Monday, 15 January 2018

The Maddest Of Weekends

A small number of birds in the garden :o)

Whose feet are these? Nearest I can get is a polecate. Thoughts?
Poppy vanishing into a badger's hole. Her new favourite thing to do. Naughty.
Scone Birthday Cake

a Murmuration of Starlings

60,000 starlings over Romsey

Running Chums

New bat box in the twisted willow ready for spring Pips 
Daphne out and smelling divine.

I need a weekend to recover from the weekend. 

1. Get up early, go to parkrun* 
2. Chat to some friends about the Stubby 10k which lots of people are doing tomorrow and muse about potential finishing times, then go home, shower, breakfast, tidy up. 
3. Decide unexpectedly at midday to go to Reading for the cross country league race that afternoon.
4. Make hasty sandwiches, shove them in a pot, grab an apple and drive an hour and a half to Prospect Park. Fall asleep in the car on the way there. 
5. Arrive by the skin of our teeth with minutes to go before the race starts.
6. Enjoy watching friend Peat trying to greet a team mate with a hug while the team mate remains utterly rigid with his arms by his sides. Peat persists for a few painful seconds more. 
7. Cheer M, Peat, Mick and a couple of hundred others round the 6 mile course with Bex while getting progressively more and more frozen, despite being muffled inside a thermal coat, hat, gloves, scarf and breaking out the star jumps.
8. Reacquaint myself with some surprise and a little bit of envy at just how enormously powerful Becky's lungs are when it comes to shouting at runners.
9. Briefly consider getting pom poms for next time to mitigate my lack of bellow-ability and to generally wave about and encourage the runners with.
10. Yell myself hoarse in the closing seconds of the race encouraging M to stay ahead of the runner behind, who, despite all our combined efforts, catches him on the line. Bex and I groan loudly.
11. Know M will be very cross about this despite a) coming in the top 100 in a very competitive field and b) the guy being about twenty years younger than him.
12. Get back in car for the 1.5 hours' drive home. Fall asleep in the car.
13. Arrive home, give dogs brief cuddle and explain we're going out again. They don't look at all impressed. Go upstairs to sort out my hair which, after being scrunched under a hat all day is sticking out in weird ways. Give up and plait it into pigtails so it will at least wave all in the same direction later. Pull all my clothes out of the wardrobe and cover the bed in them. Choose a dress and heels, which immediately feels all wrong. Worry about the effects standing for several hours in heels without my special inserts in will have on my recovering knee (!). Briefly wonder if I can get away with wearing trainers but decide probably not. Realise how much life has changed in the last five years, priorities etc. Get M to make call to sis in law to find out what she's wearing. Overhear his side of the conversation with his brother which makes me laugh: I've no idea why she needs to know. No, I don't understand it either. What are you wearing then? As a result, change into skirt and comfy (flat) boots. Feel better. Reflect that I must be getting old as the appeal of heels has entirely left me.
14. Cover entire house in sticky notes in an attempt to remind L to let dogs out for a pee at 7pm then again at 10pm.
15. Try to ignore the way Poppy's hopefully wagging tail fades sadly away as she realises we're off again, and Ted's accusatory look of utter abandonment as we again leave the house.
16. Drive up to London to Henry's 50th birthday party. Fall asleep in car.
17. Arrive at 7pm and wake up with a start, find a place to park (eventually) and only just remember to pull the plaited pigtails out of my hair before Henry, dressed all in black and looking very London Elegant Chic opens the front door.
18. Discover it isn't a sit down meal with a handful of others but a live band in the conservatory where 70 people are due to party out the night.
19. Have half an hours' catch up with Henry and Lucy and my bro and sis in law before everyone descends.
20. Notice all the women are in sparkly party dresses and heels. 
21. The noise level immediately reaches a crescendo, except it doesn't go down again, and I wonder if my ears will survive the night without bleeding.
22. Shout for a while to a man from Chicago about Trump and American politics and the possibility of Oprah Winfrey running for President. Also about Miriam Margoyles' American road trip and the south side of Chicago, which he confirms he's never visited. Talk about skiing and importing expensive wines.
23. Shout to another man who, once he discovers M is a runner too, doesn't want to talk to me anymore, but spends the next half hour telling M all about his competitive running times, while apparently entirely failing to notice my husband's glazed expression.
24. Despite my intention not to, drink three glasses of prosecco in quite quick succession.
25. Eat my second plate of curry in as many days while listening to another man busily assuring me that my son will be at home with an enormous number of teenage friends right now drinking, smoking and generally trashing the house. He doesn't seem interested in my assurances that L has been looking forward to having the house to himself so much over the past week that filling it with other people would be the last thing on his mind. Ah, he said, knowingly, that's what he's told you. I reflect that this is a sad assessment of what it is to be a teenager and try my best to smile politely while thinking what a *!@$.
26. Have a shouty conversation with a lady dressed head to toe in couture complimented by impeccable makeup and perfect hair, with whom, despite heroic attempts on my part, I can find no common ground at all. I amuse myself for a while after she's gone off to find more sartorially suitable company by imagining her describing our encounter to her friends later: I mean, she was wearing a SKIRT and FLAT BOOTS! And her hair had clearly been in plaited PIG TAILSI giggle to myself about this for quite a while.
27. I am tired of yelling to people I don't know.
28. Head thumping, I try to make subtle but noticeable can we go home yet? signs to my husband (harder than it sounds) before realising it is only 9pm.
29. Escape to the hall where the noise only makes me wince instead of cry, and find a pint glass which I refill (with water) and drain three times in an attempt to neutralise the prosecco.
30. Reflect that my tolerance for loud has disappeared completely somewhere between the ages of 34-44 and that my preference for socialising is now a nice meal somewhere quiet where you can talk and no one worries about what they're wearing.
31. Reflect too that, the advantage of socialising with runners on a weekend is that many of them have races on a Sunday so there is no imperative to stay up beyond 11! 
32. Manage to last until 11pm when thankfully M is also keen to get home. It has been lovely to see Henry and Lucy, despite my inability to cope with noise and party frocks. 
33. Fall asleep in the car on the way home.

1. Despite getting only 6 hours sleep and having gone to bed with a thumping headache, we get up early and drive to Stockbridge for a race. Meet up with the running club and have a giggle generally about life, running, weather, back aches etc.
2. Buy soup and bread and cheese, a chocolate cake and two Toblerones (special offer) in the village shop while M is out racing round the course with Neil, who comes second to M's third.
3. Hold onto a blonde labradoodle called scraggles while her mum goes off to find her son. She is very sweet and friendly and we have a nice cuddle (the dog, not the woman) and I reflect that T and P will be scandalised when I get home and they sniff another dog on me.
4. Tell two small boys NOT to throw great jagged lumps of rock into the river where the trout are swaying in the current, in the absence of any obvious parental presence.
5. Cheer M in, go home, bake 20 scones, dress them with clotted cream and strawberry jam and stick a candle in twelve of them, then wrap my mother's bd presents (in fabric with ribbon, not a bit of plastic in sight. We are giving her a bird feeder from the grandchildren, some fabric and a cross stitch set from us and some locally made goats milk soap with chamomile and lemongrass that smells lovely), quickly wash my hair and am downstairs in time to welcome M's cousin and my ma in law who've just flown back in from Ireland where they've been visiting elderly relatives, and who are coming to lunch.
6. Over lunch try to persuade M's cousin to do some races with us this year. Follow up with an email about the Cheltenham and Cheddar Gorge Challenges which look fab.
7. They go, I have a quick wander round the garden to admire the Hellebores and the Daphne which are coming into flower, and then my family arrive, with my bro in law ferrying the parents who've accidentally got pissed at lunch.
8. We have a good giggle about this and promise not to let them forget it. The grandchildren in particular find it hysterical and the grandparents look suitably red-faced. 
9. Sit down for presents, which are unwrapped and admired, chat, blow out the candles on the scone cake, brew up some tea and eat and drink while discussing the problem of plastic waste and what to do about it.
10. 5pm everyone goes home, I fall asleep on the sofa watching Ian Mckellen in Holmes, which is a shame because the bit I saw was good.
11. Wake up in time to watch Vera, have some bread, cheese, an apple and a cup of tea, and make L's lunch for Monday. Check the results from Stubby and am pleased to see my friend Neil did really well.
12. Promise the dogs that tomorrow I will be at home and take them for a long walk round the fields.
13. Fall asleep more or less as soon as my head hits the pillow and only wake at 1am briefly to talk M down from some intense sleep-walking drama that had got him out of bed because he was running the Zimbabwe election. My dreams are never that exciting.

*parkrun was great, in case you were wondering. Did it in a steady 27 mins and thoroughly enjoyed it. Only a very small sprint finish at the end to overtake the four people in front of me. (Don't tell John).

Hope you all had a good weekend?

CT x

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Anyone Need A Plumber?

Just thought I'd share with you that I've fixed the leak, all by myself, no plumber required (and also that the inside of under-the-kitchen-sink-pipes are disgusting: a kind of fetid, brown, rotting gloop). Note the trusty marigolds. How do real plumbers manage without them?

Now I just have to decide what to do with the fifty quid I've saved... although come to think of it, it's only £25 after you take into account the car insurance fleecing from yesterday!

Hope all are well,


Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Morning Started Off So Well...

The dogs and I were out in the countryside early this morning. A little after dawn when the air is vibrant with expectancy, curious about what the day will bring, and you can still feel the lingering energy of the night is the best time to stalk the fields alone. 

The sparrowhawk had left a pile of damp pigeon feathers, beaded by the dew, beside one of the hedges and Teddy, who started the walk on a lead because he's been limping recently, wandered over to investigate. After ten minutes he'd loosened up enough to go off the lead and duly gambolled off to find Poppy who was watching two roe deer standing silently in the mist; a pair of tall statues guarding the entrance to the wood. They fled as we approached, white tails flashing, and the trees welcomed them in and closed after them.

For all that the air was chill and wet out in the fields, with tendrils of mist wrapping themselves over field and hedge, there was also the hint of Spring in the land: green shoots appearing; catkins dangling on the hazel boughs; the quality of the light changing; the rising energy of sap stirring in the trees. The woods were holding onto their secrets, standing close-lipped and silent, but even so, small spears of bluebell leaves were just about visible, peering through the leaf litter, blinking in the light, murmuring of colours to come. 

Back home and the positive morning auspices disappeared. The pipes under the kitchen sink gave out while I was clearing last night's washing up and flooded my trainers, (the only pair that fit the orthoses I'm supposed to wear all day), the floor and everything in the cupboard. Our usual plumber is booked up so I'm going to try and save fifty quid by fixing it myself....

Forty minutes later I'd also somehow swapped my car insurance to a different company for more money, despite phoning them because they'd promised a cheaper rate on the basis that M already has his car insured with them. My sense of annoyance at this was compounded by an encouragement to be grateful for a waived admin fee charged in the firts place because of their error. Try as I might, I couldn't make the chap on the phone understand this. We spent a good thirty minutes having a circular conversation that went like this:

Him: The charge relates to changes made to the policy.
Me: But we haven't made any changes to the policy.
Him: The charge relates to changes made to the policy when we spoke in December.
Me: Well that can't be right because when we spoke in December it was the first time. You gave me a quote and we haven't talked since. I didn't take out a policy then. I don't have a policy with you now. That's the point of this phone call, to find out whether you can come in cheaper than the company I currently do have a policy with. There can't have been changes to a policy that doesn't exist.
Him: The charge relates to changes made to the policy.
Me: No. No. No. I don't think you understand: it's impossible for there to be any changes to the policy because I don't have one with you.
Him: Your husband has a policy with us. Perhaps he's made some changes?
Me (trying to be patient): He took the policy out with you in November, he didn't speak to you in December.
Him: The charge relates to changes made to the policy in December.
Me (less patiently): We haven't changed his policy AT ALL IN ANY PARTICULAR since December. Or before come to that.

L, who after a term at Sixth Form college has taken to wearing black nail polish, listening to Swedish political protest songs at full volume through earphones lodged so permanently in his ears they might as well be surgically attached, while wearing a number of interchangeable heavy metal t-shirts and a bandana with skulls on round his head, was rummaging about in the kitchen for food while trying to navigate his way past several cleaning bottles which were the disgorged contents of the flooded cupboard under the sink. He looked over and grinned.

Him: Let's go over the details to make sure you haven't changed anything.
Me (by now fairly hysterical): THERE'S NO POINT! Because I only spoke to you a month ago AND NOTHING HAS CHANGED! I know that, because it was me you spoke to.
Him: Perhaps your husband has changed something?
Me: Why would he do that, when nothing has changed?
Him: Are you still living in the same house? Are you still married?
Me: I think I might have noticed if we weren't.
Him: Let's go over the details to make sure.
Me (sighing): Well I know my details haven't changed, because they're mine, so there's no point doing that. And if his have changed how will you know unless you speak to him? Unless he's having a secret affair and has put his mistress on the policy and neglected to tell me, I can't think what else might have changed.
Him: Let's go over all the details to make sure, in case I've missed something.
Me (thinking my confidence in this person not to make mistakes had evaporated about twenty minutes ago), raised my fists to the heavens and shook them violently while screaming silently, before saying: Ok, but I know you won't find anything because, as I think I've said before: NOTHING HAS CHANGED.

L, who had finished hunting for food by now, came over and took up station on the sofa where he made himself comfortable and settled in to watch, a broad grin on his face and a delighted look in his eye. He even unhooked his earphones, and that is the first time I've seen his ears unencumbered by skull candy in about three years. 

Him (after going through both sets of details and finding nothing had changed, except that by this time I'd remembered he'd originally entered me as having my license for seventeen years instead of 27 when we'd spoken in December): Well that seems to be all in order. I wonder where the change was made?
Me (exasperated): I think it was probably you getting my license details wrong when we spoke in December.
Him: Silent.
Me: OK, I don't think we're getting anywhere with this. The bottom line is the policy is more expensive than my current one, regardless of changes made or not, so I think that probably answers my question, thank you for your time.
Him: I'll just talk to my manager and see if there's anything we can do about the charge generated by changes made to the policy.

I considered throwing the phone at the wall. 

A gap of ten minutes then ensued, during which time they tried to break my will further by playing looped music so awful that I would rather have had L's death metal racket blasted full volume directly into my brain. Unable to take any more of it, I handed L the phone with the instruction to give it back when the bloke reappeared. This is the boy who deals with cold callers by telling them he's only 14 and they need to speak to his mum, then neglecting to tell them I am out and leaving them hanging on the phone for twenty minutes until they give up. 

I went off to get some light relief by unblocking the sink.

After a while L called out to me: He's back, and the conversation resumed...

Him: Well, the good news is, I've talked to my manager and we're going to waive the admin fee! Without it that brings the policy in at an amount ten pounds under what you're already paying. Isn't that good news?
Me (drily): You mean, the admin fee you charged for a change in the policy that we didn't make but you did?
Him: The charge relates to changes made to the policy since December.

L, still on the sofa and with a fascinated look on his face, smiled as, desperate to get off the phone and resume some semblance of normal life I said: OK. I'll take the policy.
Him: Your husband has legal protection as an added extra, as well as no claims bonus protection. Would you like those too?
At that point I would have agreed to just about anything to make him go away. It was only after I agreed and rang off that I realised I've ended up paying £25 more than I was.

The frustration of not being listened to and the realisation I'd ended up buying a more expensive policy than the one I originally had, had to find an outlet somewhere. It took the form of mainlining a packet of crisps, three biscuits and half a Toblerone in about five minutes flat and before eleven o'clock. I consoled myself with the thought that running 3.5 miles yesterday meant I was in credit, but I'm not sure a 350 calorie deficit is sufficient mitigation.

I hope you've all had a more productive morning. I'm off to stick pins in my eyes.

CT :o)

Saturday, 6 January 2018

A Good Start To The New Year!

1000 frozen parkrunners

I've been resting for the past four-or-so-weeks, in the running sense, giving my knee time to recover from the exertions of the latter half of the year (six half marathons, a handful of 10 and 12 mile races, a clutch of 10ks and more 5k parkruns than I can count, as well as all the normal fun/ training runs in between). During that time I've been diligently doing daily stretches and strengthening exercises and getting used to a pair of shiny new, custom-made orthoses. I've also swapped from walking the fields in wellies to walking boots, and from being at home in slippers to trainers. Yesterday, I completed the final piece of the jigsaw and got my knee checked by the doc, who, after thorough questioning, prodding, bending, poking and pushing declared himself satisfied there was nothing wrong with it and agreed with the diagnosis of the physio and podiatrist.

On Monday I went out for a ginger and very slow 0.8 mile run, on the flat, on the tarmac. I can't tell you how good it felt to be back out there! Even over a tiny distance: it was bliss. I was hungry afterwards for the first time in a month!

This morning I helped out at parkrun, which I've been doing a lot these past weeks while resting my knee. I've made lots of new friends that way so it's been a bit of a blessing in disguise. Good grief it was cold. I was quite glad I wasn't running. Instead (snug inside my thick coat with hat, gloves and scarf and extra-thick socks), I caught up with my running buddies at the start, cheered them on as they swept past half-way round, then congratulated them at the end where I was helping to give out the finish tokens. We nearly had a course record, clocking 1066 runners. Phew!

This afternoon, I donned warm running kit and went out for my third run of the week, aiming to do closer to 2.5 miles this time, so I can get back to parkrun (which is 3 miles) next weekend. 2.5 miles is approx three times up and down our lane. The first time, I passed my neighbour who was walking her dog and we called a quick hello, the second time she looked quizzical so I explained why I was running ever so slowly backwards and forwards along the lane. The third time she asked how my knee was holding out and I was delighted to be able to say it was perfectly fine.

I got home having bagged 2.6 miles in a very slow 26 minutes with no ache in the knee and immediately texted my buddy John (who has been coaching me on how to manage this injury since December with a brilliantly simple philosophy which I shall follow from now on: if it's an ache, run on it, if it's a pain, don't) and received back a Well done! But don't be tempted to race at parkrun at the weekend! I am now, officially, Mrs Tortoise, but I'm back running! So who cares!

Hope you're all having a nice weekend, and if you're in the NE of the States, hope you're keeping safe and warm especially.

CT :o)

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Merry Christmas!

A very merry Christmas to all of you from all of us here at Countryside Tales XXX

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Christmas Thinking.

It's a very unfestive foggy, dreary sort of day here today. But for all that, the birds are singing their springtime songs, evidently more aware than we are that the light will soon be turning, and one of our toads has woken up and is singing by the greenhouse. Toads have surprisingly soothing voices: I often sit and listen to them serenading the lady toads, and end up being accidentally serenaded myself at the same time.

I popped into Romsey this morning to get a few things. What on earth was I thinking? It was gridlocked. In the end I got a half hour parking slot on the side of the road and then flew about like a mad thing doing what I needed to do. It was not an enjoyable experience. I am thinking that what we haven't got now we can do without. Less is more, no?

I don't like the consumerism of Christmas in general, but for some reason this year in particular I am coming out in hives over it. Watching the Blue Planet episode on all the plastic being dumped in the sea, and seeing with a sinking heart how the majority of weekly rubbish in our bin is plastic wrappers, despite being careful about what we buy, and then reading how many of the recycling plants in China don't recycle the plastic but instead bin it into rivers and the earth really got to me. To that end, when it came down to a simple choice this morning between sprouts wrapped in a plastic bag or the one above from the farm shop clinging to its stalk, I went for the stalky one. It was cheaper too.

I think we really have to challenge ourselves, supermarkets and other providers on packaging. Why, for example, are so many fruits and vegetables wrapped in plastic when they've got skins? Cucumbers and bananas do not need wrapping. And for those that do, surely it's not beyond our capabilities to create something that does the job and then degrades? When I was little, greengrocers had brown paper bags. Can't we get those back? 

Wherever I have looked in the shops these past weeks I have been surrounded by plastic. It depresses me beyond measure. I walked the fields this week and collected armfuls of the stuff: scraps from bags used on the farm, bottle lids dropped by walkers, a plastic shopping bag blown on the wind, a crisp packet that had been in the earth for ages and hadn't degraded at all.

We buy things wrapped in plastic then carry them home in even more plastic. I stood behind a woman in a shop this morning and watched her pay 5p for a plastic bag to put her purchases in, even though she had three half-full in her other bag. Even Christmas trees are now casually put through those little machines that wrap them in plastic netting, exactly the sort of thing that traps and kills sea life when it ends up in the sea. It's a one use and throw away product and I doubt many people even stop to think about it, so used have we as a society become to accepting the ubiquitous presence of plastic in our lives, unwrapping items and chucking out the packaging. We said no thank you to the chap who offered to wrap our tree and he looked slightly offended. His response when we explained why we were turning the netting down was that tying the branches with string as they had last year took ages. We just put the tree in the car, drove home and took it out again. It survived. No string nor plastic required.

I've been thinking about it and I think the problem is we're too removed from the rubbish we create - people don't think enough about it because they aren't responsible for disposing it and they don't see where it goes. I count myself in this too- I thought I was being mindful but recently have realised there is a lot more I can do.

So next year I am changing the way we do things. I am going to avoid plastic as much as possible and, in addition to this, challenge all purchases I am tempted to make to see whether or not we really need them. M has prompted me to do this, by a simple remark he made last week about not wanting to consume more than he strictly needed. 

I am going to write to our local supermarket and ask them what they are doing about using biodegradable packaging on the products they sell and M is going to contact the council and find out why plastic soup and ice cream pots, for example, aren't recyclable, and why the symbols that designate recyclability are so tiny on packaging you can barely read them. 

We'd already agreed not to get each other presents this year, instead we are taking one another out for a nice meal and paying for a race entry for each other for next year. No waste involved and the memories will last longer and be sweeter than any corporeal gift could. I'm not anti presents, in case you thought I'd gone all scrooge. I just wish they didn't come packaged in such horrible material.

Have you had any thoughts about what you'd like to change or do differently next year?