Downsized and out in Bristol and Somerset

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Sunday afternoon. Again.

Well, here I am again getting ready to go up to London for a few days' work, but this time I am actually quite looking forward to it. I've had a joyfully unproductive week at home and I'm now very much looking forward to visiting my friends Mr and Mrs Mod. Also God knows I could do with earning some money so even the prospect of working doesn't seem too depressing. It's a shame I've got to sit on the Megabus for three hours (at least) beforehand but hey, them's the breaks.
And Bessie and Mr Big are coming to see me next weekend so I've got that to look forward to (me and Bessie are going to sort out the garden). Yay! Maybe this moving house wasn't such a bad idea after all - although Prince Charming said last night that he felt lonely for the first time since he came to Bristol at the start of October. I guess six weeks isn't bad going, but I am worried that he doesn't seem to be getting out much. We decided maybe a good way to meet people was to find some kind of motorbike club that he could go for rides with - in London he was always saying he wished he knew more people who were into bikes - but that's not really a November thing I guess.
Of course, he could always, like, get a j-o-b, but I didn't say that coz I didn't want to listen to him telling me yet again all the terribly valid reasons why he can't find one till the new year.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

That song

OK, now I come to sing the whole thing through, I realise that I actually lied about being able to remember the whole Brownie Guide Song. There's only one line I can't remember and it's really bugging me, so if anyone can fill in the bit between "We're Brownie Guides, we're Brownie Guides, we're here to lend a hand" and "We're Brownie Guides, we're Brownie Guides, from north, south, east and west, we're joined together in our hope to strive to do our best" I'd be very grateful. I'm guessing it might start "We're Brownie Guides, we're Brownie Guides", if that's any help at all.

Just call me Mrs Make Do and Mend

One Halloween many moons ago when I was a Brownie we all had to take in carved pumpkin lanterns to the meeting for some reason that now escapes me. Probably so that we could dance around them singing "We're Brownie Guides, we're Brownie Guides, we're here to lend a hand" etc (yes, I can remember the whole damn song, and my promise as well). Anyway my mum and dad wouldn't get me a pumpkin to carve, so I had to take in a lantern made out of a swede instead.
Their excuse was that they didn't like pumpkin and that if I was going to carve a vegetable, it should be one that they could eat rather than throw away. It seemed perfectly reasonable until I arrived at the meeting where, of course, I had the piss roundly taken out of me by the rest of the pack.
At the time, it seemed like the kind of traumatic experience that was bound to scar me for life but, knowing what I know now about a) the price of pumpkins and b) my parents' financial situation at the time, I can understand it. My reason for mentioning it now, though, is not to use my blog as some kind of cheap therapy device(believe me, if I wanted to harp on about how my mum and dad fucked me up, there's plenty of other incidents I could mention that were far more traumatic than having the wrong type of vegetable at a Brownie Guide jamboree) but because I am extremely skint myself at the moment and I've been thinking about how it's affecting my life.
My friends Tom and Barbara Goode, who live just down the road in Bath and whom I am getting to know much better now I live down here too, said to me the other day that poverty breeds creativity. Well, that certainly seems to be true, as I am thinking up all sorts of creative ways to avoid looking for work.
But I also made a delicious supper involving lots of fresh vegetables tonight, partly because I didn't have the money for a Friday night takeaway but also because not working means I have the time to cook healthy tasty food. It was marrow stuffed with almonds, hazelnuts and marjoram, with broccoli and butter-mashed swede on the side which is what made me think of my Brownie story*.
And I have started making Christmas presents and I'm very proud that I have made three presents so far without spending a penny (snarf!) - I have knitted and crocheted up some of my huge stash of leftover wool into rather snazzy hats for two ladies and a gentleman. Lots of other people are going to get baked stuff.
So, in short, I am going to make someone a lovely wife one day if I carry on like this. However, I am not going to be a best-selling novelist. I am going to have to shelve the writing project while I make some money because although Prince Charming assured me before we moved that he would be earning loads of money and I could relax and really work on my dream of being A Proper Writer, he now has a whole load of very valid reasons why he can't find work until the new year. So he's spending the whole time working on a concept album with lots of widdly guitar solos.

Other than that, I had another twinge of missing my friends tonight because I got a text message from Bessie saying that she wished she could come over and hang out like when I used to live in London. I was too tired to call her back and I got a bit sad because I was thinking about all the times we used to pop over to each others' houses to watch Sex and the City, or Yoga Goddess would come round and we'd all sit and yammer on about blokes and babies and skincare.
I guess that's another reason to look for work, so I can start making more friends who live nearby, but it takes a long time to work up to really good mates like Bessie and Yoga Goddess. It is much nicer living here than being in some tiny flat in Walthamstow or Leytonstone, which is where we probably would be if we hadn't moved, but I do wish I could have brought all my friends with me.
There is a tiny flame of hope inside me, though, that won't die, and it keeps me thinking that maybe, just maybe, some of them might like it so much when they come to visit that they might decide to move here....

*Following the ecstatic reaction to my discussion of marinated tofu a few months ago on Real-Life Chicklit, I believe some readers may be interested in the recipe. So here it is (besides, I'm really very proud): 1 marrow, big enough for two people to eat as a main dish; about three big handfuls of mixed, unsalted almonds and hazelnuts, chopped - chestnuts would probably be good, too, or pine nuts; 1 handful of pumpkin seeds, bashed a bit; 1 slice of brown bread, crumbed; 1 egg; about a teaspoon and a half of dried marjoram; salt and pepper. Cut the marrow in half lengthways and scoop out seeds. Stir everything else together and stuff it into the hole. Drizzle lots of olive oil over the top and bake at like, 180 or something, until it's done, probably about half an hour, maybe more, I didn't time it (the marrow won't go brown but the stuffing will). Then serve with a rich tomato sauce or maybe a nice thick homemade onion gravy - or, if you are feeding it to a bloke, Tesco's vegetable gravy granules and tomato ketchup. I'm sorry, Nigella who?

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Executive burn-out claims another victim

I'm not working this week (well, not paid work anyway) so I set myself a target of setting up my little office and sending out some letters to prospective employers in Bristol this week, because, although I do not wish to seem ungrateful to these people who have been paying my bills for the past couple of months, I am getting sick of flogging up and down the M4.
I managed to set up the office (see below) and it's rather nice here in my turret with a view over my grounds and a number of other back gardens. The ivy on our extension is still a vibrant shade of crimson, the early-flowering snowdrops and crocuses in the little pots on my windowsill are starting to push cute little green spikes up out of the earth and the next-door neighbours have had the same pair of jeans hanging on their washing line for more than a week now, causing me to wonder whether they've died/moved out, leaving their horrible barky dog behind? That would explain why it barks so much. If they'd been remotely friendly since we arrived, I'd investigate.
But I can't be arsed to start looking for work. I've found lots of magazines in Bristol that I plan to apply to, but it's amazing how much stuff suddenly needs doing around the house whenever I think about actually writing some letters. Anyway it's 9.45 and I have already chased a bunch of invoices, which I feel was quite a constructive thing to do over breakfast.
Bugger it. I deserve some time off. It's been quite stressful these past few months, not to mention that I'm still recovering from the year I've just spent working godawful hours as chief sub at this magazine.
It's a nice dry day, so maybe I'll go and mend the cat flap. We got one with a magnetic lock on it so Ringo could go in and out and the nasty black intruder cat wouldn't be able to, but he hasn't quite twigged how it works so he's just bust through it instead (and it looks like he's actually undone the screws, which I find quite impressive and slightly unnerving, but they must have worked loose while he was banging at the door with his paw... or did they?)

Monday, November 08, 2004

Mmmmmmn.... cake.... part II

By the way, while we're on the subject of cool cakes, if I ever persuade Prince Charming to make an honest woman of me I will have my wedding cake made by these people. I stumbled across their shop in Brighton last year and found myself unable to move away from the window - luckily it wasn't open and Bessie was there to drag me away or I might still be there now. I mean, these cakes are like, four feet high, people, and just look at those ingredients.

My retail hell

Hello and good afternoon. I am writing to you through the medium of wireless connectivity which I successfully installed yesterday in my home (well, I put the CDs in and followed the instructions, but when it came to putting the card into the back of the pooter I fluffed it up and had to storm upstairs and hide under the duvet for a bit while Prince Charming made me a cup of tea and did some magic inside the PC box that made it all OK again, but you know, I still think it's a triumph of feminism coz I was quite wary about taking the back off the computer but I still did it and I didn't touch any of the circuitry or anything*).
I have called my network Wendy Wireless because "Belkin" just sounds too much like "merkin" frankly. Even Prince Charming's laptop is working on it. Yay! Get me. Well, get him too I guess, coz he did help, but it was mainly me and I did go through hell to get the thing in the first place. You see the only PC World I could find is right over the other side of Bristol in the Cribbs Causeway Retail Park and if you ever get the chance to go there, I strongly suggest you don't. Not only was there a massive queue to get in, but it was the most horrendous mall I've ever been to (and bear in mind here that I lived in America for 6 months, so I've seen a few horrendous shopping malls in my time).
Imagine Cabot Place in Canary Wharf, right: now pile three of those on top of each other. Then think of an average-sized out-of-town retail park with your B&Q, your Harveys Furniture World, your Hobbycraft superstore and so on, and double it. Put two of those either side of the enormous covered shopping centre, slap a TGI Friday's** on the edge and fill in any surrounding area with a car park that stretches as far as the eye can see. Stick the M5 next door and fill every available inch of space with badly-dressed, waddling, stupid people and their snotty-nosed screaming offspring, remove any kind of signage that might indicate where customers might like to go to find the particular store that they've come to visit, and you've got the Cribbs Causeway Retail Park. I seriously very nearly had a panic attack when I ended up in the covered mall by mistake and had to run to the nearest exit for some fresh air.
I eventually found PC World entirely by chance, and after some minutes of walking along the foot/cycle path (who's going to CYCLE to a bloody out-of-town retail park? What, do they allow bikes on the M5 now?) looking at the PC World sign on the other side of an impenetrable piece of "landscaping" (some tatty bushes) I eventually found my way through and lingered next to the networking secton feeling useless because I didn't understand any of the packaging even though lots of people had told me wireless networks are very easy to set up. Was I going to have to admit to Hypatia that I was unable to follow her example and wirelessly network my entire abode? Would she believe me when I claimed it was because my house is bigger than her flat? Would I be able to find my car again?
But of course where there's a princess in need, there is inevitably a knight in shining armour, and so it was that eventually this damsel in distress heard the sweet words "Do you need some help there?" and I turned to find a lovely chap called Colin beaming down upon me, his purple airtex shirt gleaming as if, as I strongly suspect, he was actually sent from heaven to solve my problems with an avuncular smile and some cheery words of advice. He was so helpful that I didn't at all mind paying the money that I could have saved if I'd gone to Maplins or something instead of PC World. Also, I got the whole of Norton Internet Security and Norton GoBack for the same price as I would have paid for the Norton Antivirus 2005 upgrade, so I think that made up for it a bit (now I just have to find out what the hell GoBack actually does).
Anyway I hope you are impressed. And if anyone ever tells you "wireless network? Oh that's easy, all you need are a router and a couple of cards for your PC and laptop", don't believe them. There's a hell of a lot more at stake.

(*isn't it incredible how much dust lives inside a computer? I never knew!)
(** here's a fun game: even if you've never been to TGI Friday's, I bet you know what's on the menu. Go on, try it. I'll start you off: "hot" "wings" probably with some amusing brand name, nachos, potato wedges, trips to the salad bar - and probably some kind of "eat the whole of this huge gutbucket dessert without chundering and you get your entire meal for free!!!!!!!!(TM)" special offer)

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Mmmmmn.... cake....

I've just looked more closely at and they really are very cool cakes. It's my 30th birthday in February, can I have the Harry Potter cake with the individual edible sorting hats?

Feeling a bit better

I'm now back in Bristol with a week off the dreaded London slog and therefore feeling much better, particularly as Ringo and Prince Charming are very pleased to see me and being very nice (well, actually PC has disappeared upstairs to play Max Payne 2 and Ringo is asleep on the floor cushion but I'm taking this all as signs of welcome).
Anyway thanks for all the messages of support (well, all two of them anyway) and you are all (er, both) right, I should keep my chin up etc and I am trying to. I got offered seven days' work at a very good rate today which has cheered me up quite a bit, although it is in London, but never mind, at least it means I don't have to take any other work for a while. Roll on that first novel.
AND the Megabus was really quick today and got me home half an hour early! Truly I must have done something to please the gods.
In fact I am so up-cheered that I have added a photo to my profile. The suspicious-minded among my readers, or indeed the many of you who have actually met me, may spot that it's not actually a picture of me, although I really, really would like to have a skirt made entirely out of cake. Barbie truly is the luckiest girl in the world, isn't she? Not to mention having breasts that have stayed pert for more than 50 years. I hope the people at don't mind me using the photo, but I did a google search on "princess" pictures and theirs was the best one that came up so I hope they will take it as a compliment (there was a lot of anime stuff too of course, but I'm so over anime, aren't you?).

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The evil weed strikes back

And I'm smoking again. Bollocks.

Still, lovely fags, though. Mmmmmmmmn.....

So, farewell then, summer

Who are these people who decide that the hours of the day sould be arranged so that we all go to work in the sunlight and then go home in the pitch dark? Surely it would be better to set the clocks so that we go to work in the dark and then dawn comes at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon so we get nice bright evenings? The season wouldn't be half so depressing if we got to get a bit of sunlight on our faces now and again and didn't all get massive vitamin D deficiencies.

Unwanted guests, undeserved accusations and flap cracks

I must apologise unreservedly for an horrendous slander further down this blog. I implied, nay stated, that Prince Flufflupagus von Tuftylumps, aka Ringo, aka That Darn Cat, was annoying Prince Charming and me at night with demands for food, eating us out of house and home and had broken through the door of his cat flap.
Well. It's much more sinister than that. We had musjudged the poor beast, as we discovered last weekend when the realisation began to dawn that We Were Not Alone In The Living Room. A very, very ugly and frightened looking black cat was lurking behind the sofa.
We attempted to coax it out, but it bolted past us and ran upstairs to the spare room, apparently no stranger to the layout of the house. It flattened its ears and hissed at us, but we eventually chased it out and got it safely out of the cat flap.
We soon regretted out sympathetic treatment of the beast, however, when we noticed the fragrance of stale cat piss pervading the living room, and it began to occur to us that Ringo had perhaps not been eating all that food himself - indeed, that his frantic early-hours clawing may have been because he was frightened, not greedy. How guilty we now feel to have reacted angrily in the middle of the night. Cat-loving readers, fear not, however, he has been well and truly rewarded with extra Kitbits and cuddles, and I think he's starting to forgive us.
The cat flap has now been completely pulled off, apparently by the impostor, so is currently blocked with a pile of PC's toolboxes which not even a nasty black fiend can get through. Ringo is once again venturing outside for short periods of supervised play, although a little nervous about going out on his own, and Prince Charming braved the unenviable task of cleaning the wee off all the furniture (luckily, we haven't got a proper sofa yet otherwise it would have been ruined).
The Evil Black One has only been sighted once since, and we are going to pursue a strategy of being so scarey and horrible to it that it won't want to come back in the house again. I am going to get one of those magnetic cat flaps for Ringo, but I'm not sure if he will like having the magnet thing on his collar. We shall see. He is a big fat lump though (not all the extra food appears to have been filched by the intruder) so he needs to get outside for some exercise so I may not allow him to be fussy about the collar.
Mind you, of course the first thing he did when he went outside was eat loads of grass and then come indoors again to sick up a nice furball on the bathroom mat, but hey ho, that's the joy of pet ownership.

On the buses

This coming and going to and from London is really starting to get to me. And no, it's not Bessie's futon - which I am now finding remarkably comfortable despite the absence of extra cushioning (see "Floored", below) - it's just the endless up and down, up and down the M4. The Megabus is cheap and cheerful but a bit grim at times, and always full of students which is a bit irritating, and last week on the way down to Bristol the windscreen smashed and we had to sit in the freezing cold waiting for an hour and a half for a replacement bus to arrive (Mind you, yesterday on the way back up again we had a proper National-Express-style coach with comfy seats and air con and stuff so I mustn't grumble).
It is tiring, though, when you've worked solidly for four days, and made sparkling conversation with the people you're staying with, and then done a three-hour grim coach journey home again, and I always seem to end up bickering with Prince Charming as soon as I arrive because he expects me to be as fresh as he is after not being at work all week. But that's relationships for you I guess.
The worst bit, though, is that I really don't feel like I live in Bristol. It's really nice to see so much of my London friends when I'm staying with them, and they always make me feel very welcome, but I feel like a homeless sofa-surfer who visits Bristol at weekends rather than someone who's moved out of London to Bristol. And when I get there, PC is bored of hanging around the house and wants to do things like going to the Brecon Beacons, which we did on Friday and it was lovely but didn't much help me put down roots in BS5.
Still, after tomorrow I'm not coming to London for a week or two, so I can hang out and explore a bit. Also I have signed up for some interesting crafty-type day courses at Bristol Folk House in the interests of a) learning to crochet/make pots/write stories and b) making friends. On the latter note, PC and I went out dancin' on Saturday night, and did meet lots of nice people which buoyed our spirits considerably, although we'd chosen a hippy trance party as we knew it would be full of nice friendly types but forgot that of course they'd be almost exclusively in their early 20s so a bit young, possibly, to be lifelong pals. Still, we had some good chats.
All in all, I'm still having mixed feelings about the whole thing. I'm not regretting the move, but I didn't realise it was going to be so darn hard - and expensive: the Megabus is cheap, but when working out my projected income from days worked in London I forgot to factor in the incredible amount I end up spending on tube travel and food (my lovely friends are generous enough to let me stay at their houses and eat their dinners, but would probably draw the line at me helping myself to big fat sandwiches to take to work for lunch).
In fact freelancing is turning out to be a lot less fun that it was last time, partly because of the travel (which I guess is only temporary until I find some work in Bristol) but mainly because the company I've been working for is really, really slow at paying me and I am now massively overdrawn and in debt to PC, so on top of everything I've got massive money worries.
When I started this blog I wanted it to be like one of those downsizing columns in the Sunday supplements, but less smug - I didn't realise how easy that was going to be because right now I can't think of very much to be smug about. Who are these people who move out of London and have a brilliant time breezing around with super-friendly locals and some unspecified independent income?