Counting our blessings at Christmas

Well time has run away with me and here I am on Christmas Eve reflecting on a year of huge change for us.

Last Christmas we had no idea where we’d be living at this time, or even if we’d have a roof over our heads at all. We had no security, no money, no idea what the future might hold and it was very, very scary. We were living one day at a time and barely hanging in there.

Gradually, we’ve taken little steps forward and now we are living in a house that’s plenty large enough for us all to remain together as a family unit, complete with cats, and we are very lucky to have such a lovely landlady. By pooling our resources, and working hard we’ve managed to just about make ends meet. Billy was working part-time at first but now has a full-time job which he is enjoying getting his teeth into. Nel was unemployed but is now very settled into an NHS admin apprenticeship and is very much part of the team at work, valued for herself – and spoiled to bits by everyone in the department! Raji was doing a job that didn’t really challenge him enough but is now in a role which suits him well and pays more. I have spent the year working as much overtime as possible, with just one week off in July, but this has kept our heads above water and I do enjoy my work and feel a part of the team. Stephen still works at the pub which he enjoys but the hours aren’t sufficient to support him, unfortunately. So we’ve had small but positive changes since last Christmas – little steps;right direction.

This has led to me really feeling the true spirit of Christmas and I am fully in the mood to count my blessings.

I have my family all together and getting on with life by helping each other through. I have a nice home. I have absolutely wonderful friends and family who have supported us though this tricky year. I have the things that really matter.

I’ve cut down a lot on Christmas presents – and even cards – as have many people in this financial climate. I’ve made many presents myself and have enjoyed doing so and put a lot of TLC into them. Those presents I have bought were carefully chosen and I’ve made use of special offers, discounts and loyalty schemes, but I am pleased with what I’ve bought. People won’t have umpteen things, just one or two presents that I hope will really please them. It’s all so much more special and meaningful for me this year and I hope the recipients feel it too.

On the other side of the coin,I feel lucky to have such lovely, kind, caring colleagues who are also good friends. I’ve already received lovely messages in cards and presents from unexpected quarters. I’ve enjoyed sharing Christmas cheer with people who work very intensely all year and feel privileged to get on so well with people of all roles within the hospital. But more than this, these people have supported me through bad times and shared good ones every day so what little I’ve done for them at this time of year to put a smile on their faces has been very enjoyable to do.

At home, I have two children of whom I am proud and whom I am happy to call friends as well as family. I am lucky to have my wonderful mum who, as you know, is a huge part of my life and gives me so much by way of support, love and fun. She doesn’t live with us but is nonetheless part of this family unit and I don’t know what I’d have done without her. Raji, of course, does live with us and enriches our household; I must admit I can’t imagine him not being with us now. We get on really well and he is more a brother and friend than “just” an in-law. As for Billy and I, we’ve actually managed to spend some time together here and there and now that he’s settled in to his job and life has calmed down a bit, he’s more like the man with whom I fell in love. Dare I hope we can pause to enjoy each other for a while?

As you may know, our darts team is made up of very good friends and they too have seen us through this year. I love my Friday nights playing darts in their company. In good times and bad, we can just relax and be ourselves with them, and they with us. I miss them if I don’t see them one week and I don’t get bored with their company if we get together for other things (such as watching football in the pub and generally leading each other astray 😉 ) Their easy company and solid friendship has kept us going at times when we’ve really needed propping up.

I also have my beloved City to keep me entertained and through my football I have many friends who enrich my life. I have my City friends, some of whom I meet up with at games, some I only see occasionally. I have friends who are fans of other football clubs, some of whom I know well, some I’ve only met once or twice. Football brings me closer to my brother when we exchange match day texts as the geographical distance between us and busy lives make it all too easy to lose touch otherwise. All of these people make me feel a part of something, a sense of belonging and offer humour and opinion to entertain me. Many of them do more and have generously given me help, advice, support, access to match tickets and are dear friends. (You know who you are.)

So as I sit here counting my blessings and looking forward to a family Christmas and New Year with friends, I would just like to thank each and every one of you who has helped make this year bearable and kept us going. THANK YOU! I wish you a Christmas time full of your own blessings, with love, laughter and light and I hope that 2014 will be all that you hope it will be.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all my wonderful family and friends.

Led Astray!

Well it was my intention to write my blog last weekend……. but I was led astray by bad men! 😉

Roger, being a freelance gardener, very kindly volunteered to prune the apple tree in our garden which hadn’t been done for a good couple (or more) years.

Tree in spring

By the time he’d finished, it looked like this:

Pruned!

Naturally, we wanted to thank him for his hard work so Billy proposed taking him for a drink and they asked me along. I regretfully declined as I had so much to get done over the weekend and planned to finish cooking then nip out before ironing all afternoon. I continued to resist and when I finished cooking said I was going down to Aldi to get a few bits and I left them clearing up the branches. I agreed they could drop me a text to let me know which pub they were in and I MIGHT pop in for a half on my way home. They then sent the text saying they were in Wetherspoons which I had to pass on the way home so I joined them for a quick drink. Before I knew it, Graham had joined us and I was on a second drink……. somehow the afternoon flew by as we moved to Studio to watch the rugby and by the time we went home, I’d had FIVE drinks! (Mopped up slightly by a hotdog from a van on the walk between pubs.) At first I fretted about not getting my chores done, about having scruffy clothing, no make-up or jewellry etc…… then I just relaxed and enjoyed a good afternoon in lovely company. If they were happy to take me as I was, then who was I to argue? 😀 You can’t buy impromptu sessions like this, nor good friends like ours.

So…… to catch up a bit……..

City: I watched these 3 games on TV
West Ham 1 – 3 City – Our first away win and well deserved I thought. It was also an enjoyable game to watch. MCFC’s 60-second highlights here MCFC’s Extended highlights here

CSKA Moscow 1 – 2 City – Dashed home from work just in time for kick off (Stephen had kindly turned on the TV and put it on the right channel for me) and I was pleasantly surprised to get this result. I was NOT amused at the racist monkey chants by home fans at Yaya. I’m also not convinced that the punishment issued by UEFA is much of a deterrent, though I suppose it is the 1st of the series of 3 punishments if they keep it up. Racism is not acceptable at any level, much less at Champions League level, and no-one should have to put up with it. MCFC’s highlights here.

Chelsea 2 – 1 City – good lineup, good tactics and good performance. One (stupid and frustrating) mistake cost us 2 points but that’s football. We take the many positives from it and move on. I was happy enough with this performance and that’s all I ask. I’m not happy with the media hysteria vilifying Hart and wish they’d get a grip! He’s still relatively young for a keeper, keepers’ mistakes are always very noticeable compared to those of outfield players, and jumping on his back isn’t constructive. MCFC’s 60-second highlights here MCFC’s Extended highlights here

Darts: Following on from my last report, we’re still doing well! We’ve won 5 of our 7 league games now and are STILL 3rd in the table! I’ve got a couple of singles wins under my belt too, including a satisfying one against a young lad who answered his phone during our game with “I’m in the pub playing darts. Against a BIRD!” 😀 (That was a very odd game in a pub with what looked like all those on pub-watch in our town having relocated to the next village. It was slightly intimidating when I was playing my singles with them all crowding round getting in my space a bit, but otherwise we actually had a fairly enjoyable evening as a tight-knit team.) Somewhere along the line, we I decided we should have a team theme tune to get us fired up for our games. Junior decided it would be the next song to come on the juke box. Flash! Hm, maybe not. OK, the NEXT song. Flash – the remix! 😀 Flash it must be then! Next to assign characters………. 😉 )

Work – well this is just truly crazy, it has to be said. I spend all my time in each of my two roles, desperately trying to get everything clear in the 2/3 days I have at it before doing my other role. Then when I go back to the other one, I have it all to do again. We’re also having a Trust wide new computer system very soon so everyone has to be trained in the new software and pass tests so full and half day training sessions have to be accommodated too. (It WILL be a better system I think but it’s a massive change – like switching from MSDOS to Windows.) I really do feel like I am permanently chasing my tail but in general I do love my work, it’s just that there are never enough hours to get it done as the workload is ever increasing.

Nel: Nel’s apprenticeship is going brilliantly now that she’s switched to admin. She has picked it all up so fast and does such a lovely thorough job that the secretaries are over the moon with her. She has made such a huge difference to the department and for their part they’ve really taken her to their hearts. She has her very own desk – with the addition of her own computer and printer just this week – and has personalised it with photos of the pets and a couple of plants given to her by one of her colleagues. I’m absolutely delighted that it’s worked out so wonderfully, grateful to the team for making Nel so welcome and appreciated and naturally am, as ever, very proud of my clever daughter. 🙂

Two dramas in one week: Drama 1

Last week I had the heavy cold that was doing the rounds, and by midweek had raging sinusitis and sniffles – which I hate! Happily the herbs pushed this through quite fast but it meant that I had 3 days of feeling sorry for myself. On Thursday night I thankfully sank into bed at the end of the day and was relaxing with a DVD when Nel popped out to Tesco.

I heard a strange noise and paused my DVD to listen for it. It was a sort of high pitched sound but although I stopped to listen for a good 5 minutes it didn’t come again. Timmy was on my chair and had his ears pricked up so I knew I hadn’t imagined it. It seemed to come from above me. Just as I was about to give in, I heard it again, very briefly. OH MY GOD!

Tiny Squishy


Somehow, my brain managed to put 2+2 together and realised that was a hamster squeaking in distress and as I bolted out of my sick bed and up the stairs, I heard a cat jump down from somewhere! I crashed in to Nel’s room and sure enough, there was Zara with little Squishy, the tiny Roborowski hamster, in her mouth! I yelled at her and thankfully she dropped him and I chased Zara and Zeb out of the room and slammed the door shut and then ran to where I’d seen Squishy. There he was and without thinking I tried to catch him – Roborovskis are very fast and don’t like being handled so of course, as I scooped him up, he scrabbled off the edge of my hand and was off behind the bed. Stupid me! (Stupid as well for handling him when I had a cold – human colds are dangerous to hamsters.)

Zara


I went to the other side of the bed and happily I spotted him huddled in the corner behind Nel’s desk so I sat myself down and didn’t take my eyes off him. The cats were meowing pitifully at the door, my phone was in my own room so I couldn’t call Nel and no-one knew I was in her room to come looking. I hoped she wouldn’t be long – especially as Squishy appeared to be recovering from his fright and might be on the move again soon! Then Billy called me and I eventually managed to tell him to come in the room without letting the cats in. When I explained, I asked him to try calling Nel – but there was no answer. He and Raji decided to go hunting for her and I just prayed Squishy would stay put until she got home.

Alas, he was now starting to scamper around the area and though I was relieved to see that he was apparently unhurt, I was worried he’d disappear – he is such a tiny little thing and the bare floorboards probably had a few little holes which he could fall down! There were certainly plenty of corners and cupboards he could get into! Finally, Nel came home though hadn’t seen the men, but she let Zeb in the room as she entered so I had to try and yell what had happened and get her to catch Zeb. He came straight over to the hamster – who promptly shot off behind the bed – before I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and got him back outside.

Argh! Squishy was nowhere in sight! We hunted with a torch and couldn’t find him anywhere so we had to put the two bits of his cage on the floor, leaving him the means to get inside, and hope he could make his way home and want the safety of his own bed. Poor Nel didn’t get a wink of sleep listening out for him, but alas, he didn’t appear over night.

By the time I left to go away for the weekend on the Friday night, there was no sign still and Nel was sure he was under the floor boards or in one of the many cubby-cupboards dotted around that top floor and we weren’t certain he’d be able to get back even if he had been a clever boy and worked out how to retrace his steps. (In the wild they roam for miles each night and they leave a trail of wee to follow home. Would he even have thought of this?) I felt he’d be able to snack on the odd spider or beastie but I did think water would be a problem so I could only hope his need for fluid would drive him back.

Bizarrely, we’re not sure quite how Zara got him out of his cage in the first place. The cage (see picture below) was neatly on the shelf where it lives. The only thing out of place was the tube that joined the two parts – this was disconnected. How did the cat do that? How did she get him out of it? Or did he come out of his own accord? The distressed squeaking I’d heard (loud for such a tiny creature) was BEFORE the cat thudded to the floor – so did he jump out in fright? We’ll never know. We could only pray he’d come back.

Two-bit cage


I woke up on Saturday morning to a text from Nel that she’d sent at 12.54am: “I got Squishy! 🙂

Apparently she’d heard him – on the opposite side of the room to where we THOUGHT he was – and he was trying to drag one of his treats (left out to tempt him) back under a cubby-cupboard door! Nel quickly used videos to block his path and was then able to catch him with an upside down (empty) tissue box. His fur and his paws were black, but he was safely home.

He is now in only half his cage for the moment until Nel sorts out a cat-proof larger home for him. She says he seems bored now and it looks like he rather enjoyed his freedom. He is slowly getting cleaner though his paws are still grubby. What an adventure for a little scrap of fur and what a clever little boy to get home. Nel is very pleased of course, and having saved him from the cat, so am I. What a drama, but a happy outcome. Welcome home Squishy 🙂

Squishy

The Apprentice

Once upon a time there was a little girl who struggled to make sense of the world around her. She knew she wasn’t quite like everyone else but she didn’t really know why. As she grew up she learned to mimic the social behaviour of those around her and somehow get through though she always felt like an outsider; someone who didn’t get the joke or pick up on subtext and therefore never quite feeling confident of her place in the world. Even mum called her “my little odd-bod” though this was naturally with affection and the unreserved love of a mother who accepts and loves her child just as she is. She hated school but could never quite manage to make anyone understand just how difficult school was for her and how every day was a battle. Against her difficulty taking in all the information. Against an inability to put her thoughts and ideas in to words on paper. Against her absolute loathing of all sports and PE. Against her peers who seemed as alien to her as she apparently did to them – and some of whom bullied her. It was a relief to finally leave this hell and yet she had somehow managed to do so with six GCSE’s including English and Maths and after a brief fling with college she even returned to 6th Form for a while. But still she didn’t know why she seemed to find life so hard when others looked to actually be enjoying it! Finally, at 18-and-a-half she found out; she had high functioning autism. This was an absolutely stunning revelation and served to highlight just how well she had done to get by and her achievements thus far.

Naturally, you realise that little girl is Nel. And you may know that she’s unfortunately been out of work most of her adult life. Art has been her life-long outlet for her thoughts and ideas and she has largely been busy with that at home, but she’s WANTED to work. Unfortunately, with the difficulties she has plus the current high unemployment and economic situation, this has not proved easy.

Then in March, she received a call from the job centre asking if she’d be prepared to consider an apprenticeship, and if so, to hot-foot down there that afternoon to register. She did this and was initially put off on seeing a small group of other candidates but gritted her teeth and got through the session. She said that the others were mainly of the view that it wasn’t worth bothering with, working full time but only getting £40 a week more than they got already on the dole. She didn’t agree and wholeheartedly embraced the idea of getting some training and experience and a foot on a career path. Good for her, that’s my girl! 🙂

Since then, in a very slow process, she’s filled in forms, attended interviews and continued to pursue her application. She had to go to North Shields (45 minutes away) on a Saturday afternoon for “an interview” (wearing borrowed clothes of mine, yet with her own style and she looked stunning.) However, when she got there it was to a room full of other candidates which was somewhat alarming for someone who doesn’t cope with large groups of people! Again, she pushed herself to get through and get through she did. The organisers apologised that the letter had said it was an interview when in fact it was an assessment! Agh! Again, she overcame her fears and she passed the assessment. Interestingly, they were told that of 4,000 applicants, 300 were invited to attend the day and yet only 48 turned up! Proud of my daughter? You bet! At the end of the session she decided she wanted to sign up for a Healthcare Apprenticeship and asked if her one-to-one interview could possibly be nearer home.

She had her interview here at our hospital and was provisionally accepted. She then attended an Occupational Health assessment and an appointment for her documentation to be checked. She got her criminal record clearance and she was asked to attend a one day induction at 2 days’ notice last week which she thoroughly enjoyed.

After a long journey, she finally starts her NHS Apprenticeship on Monday, with 2 weeks induction training first and then working on the wards at the same hospital where I work. She has to go to North Shields for training 2 days a month but Raji has kindly said he will chauffeur her (as he did for her one day induction and will do for her 2-week initial training) as he can then go on to work (in South Shields) from there. What a star, thanks Raji.

So my amazing daughter (and she truly IS amazing) will at last be able to take her first steps on the road to working and independence and I am both very proud of her and delighted FOR her. Since she’ll be my colleague, we’re going to try and have a girls’ lunch in the canteen once a month which will be pretty special despite its humble location 🙂

A change is as good as a rest

After getting increasingly frustrated with the way everything in our house was being left to me or not getting done, I finally got very angry when yet again there were arguments over the washing up. So I called a family meeting after working out I was doing over 15 hours a week of chores on top of working compared to 1-2 hours a week for everyone else and deciding I wasn’t putting up with it anymore.

The household jobs have now been divided up differently with me doing the washing up so that it gets done every day, twice a day with cat bowls included and all the sides washed down. The daily task of laundry is now Billy’s job as this is fairly time consuming each day and I don’t have time to do both. Billy and Raji have taken on the weekly shopping as they’re happy to do it in the evening and will have the car. In fact this led to Billy expanding this to most jobs having another person assigned to share or act as back-up which I thought was a brilliant idea 🙂

Raji is my back-up/buddy for washing up and ironing which means that when I go away one weekend or so a month, these jobs will still get done instead of a backlog waiting for me to catch up over the next week. He’s also been helping Billy out with the washing this weekend so suspect he may end up buddying on this too. I think it works well for Raji to buddy as he has long working days thanks to the long journey. I will continue to do cooking but Billy and Nel have both expressed a wish to do some of it so this means I should get some weekends where I don’t have to spend hours cooking, and when I’m away, they will be able to ensure there are meals for the coming week. The other jobs have all been shared out according to who wanted to do them and who was best suited, all with a buddy/partner as back-up.

It wasn’t just the doing of all the chores that needed dividing up, but the mental taking over of them so that everyone now takes on the responsibility for ensuring their jobs get done. It won’t be perfect initially as everyone gets used to the tasks and what’s involved, but that’s fine, as long as everyone is fully on board with taking their responsibilities to heart and learning as they go.

This first weekend of it, whilst admittedly a bank holiday, I’ve had time to do some of the extra little things I haven’t had a chance to do before such as pottering outside in the garden and sorting out my room a bit more. Billy and I managed a tip to the trip to clear some of the bulky stuff from the garden and Raji got the grass cut which was brilliant as it was so overdue for a cut.

We’ve had one week of the new scheme and already I think there is a new appreciation for how time consuming the household tasks are, and how much thought and planning is required. Also how jobs still need to be fitted in before and after you go out of an evening or day at the weekend, and with time they’ll find out how relentless it all is with the same things needing to be done week in, week out. Hopefully this is the start of better team-working generally and more equal leisure time for us all. It certainly will stand everyone in good stead to know how to manage a household – something none of them have really taken on board before.

Our new plan will either bring us closer as a family or fall by the wayside and divide us, but naturally I hope it’s the former as I think we all stand to gain considerably. Watch this space….

Girls’ afternoon tea

All summer, Nel and I have been wanting to go out for a nice walk together but despite the beautiful weather hadn’t managed it because the men kept using the car for cricket (I hadn’t bargained on this when I said Raji could use my car for work, I must admit!) One evening she said to me that she really wanted to go up to Hadrian’s Wall and take some photos so I “booked” my car for last Sunday afternoon and decided to combine our walk with afternoon tea at Langley Castle as I had a voucher for this 🙂

We had a really nice afternoon up near Hadrian’s Wall with a few laughs and some beautiful photos taken by Nel. I really enjoyed stretching my legs and even managed, on slipping in the mud, to turn my unexpected descent into a graceful slide 😀 What with that and my excellent navigating which didn’t get us lost once, I was feeling very pleased with myself. A fact that did not go unnoticed by my darling daughter 😉

Finishing off with afternoon tea was lovely and we relaxed over our delicious food and tea for an hour and a half – again just chatting and enjoying a bit of a break. We had dainty sandwiches of salmon, cucumber, ham & pease pudding, and egg mayonnaise, followed by individual cakes of lemon meringue pie, raspberry and white chocolate, bakewell tart and chocolate tart, finished off with scones, cream, jam and strawberries. Mmmmmm 🙂 Nel had green tea but I had a pot of good old fashioned strong tea (I’d asked for Assam but they’d run out) Unfortunately when I got into bed that night, I was wide awake! Schoolgirl error forgetting that that much strong tea will have a fair bit of caffeine in it! Ooops! (A glug of sleep herbs soon knocked me out though, happily.)

Click here for Nel’s slideshow of photos

Back in the mire.

After my wonderful week away, I was brought back to earth with a resounding thump.

At work, my first day back was fast and furious with queries that had all been waiting on my return, a hectic double-clinic as well as both my colleague and my manager being around so that I couldn’t simply shut the door and get my head down to work. Added to this was a series of Outlook meeting requests that kept popping up unexpectedly so my first day back was simply a case of peddling water to keep my my head afloat. Obviously this settled over the course of the week and by the end of it I felt like I’d never been away.

At home, I had returned to a backlog of washing (I had done mine at mum’s which was just as well so that I wasn’t adding to it.)On the Monday morning I was sipping my coffee at breakfast when I noticed something floating in it – ugh! It was mould! Raji remarked that it probably wasn’t surprising as the washing up had sat for the week and was done the day of my return! Clearly my cup hadn’t been very well washed up (and I have my coffee black and unsweetened!) so I threw it away and tried again with a fresh cup. Again there was floating mould! On investigation, the mould was found in the coffee jug! So I had to scrub it out and start again. Lovely! 🙁

When I finally got to the weekend, I was up bright and early Saturday morning with lots to do. Billy was working and commented that the loo wasn’t draining very quickly so after hanging out the washing I checked the outside drains. They were backed up and clearly the gurgling noises we’d heard during the week were due to the sewerage being forced back up the drains, depositing soggy shredded loo paper around them 🙁 We’ve been aware for a little while that the shower wasn’t draining very well and I’d been putting soda crystals down the plug on a weekly basis; it looked like it wasn’t the shower plug after all but the entire drainage system. Sure enough, when I lifted the manhole cover to investigate, it was full to the brim with sewerage water. Brilliant!

So I stuck a quick sticky note on the loos and the shower door saying not to use them and hot-footed it to the shops for rubber gloves. Once back, I set to, trying to see if there was a single physical blockage that I might be able to remove – and immediately the dirty water went way up past my gloves, seeping down inside them and I was up over my elbows in the muck 🙁 Raji got out of bed around this point and having seen my note, poked his head out of the window to ask if it was OK for him to have a shower. Er, no! He came down to see what I was doing and to see if he could help, and once I’d exhausted all possibilities trying to clear the blockage (including sacrificing one of my colanders in the attempt to sieve the solids from the water!) he carried on trying for a bit before coming to the same conclusion as me. It must be blocked further down the system.

Reluctantly, I called the landlady and apologised for it being the weekend and something that would need sorting quickly. I explained that I thought we needed a dyno-rod type person to sort it as I was convinced that the blockage was outside of the house and further along the pipes. She said she’d sort out someone to come and get back to me. Very quickly afterwards, she confirmed that someone would come in the next few hours and then gave me their contact details in case of need, as she was about to go off on holiday. I was relieved that someone would be coming, but I felt unclean (having had no shower to start with and then getting more dirty) and of course we couldn’t use any of the waterworks until it was sorted. No flushing the loos, no washing, no cleaning, no washing up – and there was a week’s worth of washing up to be done since no-one had done any all week – again! (This was previously Stephen’s job but was now Billy’s)

Raji decided he couldn’t possibly not have a shower so took himself off to the gym and paid for a workout and then made use of their shower, after which he went off to cricket for the afternoon. Billy had gone straight from work to cricket. I cleaned up as best I could with a bowl of water and some alcohol gel, then being unable to do much, I did at least get the ironing done to salvage something from the day, keeping my ear open for the door as I expected the drainage cavalry any moment. I also booked a train ticket online for Nel to visit mum at the end of the summer but then realised an hour or so later that I’d booked the wrong date! AGH! This was not a good day! I was so cross with myself and had to book another ticket for the correct day and then wait for the tickets in the post so i could claim SOME of my money back on the incorrect one. Grrr!

After my few hours of ironing, there was still no sign of the cavalry and I was getting a bit anxious. I was just clearing up and was carrying the ironing board downstairs and caught one of the cats running off sheepishly……….. from the pile of diarrhoea he’d just deposited on the stair! That was the last straw. After yelling at him, I went into the kitchen and the dam burst. I sobbed! Real from-the-bottom-of-the-heart sobs, crying that I was sick of it all. Sick, sick, sick….. The “children” were upstairs and Nel sent Stephen down to investigate. I managed to get out that there was cat mess on the stairs and he said that it wasn’t the end of the world and it just needed clearing up. Cue more sobbing and wailing that it was always me that had to sort everything out and I was sick of it. So he cleared it up (this is unheard of!) and then came back to me to see if I was now OK. I was at the sniffling sighing stage and sniffled my thanks, before calming myself down.

It was now 5.30pm and I’d had a rotten day, but at last, the cavalry arrived. Apparently they’d normally have been here within half an hour or so of the call but had been down in Manchester at the time. With no access to the back of the house I had to move the big chest in the living room to make way for the machinery – and broke two nails and jarred my back. On the plus side, my two heroes ended up needing only to shove one of their big cleaning rods down the sewerage pipe and shove the blockage away – it was about 3 metres down the pipe, so I’d never have been able to do it myself. In all they were only there for about 15 minutes and hadn’t needed their machinery. Hooray! We could use water freely again 🙂

I got Stephen to move the chest back to its rightful place for me but as I moved other bits back, I managed to really wallop my funny bone on the wall. Not at all funny, let me tell you! I was clutching my elbow and forcefully saying “Ow,ow, ow” through gritted teeth and Stephen advised that I should swear as this is what swearing was for. I don’t swear, so carried on as I was. He said “Okay then, say something YOU think is swearing for you! Say “poo” or something.” 😀 That was it, I was laughing between pained “ow” s Ever tried laughing when you’re in pain? 😀 He’s a tonic, that boy! Nel brought one of her hamsters down and we played with her for a bit which was soothing too, and I started to feel a bit less stressed. Mind you, I could’ve hit the men when they returned from cricket and asked brightly “So, is it all sorted then?” They just had no idea!

The next day I planned to get everything done that I’d been unable to do the previous one – cleaning the bathroom, and so on, but mainly cooking. With the Rayburn I have to batch cook the week’s meals at the weekend then just heat them up when wanted.I also wanted to make Billy’s birthday cake for later in the week, do my usual lunch-box cooking and I needed to prepare the food for the Monday evening when I had 3 friends coming for tea. However, there was a week’s worth of washing up on the side! Raji did some of it mid morning. Billy asked if I needed it ALL done before I could start cooking. Er, yes! “Why?” Er, because that stuff’s been there a week, it’s clogging the side which I will need as I generate more washing up which I wash up as I go along, and because I actually need some of the stuff that’s waiting there! Eventually it was all done, but not until late and so it was 2.55pm before I go in to the kitchen for my hours-long cooking session. Now I’m a morning person, so there was no way I would be spending hours at this time of day! So I didn’t have time to do an evening meal for Sunday. Nor a birthday cake for Billy. I managed 2 meals for the week and a quiche and some shortbread for Monday’s tea with the girls. And that was it – weekend over.

What a weekend! I can cope with a lot and God knows, I usually manage to stay cheerful. But sometimes I just get so fed up of it always being me who has to cope with it all. (Yes, Billy was working then at cricket, but even if he had been at home, it would have been me that went investigating, me that attempted to sort it, and me that would have had to contact the landlady anyway.) As for this washing up business, we could be the first family to break apart with washing-up cited as the reason! I don’t understand how anyone can think that washing up once a week FOR A FAMILY OF 5 PEOPLE is acceptable! Even once a day is pushing it but I’d take it. This weekend may have been extreme but the underlying problems are long standing: the only things to be done on a regular basis and in timely fashion are those that I do. Clearly this doesn’t bother anyone else but Nel and me, and clearly I’m getting nowhere trying change them but I absolutely refuse to lower my standards any further than I already have. So the only option I have, once I can’t stand it any more, is to leave. Not something I want to do, but the only action I can take once I reach breaking point. However, I’m not quite there yet so time to put that horrible weekend behind me and carry onwards and upwards….

Greetings from the other house :)

I’m back! Did you miss me?

We have now moved to our new home and it was the most chaotic move I have ever experienced! Added to that we had no TV, phone or internet for 3 weeks. As you can tell, we now have the latter sorted and we now have a functioning home, albeit that we have a few more boxes to unpack and sorting to do still.

We picked up the keys on the Friday (1st March) and Billy and I were off work that day so that we could spend the day packing up the last of the stuff (by this time I was sick of packing and boxes, having been doing it for the last 2 weeks!) and we had two friends and their vans arranged to help with the actual move the next day. The plan was for Billy to be at the old house conducting that end of the operation and I’d be at the new house organising where things should be put and sorting them out.

But it didn’t quite turn out like that…..

One of Billy’s friends who had offered his services and van for the move was unexpectedly free on the Friday afternoon so came to make a start! And so it ended up that for the next two days the move went ahead in a very chaotic fashion – moving things that weren’t yet packed and in very random order rather than room-by-room as I’d envisioned. Important things (like kitchen pots/pans, crockery etc) were left behind (including the draining rack full of the morning’s dishes!) whilst nick-nacks stored in the loft for years were brought in various containers and bags. Naturally the food was removed from the fridge and freezers before they were brought along, but the food then got left behind! Divan beds had their bases separated for moving, but the clips to join the two halves got lost somewhere along the way. All that said, we were very grateful for the help of our extremely willing and hard-working friends and eventually we called it a day, though one friend was going to return the next week to take the final load and then take all the rubbish to the tip for us. (This hasn’t actually happened as yet and though Billy and Raji have collected some stuff on foot, and I have done a couple of car runs, we need a van for one last run which is frustrating.)

By the end of the weekend I was dirty, tired, aching and had broken nails, very dry sore hands and sported a multitude of cuts and bruises (I’m really not built for manual work!) I had the Monday and Tuesday off work, thankfully, so I was able to spend those two days playing put-and-take sorting out and by the end of that time we had a functioning home with all the main elements reasonably organised.(Kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms.)

I have to say that the cats have been absolutely brilliant and took it all their stride. We had two cat carriers and I borrowed another from a colleague but I anticipated a few problems getting the cats in. As it turned out Timmy and Zeb didn’t put up too much of a fight and Zara walked in to the borrowed basket voluntarily, much to my surprise. Nel and I took the cats and the hamsters in the car to the new house and deposited them all in her bedroom – for two reasons: firstly, her room is on the 2nd floor so nicely out of the way of the moving chaos and secondly, she also can’t cope with too much upheaval and our plan was to get her room moved so she could shut the door and stay quietly sorting her own bits. This worked really well and the cats stayed in with her for a couple of days before being allowed to explore the rest of the house in their own time. They’ve done this very casually and absolutely love having the run of a 3 storey house! After two weeks of keeping them indoors (which they accepted without complaint, though the cold, snowy weather helped) I opened the back door for them to investigate the garden. They loved this and were soon jumping up (and over) the walls and lapping water from the (tiny) pond in the corner. Once they all came back inside I shut the door but unblocked the cat-flap. Within an hour they were all coming and going freely and I was pleased to think they could now please themselves. All in all, I’d say they are quite satisfied with their new home, garden and lifestyle!

Car parking is an issue here and we were given, by our lovely landlords, a visitor’s parking permit. However, after searching in vain for a parking spot, Billy and I went in tot he council offices to enquire as to exactly where these parking bays were. There are 4. Four bays for the whole street! (At a cost of £15 per year.) The previous owners apparently had an arrangement with a chap further down who has his own designated bay but no car. He wanted £20 a month for this. However, after our visit to the council offices, we’ve instead bought a county-wide parking permit (for all council pay-and-display car parks across the whole county) which is £130 a year (though we’ve currently paid for 3 months at £48.) It means the car is parked a bit of a walk from the house but this isn’t a huge issue as we don’t use it for small trips on a daily basis. Another half a day spent sorting this out though!

You won’t believe the saga with TV/internet/phone that we’ve had! It’s like something out of a sitcom! We had, at our old house, all of these with Sky and we called before our move, giving a couple of weeks notice so that could simply switch us over. Simple, yes? No! They couldn’t ascertain whether or not there was a phone line in the new house. We told them there was. They insisted it wasn’t clear and they’d report it as an issue to be resolved. In the meantime, though, they’d book a Sky engineer to come and set up the TV – but it couldn’t be the day of the move so we’d have to wait until the Monday. On the Monday, out came the engineer and as Billy had been called in to work (he was NOT amused!) I had to deal with this. I’ll try to keep this simple:

Old house: 1x Sky+ box, 2 x Sky boxes (multiroom)
New House: 1 x Sky cable in to upstairs lounge, now Raji’s room
Wanted in new house: 1 x Sky box in living room (which has no TV or Sky cables/sockets at all) and 1x Sky box (multiroom) in Raji’s room.

So the engineer looked at the Sky dish on the roof and announced that he couldn’t get up to it as it was on a pole next to the chimney and he couldn’t safely get to it. (“Must’ve been a private company that put that up” he said.)
However, he could drill holes in the wall on the front of the house to safely affix his ladders to get to it. Er, no. It’s a grade II listed building and not our property.
Hm. Well he could fix another, separate dish to the front of the house. Er, no. It’s a grade II listed building and not our property.
Well he could drill a hole in the wall in to the front room and feed the cable that currently goes in to the upstairs room to the sitting room. Er, no. It’s a grade II listed building and not our property.
Deep thought. Aha! He could fix our dish to the dentist’s property next door! Er, no! As if!
I’d pretty much got the picture – there wasn’t going to be anything he could do so we’d simply have to have the one Sky box in Raji’s room only. No, no….. he’d wait for his mate and see what he said. Two hours later we ended up with the one Sky box in Raji’s room only! We could have done that ourselves had we known, and at the least I could have had an hour and a half more time unpacking! Amused, not!

OK, we could work around this – we’d have the Sky box in Raji’s room, Nel had a TV aerial socket and had bought a freeview set top box, and we could register 4 devices to stream TV via SkyGo so that would work. Once we got the internet of course…..

We plugged in a phone to the phone socket and had a dialling tone. Great! We could call Sky and tell them we definitely have a phone line installed and they could connect us straight away. Er no! It still appeared we had no line and a BT engineer would have to be booked. This would not be until 21st March! 3 weeks after moving in! Paul came round and ascertained the telephone number. Great! We could call Sky and they could cancel the engineer and connect us! Er, no! There IS no phone line and the engineer was coming out to INSTALL one! So we had to wait 3 weeks with no TV for all but Raji, and no internet at all. This was hardest on Nel because of her autism – the only place she can interact enjoyably with people is via the internet (no trying to read people’s expressions, pick up on unspoken clues etc. – all nice and clear in black and white.) She ended up spending a fortune on mobile dongles and top ups, having been sold various things that were no use or cost her the earth (avoid Carphone Warehouse!) We were very upset on her behalf and Billy sorted out a mobile dongle at a better rate which helped. Naturally with these things she still couldn’t do the things that are important to her so she really did suffer during this time.

And so the great day dawned. At last, the BT engineer was coming and since Billy and I were working, Paul very kindly got up early during his week off and came round to let the engineer in the house and speak on our behalf. Not only this, but he actually arrived promptly at 8.45am. Just as Billy found out that our phone line was now active! BT engineer had clearly looked at his job sheet, checked there was a line already installed and activated it at the exchange! After quickly plugging in the brand new Sky router and checking the internet worked, Paul left the house with us as we set off to work. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!Unbelievable!3 weeks of stress for no good reason!

It is nice to feel part of the world again, though I have yet to catch right up and to get into a routine and of course, much of my time is still taken up with working 35 hours a week and sorting the house – as well learning to use the cooker here….

This house has a Rayburn cooker which means learning to cook a whole new way. There is also a ceramic hob, but after one play with this, I have made it redundant (the biggest problem being that it takes a while to heat and then an age to cool and I’m worried about the cats getting burned if they jump up when the kitchen is unattended.) The Rayburn also provides the house’s heating and hot water, but we’ve yet to learn how best to use it for this so it’s a bit chilly as yet and we sometimes run out of hot water.

Rayburn cooking is completely different to “normal” cooking and I’m glad I am a confident cook else I think I’d be terrified! You cook 20% of stuff on top of it on the hotplate (a solid plate which varies in temperature so you slide things around to hottest/coolest spots) and 80% in the ovens – an upper and a lower, the lower running at about half the temperature of the upper. It takes around half an hour to heat the oven to the baking or roasting temperatures and it seems about 2 days to cool back to the lowest setting, even when “idling”. The whole of the oven is hot, including the floor (which is good for baking pastry without needing to bake blind) and the shelves are deep so you can get 2 dishes on one shelf. The Rayburn is NOT for quick cooking or for cooking one thing then turning off!

So after two weekends of experimenting (the results of which were all edible, I’m pleased to say) I have learned that it’s best to batch bake/cook at weekends and then simply warm each evening meal in the idling oven all day whilst at work. Lots of casseroles and such, accompanied by home-made bread courtesy of the bread maker which is now in almost daily use 🙂 It means a lot of my weekend is gone doing the batch cooking, but it is lovely coming home to a hot, home cooked meal each evening after work. Today, on only my second weekend of experimenting, I have managed to cook a roast – challenging and time-consuming but absolutely gorgeous as the Rayburn keeps in all the flavours of the meat (beef on this occasion). Even the gravy was wicked! I’ve pre-cooked the meals for the week and each evening I put porridge in the oven to cook slowly overnight and Raji and I love coming down to a bowl of that every morning.

I am going to need to invest in some hotplate-to-oven friendly cookware as I am currently having to mess about swapping pans for casserole dishes and I’ve only got 3 casserole dishes. I am getting the hang of using the Rayburn for drying dishes, warming plates/jugs/mugs/bowls and airing wooden cooking utensils. I am looking forward to using it for making herbal oils and drying herbs etc.

Oh yes, I almost forgot – Nel’s freeview box doesn’t work – but it looks like the aerial isn’t working so still, Raji is the only one with proper TV. I have to admit I never watched TV much anyway and haven’t yet started watching it through my laptop. The only thing I miss having on in the background is Sky Sports news – I do feel very out of things without this. Must find a new routine where I can watch this each day to keep up with things.

The “children” seem settled and happy here and I think they like having the top floor of the house to themselves. Raji is Raji – one can never tell, but he seems happy enough and seems to like having the biggest bedroom in the house for all his stuff. Billy and I are just relieved to have left the old house and feel lucky to have found a large enough home for us all, in walking distance of our needs and where cats are allowed. There are lots of things to work through yet but we have a roof over our heads and can hopefully move forward.

So, there you have it. A brief catch-up on our move. I’d like to tell you more about this lovely house when I get the chance but for now………. welcome 🙂

Nel’s Snowy Birthday

Nel’s birthday was on a Saturday this year and since she hates football so much, I forfeited my match to devote the day to her. She wanted to visit the Hancock Museum followed by a Chinese meal for lunch at a restaurant in Newcastle that we’ve enjoyed in the past. However, snow started falling heavily on the Friday and we decided to revise our plans in the interests of safety and having a stress-free day. (We have agreed, however, to go to the museum at a later date so that she doesn’t miss out, but the restaurant appears to now be closed.)

As usual, I was the first up and as Nel had requested a birthday cheesecake, I got on with making her one (and one for the rest of the family!) as well as a big pan of leek and potato soup. When she woke up, she sent me a text requesting a chopped apple and a cat to be take to her in bed! After obliging, I also gave her her presents and cards (DVD’s from us) and Billy trudged through a blizzard in the (now fairly deep) snow to collect Mum’s birthday parcel from the sorting office.

Just before noon, Billy, Raji, and I took the birthday girl out for her Chinese lunch to one of our favourite restaurants, The Golden Dragon, just in town. We had a lovely meal whilst watching the snow falling outside. We had the lunchtime menu but added crispy duck pancakes too as it was a treat. Although I ordered my usual favourite (chicken in lemon sauce) we all shared our dishes so we also had chicken and mushrooms, beef in black bean sauce and broccoli in garlic sauce. The latter was gorgeous and a new (2nd) favourite of mine. Billy left to go to his football match which was still on, and transport running, and the rest of lingered over coffee and Chinese tea before leaving. On the way home, we rented a DVD for later, and then when we got home, Nel went for a nap!

Since I had written off any hope of following my match, it was an unexpected bonus being able to do so, and Raji and I settled in the living room with the fire on, TV flicking between the rugby and Soccer Saturday and I followed MCFC’s text commentary of the game, a comfortable sounding 2-0 win for City. 🙂

We had an evening meal of homemade soup, bacon sandwiches and cheesecake and once Nel appeared, she, Raji and I watched The Amazing Spiderman whilst drinking mulled wine – a cosy way to spend a snowy evening 🙂 The film was very good and much better than previous Spiderman ones; it is very much in keeping with the Avengers series and I look forward to the next film.

Although it was not quite how we’d planned to spend Nel’s birthday, it was a very pleasant and relaxing day in the end and we all rather enjoyed it. I can’t believe my youngest baby is 20 now, but am very proud of her and how she’s grown into such a lovely young woman 🙂

New Year with good friends

In a change to our previous New Year’s Eve arrangements, this year we went to Roger and Steph’s new home to see out the year. There were about 15 or so of us altogether, including Simon and Claire who were up for a few days so it was a nicely sized gathering. There was certainly plenty to drink, and besides chatting, there was the Wii for those who wanted to play, as well as a shot-drinking roulette game and later a logo quiz board game which was played boys v girls. Raji, Steph and Dan played the roulette game enthusiastically, knocking back shots of Cactus Jack (which looked revolting – especially the Jaffa cake flavoured one!) It was nice to see Raji letting his hair down, though he didn’t actually get that drunk. The board game later was made interesting by the fact that both question masters were under the influence and had great difficulty reading the questions, one of the girls seemed determined to help the boys, another moved to sit far enough away that the girls’ conferring could be heard by the boys enabling them to steal a question or two and best of all, the rules appeared to be made up as we went along 😀 It was a lovely night with lovely people – these people are amongst our closest friends and it was just so nice to relax with them and see in the New Year together 🙂

When we got home at around 2.30 am, it was to discover that Stephen’s tonsillitis/cold had been bad enough that he was sent home to bed after dragging himself in to work, and Nel had been poorly enough that she’d had to cancel her own NYE plans. 🙁 My poor babies are both now on herbs and working through the bug, which is a nasty one.

I was unsurprised that I didn’t sleep at all, as I had missed both my deep sleep cycles (I seem to have one around 11.30pm and one about 2.30 am ) so I just relaxed in bed (listening to Billy snoring 😉 ) and got up not much later than usual really. What WAS a surprise was that I felt absolutely fine, unlike previous years, and yet I’d probably drunk slightly more! I wasn’t complaining!

We spent the afternoon with Pat, having collected Paul and Steph on the way, and once again we had a fantastic day with them, Natalie and Grandpa. We were stuffed after the roast pork dinner with all the trimmings, followed by Christmas pudding, profiteroles and later cheese and biscuits. Naturally the drink flowed freely too, and I had had some sneaky peeks at the MCFC Twitter commentary of the City 3 v 0 Stoke match and was delighted with the result. (MCFC’s 60-second highlights here and extended ones here.)

Between dinner and pudding we played the reindeer racing game which had come from the crackers – think some of the reindeer must have been sneaking some of Santa’s sherry!(If video clip doesn’t show, right click the blank area and click “reload“)

We also played Pat’s own variation of build-a-beetle with felt pieces assembled in to snowmen – a simple but fun game. I seemed to throw load of 6’s and Pat could only throw 1’s! We then played our Nasty Horse Racing Game which we took with us and that was fun with some devious moves and downright persecution for the most tenuous of reasons (yes, I admit it – I knocked Natalie’s horse out of a race simply because it was red! :D) We then managed a couple of quick games of Trivial Pursuit though this was pretty tame compared to usual (probably because Barbara now lives in Oz and wasn’t there.) The girls even managed to get all their pieces of pie in the first game but simply could get to the middle for the final question and then correctly answer before the boys cleaned up. (Of course if the girls would stop being preoccupied with landing on the pink questions all the time, they might do better – did I mention that I hate the pink ones? 😉 )

Despite my lack of sleep the previous night, I did OK but was definitely very tired and ready for home by the time we got a call from Nel asking us to come home soon. Her cold had given her hearing loss in one ear and she was feeling a bit scared, so we wrapped up the game and walked home. Nel was fine once she knew we were home so we wished her goodnight (well, morning) and crashed into bed.

We do love spending New Year with our friends. Happy New Year.