Monday, 29 December 2008

The best Bond... so far

I had a little poll on my blog to see which James Bond we all prefer. Daniel Craig won by miles, giving me an excuse for a nice gratuitous non-festive picture. Nobody voted for Roger Moore, which says a great deal about those awful films where a flabby Bond pawed at nubile bikini-clad Bond girls. Nowadays Bond is the objectified one and is expected to be a little more buff while the Bond girls are intelligent, but still beautiful. Don't you just love the 21st century!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

It's Christmas!

I had two 'rules' for the tree this year. 1. Only gold, white and clear decorations. 2. No tinsel. Hannah and Rosie did the decorating and a few non-rules things have sneaked on (like the red crackers), but I think they did a great job and they were very proud of it when they had finished.

One of the non-white/gold/clear decorations is this pretty angel which belongs to Hannah. But she's so gorgeous I allowed her to stay.

This is the nativity Hannah made at school a couple of years ago. It owes a great deal to egg boxes and toilet roll middles. Rosie made the angel on the far left and the other angel is a bamboo one they fell in love with in a shop in Solva when they were babies.

This is the dining room window tree - a goat willow branch planted in a pot with all our homemade decorations and a few fairies on board. Half of the lights are out (as usual!). I need a bumper pack of spare bulbs for this set.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Pony cakes

Okay. By popular demand (well, two people have asked!) here are my pony cakes, last year's and this year's. Not great works of art, admittedly, but made with love more than any particular artistic flair.

Technical notes. Both were made from an eight inch chocolate sponge cake. This year's had added ground almonds, because I felt like it (3 eggs, weigh eggs, same weight of each of very soft butter, caster sugar and self raising flour. Remove three tablespoonfuls of flour and replace with one tablespoon of cocoa powder and two tablespoons of ground almonds).

Last year's icing was ordinary chocolate butter icing, following the recipe on the icing sugar packet. This year's was Brian's chocolate spice cake icing, which is delicious. He had to make it because the recipe is top secret and I'm not allowed to have it. It can only be passed on to a bloodline C., so H6 and R5 will get the recipe one day. Huh.

The mane, carrots, apple etc are coloured marzipan, because we all love marzipan and hate sugar paste.

That's it really. The recipient was delighted. We all made absolute pigs of ourselves eating it (is there anything better than chocolate icing?) and we argued over who got the biggest carrot.

Will R5 want another pony cake for her 6th birthday? I have a horrible feeling that she will!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Oops, I did it again!

Phew! Another November and another novel is born. This one is 50,061 words (last year I 'won' with 50,005 words) and once again is a wonderful collection of complete and utter rubbish.

Why do I love doing NaNoWriMo so much? Probably the complete and utter freedom of being able to write absolute rubbish, but also the joy of watching a story unfold and the characters take over and dictate to me how the story should go. Why for example did that character steal those files in chapter six? Oh I see, to give to him in chapter nine. Clever. Nothing to do with me though; I only do the typing.

Anyway it's all over for another year. I'll do it again next year, of course. I'm an addict!

Now, I have to get over the PND - post novel depression. Then there's the small matter of visitors on Saturday, all of whom need Christmas presents and one even needs a birthday present. On Sunday I have to organise a fifth birthday party with bouncy castle and party bags for R4(nearly 5) and 25 of her closest friends. On Monday have to fashion a pony using the miracle of sponge cake and chocolate butter cream ready for the Big Day on Tuesday when R4 actually does become R5.

Before all of that I have to clean a house that has not been cleaned at all for a month, iron ironing that has been sitting in baskets for a month, do Christmas shopping, write cards, put up the decorations...

Writing a novel in 25 days? It's a doddle. It's real life that's hard.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Running around (Elvis) Preseli

My favourite running route is a 6.3 mile loop up towards the Preselis. This is about two thirds of the way looking towards a really pretty farm on the slopes of Foel Cwmcerwyn. It is very bleak up here in the winter and sometimes we can't see it for days. I turn right at the junction, it's a clockwise route.

An ancient road marker. One day I'll stop long enough to read it. Recently someone put a sheep's skull on top of this. It looked appropriate, but it's gone now.

Looking back the way I have just run. Sometimes, even here, the roads are straight. To the right of this picture in the distance (and the lower, rockier hill in the middle of the picture below) is Carn Meini, the only site in which the Preseli bluestone is found. How did they get the stones from there to Stonehenge? Who knows! And why is this road so straight? I'm about to run around two 90 degree bends, but other than that the road is pretty straight again. Who knows why!

Finally for Snailbeachsheperdess from

"In Wales, Pembrokeshire, there is a Neolithic burial chamber which bears the name of St Elvis Cromlech', also in this area is St Elvis Farm and the Preseli Hills. This is considered by most people to be an eerie co-incidence but there are some people who theorise that this, along with Elvis' mother having a Welsh name, Gladys, proves Elvis Presley was of Welsh ancestry. "

I knew I should have called myself Elvis Preseli!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

November sky

It was a nice, crisp dry day here today,
rounding off with this lovely sunset.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Four legged friends

So, exactly where am I? What is this place? Who lives here?

Ooooh look! I can see three new friends!

Look at me! I'm GORGEOUS!

Do you wanna be in my gang? Bullseye (grey, foreground); Pippin (aka The Boss, behind Bullseye); Maisie (visiting Exmoor) and Isty (dark bay, extravagant tail) start to get to know each other.

Itsy examines potential riders from head to toe. Hannah (blonde, aged six) and Rosie (brunette, aged four).

How lucky are we? We have been fortunate in being chosen as a new home for Itsy, a devastatingly pretty cob mare. She's 13.1hh and is the perfect addition to our little pony herd. She was owned by fellow blogger Bovey Belle who has written a little about Itsy on her lovely blog Codlins and Cream.

Itsy arrived on Friday and is settling in well. The other ponies were, understandably, astounded to find a new pony in their midst, but there was no animosity and I'm sure they'll be firm friends in a day or two. Itsy has a posh snuggly rug to keep her warm and dry, which caused some consternation among Pippin, Bullseye and Maisie when we put it on last night, but I think today they are all a bit envious of her extra layer.

Itsy is magnificently well-behaved, easy to box and catch (Pippin and Bullseye take note!) and is quite, quite gorgeous. At the moment she's a bit like a glamorous film star amongst a herd of hicks from the sticks. I think Pippin, Bullseye and Maisie will have to raise their game a little!

Monday, 3 November 2008

Nick, chicks and rally madness

It dawned on me yesterday that, although my blog is called 'Life in the Preseli Hills', I have written about everywhere but the Preseli Hills recently.

But the hills are still here and I suppose I avoid writing about life in them because, at times, it seems so mundane. Anyway this weekend there have a been a few happenings of interest, not least the subjects of the above picture.

They are (to me) Nick and his chicks or (to Hannah and Rosie) Troy, Gabriella and Sharpay. They were on Freecycle and we had an empty chicken pen, so ours they have become. We collected them from a farm in St Nicholas on Saturday afternoon and this morning were rewarded with our first cockadoodledoos.

You see, we had a theory about a 'free to a good home' cockerel. We bet that he would have the loudest voice in the world and that we would be startled out of our beds at the crack of doom by his blood curdling yell. Luckily, this is not the case. He's a sweetie. He thinks he's a big bad cockerel boy, cookadoodlin' like a good 'un. In fact he's more of a toot tooter. Perhaps his voice will break and then he'll have the last laugh.

Other excitement was when our little lane became the stage of a car rally. This lane is my school run and is chock-a-block with steep twisty hairpin bends and 90 degree corners. You can see why the rally boys wanted to whizz along it at 3 am. Yes, it was a night stage. I woke up in the early hours of Sunday dreaming of motorbikes, but I could still hear them. The rally cars! I shook Brian who said " off" and "duck" or something, so I pulled on a woolly pully or three and headed out into the sparkling night.

The stars were out, it was crisp and clear. It was completely bonkers. Lots of little cars with their drivers and torch clutching co-pilots zooming past the end of our drive. Overhead I saw two shooting stars. It was magical and bizarrely funny.

This morning on the school run I saw the scars of the rally; rubber everywhere, skid marks and dinks in the hedge banks and, in one particularly bendy bit, the perfect impression of the front of a rally car in the bank. I can just see it now: "Left bend, right bend another left, I said LEFT!"


Other bits of Preseli life include a new pony, more of which in future blogs, I'm taking part in NaNoWriMo again, we've nearly finished the kitchen, and the washing machine has been fixed and is now 'boring' rather than 'shock and awe'. Right now, the kids are back at school after half term and I'm off for a three and a half mile run in the sunshine.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008


My toaster, like all toasters, is a fickle beast, and like all toasters, has Various Settings. One is for Pale and Uninteresting, another is for Perfect!, the third is for Charred, and the fourth for Smoke and Flames.

It seems others appliances within this household have taken note of the toaster's antics.

Last week, for example, the water pump which turns our bore hole water from meager trickle to mighty, er, trickle, changed its normal habit of being Irritatingly Noisy to one of Slightly Explosive.

Meanwhile the bathroom extractor fan, usually Irritatingly Whiny, became Oddly Quiet.

Today the washing machine, an elderly beast of at least a decade, discovered a setting for Shock and Awe.

Finally, Granny in the Annexe, discovered a new setting on her computer screen: Elegant, But Alarming, Plume of Smoke.

What's next? Who knows! My money's on the fridge freezer, normally Chilled or Ice Cool, discovering Alarmingly Warm or Flood.


Friday, 17 October 2008

Do you remember...?

Do you remember chalk hearts melting on a playground wall?
Do you remember dawn escapes from moon washed college halls?
Do you remember the cherry blossom in the market square?
Do you remember I thought it was confetti in our hair?
Kayleigh by Marillion (Misplaced Childhood, 1985)

I don't normally quote lyrics; I find them a little too much like poetry which can be - like the bible or Shakespeare - a little like someone scraping their nails down a blackboard. But these lyrics (and their accompanying tune) have been floating around in my head today.

Because today found me in Aberystwyth meeting new friends and having a terrific day all round. For me Aber is mired in nostalgia. I spent three years there as a student from 1987 to 1990 (BSc Agricultural Economics) and it hit me today, 20 years later, just how happy I was there.

It's odd to go back there now. I kept expecting one of my bunch of friends to pop up. Outisde the bank, for example, which was then Midland and is now HSBC, or on the sea front.

I found it extraordinarily poignant standing at the north end of the sea front opposite where the Sea View hotel used to stand - I say used to because it burned down a few years ago. There was a big Great Dane dog there and it was where we'd go for last orders. I remember a mad evening there with Sue and Ant and a hippopotamus puppet while Sam Brown sang "Stop" in the background. And someone lived there who I was particularly fond of for a while.

It was odd, too, walking past the sea front halls - Carpenter, Ceredigion, Plynlimon - looking up at the rooms where Fran, Sue, Tracy and Sarah lived and to see that the former Padarn Hall on the corner of Great Darkgate Street where Neill lived is now home to Corals the bookies.

Rummers Wine Bar is still there, tucked into its cosy nook by the bridge over the river. I wonder if it still serves foaming jugs of Stella to thirsty students. It had the best bar staff in Aber too, I've only seen better in kilts in Scotland.

Odd to walk past front doors that used to mean home and whose keys used to rattle in my pocket; the house at the bottom of Constitution Hill where I lived for a term in my third year and Frondeg in Portland Street where I lived for two years.

The town is chock full of the ghosts of Christmas past. Memories of running down the sea front in a ball gown and stilettos; the daily slog up Penglais hill to the campus; walking down to town from the students union at night on the white line in the middle of the road to avoid the rapists in the bushes; sitting in my room in Portland Street in the summer with my legs hanging out of the window as I bashed out another essay; the telephone box at the bottom of Constitution Hill where students would queue to phone home and beg for money.

The sea is a big memory too: Crashing onto the pebbly beach, spray clearing the sea front buildings and coming into our kitchen window two streets in; the night we had a really high tide and the sea came in through the front door; the snorkeler who scared me across the road once (I thought he was a dead body, floating in the sea); walking Richie home to Alex Hall after watching a horror film at the cinema (Alex Hall was a bit too Gothic in the dark, even for a big rugby player!)

I remember the days we couldn't walk on the sea front because the weather was too windy or the sea was too rough; and the storm in October 1987 when I ran home to Frondeg through the streets as slates rained down on the road from the roofs high above me.

Gosh, so many memories. Listening to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon at night in a car parked on the sea front with someone whose name escapes me now; buying bars of Galaxy and bottles of Coke from Arkwright's after a night in the pub; walking up Constitution Hill on Sunday with a hangover; fending off insults as I walked through the fair in my army kit on TA night; dancing with (another) Richie at the football club on a Saturday night; making popcorn in Frondeg's kitchen in a frying pan without a lid (we'd had wine).

Those three years passed in a blink of an eye. I remember Andy saying one night, probably in Rummers, before we graduated, that we would never have it all again; that we would go our separate ways and lose touch with each other, that life would move on and grown-up things like careers and mortgages, families and children, would take over.

He was right, of course, but I think, at the time, we probably just said: "Nah!" and ordered another jug of Stella.

Friday, 3 October 2008


I had one of those evenings last night, you know one of those evenings where everything is full of sinister danger. Outside was a howling torment of wind and rain, inside was all a rattle and a tattle of doors and window frames. It was a bit like being at sea in a big, dark creaking galleon.

So I decided to watch Spooks series one on DVD. Now I'm not the bravest of watchers, it has to be said. I'm okay with things like the Tellytubbies and In the Night Garden, but real proper horror, such as Eastenders and Casualty, scares me witless.

Odd, then, that I should have developed a passion for Spooks. Odder still that I should choose to watch Series One completely on my own while Brian suffered a late shift at work.

So, there I was, crouching terrified on the sofa, half hidden behind a cushion as hero Spook Tom and his attractive blond colleague had their husband and wife cover blown and were in mortal peril. To non-Spooks watchers, said pretty blond then comes to a sticky end courtesy of a deep fat fryer (face first) and a hand gun (which, after the frying incident, was probably the kindest thing to do).

All pretty shocking really, at least for the easily shocked such as myself.

So, I was already in a pretty sensitive state when suddenly my peripheral vision caught sight of Something Nasty walking along my leg in a very furtive and particularly creepy fashion. In a nano-second a blood curdling scream had issued forth while I swatted the beast off.

Once I had restarted my heart and ceased the screaming business, I thought it sensible a) to check exactly what the foul beast had been; and b) to establish whether it was alive or dead.

So I followed its elegant trajectory and found: a shrimp.


Yes, a real, live shrimp, or, to be exact, one of the algae eating shrimps from the fish tank.

"You bastard!" I yelled unkindly at the tiny crustacean.

"Boing," it did back.

Now we paused for a moment of the heebie jeebies, probably on both parts, before I pulled myself together, fetched the goldfish landing net from the cupboard and recaptured the beast. It took three goes, the shrimp being of a bouncy persuasion, but I finally had it in custody and returned it to its tank in the dining room.

In the dining room?

Oh yes. Said shrimpy was a whole room away from home, the wrong side of a closed door.


Now that's a very good question indeed. To get from the tank in the dining room to my lap in the living room is the shrimp equivalent of walking from here in the Preselis to the tip of Everest in Nepal.

So he/she is back in the tank again after his/her adventure. I had a good look to make sure that his/her wife/husband/life partner was also still in the tank too. He/she/it was. After all, one shrimpy shock during an evening of Spooks is enough for anyone.

Monday, 29 September 2008

An autumn holiday

This was our autumn holiday.

Think mists, think mellow fruitfulness, think SUN!

Think swimming in an outdoor pool, the warm water steaming in the chill of the autumn air, think cycling through leafy glades, leaves drifting down from the canopy above, think SUN!

Think hot chocolate on a misty morning while a doe tiptoes daintily past, think goldcrests, robins and great tits flitting through the branches above, think SUN!

Think tall giraffes, stripy zebras and playful lions, think grumpy tigers, frisky wolves and slightly too close for comfort rhinoceroses, think SUN!

Think beautiful gardens turning golden in the rays, think peaceful river turning into wild water rapids, think happy feet skipping across big flat rocks over a river, think SUN!

Think big glass of Guinness with a thick creamy head sitting in the garden of a pub, think bacon, brie and cranberry stuffed into a warm ciabatta roll, think sitting under an oak tree for shade, think SUN!

Think fragrant apples, russety and rosy, ripening in heavy armfuls, think barbecuing juicy steak in in the dusk as deer rut not three fields away, think hot air balloon rising secretively through mist into the azure sky, think SUN!

Cycling at Center Parcs Longleat

The giraffes 'next door'

Stourhead gardens

The lake at Stourhead

Woods near Tarr Steps, Dulverton, Exmoor

River Barle

Apples (variety unknown) at Petton Cross, Devon

The road home: Hot air balloon in the mist above the Wivesliscombe to Taunton road

Thursday, 4 September 2008

The last week

Well I was a Determined Woman. The weather wasn’t going to spoil the last week of the summer holidays. No way. I think I scared the rain away. For a whole week it only rained at night or while we were in the car.

Our week started on the Sunday morning at about 7am when Much Maligned Husband woke up, peeled open an eyelid and said: “I can’t face the kitchen today. Where shall we go?”

“Cotswold Farm Park,” I replied, thinking nostalgically of my own childhood visits there.

So off we went. We stayed the night at the Express Holiday Inn just south of Gloucester, which for Hannah and Rosie was an adventure in itself, dined on Sunday evening at Gloucester Frankie and Benny’s then spent August Bank Holiday Monday at Cotswold Farm Park. It was almost as I remembered it, save for a new big barn by the entrance. There were lots of nice soft-lipped goats to feed and squeaky piglets to tickle. We bounced on the bouncy pillow and managed to lose one tooth (H6) and sustain a bruised cheek (R4), but only because M41 was “bouncing too high” to quote the injured.

We went home via Waitrose at Abergavenny which is a treat in itself being Not Tesco and Full of Nice Things (such as Tiffin, eaten on the hoof in the car park).

Tuesday saw Bri back at work and me, H6 and R4 round at a friend’s house for lunch. H6 and R4 played happily with E4 and F1.5 while us two mums discussed how nearly six weeks of dawn till dusk rain had us contemplating Thelma and Louise-style driving.

Then on Thursday M41 (ie me) became M42 (which is quite appropriate, really, considering I was born within earshot of the darn thing - or would have been had it been built in 1966). Anyway I had to have breakfast in bed, and then soak all morning in the bath reading a book. It’s a tough life.

Lunchtime found us at the best deli in the world: Ultracomida in Narberth. No chance of a table for tapas in its teeny restaurant, so instead we made do with its superb sandwiches. Freshly made on ciabatta with olive oil not butter if you prefer (I do) and fabulous deli fillings. I had blue cheese and honey with salad, the others had Serrano ham and salad. We devoured them overlooking Carew Castle (another childhood haunt, although it’s been ‘touristed’ now and you can’t climb the walls). Then we walked the block around the castle and its tidal mill, which is a lovely gentle stroll.

We drove on from there to Lawrenny, a village on the Cleddau estuary where we used to moor our boat when I was a kid. We had a wander around the beach, collecting shells and stones.

Friday arrived and I was assured by the two smallest people that I had promised to take them to Folly Farm. I don’t remember promising, but hey ho. So, armed with a fistful of Tesco vouchers, off we went. Folly Farm is THE BEST family attraction, ever. It even beats Cotswold Farm Park. The ‘farm’ part is a small clue – there are farm bits, such as animals to pat, goat kids to bottle feed, piglets, ponies etc, but it also has a zoo with cute ring-tailed lemurs – actually three different types of lemur, including babies. (Lemur babies are possibly the cutest of all babies.) There are also zebra, an ostrich, zebu, oryx… the list goes on.

But then there are the outdoor play areas. Three of them. From little nautical and dragon themed climbing and sliding things, to three ‘wrecked’ pirate ships and a thing made of thick logs and tyres, so beloved by orang utans and children.

But then there are the indoor things – the Jolly Barn full of goat kids, donkeys and piglets, a pet cuddling barn, and whopping indoor play area, floor to roof in slides, ropes and bridges, and an old fashioned fair, complete with carousel. We LOVE Folly Farm.

Saturday found us in birthday mode again. This time for my Dad’s 68th. I spent the day making the cake, roasting a chicken alongside various garden produce, and then drinking Pimms, followed by pink Cava, before scoffing the aforementioned cake.

Sunday was a cooked breakfast, followed by a quick examination of the progress of the sloes, bullaces and blackberries. Not much of any of them yet. Then I did my Long Run followed by equally Long Bath and hid under the Observer for the rest of the day.

Monday was the last day of the holidays and we had decided to go to the beach No Matter What. It was raining, so we stuffed the car with clothes for wet, dry and swimming, kites, picnic, wellies and more dry clothes. We arrived just as the tide was heading out in the general direction of Ireland and the sun was winning its battle with the clouds. The beach was at its most beautiful and was almost entirely deserted.

We climbed all over the rocks, dabbled in rock pools, picked over the pebbles and shells and explored the many little caves, then we paddled and jumped in the sea (which as the tide was going was ridiculously warm. Once it turns it comes in cold.) Then we flew kites, built sand castles and fell sleepily back into the car after a fabulous day out.

At bedtime H6 threw her arms around my neck and said: “Thank you mummy for making the last day of the holidays so nice.”

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Last day of the school holidays...

It really was a gorgeous day.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Summer at last...

... the sun finally came out.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

All right. That's enough rain. Stop now.

So. There we were in the last week of term. Slightly benign weather, sunny in a mildly promising sort of way. We were all looking forward to the holidays.

Six weeks of not having to rush out of bed in the mornings to go to school, but instead to fling back the curtains to the beams of a new summers day, throw on a couple of light things and dash off, clutching sandwiches, to one of Pembrokeshire's gorgeous beaches.

After all, what is the point in living in a popular holiday destination if you can't go and lord it down on the lovely sands of Saundersfoot, Tenby, Whitesands, Amroth, etc, while casting pitying glances on the poor holidaymakers who have go home again. I might as well be back in dear old Worcestershire with the nearest beach, well, where is the nearest beach to Worcestershire? We always used to go to Pembrokeshire...

But I haven't set foot on a single Pembrokeshire beach yet this summer holidays and with only one week left and the weather forecast not exactly promising I don't expect to have the chance.

And I'm cross about it. How dare the horrid weather spoil our plans? Rain, rain and more rain. I'm fed up! And I'm feeling like a totally rubbish mother. Leaving aside the fact that I ordered a kitchen to arrive on day one of the holidays (the first black mark for me) I seem to have completely failed to provide the wonderful sunny summer holiday experiences that memories are made of.

Take this week, for example, we have been shopping for new school clothes, shoes, trainers and Brownies uniform. Rosie went to a party, Hannah went to a friend's house, Hannah went to a party. We played with plastic ponies inside, in between showers we played with the real (slightly damp) ponies outside. I planted out the sprouts and the kales and a few pak chois and grumbled about the weather. Not really the stuff of an Enid Blyton novel.

We should have been on the beach with homemade lemonade and thick slices of pie, fish paste sandwiches and a super cake. We should have played beach cricket (or, more likely, boules with two identical sets - confusing, but funny) and paddled in the sea chasing waves and pretending that we know what to do with a body board. Instead with did that, once, way back in May, when we kidded ourselves that we would spend all summer on the beach.

Now I have one more week left to make this summer perfect for my two little girls. One more week of devoted maternal attention. We will go to the 'family attractions' that they so adore, so what if it is raining, we WILL go to the beach, and to a friend's house for lunch, and to the cinema (and to the hairdresser too, but I haven't told them about that one yet).

Perhaps, as last year, the last Monday before school claims them again will be warm and sunny and we can go to Carew and watch the swans on the Cleddau.

We will have a week of doing tom fool things so that memories, once back in school uniform, will be of a summer that was great, after all.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Summer holiday game No. 4: Tiling the Kitchen

This one is really only for Dads, although children can 'assist' for short periods if they absolutely insist (and if, like R4, they are exceedingly cute).

1. Buy kitchen tiles. Unlike bathroom tiles which take three months, three counties and countless rows to choose (and still haven't been laid), kitchen tile choice takes 30 seconds in Wickes in Haverfordwest.

2. Buy extra fast setting tile adhesive.

3. Measure kitchen, draw a chalk line down the middle.

4. Forbid wife and children to tread on, and therefore erase, vital chalk line.

5. Go to work on a late shift.

6. Return at midnight to discover that foul wife and even fouler children have all but erased vital chalk line.

7. Go even greyer and lose a few more hairs from the back for good measure.

8. In a fit of enthusiasm, lay nine tiles.

9. Figure out that you can fit exactly five tiles in a row across kitchen. Work this out all by self without female intervention.

10. Tap foot and count slowly up to 1,000,000 as firstly wife, then mother-in-law aka Granny in the Annexe, also point out this fact.

11. Tear out remaining hair.

12. Lift up the first nine tiles.

13. Lay other tiles, instructing foul wife and fouler children not to step on them until they are dry.

14. Lie to foul wife and fouler children that 'quick setting adhesive' takes 24 hours to dry.

15. Get caught walking on tiles that have only been down for two hours.

16. Admit real setting time is two hours.

17. Watch foul wife and fouler children perform 'Riverdance' on newly laid tiles.

18. Go even more grey-haired. Lose a few more from the back for good measure.

19. Allow youngest child to 'assist' with the laying of one tile.

20. Call for foul wife to remove said child from kitchen.

21. Continue as above until nearly all tiles are laid.

22. Ask foul wife: "What's for tea?"

25. Receive black eye with good grace.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Rocking the New Black

Freckles, I am reliably informed, are the New Black.

Usually, when something is deemed the New Black, I run a mile in the opposite direction, but now, this time, I’m embracing the latest New Black.

The reason, of course, is I have a vested interest here. Or rather several million vested interests. I have freckles. They began on my nose, spread to my arms and shoulders and now inhabit my legs too.

When I was little and my hair was orange, my skin was white and my freckles matched my hair. I started not to like my freckles. Then I was taken to a variety show at the Swan Theatre in Worcester. There was a comedian and, it is exceedingly un-politically correct to say this, but you’ll see later exactly why I need to make it clear, the comedian involved was black.

Now I can't remember much about his act, apart from a really unsavoury joke about three nuns in the desert. I can’t recall the details, I was very young at the time, but for some reason in the joke the nuns all needed to wee on some flour – don’t ask – but the third nun (called - toe-curlingly embarrassingly – Margaret) farted and blew the flour away. That was the punch line. How we laughed.

Anyway, for want of resuscitation, for surely he was dying up there, he spied me and said something along the lines of: “Hello freckle-face, you’re going to look like me when you grow up and those all join up.”

How the audience roared.


The rest of the evening passed in a blur. So I was going to grow up into a black man? With brown skin? And fuzzy hair?

I examined my face in the mirror and searched fearfully for tell-tale signs of joining up freckles. Every time we went out I scoured the faces of old people searching, searching for an old person with freckles.

Then I found her.

She was standing in Greaves Butchers in Studley.

She was tall.

She had long-red hair down beyond her waist.

She was covered – head to toe – in freckles.

She was old – at least 25.

She was beautiful.

Quite the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. An old woman with freckles. I was saved! It wasn’t true.

I gazed at this beauty in wonderment while Mum bought half a pound of mince and four pork chops.

As Mum dragged me away I cast my gaze back to the freckly beauty as she laughed and smiled at the butcher.

What a relief!

Now, thanks to Lindsay Lohan (above) on the front of Vanity Fair and Karen Elson on Vogue’s September cover, freckles are being hailed as the New Black.

For once, and possibly only for the briefest moment, I’m in fashion and I am (as Gok would say) rocking the New Black.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Oh woe

Oh woe. Why is it, when you start something small, that it turns into something big, problems arise and everybody gets upset?

All we want is a nice, clean new kitchen. Free of rotten wood, mini beetles and stinking carpet. It is taking ages to replace. Every time we move something, there’s a problem. We fill a hole; the concrete takes weeks to go off, and when we surmount one barrier, another pops up.

This week (Monday) was Mum’s 70th. My sister was due to visit on Thursday to continue the celebrations, but now she can’t because the old kitchen is in the barn, the new kitchen is in the dining room, tiles for kitchen, utility room and bathroom are mounded everywhere and four metres of new worktop occupy a space I used to call the living room.

How we laughed at the thrill of having the flat packs delivered. Oh false joy. Now most of us have been in tears at one point or another. This morning it was Mum, when we admitted we couldn’t accommodate visitors, then it was my sister on being told the same thing. I have just broken the news to H6 and R4 that their cousins T7 and E4 will not be visiting, so they’re sad too.

Again I’m in the bad corner. I’m the Wicked Witch of the West; the spoiler of 70th birthdays, the murderer of holiday plans, the pooper of parties.

I only wanted a new kitchen. I didn’t realise it would cause this much heartache.

Summer holiday game No. 3: Butter.

Back to the kids for this one. This is perfect for a rainy day and is something I used to do with my mum when I was a little girl. It's a game with something to eat at the end. Perfect.

1. Get some lovely double cream. We use Bethesda cream from a local farm which has Ayrshire cattle.

2. Make sure the cream isn't too cold; it needs to have been out of the fridge for at least half an hour. Put it into a jar - an old honey jar is ideal - then shake...

3. After a while - anything from ten minutes to half an hour - the noise in the jar will change from a sort of fluffy noise (sorry, difficult to describe) to a sloshing noise.

4. Open the jar and look inside: butter! The liquid is buttermilk. Pour that off into a jug and use to make pancakes, scones or (our favourite) soda bread.

5. Put cold water straight from the tap into the jar, drain and repeat until the water runs clear. This is to wash out any remaining buttermilk.

6. Put the butter onto a board and pat with a suitable implement - plastic or wooden spatulas are ideal - to squeeze out excess water and buttermilk.

7. Finished! You have a nice little pot of fresh butter. Add salt to taste and spread on some lovely crusty bread. Yum!

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Embrace randomness

ChrisH has tagged me to post six random things about myself. So here they are:

1. This morning I ran 6.12 miles (just under 10K) in one hour and 17 minutes.

2. My NaNoWriMo novel currently weighs 2lb 9 and 3/4 oz.

3. I broke the toes on my right foot when I was 19 when they were stepped on by a (big) baby racehorse. My feet are now happiest in flip-flops, shoes with a toe thong, boots or trainers.

4. My hair is 17 inches long.

5. I'd like to drive a Porsche, Ferrari, Lambourghini, or similar - just to see what it's like. (I think I've been watching too much Top Gear!)

6. I am addicited to Google Earth.

Now, I think I'm supposed to tag others to do this, so I hereby tag Fennie, Silver Pebble, Frances, Today, Pipany and Kittyb (unless you've already been tagged!)

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Summer holiday game No. 2: Chaos in the kitchen

This one is strictly for the adults.

Step 1: Discover that Ikea kitchens can now be ordered online and that delivery, even to the far flung corners of West Wales, only costs £35.

Step 2: Order kitchen.

Step 3: Order new wardrobes too, for good measure.

Step 4: Inform husband.

Step 5: Resuscitate husband.

Step 6: Discover that the earliest date for delivery is July 21st.

Step 7: Discover that July 21st is first day of school holidays. Kick self.

Step 8: Accept delivery of several hundred anonymous boxes and bags from jolly Ikea delivery man. Ikea delivery man is still jolly despite having mistaken address for Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire. He didn't bat an eyelid when told that he needed to be in Pembrokeshire instead.

"I'll be a bit longer than an hour," quoth delivery man on mobile without irony.

Step 8: Remove stagnant old kitchen cupboards; discover hole in floor.

Step 9: Decide to build wardrobes while concrete dries in kitchen hole.

Step 10: Discover wardrobes are only marginally less tall than bedroom and must be built upright.

Step 11: Soothe husband again. Remember husband is motivated by deadline. Phone friends and book holiday in Devon for coming Sunday.

Step 12: Put on another DVD for children. Feed on biscuits and toast as kitchen out of bounds.

Step 13: Build wardrobes. Remove heaps of clothes from children's beds. Put children to bed as it is now the middle of the night.

Step 14: This takes place the following morning. Husband puts on shirt and tie and flees gladly to work.

Step 15: Erm, not sure what this one is yet. Have to wait and see if husband returns!

To be continued...

Monday, 21 July 2008

Summer holiday game No. 1: Art in the garden

Art in the garden requires few tools and not much else other than a large dose of enthusiasm. You need a box of chalks, a nice flat area of concrete or stone and a selection of blooms, leaves and grasses. It's not permanent, so remember to grab your camera!

Mummy in the garden, by H6.

Mummy in the garden by R4.

You get lovely and chalky doing this, but it will all wash off easily and the pictures will gradually disappear after a splash or two of summer rain.

Monday, 14 July 2008

It's Big Horse's bath day!

What is it that makes one particular toy special? This, for example, is Big Horse, H6's number one favourite toy. He's the one she goes to for comfort when she's sad and she snuggles up to him when she's tired. A night he drapes himself across her pillow - he's very long legged and necked - and H6 goes to sleep on top of him. He regularly has birthdays - at least one a week - and he's been married on a number of occasions, each time to a different partner.

Big Horse arrived as a present from my sister at H6's christening. As he was unwrapped and we discovered he was a puppet, someone, of course, shoved a hand up inside and animated him. Result? Complete breakdown on the part of H6 who was then only H1.5. She was terrified of him for a while after that - just in case he suddenly came to life again I suppose!

But she has forgiven him now which, in part, is his downfall, because he does get dribbled on quite a bit, which makes him a bit, erm, well, whiffy. So he had a quick spin in the washing machine this morning, followed by a short tumble which didn't, admittedly, do much for his hairstyle, but H6 is looking forward to grooming him back to normality after school.

This is Texas. Second in command to Big Horse. He's called Texas because that's where Grandad was when he bought him. It was love at first sight this time and H6, who was H0.5 when she got him, has adored him ever since. His little poncho was crocheted by clever Grandma.

Recently we were woken up at 2.30am by blood chilling wails.

"Daddy," wailed H6 at the top of her lungs. Daddy hurtled down the landing and into the bedroom. Mummy thanked her lucky stars and snuggled back under the duvet.

"Sob, sob," sobbed H6 incoherently.

"There, there," Daddy soothed, assuming nightmares. "It was probably just a bad dream."

"No Daddy," H6 wailed back. "I've lost Texas!"

Daddy located Texas (ever tried finding a black toy horse in a dark bedroom?), but failed to locate his temper and issued a few hissed warnings in the direction of the top bunk, while R4 snored unawares in the bunk below.

R4 is much more fickle when it comes to toys. She tends to favour whichever one is the newest, but Toby the Beagle, above, is the one that causes the most consternation when he goes missing. Where H6 likes to pile her pillow with toys at bedtime and occasionally needs rescuing from their furry clutches in the middle of the night, R4 will have just the one, usually Toby, tightly clutched in the crook of her elbow.

Occasionally we'll have a: "Mummeee I've left Toby at Grandma's!" or "Mummeeee I've left Toby in the car!" but mostly he's a faithful hound and doesn't stray far.

This is Aloysius, my bear. He's actually a replacement bear, number three I suppose on my teddy bear list, but he has endured beyond all the others. My favourite was a bear I called Mary Plain. She wasn't in the least bit plain and wore a beautiful cotton lawn dress and bloomers. Perhaps it was too many kisses and cuddles, but eventually her pretty dress was worn and she fell to bits. Aloysius is made of much tougher stuff. He's been to college and university. He's lived in five different houses, travelling alongside me between England and Wales, mostly in style on a Mini or Ford Fiesta passenger seat but once, ignominiously, on the back of my Suzuki motorbike. Now he has suffered the indignity of his place in the bed being taken by a husband. But he's still got a smile on his face.