Friday, 31 October 2014

Lost and Found

 I was going to pitch up with a penguin picture as there's a brilliant kid's book by Oliver Jeffers with the same title as today's post.  When Googling I found that someone had told the story, complete with the original pictures on Youtube,  Then I realised that she'd reeled off  my favourite kid's tale from Louis' tiny years as well,  So I'm sharing the tale of Beegu instead even though it's way off subject matter.  How random is that?

Yesterday was a really mixed bag.  I saw some lovely people, patients I think that they called them in the olden days.  What these folk or these families really don't need when they've just been given a diagnosis of dementia is someone offhand or officious.  When I meet them for counselling I think a lot of them are expecting me to come equipped with a straitjacket and cart them off to the nearest old peep's home.   One lady certainly had that in her head.  That was what had pretty much happened to one of her elderly neighbours years back and it was wedged in her mind.   Instead they get someone smiley who's there to help them  work out how to remain as independent as possible and realise the dreams that they have left.  Often we end up laughing although I forget the circuitous route we took that made one carer reveal that her husband tells their two year old that the word for 'willy' is 'anaconda'! I bet she wasn't expecting to talk about that.  I get hugged a lot as well.  That might mean that I'm doing a half reasonable job.

The rest of the former Lovelygrey Cottage was cleaned in super quick time and I was all set to return home to the van to cook.  A rustic sausage and lentil stew was on the cards.  I popped into our local post office for some Thatcher's to wash it down.  After all I'm still celebrating a home move.  It was there I realised that the motorhome keys had gone missing.  I bet they're in that messy car but be blowed if I could find them in the pitch black.  There seemed nothing else to do but retrace my steps back to my Totnes office and then the extra fourteen miles in the fog to Kingsbridge Hospital where I'd held a clinic earlier in the day. A kind porter  really tried hard to search them down.  No keys to be seen but the lost property box did yield the flowery umbrella that I'm very partial to!  That went AWOL about six months ago and I thought that it was gone forever.  I wonder whether that was during a very hectic time of life too as I always seem to lose stuff when I'm stressed.

In the end a very nice RAC man broke into my van. I had to sign a disclaimer to let him off if he did damage but there wasn't any.   He will make a good burglar in his next life.  It was too late to cook so I feasted on cheese...and that cider of course!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Moving Day Plus One

At 6pm last night after a twelve and a half hour day of sheer physicality and a good bit of noggin work. I surrendered and scurried to my new home, the campsite.  Yay! I parked the motorhome there earlier in the day so it was waiting to welcome me .  I brought beer and fish and chips to celebrate.  There's still about a couple of hours work left at Lovelygrey Cottage before I give the keys back to the letting agents. Then there's a van and a teeny Skoda to sort out.  Both my vehicles look as if they're inhabited by a crazed kleptomaniac.  Okay,  I exaggerate when it comes to the motorhome  (not the car!) but I'm really not a completely happy bunny unless things are in order. Salty Dog messaged me to ask how things  were going and see if I was enjoying myself.  I have to say that I'm not there yet  on the fun stakes but once everything is nice and shipshape I'm sure life will be good for me and the boy.

I know you lovely people want to see my pimped van but you'll have to be patient.  Let me get it to a rare few seconds of showhome gorgeousness before I do that. Thanks to everyone for the kind comments recently. They mean a lot to me.  Apologies that I haven't been replying as I might but, as I've been saying at work recently, I haven't got a broomstick up my arse.  Maybe this is  a totally valid solution to my multi-tasking needs! 

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Into the Metaphorical Sunset

Today's the day!  In about eight hours time Lovelygrey Cottage will be emptied of my possessions and those that  aren't in the van or haven't been recycled, gifted and loaned to friends will be heading off into storage. Lord knows how that will be achieved. There's still a bit to pack from the kitchen and the spare room has not really been touched.  There's also a big IKEA shelf unit that I'm darned if I know how to dismantle.   I'm sure those removal dudes will have come across people that are way less organised than me.  At least I hope that's the case. The only thing for it is to have faith that it will all come out in the wash.

The end  of a very hectic and strenuous few days, that has left every part of my body aching, is in sight.   But I'm not quite there yet. There's lots of cleaning to do including shampooing carpets.  I'm hoping to get that all done today but Thursday evening's been kept free in case it doesn't pan out and I collapse with exhaustion before this day has ended. There were troops who offered their services but I shooed them away.  My stubborn independent streak will serve me well into old ladydom.  I've seen plenty of feisty biddy imbued with the same admirable spirit. But perhaps I should  learn to accept a bit of help when it's proffered.

Tonight will be the first spent on what will be my main home for the next few months.  Pitch 42 is on a great campsite.  And its flat.  No need for my wheel chocks then!  So let's finish with a  dreadful musical pun.   I was more an indie girl and never a jazz funk fan but this very danceable song with great lyrics from my '80s youth that I rather like with do the trick.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A Bit Rude

This moving lark and the fact that everything has gone ultra-mad at work is making me grumpy. I like life to be simple and it's sure not that way at the moment.  I'm missing Lou as well.  In one sense it's good that he's in Portugal with his dad, seemingly spending most of his waking hours in the villa's hot tub. His absence and lack of childcare responsibility makes clearing the house easier.  But on the other hand there's no sharing snuggles, chocolate and childish giggles.  It'll be so good to have him home at the weekend.

In the meantime, I thought I'd cheer myself up writing about something that tickled us pink at work. You need to leave now if you're easily offended.  The rest of this post talks about a naughty body part.

I was writing up a particularly tricky assessment the other day when my deep concentration was interrupted by Mr Metrosexual. He has a habit of doing this.  'Have you heard of anal bleaching?' he asked.  I thought that he was having me on but it's a procedure that really does exist.  Look it up on Wikipedia if you don't believe me.  There you'll find the before and after shots that I really couldn't bring myself to put on my own blog.

Apparently some people are extremely upset that the skin around their black passage is dark.  Me, I haven't a clue what colour mine is.  It could be orange with white spots, a bit like Nemo, for all I know.  That probably wouldn't be a good thing but I'm not going to get busy with a mirror for research purposes. I'll take a chance it's fine.   My little gang considered whether we could easily supplement our NHS pay with an additional cosmetic services.  We'd just need to pop over to the Co-op and the nice little garden shop opposite to equip ourselves with a couple of bottles of Domestos and a bit of hose.  After all, how hard could the procedure be for a bunch of nurses and a butter fingered occupational therapist to follow?

On a serious note this revelation has got me thinking a bit more deeply. The inside of some people's heads must be in a dreadful empty state.  When there's beauty, suffering, love and loss, the great mysteries of the universe and what will be really good for tea to contemplate, why are some of my fellow humans preoccupied with the hue of their arses?   Isn't there so much more to life?

Monday, 27 October 2014

A Bit of Wondering

Ah, Searching for Sugar Man!  Now there's an interesting movie with a great soundtrack.  It's about Rodriguez, a bloke who sold about nine copies of his album in the US and was just about to disappear into musical oblivion.  But then one of the records ended up being taken to South Africa, got passed round and, as they say today, went viral, no doubt, before that term even existed.  My Afrikaans friend confirmed that the songs became anthems of the anti apartheid era.

Well, that's my little diversion for the day.  Hope you enjoy the tune which has nothing to do with the post. What I'm toying with at the moment, in that busy little noggin of mine, is life in the van, and specifically about the amount of  stuff I've put in there.  I'm thinking back to arriving at the Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail with a rucksack full of what I thought were necessities.  Four days later, at the first opportunity, I shed about seven pounds of load, then a bit more at intervals as the weeks left on, until I was left with just what I really needed. Unlike some people there was always a book and I kept a full length handle on my toothbrush. Some weight savings are a step way too far!

What I'm wondering is if my experience of living in the motorhome will be the same.  At the moment the wardrobe is crammed full and somehow the fondue set that went on a weekend trip with me has remained in situ.  Surely I don't need all that stuff!  Wouldn't life be better if I embraced a bit more simplicity.  After all, possessions come with responsibility.  I know that.

In the next few weeks I'll get used to full time van living and work out what I really need and want. Even more trips to the charity shop are envisaged.  Those guys have done well out of me.  I thought that I was thrifty but the act of giving so many things away is making me re-evaluate what I spend money on yet again.  I'm thinking that perhaps, to concentrate on more important things, my material world needs to be much, much simpler.

Sunday, 26 October 2014


Photo: John Salter

Ha! Craft Kerry thought she knew what I was going to blog about today.  For I was eulogising over a new handheld electrical device.  How I've survived without an electric screwdriver for the first forty nine years of my life I'll never know!

You might have got a full blog post raving about my new £6.99 piece of kit were it not for the fact that yesterday, on the way to the recycling centre, I spotted something that I've passed before hundreds of times. Crawling through Newton Abbot at the pace of a particularly sluggish snail, I noticed what was on top of the war memorial for the very first time.   Here is the very gorgeous Victory, breaking free from her chains, complete with Hercules bomber giving her a lovely fly past salute. As I go for a bit of metaphor big time, this girl spoke volumes to me. At this time of transition she represents what I feel is going on in my life.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Best Crack On!

As I write, my son is heading up to Bristol Airport to catch a flight to Portugal where he's spending a half term holiday with his dad.   He came round to say farewell and tap me for Euros yesterday evening. And Salty Dog  is disturbing my blogging. She's brought me a big cup of tea and has joined me in bed for a chat.  We've covered the woeful state of the stock market, self employment as a consultant and secondhand motorhome tyres already!

We had a terribly girly time last night that included feasting on  leftovers, drinking wine and dancing.around the living room.  It'll  be the last bit of R'n'R in the few days left before my monumental move. Once I've dispatched my friend after filling her tummy with eggs and yummy cheesy jalapeno bread,  I've got a frightning to do list as long as my arm to tackle.  This is just a small portion of it. So there's no more time for lounging around. Let's get on with it!

Friday, 24 October 2014

Mastering Those Discounts

I forget I am a student for, like some of my compatriots, I do not have a weird fascination with nicking traffic cones and road signs. Nor do I chat up boys in the Student Union bar.  In fact I don't chat up boys anymore full stop, much to the annoyance of Reiki Ray.  He is adamant that I need to get out there immediately and find my soulmate, whom, he insists that he's been having psychic chats with. Blimey! I couldn't make this up if I tried.  Even though Ray operates on a higher plane, he is also as mad as a box of frogs and I'm ignoring him.  Far too busy with house move, essay and making sure that my son stays on the straight and narrow.  If however Prince Charming is out there and feels that Ray's been having a chat do let me know.  Just make sure it's after I've moved into the motorhome though!

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, being a student.  Blue Light, my manager, who's never happier than when dealing with emergency call outs, got funding for his own Master's degree at the same time as I secured mine. He told me about the NUS Extra Scheme.  I'm entitled to membership even though I am a part-time distance learner.  For a payment of £12 a year, my Spotify subscription will drop down from ten quid to a fiver, there's a 10% discount at the Co-op and another 5% at Amazon.  With it, I can also get 11% off an 18-25 railcard. Apparently I can even get one of those as well even though I'm twenty four years over the official age limit. Result!  I've added an international ISIS card and memberships to the international student group ISIS, and   Gourmet Society for small sums when buying the card.  I'm quite interested in the discount from ATS Euromaster on tyres as well. It's been pointed out that the motorhome's going to need some soon and that's a scary economic prospect as they're big bastards.

I think I've demonstrated that it's well worth checking your entitlement to discounts based on student status.  There's also savings to be had for  people entitled to benefits and in certain professional groups including us lot in the NHS.  Go seek out what you're entitled to. You may be pleasantly surprised!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Another Good Scandinavian Word

In pursuit of something Scandinavian to illustrate this post,  I trawled Ikea's webpages rather than seeking out some funky obscure art site.  I'm trying to make a  life, that is way too hectic for my liking, a bit easier.  In the past  I've talked about Hygge,  a Danish word that sums up the idea of cosyness.  Now that my motorhome is newly refurbished with swanky new upholstery and vinyl I'm up for injecting shedloads of  that in there to keep us perky over the winter months. No, you can't have a peek inside Klaus the Knaus yet. It's a tip in there at the moment. Definitely not a place to evoke snuggliness.  But maybe in a couple of days time, I'll be ready to show him off!

The latest clever word that I've learnt from my chums from the Northern reaches is 'lagom'.  It epitomises the state of having just enough, another totally appropriate concept to bear in mind when it comes to having a happy, fulfilling life in a van.  I was introduced to it by this article from the Guardian which challenges the idea that possessions equal prosperity. I think many of my bloggy friends might find it interesting too.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Good News Calls For Chocolate!

Even though life is mega stressful at the moment, there are signs that balance is being restored.  I spent yesterday afternoon, unearthing my ostrich-like head from some metaphorical sand to take stock of a big backlog of routine work that had built up whilst I've recently dealt with crisis after crisis. And what do you know?  My predictions of catastrophe were all completely out of kilter with reality. Problems have either solved themselves or people have transferred out of area.  Much to the amusement of my social services colleagues,  I did a  bit of impromptu dancing in their office  as I received the news of one person's move to another continent.  Their departure meant that a very substantially piece of work that was causing me all sorts of worries had just melted away.

And after the hoo-ha of last week, my son's  behaviour has improved immensely. All sanctions at school have been lifted and  Louis' Head of House persuaded me to get rid of the treat/telly ban earlier than I'd originally planned.  Chocolate eating has been restored to the residents of Lovelygrey Cottage. Yay! It seemed rude not to buy a bar of this stuff, on offer at the Co-op for £1.50, to mark the occasion.  Popping candy rather than champagne corks is, after all, far more fitting for a celebration with an eleven year old!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

A Motorhome Wardrobe

In anticipation of my move  I've had the ultimate of all clear outs.  Many bags of clothes have gone to the charity shop.  More have been put in boxes and can't come with me as they're too bulky, saved for the days when I return to having more accessible storage space.  My rather marvellous embroidered Austrian cardigan comes into that category as does my pink corduroy coat.  Boo hoo!

In the motorhome have three shelves, four hooks and a couple of fabric baskets in which to store an entire wardrobe. That's way more than the 'home on my bag' rucksack from my Appalachian Trail walking days that held just two changes of lightweight clothing.  Even so, a bit of thought has to go into what stays and what goes. Everything scratchy, itchy, holey or uncomfortable has departed.  Long skirts and dresses are unfortunately out as they take up too much space What remains are clothes that are ideal for layering, old favourites and things that have earned their place by being colourful and funky.

Rainwear is a must here in the South West and there's only room on those hooks for one waterproof coat.  I had two, a very dull navy number and my favourite,decade old ,North Face ski jacket.  The problem with that one is that it's short and just sits on the hip. It's fine for snowy peaks but not the best when it comes to protection from those all too common Devonian showers.

So I've treated myself to this Rab Latok Jacket from Cotswold Outdoors, expensive but £100 off its original price and Quidco-ed as well for a further discount.  It stops my bum getting wet, meets all my walking and skiing needs in one and stops me pining quite so much for the corduroy number.  Like every new piece of clothing from now on it's really had to earn its place on that hook in the van!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Sock Loss and Other Stressors

I'm having a day where it was difficult to think of what to post. In spite of mindfulness practice, a band of angels looking after me and my own personal reiki healer it'll come as no surprise that I'm feeling significantly stressed.  Work is busy, there's a house to pack up and a motorhome to prepare, Louis' behaviour is being kept on extra special check and to top it all, there's a mini essay to complete by next Monday. Aaaaargh!  No wonder my brain is kerfuffled. Roll on next week when life should be way simpler.

So, apologies for recycling stuff off the Internet and the sweary language in this comic strip. It's funny though and sort of sums up what's  happening at Lovelygrey Cottage at the current time.  In the turmoil,  things are getting lost and found and lost again!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Still Crying Over Spilt Milk

Photo: BBC (Wikipedia)
Sometimes I feel that life runs like an episodes of 'Some Mothers Do Have 'Em' that ,as a kid, I was allowed to stay up and watch after swimming lessons.   Motor control isn't one of my strong points and it took me a year before I was able to stay afloat without armbands. Like Frank Spencer, I'm dreadfully accident prone and have self diagnosed myself with hypermobility syndrome after Louis was discovered to have it.  It accounts for why proprioception, judging where our bodies are in space, is tricky for both of us.   Then there's the dodgy 3-D vision. Even though the operation to correct the squint that I had as a child was successful and people know when I'm looking them in the eye, the impairment remains at neurological level. This combination of factors means a trail of destruction is often left in my wake. Within minutes, the other day at work, I'd tripped up the crutch that I needed for my poorly ankle just after a rather spectacular tea spillage.  After a decade long relationship, my long suffering colleagues are used to me and take these frequent moments of carnage in their stride.

Why am I telling you all this when today's post is an update on how I'm getting on with Leif, my lovely Skoda Citigo that I bought back in May? Well, all is well except Leif has developed a nasty niff.  That's because I managed to spill that milk that I'm crying over in his back footwell.  All my efforts to erase the smell have been in vain.  I've scrubbed, stream cleaned and applied air freshener directly to the carpet.  Any handy hints on resolving the situation would be jolly handy indeed!

Other than that, I'm ever so happy with my pretty little car.  It's good to be back in the  Volkswagen-Audi fold from where I think I'll never stray again.   Granted Leif, with his one litre engine, can be a little sluggish up hills and I've had to get niftier at gear changing.  To counter that though, journeys where the average fuel consumption tips well over 55mpg are the  norm. Comfort on long journeys is good and the sound system is brilliant.  It encourages me to sing my little heart out, a perfect pick me up when stuck in a traffic jam.  Adding the accompaniment of tuneless backing vocals to the songs of my favourite artists in the privacy of my own car means that time flies by.

And for a little fellow,  Leif is positively Tardis-like.  I've worked out that the best way to save fuel is, of course, not to drive at all.  So I was jolly pleased to be able to persuade other  parents to share  the task of   picking  up grubby boys from school after orienteering club on Monday evenings  When my turn falls every  three weeks, there's plenty enough space for three lanky boys, a ton of mud and seemingly vast amounts of school kit.  Evidence I think against the common claim round here that once there is a brood in tow, you positively need a chunky 4WD vehicle.  I think I've proved that, for most journeys, a  teeny weeny square car  does the trick!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Silly Saturday Song

Somewhere along the line, it seems that  my own quirky and sometimes dark sense of humour and Louis' have converged. Yes! No more lame one liners that I have to pretend are funny.   It was a proud moment when he introduced me to the music of Amateur Transplants via Spotify yesterday.  We laughed along together in the car on the way home yesterday. I'm sharing this in case you need a giggle. It might be just the ticket.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Skinny v. Plump

Weight loss has been at a standstill for a couple of months due to injury.  Knee pain brought jogging, an exercise within my prescribed exercise plan, to an abrupt halt a few weeks back. Then that twisted ankle is still niggling which means I'm currently even more restricted.  I met my physiotherapist in our hospital reception area when we were both picking up patients. 'Do you know when I passed you in the corridor the other day and said I was okay?'  I 'fessed up. 'Well, I'm not!'  He was unfazed. Apparently setbacks are the norm after cruciate repair  and the perky, positive attitude  that I've adopted has no effect on biomechanical restoration.  It's just a matter of letting healing happen in its own time.  The sprain's likely to take three months to get better. Bah!

Consequently weight loss has come to a halt.  As I love my food and tipples  I've decided to become more philosophical about body shape.  The toning up will happen when I'm able to get moving properly again.  As for the weight that I envisaged that I wanted to get to when I started dieting, well, this photo has made me rethink that.

Salty Dog sent me the  picture  above that she took ten years ago on an adventurous sailing holiday to the Scillies.  We came back in very rough seas and that Beaufort Scale number goes up every time we tell the story! Here,  I'm in a bar on the little island of St Martin's adopting a very similar pose to the one in my recent profile picture that I've popped back here for easy comparison. I thought I wanted to be that thin again.  What shocked and surprised me was that I prefer how I look now. There may be a bit more blubber but I like my curvier shape. It's way more girlie.  The hair under that hat is a lot more grey too but I love it.  What's more my friends all agree that I prefer me this way too. Apparently I look way funkier and I'm liking that. Funky when you're nearing fifty is good.  I don't fit the stereotypical skinny mini shape that we're all meant to aspire to but  really don't give two hoots!

So that target has been revised upwards. Yes, I want to shed some of those extra pounds but it's just a few now. I'm  nearly happy the way I am.  That weight loss can happen at its own pace.  It will because I'm very active when I'm not laid up with a poorly leg. So  I'm not going to deny myself the rather lovely calories in those glasses of wine. They'll cheer me up while I'm waiting for recovery.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

More Cat Swinging

Photo: Rightmove 
This little Streatham studio flat featured in the Guardian caught my eye last week. It was on the market for £99,950, a rock bottom price unheard of for many a year in the buoyant property market in the capital. It has a similar floor area to Klaus the Knaus, my motorhome; nineteen square metres versus the van's eighteen. Squeezed into that small space, right where the cab in my motorhome would be, it's even got a full sized bath.  If I had to base myself in London I'd rather live in this little apartment than that gloomy narrow house featured in a post a few weeks back.   A passing cat might even enjoy having a little swing here.
Photo: Rightmove

In fact I'd go as far as saying that I actually like it.  I'll give you it's scruffy and could do with the decor being updated and something other than a microwave to cook with. But it's been well thought out and the use of space is clever. There's everything needed to be quite comfy and self sufficient.    I'm thinking  that, with a natty paint job and lighting to differentiate room areas, well thought out furnishings and storage, a new bathroom and and maybe a swanky balustrade and spiral staircase to the mezzanine, it could be transformed.  Ten grand could probably do a well nice job.  In fact if the new owners want I could be hired as their new small space interior designer!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Fallout from a Metaphorical Explosion

'You are very kind, Mummy,' said Louis, a couple of evenings ago. 'But your anger is like a bomb.  It's hard to light but once it goes off you know about it!'

For the second day in a row problems around homework and behaviour came to light.  They're nothing uber serious in the scheme of things, but the school rightly comes down on their new excitable band of new charges like a ton of bricks.  Perhaps it prevents more serious problems emerging further down the line.  I have to say though it's a stressful time for parents who just want the best for their kids and are anxious for them to do well and just be good.  As a consequence of a catalogue of misdemeanours my son had just felt the full and very noisy force of my wrath.  My stress levels have been building up and boom! Once an outburst has occurred it's happily over, done and dusted  I'm not a sulker or a harbourer of grudges.

Peace is restored but  harsh sanctions have now been imposed at Lovelygrey Cottage and the house that Louis shares half the time with his father.  There'll be no treats or screen time until half term, a week and a half away.  He's  going to have to be a little more creative about entertaining himself for the next few days.  It means that I'm interacting with him rather more than I usually do during the times when he's plonked in front of the telly.  And that can't really be a bad thing.

What have we been doing?  Well, there's reading of course.  We both like that. I introduced him to an old favourite of mine, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4.  When I first read it I embarrassed myself by laughing out loud on a train. It's still good and Lou's enjoying it.  We're also contemplating our navels together.  I've been meaning to teach him mindfulness for some time  and it seemed like  a good opportunity  to start the process has presented itself.  Maybe some focus will have a knock on effect on that behaviour?  Anyway Lou surprisingly thinks the meditation for children albums that he's downloaded into his folder in our Spotify account are cool and he wriggles his way through the commentary. Sitting still isn't really something that he does all that well but practice might improve that as well.

His favourite activity though are the maths puzzles that Mama Lovelygrey cut out from her newspaper and collected together for him in a scrapbook.  They're going down a treat and testing my brain that's been frazzled by work, thoughts of moving and the normal trials and tribulations of parenting life. So, there was an almighty explosion. However the aftermath hasn't been at all bad!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Yay! We Have Shelves

After unsuccessful attempts to buy marine plywood in Wickes and Homebase, I settled for 6mm MDF to make the shelves that are dramatically going to increase my wardrobe  space.  Have you been in Homebase lately to buy anything remotely DIY based?  It's a joke with acres of floor space devoted to trinkets and ornaments rather than manly sheets of wood. Anyway after attempt number two we have shelves that are way more substantial than the abominations that I knocked up last week.  They even have lintels to finish them off.  I have just been promoted to the handywoman status of Bob the Builder's girlfriend Wendy and am really rather chuffed with myself.

So now, weird experiments are going on at the soon to be vacated Lovelygrey cottage and in the adjacently parked Klaus. All the clothes that I plan to take with me are now in the motorhome just to see if I've got the right stuff and the storage space is sufficient. I'm nipping out to the van to get dressed!  And remember that halogen cooker?  Well, it's in the kitchen being used in test mode to bake, steam and roast stuff.  Here's some beautiful cooked belly pork from the other evening served on a bed of shredded greens, mushrooms and peas in oyster sauce.  Anyone who thinks our food offering are going to be compromised once less conventional cooking techniques become unavailable to us are sadly wrong!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Is There Power In A Union?

For the first time ever in my life, as a member of Unison, I am reluctantly striking between the hours of nine and eleven this morning over the subject of NHS pay.  Of course, as I am committed to the people that I work with, I will go into work if there is an emergency but felt that I really should do something to make a stand.  It isn't a decision that I've reached lightly.  At the time when I least need it, for motorhome renovation is not cheap, I'll be losing two hours pay.  The fact that I often, out of sheer necessity, work additional hours without financial reward or recognition, of course does not figure. The argument would be that I should be able to do my ever expanding job within the allocated hours. Yeah right!

I acknowledge that there's a lot of private sector workers out there who think that we've got a good deal in the NHS as our pay and benefits are better than theirs.  However the fact that there's a whole bunch of other people out there who are being put upon to an extent that's worse doesn't mean that we should hold our tongues.  And what about the argument that when it comes to the economic crisis that we're all in this together?  Well that only seems to go for the lower echelons of society. MPs have decided that are exempt from taking pay rises for the good of all.  And let's go closer to home in the health service itself.  Doctors have not suffered pay freezes for the last few years like the rest of us. There seems to be an  unspoken rule that this is a taboo subject though.

According to Unison, who I admit might be a little biased on this, I have lost at least £4,719 because of below inflation pay rises and stand to loss a further £794 this year.  I contribute more to a pension that will pay out less and as in a stealth raid, my mileage allowance was cut from 67p to 54p a mile.  Even though I'm still saving by taking out a personal lease rather than staying in the NHS lease scheme, that gets more and more expensive but is sold as a benefit, it has scuppered my budgeting.

Thinking back it has been getting harder to make ends meet. The costs of council tax and utilities have been going up and up.  I now think before going out or treating myself.  Has my decision to downsize drastically and move into a motorhome been because of this?  I honestly don't think so but the money that I'll save certainly has been a consideration.  In my own job I don't have the option of working extra shifts and don't earn the extras that come on top of the pay of doctors.  I recall a time, a few years back now, when I was  the one who juggled childcare arrangements to remain in a smelly house way after 5pm, my scheduled finish time,  reassuring a person who'd just been sectioned while we waited for the ambulance to arrive.  The consultant who signed the paperwork  within their scheduled working hours, popped in and got a three figure sum for the privilege.  How is that fair?  I know there's an argument here about the choice of career I made but even that falls down.  What I signed up when I decided to become an occupational therapist was a definite career structure that doesn't exist anymore.  I'm effectively at the top of a very stunted tree as far as progression as a clinician is concerned.

My arguments as an individual would fall on death ears.  So lets see if  Billy Bragg is right and there's value in that collective voice that the union provides. Somehow I think that we'll just be portrayed as an ungrateful group of scroungers by the posh lot in government.  Fear of being bullied by the big boys isn't a reason to remain silent though.

PS:  Just to be very clear. Won't be ganging up on my colleagues who're not striking.  Everyone's entitled to their own opinion.  I think it's still a free country isn't it?
PPS: In lieu of being on a picket line because I don't know of any, I will be using my two hours off for study as I have to do the bulk of this outside work hours.  I wanted my time to be spent productively.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Waking to An Unplanned Sea View

My summer gets booked up way in advance with no time left to be spontaneous.  But as autumn arrives the festivals, fetes and other events are rather more thin on the ground.  So, for the second time in a row I've found myself with  a weekend on my hands where I'd made no firm plans to fill it.  It allows for spontaneity to creep in and that's got to be a good thing.

This weekend found me home alone.  My life is one of two quite different halves. I'm currently in a phase where the home becomes quieter and tidier.  It's characteristic of the times when my kid is with his dad.  Actually Louis spent Friday night camping in a field for a friend's birthday celebration. 'Bring Nerf guns and pyjamas!' were the instructions.  When he spoke to me from his treasured mobile phone (my old one) he was toasting marshmallows.   I'm not sure how the rest of the proceeding went but when I phoned to say goodnight at seven yesterday evening Louis was already in the land of Nod.  I don't expect half a dozen eleven year old boys in a tent  sleep much but it can't do a lot of long term harm. It's great that he has an old fashioned childhood where he does lots of lovely simple stuff outdoors.  I suspect that there's plenty of children who don't do that stuff anymore.

And me?  Well, I've ended up on an impromptu visit to Exmouth.  Friends from the US stay here several times a year to see parents and each time rent the same beautiful  house with views of the sea through the trees.  'Shall I pop down, catch up with coffee and hand over that salted caramel coulis?' I asked my friend, The Second Martha Stewart, who is a fantastic cook.   She'd begged me to bring her some back from my last French trip.  'Why don't you come and stay for the night?' she suggested.  'Oh, and by the way do you like roast beef?' How could a carnivorous girl resist! There were amazing mushrooms cooked in sherry and cream as an accompaniment and apple crumble and ice cream for pudding, my absolute favourite dessert.   I went to bed with a full tummy and left the curtains open so I could see the twinkling lights across the bay.  Bliss!   As I blog from bed today I'm waking up to this pretty scene outside my window. 

After a night of sharing stories and swapping music I'll be heading home after a little seafront stroll.  Then there's studying to do, a house to pack and shelves for that motorhome wardrobe to be made.  I'll pick up the wood as I pass through Exeter.  Perhaps my renewed calmness will mean that my second woodworking attempt will be way more successful.  We'll just have to see!

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Stop Fighting Back

The weekend is much needed!  It's been a long hard week even though I was off with a poorly foot for one of the days..   It occurred to me yesterday that, when I was working in accountancy firms, I had absolutely no idea of the extent to which others, who are among the people I pass by in the street, suffer. Through direct experience I think I have a pretty good idea now.

So spare a thought  for people in the NHS, the social care sector and  emergency services for we routinely encounter situations that many in our comfortable society can't envisage. In my own line of work I've discovered that dementia can be a truly horrible disease that robs a person of dignity and causes them and their family extreme distress.   There is no cure and sometimes no solution to make things anywhere near alright.  The situation is made worse by  rigid bureaucracy. It was this that caused me to shed tears of frustration on two occasions in the last few days.   And I'm someone who knows the system.  Imagine what it must be like for unwitting relatives coming across barrier after barrier with no idea how to get around them.

 I try to be kind but sometimes, particularly when stressed myself, I can be grumpy, grouchy and discover that I do indeed have a sharp end to my tongue.  So this picture is a reminder for myself.  But it's also a reminder to everyone else out there.  We so often judge on first impressions and act accordingly but have no idea what that person might be going through.  Don't make their battle worse by fighting back!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Public Dirty Linen and Free Storage!

I got more excited than I really should have over a mundane piece of household equipment  when this arrived yesterday.  It's the Brabantia Portable Laundry Bag in a lovely beige, grey than will go well with the new revamped interior of my motorhome  What's clever about it is those handles fold down to make a  sturdy basket-like structure.  Whilst it's capacious and will hold rather a lot of  grubby socks, it's quite narrow and fits behind an unused void behind the driver's seat in the motorhome. That will free up valuable underseat storage where I used to keep my dirty laundry for the halogen oven.  Now there's another carefully selected gadgety type thing that's earned its place on my new life adventure.

In under three weeks, many of my possessions will go into the storage facility of a jolly nice gent at Buckfastleigh.  What gets stashed away has to be thought about very carefully because once they've gone I won't have access to them.  I can't just pop in and retrieve a favourite jumper that I forgot to put in the van.

There's a few things that I'd like to be able to keep around but which I don't want cluttering up the van as they're bulky - a filing box with all my paperwork, my sewing machine, tools for jewellery making (yes!) and ski gear.  I think I've found a solution though which doesn't involve cluttering up
the homes of friends.

There's a great big void under my desk at work.  Over the next few days it will become my second mini storage site.  It's secure as the room is locked when our team members are not in it and tucked away so the things will be out of sight.  It seems an absolutely perfect solution until an authority figure discovers it and tells me off.  I think I'm going to take the chance!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Instructions for Dancing

I'm in the process of creating a list of the 50 things to do before I die. Up there at number 2, close on the heels of a trip to Easter Island, is getting married again.  I think I'd like that.  Not that there's anything remotely on the cards, unless, as an act of self love, I pop the question to myself, like some woman I read about in the Guardian last week.   It's good to plan ahead though.  I've been doing that in respect of item number 8 on the list which is to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail.  My chummers and I, from the 1997 thru' hiker cohort, are already talking about a silver anniversary attempt in 2022.

Louis is still mainlining episodes of Scrubs after we've had the nightly battle with homework.  I was only half watching the other evening.  There's so much else to do at the moment!  This incredibly beautiful song by Peter Gabriel  and the enlightened words spoken by JD stopped me in my tracks. Maybe it could be an early contender for that first wedding dance!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Motorhome Living: The Really Big Question

I'm writing this post at three in the morning.   Planning my imminent move into Klaus the Knaus, my motorhome, seems to have brought on a bout of insomnia, something that I accept as inevitable at times like this. There's so much to think about that interferes with sleep. Today, Vince the Vinyl comes to fit my floor and newly upholstered cushions to complete the interior makeover should arrive in two or three days time.  My weekend plans include building 'Shelves Mk 2', this time out of thicker marine plywood.  Maybe, after the DIY debacle a couple of weekends ago, I'll finally have something that I can show off. Then there's packing up the house and getting my affairs in order, bills to pay, things to sort out. Can you see why my noggin is spinning?

When I previously talked about the questions that I'm being asked about motorhome living I forgot the big, fat obvious one which has been on almost everyone's lips.  Why am I doing it?  I think I've touched on this in a number of posts but thought that it would be good to consolidate my reasoning.

  • Most people assume that my motives are financial.  That's part of the picture as I'll be able to save a fair bit by adopting this lifestyle in terms of fixed cost and limitations on spending imposed by living in a small space.   I'll be paying off some unexpected bills incurred on my rental property, saving for the future and spending yet more on the Brixham house for ongoing maintenance.  Its exterior really could do with painting. I'm also planning a special holiday in 2015.  Financial considerations aren't at the forefront of my mind though.  There's a very simple main reason  which is.....
  • I'VE REALLY WANTED TO DO THIS FOR A LONG TIME.  Isn't that a lovely one!
  • It gives me breathing space to think about what I really want from life and the flexibility to act quickly if something takes my fancy.
  • I'll be  back in control of the space I live in.  I was never felt completely comfortable in rented accommodation where repairs are someone else's responsibility and may or may not be authorised.  In my case the refusal to sort out a wonky bath which leaked every time I showered on the grounds of expense was the final straw.  Alarm bells were starting to ring about.  What if something really major like the boiler broke beyond repair.  Could we have been left without heat and hot water in the dead of winter? I wasn't sure of the answer.
  • It means that there'll be a bit of  geographical distance between me and Louis' dad.  Living round the corner has been really convenient and has generally worked well but now feels like the right time to put a couple of miles between our homes without unduly affecting our son.
  • It'll free up time to write, get creative, study, exercise, spend time with family and friends and generally expand my horizons in ways I haven't even contemplated yet.
  • It demonstrates to Louis that there are alternatives to conventional ways of living, an important lesson in a world where success is all too often measured in terms of what you have.
  • It will teach me what I can live without when I move into a proper house.  I never want to be in a position where I have to discard so much excess stuff ever again.
Does this makes sense?  I hope so.  Unlike the confused looking bloke in today's picture I am very clear about the rationale for my decisions.  This is life changing stuff after all and has to be thought through carefully!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

MC Squared And Maybe More

What I didn't let on when recalling the great weekend I've just spent with friends and Louis, was that I've hurt myself again. I've witnesses to attest to the fact that this didn't result from doing anything daft. Honest! I was merely enjoying a Dartmoor stroll when, with no warning, my ankle gave out. It's the left one, the same side as the knee that got repaired earlier this year. By the time that I'd discovered that it wasn't going to be a case of walking through the pain and reluctantly turned to hobble back to the car it had ballooned.

So yesterday I spent the majority of the day in bed, dosing myself up with ibuprofen left over from the time of my op, sleeping on and off and giving myself reiki as a top up to conventional treatment. Recent personal research has indicated that there is little scientific evidence for this particular complementary approach. That makes it a load of nonsense doesn't it? Well no. 

Just because rationale for unexplained phenomena haven't been found they can't necessarily be discarded as claptrap. Look how our ancestors who were adamant that the earth was flat came unstuck. Loads of stuff hasn't yet be accounted for in scientific or logical terms. Energy healing seems to be personally beneficial even though it's something that I can't rationalise. As such I'll carry on using it. The most recognisable physicist before Brian Cox came along, acknowledged that our knowledge, that seems so advanced and complex, is impartial. It looks like I might be in good company in daring to believe in something where understanding is beyond my grasp.

“The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religion.”

PS: When looking for a picture to illustrate today's post, these words from a piece of Einstein's correspondence spoke out.   I hope that he's incorrect  and that there are more than just a few of us out there striving for what's worthwhile.  This is one scenario where I think that the great philosopher would like to be proved well wrong!

Photo: Forbes

Monday, 6 October 2014

Normal Again

Back along my ex and I had to temporarily change our childcare arrangements as he had a contract working away.  For its duration I looked after Louis in the week and he stayed with his Dad at the weekend.  Finally we are now back to our old routine where our son spends alternate weekends with me. It dawned on me over the weekend that this was the first Saturday and Sunday we'd spent at home in yonks. With no plans couldn't we just sit around watching telly and playing games on our respective phones? Wrong!

On Saturday afternoon we joined Crafty Kerry and her kids at Shaldon. Now this is my good young friend, Bossy Bess.  She told me that she knows the secret of how to keep boys under control.  I wish she'd tell me!  We strolled around town and then went for a drink in cafe ODE where they brew their own interestingly named beer.  'Did you have a Shag?' said an older lady passing our table.  A bit personal I thought until I realised that she was talking about the ale.  Actually mine was an Oarsome.  Jolly good it was too. Our little trip out ended with a paddle on Ness Beach which you reach through a Smuggler's tunnel.   The kids made ghoulish noises and Louis jumped out of a nook in the wall at a passing stranger.  'I lost all street cred.' said the man 'I screamed like a girl!'  Honestly!  Neither Bess or I would be so lily-livered.

And then onto Sunday.  With nothing on the cards it was perfectly okay for Louis to sleep in until nearly 10am. He then made the first batch of his trademark pancakes in a long time.  Salty Dog phoned.  Her sailing friend, the Bendy Alaskan, was over from the Caribbean so an impromptu tour of Dartmoor seemed like an excellent plan.   I've an idea of what floats the boat of nautical American when they come ashore: A bit of history, wild landscapes and proper beer.   And what do you know.  I was spot on!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Happy with Halogen

The halogen oven, that has answered my question affirmatively about whether I would be able to make bread and cakes once I'd moved into the motorhome, has arrived.  It looks like a spaceship for mice. They wouldn't get very far though as its powered by mains electricity and the lead isn't long enough to get it up above the earth's atmosphere.  'Whoah!' said Louis. 'Now that is cool!' There nothing like a gadget to please a pre-pubescent boy.

After a bit of careful research, the model that I plumped for is the digitally controlled Andrew James 12L premium one with a hinged lid.  I got it for about a tenner cheaper than on the official site by shopping around on Ebay.  It eliminates problems that people had cited on forums around dodgy manual controllers and finding somewhere to put a boiling hot loose fitting lid.   Even though this model seems to be in the Rolls Royce category of halogen ovens at the top end of the price scale, it cost less than fifty quid and has a two year warranty. That's not at all bad in my book.  It came with a range of accessories including racks, a jolly useful cookbook, a spare bulb and a natty little non stick container to cook weird shaped cake in.  We must give that a go with some lemon drizzle very soon.

I've brought the oven into the house so we can test it before adopting our nomadic but largely static lifestyle.   Now there's an oxymoron if ever I've heard one.  Instead of an inaugural trip into outer space for a squeaky crew aided by an infinite series of linked extension leads, we decided to keep the oven ground based and make some panini.   Unbeknown to me and his father until a couple of days ago, Louis has been living on the stuff instead of having the balanced two course school meal  that we thought he was eating.  I didn't realise  that my Parentpay account showed his menu choices and, once discovered, my son's bread based diet was clear to see.  The co-parenting relationship kicked in and Louis has had an ear bashing from two sides.  'But they're so nice!' was the plaintive excuse.   So I promised that panini would be on the menu at home.  We picked up a couple for experimentation purposes from Asda.

Above you can see the result served in two ways.  Mine are the halved breads topped with cheese, mushroom and lardons. Louis insisted on having his bread split into a pocket shape, just like they do at school!  Now grilling was always a tricky operation in the motorhome but it seems that the halogen oven has it sussed.   I might even be able to do away with carrying a toaster as well.  I'm always happy when I can shed bits of unnecessary kit.  Apparently the result was as good as what the school cooks can rustle up.  Result!

Later, we cooked chicken thighs and legs on the top rack and let the chicken juices drip onto seasoned potato wedges underneath.   Mmmm!  It was lovely served with a dish of buttered sweetcorn.  But here's the best bit.  Afterwards, the oven washes itself and has a cleaning cycle.  Half filled with water  with a glug of washing up liquid in it  the halogen light eerily switches itself on and off during the process, as if those astronaut mice are looking for a place to land.  The soapy water swirls around in a rather supernatural way as well!

Even though the halogen cooker is a bulky beast and  will take up most of the space under one seat in the motorhome, it's earned its place for both versatility and the sense of theatre that it brings to food preparation.  It will vastly extend the cookery repertoire for us and our friends who will no doubt be over to visit.  Now, that is really important for a foodie van dweller!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Do I Need A Vase?

Even though my lack of gardening prowess means that I am a slayer of plants extraordinaire, I love having flowers around.  Irises are my absolute favourite, just the bog standard purple-blue variety, followed closely by a tightly arranged multi-coloured array of tulips.  Sadly neither of these last long when they're cut.  There's a great florist stall at Trago Mills and sometimes I'll treat myself.   At certain times of the year pretty grape hyacinths are in stock and I pounce on those. I'm rather partial to  gladioli and the creamy coloured fluffy dahlias as well.  Hell, even a bunch of daffs can be a fine thing!  Yes, I think I will have a vase of sorts in my motorhome when I live there.   Perhaps it will have to be something multi-functional like a jug.  A couple of those little french ceramic yoghurts pots I've used before may come in handy too for I might even forage again in the hedgerows and make posies with some of the extra time that I'll free up.

Yesterday a relative of one of the people that I've seen lately popped into the hospital for a chat. She was on her way to see her mum with a large autumnal bouquet.  This incredibly blousey flower head fell off onto the floor of the consulting room.  'You can have that!' she said.  It had no stem and alas, I had no bowl of water and candles in the office where it could artfully float.   So, I took it to my car as I was heading out shortly after the visit. For the remainder of its short life it brightened  my dashboard....and my day. Little things are sent to make us happy!

Friday, 3 October 2014

Light Living

With just under four weeks to go before our bricks and mortar home is left behind, the plans to move into the motorhome are going swimmingly.  Lots of direct debits were cancelled yesterday after the bills went out at the beginning of the month.  No more water rates, council tax, landline, utilities or rent!   It's given me an idea of just how much I'll save in spite of having to pay pitch fees.  More stuff has been discarded and there's another bootload for the charity shop today.  I've found nifty solutions to some of the conundrums that have been occupying my brain. I'll share some of those later on. The date for vinyl laying has also been set for next Wednesday.  It's so exciting that my mini interior design project is coming together.

I don't have any artwork in the van at the moment. Instead of pictures I've made do with changing landscapes seen through its great big windows.  I am tempted though to hang this lovely letterpress print by Lesley & Pea to brighten up the inside of my front door, the only big, bare spare.   Surely a boat can be a metaphor for a motorhome and this can be my manifesto for life from now on? Aside from the pipe and the pets it seems to sum up what I want quite swimmingly!

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Sent To Try Us....And It's Working!

I'm becoming more and more convinced that homework was invented by a sadistic teacher just to test the limits of parents' patience.  Believe me, during  the first few weeks of Louis' senior school career, I am now fully aware of where those boundaries lie!

'Have you got any homework?' I asked Louis.  He looked at his student planner, the nerve centre of his academic world, like a 1990's executive filofax but way more important.    'Nope!' he said triumphantly.  I frowned. Past experience has taught me that the first assurance isn't completely trustworthy.  'Are you absolutely sure?  What about the stuff online?'  In addition to paper based tasks there are computerised tests for maths and languages.   I've cottoned onto the fact that hidden traps have been set for the unwary mama who has signed an uncompromising homework agreement that threatens hanging, drawing and quartering at first offence stage.

To Louis' credit he went right ahead and checked his laptop  without any more prompting. There was nothing outstanding in the digital world.   So I got on with the task of cooking tea and he snuggled into the sofa to watch the first of a number of back episodes of Scrubs, his preferred viewing at the moment.  He's come a long way since his Balamory days and finally, he's watching programmes that I actually like as well.

And so we had a cosy mum/son night off with JD, Turk and Dr Cox. Some custard tarts got demolished at well.  Love, fluffy bunnies  and bonhommie prevailed....that is until bedtime.  I was feeling all gooey and warmhearted as I kissed Louis goodnight.  'Oops' he said 'I forgot. Science is due in tomorrow.' Aaaaaargh!

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Proof That The World Needs More Wacky Grey Women

This is the very gorgeous and immensely funny  Donnalou Stevens, creator of art that made to generate laughter and good feelings.   Go on press that 'play'  button as it will give your day a lift.

At the tender age of 55 Donnalou feels that she's just got her wings.  She models a pair of natty butterfly ones on her website and as such would fit very nicely into my workplace town of Totnes, formerly twinned with Narnia but now seemingly linked at the hip with Area 51.   Those flying appendages have been successfully tested out and are taking her to heights that she never believed possible.  Here's what she says,

I have a whole vision ahead, a series of creative projects that serve to uplift everyone in all walks of life, everywhere & to make people feel better about themselves and each other.

See Donnalou's Kickstarter page where she sought the cash for her next music video that is deservedly fully funded. Here, she talks a bit more about her plans.  Her sense of fun and creativity is infectious.   She wants a to create a  worldwide community fostering kindness, generosity, magic, celebration and play.  Well I like the sound of all of those things so I'm in!  Who knows what avenues beyond those that I already travel that I might explore.  Stop me though if  I burst into song outside the privacy of my own car.  That could be a scary, tuneless step too far!

Perhaps there's a message here for us older ladies and indeed the men for I'm not going to be sexist or non inclusive. When we've at last become comfortable in our own ageing bodies perhaps we can unleash the overt joy and creativity that we were too self-conscious to manifest in our earlier days.   We can then be role models for the young'uns so they start to be content with who they are and live their lives to the full way earlier than we ever did.

Another bit of inspiration came to mind. I leave you with this.   It seems to fit well with everything else I've said today.