Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Big Spid's Back!

Remember the spider I so cruelly chucked out into the garden when it wanted to be our House Spider? Well, a couple of nights ago I went into the bathroom and there it was, not by the light switch or in the bath, but in the basin this time! I persuaded it to stroll onto a piece of loo paper and carried it into the kitchen. Haven't seen it since, but I have no doubt that, once humans and cat have retired, it is patrolling the house from floor to ceiling, munching up every smaller spider it can find, because there is a sudden absence of those daddy longlegs spiders that, until recently, were lurking in every corner. Bloody cannibal! I did take a photo but the memory card chose that moment to give up the ghost. Another one is eagerly awaited from eBay.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Cobwebs in the mist

I was trying to photograph a spiderweb on Mr Grumpy's study window and didn't realise that both our reflections were being captured too, his superimposed on mine!

I liked the contrast between the spider's ladder and the builder's one!

Friday, 26 September 2008

Stars in my eyes!

I have a new freelance job, writing the astrology column for Scarlet, the sexy mag for women. Until a year ago, I was 'Claire Voyeur', doing the horoscopes for Fiesta, the men's mag. Now Fiesta has dispensed with my services after 20-odd years, I sent out a few email enquiries and lo and behold, it so happened that Scarlet were considering a change of astrologer. I take over from the January issue.

No, I don't do it all from a computer software program. I draw the chart up by hand, with the aid of an Ephemeris which charts the movements of the planets for the coming year, then I sit and think. For hours. For days. A monthly column will take me four days to do, so the fee only works out at £50 per day, but hey, it's better than starving, having the leccy and gas cut off, or getting repossessed. And from little asterids, big galaxies can grow. (?) Hope so, anyway!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Bank v Mattress?

On top of my usual insomnia, I have another pressing worry that is keeping me awake at night, which is how safe are my savings? They're not actually savings. I'm no earthly good at saving. If I have a few pounds kicking around in the bank and spot something delicious in a sale (wot? pay full price? me?), a treat always feels in order. No, I am referring to the vast sum gained from the sale of my house a year ago. It's not vast by London standards, but it's pretty good by Liverpool standards and I have been casting my eye over the estate agents' websites in Scouseland lately, wondering if I should buy two properties there, live in one and let out the other? On the other hand, a villa in Turkey overlooking the sea has a certain appeal...

Seriously though, I divided the cash between three different banks and building societies, putting it on instant access in case I suddenly found the place of my dreams and needed it in a hurry. In the past, I have always put house sale money into just one pot, as it's far easier to cope with moving cash out of one account than it is out of three. Now I discover that you're only covered for the sum of £35,000 if the financial institution where you have parked your cash goes bust. This means I should open six more accounts right away.

This is what is causing the headache, insomnia and downright panic symptoms: if I find the thought of organising cash from three accounts a problem, how the HELL would I manage nine? How do you know they will all transfer the money into my account in time to complete on the purchase? And it's not just getting it into my account that's a problem. It has to go in there, then out again and into the solicitor's account. The amount of organisation involved is immense. I don't feel up to the job and have just been in floods of tears at the very thought, wishing I had a Husband who could pat me on the head, say 'There, there, don't bother your pretty head about it, I will take charge of all the financial things from now on. You just sit there and write your books.'

Once that thought had entered my fluffy head, I shook it, appalled. Had I really thought that? Over the past century, thousands of women have fought, and some had died, to win a woman's right to have the vote and manage her own finances, and here was I mentally throwing it all away. I thought of a friend who, having won a substantial sum in damages against a hospital who wrecked her health, failed to protect it from her wicked husband who gambled it all away. Do I really want to turn back time and go back to the days when not only was a wife her husband's property, but all her worldly goods, too!

When I bought my first flat in 1979, it was very hard for a woman to get a mortgage in her own right and my boss had to stand as guarantor. Now, teenagers can get one - or could, until the present economic downturn began. But... nine different savings accounts? Aaaargh! Would it not be easier to buy a property - any property - and only have to manage one? Or shall I take every penny out of every account and stuff it all under the mattress? This is my current dilemma.

Last night I was at a do at Claridge's entitled, How Green Is My City? In the company of much money, old and new, a sprinkling of titles (Sir Clive Sinclair being one) and much flashing jewellery and gilded hair, I listened to talks about Living Walls and how to encourage bats into one's belfry. The wine was vile - white and acidic, I drank half a glass - and the nibbles were sushi, and today I am feeling ghastly, with thumping head and roiling tum. I have cancelled both my massage and the appointment I had to view a house. As for staring at the screen for hours as I research savings rates in various building socs, forget it. I hope the sheer force of my anxiety will keep the three to whom I have entrusted my every penny afloat for another day. Now, there did I put the Valium?

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Spider time

September means spiders. I have a deep respect for my eight-legged friends, unlike my mother who shuddered at the memory of walks in woodlands where trees were joined by cats'-cradles of webs, each with a swaying occupant at the centre that was, in my mother's words, 'wearing its striped football jersey'. I still don't want too close a contact with them, though. They can run so fast, and it might be up your leg or down your neck!

Last night, I entered the bathroom, performed my ablutions in a relaxed state, winding down towards slumber, a state that was abruptly broken when I reached for the light switch and almost came finger to striped jersey with... IT. It was a cool, nonchalant example of an arachnid. In fact, it stood on tiptoes, swaying slightly, eyeing me with all eight of them. I eyed it back, crept out, closed the door and found a torch. Well, if I went in there during the night, I didn't want to touch it. It might be sitting on the doorhandle by then, like the wasp that stung Mr Grumpy last year. I mean, who would expect a wasp or a large spider to be on the handle, for heaven's sake? Worse, I didn't want to squidge down on it with my naked foot. Uggggh!

But when I went in for a wee at three, there was no sign. Had it gone under the door and through the gap beneath the adjacent door - my bedroom? I stumbled back, switched on the light, searched on and under pillows and duvet, but phew, no sign.

This morning, into the bathroom I went again and there it was in the bath. I made a mental note to rescue it in a glass after breakfast but Mr G got there first. He didn't even contain the beast. He had it sitting on a piece of kitchen towel and chased me round the kitchen with it, the sadist. No wonder I get indigestion so often. Fancy getting spidered in the middle of one's toast and marmalade! It's now out in the cold, but I feel sure I can hear a tiny tapping of eight feet on the patio door and a sibillant, pleading whisper of, 'Pleasssssse let me in!'

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Er... the road to hell...

... is paved with good intentions, and one was not to drink till Wednesday. Well, I needed something to help me sleep last night and a bottle of red wine seemed the answer, so I drank half of it and slept half the night. Maybe I should have drunk all of it and slept all night! Though maybe not, as what woke me was my stomach making sounds like the Last Night of the Proms' percussion section (to be truthful, slightly more than just my stomach was involved) and when I got up, my head was thumping. I've suspected for a while that red wine and I do not get on. In fact, I have a strange allergic reaction if I mix red wine and seafood. The room spins and I am violently ill. And guess what? With half a bottle still to finish (can't waste it, can I, with the cost of wine today, and Mr G doesn't drink), I opened the fridge to find Mr G defrosting prawns. They are obviously intended for tonight's dinner. Damn! Actually, I don't feel like either wine or prawns today. I have a nice piece of lemon sole in the freezer. And a pack of Yogi Stomach-Ease tea. And one of my friend Jacula's divine chocolate and ginger cookies which have just arrived. Thanks, Jac. Cheers!

Monday, 15 September 2008

Mr Grumpy's Party

Everything went like clockwork. Late Friday afternoon, I collected a huge hunk of cheese and a heap of ham like a weightlifter's bicep and on Saturday I stood for an hour and a half making trays of sandwiches in various combinations, all bearingPost-it notes listing the ingredients. We expected guests from 4 pm onwards. By 5, we were thinking we may as well give up and eat the sarnies ourselves, but then the first guest arrived.

It was an hour before we were able to welcome the second, my old friend Bobbie, but once she got there and and transfused the house with her upbeat, happy spirit and dirty laugh, it all started. My offer of a cup of tea was waved away and I was firmly ordered to open the wine. After that, the evening passed in a happy blur of which I can only remember one or two moments, one being an earnest conversation about poetry with a young man whose cousin is a Druid, and the other involving something illicit in the garden.

Bedtime happened at around 3.30 am. Yesterday was a slop-around-groaning day. Thank heavens for Poirot in the evening, enabling me to veg out on the sofa with a nice warm cat. I have now sworn off wine till at least Wednesday.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Mills & Boon

Having abandoned my last book 9000 words from the end, a talk by two Mills & Boon editors on Monday spurred me on to try my luck at writing a sample chapter for a Modern Heat book, for a competition that closes on Monday 15th. Thanks to two good friends who read my chapter and synopsis through in all its stages and spotted every error, I finished it yesterday and emailed it off. For anyone else who has time to write a chapter over the weekend, the link is http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2008/08/15/feel-the-heat-writing-competition-from-mills-boon/

Sorry, I don't know how to do the tinyurl business.

I'm not holding my breath as you'll know from my recent post that I am very unlucky with competitions. But, as the lottery slogan goes, 'you've gotta be in it to win it!'

It's Mr Grumpy's birthday today and I bought him: 1 black Zippo lighter (he smokes roll-ups - no wacky baccy, not since his brain haemorrhage, the consultant told him not to); 1 fleece from Tchibo (wry smile on Mr 's face as he opened the parcel, then he informed me that he'd been after the same one and had even emailed Tchibo, so that was a coup for moi!); 1 mouse mat with built in calculator; 1 set of squidgy, squidgier and squidgiest exercise balls for his stroke-affected hand (and my arthritic one), both these two gifts from Tchibo again - good old Tchibo always have something 'different'); a book written by a doctor who had had a stroke herself ("A stroke of Insight" by Jill Bolte); a Grumpy Old Git t-shirt (mean, aren't I? It's true, though); and finally, a large box of Cadbury's Heroes chocs. Will I see any of them? Probably not. Knowing him, he'll leave them on show somewhere and tomorrow's party guests will finish them off. I think at the last count there were nine children under 10 coming. Oh gawd! Roll on the evening when I can get cheerfully paralytic without having to make sure ankle-biters don't run into the nettles or drown in the pond. Or, worse, try to eat the fish!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008


Here's a rude version of Postman Pat that really made me laugh


While you're on the page, look out for the Countdown one, too!!! Nothing beats having a laugh in this miserable weather. I'm sitting at the window watching all the soggy schoolchildren splashing down the road. Any minute now, I must join them or miss the post. Good job I have five brollies and three pairs of wellies.

We've been invaded by the biggest spiders I have ever seen. Even Flad ran away when he saw one scuttling past, making a sound like an octopus in stilettos. My last trip to the loo last night brought the hideous discovery that the drains were blocked (nothing to do with me, I hasten to add, especially as the Senacot I took hasn't worked!). The smell was revolting. I left a note for Mr G, who had retired two hours earlier. I lay awake till 2 trying not to be sick and was woken by the sound of vigorous rodding - the drains, that is. Poor Mr G, in wellies and mac. No wonder he's grumpy! When he lifted the drain cover, the mother of all monstrous arachnids was lying in wait. I fled, Flad fled, only Mr G stayed calm, probably because he was scared of moving too much in case it ran inside his welly.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Adorable creatures

Yesterday, I attended a most wonderful lunch. We were a disparate bunch of females who included a professional French horn player and her girlfriend, a pretty young Italian academic, a pyschotherapist, a teacher, an animal communicator and a nun. It sounds like the cast of a sit-com but in fact all, barring myself and my friend Mo, had one thing in common - rabbits! The wonderful, sparkly, twinkly nun kept rabbits in her convent. The animal communicator boarded rabbits. Most had adopted rabbits from a well-known animal rescue charity, the Mayhew.

I have lived a rabbitless life. The nearest I came to them, pet-wise, was when I owned a guineapig as a child. My friend Mo is allergic to them. Indeed, when our hostess's house rabbit hopped towards her, her nose twitched more than the rabbit's. But I have to say that I can see their attraction. They are clean, they don't smell, they are cuddly and furry, cheap to feed and, with their floppy ears and wiffly noses, quite adorable.

But I must say I have fallen for the little creature in the photographs. It's called an aye-aye and I'm sure they must have modelled ET on it. They are native to Madagascar and eat fruit and grubs. I think an aye-aye would do well in my garden, which has spiders, caterpillars and slugs galore, not to mention loads of windfall apples. However, the garden is also the territory of five foxes and Flad so sadly, I must resist otherwise it would soon be a case of aye-aye, bye-bye.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Entering competitions

I have just entered three poems for a humorous verse competition. Now, as competition entrants go, I am notoriously unlucky. I can still remember my bitter disappointment when, aged 8, my picture of a horse didn't win first prize which was to go to Hollywood and meet Roy Rogers and Trigger. In those days, assessing the odds and the chances didn't come into it. My picture was the best and it HAD to win, so why hadn't it? Had it even arrived? I never knew and I cried for days.

When I was about 11, I won a prize in the RSPCA essay competition for an article about my cat. It was only a runner-up book token; I still hadn't come first. Fast-forward through many competitions, literary, poetical and artistic, to my first year at Bangor University in Wales, aged 18. I entered a limerick for the Airwick Limerick Contest. Again, it didn't come first. I didn't even know I'd won a runner-up prize until a large carton arrived bearing my name. Inside were enough air fresheners to last for, well, at least a university year, being smelly students. So how did we manage to get through them all in just one day? By spraying the room of the girl next-door, who had halitosis and BO, that's how. Without a thought to the possibilities of asthma, allergies or just plain suffocation, we broke in and sprayed and sprayed and sprayed, chortling with increasingly intoxincated mirth. Yes, the spelling mistake was intentional.

Scroll forward another four decades' worth of unlucky entries and suddenly I have won again. Once more, it was a runner-up prize in a draw that was held in the newsletter of the Greek Cats Rescue Society, of which I am a supporter. Last night I had this awful nightmare about a Greek cat... No. Not now. That's another subject. It's still on my mind and has made me feel vaguely ill and uneasy. The prize was a box of very pretty bath thingies in the shape of white flowers, which made a very nice Christmas present for someone I didn't know very well. (Hope they didn't have asthma and allergies.)

By now, I have almost given up collecting months' worth of coupons to win a London flat, a country cottage, a car (yes, I know I don't drive but I could always flog it on eBay), or a luxury holiday in the Seychelles (I hate long flights, but I could always...) So what tempted me to enter a humorous poetry comp? Perhaps it's a last-ditch attempt to prove that, despite being a loser all my life, I haven't lost my sense of the absurd. And somewhere deep inside, a little spark of hope still flickers. Maybe that's why I've bought a Lottery ticket for tonight, too!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Last Days of Summer: Regent's Park

While I was in Camden, I went for an utterly blissful walk in Regent's Park and for once during this lousy summer (the light, pretty kaftans I bought two years ago have still not been worn), the sun was hot and the sky blue. Herons were basking by the lake, wings half spread so that they looked like feathery diamond shapes. The flowers were having their last blaze before withering into autumn. Sunbathers on the grass were baring as much flesh as was legally permissible. After, my friend and I went to Limoni in Regent's Park Rd, Primrose Hill, where I had the best kalamari I have ever eaten, tender, grilled, sprinkled with fresh lemon juice. In the immortal words of Michael Winner, 'it was historic'!


I haven't mentioned my bad stomach lately, have I? This is because (touch wood!) it hasn't given me much trouble. When I think how many decades I have suffered, since being diagnosed with IBS way back in 1977! Without the internet, and with no advice from doctors, I struggled on, never knowing how I would feel when I woke up and whether or not I would have to cancel what I was doing because I was in so much pain. I was a classic case, suffering alternately from diarrhoea, then constipation.

One day a few months ago, I read a tiny paragraph in a Sunday newspaper suggesting that probiotics could help IBS sufferers. I bought the brand they suggested - Megaprobiotics, from the Victoria Health online store - and I haven't looked back. The first day the pills arrived I took two in the morning and two in the evening, and the next day I felt better, and the day after, I felt better still. After a month, I cut down to just two in the evening and now I only take one. I would say that in the average month I just have two bad days when I used to have about 22, and that is when I have been an idiot and pigged out on chocolate, alcohol or rich, spicy food. The difference probiotics have made in my life is immense.

Now to find an equally successful remedy for my stomach ulcers...

Tuesday, 2 September 2008


Had a wonderful four days staying in Camden, which was marred only by the fact that I couldn't use the £22 ticket I'd bought to see Pentangle guitarist Bert Jansch on Saturday night because when I got down to the corner of Barker Drive, a gang of about 17 evil looking young men were spread menacingly across the street, barring my path. I turned to go right, under the railway bridge, and spotted more of them lurking, so, fearing for my safety, I turned tail and spent the evening sulking indoors instead. Now, I wonder why I didn't phone the police. I did hear distant sirens so perhaps someone else had. That lot were definitely up for trouble.

On Friday, I met a friend in Camden Lock and she took me to Gilgamesh, a most amazing club and restaurant/bar that is full of Indian carvings and artefacts. See http://www.gilgameshbar.com/history.htm

The ladies loo was so splendid, we felt we were in a palace. The basin were gleaming brass troughs, the decor all brass carvings and there were real orchids in vases. I could happily have eaten my dinner in there! (See photo).

On my way back to Kings Cross with my far too heavy luggage, I passed some wonderful wrought iron work on the canal bridge in Camley Street.

When I reached St Pancras, I wandered into M&S and made my luggage even heavier by buying cheese, salad and a bottle of Sangria. Well, I felt in the holiday spirit and being in St P with a suitcase, I thought people would think I'd just got off the Eurostar, especially in my blue and white striped T-shirt! Tres Parisienne.