Monday, January 26, 2009

Redressing the Balance

Just when you think the month can't possibly kick you in the butt any more, Karma takes pity and gives you a break.

This weekend Keith and I packed up the hounds and went to Maldon for the weekend for a mini fishing trip.

Despite too much wine and not enough sleep, we saddled up and moved out to the secret location scoped out by Cap'n Bill at stupid o'clock on Saturday morning.

It was chaotic, it was freezing, it was too bloody early, but imagine the sight as you reach the brow of the hill and lying there, like little gnarled lumps of manna, were oysters as far as the eye can see. Not attached to rocks and needing to be hacked off, not empty shells already guzzled by some predator, but proper living, honest to goodness oysters.

I looked at my companions for some kind of confirmation of what I'm seeing but all I saw were sleepy eyes and hyperactive hounds.

I must still be asleep then. It's not normal to feel so chuffing cold in one's sleep, but it must be so, because after the epic fail of previous foraging trips, surely Keith would be a little more excited about the prospect of as many free oysters as our little hands can carry.

Clearly I have underestimated the lure of the fish ... and the stomach. Keith isn't disinterested in the prospect of free oysters, he is just more interested in Lindsey and I cooking him a bacon roll and collecting bait before the tide comes in.

Well not I!!

I go on a collecting mission, only to find my best efforts thwarted by the fact that my hands are small and I had no bag to hand.

Still, I collected a decent haul which survived long enough for the second minor miracle of the day ... Keith and Bill cooked dinner!!!

Not just dinner, they paid luscious, aromatic justice to those oysters, turning them into an incredible grown-up version of surf and turf with an immense dipping sauce.

Sunday evening came with another redressing of the Karmic Balance ... our bathroom window was smashed.

Well in actual fact what happened was we came home, Keith went into the bathroom while I put things away and noticed a note had been put through our door. The note was from the secretary of the social club apologising for the smashing of our window and wanting to pay for a new one.

When I mentioned to Keith that he might want to turn around and look at the window I was met with the sort of surprise I would have expected if I had just informed him an elephant had moved in for the winter.

How you can spend five minutes in a room and notice a hole the size of a fist in the window is beyond me, but there it is.

So in just a few short days, life has once again proven that sometimes, the best things come if you keep your mouth shut and your eyes open.

Oooh and one last thing: this is a photo of the best Christmas Gift I have ever received, a sign loving made for me by my wonderful husband. It says better than anything I could ever write what FTC is about.

Just in case you wondered, yes those are bits of Volkswagens. Did you really expect anything else?

Friday, January 23, 2009

January - Who's stupid idea was that then?

January really is a rotten month, with the dark and the gloom and the cold and the unremitting bad news. It feels to me like swimming through treacle and everything seems like more hassle than it is worth.

You’ll be in no way surprised to learn that progress has been conducted at a leisurely pace this month.

I took a spade to the garden in a bid to prepare the ground for a frenzied attack of “planning” from the male half of the partnership, and then I planted sticks. I was proud.

Only joking, I have in fact planted broad beans – they just look like sticks.

I also fixed the fence after the recent high winds. It was long overdue really but still slightly depressing to see the garden take a step back. Not to be deterred though, I went round to the Social Club side (which is on higher ground) armed with a pair of garden canes and some cable ties to splint the trellis back into place. Luckily for me, two fine examples of Arlesey localdom were stood outside at the time smoking and contemplating life. Better still, they were in the mood to “chat” ... by which I mean they insisted on walking up and down the length of the wall identifying each of my plants to me (Yes I know what they are, I planted them!!) and then commenting on the fact that the fence was, in fact, broken (do you think???) and needed something to tie it up (thanks, because quite clearly I was standing here trying to play the bagpipes). I found myself thanking the good lord for his bountiful gift of cable ties and the speed with which they allowed me to make my escape.

Inside the house, I decided to attack an unsuspecting hallway wall in the hope that I might have a quick and easy morale boost.

Foolish, foolish child.

When we moved in, the textured wallpaper in the hallway looked for all the world like it was put up by the first owners of the house. I had visions of blushing maidens being heaved over the threshold in full skirts and excitedly furnishing her new house (before a few decades of domestic drudgery and child bearing took over) and that the paper had been part of that first flush of domestic bliss.

Well, it might have been I suppose, but only if the house were previously owned by the “El Gringo” family because, when I had stripped the paper, I was faced with an English approximation to Mexican Cantina. Seriously people, it’s Room 101 time here. Who under the big blue sky goes into a DIY shop and says “I know darling, we’ll use sponges and bits of cut out plastic and make our house look like a mud hut in Tijuana”. Does that come shortly before or after you’ve discovered the racy new dish called chicken faj-eye-tas?

On the plus side, at least there was no mould (a first at FTC) and the plaster stayed in place – apart from the corner that Harry had decided to use as a chew toy of course.

Next on the hit list is the plate rack – abandon hope all ye who enter here!!!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

We W'issssh you a Merry Christmas ...

Why is it that Christmas always seems to become an endurance test? Midnight mass, feeding the 5,000, gifts, chickens, work parties, the inevitable bout of sniffles.

First prize to those eagled eyed people who picked out the word chicken from that list, it wasn’t a typo, Christmas this year really did involve Operation Cluck. It came about during the day I last reported on here, when me and the senior Mrs B spent a Saturday idly shopping and lunching in those halcyon days before Christmas preparations reach fever pitch. A throwaway comment about Adrian liking chickens (in an entirely appropriate way, of course) and we were soon hatching (arf, arf) a plan to surprise him with a brood of his very own.

A house was sourced from eBay and collected by some friends of the family to stash away from prying eyes. Chickens were liberated from a battery farm via Jamie at the farm and, most importantly, a scheme to sneak said chucks into the garden.

Boxing Day, a quick call to say the coast was clear, and I loaded up the car with all our necessaries, two dogs and three chickens.

Let us speak no further of the journey, suffice to say everyone arrived at chateau Batsford alive. Just.

Thinking the worst was over, I happily tucked into a much needed cuppa and released the chickens into the garden to roam. Unfortunately, there’s no fence along the back of the garden. There is however an extremely spiky hedgerow which I had to leap through on a regular basis to chase chickens back into the garden, a task not made easier by Harry standing guard in the house and scaring the living bejeesus out of the chickens every time they came into view. I hadn’t even unpacked the chicken house and I was already trying to decide who I wanted to strangle more – hounds or chickens.

And while we’re on the subject of chicken houses, don’t buy flat packed houses from the ‘bay and expect either of the following:

1. Intelligent instructions
2. Well fitting panels

With darkness threatening, Jan and I got our backsides in gear and started putting the house together. Well, we tried, but Jan isn’t a natural DIYer and I was about as frazzled as I’ve ever been, so we called in help. With an hour or so, we had the house together (and only a small bag of screws left over) and now there was nothing between us and a much needed lie down in a darkened room except getting 3 chickens into their new home.

I’ll summarise this part – I jumped through more hedges, Harry barked lots, the neighbour came round and proved a dab hand at grabbing chickens by their tails, and I went one on one with the smallest, but most spirited of the birds who decided that despite being called by Jan, prodded by me and lunged at by the neighbour, she was going to duck and dive her way round the garden until there was muttered threats of stuffing and roasting. It worked out in the end though, and I hear that Vera, Mabel and Daisy are now settled into their new home.

After recovering from the adventures in poultry, we had a relatively relaxed New Year. Four friends came over and we had an Italian feast, set off some of those beautiful paper lanterns at midnight, drank lots of cocktails and watched some comedy.

More wonderful still was New Year’s Day when we did …. Nothing. I mean nothing on a biblical level too. We stayed in our jammies all day, made the fire roar and tucked into bowls of roast potatoes and gravy while watching films. For dinner we treated ourselves to cheese on toast and champagne, which for some strange reason felt like the most decadent dinner in the world.

I have to admit, I still feel as if I’m recovering from the whole ordeal of the festive season - and for Christmas 2009 we are determined to do things very, very differently - but now that the dust has settled somewhat, I can take my lessons and look to the rest of this year with hope.

We wish you all peace and happiness this year, in whatever form that takes.