Clocks in Barcelona

Recently I was working with some PhDs near Barcelona. As you are not necessarily in my immediate social circle that might have been the first time you heard me say that.

But, if you know me on a person-to-person basis – at all – you will have heard me say that quite a lot recently.

And, you will have heard me mention that I was ‘running an interactive case study on the ethics of stem cell research, which, well yes, I wrote…’

Anyway, enough of that, I am not here to show off.

(Though if you want to know more about how good the case study is and how lovely the hotel in the mountains above the city was, or how charming and fun the 40 PhDs were, then do get in touch.)

The trip involved quite a lot if waiting around in Barcelona airport for one reason or another, and unlike the stuff above, I won’t bore you with the details.

Anyway, there is no clock in Barcelona airport.

Now an airport is somewhere where time matters, so you might think even in this day and age of watches and phones, you might have a clock that people could glance up at and be sure they hadn’t missed the time to go to the gate or missed their family’s flight arrival.

There is a fake clock in the cafe, where I spent some time waiting for a friend/colleague to arrive but, it being fake, is stuck on 9.40 – and attractive though it is, that doesn’t really cut it as a clock.

I can understand the toilets being far, far down the other end of the terminal. I can even understand that the mezzanine floor is still under construction and may have been/will be for some time.

I can even, just, understand that whilst one terminal has lots of shops and thus ways to kill time if you arrive very early for your flight, the terminal I was in has Desigual and bugger all else.

( We would not have arrived so early if the taxi driver had not decided that the half hour trip from the hotel should be done in record time of 15 minutes with near death experiences thrown in for good measure.)

But no clock?

So, I got to thinking about clocks. I had a lot of time to kill, one way or another.

Meeting under the clock at Waterloo station is one of those cliches now over-ridden with more practical solutions like meeting at a cafe on the mezzanine floor ( Barcelona airport authority please note, with no clock you should get your mezzanine floor sorted.)

And the grandfather clock belonging to our previous next door neighbours which chimed, quietly, through the walls during the night.

I have tried to get us a chiming clock for our mantlepiece, and bought two ( not the same as a grandfather clock, but nice all the same) but we can never make them work.

So, our siting room has two clocks which don’t work – though I am sure anyone with an ounce of clock experience could get them going in a minute.

But, glancing at my watch, it is now time to go and cook supper – and there are two clocks in the kitchen which work – one has bird song on the hour and an image of the bird which is singing but (please at this point see previous blog about not being a detail kind of a person) the images and song don’t quite match – we have an owl’s hoot at midday….

And for those of us of a like mind, there is the daily time keeping, just after 7pm, The Archers, after which supper will be served.

 

 

Artichoke Hearts

There are times when you just have to admit to yourself that you are a Sussex housewife.

I was in Waitrose the other day – other supermarkets are available, and I can be found shopping thriftily in Petersfield’s Lidl and Tescos, especially at the end of the month, but Waitrose has stuff that they don’t.

Tinned artichoke hearts, for example.

Now I am a big fan of the above. There is a great Cranks recipe for a pie which is artichoke, green olives and potatoes – which I roll out frequently to vegetarian and omnivore guests alike and it goes down a treat.

Tinned artichoke hearts can also be drained (well they need to be drained and rinsed gently) fried in a little olive oil with parsley and lemon and then be the basis for supper – with salmon, with finely sliced fennel, with pasta, with saute potatoes etc etc – you get my drift.

Anyway, I was shocked to see an empty shelf when I had gone to stock up. ( Lidl and Tescos, good though they are on other stuff, do not see fit to stock artichoke hearts.)

Seeing the Waitrose floor manager I approached him and said. ‘This is a very Waitrose customer question, but have you decided not to stock tinned artichoke hearts any more? If so, I will be heartbroken’

( I was laying it on a bit thick, but I do rely on those tins.

There are a few other thing which are always in my cupboard but I am afeared that I might sound even more Sussex housewife than I can bear.

But, for example lentils, I am a big fan, and can give you any number of lentil recipes should you be in need – and really, really they don’t need to be Puy lentils….)

His colleague ( who I gathered was an area manager ) said, in a very Waitrose manager way, ‘It could just be a supply issue. We have a rather erratic supply.’

All three of us walked to the empty shelf spot and looked at it mournfully. The area manager produced his tablet, checked it and reported that indeed it was a supply issue and once there were supplies, Petersfield Waitrose would stock tinned artichoke hearts again.

‘ We do have them grilled in oil in a jar, in case of emergency,’ he told me.

I am not enough of a Sussex housewife to have an artichoke ‘emergency.’

And, I said to him, ‘ I am not enough of a Waitrose customer to not notice the difference in cost between the posh jars and the ‘frugal’ tins.’

In a hurry to get milk for the Oxfam shop’s tea the other day, I whizzed past the relevant shelf and saw, yippee, they had the tins in again – I am now the proud owner of seven tins of artichoke hearts.

So, should some Sussex siege suddenly arrive, I will be able to knock up a tasty supper.

 

The 80/20 rule

I have a habit of living my life by the 80/20 rule. It is a handy rule, I have to say.

So, it is really called the Pareto Principle and there are many ways to use it. You can of course look it up and get many ( indeed, very many) explanations, but here is how it works in my life.

I reckon that if you get 80 percent of a task done, that is enough. You could spend a lot of time ( say another 80 percent,) getting the last 20 percent exactly right and I am not one to bother with that ‘exactly right’ stuff. 80 percent done will be fine by me.

My Best Beloved describes it slightly differently. He says that my approach to life is like an impressionist painting – looked at from a distance anything I do looks OK, but get up close and it is a series of random dots. And, not necessarily presented as well as an impressionist painting…

Anyway, good friends gave us the book, 1001 Paintings To See Before You Die, and they use it as a planner for weekends away. ( Yes, I do realise that for some people a weekend away cannot be afforded in terms of art galleries across Europe, and is more likely to be a visit to the sister in law in Southport, but I am  talking about nice lives here in Deepest Sussex.)

Well, we went recently to Naples ( see above for apology about being able to afford that as a short break,) and I meant to look at the book to see what artistic treasures I should tick off.

But, in the 80/20 rule of life, checking the book came in the 20 percent and, essentially, I forgot to get organised enough to do that.Or bring it with me, or ask the BB to check……

So, arriving in Naples, I decided to google what were the best pictures to see and thought at least then I would have covered my bases.

Google told me there was a great art gallery and three Caravaggios not to be missed.

The big art gallery we did. And, the three Caravaggios which are considered important –  I did all of them.

I had an 80 percent hunch that Caravaggio would be on the list of artists in the book and that surely his Naples-painted pictures would be in the book too.

I have to say the best visit was one in an old bank converted to a ‘space’ ( and the lovely old counters are still in place) and and upstairs there is one Caravaggio, and a large handful of Neapolitan paintings.

On the day I trekked to it, there was a pianist playing in the ‘space’ and from upstairs you could lean over the balcony and watch and listen – and, by the way, dear reader see three Andy Warhol images of Vesuvius.

The Caravaggio wasn’t up to so much, but the Neapolitan paintings were great – as was the pianist.

So, can I tick those Caravaggios off?

Well, the book you see, is not arranged well. You can’t look up a city and check which paintings you should see there, or look up the artist and find which cities have art galleries with him ( and let’s be honest, it is likely to be a him) on show.

So, carrying on with the 80/20 rule of my life, I am presuming there is an 80 percent chance that one of those Caravaggio’s will be cite and the time it would take to check is not worth the 20 per cent satisfaction of checking…..

Perhaps my better organised friends will tell me.

 

Chairs and Who I am

Upholstering a chair can remind you quite a bit about yourself.

Those who know me well will need now to skip to the end to find the bit where they can say to themselves, ‘Typical!’

(The bits in brackets of what follows are the insights – but probably you would have worked that out for yourselves, and indeed, my best beloved would have pointed that out to me – but I am never one to not state the obvious.)

Firstly, the source of chairs – for I am not at the scale of upholstery which would allow me to whip up a smart sofa of an afternoon – I like a bargain, love auctions, and am on first name terms with the men at the tip – the tip shop is a great place to buy.

(Nothing if not an E in Meyers Briggs terms, I know the tip shop men and they know me.)

So, I buy ugly ducklings of chairs and manage to get them to the state where they can see that, in the next life , they might be swans.

Sometimes I can sell them on Gumtree or E-bay and sometimes I give them away, and sometimes we (that is the royal we) keep them.

Our house is not short of chairs.

(I don’t have business acumen or a business plan so my selling is ad hoc and usually the chairs I think will sell in an instant don’t and those I have botched and badgered, go in a second. Have I worked out what I should be buying and selling, no I have not.)

I will never be a John Lewis woman. Even if I have won (and I have not checked my ticket yet) the £35m lottery win of last night, I wouldn’t shop in John Lewis. It is, I have no doubt a good quality place to buy stuff, but you would find me at an auction somewhere buying ‘brown’ furniture and storing it my newly-bought barn. Of course patronising young furniture designers is another thing altogether and I would be out there with cash in hand.

(I am a person who likes serendipity. I like surprises. I like buying some chair for doodly-squat and thinking what I could do with it.

That is my creative outlet. I know people who are much more creative than I am, and I take my hat off to them, but for me this is enough.

But I like some creativity in my life and at the moment, this is it.)

I go to my upholstery class every Wednesday morning and it is one of my most characteristic Sussex Housewife life activities – so, between deciding on whether it is 10mm fine tacks or bashing in 15mm tacks whilst doing some webbing, we gossip in a Sussex Housewife kind of a way.

(More Meyers Briggs E stuff.)

(I like to pretend that I am a little edgy and not quite of the pack – the Peckham woman still there despite the fact that I am in a village hall doing a hobby that most people don’t have the time or money for – but of course everyone else has another life too – and being a bit different is something I like to think I am, but I need to get over myself on that.)

The bit I like most about upholstery is the fabric.

I like to think if I had my life over again, I would take up some job that involved fabric design or fabric selling or something like that.

(Never a one for specifics.)

But then I think that if I had my life over again, I would do all sorts of things.

I would be in a job that allowed me to know something in very great detail.

Or work in an auction house so that I could know about the stuff I like but know little about.

Or was a hacker – I’d love to be a hacker (but would never have the dedication.)

Or a historian specializing in attitudes to the church changing after the plague or the Mongols – I am fascinated by the Mongols.

Or, or, or – but the list goes on.

(I think that people who are entirely happy with all the choices they made are either extremely boring or extremely lucky – most of us, surely, can think of what else we might have done with our lives however happy we are now.)

So, back to the chairs.

We went to Charleston – the lovely house ‘ home of the Bloomsbury Group’ who mostly I wanted to put against a wall and give a stern talking to, but whose internal house and outside garden design I thought was just lovely and interesting.

(That propensity to want to put people against a wall and give a stern talking to, whilst waving a finger at them, is something I think I will never quite manage to change into an attitude of quiet understanding and a ‘listening mode’.)

I found a chair and re-upholstered it in an homage to Vanessa Bell’s interior décor.

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Blimey, did that simple looking chair take an age. What you can’t see is the blue piping and don’t get me on to that.

And that is the thing about chairs – each one is different, each one teaches you something, one side is never the same as the other side.

(The same as people.)

So, my final thought on upholstery and my life is the thing about an eye for detail.

(Ha! Say the people who know me so well.)

The current chair I have worked on with hammer and tacks (nails, to the non upholsterer) has taken me a while.

I have refused point blank to do (so far) a button-backed chair but I found an ugly duckling at the tip shop that had a buttoned mattress –stitched (which I had to replace and re-stitch) seat.

(Please don’t bother with the details of that, I never do.)

And I hadn’t needed the maxim of a fellow upholster, ‘If a blind man, riding a horse can’t see it, it doesn’t matter’ – she is of course a perfectionist.

I  have, to my credit, hand-sewn every bit of the top cover of all the chair and seat – and my upholstery teacher is impressed.

And today I buttoned the seat.

No one (no, really, no one) hand-makes buttons so I had been to Chichester to get them made.

I was going along rather famously with buttoning both sides of the seat.

Leaving the class, I went for a long shift at Oxfam and then came home and took up my two-pointed needle to finish off the job and impress my best beloved and my Friday night guests.

One button after another, one upholster’s knot after another, one tension pull after another…..

I hadn’t got enough buttons.

I hadn’t counted the right number of buttons I needed. A quick count, no going back to check, no re-think, no re-check, and now I am sitting here with several buttons missing, the prospect of having to go back all the way to Chichester to get more made.

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( I have always in my life ‘suffered’ from the lack of an eye for detail and a complete lack of Belbin’s definition of a completer-finisher.

My chair with its marker pins – not buttons, says it all. But from a distance it looks fine.

On this occasion, my habit of living by the 80/20 rule – 80 per cent is fine, the last 20 per cent doesn’t matter – just won’t work.)

And if all else fails I can take up a new hobby.

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Plastic Bottles

So, you get all those emails asking you to sign a petition or send an email about stuff.

This was one asking Cocoa-Cola to reduce the numbers of their bottles ending up as plastic rafts polluting the lives of seabirds and fish across the world.

There are times when I ignore these appeals (and I know I should’t ) – too busy, too tired, too difficult to deal with….

But tonight I sat up straight and decided not just to sign but to say what I thought.

Us Sussex Housewives do have thoughts.

Here is what I sent:

(and should you want to sign the petition go to the Greenpeace site)

Below (at the end) is the email I was asked to send. And, by and large, I  agree with it. You have 100 billion plastic bottles sloshing around the environment in any one year …

You must get thousands petition signatures, and emails, and contacts etc and perhaps you ignore most of them – if not all.

I am hoping that there is a real human reading this and one who might want to make, just ordinary contact.

So, if there is someone ( not an algorithm) reading this , I would really appreciate it if you just tell me that you have read this communication. Just read it.

I used to do a (faintly) similar job to your’s – fending off stuff for the CEO – but not anywhere near as big a company as yours. Not anywhere near as big. And, even then it was hard work.

Still and all, all aspects of customer service are what makes a reputation – and a good reputation is hard won and easily lost.

If, by chance you do read this far, I would just like to say a) I live in England, so a long way from your main markets and b) I am far from perfect, very far from perfect, when comes to being good about the environment.

But you have many more resources and, therefore, responsibilities, than I do.

Why I am bothering to do more than just sign the petition? Well, no good reason except to see if there is anyway of reaching into such an organisation. And to be mightily impressed if there is.

If you answer this, I will indeed be mightily impressed, and I will promise, as a result, to make a lot more effort on my environmental ‘stuff’.

I will, if you do – imagine that…

So, I get a response from you and we keep in contact and you tell me what your huge organisation is doing and I tell you what I am doing in my life to recycle better, protect the environment etc etc.

Just out of interest. No agenda, no publicity, nothing except human contact.

(And of course, as you are a human responding on behalf of an organisation but still a human, you will be doing the same – going home, putting the garbage out and hoping that you are better at making sure there is less waste.)

As I said, I know Coca-Cola, as a huge company, has a somewhat larger issue to deal with than I do, but if you, as that huge company, can make a bit of an extra effort, it will (just a bit!) have a lot more impact that whatever I do.

If you make contact, human contact/email contact but not just an automatic response, I will do a lot better because I will be, again as I said, mightily impressed that such a huge organisation makes the effort.

So, please, make my day (as you say in the US) and make human contact.

And of course, there are the issues below:

‘Plastic pollution is one of the greatest threats facing our oceans. An estimated 12 million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans every year – a truck load of rubbish every minute.

Plastic can now be found at every corner of the world’s oceans – from bottles and packaging to tiny microplastics – threatening one of our planet’s key life-support systems, harming marine life and even ending up in the seafood on our plate.

We know that single-use plastic bottles are a major source of ocean plastic pollution and are found littering beaches around the world.

As the biggest soft drinks company in the world – selling an estimated 100 billion single use plastic bottles every year worldwide – Coca-Cola bears a particular responsibility for ocean plastic pollution.

Further as one of the richest companies in the world and a leader in your sector Coca-Cola has the power and resources to help solve this problem.

I understand you are currently reviewing and updating your sustainable packaging strategy. I urge you to ensure that this clearly sets out commitments, targets and timelines to drastically reduce Coca-Cola’s plastic footprint.

That means committing to phase out the use of throwaway plastic packaging, embracing reusable models and innovative delivery systems and ensuring all remaining packaging is made from 100% post-consumer recycled content.

I look forward to your response.’

Being Typecast

My best beloved is into Am Dram – amateur dramatics for anyone outside the UK – and he is good at it (rather to my surprise.)

The first time I went to see something produced by the company he was about to join, let’s say the benchmark for my expectations was sort of skirting board height.

But I was wrong. It was Amadeus, and it was brilliant.

Anyway he has got involved, and I am used to evenings alone when he goes to rehearsals, and reading all the other parts for him as he learns his lines.

(We have sat on a train in Spain with him putting his all into his lines (loudly) with Spaniards looking on rather bemused if not downright alarmed.)

We have also spent many an evening with me stirring a risotto with the play in one hand and reading all sorts of characters (badly) whilst he is sitting on the sofa, with a dog on his knee, ‘playing’ whatever part he is doing at the moment.

I have to say though, that the directors have got his card marked.

He was the bishop in ‘All Gas and Gaiters’ and it was not much of a step for him from normal life-speak to pontificating. Indeed I recognised some of the word patterns in our breakfast/dinner/tv suppers conversations.

( He was the voice of Snoozy in the Snow White pantomime and I reminded him of that as I woke him at 10am this morning…)

Currently he is rehearsing Time of Our Life by Alan Ackybourn and is the pompous paterfamilias and again, boy do I recognise him – though of course, his acerbic money-orientated wife is not me. Indeed she isn’t.

And of course, dear reader, he is not like that at all – or not much…..

But it got me thinking, how would I be typecast?

Well, of course, that requires a considerable degree of self-awareness and that is not my forte.

However, I am sure if you asked my best beloved he would be able to tell you……

 

 

 

 

Bring Me Your Childrens’ Books

If, for you, a story of an amazing find in the Petersfield Oxfam bookshop is getting a bit ho-hum, you should look away now, and maybe put down your reading glasses and head off to do something more productive.

Because, we are on a bit of a roll. But to get to the exciting stuff will take a while.

For previous exciting finds, please see, yes, previous blogs. ( I am not going to repeat all that except to say, we are still with children’s books.)

So, if you willing to carry on….

Our very nice book expert came in for a whole afternoon on Monday and we decided to wade through all the books I couldn’t, or hadn’t, priced.

I don’t often get a whole afternoon of his time and so with some cups of tea, a bit of gossip, chat, and swapping notes, we got on with the job.

Yes, there were two lovely books dating from 1700, in French, by someone who was an early Enlightenment writer. When I say lovely, the binding was in bad nick but then you would be if you had been around since 1700 and you had valiantly protected the insides. (£85.)

But the point here, is that I need him to describe all the stuff which makes really old books saleable on the internet – and I take notes…..

Full, or half calf binding, buckram, AEG (in case you want to know All Edges Gilt), strained hinges, free endpapers, steel engravings, woodcuts, etc etc.

I am learning, but I need him to hold my hand as it were.

So, we did a few of those.

The plan was that he would dictate the description of old books, I would type furiously and they would be on the net in no time at all and we would clear the whole two shelves.

It was always an ambitious plan.

As I say, we did a few of those and then went looking for ‘tasty treats.’

Then we rootled out a book which we have looked at before and wondered about, several times and this time we said we would definitely get that sorted, and on the internet that afternoon – but we got distracted.

First up distraction was a book we had looked at before but never had time to really check out.

It is a small thing, dating from the early 1800s, and inside it has illustrations of ‘Nearly One Hundred Familiar Objects’ ( don’t you just think, ‘Oh go on then, make it the full 100?)’ And of course the ‘nearly one hundred’ objects of the early 1800s are different from ours.

There are bonnets and top hats for example, and each page has words with hyphens so that the child can learn how to say them.

After a bit of research we are going to put it on the internet for £225. This little book has lasted all these years and is a snapshot back in time and, believe me, it is a rare find.

But the real surprise was this book.

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Now, I have to say that I am used to looking inside children’s books and I am looking for illustrations/images/drawings/woodcuts…

This book was, again, small and had no illustrations but it did, as you see, have a nice cover.

I would have easily put it in the box for £1.00 books except for the cover – and how wrong, dear reader, I would have been.

In my defence the book expert also thought it was not going to be that special and he has a lot more experience and expertise than I do.

So, we started checking it out on Bookfinder and Abe Books and we were, as they say, gobsmacked.

There was a version signed by the author to Rose La Touche – George apparently was the go-between for her and John Ruskin – at more than £4,000, and another similar to ours but not as good, at £450.

It turns out that George MacDonald was quite an influence – he influenced Lewis Carroll, C S Lewis for the Narnia books and JRR Tolkien among others. Look him up on Wikipedia – he looks like Rasputin but was a Scottish author, poet and christian minister.

I fear we got a bit carried away and we may have to reduce the price, but at the moment, it will go on the internet at £650.

Do I know who donated these books? Should I try and contact them and tell them that at the bottom of those bags or boxes they left with us after clearing out their parents’ house, are worth lots of money. ( Of course, I don’t know that they were clearing out their parents’ house but it is often the case.)

Well, I don’t know who there are and none of them were Gift Aided which would have allowed us to get their address – anyway would I have contacted them? I am not sure.

I like to think they would be delighted that the books had been discovered and not sold at £1.00, and the money will go to a good cause.

And on that note, just before I leave you…..

We had a lovely 12 panel map of The Thames from source to sea dated from about 1914.

We put it as a centrepiece in the window surrounded by books and maps – and on the table, a travel theme.

Alongside it was a sign describing it and the price of £100 and a gift aid label. In the Message Book under the counter was a note saying the map was £100.

One volunteer was asked if there was a deal to be done on it but she didn’t know whether there was, so said no.

Another volunteer was walking through the shop when someone asked to look at it. She reached it down, failing to notice the BIG notice showing the price and, later told me, the customer asked the price.

‘I’m not sure,’ she said, ‘ The rest are about £2.99, so let’s say that.’

Later, she saw the notice.

She rang the shop next day to apologise and she had been awake in the night realising what she had done.

These things happen, but I have to tell you, I felt sick. Does that customer know what she has got, or might it be re-donated one day…..