What I did on his holidays – Part 1

My best beloved is currently at Vindolanda digging up tranches and trenches of Roman history.

( If you are not sure, http://www.vindolanda.com )

This is the first time he has been away for two weeks on a stretch since we met, so about 15 years.

Now, I lived without a live-in partner from the age of about 25 until my 40s so it is not as if I am unused to being on my own – and indeed he has spent a lot of time travelling since we have been together – but two weeks solid, after all that time, feels different.

Before I met him, in fact the last time that there was just me and the dog (different dog), I lived in Peckham, worked to earn a living, had a social life which was not based on couples.

So, now, apart from the dog thing, all of the above are different.

I knew that what I should have planned was to go away for at least parts of the fortnight he was away or I would allow the time to be swallowed up with domestic stuff, day to day stuff, Oxfam, dog walking etc etc.

But I didn’t plan, so it has.

Dear reader this is a long list of what I have actually done, so, as usual, feel free to wander off to do something more interesting.

I have purged the pantry – finding stuff that had been there since we moved in and was probably not fit for human consumption.

(Admittedly, I did that before he went but I was getting in the mood.

So, he was lying on the sofa in the sitting room reading his Economist, and my visiting lovely niece was lying on the sofa in the kitchen busy with her phone, and the dog was lying on the niece….

I did make all three of them get up off their sofas, look at the pantry and make admiring noises.

The lovely niece was best at that, BB tried hard, dog was just interested in where the dog treats had been filed.)

I have also thrown out all spices and herbs that had gone past their sell-by date and of course discovered that I had half the world’s supply of cumin and a few more juniper berries than I will ever need short of setting up a gin distillery.

Also, there were spices I bought on some holiday and thought I would use to conjure more interesting food of an evening…

And, yes dear reader, they are now in alphabetical order.

(By the way, on the subject of interesting suppers, my BB is eating ‘good solid fare’ on his dig and, I understand, he is starting to understand that my efforts at an interesting supper are to be rather appreciated. I will of course be reminding him of that thought …)

My cookery books have been purged, my dresser has been purged, and the results are now for sale on the table at Oxfam.

Cookery books are lethal. There are so many that you use for one recipe and never use for anything else.

Then there are those that are stained and splashed and generally well used.

I have one that I have kept since I was a student.

There are also those I have kept to impress other cooks but actually I never use – a lot of Jane Grigson and Yottam Ottolenghi – yes I admit, I don’t cook Yottam because getting the ingredients in Deepest Sussex require you to drive for hundreds of miles and pay a fortune and then have a BB who will say,’ I love the Jerusalem flavours of this.’

But I have kept those books because you never know when another cook will come into your kitchen and you need them to think, ‘Oh, what an impressively and eclectic collection, how interesting this cook must be.’

The other advantage of being just me and the dog is that I can eat my fave food of the moment for days on end.

She and I have been eating Nigel Slater’s cauliflower puree with chives. And we have eaten a lot of it.

She likes vegetables and will say yes to a cauliflower puree night after night. The BB although easy to please and never one to complain, might draw the line after night three – the dog however, is up for it.

I also, in this period, have replaced our kitchen bin. Perfectly serviceable though the old one was, it did have a broken lid and that was broken on the day we moved in. That, dear reader, was seven years ago.

I don’t do a Which search in the best kitchen bin category, I look for a bargain.

So, now we have one with a sensor lid – it was on half price sale. If you waft a hand 10 cm ( more or less exactly), it will open its lid for (more or less exactly 10 seconds) and then after (more or less exactly) it will close.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the BB will find it irritating and the rising lid will knock stuff out of his hand and there will be a lot of swearing. But once the batteries die and we have to open it by hand it will be fine.

Apparently, the batteries in the sensor lid will last quite a long time based on you opening the lid 20 times a day. In the last two hours since I installed it, I would guess I have opened it quite a lot more than that…

And there is an admission.

So, feeling that I really should do something with my time, I decided the dog and I should go on a trip to some ancient history – communing as it were with the BB in the Roman north.

I found Cissbury Ring and thought that would do.

Indeed it would have. My oldest friend said,’ Isn’t that the near Steynning? ‘

‘No,’ I said confidently, with the National Trust directions in my mind I was pretty sure, ‘It is much nearer than that, near Slindon.’

I should have relied on her memory ( which I have had to do since we were 18 as my memory is useless and her’s is very good.)

The dog and I pitched up at Bignor Roman Villa asking for directions to the ‘nearby’ Cissbury Ring.

‘ Well,’ said the nice young woman, ‘It is a bit of a way from here’

‘That’s fine, I said, ‘ The dog and I are up for a walk.’

‘ Mmmm, it is two or three day’s walk to Steynning’ she said.

Maybe I will make it to Cissbury some other time when the BB is away.

 

 

Advertisements

Some books …

There are some books people should just not donate. Not in this day and, thankfully more politically correct, age.

IMG_0751

In fact, quite a lot of the time, there are lots of books people should just not donate.

IMG_0752

 

The donor told me she had taken the ‘unsuitable’ ones to the tip. I dread to think what state they were in, given the ones she gave us were quite unsaleable. So…..

IMG_0745

But then, as a regular reader will know there are the mysteries which make the endless sacking – and I did four solid hours of it the other day, whilst also ‘tending’ the till and yes I did polish my halo – worthwhile.

Back in February, we had a mystery Russian painting donated and try as I might, I could not find out anything about it and though I liked it and wanted to keep it, I could hardly give Oxfam a few quid to find out that it was the early work of a collectable ( no doubt by an oligarch) master.

But Deepest Sussex harbours more interesting types than you might think and our village produced a lovely man who is a Russian and East European art dealer.

He was very kind but basically told me the picture was a daub and if I liked it, I should hold on to it and wait – one day, you never know, the artist might be discovered….

img_0255

We have in the shop an Iranian book – large but slim – which is an illustrated version of Rumi’s poetry.

It is not old, in fact published in Teheran in the 1990s, but in a limited edition and I can’t find one for sale anywhere on the internet.

The illustrations are all paintings by well-known Iranian artists – I can find out that much – but that’s all.

So, if anyone knows an Iranian bookseller who knows his/her art and Rumi, do let me know.

As far as I am aware, there isn’t one of those in the village.

And then we had a book donated which was a kind of scrapbook of letters sent to a Mr Percy Wood.

A couple of the letters came from Osborne House and Buckingham Palace and turned out to be from Sir Henry Ponsonby who was Queen Vic’s private secretary.

This got me a bit excited but it turns out on closer examination that most of the letters were a polite declining of some invitation or another.

I found it very hard to track down what Mr Percy Wood was doing to get letters from Sir Henry.

Google was not helping – so he obviously wasn’t much in the news in his day – or any other for that matter.

Eventually, I found out he was a photographer and he went bankrupt in 1879 – so despite at least once taking pictures of Victoria, he is also still waiting to be discovered as an artistic genius.

 

Hardy Girls

Working at Oxfam is not always without its dangers and falling over a sack of books the other week, I failed to use my hand quick enough and it was my head that crunched against a wall.

Later I got a rather attractive, I may say, purple slash across my right eyelid and it looked a bit Egyptian and all that was fine but by the time we got to Liverpool for the weekend, it had gone rather brown and ugly.

So, not being one to use make-up in any expert fashion, I went into Debenhams and asked one of the nice make-up ladies to disguise me as someone who had not recently fallen into a wall.

She was great and fixed me up and what is more, she and I railed enjoyably for a while about the appalling mistake that is Brexit.

( My best beloved had been speaking at a conference on the issue so I could chat amiably about the issues around the international arrest warrant and so on…)

Tarted up, by my standards anyway, I went off in search of the Walker Art Gallery – if you ever make it to Liverpool, do go – it is a gem of a gallery and there are some quite posh pictures in it.

Not having been to Liverpool for many years, I was using a map. Every time I stopped to look at it, some friendly local would stop and say, ‘ You looking for the Cavern, love?’

I was caught in the dilemma of not wanting to sound ridiculously pretentious and say,’ Not at all, my good man! I am of course in search of artistic enlightenment not the dive once frequented by a group of popular musicians,’ and actually finding the Walker.

On my way I saw a great advert for the upcoming fashion week:

IMG_0744

 

Infact everyone in Liverpool seemed to be on their best friendly behaviour from the man who made great bacon sarnies, handily just around the corner from our hotel and thus providing a cheap and tasty breakfast, to, well everyone else I met.

As well as bacon sarnies, Liverpool does some great food and we went out of an ( early) evening to look for it ( of course, we had one night with a room service club sandwich in bed watching the telly) –  and marvelled at what we saw.

There was not a young woman to be seen in other than skimpy clothing for what felt to me like a rather chilly weekend – and what they lacked in fabric, they made up for in height.

No one seemed to have less than six inch heels – not just for standing about but for off, away and dancing on what was probably going to be a long night

It reminded me of when I first moved to London many years ago and was staying with a friend in Finsbury Park.

Arriving back late-ish from work one night in winter, I reported to her how the local young women were very hardy given they were standing around on the corner apparently waiting for friends, wearing hardly any clothes.

I’d led a sheltered life….

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 of 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.

IMG_0376.JPG

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.

IMG_0375

( 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.

IMG_0373.JPG