Monday, 24 January 2011

I’m Back!

Well, as impromptu holidays go, that was very awesome. The OH can certainly manage to pull off some amazing stunts, including doing my packing, which came as quite a surprise to both of us.  Especially since now  he is likely to end up doing it every time we go away.  But the holiday wasn’t in the village, so I won’t bore you with details, except to say that there was Sunshine!
So, back we are in our rainy/cold/dreary village and naturally the first thing I need to do is catch up on the gossip.  Easier said than done.  A quick walk around the village revealed that most people seem to pick Monday afternoon to do their shopping (memo to self: never go supermarket shopping on a Monday afternoon).  However, I did notice that the estate agents around here have been busy.  There are two more ‘For Sale’ signs up on houses on the main road through the village, and, more interestingly, a ‘Sold’ sign on  rambling/crumbling Reed House, which has been up for sale ever since its former owner died about two years ago.  Given the current precarious state of the country’s economy, I can only assume that an offer was made and accepted that bore no relation to the original asking price.   It was a lovely looking house on the outside, but I gather that it hasn’t been redecorated since 1962, there’s only one bathroom and the garden looks as though someone had applied for a licence as a nettle-farmer.  Which would have been ironic, since it used to be a farmhouse until the land was all sold off and became the modern housing estate that makes up most of the village now.  I had half-expected to see it featured on ‘Homes Under the Hammer’ or similar, assuming anyone wanted to take on such a project.  Even getting a skip up the track that masquerades as ‘Field Lane’ will be a challenge.  Still, it’s back to the laundry and watch this space!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Preventative Measures

I’m staying in all day today.  There’s rain forecast, with snow later, but it’s nothing to do with the weather.  Well, not directly.
I may not have mentioned it previously, but we have rather an old house.  Bits of it, we believe, date back to the 1640s, though we have no proof as there was a fire at the church records office in the 1830s that destroyed the deeds.  Consequently, we have open fires and chimneys.  When it’s cold, there’s nothing quite so wonderful as sitting in front of the open fire and watching the flames.  Entire days can drift past unnoticed.  It doesn’t have to be a solitary pastime, even Verity has nearly missed a lunch or two after coming round for coffee and losing track of time as we allowed our minds to be absorbed by the destructive yet beautiful power of the flames.  Amazing what a chemical reaction can do!
Anyway, when the OH first tried to light a fire back in November, there was a lot of smoke that drifted into the house rather than up the chimney before he finally got it going, and I made a mental note to call the chimney sweep.  I do realise that the two events – the first fire of the winter, and having the chimney swept – should have been done the other way around, but that’s life.  After a second fire later in the week had left us both choking quietly, I actually got around to it and made an appointment.  Sadly, it was nearly ten days later, but at that time of year, I wasn’t surprised.  It seems I’m not the only person who doesn’t sensibly get her chimneys swept in September.
The sweep quickly discovered the cause of the smoky living room.  A rook or something similar had nested in the chimney earlier in the year and the nest was clogging the airway. As he pulled the armfuls of twigs out of the chimney, a brick was also dislodged.  Peering into the upper reaches of the chimney revealed sufficient damage to the brick work and potentially the beams that keep the upstairs separate from the downstairs of the house that the sweep recommended we line the chimney.  It was either that or risk setting fire to the beams and consequently the entire house next time we felt a bit chilly.
“Give your insurance company a ring.  They might cover the cost of it,” he cheerily suggested.  It had to be cheerily.  Isn’t it compulsory to be a cheery sweep ever since Mary Poppins and Chim-chim-cheree, which we always mispronounced as Chim-chim-cheery?
Well, it probably gave the bored call-centre staff a laugh.  Would you like to pay a relatively small sum of money for us to have our chimney lined so that later you might not have to pay to rebuild the entire house and for the contents to be replaced?  What would you say? 
The next phone call was to the bank.
Still, unable to sit in the living room with a cup of tea and a good book, the consolation is that I’ve been watching the traffic outside rather more than usual.  The house on the other side of Delyth’s is a hive of activity, with removal vans, estate agents, painters and decorators and more. The retired couple who live there were one of the £1 million winners in the Euromillions draw recently and they’ve decided to retire permanently to their villa in southern Italy.  They only moved here recently and spent nearly half the year in Italy anyway, so they won’t be a huge loss to the social life of the village.  More interesting, once they’ve finished moving all their stuff out and giving it to the British Heart Foundation, is who is going to move in.  There’s nothing like a new resident in a village to add to the amount of chat in the line at the post office.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Fiction – inspired by life

A lot of people have been talking about someone in Ambridge called Nigel.  I don’t know the details, but the general gist is that he fell from a roof while doing something to a banner.  Sorry if you were hoping for more detail than that, but I don’t follow the details of life in Ambridge. will provide links to the synopses and the possibility of listening again if you’re quick and can access BBC iPlayer.
Anyway, the point is this.  When we first moved into this village some few years ago, shortly before Christmas we became very familiar with the name of Mr Salapello, known locally as Sal.  We still don’t know him, me because I’m not a naturally party-going person and the OH because Sal and his family don’t tend to visit the pubs or join in the amateur dramatic goings-on.  But we certainly know his name, because he ended up in the paper.  This was when the local paper was still delivered free, along with an enormous property section, all of which was very useful for lighting the fire.  (The local paper costs now and doesn’t have so many pictures of houses for sale, presumably because of the housing market’s decline, but that’s a whole other story.) And there on the front page was a photo of Sal and his house.  He wasn’t standing proudly in front of it, despite the fact that it is a very lovely house.  No, he was wedged in the tiles that had given way as he lurched to retrieve a ladder that had slipped while he was putting up his Christmas lights.  You couldn’t see him terribly well, partly because of the impressionistic nature of newspaper photos then, but also because only his top half was visible.  How kind of someone to take a photo  before rescuing him....
In the same vein but a long, long way from my little village, someone in the US had to take down their Christmas decoration that was designed to look like someone clinging to the guttering while a ladder lay at a haphazard angle beneath them.  Too many people had phoned the fire department.   He may have complained at having to remove his decoration, but how much worse it would have been if no-one had phoned to rescue his synthetic struggler.  But just taken a picture for the local paper.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

New Year, New Leaf – or not

                You already know my New Year’s Resolution – well, one of them – which is to keep my blog more up-to-date.  I know there are advice columns out there for bloggers, most notably which was the one I found when googling for advice about blogging, and one of the key things that Anne recommends in her column is not blogging too often.  But then I wondered if she’s really addressing the sort of blog that I’m doing.  I mean, it’s almost a very biased local newsletter, in which case I should be blogging whenever there’s news to report. (Not that I’m biased, of course, but obviously even I only ever know one side of the story, until someone complains and tells me the other side.)
                Anyway, the upshot of this is that I have decided not to be limited to one blog entry a week.  My apologies if that means that some of you end up with too much to read.  Most of what I write is only going to be of interest to people in the village, and I know for certain that some of them have too much time on their hands, so using some of it up by reading my blog will a) help use up some of that excess time, and b) possibly put a smile on their faces.
                Celeste has also pointed out that I don’t seem to have mentioned my biscuits for a while.  She is correct in this, but in part this is because I haven’t made as many since Edith told me not to give her any for a while.  However, I did make some for Celeste to take back – she headed back to Uni on Thursday, courtesy of a lift from the OH so that she could celebrate New Year’s Eve with her uni friends – and used one of my oldest recipes, from a cookbook I was apparently given in 1978 that probably came free with a dozen pints of milk, since it’s the Dairy Cookbook and every recipe contains either milk, cheese, butter, cream or yoghurt.  Or all of the above. 
Anyway, in case the 60 biscuits that I made for Celeste (by doubling the recipe) don’t last, here’s what you need for Cinnamon Biscuits: 8 oz self-raising flour, pinch of salt, 5 oz butter, 4 oz caster sugar, beaten egg, 1.5 level teaspoons cinnamon.  Sift flour, cinnamon and salt together. Rub in butter (though I always use marge) finely. Add sugar. Mix to stiff dough with beaten egg.  Knead on lightly board.  In theory, you can put the mix in the fridge for 30 minutes, but I never bother. Roll it out fairly thinly. Use a fluted 2 inch biscuit cutter to cut 30 biscuits. Prick well (oh Ainsley, where are you when needed?) and place on buttered baking tray. Bake at 180C for 12-15 minutes until pale gold. Leave on tray for 2-3 minutes, transfer to wire cooling rack and then store in airtight container when cold.  I was going to take a photo of them beautifully arranged in the Tupperware box, but Celeste had already hijacked them.  They’re so easy to make, though, I should think even a novice could do them justice.  Rephrase that – a novice did do them justice, back in 1978.
So, New Year in the village.  In previous years, Verity has held a party from which we were all unceremoniously thrown out at around 12.15 am, but last year she was away and someone suggested that we all go and see in the New Year at one of the local pubs, which for the sake of anonymity I shall call The White Lion.  There was a half-hearted attempt by some of the group last year – well, 2009/2010  – at fancy dress, but it was generally regarded as Quite Successful.  Consequently, this year, as in 2010/2011, we agreed to go there again, but without the attempt at fancy dress.  I went down for a while, and encountered much merriment and a fair quantity of alcohol, but since everyone was walking home afterwards, that didn’t matter much.  I joined the smokers hovering outside the door at 12.05 for the fireworks that our local Lord of the Manor had organised.  The bangs and oohs were accompanied by some howling from a couple of nearby dogs, but fortunately it was over quite soon.
I was feeling quite tired by then and walked home, but the OH, after escorting me back (not that I needed it, he just likes to feel gallant) returned to the pub.  There had clearly been other parties going on elsewhere because I could hear people wandering down the middle of the road for some time after I’d gone to bed, and George phoned to wish me Happy New Year and left a message, since I was in the bathroom, from what sounded like the middle of Party Central in Dundee.  At least, I think it was George.  It was loud and there were Scottish accents in the background, and when he hobbled towards the train station on Tuesday, he had said he was going back to Scotland. 
As soon as I finish writing this entry, I have a somewhat embarrassing job to do. (Don’t worry, nothing to do with toilets.)  In the process of tidying up once the children had both left, I found a stack of Christmas cards that I wrote, long before Christmas, stamped and then put to one side because of the snow.  So I’m going to post them.  They’ll not even have the right month and year on the postmark, but I wrote them before Christmas, so the thought was there.  And I can’t waste all those stamps!  Apologies if you’re one of the future recipients.  I really was thinking of you before Christmas....