Friday, 22 February 2013

The demolition stage

Work has now started on the big kitchen.

We decided to go away for a few days around my birthday, largely to avoid being jollied into arranging a party as I have never had much enthusiasm for those. And – as you do – the last thing we did before going away was to demolish the much-hated arch that used to divide the room in two.

It put up a surprisingly good fight, but we won in the end.
Just that single act seemed to make the room double in size, and greatly increased the natural light reaching the previously dingy work areas.

While we were away, the window was enlarged to make a doorway to the outside and most of the old, damp plaster was removed. We came home to a freezing-cold house, a pile of rubble and a layer of dust about an inch thick.

Today the electrics and plumbing are going in and more holes are being made in the two-foot thick stone walls. Yesterday’s sunshine has metamorphosed into damp, bone-chilling Welsh fog, so I am huddling by the woodburner with my laptop, trying to work while ignoring all the drilling and banging in the next room and the arctic gale blowing in under the door. Internet access has been reduced to ten-minute bursts between power outages.

And when the noise stops, I shall emerge to clean up another inch-thick layer of dust and ascertain whether we yet have a working cooker. Tomorrow there will be another carload of plasterboard to take to the tip.

Am I downhearted?

No. Not in the least. I have been waiting ten years for this, and it will be worth every last bag of dust and crap I sweep up.

The end result may not quite live up to the megalomanic, magazine-worthy image that I held in my head for so many years, but that’s OK too. The budget has been significantly reduced for a start. Slashed, in fact. So no Welsh slate floor or handmade freestanding kitchen units. The finished room will be light and cheerful though, and it will look clean when I clean it. And, most importantly, the big table can now go right in the heart of the room, in the place where it has never fitted, but has always belonged.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

I'm still standing

When I was in my late teens, early twenties, I remember looking forward to the Year 2000. That’s what it was called then – none of this Millennium business. Back then I remember thinking that I would be like THIRTY-SEVEN when it happened. My life would be over. I would be an Old Person who couldn’t truly appreciate such a momentous event.

Actually it turned out to be something of a damp squib.

R was working in IT for an insurance company, and had been bribed with a seriously large amount of money to come into work on January 1 2000 to do the Millennium Bug testing. So I spent the evening backing up my computer in anticipation of the chaos that would ensue the next morning, then we went outside to watch the fireworks with the neighbours, drank a couple of glasses of fizz and went to bed shortly afterwards rather than partying all night.

Last week I turned 50.

That 37 year-old seems to be a whole different person, almost from another country. So young, so full of ambitions and plans. With a whole life left to live, with a house move and complete change of lifestyle still to come. That was, of course, in the Before.

The 50 year-old face that looks back at me in the mirror doesn’t look all that different on the outside. Sure there are a lot more lines, and the jaw line is starting to sag a little. There’s rather more grey in the hair than I really want to see. The body is starting to slow down more than I like to admit, and I seem to spend a lot of time searching for my glasses. But on the whole it is pretty much the same as it was 13 years ago.

Inside, though. That’s a whole different matter. There are lumps and bumps. Tender spots. Scars. Closed-off doors to rooms that aren’t visited any more. Emotional muscles that are only just coming back into use.  But it is healing. Slowly. Even though some of the tender spots will be there forever.

The 50 year-old me doesn’t have many ambitions any more. She just wants to live and enjoy living for as long as possible.  Having experienced at close quarters the sheer crappy randomness of the whole life and death thing, it really is enough just to be here. To walk out in the glorious crisp, cold sunshine on a day like today and feel its warmth on my skin. To live in the present and make the most out of every moment.

50 not out. It’s not a bad score.

I wonder what the next half-century holds.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

New shoes

Because I shall turn 50 next week and have never owned such a frivolous pair of shoes in my life. So it's about time I did.

Because I like the way he looks at my legs when I'm wearing them.

Because every girl needs a pair of ruby slippers.

Just because!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


The start of a new relationship is such an exciting time. Full of spontaneity and passion. Everything is bright, shiny new and the possibilities are infinite. Two people dance around one another, experimenting with different tempos and steps.

But the familiar is good too.

When you walk side by side with someone for a quarter of a mile or so, you inevitably fall into step with them. The faster walker slows down or the slowcoach speeds up until a steady rhythm is reached.

For all the excitement of the new, it can be equally enthralling to look at a person and to know – know what they are thinking or intend to do. And there is a wonderful satisfaction from developing little rituals. Practised behaviours that you both fall into without deliberate thought.

Rituals cannot be rushed, however. Or created intentionally. They simply develop over time and then one day you realise that they are an integral part of your life.

Take coffee, for example.

For as long as I can remember I have had a bad coffee habit. Sitting at my desk, I would drink 6, 7 or 8 cups a day without thinking. Normally, dare I say it, instant as drinking that much freshly ground coffee would give me the shakes by mid-afternoon.

One day, about the time it became apparent that Robert’s car was spending more time outside my house than his, he turned up with an espresso machine under his arm. It was not, I am a little ashamed to say, welcomed with a great deal of grace – I had spent the previous couple of years attempting to declutter the house, and I rather liked my kitchen worktops to be empty. A space was made, however, and I agreed to give it a fair chance before relegating it to the Outer Darkness where I believed such gadgets belonged.

The first attempts were disastrous. The coffee pack may proudly state that it is “Suitable for all machines”, but a filter coffee grind simply will not make espresso – the water just goes straight through taking with it all the flavour of dishwater.

So a coffee grinder was needed. One that would grind the beans finely enough to make espresso. Teeth were firmly gritted as it took up residence beside the coffee machine.

The coffee-making learning curve progressed, but not 100% satisfactorily. Cappuccinos became drinkable, but still too foamy. Espressos or Americanos were fine but still nothing special. Despair was setting in with the owner of the coffee machine, as he knew its days were finite.

Then, one day, we discovered the flat white – and a whole new world opened up. Microfoams, cremas, patterns drawn on top of the cup. U-Tube videos were watched by the dozen. We suddenly understood how whole college courses can be devoted to coffee-making. The coffee painting became competitive, and we jostled for position in front of the Gaggia, arguing over whose turn it was to make the breakfast cup.
In the end, I admitted defeat. He can do the foaming thing better than I can. And paint the pictures. 

Somewhere along the line, the breakfast coffee became the only one that mattered – we sit and savour it, watching the birds on the feeders. Now it is almost impossible to imagine starting the day without my breakfast milky coffee – and I rarely have another one, unless after a big meal.

Rituals definitely take you by surprise, but they become an essential part of life.

And as for that cup in the picture – I bought it when I was still alone to use as a tea cup. It never really took off as such. 
As I said. You can’t force a ritual.

Friday, 1 February 2013

What I Learned Today

That there really isn't a good time for your barn to fall down.

But if it does decide to fall down, it is a heck of a lot easier ferrying stuff back and forth with two people.

And that it really is an ill wind that does nobody any good.
All the stuff that was stored in the barn had to go into the stable which has been housing a pile of junk that my neighbour had brought round "temporarily" while his garage was being built. That was nearly four years ago and, despite numerous requests and reminders, he has studiously neglected to remove it.

It was rather satisfying leaving the message on his answering machine to the effect that "all your belongings are now outside in the rain".
Amazingly, he was around within a couple of hours to pick it all up!