Mental Note to Self

May 31, 2008

The Scottish Sun, while an elusive creature, once it gets going can be just as fearsome as its Southern cousin…

The problem is, on days like today when it’s been china blue sky and fluffy white clouds all day, it seems criminal not to go and sit in it, given all the months of drear and dreich that we’re going to have to endure over winter. And summer, too, for that matter.

Which is why I now have reverse short marks on my legs, and a nose that can be seen from space.

Popping Out for a Paper Part 3

May 30, 2008

Those of you awaiting with bated breath my resolution to the great newspaper buying dilemma – and I know there are a lot – will be pleased to hear that a solution has been found. On Wednesday, shrugging off the fact that it was what the Irish called a ‘grand soft day*’ I took the chance and cycled back down to the local shop which had such a casual attitude to paper-stocking the last time. There I found not one but THREE Guardians (I only bought one, though – you can’t stock up on newspapers for the next few days) and the woman announced that she’d had a word with the distributor to get more copies delivered. This seems to be the way things work around here: people aren’t huge on telling you that they’re planning on doing something to sort out a problem, they just go ahead and do it. Or not, of course, and there’s no way of telling which it will be. Coming from London, I find this a little frustrating, particularly when the plumber shows up at random times unannounced and then is put out that you’re not in waiting for him, but it does make a refreshing change from all those people (British Telecom, you know who you are) who tell you that they’re definitely going to sort something out and then do bugger all about it.

So anyway, newspapers there were – which was fortunate because by the time I got home I was so wet I’d stopped worrying about trench foot and was worrying more about trench knee – and I have secured my supply by having them set one aside for me on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I am now saving the planet the grand total of 24 miles worth of non-petrol burned per week, not to mention enriching the local economy to the tune of 80p every other day. I’m sure you can see my shining smug halo of goodness from London, if you squint a bit. It’s not easy being green out here in the country, I tell you. Next challenge: getting a bus. To anywhere…

* trans: only raining a little bit. Followed by raining quite hard on the way back

Tanks for the Memory

May 28, 2008

We are in the midst of swapping oil tanks – from an old metal one to something that is apparently ‘bunded’ which is obviously much better and is certainly an excellent new word for my vocabulary if only I know what it meant. Now to the urban mind, swapping oil tanks seems like it ought to be a simple matter: install new oil tank, take oil out of old tank and put it into new tank, plumb in new tank, take away old tank. Wrong. First of all, the plumber had a better idea: install new oil tank, link old oil tank to new oil tank, let some oil run from old tank to new tank, plumb new tank into house. (Only of course what actually happend was: install new oil tank, link old oil tank to new oil tank, let oil run from old tank to new tank, plumb new tank into house, introduce muck into Rayburn intake, spend three days eating sandwiches and salad). And that made a certain sort of sense, especially when we had had many dire warnings about what happens to people who pump oil from one tank to another and stir up the sediment and end up with the Rayburn engineer moving in permanently with them to save time. There was still a few hundred litres of oil in the old tank, but we thought we’d let it settle for a while, and let the Rayburn bed in with the new tank and avoid airlocks* and all sorts of other nasties. And besides, meanwhile more oil had arrived – unordered – 900 litres of it – aka a lot of money. But that was still okay, because oil is just going up and up in price and maybe it would be better to buy it now rather than wait until we had to sell off a spare limb in order to fill the tank later. And then men came and pumped out our old tank and took it and the oil away. And this was not okay because we had paid for that oil, and we didn’t know who these men were or where our oil was going or when we might get paid for it. And then finally, after we had talked to the letting agent about all this to-ing and fro-ing of oil, more men came and tried to pump the oil out of the new tank as well. At which point the other half put his foot down, and sent them away.

I think some sort of compromise has been reached whereby they stop pumping oil back and forth and instead calculate how much oil they’ve delivered, minus how much oil they have taken away and we pay them for the difference. Hopefully before America declares war on Iran, or Venezuela, or Texas and the price of oil shoots up again. It seems to me like the obvious answer to the situation, but I’m probably wrong. After all, what do we city folk know about oil tanks? Very little, it would seem.

* Like Warlocks, but worse

I Scream, You Scream

May 26, 2008

So, an is-it-or-isn’t-it Bank Holiday Weekend (I never know, in Scotland) & the other half and I have been visiting various workshops and studios for the local open house arts’n’crafts weekend. This has left the other half with a serious case of shed envy – which can be fatal if left untreated – with not just ample sheds and outhouses on display but all manner of funky machinery to be admired and the introduction of the word ‘tooloholic’ into our vocabulary.

And it’s given me the chance to scope out some places far more remote and empty than where we are. Yesterday we were up in the high moorlands in a landscape empty of almost everything but sheep and conifer plantations, visiting a workshop where a young furniture designer was just starting out. We discussed the various inconveniences of rural living. ‘It’s not so bad,’ his wife pointed out. ‘We get a milk delivery every few days.’ ‘And,’ he added, ‘there’s an ice cream van.’

We expressed our disbelief. But no, every Tuesday at 4pm (you sense this might be the highlight of their week), Mr Whippy comes chugging over the hill and stops and puts on his chimes. It can hardly be worth the diesel, you’d think, but the whole village queues up for their 99’s and if anyone’s away, someone else will buy their ice-cream for them and puts it in the freezer.

We could have done with him today. Still hunting art, we ended up at a tiny seaside spot where the signs resolutely point out that there is no parking in the village (a lie, as it turned out) and the double-yellows start well outside the 30mph signs. The is-it-or-isn’t-it Bank Holiday crowd played on the sandy beach, trudged up and down the spectacularly badly signposted jubilee walk, and turned pink in the sun. But there was no ice cream to be had, and the only cafe (teas, coffees, light lunches, home baking) was firmly closed. Where was Mr. Whippy when we needed him? Over the hills, no doubt, bringing solace and frozen vegetable oil to furniture makers, potters, painters, glass-blowers and hand weavers everywhere.

Back Again, Again

May 23, 2008

Hopefully for the duration this time. Nice as it was to see London’s filthy streets and pass a ranting man in a glittery purple cowboy hat while pretending nothing was happening, I’m not sure I can handle too much of Virgin Rail’s pile ’em high and sell ’em not particularly cheap approach to train travel. My booked seat today was a triple whammy – airline style AND backwards facing AND not by the window*, but the train was so crowded there was no chance of slinking off to find a better one. And I was quite glad I hadn’t when Mr. Grumpy got on at Crewe. First he evicted the woman who’d sat in his seat up to that point, in which he was technically justified but he did it with a graceless truculence that did him no favours. Then he removed MY bag from the overhead shelf above MY seat, thwacked me on the head with the strap, handed it to someone else, and when I’d claimed it and wondered gently where I was supposed to put it, demanded it went under my seat to make room for his bag. Finally, having arranged the world to his satisfaction, he sat down in his aisle seat, blocking in the passenger sitting next to him and announced he was going to sleep. Which he did.

At that point, a prolonged game of musical chairs ensued as various people reclaimed their reserved seats and started swapping places so people could sit together. And I’m sure – in a crowded train, with very little room for manouevre – that it was pure coincidence that at the end of it, the young woman with the fractious but lively baby ended up sitting right behind Mr Grumpy for the rest of the trip north…

*Forgive me for channeling my old blog here, but I find now I can’t actually take a train journey without mentally blogging it in my head

London Again

May 21, 2008

Well, Heat magazine comes out every week, you know*

Actually, I’m going down to do this. But also to use up all the unused pay-as-you-go on my oyster. And you’ll be pleased to hear that I’m leaving the wheely suitcase at home this time.

Back on Friday, hopefully to a warm Rayburn and a recovered other half

*err, does it? I have no idea.

Popping Out for a Paper, Part 2

May 20, 2008

On Saturday I thought I had the paper question sorted – a village shop a mere 25 minutes cycle away, making an hour in all (ten minutes being the minimum amount of time needed for a transaction in a local shop). Today, the other half having gone down in sympathy with the Rayburn with blocked tubes himself, I set off on a rescue mission to get some rizlas, Tunes, and a paper, not to mention some glorious exercise down sunny country lanes and free protein in the form of bugs*.

Once in the shop, where there were, of course, no Guardians (‘sometimes they deliver one and sometimes they don’t,’ the woman said as though this were a charming eccentricity of local life and not a supply-chain cock up that was about to lose her a loyal customer), I waited behind a meter reading man who was trying to get directions and finding out the hard way that this was the sort of place where everything has three names: the name on the map, the name the locals know it by, and the name you’re looking for it under. Alongside me, shop woman and meter-reading guy were two elderly local chaps busy discussing the case.
‘The Village, X**,’ said the meter-reading guy, naming the name of the village.
‘Aye, X, aye,’ said Local 1
‘That’s this village, aye,’ said Local 2
‘but is there some place here that’s particularly called “The Village”?’ asked the meter reading guy.
‘Aye,’ said Local 1
‘All of it,’ said Local 2, helpfully.
‘Or sometimes it’s called Nine-Mile Bar,’ added Local 1 just to muddy the waters.
‘What name was it?’ asked Local 1 after it became clear that this wasn’t helping.
‘Davies,’ said the meter reading guy, probably breaking three separate provisions of the Data Protection Act
‘Oh aye, Davies, that’s the daughter’s name,’ said Local 1
‘Or was it the father,’ said Local 2
A discussion ensued as to whether it was Davies Pere or fille which went on for some time until the meter reading guy gave up to find someone perhaps less helpful but more informative. By the time I had come out of the shop and was preparing for the hills home, he was in the clutches of a third local giving detailed instructions on how to get to somewhere else entirely:

‘And then when you get past the new bit of the road you’ll see a sweep round to the right and all those houses there they’re called the Bourne.’
‘The Bourne?’
‘Aye, well it depends on where you’re coming from. What name did you say it was?…’

And I cycled off wondering whether the meter reading guy was perhaps the new guy and whether the others at the depot regularly sent off the new guy on a wild goose chase to the Village X to track down the more elusive addresses, because everybody else had failed. And I was half way up the second hill before I wondered whether anyone in village X ever in fact got their meter read at all…

* handy when you have no cooker

** obviously not actually X, you understand

Sick Puppy

May 19, 2008

Oh dear. Our Rayburn – part household god, part cantankerous family retainer and our only source of hot food – is not well. It started making sputtering noises a few days ago, and slowly started to lose heat. Cooking became even more of an exercise in zen-like patience than it was before, until finally we were forced to recognise the inevitable and turn it off. It takes a long time for a Rayburn to cool down, even a little one, but you have to wait for it to be cold before you can attempt to relight it (‘otherwise,’ as our neighbour warned us with great relish, ‘it can explode!’), but the other half’s efforts were in vain. It sputtered some more and went out. There is a dank chill at the heart of our kitchen, not to mention a faint whiff of oil. The plumber is coming, but with no detectable sense of urgency. We are living on sandwiches and salads and thinking with longing of the handy takeaways we left behind in London.

On the plus side, a red squirrel bounced across our front drive as I was doing the washing up the other day. It’s all go out here on the cute-and-furry front, I tell you

Salesmen are Human Too

May 17, 2008

Or so they say. I’m not convinced though…

Moving seems to involve buying an awful lot of stuff of the kind where you can’t just look at it and pay for it and then take it away but where someone has to stand there and convince you to buy it. Like a washing machine. We have a septic tank here and septic tanks are sensitive things, prone to block and overflow and generally misbehave with consequences too dire to contemplate, so we were looking for a washing machine that didn’t have a drink problem as well as a good energy efficiency rating. There are two big electrical retailers near us and one of them the salesmen aren’t paid commission, and one of them they are. We tried the first one first, but they didn’t have the machine we wanted in stock and as it’s costing us 10 QUID to get a service wash at the laundrette (who said living in the country was cheaper? Oh yeah, me), we thought we’d brave the other one. After a few minutes of being stalked by a spotty young man in a bright yellow shirt, we finally succumbed to the dreaded ‘do you need any help there?’. ‘This washing machine,’ the other half said. This model says it uses 60 litres of water for a wash and the very same model with the faster spin speed uses 160 litres. Is that just a typo?’ ‘Oh no,’ said the salesman. ’60 litres all right.’ ‘So why the difference? A hundred litres?’ ‘Oh well, it’s the faster spin speed, it allows it to get through a lot more water,’ he said, improvising desperately. Four raised eyebrows greeted this. ‘Oh yes, it’s accurate all right. 60 litres, no problem.’ We went back and checked the brochure. 160 litres it was.

We decided for the two week wait. But even over in no-commission land, the salesmen weren’t finished with us. They have to try and sell the extended warranty, you see, it’s in their job contracts. He knew we weren’t going to buy it, and we knew we weren’t going to buy it but the formalities have to be observed so he gabbled through the pitch, his voice rising faster and faster until he paused for breath long enough for us to say no. I wish there was an equivalent of the Telephone Preference Service that we could sign up to – maybe there could be a badge? – so that we wouldn’t have to go through this. It would save us all a lot of time.

But there is something to be said for some degree of salesmanship, considering the alternative. Down at our local not-quite-so-big town, we headed into the deli to see if there were some local cheeses we could buy. The guy was on the phone. We waited, he talked. We waited some more. He talked some more. And then, still talking, he stepped out from behind the counter and walked right out into the street abandoning us with his stock. We thought about walking off with a lifetime’s supply of oatcakes, but then thought better of it. And drove down to Tescos and bought our cheese there.

Cars next. Not looking forward to that one…

Top Gear

May 16, 2008

I think it may be time for a new bike. Actually, I think two years ago may have been time for a new bike, but back in London my bike performed its main job – not being stolen while locked up outside Vauxhall station – admirably while still managing to be more or less ridable in the flat former malarial swamplands of South London. But up here, where there are hills, it’s another matter. Technically, my bike has six gears if you believe what is written on the gear lever. In London, I mostly just cycled around in fifth, having decided to save the top gear for an unspecified emergency, sort of like turning the amp all the way up to eleven. Now that I’ve had a couple of weeks of riding around I find that its actual gears are as follows:

6: Top gear. Still saving for an emergency. Running away from dogs?
5: Suitable for flat bits. Not much use at the moment
4: Going up small hills
3: As far as I can tell, exactly the same as 4, but makes a strange rattling noise. Would be useful for going up small hills while warning, say, horses of my approach if I were ever going faster than a horse while going up a hill
2: Going up steeper hills, if it weren’t for the fact that the bike doesn’t like it very much and tends to pop it back into third.
1: Not sure what this does, as I have never managed to get into this gear. Possibly reverse.

So there you have it. Added to the fact that both mudguards are held on by mud and force of habit, I think it’s time to go shopping. The other half has 21 gears and claims to use all of them. This may be why I now only recognise him as a diminishing dot on the horizon…