18 December 2012

Two are Better than One

I am knackered.  Positively cream-crackered.

For the last four-and-a-half weeks I have been home alone because my Beloved has been on 'Looking After the Parents Duty' at the other end of the country.  My mother-in-law has had major cardiac surgery which has rendered her unable to function at her normal, slightly-less-than-obsessive level. Since my father-in-law knows how to boil an egg and open a tin of beans, my Beloved has had no option but to be there for them.  I am sincerely happy that we are in a position to be able to provide the support needed to our ageing parents but it has necessitated my, albeit temporary, return to bachelorhood.

Great, you might think.  Time to do exactly what you want, or even to not do exactly what you don't want.

Well, it's not quite that simple.  Apart from the DIY described in the previous post,  I still had to go work five days a week, leaving me with just the weekend to do all the chores usually done by my Beloved during the week.  It's funny how the sock- and knicker-drawer fairies always seem to take their holidays when my Beloved is away.  They, and the cleaning-, washing- and ironing-fairies, always seem to go away as a group.

Added to that, we are in the run-up to Christmas, that time of year when we make ourselves so busy we have no time to think about what the season is really about.  For me, that has meant rehearsals for choral concerts, additional rehearsals because we were not otherwise going to be ready, singing in two concerts, learning music for the village carol service, and getting myself ready for our annual scratch workplace choir's carol singing to raise money for the Charlie Bear Childrens' Cancer Charity (Gary Malone, we did it first!).

Then there are jobs like taking my Beloved's car to be serviced, bagging up a gardenful of leaves and taking them to the tip, remembering to order new gas bottles, working late to do things that can only be done after hours, and a whole pile of other small things like keeping up with Strictly, Merlin and Coronation Street.

Honestly, with all that going on, I have been rushed off my feet.

My Beloved had Christmas wrapped before she went away, leaving me with very little to do on that score.  Actually, this suits me very well because, when it comes to Christmas presents, you wouldn't want me as the 'Ideas Man' in your team.  She also made life for me in her absence as easy as she could by filling the freezer with food.  It still takes time to prepare the evening meal, though, and to clear up the total devastation afterwards.

Life has been full-on busy. 

If I hadn't already realised, this episode has given me cause to reflect on all the benefits my Beloved brings to my life.  It certainly is easier when there are two of us on duty.  If I ever did take her for granted, and I hope I didn't, I have to say she is wonderful and I'm looking forward to having her back.

There were so many things had I hoped to do ....


24 November 2012

Trouble with Holes

Well, it's been a long time since writing.  Again.  This time, I've been distracted with musical pursuits, plagued with writer's block and, no surprise, engaged in plenty of DIY.

Breaking my left wrist and right hand at the same time does not appear to have given me an excuse for not doing DIY.  All that happened was it got delayed.  That's the thing about DIY: it isn't DIY if someone else does it...

The first thing I had to do, once signed off the sick, was put in three new fence posts.  At least I got to buy a new tool for the job: a narrow-bladed spade so the holes I dug didn't need a lorry-load of concrete.  They were quite deep, however.  Their narrowness made getting the final bit of dirt out difficult and I had to resort to lying on the ground, thrusting my arm down the hole and scooping out the soil with my hand.  It occurred to me that in that position I had an entire planet in my armpit!  Actually the soil was very sandy down there.  It made me wonder what my house is built on...  I thought my wrist would be bad the next day but my efforts seem to have done it some good.  No more excuses then.

The next job was to put a new spur from the socket in our dining room through to the lounge. To gain the necessary access for drilling the holes needed, I had to knock out the wall at the back of the cupboard under the stairs.  That part of our house was built in 1898 or thereabouts and all the walls are lath and plaster.  I am still amazed how much dust can be generated from a piece of wall about 50cm square.  Much to my Beloved's annoyance, I managed to fill every room on the ground floor with the stuff.  Of course, the simple expedient of shutting the cupboard door whilst working would have avoided the problem but then I would have had to do the job in my scuba gear and that's not what it's for.  Anyway,  My Beloved wanted a socket and a socket she got.  I have yet to see her use it...

The next task was beyond my abilities.  We had talked a long time about restyling the lounge and getting rid of the ugly brick fireplace.  We wanted to open up the hole and recess our log-burner. Chimneys are not something I know much about so we decided to employ a builder whose work we had seen in a neighbour's house.  We vacated the lounge and camped in the dining room for three weeks. Our builder did a great job in the first of those, solving some very knotty problems along the way and also fitting a new radiator and yet another socket (!).

Then it was over to me.  I had to fit a couple of skirting boards and paint everything in sight in time for our new carpet to be fitted.  Of course, we had to let new plaster dry out before we could paint it, which is why we spent so long living in the dining room.

We had a new curtain pole to fit.  I was quite surprised when my drill seemed to hit a space behind the plaster.  I don't know what I was thinking about but I prodded the drill more firmly into hole, all the time wondering what was in the wall that could be so springy.  At this point, my Beloved, who has an NVQ level I in Passing Screwdrivers, walked into the room and said, 'There aren't any wires to avoid there, are there?  Only you're drilling right above the socket.'

Indeed I was.  My drill was even plugged in at that socket.  How my heart sank.  I shone a light into the hole and discovered what was in the wall that was so springy.  I saw a neat red circle with a neat copper-coloured bullseye.  I hadn't gone right through the cable but I knew I would have to do something about it soon and it was likely to involve a lot of mess.  In our pristine new lounge.  Which would have a new carpet the next day.  Bummer.

On the basis that we didn't run any high current devices on the ring main, I took the decision to leave the remedial work until my Beloved was away and would never have to see the mess.

Today was the day...  I was hopeful that I could pull a new cable behind the plastic sheath in the wall but was worried I might have to channel out the wall, patch and repaint it all without wrecking the rest of the room.

Last night, my brother phoned.  Now, it must be said, my brother is a excellent DIY-er and knows a lot more about it than I.  Basically, he explained how to do the job.  I am delighted to report his advice worked perfectly.  There was one complication when I couldn't draw the cable down.  I looked up at the wall and saw a line of damage about five inches long where the plaster had been broken off from the inside.  I lifted the loose plaster away and found a large pimple in the sheath.  I cut out a small area to reveal a lump of Polyfilla about the size of a (Bird's Eye) pea which was binding the cable.  Once I removed that, the rest of the job was a doddle.  I had made no mess, and only a small amount of patching with Polyfilla was needed.  In the end, it took longer to reconnect the socket and join the cables in a junction box than it had to pull the cable through.

Thanks Bro. Respect.

Time, I think, for a celebratory single malt.  Cheers!

07 August 2012

A Lesson in Ballistics

Well, I've not written anything for a good while now.  At least some of that is because my most recent encounter with gravity.

On Friday 22 June, at the end of a hard day's work, it was time to head off to the pub (please note: to the pub, not from the pub) to have a farewell drink with a colleague who was leaving for another job.  I went down a flight of stairs and then spun through 180 degrees to head down the next flight.  As I stepped off, I caught my heal on the top stair and before I knew it I was airborne, head first.  In my dreams I can fly but I realised that, since I was awake, that particular skill would not be available to me.

My recollection of the next brief interval lends weight to the idea that time appears to slow down in extremis.  Apart from shouting very loudly (something along the lines of, "Aaaaaarggggghhhh!!!!!!") as I travelled, I remember taking in my surroundings (hard, tiled stairs with a hard, tiled floor at the bottom) and realising that I was about to hurt myself seriously.  I noticed that my arms were extended in front of me in an instinctive attempt to stop the fall.  I had time, it seemed, to realise that this classic reaction usually ended with broken wrists and so I lifted my hands to avoid serious damage to my arms but retain some protection for my face and head.  Unfortunately, I was turning a slow somersault as I went, which meant that my forearms hit the second or third step from the bottom at exactly the wrong angle.

My landing was hard and painful.

I picked myself up from the crumpled heap I had formed at the foot of the stairs with acute pain in my right hand and left wrist.  I flexed my fingers and, relieved to find everything worked, assumed that nothing was broken.  Remarkably, I seemed otherwise intact.  I had been very lucky.

By the time I reached my car, my hand and wrist were very sore.  In an adrenalin-induced state of confusion, I decided that the best thing to do was to drive home(!), a journey of about 14 miles, and then get my Beloved to take me to the A&E department of our local general hospital.  By the time I got home, my left wrist had swollen and become even more sore.

To cut a long story short, I came home from casualty four and a half hours later with my left wrist in a splint, my right forearm bandaged and two fingers strapped together, and with an appointment for Monday's trauma clinic.  I had broken my 5th metacarpal, right hand, and left radius styloid.

To cut an already-shortened story shorter, I ended up being off work for four weeks.  I was unable to drive, could not type, manage buttons, pick my nose or scratch inside my ears, could not push or pull doors, or put my socks on.  I was relieved to discover that the functioning two fingers and thumb of my right hand enabled me to perform essential toilet functions ...

I am now back at work, after five weeks off (the final week because of a bereavement).  My right hand still aches by the end of the day, and I do not yet have full and pain-free movement in my wrist but I'm getting there.

I have revisited the scene and I was very surprised to see how short the flight of stairs was.  It has eleven steps but, at the time, it seemed like twenty.

Gravity has tried to get my twice before (see the other 'Gravity' posts).  Third time lucky.  Still, I needed a break;  unfortunately, I got two.

15 May 2012

I Can See Clearly Now

My Dad told me the other day about his window cleaner's use of deionised water, and how clear the windows were after washing.

He thought I might be impressed but all I could do was point out the folly of it: while thousands die every day for want of uncontaminated water, we use the purest for cleaning our windows.  What a sick world we live in.

09 May 2012

On Foaming Toilet Blocks

No one likes to find skid marks in the toilet. Even worse is the discovery of something floating (or sunk), and worse still of something that was floating (or sunk) but is now thoroughly disintegrated.

Everyone likes to find a toilet devoid of any evidence of prior use and in a sanitised condition. To this end, mankind has developed a number of means to render our WC bowls acceptable in both appearance and odour.

There are various devices for hanging disinfecting blocks from the rim. There are disinfecting blocks that can be dropped into the cistern, where they slowly dissolve rendering the water in your pan after flushing a pleasing blue. Then there is, of course, the all-important bog-brush.

The humble bog-brush is the single most important artifact for preserving WC etiquette. Its usefulness in removing offensive marks from the bowl is inestimable. It is also invaluable for persuading stubbornly bouyant or excessively dense objects to venture into the zone beyond the bend from whence they can be carried away by the ensuing flush—essential to guarantee no reappearances.

Of all the inventions of man, the worst, on a par with income tax and thermonuclear war, is the foaming toilet block. Its dual purposes are, of course, to disinfect your bowl and to leave it with a pleasant appearance ready for the next visitor. It may well achieve the former of these functions better than other long-acting device. The latter however it most certainly fails abysmally and entirely to do.

After the flush, all you can see is foam. True, skid-marks, floaters and sinkers are obscured from view but this fact holds no comfort for the seasoned user, who is only too aware of what may lurk unseen beneath all those shiny bubbles. This creates a dilemma for those about to vacate the smallest room ...

One could be tempted to deploy the bog-brush just to make sure that nothing comes to light once the bubbles have burst but it is difficult to clean away what cannot be seen. And, if something more than mere evidence of transit is present, the wielder of the brush could be overcome with deep pangs of regret on withdrawing it from the suds...

The foaming toilet block is a dastardly device that should be removed from the shelves of shops throughout the universe.

What is to be done if you find yourself confronted with the dilemma of the satanic suds? To brush or not to brush? That is the question. Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged loved ones or to take up brush against a sea of bubbles and, by opposing, end them ... or make them worse.

My strategy has been to suffer the slings and arrows, and to point out the short-comings of the foaming toilet block, especially when the offence was not caused by me...

I suspect that, once the current foaming toilet block has expired, alternative sanitisation devices may appear.

22 April 2012

Six Nations 2012

Well, I never did finish off my intended series of posts on this year's Six Nations tournament.  I got rather distracted by I can't remember what and never found the time to write anything.  Anyway, I can't just move on without finding some sort of closure...

As it happens, things turned out pretty much as I expected.  I'm made up for Wales, by far the best team of the tournament and well deserving the Grand Slam.  At the other end of the table, Scotland managed to acquire the wooden spurtle without actually playing bad rugby.  Italy continue their gradual improvement, their main shortcoming being an inability to play for a full 80 minutes; perhaps someone should tell them that the game is not only an hour long.  Ireland, O Ireland: I had great hopes for you but you never quite clicked.  France were beaten by England and I need say no more about them.

And that brings me to England.  I am so pleased to see that we seem at last to be emerging from our Dark Ages.  We started to look like a team, and beating France (did I already mention that?) was the icing on the cake.

I want to say two things about Stuart Lancaster.  First, I applaud his bravery in handling the team the way he did as a stop-gap senior coach.  His efforts to restructure the team paid off beautifully.  Second, I am thrilled that he got appointed to the job officially.  I look forward to seeing the team go on from strength to strength under his leadership.

As a final note, I think England needs a new anthem for sporting events.  Much as I respect Her Majesty (and I do), we could do with something rousing about England, something that inspires teams and supporters to be their best (and I guess we could do with a GB sports anthem for events such as the Olympics, when England does not put in an appearance).  Our anthem is not quite the worst.  Flower of Scotland is dreary, and the Italian anthem doesn't know whether to be military or operatic.  Land of My Fathers is a good one.  Ireland has two anthems, both of which I like.  I'm desperately sorry to say this but The Marseillaise is the best one of the lot.  Shame it doesn't work for them...

13 February 2012

Six Nations 2012 - Round 2

So, Charlie Hodgson does it again!  Apparently, they practice charge-downs a lot at his club, so maybe his tries have been more than the opportunism I rated them as.  The Italy v England game was far from the usual whitewash we have come to expect.  Italy has grown in stature year upon year, and I thought their showing very good this weekend.  The alternative view is that England were poor and made Italy look good but, no, I want to recognise that England under Stuart Lancaster is a still-developing side and give the Azzuri credit for a good performance.  If they hadn't substituted their kicker they could well have won, the replacement having squandered six points in risable manner.

I reserve final judgement on the new England squad as, so far, they have played only the teams who usually occupy the bottom two positions of the Six Nations table.  Neither win was unexpected but neither performance was particulary impressive.

As for France v Ireland, I can only say that cancelling the game 10 minutes before the start was what you might call a faux pas.  They had had all week to make the decision.  Clearly, the safety of the players must be paramount so the decision was right—just too late.  I feel sorry for the Irish, who are likely to receive much poorer support when the game is eventually played.  Their fans have already made their journey, had their weekend in Paris, and spent all their money. 

I was hoping to have a better understanding of how good the French side is, how many gears they have to go.  I would like to have seen Ireland demonstrate just how good they can be.  It would have been a belter of a game.  Hopefully, it still will be. 

The French seem to have developed a taste for cancellation.  In Wales v Scotland, the French referee disallowed a perfectly good Scottish try!  For the second week running, Wales have given us a spectacle.  In fact, both sides played some excellent rugby.  It was great to see a flowing game.  I love Wales's open style; maybe having a Kiwi for coach contributes to that ...  Scotland's discipline let them down, of course, rather as England's used to when Scotland's coach worked south of the border ...

Were I a gambling man, my money would still be on Wales to win, with the Grand Slam still distinctly possible.  It all depends on the French ...

10 February 2012

Six Nations 2012 - Round 1

This year's Six Nations competition is under way, and the first weekend has given us something to reflect on in the wake of the recent World Cup.

The France v Italy game reached its expected conclusion with France winning comfortably (although by fewer than the 20 points the bookies had suggested...).  The game began well for Italy, and France did not exactly shine even though they edged ahead.  Italy, a much-improved side in comparison with years gone by, may well have been looking to repeat their defeat of France in last year's competition.  To do that, they needed to show up with more stamina.  I give them credit for their determination but they ran out of steam in the second half, allowing France to pile on the points. 

France are, of course, the most frustratingly inconsistent side on the planet.  Their World Cup progress was awful, including defeat in the group stages.  Somehow they muddled through to the final and gave the All Blacks a shock by turning up to play.  Maybe they were holding back against Italy.  Maybe they were just being France.

The Calcutta Cup match presented Scotland with as good an opportunity as they have ever had of beating England.  England's performances have been disappointing, to say the least, and the side being fielded on the day was somewhat inexperienced.  I think Lancaster (the new England coach) did exactly the right thing; the Johnson formula was clearly not working, and a new approach was needed.  Martin Johnson was, let's not forget, a formidable captain but even outstanding ability in that department is no guarantee of coaching prowess.

I was surprised to see Charlie Hodgson back in the side, his international career having been somewhat patchy.  He did not have a bad game and did score the only try, albeit an opportunistic one.

To me, the game was lost by Scotland rather than won by England.  England showed much-improved discipline and strong defence.  Still lacking, or at least not yet displayed, is the creative flair that opens up the opposition and scores tries.  This is a new England side, and it was not bad for a first outing.  When they have played together a few times, we may see some exciting attacking play.

Wales v Ireland was a corker of a game.  These two teams, and there was little to separate them, put up a fantastic show, much more exciting than many a World Cup match, with the lead changing at various times throughout the game.  It looked like curtains for Wales when they were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes and leaked the expected try.  However, they did well to score their own try before that period was over.  The game was lost on an Irish error that resulted in a sin-binning and a penalty kick directly in front of goal.  Hard luck, Ireland, nice one Wales, and thanks to both teams for such a superb spectacle.  I look forward to your subsequent games with relish.

So, who will win the competition?  On last weekend's showings, it has to be Wales or Ireland.  Wales, of course, could win in style with a Grand Slam. Unless the England side changes up a gear, the only team that could stop them doing that is France on a Good Day but not the plain old France of last weekend ...

As for the Wooden Spoon, well perhaps it should be a Wooden Spaghetti Hook!

26 January 2012

Bero Cookbook For Ever!

We are having friends round for a late Burn's Night supper on Saturday, with traditional Scottish food (Haggis, neeps and tatties being the main course), even though none of us is actually Scottish.  I suspect my Beloved has the nearest claim to Scots blood, her father having cousins of that persuasion.

My contribution to the evening lies in the baking department, an aspect of cookery with which I have long been acquainted and, though I say it myself, with appreciable success.  I have my mother, who introduced me in the art of building rock cakes when I was a very tender age, to thank for that.

My dear old mum also introduced me to the Bero Cookbook.  This item has been my main reference for all things farinaceous, having accompanied me to university where I made many a boiled fruitcake or pastry-based pudding to stave off the hunger pangs of a beleaguered student (i.e., me) and his friends.  A large wedge of boiled fruitcake was a frequent breakfast, consumed en route to a nine o'clock physics lecture after crawling from my bed at about 8:40 am.  It was certainly enough to get me through to coffee and a Mars Bar at 10:08 am, and provided sufficient nutrition to enable me to take intelligible notes in the intervening lecture.

A lecture, it is said, is a means of transferring information from the notebook of the lecturer to the notebook of the student without passing through the mind of either.  Perhaps I can attribute the good degree I obtained only to the mental stimulus derived from the nutritional value of the Bero boiled fruitcake...

Today, I made for the very first time some shortcake biscuits.  The Bero book contains instructions for petticoat tails and shortcake fingers.  Although the mixture is the same, I had to do a bit of experimentation to get the cooking time right for biscuits.  I am pleased to report an extremely successful outcome.  If you are one of our invited guests, you will be relieved to hear, no doubt, that there is at least something edible in the offing (fret not, I jest; my Beloved has, to date, singularly failed to poison me beyond all hope of recovery).

Modesty however, and the hope of living to a ripe old age, forbids my claiming to have provided the high point of gastronomic pleasure in the forthcoming event ...

15 January 2012

Warning! Singing can Damage your Health!

You would not believe that singing in a church choir could be a danger to life and limb, especially when the choir is made up of genteel folk among whom I am, at the age of 57, almost the youngest.  However, last Thursday evening saw me in grave danger of injury by virtue of my membership...

I was running late and so left home in a bit of a hurry and forgetting to take a torch with me.  Where I live, such a device is almost a necessity at this time of year.  The path from home, along the course of a disused railway, is unlit and, on this particular moonless night, was absolutely pitch black.  I realised my lack almost immediately I left the house but, being already late, I decided to press on unilluminated, trusting in my sense of direction and familiarity with the path.  I took a shortcut to the church that leads away from the track, up some makeshift steps, round the back of some houses and into the village.

Choir practice went well and, afterwards, I started happily on my way home oblivious to the danger that lay ahead of me.  By now it was, if anything, darker as any cloud cover had dispersed, robbing me of reflected street lighting and leaving me only with starlight once I had left the village.  The darkness was made the more profound by the high hedges on either side of the shortcut.  I picked my way along the uneven surface guided only by the light from my mobile phone.  I reached the steps and could just about make out the wooden boards that demarked their front edges.  I thought it would be good if someone painted them white so as to make them more visible for the wary pedestrian.

Approaching the point on the steps where they turn abruptly to the left, I placed my phone in my pocket.  I may have been distracted by the stars, I may have been disorientated by the darkness.  Whatever the reason, I failed to turn left with the steps and was suddenly walking on air.  Not being in a cartoon, I found myself once more in the unrelenting grip of gravity (see this post for my previous encounter with this evil force) and plummeting down a bank about as steep as this backslash \ from a height of about four feet above what was potentially a doggy toilet below.

My right foot made contact with the bank but, because of its precipitous nature, I gained no purchase and was unable to arrest my descent.  My left foot struggled similarly, serving to reduce my acceleration only a little from 9.8 metres per second per second.  My right foot made a second contact near the bottom of the slope where it had begun to level out and my knee buckled beneath me, unable to cope with the impact combined with the uncertain direction of travel.  By this point my body had acquired some angular momentum and, as a consquence, my head had begun its attempt to exchange its position with that of my feet.  As I pitched forward, I threw my precious new music book away, leaving my hands free to make some attempt at saving face—literally.

I rolled and ended on my back, thankfully short of the metalled track, and apparently unsullied by anything erstwhile canine.  I seemed to be in one piece and unharmed.  My book was predominantly white so I had little trouble finding it.  I headed off along the track, annoyed with myself for not bringing a torch and for getting mud on my new book.  At home I checked for damage to my clothing and was relieved to find only mud on my kagoule and jeans.

The only physical effect turned out to be a little stiffness down my right side the next day.  For that, I am thankful.

Of course, it's my own fault really.  None of this would have happened if I had not joined the choir!