Blooming Lovely

This is another little heater I picked up

The auction was timed to close at 2am on a Monday morning, so I set an alarm on my phone before bed on Sunday night and was up five minutes before the end. The seller later apologised when he realised what he’d inadvertently done and the effort I’d gone to

I didn’t really mind: it meant that I was the only bidder

IMG_7174I showed this prize to my friend and tame sparky, Ray, who scratched his head and asked what I was going to do with it

‘I’ll make it into a light, of course’

He looked at me dubiously, not for the first time over the years. ‘I don’t know where you find all these things‘ he said, implying that what he really meant was ‘why’ rather than ‘where’

But I was weak at the knees when I saw this and I could see how simple a project it would beIMG_7179

I showed him the original damaged fittings, the same size and ‘pitch’ (apparently) as a shaver socket, but much longer. He said they’d need to be cut and filed down to make them safe but I thought this sounded like hard work and – just perhaps – not very safe at all. Instead, I stuck them into a bag for safekeeping and bought a new black batten bulb holder to attach to the central fitting. It didn’t fit, but I worked at it with various pliers until eventually it stopped resisting and accepted my persuasion. I was fairly stoked, I can tell you, when it finally sat in place

Black fabric flex completes the look, and I got Ray to add the plug and check it over, as I am no electrician and I remain nervous about mixing electricity and metalIMG_7186

The light was too intense from a bare bulb so I chose a small copper-coated golfball bulb for a more subtle effect, and then reinstated the pretty little grill with its Universal logoIMG_7200 There is a neat handle at the back and the light can be tipped to any angle, even directly upwards as an uplighterIMG_7212

It’s made entirely of copper and has perfect patina, so just a firm wipe with WD40 removed the dust from the decorative base

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Even Ray likes this one

Object of Desire

What’s black and white and grows in the bathroom

‘Your bath looks wonderful’ said a friend. ‘It’s as if it grew there’

The bathroom is finally coming together exactly as I had planned, dominated by the roll top bath. I was unreasonably thrilled when the plumber confirmed that I could have my first bath today – nearly two years after buying the house

And yet, as it approached 8pm I realised that I had been finding things to do and putting off filling the tub. I had really stuck my neck out by insisting on a roll top bath and it had caused a lot of effort for everyone. Supposing I didn’t like it? I was even obsessing over the idea that it would not take the weight of the 120kg tub full of water and me, and that it would fall through the floor, leaving me cold, naked and alone in the hallway downstairs

But it looked so inviting, and I was filthy

Yes, I had to improvise a bath mat (today’s dirty T-shirt) and my toiletries were balanced on the taps, but I was so euphoric after finally taking the plunge that I composed an Oscar-type thank you speech in my head as I bathed. ‘Thank you Baz for believing in me when I bought this house and this bath back in 2015, and for allowing me to fritter away war could have been our pension fund. Thank you to the Smiley Plumbers for doing what I asked, even though you thought it was wrong. Yes, you did. And thank you to the bloke on Ebay who was chucking away the bath of my dreams,’ etc …

Afterwards I ran downstairs to check that water was not pouring into the hallway. (Oh, me of little faith!)

I texted people to tell them ‘I’ve had a bath’

I called Baz, still full of enthusiasm. After all these years he still just laughs and says ‘if you’re happy, I’m happy’

The guy’s a saint

This gorgeous bath, including the taps and shower thing, came out of a house three miles from us in the UK, where developers had gone in :(. The site manager just wanted a few notes and collection within 24 hours. Two years on, it has found its homeIMG_4386

Why do people choose acrylic baths over cast iron? Enamelled cast iron looks wonderful. The smoothness of enamel is calming, cosy and warm, like a big cuddle. It’s huge. It cleans down so easily. Oh, someone stop me here! I have spent the last forty-odd years since my childhood dreaming of another cast iron bath while everyone else has moved into the acrylic future

What am I missing?

Marriage and Serial Monogamy

‘We’re always away when he gets married’

Baz left for his annual golf trip yesterday. We shared a cab to Slough Station, and along the way we reflected on, among other things, marriage

‘We’re always away when he gets married’ I said. A good friend has married several times, but he has very high expectations of a partner. We have failed so far to attend his weddings. ‘Don’t worry’ said Baz ‘There’s always the next one’

We are lucky to have just enjoyed our 19th wedding anniversary. C unashamedly used her cousin’s ID card at Waitrose to pick up a celebratory bottle of Cremant de Limoux(!), and Baz and I had a gorgeous meal in The Fox and Hounds at Bishopsgate. Our first ever meal there together was a Sunday lunchtime, we hadn’t booked and the restaurant was so full that we had to sit at an outside table. I was chilly in my halter-neck, and the owner at the time – a lovely man with a terrible wig – immediately whipped off his enormous cardigan and draped it over my shoulders

That was 22 years ago and we’d been together just a few days. Back then, we were love’s young dream. I remember the day so clearly

While Baz is gone, there’s plenty of stuff to do in the garden, and things to fiddle with in the shed and the garage, though robin chicks are chirping in the old wardrobe in the garage, so paint stripping has to stop. Work on the aluminium flying saucers will have to wait until the nest is empty

The first of the shades (above right) is ready and Baz asked if I will be taking it with me to France. He thinks that I should tilt it at a jaunty angle and tell Ryanair that it’s a hat

Round and Round and Back

Big is not always better

The house has benefitted hugely from its first dry year in possibly decades. Today the sun was out and proud, and – though I couldn’t feel my  fingers or toes – the house basked. Even the water in the cellar is drying out, thanks to the new roof

This house never complains. It doesn’t threaten or stamp its feet. There’s no drama, it is just chilled and calm and forgiving. I love this house

We had talked of moving the kitchen into part of the cave/garage to allow more space, but now we have decided to keep it where it is. We can keep the floor tiles, the floor to ceiling two-metre wide larder, the chimney breast with its bottle shelf and the cute sink/drainer in the corner. What we will have to lose is the quaint old coke-fuelled range, the horrid Formica cupboards and the frill (Sorry, I just cannot live with that frill)

A simple kitchen, but enough for us. And enough for the house

When I told our builder yesterday that I had changed my mind again, he said it was good that we’d taken time to decide how the house will work best for us. And that’s true, because the mind can run riot in a house like this – all the possibilities – but the ‘feel good’ factor is important too

And this feels right. For us and for the house

 

 

The Black Rabbit Effect

When is a pint more than a pint?

It hadn’t started well. As we waited to cross the start line of the South Coast Challenge on Saturday we heard that the Black Rabbit, the pub that held my dream pint at the end of the course, was now a ‘Harvester’

There were 100km and a sleepless night between me and what was apparently now a terrible pub

My friend and I split up after about 30km because he was struggling with my pace, so I was having to wait so long for him at the rest stops that I was getting stiff. So I quickly fell in with five girls who invited me to join them. All runners, we had similar mindsets, a fast pace, and the shared goal of completing in the target time of 24 hours. We spent the next 50km – definitely the most challenging part of the course – moving along together, much of it in the dark

I LOVED it!

At the 80km rest stop there were lots of problems with blisters and exhaustion setting in, and we had to split into two lots of two, plus two single walkers at various paces to maximise the chances of achieving the 24 hour target. At that stage it was 3am and I was still absolutely enthralled by the walk. My legs felt as fresh as when I started and I was looking forward to seeing the sun come up in a few hours. I did not have a watch or use of my phone, and so I would have to judge my pace if I wanted to finish in time

I crossed yesterday’s finish line at a jog (yes, I did) in 22 hours and 28 minutes. I was elated. I was there to clap for all the girls finishing the course, four of them within 24 hours and one only just after. We all enjoyed a glass of bubbly and had something to eat before partners arrived. I texted Brian to spur him on and he told me not to wait for him at the line, but to go and warm up in the pub with Baz

And the Black Rabbit? Not a Harvester at all, just a lovely place for a couple of pints of Tanglefoot and a meal, before a bath and a quick afternoon nap

Thank you for the supportive messages. I really enjoyed them and we also raised around 1200 pounds for Bloodwise

I feel great. My feet are already recovering from the bruising and my rogue ankle hasn’t troubled me at all

If this is ultra-eventing, bring it on!!!

 

 

Slightly Mad, But Optimistic

It sounds lovely doesn’t it: ‘The South Coast Challenge’, a walk along the cliffs and downs of East Sussex, an area where my mum’s family come from and where I spent many happy childhood holidays

Well, that’s where the nice bit stops

A very silly friend, who is old enough to know better, told me he was doing this for the ‘Bloodwise’ charity who are currently supporting a friend in great need, and when I saw his email it felt very much like I really should join him, as he and I are part of an informal tribe who have already traipsed the West Highland Way together and attempted to scale the 6 Peaks – Snowdon, Scarsdale Pike and Ben Nevis twice each – in 48 hours (we only managed 4 Peaks, but it was worth a shot!). None of the other guys in the random bunch of extreme crazies took up the challenge. Perhaps that should have dissuaded me, but it just made me more determined. Of course it did, so before I could change my mind I signed myself up

The event takes place tomorrow, August Bank Holiday weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

(a) it could be VERY hot

(b) it could be wet

(c) my left ankle ligaments might react very badly

(d) it turns out that we have to get up at 5.00 in the morning to get there before we even start!

Did I mention that it’s 100km long, this walk? Or that my ‘friend’ had decided that we were doing it in 24 hours?

Slightly late, I processed all this information, and Brian (the ‘friend’) added to the mix by saying that there is a nice pub near the finish line. So it was a done deal. A JustGiving page was set up and Bloodwise sent us thank you messages for our prospective efforts

So, think of us as you enjoy the mixture of very hot and very wet weather this weekend (a double whammy!) and please consider donating to this wonderful cause

At least for us by Sunday morning, it should all be over, whereas the path to wellness is long and very hard for those affected by cancer. Ironically, only yesterday I found out that someone else I know has just been diagnosed. We are all hoping for a cure to cancer, but in the meantime, love and practical support are all-important

I will also be thinking of my fellow blogger Spearfruit, whose honesty and positive energy inspires many of us. Here’s to you, Terry …

 

 

Stationed at Slough

Is there anything better than a Victorian station with a stuffed dog?

I hate Slough. I love stations

However much I dislike Slough, it provides a fantastic train artery. If I am sitting on one of its station platforms I am either heading off on an adventure towards the countryside of the West, or East into my old friend Paddington, from where I can access the throng of London and the rest of the country

I love adventures, and this is a route steeped in fond memories. In the eighties I used to finish work at 8.30 on a Sunday night and frantically ‘tube it’ from Bond Street to Paddington to catch the 9.10 train to go home to Bath. One Sunday, a passenger called Solomon sat next to me. He spent the weekend with his family and then worked Monday to Friday in Penzance. We got on so well that it became our weekly routine to seek each other out, and sit together drinking gin and playing backgammon

One Wednesday, as my late-afternoon return train from Bath emptied onto a Paddington platform, an announcement came over the tannoy: ‘Would Mr Brown meeting Mr P Bear please go to the Lost Property Department’

On the repetition it was cut short: ‘Would Mr Brown meeting Mr P ….’

Must have been a new guy. Hundreds of passengers sniggered

But, I digress…

Last Sunday C and I headed to Olympia to visit a customer at a trade show. As we waited for our train to arrive at Slough, C asked if Station Jim was still around, and suggested we go and pay our respects

Station Jim was a sick stray, adopted in the 1890s by the station staff. Taught to cross the tracks only by the bridge, he apparently took the occasional train journey but was always spotted by staff at other stations and sent home. For the most part he was happy just to collect donations for local causes, and he seems to have led a pretty good (if short) life. Upon his sudden death at home one evening in 1896 the station staff and local residents paid for him to be ‘stuffed’ and mounted on display on Platform 5, where he remains, proudly dressed in his collection harness station jimHowever gruesome this Victorian behaviour sounds, he must have been very loved, don’t you think?

One hundred and twenty years on he’s still in pretty good nick and he looks very noble. He has a very prominent spot on the main platform to Paddington, so that new people still see him for the first time every day – not something that a simple plaque could have achieved

And those of us who have ‘known’ him for years continue to visit

 

 

Shades of Brown

check your Farrow and Ball colour chart

I am steadily ridding the world of horrid shades of brown. It’s not that I don’t like brown, but I dislike some of its manifestations, which could be named:

Glastonbury 16             Slug            Dysentery           Other end            Disgust

Most of which were in both our UK and French houses in abundance

Our UK home is on an island along with thirty-plus other houses. At the moment the small Victorian iron bridge – the only access to our homes – is being closed at night for repairs and a neighbour asked us all on the facebook page to vote on the colour/s it will be re-painted

The first person said ‘rust colour’!!

But, rust aside, the two colour schemes favoured are dark and light grey, and blue with white/cream. No-one has discussed the actual shades yet but the population seems split firmly down the middle on this, and I fear another ‘Brexit’ type situation – ‘Bridg-it’ perhaps?

The thing is, people in the UK tend to form a very strong opinion (as we have recently seen) and are polarised in their points of view. I do hope that families on the Island will not be torn asunder by such an important matter!

Personally I don’t think it matters which colour scheme suggestion they go with in name (if indeed we even get to voice an opinion) because surely it’s not whether it’s blue or grey, but whether it’s the right blue or grey, etc that matters

And oh please, anything but rust!

 

 

 

Are You Really Going Out In That?

More stories of spandex. And inappropriate smoking

IMG_2469Running isn’t for everyone. But if it’s your thing – if you are used to just popping out and running fairly good distances – and then suddenly you can’t anymore… well, it’s hard to explain how that feels

Tonight the towpath beckons and I decide to do a couple of miles. I’m easing myself back in slowly after hurting my ankle back in March. It seems incredible that an injury caused while standing still can have set me so far back

Sadly, this will be the year I hang up the Hawaiian bikinis for good (it probably should have been a few years back!), but even that sturdy and sensible one-piece swimsuit won’t wear itself. So I’d better get on with it before the summer hols

There’s a honeysuckle that stretches along the path by the river, and as I pass it the scent is incredible. I fill my grateful lungs with the perfume, taking a reward for my small discipline this evening and feeling so glad I came out

Breathing is everything. I mean, obviously, because we wouldn’t be alive if not breathing, but also in running terms. It’s easy to put one foot in front of the other but it’s the right breathing that allows you to run. If you can’t match your body’s oxygen requirements you’ll just be exhausted in no time

Of course, there’s an exception to prove most rules:

Norman, a friend and associate in Singapore, is a hard-living heavy drinker who has chain-smoked all his life, but after suffering a heart attack in his late fifties in 2008 he told me he had taken up running on the advice of his doctor. He was fully expecting to hate it. Yet in 2014, while I was injured and had to forego my first ever marathon place at Brighton, he was running regularly and looking forward to his first marathon in Singapore. By the next time we got together for a few drinks a year later he had run two marathons and I was absolutely in awe of him

I asked if the second one was much easier

Norman told me how he had struggled on the second one, but had really enjoyed the first one. He was eating up the miles, he told me, and he only stopped for a cigarette at eight miles, twelve miles and twenty-one miles. I honestly thought he was joking. I didn’t know it was possible for a smoker to run a marathon, let alone to stop for a fag break along the way

I wonder if he stopped for a Scotch too?

As I hit the end of my two and a bit miles I stride out a bit, get a bit of momentum going, and I feel how my lung capacity has improved

I am no Norman. But for the first time this week, there is more in the tank 🙂
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Framed at Last – ‘Our Auds’

a story and a collage sparked this post

I finally bought a frame for the little collage of Audrey that C made last year. The picture is SO Audrey, I just love it. It was hard to get a decent photo in situ, so please try  to see past the reflections to find her in the bottom left cornerIMG_9973

Yes, Audrey was a chicken. We lost her in August 2015

You might think that ‘a chicken is a chicken is a chicken’, but ‘our Auds’ was a special kind of gal

We had ten chickens in 2013, various breeds, but Audrey and Gertrude were the only legbars. They could not have been more different, both physically and characteristically. Auds was top girl of the flock from the beginning. Not in a bullying kind of way, but in an ‘I’ll take care of this’ sort of way, and Gerts was her hench-chicken

Yet, whereas Gertie has grown to be tall, upright and necky, with a signature rockabilly quiff, Audrey was always very low-built and purposeful, and, I thought, looked a little like Margaret Thatcher. Her disapproving mannerisms and discourse somehow exaggerated this resemblance

Her instinct to roost was all-powerful and she would stay out on top of the coop in any weather, so Baz would go out and put her to bed at night. Sometimes some of the others would join her, but this was intermittent, whereas she was constant. When we were away our lovely neighbour Sue would ‘tuck Audrey in’ for us

Audrey first got sick in the New Year of 2014. The vet said she was beautiful but basically inferred that she was a bit of a runt really. An x-ray showed a growth, possibly a tumour, in her stomach and a serious heart murmur was diagnosed. Realistically there was nothing much they could do, so she was given antibiotics and came home with a short life expectancy. It was a shock. We set up camp for her in the living room so that she could keep warm and we could administer her meds. That first evening as the sun started to sink she caught us all offguard by flapping out of her enclosure and up onto the back of a chair. She just wanted to roost – even indoors!

She would sit calmly on our laps, watching telly and chattering to us – always a very vocal chicken – and she came to work with me for a few days, where we set up a holding pen for her in my office, but she sat on my lap much of the time. You see, we’d never had a sick chicken at that stage and we just could not imagine losing her – or any of them. I remember that we found ‘the Secret Life of Chickens’ online for her and she watched it with intense interest on a laptop

When she was boxed-up in the car and we reached about a mile from home, she would make very urgent and specific calls, as if she had reached the distance where she regained contact with her flock. We noticed this near the same spot on outward journeys as well. After a few days we took her out to visit the other girls, where Tilly, a thug strong and fearless pirate of a Blacktail (also the complete opposite in character to her own sibling, the sweet-natured Fudge, and no stranger to being disciplined with the water pistol) had established her dominance. Audrey was weak and tiny, but she feathered and flustered herself up to look bigger, and she demanded that Tilly back off. And she did. Auds was back in charge and wanted to be with the flock, so she went back out to the coop that day, though she took a few days off roosting. It’s a very high coop to get onto but we put a small table in the corner of the run to break the climb and it wasn’t long before she was back on top each night

And that became the marker for her health. If she couldn’t get up to roost we would keep a closer eye on her, but she was fully aware of this and was an accomplished actress – chickens are very resourceful – and Baz continued to put her to bed every night so she wouldn’t get cold

She had further illness in 2014, and we took her to the vet several times but she was so plucky and determined that putting her to sleep was never an option. In the meantime we lost two other chickens, brave little Babs on Remembrance Day after a stroke, and Coco after a badly broken leg that wouldn’t heal

In early spring 2015 Audrey became terribly sick and the huge doses of antibiotics seemed to be doing as much harm as good. She had to come indoors and by the Friday morning after the last dose of meds she was no more than a handful of feathers in the corner of the travel cot. Baz said a final goodbye to her before leaving for work and I stayed home to deal with the inevitable. I put the telly on for her and kept chatting to her as I loaded the dishwasher, then turned around to see her waddle over to the water bowl for a good drink before eating some grit, and then some treats. Incredibly, Auds was back in the room

So we accepted that she was ‘different’ and allowed her to live the life she loved – outside, telling other chickens what to do. There was never any trouble, no-one ever picked on her like people say they will, and Gertie was always watching her back. At the age of two and a half, while we were on a weekend away, Sue was herding them back into their run when Auds had a little fit and was gone. When I saw Sue’s number come up on my phone we all knew what was coming, and she was as devastated as we were

So, yes, Audrey was more than a little bit special to us, as plucky a character as can be. If you are still reading this, I thank you for your time. Even I think that writing an obituary for a chicken is a bit mad and hugely indulgent, but it was the timing that caused it. You see, I am enjoying a lovely summer-sky story about a character named Audrey on Our French Oasis, and then I put the picture up last night. Things, they say, come in threes, so this post makes a trilogy
Audreynotwell.jpg‘Our Auds’ during a rest spell indoors. See the resemblance to MT? It’s uncanny