Friday, October 24, 2014

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion

I first came across Fannie Flagg with her Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (before it was and better than the film) and I've read all her books since and this one, her latest, is probably the best yet.
The story flicks back and for between now and the second world war when Sookie, a middle-aged woman, discovers she's not who she thinks she is but was in fact adopted. Her adoptive mother, now in her eighties, is a very dominant character and Sookie's belief that she's never lived up to her mother's expectations is encouraged by her mother's comments and snobbishness.

It is by chance that Sookie finds out that her birth mother was a Polish Catholic WASP, one of a few American women who flew planes during the war - not in direct action but taking the place of drafted men and delivering planes from factories.

It's a great story with wonderfully likeable characters and I looked forward to reading it of a night-time; in fact I had to force myself to turn out the light so reluctant was I to put it down.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Catch a falling leaf in October

Whenever we visited the in-laws in autumn Grandma would always tell the children it was lucky to catch a falling leaf in October. Needless to say I was the one who threw herself into this pursuit most vigorously.

Let me tell you, if you've never tried to catch a leaf, it's not as easy as you'd think. A leaf doesn't just fall down like a stone. It meanders, enjoys the view, takes a few detours on its route to the ground. And that's just an average journey from branch to woodland floor; when the chase is on it's a whole new leaf game.

My theory is that as I run towards it I create a tiny draught that, just as I am about to grab my prize, causes the leaf to veer away from me, leaving me leafless and looking like a fool. And never tell me leaves don't giggle. An evil malicious sort of giggle at that.

Try it, why don't you? And prove that it's not just me. Please.

Remembering Albert House in the winter

We've been in Devon for a couple of days and while we're away Husband turns the heating down, meaning that we arrived home late yesterday evening to a cold house. And, more importantly, a cold bed.

I was sort of warm in bed but not properly and couldn't really warm up. I should have got my dressing gown to put over me but that would have meant getting up so I kept hoping I'd just warm up. (I didn't.)

Anyway that reminded me of when I was a child and would wear more clothes to go to bed than I did during the day to go out. Albert House was an old solid terraced house (or attached as I described it in a school essay once) with the original walls, at the back of the house, being 2' thick. It was a double-fronted house so we had two front rooms. Until I was about 11 one of the them was my great-gran's bed/sitting room, and the other front room wasn't really used at all until we had our first television when it became the television room. 

The kitchen with the cooker, food storage and preparation areas and sink, was a one-storied lean-to with a corrugated iron roof that we called the scullery. The room that we ate, sat, lived in, we called the kitchen, and it was in the kitchen that we had the main source of heat: a coal fire. When we had the bathroom installed upstairs a boiler was put behind the fire to heat the water. Before that we'd relied on a little Ascot heater in the scullery - and a hosepipe from it to fill the bath that was also in the scullery at that time. (Our bath was a full size one by the way: I didn't have to bath with my legs dangling over the edge of the bath in front of the fire.)

I guess my great-gran must have had an electric fire in her room and we certainly had one when the other front room housed the television, but, as I said, the only real source of heat in the house was in the kitchen. 

My bedroom was above the kitchen (and was cut in half to make space for the bathroom when I was in my teens) so must have benefited from some warmth from the chimney but you wouldn't have thought it seeing me going to bed on a cold winter's night. It was a good job I was on my own.

Monday, October 13, 2014

And then the bottom fell out

A visit to the Surrey grandchildren (and their parents) at the weekend. Most scrumptious time with lots of running around, playing and hugs. GrandSon3 smiled at me and didn't cry once - except when he thought he'd been left alone with me.

We enjoyed a walk (run) by the Thames opposite Runnymede with a huge conker haul! GrandSon1 didn't quite share Granny's enthusiasm for collecting though, but he'll grow into it.
Then on Sunday another river stroll but this time opposite Eel Pie Island, a private island in the middle of the Thames, that was famous at one time for the hotel where you could see the Stones or the Who, or later Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd perform. In fact just about anyone who was anyone played there. 
The bridge to Eel Pie Island. It's said Charles Dickens liked to drink on the island and even Henry VIIIth wasn't averse to calling in for some eel pie.
We were more fascinated by the beach park on our side of the river where an enclosed area has been turned into a beach with Viking ships and hidden treasure - replicas of archaeological artefacts that have been found in the area. (And they're attached to the ground so can't be removed in case, like me, you were wondering how they didn't get lost.)

Our journey home was slightly unusual. Early on the journey on the M4 we saw signs warning of traffic delays on the Severn bridge. That turned into 'an incident' and the bridge being closed. As it turned out by the time we got there there was no problem crossing - but we had been stuck in a traffic jam for about half an hour before that.

And then the bottom fell out of the car.

Not entirely, in fact, hardly at all but enough to make it sound as though we were in a wind tunnel. So we got home safely but noisily.

P.S. The incident on the bridge was a protest by anti-ISIS protestors who stopped their cars in the middle lane. While I am as anti-ISIS as anyone I can't see what good it does making a number of drivers angry - and particularly as we didn't know what the hold-up was until we got home and heard it on the 10 o'clock news.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Sex stories?

'Sex stories? Um, why have you recorded that?'

We were trying to find something we could watch either on iplayer or that we'd recorded. We'd already watched most of the recorded stuff - Doctor Who, Would I lie to You? Have I got News for You? - but this one came as a bit of a surprise.

Husband looked bemused. 'I didn't record it,' he said.
'Well, I don't even know how to,' I said, 'so it certainly wasn't me.'
'I didn't record it,' he insisted.
'That's what they all say.'
'Oh no, wait, I remember! I recorded it for you.'
'For me?'

Then he explained. He thought it might be interesting for my research into massage parlours.
'But then I watched a bit of it and it was boring so I stopped the recording.'

I'm not going to say anything else. I'll leave that to you.

Who was that masked man?

I've been working hard this week trying to finish Novel 4. It's the one I started in last year's NaNoWriMo and it's nearly completed. And it's definitely going to be THE one, the one that is my breakthrough, the one that leads to a contract and fame and fortune. Well, okay I'd settle for a contract or even just one book published. And I know I've said this about each novel I've written but I really am convinced this time that it's different and funny and entertaining enough.

I've done over 80,000 words but I need a good finale. Yesterday I left the heroine kidnapped by the baddies (or as I said to Husband, 'The kidnap's been heroined,') leaving me today with the problem of how she was to escape. Husband suggested a ninja golden retriever or failing that a masked man. 'Then,' he said, 'the sequel could be Who Was That Masked Man?' Not totally convinced by either of those ideas I put it to my facebook friends who also came up with some useful thoughts including: Robyn's handsome prince, Steve's rapture (Christian end of the world thing), Rob van Tol tellingly having the heroine wearing a flouncy petticoat under which she has hidden a gun/sword/machete, or the thug having an undiagnosed heart condition and an attack - an unexpressed concern of Nick's maybe? (From which she saves him so he lets her go - that's a bit I added). 

None of those really worked for me although I will be considering for my next novel a mask-and-petticoat-wearing ninja princess with a sloppy dog and a large gun collection who persuades God that it's too soon for the rapture as she still has a thug to bring over to the good side.

So I had to turn to the old faithful paper and pencil to brain storm ideas. (I know brain storm is no longer pc but I don't know what the alternative is.)
With the result that I've got a bit closer to my finale but I'm not there yet.

One of the reasons that I've been able to spend time writing is that I have been putting off going to Sainsburys. Yesterday we had butternut squash risotto for dinner; today it was butternut squash soup.
Now I'm wondering if I can persuade Husband that butternut squash curry would make a good dinner for tomorrow.

And part of my reluctance to go shopping is down to the dreadful weather we're having at the moment. Summer has well and truly gone - though we were lucky it lasted as long as it did - and the storms of autumn have arrived.

Yesterday the sun was shining when I suggested that Husband join us for a walk around the cliffs. By the time we got back to the car after our walk I was wet through to my knickers, my Eric Morecambe shorts were clinging uncomfortably to my legs and my feet were squelching inside my trainers - and I wasn't even walking in the torrential streams running down the hill from the drain overload.

It was a moment when I regretted my thrift in suggesting we parked on the road rather than in the closer car park.

Apparently the storm and the winds were very fierce last night too but I wouldn't know as I slept through them.

P.S. I am DEFINITELY NOT going to enter NaNoWriMo this November. Keep reminding me of that if I seem to waver.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Cooking dangerously

Not dangerously in fact, but just differently. And not even different methods but simply recipes I hadn't tried before. 

I tear out from magazines recipes I like the look of but rarely get around to making them as I never have the exact ingredients to hand. Last week I took the recipes to Sainsburys with me, bought everything I needed and for four days experimented with new ideas.
Moroccan fishcakes with chermoula sauce. Probably over-cooked the fishcakes and it was all a bit dry. Make again? No.

Mozzarella meatballs with houmous and yogurt dressing. Husband not keen on the pitta bread but tasty meatballs. Make again? Yes. 

Raspberry swirl cheesecake. Took these as my offering to a party on Saturday. Looked prettyish but tasted like shop cheesecake. Make again? No.

Sausage nicoise salad. Husband thought it a bit plain. Needed some more sun-dried tomatoes. I liked it though. Make again? Probably a version of it.

I think all of these came from the Sainsburys magazine and I imagine the recipes can also be found on-line, if I haven't put you off.

What makes a good granny?

Or, more specifically, a suitable person to look after a child. I ask because tomorrow my suitability is to be judged. And by a 19-year-old boy. Okay, I exaggerate: he's probably in his twenties.

If they were to ask my grandchildren if I were a suitable person to look after them I know what their reply would be. 

But is the ability - and willingness - to sing, 'zoom, zoom, zoom, we're going to the moon', 83 times non-stop enough?

We shall see tomorrow. I've made a special effort and cleaned today but I don't think George would appreciate being deodorised. We shall have to be on our best behaviour and I must try not to say anything stupid.

Talking about stupid things have I told you about the latest fitness trend that has affected our circuit training sessions? It's called tabata and it's acclaimed as a fat-burning miracle - to which my fat seems immune.

Look it up on the internet and you'll find it associated with phrases like superfast, high intensity, fast and furious, bootcamp style. Got the picture? Jules, our trainer, introduced it to our sessions a good while ago now and he fits 3 tabata 4-minute extras in between our circuit stations proper.

If you fancy trying it here's one of my least favourite groupings.

So you're going to work as hard as you can for 4 minutes. There are 2 different exercises in this: squats and 'lie downs'. When you're squatting make sure your weight is on your heels and that your knees don't go in front of your ankles, and squat deeply. Do that 10 times.
Then stand up before lying down so that either your chest or your shoulder-blades touch the floor and then stand up straight again. Do that 10 times.
Keep on alternating between 10 squats and 10 'lie-downs' for 4 minutes - or until you can't push yourself any more.

You think it doesn't sound too bad? Lying down must be nice. You'd be right and wrong. Lying down is fine; it's the getting up that finishes me. You wouldn't believe how long 4 minutes can be.

After having to do that twice last week I'm really really hoping we're not going to have to do it tonight. 

Friday, October 03, 2014

A week in a flash

Each  year for about the last twelve my uncle (that's him in the red striped shirt in the family photo) has held a weekend celebration, usually timed to coincide with the Patrons' Concert by the Dunvant Male Voice Choir (of which he is a patron). Family and friends from all over the place come along to one or more of the events and this year there was an especially good turn-out as my uncle said it will be the last he'll organise. It's his 90th birthday next year so we're hosting a party for that instead.

So it began on the Friday night with a meal at Norton House Hotel, followed on the Saturday by the concert. We don't go to the concert but I'm rather sad we didn't go along for the after-concert champagne and shepherd's pie supper. Ken, the prof, seen in the photo with me played the piano to accompany a sing-along that lasted until gone 1 in the morning. 

It's no wonder there were some tired-looking people at the Sunday lunch party! By the time the photo was taken we'd eaten and drunk and everyone had perked up.

Ken's grandson went to Eton and his grand-daughter is in Charterhouse so it was a bit of cultural change for me on Monday when I went to Cookie's funeral. You may remember I wrote about Cookie a few posts ago and Sean asked me to read that during the short service. Let's just say it wasn't your average funeral but nobody came to blows. Quite

And today we've been on a cruise up the river Tawe on the community boat, Copper Jack. The gentleman giving the commentary was very informative about the old industrial history of the river. Very little remains of what was known as Copperopolis but in its heyday Swansea produced 90% of the world's copper. The television screens on board the specially-designed boat showed images of how it used to look with about 50 tall chimney stacks pumping out all sorts of vile fumes. 

Amongst other things the copper was shaped into manillas - like the one in the photo - which were used as currency by slave traders.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."

It's a famous quote from William Morris, the 19th century artist and designer, but am I able to apply it?

I'm trying hard but it's not easy. What about the thing, for example, that is useful but I know I'm never likely to use. I haven't used it for the last ten years so I'm not likely to use it in the next. But then again I might. Better put it back in the drawer. 
And those bits of ribbon. Well, they might come in handy one day. For something. And those candles with the burned down wick. Seems a waste to throw good wax away.

And so my argument with myself goes on and on. But at least with useful it's a little easier to persuade myself than it is with something of sentimental value. Then my problems really start.

As I said before, Daughter and family will be moving in for a while when they return to Swansea so I've been trying to make drawer space for them, hence the necessity to make decisions I'd rather put off, preferably until I'm dead and it becomes someone else's responsibility. Someone who won't have the sentimental ties that bind me. 

I have at least a cupboard full of ornaments I don't particularly like but they belonged to my gran or my great-aunt and I'm loath to part with them. I'm not going to display them or use them so the voice of reason says, 'Charity shop,' but the voice of my heart says, 'Ah but ...'

I currently have the rug on the hall floor covered with items I plan to take to a charity shop TOMORROW. How many of them will get there is another thing.

And speaking of other things Daughter was telling me I should get rid of some of my books. She has done this recently and found it liberating. I don't think I'm quite ready for that yet.