Friday, 31 December 2010

New year, new blog?

I just Googled 'Hillingdon Wildlife' and it came up on the first page and leads readers straight to this blog, too. So, in order to keep the two separate, I am investigating ways to export this blog to a new blog address. Don't worry, I know who my regular readers are, so I shall let you know where to find me!

In the meantime, Happy New Year!

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Property decision

There is a huge problem weighing on my mind which is keeping me awake at night. Next week, I am supposed to exchange contracts on a flat I saw way back at the end of October. I knew it needed work, but it was big and bright, on the top floor of a block, and just round the corner to where I used to live, in a Highgate cottage I wish I'd never sold. Plus, it was a very good price for a 2-bed flat in that part of N. London, being under the £250,000 stamp duty level where it jumps from 1% to 3%, making a difference of around £5000 to the purchase price.

My surveyor took a look and said it needed rewiring, gas central heating installing, new kitchen, new bathroom, new flooring, total redecoration, ripping out of old fitted cupboards that were falling apart, and both balconies needed work. Weeks passed and I heard nothing from the solicitor and had kind of put it to the back of mind and forgotten about it. Then suddenly I was asked to exchange contracts before Christmas.

OMG! I hadn't even had a builder look at it to give me a quote. I threw myself into a flurry of activity and rang everyone I knew who had used builders. One in particular was recommended - a friend had used them for four property renovations - but they were Cypriots and had gone back to Cyprus until Jan 10th. I found another, but the day we were booked to go round the flat, the weather was so bad that we couldn't go. Deep snow, ice, blizzards, the estate agents only had one member of staff in so nobody could go down there with the key.

Then it was Christmas and everyone shut up shop for a fortnight. The agents reopen on Jan 4th. But in the interim, I went into panic mode. How do I supervise building work when I live 25 miles away, don't drive and am 3 miles from the nearest station? How can I do it whilst continuing to work on my editing jobs? Do I really want to take on something which may well turn out to be a money pit and cost me upwards of £30,000? Plus, I'd be paying the monthly service charge of £150 on top of council tax and the other bills.

I am having very severe second thoughts...

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Merry Christmas!




I hope you all had at least as good a Christmas as I did, if not even better! There were a couple of low points. The first was when, with talk radio blaring in the kitchen, Mr G whacked the telly onto Vintage TV, showing clips and bands from 1968.

I was at the kitchen table in the middle of writing a complicated email and said, maybe with a slight whinge in my tone, that I couldn't cope with both and could he choose which one he wanted, radio or TV. Well, he went into one, switched them both off and went into a sulk, refusing to speak to me. This was before we'd even exchanged presents! I got a note shoved under my nose which read, 'Wot time u want 2 eat?' I wrote back, '2? 3? 4?' Then, fearing that this would go on all day, I turned the telly back on, gave him a hug, made him a cuppa and chivvied him back to some semblance of normality.

The second glitch was when he took the turkey out of the oven to rest it for a few minutes and test the temperature with his new meat thermometer, and discovered he'd left the giblets in, inside their plastic bag. Aargh! Panic! My mum had done the same thing years ago and the chemicals that had leached out of the plastic contaminated the turkey so that it smelt and tasted vile and had to be thrown out and we made do with the chipolatas and veg. However, they must use idiot-proof plastic bags nowadays and the turkey tasted fine. I had been wondering why the kitchen was full of fumes and my eyes were streaming, though!

The third was when poor Mr Grumpy took the roast spud tin out of the oven to turn them over, burnt his hand and dropped the lot on the wooden floor. I rushed to help him spoon them back into the roasting tin and hoped the heat would kill any germs. This was when I was glad we didn't have a dog!

Apart from that, the food was great, Step dropped in with some lovely presents - necklace and some moisturiser for me and a diary and calendar for Mr G, which actually was just what he wanted and I'd had to forcibly restrain him from buying some for himself (I'd chosen them when out shopping with Step last Tuesday). She also gave us an extremely filthy book - Pets With Tourettes - forgetting she'd given the same book to us two years ago. I have a friend lined up to receive the spare copy.

I only managed to drink half a bottle of wine, and crashed into bed before Murder on the Orient Express had even finished. Great night's sleep, lovely, sunny day today making the frozen snow sparkle. Happy Boxing Day! Above is a pic of our teeny, tiny tree.




And here's Mr G pretending to get stuck in the fleece-lined, hooded lumberjack shirt I gave him, and ending up REALLY stuck. Serves him right for being so grumpy!!!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Candle-wax reading

When I was 11, my oldest friend's Russian mother announced that I had the gift and taught me how to do candle-wax readings. Over the years, I have done quite a few. I can't say all of them have been spot-on, but generally there's a glimpse of something that ends up coming true.

I shall never forget one in particular. A doctor who is now a well-known author and medical journalist, lived downstairs to me in 1995. He asked me for a reading, I dunked the wax into the water and all I could see was a giant sperm! We laughed about it, and joked about his rampant sex-life, but two weeks later, his regular girlfriend announced she was pregnant!

Last night, Mr G's lovely 28-year-old step-daughter came round, bearing gifts and a very nice bottle of wine! I had already started on the remains of one I'd had on the go for the last three days (I normally don't drink more than two small glasses in an evening). Over the next three hours, though, we polished off the lot. Mr G had to get up at 4am and get down to the butcher's shop to help his mate out with the Christmas turkey orders so he went to bed at ten.

As soon as he'd gone, Step asked for a reading. I did it around midnight. She's had a rough year, with trouble at work and the break-up of a long relationship which she thought would end in marriage, but as soon as the wax hit the water, I smiled as all I could see was happiness. Flowers, love, help and support from good friends and a brand new relationship. The letter M featured a lot and I had the feeling he had a connection with water - lived by the sea, or went diving or sailing. Mind you, her last boyfriend was a Pisces, so you could say he had a water connection. She says the last thing she wants to do is date another Piscean, but I had the feeling this new guy was born under the sign of Aries. Now I must look up some astrology info to see if Sagittarius (Step) and Aries are compatible. Bear with me...

***

Look what I've just found!

Aries Man and Sagittarius Woman
The love match of an Aries man with a Sagittarius woman is one of those matches that were truly made in heaven. He will keep her entertained with his intelligence, while she will mesmerize him with her creativity. Their conversations will be intellectually stimulating. Both share a love for adventure and will mostly be on move, exploring new people and new places. Sagittarian woman will love his funny sense of humor and Aries man will find her charm intriguing. Except for a few glitches here and there, they will hardly find a problem with each other.

She could be in luck!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Sore tongue!


I've chipped my temporary filling again, which has to last until the tooth makes up its mind whether it wants to stay or be taken out (don't flare up over Christmas, please!). Every time I speak, my tongue rasps against the rough place and as a result, it's red and sore and my speech has started to sound as if I am slightly drunk and slurring.

If I get to the point of not being able to stand it any longer - my dentist has already shut up shop for Christmas - I shall consider taking the nail file to it, or at least an emery board.

Two other solutions spring to mind.
i. Don't speak at all for at least the next ten days
ii. Drink so much that I'm really drunk and slurring.

Which route do you think I ought to go?

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Christmas fun

I've really enjoyed the last two days. Met Mr G's step-daughter for some Christmas shopping. Then a friend travelled up from Pimlico and met us in a bar for some festive drinks. My friend, T, an ex-boyfriend from 25 years ago who is still a friend, is witty company and is also a brilliant astrologer and he and Step got on brilliantly, and he may be doing a chart for her in the New Year.

Funny thing is, I am always moaning about how bad it is to live at the furthest end of a long tube line which doesn't work half the time. When he arrived, he went straight into one about the terrible journey he'd had, being turfed off trains which decided they were stopping halfway, or changing their destination. Aha, thought I. At last there's somebody who knows I'm not exaggerating! I hope he got home all right 'cos I glanced at the Transport for London site later, and found that there were no trains from Uxbridge at all. I think it was a signal failure this time. Perhaps T is still walking wearily back to Pimlico!

Today I returned to old haunts. I used to live in an area between Kentish Town and Highgate, called Dartmouth Park. There's a great cafe there called the Cafe Mozart and I met two old friends for lunch and had the best ever tomato and butter bean soup. Double yum!!!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Whiteout!

What a wonderful blizzard there was this morning.


It may have made our road hazardous...



... but the trees in next door's front garden look magical.

The temperature of romance

It's 32 degrees fahrenheit in my old office upstairs. This is the open plan landing area where the windows don't fit and the north wind whistles through the holes around them, which I blocked last year with Kleenex and parcel tape. Thank God I have moved my main computer into my bedroom.

I really don't know how I survived working up here in previous winters. It must have been like this in Victorian times, if they were too poor to light a fire. Now I only have to nip up here to to use the laptop. Like now. I brought a mug of tea with me and it has gone stone cold in ten minutes. I know I keep writing about it and probably boring you stupid, but it amazes me how Mr Grumpy can live like this.

Apparently, the Christmas after his previous partner died, the boiler failed and he got pneumonia but he still stayed here freezing his wotsits off. Bloody masochist! Mind you, this is the man who pulls out his own teeth when they give him trouble, and set his own leg when he broke it, and wouldn't go to hospital after his brain haemorrhage and strokes (not until I insisted and dialled 999 for him, anyway) so he probably IS a masochist!

He really is the oddest and most off the wall man I have ever met. Admirable in so many ways, yet in others, completely nuts. It's probably that combination that has kept me with him for almost 14 years. It's the longest relationship I've ever had and certainly the most interesting, yet conversely also the most uncomfortable and definitely the least passionate. Mr G's idea of a romantic physical gesture is ruffling my hair occasionally in passing. Hugs and kisses? Absolutely not. If you approach him and go to kiss him or put your arms round him, he flinches and shrinks and goes stiff as an ironing board. I sometimes feel I want to throw hot water over him to melt him a bit. He's not going to change now. Thank heavens I have someone else to cuddle. Flad!

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Garden


Doesn't it look lovely after that fall of snow? I keep having to de-ice the birds' water, though, and I have cleared a patch of snow so I can put out catfood for the hedgehog - that's if the fox doesn't find it first.

Snow art





The snow fell just as the kids were coming out of school. When I scrunched down to the shops, I found they had been at work doing artistic things.

I am looking down the street here (you can just see the angel in the snow), gazing at the retreating snow clouds. This is the next street along to ours, which never gets gritted so it becomes a skating rink after a while. I do feel sorry for the people who live there! As our road is a bus route, the council keeps it clear.

Even more brrrrrr!

33 degrees F upstairs in my old study today. Indoors!!! What IS wrong with this house? And why can't I have the bloody heating on? I think he wants to freeze me to death. Often, it's warmer outside than in - except in the lounge, where he puts wood in the wood-burner and it's a cosy 76F. Okay for him. I can't work in the lounge.

My main computer is now in my bedroom, with a fan heater next to it, but it still doesn't get beyond 17C, according to the thermostat on the fire. I am FED UP! I have to get out of here.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Poor ginger plant!

It started off doing so well. But I left it on the freezing windowsill for too many nights and the shoots started to shrivel at the ends. There was still hope, for the shorter of the two shoots was still doing okay, so I began moving it to the top of the fridge at night, away from the window.

And then... tragedy. I pulled my laptop charger out of its resting place in a box behind the plant, and knocked the plant pot onto the floor. There was soil everywhere and the two shoots were bashed to smithereens.

It has now gone to a lowly grave in the rubbish bin and I shall start a new one in the Spring. At least I know it can be done.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The extremely rare nadger beetle

On Friday, a package arrived with a florist's label and instructions to open it immediately. I waited for Mr Grumpy to come home, which wasn't till the evening as he was looking after his friend's shop for the day while said friend was on a course.

We knew what it would be. Every year, the lady next door (the other side to the owners of Chimimi and the other Bengal cats), who is now 94, buys Mr G a plant. I hacked open the box and inside, packed in moss, was a pot of narcissus bulbs, amid loads of those horrid polystyrene packaging bits that go everywhere.

I upended the box over the bin, holding carefully onto the plant, and they all fell out, as did a rather peculiar beetle in a fetching shade of shiny bronze, which promptly made a rush for the doormat and disappeared beneath it.

Ten minutes later, Mr G was enjoying a cup of tea when he suddenly yelped and grabbed his leg. "Something's crawling up my leg!" he shouted and promptly ripped his trousers off. Nothing. So he put them back on.

"You must have imagined it," I said. Then he clapped his hand to his leg again. Off came the trousers, out fell the bronze beetle. Out came my camera.



"It's a nadger beetle!" cried Mr G. "It made a rush for my nuts!"

(For any non-UK readers, 'nadgers' is a slang word for testicles: you can find Kenneth Williams' hilarious song, 'Green Grow my Nadgers-O' at http://www.last.fm/music/Kenneth+Williams/_/Green+Grow+My+Nadgers+Oh!)

The beetle was now scuttling towards the living room. I did a rugby tackle with a piece of kitchen towel and it clung to it and ran determinedly towards my sleeve.

So why is the nadger beetle extremely rare? Because I slung it out into the frozen garden and if it was the last of its kind, it will be the extremely extinct nadger beetle by now!

Sorry about the poor quality of the photo. I was too busy laughing to find the macro setting. You can just make out the beast waving its claws aggressively, though!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The red bag


My friend wanted to order a bargain leather bag online but she was going away to Oz for Christmas and asked if she could have it sent to my address. It arrived today in a ginormous box! I emailed her so she asked me to unpack it and... well, it's an enormous bag! Gorgeous, but simply huge, and this a lady whom I have only ever seen with small bags. I have just taken this pic and emailed it to her. It's not a bag you wear; it's a bag that wears you. Oh dear. I can see one of her sisters getting a rather expensive birthday present!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Brrrrrrrr!

Today it is 38 degrees F INSIDE the house! Upstairs in my old study. I've now moved my main computer into the downstairs bedroom, but the thermostat on my fan heater said 7C when I woke up this morning. What is wrong with this house? I have never lived in any place that has been this cold. It occurs to me that it might be haunted. After all, Mr Grumpy's previous partner died in the living room!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Dave's dog

I said I wasn't going to talk about such things for a while, but as I was trying to get off to sleep last night, having downed 1 1/2 Senokot tablets, I suddenly remembered an incident from long ago involving the very same tablets.

Mr Grumpy has a nephew called Dave. The two of them are the spitting image of one another, though 20 years apart in age, and they get on extremely well. So when Dave, his 8-year old daughter, and Daughter's best friend, who was a rather posh and stuck-up young lady wearing her best pink taffeta princess dress, went to choose a new dog from the Dog's Trust, they stopped off on the way back to show him off.

He was a handsome young thing, a grey and white Australian cattle dog with black spots and one blue eye and one brown one. He bounded round the kitchen, snuffled his way across the floor, ate a biscuit and looked adorable. I had, of course, quite forgotten the accident I'd had with a plastic drum of tablets the night before, when, in wrestling the tight lid off, I'd sent a load of them up in the air and all over the floor. In any case, I'd swept them all up... or so I thought.

Halfway home, the pup was ill. Violently. From both ends. And he was sitting on the lap of the Princess Posh at the time. Dave rang up and said he couldn't understand what was wrong but the dog was all right now and had downed his dinner with no further mishaps. "Perhaps he gets travel sick," wondered Dave.

"Er..." said I, "I spilt some Senakots on the floor last night. I thought I'd swept them all up, but you don't think...?"

Dave DID think. We all shrieked with laughter, especially when he told us about the sobbing Princess Posh, covered in puke and poo. It wasn't fair of us to laugh. Well, not really. But honestly, it couldn't have happened to a nicer young lady!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Arrrgh....

Despite drinking more than the recommended dose of hospital laxative, 'nothing happened', so
yesterday I took Sennacot and Dulcoease as well and they hardly worked, either. You know the expression, 'sh*****g a brick'? Well, I had enough to build a house with and now need several more pile operations.

And on that merry note, I shall shut up about the blasted things unless anything dramatic happens, like my entire derriere falling off. It's a lovely sunny day and I have taken some even better pics of the goldcrest which I shall add to the wildlife blog later. Have a good day, folks!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Never again!

Had my op on Wednesday. As usual, you're not allowed to eat or drink anything for hours beforehand. My last sip of water was at 10 am and I wasn't sent down to theatre till a quarter to four. By that time, I was so dehydrated that I had a banging headache.

I have been anaesthetised nine times in the past - once for over three hours - and have never thrown up afterwards. This time was different. One minute I was feeling fine, and the next was a case of 'hasten, hasten, find a basin'! So they gave me an anti-nausea drug and I could feel it burn its way down my arm and within minutes, my mouth went paralysed and I couldn't speak. Mr G had just turned up to drive me home, and there I was pointing at my mouth, with a hand that was rapidly going floppy and weak, and trying to tell him I couldn't talk. Then I started shaking convulsively, they thought I was going into anaphylactic shock and the upshot was that they had to keep me in overnight.

I had a six bed ward all to myself. With a couple of hours, the symptoms had worn off and I was looking forward to a peaceful night's sleep, but it was not to be. The next door ward was a men's one, one of whom was determined to bellow to the nurses in a very loud voice all night. Toilet doors kept banging, trolleys kept rattling and finally, at 1.40 am I asked for a painkiller. I dozed off around 2.30, then was awoken at 5 am by a nurse snapping on the lights and taking my blasted blood pressure and temperature. It was the first time I had had a thermometer stuck in my ear, but what an improvement over the Dettol-flavoured one they used to stick in your mouth!

At 6 am the tea trolley came round. Then I was sick again and forced to turn down breakfast. In the meantime, Mr G had been told he could come at 7 am to take me home. Someone had misinformed him though, for he wasn't allowed to come in and had to drive all the way home again. This was his 5th journey there or back, at a minimum of 45 mins each time. I had to wait for the doctors to do their rounds and sign me off, which took till 1.3o pm as it had snowed heavily and everyone was late getting in. So... no breakfast, no lunch and no tea since 5 am. I was suffering.

I hadn't brought in my phone as the letter said you shouldn't bring phones or valuables in. Everyone else had their phones, though, and a nice lady who had arrived at 8 am to have a knee operation lent me hers. I got home at around 2.3o, made some soup and was just about to dig in my spoon when the phone started ringing and wearily I had to assure several friends that I was OK, with rumbling tummy and cooling soup.

I'm feeling better today, though it does hurt down below. To add insult to injury, I found out that the surgeon had only tackled one of my piles. He banded it (look it up). So I still have two and no way am I going to go through this again. It was really awful. Though I must say the nursing staff were all very kind and very helpful. I was given a form to fill in before I left, rating various aspects of my care, and I gave them top marks.

If I had had a category about how much information I had been given, I would have given it a zero score. Nobody had told me about banding. Nobody had told me they only tackled one at a time. I thought I was going to go through a certain amount of pain and emerge with brand new butt! Now I feel disappointed, let down and sore. But I shall see how it goes. Maybe, in a week or two, I shall rate my op as a vast improvement. Who knows?

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Ebb-Tide

Seeing the seagulls in the garden reminded me of a poem I wrote years ago, after a visit to New Brighton in Merseyside, where, amidst the crying wheeling gulls, an old man in a navy guernsey and jeans was standing on the shore, staring out to sea with his faded eyes like stone-washed denim. I wove in birth, decay, evolution, the impartial ebb and flow of every tide. It was only years later, on re-reading it, that I noticed every line rhymes, or half-rhymes, with another one somewhere in the poem. That was completely unintentional, and quite amazed me.


EBB-TIDE

What have you left to come come to, old man?
Have you felt the turn of the tide in your lungs
And the dawn's thin blood draining your day?

Old man, what have you left to come home?
There, you had the tide at the height of its leap
Tearing down the white sail of the moon
While here, the chimneypots keel over
In a wind raging with your salt weather
And a sky snowing with seagulls.

Wife by the hearth, would you wake from your sleep
For a captain with cap made of downy white feathers,
Bringing nothing but blessings you've never heard sung?
Would you rise from your fire to a violent noon,
Wild wind slapping the sails in the bay
And watch him sit up with his eyes full of pearls?

Yet both of you once had the sea for a lover,
With nothing left now but a thin line of foam
To mark where your intricate voyage began.

Snow!


The gulls were hungry this morning and came swooping down after the bread I'd put out for the garden birds. Their keening cries made me feel I was at the seaside.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Writing Styles 2

I was lying in bed last night (again - I think my brain only functions creatively when I'm warm, and bed is the only place where I am truly toasty in this freezing, draughty house; just glanced at the thermometer in room I'm typing this in and even with the heating on, it's barely 42 degrees F!), when I thought of an important category that I had forgotten. The cliche user.

I was at the library on Friday, pulled an interesting looking book off the shelf, opened it random and as soon as I spotted two words, I snapped it shut and put it back. They were 'flame-haired'. Seems like every tabloid describes someone or other as 'flame-haired', or even 'flame-haired temptress'. Huge, clanging cliche!

It's a lazy writer who bungs in the first thing that leaps to mind, which is usually a cliche. I have been guilty of it myself. It's far easier to do than to expend the mental effort to think up a more original way of saying something. Yet one has only to look out of the window, or even around the home, to spot other words that could be used to help describe red hair. Kitchen: cinnamon, terracotta, Le Creuset; geranium, fire extinguisher, apple. Yet, at the end of the day, nothing is wrong with saying 'red hair' and leaving it at that. It took me a long time to leave out the torrent of adjectives that sprang from my fingertips.

A major omission from yesterday's post was the good writing styles. The sentences that flow, the dialogue that isn't broken by colons and semicolons (nobody speaks in semicolons, do they?), the humour and wit, the bouncy, the young, the fresh, the confident, the elegant. There is just as much good writing about as there is bad, I'm happy to say, so, to those who tried to slot themselves into yesterday's categories, try the ones mentioned in this paragraph instead!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Writing Styles


I spent yesterday afternoon working on a book I am editing. It's wonderful. I'm thoroughly enjoying it. But no sooner had I gone to bed and my brain had gone into free-floating mode than wodges of prose from the past started swirling in.

I began work as fiction editor on IPC's Loving Magazine in 1984. By then, I had already had three romantic novels published and quite a few short stories, but I by no means regarded myself as an expert in writing and editing. Almost three decades on, though, I think I am allowed to call myself experienced in the field. I progressed to editor of that magazine whilst continuing to carve out my own career as a writer and when I was made redundant, I continued to write, and also joined up with a couple of agencies who critique and edit manuscripts for writers who are hoping to get published.

Millions of words have sped through my eyes and my brain. No wonder some of them have stuck in odd corners and continue to haunt me. I recall titles, phrases, images, characters - and, most of all, styles.

There was a man whose style was labelled 'chicken-pecking' by my chief fiction sub-editor. By this, she meant that each sentence ran for a few words, then was brought up short by a full stop. There was. No flow. It just happened. Like that.

Then there were the over-wordy, who never used one word when five would do, and who described their hero or heroine's every action in minute detail: She picked up the pink toothbrush, being careful not to touch the blue one next to it for fear her germ-obsessed sister might scream at her for polluting its bristles, rinsed it in cold water, squeezed out just a centimeter of paste - the striped one - and raised the brush to her mouth. She opened her lips... Well, you get the picture. The reader is desperate to find out if she will finally get together with the boy of her dreams at the school end of year party that evening, but there is so much boring detail to wade through first that, with a hiss of exasperation, Dear Reader gives up and flicks to the next story.

Another style I kept on encountering was the one in which the writer overused the gerund: Fishing in her bag, she found a tissue, applying it to her nose. Rushing, she caught the bus, blushing when realising she was guilty of leaving her pass at home. What these writers don't realise is that the gerund gives a passive feel to the prose. It holds up the flow. In a short story especially, it's best to use the active form of the verb.

Then we come to the famous Purple Prose. Yes, I am guilty of it myself, that overspilling of sentimental detail, the snapshot seen through rose-tinted specs, the affected hyperbole. Purple prose is over-the-top writing. It's complicating something simple. Instead of birds singing in the trees, a myriad of feathered souls are throwing their exotic notes of pure godlike ambrosia to we mere mortals down below.

There are those who score their prose with multiple dashes and those who pebbledash it with ellipses and colons. There are the 'can't spell, won't even bother to look it up' brigade - and those get sent back with a polite suggestion that they go on a writing course.

Then every so often, one comes across a gem like the one I am working on right now. It's not perfect. English is not the author's first language so some of her sentence constructions are back to front, and people look 'on' something - the ground, their shoes - rather than 'at' it. But the sheer lyrical song of the words, the glowing sensitivity of the characterisation, the spare, yet finely observed descriptive detail, is a joy to work with. In my 26 years of editing fiction, I have only found half a dozen manuscripts of this quality, and each time I've encountered one, I have yearned to reinvent myself as a literary agent so as to have the joy of discovering and acting as midwife to a world class author. This is what makes my job worthwhile.

If the current manuscript gets published, I shall tell you what it was. If it doesn't, then I shall truly despair of the publishing industry.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Injured!

I felt much better yesterday. My cold was definitely going. After my monthly visit to the chiropractor, I was feeling on top form and all set to buy a few more Christmas items and get some much-needed exercise following three days pent up indoors with my rotten cold.

But malign fate had something different in store for just as I was passing Maplins, my right foot landed on a wonky paving slab that was sloping hard to the right, and I turned my ankle so severely that my anklebone actually made contact with the ground. I managed to keep upright and hobble to WH Smith for some gift tags, but my ankle was so painful that I staggered to the bus stop and was fortunate enough to coincide with Mr G in his car at the bottom of the street.

Arnica and an elastic bandage are helping greatly but it will be a few days yet before my ankle will be fit enough for that exercise... and by then I'll have had my operation. What glorious timing! I think fate is fattening me up for Christmas.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Operation news

Had my pre-op tests yesterday. Felt like death with this awful cold and hacking cough, but dragged myself off to the hospital for a 10.30 am appointment. 'Get there 15 minutes early', the letter said. I arrived at 10.10 but wasn't called in till gone 11, so I was not amused.

I warned the nurse who was checking my blood pressure that I suffer from 'white coat syndrome' and the moment I see the machine, my blood pressure soars. Sure enough, it was a staggering 177 over 88! 'Hmm, that's a bit high,' said the nurse, 'I'll take it again in a few minutes'. She did, and it was down to 129 over 79, which was much better. Weird, isn't it? It's not as if I'm scared of having my blood pressure done. I suppose I'm anxious about being told it's too high and having to go on pills for the rest of my life.

They put me on a heart monitor, which was fine. Then they send me for a blood test. My heart sank. The only way of getting that done quickly is to arrive first thing in the morning when they open. By lunchtime, the waiting room is so full that there are no seats left. When I arrived, the illuminated sign was at No.10, having been round the clock several times that morning already, and the ticket I pulled from the machine was No. 43. So, after a quick chat with a nice lady who was No. 37, I beetled off to the hospital coffee shop and had a very nice coffee and a packet of organic, low-salt crisps and by the time I got back, they were calling for No. 32.

'Be gentle', I told the guy who was taking my blood. 'How much do you need?' 'Four tubes,' he said. I was reminded of the old Tony Hancock blood donor sketch. 'I'll have to look away,' I said, as I can't bear to see my red stuff squirting into the phials. My dad used to faint at the sight of his own blood. I remember my mum trying to take a splinter out of his finger once, and h went spark out on the floor! I'm not that bad; I'm fine so long as I don't have to watch. And the guy was gentle and I only have a tiny bruise and a red mark today.

Finally, I arrived back at the reception desk, where I was handed a letter and told that my operation was scheduled for next Wednesday. NEXT WEDNESDAY!!! OMG! Having had to wait 11 months for a hysterectomy despite having pre-cancerous cells in my cervix, I thought a minor thing like a pile operation would have a waiting list of about a year. Well, the old NHS has certainly speeded up since they whipped out my womb in 1998.

I'm on the afternoon list. I can have toast at 7.3o and can drink water or black tea or coffee till 10. Then nothing else, not even a sip. As somebody who swigs water constantly, this is going to be a real hardship as I don't have to be at the hospital till 12.30 and probably won't be 'done' till mid afternoon. Hope my cold has gone by then because the letter says if you have one, the op will be postponed. Fingers crossed... or should that be legs?

Ginger plant




My little ginger plant is sprouting quite wondrously. I took this pic this morning. The large sprout is over 3 ins and the shorter one measures an inch. Not sure if I should give it any plant food this time of year, though it is growing vigorously so perhaps it needs some. What do you think?



My orchid, which was given to me five years ago, is flowering for the fourth time. Again, November seems a very odd time to grow and flower. Just two flowers are out so far but once all the buds have opened, it's going to look spectacular. Both plants are on a South-east facing window ledge which is warmish in the daytime but very cold at night as there is no heating in the kitchen where they live. They don't appear to mind, though.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

A nothing day

I meant to upload some photos today and show you how my ginger plant is getting on - the large sprout is now 3 ins long! But I suddenly started sneezing and streaming, my throat hurts and it's clear that I've caught Mr Grumpy's horrible cold that he caught from his friend's kids who he babysat for three hours last Monday. Thank you, kids. How very generous of you to share your germs.

Flad is generous, too. He's shared his fleas. He gets de-flead with Frontline every six weeks and he's got another three weeks to go till his next treatment, but this morning I found a small flea on my hand after I'd stroked him and this evening... I got one down my knickers! It bit me twice, so thanks for that, Flad. I'm going to spray the sofa tomorrow, in case that's where they're hiding. I do love animals, but the one drawback is fleas because they love me, as do mozzies.

Nothing bites Mr Grumpy, of course. They wouldn't dare. Apart from which he, like a lot of older men, has a stubbly hide like a rhinoceros and as his veins run with tea rather than blood, he probably tastes horrible.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Me and Flad


It's true love. He lies like this on me every night! Soppy pair, aren't we?

Monday, 15 November 2010

Bedazzled by the Bum Doc! (Warning: some gruesome and indelicate content)

Well, what an experience! It was straight out of a TV soap. There I was, daintily spread on my side with the token white sheet revealing far more than it covered, while two young male medical students, one Greek and one Italian, plus the handsomest doctor in the world, peered up my bottom! I tell you, Julian Clary would have had a field day.

I arrived half an hour early as the local bus that goes straight to the hospital only runs every half hour and I needed time to find the right clinic in the sprawling building. I'd scarcely read a page of my book when my name was called. I glanced at my watch; still 20 mins to go before my appointment.

I'd better fill in a bit of background now. WARNING: Avert your eyes from this paragraph, all ye who are squeamishly inclined. I have had piles ever since I got pregnant with my daughter in 1969. That's a total of 41 years of lumpy bumness. Every so often, the things would swell up and I'd spend days lying on my side on the sofa with a bag of frozen peas applied to the area. (And no, I didn't eat them afterwards, though someone else might have done!) Once, I was on my way to interview a rock star for the magazine I was working for. He was sending his chauffeur to pick me up from Reading station and I thought I would just pop to the loo first as pre-interview nerves had made me want to 'go'. Next thing I knew, I thought my period had started as the loo was suddenly full of blood. But it wasn't my period, it was the piles. Ugh! I waddled through the afternoon with my knickers stuffed with tissues, any idea of seducing the rock star killed stone dead. Over the last year, with my IBS getting worse, I have had the most evil pain and itching and in the end I visited my GP and told her I was at the end of my tether as the violent itching was waking me at night, and I was bleeding every day even though the lumps themselves weren't that big. Plus, the pain had spread forward so the entire area between back bottom and front bottom hurt like hell.

End of nasty details. The squeamish can continue reading now. So - the nurse called me in and instantly these two young medical students thrust their hands at me and introduced themselves. One was an olive-skinned Greek with dark, wavy hair, very attractive, and the other one was Italian, grinning and geeky. Let's call them Greek and Geek.

Greek was the spokesman for the two. He asked me a series of questions in a slow, unpractised manner while Geek listened and grinned. I think Greek had a better command of spoken English. Then suddenly the inner door burst open and there... gasp!... there stood the movie star specialist. Tall, ice blue eyes, Scandinavian fair hair, slight tan, even white teeth, firm handshake, he introduced himself as Oliver. Long ago, at a different hospital, I had encountered another handsome Oliver, but that's another story.

Oliver 2 said he'd talk to me in a few minutes, and I was sent back outside. Then, bang on my appointment time, to the minute, I went back in for the actual examination. Now, ages ago, I had had the best looking dentist in the world, an Aussie called Brett Elliott. I never needed an injection, just sinking into the ocean of his navy blue eyes and imagining him seducing me on the beach was enough. Unfortunately, I couldn't gaze into Dr Oliver's steely blue ones as my third eye is in the middle of my forehead and not up my Khyber Pass!

With Greek and Geek peering intently at my nethers, Dr Moviestar Oliver stuck up his speculum as I groaned unromantic 'ouches'. Once I was dressed again, I sat opposite him, bathing in his good looks as he asked, "Has anyone ever suggested operating?" I answered, "When I had my hysterectomy done, the surgeon said they were planning to remove them but the op had complications so they didn't have time."

"Huh!" snorted Dr Oliver. "You don't want to let a gynaecologist anywhere near your piles." A touch of professional jealousy, perhaps?

The upshot is that he's putting me in for day surgery. He said it mightn't solve all the problems but at least things should improve. "You'll have a very sore bottom for a few days," he warned. Well, what's new? He was brisk, sharp and informative, and delivered a set of instructions with a steady gaze and a twitch of a grin. No toilet paper, just wet wipes from now on (which I use most of the time anyway), no soap or bath oil, only cotton knickers (never wear any other kind unless I'm on a hot date) and... I'm sure there was something else. Oh, what was it? All I can think about is that golden hair and those ravishing blue eyes. Staring up bottoms all day... what a waste!

As I turned to go, I thanked Dr Oliver and wished Greek and Geek good luck in their exams. As the nurse filled my hands with forms to take to the day surgery admissions desk, I said, "That doctor was just great." I meant his professional approach but she blushed. I think she had a little crush. Or maybe she was embarrassed by me, an oldi(ish) woman fancying a doctor. I think I feel a medical Mills & Boon coming on.

PS: I once had a very funny experience whilst being examined by a gynaecologist. There I was, feet in the stirrups, knees up and feeling the breeze up, when the male gynae (why are you never examined by a female one?) said, "I can see that you play the guitar."

With as much wit as I could muster whilst in such an embarrassing position, I shot back, "Why? Have you found my missing plectrum?" He laughed and explained that he played the guitar, too, so he'd noticed that I had long fingernails on one hand, and short ones on the other, the sure sign of a guitar player. I laughed about that for ages.

The only joke I could have come up with today was that corny old one about the man who accidentally sat on a circular saw. "It sliced off my - " He paused, trying to think of a polite word. "Rectum?" his comic partner enquired, to which the first comedian replied, "Well, it didn't do 'em much good!"

Carrot soup after-effects

Those people who say veggie food is good for you are not always right. I'm still suffering the fall-out from that carrot soup I made last Thursday. I think the onslaught of all that roughage (six carrots' worth) scoured out my delicate insides and inflamed my ulcer and IBS. I have a horrid stomach pain, bloating and wind, keep having to dash to the loo and, to make matters worse, at 2.55 this afternoon I have an appointment to get my piles looked at!

Yes, laugh. I can hear you. My chief worry, of course, is what happens if, when the doctor is peering and prodding, I just have to, er... No, it doesn't bear thinking about. I just hope he or she will be wearing a face mask!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Ginger sprouts!


I have never known a plant grow as fast as this ginger plant. It grows about 1/4" a day and now look what it's done - put out another sprout. How exciting! I didn't know they could grow at both ends. If anyone else has ever grown one, please tell me what to expect. Hope it's not turning into a triffid!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Carrot soup

The recipe sounded nice and healthy. 800g of carrots, some honey, two leeks and vegetable stock. I didn't have enough carrots so I used just under 600 g but oh, how I wished I'd only used one! The amount of roughage in that soup has had the most ghastly consequences. I am clutching my stomach in pain and can't stop flying to the loo... and I have to make the hour and a half tube journey into London in half an hour's time, to go to the dentist's! Oh woe.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The trouble with night clothes...

... or sleepwear, as they often called, is that when you put the nightie or PJ's on at night,they feel really, really comfy, but the moment you get into bed, an evil metamorphosis takes place.

Now, I usually wear nighties. Rid your minds this instant of the ruched and rose-sprigged wincyette image from the Damart catalogue. My idea of a nightdress is the long t-shirt type of which I have several, bearing images that range from a snoring zebra (why a zebra? Does anyone know if they snore or is it a growl to deter prowling tigers?), to a slogan that declares' Her Majesty demands her beauty sleep'.

My night-time ritual goes like this. Wash, clean teeth, remove make-up, plaster on moisturiser, then, with nightie hanging loose on body, slink into bed. And that's where the sleepwear demons take over. No sooner am I snuggled under the duvet than a hundred bony fingers start tweaking the nightie this way and that, pulling it tight beneath the armpits, winding it in a corkscrew around my body and hauling it upwards so that my bum is exposed to the chill night air.

I sigh, tug it down, turn over. They cackle, tweak and pull it up again. I toyed with the idea of attaching cords to either side of the hem, which could then be tied around the ankles to keep the thing down, but I knew, just knew, that the sleep demons would end up garroting me with them; either that, or a 3 am sleepy stumble to the loo would end up as a major disaster involving a mop and a change of night attire as I had forgotten about the cords.

So - last night being cold and frosty, I decided to switch to PJ's for the first time in months. Usually I avoid wearing them because there are even more nasty things the sleepwear demons can do with PJ's than with nighties. Now, I had especially bought the pajama bottoms in an XL size, in the hope of outwitting the demons' plan to deliver an impromptu midnight wedgie.

Imagine this. Before getting into bed, I was comfortably attired in a wine-coloured, stretchy, long-sleeved top with a pink star on the front, and unmatching (fiver in a sale) paler wine-coloured PJ bottoms with elasticated waist, trousers that touched the carpet and a crotch that dangled just above my inner knees. What could be cosier and comfier?

Twenty minutes in bed, however, and the sleeves had shrunk up to my elbows and held them tight in a painful vice, the trouser legs had whizzed up to thigh level and had formed themselves into a bulky nappy arrangement (thank God I was still awake or my unconscious mind might have thought I was two years old again!) and the crotch seam had not only performed a pile operation and a clitorectomy, but had, in eyebrow-threading style, painfully robbed me of several pubic hairs.

I sighed, got up, shook everything back down again, got back into bed and... Well, eventually I got to sleep somehow. Tonight it's back to the nightie. With the PJ top worn over it. And knee-length socks. Maybe even knickers. Let's see what the sleepwear demons can do with that lot. I suppose, as a last resort, I shall have to resort to Marilyn Monroe's sleepwear, a dab of Chanel No 5, assisted by a heated duvet, an electric blanket and... oh, to hell with it. A four-poster bed with a fan heater inside. That should do the trick!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Poor old Flad!


It's some time now since Flad lost one of his fangs in a fight with the big black cat from five doors down. The two keep a respectful distance from one another now.

But then a newcomer arrived on the block - a young, fluffy, swaggering ginger with a sparkly collar. What happens is that they exit through the hedge at the bottom of their own gardens, walk through the farm field, then pop into whichever garden they fancy.

So there was Flad, sitting in his own territory minding his business and suddenly, down his path, this young 'un come strutting. Well, Flad may be 14 now and a trifle arthritic, but nothing's going to stop him defending his patch. I wasn't there when it happened, but I did wonder why he was lying inert on the bed for so many hours. Eventually, he hobbled slowly downstairs and hauled himself onto the sofa with his broken claws, and that's when we noticed his poor nose. Closer examination revealed cuts and scratches on his head and two of his legs, and his coat was very muddy, a sign the two of them had been rolling over in a tangle of fur.

How did I know which cat he'd been fighting? By the chunks of ginger fur caught in his claws, of course! When I got up at 7.3o this morning, he was outside, looking bright-eyed and full of beans again. Something tells me he was the winner.

Green shoot 2


The ginger shoot is growing so fast that you can almost see it happening! The shoot itself is now 2 ins long and would be even longer if it didn't have a bend in it.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Another new cat bed!

There was a pet store next door to Argos, so we went in. They had loads of cat beds. "Ah," said Mr Grumpy, "here's a nice big one. Flad will fit into this, no trouble!" He bought it. He brought it home. I found the tape measure... and, well, you've guessed. It was no bigger than the one he's got already. Flad ignored it for days, then finally decided to try it.




Hmm, what's this? Erm... I'm not sure.














Well, may as well try it. My leg doesn't fit. Damn!















I'll try it this way round. Oh dear.
















Ahhhh, that's better. Why didn't I think of curling up before?

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Playing the guitar


Once, my guitar came everywhere with me and sustained quite a few accidents in the process, the most notable being a crack sustained when the bus I was on jammed the brakes on as I was halfway down the stairs from the top deck. I have taken guitars to Spain and Turkey. I have left guitars behind in order to play next time I was there. One of my guitars has taken up residence in the Anatolian Nomadic carpet shop on the harbour in Fethiye, where I taught the owner his first few chords.

That was the last time I ever took a guitar on holiday. My fingers were falling prey to osteoarthritis and it was getting too painful to form a chord.

Nowadays I am limited to playing in certain keys, so as to avoid chords like F Major which I simply can't manage any more. But while I was up in the Lakes, I picked up my sister's guitar and had a go, and was transported back through the years, to when I had a manager and went on tour and was in the verge of a recording contract with Phonogram. (If only...)

Friday, 29 October 2010

A dream visitation


It's now a year since my beloved friend Louise Cooper died and last night, for the first time, I had a dream about her.

I was in her Cornish village and hopped on a bus just to go to the other end of the high street as I was carrying some awkward things; a black box, a book, a parcel, things I could easily drop as I couldn't get them in a properly balanced heap in my hands and I didn't have a bag to put them in.
I caught the bus but it didn't stop. I'd made the mistake of getting on a express bus that didn't stop for another four miles and the driver wouldn't let me off.

Stranded in the middle of nowhere, with my handful of objects, I looked forlornly round, hoping to find a passing taxi or another bus, but there was nothing. So I began trudging back towards the village. But as I got close, I noticed it had changed. Instead of low, rolling hills, there were high mountain peaks gloriously lit and outlined by the setting sun. There was a green mound with a huge buddha statue on it, grey-green with verdigris. Then the air shimmered golden and Louise was there, talking to me.

I wish I could remember all the details of our conversation, but I told her I loved her and missed her and I remember asking if it was true that when you passed over, you met all your dead loved ones again, and she said it was. I found myself looking down a long corridor, polished wood panels and floor, and a lady with short grey hair was walking towards me. She looked surprised to see me, as if I shouldn't be there, then Louise said she had to go, as she had a task to do. She said with a laugh that you were just as busy on the other side as you were on this one!

It was so wonderful to dream of her. I woke up feeling comforted. Don't know if I like the idea of having to work after death, though! Wonder if you get paid for it?

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Green shoot....




I planted a knob end of ginger that had grown a white sprout. Wasn't sure which way up to put it so I stuck it in lengthways (which, I later discovered, is what you should do).

And now... is it a symbol of the green shoots of economic recovery, do you think?

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Psychic again?

A few days ago, I had a dream in which a friend rang me and told me her mum had died. I mentioned it to a couple of people and said I hoped it wouldn't come true. Today, my friend rang and said her mum had had a fall and broken her femur and was in hospital. I got the cold shivers. I hope to God she'll be all right. Now tell me, is this just coincidence, or am I genuinely getting messages from out there somewhere? Whatever it is, I don't like it!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

BigFest


It was Uxbridge's annual street festival today and while it would have been better if they had rerouted the buses, as they do for other events, so that visitors didn't have to dodge the traffic and they could have fitted in a lot more stalls, the bands were great. I was particularly taken with an acoustic trio who called themselves Rub a Dub and had a bubble machine on the platform they were standing on. Anyone who could play guitar in the open air on such a freezing day has to be applauded, and their songs were tuneful and catchy.

Here are a few of the odd sights I saw...



Is she sprinting to celebrate her heart transplant?


A balloon seller whose head has mysteriously morphed into a balloon


Reed... for sale?


Every damsel in distress needs one of these. Yum. Tasty! Wonder if he'd just popped in for more nails for his armour?

Trousers on the line


It took a man to show me that I'd been hanging out the washing wrongly all these years, and so had the generations before me.

Gran, Mum, then I, had always hung trousers up by the waistband. It seemed the right, sensible and visually correct thing to do. But the other day Mr Grumpy washed some clothes and I noticed, to my surprise, that he had pegged them out by the ankles. (Well, you can't say 'feet', can you? Trousers don't have feet. If they did, you'd encounter jeans and jeggings racing down the road to get away from whatever sweaty, smelly, overstretched fate awaited them!)

"Why are you doing that?" I asked him. "Look and learn," Mr G replied. "The weight of having the waistband at the bottom straightens the trousers so you probably won't need to iron them, you can hang other things between the legs and the wind can blow in and dry the items hanging behind them."

I had to admit it was a jolly good idea and I wondered why I hadn't thought of it myself, considering that I've been hanging washing out for... well, more decades than I care to remember. Why hadn't my mother, my gran, my great-gran even, thought of it? Why did it have to take a man to devise such a simple way of saving space and the chore of ironing? Or maybe that's the whole point! My ears still ring to the memory of Mr G's smug chortle. How men love to be right, especially when it comes to scoring points off women. Ha! I'll get my own back somehow. Watch this space.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Coincidence, or...?

I think I have been a little bit psychic lately.

It started when I was packing for my trip to the Lake District. Something told me to take an extra watch with me. It was an odd idea and not something I'd ever done before when travelling, but as my 'little voice', as I call it, had prompted me to do it, I did indeed pack another watch. Over the weekend, the watch I was wearing started slowing down and the day after my return it stopped completely. How did I sense that it needed a new battery? I had no idea of how long it was since I renewed the battery. It's not something I ever think about.

The next thing was the jacuzzi at the spa we visited last Saturday. It looked most inviting but that little voice told me not to get in. I defied it and climbed in and spent quite some time there, chatting to my sister and getting the powerful water jets playing on my aching shoulders. But no sooner had I got home than I felt a burning pain in the nether regions and by ten pm I couldn't even sit down and could hardly bear my knickers on! It was lucky that I brought some thrush cream with me, but it's taken me all week to get rid of the cystitis symptoms. Now, maybe it was the chemicals in the swimming pool that were responsible, but I can't help feeling that it was the jacuzzi's jets hitting me amidships, as it were.

The next day we were going out for an afternoon walk. As I put my boots on, that little voice told me to examine the welts. However, I only looked at the front of the boots, not the back. Had I examined the seam all round, I would perhaps have noticed that the rot had set in, the material had perished and the left heel was about to part company with the upper. And I don't just mean the sole, I mean the entire heel, the innards of which had literally perished and fallen apart.

In the past, I have disobeyed my little voice to my peril. Years ago, it told me not to put on a necklace I was especially fond of. 'Rubbish!' I admonished it and slung it around my neck. Hours later, I was just crossing the main road at a brisk pace so as to beat the oncoming traffic when there was a 'ping!' and the string of the necklace broke and all the beads rolled down onto the road. There was nothing I could do. Buses and cars were bearing down on me. I had to leave them as it was better that they got crushed under the wheels than myself!

What do you think it is, this premonitory instinct? Does anyone else experience it, too? If it's my guardian angel who wants to protect and help me, why the hell can't he or she predict the winning lottery numbers!

Friday, 22 October 2010

Le chat!


Here it is... looking a bit old, faded and cracked, comme moi!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

More about the Lakes






The sun wasn't out all the time, but it didn't rain till the last night. And guess what? As we were coming back from our last walk, I had a strange sensation beneath my left heel, as if I had trodden in something squidgy. No, it wasn't what you might think: not on that occasion, anyway! The odd feeling was the heel of my boot parting company from the rest of it so, for the last mile, I had to drag along a flapping chunk of boot. I felt just like Charlie Chaplin and much fun was made of me. I loved those boots. I've never had such a comfy pair. Boo-bloody-hoo!

Here are some photos for those who aren't on Facebook, where I have posted a album. I also photographed the plywood cat I made and painted for my sister. Perhaps I should make a few more and set up a stall! I had to laugh when I saw that sign about the paths. Surely they mean Permitted?

Monday, 18 October 2010

Ullswater

Just got back from a blissful holiday at my sister's place near Ullswater in the Lake District. The sun shone, the stags roared, the trees were just turning red and gold and it was truly glorious. My only regret was that I didn't spot an elusive red squirrel. Photos tomorrow...

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

What if...?

I'm going up north to Cumbria tomorrow, taking my friend J. to meet my sister. I've been careful with my diet but this morning I woke up with a dreadful stomach ache and have made lots of trips to the loo.

I love visiting my sister. She's so busy with her riding, climbing, cycling and ski-ing that she and her husband are hardly ever home, so it was great to find a gap on her calender. We are having a spa day on Saturday, so what's not to look forward to?

That said, then why the bad tum? I have thought and thought and come to the conclusion that the thing at the heart of my anxiety is fear of something going wrong with my teeth while I am up there. I have two temporary fillings at present, and that tooth that has been giving me trouble for 18 months, and has prevented me from having any foreign holidays, is still infected.

As I lay in bed last night, I was getting separate twinges in five different teeth! I know most of it is psychosomatic and stress-related, but I haven't been able to banish the thing that I call 'the curse of the what-ifs'. Anyone got any advice, short of having all my teeth taken out?!

Monday, 11 October 2010

The trouble with Flad's new bed...

... is that it's not quite big enough for Flad! It has to be said that he is a very large cat, built along diplodocus lines with a small head and a bulky body, and very long legs. He has never been a climbing cat. Rather than springing onto things, he clambers his way up using his claws as crampons. So flopping into a nice, warm, soft bed is just his style (note that he still won't be parted from his tea towel). But... how to arrange those lanky limbs?



First, I tried my legs this way...


Then I tried them this way. Oops, my foot's on the floor.



Now my head's sticking out. Oh dear...



The sun's out now and my feet are almost in so I think I'll have a snooze now. But Mummy, please can you buy me a dog bed?

Saturday, 9 October 2010

My Camden outfit


I felt my great charity shop animal print jacket and my leather and lycra leggings were just the thing to hit trendy Camden Town in. Got to the pub way too early, though, and felt like the old wino in the corner, as everyone else was about 20!

Flad's bed

Poor old Flad. I dropped a tea towel on the floor and he promptly commandeered it. He slept on it for days and I think it was his way of saying that bare floorboards, no matter how trendy they are, were too hard for his old bones (he's nearly 14).

Mr Grumpy (I bought him some Mr Grumpy slippers from Matalan which have turned out to be too small even though they were Size L, which has made him even grumpier, of course) slung Flad's towel in the wash. I retrieved it. I had an idea... And half an hour later, I'd found a nice, soft cat bed on the internet. My idea was to get him used to it by putting his tea towel on it, which of course has his smell on.

It arrived on Thursday. "He'll never sleep on that," smirked Mr G. Having smelled the nasty chemical smell on it which probably came from the packaging, I agreed. I washed it and put it out on the patio table to dry. But oh dear, the smell was still there.

I was out last night. I stayed with a friend following another friend's birthday (photos on Facebook). When I got back, Mr G told me very smugly that Flad hadn't gone near his bed. Well, Mr G went out. As soon as he'd gone, I rubbed the bed all over with Flad's catnip mouse, laid the tea towel on top, then put the catnip mouse on top of that. A quarter of an hour later, Flad approached, sniffed, climbed in, sniffed some more, washed himself and fell asleep. I call that a result! This time 'twas I who had the smug grin.

Hmm. WTF?

Maybe I'll give it a try, though I'm still not sure...


Aaaaah, that's better. Zzzzzzzz.....

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Dentist's again


Dentist's again today. I hadn't slept well - got up before 6 - and as I sat on the tube, I thought, at least she's only going to take impressions for a crown; all I'll have to do is open wide while she pops in those nasty, jaw-shaped trays full of green putty.

Wrong. I got the green putty, but then she announced that she had to drill out the temporary filling, sculpt the tooth into the right shape, then take another impression. The first injection didn't hurt at all. 10 out of 10. The second one, on the other side of the tooth, which was that one that feels like it's coming out of the side of your head, 4 out of 10. Then we waited... and waited. My lip just hadn't gone numb enough, so then I got injection number 3, which was around 5 out of 10 on the discomfort scale.

Prior to this, sheer nerves had made me babble on about all kinds of things no normal person would tell strangers (dentist and her nurse, who has a diamond set in her incisor). After my dentist had chatted about her children, I started telling her (or rather, them, even though my words were directed at the dentist) all about how I had found my daughter after getting her adopted. I noticed two pairs of eyes widening like saucers above the blue face masks. Then I couldn't stop my motor-mouth babbling on about how much I hated Hillingdon and how I couldn't write there and how I'd come to be there in the first place (Mr Grumpy). Then I made myself look even more of an idiot by apologising for talking too much and explaining that it was just nerves. They must think I'm a loony old lady. (True, though I still don't think of myself as old, exactly, just erring on the north side of middle age.)

Finally, the drilling started. I was tensed up, digging my nails into the back of my hand, heart pounding, legs shaking, even though I had crossed one of the other to hold it down lest it suddenly kick the dentist in the instrument tray! It didn't hurt. I began to relax. Then came the worst part of all. 'Open wide.' I stretched my creaking jaws as wide as they would go, but they were forced even wider by the sheer bulk of the metal tray filled with vilest tasting putty ever, which was purplish black this time. Don't they make them in small, medium and large? I'm sure she'd used the giant-size one when a small would have done. I felt like a virgin at the gynaecologist's!

She pressed it down and it stretched so far back that it was pressing on the base of my tongue. The gag reflex kicked in and I couldn't swallow or breathe. I felt as if I were choking. 'Breathe through your nose and keep your eyes open, that's the best way of getting through this,' she said. I did it with great difficulty, saliva rattling at the back of my throat and making me feel like I was drowning. It seemed like ten minutes but was probably only three or four before she removed the gadget. Then she had to put another temporary filling on.

My shoulders and neck were aching from tension. She has booked me in for next Wednesday to have the crown fitted. I am going up to my sister's in Cumbria on Thursday. And guess what? I clean forgot to ask how much the crown was going to cost. At least five times as much as my previous dentist would charge, I'm sure. But do I fancy going back to The Beast? No, no. I prefer the gentle touch any day. And I'd rather have her neatly manicured hand and smooth wrist in my mouth than that big, hairy Greek one!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Grrrr!


I've been searching for the perfect pair of brown boots for a very long time. Because of my dodgy feet, they have to be flat with spongy soles and comfy, padded insoles. The leather must be soft and flexible and mustn't rub, as my heels and toes, skin, bleed and blister at the slightest suggestion of a seam, a ruck or a too-hard surface.

The kind of boots I've seen in the shops were somewhere north of £100 (ouch!). I scoured the charity shops, and finally went onto ebay where - oh joy! - I found them. A pair of brown suede Timberland boots in that oh, so elusive size 5 1/2. There were 16 bidders after them and I put in the highest bid, at £39.75 plus postage. That style are around £145 new and the seller said she'd only worn them once, so I reckoned I'd got a bargain and couldn't wait for them to arrive.

This morning, the postie rang the bell and said I had to sign for a parcel. It was the boots! I put the package in the bedroom and worked up my anticipation by finishing twiddling with some photos on the computer. Then, unable to wait any longer, I hacked my way into the parcel.

The boots were perfect. The sole was just the right height and squidginess, the insole was perfectly padded, the suede supple and a gorgeous chocolate brown. But... what was this? My foot wasn't going in. I gave the zip an extra tug and tried again. Still no luck. With a nasty sinking feeling, I compared the size of the boot sole to the size of my foot. It was smaller. I peered inside the boot. 'UK size 5 1/2, Eurpean 38 1/2', it said. 5 1/2, my foot! I measured the shoe and found it to be 23 cms, then went onto an international shoe size site which proclaimed it to be a size 4.

Fury surged through me. I'd been cheated! Robbed of over £40! Livid, I stomped upstairs and opened up the seller's email. 'No returns', it said. What a rip-off. That woman must have known damn well that those boots had been wrongly sized. She'd probably bought them at some factory outlet place for seconds, or even been ripped off on ebay herself.

I sell a lot of my 'mistakes' or clothes that no longer fit, on ebay and am always scrupulously honest, telling people if they are a large 14, or tight under the arms, or have a mark somewhere. Not so this woman, though. I have sent her a stiff email and have re-listed them on ebay as a size 4.

But now a nasty, niggly thought has occurred to me. What if they are snide Timberlands and I get the counterfeit goods police contacting me? Could I get prosecuted for selling counterfeits when I bought them in good faith? I hope not. I also hope a lady with nice, small feet will give me at least half my money back. Any offers?

The patient fox




These photos should really have been put into my wildlife blog, but as I'm not sure if you all read that, I decided to pop them in here. Every evening, anytime from six onwards, the fox comes sniffing round the lawn to see if it can find anything tasty, then sits and waits, gazing at us through through the patio doors.



What a very fine brush it has. Wonder it doesn't trip over it!