Life, photos but not the universe

Completely Coco again

Inevitably, after all the moving of stuff and the heavy shopping and cleaning the fridge (a lot of bending and upside down-ness in a confined space) my back is complaining.  And perhaps because all three children seem unable to come early on Saturday and move garden furniture and there’s still a Z-bed to dig out from its hiding place,  I  decided that enough was too much and took two cocodamol.  Then I realised that I really needed a drink to help me help Barney make 40 beefburgers so I did that too.   I must say it all feels a lot better now.

Anyway, as far as I can tell I’m not falling asleep or doing anything extremely silly and Barney hasn’t fixed me with that gently derisory smile that he does when I say something completely off the wall so I thought I was getting away with it.  However, I just typed “pick up lasy nits’ into the iphone and blithely accepted its alternative offering which was ‘pick up lady bits’.  Yes, well.  I meant, of course, ‘pick up last bits’.  I’m sure I meant something when I started but now I can’t remember what that could possibly have been.  And then I found that,  without any conscious human intervention, the iphone had typed ‘som ewe hre malseez==!  iffit’  I can only assume that the intervening human was switched off.

Not that typos are an indication of anything out of the ordinary.  One day I’ll show you an unexpurgated post and you’ll see what I mean.  The iphone has given me some odd habits too – I’ve got used to it giving me a full stop if I touch the space key twice and so I keep putting double spaces and no full stops on the computer.  And I keep trying to touch the the kindle and it looks at me blankly as well it might since it’s not a Kindle Touch. (though I tried one of those when I had to go to PC World last week and I wasn’t impressed – it took forever to respond and I couldn’t find the menu).  Sometimes I think the kindle hasn’t got a much bigger brain than the computer they sent men to the moon with* but that’s probably just being picky because I’m now so used to technology that works quickly.

Lucky, aren’t we, to have so much lovely stuff that almost thinks as fast as we do.  Well, almost thinks but does it much faster than we do.

My goodness, isn’t it still simply wonderful weather!  I’m looking out of the window, in between typos, at the marvellously tidy and tall looking oak tree (crown lifted about twenty feet, dead wood all gone) and the freshly mowed lawn and the sun is making it all look clean and neat instead of bare and sad which it will do for a year or two whenever the weather is gloomy.

You don’t realise till you see a little feller up a leylandii how tall they are, no wonder there’s a leylandii law.**

To think our children used to climb up there – though not with a chainsaw on a rope.

And now Barney is wishing he had a chainsaw on a stick,

a very neat piece of gear.

Now I’m completely knackered.  Eldest and the lovely Italian girlfriend have come and been fed and we’ve watched the big O opening ceremony.  For a while there we were afraid we were going to be embarrassed for our country (the bee smoking and cricket on the green with puzzling rugby inserts) but actually some bits (particularly the LOTR like industrial bits and Evelyn Glennie with the 1000 drums) were quite impressive and we think maybe we (the country) have done ok.  In bits.

So I’m going to go and lie down while the others watch the interminable entering of the competitors and rest my aching bits.  Tomorrow, the whole family (extended family – only about twenty this year though one year it was about sixty) will arrive and it’ll be all go until Sunday morning.

I’m sorry, I meant to do the rounds tonight but what with one thing and all the others I’m going to bed instead.  I hope you all have a lovely weekend.

*1/2 as poweful as an old mobile brick (phone) – this is one of my favourite factoids.

**and there’s a whole lot of other stuff I never knew about leylandii which I have now forgotten.

July 28, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The cleaning ladies have come

Three of them!  My quote was for six hours but I didn’t realise that meant six person hours – they’ll be gone before I know it.

Barney has fled – I don’t know where; when they arrived he rushed out to stop them blocking his car in and was gone before they were properly in the house.  Well, I’m going to have a cig and a cup of coffee.  Then I’d better go and see how they’re doing.

Ah.  Not so well.

O-K.  See I had this vision of two people working away for six hours.  Even I could get this house clean in twelve hours – even, almost, while avoiding strain on broken bits.  Anyway, they’re coming back tomorrow and hopefully another four (person) hours will finish the job off.  Meanwhile, I can’t get into the larder and all the boxes full of coats and stuff will have to come back in and go out again in the morning – and back in again when they’ve finished (it probably wont rain but if we had a Fish moment I’d feel really silly getting Barney to bring all the heavy wet coats in for me).

They’ve got half the kitchen done – It’s not as easy as I thought it would be to see which bits, which is good because it means I’m not such a slattern as I thought I was – but now, I feel obliged to clean after myself while I’m cooking so they won’t be upset tomorrow to see all their good work undone.  (I didn’t mind them seeing it before!)  And I went shopping because that’s what I’d planned to do when they’d gone and of course now I can’t put the shopping away – which means more stuff to put out in the morning and bring back in.

That’ll teach me!   Oh and now I’m a day behind!  Today was supposed to be spent cleaning all the glass and knick-knacks before putting them back and then tomorrow I was going to get up very very early and enjoy a couple of hours with the camera and then another couple of hours in the late evening.   Because Hey!  Isn’t this weather heavenly!

So tomorrow came and with it the cleaning ladies who finished the job and whose boss gave me a reduction because her estimate of the time required wasn’t very good.  But the weather was still wonderful.

And then today came and with it the sun (again), the tree people and the oil man.  But no water.

The tree people are cutting down two huge, old leylandii and trimming and topping the oak (I’m not sure I’ve got that right*).  The oil man is delivering oil and the water one hopes, will return before the end of the day.  I really do hope so because I want a shower.  Why did I decide last night to leave it till after I’d been out with the camera this morning?

Oh well, at least I filled up next door’s watering cans after the last watering.  And I did get to go out with the camera and the smell of the leylandii in the chipper** is wonderful.  One of the tree people told me that Laurel smells of marzipan when it’s cut!

It was all rather nice and thistly this morning.  And I saw a kestrel. (no pics though – he was far away and very small).

After taking lots of photos of young men in trees with chainsaws I’ve embarked on the cleaning of the larder.  This is not something the cleaners could have done for me because a) it requires continuous, ongoing planning and b) the larder was full of the kitchen.  There was lots of stuff to throw out and I mostly enjoyed it, however it’s now getting towards dinner time (I hope I cooked some – Oh yes, kedgeree, in the oven) and I haven’t actually attacked the fridge though I’ve cleared and cleaned and rearranged all the shelves.  Now Barney will have to climb over the beer to reach his lunch material instead of me (with my bad back) having to reach over it for almost everything – coffee for instance and spices and all sorts.  Anyway, what with dinner and the delicious heat, three glasses of wine and the lack of a shower I think I’ll leave the fridge till tomorrow.

The larder is one of the reasons why we bought this house.  Larders were becoming a thing of the past when we moved here and it happened that all the houses I lived in with my parents had one – I thought it was just the natural order of things.  Then I grew up (sort of) and left home and lived in many different places and realised that most of the world didn’t have larders.  It’s a proper, walk-in larder with shelves and a curvy ceiling (as it’s under the stairs) and a window which is open all year (but less so in winter when icy winds blow in through it and the fridge doesn’t need it to be open as it does during the Summer).  And if you’re in it, you can hear stuff going on all over the house.  Larders and box rooms.  Remember those?  Fancy having a room just for putting boxes in.

Right.  I’m off to sleep the sleep of the virtuous I hope.  And the water is back so with any luck there will be clean cups for the tree people tomorrow.  ‘Night.

*No – they’re ‘raising the crown’ and deadwooding.

**An amazing piece of machinery – they feed in bits of tree*** at one end and it makes a lot of noise and throws out wood chips into a trailer.

***Quite big bits.

July 26, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 8 Comments


We have erected a shelving unit.  We are clever.  However, this exhausted Barney so much (together with lunch and two beers at the pub after the Ikea trip)  that he has been quite unable to fill the shelves and instead, has fallen asleep in his chair in front of them.   Since it’s nominally been erected to house his books, I feel inhibited about filling it with all kinds of other stuff even as he sleeps.  I’ll do that tomorrow – after leaving several large unwanted objects in the way of  – oh, anywhere – the loo, the breakfast area, even the bed if it takes too long for things to happen.  Usually I do all this carrying and moving of stuff myself and I’m quite surprised to find how much I would normally be doing.  Breaking bits of one’s self can be quite an educational experience and leaves me quite frequently tapping my toes and folding my arms and shutting my mouth which would like to be saying all sorts of things that it shouldn’t about how people might kindly not  put loads of old newspapers and empty envelopes on spaces I’ve just cleared and it would be nice if they’d throw their clothes somewhere useful and wouldn’t they like to rinse the washbasin out after using it.  And exactly why have they chosen to arrange their books all lopsided and leaning across gaps instead of nice and neat and …..

It’s a curious thing that, as an event approaches, Barney becomes slower and less busy, day by day while at the same time, I become faster and faster until we are like a bluebottle buzzing around the head of a hibernating bear.  It’s a miracle that we ever get it all together but every year, we do.  So that’s ok.  Probably.

Meanwhile, that wretched pigeon keeps flapping around the dining room window and dropping loads of unpleasantnesses all over the window and on the flower bed – which is already suffering from too much wet.  And it hasn’t even got the excuse of nesting in the wisteria this year – I think we pruned it’s place away in the Autumn.

Now I must do one of those things that are not physically demanding – like emailing the family to tell them that they can sleep in beds or they will be in tents and checking that they’re actually coming.  Oh and cooking dinner.  Floured, fried brown trout with mushrooms, new potatoes and horseradish sauce.  And almonds and garlic.  Tum.  I mean Yum.

Oh and here are some nested bridges.

Time for bed said Zebedee.  I don’t care if it was npc, I liked the magic roundabout.  Can anyone remember why it wasn’t?  I can’t.  I don’t think Roald Dahl was particularly pc either but no body complained about him.

Good night.

July 20, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

I invoke the Lone Ranger

My enthusiastic clearing plans have met with an obstacle.  Barney although delighted to have the piano taken away* (and keen enough on new shelves for his books to brave Ikea tomorrow), has objected to the idea of taking the old printer, the dead computer and the old TV to the dump.  And I haven’t even mentioned the old spin dryer.  The dump claims to recycle these things so since free ads have produced no response whatsoever on any of them, I think we’ve done our best to get money for them and should cut our losses. (Anyone want an old Canon multi whatsit printer*?  It works fine with Vista but there’s no software to make it work with W7 – free to collect before next week).

If I was in a condition to lift the wretched things they’d be at the dump tomorrow at dawn and then I could get on with the rest of it.  Oh well, I’ll just have to tell him to put them in the garage (it’s full to bursting already) and then perhaps he’ll see the wisdom of letting them go. I’ve got a whole lot more bags of stuff to take to charity shops and I just can’t be doing with useless great big chunks of obsolete technology standing around underfoot!

Mutter mutter!

I like the dump.  It used to be a big concrete wall with a pit behind it, into which you threw things (and that was quite fun already).  But when an innocent (but just possibly slightly dim) householder got crushed by a passing (or maybe scooping) digger, they closed it and moved it to new premises with big fences and lots of nice helpful young men (not at all like the miserable old jobsworths from the old dump**) ready to lift heavy stuff out for you.  And I can’t help it – I like things to be sorted so it gives me a little comfortable feeling to put my plastic in one bin and my bottles in another and to have a special shed for batteries and old bits of computer and all that.  Also, I haven’t heard that the Pikeys have moved in on the new dump.   At the old one it seems they terrorised the staff and stole all the stuff which had been donated to the community furniture project.  Not that you’d expect Pikeys to have community feelings of course but you’d think the police might have been able to police a dump for heavens sake?  No?

Well there was an acquaintance of Barney’s who stepped out of his van to check an address and a Pikey stepped right in behind his back and drove it away.  He noted the number of the car from which the Pikey came and told the police all about it and they said sorry mate, yes, we know all about them but we don’t go there.

Should we be very scared?  Well I think the police should maybe stop being so scared but I’ve no doubt that there are successful prosecution numbers involved and political issues and all sorts of cans of worms.  The last time I positively identified a Pikey was when an old lady tried to sell me some white heather in the street and when I said no thanks, offered to curse me instead.  What would you?  I needed the fifty pee to buy some crisps for the kids.  ^~^.  No curse compares to the fury of kids from whom promised crisps have been withheld****.

I attach some glimpses of a dark and watery underworld.

Canal bridges that is.  And a lock.

Update: Yay!  A little positive negativity and the obstacle has crumbled.    Ta de daa te de daa te de daa daa daa!***

*It’s ok, it’s sad not to have a piano but it was way past its tune by date.  Last time the piano tuner came he said “You won’t want me to come again will you.” – more as a statement of the obvious than a plea.  Well, before it went I played some bits and bobs that I had in the piano seat and quite honestly, even Les Dawson couldn’t have made it sound like anything musical.  I do miss it already – but what I miss is having an imaginary keyboard on which shreds of music can be found rather than the actual thing which was musically impenetrable.

**Actually I can see why they were so easily terrorised because they were all quite old and doddery and grumpy and I feel quite bad about having dismissed them as jobsworths when obviously they were really the last frail bastion of society against the surging tide of gyppos – it’s so easy with hindsight to see where somebody went wrong.

***I don’t know where this came from but it still makes me snigger.  Along with dead ant. 

****Seriously – can you imagine explaining to a set of small, intelligent people (aged two to seven) that they can’t have crisps because an old gipsy might have cursed me – or even them?   If I’d had any sense I’d have opened the discussion right there on the street and got the gypsy and the kids to talk to each other.  But I was younger then and didn’t know that faith in children is a necessary and useful gambit in life.  And possibly I was also dying for a fag after a long and wearying shopping expedition.*****

*****And probably it was better not to expose them to casual hungry malice at such an early age.  Probably, I should have had a bit more cash on me too because after all, the poor (nasty) old bird was only trying to earn a crust?

July 18, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Well since we are British, have you noticed the weather recently?

On the way to Tim’s party the other night it rained – buckets, cats, dogs, frogs, stair rods, anything you like to call it – lots.  During the last few weeks it seems to have been doing this regularly, wherever we’ve been anyway.  So, a friend of Barney’s who is a fisherman said the level of his local fishing reservoir has gone up 10 feet since early in the year when it was worryingly low (we were passing a traffic light as Barney told me this and we thought that might well be around the 10ft mark).  And a longish time ago I remember being told that to bring the water in the reservoirs up to useful levels, we needed constant rain for at least three weeks.   Hah!

And then of course, earlier in the year and in other years, people have been saying global warming is all a big con – look, no water – droughts – dry, cold winters – rubbish.  Speaking of global warming, it’s not been particularly cold during our rather British summer has it.  Just particularly and persistently wet.

Anyway, my thyme (which as we all know likes to live on well drained sunny hillsides – on one of which, we are perched*) has all died and a number of soft leaved plants which I vaguely remember as being stunningly bright and blue and, well, stunning, have turned into stunted, nibbled remnants.  One of the rosemary bushes has gone all brown and mildewy and speaking of mildew – it’s rampant!   On the other hand, the Marjoram which is an annual and which I expected to die during the winter, is thriving but has turned into a small smooth-leaved variety instead of the softly hairy, sweet variety which it was last year.

Oh and the slugs!  huge great things, creeping in where they’re not wanted and staying out and eating where they aren’t wanted either.

Next door have gone away for a little while and in return for their frequent cat feeding and comforting, have asked us if we would water the greenhouse – and should it become dry and sunny (Oh yes?) the pot plants outside.  Every so often I think “Water!  Next door!”  Usually because it’s raining which makes me think “No need” and then “Oh but the greenhouse”  and then” Oh but it’s raining.  I’ll do it in a minute”

I must go and do  it in a minute.  Yes, it’s raining.

And look, it’s made everything green!

And I think it’s encouraging small biting things.  they’ve bitten me all over and I don’t usually get bitten much.  I’ll have to go and find the anthisan – Barney’s probably hidden it in his truck – they usually bite him.  (the insects not the anthisans)

*In May and October anyway.  At the moment it’s neither sunny nor particularly dry.

July 17, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 8 Comments

A brilliant party

We really enjoyed ourselves last night.  Tim throws a great party – can we come to the next one Tim, please?  We met lots of nice and interesting people (and it’s such a pleasure to observe warm affection of family members for each other) and it was rather fun being immediately recognised as “Oh, the blogging friends!”.  Barney of course had to explain quite frequently that he is not and will never be a blogger since he’s officially a dinosaur – this is always entertaining.  And the food was brilliant!  And even, the weather was mostly nice and since Tim has a perfect smoker’s corner, we got to see the pretty garden as well – and of course, met the one person who rarely smokes but would just love to bum one off me on this occasion.

Lovely.  Thank you Tim.

July 15, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Books and other junk.

I’ve just finished reading A testament of Youth by Vera Brittain for our book club and I must say, if it hadn’t been for the club, I wouldn’t have finished it.  It’s awfully long – something you don’t always realise at first on the Kindle!   On the other hand we had a really good discussion over our dinner, much more interesting than for many of other our recent choices – which often amount to yes we really liked that or no we weren’t very impressed.

She’s a bit wordy, even given the style of the time and she’s a bit self centred – even given the way the war arrested the lives of  so many young people.    And one got a little tired of being told how totally ideal and noble and special her loved ones were, who all died, and how terribly dull and uninspired was nearly everyone else in the world.  On the other hand, it’s a fascinating revelation about the minds and imaginings of that ruptured generation as well as giving a lot of interesting  detail about the nursing profession during the war.

I turned to Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier with relief.  What a contrast!  Funny, moving, poetic and exciting by turns.  And for a book about slow travel with passages of autobiography, amazingly fast paced.   He snatches images and characters from nowhere and plants them, full colour and immediate, almost under your feet, as the boat glides on.  He can write, that Terry Darlington.

Anyway, reaching the end of the book (in about five minutes it seemed), I had a quick look at their website to see if there was going to be more and was saddened to learn that he had a stroke in May.  Recovering now but what a shame.

While we were away, I read another long book;  Bring up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel’s sequel to Wolf  Hall.  I believe there are two camps on Hilary Mantel – can’t stand it and total immersion.  She does have a slightly disjointed approach but I love it.  It’s a bit like the effect of  stereo (or possibly lotsofphonic – I wouldn’t know about that).  Stuff comes at you from all angles and often without warning, then the voices become clear and sharp and the images snap into focus and all the threads of the story leap onward after sleepy pauses where the words weave a new background.  Even though you know Anne Boleyn is going to die, the tension is tightly wound and sustained against a backdrop of  political conniving and kingly insanity.  She has a very physical way of  writing her characters too – When Henry is angry you can almost feel the heat of his breath.  Fantastic.

Well in between reading long books I’ve been gradually clearing stuff out.  For years and years I’ve kept beloved old garments because one day I might get thinner and be able to wear them again.  Now that it’s happened, most of them are too big and oddly enough, I’m not keeping any in case one day I get fatter again!  However there are some that I still can’t bear to throw out.  Remember when everywhere sold silk?  Silk shirts, blouses, tops, vests, skirts – even trousers!  And the colours!!!  The number of shirts I bought in charity shops just because I couldn’t bear to go home without that electric blue or hot red or brilliant turquoise shimmering in my hand doesn’t bear counting.  The reason for them being in charity shops and not on someone else’s back often became obvious when I got them home but I still can’t bear to get rid of all of them.  Oh well, some of the more voluminous shirts could become nightshirts and a few of them could be kind of shiny, floppy jackets?

I’ve also thrown out about  two hundred books.  They were mostly ok but to be honest, I’d need to be desperate to read them all again and I hope to keep discovering new literary wonders instead.  Though they’re a drop in the ocean.  I probably won’t reread Niven,  Brunner, Gibson, Reynolds, Banks or Silverburg again (though I will almost certainly go back to Stephenson and Ryman as well as Cherryh, Gentle and that grand old woman, Ursula Le Guin*) but like the silks, I can’t bear to throw out the colour and shimmer of some of the best, lovely old science fiction that I’ve collected over so many years.  Besides, some of them are still writing and it’s quite impossible to throw out the old books when new ones are still appearing.**

I have to go to bed now – I’ve been to a brilliant party and had a very good time (more of that another day) and now I need to complete the day, lying down all cosy and peaceful and recapturing moments.    Thank you Tim, it was great to see you again.

Some random canal pics – there’s a couple of the duckling rescue, a dreamy moment in between rain and a red door.


*And of course bad old Pratchett.    You can always gobble up a dish of discworld froth in between heavy histories and other improving and demanding stuff – like a cappuchino after dinner, slightly bitter and a bit creamy with froth and chocolate on top.

**No I don’t know why but I just can’t.  

July 15, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The Char and the cut******.

A while ago I mentioned getting someone in to do my cleaning.

I’ve done this before for the same annual family event and someone said “but don’t you feel guilty getting someone else to do your cleaning for you?”  And yet another person said “aren’t you worried about exploiting women?”

I suppose what’s at the back of people’s minds is the memory of the bad old days when women went into service and became effectively the possessions of their employers.  And the  reluctance to pay out good money for a job you can probably do better yourself.

Well, as I said before, I had no objection to earning a bit of cash by cleaning someone else’s house (only they didn’t want me – um, I think that was because their old cleaner came back after all – though it could have been that they took one listen to my voice on the phone and decided ‘She won’t  do’ – quite possible)

My sister, a full time solicitor, had a regular cleaner and insisted on paying for holiday time and sick time.  The cleaner was slightly shocked, but accepted and then when she retired, her daughter took over and though she didn’t do the job as well, seemed to take the holiday and sick leave for granted while being somewhat offhand and, um, disrespectful!  Sister was a bit taken aback by this since at the time it was almost unheard of for ‘casual’ workers to receive any such benefits .  She was being fair and generous, partly out of a sense of duty and political conviction but also, partly expected gratitude and appreciation for it.

My Mum also employed a cleaner, a char, called Mrs Payne – Pinny.  She had been in service before the war and she was happy to work for a sweet-natured young woman with a highly respectable husband and a nice (!) little girl in a reasonable sized house.   My mother enjoyed her outspoken views on life when they had a cup of tea together and I just loved her – except when she was cross about the state of my bedroom – Dad, I suppose simply appreciated her hard work.  We all had to laugh at the loud and tuneless hymn singing which accompanied her work.  When Pinny retired, she gave me a gold and turquoise brooch that had belonged to her mother* which I still have and treasure because we loved her and because it was such a deeply touching gift from someone who was there for all my small childhood years.  We (and Pinny) belonged to the old school of employers and servants, so of course any job security depended on our good will.  I have no idea whether we paid for Pinny’s time off – probably not – but we would never have ‘let her go’.  However we dealt with her, I know it was ok for her because recently I went through a bundle of letters from when my Father died and there was one from her, very warm, very affectionate and still as kind and genuine as she always had been.  I don’t mind saying that I had a lump in my throat when I read it and trotted off upstairs to find the brooch and  indulge in a few misty moments.

When we moved to Devon, Mrs Westcott came to ‘do’ for us twice a week and she was another kind, no-nonsense woman who became a part of our lives.  Her husband was a retired farmer and they needed our money.  Simple as that.   I have to say, I was a perfectly horrible teenager and it’s quite possible that she often muttered under her breath about me.

Anyway, times have changed.  When I booked Poppins to come and clean my house five years or so ago, I wasn’t expecting two teenage girls, who spoke minimal English, to ring up from half a mile away, lost and needing me to come and lead them here.  On the other hand I wasn’t quite prepared for the athleticism with which they climbed onto my work tops to clean the higher reaches of the kitchen.  Since their original problem in finding the place held the cleaning process up for the best part of an hour I wasn’t quite sure what I was paying their employer for either.  But once I’d pointed out the door handles and the stuff under the draft excluders, they did an excellent job and I gave them a hefty tip in cash – thinking, well if they’re exploited foreign girls they need a bit for themselves.  I hope everyone does that.

Of course all the professional cleaners now have shiny websites and book-on-line facilities.  And anyway, I’m looking for a one-off cleaning job.  Remembering Mrs Westcott amd Pinny, I can see that exploitative or not, the arrangements we had suited all of us but you’d be lucky to get that now.  These days, the girls who sign up for ‘service’ are just joining the great British workforce, two weeks off a year and, one hopes, bank holidays**.  Long hours, low pay, sent here there and everywhere, no chance of developing a friendly relationship with the customer and no job security.  And the customer has to deal with the employer and hope that whoever they send is going to be honest and congenial!  And hopefully, more or less comprehensible.

I’m nearing the end of Vera Brittain’s autobiography, A Testament of Youth, and there are passages about the difficulty of getting good maids during and after the 1914-18 war which made me cringe.  But it’s clear that many middle class families couldn’t conceive of a life in which women worked in their own homes, never mind outside them.  My elderly Father came from a professional family and had aspirations towards his first wife’s social strata – sort of lower-upper?  And Mum, (who,  like Vera Brittain, had been a nurse but during the 1945 war), came from a positively aristocratic Dutch family, so both of them had backgrounds in which a household without servants was simply unacceptable.  Curious constraints people had then!

I promised some sunshine.  No, not now (fat chance of that!) – from the canal.

The sun did appear occasionally – usually as we approached moorings for the night.  Sometimes it was still there in the morning.   On the other hand, the night after we moored at Penkridge (above) it was washed out by flash floods.  ****

*I do wonder where her mother got it from – a gift from an employer perhaps, from the days when she was in service herself?  in which case there was a nice symmetry about the gift.  Or maybe the family had known better times?

**Another job I applied for a few years ago was assistant manager of a clothes retail shop.  I was told in my interview that I’d be expected to work Christmas, New Year, Easter and all other holidays.  Two (other) week’s holiday a year.***  And I remember feeling slightly uneasy when Sunday opening was made legal and for all that it makes life easier sometimes, I still feel uncomfortable that the shoppers’ (my) convenience deprives people of one reliable day off a week.

***No I didn’t get that one either.  Just as well.  I wouldn’t have liked it and the shop closed down after a few months.

****That would be around the time when we were being terrorised and entranced by a continuous half hour of thunder, lightning and yer proverbial torrential.

****Ok it’s not proverbial but it’s ever so English!

******vernacular for the canal.

July 10, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Publish and be poor!

My fiddle teacher mentioned the other day that she had some music she wanted to publish.  She was planning to send it to publishers because the music shops won’t look at it unless it’s got a glossy cover.  I thought of my photo book and couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a similar thriving area for music publishing – it’s so obvious isn’t it?   You set up your book using the software provided by the online printing company – or your own software as most of them give you the option to use Word or Photoshop or whatever (so you could probably do it with your own music programme) –  arrange the pages nicely, add a pretty cover and send it off to your online music printer for a reasonable fee and hey presto, back comes a nice book of music of which you can then buy one or fifty copies as you please while also having it available for other people to purchase online.  No?


I couldn’t believe that this isn’t possible but an exhaustive search reveals that there is no music print/publish online business similar to Blurb or Snapfish.  And even if you joined one of those organisations which deal with the licensing and royalties, there isn’t a business for the simple printing of music – if you let them do the printing for you, they claim huge percentages of your sales for themselves.  Well I’m going to suggest it to Blurb – it’s bound to be a popular idea surely?  Loads of people write music and would be very pleased to be able to print their very own book.

Of course there are lots of ways to upload music and make it available online but that’s not quite the same thing and actually I suspect that you could simply prepare your music and get it printed in PDF format using a photo book publisher but that’s not ideal, for one thing the format is usually landscape so not much use for music.  And of course you can get it printed by a  printer but they won’t do single copies.  And you can print it at home but then you don’t get the professional finish and cover.

Isn’t it raining a lot.  I expect this will be the wettest recorded Summer since a long time ago – perhaps even since last year.

So here are some pics of the route out of Birmingham, via the Soho and Ickneild loops (I think).  Certainly we went past the prison and under the Asylum Bridge.  Also we went under the Engine arm aqueduct which apparently we have been over in the past.  It wasn’t very nice I was reminded, full of shopping trolleys and prams and bicycles.  Not to mention plastic bags and other nasty things which wind themselves round the propellor and upset the boat.

As you may notice, it was pretty wet.  Next time I shall find some sunny days.  I hesitate to say I hope your weather’s nice – for one thing it’s after midnight so I hope you’re not out in it and for another it seems to be mostly raining today.  Still, it’s good for the garden right?  And the reservoirs must be getting a little bit full?

Now I have to read some more of my book club book.  It’s a bit of a monster and it’s taking me forever to read – Mrs Middle says it’s the same for her but the other two apparently loved it.


July 9, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Travelling companions.

It was interesting travelling with B&S in Law.  We haven’t spent so much time together since before any of us got married to each other – in fact probably since the brothers were boys – but fortunately it worked very well.   We all threw wobblies at one time or another but all coped very well – no lasting feuds will develop from the fortnight we spent crammed into the boat together.

Amusingly, I was assured by Barney that we needed to be near pubs with TVs quite often so that BinLaw could watch the football – though he said quite early on that he wasn’t much bothered.  Then SinLaw told me that BinLaw had decided we must choose the most heavily locked route through Birmingham as he was sure Barney wanted to do lots of locks.  SinLaw had decided that even though I was hors de combat and she had a dicey shoulder she didn’t mind doing lots of locks if it was in a good cause.  (She is a remarkably kind, generous and thoughtful person, which you’d never suspect from her normal, slightly sardonic sense of humour).  Barney, on the other hand was keen to choose a route which would suit BinLaw as he would be doing most of the hard work and Barney didn’t want him to feel overworked and fed up.  Barney was, however, very keen to go into Birmingham, which, however you approach it, is at the top (or bottom – I can’t remember and it doesn’t make any odds in terms of effort) of an awful lot of locks.

Anyway, although I’d made it quite clear from before we started that I didn’t want to do lots of locks but didn’t mind everyone else doing as many as they liked as long as I could take lots of photos and drink a reasonable amount in the evening, all this selflessness and consideration made me feel quite guilty so I started locking as well* and in the event, we chose to go into the middle of Birmingham and out again via a number of loops which are of great historical interest.

And I have to say, we really enjoyed the night in The Mailbox moorings, a fairly stunning restoration of the old canal basin together with impressive new developments and loads of restaurants, cafes and pubs to suit any taste.  Gas Street Basin was a short way along the towpath and there was a very nice Thai restaurant about 50 yards away from where we moored.  The whole area was buzzing from early evening onwards and the place was full of boaters and all kinds of local people all having a good time.  Birmingham really does know how to make a new/old place work.  A million miles (and 20 odd locks) away from the peace and rural charms of the rest of the canal system but somehow, making the most of the fabulous historical architecture  and blending the modern structures in so that we were simultaneously aware of the buzzing modern city and the much older bustle of a once busy industrial canal system.

I only took the little camera with me when we went out in the evening and it struggles with low light – you get a lot of blotchy electronic noise and ghosts.  Still, by perching it on bridges and walls and bar tables I got some photos.  One was so blotchy that I just turned it into a ‘watercolour’ with Photoshop.

I’d better get on with dinner now.  I’m doing a Nigel Slater recipe – called beans with ham and cheese.  It doesn’t sound quite as enticing as “green beans with taleggio and prosciutto”, which may be why Barney went off, muttering “beans and cheese?! – I wish I’d said I’d cook.”

Have a lovely dinner.

*If I’m honest, the weather was mostly not conducive to photography.  Even I can only take so many photos of  flat, grey skies indistinctly reflected in wind-ruffled, brownish-grey water.  

July 7, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 7 Comments