Monday, 29 November 2010

There's no place like ...

I've had a long standing arrangement to go to a friend's new house for dinner tonight.

She's a friend from a former job. She worked in my department, but in a different office, and she married a man who worked in my office, but in a different department (Following? Good!) Anyway, they're both about the same age as me, both do, to all effect and both do the same thing as me.

Here's the crack. They bought flats independently when they were pretty fresh to working life, then sold the two to buy one, sold that, bought another, sold that at the peak of the market, moved into a rental, and have now bought this; a house that had been sloshing around at the bottom of the market for long enough that it was reduced to about three quarters of its initial asking price, costing them just shy of seven figures.

Today I got the guided tour. And it was pretty hard not to draw a few comparisons.

Their neighbours are retired army majors and stockbrokers. Mine are youth workers and mini-cab drivers. Their neighbour's children drive Fiat 500s that they were given for their 18th birthdays. Mine steal their mother's second hand Corsas when they see a chance. Their garage is a detached, oak beamed building. Mine is ... well, it's non-existent.

Everything in their new pad screamed class. The six ring range in the kitchen. The American style fridge-freezer. The utility room with underfloor heating. All four of the bedrooms, and all three of the bathrooms. The summer house. The driveway with an "in" and an "out" gate. It all just reeked of success and glamour and being a proper adult. I felt more than a little like I might not have made the best of every opportunity.

So here I am now, in my house with only four burners on the stove, two bedrooms, and one bathroom, and ... can you believe ... no utility room, garage, or driveway at all (oh, the shame!) But when I came in, the house was nice and toasty warm, and it struck me that their house had been a little cold. And whilst I don't have a two-seater sofa in my bedroom, I do much prefer the lovely rich blue on my bedroom walls to the beigey cream on theirs. And I might only have the one bathroom, but it is massive, so lots of people could ablute in there at the same time if they wanted ...

So on balance, I'm inclined to say that you can keep your million pound residence in Surrey. For this girl, there's no place like Tooting.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

A Terribly Exciting Adventure

I have a little brother. Well, I say he's little, but he'll be 30 next year. Imagine! Me with a 30 year old little brother. I know ... I don't look old enough.

But anyway ...

He and his lady friend live in domestic harmony in Loughborough, with their small furry housemate, Charlie the Hamster. Charlie is a lady hamster. When they first got her, they didn't know if she was a she or if she was a he, so they gave her an androgynous name. Having established that she was a girl hamster (or, at least, not endowed as a boy hamster should be) they determined that Charlie was short for Baroness Charleston P. Hamster The First. Naturally.

They make a happy trio, Brother, Lady and Charlie. It's a living arrangement that works well for all parties. That is, it did until ...

... three weeks ago, when disaster struck! Brother Tooting trotted downstairs from his morning ablutions to find an empty cage! Charlie-mouse the Hamster had escaped! Her door was ajar, her cotton wool bed was empty, her night-time choccie drops untouched. She was vanished without trace. No note. No clues. No hamster. Just an empty cage.

They turned the place upside down, looking under things, behind things, around things, inside things, and on top of things that could be tempting to a hamster, but to no avail.

Brother was anxious. He suspected that he might have been the one who had left the cage door open, and that Charlie's escape might therefore he his fault. He was also aware that there had been a bag of recycling waiting to go out just before escape was noticed. Perhaps she had seen a big bag of bedding and rooted in, only to be put out for the bin men in the morning.

On an estate frequented by foxes and populated by cats, no-one liked Charlie-mouse's chances if she'd got out of the house, and no-one really thought that she was still in the house. No-one voiced their feelings, but everyone thought that Charlie had gone to hamster heaven. After a couple of days of food trails not being followed back to the tantalisingly open cage door, the assumption was that she'd gone never to return. Poor, poor Charlie.

Two days ago, there was a knock at the door. Brother opened it to find his neighbour on the door step. "Have you lost a guinea pig?" "Erm. A hamster. We've lost a hamster." "Yeah, that's right. It's in our kitchen."

The neighbours had come down that morning to find a "guinea pig" sitting in their cat's food bowl, chomping away. When they approached, the "guinea pig" had scarpered behind the fridge, so they didn't get a good look. Presumably leading them to think that it was several times larger and guinea pig shaped. Slightly sceptically, Brother put Charlie's cage in the neighbour's kitchen that night, door open and homey looking, and would you believe it, but Charlie came home!

Three weeks! Where has she been? Did she get carried away in the bin bag, and slowly wend her way home, only to take a wrong turn and go into the wrong house? Had she been next door all along, nibbling on tasty cat food? Could she have been to visit a hammy cousin in the country, and missed the train home?

Who knows.

All we know is that she went away, and now she's home ...

... until the next time ...

Sunday, 7 November 2010

It's so beautiful, but what does it mean?

What with one thing and another, my garden hadn't been put to bed for the winter, and consequently, what had, in the summer, been a lovely haven of tranquility had become a jungle. The shrubs almost met in the middle, the weeds were knocking at the window to be let in, and a climber was making its way along the washing line from the back wall towards the house.

Frankly there could have been things living out there. Bears, lions or monsters. Really. I'd never have known.

Anyway, today I ran out of excuses, so despite the biting cold, I put on my mucky gardening clothes and hit the back yard.

I'm not going to lie to you. It was hard work. Hard. Work. I really grafted, up one side of the garden, along the back wall, and down the other side to the Big Bed. I dug up weeds, lopped back shrubs, pruned, tied up, nipped ends, replanted, dug up, dug down, swept and even dug one whole plant right out of the ground. Deliberately, I mean.

So, there I was, almost finished, when the first big fat ploppy drops of rain started falling. Heck! Sweep, sweep, sweep, and gather up the last stuff and fling it in a sack and collect up the tools and sweep up again and move the bench back and put the chairs away in the shed and ... and ... and ...

A neighbour ran out into her garden to gather in her washing from the rain, and suddenly shouted back into the house, "girls, come quick! There's a double rainbow!" And she was right. There is was. One rainbow inside another rainbow. So I finished up and stood in the rain for a minute looking.

And then I started laughing to myself, because I remembered this guy, and I realised that he's right. They really are pretty amazing!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Two letters

Letter #1

Dear Bob Crow

Another tube strike, eh? Thanks for that.

So just to clarify, you're objecting to the possibility that some of your ticket office staff will be made redundant, and you're objecting on safety grounds?

90% of tube passengers now use the Oyster cards that YOU pioneered, and which are charged up at a machine. That doesn't mean that your ticket office staff might be made redundant. That means that your ticket office staff ARE redundant. If you started recruiting professional lead swingers, they'd be more useful than ticket office staff.

And Bob, losing these people poses a risk to safety? Really? REALLY? Have you SEEN your ticket office staff in action? If I thought for one second that my safety was in the hands of your ticket office staff, I wouldn't get on a tube train again. Actually, cramming all the people that usually use the tube onto the buses is a massive safety risk. I was in serious danger of trampling old ladies in my attempt to get on a bus last night. See? Safety risk.

So. Can you do me a favour, you strange shiny faced man you? Can you NOT strike for dumb-ass reasons again in the near future? You are not warming people to your cause one bit.

Thank you


Letter #2

Dear Royal British Legion

I write to congratulate you.

I buy my poppy every year from someone who I assume to be a survivor from the Somme; a poor bent old soul, more wrinkles than flat, and a strange smell of wee about them. It was a tactic that I thought you used to make people think of their Grandpies, and feel bad, and dip their hands in their pockets. And to be fair, it's always worked. You raised £34million last year. That's quite something.

I noticed that, when you launched the Poppy Appeal this year, you said you wanted to raise £90million. I've got to admit, I was sceptical. I mean, it's a charity that gets people's attention and all, but three times last years income? You were going to have to pull something pretty good out of the hat.

And today, you did just that.

Please can I offer my greatest thanks to whichever wonderful person in RBL HQ had the brilliant idea of sending out some lovely uniformed servicemen onto the street? This morning, when I got off the bus, I was greeted by a very tasty young man in American Air Force jacket, and his young, fresh-faced friend from the British Air Force. So I bought a poppy from them. Well, they looked so ... um ... enthusiastic.

Then at lunchtime three young men in army fatigues came at me down the street. Three of them. Together. Well, I've got to tell you, that's a pretty underhand tactic. What choice did I have but to buy another poppy?

And this evening, when I was running for my bus, I ran full tilt into a Queens Guard. There he was, poppy's on a string 'round his neck, and a bucket in one hand. Bearskin and everything. Well, he looked so handsome charitable, that I thought I'd better buy another poppy from him.

So I wanted to write and congratulate your PR team for such a simple, yet effective idea. You want to triple your income this year? Well I've now got three poppies. The system's working.

Best wishes


Monday, 1 November 2010

Very Exciting

Last weekend, my vacuum cleaner packed in. It worked for five minutes then overheated and cut out. Then it cooled down a bit and worked for five minutes, then overheated and cut out. I halfheartedly wiggled a few bits and shook out a filter thingy and unplugged and plugged in a few bits, and then decided that I wasn't clever enough for it all, and gave in. It had started making a burning smell too, prickling at my paranoia about killing myself alone in my house, and being found a month later, half eaten by cats. (Another blog post for another time, perhaps).

I've not had it that long. Just over a year really. But I suppose in that time it's moved out of a flat and into a house and decorated three rooms, including the fill-and-sand-and-fill-and-sand dining room. Maybe it's been asked to do more than a hoover should in a few short months. Poor old girl.

I was rather fond of her. She was one of those upright ones like Freddie Mercury used, and she was white and shiny and had a whizzy attachment for doing the stairs. My first hoover that was all my own. **sigh**

I was going to take her along to the rubbish dump and have an emotional farewell there, when it dawned on me that someone a bit cleverer than me might be able to get her back up and running. So I listed her on Freecycle, and waited to see if anyone wanted an old broken vacuum.

Within five minutes, I'd had a reply. Igor said he'd have it for his DIYing. "If you think I can be lucky one, please let me know." All yours Igor. You are lucky one. When can you come and get it?

This evening Igor turned up. "I am freecycle man. I come for Electrolux." Wonderful! Come in, come in. "I don't come in, no. I have bicycle here for looking after." WHAT?! You're taking it home on your bike? Igor, I don't think that will work. Igor smiled at me benignly. "Is ok."

I wheeled the "Electrolux" out to the street for him. "Oh yes yes yes." He walked once around it in an approving way. I half expected him to kick the tyres. "Is nice one." How are you going to manage it on your bike though? He carefully pulled off all the bits of hose and nozzle from the outside and tucked them in his panniers, then in a fluid movement he picked it up and flung it over his shoulder, then got on his bike, holding the handle of the hoover in one hand, and his handlebars in the other.

Igor, will you be ok? "Yes, yes. Thank you a lot. It is very exciting. I will fix it and let you know how it is." Very exciting? Well yes, I suppose so Igor. Mind how you go now.

And off he pedalled, slowly, precariously, and a bit nervously on the corner at the end of the road.

My new pull-aroundy vac, with a long elephant-trunk hose, and a pedal that sucks the cable back in is ok, but it's not as nice as the old one. But she's gone off for a new life with Igor, and he thinks that she's very exciting. I'm sure they'll be very happy together.