.

The bird that feeds from off my palm
Is sleek, affectionate and calm,
But double, to me, is worth the thrush
A-flickering in the elder-bush.

so says the incomparable Dorothy Parker, but I don’t think so.

*Fruitless fruit bushes are boring, I’m giving you a picture of my leucanthemums/argyranthemums/marguerites instead. These flowers change their botanical name so often you might as well call them daisies and be done with it.