Friday, 29 February 2008

A Tale of Two Kettles

Mr G gets through kettles very quickly. This is 'cos Mr G drinks around 20 cups of tea in the average day. So many, in fact, that I reckon the blood in his veins has been replaced with tannin. But five days is surely a record? The white kettle in the photo was bought last Saturday. Yesterday, it was declared a write-off as the lid kept popping open. The kettle cost £5.00. It lasted five days. That is £1 per day.
Yesterday, Mr G went back to Tesco and bought the most expensive kettle he has ever bought in his life. A Russell Hobbs, half price at £25. A very handsome kettle it is, too. (It's in the foreground with the £5 kettle behind it.) It glows red while it is boiling, and turns blue when full of hot water. How long will it take him to wear it out? If you think of it as a £50 kettle (what on EARTH can make any kettle worth that price? It's not exactly encrusted with precious stones. The only thing it's likely to get by way of adornment is limescale and Mr G's grimy fingerprints), then it should have a tea-making life of 50 days. That is approximately 1000 cups. We'll see... Now, on the subject of sugar, he has two teaspoonfuls in every mug. Can someone please calculate how many lbs of sugar Mr G will get through in 50 days? Yet he's as thin as a broomhandle. Lucky bastard!!!

Thursday, 28 February 2008

The taste of tea

Oh bliss! Tea tastes normal again. So did the strange affliction that affected my tastebuds clear up overnight? Did a sinus infection miraculously blow itself out? (I wish! I seem to be stuck with that one). Did the water company realise their mistake and re-flavour the tap water with the right balance of chemicals overnight?

No. None of these things. Mr Grumpy had bought a new kettle and hadn't rinsed it out properly before using it. He has no sense of smell and little sense of taste since having his strokes last year, but all it took for me was one sniff of that kettle, one whiff of brand new plastic, and I knew what had tainted my breakfast cup. Several swills out with the cold tap on full blast did the trick and now I am back to feeling thoroughly British again. Sometimes one looks for the most complicated reasons, before finding that the simplest, and correct, one is right under one's nose. Literally.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Did the earth move for you?

It did for me last night. I woke up feeling as if a giant hand were shaking my bed from left to right. I was puzzled, but got back to sleep and by this morning, when I described it to Mr G, I had decided it was just a dream. I've just watched News at Ten and discovered that it was, in fact, an earthquake, though how I felt it in West London when it happened in Lincolnshire, I don't know. But feel it I did.

20 years ago I lived in a top floor flat in South End Green, Hampstead, in a house that backed onto the railway line. Shallow foundations, London clay and heavy goods trains conspired to give me earthquake experiences several times a night, making crockery and glassware rattle and pictures go askew on their hooks. Thursday nights were the worst. That's when the nuclear waste train trundled through and the quakes seemed to last for a good ten minutes.

It was in that flat that I experienced the famous hurricane of 1987. It was terrifying. My flat was a loft conversation, timber framed and covered in roof tiles. The whole thing shook violently. There were waves on the water in the loo. I saw the lights go out all over London and heard the eerie warning on the radio: "Stay where you are, do not leave your homes." For a ghastly few moments, I thought the nuclear waste train had had been derailed and we were all going to die a horrible, lingering death.

Next morning, as I ventured out of the front door, a few houses down from Hampstead Heath, I saw uprooted trees poking through windows, flattened cars, total devastation. But my flat was
intact and I hadn't done a Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and gone hurtling through the air. It was close, though.

Talking of natural catastrophes, a few years ago here in West London where I am currently staying at Mr G's, a thunderbolt struck the street during a storm. I have never heard such a loud bang. It must have been similar to the sound made by the landmine that exploded when my mother was seven months pregnant with me. I have been terrified of loud bangs all my life and this one nearly gave me a heart attack. I thought next door must have blown up. In fact, the poor old lady who lived there thought her boiler had exploded, ran out into the street, fell, sustained awful injuries and was hospitalised.

I think it means that, even if you stay indoors in a fearful attempt at sheltering yourself, Howard Hughes-like, from all germs and disasters, when your number is up, when your name appears at the top of the list in that great book in the heavens, then by thunderbolt, by hurricane, by plague and even, I hear, by frozen waste from aeroplane toilets falling from the sky and through your roof, it will jolly well happen to you. I live near Heathrow. You have been warned!

Tastebud torment

Woke up this morning and found I couldn't drink tea!!! 'Have I suddenly become non-British?' I thought and promptly made a coffee instead (sorry, homoeopathist!) and that tasted equally vile.

So far, three teas and a coffee have been poured down the drain today. They all tasted like disinfectant. I bought some fresh milk but it wasn't any better. I tasted the tap water to see if the water company had overdone the chemicals overnight, but it just tasted like - well, water.

So what can it be? Water tastes fine, food tastes fine, but tea and coffee... yuk. Even a fruit tea tasted horrible. All theories gratefully received.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

A Perfect Day

Sometimes (not quite often enough) things work out just right. Sunday was just such a day. The weather was fine, LondonTransport worked like magic, for once, getting me to my destination, the Tate Modern on London's South Bank, a whole hour early, and finding me a lovely clothes shop where I was able to while away the time trying but not buying, and giving me a lovely reunion with two good friends, one of which I hadn't seen for 13 years. She used to be my art editor when I was in charge of a national magazine. Now, though aged 69, she is working full time in the art world and is also appearing as a film extra. I am in awe!

I rather like St Paul's from this angle, screened by baby birch trees. One day I shall buy myself a really good camera. For now, the cheapo digital must suffice. But I have found a wonderful photographer called Tinkerbell (check out her website at who lives near Loch Ness. She has given me the details of all the equipment she uses so, once I have a grand or so to spare, I, too, will be able to photograph a toad in such detail that even a longsighted witch would be able to count every wart on its slimy hide.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Daily wasps strike again.

This time I didn't even hear it buzz but suddenly it was there on the Velux window, looking for a way out, so I opened the window and bravely prodded it out with a piece of paper. Where ARE the pests coming from?

Stomach bulletin. Daphne the magical masseuse massaged my tum with tea tree oil again on Wednesday and all the pain went. Then on Thursday I decided to have myself a stir fry with couscous, which my stomach didn't like at all. Today it's calmed down again. Tonight I shall have scrambled egg and absolutely no Saturday glass of wine. I want to be well in order to meet some old friends at the Tate Modern tomorrow.

The Festival Hall has a Poetry Library website on which, picking from a short list of random words, you can devise your own poem and send it to a friend. Mine, entitled Night Shift, reads:

Indigo intrigue
brittle twilight office
furred words
crush precious sleeping

What does it mean? Not as much as it would have done if the word 'dreams' had been on the list, and I could have put it in the place of 'sleeping'. I hope they give us a new selection soon. But it's fun having a go. Find it at

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Constellations on the Shelf

I was standing in the library the other day, taking down book after book, reading the blurb, getting a taste of the contents, when I suddenly felt as if I were an astronaut. There I was on Starship Me, cruising the space between the shelves, and each book was a planet, containing its own distinct world, its own life forms, its own births, deaths and adventures. Which one would I visit? Which would I briefly colonise? Which would add to my knowledge of the universe and help me learn more about my place in it? Or which would repel me and punish me for having tried to introduce myself to its alien population?

This is when I realised what a responsibility authors have. What an impact they can have on the minds of others. What wonderful worlds they can create, or what bleak hells, what penal asteroids, what gardens of delights. In future, perhaps I shall steer Starship Me more carefully - or maybe I shall venture into hitherto unexplored galaxies such as the Philosophy or Biography sections and emerge refuelled and with my mind expanded. Or retreat with my starship and self-esteem dented, having discovered what a tiny life-form I am in this vast and ever expanding universe of Literature.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Chocs away?

My hopes keep getting raised, then dashed. I try something, it seems to be working, then suddenly it isn't any more. I am soooo fed up! The prebiotics and digestive enzymes seemed to be doing the trick then yesterday the same old pain and discomfort was back. I couldn't find a reason. I hadn't touched alcohol, or anything spicy. But I had eaten a small piece of chocolate.

Could I have a chocolate allergy? It seems hard - and ghastly - to imagine. But I'm going to try very hard to avoid it for a few days. I'd just bought some M&S Drinking Chocolate, too, which I was really looking forward to. Shame... But I do remember reading that very often it's the things you crave that you turn out to be allergic to. Does this mean I could be allergic to sex? (Don't answer that!)

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Books can ruin your body

The Last of the Mohicans was to blame. I should never have read it. If I hadn't asked for it as a From Prize for being a swotty schoolgirl when I was in the Lower 1Vth, I'd never have developed bad feet. Thing is, I read about how Indians track silently through the forest by walking on the very outsides of their feet.
I practised and practised until I couldn't hear my footsteps even on crispy autumn leaves. I'd walk on the very outside of my sole, then let my foot roll gently inwards until the whole foot was connected with the ground. Very bad. After 40 years of such bad treament, ankles and ligaments start to go, and eventually, if you're very unlucky (as I was), the arches collapse. How ever did those Indians manage? I suppose the terrain they were walking on exercised their feet more than hard, flat city pavements do. And there was one piece of vital info I didn't take on board and that was, they only walked like that when they were tracking. Not all the time, 24/7. In any case, if their ankles went, they could always rope a passing pinto pony and hop on.
This isn't the only example of literature and the arts being to blame for misalignments in my body. Around the same time, I had a crush on Dirk Bogarde and went to see him as Sidney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities. Oh, that hollow-cheeked, haunted-eyed look of his as he rode the tumbrel to his doom. (Not the tumble drier, that was another sort of film entirely.) In the movie, he displayed a fine turn of sardonic eyebrow-raising, keeping the right one still while lifting the other questioningly.
I just had to master that. It took hours in front of the mirror until I had sufficient control of my eyebrow muscles and could do the left eyebrow lift to perfection. I don't know why I bothered. My measly eyebrows weren't dark and saturnine. They weren't even male. And ever since, my specs don't appear to sit horizontally on my face, all due to that permanently askew brow.
I forgot to mention that at age 11, I read Thunderhead and My Friend Flicka and, for a blissful year, cantered down the road leading with my off hind (left leg to you) and taking massive leaps over park benches. I got so good at the high jump that, at 14, I could jump my own height of 5ft 4 ins over my mum's washing line, and, galloping along the grass verges in front of the houses in our Liverpool Street, could take off and do a long jump clean over a double driveway. No wonder my left ankle is dodgy. But O, to feel my mane flying in the breeze again as I soared fearlessly into the air, Pegasus to the last.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Missing photos

Just logged on to my blog to find all the pics I posted for February have vanished. I simply can't understand it at all. Bloody technology! I shall try and re-post them.
Meanwhile, I have given up trying to sort out my ulcer. I had to cancel my trip to Cornwall twice running 'cos I felt so awful. Now I am in a kind of defeated slump, just putting up with it the pain. I am SOOOOOOOOO fed up. All the doc can offer is Ranitidine or Omeprazole but, without a test, how can anyone tell if I am getting the right treatment? It might be low levels of stomach acid that are causing my symptoms, not high. First thing I'd do if I won the Lottery would be to go to a private specialist and try to get it sorted out. I bought some digestive enzymes and have been taking them with meals for the last three days, but have experienced no improvement whatsoever. Whereas the probiotics acted like a miracle, improving my IBS symptoms within 24 hours.
I am sure that someone on this globe there must be a herbal remedy. Meanwhile, I continue to take the phosphorus and am still sleeping much better. So at least that's one improvement to report.
My mother once told me that my grandfather worked his way through all the family money trying to find a cure for his deafness. Maybe, by trying every alternative treatment going, I am following in his footsteps. I never met him but I feel we are kindred spirits!

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Damn the new shoes!

They looked so lovely. The perfect colour to go with jeans. They felt so comfy in the shop. Yesterday evening I put them on for a trial run, just ten mins each way down the road to buy some pasta sauce (and yes, I did get lured by the vivid yellow packaging of some lemon satay sauce - Mr Grumpy always tells me I buy food according to the cololurs on the packets - and now I'll have to buy some chicken and noodles to go with it).

Halfway back, I noticed that my socks felt damp at the back. It was so cold that my feet weren't registering pain. When I got inside the warm house - ouch! I removed the shoes and my socks were blood-stained and my heels completely skinned. Yet the shoes themselves feel completely smooth inside. I have identified the problem, of course. If you look at the pic of the shoes, you'll see that they are constructed for normal people with rounded heels that curve. My heels are straight - a congenital disorder, according to my podiatrist, whom I consulted when I damaged a foot ligament.

What star sign am I? Well, Pisces. What elses? Pisces rules the feet. 'Nuff said. Anyone like a brand new £40 pair of Clark's dusky blue shoes, size 51/2, with only one small bloodstain? (Group B, Rhesus Positive.)

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Lonely Thrush

If you read my post of 10th January, you'll know the sad story of how Flad killed a song thrush. Today this thrush spend a whole two hours on the lawn. It didn't do much, mainly stood and listened, its head first on one side, then the other. I think it is the mate of Flad's victim and it was looking, listening, waiting and hoping, all in vain. It looks terribly sad, doesn't it. Really lost and alone, and its behaviour certainly wasn't normal. In fact, I thought it might be injured but when I sent Mr G out to investigate, it flew off into a tree. I hope it won't make a habit of hanging around on the lawn. Flad has obviously developed a taste for thrush and I really want this one to find another mate and breed. In safety. I.e., in somebody else's garden. But not next door. They have four spotted pedigree Bengal cats. Yesterday Mr G had to rescue one that had got stuck up his tallest tree. Since his brain haemorrhage and strokes, he is not supposed to climb ladders, especially one as high as that one. But he did, and the cat was rescued. My hero.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

New Shoes and Soles

Yesterday I allowed myself to be enticed into the Clarks shop where I tried on and purchased the shoes pictured left. The pic doesn't do them justice. They are the perfect shade of dusty denim blue and have, I think, a gel insole, because it feels as if I am walking on a waterbed. But... I have one grumble, and it's a biggie. The soles of my feet are very tender, especially in the summer when I don't wear socks or tights. I'm sure I am not alone in this. So why, oh why, the sudden trend to carve patterns in the leather insole? I am wearing these shoes now, to soften them up and break them in. I have just walked to the postbox in them and, though I was wearing socks, I became aware of a slight irritation that was annoying my feet despite the comfy gel insoles. I got home, took them off, and what did I find? Carved into the leather is the name Clarks, the type of shoe - Active Air - and a bloody huge sunflower. Insoles should, above all things, be smooth. Now I shall have to stick an extra insole in, with all the rucking-up problems that will cause.

My second fashion moan of the day is tights. Yes, ladies, we have all experienced the horror of the tights that, as the day goes on, gradually sink down your legs so the crotch ends up round your knees, and the ones that won't pull up beyond mid-thigh level, and the ones that split as you're struggling into them - not to mention the ones that twist round your upper thigh and cut off your blood supply, so you hobble home wondering why your leg feels as if it's turned to wood.

But occasionally, just occasionally, one finds the perfect pair. Hallelujah! You rush for a pen to note down the brand so that you can find them again - but oh, woe, you've thrown away the packet and there's no manufacturer's label inside the waistband. Serious omission. Very serious indeed. Short of listing every pair as soon as you buy them, and, after wearing them, marking the list with a tick or a cross (yes, equivalent to life being too short to stuff a mushroom), there is simply nothing you or I can do, unless we are the proud possessor of a remarkable memory and know that this was the Wolford's pair Auntie Jane bought us for Christmas.

So, tights manufacturers - do yourselves and us a favour and sew in a label. Think of all the repeat sales you could have. (Or not, if yesterday's tights were anything to go by. By the time I'd come back from the shops, the heel was halfway up the back of my ankle, making me look rather like my elderly Auntie Edie did when she shoved her hanky into the leg of her knickers and it worked its way down her leg inside here stocking, ending as a dark brown lisle-covered carbuncle on her calf. Which also reminds me of the time my mother's knicker elastic gave way while she was in the local library. But that's another story...

Friday, 8 February 2008


Every year, I make note of firsts; first snowdrop, crocus, daffodil. First sighting of someone wearing shorts. First sighting of someone wearing white summer trousers.

I knocked off a few firsts today. The first wild flower - a dandelion blooming on a grass verge. First snowdrop in the garden. First daffodils on the boulevard that divides the up and down lane of the main road into town.

And, to cap it all, first male in shorts. Not sports shorts, they don't count. This was an unfortunately ugly young man with a gloomy, receding-chinned face and heavy features, a thick mop of mouse-coloured frizzy hair, bad legs and even worse shorts, in an unforgiving shade of not quite brown, not quite grey. They flapped in the breeze just above his lumpy knees that were the colour of porridge. He had a very small brown dog on a lead. The dog wasn't wearing shorts. Pity.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Daily Wasp Episode 4

In fact, though it was a daily occurrence for a while, it's been about a week now since I last saw one in my office. Maybe the cold weather has killed them off, I thought - too soon. I was just walking towards the stairs carrying far too much as usual - glasses case, mug of coffee, sundry items of junk mail - when I saw one on the carpet. It had obviously come from upstairs and flown down the stairwell. It was a bit slow and groggy so I put down my burdens and went for the glass-and-postcard method. It worked well and the wasp was soon trapped in the glass.

I resisted the temptation to put my eye to the tumbler for an eyeball to eyeball encounter, just in case I moved the postcard and the beast escaped, in vengeful mood. Going to A&E with a wasp-sting in the eye isn't my idea of an ideal Tuesday.

The patio door was already open - I'd planned this wasp-nap in advance, in minute detail. Out I went and was just about to whisk the card from under the glass like a magician's cloth when out of nowhere an enormous bumblebee appeared and made straight for me. My scream must have been audible at Heathrow, three miles away. When I looked at the glass, the wasp was gone. Where, I do not know. Hope it's not up my sweatshirt.

At the doctor's

The last time I was at the surgery was before Christmas when I had earache. Then, the waiting room was a cramped, unpleasant place, funnelling patients to Reception through a narrow space bordered by a table bearing an artificial Xmas tree and other people's knees. Children's toys were scattered across a mucky-looking green carpet that looked as if it harboured every germ and bacteria from Measles to MRSA.

What a pleasant surprise when I walked in this time. A new laminate floor, freshly painted walls and an impression of space and airiness. And for the first time I actually got a seat and didn't have to give it up for some poor rickety soul on sticks, or a heavily pregnant teenager in pubis-clinging tracky bottoms and a t-shirt that begins just under her massive chest, displaying, from the rear, a pile-cutter thong and a tattoo of an extremely ugly fairy.

I got seen on time, was greeted with a warm, genuine looking smile of welcome and felt my woes were actually listened to. She even let me discuss two ailments instead of the usual one per ten minute appointment. The upshot is a month's supply of Ranitidine (which the chemist had run out of) and a note to get the bad finger x-rayed at the hospital. This will require leaving early one morning to get near the front of the queue. Today was not the day.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Too many pills and potions?

Too many remedies, rather! I am currently taking: phosphorus 30; prune juice (to counteract the constipating effects of antacids); aloe vera juice; arnica gel topically, on my bad finger. I suppose that's not a lot compared to the amount of pills some people take to keep them going. My dad used to take ten a day, including Warfarin. It's when they took him off everything that his body suddenly rebelled and he died five weeks later.

Off to the doc's tomorrow to discuss the ulcer situation. I want to stop Omeprazole and take Ranitidine instead. I've been buying it over the counter at great expense and in 75ml tabs rather than the 150ml ones you can get on prescription. And now that I don't have to pay for prescriptions any more, why should I have to buy Zantac?

My arthritic finger is giving me hell at the moment. Well, they're all arthritic but the right index finger is the worst and typing, which I do for a living, is getting to be a major problem. I have been surfing hand clinics that perform arthroplasty (replacement finger joints, to you!). I thought there would be loads, all over Europe - 'Have your new finger joint done in Hungary - only £1500', that sort of thing. But nix. Nichevo. Nilch. My best bet looks like being either the Hand Clinic in Windsor which opens your finger joint and smooths the bones down so they don't grind together, and which cost £3,700 a few years ago and probably a thousand more now, or Vancouver, which is a long way to go for check-ups. Wish I'd kept my private health insurance going.