... and now I face the final curtain. Said curtain being for my new writing shed in France. Or perhaps a blind.
We went to our French house this summer for six weeks, the longest we've ever spent there. And it was wonderful! The indoor plumbing! The electricity supply that didn't bite! The new kitchen!
Just one little thing, or maybe two. We still had the impenetrable jungle outside the back door, True, we no longer had to hack our way through it with a machete in order to reach the outside lavvy. And the perennial sweet peas were colourful, though sadly unscented. But it had to go.
Our builder met up with us in the town where he lived. His instructions "by the anchor roundabout" were surprisingly quite easy to follow. We went to his builder's merchant and spent a vast amount of money on paving slabs, gravel, cement, and semipermeable membrane. The things one learns when having renovations done.
We also took a trip to another builder's merchant to look at sheds. The old man still kept insisting that my writing shed was a low priority. He isn't a writer, of course. But the builder's merchant was having a sale, which trumped his objections. And in the sale was the biggest, bestest shed you've ever seen. It had double doors. It had a little window. It was big enough to get a double bed in, never mind a desk and chair. It was less than half price!
It had also been sitting in their open hangar for a considerable time, but we only found this out later, of course.
So all was set. Our man called in his son-in-law to help with the heavy lifting. The deliveries were timed to perfection.
Well the son-in-law arrived as planned, on the early ferry, and they came straight to us to make a start. Catching us still in bed. Well, I expect my cup of tea in bed in the morning, and the old man is reluctant to get up, especially as he tends to run on English time still, refusing to have anything to do with nasty foreign time which is one hour in advance. I think this has cured him now, at least temporarily. So while we hastily threw on clothes and breakfast and the essential cup of tea all round (I did say our builder and his son-in-law are English, didn't I?) they went and communed with the old shed.
Within a day the old shed was down - well, you've seen the photo. A hard push was about all it took. That and half a dozen trips to the tip with the remains. A cement mixer was borrowed. The weather was set fair.
No delivery. No slabs, gravel, cement, semipermeable membrane. It was only one day late. I love the French in general, but I have to say they can be a bit nonchalant when it comes to things like that.
And the shed. Well it was supposed to arrive in the afternoon, but the guy at the builder's merchants happens to live not far away, and he thought it would be a good idea to deliver it on his way home after work. We sat, and waited. And waited. Our man looked at his watch and phoned his other half. She was not amused. French working hours last an hour longer in the evening because of the longer lunch break. It came eventually. I just hope our man managed to make it up to his lady.
So the next morning I was presented with a pot of wood stain and a set of brushes. You thought because we were paying to have it done we could get away with sitting in the shade watching? Not hardly. I set up the garden umbrella - it was hot and I burn easily. (Sorry everybody in the UK who had a miserable wet summer. The Jet Stream moved. France was south of it, and you were north.)
I started off doing every plank lovingly and artistically. After two days I was slapping woodstain on as fast as I could. The slabs were criticized - not properly square and even. The wooden planks for the shed had warped and weathered in the builder's merchant's store. Roots had to be hacked out. More slabs and gravel had to be bought. There was exactly enough roofing felt for the roof and not a centimetre more. The second shed had to be done - that's the Man Shed as opposed to the Woman Shed. (Not in the sale. It cost twice as much as the Woman Shed in spite of being half the size. I hesitate to draw a conclusion - well, no I don't.) The sheds had to be fixed down to the slabs, and the fittings sold with them were inadequate. Much eye-rolling and harrumphing.
The slabs went down in the end, some of them twice over. The sheds went up. I moved in my flatpack desk, a garden chair, and my computer, and started writing.
The editing proceeded at an amazing pace, after weeks of slow progress - there's something about that special place just for writing that I can't quite explain. Terry Pratchett would call it headology
There is a heater, so we'll have to wait and see how it works out in November.
And now by popular request, Susana,
I'm thinking of putting Astroturf on the floor.
You can't catch anything over the internet, honest.
I've had some sort of virus, which is why I've not written anything for a bit. All I can say is thank goodness it was half term over here.
I managed to drag myself to my two classes earlier this week, so we're still on track for that Certificate in Creative Writing. I managed a short peer review for one of them, and now I have a couple of days to get a beta read done for one of my regulars. I've done some thinking, of dubious quality I have to admit, and had several brilliant insights about the manuscripts I'm not currently editing - thank you, brain. But actual work? Nah.
I have come to one conclusion though. I've heard from several different, unconnected directions that people recommend putting their work up on Wattpad. And as my already-published little book has flatlined, and I"m almost ready to put out a second one, I thought I might just try it for myself.
What do you all think? Leave a comment or drop me a line and tell me.
... or perhaps not. Not if we were lucky. But there were only certain shapes and sizes available to us.
We had to accept that the existing carcasses of the cupboards would all have to be replaced. Not only that, but we would probably have to have glazed doors rather than solid wooden ones. We had, of course, asked whether we could purchase the display units from the showroom, but had been told that they had already been sold.
Anyway, after several phone calls to the Granville store and waiting until the weekly deliveries arrived, we managed to assemble enough cupboards, doors and other bits and pieces to construct a whole kitchen's worth of nice, wood-fronted units. Now I personally am not a fan of glazed doors on cupboards. As far as I am concerned, doors are there to stop other people seeing what an untidy state the inside of the cupboard is. Putting glass in defeats the object of having a door in the first place. But it is what it is, and it is glass doors. I'm thinking perhaps I can get some transfers to put on the glass, or in the very French style, some gingham material to make little curtains with to cover the inside of the glass.
There were one or two other problems. Firstly, the power supply for the dishwasher meant that the top drawer of the set of three wouldn't fit. Rod got round that by combining the top two drawers. This is actually a Good Thing, because the saucepans can now be stacked in the extra-deep drawer. First win.
Secondly, the special linen bag that niftily fits into a pull-out unit at the end, specially made to hold baguettes of French bread ... is just too short for a whole baguette to fit into it. Perhaps we shouldn't have had the little drawer above, but it's a very useful little drawer and I'm keeping it. As things stand you have to break the end off the loaf. And once it has been broken off, it would be a pity not to eat it. Don't you think?
Thirdly, the taps. We got some nice wooden worktops from Ikea (yes, they have reached rural France) and inset the sink, to find that the original taps didn't stick out far enough from the wall for the water they provided to fall into the sink. The modern way is for the taps to be fed from below, but if you look at last time's picture, you will see that these taps, which had probably been installed when everything else was done, back in the nineteen seventies, are fed from behind. And the wall is two-foot-thick stone. Not the sort of thing you want to be drilling through if you can possibly avoid it. "Leave it with me," Rod said. So we did, and in the meantime used jugs to transport the water to where it was needed. Eventually he found a way round it, with a bit of banging and hammering no doubt.
In another flash of inspiration I had decided to have another work surface on the other side of the kitchen, with a gap underneath. We currently have a tallish fridge/freezer blocking the way round the foot of the table, but as we got it second hand in the year 2000, we have to accept that it may not last for ever. The space under the work surface would be the ideal place to put a small fridge and a small freezer, We have the power points there (as well as everywhere else). The work surface rests on the chair rail. The chair rail is 83 centimetres above the floor.
Standard fridges and freezers have a height of 84 centimetres.
Back to the drawing board. Luckily the legs supporting the work surface at the front are telescopic and can be wound up a bit further. The chair rail will now sport an extra inch of wood above it. "Leave it with me," said Rod when we were there this March.
And he did find a cooker hood slim-line enough that we can still open up the cover that fits over the cooker hob. What a guy!
As a post script to our first trip to the DIY emporium last September, we were asked to follow Rod back. He had a call to make at the Lidl - great, I bought paella, and other irresistible delicacies - and then he wanted to show us the paving slabs his mate could lay outside the lavvy, so the old man wouldn't have to spend his time hacking through sweet peas when we arrived for our holidays.
It was a hot day, and the middle of the afternoon when we parted at the paving slab supplier's depot. Theoretically our car had air conditioning, but the coolant had needed topping up. "We won't need air conditioning in September," said the Old Man. Top-ups can be quite expensive. The outside temperature reached 30 degrees Celsius that afternoon. We were hot. More importantly, so was the satnav. "Too hot!" it told us. "Cannot function! Aaaaargh." We were driving along a road previously unknown to us, through the middle of the empty French countryside.
If you were in northern France last September and came across an English car with the front passenger window wound down, an arm stuck out, waving a satnav in the breeze to try and cool it down enough that it would tell us where we were and how to get where we wanted to go, that would have been us.
Oh, the display kitchen? They offered to sell it to Rod when he went back, after we had returned to Wales. After we had managed to put together enough units to fill the space available. Apparently it hadn't already been sold, after all.
Yes, I'm just back from a month in France.
And why, when I have all mod cons, inside plumbing and wi-fi, did I not post anything about my wonderful new kitchen?
Well, It wasn't the worst holiday ever; I've already blogged about that, after all. But it was up there.
We always stop over at our sons' place Down South on the way to the ferry. It means we can get the early ferry without driving all night, or the afternoon ferry without getting up at stupid o'clock. Although on this occasion the Old Man decided he didn't want to drive to our French house in the dark so we were on the early ferry. Stupid o'clock it was.
Except that when we stumbled out of the house at 5:30 am, the car wouldn't start. Now I have to say in its defence that it had hiccuped a bit the previous week, but seemed to have recovered. Anyway, we got one of the sons out of bed, and he said not to worry, he could give us a start from his car. And when he finally got the bonnet open (he hasn't had it very long, and obviously hadn't had occasion to top up the screenwash yet) he found the negative terminal on his battery is just too close to something or other (I didn't inquire) to get a crocodile clip on it.
Not to worry, he said, he would call his mate who lives next door. Everything is done by phone now. I'm surprised he didn't send him an email. But in all fairness, his mate next door got out of bed and came to try to get our car going for us, which shows what a stand-up guy he is - thanks, Carl, you're a toff and a gent. Unfortunately it still didn't work. So we called first the ferry company, then the RAC.
The RAC man turned up at 8:30, coincidentally the exact time our ferry was sailing. He sold us an extremely expensive new battery, and off we went. We had to pay to have our booking transferred, and more because they didn't have any inside cabins left, but we did at least get going, on the ferry we would normally have caught anyway. Complete with night-time drive in France, our headlights adjusted for driving on the Continent by having gaffa tape stuck over part of the glass.
We had not been in the house for a week when the Old Man got a pain in his belly. He likened it to being kicked in a delicate part of his anatomy, but it didn't go away. Unless he lay flat on his back. For a few days he even had to eat reclining on the bed like a Roman patrician. We did a check-list of symptoms, and eventually came to the conclusion that he had a kidney stone. Which gave me the opportunity to point out that I always said he doesn't drink enough, but otherwise was not a happy conclusion.
So he spent the rest of the month doing very little, though he gradually improved and was able to come grocery shopping and mow the lawn once. And as I became responsible for the catering, at least we didn't spend the entire time eating sausages.
He was just about well enough by the time we came to depart that he could drive us to the ferry port. Except that we got a message from the ferry company, 36 hours before we were due to sail, to say that the ferry had been cancelled because of "electrical problems". Once again we had to re-book, and once again we ended up paying extra. It was a bit late to go for the next morning's early ferry, we had the final shopping to do and the house to close up for a couple of months, so we ended up on the (more expensive) Saturday overnight ferry. We missed our sons' birthday, and only just got in all the things we needed to do Down South, like taking our French clock, the one with the eccentric Big Ben chimes, to the clock repairer, and having a meal out with the boys. We got back just in time for my first Creative Writing class of the new term on the Wednesday.
Oh, and one more thing. When we were about to disembark at Portsmouth, the car wouldn't start.
So, the decision is made.
Ever since 2002 I have attended the biennial Discworld Convention. I signed up again for this year's festival of madness, together with my oldest and best friend, who always accompanies me. But yesterday evening I phoned her and said how would she feel if I said I didn't want to go, and she said she was going mostly because I wanted to. But now I don't any more.
I don't know why this is, really. I still love Terry and his books just as much as ever. I know he won't be there physically this time, but then he wasn't last time either - he sent his hat to represent him, and it was accorded as much honour as if he were wearing it. Or perhaps more.
Of course there will be a certain amount of sadness that he won't ever be able to attend again in his physical person. But I defy anything to keep the spirits of the conventioneers down for long. And that's not it, anyway.
The thing is, it's just not so much fun any more. Maybe it's got too big: yet again, and in spite of signing up as soon as booking opened, I couldn't get into the convention hotel. There is an overspill hotel (last time I missed out on that too and had to sleep in the overspill overspill hotel). This time there is to be a bus service from the overspill hotel, but of course you then have to take with you everywhere you go whatever you will need during the day, and there won't be anywhere private to rest and make yourself a cup of tea, unless you find a friendly fellow-conventioneer. Of course we could have taken a tent and camped in the official campsite ... no. Really. I don't do camping, and my friend says she doesn't fancy it much any more either.
Maybe I'm just getting older. I don't feel old. I still enjoy a good giggle as much as ever. And the conventions are jolly places. Many years ago at the renowned Hangover Hotel, someone asked the hotel staff if they found us, well, a little weird. Because honestly, we find ourselves a bit weird at times, what with the hall costumes and everything. Anyway, this member of the hotel staff said no, they enjoy having the Discworlders there, because although they had actually drunk the bar dry of Hobgoblin that time, they never started fights, threw up over the premises, or imported ladies of negotiable affection into the hotel. It's always been family-friendly, with activities laid on for children old enough to enjoy them. That was the year we had breakfast with Terry on the final morning. Not that there was anything special about our party; he just had meals with different groups of fans every day, and we were amongst the few who'd stayed an extra night before the journey home. That was the sort of man he was.
And the lectures, games and all the other stuff are never exactly the same from convention to convention. It's all run by volunteers, which is why it happens biennially: there's just too much work for it to be an annual event. New people come and give talks on whatever their thing is - I remember with particular fondness the year there was a chocolate-tasting event.
But for whatever reason the fun has gone out of it. So this year I'll be spending the summer in our house in France, going before the ferries get expensive and returning when they get cheaper again. The old man, who has never got the joke as far as Terry Pratchett is concerned, has agreed to a long stay now that the renovations are so nearly finished (more about that in Sunday's post). And my friend and her husband can come and stay with us for a week or two, so we can spend some time together. Perhaps we can listen to a Discworld audio book, or re-read one of the old ones. But this time someone else can have our places - there are always far more people wanting to attend than there is space for them. Two people on the waiting list are going to be lucky.
I hope too that by the summer I'll have my writing shed set up, and can spend the summer peacefully therein. Maybe even do some actual writing. If I do, I'll be thinking of you. Terry.
I used to laugh at retired people who said that they didn't know how they had found time to work. Surely retirement was nothing but long days to spend pleasing yourself? Well, except for my dear grandmother, with whom we lived, who stirred the dust up with a stiff broom every morning, and cooked for us all, and ... But I wouldn't be like that.
Only now it's happened to me. Before I retired I thought I might spend my time cooking my way happily through the six-foot tall bookcase of cookbooks (plus overflow) which now sits in the corner of my kitchen. Or I'd get to grips with the knitting machines - yes, plural - in what is supposed to be my craft room. Sew myself some clothes that fit my five-foot frame properly. Do a bit of gentle tourism round the National Trust's properties. Spend time in the French house soaking up French culture, food, and wine.
But at my retirement do I was presented, amongst other little gifts, with a thick notepad and a pack of biros and told to go and write that book I'd been talking about for ages.
As it turned out, it was a symbolic sort of gift, as I write at the computer most of the time, not longhand. But the idea already lived at the back of my mind. Then we moved to Wales to live near my daughter, and she met someone who was interested, as she was, in setting up a creative writing group, and things snowballed. I was instructed to attend, in case nobody else turned up. Her co-founder wanted to attend a weekend course on writing a novel, and wanted someone to go with her, and I had nothing better to do, and it did sound interesting. (Thank you Helen Carey). The other person dropped out. I carried on.
Fast forward to now. I do have four first drafts, one of which I've been editing recently. But those long empty days to be spent exactly as I pleased, well they have proved elusive.
My daughter? She has self-published two books of a trilogy. She also has two children now. Writing? Two hours on Sunday if she's lucky.
I admit that a great deal of the blame for my lack of progress is mine. I find it difficult to resist anything marked "Free!", such as webinars, newsletters, and, well, books. So the TBR shelf on my Kindle is around 16 pages long, and it's just as well I have unlimited download gigabytes at home. The cooking is done by my husband for the most part. I watch little television. I'm still taking those creative writing courses, and should get enough credits by the summer to get my certificate from Aberystwyth University, which takes up a day a week at the moment, and next term will take two. But apart from that, where does the time go?
Well it's now 11:26 am. We don't get up early, as the old man takes his retirement very seriously, and is not fond of getting up early now he doesn't have to. I'm thinking perhaps I should steel myself and leave him to snore while I make an earlier start, though it doesn't seem fair.
So far this morning I've done all the routine things like eating and showering. I've looked at and deleted about thirty emails (an average count for the last twenty four hours). I've downloaded two manuscripts from my online critique group, which I'll have to read and comment on by the weekend. I've still not sent them my selection for this week. I've fiddled about with chapter headings and summaries for the work in editing. This last at least is productive, because my first drafts are very tight and need expanding; consequently I'm forever moving scenes around and setting up new chapters, and the old headings and summaries are way out of date. When I get an idea for something that absolutely must be included in that chapter where ... it sometimes takes me a lot of clicking around before I can find the place. But it's not actually writing, is it?
And this afternoon we are going to the gym, which will take a couple of hours and leave me feeling quite drained. I'm not exactly a natural exerciser. Then more food, "Pointless" on the tv so I can tut over the educational standards nowadays, more computer time, and bed. That's it.
They say don't look at your emails first thing, or you'll spend all your time fitting into somebody else's agenda. And keep off Facebook. But when we went to France for a month I came back to 500 unread emails, and the thought of that level of backlog is horrific. I've unsubscribed from some newsletters (if they actually take any notice) but that hardly makes a dent.
I did write a blog, though. That counts, doesn't it?
Going to the cupboard recently I made a discovery. Or at least, it was when I picked up a packet of porridge to make breakfast and ended up with little sprinklings of porridge everywhere that I realised. We have a mouse in our cupboard again.
Living in the countryside means that this is not an unknown thing. My first encounter with the rodent problem was many years ago, when I actually had three cats living with me. I think one of them must have brought it in as a little playfellow. The mouse naturally did not appreciate its role in this, and promptly set up housekeeping in the cupboard under my stairs, where I had stored the excess Christmas puddings I had made. As everyone knows, Christmas puddings improve over time, and I intended to eat one the next year. Picking it up from the back of the cupboard, I did think it was suspiciously light. When I turned it round in the light of day, I found a neat little hole eaten through the outer wrapping of aluminium foil, then through the inner wrapping of greaseproof paper, and then into the centre of the pudding itself. Apparently the mouse had actually been living for a while in the middle of my Christmas pudding, before crawling away, no doubt rotund and with clogged arteries from the sugar and suet it had consumed. The second pudding, I can record, was excellent, proof of the good taste of the mouse.
The house in France also is in a country situation, with the added problem that the drain behind the old basin and shower was an open gully. We have on occasion been struck by the feeling of being watched and looked up to see a large grey rat sitting in the doorway watching us with its beady little black eyes. After the first such occasion the old man filled the gap up which it must have come with chicken wire and concrete, but we did occasionally have a visit from it or its brethren until the new plumbing was installed recently. These though are gourmet French rats and have never deigned to touch any of the food in the house.
But in Wales the story is different. Oh, the same feeling of being watched, looking up and spotting a mouse sitting in the doorway looking at us; but these are pragmatic Welsh mice, and they seem to have a great liking for cream crackers, as well as the porridge. They open the packet neatly around the end and then abscond with whole crackers, leaving not even crumbs. They also like walnuts, and no wonder with the health benefits being touted. I was though particularly annoyed when they attacked the Christmas Cake Kit, and then decided they didn’t like their dried fruit soaked in brandy, thank you. The porridge they sampled. Three times. At different corners of the packet, so whichever way you turned it, you were showered with the oats. And I have a suspicion that the failure of the last two dishwashers might have something to do with attacks on the wiring, a well-known rodent delicacy.
The trouble is that we are both rather soft-hearted, and furthermore are all out of cats. How can you foully murder a creature with those little hands and whiskers? What we usually do is borrow a humane mousetrap from the daughter’s in-laws and remove the problem a couple of miles up the road, near the vet’s surgery. It seems kinder.
But now we have gone and got our own trap, a neat affair in smoked plastic, very humane, very hygienic. Watch out, mousey, you little ****, pack your bags. You are in for a change of residence.
I’ll even give you a cream cracker to eat on the journey.
Not this year, I hasten to add. This year was fine, spending time with family and all. We're lucky to creep in at the edge of my son-in-law's extended family for Christmas Day, and we then went to spend New Year with our two sons and cook them a belated Christmas dinner. And frankly we've got to the age where Christmas presents are more appreciated as tokens that we've not been forgotten than as material objects. And the old man was very happy with his Christmas sweater, and spent Boxing Day jingling all the way with the little bells sewn onto it.
But it hasn't always been thus, of course. From the time when, as a child, all I wanted was a tricycle with wire wheels and a boot to put toys in, and received instead a scooter, presents have been problematic. Nobody had explained to me that we were hard-up and couldn't afford the tricycle, which is why, when we were in a similar position, I always let our children know our financial situation. Yes, they did occasionally get second-hand presents, though always something they wanted, not just random. I'm thinking of the My Little Pony house here, complete with a whole stable-full of ponies. And sometimes the present had to cover both boys, and birthday as well as Christmas, like the X-Box they got one year.
But bad Christmas presents are in a whole different league. It takes a certain amount of effort to give a really bad present.
I know, as I just said, we weren't a well-off family. But really, my twenty-first birthday present from my mother could have been better. She gave me a second-hand nightie she had been given, but she always wore pyjamas so had no use for it.
But there was one person who had raised bad present giving to an art form, without even the excuse of being hard up, and that was the woman my father-in-law lived with towards the end of his life. He was a lovely man, generous and loving to his family. She on the other hand was the sort of person who always told you you'd put on weight, or asked my daughter, a student at university at the time, when she was going to get married, as time was passing and she didn't want to be left on the shelf, did she?
This person could not, of course, be seen not to give any presents at all. Her speciality was the present that looked reasonable but had hidden flaws. Like the bars of chocolate given to my children which proved to be past their sell-by date. (They ate them anyway.) Or the (actually quite nice) warm padded gloves she gave my husband which turned out to have come second-hand from the Oxfam Shop in town. Or the bunch of flowers she gave me one year. Plastic.
In fact we never bothered to save her presents for Christmas day:; to spare ourselves the disappointment we would stop off at my sister-in-law's on the way back home and open them there, where we could at least get a laugh out of them.
But the very worst present of all was one given to my daughter. She had been very fond of her Nana, who had died several years before. So she wasn't too upset to be given, one Christmas, her Nana's old address book. Until she looked inside it.
Some of the entries were in pencil, and had been rubbed out, as best the donor could. Other entries had been in biro, and these had simply been crossed out.
We all know that Christmas isn't always the joyous festival it ought to be, so I thought I'd share with you one that particularly sticks out in my mind.
Now this all happened forty five years ago, and many of the major players are now dead. It occurred to me that if nothing worse than this has happened in the forty four succeeding Christmases, life can't have been all that bad, in fact. Anyway, here it is.
As I said, forty five years ago, and I was in my last year at University. My first husband and I were living in a studio flat in Cambridge, and getting around with a motor bike and sidecar, for reasons of economy. That year, I had not been able to get a holiday job, so we were able to travel down to London in the combo to spend Christmas with my in-laws in a council flat on Tulse Hill, just above Brixton*. The flats had been built in the nineteen thirties, and were as you might imagine deficient in several areas. Still, it was Christmas and they were family.
As it happened, my sister-in-law had just moved in with her current boyfriend, so there was actually a room for us. We had feared we would be lodged on the sitting-room floor, but we actually had a mattress on the floor of her old room. Heating was a bit problematic, the electricity was via a coin-in-the-slot meter, but there was a fire in the sitting room at least. And snow was forecast.
The first sign that this would not be a shining light occasion was when we arrived to find that the television had broken down. It was Christmas Eve and money was short all round. Now some people would be pleased that they could escape the relentless replays of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", "The Sound of Music", and the Queen's Speech, but bear in mind that this flat was the overcrowded home to four generations of the family at that time, and the one hope for peace on earth and a bit of goodwill to men under those circumstances was to get them all round the telly and stuff them full of turkey and Christmas pudding. So the television had been taken out of the equation.
Oh, four generations of humans, plus a cage of budgies which was kept in the bathroom. Well, it was the only little bit of space left by then. You washed with the prickling feeling at the back of the neck that something was watching you with little beady black eyes.
Then - trouble in Paradise. The sister-in-law had some sort of falling-out with the boyfriend and came back to the flat to find us in her room. Our possessions ended up in the fireplace. Luckily the fire was not alight at the time. But, we fits, we sits, so she went back to her love-nest.
It was a piece of luick that one of her children (who were still on the premises) was given a Scalextrix set for Christmas, so we did at least have something to play with and occupy our time. The children did discover after a few goes of driving the little cars round in circles that it was much more fun to run each other off the track by accelerating into the corners instead of decelerating. You just have to accept that when playing with youngsters.
They say that a dog is not a Christmas present. Oldest nephew's girlfriend proved the point that Christmas. Nephew had given her a puppy for Christmas. The puppy was returned later on Christmas Day by her family on the grounds that it was not house-trained. They were right. It was not house-trained all over the track of the Scalextrix set.
I have to say that my mother-in-law did the very best she could. At that time she worked the night shift in an old people's home not far away. She always had to work the night of Christmas Eve, and would return in the morning, having had to walk from Streatham because of course there were no buses on Christmas Day. She would then get the Christmas dinner ready, for eight or nine people, turkey in the oven, and try to have a bit of sleep before it all had to be served up. What can you say about a woman like that? I just wished she didn't tell us all about the old dears who didn't make it through the night, whom she had laid out before coming home.
The only other problem was that she was so involved in giving everyone the best for Christmas. There would always be a turkey or a capon for Christmas dinner. Because of the late start, this would be served up eventually at around 3 pm, on the largest plates she could find. An hour or so later there would be tea and fancy cakes. Then after another hour or so there would be turkey sandwiches and Christmas cake. And the rest of the French Fancies. On Boxing Day this would all be repeated only with a leg of pork and a whole ham on the bone instead of the turkey.
My mother and grandmother lived five miles away or thereabouts, but to get there it was necessary to drive up and over several hills, including the one the flat was on. Did I say that snow was forecast? And that we had a motorbike combination? They tend to steer a bit sideways at the best of times, and snow is not the best of times. We got a few yards up the hill and had to give up and come back. We phoned my mother to say we weren't coming. She sulked. Never mind, there's still plenty of turkey. And pork. And ham. And French Fancies.
By the end of the Christmas holidays the children were attempting to murder each other, the sister-in-law was lurking in the kitchen giving us the evil eye, the puppy was barking continuously with all the excitement and decorating the Scalextrix track, which no longer worked,.The neighbours upstairs were banging on the floor in complaint at the barking of the puppy. The. tv had not been fixed, the money in the electricity meter had run out and nobody was going to be the first to put another shilling in it so the flat was in darkness.
We set off back to Cambridge with relief. Finally we could stop eating for a day or two and enjoy the peace and quiet of revising for Finals.
* Transatlantic readers: this is not a very salubrious part of London.
I seem to have been going through a bad patch recently with electrical and electronic appliances. This is not a particularly new thing. I used to be known to the IT Support people at work as the Kiss of Death.
I'm not taking the blame for the two reconditioned dishwashers that have ceased working recently. I mean, how long do you expect reconditioned things to last? And to be honest, this second one just refuses to pump the water out at the end of the cycle, and while the wet-and-dry vacuum cleaner still functions, we can get by. And I don't go near that. The first one, well that could have been the visiting mouse chewing through a cable, which I understand they are in the habit of doing.
And the washing machine that only lasted a year or so, and the central heating boiler that has been in only five years when they should be good for about twenty, well I suspect that neither was a very good design. At least that was the gist of what the boiler man said when he came to repair the boiler for the third time in a month, although he used completely different words to describe it.
The laptop too, when I looked up its original purchase, was four years old, which I understand is about average, so it wasn't really surprising that it was getting a bit senile.
Then the steamer wasn't cooking things in the time it should have been. That's lasted three years, but I never liked it. Not to worry, we do have a spare, thanks to the old man's love of auctions, and specifically those job lots of small items in boxes where you can't actually see what's at the bottom. To tell the truth I'm not sure exactly what he's got up in the attic these days, although it's pretty safe to say that it doesn't include a dishwasher or washing machine.
The next thing to go was my iPod. Now I use it for a very specific purpose, which is to keep me sane while I am at the gym putting in miles on the treadmill or rowing machine. It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I am not a great lover of exercise. I go because I have to if I intend to get as much benefit as possible from my final salary pension scheme. My attention span whilst working out is limited already to ten minutes at a time on each piece of apparatus, or roughly four Songs Of The Sixties on my iPod, before I have to change round.
So I can't say that the iPod has had a huge amount of use over the seven years I've owned it. It was a bit of a surprise, to be honest, when my computer accused it of being corrupted. I suspected the man in the dirty mac who's been hanging round - no, wait, that's my husband.
Now this morning the trip switch went in the middle of consulting the mighty Facebook, and we tracked the fault down eventually to the coffee maker. Another essential piece of equipment for a writer, especially since I can't drink the instant stuff. But see above - he had a spare. Sanity is preserved, and I did notice, eventually, that he'd forgotten to turn the fridge and freezer back on after he'd tried all the electrical items in the kitchen to see which one was causing the problem.
But this afternoon my replacement iPod arrived, all packed up in a nice shiny box, with a set of strange shaped ear buds. It was even charged up. I put some music on it. Goodness, it does hold a lot more than the old one. Plugged in aforementioned strange ear buds. Nothing, in spite of the display counting down the time the song lasted. Tried them plugged into the computer. Music. Tried the computer speakers in the iPod. Nothing. Tried resetting the iPod (you know, if in doubt turn it off and then on again). Nothing.
I haven't even got to use the thing and it's broken already.
This time I refuse to take responsibility.
Doreen lives in the empty bit in the middle of Wales, where since her retirement she has taken up writing. She says it's better than working any day.
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