Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Crayfish and Christmas

A curious thing happened to me at the end of November, I turned 31. I’m not sure why I found it curious, but I did. Not scary, or depressing, but just curious. And while I was looking forward to getting up to some cool stuff I was actually pretty apathetic about my birthday itself despite a pretty extensive schedule planned for a long weekend starting with a cook along to the effervescent Mr Ramsey.

Bill and Lindsey arrived just in time for the off and the ladies grabbed a welcome glass of vino while the boys donned aprons. The hound supervised from the confines of the hallway.

The first recipe involved shredding lettuce, mixing mayo and ketchup, mushing avocado and layering with prawns in a suitably artistic glass. Some know it as a prawn cocktail. Not a personal favourite of mine since I loathe mayo and all other yacky type sauces, but no worry, it’s easy enough to leave the sauce off one portion isn’t it? Apparently not. Pretty soon we had 5, count them, FIVE portions of prawn cocktail, each of them delicately anointed with sauce. I’m told it was a tasty treat for all the family, but I wasn’t buying, especially when I knew how amazing the main course would be.

Steak Diane, a classic with a pile of sautéed potatoes all smothered in creamy mushroom sauce, nyom, nyom, nyom!!!

Step 1, par boil spuds. Or, if you are my husband, leave spuds intact on worktop and swear vigorously at the television when told to drain them and put them in the pan of hot oil. Then, get best friend to help juggle frying pans, miss, throw half the spuds on the floor, shout at thieving hound to leave, give up and toss him some ketchup to go with them and swear at the television again.

About 15 minutes, lots of pan banging and more swearing later, we reach step 12, add brandy to pan to make sauce. Tip pan with gusto in order to add sauce to hob rather than flame to pan. Flambé hob until the flame gets high enough to catch the pan anyway and then stand back as the merest smell of singed hair fills the air.

Steak Diane with sautéed spuds. Done.

As hoped, it was absolutely delicious, and even more amazing for not having cooked it myself. No time to appreciate it though as the lads high tail it back to the kitchen for the final assault – cheesecake.

It took some time, some more pan banging but eventually the cheesecake was wheeled in with much aplomb. So happy was I, so eager my anticipation, I didn’t notice the slightly concerned looks flickering between the two lads, let alone the muttering and nervous laughter as they dished it up.

I noticed it pretty damn quick when I took my first mouthful though, the oddest, lightest texture I have ever known a cheesecake to have. It was almost mousse-like. Almost as if … oh dear lord no … they’d forgotten to add the cream cheese. In terms of inventing a pudding revolution, I wouldn’t be tempted to try it if I were you.
Saturday dawned bright and sunny with few dinner based ill effects and thanks to a cookbook given to me by Beth I was in the mood for some crayfish. Rumour had it, there might be some in the local river and luckily there is never much persuasion needed to get the boys interested in a fishing adventure. Wandering back from the fields Bill spotted some old tree protectors that were now redundant, and we collected an armful to create our very own crayfish net.

We pondered, and prevaricated and after a collecting as many ‘potentially helpful’ bits as we could find, we constructed, and I think you’ll agree, we didn’t do a bad job.

Night fell, and after a snifter for courage we went down to the river to cast our net into the raging torrent. We had plans for our bounty and I had issued a half serious threat that if there was nothing come the next day, we’d all be going hungry.

That would never happen though, we were confident in our construction and we hurried home to toast how fantastically clever we were.
The next morning, we trudged back down to the river, this time with the hounds in a supporting roll, just so that this time there would be an audience to appreciate how fantastically clever we were. Untying the tether, Keith took up the slack and gave an almighty tug. The line snapped, and right there in the middle of that field, shoulders slumped, smiles faded, and the sense of anticlimax was palpable.

A few days later was my birthday proper and Keith had given me carte blanche for us to spend it as I wanted. What I wanted, for some strange reason was to go to a museum in London and then to see the Christmas lights. We eventually settled on the Science Museum for our visit and we bounced round trying all the exhibits. Keith even snuck onto a few while small children were looking the other way, hence his expression in this particular photo.

The rest of the day was lovely, familiar, with bright restaurants and shops cosy against the chill dark outside. Feet aching, we wended our way home clutching bags of goodies, tummies full of Ramen and collapsed on the sofa in the way you do after a frenzied day sightseeing in town.
In a quirk of the calendar this year, no sooner had I woken up as a 31 year old than it was time to start thinking about putting up the old Christmas tree. In an even stranger turn of events, my birthday excitement having been misplaced, suddenly turned up alive and well and singing jingle bells.

Far be it from me to question these things, instead I decided to make the most of this newfound joie de vivre and get some of the preparation done. So, after some gentle encouragement, Keith went to the loft and dusted off the decorations and I set about last year’s Christmas cards with a pair of scissors to make some snowflakes.
As an aside: I just want to say that I thought everyone was taught in primary school how to make snowflakes from pieces of paper, so imagine my horror when I had to explain the whole process to Keith. I know he’s trailing a few years on me, but what has become of the school system when basic skills like making paper snowflakes is so cruelly cast aside!! Replaced by something “useful” like French no doubt!!

Anyway, back to the task in hand. I think the reason I am so excited about Christmas this year is because for the first time we are actually making good on having Christmas in the barn. It took me time, tears and tantrums to get the barn to the stage where we can now have civilised dinners and I was determined to make the most of it this year by turning it into an absolute haven of Christmas cheer. Therefore I was more than happy to accommodate Keith’s sole request of a “tree taller than him” … that’s 6ft to the uninitiated.

It took me all afternoon, a Johnny Cash CD and several cuppas to get the place just right and I have to admit, I’m a bit proud of how it has turned out.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Dry Martini for the lady?

After having been outbid for the umpteenth time on fleabay, I felt a bit like I was going through the motions putting a bid on a little Art Nouveau enamelled burner. I didn’t even bother to stay up for the end of the auction. So imagine my surprise when I was half woken by my beloved husband to tell me that we had won the auction. I don’t imagine my response was more accomplished than a grunt, it never is when someone is foolish enough to interrupt my slumber, and my usual state of confusion was in no way diminished the next morning when I tried to work out whether I had imagined the entire thing.

Seems I hadn’t, and so it was that we found ourselves driving through the beautiful Norfolk autumn following signs to Arse-end-by-Nowhere to eventually be confronted with possibly the nicest ‘bayers I have ever met. This bloke had bought himself a chunk of forest and had created the most incredible haven. He was also a very interesting guy, and what started as a quick stop, ended up as a long chat putting the world to rights, and discussing the perils of pig ownership. Seriously.

It wasn’t until we got home that we really looked at the fire, and realised that the ‘repairs’ to the inner box were actually nice bloke code for “total basket case” and while I flounced into the house to do something I was good at (cooking stew and dumplings) Keith retired to the barn to do what he was good at (poking rusty things with a screwdriver).The fire is now waiting for us to make tracks to the local scrappy to grab some sheet metal. I have to admit, I’m very excited about this fire. Excited to the same degree that the Grim Reaper arriving at your dinner party might cast a bit of a gloom over the evening (those of you who aren’t familiar with Monty Python will now be breaking out in a sweat, don’t worry, he’s not a regular guest at FTC!!)

There is something about the delicate chinchilla grey enamelling, and gentle swooping metalwork that makes me do a frighteningly good impression of a Lemming (by which I mean the computer game, not the actual critter, naturally) and occasionally, when I think nobody is looking, even a quick “WOOT!!”.

Moving swiftly on, I’m sure I have already mentioned that we were going to be the new home of a wall unit which until now had held pride of place at Casa Batsford Snr. If I haven’t, my apologies, but suffice to say, the barn has been waiting for the delivery of the wall unit since The Cleanup, and I have fought, sometimes with flaming torches and pitchforks, to prevent the spread of general crap into the space I had worked so hard to clear. I even took it upon myself to sell a load of “stuff that might become useful” in a bid to make some extra room and finally, just as I thought my finger was going to pop out of that dam, we took delivery of the wall unit .... and a sofa bed ... which was something of a surprise to me, I have to admit, and did raise the merest wobble of my chin at the sight of my hard won floorspace so dramatically filled.

It all felt very unnatural you know, the delivery I mean. I’m used to renting/begging/borrowing vans, lugging (with family sized helpings of blood, sweat and tears) and then assembling without another soul in sight, and it felt wrong to have two strapping lads not only arriving with the van already full with furniture, but for them to unload said furniture, carry it into the barn and then, THEN, to assemble it as well!!!

I was most put out. Not because I could have lifted the top of the unit on by myself, but because it just, well it just felt wrong, and I couldn’t stand it. Having waved them off with a smile, I turned tail and ran full tilt back into the barn and did the only thing I could under the circumstances: I lifted the whole unit out and attacked the fixing brackets with gusto. I didn’t need to do it, the damn thing weighs more than a cow and there was no way the top was going to part company with the bottom without the help of a crowbar and tub of Vaseline, but I needed to do it. And yes, I did feel better afterwards.

Soon I was running back and forward from the house to the barn, freeing up cluttered cupboards of “occasional use” items which were far better sited in the barn of joy. We took another giant leap into retro-land with this drinks cabinet (complete with sherry and martini glasses I hope you’ll note!!) and a stack of our more popular board games. For the discerning gentleman, you can just see the twin stacks of 1950s Practical Motorist magazines, perfect for anyone needing hints on overwintering their Ford Anglia, or perhaps feeling the need to build a caravan from scratch (I kid you not!!) The rather large stack of 1950s Italian records we found when we moved into FTC is also now on display, although we are still missing any way of playing them until we find ourselves a records player.

Still itching slightly from the lack of DIY opportunities, I managed to find myself something else to do. One of my Freecycle acquisitions was a fabulous lamp base which was followed a few months later by an equally fabulous lampshade. There was however a gaping hole in my knowledge of all things lampish which resulted in the rather unfortunate situation of the shade fixing being about 3 times the size of the lamp. Clearly I was missing some vital gubbins to make one fit the other, but my limited lamp based vocabulary means I have no idea what I am missing, or what in fact it is called. I decided instead to try and make use of the things around me, and construct an adaptor myself. I had Green Day cheering me on, and a workshop of tools at my disposal so clearly this was going to be a walk in the park. Two hours later I looked down at the mangled remains of a wire coathanger, and several cable ties and realised that some ideas were best left to people with precision instruments and solder torches.

Bring on the plan B – what I needed was something bowl shaped. Something which had a wide enough rim to support the shade and that was soft enough for me to cut a hole to fit the lamp fixing. Something heat proof. Something, a little like the plastic Christmas pud basin that was currently guarding a hoard of old nuts and bolts. HAH!! Scrap metal evicted, I was soon throwing caution, and the fate of my finger, to the winds and wielding a Stanley knife at the base of the bowl.

A few short, triumphal minutes after that, the butchered bowl was firmly clamped onto the lamp base and the shade was delicately balanced on top.

Now, I felt better again –pride restored I even went so far as to turn the lamp on, and while the bowl did get pretty warm, my educated guess that a pudding bowl would be heat proof seems to have been a good one and my lamp remained stubbornly un-Dali like and fabulous.

Oh, and just to close, I wanted to share something very exciting that happened to me today ... I found my first grey hair!!!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thou shalt not …

Today we shall examine a few of the 10 Commandments and perhaps their lesser known applications in modern life:

Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vein.

Although to be honest, it wasn’t exclusively the Lord’s name I was taking, there was a fairly indiscriminate taking of anyone’s name in a 2 mile radius peppered with a robust dose of more general Anglo Saxon.

Our fire traumas continue. Having been outbid on the umpteenth fire, I decided to go for a buy-it-now-brand-new-deal instead. Money paid, I waited for a week in eager anticipation of the delivery. Unfortunately it seems I was under a false impression of what I was expecting to have delivered. I thought I had paid for a wood burning stove. Turns out I paid for a pile of mangled metal doing a rather jolly impression of a piece of modern sculpture.

After some furious messaging, we are currently waiting collection of the ex-logburner and I am back to that familiar old place I like to call Square 1.

Six days you shall labor and do all your work … unless you are on a flexible working initiative.

And so it came to pass that yesterday, after weeks of prevaricating, I finally got off my backside and decorated the landing. Well, most of it anyway, the thought of wielding a roller at the top of a ladder overhanging the stairwell was a little too much.

To make up for my attack of waftiness, I tackled another of my least favourite pastimes and changed the light switch instead; which I’m sure to you seems worthy of a shrug, but to me is enough to make my blood run cold. It comes from having woken up one morning in a previous, more haphazard existence, and flicked a half installed light switch, at which point the entire lighting loom went KAMBALM!! lovely scorch marks appeared around all the ceiling roses, and I danced round the flat, shaking my hand and cursing the day Faraday was born.

Anyway, I digress. The hall is now (mostly) the colour of the rest of the house, which has meant that I have now started to put up the pictures that I have been collecting for the last few months. There is still a lot of wall left to fill, largely due to a lack of frames, so if anyone is lost for gift ideas in the coming months, please, please, please can we have some frames. Preferably from a charity shop, preferably all different and any size smaller than A4. The plan for the opposite (and still unpainted) wall is even more grand, but I won’t tell you about that just yet.

And finally:
Thou shalt not covert thy neighbour’s teddy.

This is a little story I thought might cheer up those of you that are in need of a smile. Keith and I came home the other day expecting the usual barrage of over friendly dog to greet us and were a little surprised to see that the welcoming committee had been reduced by half. We assumed that Harry had managed to lock himself in the bathroom again, which is something that happens with regularity as he still, at the noble age of 3, hasn’t quite come to terms with his own body length. Keith wandered round the ground floor calling as he went, but nothing, no sign of Harry.

The next thing we heard was “f’dump” ….. “f’dump”, “f’dump”, “f’dump”, as Harry flumped his way down the staircase and sat on the wrong side of the locked baby gate, quite obviously having just woken up and now just as confused as we are as to how he has managed to spirit himself through a childproof gate.

Fearing for Colin’s life, we hustled the dog back through the gate and went to view the damage.
Everything still in place and Colin, although slightly grumpier than normal, was clearly still in one piece. On the way back downstairs however, something caught my eye.

Keith, did you move my teddy? No? Well why is it on our bed then?

To explain, I have an old fashioned, scruffy teddy that sits on a chair in our room. Except it wasn’t sitting on the chair, it was sitting in the middle of our bed, looking for all the world like it had decided to take a stroll.

The only clue was one slightly damp arm.

Harry, it would seem, having surveyed the upstairs, had decided that he would curl up on our bed for a snooze. Not wanting to be lonely without his usual partner in crime, he had picked up my ted by his arm, jumped up onto the bed and curled himself around it.
That hound never ceases to amaze me with his soppiness.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Motorcycles and Mushrooms

There’s not an immediate connection between the two, but stick with me folks.

As is the want at FTC, there’s a vehicle shuffle going on at the moment. Due to the strict “one in, one out” policy currently in force, my beloved husband has spent some time recently weighing up the relative pros and cons of 2 wheels Vs 4. Needless to say after a break of 5 years, 2 wheels won and a slightly bedraggled BSM Bantam has found its way to the workshop for some pre-MOT fettling. In honour of this retro-fest, Keith has seen fit to grow what can only be described as a lip slug in something of an homage to the late great Paul Newman. I am not a fan. He has promised that when he I took a photo of him on the bike with said facial hair, he would shave it off. So here he is and may we never speak of this again.

Now, onto the mushrooms. One of the joys of getting up early of a weekend and wandering around the fields in the first mists of autumn is that there are numerous opportunities to forage. Some of them entirely unexpected, as it was today. We had passed the river with only a small detour made by the hound to test whether the water really was as cold as it looked, and proceeded in an unusually orderly and calm way into the farmer’s fields which have recently been ploughed and planted.

As we headed towards the first of the duck ponds, Keith spotted something in the margins of the field. We paused, looked, and looked again. It wasn’t there yesterday was it? No, I think we would have noticed. Well maybe it’s just a stone? No, it really is, a mushroom. Do you think it’s poisonous? Oh no, it’s just a field mushroom. Do we have a carrier bag? OK, let’s get picking!!
About an hour, and an entire bag of ‘shooms later, we were on our way home, pausing again to herd the hound out of the river and chase him around the field when he took exception to his swim being cut short.

Once through the door it was down with the newspaper and out of the bag with the mushrooms. What a mighty haul!! We can make several meals out of these, risotto, spaghetti, we can even save some for the dinner party next weekend. Even better, we’ll use the book Sal and Dave gave us for our anniversary to check them out!!!

The book was lifted reverently out of the cupboard, Antonio Carluccio smiling benevolently at us like some kind of mushroom gnome. OK I know the drill here. Take mushroom, cut in half so we can check the stalk and the base for colouration and potential evilness. Check. Open book to field mushroom section. Check. Ah, here we are, field mushrooms, looks right, but the gills look a bit pale. Maybe they’re just young? There’s a poison version but no, the base of ours doesn’t turn yellow if bruised. Phew!! I was worried there, cos after last time I was expecting to find out these were the only strain of inedible field mushrooms in euro …. Hold up. What do you mean avoid white gills. What’s wrong with white gills? See page 27. Right. Ah here we are … Amanita Verna aka Fool’s Mushroom … A lethal and deadly mushroom.


So once again the mushrooms gods have turned their backs on us and walked briskly in the other direction. Discretion being the better part of valour, we’ll let them go … this time.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Random acts of kindness

This is a bit of a general waffle on life, due in part to the lack of any significant progress in the house, and also because Keith and I have been away in Gib recently, enjoying at least a few days of sun before the darkness of winter descends.

It didn’t occur to me until earlier this week how much I love autumn. I don’t think it had really occurred to me that autumn was even here, I suspect because it didn’t seem to vary in any way from the previous few months of non-summer.

One sure sign that winter is on the way though is the lighting of the first fire of the year. It was a bit like watching Bambi on ice to start with, as Keith and I had both forgotten the intricacies of tempting our often reluctant fireplace into action. It didn’t help that I had acquired a car full of free wood from Freecycle which had come in 8ft lengths, and I was too tired after a day at work to bother cutting it down to a suitable size. The result? Several 2ft chunks of wood were precariously balanced half in, half out of the fire on the premise that they would eventually fit when the blazing end burned down. I was also making dinner at the time so I was forced to employ my spidey senses and issue bellows of LEEEEEAAAAAVVVVE to the thieving hound at regular intervals. Luckily Keith returned and stopped the madness, stomping laps from the barn to the lounge muttering darkly about women and saws.

On the subject of fires, we are currently trying to purchase one for the barn and it proving to be a lot more difficult than anticipated. Who knew that the market for second hand log burners was so cutthroat?! You bid a sensible price on a fire, and then in the five seconds before the auction ends, there are camels being traded, first born children sacrificed, and you’re left wondering what just happened. Not easily deterred I have now started doing something I hate, contacting the sellers and making deals. I am currently in negotiations for one particular fire and having had my best offer bumped up by £25 I am now trying to play hardball while juggling the fact that I might get it cheaper if I just hold out until the auction ends. Sometimes it’s all a bit too much like hard work.

My favourite moment at this time of year is the Changing of the Duvet (much less popular than the similarly titled ceremony in London, but much more personally satisfying). There is something about putting away the puny covering of summer and stuffing the cumulonimbus of a winter duvet into the arm achingly heavy covers that makes me smile. I find that the chances of me oversleeping at this time of year are dramatically increased, not just by the fading light, but by the fact that I need to build up a serious amount of muscle to even fight my way out from under the weight of the duvet in the mornings!

In keeping with the responsibilities of having a kitchen garden, there was a flurry of activity last weekend as plants were given their winter trim. Keith also weeded the area around the pond in his own inimitable way giving it something of the look of a WWI battlefield. The only job left to do before the frosts is a damn good mulching, which I may attempt this weekend, depending on whether we are taken up with motorbike based activities.

It is around the garden that the title of this entry comes. As most of you will know we live next door to a social club which in the main, has brought us a lot of frustration and annoyance, but it has also brought us a man of what could be called ‘character’. Shamefully, I can’t remember his name right now, but this guy has lived in Arlesey since God was a boy, and was one of the first people to stick his head over the wall and welcome us to our new home. He has kept a weather eye on my gardening and given me advice (wanted or not) about where I was going wrong. He seems to enjoy leaning over the wall and talking to “Henry”, who in return shows his appreciation by not barking at him and occasionally wagging his tail.

Now this lovely old boy collects stamps – so if any of you have any, especially foreign ones then PLEASE may I have them!! – and I have tried to keep him supplied on the odd occasion we’ve received something of interest. The other day I came home to another surprise though. Going down the line of peppers on the top of the plant nursery, I suddenly realised there was one extra, and not one that looked very pepper like either.

It was a jasmine cutting that I vaguely remember I had said I would really appreciate having that he had taken from his yellow flowering jasmine and grown on for me. I was really, really touched. I’m going to plant it this weekend in the area formerly occupied by the rosemary bush so that with any luck, next summer, the side of the barn will be covered with a profusion of flowers and the heady scent of the jasmine will fill the garden.

As long as I can get the social to move the “smoking area” that is. Hmmm.

Friday, August 29, 2008

You are what you eat!!

It’s about the time of year when the hedges heave with berries and birds start to lick their collective lips. We learned the hard way last year that Arlesey is home to the avian equivalent of Augustus Gloop so we take our opportunities where we can.

Blackberries are the main order of the day right now, and there is now an entire freezer drawer dedicated to them; which is no great issue as the amount of sun this summer has led to a distinct lack of ripe figs. Blackberry picking has become such a regular part of the evening walk that young Harry has learned how to pick a few of his own.

Hmm blackberries you say?

I’ll just get that lovely juicy one there …

Eeeeaaaaasy now, these things bite back …

Aaaaaand pull.

The biggest problem we have is that blackberries, while sweet and juicy, play havoc with the digestive system – especially those of a hound – when eaten in large quantities. It’s a skill to get close enough to pick berries while standing on one leg using the other one as a brace to hold back young Harry. A skill, because as anyone who has ever walked Harry will know, he’s got the low down grunt of a Massey-Ferguson, and it turns out that can work just as well pushing as it does pulling. Which is a lesson worth learning when you’re the one between him and a nice spiky blackberry bush.

The thing about the average trip into the local fields is that it’s hot on the dessert potential, but not so good for the main course. The vegetables tucked up in the garden are suffering in much the same way as the figs and are turning into enormous unripe mutant versions of their normal selves. To console ourselves, we decided to pay a visit to the pub where Keith sometimes works to support the beer festival.

We hadn’t been to the pub for some time so it was nice to see the usual suspects manning the bar, and as the evening wore on, Keith’s eye started going in different directions, and I stepped in to cover a few smoke breaks at the BBQ.

Now please don’t assume that when I say BBQ I’m talking about a few greasy burgers in stale buns because the Old White Horse doesn’t do food by halves. Having seen off 2 whole pigs on previous days, Sunday evening’s offering was an entire cow’s leg slowly roasted over a glowing charcoal bed.

It was an impressive sight, and when the chef offered us the bone to take home for the dogs, we were duly wide eyed in gratitude, not least because attached to the bone, was enough beef to feed an Olympic swimmer for a week.

Having crammed the bone into a bin liner we were soon wending our merry way home. I made Keith carry the cow leg into the kitchen because I thought he might stand up to the hound mugging better than me – well actually I didn’t, but I thought it would be funny to see him flattened.

For some reason, despite being sober, I allowed myself to be talked into carving the leg before we went to bed. What you see here (and I’m amazed you can actually see anything at all judging by the camera operator’s state at the time) is half of the leg. The expression on my face is part exhaustion, part confusion, and a large sprinkling of being ready to gut the next drive by scavenger.

Bank Holiday Monday was a glorious sight for those of us who had had the sense not to gnaw on a cow thigh after 6 pints of real ale. Keith woke up to a new sensation however – the beef sweats – and crawled his way through the morning. So rough was my beloved husband that I was forced to hack the cow leg into two at stupid o’clock in the morning and clean down the kitchen before he could even bare to walk through it.

Having plotted and schemed all night to get hold of the cow leg (and failing miserably) the hounds stared pathetically at me until I walked through the back door with their breakfast. These photos are not of the hounds sharing a bone (as if that would ever happen) it is what they enjoyed each.

Once the hounds had polished off that lot, they joined Keith in the miserable world of the beef sweats while I rolled my eyes at the whole lot of them and turned my attention to the elder tree at the top of the garden.

Despite having been cut down five times, this little tree seems determined to grow, so I thought I’d have a go at making some cordial to stave off the sniffles this winter. It was a lot easier than I thought involving nothing more than a bit of boiling, sieving and sugaring. The results, as you can see, sit firmly towards the red end of the colour spectrum and Keith tells me tastes something like blackberries. It might just be that he has blackberries on the brain though.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

While the cat’s away ...

The mouse, i.e. me, didn’t so much play, as batter a certain part of FTC into submission, look death in the eye and chortle heartily.

The man of the house departed for Wales on Thursday evening for a long anticipated fishing trip with Bill. Long anticipated in the way that Christmas Day is long anticipated by 5 year olds and Boxing Day by their parents. I had been saddled with hound duty and so had grudgingly taken time off work and not one to let an opportunity pass, had hatched a rather cunning plan.

The senior Batsford household has been busy these past few months knocking rooms together and creating a rather snazzy looking kitchen/ diner arrangement. That of course meant that there were some old kitchen units floating about without a place to call their own.

Husband away? Free kitchen units? I make that Barn o’clock!!!

And so it was that I found myself sitting beside a friend on Thursday evening, sweltering our way down to Chelmsford at the mercy of a sat nav determined to show us the sights and sounds of the greater East Anglia area. With some huffing, and not a little puffing, the kitchen was soon safely delivered to FTC to sit in a rather ungainly pile at the top of the garden.

Friday morning didn’t so much dawn, as scorch the hairs from your nostrils, but there was work to be done, and not enough time to do it. I won’t try and explain how my heart sank when I walked into the barn, I think the photo speaks for itself.

No time for tears, tantrums or beating on walls crying “why? Whhhhyyyyy??” though, it was time to start removing ‘stuff’ from the barn with extreme prejudice. In a surprisingly short space of time the lawn was reduced to a rubbish tip and there were the first tiny glimmers of space, and pile upon pile of rat droppings.


So started the routine for the weekend … clear, clean, replace … clear, clean, replace … mutter darkly about husbands hoarding junk, clear, scream, clean, drink, replace.

First to find a new home was the wardrobe that Keith had sworn blind wouldn’t fit up the stairs. It is now my gardening wardrobe with locks to keep hounds and little people away from nasty sharp implements and plant food.

Next was the ‘kitchen’ end of the barn and that was soon ready to start receiving the new units … as soon as reinforcements arrived.

Reinforcements being delayed, I sat down to try and map the wild plans that had been festering in my mind onto the reality in front of me. It wasn’t a pretty moment.

That’s how Hen found me a few hours later, caught between stubbornness and despair, and did what any good friend would do, rolled up his sleeves and got stuck in.

I don’t think Hen would mind me sharing with you that he is not a great DIY enthusiast, but what he lacks in that area, he made up for by wiring up Keith’s beloved speakers in their new home. It would possibly help to explain at this juncture that Keith’s speakers have been the source of some discussion since we moved into FTC. Standing waist height and made of what the Japanese take to be a close approximation of wood, I was less than keen to unleash them on the house. Keith was less than keen on getting rid of them. We eventually settled on a compromise of them gathering dust in the spare room. Now, they once again stood proud and for the rest of the weekend, kept me motivated by bellowing out some of the Chilli Pepper’s best.

Before the end of the afternoon, Hen and I had somehow managed to bully the low level cabinets and work tops into place. It felt like every cabinet was a triumph as they not only fitted where I had imagined they would, but the worktop proved to be exactly the right length, despite the collection being in an entirely different order. There were a few casualties along the way, my big toe nail for one, but it was with a general sense of pride that we called time that evening, cracked open a bev and sat down to a BBQ.

Saturday morning was no more kind than Friday had been, except it had expanded its repertoire to include industrial grade humidity to the mix. Now I was not only roasting in my thick combat trousers, but I was also covered in a lovely white paste from the dust on the floor.

Saturday was to be the start of my less favoured part of the installation process, the wall cabinets. While Hen carried on with general duties, I got out drills, goggles (now with new “insta-steam function”), ladders and assorted paraphernalia and started drilling, screwing and hanging for all I was worth. It went fairly well and by lunch, I was left with only one cabinet left, the Big Bad Double Cabinet of Doom!!

It had to go up, it just HAD TO, but it was almost the same size and weight as me, and now once again alone and with no prospects of help on the horizon, it was down to me to work out how I was going to win this herculean battle.

For the second time, I surprised myself with my own good sense and decided it would wait until Sunday. My arms were tired, it was hot and I had no desire to be squished under a cabinet for 2 days before help arrived. So I busied myself with some tip runs instead, always satisfying, and splashed out on some wood preservative to restore the very tired looking woodwork.




Oooh and I also took the opportunity to fix the broken join in the guttering while I was flinging ‘melted dairy milk’ about the place. It doesn’t so much cascade water onto everything in a 5 metre radius now as confine itself to a slow drip, but I will soon see that off with some silicone sealant this weekend.

Now we come to the Battle Royal, the zenith of my barn war … the double cabinet. Sunday morning, first light, I flung open the door, hip cocked in something of a cowboy pose. I eyed the cabinet suspiciously, tipped my jaw, and circled. It was time. That cabinet had an appointment for an ass-whooping and I was wearing my best boots.

Anthony Keidis was soon bellowing his encouragement from the speakers and I had supped from a family sized bottle of brave juice so I grasped the cabinet, took a deep breath and heeeeeaved it onto the work surface.

At this point I added a valuable lesson to my canon of DIY knowledge – Heavy cabinets are a little like cornered animals, they pounce if they think you’re off balance.

Luckily the laws of physics took over and the cabinet landed rather unceremoniously on the desired worktop with me in tow.

The next challenge was of course to hang the thing. For those of you who are lucky enough never to have tried to hang kitchen cabinets it may be worth me explaining that all of grandma’s finest bone china is actually suspended by nothing more than two small adjustable hooks on the back of the cabinet held to the wall by two equally puny looking brackets. It will therefore come as little surprise to know that biggest problem with hanging cabinets is the ‘left a bit, right a bit’ of trying to line the damn thing up. It’s a little like trying to bowl blindfolded with your ‘wrong’ hand – frustrating and often painful.

Luckily, I'm more cunning than a melamine cabinet. What I needed was to fashion some kind of rudimentary step. It had to be roughly the right height, heavy enough that the cabinet wouldn’t just slide it out of the way and robust enough to take the weight. Something, in fact, very much like my tool chest. And so it came to pass, that having ‘walked’ the cabinet up onto the tool chest, with a simple ‘hup’ it was on its brackets.

That was easy, far too easy.

Suspicious, I stood to the side and gave the shelves an experimental push. Hmmm, no movement there. Maybe it’ll fall forwards. Nope, seems OK, but I’m no fool, I know what happens next, I start tightening the hooks and WHAM it breaks loose and I get squished ….. nope, it all seems fine. A few turns of the screwdriver and a few final shakes later and I was convinced.


Arms thrown to the ceiling, lap of honour run and a damn good dance around later and I decided it was perhaps churlish to gloat.

The rest as the Americans say, was aaaaaall good. I packed away enough car parts to restock VW (as Hen has pointed out a few days earlier, perhaps the only thing that was surprising was that I had honestly believed that when a drag racer married a car restorer there would be anything BUT a lot of parts), swept until I choked, made friends of the guys at the local tip and then, just for good measure, made us a dining table out of some spare wood and an old table top.

It was the very last thing I did, and that was by no means an accident. My entire motivation for clearing the barn was to have a long dreamed off dining space; to finally be able to have parties in the barn, to have Christmas there, to be able to sit with the doors folded back in the depths of winter with the (soon to be purchased and installed) log burner blazing watching the snow flakes tumble.

To me, the table was a lot more than the sum of its parts.

Good thing too because the temporary legs I made are shocking. The first meal that we ate around it was a good old feed of steak and chips and it turns out that there is a technique to eating in our dining room - one person needs to brace while the other cuts to counteract the wobble. As I say they are temporary legs, I couldn’t find any nice turned wood offerings in the 3 hours I had left before the boys came home from Wales and it really is the perfect place to eat as long as you’re not tackling anything more challenging to your cutlery than soup.

And so it came to pass that our barn finally, two full years after we moved in, became the haven we had always hoped it would.And Keith’s reaction when he got home? I think it’s safe to say he was pretty chuffed.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Tale of Two Gazebos … and the wisdom of Weebl and Bob.

I’m sitting here with a nice glass of Spain’s finest watching a surprisingly large spider climb down the wall in perfect safety (the hound has fallen fast asleep on my feet) and it occurs to me that I haven’t given you an update since last weekend’s BBQ.

The photos are now online http://picasaweb.google.com/natasha.garcia/FirstWeddingAnniversaryJune2008
and in case there is any question of whether it was a camera or a daguerreotype pressed into reluctant action, the photos were taken by someone who, despite being a snifter short of la-la-land, had the presence of mind to pick the camera up and point it in the vaguely the right direction. Huzzah Rob, I salute you!!

Anyway, I’m a little ahead of myself, because those photos were in fact the culmination of one of the party that was everything we could have hoped. The lead up was, in all honesty a little less perfect and a bit more of the usual “poking the backside of chaos with a sharp stick” that I’m sure you’ve all come to expect.

Friday night was a bit of a blur of cooking, until Keith finally realised that his huffs and puffs weren’t penetrating my fog of concentration and was forced to get off the sofa in order to express his vexation at dinner being 3 hours late and counting.

After that it was a blur of tandem huffing and none too subtle hints that there was always the chippy next door if it was just too difficult to wait. The sofa being mightier than the belly, peace was restored until the ham, courgette fritters, champagne jelly and chicken were all safely in the fridge.

Despite the mad rush to get cooking and cleaning done ahead of time, it was pretty obvious as soon as the curtains were lustily thrown back on Saturday morning that the biggest dark cloud hanging over the party was in fact the dark cloud hanging over the party – but no fear, because we have in our possession a gazebo of such magnitude, we were pondering a call to nearby Luton airport to discuss a temporary change to the flight path. The gazebo, originally bought to house my race car in the pits at Santa Pod was in a bit of a state, having apparently taken the fancy of some squatter rats who had exercised their constitutional right to residency in the barn over winter (until we exercised our constitutional right to poison them back to the Stone Age) but it was large enough to house all the guests and it was waterproof. And missing the bag of connectors.

I’m sure we’ve all been there, standing indignantly explaining that you are SURE you’ve seen “it” since you moved. You remember it all clearly, “it” was in that box labelled “random shite you don’t need but can’t be bothered to get rid of” and you’ve searched that box five times now and “it” has obviously been moved by someone else, since you so carefully packed “it”.

Obviously, that conversation either ends in one of two ways, either the person you are spouting this pointless drivel to will patiently point out that of course “it” has moved, you moved “it” yourself several months ago and “it” is in actual fact in this other entirely obvious place. Option B is that you both search the same box again (and all surrounding boxes), in case “it” has found the door to Narnia and was just off on a bit of a jolly last time you looked.

We took option B. The door to Narnia stayed firmly closed and I accused the ex rats of some very uncharitable behaviour.

We bandied about some ideas, and having ruled out gaffer tape, or welding as a viable alternative, Keith made some calls to our friends. Despite a total of three other racers set to join the festivities, not one of them had a bag of connectors between them. Those rats had obviously been on top form. I’d resigned myself to squashing everyone into the house, when Keith called with the news that we had a live one.

An hour later a fine specimen of a gazebo was being unpacked onto the lawn, poles sorted into numbered piles, canvass unfolded. And the connectors?

An hour later and ANOTHER fine specimen of a gazebo was being unpacked onto the lawn. All parts present and correct. A little while later the women folk stood proudly by while the men folk made shelter.

Food was brought out, drinks were consumed and our wonderful friends and family made the effort to come and share an incredibly special day with us. We were, in all honesty, overwhelmed, and to everyone that came, thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.

Those who stayed over were somewhat broken the next morning, so Keith took over his usual duties as chef extraordinaire, and outdid himself in the breakfast department with the invention of …. The breakfast pizza!! None of us were in a fit state to commit the moment to photographic memory but I think it will live long in the physical memory, and set the standard by which all future hangover cures will be judged. The fried egg in the middle possibly a leap too far for fragile stomachs though.

Since then things have returned to normal, and save a lemon tree called Korma, an olive tree in full bloom, a stack of fabulous vino, a fabulous foraging Carluccio cookbook, a pair of tickets back to Gibraltar (excited? Moi?) and the large stack of poles still piled in the middle of the lawn you’d never have known we ever had a party.

The Carluccio book, is indirectly the reason why I’m currently sitting here looking like I’ve just been indulging in a spot of slaughter. I haven’t of course, by dear lord sour cherries can stain.

Last year we discovered that on our regular riverside walk, there are a row of cherry trees that, with the gentle hand of my dear husband, can become the most delicious cherry pie in the world. And the hardest won too.

It took us hours to collect half a bag of cherries, Keith swaying gently in the breeze up some precariously thin branches, me on the ground, humming away as I collected the few unspoiled cherries within my magnificent 5’ 4” reach. Then, we had to drive to Hitchin to buy a cherry stoner after I refused point blank to repeat last year’s marathon of finger pruning, and finally, having set up a nice little conveyor belt in front of The Doctor I got going.

After having lost my fingerprints, painted myself, the coffee table, hounds and TV remotes in exploding cherry juice, we now have an entire ice cream tub of cherries waiting Keith’s ministrations, or in the immortal words of Weebl and Bob … when come back, bring pie!!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

P-A-R-T Y? Because it’s our Anniversary (Nearly)!!

Now that it is officially the right month, I’m allowed to start getting excited about our anniversary party. WOOT!!

To remind those of you already invited, and those of you Keith hasn’t yet mailed, we’re having a bit of a get together to celebrate one whole year of married life, and come rain or shine, we will be stuffing ourselves with BBQ all day and possibly most of the night as well.

Seeing as we’ve had an awful summer so far, I have already started evicting spiders from the gazebo just in case it needs to be called into action on the day. I have also double checked the bunting which was lovingly made by cutting up Keith’s old work shirts for a friend’s surprise party recently, and ‘accidentally’ left up for the rest of the week. (I freely admit there was a certain childish thrill to walking under a canopy of fluttering flags on my way in from work, and a total lack of desire on my part to return to adulthood. It was only the threat of rain that made me regain my senses.)

Most of my attention, however, has been given over (in true Gibraltarian style) to the menu for the day, and I have to admit, I’m pretty excited …

Big slabs of Spanish omelette, crunchy hot and sour salad and soft centred spiced courgette fritters will make up the bulk of the vegetable offering.

Cumberland sausages, chicken skewers marinated in buttermilk and black treacle, and slices of Coca Cola ham, should satisfy the meat eaters.

And for pudding, honey buns with nuts sprinkled on the top, home made scones with lashings of FTC’s very own fig jam and a very special jelly, which I hope will make even the most ardent grown up smile with nostalgia.

Drinks are entirely up to you – anyone brave enough can help us enjoy the apple and plum home brew from last year – anyone with a more sense might well be advised to bring along a little of what they fancy.

Only 15 more sleeps to go!! Anyone in need of directions or sleeping space might do well to let me know before I lose what’s small amount of common sense I have left!!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Oh Happy Day!!

This last week has been a little odd for me, but in many ways very therapeutic. After standing in a drafty tent on Friday night, I somehow managed to come down with the worst cold I can remember. My head was pounding, my neck was agony and my kidneys? Well I hope whoever managed to give them a kicking feels happy at a job well done. Needless to say it put the complete kibosh on anything happening over the Bank Holiday, or in fact for the rest of the week as the cold has now settled into screaming agony in my tonsils and a chest so tight, the Cold Stream Guard are after it for their band.

As you can imagine, after 6 days of lying on the sofa sipping tea and occasionally blowing snot bubbles, I was about ready for the men in white coats - so I made a slightly wobbly venture into the garden to see what's been happening, and I came back in smiling so hard, I almost don't care about my throat ... almost ;-)

I planted three of my favourite vegetables this year in the hope that I might have done enough to the garden for them to grow. First was the asparagus, two crowns lovingly dug in and tucked in with straw at the first chink of Spring. For months I made the trip across the lawn, lovingly rearranged the straw over them when the sparrows stole vast swaths for their nests, and tried not to be disheartened when other food growers have sucked their teeth at the difficulty of growing asparagus in soil as heavy as ours. Life finds a way though, and today, having concentrated on my new seedlings for the last few weeks I walked along the bed to be confronted with this.

This isn't a pathetic weedy purple sprout as it may seem - well it is but it's also a lot more. It's hope, it's the triumph of life over logic, it's a resounding affirmation of my ability to provide for my family, and it feels good.

After I'd spent enough time telling the little asparagus spears how cleaver they are, I moved onto the strawberry bushes which I had noticed were showing flashes of red and so obviously needed to be netted before the birds got any clever ideas. Turns out we have not one (as I though) but almost a dozen luscious, red strawberries that have used the recent rain to literally explode from the pretty white flowers that were there only a week ago.
Next door to the young strawberries was another miracle of the natural world, the blueberry bush. Those of you so inclined may well scroll to the early days of this blog and notice that the photo of the bush looks remarkably similar to how it did when first planted. Ahh! But not so!! Having given us a fair quantity of berries last year, you may remember that it was brutally cut down in its prime by the over eager jaws of young Harry. I thought it was a gonner, but no!! I think in honour of the occasion I shall call it George .... George Bush Jr, the second bush and the one you just can't get rid of ... geddit?

The other two 'favourites' are also doing amazingly well. The broad beans are coming on in leaps, and the bitter little pods of greeny goodness will soon be ready to go into some scrummy risottos, or even better, if I can come by some globe artichokes will be lovingly made into "Chupa y Tira", which you either know, or would take too long to explain to you. Come over in a few months, I'll make you some.

It does, however, give me a beautiful segue into my third favourite planting for the year, the artichoke plants. I remember a month or so ago, I transplanted the sickly little two leaf seedlings into what looked like an enormous bed, and cringed when it rained because their tiny delicate leaves would be pounded into oblivion ... if the slugs didn't finish the job first. Well they gave me another lesson in faith, look at them now, their larger 'adult' saw toothed leaves almost too wide for the bed. I still find it hard to believe that they will one day be 6ft high and will turn that whole wall into a jungle of greenery, but now I have faith that they know what they're doing and one day, I will make Chupa y Tira with the offspring.

The last stop in the miracle walk of the garden is the vine, and this is something I have been waiting to tell you for a few weeks - WE HAVE GRAPES!! It's only the second year of the vine and already there are bunches and bunches of tiny seedling grapes on the vine. Can you believe it?! Well you probably can, and I'm sure this whole entry reads a bit like a first time mum who's snotty toddler has just mashed a couple of lego bricks together for the first time (oh isn't he clever?!?) but please remember, 6 days of sofa and daytime TV, this is a big deal to me!!

Before I let you all return to sanity, I thought it wouldn't be a proper post without a few Harry photos - Subtitles for this series?

I'm far too grown up to pose for your photos woman, leave me alone ... oh OK, gis a kiss.

Red was looking on from the kitchen in resigned disgust at all the carry on. He doesn't fool me though, not for a second, I know he's finding his inner pup - he fell asleep on me today, and after the usual paw twitching and Elvis lip curls he did something incredible - he wagged his tail in his sleep. It was another one of those little moments that you keep close for when you need to remind yourself that something that "one step forward" sticks.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Having warned that this would be the year of unfinished projects, it seems odd that so many things seem to have gotten done recently – although to be fair I have been on somewhat of a mission, for which I am now suffering with tired eyes and aching shoulders.

Firstly, the windows have been finished and I have to admit I’m more than a little proud with how they’ve turned out. I’ve always been a person who can ‘see’ things really clearly, in terms of how they will look and whether it’s the right or not, but my concern with this particular project was more around whether my talent as a sign writer would hold up to the challenge. It did. Just. And we are now the proud owners of 4 Jabberwocky’d windows in a lovely burnished gold. Not that you can see them very well on the photos, so you’ll have to take my word for it. The only trouble is that (as Keith was quick to point out) it now makes the rest of the hallway look even more shabby. I had to agree, but it’s one of those things that you have to grin and bear because I refuse to decorate the walls until there is a loft ladder in place to stop the foot marks every time Keith needs to scramble into the loft to deal with the boiler.

Incidentally, the boiler? It’s possessed. Several times over the last few months it has decided without cause or ceremony that hot water is FAR too much like hard work, and that an error code is far more manageable. Cue days of pan boiling just to have a wash sigh. Keith has become quite adept at reading those codes and has even found good enough instructions on the web to be able to deal with most of them (E33 seems to be the code of choice). This time however, the boiler was having NONE of it and for most of this week, we’ve been shivering our way through our ablutions. Then, in a speculatory use of the hot tap to wash some spuds, SUCCESS!!! Although obviously we are none the wiser at to what might have fixed the problem, and were forced to hypothesize about possible alien or military intervention.

Second project is not quite finished yet, but it feels as if it is because it’s been a long time in coming – the downstairs hallway floor. For those not au fait with house etiquette, the hounds of doom are not allowed upstairs which is great for the state of the bedrooms, but not so good for the state of the downstairs carpets. Keith’s one job in the house is to keep on top of the hair drifts, which usually results in him marauding round the downstairs, apoplectic at the dishevelled state of his beloved sofa which the dogs dance around and try to eat the vacuum. I find it quite amusing personally. Anyway, as I said in my little catch up post, we were on a holding pattern to tile the hallway floor in a checkerboard black/ red pattern when the Welsh suddenly forgot how to dig. Well it seems the amnesia was short lived and we picked up our tiles last weekend – which was fantastic timing because I happened to have 2 days off last week. I won’t claim it was the perfect job, or that it was the standard by which all floors will be judged, but I’m rather pleased with the results which are mainly neat and even, with an occasional nod to the rustic ;-)

There is one last thing to tell you all about – a dark cloud on the horizon of the little world of FTC and it goes by the name of garden grabbing. Last weekend we had a letter posted through the door from a man in Leicester wondering whether he might purchase the land at the back of the property for the purposes of shoehorning a property on it. I have to admit the idea that our neighbour might decide to sell the land was like an icy finger around my heart. Not that I’m entirely against development you understand, but in a sustainable and responsible way. I mailed him back, copying in the local councillors politely telling him that he could take his "reasonable offer" and invest it in his own postcode. I’m hoping that I won’t hear any more about it – but just in case, I am also doing some research on how I can protect that piece of land. Good old Hen made some very good suggestions (should have known he’d be the one to solve the problem) and I am currently drawing up plans for Bat Towers to be installed, with all due aplomb, as soon as is possible, in a suitably awkward location. Ha!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

2008 – Year of Unfinished Projects.

Well my friends, it has been a long time – FAR too long – and thanks to the none too subtle hints from various parties (where’s our updates you lazy cow??), I have been persuaded to put finger to keyboard once more. I haven’t been avoiding updating the blog for any particular reason you understand, it’s just that I prefer to be able to put photos on the blog, and thanks to a slight technical glitch called Keith, I haven’t been able to get hold of any recently.

So, a whirlwind tour to bring you up to date with the latest happenings at FTC …

20 June 2007 – Keith and I got married. It was probably the most perfect day we could ever have hoped for and still makes me smile when I think about it. We now have a little row of photos in our bedroom which makes me smile every morning when I crawl out of bed (no mean feat!!) one of me as a small child smiling at a stuffed Mickey Mouse, one of Keith as a sprog eating ice cream on Pendine Beach (Keith eating? Surely not!!) and a larger photo in the middle of our wedding day – which very scarily shows that my smile has in fact not changed since I was 18 months old. If there is anyone that we haven’t yet bored with our wedding photos, they can be found here


You might want to make yourself comfortable, there’s a few of them!!

July 2007 – Keith and Larry open the doors to Retro Custom http://www.retrocustom.com/ at a lovely farm on the outskirts of Baldock. Times were hard to begin with, and it has been really tough for us as a couple to cope with the balance of work and home life, especially now that the relationship of work and money is much more direct and bills always need to be paid. One massive stroke of luck from my point of view in RC’s new premises is the farmers who live there. They are lovely people, the sort for whom the phrase "salt of the earth" was invented. They are kindly Baptists, who are very keen to share the joys of their religion, as well as the produce of the farm. The lads get a regular supply of potatoes, newly harvested vegetables as well as pheasant and rabbits killed on the farm. I have no problem with Keith presenting me with any of the above, as long as I’m not expected to do more than cook them!! This is one of those places where I wish I had photos to share with you all, as I took some cracking photos of Keith ‘processing’ his first pheasant.

November 2007 – I escape the clutches of the oil and gas industry, as well as the daily agony of the western M25 to start work at a well known electrical retailer in Rickmansworth. This has to be, without doubt the single best move of my professional life. This place is amazing, the people are amazing and have done something I thought impossible at the time – rebuilt my confidence. It was a hard lesson to learn, and maybe one I needed in order to make me appreciate a good employer when I found them. I don’t know, all I can say for sure is that my new boss, and my new colleagues, and my new role, make me feel happy, and confident, and content, and valued.

December 2007 – Keith starts working at The Old White Horse in Baldock. Before anyone gets scared that this implies the demise of Retro Custom, fear not, it was initially a way of getting some extra pin money (and smoothing out the boom and bust of self employment) but soon turned into a lot more. I think Keith has really found a community he loves at that place, as have I if I’m honest. Since he’s started working there I have started helping out on occasion in the kitchens, not for the money, but for the experience, and because this takes my hobby to a whole new level. There has been idle talk of us opening a place of our own some day – perhaps in Gib – where we can put these new skills to good use. I think I’d really love that, even more so because I know the way in which food is grown and sold just over the way in Spain is so much closer to my heart than the way we treat food in this country. But let’s not get me started on that one!!
And so we come to 2008, so far, the year of unfinished projects.

The bathroom is currently one of those rooms. Questions on progress usually results in me nailing a smile to face and saying things like "it’s a work in progress" when really I only have myself to blame. I stupidly said those words no woman should ever utter – "OK darling, you can make a start on stripping the walls". What my darling husband in fact heard was "Please get your friends over and remove two layers of tiles and all the plaster down to the brick and then leave little piles of the resultant mess all over the house". Progress is slow and steady (the toilet and sink have been purchased and are currently resident in the lounge) and is hampered only by my obsessive attention to detail. I know how this bathroom will look when it is finished, I can ‘see’ it in my mind’s eye and it can’t fall short in any way. Unfortunately, good old FTC seems determined to thwart my plans by making life truly awkward. The bath, for example, is going to be an old fashioned roll top bath. We can’t buy just any roll top bath however, because the space in which is has to go is not the industry standard 1700cm, oh no, it’s a measly 1550cm. And my well developed sense of righteous indignation still won’t accept that I must pay a huge surcharge for the privilege of buying less bath.

Also hampering proceedings is time, or lack thereof. Underneath the not so old, but infinitely mangy carpet (I mean come ON, who still puts carpet in a bathroom) was the second least bathroom friendly floor covering, cork tiles. They may be warm on the tootsies, but the don’t like water, and after tripping over the dried sandwich corners on various trips to the toilet, I decided that my teeth would very much appreciate it if they weren’t smashed out on the sink and work began on removing them. Anyone who has ever removed these things will know that they don’t come quietly but in tiny fingernail sized chunks that have to be collected, by tweezers sometimes, and put out of hound’s reach.

In the spirit of "make do and mend" I have also decided to recycle the offcuts from oak floorboards I bought for my bedroom at the old flat to make a cupboard to go under the new sink. I think it will look wonderful, and once I finish my long list of other chores, I’m sure it so prove to be. For the moment, however, my attention is focused elsewhere.

One of the features of FTC that has always annoyed be beyond logic or reason are the windows that top the wall into the third bedroom. I don’t know how they came to be, but I would estimate them at circa 1970 and to my eye, they are a complete abomination. There was no practical way to get around them however, so I have got a little creative with them instead. After some discussion, Keith and I decided on a poem we both thought summed up the house, and our relationship, and so I shave spent most of my recent evenings up a ladder painting the following words across the 4 windows

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe

For anyone wondering, it is a poem by Lewis Carroll from the book Alice Through the Looking-glass, called The Jabberwocky.

Obviously, in view of my earlier comments, there are no photos available of this masterpiece, but they are painted in a deep gold in a very simple calligraphy and the general effect is as if we can uncovered some old original signwriting from when the house was built. The slight down side is that it has made me realise that whoever glossed the window frames last was clearly visually challenged so my final job once I have finished the signwriting will be to go round all 4 windows with a razor blade to tidy up. Why is it that as soon as you make something nice, it just makes everything else look as mess???

The last job in the house which currently requires a serious amount of vision is the hallway floor – and on this point we have clearly been held to ransom by events greater than ourselves. The old saying goes "marry in haste, repent at leisure" but it has been my experience of the last few years that anything done in haste will invariably be followed by months of woe.

We decided to turn the barn into a party room/ dining room/ spare room and started clearing away the sea of junk that we had managed to accumulate since we moved in. Nestled at the back were a pile of leftover tiles from the kitchen – and another smaller pile of the same tiles in black. Joy!!! Are there enough to cover the hallway in a checkerboard pattern? Just. JOY!!! A quick trip to the local purveyor of quality DIY items and we were arms and ready to go. Up comes the old carpet with carefree abandon!! Out goes the underlay with a fling of the arms. In come the tiles from the barn ….. and the rest of the tiles? … what rest of the tiles, this is it.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that we are several (65 in fact) black tiles short of a floor, and of course it is now Saturday lunchtime.

Back in the car, and after brandishing one of the tiles in the face of several tile shops we find on who knows what they are and can get us more. For the princely sum of £105. Sob.

Tiles duly ordered we return to the sorry looking house and decide to do a few overdue trips to the local tip to get rid of some rubble and now carpet in the sure and certain knowledge that our tiles are but a few days away.

The only sure and certain knowledge should have been that nothing is ever that simple. A few days later we discover just that, faced with a very apologetic tile shop owner explaining that due to some misalignment of stars over Wales, the poor folks therein have not been able to manufacture our tiles and we are therefore going to have to glory in our cement floor for a few months until they have resolved their current dilemma - whatever that may be.

You really couldn’t script it, could you?

At least you can be sure of one thing, nothing much has changed in our neck of the woods, and I hereby promise