Thursday, May 29, 2014

Is that a mask or are you pleased to see me?

There used to be a man in Linden who always smiled. I believe he felt it was his Christian duty and I know others have similar views.

When you approached him he'd beam at you and at first you'd think, 'Oh that's nice,' but then you'd realise that it wasn't a smile directed at you but just a mask. 

Can't be doing with that. On the other hand I don't like people who are dead miserable either. Some people on facebook only ever post grumpy complaining statuses and I wonder if their lives are really that miserable or if they enjoy it. I suspect the latter.

Two young men who definitely weren't miserable or grumpy were the cyclists I met in the woods today.

Clyne woods has long been a favourite place for mountain bikers and they'd erected several incredibly hairy jumps and trails in the past, but recently some funding enabled the council to build more official professional tracks. When I saw that work was to commence I expected - well, I'm not sure what but maybe tarmacked tracks. Nothing of the sort. The tracks are more clearly marked and they have determined that some are ascent only and some descent but other than that there's not much difference

But there are official signs up now saying the track is level red/difficult and as well as the constructed hurdles cyclists should be prepared for naturally-occurring obstacles such as roots and rocks.

I came across two cyclists about half-way up the hill this afternoon and I had to ask: is it really worth it? All the effort to get to the top for a few minutes excitement?
The lads thought about it and then one said, 'Yes, I think it is. We wouldn't do it otherwise.'
'And you could say the same about walking except walkers don't get the adrenaline rush.'
'Good point. I'd better get a bike.'

P.S. Never in a million years would I a) push a bike up that hill, or b) even less likely, ride it down those scary slopes.

Knickers to you

So, as you may have gathered, I've been having a cull of my knickers. I have been ruthless and thrown lots away including baggy ones, high in my bottom ones and uncomfortable ones (okay, yes, I've put on weight, but, to be honest, they were always a fairly ambitious purchase).

I've put them in the bin and that seems a horrid waste but I can't believe anyone wants to wear anyone else's knickers, even if barely worn and washed and spotlessly clean.

I've also got rid of (as in bagged for the charity shop) those pink shorts I must have bought while under the influence of the spirit of insanity, a belt that came with something but has never been worn, and numerous t-shirts that looked nice in the shop but not on me, as well as the green shorts without a button (yes, i could have sewn on a button but that was never going to happen) that went in the bin.

On a different but connected note, this morning I did one of those endless time-wasting quizzes on Facebook, this time, 'What punctuation mark are you?' Well, I had to, didn't I?

It turns out I'm a comma. That seems quite appropriate; I am fond of commas, possibly too fond sometimes. I have a tendency to strew commas about but it's because I read my writing as I'm writing it and I like to breathe.

What Marilyn Monroe and I have in common

My #100happydays photo for today is this:
I found the soap when I was having a cull of my clothes' drawers. My mother gave it to me for one of her last Christmases, probably about 1970. She apologised for not being able to afford to buy me the perfume; this was the best she could manage.

At that time - I was 18 - I didn't appreciate Chanel. I was more into Aqua Manda and Charlie (and they were cheap! Comparatively.) But I said thank you and, rather than waste it by actually using it, I popped it in my knicker drawer so it would scent my clothes. (Do people still do that today? Young people I mean, not those of us who grew up with these habits passed on from our mothers.) I don't think it ever actually made my clothes smell nice. I suppose taking it out of the box might have helped ... Anyway, I still have it and, as I say, I came across it today.

On the right is the bottle of Chanel No. 5 that Husband gave me last Christmas. It's unopened still because Uncle John also gave me a bottle, remembering that I'd said it was my favourite. And it is but unfortunately I don't think it can be smelled on me. Do you know what I mean? It's only when my hands and wrists get warm, for example if they're in hot water, that the perfume seems to be released so that I can smell it. Maybe others do smell it on me but when I ask Husband he can't. (Not that that necessarily should be considered too seriously.)

But I love it and knowing I'm wearing it makes me happy even if no-one else can smell it!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Note to self

When I speak in prison I use personal stories to illustrate whatever the theme is and sometimes I think how crazy they must sound. I mean, what possible interest could there be for young men in their twenties, many of whom struggle to read, and for whom life is a struggle, in the stories of a 61-year-old middle class well-educated woman?

But if I tried to talk about my drug habit or my heavy drinking binges they'd soon suss me out as a fraud and I'd lose all credibility. So instead I tell them how, when I was in junior school, I was humiliated after falling over in the skipping race and having to finish it on my own. And how I was going to Bristol but I missed it and ended up in Bath. (Good grief, these stories sound even more pathetic when written down!)

But they listen and pay attention. One young lad must have been so engrossed in my story that when I said that I still struggled to think of myself as lovable or worthwhile, he piped up spontaneously, 'You are, Miss.' The boys around him started to laugh and there was a look of absolute horror on his face as he realised he'd said it out loud, and he quickly reverted to 'hard man not listening to this old biddy' mode.

And, remember I said there was a visitor who was very encouraging to me? At the end he asked me, 'Were you nervous?'
I thought he was joking so I said, 'No, of course not.'
But then he said, 'Only I noticed that you gave a - here imagine a deep 'Phew, I'm glad that's over' exhalation of breath - when you'd finished and we were starting on the last song.'

Although I was anxious beforehand I suppose that once I'd started I wasn't nervous. I'd prepared as much as I could; I just had to get on with it.

Just before the last song that we sang I played a track from a Jake Bugg cd. It's called Note to Self and that's what I wanted to encourage the men to do: write a note to themselves to remind them that they're special enough for Jesus to die for. And this blog post is my version of a note to myself. So that next time I feel a failure I can look back at this and be reminded that I'm special and worth dying for.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Generosity of strangers

An appeal on Facebook and again I am inundated with baby clothes for a very young pregnant girl and a mother of young children in dire need.

I am amazed at and so grateful for the generosity of strangers towards people in need. The world is a much nicer place than some of the tabloids would have us believe. Thank you all.

God rocks!

The first couple of times I spoke in prison just doing it was such an achievement that I came away with my confidence high; the more often I did it the more conscious I became of my short-comings and the more nervous I became prior to it.

This weekend I've peaked: really anxious, not being able to sleep and generally stressing about it.

I actually consulted God before deciding what to talk about _ I usually tell him after I've chosen - and then things just seem to come together so my decision to talk about 'loving yourself' seemed to be the right one. But that didn't help conquer my nerves.

I woke at 6 this morning, got up at 7 and began practising ... again. Then, as if that wasn't enough, when I arrived early at the prison (in itself a miracle for someone who is habitually late), finding myself on my own in the entrance foyer, I sat down and got out my notes for a final run-through.

After quite a few minutes I heard a voice saying, 'Can you hear me?'
Like Samuel I ignored it.
Then it came again. 'Can you hear me?'
Again I ignored it.
When it happened the third time I looked up to see the prison officer behind the glass screen peering at me.
'Are you talking to me?' I said.
'Yes, come here,' he said. 
I did as bid.
'I've been watching you,' he said.
'Oh dear.'
'Reading your notes, closing your eyes and moving your lips.'
'Oh. I didn't think you could see me through the darkened glass.'
'Oh I can see you very clearly.'
'Oh dear.'

He'd guessed that I was speaking in the service and asked me what I was talking about. I told him and he said, 'Oooh, hard one. Lots of us have skeletons in our cupboards that make loving ourselves difficult.'
I agreed and we went on to have a lovely chat before the others arrived and we had to go across to the chapel. As I went he said, 'You'll be fine.'

When the men came over the chapel was almost full and a number of them were quite giggly and chatty, suggesting that they possibly hadn't been in very long and were still drug-fuelled. It had the potential to be a rowdy meeting.

But they were amazing. They were completely attentive and quiet when I was talking and even though a few still had silly grins on their faces they didn't disrupt or disturb the service at all.

And afterwards a number of them thanked me and simply genuinely appreciative. A visitor, a friend of one of the chaplains, was most enthusiastic and encouraging - and I'd never met him before so it wasn't as if he was just saying it to be nice - and the chaplain himself said what a good message it was as the guys are so often put down by others and have been through their lives.

On my drive to the prison I'd asked God to use my weakness, to be strong in my inability, and to speak to the men even if it wasn't through my words. And He turned up and did just that. 

God rocks ... and so do I! (I say that now while I'm on a high; I'll be back to normal next time I do something stupid.) (So probably tomorrow.)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

In which Husband raises my hopes ...

only to crush them a minute later.

Yesterday he said, 'Toulon play Saracens in the Heineken Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium tomorrow. We could go and watch Johnny Wilkinson's penultimate game.'
'Oh, yes, Johnny Wilkinson mmmm.'
'Or I could pay £10 and get a day pass for Sky and watch it on there.'
'Oh no, not as much fun.'
'But look! I could watch Derby (he's a Derby boy) versus QPR in the play-offs too! That's me settled for tomorrow afternoon then.'

So near, Johnny, yet so far.

He's currently watching the football. At 70 minutes it's 0-0 and a boring game. I only managed to watch it for about 5 minutes: I really can't see the attraction.

I should be practising my talk for prison tomorrow morning but I took it on the walk with me and it's now a soggy mash. I should know better than to challenge a rain cloud. 'Huh, is that  the best you can do?'
It wasn't. I was soaked through to my knickers.

And I have come to the conclusion that I have dataload. I can only remember so much. The bits I can remember I remember well; the rest of it, hm, well, I have my notes. At least I will have when I print them out again.I need a usb stick on which I can store information that I only need now and again.

There is so much that I don't know. I suddenly wondered why we say, 'look right, look left and then look right again.' 
'Why do we say look right again but then not look left again?' I asked Husband. 'I mean I realise you would never get across the road as you'd have to keep looking each way but why just look right for a second time?'
'Because that's the side that traffic is closest to you. You can look left again when you get to the middle of the road.'
'Well, good heavens, I never knew that. I am so stupid.'
'You're not stupid; you're clever. It's just that you're only clever when you're interested in something.'

Hmm, it's a good theory but I'm not entirely convinced.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Cars, gang rites and me

It appears I have been unsetting the alarm on the car each time I've locked it ever since we had it (nearly five years). I am convinced that Husband told me to press the lock button twice otherwise why would I have done it in the first place? Obviously he denies this.

We only discovered this yesterday when reading the manual to find out how to unset the alarm while leaving George in the car while we went into B&Q.

Anyway, Mini hasn't been stolen so no harm done.

On a similar but separate note, I was driving home from work today when a car coming up the hill went flash-flash-flash-flash-flash. Now following a similar incident a while ago I now know that this can mean one of three things:
a) that the driver knows you;
b) that you are approaching a police speed camera;
c) that the driver is taking part in a gang initiation ceremony and if I flash back he will be obliged to kill me. (I owe that little gem to Facebook.)

Today I ruled out a) as I'm pretty certain I didn't recognise the car, although that is placing quite a reliance on my brain, and c) because Mayals is an awfully nice part of Swansea and unlikely to be visited by potential gang members. Although thinking about it they may be more likely to come where they think the residents won't be wise to their tricks. But I didn't flash back just in case. Leaving me with b).

So I made sure I stayed within the speed limit (30), which I would do anyway, of course, but it is difficult when you're going down a hill. Tra la la I crawled down the hill but without spotting a police camera van. Until I got almost to the junction at the bottom. Where cars going down had to stop in order to wait for a gap in slow-moving oncoming traffic so they could pull out to get around the police van.

If it were intended as a revenue-raiser it would have been a disaster, however, as a traffic-slower it was highly effective.  

Monday, May 19, 2014

Proud of my uncle

I'm delighted for my 88-year-old uncle John who at a fancy dinner last week was awarded with the Jim Mansell award for a lifetime of service to those with learning disabilities.

The dinner was hosted by Bild (British Institution of Learning Disabilities) and there were eight nominees including doctors, a professor and a baroness. My uncle has been heavily involved with the Elizabeth Fitzroy Trust for very many years but really didn't think that, in such illustrious company, he stood any chance of winning. In his own words, he was, for once in his life, speechless.
The photo is from the Bild website.

Snow in May?

Walking over the tip and into the woods the other day I could have sworn we'd had a slight scattering of snow.
But it was only winged seeds. Any idea what this tree is?
The closest I could find on google was a willow tree (but not weeping obviously). But Husband pooh-poohed that idea - without coming up with anything better I should add.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Eating out at Fairy Hill

For months Husband has been working on Younger Son and Nuora's house and for months I've been saying,' I'll come and do the garden.' Well, this week I managed to spend two whole days there - working very hard! Husband was impressed: he's not used to seeing me working hard.

We found a hover mower in the shed there and it worked. Except it would only go backwards.It would only go forwards when the grass was already cut short. Which sort of defeated the object.

I may be no good at growing things but I'm very good at clearing wildernesses. Although this garden wasn't that bad a goodly number of brambles were springing up. That pile is bigger than it looks and has left its mark in the form of scratches all over my legs and arms.

And a before

and afters.

Then, after all my hard work on Wednesday, Husband took me out for a meal. Not just any old meal but a meal at Fairy Hill, an AA 5* rated 'restaurant with rooms'.

One benefit of working so hard on the house is that Husband's been listening to a lot of local radio and so heard the offer 'spend £20 get £40 worth of food' at a variety of restaurants. He bought 3 vouchers for different restaurants and this was our last one.

Canap├ęs in the lounge beforehand were promising: deep fried cockles, salmon mousse and lavabread quiche. Then it was into the restaurant for the meal, for me, beginning with wild garlic risotto with parmesan crisp,

followed by pork belly, scallops, root vegetable terrine, soya beans and tomato with a ponzu (Japanese) sauce,

rounded off with arctic roll (but not a Bird's Eye one) with poached rhubarb and hibiscus sorbet.
Husband meanwhile had soused mackerel followed by hoggett (below) with spinach puree, violette potatoes, broad beans and peas, and a lovage salsa, and ending with the cheese board.
Then came the bill. And even with our £20 off it was one of the most expensive meals we've ever had. The food was good and the presentation excellent but I think it's the whole experience of being spoiled for an evening in lovely surroundings that make it so special.

The next evening, after another hard day in the garden, we had beans on toast.

Oh, yes, do you know what hoggett is? It's not as I guessed some sort of pig but is, in fact, year-old lamb. So hoggett is a pretty silly name for it really. I guess it's between lamb and mutton and benefits from slow cooking. I can confirm, from the tiny sample I had of it, that it was very tasty.

Monday, May 12, 2014

What Husband did to make me happy

Husband phoned me in work today. He said, 'Hello, I just ...' and then Stevie Wonder took over, 'called to say I love you.'
'Well, it was on the radio and you're always saying I'm not romantic enough.'

How many brownie points for that, do you think? He's definitely my favourite husband today. And he earns his place in my #100happydays challenge.

So, Furtheron, I hope you learn this lesson from your mentor!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

It's not easy being George

I hate it when we're in the woods and George suddenly stops, stands stock still and stares. I can't see what's spooked him and what spooks George may or may not spook me. For example, a plastic bag even in an unexpected place doesn't spook me while it does George. In fact errant plastic bags are the most common cause of George-spook; another reason to recycle and not litter if anyone wanted one.

Oh yes it's hard being a George.

I, on the other hand, sometimes feel it's hard having a George.

There's a bit of garden at the back of the house that I've tried to cultivate over the years. Most recently - a few years ago - I bought a pack of assorted cottage garden perennials. All looked wonderful in the picture in the catalogue and I planted them eagerly anticipating a summer-long display of glorious colour. What I was forgetting was George.

This bit of garden stands immediately between George and his mortal enemy, Bob, who lives behind us. (Yes, I know the idea of George, who only yesterday was pursued by a tiny terrier, having a mortal enemy sounds unlikely but Bob flings himself at the fence ferociously and, with a high fence between them, George feels safe to put on a macho show.) So, anyway, George successfully completely destroyed my 'cottage garden' in spite of the various barricades, including old aluminium double glazing frames, bits of wood, wire and the base for a coffee table. Oh, yes, it looked most delightful.

This week I resolved that 'something must be done' so while we were in the garden centre this morning and Husband was selecting chilli plants I browsed through some options. I was rather taken with a colourful reclaimed metal cow but then thought a life-size velociraptor might be more effective. Then Husband came along and talked me down. Even my idea of a metal climbing frame/protector for plants he pooh-poohed. 'We could make one.' So this is what we've ended up with.
A fatsia (castor oil plant). I was assured by a passing customer, who was wearing a sensible mac so was obviously to be trusted, that fatsia was really easy to grow and would quickly cover a large area. Of course, she wasn't taking into account a) that I was the gardener, and b) George. But I hope she's right.

I'm still drawn to the idea of 'something' in the bushes though. But maybe not a cow or a dinosaur. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

What makes me happy

I suffer with depression but I'm basically a happy person and as it doesn't take much to make me happy I'm taking part in a photo challenge, 100 Happy Days. I'm actually posting the photos onto Twitter, although I think they should show up on my Facebook page as well, but I'm not entirely certain about that.

My photo for today is of blue sky peeping out from behind clouds: quite a boring photo but I was very happy that it stayed dry long enough for me to walk George without getting wet. But as I was in the mood I thought I'd take another couple of shots for days when I forget to take a specific photo. So here's May in bloom.
When I was little it was my granny's mantra: ne'er cast a clout till May be out. It was her excuse for not letting me discard my vest until she was sure summer was on its way. She'd turn in her grave if she knew how often I remove or replace layers these days - without a glimpse of a May flower. Although there was some argument over whether the saying referred to the flower or the month I'm pretty sure my granny wouldn't have let me run a risk so she'd have waited until she was absolutely sure.

Anyway now to me May flower still means that summer is on its way - and it smells lovely too.

Though it was dry all morning we've had a bit of rain recently so some of the paths in the wood are boggy. But isn't that a lovely thing too? (Assuming you have wellies.) Mud, mud, glorious mud, nothing quite like for squelching about it. (Apologies to Flanders & Swann.)
George though was less than happy with this little dog.

When he at last plucked up his courage to run back to me it was with the little dog on his heels, snapping and growling. Poor George was traumatised.

Incidentally the Happy Days Challenge website claims that by making a conscious effort each day to look for the things that make you happy your mood, and your life generally, improves. Why don't you take the challenge too?

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

George, me and the black kettle

You can't tell from this photo but when George returned from kennels he was a little barrel. Normally he's quite shapely about the waist but it had disappeared.

I said, 'George, honestly, when they're in kennels most dogs pine for their owners. They stop eating and lose weight; you've come back as a roly-poly podge.'
George looked at me then said, 'Two things: a) have you considered that I may have eaten to bury my sorrow?'
'Um, no. But it's not likely is it?'
'But it's possible though?'
'Well, yes, I suppose so.'
'Thank you. And b) I'd just like to say two words: pot kettle.'
'Point taken. I won't mention your fat belly again.'
'Thank you.'

He decided to follow me to the top of the folly in Clyne Gardens today. Here's the folly:

And here you can almost see George thinking, 'Okay I'm up here but what do I do now?'

It is I ... possibly

One of the books I read on holiday was Next Door to Murder by Anthea Fraser. I've read several of her books in the Rona parish series - Rona is a writer who inevitably gets involved in mysteries and murders while investigating her subjects. They're more family sagas than mystery stories and are light and easy to read although on times the writer in me has niggling doubts about the way they're written. Having said that I'll choose one from the library when I don't want anything too strenuous - at the moment I'm reading Booker Prize winning Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel.

But to get back to the particular niggle I experienced on holiday (apart from too many exposed willies on the beach that is). Rather than a quibble with the style this was a grammatical 'itch' that I needed to scratch again on return. The author wrote this:
'It's me,' she said ungrammatically.

Firstly, why add 'ungrammatically'? It's not relevant to the story but is simply the author saying, 'I know this is wrong and I want you to know that I know.'

Secondly, is it wrong? Now that is a question.

My first thought is that it's not wrong: 'me' is the object of the sentence and thus is right. But today I checked on the internet for what the experts say, and, apparently, theoretically it should be 'I' because of ancient Latin and Greek rules.

"Subject complements are used only with a class of verbs called linking verbs, of which to be is the most common."

However everyone seems agreed that saying 'It's me,' is acceptable although some grammar fundamentalists would suggest saying, 'It's Liz,' or 'This is Liz,' in my case, thus removing the dilemma.

What would you say?

Monday, May 05, 2014

You can keep your hat on

The last time we were in Fuerteventura was in 2007 and the small town we stayed in then has grown considerably in the intervening years. Which meant we couldn't find the 2 excellent tapas bars - the only 2 we found on our previous visit - but every other restaurant offered a choice of tapas, albeit limited and the same.

That aside our holiday was all we wanted it to be: relaxing, sunny, and, well, relaxing. Although the hotel bore a strong resemblance to Swansea Prison in its design it was very comfortable and spacious. The food was average but the cleaning-lady did arrange my nightie very prettily.
The local beach was closed to bathing because of an influx of jellyfish so we hired a car and drove along the west coast to Flag beach ...
and the east coast to El Cotillo.

We also ventured through the mountains (the one in the centre of the picture is the result of one of the more recent volcanic eruptions, about 2.5 million years ago) ...
 down to the old capital of the island, Betancuria.

Now there's one thing you need to know if you intend to visit Fuerteventura. Although the beaches we went to were all ordinary family beaches they also attract a number of naturists. Particularly older men. And particularly older men who insist on promenading the length of the beach each morning - and it's a long beach.

Trust me: there are only so many willies a girl can cope with in a day.

Why you should never take advice from Indiana Jones

There've been a lot of changes since we first started walking over the tip and through the woods. Back in those days it wasn't unusual to see a boot or other rubbish poking up through the surface of the tip; today nature has fully reclaimed it and it's a lovely walk. And walking in Clyne woods with just the sound of the birds and the stream it's hard to believe that it has such an impressive industrial heritage.

The old train line to mid-Wales ran up through the valley: a victim of the Beeching cuts I believe. Now where the train track was is a paved path for walkers and cyclists. But the woods are full of indicators of the valley's history. From the  remains of arsenic works to the quarry, from the bell pits to the brick works, the signs are still there if you look for them.

Today I decided George and I would explore the parts we hadn't covered for a long time, including the quarry, which is now barely identifiable as such, so great is the woodland growth. From the quarry we turned towards the river and a part of it we don't usually walk.
And that's when I had my great idea.

'Let's have an adventure, George!'
'Must we?' (George prefers the familiar.)
'Yes, come on, it will be fun. We'll try and follow the river down to where we normally join it.'

Which is what we did - and when the path ran out we went river-trekking. Until we reached this.
At this point I said, 'What would Indiana Jones say now?'
'Go for it!'

(George isn't convinced.)

Then at this point, about a sixth of the way into the tunnel, as I tripped over yet another branch and slid on a slippery rock while cold water dripped down the back of my neck, I said, 'That's the last time I listen to Indy.'

I could have persevered but what if I'd fallen? I didn't have a phone so I could have just lain there and died. And George would have sat with my body slowly starving to death himself. (Yes, I can see that happening too.)

To be honest my real fear was that I'd stumble across a body. Yes, I know it's not likely but it wasn't worth taking the risk of needing lifelong therapy and never being able to venture into a tunnel again. So we turned back. 

And got home in one piece.