Friday, 30 July 2010

My Builder Hell

Builders, eh? You can't kill 'em - apparently there's laws and stuff.

This is my current view from my upstairs office/bedroom where I spend my days - usually a lovely view down the lovely garden.

I've had some bad experiences with builders, it has to be said. You can always tell when you've had workmen in the house: huge fingerprints like bruises, no milk and someone's had a shit in the loft.

They say things like: "Ooh, your combi overhead gasket's gone, you'll need four ply raw plugs for that". I had a plumber once who said my radiators needed bleeding. I didn't even know you could get Halal plumbers. 

Sorry - I'm ranting, I know. But I'm at the end of my tether.

The really annoying people next door are having an extension built along the party wall - this has involved nearly three months where the wall between us has been knocked down, foundations dug and a massive new 4m+ brick wall is being built along the entire length of the property. I can't begin to tell you how intrusive it is having a dozen different (but all noisy and careless) blokes tramping up and down on the new patio - but legally there's nothing you can do. 

Second pic is taken from the bottom of the garden looking at the new wall on the other side. Can you see the conservatory behind that? Nope? They built a wall blocking off their other neighbour's conservatory!

They started out with someone actually called Bob the Builder. Then it was Steve the Slacker. The new guy in charge must be Ian the Incompetent Bastard.  The wall goes up and up - the scaffolding is now level with my bedroom/office.

I work for the council, and to save money once I got some of the road builders come in to put in a patio.  So they dug a big hole in the yard, made the raised beds one way only and put in a contraflow around the wisteria. For 6 months the washing was down to two lines only.

I agree, we need builders sometimes. But you just can't trust them. They promise the world but they don't give a toss and half the time they're winging it.

I  had a really good one once, and so I asked him to build a cellar under the house and then when he was finished I locked him in it!  So then if I need any jobs doing, I'd have him on tap.

After a while I thought, well as he's down there anyway, I might as well use him as a sex slave. But it didn't work out.  Either it wasn't the right width, or he needed a special tool, or there was a part missing he had to order from Sweden. And he could only keep going for about half an hour without a tea break. But I digress...

What am I to do? How do I get my own back on the neighbour? ... and what useful things can I use the scaffolding for while it's up?

P.S. More on 'The Great Wall of Next Door' and what to do with it in this post: A Blank Canvas

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A Ladybird Book Changed My Life

"Books can be dangerous.  The best ones should be labeled: 'This could change your life.'"  - Helen Exley

Did a book you read when you were young ever send you in an unlikely direction?

When I was about seven or eight I had amongst my Ladybird books a couple of slim volumes from their 'Travel Adventure' series. I think the central premise was a businessman father who took his children on some of his business trips. 

I don't know why it attracted me so much, but there was one picture in 'Flight Six - The Holy Land' that stuck in mind so strongly I can still see it. The travellers visited a kibbutz and the picture was of pretty young women wearing dirndl skirts and picking oranges. The sun shone and everybody was smiling. My imagination was seized.

So when, years later, I finally escaped from A High Street Bank, where else was I going to head? It probably would never have happened if I hadn't read the book. I wouldn't have known what a kibbutz was and it would have sounded much dodgier (this was 1990 - just before Saddam Hussein started lobbing missiles at Israel to retaliate for the first Desert Storm) if I hadn't had this mental image of sun, oranges and, yes, dirndl skirts.

I think this photo of me must have been taken at more or less the same spot as the illustration on the cover. It's the southern end of the Sea of Galilee with Jordan in the distance. No dirndl skirt or sheep, but you have to admit they're pretty whacky shorts. 

It certainly was an adventure - the rest of my which, I'll save for another time.

What books have changed your life?

"How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book." - Harold Bloom

Why oh why oh why?

Caution: No jokes in this post!

I haven't blogged for a week - I've been thinking, or rather having a crisis of faith - in writing that is.

The eternal dilemma of the literary-minded person is how to fit in both reading and writing and the relative value of each.

Do you ever stop and think that the time you're putting in to your own novels/ stories/ poems you could be reading better ones at a fraction of the effort? 

(Actually, I should stop and think about how the time I'm putting into 'stopping and thinking' is stopping me from both writing and reading - but that's another issue!)

(...and another 'another issue' is why read or write fiction at all? Wouldn't be so much better informed and interesting if we confided ourselves to non-fiction?)

Do you know what I've put it down to, this desire to write our own stories rather than read other people's?


Writers are obviously control freaks. They like words. They like stories. Some of us even like poems. But while there is a lot to commend in the works of [insert names of your own example authors here... I can't choose!] et al, I can't help thinking I wouldn't have given my hero such a frilly name as Mr Darcy, I would have mentioned both sexes in 'If' and I could have done so much more with the Phantom of the Opera. We want to put the words in our characters' mouth, and the stories to pan out in our way, finish when we say. It's our way of making sense of the world.

I don't consider myself to be particularly controlling. I like my CDs in a certain order and I baulk at being told to do things I don't consider sensible, but I'm not psychotic about it. And yet I've always had this strong desire to write. Sometimes all it is is a desire - a fantasy without words - but it's a powerful and defining desire. Maybe I should put it from my mind, recognise it as a whim, get on with 'real' life. Or maybe I should knuckle down to it again - pick up the abandoned novel, the monthly writing targets, and blog more since it's one of the few things prompting me to actually write at the moment.

I don't know. What do YOU think? Why do you write? Why oh why oh why? Comments below, please.

(And, while you're down there - what would you change about your favourite tales?)

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Pools, fools and broken rules

It's been a funny old day with one thing and another. 

I got a bit wet with all that rain - which was odd because I was inside the library. I'm reliably informed this happens all the time (although presumably only when it's raining) and we're waiting to see if we can have a new roof.

Then someone was passing round a list of real questions people have asked librarians:

'Do you have books here?'

'Do you have a list of all the books I've read'?

'Do you have any books with photographs of dinosaurs?'

'Can you tell me why so many famous battles were fought on National Park sites?'

'Where in the library can I find a power socket for my hair dryer?'

'Do you have that book... it's by a local author, I don't remember the name of the author or the title of the book, but it's a big one.'

There are more of them here.

Meanwhile, there have been missives from The Powers That Be regarding money-savings, which include a biscuit embargo and severe cutbacks on 'casual photocopying'. I'm not entirely sure what 'casual photocopying' is - maybe it's when you do it in your PJs. Someone suggested they mean 'frivolous or unnecessary copying' and in an attempt to clarify this I asked whether it was when you are photocopying your own arse?

Then I remembered - I had promised myself I wouldn't say 'arse' in the library again.

Then My Favourite Artist visited and made me say 'penis' again so my copybook is well and truly blotted now. Just a fortnight away from finishing my probationary period too.

But by far my favourite line of the day was from a little old lady this afternoon. I was having trouble making out what she was saying when she announced: 'Oh, I've just realised - I've come out without me teeth!"

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

My Lake District Hell

I'm off to the Lake District for a few days tomorrow - that'll make it rain. (Have you SEEN the weather forecast?)

Having never really been there before (just a couple of days a few years ago, or driving through en route to Scotland) - which is crazy considering some of the places I have been - my impression has always been of somewhere bleak and damp, looming hills, without the easy charm and ice-cream-scoffing nuns of say, the Italian Lakes.

It will be heaving with holiday-makers, awash with torrential floods and snooing with* murderous taxi drivers.

So I was delighted to find in a guide book in the library a couple of quotes that matched my own (probably errant) expectations:

William Gilpin, on Grasmere: "The whole view is entirely of the horrid kind. Not a tree appeared to add the least chearfulness [sic] to it. With regard to the adorning of such a scene with figures, nothing could suit it better than a group of banditti. of all the scenes I ever saw this was the most adapted to the perpetration of some dreadful deed."

Daniel Defoe, from A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (English Library) on Westmorland in the 1720s: “a country eminent for being the wildest, most barren and frightful of any that I have passed over in England, or even Wales itself.”

This quote is especially enjoyable as it manages to put the boot in about Wales in the same breath.

And was it not Wordsworth himself who wrote (in an early draft):

I wandered moaning with the crowds
That blot the highways, hills and vales
When all at once I saw some clouds
Oh bloody hell, it's grim as Wales.

Let's hope I'm wrong. It happens. After all the Lake District was voted Britain's greatest natural wonder ahead of Scottish Highlands. Of course I daren't say anything against the Highlands or The Good Doctor will bite my knees.

So I may or may not be online before Sunday depending on wifi - but feel free to agree or disagree wildly in the comments if you feel inclined.

* This is an expression my mum uses but most people claim never to have heard of such a thing - this might be one for the Inkyfool

Tuesday, 6 July 2010


Now that I'm settling in to my new job as a library assistant, I'm getting a sense of what the locals are borrowing... and it's disturbing news.

It's a big branch, but while we have maybe five books about hamsters, six about Mallorca and none at all on public consultation there are entire shelves of non-fiction books about serial killers. The crime section, too, is very popular - mainly with little old ladies. I am getting an 'Arsenic and Old Lace' feeling about all of this. I mean they all seem very nice. It's just... well, a bit unsettling.

Quite a few serial killer films, too. I borrowed Wolf Creek from the DVD library last week. VERY glad I didn't watch that before campervanning in the Australian Outback (especially as we travelled through places were it was filmed - see pictures above - spot which one's me!).  The same is true of Left for Dead in the Australian Outback - How I survived 71 days Lost in a Desert Hell... with a title like that you barely need to read the book.

But then, it seems I may not need to go around the world to stumble across a serial killer - they could be all around me with their concessionary tickets, sensible shoes and tartan shopping trolleys ... full of body parts. 

And just so you don't have nightmares, here's a picture of a real creek I visited down under. Sweet dreams everyone!

Friday, 2 July 2010


Well I can't pretend it's been a great success.

I spent the entire day yesterday determined to take part in the Bugged challenge I blogged about on Wednesday. I was going to dip my net into the swirl of newly-fashioned and authentic bon mots, malapropisms, 'found' poetry and intriguing confessions that surrounds us all the time. I was going to listen to Other People.

I started out in the Birkenhead Park Visitor Centre cafe where all I got was a general hubbub... who knew there'd be a convention of generals there that day?

Proceeding in a Wirral Line direction from Birkenhead Park station to Liverpool Central, the only conversations I could catch any part of (with the bloody windows open*) mainly concerned the order in which the stations came and what time it was. Slim pickings.

  • 'What kind of dress do you want to buy?'
  • 'I'll know it when I see it.'

Once in the bustling metropolis I positioned myself in various likely locations: the 'waiting' benches outside Primark for those too easily alarmed to step inside; a small crowd around a police van; the queue in Poundland; an exotic shoe emporium; Body Shop - which I was hounded out of by over-friendly assistants asking if they could help. 

There are significant difficulties in eavesdropping:

  1. There are LOTS of foreign people in Liverpool: tourists (yes - really!), students, waifs and strays from the Capital of Culture year. I'm simply not equipped to eavesdrop in Serbo-Croat or Chinese.
  2. Even for a local, the Scouse accent is often unintelligible... and very, very fast.
  3. My hearing's not great -I find it hard to separate individual voices from the hubbub. That's why you can't talk to me when there's a telly or radio on in the background - it just all blurs together.
  4. Much of what people say really isn't that interesting/ unusual/ usable.

Foot-sore, hungry and looking for company (people were starting to look at me suspiciously, see left) I turned my attention to cafes. I met up with Moptop and we talked too much** to catch what anyone else was saying. But, as I said to her, it would have been so much better if we could have been listening to us. We were in FACT by now and wondered if any of the arty types were doing the same thing.

'So where did you put the body?' I asked her in a stage whisper. But no-one scribbled in their pad. 

We tried another cafe. That was our excuse. Two promising-looking young men talked earnestly nearby. I stopped short of shouting across: 'Speak up, laddie!' 

Best lines of the day?

  • 'I had a banana yesterday and couldn't stop scratching.'
  • 'So I said: What are you going to put in the gap where the carpet stops?'
  • 'So one by one, he killed his imaginary friends.'

And, yes, you're absolutely right. They were all from Moptop.

So - did any of you do better? Where do you go to eavesdrop and what did you hear?

p.s. Kass did - Did You Pick Up The Eaves I Dropped?

* They weren't actually bloody. That would have made a better story.... hmmm... strokes imaginary beard

** The usual erudite and literary stuff - disgruntled poets, 'the perfect sandwich' and some kind of golden shower event put on by her friend the Italian.