Leaky update

In one of those strange non-appointments, Roofer John turned up yesterday morning to fix the roof on the extension. He hadn’t told me he was coming, he just turned up. The first I knew about it was when Builder Dave sent me a text to say he was outside the house. I texted Dave back telling him I was on a train to Portsmouth.

We had a long exchange of texts and I thought it was all over until I arrived home from work at 5:30.

The first clue that someone had been there was the two used coffee cups on the terrace table. The second was the fact that the extension ladder had moved along down the side of the house. The third, and most obvious, was the fact that the roof looked as good as new – clean and fresh.

I didn’t find out what had happened until I spoke to Mirinda later. It seems that Roofer John turned up and knocked gently on the front door. Mirinda was asleep and wasn’t best pleased when she poked her head out of the bedroom window.

She heard someone indicate that they’d seen her. John had gone to Neighbour Dave to ask if he had a key (I guess). Anyway, Mirinda fumed her way down to the front door and asked them why they hadn’t let us know they were coming.

John said he forgot.

Anyway, they set about cleaning the roof, drinking a coffee then bidding Mirinda farewell as she left for work. She wasn’t there when they left so neither of us had any idea if they’d finished or not.

Water was still dripping (albeit very slowly) into the yellow bucket all evening, so I had no idea what they’d done apart from cleaning the roof. I texted John asking him what he’d managed to do. He texted me back, saying they’d cleaned, dried and relaid the entire roof.

And the best news (not that I’m getting too enthusiastic quite yet) is the drip stopped before I went to bed and didn’t drip all day today even though it didn’t really stop raining. A note of caution, though. While it did rain all day, it was very light. We still need a jolly good torrent to really test it properly.

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Green pleated rubber skirt

As I left my train at Portsmouth this morning a woman standing at the end of the platform caught my eye. It looked as though she’d left the recently arrived ferry and was checking out the trains on the big board. This is not a rare occurrence and the only reason I noticed her was because of her choice of outfit.

Of course I was in Portsmouth for work at the library, having missed last week because of the software upgrade. Heather said I was very lucky to have not been there. This week we had a visiting French navy ship but last week it was a US aircraft carrier. (You can always tell by the flags on the main building.)

Security this week was the same as it always is. It was noticeably different to the week when we had the Japanese ship in dock and they had an officer on each gate who stood back, watched and bowed a lot. According to Heather, last week the place was basically locked down given the Americans insisted on having a couple of MPs at every gate checking everyone’s IDs before, after or during the normal security guys.

I know the Americans are ridiculously anal when it comes to checking identities because they always assume guilt before innocence (one of the reasons why I’ll never go back to the US) but I’m surprised that the British security teams put up with being told their work wasn’t good enough. They have always been most assiduous with me.

Anyway, I was fortunate not to have to put up with any US bollocks because the French were nowhere to be seen. I can only assume they were taking petit déjeuner aboard their ship and letting the UK security people do their job.

Of course I had the usual malarkey of getting an escorted pass though, because of a system problem, all issued passes were going to be escorted this week so I didn’t feel quite so ‘special’ with my red one.

The shelves I’m working along

And speaking of security, this week a few, meaning three, books I had to catalogue were about the SBS. I’d never heard of this highly trained and scary sounding branch of the Royal Navy.

Like the army’s SAS, the SBS go in and carry out the covert operations that no normal, sane person would have anything to do with. The acronym stands for Special Boat Service, which I think makes it sound rather nondescript, harmless and twee. The truth is far, far different.

Formed during WW2 by a commando called Roger Courtney, the team has undergone a few changes (not least in name) since 1940. The higher ups were not convinced for the need of the SBS so Roger proved his worth by sneaking aboard an RN ship, writing his initials on the Captain’s door and stealing a gun cover from the deck. I’m not sure how this sort of sneaky business proved that the navy needed this sort of sneaky business but it worked and his Folboat Troop was formed.

Folboat refers to the type of folding canoe they used but is rather clunky as a name for a cool bunch of espionaging type guys. Mind you, the folboats are still made and used. One of them, called the Folder or Oru Kayak is made from a single sheet of plastic and folds up into a carrying case when not in use. (The folboats are fascinating, basically being origami maritime vessels.)

After the war, the troop was disbanded as it was then. The Royal Marines took over the SBS name and it became part of the general Special Operations division of the RN. 

The SBS has taken part in many covert operations over the years. Possibly their saddest day was during the Falklands when, during a combined SBS and SAS operation, an SAS operative shot and killed two SBS operatives, mistaking them for Argentinians.

In 1987 their name became the Special Boat Service and so it has been since. The members of the Service are called Swimmer Canoeists because of their skills. They also perform their duties on both land and sea. They are highly trained and, quite frankly, not a little bit scary. Kind of like the SAS, I guess.

I have no idea what they would have thought of the woman I saw this morning on Portsmouth station. They probably would have given her a second glance, as I did, but then just carried on with whatever they were doing at the time. Mind you, I reckon her outfit would have made a marvellous double bluff if she didn’t want to be noticed…by being instantly noticed.

Her outfit, which included a dusty pink suitcase with cream straps, started from a white floppy hat atop blue, bobbed, shoulder length hair. This was teamed with little white Japanese style cotton gloves, a light yellow, knitted cropped top and finished off with a mid-calf length, green pleated rubber skirt.

I say ‘rubber’ as if I went up and touched it to make sure or asked her but I’m only going on what it looked like. It was a very fine material but it certainly appeared to be rubber. To be completely honest, it was quite remarkable. Which explains why I’m remarking on it.

I really wanted to tell her how cool she looked in her entire ensemble but I was passed her by the time I’d taken it all in and she’d headed for her platform. I shrugged inwardly and kept on to the dockyard.

Needless to say, I didn’t get a photo. Instead, here’s a shot I took at Guildford station while waiting for the Ascot train home.

No rubber skirts in sight
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Chopsticks

Tonight I made another Japanese feast. Of course this meant quite a lot of forward planning. For a start I bought the fish last week as well as a few Japanese essentials from the Japan Centre. Oh, and the menu. That always takes a bit of planning.

As well as the menu, the order in which to do things is always handy to have to hand. This time I discovered the beauty of sticking this much needed schedule onto a kitchen cupboard. That way I could refer to it often and tick things off. I know that sounds really, really obvious but it’s the first time it’s occurred to me to actually stick it up rather than have it laying flat somewhere on the counter.

A big first was making a Japanese dessert. They aren’t big on desserts but I found a matcha jelly which looked easy enough. I wish I hadn’t found it. I like the taste of matcha but I didn’t think it worked very well. It set okay and the colour was good but, suffice it to say, I’ll not be making it again.

The reason I was making it was because Mirinda was having a couple of people over from work, one of them, Anne, is retiring this year and it was a sort of thank you for her years of service. Along with Anne, Sarah came as well which is always a great treat for me.

So my day was full of preparation, last minute cleaning and minimalist table decoration.

I rather like the empty look of the table, especially with the view out to the garden. The garden, by the way, was another reason for Anne to come over. It seems she’d expressed an interest in seeing it. She’s also not a stranger to Farnham given her father lives here.

Speaking of the garden, Gardener Dave and Michael came today to do their magic and also to discuss the possible identity of the butt seed tomato thief. Particularly given it has struck again. Another entire branch of ripe, red butt seed tomatoes gone, vanished without trace. Very, very mysterious.

I’m beginning to understand some of the tomato growing frustrations described by various people. Though this is the first I’ve heard of thievery.

Mirinda was off to Book Group today so for a few hours I had the house to myself, listening to Frank Zappa and generally making then clearing up, a mess. (Part of the planning must always include cleaning up as you go, otherwise you run out of space and utensils.) One very important job I completed before they arrived, was the board.

They all arrived just after 4pm and we chatted while I worked. As I said to Anne, our extension, if nothing else, has shown me that I can cook and chat at the same time, something I was never sure I could do.

Eventually, the food was finished (following the ubiquitous last half an hour of rushed cooking) and Mirinda helped set the table. This is very helpful. While I can cope without my sous chef in the kitchen (just) having an extra pair of hands to put the 32 dishes out was a right boon.

It looked lovely before we tucked in.

And, apart from the dessert (and Sarah not having her miso) I think everyone enjoyed everything. Mind you, I didn’t get an applause.

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Rain drenched Sunday

This morning I woke to pouring rain. It was so bad in the extension that I could hardly hear the radio. Eventually it eased off just as the Sunday worship programme started which is when I turned it off.

The rain stopping was good because I was headed into Farnham to have a coffee with Lizzy. It was actually a bit of a holiday farewell coffee given she’s off to LA at the same time as we’re off to Spain.

On the way in I spotted a casualty of yesterday’s cross country event. It seems the little darlings have no idea what to do with a rubbish bin.

Don’t rubbish our bins!

Coffee was lovely as we proceeded to chat for a goodly while. Lizzy filled me in on her job and how things are going. I told her about Contract Law and what actually constitutes a contract. It was a jolly chat.

The afternoon was spent in DBA and planning for tomorrow’s feast. It’s important to have a timetable when preparing nine separate dishes particularly when your indispensable sous chef is in Queensland.

Anyway, all will be well and my schedule was complete and taped to the fridge door before bed.

Both of them insisted on sitting on my lap after dinner
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Making a grown man cry

The day started with very strong winds and an occasional shower of quite heavy rain. The rather unpredictable weather coincided with the running of the cross country race through the park.

It happens every year with a number of schools taking enthusiastic part. Hundreds of little pre-secondary school kids gather and take off around a designated route. I’m sure it’s all good fun but I don’t think the parents I saw this morning were too keen on the rain and mud they’d all be taking home with them.

Not that it’s any problem for me though it does mean I entered the park at another entrance to avoid the crowds. 

The rest of the day passed well enough with the wind and the wet, mainly because I was inside. Mirinda had guitar so I spent most of the time washing the extension floors in preparation for Monday and our guests.

The sun came out long enough for Mirinda to take the girls to Frensham, her second visit of the day given she had brunch at the Holly Bush after guitar this morning.

The day wore on like they always do, until it was time to leave for Guildford. Following last week’s successful foray to the Yvonne Arnaud, we were once more down to be entertained though decidedly not in a comedic sense.

This week we saw a play called Still Alice, based on the successful 2007 debut book of the same name by Lisa Genova. It tells the story of a woman in her late 40’s who goes through early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and how she copes (or not).

The play featured Sharon Small in the main part as Alice. She was superb. A wonderful portrait of a person discovering that things were starting to disappear from her head. From the beginnings of just words to the devastation of not remembering her daughter.

It’s rare that a play can make me cry but Still Alice certainly did. A lot of that was the play itself but Sharon Small’s performance was so utterly  believable, it was difficult not to feel her pain and frustration. I’m glad she smiled during the curtain calls because her performance was so real.

There was no interval which was a good thing because we needed to witness her gradual descent rather than have a sudden break for ice cream.

Most of the rest of the cast were strong enough in support of Ms Small, particularly Eva Pope playing Alice’s mind, keeping us informed of what was happening inside her head. It was a very clever device and Ms Pope was perfect. I also thought that Martin Marquez as husband John was perfect. His love for Alice as she started to not really be Alice was painful for all of us.

So, not a cheerful evening’s entertainment but amazing just the same.

Pre-theatre tapas

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Windy with no rain

Today I had a fish delivery to be at home for – it was arriving frozen and needed to be put straight into the freezer – so I didn’t go into Woking. Like Mirinda, I worked from home. And I managed to get through quite a few people.

First thing I popped up to the shops. While I was in Waitrose I had a text to say my fish would be turning up between 8am and 12pm. That’s fine except that the text came through at 9:30. Not that it was a problem. I just took my usual time.

On the way back I noticed that the Woolmead has moved on a bit from the hoarding stage. The scaffolding has started to go up in preparation for the building coming down.

Traffic was a bit mad because of the lane reduction though, unexpectedly generously, a bit of the footpath remains.

Woolmead hoarding

Okay, the footpath actually ends by the time you get to the corner (as you can see in the photo above) but you can always walk in the closed off lane because of the Witches’ Hat Protection Barrier. Almost as powerful as the legendary Velvet Rope, the WHPB extends all the way around the Woolmead creating a footpath of more than adequate width.

As it turned out the delivery arrived long after I’d returned home. I was in the odd situation of working in the Library because Mirinda had a two hour work Hangout session (the Google equivalent to Skype) and wanted to use the dining table.

I managed to squeeze myself onto her tiny Arts & Crafts desk while Freya managed to squeeze herself behind me. Emma, of course, stood guard at the window. She let me know when the fish guy arrived. And the delivery from the Japan Centre which also turned up today.

Something occurred to me on the way home. Why do people insist on using umbrellas in the wind? It was very blowy today with the slightest of water droplets on the breeze and yet people were wrestling with their umbrellas as they kept forcing themselves inside out.

Personally I never use umbrellas and, frankly, don’t see the point of carrying a portable shelter around with me. But I understand that people have legitimate concerns about hair and clothes and generally making sure no-one can get closer to them than the spokes allow. It actually surprises me that they don’t use them in any weather.

Which makes me wonder why golfers need such big ones. Is it to be seen from space? Golfers must want to advertise to everyone in the sky, I guess. Though why they use them on the street is beyond me.

Unless it’s like the four wheel drive thing. Certain people believe they deserve much more of the planet than anyone else so they take up as much of it as possible. I’m often surprised that people with these sort of inferiority complexes don’t buy very comfortable trucks to take up entire streets. They could use them to carry their personal shelters against inclement weather.

Just cos
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Ridiculously unpredictable roof

It didn’t feel like ten weeks. Mind you, ten weeks ago today I was minding Boris and that feels like a lifetime ago so, maybe time is relative. Whether time is fluid, bumpy or a bit like jelly, it was Puppies Get Shorn Day again.

While it means a lot of walking (for me) it also means a bit of a sleep in. Actually, not really a sleep in but I don’t leave the house as early as I normally do. Instead I do housework.

I looked at the sky before deciding to hang a load of washing on the line. The beautiful blue skies of our rather short term Indian Summer had gone and today were replaced with grey clouds moving rapidly with the rare glimpse of blue as if in memoriam. I also looked at my phone which helpfully provided me with the news that there would be a less than 50% chance of rain at 2pm. I decided to risk it.

As it turned out, my phone was correct. This initial load was bone dry. The second load, however, was still drying in the extension when I went to bed having been given a bit of a slow soaking in the gentle falling drizzle that started at 2pm.

We left the house for the long haul up to Kate’s place, the girls having a fine old time running around and shying away from any contact with strangers. This is quite handy even though it can be a bit embarrassing, particularly when other people’s dogs always come up to me for a prolonged pat.

Avenue of Trees

Then, of course, the never pleasant walk along Upper Hale Road before arriving at Kate’s gate. This is traditionally where Emma starts shaking in terror. Of what, I don’t know. According to Kate they are both as good as gold and seem to enjoy the whole process. Whatever her problem, it’s not like Emma has a choice.

I left them with the efficient, no nonsense Kate and headed into town to shop.

Shopping done, unpacked and the last but fateful wash put on the line, I headed back up to collect the girls. And, of course, they looked beautiful and felt like velvet.

Strangely obedient

The rest of the day (after food, washing retrieval and housework) was spent taking every opportunity to give them a cuddle. (It’s just occurred to me that perhaps they don’t let strangers fuss over them because they are completely fussed out by us.)

Mirinda eventually came home (she was at a meeting in the not very salubrious Kilburn and returned determined that no matter how poor we become, we’ll never live there) and we settled in for dinner as the rain thundered down on the extension…though, oddly, not enough to make the roof leak.

Waiting for Mirinda
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Officially not official

Following my announcement yesterday regarding the length of time an Indian Summer needs to be in order for it to actually be one, today was another beautiful, warm and sunny day. However, as Indian Summery as it felt, the park was certainly in no doubt as to the season.

The Avenue of Trees is covered in leaves as the trees begin to shed. This is very similar (though not quite as long) as our terrace. I know I complain every year but that’s because there seems to be more leaves every year. And before anyone makes the obvious point that the trees grow, we get ours lopped every couple of years.

My day started, as so many of my days start, with the gym then a lovely coffee at Nero’s before shopping then back home again. The walk home through the park was an absolute delight.

A lot of my day from here on in was involved with an almost constant stream of emails between me and the Boss of Volunteers at Portsmouth (Kirsty).

The thing is, I’d like a Naval Base Pass so I don’t have to keep annoying Heather and so I can just come and go without being escorted everywhere. Kirsty is the person who can start the acquisition off. To start we organised to meet next Tuesday to discuss the various hoops that I need to jump through. She also sent me a flowchart of the five steps required.

It didn’t take long for me to realise that I wasn’t going to get a Naval Base Pass. The identification requirements had me locked out forever.

The problems stem from a number of things.

Firstly, I don’t have a driver’s license because I choose not to drive. This single piece of plastic is universally required for everything.

Secondly, because I haven’t worked for many years, pay no tax or receive a pension, I don’t have anything official from the last 12 months with my NI number on it. Of course I HAVE an NI number but that’s irrelevant.

Thirdly, because I pay everything online and do the right thing by not having printed bills or statements sent to me, I don’t have anything official with my name and address on it. Not within the last three months, anyway. (This is a perennial problem and I’m surprised that people seem to not consider it when asking for bank statements, etc, particularly when they won’t accept something you’ve printed off yourself..)

Eventually I just told Kirsty not to worry about it. I’ll continue being escorted and if Heather doesn’t like it or if I’m forgotten again, I’ll just stop going. I’m sure I’ll get over it. I guess I’ll have to remain officially unofficial. 

I also tried the beetroot – it was lovely.

My life is just one adventure after another…

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Pickling

I didn’t go to work today as the library software was undergoing some sort of maintenance. Heather suggested I stay home because there’d be not much to do.

So I had an unexpected session at the gym, coffee in town, shop then walk home. The dogs had a walk with me rather than Sue, I managed three loads of washing and I didn’t have to rush home to meet Richard the Eggman with his delivery. All in all, it was a lovely day.

As if to make it even better, the weather was beautiful. Some people are calling it an Indian Summer but, given it was only one day, I’m not sure that that constitutes an entire season.

The other unexpected thing I did today was pickle some more beetroot. It’s so delicious, it never lasts long so this time I used two bunches.

After peeling and cubing, I popped them into a saucepan along with sherry vinegar, filtered water and various bits and pieces from my spice cabinet (secrets, obviously) before lighting the gas beneath it for a good solid 20 minutes of boiling.

This time I also added two whole garlic cloves. I read somewhere it was good during the boiling phase as long as you removed them before jarring up. We shall see.

Of course there was a lot of red juice everywhere, including on my hands so there was a big clean up operation afterwards. This is obviously the worst bit.

After the requisite boiling time, I let the saucepan sit and cool a bit before moving the whole shebang into two glass jars. Well, minus the garlic. These sat on the counter until cold. They then went into the fridge for a jolly good feed on tomorrow.

Naturally I had a test taste. I don’t think perfect would be an exaggeration.

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Rooftop swimming pool

I have no idea how people work without a schedule. Take our builder and various contractors as perfect examples. They rarely give a day (let alone a time) for when they’re coming round. It’s always a case of “John will be round to see,” or “Frank wants to see it.

I understand that they need to fit in these annoying fix-ups when they can but they must be disappointed a lot with no-one being home. It’s not like people are home 24/7 (or 24/24 as they say in France).

You could be visiting next door or just walking back from the shop down the road and they’d have missed you. Whereas, if you KNOW they’re due to put in an appearance in the afternoon, say, then you could make sure you’re around. Surely that’s the beauty of having a mobile phone.

And so, today, Roofer John and his buddy turned up, completely out of the blue, to see if they could trace the cause of the leak. In fact, Builder Dave’s text read:


“John will be there next week I’ll let him know” – the lack of punctuation is his.

Still, I shouldn’t complain because they did turn up and I was there. And they stood and looked and debated.

John was convinced the problem lay with the ceiling lantern, an opinion which changed by the time they left.

It’s definitely the ceiling lantern,” he asserted. “It always is.

I’m certain that it’s not the ceiling lantern,” he concluded an hour or so later.

The plan was a simple one. They filled the roof with water, creating an 8″ deep pond atop our extension. If the leak was in the fabric of the roof then it should start dripping at some stage. A good plan, I agreed.

I was a bit concerned that it might start leaking after we’d gone to bed because given the gallons of water up there, I could get up to an extension awash with water with the diminutive size of the bucket. Roofer John told me to ring him as soon as it started dripping, regardless of the hour. And with that dire warning, they left.

We were sitting having lunch about 15 minutes later when the dripping started. I texted John and, satisfied that we possibly had a solution, we enjoyed our salads.

His buddy turned up half an hour later and unplugged the outlet so the water could drain away. The next step is to completely clean the roof, dry it then apply another layer of fabric on top of the old one. It won’t be me doing it, I hasten to add. 

The one thing they (Roofer John, Builder Dave, John’s buddy) keep stressing is how fragile the roof surface material is. A small pebble in your shoe could puncture it, they say. I wonder they use it if that’s the case. There’s always a need to go up there and try as I might, I can’t guarantee I haven’t taken a small pebble up on the sole of my shoe one time or another.

Anyway, let’s hope this fixes it.

Meanwhile, I made my Christmas cake. I know I’m almost a month late but, to be honest, I completely forgot. Still, it’s done now which means the house was filled with delicious smells as it cooked for the requisite 4.5 hours.

Then I made a roast. A Monday roast. That might seem completely wrong but given I didn’t cook anything the whole weekend (tapas Saturday, Chesil Sunday) I thought I should.

Mirinda’s choice was Persian chicken. It was super yum.

Mmm Persian chicken…
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