Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Good bye, thanks and Star Trek

I started this weekly blog on 1st April 2015, my first day of redundancy, and this is my 53rd post. There are a few unusual things about this:

  1. I've never managed to keep anything else going for a year, in fact most of my New Years resolutions end on the 2nd of January.
  2. I always thought that there were 52 weeks in a year but this year seems to have 53. I know that it's a leap year but sure!y that means there's an extra day not an extra week.
  3. Although the blog is still called Worklesswendy I have been in work for many months now, in fact I am in my third job. It's been a year full of change but sometimes change brings with it new opportunities.
I've enjoyed learning about blogging and writing this blog but I think that it has run its course now and come to its end. I thank you all for reading it and for letting me share my experiences and thoughts with you. I hope to write more in the future but am unsure what form that writing will take as yet.

So thanks again for reading, take care and in the words of that great philosopher Mr Spock,

"Live long and prosper".

Did I mention that I was a trekkie? No? Well that's a tale for another day. Good bye for now.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Simnel Cake, Cockles and Daphne du Maurier

My Simnel cake is in the oven so I am writing this post surrounded by the delicious scent of baking: a heady mixture of sugar, spice and almond. I love any baking with almonds in and will happily eat Cherry and Almond Cake, Bakewell Tart and Battenburg Cake until the cows come home. I've never made a Battenburg but I do bake a Simnel Cake each Easter.

I like the traditions that we have at various holidays, Easter and Good Friday especially. On Good Friday, we are up early and have Saffron buns for breakfast. In our family it's always been Saffron buns instead of the Hot Cross Buns and although I like the mixed spice flavour of a Hot Cross Bun I still prefer the Cornish saffron bun.

In Cornwall it is traditional to go trigging on Good Friday. Trigging is where everyone heads to the coast to collect shellfish, so after breakfast we don our oldest and dirties clothes and head off to the Helford, picking up pasties for our lunch on the way.

The Helford is a seawater estuary whose muddy shore is perfect for collecting cockles. At low tide everyone heads there armed with buckets, welly boots and garden forks. Sometimes you can see the edge of the cockles lying exposed, but generally they are hiding just below the surface of the silty mud. To find them the trick is to drag the garden fork gently across the surface of the mud and look out for the tell-tale squirt that shows where Mr Cockle is hiding. For some reason the cockle thinks that if his gloopy home is about to be invaded he should send a little jet of water up to try and put predators off, unfortunately for him it actually lets the hunter know where he is. It is then just a case of digging down just below the surface, only about a centimetre, and uncovering him and popping him into the bucket.

Sounds simple enough doesn't it? Well it's not. Remember I said that the Helford was muddy? Well its really muddy: squelchy, sticky, up to the top of your boots muddy. Slippy, smelly and able to pull you down beneath the surface muddy, or at least that's what it feels like. You have to wade out into this mire risking losing your wellies which are so clogged up with mud that they weigh at least a ton each, only to then get squirted in the eye with dirty seawater by the cunning cockle.

The other problem that I have with trigging is that once you've found the pesky little bivalve you have to get him into the bucket. Ok cockles don't bite or run away but they are really dirty and I hate getting my hands mucky at the best of times. So these days I tend to find one token cockle just to say that I've done it and then sit on the sandy area above the tide line with Billy dog as there is no way I am letting him onto that mud.

We lunch on our pasties which have been kept warm by being wrapped in tea towels and try not to eat too much mud which is still clinging to our hands (well every one else's, not mine). Then after lunch we walk around Frenchman's Creek, the setting for one of Daphne du Mauriers novels and one of my favourite books and walk. The cockles meanwhile are left in the shadow of the car so that they don't get too warm and to try and keep them out of sight of the possible cockle rustlers that might be on the prowl.

After our walk it's home to get changed into mud free clothes, have a cup of tea, a game of Boggle and then fish for dinner.

As I said at the start of this post, I love traditions, so think of me on Friday, muddier than Glastonbury, risking life and limb to hunt the elusive cockle, literally combing the mud for dinner and trying to race ahead of the incoming tide. Wait a minute I've just remembered I won't actually be doing that, I'll be the one reading my book in the sun watching everyone else up to their eyes in mud. I do think that it's important to change with the times and to create new family traditions, don't you? So whether you're covered in mud, with family or off to pastures new, eating saffron or hot cross buns, pasties and Simnel cake or something more exotic I hope you all have a very Happy Easter.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Crufts, string mops and air fresheners.

A beautiful little West Highland White has won Best of Show at Crufts this year. I guess that as a Westie owner I should be happy about this however I'm not sure that I am as pleased as I probably should be. You see for those of us with pet dogs who are not of show quality it can be a bit upsetting to compare our own mutts with the paragons that we see parading around the show ring.

The little Westie who won the show, "Devon-Geordie Girl" is pure, pure white. She is as white as the driven snow, as white as gloss paint and as white as cotton wool. In comparison Billy dog is a dirty grey shade, in fact he is as white as bathroom mould, as white as my nephews grubby sport socks and as white as cotton wool that has been used repeatedly to remove makeup.

Westies tend to get some rusty staining on their beards from getting their chins wet in their water bowls, Billy's beard is in fact pretty near ginger, however "Devon-no treats for me thanks, I've already eaten" must have been taught to drink through a straw as even her beard is white.

"Devon-Geordie Girl, look at me I'm perfect" has a beautifully groomed long skirt that practically sweeps the floor as she trots along. In comparison Billy dogs skirt is scruffy, starting to form dreadlocks and looks like it has been used to sweep the floor; the floor of a very,very dirty room.

"Devon- I've never rolled in Fox Poo" moves gracefully, head and tail held erect, barely glancing from left to right as she mirrors her handlers every move. Billy dog has his nose to the ground looking for dropped bits of food, then he jerks his head back against the lead to make sure I stop at every tree and lamppost so he can leave his mark.

"Devon-please lift me over that puddle, I don't want to get my feet dirty" stands perfectly still whilst the judge and the world admire her finer points. Billy dog scratches his ears, licks his balls and then sits and drags his bottom across the ground as he tries to dislodge a recalcitrant piece of poo that's got stuck in the hairs just below his tail.

"Devon-wow look at that cat, isn't it cute" has the perfectly rounded coiffure that's supposed to make the Westies head resemble a Chrysanthemum. Alternatively Billy dogs head has a disproportionately large nose, a strange under bite on his lower jaw that makes it look like his mouth is always open and his hair cut is more string mop than flower like.

No doubt "Geordie Girl-I don't think it's polite to bark at seagulls" smells sweetly of baby shampoo, talcum powder and freshly laundered, then line dried linen. Eau de Billy dog is a more complex blend of fragrance of seaweed, mixed with essence of swamp and attar of cow dung.

There seems to be a huge hoo haa each year following Crufts about the health of certain pedigree breeds, this year the judging of the German Shepherds has certainly come under fire. But don't let this divert you from what I consider to be the real issue with Crufts this year, which has got to be that the winner of the Best in Show, a supposed Westie, is in fact a remote controlled fluffy toy. "Devon-I never jump up on the furniture" is not in fact a dog, but a robot impersonating a Westie. What shocks me is that the  judges never realized, they have obviously never owned a real West Highland White. So if you sat at home watching Crufts and were impressed with "Devon-I love being bathed and brushed" and are now considering getting a dog like her, think again. You might end up with a real Westie, more like Billy. A dirty, smelly, greedy, noisy and headstrong little critter who hates baths, cats, and seagulls. A dirty, smelly, greedy and noisy critter who I happen to love to bits and who bizarrely I wouldn't swap for any best in breed, class or even best in show. Now where'd I put that air freshener, off the settee Billy and stop barking!

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Jigsaws, Angel Delight and Nowegian Fjords.

There is something very enjoyable, therapeutic and rewarding about completing a jigsaw puzzle, a fact that I have been reminded of this weekend.

I took my Mum away for a few days over Mothers Day weekend and we stayed in a little holiday bungalow. We had a good time but the weather was very changeable; one minute we were sitting in the sun and the next sheltering from a hail storm. We were really pleased therefor to discover, when we returned to our accommodation on the Saturday afternoon, that someone had left a jigsaw puzzle in one of the wardrobes. We changed out of our wet gear, cranked the heating up to its tropical setting, made a pot of tea, opened a packet of shortbread biscuits and set about making up the jigsaw.

The jigsaw was a very traditional one, it created a picture of a floral still life with some randomly added walnuts, grapes, plums and butterflies. The colours were deep and rather different from the picture on the front of the box, which had faded somewhat, and this added to its difficulty. First we sorted the sides and corner pieces and were pleased to find that they were all there, then set about filling in the middle. I don't know why it was so enjoyable but over the next couple of days we spent many hours making up the picture and rendering the coffee table out of bounds for hot drinks.

Making a jigsaw always reminds me of being a child as then it was a treat to get a puzzle out. I remember a caravan holiday when it poured with rain so we sat in one afternoon and made a jigsaw on the dining table. If I remember rightly it was a, then ground-breaking, circular jigsaw with a picture of a bowl of red and pink roses. My Mum, Dad, sister and I leant over that little table, piecing together bits of cardboard in various shades of crimson, maroon and magenta, chatting occasionally but other wise concentrating on the emerging picture. It was a really happy day and brings back warm memories and was made even better when we had luminous yellow Batchelors Savoury Rice for our dinner, followed by rather viscous butterscotch flavoured Angel Delight, foods we never had at home.

I guess the enjoyment of jigsawing (is that a word?) comes in seeing a  picture take form in front of your eyes; from a random set of shapes you eventually create a photo of a Norwegian Fjord, a thatched cottage or a basket of kittens playing with a ball of wool. Although it's not really a competitive sport and I can't see it featuring in the Olympics any time soon, there is still a slight element of competition in seeing who can find the last corner piece, or complete the sky first, to add that bit of excitement. Whilst making up a puzzle you become focused and single minded, and although it can be frustrating when you realise that you have made a mistake on the edge pieces and you can't find where it's wrong, I'm sure it must still be good for stress relief.

Jigsaws can also be educational, I think that I learned all of my knowledge of geography from completing Jig-maps. Jig-maps, for those of you who don't remember them, were a collection of jigsaws with pictures of the continents on them, my favourite was Africa because it had pictures of animals on it. At one stage I could have accurately labeled on a map the major cities in Africa circa 1977. I'm not sure if you can still get Jig-maps but there are new additions to the types of jigsaws available including 3D puzzles, double sided ones and Wasgijs, where you don't know what picture you are trying to create. Surely all of this puzzling has got to be good for the brain although I do worry about the undocumented addictive quality of jigsaws.

So if you're suffering from stress, need to be reminded what it feels like to be a child, are unsure what to do as it's raining outside or you need to entertain a group of people with mixed ages, I can recommend putting the kettle on, changing into your comfiest clothes and getting out a jigsaw puzzle. Angel Delight is of course optional.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

If only, leap-frog and George Clooney.

I think two of the saddest words in the world that you can use are "If only", the five saddest being "Sorry, the bottle is empty". "If only" suggests missed opportunities and chances not taken. How awful to look back on your life with regret and the feeling things could have gone better.

This week unfortunately I have had my own " If only" moment as I have missed out on doing something I have always wanted to do and which you don't get to do too often. An action that's on my bucket list along with visiting the Giant's Causeway and learning to play the violin.

You see as this is a leap year (am I the only one who wants to call it leap-frog year?) we have had that rare date of 29th February this week, a date that we don't get every year. A date where according to tradition it is socially acceptable for a woman to propose marriage to a man, something that I have always wanted to do. A date that has passed again this year without me proposing. There are a few reasons why this didn't happen.

The first reason, and if I'm honest probably the most important, for not proposing, is that I'm not in a relationship and so didn't have anyone in mind to propose to, but I still regret not having done it. Actually it's not quite true that I had no one in mind, I had thought that of everyone I know I would propose to the old man who lives a couple of houses along from me. Every morning I see him walking down to the local shop to pick up a newspaper, when I take Billy dog out for a walk. We say good morning, comment on the weather and then he pats Billy. He also lets me steal herbs from his herb garden.

Not much to build a marriage on you might think but the reason that I was considering asking him to marry me is because I am pretty sure he'd say no. You see I don't want to be married, I'd just like to propose. I imagine it would feel really liberating to be the one to do the asking rather than waiting passively to be asked. However I didn't propose to him as I'd then have to change the time of my morning walk because it would have been too embarrassing to keep bumping into him each day after he'd rejected me. Also, supposedly, if a man refuses then he has to buy the woman a silk robe and I don't think that my elderly neighbour could afford one.

I could of course have asked a celebrity to marry me as I'm sure that they would have said no, but I don't know any and now George Clooney is married what would be the point?

As well as not being in a relationship and not knowing any celebrities is the fact that I'm just not brave enough to ask. I'm not really a natural chance taker. The most risky activity I take part in is eating cheese that's past it's sell by date and even then I worry for at least forty eight hours that I'm going to be ill. I just don't have the nerve to ask someone to marry me.

Another leap-frog day has therefore gone by and once again I have missed the opportunity to do something I've always wanted to do. Still only another four years to wait and I get the chance again. I wonder if I'll have the nerve to do it next time. If only I was braver; if only I was sure the man I asked would say no; if only my neighbour knew what a narrow escape he has had; if only George Clooney was unmarried. If only.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Birthday Cards, puppies and matching socks

This week it feels that I have spent most of my time in stationers and card shops searching for that elusive item; the perfect greeting card. There can be no finer feeling than finding the ideal card for the person whose birthday/anniversary etc is coming up. The card with the exact picture and words I need, the card with the appropriate humour and message. I can happily spend hours browsing through racks of cards admiring floral fronts often accompanied by equally flowery sentiments inside, cute pictures of puppies and kittens, glittery handmade offerings and funny cards galore.

I'm often amazed by the variety of cards on offer, it seems that there is a card for every occasion. As well as the usual birthday, anniversary, get well, retirement, exam and birth congratulation you can also get thanks for watering the plants whilst I was on holiday, sorry your hamster has tonsillitis and we'll done for wearing matching socks for a week.

Why then, if there is so much variety, have I had such trouble finding the right card?

I started looking for cards for some up coming events a few weeks ago, however when I then visited the card shop it seemed that 78% of the shop space was being used for Valentines cards. I decided therefore to wait a few weeks to choose my cards, to get Valentines out the way, so that I had a better choice.

This week I headed back to the shop anticipating racks full of wonderful birthday cards to select from only to find that the Valentines cards have been replaced by Mother's Day cards. I know that if I wait till after Mother's Day I'll find that the shops are full of Easter cards.

Following hours of fruitless searching I have a few suggestions for card shops and card manufacturers.

  • Please be mindful that people have birthdays and anniversaries all through the year. There is a need for Good luck in your new job and Happy Retirement cards even in the run up to Christmas, so have a seasonal display but please leave us some choice of year round cards.
  • Don't print and display so many over the top, slushy cards. When you read the words in many of the cards on display you'd think that the world was made up of angels and paragons of virtue. I often want a card that says Happy Birthday, I hope you have a great day but end up leaving the shop with a card that states that with each birthday the recipient becomes a bit more perfect and that my life would be empty without them.
  • Conversely please don't make all the humorous cards X-rated.
  • Yes have a few novelty cards such as Thank you for making me a cheesecake or Sorry you broke a nail but most of us are looking for regular birthday and anniversary cards, so could we please have more of these on display.
  • Not a suggestion but a question this time. Why are cards so expensive? How come I can get a box of Christmas cards for the same price as one Good luck in your driving test card? I'm not buying them a car you know.
Well that's my rant over. I feel like I should be sending out Sorry this blog is a moanfest card, I'm sure that someone has printed one. I'd also like to apologise to my friends who have birthdays coming up, I know that it may seem strange to get a Best Mummy in the world card (especially the men amongst you) but they were the only cards I could get.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Fences, graffiti and Hermann Hesse

This week I have discovered a new hobby and I'm very excited to tell you about it. As some of you know I have been a big fan of walls for a while now. Those of you who read this regularly will probably be fed up with hearing about Hadrians Wall, which incidentally is one of my favourite places and definitely my third favourite wall ever. There's something special about the arrangement of stones, the play of light glinting off mica and the warm fuzziness of the lichen that grows on walls. However this week my new hobby has become fence spotting. Yes you read it right, fence spotting.

It came about quite by accident as these things often do. You see storm Imogen took away several of my Mums fence panels as she blew through, so Mum has been getting some quotes to have her whole garden fence replaced by something a bit more sturdy. I happened to be at her house the other day when one builder arrived to take a look at the job. After he had left, Mum and I realised that there was a lot about fencing that we didn't know. He had described different types of fence posts, both wood and concrete, different panels, from "Hit and miss", to picket and full panels and had also discussed the optimum height of the fence. We decided therefor to go for a walk to see if we could spot some of the fences he had been talking about.

What followed was a very enjoyable hours walk where we were amazed by the number, variety and dare I say it the beauty of fences. There were those built on the ground, those that topped walls, some had vertical boards and others horizontal, many were topped by trellis, some had scallop shaped tops and the rest were plain. They also came in a variety of colours, some were left as natural wood others were stained various browns and greens and we even saw a couple of controversial blue fences. The heights also varied enormously, from knee, to waist, to shoulder to standing on tippy toes and still not being able to see over. We found out that on the new fences the builders had put a little plaque on them to say who had built it, a bit like a graffiti tag, and by the end of the walk we were able to identify the work of two builders before we got close enough to read the plaque. Mum and I both got home and agreed that it had been an unexpectedly enjoyable walk and even Billy was happy as he had been able to christen a few of the fences.

Since then, where ever I go, I find that I am spotting fences and not just walls. I'm not sure that it is going to take off into a widespread hobby but I do recommend it if you have a spare half hour. It's free to do, gets you out and about and is educational.

Hermann Hesse wrote an essay entitled "On little joys" where he explained that he thought that happiness and contentment come about in the little and often overlooked aspects of life. He felt that we would be happier if we paid more attention to nature: the beauty of a blade of grass growing through a pavement, the song of a bird and the feel of the sun on our faces, and focussed less on the "bigger  pleasures" such as promotions, material goods and social standing. Hesse was definitely focussed on nature and the little joys that this would bring but I think that there can also be a lot a pleasure in other "little" details in life too, such as peeling an orange and keeping the skin in one piece, the sound of the first drink being poured from a new bottle of wine, writing a sentence that you are happy with and the appreciation a well made wall or fence. Here's to the little joys in life.