Saturday, 31 December 2011


Sometimes I wonder what my twenty year old self would make of her older manifestation  some quarter of  a century on. Sure  I'd like to think that she'd have been proud of the way that I partied at the end of 1999, the year that Prince,Symbol or whatever he's called these days, rightfully celebrated so memorably in that classic song.  Seeing the millennium out with my arms around a couple of  near stranger  in a suburban lounge whilst simultaneously declaring everlasting love to all present and drunkenly bellowing out 'Hi ho, Silver Lining' would have been a disappointing way to mark this super special date. Instead I made sure that was truly a momentous occasion by arranging to see the last eruption of Old Faithful  before midnight and then partying until the earlier hours in the the nearby Snow Lodge.

But tonight, I'm staying in.  There's some wine in the fridge and a tub of Cheddars but that's as far as the excitement goes.  And d'you know, even though my kohl eyed younger counterpart, would have been utterly disgusted with this state of affairs, I'm perfectly happy to be such a saddo,   There's been enough drama in 2011 so I'll see in out with a whimper rather than a bang.  Pop back tomorrow and rather predictably I'll let you in on my plans for 20121

Friday, 30 December 2011


As my lovely regular readers know, I am not backwards in coming forward with the fact that working as a therapist in mental health has not made me immune to my own, sometimes rather significant battles with anxiety and depression.  I talk about these because I strongly believe that the more people share their experiences the less stigma there will be attached to these very common illnesses that hit all sectors of society whether you regarded by others as a bit strange or a perfectly normal human being.  If there are those out there who want to judge me as a lesser being because of my illness it's their problem and not mine.

But I am glad to say that I am so tickety boo at the moment, perhaps more well than I've ever felt.  I've got a balanced view of my strengths and weakness, accept that I'm allowed to make mistakes like every other human being, and take pleasure in so much on a daily basis.  I can also differentiate between constructive criticism which I indeed ask for and  act upon,  and nitpicking which I ignore.  Could it be that in this world where there is so much trouble I am now delusional and shouldn't be feeling so joyful and positive?(!)

Anti-depressant medication plays an important part in keeping me well.  My brain needs that chemical top-up that these pills provide.  Without them I really do think that everyone hates me and I can expertly rationalise how I am personally responsible for a fair proportion of  all global catastrophes. But Venlaflaxine which I was recently prescribed doesn't suit me completely.  Although it normalises my mood I've had dizzy spells and if I forget to take a dose I can feel physically unwell within hours.   So I'm now on a crossover regime at the current time to return to Citalopram which has been effective and side effect free in the past.  This involves taking both medicines at differing doses for a few weeks to minimise acknowledged withdrawal effects, more dizziness in my case which has resulted in me retiring to the boudoir at the same bedtime as Louis.  Now I can say unequivocally that Marmite is better than Vegemite - period!  Ignore those Aussies who insist otherwise.  However, I would not do this when speaking about one anti-depressant versus another. I've seen from personal experience that what seems like a miracle cure for one individual can perhaps make another person more poorly than when they embarked on treatment.

So finally I'm coming to the point of this post.  Side effects are part and parcel of taking anti-depressants and indeed many other drugs.  But if you've agreed to take this type of medication and the happy bunny hasn't come out to play in quite the way that you'd hoped for, DON'T start messing about with your pills yourself by stopping/starting them or altering the dose in a  willy nilly fashion.  Believe me, this advice runs counter to my usual experimental personality for good reason.  It really can make matters far worse.   Commonly you might feel unwell when you first start taking these drugs, but side effects can often subside in a few days.  Give new medication a chance to bed in if you can possibly bear some unpleasantness for a little while and if things don't get better, go back to the doctor  and seek their guidance before making changes to what was prescribed.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Imperfect Attention - And Where That Leads!

Photo by Simon Howden
I'm sure that I've mentioned that my attention can be diverted easily sometimes.  And that happened today.   What started as a bit of online research into what 'Barkeeper's Friend', a rather effective cleaning product is made of, ended up leading me to a thoughtful snippet that I thought I'd share with you from an  American clergyman, lecturer and author Henry Van Dyke who was around on this earth from the mid nineteenth century to 1930.  As usual I've provided a link to Wikipedia so that you can advance your knowledge about this interesting chap if you so desire.  While you there please don't forget to make a donation to Jimmy Wales so that his website can continue.  This is a fount of incredible amounts of  knowledge that I'd never dreamed of being possible  when I was a senior school, where hours were spent in vain scouring musty volumes for obscure homework facts in our local libraries.

The wise words that were  incongruously embedded within a discussion on that thrifty website about the rather effective cleaning powder which  I've since learnt contains oxalic acid,  that naturally occurs in amongst other things, black tea  Barkeeper's Friend is widely available in many stores and restores the whiteness to my grout a treat although  I  suppose that I must stress that other more fizzy, whizzy and spectacularly dangerous cleaning products are available!   Black tea can also be found in lots of shops too.  My preference is for Yorkshire Tea from Taylors of Harrogate or the more local Miles Original Blend from Somerset, both of which make a good no-nonsense brew.

Anyway I've rattled on enough about tea, tiles and  my teenage years.  Here, for your spiritual and personal nourishment,  is the quote that caught my eye. It's a sentiment is not dissimilar to that expressed in the words of my musical hero Leonard Cohen which appear in the header of my blog and, like these, celebrate the expansive power of spurning the need to be perfect.

'The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.'

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Better than the Circle Line

I went back to work today and my commute took me across the wild windswept landscape of Dartmoor. It's got to be better than if I'd ended up working in the City taking the tube each day. Although I'm warming to London again in my middle years I'm still appalled by the black snot that is a product of travelling on the Underground. My sensitive milkmaid-like skin(!) also breaks out in spots every time I visit the big smoke.

What I'd planned was to stop on route and take some impressive shots of the bleak landscape that would have made you all go wow!  But it was blowing a hoolie outside the car.  So I put any dreams of a career as a photo-journalist on hold in order to stay toasty warm.  Instead  I decided to use a picture from Google images to give a fancy dress shop that I've never heard of some free publicity.  So go on -  buy and hire lots of costumes from Party Pants!

For my trip across the moor takes me along the road which is the scene of the one of the most well-known legends of the moor.  Travel this route at your peril for it is here that ghostly severed hairy hands were reported to have taken control of the steering wheel and forced the travellers off the road, sometimes with fatal consequences.   Funny that these incidents often seemed to occur in the dark on icy nights at a spot where the slope of the road isn't quite as expected.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Seven Stages of my Business Empire

My fledging pre-loved  (ah! bless 'em!) jewellery business relies on me buying and selling on Ebay.  I thought I'd give you all little peep at how some of my items have fared.  Being British and mostly erring on the side of pessimism my selection leans towards my less successful endeavours to make a fast buck!

One that got away:  An absolutely lovely  fishy themed brooch by the Haisla artist, Lyle Wilson who  hales from British Columbia and works across several media.  Unknowingly,  I bid an insulting amount just upwards of £12 but at least this proves that I might be blessed with a  ommercial eye.   The winning auction bid for this piece was £57.57 - still a bargain from an economical and  indeed an aesthetical viewpoint. There's a similar piece for sale at the moment for five hundred Canadian dollars.  Just proves the point that you live and learn!

Whatever Possessed Me:   Right at the other end of the good investment scale now.  We move on from the previous thoroughly covetable carefully handcrafted item. to a piece of tat... a plastic 'vintage' bead choker that would be out of place in a value cracker.   Believe me it's must more cheap and nasty than it look in this picture.  Who's says that the camera never lies? It was only 99p plus postage but wasn't even cheap at that price.  I'll have to hide it away in a job lot that I'll auction off at some time in the near future. Let's hope that I'll break even.   One that proves that living and learning remains a current method of acquiring knowledge.
 I Really Don't Want To Sell This:  This little ring didn't look much when I found it on Ebay but I saw that it has great potential to make a profit.  It's a Danish piece and Scandanavian silver is oh so trendy  at the moment.    There's a problem though.  Now it's been through my tumble polisher and come up all sparkly I've been wearing it for a week and I don't want to let it go.  I'm going to be stern at sell it just before Valentine's day.  Some romantic soul out there will be amenable in buying a single red rose for their sweetheart and hopefully providing a healthy cynic with a tasty profit.  In the meantime I'll enjoy its presence on my finger and feel proud that I'm adding to its vintage provenance by using it.

In the Shop at the Moment:  I've chosen this clover necklace to show here, not because it's going the item that makes my fortune butbecause of its imagined history.  I'll only just scrape a profit  from its eventual sale which goes to show that in business your heart should not rule the head.  This is a piece crafted in Birmingham during the Second World War and  in my head I've built up a whole story around it being sent out to a serviceman in active combat. That dent on the top demonstrates how  it served its purpose at a lucky  talisman bringing protection against gunfire in the heat of battle.  Or it may have been battered by ordinary wear and tear over the years.  Who knows the story behind many of these 'olden days' items.

Oops!:  This is so pretty isn't it?  Except it was missing a catch when it arrived in a broken jewellery job lot.  'Easy peasy.' I thought. 'I'll just stick  a replacement on and bask in the glory of recycling something to a state where it could be useful and attractive again.  However my efforts showed the correctness of my longstanding belief that the name 'superglue' is rather grandiose.  The fitting fell off in the post and I gave the rather disgruntled recipient a heartfelt apology and a full refund.<
Skin of the Teeth Stuff':   This piece has taught me a very valuable lesson I  shouldn't just buy something just because it's cheap.  I thought that this was loathsome when I saw it.  One of those objects that where I can quite fathom out what possessed someone to desing and make it in the first place.  And guess what? The majority of the population seem to have taste.  They  are with me and share my view so have kept their pennies firmly in their pockets.  As luck would have it I may have  just broken even after taking into account my selling costs.  There may even be the teeniest profit of a few pence though not even to even buy a Mars Bar!

Monday, 26 December 2011

Just Finished Reading: Pillow Talk

Holidays are the season for reading volumes of quality chick-lit and here's one I finished in the motorhome  by torchlight yesterday. I didn't want to turn on all the lights and give away the fact that the Lovelygrey family were surreptitiously snoozing on a public highway!   I'm still slower than I used to be in my reading behaviour but tiny business, Louis, Christmas, forward planning and a return to work is keeping me busy, busy, busy and there's less time to shove my nose in a book.

Pillow Talk from Freya North weaves together a couple of things that  attract me - sleep disturbance, a professional interest and shiny bauble making.  The heroine is a jeweller, aptly named Petra, and tells the story of the emergence of her romance  with an ex-child sweetheart,  the rather lush, Arlo.  'How rugged sounding,' I thought, Indeed this word actually means 'manly' which this hero certainly is.   Raaaa!  But as my nephew's fiancee, a kindred Essex girl has pointed out, it's exactly how the inhabitants of Harlow pronounce the name of their home town.  So I've will not be bestowing it on the miracle baby that has the slimmest of chances of being conceived in my late forties or fifties!

This is definitely a girl's book that I will not be passing on to Mr Lovelygrey to read.  However, I'm sure that it's next recipient, Scary Secretary, will love it even though the subject matter will not have the same personal pull for her.  It's a real page turner and unlike, much of the writing of this genre, hasn't annoyed me by being too trite or cliche ridden.   I'm  reminded me that I must schedule in visits to the jewellery quarters in London and Birmingham  in the near future and also provided me with interesting information about the precious stone, tanzanite.  Now I knew that there was a limited supply of this stuff that will all have been excavated in the next couple of decades.  But what I didn't know know was this rare gem has a unique ethical provenance.  Read about it here.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

We Moved On...

from Somerset where Mister Lovelygrey's family reside.   Our plans to spend Christmas night in the van on my sister in law's driveway have been foiled after a half hour long attempt, by difficult access and an entrance that is only a couple of inches wider than the motorhome. So sssh! - we're parked on the street outside instead.   A slight breach of civil law but needs must.  All bed space in the house is taken  and anyway we won't be hurting anyone.

The wine is flowing freely and before I suffer from alcohol induced dyslexia I thought I'd tap out my daily post prior to a slap up turkey lunch.  And this beautiful picture that  illustrates my festive offering with a scene more evocative of the holiday period last year?  Well it's 'Snow on Railway Tracks',  by Margaret Sherlock that we saw in the modern art gallery at the Bristol's wonderful city museum yesterday.  Easily a much more enjoyable way to spend Christmas Eve than shopping with the throngs in the much publicised last minute rush!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Thought for the Day: In Two Minds

As I passed by the 'Occupy' camp on Bristol's College Green the other day, I was drawn to the reference to Vodafone's massive profit and the proportion that was paid to the state that was highlighted on the placard.  This dichotomy of figures was just the type of result that I'd have been proud of achieving for a client whilst employed in  my previous career as a tax consultant in a Big Six/Five/Four accountancy firm  or however the giants are describing themselves these days.  It's  a fine illustration of  one of the reasons why I decided to change direction and use my intellect to earn a crust doing something that was more in kilter with my psyche.

On one level I admire the tenacity of the protesters and I'm certainly in sympathy with their cause but......they've turned a public space into a quagmire that resembles a muddy festival field.  Even though  I know that grass restores itself within a matter of weeks,  animosity is generated among so many ordinary people, even those who are experiencing true adversity in these difficult times.  And as for those who are affluent? Well  because of my experience of hobnobbing with  the privileged group in society,  I'm in no doubt that they won't be  moved by this type of action or indeed  the public sector strike that took place a few days ago.  They probably  view these demonstrations as a piffling nuisance which merely reinforces the idea that most of the population are indeed the crusty and lazy hoi-polloi who'd only squander extra money if it were  put in the taxman's pot rather than being paid out in dividends to them.

What I'm mulling over at the moment is if there would be a type of protest that would make these people,whose money has bought them so much influence, sit up, listen and act in a way that promotes the common good.  I'm certain it would have by means that would hit them close to their jubblies - trouser pockets are just a smidgen away from this sensitive zone!  But how that could be done?  I'm struggling with the fine detail,

Friday, 23 December 2011

For Those Nosey Parkers!

Meanqueen was disappointed that I did not give her a look around my motorhome when I posted my grown up Wendy House piece the other day. So after hiding odds and sods under duvets  I took some photies the other morning when Lou was still jim-jammed up.  This will give you all an idea of what the inside of our sixteen year old German home on wheels is like.  As for the exterior have a look at a post I wrote yonks ago about kitting it out.

Through the main entrance to the living accommodation and on your left is our kitchen.  The unit houses a two ringed hob with that all important fridge underneath and the sink with cutlery drawer and kitchen utensils cupboard below.  The silvery thing against the window and grey thingy at the right of the picture are fold down worksurfaces.  Food storage is in two further cupboards that are out of view.  Really, without taking a tin opener to the roof anyone would find it tricky taking pictures in here.

And behind the kitchen we have an area that's more versatile in most vans. Many family motorhomes have bunk beds which tend to be fixed. Ours can be configured to make the ideal living space for a family of three. It consists of a top bunk that can be left in situ.  In the daytime it's used to store the insulated sheets that go on the windscreen at night.  Below there's the smaller of two tables - and seats which of course cleverly convert into another bed or big day sofa for those lounge lizardy moments.  The bench opposite Louis houses his toy box and the other is accessible from the outside of the van and is a treasure trove in its own way.  No good or silver here but for those looking for beach stuff, vegetables, tools and the stuff used to service the toilet, it's very handy indeed.  Oh and there's shelves along the back wall which we use for books.  These have the tendency to shed their load as we go round corners on the road.
Over to the other side of the van at the back we have the optimistically named 'bathroom'.  The tap can double as a shower head if its hooked on the wall but it would make a right royal mess and use a week's worth of water.  Ideally Mr Lovelygrey would prefer the toilet to be only for decorative purposes.  Much fuss is made emptying it.  Deposit a number two there at your peril.  Funnily enough small children are fascinated by the idea of a loo in a cupboard and often ignore the 'house rules' on their visits.  This provides me with a furtive giggle or two.  Again there's plenty of storage.   Under the washbasin is the home for cleaning materials and theirs also airline type lockers above the mirror which house towels, medicines and toiletries.

On past the wardrobe which is home to a big metal tube.  Not for pole dancing whilst playing sardines but the means by which the satellite dish is adjusted.  A small cupboard underneath houses the boiler supplying heating and hot water. So now we're back to the main living area of the van with a four seater table.  This can convert into a double bed.  In theory this is a six berth but you'd have to be thin swingers to be happy living in such close proximity.  Under the seats here you'll find our dirty laundry(!) a gas bottle and the water tank.  The TV can be powered from our leisure battery if mains isn't available.  This in turn is charged up by a solar panel on the roof.

Here you can just about see the king sized bed above the cab and the observant of you will also spot the passenger seat that Mr Lovelygrey modified so it spins and provides extra seating for watching junky TV that is standard fare on holiday.  Forget thought provoking documentaries and bring on frothy light entertainment like 'Come Dine with Me' and 'Bargain Hunt'.

So there you have it - a tour around my tiny second home.  Because it's been so rainy today and we're both a bit pooped because of a hectic schedule when Mama and Papa Lovelygrey were here in the city too we've spent the day chilling and hardly been out. You'd think that it was easy to go stir crazy in such a small space but because of the layout which allows for us to use living areas in different ways we've been absolutely fine!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Sacred Crafts Through The Centuries

At the request of Louis we've visited Bristol Cathedral not once, but twice this week to complete the activities in a lovely leaflet, 'The Time Traveller's Trail'  provided by the custodians.  This helps children to explore and discover some of the interesting artefacts in the chapels and other parts of this historic building.

I no longer describe myself as having a Christian faith. There are complex reasons behind this which I won't go into as part of a frou-frou blog.  However, I still like to visit holy places and respect their sanctity.  They are often house beautifully objects and  I marvel at the time, love and energy that has been put into producing these over the centuries.  This Bristol Blue Glass font is a bang up to date piece which is prominently on display.

What amazes me is the time that has been lavished on items which do not have pride of place - things that have to be sought out.  Being a bit of a needlewoman myself I know how long it takes to produce ornate needlepoint cushions.  There must be hundreds of these in total  around the cathedral and I am willing to bet that for most of the time people just park their bums or knees on them without paying attention to their subject matter at all.

My search for less prominent artisan pieces was aided by Louis' ecclesiastical version of 'Hunt the Thimble'.  It prompted him to look out for animals in the Elder Lady Chapel and in joining in the search I discovered this sweet beastie, a lion cub perhaps,  peeping out of the stony undergrowth of one of the walls  for goodness knows how many years . Could he have been there since this part of the building was built in the thirteenth century or was he added by a stonemason with a sense of fun at a later date?

Another chap with a different type of chisel spent time, possibly in the Victorian era, produced this intricate wood carving in the nave.  In many other settings such workmanship would be proudly displayed but this is not the case for this music making ethereal being.  He's tucked away on the end of a pew  in the gloom.  Perhaps the idea behind hiding all these treasures is that the makers only expected God to find and enjoy them. I hope they'd be pleased that I was specifically trying to seek them out today.

Back to modern times, to a work that is very prominently displayed.  This is one of ten  panels embroidered with prayers that were commissioned in 2006 from  Jacqui Frost, a textile designer  who hales from my neck of the woods in Devon.  More of her work is displayed in other cathedrals around the country, including the nearest to my home, Exeter.  I might be moseying on down there to take a peek.

I can't say that this piece spoke to me in the way that the artist, who is a devote Christian herself meant it to. But I can concur, as a person whose worry and anxiety, in the past seemed to know no bounds, that it is a rather amazing thing when it ceases to be pivotal in your life.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Bobbing Along the Bottom of the Beautiful Briney Sea

Being poorly for much of this year scuppered many of my busy, busy plans for 2011.  One of the things that had to be put on hold was upping my participation in voluntary activities.  But with fingers firmly crossed I'm hoping that 2012 will be different.  At the Blue Reef Aquarium in Bristol I came across a leaflet highlighting a project that grabbed my attention and I've already acted upon it by making email contact to find out how I can get involved.

The Beachwatch Scheme run by the Marine Conservation Society  focuses on fighting against marine litter which eventually comes ashore around our coasts. .  The organisation run a Big Weekend every September where litter is collected and surveyed.  There are also  quarterly events run at a smaller number of  locations which aim to build up a  more detailed picture of the the seasonal variation in what is washed up and when.

Now grubbing around collecting stuff in an outdoor environment is one of the things that really floats my boat, an apt expression under in this case.  Whether foraging for wild food, gathering natural craft materials or litter picking, I'm in my element so it doesn't take rocket science to see why this opportunity appealed to me.  However, it seems that there is nobody who currently runs these events on the beaches that are closest to home.  So it might not just be a case of just turning up somewhere that I'm told to on a certain day wielding bin bags and gloves.  I'm therefore giving careful thought as to whether I can spare the additional time to undertake the Chief Honcho role  myself and rustle a posse of willing hardworking volunteers of all age.   If like me, an awareness of this project has whetted your interest and you'd like to find our more, go to the Society's website to find out how you may be notified of events near you.  And for the very keen there's a facilitators pack give guidance about how to organisie these events yourself.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

My Grown Up Wendy House

To illustrate this post, I imagined that I was about seven again and went online to search for my dream childhood playhouse.  And here it is, a gorgeous little Yankee fantasy from a lady called Barbara Butler, a mere snip at $13,860 which represents one of the cheaper offerings on her site.  I urge you to shop there if you have children and an income the size of the Beckhams.
My motorhome that I'm currently happily holed up in, is the adult equivalent of this and didn't cost a dissimilar amount of money. It's my most prized possession ever and I am perfectly in tune with Meanqueen's sister.  My guru of frugality commented on a previous post and told me  that her sibling loves her caravan more than her house.  So why is this? With the aid of a few bullet points I'll try to explain.
Numero uno.  Of course, the most obvious.  It moves! I can take my miniature home anywhere I choose.  Beaches, city centres, festivals and remote open countryside are all within my easily affordable reach.

  • Unlike a tent,  once we've stopped there's no faffing about for hours getting things set up.  It's more  of a home from home than a hotel could ever be too. I can have a cuppa with real milk whenever I like and the price of the alcoholic goodies in my fridge, just an arm's reach away, is miles below that of those emergency rations  found in a mini-bar.
  • Years ago I looked at an IKEA catalogue which portrayed the seemingly over-optimistic vision of a Scandanavian family living a full and meaningful life in a space equivalent to the size of a small studio flat.  Yet my motorhome is just like that.  Beds  up  high expose usable space below and there's so much clever storage that is way above and beyond anything found in a Barratt's box.
  • Because of that limited space you're forced to dispense of the unnecessary fripperies that collect in a traditional brick built house.  There's no trinkets, rarely used gadgets or things saved for a rainy day.  The lack of egg cups this morning meant that Lou's breakfast was served up in the lid from my bottle of deodorant!
  • An incredibly thorough spring clean takes about an hour as opposed to more than a day in my brick built home.
  • Lots of windows mean that  the quality of light in our mobile living accommodation is excellent, a feature that is so important to someone prone to seasonal affective disorder.
  • When we park up we often become part of a community of like minded people.  They're normally not  the type that are up partying until the early hours and the kids -well they find each other and make the kind of entertainment that more often than not doesn't need the help of an electronic device.
This 'wendy house on wheels' doesn't look anywhere near as pretty as the gorgeous green timber clad mini peep's version above. But it fulfils its role as a dream toy for a grown up superbly!

Monday, 19 December 2011


The new museum, M Shed that opened in June this year  is an absolute triumph and what's more it's doesn't cost a penny to look round unless you give a great big fat donation after your visit because it's so brilliant!  Housed in an old cargo warehouse on the River Avon, it tells the story of  Bristol and is packed full of information, objects and interactive installations which are guaranteed to enthrall the young and old, whether they're locals who may have contributed to exhibits here or, like us, come from further afield. This city has had international connections from distant times and the goods that used to be stored in this very location made their way from here on ships destined for ports around the world.   Whereas this bus?  Well, I expect, its covered  a mileage that was equivalent to several global circumnavigations before it reached its resting spot in the 'Places Gallery', one of three at M Shed.

And so we move onto the 'People Gallery', probably my favourite.  This was stuffed to the 'gunnels', an entirely fitting nautical term for somewhere with such a strong naval heritage, with pieces that reflect the creativity of this city's inhabitants over the centuries and also demonstrate how they have fared and also fought in times of adversity.  Even though I was spoilt for choice in what I could have used to illustrate the diverse work displayed in this gallery, this poem etched on glass easily came out tops.  It demonstrates that those regarded as the lowest of the low, in this instance an eighteenth century black slave woman can leave behind a legacy of wisdom that far outweighs the value that was attributed to them in their lifetime.

Let's go now to the gallery portraying  Bristol Life that explores people's shared experience of both everyday and more momentous events.  This 'Mod' jumper that is so up to date but was a statement wardrobe piece way back  in the 1960s, caught my eye.  It was worn by a trendy Vespa riding youth in the days before designer clothing took hold.  Need something to set you apart from her peers in the cool and trendy stakes.  Well, easy peasy.  Just get your mum to illustrate your favourite mode of transport on knitwear.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Motorhome Mooring

Christmas preparations have been minimised this year.  It's the first one in yonks that the crowds haven't been over to Lovelygrey Villas.  So with festive chores down to a reasonable level we've made an escape to one of my favourite cities - the South West enclave of Bristol.

Handily the Caravan Club has a location right on the banks of the River Avon.  It's just a stone's throw - or more accurately, a pleasant ferry ride, walk or cycle to the city centre.  And there's a lovely  pub, the Cottage Inn, next door which sells proper beer and hearty fare.  Its cosy interior was full when we arrived late yesterday lunchtime and had an atmosphere akin to one of Dicken's more cheerful scenes.  Pre-Christmas Scrooge and Uriah Heap were nowhere to be seen among the Bristol City supporters waiting to go to a match.   To the surprise of some, our Knaus van is snuggily too.  Those German motorhomers trundle off for trips year round so demand a well insulated spec.

The Baltic Wharf  site is popular and the booking system of the club's website shows that it's often chocker block months ahead. But for those who like to get away on the spur of the moment, the wardens have told me that there's often last minute cancellations.

So over the next few days I'll be sharing some holiday themed posts. They'll be sightseeing, fun and frolics and of course, a panto.  Come back to see what we get up to in his lovely historic place!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Chopping and Changing

In the past many people were tied to the same job for the majority of their working life, often earning a crust by doing the same type of work over a fifty year period. How times are different. Now we chop and change with many of us embarking on two, three or more careers in our lifetime, sometimes out of necessity because of, say, redundancy or a geographical move or through personal choice when we outgrow a particular profession.  Our close knit trio  that met when we were training to become occupational therapists is  a case in point. It's  made up of an ex hotelier and civil servant, a former dental nurse who then became a optician's dispenser and a tax consultant.  And our wider cohort included an archaeologist, midwife, art teacher, medical laboratory technician, carpenter and a milkman.

I've come across a financiers who've become nurses, a retired doctor who returned to college to  become a glass blower, a software engineer who trained to be a landscape gardener and a teacher who became a bus driver.   One person with a particularly complex career portfolio combining podiatry, working as a carer for people with learning difficulties and being a personal assistant all at the same time.  Perhaps this fluidity in the job market challenges the notion that define us by what we do.

I was having a chat to Mr Metrosexual the other day and asked him what he did before he became a nurse.  It certainly seemed like his change of direction came not a moment too soon.  'I was a pharmacy techinician' he replied.  'It got a bit boring so we had to devise our own fun.  We made suppositories that were a bit too big and roughed up the edges!'  

Friday, 16 December 2011

Thought for the Day: Listen Up Mary

As a girl with frizzy curly hair who's' always yearned for a chic, elegant bob I'm a bit jealous of Mary Portas' hair.  Although her approach is not everyone's cup of tea, I  like her directness and was particularly taken with her series where she made over a charity shop, transforming it from useless junk heap that almost certainly would have smelt of damp and stale urine  to a lovely place that looked like it just oozed the potential treasures to tempt on each visit.  For those of you who live in, or are holidaying in South Devon, pop into the Oxfam shop in Totnes.  It's right out of this mould and is a joy to behold.

I see Mary has written a report about rejuvenating the High Street   I'm getting some of her ideas like making it easier for people to set up stalls, advocating measures to stop landlords and banks keeping properties empty and making the environment safe and attractive.  But when I heard her talking on the radio she used the examples of town centre gyms and creches.  Hmmm!  I'm not so sure that these features are what would reel me in  but each to their own.  However, I've produced my own wish list based what I like here in Devon and further afield.

  • Lovely stalls selling a vast range of stuff.  Locally grown veg,  a good fish van, worldwide delicacies,  street food, second hand goods, crafts..... I'm thinking of those wonderful  packed markets that I visit in Brittany and the panier market in Tavistock that I've newly discovered.
  • A range of retail units including high street names, independents with both new and secondhand goods.  Surely something could be done with financial incentives to ensure that towns attract a mix of traders.
  • Art installations - preferably those that change frequently.  Like the brilliant pigs (and lions) that have, in the past been displayed around the streets of Bath, that became a draw themselves encouraging visitors to the city.
  • Places of worship and contemplation.
  • Imaginative uses of greenery and flowers which might include kitsch municipal planting, sensory gardens, green spaces to sit and relax,  hidden oases of calm.....
  • Street entertainment and regular events during both day and evening hours. 
  • Wonderful comprehensive libraries, art and community centres and museums providing community events and courses, free internet etc, etc.  Around Devon, the Flavel Centre in Dartmouth and the Watermark in Ivybridge are good examples.
  • A mixture of places to eat  and drink that appeal to all tastes and budgets. That includes decent old style 'caffs'.  Jackson's behind the fishmongers of the same name in Newton Abbot is a brilliant example.
  • A decent post office, advice and support centres, local police stations, GPs surgeries and other primary care providers.  Who was the numpty who decided that all the mental health teams in Newton Abbot should be based on an industrial estate in the middle of nowhere?
  • Water features which incorporate features in which children can paddle and play.   And why not put playgrounds in the midst of pedestrianised areas?
  • Living accommodation (preferably with balconies) above shops so that urban spaces don't empty after dark. 
  • Town trails, cycling routes and self guided walking tours.
  • Day care centres, schools and residential homes right in the thick of things so that all the community have access to these spaces.
Does anywhere come near my idyll? I'd be interested to know!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Wonderful Wild Wind

There's a flip side to spending most of the year being ill.  Now I'm  ninety per cent recovered I'm experiencing the world around me with renewed vigour.  The big bonus is I'm feeling great during these autumn and winter months which are normally difficult because there seems to be a seasonally affective element to my depression.  Usually I crave the light but I'm so glad to be well again.  So  this period, with its short days and extended periods of darkness, isn't presenting its usual challenges.  Instead I'm  newly appreciative of its sombre character.

What I'm particularly enjoying is going to bed, snuggling down in the darkness  and hearing the wild and woolly weather rattling down the valley from the west and lashing the trees and buildings outside.   I'm loving the sound of the  wind and rain, which has been so fierce that it's blown one of the drainpipes clean off the front of the house.  However, cosied up under the duvet,  these mighty elements which are quite capable of causing distruction, seem strangely comforting!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Stretching the Truth

Created by 'Other Metaphors and Symbols'
Marketeers seem to be looking to Pinocchio for inspiration more and more these days.  Whilst I would not go so far as being  accused of libel and say that they're telling outright porkies,  some of my recent observations are leading me to believe that the truth is sometimes stretched as much as this  poor unfortunate wooden boy's nose.

Take this French example.  When holiday supplies need topping up,  we'll look out for those ubiquitous, useful posters that they have over there giving precise directions to the nearest supermarket. They also tell you the time it'll take to travel there. But, unless you're the pilot of a Harrier jump jet flying as the crow flies or in the type of vehicle designed to break land speed records, forget trying to match this, especially in a lumbering, under powered motorhome.  You'll probably need to multiply the time stated by three AND add your lucky number to  work out the real duration of the journey to pick up your bargain wines and emergency Kouign Amman.

I've partly made decisions  about acquiring a couple of things over the last few months based on manufacturers' figures that seem like complete fantasy now.  Let's start with my six month old motor, the Ford Fiesta Econetique.   It's supposed to have a combined mileage of 76.3 mpg.  However, even though I eco-drive for 95% of the time, I'm averaging  about 55 mpg after 5,000 miles.  That's only  a shade above what I used to get out of my last car, the Skoda Fabia 1.9 turbo diesel which had a more oomph  and hadn't had its weight shaved by forsaking alloy wheels and a spare tyre.   Maybe if I was a barefoot and naked size 6,  never had any passengers or stuff with me and always drove downhill on empty featureless roads at 50mph  in a hot, dry climate without turning on the radio, air-conditioning or phone charger, I could achieve somewhere near this  figure!

And let's move onto that phone which requires emergency top ups on the move far more often than my old device with its clapped out battery ever did.  Theoretically, my new Samsung Galaxy S can go for a maximum time of 576 hours between charges.  Yet, even though my average call rate comes in between one or two a day,  I rarely text, download files or need the GPS and use the Internet sparingly,  I reckon my standby time is only 3% of its quoted figure.  Perhaps it's time for Jiminy Cricket to have a stern work and rein in those who've been making some rather over-enthusiastic claims.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Shop is Shut

One of the factors that drew me towards using Ebay as the marketplace for my tiny business is that  I can close down business as often as I like - even during the Christmas spending rush!  And so, as I'm away next week, I'm winding things down and temporarily stopping my selling activity in a day or two.  You'll clearly be able to see an obvious reason why I might want to do this given that I'd like to focus on having fun with my family whilst on holiday.   Standing in long queues in the post office at their busiest time and having a motorhome awash with padded envelopes containing glittery treats just would'nt cut the mustard.  But I'm also shutting shop so that I can take stock, reflect on my first two months of trading and make some changes to how it's run before I open it again on a proper footing after the festive season.

So, what do I need to do differently?  Well - I'm not properly set up as a business at the moment so informing  Ebay, Paypal and the Inland Revenue that I'm operating on this footing really is a priority.  Then there's questions, questions to be answered.   Like 'Do I really need a business bank account' given that the bulk of my transactions go through Paypal?': 'Is there any point in incurring a monthly fee to open an Ebay shop?'  My accounting system, though accurate, is a little unwieldy so that needs tweaking to enable me to record sales and purchases in a way that doesn't involve writing 'War and Peace' each time I undertake a transaction.  And I've been packing stuff up and labelling the envelope with its contents ready to ship straight after I've listed it as an auction item.  A good idea in the first few days when there were only a few things to sell. Now though,  I'm having to play a time consuming game of hide and seek every time someone's made a winning bid.   Small practical issues like this  have to be resolved before my head explodes with frustration!

I'm treating my initial period as an experiment - and I have to say it's been more successful than I'd hoped.  Turnover in the first month was £200 but I've already doubled this take in the first half of December.  Seasonal spending no doubt plays a part but I've also now got a handle on what sells well and makes the most profit.  The exercise has helped me to become much more discerning at the stage that I acquire stock. Hopefully, there'll be no more entries in my purchase ledger that say 'Crap Job Lot'!   And rather than drawing on savings I've now built up a little pot of money so that tiny business is self funding.  I was expecting a loss in the first financial year but I'm now reckoning on being able to recoup start up costs and break even.  There's no reason at all why I shouldn't be profitable in 2012/13.  Will it be enough so that I can reduce my employment hours by a day and still be able to make enough to continue to pay off the mortgage at its current rate?   It looks like a goer but I'll know for certain soon after the start of the New Year.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Dear Santa.....

.........just to let you know that if everyone was like me you, Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer and the rest of the reindeer would be well and truly out of business!  Believe me I've been giving the matter enormous thought and, in spite of stretching the old grey matter to its extremes, I can honestly say that, probably for the first time ever,  I haven't come up with anything I'd like for Christmas  I'm entirely happy with my lot and there's nothing that I want or need at the moment.  I have to say that I'm finding this a truly lovely state of mind.

Okay, you'll still need to visit the Lovelygrey family although not at our home. We'll be on the banks of the River Avon in Bristol holed up in the motorhome.  Just look for a van with its ceiling vent open and I hope you'll be able to squeeze through it in lieu of a chimney.  After all I wouldn't want to deny our nipper his normal stash of new toys.  He doesn't yet appreciate the less is more mantra.  So, you'll find his stocking hanging up where we normally keep the tea towel.  And of course there'll be the usual tipple and snacks for you and the reindeer.   But don't think of leaving anything for me just in case I change my mind.  Not even a scented candle that allegedly, according to Radio 4, is a must have item these days. I've still got the ones that arrived last year!

Lovelygrey xxx

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Pinko Pursuits

My viewing on the i-player during this evening's ironing session reminded me that I've been meaning to share some craft links from the UK media for a while now.  I was catching up with back episodes of Kirstie's Homemade Home and had to give myself a stern talking to.  It's not a good idea for me to start fabric printing, machine embroidery or pottery projects when there's so much else to complete. New ventures must be put on the back burner for the time-being.

But for those of you who're looking for inspiration for creative makes, Channel 4 has an excellent craft resource on its webpages which knocks the spots off of the BBC's offering.   Go over and pay the site a visit to see my favourite seasonal make , a needlefelt robin.

As a public sector worker there's a higher than average chance that I'd be a pinko Guardian reader and the stereotype indeed applies.  A little ray of rosiness in a country dominated by a true blue government climate - hence the picture!   I appreciate that some of my readers may have a different take on life and hence normally spurn this lefty rag.  But don't dismiss it out of hand.  It's not just about hair shirts and homages to the Miliband boys.  It has published some great craft articles.  In the interest of  political balance I tried to find equivalent resources in other more right wing British national newspapers but without success.  So, all you Tories out there take the plunge.   Check out the paper's website for some great makes including these lovely knitted biscuits.  For those nifty knitters out there I reckon that this design would scale upwards to make beautiful comfy cushions.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Bah! B&Q

There's an advert B&Q have run over the last few months that really gets my goat.  It urges us to rush to their stores and buy power tools for Dad this Christmas.  Just how sexist can you get?  This mum lurves meaty drills and the like herself and indeed has been known to run around the house with DIY kit in hand pretending that she is Lara Croft with a great big gun.

My craft tools are amongst my prize possessions - almost loved as much as my child. Okay - so I'm exaggerating but you get the picture about what they mean to me.  So, it is with much woe I have to announce that I have spent vast portions of the day fruitlessly searching for my lost pair of metal snips.  When, I at last find them I'll have to find something to celebrate along the lines of killing a fatted calf in honour of my lost son coming home.  Alright again I'm going over the top.  But their discovery might be a perfect excuse to have a celebratory bar of chocolate!

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Alphabetical Tourist: Armenia

This exercise is showing up my shocking lack of geographical knowledge.  Today's country is yet another where the facts that I've accumulated about it over the years pretty much amounts to diddly squat.    So, I was unaware that this is the nation which is home to the Ararat massif. Somewhere around here Noah, his family and pairs of koalas, meerkats, amoebae and indeed all the animals in the world came to teeter in the ark on the top of a craggy summit.  Mount Ararat itself, historically was part of the country but was at sometime in the past usurped by Turkey.

Let's stick with religion for the moment.  It's not often that I come across one I haven't heard of in the developed world.   It didn't surprise me that the main faith here is a form of Christian Orthodoxy but the Kurds in the western region practise Yazidism. It seems a highly sensible system that puts forward the view that we are free to choose between the  good and evil exist in our minds and spirits.  They are devoted to Tawuse Melek, the Peacock god, who was asked to perform this 'ip dip sky blue' process by God (note that this is spelt with a capital G) and decided in favour of being good.

The geographical area of Armenia has undergone some change historically.  It's had a bit of coastline in the past but now its landlocked although there is a group of musicians called the Armenian Navy Band who might dispute this!  It's a good job for water lovers that the country is the site of Lake Sevan, one of the largest high altitude expanses of water in the world situated at a height of about 1900m but get there quick.  Ninety per cent of its water evaporates rather than dribbles downwards to make a river.

Around its shores are a number of beaches that seem to have the trappings of many resorts, swimming, jet-skiing and camping and probably noshing a few 99s.  Yet I guess at that altitude it's not for the lily livered .  There's got to be a bit of a nip in the air. There's a need for warm garments to keep out the cold.  Perhaps this fact may have, in the past,  contributed to the decline of the Caucasian Leopard. It seems that less than 20 of these beasties now skulk around the lake avoiding those hunters looking for the raw materials to make the Armenian seaside equivalent of Southend's kiss me quick hat!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Fun Freebie Festive Filler!

As the title says -  FFFF! and I'll add a few more Fs besides.  You're not going to get many Christmas themed posts from me as I don't go in for this over-commercialised holiday in a big way.  I love a special seasonal nosh up with the family and, as the mother of a school age child, I don't advocate the complete bah humbug approach of ignoring the festivities altogether. This is a special time of year for kids and I wouldn't deny my son some kind of celebration.  Nor would I want him to ignore the significant underlying meaning of the occasion even though I'm not a Christian myself.

Way back now I sorted out Lou's Christmas presents for ths year and set myself a reasonable budget that I've stuck to rigourously.  But there is a bit of a gap in his stocking and I'm looking to fill it with some freebies.  This is one of the things I've come up with - a rubber ball which started life from the elastic bands that the postman uses to gather my parcels together.  I just scrunched a few into a sphere and over the months have kept going, augmenting my original source with bands  I've found in the odds and sods drawer, a phenomenon that manifests itself in most kitchens.  My bouncy creation is now about two inches in diameter but it's not a fait-accompli. My vision is that Louis will add to it with his own stretchy finds and one day it might even make it into the Guinness Book of Records.  After all this is one of this esteemed tome's entries.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Full of Woe - No!!

Because I've got so much unused holiday due to extended sick leave, I'm having a day off weekly  until the end of the  financial year.  This has caused a penny to drop.  In the past I thought that, if I reduced my hours down from full time hours to a four day week I'd plump for long weekends and take Mondays or Fridays off.  Fine if I headed off on mini breaks skiing, walking or suchlike all the time but with a school aged child this just doesn't happen.  With the benefit of  experience, I've found that, for me,  Wednesday is the winner as regards being the best day to take off.

It means that usually I'd only ever have two consecutive days at work unless I had training or a special event.    Wednesday would represent a little oasis of bliss  allowing  me to recharge the batteries when most of the population are working. The traditional territory of the child of woe would thus be usurped by the happy infant because the creation of a mini weekend in the middle of the week!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

One Man's Junk is Another's Old Master

The start of the teeny tiny business experiment in sourcing, restoring and selling vintage jewellery is going swimingly and fits nicely with my ethos of recycling. Learning about where pieces originate from, how to work out what they're made of using  the contents of my wooden box of poisons, marked alarmingly with a skull and crossbones,  and finding out about the history of some of the things that come my way is fascinating. And of course I'm getting a buzz out of making some money.  All being well I'm planning to give up working in the NHS one day a week at the start of the next financial year but top up my income sufficiently to maintain the hefty mortgage overpayments.  In the long term I'm hoping that this activity could provide an income source into well into my retirement years.

Now I bought a charm bracelet the other day.  The one above  in fact.  When I got it, it was as mucky as mucky can be.  So I gave it a whizz round in my tumble polisher filled with steel shot and soapy water.  It seems to do the trick for most things - except 'paste' jewellery.  I reckon that the name is a dead giveaway.  Experimentation has shown that this stuff disintegrate given with this treatment.  All I can say is that you live and learn.

Anyway.... once the bracelet was clean I decided to remove these five travel shield charms.   People bought these, in the years after the war, as souvenirs of places that they'd visited or as mementos of towns that were special to them in other ways.  I thought that these were too personal to have mass appeal.  I also made an executive decision (after all I am the MD of my own business!) to remove an additional charm that potentially could make a reasonable sum if sold on its own.  It's a lovely little boot which opens to depict the old woman in the shoe with her multiple children.  I put her and the bracelet on Ebay at asking prices that would make me a small profit if no-one bid higher. As for the shields, I decided that they were probably worth no more than the scrap value of the silver and listed them as a job lot for £2.50.

And guess what?  The bracelet with its remaining twelve charms made its asking price.  I've had to relist the poor harassed nursery rhyme character.  But the travel shields sold for the startling sum of £31.31 and had two bidders fighting over them.

What I'd love to know is whether one or more of these items had sentimental value for the buyer which forced their price up.   Fond memories of Wilmslow perhaps.   Or has the travel shield equivalent of the 'Mona Lisa' just passed me by and I've remained completely oblivious?