Beautiful in Birmingham

What a fabulous time we’ve had this afternoon. Although I usually avoid big, busy cities, we took the 40 minute train ride to Birmingham. We had an excellent reason for going: some months ago I bought my husband a birthday gift of tickets for the musical Beautiful – the story of American singer-songwriter, Carole King. With more than 150 hits (including 61 UK chart hits) either written solo or co-written with husband Gerry Goffin, she is undoubtedly one of the most successful pop songwriters ever. It was a truly excellent show, at least partly because we knew every song. The audience were ‘of a certain age’ as you might expect, and although they would recognise many of the songs, I doubt many people under forty have much idea who wrote them.

Only in later years, after her split from Goffin,  did she begin to sing her own songs and by far the most popular of her twenty five solo albums is the 1971 Tapestry (one of the first I ever bought). It’s oft been said that the best songwriting is born of pain and this album proved that.  In those days we called them LPs (long players).

Tapestry

The show charts her rise from talented songwriting schoolgirl to her outstanding one woman show at the prestigious Carnegie Hall. It gave us highs and it gave us lows; it made us laugh and, in places, its poignancy almost made us cry.

Writing for The Drifters, Neil Sedaka, The Righteous Brothers, The Everley Brothers, Bobby Vee, The Monkees and many more, King’s own and co-written songs have been recorded by several artists. Listed below are some of the best known;

Will you still love me tomorrow?

Crying in the rain

It might as well rain until September

Up on the Roof

You’ve got a friend

Take good care of my baby

Locomotion

Halfway to Paradise

Pleasant Valley Sunday

The insanity of the car insurance industry

The conversation went like this…

Me: I’ve received my renewal notice but I need to let you know that I’ve started work
Insurance company (Ins):  What are you doing?
Me: Shop assistant. Part time
Ins: That will add £60
Me: Why?
Ins: Because you’ll be driving more
Me: No I won’t
Ins: You will because you’ll be driving to work
Me: I won’t be driving to work.
Ins: But you could
Me: I won’t be. If I did it would cost me £10 to park so I most definitely won’t be.  And, in fact, I’ll be driving FEWER miles because I won’t have as much free time. (I actually drove only 5000 miles in the last 12 months and that included driving around Shropshire, the Lake District and Devon for a week each).
Ins: It makes no difference.
Me: So, the additional charge is actually nothing to do with driving extra miles. It’s because I’m a shop assistant.
Ins: That’s the way it is.

That was last year. Annoyed though I was, I paid the extra because the current company still worked out as the cheapest quote. When I went back into a HR role, I informed the company and have just received my renewal quote at almost £50 less  than last year. But I am the same person whether I work in a shop or in an office! The insanity doesn’t end here. If I insure with my existing company via Compare the Market.com then the same cover is a further £84 less than insuring direct with the company. Crazy!  I wonder if car insurance might just be the next target  of the Financial Services Authority

It’s been an expensive few days in car terms:
Repair £70
MOT £30
Interim service: £96
Road tax: £20
Insurance: £224 (via Compare the Market.com of course)

I think the “shall we go down to one car” conversation is about to happen again 🙁

 

Weekend bits and pieces

Icicles

2010 – Do you remember when we had icicles like these hanging from our windows? For once, the Midlands which is usually protected from the very worst weather, suffered badly for several weeks. On the weekend before Christmas it took us an hour and a half to travel just nine miles. We’d not have bothered but we had two small children in the car who were desperately clutching their tickets for breakfast with Santa at Webbs Garden Centre in Wychbold, Droitwich. Santa, clearly having struggled himself, kindly waited for all the latecomers.

So why, on this beautifully sunny autumn day am I writing about that awful winter?  Whilst the past two nights have been nowhere near bad enough to result in any icicle formation, they have been exceedingly cold for October.  On both nights I awoke at about 2am and my arms were so cold that they hurt when I moved them under the covers. The reason I leave them outside the covers is because the hot water bottle makes me too hot but I can’t get rid of it. I’d really like not to need it but the direct heat is the only thing that prevents the awful night cramps in my legs. Most often occurring in my shins or across the instep of my feet, I even occasionally get the pain in my thighs.  It’s not every night but happens too often. Most of the time I’m aware during the evening of the muscles tightening and get warning as to whether or not there’s going to be a problem but the warmth of the hwb is playing havoc with how the rest of my body feels. The top half of me gets too warm, hence the arms out of the bed, and  my head gets so hot that I’m constantly flipping the pillow in order to find a cool spot.

Some time ago I bought a special pad that when filled with cold water was said to cool the head. The idea was to place it under the regular pillow. It made no difference whatsoever so I tried putting it on top of the pillow but the heat from my head heated up the water in it and then it leaked all over the bed! I’ve recently seen advertised a ‘cool-gel-filled’ pad and am tempted to try again. Has anyone tried one of these, and most importantly, does it work?

The weekend has flown by (I do seem to be concentrating lately on this subject) even though we benefited from an extra hour when the clocks went back last night. I spent the entire day yesterday working on my novel. I am now up to 83% of target but it is getting progressively harder as I struggle with quite how to tie up loose ends in part three. I also need to expand part two by around 4,000 words. But if I feel down, I re-read the feedback I received when four extracts (c10,000 words) were critiqued by Stephanie Hale, Director of the Oxford Literary Consultancy: “It has moments of poignancy that are beautifully written [and] it’s a brilliant storyline.”  It is this that encourages me to soldier on.

Today we have been to visit son’s new home. It took us a little over an hour to get there (less time than expected) but I didn’t like the journey which has several complicated road junctions. For someone who, until six years ago, drove 25,000 business miles a year, it is disappointing to admit that I now feel lacking in the confidence to deal with these. I am currently investigating other possible routes which are longer but may be less stressful. Failing that, I shall get the train (though this is a considerably more expensive option at 3x the cost of driving there. No wonder people are not taking notice of the Government’s urging that we all make greater use of public transport).

Journey aside, it was lovely to see the family and get lots of grandsons’ hugs and cuddles. We had brunch in the form of a traditional English breakfast and since this is something I never cook, it was a real treat!

Just another day

Raise your eyebrows or even shake you head in disbelief, but do not underestimate the sheer pleasure derived from opening organised, tidy kitchen cupboards. Some might think ‘how sad’ but truly, the cathartic benefit of yesterday’s labours has lightened my heart. OK, maybe a little exaggeration there but it really was a good feeling, when opening the first cupboard this morning, to see how neat it looked. Mind you, it was the wrong cupboard…but hey, these things take time to get used to.

Today was a little more relaxed: off to the gym this morning where I paid for my ticket to the Christmas lunch. We’re off to the same pub that did us proud on Grand National day.  December is filling up – four Christmas lunches booked already. For one reason or another I haven’t seen a couple of my gym friends for a month or so, so it was good to catch up with a post exercise coffee room. It’s been a day for catching up as, after a quick change and make up touch-up at home, I met up with my friend J this afternoon. We have known each other since infant school but became friends when our eldest children were babies. We’ve shared high days and holidays, tears of happiness and painful despair, and have been there for each other through every milestone in the past thirty eight years. No wonder two and a quarter hours of conversation flew by.

In between these engagements I did a little shopping. I always mentally tot up the rough cost of purchases and it’s a good job I do. In Boots I handed over £40 and was expecting around £9 change. I was handed £1.04 because the till hadn’t been programmed to account for a 3 for 2 offer. In Dunelm I put two items on the counter. The cashier rang them through and asked for £42. I laughed out loud and told her that it was closer to £22. It turned out that she had rung one item through twice. Now, the discrepancies in both cases was obvious but it does make me wonder how often overcharging happens. If you have half a dozen items and are overcharged by perhaps £5, would you necessarily notice?

I picked up my car which I’d dropped off for a wash and wax earlier an went  home to make a start on dinner. A defrosted one-I-made-earlier lasagne for husband and a healthy option for me…a salad of various beans and peas, bulgar wheat, red pepper, onion and warm goat’s cheese.

Needing to use up various bits of fruit we finished the meal with a warm fruit salad (i.e. a thirty second blast in the microwave) I also made another banana cake, this time remembering to add the flour!

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Finally, a bit of television: Have I got news for you. 

Yet another day when the hours just flew by.

 

How the hours fly by!

Spring cleaning has come a little late to the thisissixty household.

The day began with a text – youngest granddaughter wanted to stay at home. We had no firm plans  as to what we were doing but she was being dropped off at 9.30am and we would probably go to town or to the garden centre. It was agreed then that I would instead go and look after at 1pm for a couple of hours as her mum had a hair appointment (i.e. she is the stylist).  A free morning beckoned.

At 9.30 I wandered downstairs to make porridge but got waylaid.  The new soup maker was still sitting on the worktop waiting for me to find it a home. The cupboards needed a bit of tidying in order to accommodate it. Why I started on the job at that moment, I’ve no idea but during the next two and a half hours every cupboard was emptied, cleaned and reorganised. Husband complained that he wouldn’t be able to find anything. The task was long overdue. I filled two bags with various kitchen bits ready for the charity shop. They joined the bag of toys in the boot of the car which I put there yesterday.

I also did three loads of washing (i.e. loaded the machine three times). By 12 o’clock I was feeling peckish but it was a choice between making lunch or putting on my face, doing my hair and getting changed. Pride won and I arrived at grandaughters’ house looking presentable if a little hungry! “Help yourself,” said Daughter-in-law. I did – to a packet of crisps. Granddaughter gave me a bite of her Chomp (like a Curly Wurly but without the holes).  Then I did her ironing.

When D.I.L got home she washed and blow dried my hair. We have a mutually agreeable barter system in process – she does my hair twice a week; I pay her for one and do her ironing in exchange for the other. Since we both feel that we are getting the best end of the bargain, this works very well.

By then it was around 3.30pm. I went to Tesco and did the main monthly shop – just the thing to fill all those spaces I’d made in the cupboards! I also bought a new microwave. I don’t use a microwave that often but it’s very useful when its useful, if you know what I mean. The old one looked to be still in good condition but the dial had stopped moving which meant that everything had to be watched very carefully since the only setting was 95 minutes! (Quite what would survive being microwaved for 95 minutes I have no idea). I was also looking for new table mats but wasn’t taken with the limited range on offer. I shall take a trip to Dunelm tomorrow.

When I got home I cooked six portions of chicken (four for the freezer):

  • 2 with potatoes,roasted parsnips, carrots and peas ready for dinner tonight
  • 2 sweet & sour with peppers, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and pineapple
  • 2 with apple, parsnip & onion in a peppercorn sauce

And that was it – a whole day gone. Tomorrow’s itinerary includes the gym (with the obligatory coffee and chat with gym friends), the trip to Dunelm, then to town to buy a few necessary bits & pieces and where I am meeting up with a friend for (more) coffee. And that will be another day gone  – how the hours fly by. Saturday will be a writing day and on Sunday we are off to visit eldest son and family who moved house recently. I need some baby grandson hugs!

Incidentally, todays was a more successful cooking exercise than yesterdays when I made a banana cake…except that it wasn’t. I couldn’t understand why, when I removed it from the oven, it was flat, slightly soggy and omelette-y looking. I’ve made banana cakes before without any problem. I have to say that it tasted pretty good topped with yogurt –  like a sweet toffee/banana pudding. Nevertheless, I pondered most of the evening on what could have gone wrong. I went back to the kitchen and looked at the recipe……Bananas, flora, sugar, eggs, flour…….eeek, I forgot the flour.  Yes, I forgot the flour!!

 

 

The Button Box

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Who has a button box nowadays? I haven’t asked but I’ll bet my daughter or daughters-in-law don’t.  I have one but it’s small in comparison to the one my grandmother owned. So far as I’m aware she wasn’t a great one for sewing. Neither was my mother but she too had a considerable stock of buttons. One of my earliest memories is playing with the contents of my grandmother’s button box. I’d sort them into colours and sizes, count them, make patterns in the table and generally stay happily occupied for what seemed like ages.

Lynne Knight’s book The Button Box: The Story of Women in the 20th Century Told Through the Clothes They Wore begins by describing the delights of her own grandmother’s button box.  The book is on my list to order from the library. She writes:

           ‘I used to love the rattle and whoosh of my grandma’s buttons as they scattered from their Quality Street tin’……. [they] reached back into the past with metal-shanked beauties from the nineteenth century and came forward into my childhood with the pale blue waterlily buttons….’

The thing about button boxes is, at least in my experience,  that the contents are rarely used. Rather they are collected ‘just in case’ or because ‘they’re too good to throw out’ when the clothing to which they were once attached is discarded.

My grandmother’s button box was an old biscuit tin, my mother’s a bamboo lidded basket with handles brought back from Japan, and mine is part of a set from Dunelm… it serves the purpose but doesn’t do much in the excitement stakes!

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It’s not often that I investigate the contents of my own button box but I was looking at some old school photos of my children recently. I was reminded of my daughter who, aged about seven, asked if she could have a ‘proper’ school cardigan instead of the hand knitted variety that she had been wearing up until then. My knitting days were all but over.

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The triangular green button was cut from the last school cardigan I made. It was a basket-weave design – the uniform called for a green cardigan but with no stipulation as to the design so, with a love of the non-conventional, I put my own spin on it forgetting that children just want to be the same as their peers! I remember being so thrilled when I found some little peach coloured rabbit buttons for her baby cardigans. There were white rabbits and yellow ducks too but I’ve no idea what happened to them. Flower shapes were a favourite too but although I must have done, I can’t remember using the pink hearts. Babies don’t wear much in the way of hand-knits now, do they?

I’ve lots of metal button salvaged from the 1980s shoulder-padded ‘power’ suits that I loved wearing. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever use these buttons again. I don’t really sew any more apart from the odd replacement shirt button so I suppose the contents of my button box will remain just that.

 

 

 

 

Three lunches and a hot water bottle

It’s been such a busy week and my blog has taken a back seat. On the plus side I had an unexpected, completely free Sunday and used it to work on my novel. I wrote and edited and wrote and edited and…….you get the picture. Writers each have their own way of working. Some choose to write the whole and then go back and edit. Others, like myself, cannot move on until satisfied with each paragraph. The writer Dorothy Parker once said “I cannot write five words but that I change seven.” I can identify with that. I’ve no idea how many I wrote but I ended up with 2,000 satisfactory words and I was very happy with that.

I had three lunch dates this week. I did try to be mindful of my Slimming World membership!  The first was a belated birthday lunch with an old friend i.e. she is a couple of years younger than me but is a Friend of thirty-eight years standing. We went to a pub that I used to visit regularly in the 1970s. In those days they served scampi and chips in a basket for 55p. Isn’t it funny how the little details stay in the memory? It’s undergone many transformations over the years but it must be seven or so since I was last there so I wasn’t sure what to expect. We both decided that a starter and dessert was more appealing than a main meal. My Greek salad was ample with a very generous helping of feta cheese. It was really tasty but totally overshadowed by the ‘white chocolate creme brûlée with raspberry shortbread’. Oh my goodness, it was amazing…the best creme brûlée I have ever tasted. My friend chose the same and agreed wholeheartedly. The shortbread was sprinkled with raspberry sugar. Yum, yum, yum! That reminds me, I still haven’t tried the lavender shortbread again. The first batch I made didn’t quite make the grade.

Lunch number two was to celebrate my husband’s birthday. We visited a pub which always offers several fish dishes. Depending what is available wholesale, the menu varies. When I saw that there was fresh dressed crab on offer, there was no other choice for me. With a sprinkling of black pepper and a dash of vinegar there’s none better. It came with thick slices of soft brown bread and a salad. Two lunches out so far, and salad both times. No pudding today!

My daughter took an afternoon off work today and we met in Bridgnorth. It’s closer to her than to me but is the nicest place between the two of us. Winner of five Britain in Bloom gold medals it is situated on the edge of the River Severn in Shropshire and is split into low town and high town, the latter being reached by means of the cliff railway (or a road…thank goodness). Evidence suggests that this busy market town originated during Saxon times, and certainly the Saxon caves, known now as the Hermitage Caves were in existence then, with King Alfred’s grandson being the first inhabitant, though it wasn’t until the Normans built a castle and that a larger settlement was formed. The town boasts an array of architecturally interesting buildings. I really do have to get more practice at taking photographs. The few I took were very poor so I’ve decided not to include most of them.

 

At The Brasserie I chose a mushroom and melted cheese baguette with chips, onion rings and side salad. Shortly after we’d finished the waitress walked past with a plate of lemon meringue pie. It looked amazing and I can’t pretend that I wasn’t tempted but I did manage to resist.

Bridgenorth is a ‘moochy’ sort of place so we walked the length of the High Street where I bought a hot water bottle (more in a moment) and a couple of OPI nail polishes.   I chose a deep red and a deep purple, both pearlised which I prefer. Daughter bought new pillows and treated me to a notebook that I’d admired and then we had a coffee.

I’ve been suffering from ‘shin splints (severe cramp, not in the calf as usual, but in the shins). Extremely painful, it starts across the instep of my foot and is apparently caused by either excessive exercise (haha) or extreme cold. Now I know the weather has taken a turn for the worse in the past week but this is England in September, not a time of year known for its freezing temperatures. The only way to relieve the pain is vigorous rubbing and heat.  Though it happens during the daytime, it affects me more at night. I like to get into a cold bed but wonder whether if I warm it first, whether it will help, hence the hot water bottle.

Not the most exciting photo but here’s what I came home with:

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