Sunday, August 21, 2011

Don't forget!

Today, for one day only, you can read Early to Bed at Paragraph Planet.

The story will only be available for the day (at least until the archives are updated) so don't miss your chance. It may only be 75 words long but hopefully it's a bit of fun.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Silly sign

This sign, seen outside a dentist in Solihull, made us smile.


We wondered who else you'd be getting orthodontics for. Mother-in-law's Christmas present, perhaps? Sensitive teenage son, because his teeth stick out?

You'd probably need orthodontics yourself after they'd finished knocking your teeth down your throat...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Attack of the killer shrubs

Our garden in Brum has got very overgrown. Partly this is because we've been away so much, partly it's sheer laziness, and partly it's the dry weather. It's hard to weed or mow the lawn when the ground is as hard as sheet steel and the vegetation has turned to toast. But if we're going to put the house on the market in a few weeks' time we need the garden to look as good as possible so today I armed myself with gauntlets and a pair of shears and set to work.

I say 'armed' with good reason, because most of what needed cutting back involved inch-long thorns. The roses had thorns, the pyracanthus had thorns, the berberis had thorns; even the wretched ivy seemed to have grown thorns judging by the way it was attacking me. And I'm convinced the plants were working together; one wrapped tendrils round my ankle while another sank its teeth into my elbow. It's a wonder I didn't end up in the compost sack instead of the plants.

I prevailed, though, and filled three whole compost sacks with bits of vegetation, chopped up very small to stop it clambering back out and murdering me.

And the garden? It doesn't actually look much different, but I suppose every little helps.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Early to Bed

Nope, not me personally! This is the title of my latest 75-word offering at Paragraph Planet, which should be up and available to read this Sunday, 21st August.

Like several of my other Planet flashes, this is heavily based on my childhood and yes, my parents really were that strict. You'll have to read the story to find out what it's all about, though. ;)

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Riots in Birmingham

The news is full of unpleasant images of last night's rioting in Birmingham city centre, and one or two suburbs, last night. Mercifully this was nothing like as bad as the violence in London over the last few days and the good news is that we're fine.

It is worrying though. The last time I saw rioting on anything like this scale was back in 1981 (Brixton, Handsworth, Toxteth) but I was over 15 miles from the nearest centre of unrest and it all felt very distant and unreal. This time it's a lot closer to home and I've already decided not to go shopping alone in the city centre until things have calmed down. Hopefully it'll be sooner rather than later.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Psst! Wanna be in a movie?

Are you a goth, punk or heavy rocker? Do you want to be an extra in a new sci-fi movie, based on the US series Firefly, which is due to be filmed in Cumbria? Then pop along to this article in the Westmorland Gazette to find out more!

Sunday, August 07, 2011


Building work has finally started on our house in Windermere, two days after we signed the contract with our builder. He turned up at 8.00 am one morning last week, helped Dave move out the really heavy stuff (cooker, fridge, washing machine etc) and then set about the units with a lump hammer. By 9.30 am we no longer had a kitchen. At all. In any shape or form. Even the sink had been dismantled and trundled out into the back yard!

It's all very exciting and we're looking forward immensely to the time, about 8-9 weeks away (assuming all goes to plan) when we can have our new and much larger kitchen fitted. We've gone for the bespoke one in the end, which we felt represented the best value for money. Whenever I've seen custom-made kitchens in magazines they've started at the most ridiculous prices - one in particular cost a bare minimum of £60,000 no matter how few units you bought. Gulp. You'll be pleased to know ours has cost nothing like that much, and we're delighted with the level of service we're getting.

Delighted, but also confused. We've been told we can have the units painted in any colour we like from the Farrow & Ball colour chart, and if that's not good enough we can select something from the Dulux collection instead. I'm sitting here looking at about 953 paint samples and thinking, 'Oh God', because they all look so nice and how on earth do I choose between them? Still, if that's the only problem we have with the project I'll be a very happy bunny.

Still on the subject of excitement, who says nothing exciting happens in small towns? This little episode must have raised an eyebrow or two amongst the locals...

Monday, August 01, 2011

The great cross-country kitchen hunt

We're in the process of choosing kitchen units for our new extension, which is due to begin building work shortly. Easy, you might think. Swan along to your local kitchen showroom or DIY store, pick a kitchen you like, get a plan and quote, put in an order and wander off again. If only.

So far we've had five different quotes from five different providers; some high-street, some local; some large, some small; some ready-made, some bespoke. And the results surprised us mightily. Contrary to popular belief the DIY stores were *not* the cheapest, in spite of economies of scale. In fact Wickes proved to be the most expensive quote we had from anywhere, for any type of kitchen.

In the end we'd whittled it down to two - one for ready-made units which was slightly cheaper, and one for a bespoke kitchen which was more expensive - but still well within our budget. We ummed and ahhed, and ummed a bit more, and simply could not decide which represented the best value for money. Part of the problem was that we hadn't seen the exact ready-made kitchen we wanted; our supplier had a similar one in his showroom but not that design, so all we'd actually seen was one cupboard door and a pretty picture in a brochure. Not the best thing to base a purchase of that magnitude on, so on Saturday we headed off across Cumbria to a different showroom which had our kitchen on display.

It's at this point that you start to realise just how big Cumbria is. It took us an hour, driving north via Keswick and Bassenthwaite Lake, to get to the right area. And it took another twenty minutes to track down the showroom, in spite of using sat-nav, and phoning the place twice for increasingly desperate directions. Turned out we'd driven past it four times but it's hardly surprising we kept missing it since it was tucked away on a tiny business park (of just two units) behind a row of houses in a one-horse village in the middle of Absolutely Sodding Nowhere, mid-way between Carlisle and Cockermouth. There was nothing there - a few quarrymens' cottages, a farm or two, a tiny church... there were no signs for the showroom and none of the streets had names. Cue much driving round in ever more bad tempered circles.

However, find it we did, and they had the right kitchen on display so we could clamber all over it to our hearts' content. Actually, it only took about five minutes, because it wasn't what we were expecting at all. Far from being the stunning, lovingly-built kitchen we'd been led to believe, it was actually cheap, relatively poorly constructed and very, very modern. The doors didn't fit very well, the surface finish was decidedly rough-and-ready and the interior fittings were standard high-street crap. It was disappointing after a 50-mile drive, but it's saved us paying out all that money and being devastated by the result.

On the way back we called in at Bassenthwaite village (tiny, remote and wonderfully higgledy-piggledy) and then for a coffee at the Old Sawmill tearooms, part of the Mirehouse estate. The latter had some great-looking walks and forest trails leading off from the doorstep so we've bookmarked those for another time.