Gas and stardust

Alvin Stardust died today. He was 72. In a few weeks, his first album for 30 years is due to be released. That’s rather sad.

But onto brighter things…ages ago I had a moan about the decorators leaving their rubbish when Tatt-man had specifically stated that decorators are the tidiest of the trades. I have no idea where he got that from. It was patently not true at our house. In fact, I now know which trade really is the tidiest of them all. It’s the gas fire fitter.

Yep, Stealthy Dave finally installed the fire today. He had a few problems (it took eight hours rather than the three he claimed and he had to drill an oval shaped hole because of the bend in the flue) but I have to say that he is the tidiest tradesman I have ever come across.

As he worked away (with the ever reliable and friendly Dan…who I accidentally called Don when they were leaving), more and more bits and pieces littered the floor. He took up most of the extension, drop cloths protecting everything. It looked a right mess when they stopped for lunch and I went inside for the first time in hours.

Actually I spent most of the day in the office, determined to complete the tax stuff for the accountants. (Which I did. Yay!) I had to keep the dogs out of the way and figured the office was the best option. We took breaks, wandering around the garden as Stealthy Dave and Dan slaved away.

At one stage, the usually mild mannered and pleasantly disposed Dave let out a string of expletives (this was because of the unexpected oval hole he needed to drill) which had me concerned it was going to grind to a halt again.

But I was worried needlessly. At about 5:30, he came out to the office, beaming with joy, to tell me it was finished.

Two things struck me when I walked into the extension. Firstly the fire, which is totally beautiful and looks amazing. And secondly, the fact that the place was spotless. Not a sign of any rubbish, dust or bits of old copper. I was stunned.

After I gushed over the fire and thanked them effusively, I couldn’t help but comment on how tidy everything looked. Stealthy Dave almost blushed with delight. I told him he was the tidiest tradesman and could come back any time. He shook his head and said “No offence, but after the problems we’ve had with this fire, I’m hoping I’ll never come back!”

When Mirinda arrived home, the fire absolutely delighted her too.

The stealth is in the house!

Hanging pictures

Today saw the picture rail go up in the extension.

I had a phone call from Builder Dave as I was midway through collating rent and charity payments, costs and losses (for our tax return). He wanted to know whether I’d be around at lunchtime so he could apply the primer to the steps and so that Carl could put up the picture rail. Naturally I told him I’d be here.

Carl managed to put up the picture rail in about half an hour (though Dave didn’t bring any of the oak oil and Carl didn’t bring any oak filler for the holes). Dave, on the other hand was very quickly finished because the step tops are still too damp for the primer. Maybe by the end of the week. At least he took away a load of builder’s rubbish from the front room. I say ‘rubbish’ but a lot of it was actually usable, so better than throwing it away.

So, Dave and Carl were gone after about an hour and I returned to more taxing tasks.

I had a slight break in the afternoon when the DHL lady returned to pick up a parcel I had to send back to Germany. It was the same woman as last time, the one who wanted to kidnap Emma. She couldn’t stop cooing over her. Today she told me about her boxer puppy and how he only obeyed her husband. She finds this irritating. I told her that the boxer clearly sees her husband as god (like our’s think of me). She claimed that the boxer should take notice of her because she’s god’s god. I couldn’t argue with that.

Taxing time

Things are going to be a bit dull on my blog this week as I am compiling the stuff for our tax return to go to the accountant. This is never much fun and terribly dull and uninspiring.

One bright spark in the day was a phone call from Stealthy Dave. The new fire had arrived from the Netherlands and he had tested the pipes before committing to a date. And everything fitted the way it should. Finally!

He’s (apparently) due on Thursday morning to fit it. Finally!!

Another bright spark was Skyping with mum and dad (always a bright spark…at the very least). Among other things, we discussed the fact that women are just as good (if not better) at sport than men, particularly in football. You only have to watch the pathetic men rolling around on the grass, grabbing their ankles while grimacing in pretend agony, to know this is true. Not for the women these childish theatrics.

We also discussed the sad fact that some men still expect their dinner on the table while quite incapable of making someone a cup of tea on their birthday. Mum thinks they never found their way out of the 1950′s. I’m actually thinking they’re still stuck in the 1850′s…except with the luxury of an extra wage because they expect their women folk to work as well.

I find the idea of being waited on hand and foot by someone as some sort of right, abhorrent. And I think men who expect it are sad losers with very little brains.

Nothing else happened at home today (Ignoring the phone call) if you ignore the frantic searching and swearing coming from my office.

Off to Warwick

Mirinda had to drive to Warwick today…for a one hour meeting. Insane. I sometimes wonder what people consider reasonable.

Of course, first thing this morning, Clive turned up to start the steps and didn’t. This is something we’re getting used to. To be fair, the tops were too wet and he was on his own. These are two very good reasons not to go ahead.

The wetness is obvious – the primer has to go onto a dry surface, otherwise it merely traps the moisture beneath it. This is clearly not a good idea. The fact that he was alone was probably more a problem.

I’ve said before that the bonded aggregate goes off very quickly. The minute the mixtures are combined, like araldite, they start to harden. Adding the gravel to the cement mixer must be done instantly. The mixing time must also be very accurate before the mix is poured out and applied to the top of the steps. Then Clive has to spread like Billy-O in order to get it smooth in a tiny window of opportunity.

While he can obviously manage that on his own, another equally quick pair of hands is required to clean out the mixer. At the same time. Otherwise, the aggregate will stick to the inside of the barrel, never to be removed. So, the fact that he was on his own, basically put paid to any work being done. So, he left.

I went into Farnham to the shops while Mirinda worked from the extension and entertained the dogs.

Upon my return, I made her a couple of ham rolls for the journey (to go with her two peaches). There was a bit of a blip when Linda refused to speak but we soon had that sorted and she was off north.

She was back about five hours later, not best pleased at what amounted to a bit of a waste. We did enjoy a lovely dinner together though, so I guess the day wasn’t all bad.

Guests for lunch

The pastry for the turnovers was too thin and the almond honey crust on the chicken was burnt. However, the creme brulee was, to quote Amanda, the best she’d ever had.

I was very stressed first thing so, when Mirinda went to pick Amanda and Carlos up at the station she suggested taking them for a coffee on the way home. I thought this was an excellent idea.

Lunch was planned for 1pm; by 1:15, I texted Mirinda telling her to get back quick as the chicken was burning. Well, the crust on top of it was, anyway. I couldn’t start the entree pastries (cheese filo parcels and the spinach turnovers) until they arrived so I left the chicken to warm and served up 15 minutes later.

Everyone loved the entree and were complimentary about the main course (almond and honey crust on chicken on a bed of royal cous cous) but I wasn’t happy with it. Though, I was very pleased with the cheese parcels which I haven’t made for years but were perfect. Dessert went down very well and Mirinda told the old story about how critical I was when it came to creme brulee.

What did get a lot of praise were they little pecan cakes. The plan had been to make the pistachio cakes I trialled last weekend but Waitrose were out of pistachio this week so I changed it to pecan. An excellent switch – they were delicious. Perfect with coffee or tea or just because they were sitting on the coffee table.

While we enjoyed the pecan cakes, Amanda and Carlos told us all about their new house in Portugal, showing us photos and taking us through the rooms. It sounds lovely. It’s in the country, near a couple of windmills. It looked as lovely ass it sounded. They’ll be using it for holidays (we’re invited the next time we’re in Portugal) with the eventual idea to be to retire there.

Eventually, it was time to go for the obligatory country walk. Given the weather and Carlos’ numb leg, we decided to go easy on them and go around the park instead. For city types, it was pretty much like being in the countryside anyway. The dogs loved it – particularly Emma who walked the entire way around without a lead and at a great pace.

Let me in!

It was a lovely day (though we didn’t get to eat any of the cheese I’d bought for afterwards), enjoyed by all.


Oh, and under my tough brulee scoring regime, I give mine 8/10. I thought the custard needed to be a bit thicker and the burnt sugar wasn’t burnt enough. I hate when there’s individual sugar grains.

Mixer death

Last night we had a lovely dinner with Sally, Mark, Kate and Will. They are coming to the end of their European adventure and enjoyed our dinner last week so much that they wanted to visit us again. This time, at home.

I bought a whole load of mince and pasta and cooked up a storm when I arrived home from work. They arrived at about 7pm and we sat down to dinner half an hour later.

And what a lovely night we had. Lots of chat, food and wine. A highlight was me having a go at Catholics to find that not only is Mark a Catholic but he has two sisters who are sisters in a nunnery. He didn’t take offence and, instead joined in the general dislike of organised religion. Oh, how we laughed.

Sally told us that the kids have been left alone to make their own minds up – Sally is a realist, like me. I said it shouldn’t be too difficult to make their minds up given there’s plenty of evidence for no religion and none for the existence of imaginary friends.

It was a lovely night, my fascist leanings aside.

First thing this morning, however, things started going wrong from the off.

I have been planning the menu for our lunch tomorrow for a week and today was to be devoted to preparation. I’d planned it to perfection so that I’d be finished in time to go for a walk with Mirinda, Day-z and Emma. As well as wanting to go for a lovely walk, it was also to be Emma’s first long walk somewhere other than the park. Sadly, I missed out.

The first thing that went wrong was the early morning arrival of Clive and another guy called Jai (I think) who were going to, finally, lay the bonded aggregate on the top steps off the terrace. My plan had included going shopping first thing in the morning. Because Mirinda was off for her guitar lesson, I had to stay at home with the dogs and to be on hand for any questions.

Needless to say, the path tops were not laid today. Eventually, Dave turned up and the four of us stood around waiting for someone to make a decision about whether to start or not. Finally, Dave determined that the screed wasn’t dry enough to start work. Besides, no-one could find the primer that has to be painted on first. (The primer turned up on Sunday when I found it in one of the boxes that were delivered last week.)

So, no work done, everyone left, saying they’d be back first thing Monday morning. No sooner were the out the door than I was off into town.

Having bought half the shopping I needed (the weather was too sketchy to take my wicker basket) I quickly started making my creme brulee custard for tomorrow’s dessert. Everything was going extremely well. And then I turned my hand mixer on. The blades turned as they were supposed to, spun a few times then they stopped. Nothing I did made them turn again.

I was devastated. Not only because I’d lost one of my favourite kitchen tools but because I had a load of eggs and sugar ready for beating.

It was nearing lunchtime and Mirinda’s return. I knew I’d have to go into town and buy a new hand mixer but decided I’d go after lunch. Which I did. And that’s why I missed out on the walk.

After lunch I once more walked into Farnham, bought a new mixer and the remaining groceries for tomorrow.

Back at home, I immediately went back to the brulees, wondering how on earth people made them without electrical aids. It was then non-stop until it was time to make tea.

What a day. Last night was so much easier.

Slings and arrows

It’s not often that I find an actual maker of a model during my research at the Science Museum but today I did. And not only did I find his name but also his life story. An extraordinary life, at that.

His name was Andrew Webster Kiddie and he was born in 1843 in Dundee. He was the youngest child of the manager of a power loom factory. At the age of three, he moved to Spain when his father was offered a job in a factory there. Consequently, Andrew was educated in Spanish. By the age of 13, he didn’t speak English and his father had decided to send him to the UK to finish his education. Andrew had other ideas.

A friend of the family, one Captain Wardell, had taken an interest in the boy, taking him canoeing and camping in the Spanish wilds. So, when it came time to move on, Andrew asked his father if he could go to see with the ‘good’ captain. For reasons unknown, his father agreed and gave him £3 pocket money for his travels.

The two set off on horseback, crossing the country to the port where Wardell’s ship was moored. As they took up residence on the ship, Wardell heard the money jingling in Andrew’s pocket and told him he had better look after it as the crew would no doubt steal it from such a young lad. Andrew happily handed it over.

Things were fine as the sailed along the Spanish coast, stopping here and there, Andrew serving as an interpreter. Once they left Spanish waters, however, things changed. Wardell, it seems, was the epitome of the awful captain. He beat Andrew for any reason he could think up, depriving him of food, leaving him to keep watch over the shiop when everyone else enjoyed themselves ashore. Then, to cap it all off, when it was announced that the ship was going north to the cold north and Andrew asked for his money in order to buy a hammock and some warm clothes, Wardell told him there was no money.

So, wearing only the summer clothes he left Spain in, Andrew suffered the frozen north of Russian ports. Life was pretty dire and he decided he didn’t want to spend his life at sea any more.

In the meanwhilst, Andrew’s father had been posted back to England and Andrew was determined to go and live with him. Wardell told him he couldn’t. He had spoken to the ship’s owners and had had Andrew indentured for a three year apprenticeship. By the time they arrived in Sunderland, halfway round their circular trip, Andrew was desperate.

The owners came aboard in Sunderland to inspect things and to make sure their money was being spent wisely. Andrew took the opportunity to tell them of his terrible treatment at the hands of the captain but his complaints fell on deaf ears particularly after Wardell told them that Andrew was a thief and a liar. Things looked grim for poor Andrew and his ship mates told him he should leave because Wardell wouldn’t be happy. Andrew decided to jump ship the first opportunity he had.

On land, not knowing anyone or speaking any English he set off to find his father who was 220 miles away. Andrew managed to cover the distance (still in his original clothes) in ten days, surviving on carrots and turnips, hiding and sleeping in hedgerows each night. His resilience paid off and, eventually, he found his father.

Naturally, Wardell had already told his father how awful he was and that he had jumped ship but, to give him his due, Mr Kiddie ignored all of the accusations and took Andrew back, sending him to an English school.

Because Andrew couldn’t read, write or speak any English, he was put in an infant’s class, something he didn’t like. He begged his father to let him go to work. His father wasn’t keen, saying he needed an English education but eventually gave in to his son’s nagging.

There followed a succession of jobs in various engineering companies. Andrew was always the best at his various jobs and he would quickly become the best paid. But he would get easily bored and move on and up.

By 1865, he’d decided he’d prefer to have no boss and so set up his own business in Southport making furniture…and various other things.

At some point he realised he enjoyed making models. He rather liked yachts (he’d sail them on local ponds and even founded a model yacht group in Southport) but he also made models of buildings and towns.

He was also a prolific inventor, gaining patents for such things as segmented shop signs and a machine that sliced and buttered bread. Before sliced bread, of course.

Reading his autobiography, he sounds like a quiet, unassuming man who just wanted to sit in his shed and potter. And I’m very glad he wrote it all down.