Saturday, 30 January 2010

In Which There is Much Happiness

This morning dawned* cold but bright, and as I do still seem to be getting better (although not as fast as I'd like) I had limited enthusiasm about going to see my sister K, parents and K's partner, C, and his parents, who I haven't met before. K rang me up on Thursday to ask whether I'd like to join them for lunch, as I'd missed seeing them at my (other) sister's housewarming party.
[*Dawned = inference. It was cold & bright when I started paying attention, at about 9.a.m. I'm guessing it was like that at dawn, too]

The pub they picked was near Taunton (which is roughly equidistant between both sets of parents' homes) which is about 1 1/2 hours drive from here, and I'm still finding everything tiring enough that a 3-hour round trip seemed pretty daunting.

But I wanted to see everyone, so off I went. And I'm very glad I did.

The first surprise was that as well as all the people I was expecting, sister #2 was also there.

The second, and bigger surprise, was that K & C announced their engagement!!

Very happy and exciting news!

They haven't set a date for the wedding yet, but it will probably be some time next year, but over lunch we had lots of fun discussing all sorts of issues, and established that:

  • C unaccountably failed to ask my Papa's permission before paying his addresses to his daughter, but that S would have said yes, had he done so.

  • We officially have permission to slap K if she turns into Bridezilla

  • The invitations will tell people what time food will be served at the reception (this arising from a specifc wedding we attended, where odd timings and an unusally long service meant half the congregation was faint from hunger by the time the reception started)

We did not, however, determine whether S is prepared to don morning dress & top hat, if asked to do so, in order to walk K down the aisle.

All in all, a highly satisfactory party.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Not Rocket Science, Surely?


I do get annoyed with with bloody utility companies. I got home this evening to find a letter from my Gas & Electricity Company, who were writing to tell me that they have noticed my bill was quite high so have decided to increase my direct debit.

Now, the payment plan I have is that I pay a fixed amount each month, rather than a variable amount based on the amount of fuel actually used, which works for me because it allows me to budget. Obviously, it also means that some months you overpay, and some you underpay, the idea being that the direct debit is reviewed from time to time and adjusted if you are building up a substantial credit or debit balance.

At the end of the last quarter, my statement showed I'd paid for more than I'd used, and had built up a credit balance of about £150. Scottish Power's suggestion was that I should pay a bit less for a while to use this up.
My suggestion, having down some sums and worked out that on their figures, they would get to keep my money for about 14 months til it was used up, was that they should give me my money back, and then set a new regular payment at a more realistic level.

After a bit of pressure, they agreed.

Today, they wrote to point out that (quelle surprise) the amount I'd paid for December-Jan was less than the cost of the fuel used, so "to help you to avoid building up a debt", they propose to increase the monthly payments. Because, obviously using the 3 coldest months of the year (in the worst winter for a decade) as representative and working out a payment schedule on the assumption that I will be using the same amount of gas and electricity in every other month as I did in January makes perfect sense.

Cannot help but notice that it only takes them 3 months to try to change things when the balance is in my favour, and 12 months when it's in theirs.

After holding on the phone for 10 minutes and explaining several times that yes, I understand that I might end up with a bigger bill later, yes, I understand that I will have to pay for the fule I use, plus pointing out that it's fairly likely that I will be using rather less gas and elecricity in (say) April & May than I did in January, things will even out, I eventually managed to convince them to change it back to the original payment.

But honestly, they couldn't work out for themselves that January is colder than June? Or that their own selling point for this plan is that you get to average the costs out, over the year?

(Yes, I know, I could change suppliers. But I doubt any of the rest are any better, and as I have pretty low bills (one of the few advantages of living in a terrced house and only having central heating in half of it) the possible savings are not worth all the faffing about to research and change)

In more cheerful news, the organisers of OctoCon have finally fixed the dates of the Con, so I have registered, and will be going to Dublin in October, and meeting up with Fabulous Lorraine and SpacedLawyer, and no doubt seeing RavenBooks too, all of which should be fun.

Of course, this may involve flying with RyanAir, which takes the gloss off a little, but such is life.

And it turns out my library books are due back tomorrow, not, as I thought, yesterday, so no fines for me after all!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Ramdom Thoughts, and How My Brain Works (Or Doesn't)

There have been a few interesting things popping up on the internet recently. One which I found really interesting was a story on the BBC about a woman with near-perfect memory for faces, which also mentioned the opposite situation - prosopagnosia, or faceblindness - the inability to recognise or remember faces. For those who have it most severely, this can mean that even family members are unrecognisable, but like so many things, there is a whole spectrum.

I found this really interesting, as one of the things I have always been very bad at is recognising people's faces, and therefore, being able to recognise people. It's something which a lot of people don't really believe - they tend to assume that you're just not trying, or are making excuses for having deliberately ignored them.

One of the links from the BBC story was to some tests which give you an idea of how good you are at this, compared with the average person. Of course, like anything else on the web, I'm sure that it needs to be approached with some caution, but it was very interesting all the same.

According to the test, the average person would score about 80%, on recognising unknown faces; My score was 61%.

On recognising famous faces (which is adjusted to take account of whether you know who the people are) the average score is about 85%. I got 29%.

On the plus side, I shall be fine should I ever bump in to Mahatma Ghandi, Elvis, Princess Diana or Margaret Thatcher....maybe I'm just better at recognising the dead (or nearly dead) which could come in handy if it turns out there is an afterlife. Of course, if the test were re-designed to cover 'famous people I'm actually interested in' I would probably do better - if it included, for instance, David Tennant, Neil Gaiman, Diana Wynne Jones & Derek Jacobi I might have done better, although having said that, I didn't recognise Patrick Stewart...

I suspect that the better score on the first test reflects the fact that it is multiple choice, so you can potentially get some right by random guesses, and on the 'I don't recognise any of them but that looks very slightly more likely than the other two' principal.

The site also says that people with faceblindness often also have a poor sense of direction. Which is certainly true in my case (although my dad, who is very bad at recognising people, has an excellent sense of direction, so there are clearly variations!)

I'd be interested to know how anyone else scores...

I Admit Defeat...

So, having waited for the past fortnight for my immune sytem to kick in and do its job, I admitted defeat and saw my GP today (actually, that's not true. I saw a GP at my surgery)

It turns out that I do indeed have a chest infection, (which I already knew) and that it does sound "very crackly". Turns out my peak flow is very low (for me - less than 1/2 what it normally is) which I wasn't expecting - I've been feeling breathless, but I'm surprised it was so much lower than normal.

Anyway, I now have one box of amoxycillin and another of prednisolone, and with any luck these will lead the way and encourage my own immune system to get it's act together as well. I don't like having to take antibiotics - I remember being told from a very early age about the role of over-use of antibiotics in the development of antibiotic-resistant bugs, with the result that I have a tendency to put off going to ask for them. Mostly I think this is a good thing. Even with substandard lungs such as mine, sometimes things do get better on their own (And I would like to think that I am left a stronger, better person as a result of my struggle, although I'm not entirely certain that it works like that)

I somehow don't think the National Blood Service will be wanting my blood on Tuesday, though. and I think, for now, I'm probably best off keeping it to myself, anyway.

On a more cheerful note, I just had a phone call from my sister, to say they will be in the area at the weekend, and suggesting that we meet up for a meal, as I missed seeing them last weekend at my (other) sister's party. So, I have another incentive to get better soon.

And, of course, as the BBC newsreader told us, Britain came out of recession at 9.30 this morning (which seems awfully precise to me, but that is what they said!)

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Not as Single Spies...

Also, it never rains but it pours (which is particularly appropriate as it has, indeed, been pouring with rain all day)

I'm still unwell, which is frustrating - I ended up coming home from work at lunchtime yesterday, and didn't go in today - I knew I had no clients due on Friday (Thursday, I had several in the morning, some of whom had had previously to cancel appointments due to the snow, so I didn't want to let them down) So I spent most of the day snuggled up under a fleece, with a succession of mugs of lemon & honey, and an intermittant cat, working my way through a box of tissues and wondering whether daytime TV is really quite as surreal as it seems, or whether, if I wasn't running a slight fever and was able to stay awake for a whole programme at a time, it would all make sense.

I suppose I should be grateful that modern medicine means that most of the time I don't feel like this (being asthmatic, the fact that I can breathe at all, and that most of the time I can do pretty much everything else I want, too, should be cause for thankfulness)

My car was due to go in to the garage to be serviced, which I could have put off, and to have new brake pads & discs (which I felt couldn't, or shouldn't, be) Luckily the garage isn't too far away, and I got there in safety. I was a little taken aback to find the courtesy car which they gave me was a LHD - most disconcerting (especially when not at my best & most alert) I think it's weirder to drive a car which is exactly the same of mine but the wrong way round, than just to drive a car that's the wrong way round, even when the roads too are all wrong. Happily I made it back home safely.

A little later I got a call to say the service & brakes were done, but they had found that a rather important spring was broken, and would I like them to fix that, too? As this is turning out to be a rather expensive month, what with the car insurance coming up for renewal, I asked whether it needed to be done straight away, or whether it was safe to leave it a little and to live with the rattle.
'No' they said 'better to do it now, as it will affect how the car handles so is really a sefety issue'.

'Oh dear' says I, 'Better have it done, then. What'll it cost?'

'If we have to replace it all, about £330'


It was about 2 hours before they called again, by which time I was sure that this must mean they had had to replace eveything, and I'd worked out that this meant the whole lot, including the orginsal service & brake stuff, would be about £800 (although I later worked out I'd added it up wrong, and that it would actually have been £650 ) so when I got there and was told £440 it felt as though I had got off lightly, although still a bit chunk of cash to be parting with all at once.


And I still have to pay to get the windscreen replaced, some time soon (becasue of the chip at christmas)

The other frustrating thing this weekend is that I was due to go to Birmingham for my sister's belated housewarming party (She actually moved in in September, but 10 days later left for a month in Australia, then it was practially christmas, so the party was put off 'til she was settled in) I wsa going to drive up today, go to the party tonight, and meet up with my (other) sister, and cousins, as well as E herself. It would've been fun. But it would also have been antisocial of me to go and share my germs with all her guests, and I don't really think I would have enjoyed it (even if I managed to get that far) But it's bad timing.

Still. At least Tybalt approves. An arrangement in which I lie around in bed or on the sofa not moving much, and don't have the appetite to finish meals suits him, although he does object to my coughing & sneezing, and from time to time stalks off looking aggrieved because I am not providing a nice, comfortable, steady lap to sit on.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Sneeze. Bleughh

I have a nasty, flu-ey cold. My sinuses hurt. My chest hurts. My throat hurts. My head hurts. My nose both hurts and bleeds.

I was going to post something very witty and entertaining, but my brain is full of cotton wool, and there is no inspiration in me.


Maybe later.

Friday, 15 January 2010

The Thaw!

It appears that we are no longer suffering the long winter, and will not, after all, be reduced to twisting hay into sticks to burn in order to survive.
The flowers that bloom in the spring (tra la) are not yet blooming, but the snow is melting, the upside-down 4WD wrapped in police tape has been removed from the ditch at the end of the road, the giant snowman is just a heap of dirty slush, and we seem to be having rain rather than snow.
It makes a change.

The roads are full of potholes from frost damage, and no doubt we will all pay the price in Council Tax in due course.

I, as I mentioned in the last post, have been buying rail tickets. I'm going to London at the end of February to visit relatives, go to the theatre and see some exhibitions.

So, I needed to but train tickets. Which ought to be straight forward but isn't. Bouncing around from one website to another to find one which (a) admits the relevent train exisits (b) doesn't add on massive 'booking fees' (c) is working. At one point the ticket I was trying to buy disappered between my putting it in the basket and the site letting me move to the paying stage.

I decided to call South West Trains and buy over the phone instead. Except, it turns out that just because a ticket is shown for a certain train at a certain price on their wensite, doesn't mean you can by it off them if you phone. Apparently they are each allocated a certain number of tickets and they are not interchangeable between phone sales and online sales. And the ticket prices shown by National Rail enquiries are not the same as the ones shown by South West Trains are not the same as the ones shown by TheTrainLine.

Shopping around and faffing around I found 1st class return tickets for £34. (Bizarrly, 1st class was £1 more each way than standard, hence the 'luxury'. Although I think it will be a smallish, slow train so probably the only advantage will be a less crowded & therefore quiter carriage)

Had I bought the first "cheapest tickets available" offered me it would have been £56 standard class. (and How hard would it be just to have accurate, honest information up front? Oh well.

Irriatingly, as tickets are only available 12 weeks in advance, I couldn't buy tickets for the Amanda Palmer / Jason Webley / EvelynEvelyn show at the same time: I shall have to try to remember to book them as soon as we're within 12 weeks, to secure cheap tickets.

Which of course, reminds me of the exciting (if not unexpected) news that Ms Amanda Fucking Palmer, and Mr Neil Freaking Gaiman have announced their engagement!
I think that Non Birding Bill Share photos on twitter with Twitpic (here)

or maybe the Birdchick Share photos on twitter with Twitpic (here)

Have said it best... Lovely, happy news for a Friday evening.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

In Which There is Mail

Well! I did have a lovely haul of mail yesterday!
  • A post-card, sent to me by my parents (on 18th November!) from New Zealand

  • DVDs of the last 2 Doctor Who specials, 'Waters of Mars' and 'The End of Time'

  • An unexpected thank-you letter (this could drift into infinity, as it was a letter thanking me for a gift I sent to someone to thank them for a favour they did me....should I now write to thank them for their letter?)

  • Rail tickets (of which more later) for my trip to London next month

  • a copy of Diana Wynne Jones' new novel, 'Enchanted Glass' which I shall gloat over and save to read at my leisure at the weekend.

And, best of all, a beautiful cat-quilt from Stacy which, as you can see, Tybalt gives his seal of approval!

Thank you, Stacy.

The train tickets are because I shall be going up to London in February to stay with my 2nd cousin John, in order to go to the Theatre (Keira Knightly & Tara Fitzgerald in Moliere's 'Le Misanthrope') and see a couple of exhibitions (Probably the Van Gogh one at the Royal Academy, and the new Medieval & Renaissance Gallery at the V&A) I think the saga of buying them deserves its own post...

Of course, the post wasn't quite all such fun. There was also the renewal notice for my car insurance, which is more than I hoped it would be, and means I shall probably now spend hours getting comparison quotes to see whether I can get a better deal somewhere, which is a hassle. And there was a letter reminding me I have an appointment to go and give blood, which is never what you could call fun..

But on the whole, I think I win!

Sunday, 10 January 2010

In Which Further Blizzards Fail to Materialise

At the risk of tempting fate, and calling down further snow upon us, it seems that the additional snow forecast for this afternoon has held off - it was quite overcast so didn't appear to be anything like as cold as it was yesterday or on Friday.

Indeed, by mid afternoon it looked as though the street outside was clearer than it has been since it first snowed, on Wednesday, with patches where the ashphalt is visible again, and a lot of people seem to have gone out so there were fewer parked cars. I decided to see whether I could safely drive out to the main(er) road, on the bass that if I could, I could park overnight and then, even if it freezes again overnight I would be close enough to the treated roads to get out and be able to get to work.

My plan worked, and as the road was completely clear when I got to the end of the street, I decided to go a little further, and drove over to Bradford-on-Avon, where I went for a short wander along by the canal.

The canal (The Kennet & Avon) was frozen, although there were places, by the lock, under bridges, and where a small stream drains into it where it was not frozen - there were also places where the ice had been broken and refrozen - it looked at thought the ice was between 1" and 2" thick, and from the foot-prints in the slush on top of the ice it was clear that it was strong enough to bear the weight of the swans and other waterbirds., although various holes seems to show that it was not strong enough to bear the weight of various lumps of stone being heaved into it!

A little further down the canal one comes to the Tithe Barn, which was built in the early 1300s and used to belong to Shaftesbury Abbey, until Henry VIII pur a stop to all that, of course! It's a beautiful (and enormous) building, and it is one of those places where it tends suddenly to hit me how rich in history we are here: The barn dates from the 14th C, with the church having owned the farm & land since 1001, and the barn continued to be used, certainly into the 1950s...
I enjoyed my walk, and, in accordance with the original plan, subsequently left my car down the street, in the hope that I may be able to drive tomorrow morning..

Saturday, 9 January 2010


Dearie, Dearie, Me.

Is your cat plotting to kill you?

The thing is, do you really want to know?

Thanks to Sally who raised this worrying thought in my mind....

Friday, 8 January 2010

Lovely weather, isn't it?

Well, it's still rather chilly. (Cold and beautiful satellite picture borrowed from the BBC, who got it from NASA) Apparently we had temparatures of -10C overnight last night. The compacted snow on the street (and on the pavement, except the little bit outside my house which I shovelled, and salted with dishwasher salt) froze, so everywhere was like a slightly uneven ice-rink.
So no, I didn't try to drive to work. Given that my route to work involves lots of hilly country roads, several of which were spotring exciting black ice even before all the snow, I think it would be fool-hardy to try, even if I were able to get out of the housing estate I live on.

Fortunately,I was able to get a reasonable amount of work done via the wonders of modern technology, and the office was in any event closed at 4 p.m. so everyone could get home.

The snow, which was (as previous pictures testify) suitable for snowmen and snowballs on Wednesday has become much more powdery now - if there was a hill within walking distance I would be tempted to improvise a sled and re-discover my inner 5 year old, but there isn't, so I didn't.

(although this Police Officer, in London, found the perfect use for his riot shield!)

Yesterday, I didn't go out all day, then suddenly felt cooped up so went out for some fresh air as the sun set. It was a little eerie, wandering along snowy streets in the fading light.

Today, it seemed to be even colder. The sun came out in the morning but, unlike yesterday, there was no sign of even slight thawing. I went out in the afternoon, to visit the local library in order to do some printing and photocopying. Again, it was lovely to look at, less comfortable to fall over on, which I duly did, despite, nice grippy-soled boots and preternatural care. Fortunately I escaped any injury except to my dignity, and slighly grazed knee, and as I was on my way home I was able to get back indoors and get warm before the snow on my hands & knees melted and left me too cold and miserable.

I can't help thinking, however, that if I lived somewhere with real winters I might quickly get tired of living in such a monochrome landscape.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

Yesterday, the BBC started warning us that it was going to snow heavily. Initially, they said it would snow yesterday, which concened me as I was due to be in court, and had carefully taken the file with me (on the basis that even if I couldn't get into the office, I could walk to the station and get a train, to get to court, if need be)

However, no snow yesterday morning, and although it snowed a little as I came out of court, it didn't settle, and I was able to get back to the office, work until the normal time and get home without incident.

The forecast had been for snow in the afternoon and evening, so when I found myself on the way to bed at 11 p.m. with no sign of any snow, I concluded that the BBC had erred, and that I would, after all, have to get up and go to work as usual.

When the alarm went off I peered out of the window, assuming I would simply have the usual job of scraping ice of the car windscreen. However, it immediately became obvious that I wouldn't be going anywhere I couldn't get to on foot - we had between 3" and 4" of snow - more, I think, than we got last February - or at least more in one go.
It's probably a sign of advancing age that rather than leap out of bed and run out to play in the snow, I instead thought 'Hurrah!' and turned over to snuggle under the duvet for another hour! (although to be fair, not even the local children were out there in the blue morning light at 6 a.m)
As I made breakfast, I saw that the snowballers were out - including one (teenage boy, who else?) wearing jeans & T-shirt with no coat or gloves (I was wearing 3 layers and I was inside!) and another (pre-teen girl) in shortie pyjamas, dressing gown & Ugg boots!

Later in the morning their parents came out, and helped them to build a magnificant 8' tall snowman,
which will no doubt be with us for some time to come...

I went out a little later, in order to buy milk and chocolate HobNobs - it was unusally quiet - you tend not to notice the low hum of traffic in the background until it isn't there. There were a few people who had decided to venture out in their cars despite the snow - just enough of them to compact the snow from 4" of soft, fluffy snow (The kind that makes a creaking crunch when you step on it) into a solid block of ice.
I watched one car skate gracelessly into the kerb, wheels pointing 45 degrees from the direction of travel and spinning ineffectually. I think the driver had expected that (a) braking would cause him to slow down and (b) turning the wheel would allow him to turn right.

A second driver, behind him, decided that the sensible response to this was to accelerate and swing past him... I was very glad that I had not tried to move my car at all.

Even the more main roads were very slushy and icy, and as far as I could tell were clear(ish) as a result of traffic, not because they had been gritted.

I went for a little walk into the park and through the nature reserve on my way back from the minimarket, admiring the beautiful pictures the snow had painted on the trees and plants.

It started to thaw just a little this afternoon, but only enough to create a few icicles and, no doubt, ensure that the snow freezes and becomes even more slippery. We are predicted to have temperatures well below freezing overnight, so I am not at all sanguine about the prospect of reaching the office tomorrow, either. I did clear and salt the pavement immediately outside my house, but anticipate that the road will be too icy for it to be safe to drive, at least first thing.
We shall see.
Meanwhile, Tybalt has made it clear to me that he does not appreciate snow, that he disapproves of my poor management in allowing it to be snowy outside the back door, the front door and the window, all at the same time. I am not entirely satified that providing him with an indoor litter tray and and a new fleece to snuggle into has done enough to placate him...
I am not even going to think about the gas bill. I'd rather stay warm and worry about it later.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Happy 2010!

First of all, Happy New Year to you all!
I've just returned home, to a cat who seems pleased to see me, (although he will no doubt find a way to punish him for leaving him to the tender mercies of my excellent cat-sitter for the past 4 days)

My sister, K, had suggested that it would be fun to spend New Year together, and as a result we rented a small Tower in a village on the edge of Cheltenham, chosen on the basis that
(a) the Cotswolds are pretty, and equally reachable for all of us
(b) Who wouldn't want to stay in a tower, if they had the opportunity?
(c) It was available for New Year
(d) it was affordable.

We had originally hoped that the party would consist of me, both sisters, K's partner C , my brother and his girlfriend and K&C's friend, B. However, my brother wasn't able to join us so there ended up being the five of us.

All of us except B, who couldn't make it until New Year's Eve, arrived on Wednesday - K, C & I turned up in the afternoon, and busied ourselves with the essentials, such as bagsy-ing the different rooms, taking a delivery of groceries, unpacking and, perhaps most important of all, locating the nearest pub, which was about 5 minutes walk away, and had a wonderful fire and some rather good beer (Butcombe)...

It was a bit of a wrench to leave the pub and walk back in what turned out to be a bitterly cold evening in time to met E, and start cooking supper.

On New Year's Eve we went out for a cold but bracing walk to the next village along, through some frosty and muddy fields, with a view of Cheltenham racecourse, and the somewhat unexpected sight of a steamtrain in the distance, then back via the second of 'our' village's pubs (The Plough) which had no fire, but *did* have some truly magnificent beer (Adnam's Broadside).

We had decided that we would have a proper formal meal for New Year, and would all dress accordingly, and had also decided to push the boat out when it came to the menu - I was in charge of the main course and the timeing, but happily had several sous-chefs to whom I was able to delagate tasks such as mushroom-choppage... And of course the Peach Bellinis helped, too ... Once all the preparation was done, and the first course in the oven, we all went to get scrubbed up in order to see out the year in stlye.

Then, pausing only for a quick photo-call, and a glass of fizz, we sat down to dine.


Home made Tomato Soup
Baked Camembert
Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese Terrine
with green salad
Beef Wellington
Roast Potatoes and Seasonal Vegetables
Coffee Pudding
with whipped cream & toasted almonds

We had planned for a cheese course, too, but none of us were hungry by that time! In order not to take things *too* seriously, the gentlemen of the party had carefully accessorized their dinner jackets and black ties with a number of silly seasonal hats; not quite enough for one with each course, but almost!
The rest of the evening passed with further games, then prosecco to toast the New Year, followed, for reasons which now escape me, by a viewing of Hot Fuzz.
We did very little on New Year's Day, but on 2nd January, which was a gloriously bright, sunny day, we decided upon another walk.

This time we went to another nearby town - Winchcombe, where we took a circular walk, up the hill behind the town, through fields of sheep (and, a little later, some fine Gloucester Old Spot pigs), then back past Sudely castle.

Although it was very sunny, there had been hard frosts and in a lot of places there was still frost and ice on the ground, only occasionally breaking through to thick mud, in the most unexpected places!
As attentive readers may have guessed, we finished our walk in the local pub - The White Hart.
Sadly, that brought to a close our stay, and this morning we had no time to do anything except pack up and go our separate ways, but it was, I think, a thoroughly succesful New Year celebration.
I hope all of you had an equally enjoyable time.