Monday, August 22, 2016

It's official: I've lost the plot

I blame grandchildren and new babies in particular.

We leave for Italy the day after tomorrow. Normally when we go on holiday the first thing on my packing list is: books. Well, I've packed baby nappies, baby wipes, baby vests, and baby presents but I haven't even chosen a single book to take with me!

That's not strictly true. I have downloaded some ebooks but I have to have proper books as well. I have plenty that I've been saving for a rainy day so I'll just sort out some of those. If I can just remember where I put them. 

A Sleepless in Swansea sort of weekend

It all began Saturday morning when Younger Son messaged to say that Nuora's waters had broken - but no contractions - and she was in hospital. (This was in spite of Baby having been given strict instructions not to arrive until the following weekend when we'd be there.)

Whatsapp proved very useful in keeping the parents and siblings updated although there wasn't a lot that could be called progress. Contractions did start but weren't too strong or close together so we went to bed Saturday night anticipating a night-time delivery: I said before midnight; Husband said 4.00 am.

With my phone next to the bed I tried to sleep. But you know what it's like. I'd drop off, wake suddenly and wonder if I'd missed a message, check the phone, sigh deeply and try to sleep again. Which meant that Husband who's a light sleeper didn't sleep well either. It didn't help that we hadn't actually specified arrangements, such as, if Baby arrives at say, 1.00 am, should YS message us immediately or wait until morning?

Turned out Baby had his own plans. He arrived just before 6.00 am (Sunday, 21st August) and YS messaged us about an hour later as soon as he had a chance.

After a long and fairly traumatic labour, with no painkillers for mum, Leonardo Luigi Hinds weighed in at 8.1 lbs. No photos - we're not allowed - so you'll have to trust me when I say he's perfect. 

Whatsapp once again served a purpose during the day as messages of congratulations, support and advice flew between the new father and us and his experienced siblings and the smile hasn't left my face since.

Elder Son told GrandSon1 that Granny was very excited about going to see his new baby cousin. GrandSon1 nodded. 'I know why.'
'Oh yes, what's that?' his dad asked.
'She wants to bite his bottom.'


Thursday, August 18, 2016

The little white box that beeped

Visited Uncle today. He has a friend staying and she wanted to use the washing machine but couldn't get it to work. (Uncle's cleaner usually takes his washing home to do for him.) So it was a job for SuperHusband.

Actually Friend and I worked out where the water tap was but she couldn't get under the sink and I couldn't read which tap was which so Husband had to do the switching-on ceremony. Friend was most grateful and then she said, 'Now if you could get just get rid of this beeping I'd be in heaven.'

Every couple of minutes three high pitched beeps sounded, like the beeps a smoke alarm makes when its battery is going or the last gasps of a phone when it's left off its charger. Except the smoke alarm is mains operated and the phones were all in their chargers.

An electrician who'd called in the day before to fix the fridge hadn't been able to trace the fault and had suggested working through unplugging all the plugs seeing if it made a difference. Friend had tried that without any joy. And you know what beeps are like: depending on where you're standing they seem to emit from different areas. But the predominant location was the corner in which Uncle sits.

Husband wandered around checking and shaking things until he said, 'I think it's coming from this bag.'
'I don't think so,' said Uncle. 'Those are my binoculars.'

He carried on looking, eventually lifting up the cushion of one of the arm chairs that has storage in the base. He pulled out a small white box - yes! That beeped!

It was Uncle's carbon monoxide monitor that passed its best by date last January. And there was no way of turning it off.

We discussed how to dispose of it. The DANGER radiation sign on the box suggested that we probably shouldn't hit it with a hammer, as suggested by Friend so we took it to the civic tip on our way home. Husband asked one of the attendants if they accepted these things.
'Yeah,' the man said and tossed it into a skip. Or rather tossed it at a skip whereupon it bounced off and landed on the floor.
'Do you think he should have done that?' I asked Husband.
'Not our problem any more!'

Tribute to Jill

I've spoken to addicts, rough sleepers and the vulnerable in Zac's; I've spoken to inmates in prison and now I've spoken in a funeral service, addressing a mix of Hell's Angels, steam engine enthusiasts and people from Essex. Yes, I'm pleased with that CV.

Jill was 56 when she died after a long and painful illness. I hate it when it's said, X lost her battle with cancer. I refuse to believe that cancer has the victory even when that's the way it seems. As a Christian of course I believe Jesus has the victory but those words can sound hollow to those left behind without faith. But there was no triumph for cancer in the way Jill dealt with her illness. She was a hero and heroes never lose.

This is what I said at her funeral. They're not particularly special words - I only came up with them on the morning of the funeral when walking George - but they say what I wanted to.

I only met Jill a few years ago. The first couple of times we met were social occasions and we didn’t have the chance to talk. Then when her illness began to demand attention I managed to visit her a few times in hospital. Cancer wards aren’t the most cheerful of places. If I'd had to undergo the pain, fear, treatment - with its horrific side effects - and agony that Jill suffered anyone visiting me would have left in a cloud of gloom. But my visits to Jill were, if nothing else, always a good laugh.

She would talk about Nigel, the children, the bulldog bash and camping, and her mum and the seemingly never-ending saga of house moving. Her courage, fortitude, determination and sense of humour were immense.

I wish I had known the dancing singing Jill. I asked Nigel and Kev to tell me stories about Jill. The stories they told me were, quite frankly, rude. I suspect I might have been slightly disapproving had I known her then. But that was the Jill they love, the Jill we all love.

Towards the end when the doctors asked if there was anything she’d always wanted to do she said, ‘Go to Rome.’ We talked about it, the city and the adaptations Nigel was going to make to the van to make it possible. I think both of us knew that she’d never get there but we all need a dream for the future. So I think if Jill would say anything today it would be this: go to Rome – or wherever it is that you’ve dreamed of. Go now, don’t wait for next year. And when you get there raise a glass to me.’

Arrivederci Jill.

What makes a child?

Looking through photos of our afternoon activities with the grandchildren Daughter exclaimed, 'No wonder our children are feral! It's Granny and Graddad's fault.'

I object. Paddling in streams, playing with mud and climbing trees doesn't make feral children; it makes children.
I'm making faces at GrandDaughter2, honest.

The cake wot I invented

Apple and Blackberry Ripple cake
In my head a beautifully risen and light sponge with fruity chunks of apple and delicate swirls of blackberry puree. In reality ...
a slightly purple sludgy sponge with fruity chunks of apple and occasional blobs of blackberry puree.

Tasted good but needs work:
a) too soggy so maybe need to cook it a little longer - not sure what makes a cake soggy as I reduced the number of eggs I would have used for a plain sponge;
b) next time will try swirling the puree in with a chopstick after I've put the mixture in the tin rather than when in the mixing bowl;
c) had to add cornflour to thicken the puree and maybe could have avoided that if I'd made it the night before and allowed it to cool properly;
d) needed more swirls to get the blackberry flavour through properly.

I don't expect even St. Delia gets things right first time.

For my own records this is what I did.
 Simmered 1lb of blackberries with 3 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon water. (On reflection could omit water). When soft pushed through a sieve then reheated the puree and tried to boil it down a bit. In haste resorted to adding several teaspoons of cornflour to thicken.

Put 8oz marg and 3 eggs in the mixing bowl. 
Remember that I'm supposed to mix marg and sugar first so fish out eggs and replace with 8oz sugar.
Mix until light and creamy. Add eggs one at a time and mix in between (with a little bit of flour). Add rest of 8oz sugar and 4 teaspoons baking powder. (Just wondering: did I put in 4? Could explain lack of rising if not.) Do short mix in mixer then fold in by hand along with 3 apples cut into small chunks. Tried to pour and swirl in puree simultaneously but didn't have enough hands, hence swirling became more like mixing. Put into lined roasting tin and swirled a bit more puree in. 

Cooked for about 20 minutes at 170.

Lots of puree left so will experiment again soon.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

What to do when I'm dead - NOW in eight parts

I left out anger. Probably other things too. But I've updated my blog post to include being angry. Over on my Longs Bits blog.

P.S. Includes joke. Is that inappropriate?

The great cake inventor

While walking today I invented a cake!

It's not everyone who can - or would want to - say that. It occurred to me that i'd never seen a recipe for a blackberry cake and then it occurred to me: what's to stop me inventing one? 

So I shall make it on Tuesday and the Zaccers can be my guinea-pigs. Of course the fact that there isn't one already - to my knowledge - suggests there may be a good reason for that. But if you look at Nigella's Kitchen book and the photo of her seed cake you'll notice that it's very sunken in the middle. She says that's okay because that's the way it's meant to be. So should my blackberry cake go wrong I shall say, as is my right as inventor, that it's meant to be like that.

Win win.

And of course if it's a huge success it could become as famous as black cherry gateau or the victoria sponge and I could become famous as the inventor and Mr. Kipling would have to pay me lots of money to mass produce my blackberry cake, and I might insist on having my name on the packet. In hand-writing. Like Linda McCartney. But not my hand-writing as that's not very good. And not Linda McCartney's as that would be confusing.

I've never thought of inventing a cake before. I've always stuck to recipes but I know the basics so what could possibly go wrong? 

And before you say you've just googled it and there is a recipe for blackberry cake, it's not for MY blackberry cake. 

To be continued.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Knickerbocker glory!

As a child growing up in Mumbles my local ice cream parlour was Fortes. 
Bordering the bus station its blue wicker seating, glass-topped tables and distinctive smell attracted me from a very early age. In the display cabinet at the entrance - that you had to pass - there were examples of the sundaes you could buy and, taking pride of place, a knickerbocker glory.

I longed for a knickerbocker glory, positively yearned for it. It was the unattainability of it as much as anything. The gasps that would go round the customers as one was delivered to the next table, children with eyes popping while parents quickly tried to distract them because it was a prize that only the rich could afford.

So I never had a knickerbocker glory. Until today.

Husband and I took Uncle to Verdis's where in spite of our protestations he insisted it was his treat and, 'Go on, Liz, have a knickerbocker glory.'
I refused at first but, well, it would have been rude.

And it was delicious. Apart from the difficulty of eating it without allowing too many drips of ice cream to escape down the side of the glass and possibly go to waste. And my spoon wasn't narrow enough nor my tongue long enough to get the final bit out of the bottom!

Monday, August 08, 2016

In Sainsburys shopping for food I picked up a couple of dvds. Naturally. No, really we'd almost run out of things to watch and i felt like a laugh so I opted for The Big Wedding and Dirty Grandpa on the principle that they were cheap and if Robert de Niro was in them they couldn't be all bad.

I was wrong.

The Big Wedding, also starring Susan Sarandon and Diane Keaton, was okay but Dirty Grandpa, which also starred Zac Ephron, who I believe is a big favourite among young people of the female persuasion, was definitely aimed at a younger viewing public. Or a different viewing public. Let's just say that Husband laughed more than me.

We're mostly watching White Collar about an expert forger who works for the FBI instead of being in prison. It's light, fun and they always get their man - mostly too easily and predictably but it doesn't challenge the brain so is ideal for slopping lounging in front of the television of an evening.

I just noticed on the radio times page that Hugh Laurie is starring in a new series called Chase, in which he plays a forensic neuroscientist. On the principle that anything with Hugh Laurie in will be good I am eagerly anticipating it. Unfortunately it's on Hulu. I have never heard of Hulu. Is it like Netflix, where you have to subscribe? I could google it I suppose.

In the meantime here's a bit of House.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

An adventure with George

'Let's go and explore today!' I suggested to Husband.
'Nah, you can go. I'll do some weeding.'

So George and I set off to follow the Bishopston Valley and Pwll Du Bay walk as described in the Gower Coast walks leaflet I'd acquired somewhere on my travels.

It's a fairly basic sort of map, the sort even I could follow. You'd think.

So off we went.
According to the signpost it was 2 and a quarter miles to Pwll Du Bay. 'That won't take us long,' I said to George. 'People can run a mile in a minute.'

Some three-quarters of an hour later I was wondering:
a) how I'd managed to miss the clearly-marked View Point*;
b) what had happened to the stepping stones**;
c) if we'd ever reach the sea.

We did. But by then I'd realised that we had to be somewhere else soon and we wouldn't have time to paddle or even admire the view for longer than it takes to take a photo to prove we got there.

On the way back George said, 'It was four minutes.'
'What was?'
'The mile. Roger Bannister. Not one minute.'
'Oh, that explains why it took us longer than I expected.'

Roger Bannister also didn't have to avoid huge muddy puddles, climb steadily up a steep slope for five minutes, or scramble through nettles and over rocks.

And I have to say that reaching the sea was the result not of my map-reading skills - the deficiency being in the map not me obviously - but of my tunnelling - no, wait, that's not right - channelling my inner outdoorsman and realising I probably needed to go downhill and follow the river to the sea. Helped a bit by the occasional signpost. Okay, frequent signposts.

Very lovely walk though.

Apart from aforementioned 5 minute hike up the side of the valley.
I'm not resting, George. I'm taking a photo.

Incidentally, thanks to the wonders of FitBit I can tell you that on the return journey, uphill, I covered the ground at the speed of 1 mile in 22 minutes. Which actually I think is pretty impressive.

* I can only assume it's a winter only view point.
** There is a bridge about where the stepping stones may have been supposed to be possibly maybe. So maybe they were replaced?

The Foo Fighters and Peter Rabbit

I was introducing family to a friend. I said, 'This is Granddaughter1. She loves mermaids.'
'No, I don't,' GrandDaughter1 declared indignantly. 'I love rock stars.'

Mermaids to rock stars in one step? How did that happen? 

'Who's your favourite?' I ask.
'Foo Fighters.'
There's nothing more I can add to that conversation. That's her father's influence. I shall have to introduce her to Bruce Springsteen.

Thankfully she still enjoys a game of Peter Rabbit, the one where she and her brother try to steal pretend carrots before Mr McGregor (me) spots them and chases them. 

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Multifarious uses for poo bags, no. 5

Carrying the result of an impromptu blackberry forage.
Not a huge amount of ripe blackberries but enough, with apples, for a crumble.

Cyclists are sneaky: they creep up on you when you're least expecting them. You might hope that your dog would give you notice - by barking - of their approach but to be fair George was engaged in conversation with me - the first time since our little disagreement over my choice of clothes - so I shouldn't grumble.

I was saying something along the lines of, 'My mother said I never should wear shorts for blackberrying,' to which George was adding his three-happence along the lines of, 'If you'd listened to me blah blah blah,' when the cyclist appeared. 
'Afternoon,' I nodded.
He hurried past.

'That's your fault,' I said to George. 
'What did I do?' he asked indignantly.
'Don't get me started.'

P.S. If you've missed the previous posts in the series the first four uses for poo bags are:
as a rain hood;
picking up poo;
collecting shells on the beach;
carrying wet clothes following impromptu paddling.

George is my personal style guru

We were going for a walk when, just outside the front gate, George started dragging his feet.
'Wassup?' I said (because I'm down with the kids).
George shook his head then said, 'Are you seriously going to take me for a walk when you're dressed like that?'
I glanced down. 'What's the matter with my clothes?'
'Your cardigan is six inches - no, make that ten inches - below your shorts. You look an idiot.'
He had a point but I wasn't going to admit that.
'Well, Mr Style Guru, you're going to have to put up with it cos I'm not changing. Anyway we're only going over the tip; we won't see anyone. Except maybe the guy who sleeps out there and is almost certainly worse dressed than I am.'
'That's debatable but anyway we have to walk along the road first.'
'Get over it!'

George continued to try and put as much distance between us as he could - which wasn't much as he was on his lead and he didn't talk to me again until much later - more to follow.

My Welsh preacher's voice

I led bible study in Zac's on Tuesday. It went okay; they were a pretty well-behaved bunch. But something happened near the end that reminded me of something I'd been thinking about.

One of our regulars was trying to speak but there seemed to be several conversations going on and it was almost impossible to hear him. Then another man, someone who's been coming for a few months, started speaking and very quickly he had everyone's attention.

He has what I call 'a Welsh preacher's voice'. A bit like this only even more so and deeper:

That's what I need.

I'd listened recently to an excerpt from a radio programme about how to speak with authority. It wasn't particularly helpful but then the woman being interviewed was a voice coach so it was in her interest to give away just enough to make listeners want to go to her and pay her vast sums of money to teach them but not enough to make herself redundant.

Basically what I gathered from the clip was that it helped to be male. To do with tone and hearing range and stuff like that. Which I knew. So what I really need to do is practise lowering my voice, speaking slowly and clearly and, preferably, with passion. (I wish you could hear me reading this as I type. You would swear you were listening to an old-fashioned fire and brimstone preacher.) as opposed to my normal manner of speaking, which is rapid, stumbling, quiet and badly grammared. 

Unless I'm on BBC national television when I    speak   so   slowly   that   I   sound    as    if    I'm   slightly    unhinged.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

What to do when I'm dead - a plan in seven parts

There've been a lot of deaths recently. I know there always are lots of deaths but these have been affecting people I know and that makes it personal. Three in the last week: one a woman in her fifties had been ill for a long time; the next a very-nearly centenarian; and finally today another woman in her 40s maybe 50s, completely out of the blue.

The first of those I saw about half an hour before she died and I began thinking about her husband and what to say to him. Then I tried to imagine what she would want to say to him and from there to what I would want to say to Husband were I dead. If that makes sense. So I wrote this. I think it's sort of finished but I may play around with it a bit more.

What to Do When I'm Dead - a plan in seven parts
Death brings with it its own terrible confusion. Life is just wrong somehow. Nothing is in its proper place. The world is back to front and upside down and nothing makes sense. That’s why I am giving you this plan, to help you make sense of the un-sensible. Don’t rush it. Living after death takes time.

1) Don’t be afraid of dead. 
Don’t let raw hurt be buried beneath gentle phrases. Give grief its proper due as the right feeling, the only feeling. I have not passed away or fallen asleep; I am dead.  For me this is a step on my journey; for you it is the end of the world. It feels like the end of the world. 

It isn’t. But you are allowed, you have my permission if you need it, to believe for a while that life has lost its meaning. And don’t be afraid that this will be too much. This is what death does. It hurts almost unbearably. But you will bear it. 

To read the rest (because I know you want to be really depressed) visit The Bits That Are Too Long

Monday, August 01, 2016

Without wishing to sound like an old person

Young people today, or at least some of them, have the habit of not just saying 'Hi,' but of turning a simple greeting in passing into a question: 'You all right?'

I don't suppose they really want an answer - well, actually, my athlete's foot's flared up again and I've an infection in my eye but at least my cystitis is improving - but I feel obliged to give them one. Not like that, of course. Just a 'yes, fine,' but that necessarily ends with a 'and you, you okay?'

By which time they're several steps passed and have moved on to the next passer-by's state of well-being.

But just saying, 'Hi,' in response seems rude. They're only being polite after all. Or they think they are. What they're actually doing is causing me untold angst and sending me rushing to Miss Manner's Book of Etiquette, which having been written before the days of, 'awright?' is no use whatsoever. 

So I'm turning to you, dear readers of a largely similar age I suspect. What is the correct response? Does one simply disregard the question but smile graciously as I assume the Queen does when she doesn't hear what someone says?

Or does one stop, take the young person by the arm, and ask in the nicest possible way if they could refrain from asking personal questions to women of a certain age brought up to answer when spoken to?