Sunday, 21 May 2017

We're going where the sun shines rarely

I always rather enjoyed 'The Great British Bake Off', even in preference to Masterchef which has an unfortunate tendency to disappear up its own arse from time to time. 'Bake-off' at least has its feet rooted a bit more firmly on the ground, but there was always the odd ingredient that cropped up regularly, such as star anise and lavender, which I've never used and made me curious to investigate further.
Now I've always thought of lavender as one of those things which is for some reason very popular with old ladies, but certainly not on my list of things I enjoy the smell of.
Fresh baked bread, vanilla, burnt two-stroke oil, all fine - but not lavender.
The other day however, while we were visiting Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk, we stopped off in the cafe for a cup of tea. Amongst the usual assortment of baked goods which these places kindly offer to help you get fat, was a lemon and lavender cake, so I decided to indulge in a slice - purely in the interests of research of course.
Both the light delicate sponge and the butter cream topping were populated with tiny lavender flowers, giving a subtle flavour that was absolute bliss. I'm sure it would be very easy to overdo it with the lavender, but the balance was just right.
So that's it, I'm converted. There's loads of lavender in the front garden but it hasn't flowered yet, so when it does I shall start experimenting with it. I'll just have to careful to not end up smelling like an old lady's cardigan.

Stately homes and their expansive grounds are usually great places to have a good walk without the intrusion of traffic noise, while providing ample opportunities for a spot of photography.
We've just spent a few days in Norfolk having a short break from normality, spending time relaxing and visiting the odd National Trust property including Felbrigg Hall and Blickling Hall.
It's nice to go away occasionally, even if it's nothing grand, but the wife and I are still not convinced after all these years that we're the kind of people who really enjoy holidays.
We like the idea of it, but the reality is that by the third day we've had enough and are ready to come home.
The place we were staying this time was only 70 miles from home - the sort of thing you could do as a day trip if you were so inclined - so it was only through stubborn determination that we saw it through to the end, especially as the weather left a great deal to be desired.
It strikes me that the best thing about any sort of holiday is being reminded of just how comfortable your own bed is.
With the exception of one cottage in Hawes that we stayed in several years ago, which had just been done up to a very high standard, the one predictable thing about any holiday is a hard uncomfortable bed. At a bed & breakfast we once stayed in, I ended up sleeping on the floor because it was more comfortable than the bed.
Now I know people bang on about loving a good hard mattress and it being good for your back, but I think they're talking bollocks. When it comes to beds, there's nothing worse than having pressure points on your hips and shoulders because the mattress doesn't have enough give to provide even support along your body.
My bed has a thick mattress of medium firmness, pocket sprung with a memory foam layer on top and it's the most comfortable place in the world as far as I'm concerned.
Holiday homes all seem to source their mattresses from the same supplier - presumably a long-established company whose business has its origins in the middle ages when they specialised in torture devices. Obviously, as the years progressed and torture gradually became less and less fashionable they had to move with the times, but they've never allowed themselves to forget their roots.

Beds aside, it's still good to have a change of scenery for a few days, and even if you come to feel that the sole purpose of a holiday is to make you appreciate your own home, the experience is rarely wasted.
We had a few days without the incessant background noises associated with a 19 year-old who enjoys rap music and swearing profusely at the Playstation, and he had a few days without being constantly nagged to "turn that bloody noise down", "give your liver a rest", and "stop fucking swearing".

Blickling Hall - luckily it wasn't raining that day.

At one with nature.

Fishing boats on Cromer beach.

 Proper engineering.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The big 'C'

On reflection, yesterday's post makes me sound like a whiny bitch, so I guess I should have a go at something else.
Even though it's far from being an uplifting subject, I want to ponder the 'C' word.
No, not the one reserved for Audi drivers, nor the one that happens on the 25th of December, but the really big one. Cancer.
I've been working up to this for a while, but haven't been able to formulate a plan for how to tackle it.
So I'll just dive in and see how it goes, because it's something quite personal and it might make me feel more clear-headed about it to write it down.

Ten and a half years ago I lost my mum to pancreatic cancer, aged 70. They caught it too late to do anything, but as pancreatic is one of the most determined killers it wouldn't have made any difference.
I had a good relationship with mum, and to suddenly be left without her was absolutely devastating for me.
Looking back, I don't think I've ever really come to terms with it. At the time I coped with it by burying my head in the sand, trying to get on as if nothing had changed - in my mind there was nothing I could do to change what had happened.
The day after she died I just went to work as normal; just taking off the day of her funeral where I cried about it for the first time.
Even to this day, if I happen to see a little grey-haired old lady wearing a red jacket I still do a double-take, thinking for a brief moment that it's her, only to come crashing down when the reality bites back that she's long gone.
I've been told that I never really grieved for her passing, but to this day I still don't know what that really means. Is grieving some sort of ritual that needs to be observed in order for the pain to go away? I can't see it.

Soon I'll have the opportunity to have another go at dealing with it because my dad has terminal lung cancer and has been told by the doctor to make sure his affairs are in order.
He has been a smoker all his life, so this is not exactly unexpected.
He had it a couple of years ago and underwent a course of radiotherapy to try and get rid of it.
This was the first time I'd ever seen my dad show fear and vulnerability. He stopped smoking immediately - even being a stubborn grumpy bugger took a back seat for once.
After about a year of fighting he was finally given the all-clear. The cancer had gone.
So what was the first thing he did to celebrate? He started smoking again.
No surprise then that the cancer came back pretty quickly, but this time there's no way out.
The location is too difficult to operate on, and being 82 and in poor health he probably wouldn't survive surgery. He can't have further radiotherapy because he's already had a lifetime's dose of radiation, and the effects of chemo would finish him off anyway. So that's it - just a matter of time.

My relationship with my dad has always been different from what I had with mum.
The only time I've seen him openly show any real emotion was when I took him to visit mum in hospital right near the end, when tears rolled down his face as he reached out and held my hand.
Within the family he's often been likened to Victor Meldrew (if you're not from the UK, he's a character in a TV sitcom called 'One Foot In The Grave') and I have no memory of him ever even hugging me as a child. Or any time for that matter.
He's never felt particularly warm, and whenever I've been round to visit he's made it clear after about half an hour that he's ready for me to leave.
Since the last diagnosis however, the reality of the situation seems to have hit home.
Suddenly he's more communicative, as if he realises there's now limited time to say what needs to be said. He talks about things in a way I've never heard from him before, and I can't help but think he knows how he's been in the past and is trying to make up for it before it's too late.
He's never been a big chap, but now he's practically a walking skeleton and it's hard to predict whether he'll be finished off by the cancer or malnutrition because other issues mean he's hardly eating.

For a long time I've been of the opinion that when dad dies it won't hit me as hard as when mum went, because I've never felt that close to him. He's always been that old-school, brusque, stiff-upper-lip type that just won't let anyone in or express himself in a way that lays him open to showing vulnerability or affection.
With his recent change in attitude, for the first time in my life I'm seeing another side to him; perhaps the real person that he's spent all his years repressing.
It saddens me that at 45 years old, it's only as he's at death's door that I'm beginning to get to know my father.
He's always been there physically, but the only real connection has been blood. Since mum died I've only been to visit him out of a sense of duty rather than a desire to spend time with him.
Why has it taken imminent death to bring him to life?
If nothing else, it makes me glad that the relationship I have with my own son is nothing like the one my father made with me. I'd hate to get to the end and have regrets about it.


Monday, 1 May 2017

Undeserving and unworthy

For most people in our modern world where consumption is king, the acquisition of that shiny new thingy you've been hankering after is a time of joy, but for some reason I never get that warm glow of satisfaction.
Instead, I feel a strange combination of numbness and guilt.
The 'happy happy joy joy' feeling is diminished by an overwhelming sense that I don't deserve this thing; that it's an unnecessary waste of money that would have been better spent on more important things, and that the guilt I carry in the back of my mind over things in the past make me unworthy of enjoying the fruits of my labours.
When I finally managed to get the car I'd wanted for several years, I couldn't stop thinking I should have just bought another five hundred pound shitter instead.
When I had a small windfall recently, I had to be practically ordered to the jewellers to buy the gorgeous Rado watch I'd been dribbling over for ages, and it still took a fair while to come to terms with what I'd done once it was sitting on my wrist.

It's much the same with any sort of praise. If I achieve something at work that is of importance and the boss is grateful enough to make a point of saying so, I just shrug my shoulders uncomfortably and mumble something about "that's what I'm here for".
What is it that makes me this way?
I sometimes think a psychiatrist would have a field day if they spent an hour or two delving into what makes me tick, and would probably end up having me carted off in a jacket with many straps and buckles by two burly men for an extended stay in a room that resembles the inside of a bouncy castle.
I know I have an active analytical mind that relishes practical problem-solving challenges, and I usually have the capability to manufacture the solution with my own hands. This is the aspect of my job that I love the most and I'm good at it.
So why do I go all dismissive and humble when another person acknowledges it?
Mental.

Over the years I've come to realise that happiness cannot be found in material possessions, and I now readily accept that. But although I accept my life will not be better or more fulfilling if it happens to contain a nice new SLR camera, I don't understand why my brain tries to convince me things will actually be worse because it's unnecessary and who the hell do I think I am anyway?
I try to be a good person, and I know I find the greatest sense of satisfaction comes from helping other people, but just for once it would be quite a novelty to get home from a shopping trip that wasn't for groceries or home essentials, and not feel a level of guilt as if I'd stolen the stuff rather than paid for it outright.

I've long had issues with over-analysing life, and right now this is probably one of those times.
Maybe that's why I like to drink - because it switches off that bit of my brain which dedicates its runtime to making me feel bad about myself.
Unfortunately, since my last post about three weeks ago not a drop of alcohol has passed my lips in case I get a call asking me to take the nephew's wife to hospital to have her baby.
Due to these circumstances I've been able to stop drinking completely cold turkey which really hasn't been a problem, and suggests I've been nowhere near having any sort of drinking 'problem'.
However, I'll be very glad when the sprog has arrived and I can go back to keeping my internal character assassin sedated with vodka.




Saturday, 8 April 2017

Lead us not into temptation....

Recently I've been able to reduce my alcohol intake, but although it's a subject that arises from time to time, this hasn't been a conscious decision.
In fact, it is only since the wine rack has been empty and I haven't been bothered to refill it that things have started to change.
The key appears to be whether or not the bottles are in plain sight. The more I see it sitting there, the more I want to indulge.

Now before I paint myself as some sort of alcoholic, I should point out that I'm a long way from having that sort of obsessive relationship with alcohol, but an honest assessment of what I do drink suggests my consumption may have been a little higher than the government's recommended allowance.
Mind you, government recommendations could perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt, along with not eating eggs, buying diesel cars because they're more environmentally friendly.... ah, on second thoughts we'll start getting rid of them because they're actually killing us, and making sure you get your five servings of fruit and veg every day.... no wait, maybe it's eight..... no let's make it ten, that's a nice round number.

The more visible the drink is, the more I want it - which can be backed up by the fact that there is a bottle of Captain Morgan's spiced rum and a bottle of Russian Standard vodka in the kitchen cupboard, and it's only because they're tucked out of plain sight that they're still there.
There's half of the rum left and the vodka is still unopened, which is actually rather impressive.
For me the key to alcohol consumption is clearly the moderation of temptation.
However, it's not just booze that this theory is applicable to, but anything that may be a personal weakness.
For example, I love Quality Street as much as the next person, and if we had a tin in the cupboard I'd be quite capable of taking three or four, putting the lid back on and walking away.
However, if the tin was just sitting on the table I'd take a couple every time I walked past and end up fat and diabetic.

The alcohol situation is always being reviewed, but in a week or two I shall be switching to total abstinence mode. My nephew's wife is heavily pregnant and fast approaching her due date, and I'm on the list of people she can call when she needs to get to the hospital (her husband doesn't drive), so it makes sense if I simply don't drink.
I guess that means I'm going to be getting through more tea than usual for a while, because alcohol-free beer is crap.



Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Yin is missing its yang

This morning, for the first time in quite a while, I'm actually feeling pretty good.
I slept well, my body doesn't ache too much, and the recent nasty cold seems to have done its worst and is beating a hasty retreat.
I've made it in to work with very little traffic, and I'm sitting here with a breakfast of coffee and some left-over Chinese takeaway from last night that I've zapped in the microwave.
Outside the sun is shining, and inside there's nobody else around to disturb me because I always get in about an hour before I'm due to start.

You're thinking this all sounds like trivial nonsense, and have no idea why should you be even slightly interested, but I'm actually making a point.
How often do we appreciate when things are going right?
We're very good at complaining when things go wrong and fretting over bad stuff that we have no control over, but proportionately there are few occasions when we take the time to be thankful for all the good stuff.

We spend our lives with a decidedly negative outlook on life (unless you're a gameshow host or have a fetish for licking windows) which is hardly surprising, considering what we're bombarded with every day.
For example, let's have a look at what's on the BBC news website this morning: 'Children die in Syria gas attack', 'North Korea fires missile', 'Thousands on 50p-a-week housing benefit', and apparently antibiotics could be linked to bowel cancer. Well doesn't that fill you with the joys of spring?
The TV news is no better. The headlines are a parade of attacks on the innocent, death, destruction, dishonesty, cruelty and general scaremongering. Years ago they used to do a brief article right at the end about something uplifting, like a panda who'd overcome erectile dysfunction, but even that seems to have been pushed out to make a bit more room for the weather girl who smiles happily while telling us it's going to rain again.
And although newspaper readership is on a steady decline, do they make an effort to inject a little sunshine into our lives? Well, if you're into football or celebrity culture you might find something of interest, but The Daily Mail still enjoys telling us every day that we're doomed because breathing gives you cancer, or wearing socks makes you go blind, The Times is full of political and financial waffle that is only understood by the sort of person you wouldn't want to meet at a party, and The Sun has stopped doing the topless totty on page 3.
So aside from the occasional film review and Garfield, what are the papers for if not to depress us?

We need some sort of balance to be restored, and although it's possible, the sad part is that you have to go hunting for it because the default resources for what's going on in the world all lean towards the negative side.
However, if you look at websites like http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/ or https://www.positive.news/ you'll find it's not all doom and gloom.
Indeed if the big news networks were to shift some of their focus onto stories such as those found on sites like these, the world wouldn't feel like such a bad place.

The question that arises from this is: Is the world really becoming a worse place to be or is it just the way it's portrayed by the media?
Yes, bad shit happens and it's important to be aware of the major events, but we don't need them rammed down our throats 24/7.
On the other hand, I believe the majority of people are fundamentally good, so why should the small minority who want to be arseholes get all the attention?

The old saying of "No news is good news" may have an element of truth to it, but because that has become the way we generally think, we tend to forget that good things happen in the world that are just as newsworthy as all the awful events that we're told about at great length.
In the same way, if we focus on the positive aspects of our daily lives rather than grumbling about the things that go wrong, maybe it's possible to retrain our brains to have a more positive outlook.
If we can take time to acknowledge the good things, however trivial, we could become happier.
And not watching the news might help too....


Saturday, 25 March 2017

Game of life

We've all played board games at some point in our life, and chances are we've even played some sort of sport. It might not have been since school when, if you're anything like me, you were one of the last to be picked for a team, but even if your only experience of sport was the humiliation of finding yourself face down in the mud on the rugby field, you understand that games and sports have rules.
Everyone generally plays by these rules and the game runs smoothly, at least until you land on Mayfair with a hotel for the sixth time in a row, at which point some kind of hissy fit results in all the cards, playing pieces and houses being scattered over a wide area.

But what happens when someone decides not to play by the rules? Imagine if Tiger Woods hit his ball onto the 18th green then decided to pick it up, dunk it in the hole and run around like a loony yelling "Touchdown!".
What if someone decided to sell all their property on the Monopoly board and bankrupt themselves by donating the proceeds to charity?
Well, if you're French there would be riots and the ports would be blockaded, if you're Spanish you might throw a donkey off a tall tower for no reason, and if you're British you'll probably tut and sigh.

It strikes me that life is much the same.
Most people just play by the rules that society has laid down, wanting to fit in with what everyone else is doing no matter how silly or pointless, and any attempt to go against the flow is met with anything from mild confusion to open hostility.
I remember the year we took the boy out of the state school system to home educate him. Anyone that heard what we'd done was full of negativity, but if anything he learned more in that time than he would have done at school. He only went back to school because of the frustration of all the hoops you have to jump through because you choose to do something different.

As anyone who knows me will be aware, I don't do Christmas. It doesn't affect anyone else, but the shock on people's faces when they're told this is always a picture. It's as though they simply can't comprehend how or why anyone would not celebrate Christmas. Funnily enough, many people go on to say that they wish they didn't get involved with it all either, but there's always some excuse that amounts to "everyone else does it".
This is the problem. We're expected to go through the motions regardless of how we genuinely feel about something.
Work hard at school, get good grades, get a good job, meet someone special, get married, buy as big a house as possible, have 2.4 children and an armoured personnel carrier to transport them around in, brag to other parents about how amazing your kids are, go to the gym, have holidays in Barbados, and if anyone asks if you fancy meeting up you have to drag out your phone and start prodding it intently while making a big noise about how busy you are.

Bollocks. I'm not playing that game, and hope I never do. I'm not that person and if I thought I was I'd be ashamed of myself, because I don't want to play that game or live by those rules.
I go to work to earn money to keep a roof over our heads, food on the table, and clothes on our backs.
I have a car to enable me to get to work, and a few things to make my home life comfortable.
The house is reasonably clean and tidy, but a show home it most definitely is not.
When it's my birthday I'd rather ignore it, when someone moves into a new house I have no interest in going round to be given 'the tour', I'm hardly ever busy and have trouble finding things to do to fill the time when I'm not working, eating or sleeping, and I'm not remotely interested in anyone's new baby - to me it's just another noisy, demanding shit machine until it's old enough to communicate and do something more interesting than projectile vomiting.
My life is what those that play by the rules would consider dull and boring, and sometimes I beat myself up about that, wishing things could be more exciting, wondering how it would be if I was caught up in a whirlwind of social interaction, parties, foreign holidays, fitted kitchens and one-upmanship.

Slowly but surely I'm becoming increasingly comfortable and accepting of my life, reasoning that if I was that desperate for it to be different I'd do something to change things. But I don't, so I guess that means I'm actually content with things the way they are.
I listen to music, I enjoy photography, and I love cooking.
I'm happiest when I'm in the countryside away from the bustle of the world, whereas cities fill me with frustration, anger, and a desperate urge to run and hide. I don't go to big concerts or events either, because I can't face the crowds, and this fear is the same reason I've never had anything to do with airports.
I'd rather spend the evening on the sofa with a big glass of red wine and a packet of Jaffa Cakes, watching a couple of episodes of Game Of Thrones, then going to bed somewhere around 10:30 and reading a chapter or two before dropping off.

I play the game by some of the rules because it's the only way to make life work, but all of the peripheral bullshit can go hang. Especially that ridiculous way of greeting someone by sort of kissing but not kissing, because I have absolutely no idea what the etiquette is.
The rules of the game are too complicated to be bothered with, so mostly I just go with what feels right for me.
I suspect I'm not alone, but those who do play the game by the rules have a habit of shouting so loud about it that the rest of us can't be heard.


Sunday, 19 March 2017

.... as a newt

In the wee small hours of Saturday morning, the boy stumbled in very much the worse for wear. Again.
Having spent the evening in the company of his young lady friend, doing the standard "ooh, that drink made me feel good, let's have another" thing, he fell into bed about 1am.
Within a couple of minutes, he embarked upon the first of many trips to the bathroom to drive the porcelain truck. So much for a good night's sleep.

It must have been a session of biblical proportions, because he spent the whole of Saturday in bed with nothing but the odd glass of water for sustenance.
We left him to it and took a trip out to the big Garden centre in Cambridge in search of an appropriate gargoyle (don't ask), and I took the opportunity to give the wife's Smart car a long run as it's usually confined to short local trips.
 Having driven it a few times since she got it, I have to say that it really is a fun little car. Okay, so I wouldn't want to swap the the BMW for one, but it really does put a smile on your face as you bob along, metaphorically sticking two fingers up at the 'considerably richer than you' brigade.
The boy was ritually dragged from his festering pit of doom this morning and ordered to shower and have breakfast, but the sum total of his day after that has comprised of sitting in front of the Playstation.
As usual.

As I sit here typing my vague attempt at a blog post, the wife is watching an episode of 'Call the midwife' on the BBC iPlayer, which keeps distracting me with the intermittent appearance of Charlotte Ritchie.
Hardly surprising as she's gorgeous.
The mad thing is that I'll sit through all sorts of programmes if there's a bit of hot totty involved.
I'm such a tart.
'The Crimson Field' was a pretty good drama series, but I wonder if it would have held my attention quite as strongly if it wasn't for the presence of Oona Chaplin and Alice St Clair.

After a week of rest on doctor's orders, my pain has subsided significantly. The chest x-ray results came back normal, so the conclusion is that I'd suffered some sort of torn muscle in the chest wall.
Amazing that the pain was greater than anything I experienced during my shattered knee episode, from something that sounds relatively trivial. The body is a weird thing.
As it turns out, I'd booked this coming week off work too, so by the time I go back I should be over the worst.
After that it's just a matter of being careful not to overdo it.
Easier said than done.



Monday, 13 March 2017

Medical mystery and a Bavarian moneypit

In the words of Bill & Ted, it has been a most unusual day.
With a day's leave booked, I had two objectives to complete - get the car fixed, and see a doctor.
It shouldn't be too hard. The car was booked in at the local BMW specialist to have a new differential fitted, so I dropped it off at 8:00 before wandering up to Sainsbury's for a cooked breakfast.
I sat looking out the window at the world as I worked my way through sausage, bacon, egg, beans, tomato, toast and coffee. I knew the job on the car wouldn't take long, but I was also aware that the bill would be monumental.
I finished breakfast and walked into town, which was only just waking up, before making my way back to the garage to wait for them to finish the job.
By 11 o'clock I was back home, partly elated because the awful whining noise had disappeared, leaving the car eerily quiet, and partly angry because it doesn't seem right that a diff should be knackered after only 44000 miles, costing me over 1600 pounds, especially on what is supposed to be a premium brand vehicle with a reputation for quality German engineering.
Oh well, c'est la vie. Or should that be 'So ist das leben'?

Time to get an appointment with a doctor then.
I've had pain in the side of my chest for a week now, and as is usual with me I've been trying to ignore it in the hope it would go away.
Unfortunately things seemed to be getting worse so, tired of being nagged, I gave in to the idea that I really ought to do something about it.
So I called the GP's surgery and was told there were no appointments available for two weeks.
This is normal. There seems to be an assumption that everyone has ample warning that they might need a doctor.  However, there's no way I can tolerate this level of pain for a further fortnight, so I impressed upon the receptionist the urgency of my situation. I'm not one of those people who waste a doctor's time - I only resort to seeking one when there's something practically hanging off.
She relented, telling me to call back at 2pm when I would be assessed for triage and shoe-horned in at the end of the day.
I didn't make it that long.

In an effort to kill a bit of time I went out to the wife's car armed with a bottle of polish and a cloth to give it a nice shine-up. Big mistake. Something in the buffing action triggered the most incredible pain in my chest, and it was all I could do to stagger in to the wife and demand she take me to A&E immediately. She was all for calling an ambulance, but I wasn't having any of that.
Although there was a massive waiting time posted at the A&E reception, one look at me convinced them to get me in for checks within twenty minutes.
After exhaustive questioning, an ECG, blood pressure check and a session of poking and prodding which culminated in me virtually hitting the roof as I let out a scream of agony, they still didn't know for sure what was going on.
From there I was sent straight to the GP where I was subjected to further torture, after which the doctor admitted she wasn't sure either. I left with some heavy-duty pain killers and a referral note for a chest x-ray, which I have to make an appointment for tomorrow morning.
In the meantime I'm told to stay off work, rest, and avoid driving.

In summary then, the NHS is so overstretched you now need to plan any illness or injury in advance, codeine isn't man enough to subdue the pain I'm still in, and even though I have the option of chopping the Beemer in for something small, frugal and brand new, I'd rather fork out to have it fixed because it's just so damn good to drive.


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Hard Day's Night

Last weekend saw a concerted effort to start doing something positive about the assorted collections of crap around the house and garden.
You know how it is. There's always one drawer that becomes home to all those little things that don't have a place to live, and if those things are too big for the drawer of shame, there's always the shed or the loft.
Some stuff seems to just accumulate without you realising, such as phone chargers and cables that don't appear to have any practical use other than getting tangled up in the useful ones.
Other things have outlived their usefulness, but you don't want to throw them away because you never know - it might come in handy one day.
The trouble is, if you don't get rid of these things from time to time, you could easily turn into one of those nutters you see on TV documentaries who keep absolutely everything including old packaging, ancient newspapers, mouldy food and even (most disturbingly) bodily fluids.
I don't like clutter at all, and while some people like a 'homely' feel with lots of random frippery scattered around the place, I prefer a more clean and minimalist approach which is hard to achieve with three people living in a small bungalow.

First thing to tackle was the shed. With just a small but eclectic assortment of storage solutions, the space in the shed has never been very well utilised. This was resolved by taking a trip to Machine Mart for some of their 350kg metal shelving units, which I knew were good because we had some at work. A well-timed journey it was too, because just entering Cambridge I spotted a bright green Lamborghini Aventador, followed by an orange Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, a 2-for-1 supercar deal which had my internal ten-year-old boy wetting himself with excitement.
Getting the new units built and set up required the shed to be emptied first, when it soon emerged that not only was there a fair amount of stuff destined for the recycling centre, but that the local population of big hairy spiders has been booming.
A few things, such as a home cinema system, will find themselves on Gumtree in due course, while others have another destination lined up.
Amongst these items is my son's acoustic guitar, bought a few years ago during one of his many bouts of unfounded optimism, which is currently propped up in the bedroom awaiting dispatch.
Last night as I threw aside my clothes before getting into bed, my trousers flicked across the strings, striking a note which sounded just like that first chord of 'Hard Day's Night' by The Beatles, and now that song is firmly wedged in my brain and refuses to budge.
With everything neatly arranged on the new shelving and the old random storage units disposed of, the shed now looks more like there's some sort of order. Time to move on.

The next area to tackle is the loft, with the intention that it should be left empty apart from the water tank.
The loft is currently long term storage for many things. Some of these will be rehoused in alternative locations, like the new shed shelving where they can be accessed without using a ladder, while most will end up at the dump.
Motorbike crash helmets, boxes I kept for things still under warranty, a CRT television and an old PC will be disposed of, while The Vax and the boy's extensive Lego collection will be relocated.
It's a task that requires a certain determination and sense of purpose. It's easy to give in to that little voice that says "No, you can't just throw that away, that cost money" but if you do, you end up drowning in useless shit that doesn't get looked at from one year to the next.

Hell on earth. Never gonna get like that.


Sunday, 26 February 2017

Eat, drink and be merry

Eating out has long been a great pleasure of mine. I realise there are two possible ways of reading that statement, and both are valid, but here I refer to having a meal at a restaurant, cafe, pub or whatever.
Although in the back of your mind you know you could cook dinner at home for a week for the same money as one meal at a restaurant with change to spare, there's something nice about getting yourself tidied up and being waited on for a change. It also makes a change to not have to do the washing up.

Only once have I experienced the whole 'haute cuisine' thing, and an amazing experience it was too.
Although I was initially worried that I'd still be hungry by the end because the servings were so small, but two hours later after I'd seen off five courses, each a taste sensation in its own right with a glass of wine to complement it, I was very glad that we were staying in the hotel where we were eating. We dragged ourselves back to the hotel room stuffed, decidedly squiffy and ready for bed.
The average meal out doesn't come close to this unless you're wealthy, but you don't really expect it to.

The other week we went to a Turkish restaurant in Saffron Walden which was pretty good. As my only previous experience of Turkish cuisine had been a large donor kebab after a couple of pints, I wasn't sure what to expect, but as it turned out it was all very tasty.
Some people get all snobby about Wetherspoons pubs, but I think they're pretty good.
They don't pretend to be anything they're not. You don't go in expecting Michelin star fayre. You go to a Wetherspoons for a plate of down-to-earth food at an affordable price. Where else can you get lasagne with chips, salad and a pint for about six quid?

Some pubs seem to get ideas above their station though.
Yesterday we stopped at a local pub by the river on the way home from Cambridge because we were all hungry but quite frankly couldn't be arsed to cook anything.
The wife tried to be good and only had the omelette, but even that was disappointing - the omelette lacked any sort of finesse and the 'salad' comprised two slices of tomato and a small patch of watercress. My seafood platter was passable, and the boy's gammon steak was rather overdone.
We all decided against dessert because to be honest £5.75 for a slice of lemon meringue pie or similar seemed a bit steep.
What that place provided was ordinary pub grub at restaurant prices. We used to like it there, but we won't be going back. I don't like being ripped off, and judging by the small number of patrons on a Saturday lunchtime, I think word must be getting around.

The cost of dining out is going up and up, so we're more likely to treat ourselves to something nice at home these days. We may have to cook it and do the washing up, but all three of us can have a treat we really like for less than it would be for one meal at a restaurant, especially when you factor in the drinks.
Supermarkets have cottoned on to this and you regularly find some sort of 'meal deal' where you can get two main courses, two desserts and a bottle of wine for a tenner.
If you resent the cost of eating out and you're on a budget, it's a no-brainer.
Obviously it's no substitute for the warm fuzzy feeling you get from a good meal at a restaurant where they actually care about providing good food and service, or even spending a couple of hours in the kitchen preparing something nice yourself, but its value can't be disputed.
We'll still enjoy a meal out from time to time of course, but I think it will become limited to special occasions rather than just on a whim.