And Breathe…

February 12, 2010

Ahhhhh. Rayburn man has come, de-gunked, re-lit and gone. Plumber has come, started de-gunking the radiators, partially broke the heating, returned, fixed it, and gone. Full heating has been restored. I may have to take off one of my emergency jumpers if this continues.

Anyway, all is now sweetness and light again in the Townmouse household, with the small exception of the TalkTalk billing department (or the Evil Slime who Ought to be Hung up by their Thumbs, to give them their full title). But that’s a subject for another day.

It’s still winter, of course. But it feels a lot less like it than it did yesterday…

I don’t Know About you Lot…

February 11, 2010

… but I’ve reached the point where I’ve more or less had it with the winter. I’m sick of wearing half-a-dozen layers every day, I’m sick of boots, I’m sick of having to put on my scarf and my hat and my gloves just to go up to empty the compost. I’m sick of the east wind. I’m sick of the sheer effort of getting out of a warm bed on a cold day. I’m sick of shutting doors and stopping up draughts and closing curtains and living as though we were under siege. I’m sick of the dark nights (and where has our moon gone?) and the dark mornings and filling hot water bottles. I’m sick of being cold, of working with frozen hands and my back and neck and shoulders tensed against the chill. I’m sick of sorting out one source of damp only to have two more spring up like dragon’s teeth. I’m sick of the smell of mould and having everything that’s left for a few days unattended growing a mildew coat. I’m sick of a wood pile that functions as a giant game of Jenga. I’m sick of frozen ground and ice still lingering in corners and the cheery way the weather people promise wintry showers.

I know that spring is on its way. I know that summer’s round the corner. My seeds arrived today and I ought to be excited, planning what to plant when. And it’s not even as though we’ve had particularly bad weather – the east wind may be cold but we’ve had clear and sunny skies most days. None of this makes any difference: I’m just sick of it all and I can’t see an end to it just at the moment.

Winter. Bah. What is it good for? Come on spring.

A Lasting Impression

February 10, 2010

While I was taking the bike’s portrait the other day, I noticed something.

You know my new Brooks saddle, the one I was having such a hard time making an impression on? Well, 850 or so miles later, it looks as though I might be getting there:

Which leaves only one burning question – does the impression of my bum look big in this?

First, Catch your Swan

February 9, 2010


No, not a recipe, you’ll be pleased to hear. But the nature reserve where the other half volunteers was having one of its winter ‘swan uppings’ and we both went along to lend a hand. The other half, being the sort to look a swan in the eye without flinching, got to put them in their natty little jackets while I – who once failed to cover myself with glory at a toad-crossing-the-road day by being incapable of picking up a live toad and had to content myself with counting the squashed ones, a job that involved a shovel and a bucket – was writing things down.

Curiously enough, given how famously stroppy a swan can be, the birds were, on the whole, pretty calm about the whole affair and submitted to being weighed, measured, ringed, sexed and swabbed with reasonably good grace. It helps that the whoopers have slightly smiley-looking beaks and a general expression of mild curiousity on their faces, which I’m sure is entirely misleading given how rudely their elevensies had just been interrupted. I know that if I had been lured into the kitchen for a cup of coffee and biscuit and ended up netted, herded, grabbed, strait-jacketed and then – the final indignity – forced to wait in a queue to be weighed, I’d have been spitting feathers. As it was, they simply reserved the right to squirt evil-smelling liquid poo on anyone who got in range. And, frankly, who could blame them?


That Sinking Feeling

February 8, 2010

We really should know by now that the time to call the Rayburn man is when it first starts to show symptoms of its imminent demise, not after it’s croaked. It’s not as if it doesn’t warn us. The first time it makes that stuttering noise, followed by the gradual, but inexorable, decline in temperature, then nothing – turning it up, shoogling the magic button, waiting for the wind to change, prayer, or human sacrifice – will make the slightest bit of difference in the end. It will take time, a few days, but it will die and no amount of wishful thinking will change that. The only thing to do is summon help right away, because Rayburn man is sure, and Rayburn man is steady, but blimey, Rayburn man is awfully slow in responding to our pleas for help. Come to that, he’s not even terribly good at answering his phone.

And yet, once more, we’ve waited until after it has gurgled and sputtered its last before we start the process of ringing for his aid. When will we ever learn?

Oh Dear

February 6, 2010

Somebody hasn’t been looking after their Shiny New Bike properly. I’ve been coming home from various slushy, icy, grimy, rainy, gritty, grubby winter rides just too tired and cold and hurried to do more than promise it that, the first fine day that came along, I’d give it a really good clean. The inevitable result has been a slower bike, with skipping gears, that was becoming less of a pleasure to ride – no more than I deserved. But today dawned sunny and glorious and so, as promised, I wheeled it out into the sunshine and started work.

A bucket of hot water and car shampoo soon got rid of the accumulated coating of crud. Some slightly more prolonged work with a toothbrush (an old one, I don’t love it that much) sorted out the cranks, gears, derailleurs and the chain. I even scrubbed and polished the wheels and had a go at poking the worst of the detritus out from under the mudguards (tell me, is there any way of cleaning mudguards without removing them? Short of just sluicing through the nearest puddle…). By the time I’d de-greased and re-greased the chain, the bike was once more a thing of beauty and I was hot, filthy and sweating with hands all black with grease*. Still, it was worth it (and if L’Oreal made bike shampoo …), and, having fortified myself with a peanut butter sandwich, there was only one thing left to do:

Go out and get it dirty all over again.

*In retrospect, it would have been better to tackle this job after I’d done the pastry I was planning to make in the afternoon. And got in the laundry. Still, live and learn.

Village of the Damned (English)

February 5, 2010

I am at the village choir – or, rather, I am at the radical offshoot of the village choir that has formed among the younger set (those under 65, or those who are under 65 at heart) to do the odd song that was written within living memory without the rest of the choir looking disapproving.

‘What can we do that’s both funky and Scottish?’ the choir master (mistress?) asks. ‘What about the Proclaimers?’

She and her daughter burst into a lively rendition of Throw the ‘R’ Away. Rest of the choir looks blank.

‘Bit difficult for me, as I’m English,’ I point out.

‘So am I,’ says our next-door neighbour. ‘And me,’ says our other slightly-further-away neighbour. ‘And me,’ says the retired policeman from Hampshire (there under the young-at-heart clause) ‘And me,’ adds the choir mistress’s husband, although you think she would have noticed that by now. ‘So we’re the only two Scots here?’ she asks. ‘Well, technically, I’m half-English too,’ says her daughter.

This may go a long way towards explaining the shambles of the village Burns Night Ceilidh, which started with an insanely tall Englishman (or very posh Scot; it’s hard to distinguish them) piping in the haggis, continued with three different versions of the eightsome reel being performed simultaneously and ended with a rousing chorus of ‘Should Auld Acquaintance be forgot and mumble-mumble-mind’ before the band were sent away with enough whisky to blot out all memory of what had befallen their proud culture.

Although, if anyone does know all the words of the latter – from memory, mind, not through googling – Scottish or not, I shall be very surprised.

Those of you Eagerly Awaiting…

February 4, 2010

… the next book (you are eagerly awaiting it, aren’t you?) may be interested to hear that I have a new short story available FREE (for the Scots among you) at the Writers’ Hub, to keep you happy while you wait*.

Meanwhile, those of you with writerly ambitions of your own – and, after all, who wouldn’t want a career that leaves you impoverished, cold, sedentary, solitary and ever so slightly deranged – might want to check out the Hub itself, which is still finding its feet but shaping up to be a useful source of reviews, resources, poetry, fiction and the rest.

And for those of you hoping for another installment of this thrilling tale of country life: watch this space (‘you haven’t posted yet,’ complained the other half just now. ‘How could I, nothing happened today?’ I replied. ‘That’s never stopped you in the past…’)

*not, ahem, that it’s important at all, but I couldn’t help noticing that the other short story had a few more page views than mine…


February 3, 2010

The other half returns from his quarterly haircut to report that the barber in Barbershop Village is thinking of hanging up his pole, and letting out his shop as offices instead. It’s just not making him enough money, apparently

‘Could you not just charge a bit more for a hair cut?’ asks the other half, handing over his £4.50 (having inexplicably escaped yet again the £1 ‘long hair’ supplementary charge)

‘Och no, I don’t want to go putting up prices.’

After all, I suppose, if you already set your tarrif some time – from the sounds of it – shortly after decimalisaion, you don’t want to impose an increase again so soon.

Considerably Harder than Thou

February 2, 2010

‘Right,’ I said to myself. ‘The minute the snow starts coming horizontally, I’m stopping.’ We were planting trees, you see, in an east wind, and the showers had turned wintry on us. The ground was almost frozen, we were frozen, even the poor little trees we were planting were half frozen and the clumps of roots had to be hacked apart with a spade. In short, not exactly prime tree planting weather. ‘Who the hell plants trees in the snow?’ I was muttering to myself as we went. ‘I bet we’re the hardest tree planters in all of Scotland.’

And then we did stop, and went into a nice warm room for a reviving cup of tea and our lunch, and I read about these people, who are recreating the wildwoods of the Southern Uplands. And had a look at some of their volunteering activities and decided that – when it came to tree planting – we’re still with the Southern Softies.

What a project, though. Well worth a little frostbite, don’t you think?


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