Sunday, 29 June 2008


Who'd have guessed what the punters on Ebay found attractive out of my junk? If I told you I'd listed 10 classical music CD's, three travel games (Hungry Hippos, Connect 4 and Rummikub), a box of 4 jigsaws, a sake set with a little jug and four tumblers, and an ancient Sanyo cassette/radio walkman, which would you guess raised £5.50, and which a mere 99p?

Well, it was the travel Rummikub that saw the hottest action, with 3 bidders and 13 bids, reaching the heady heights of £5.50. The most exciting was the Sanyo walkman, which saw a bid in the last few seconds taking it from 99p to... wait for it... £1.04. The most interesting buyer was in Seoul, South Korea, who bought one of the CDs for 99p.

Rummikub £5.50, sake set 99p although modelled by Lola II, but nobody wanted the jigsawsThe whole thing was a proper waste of time. What with the time spent taking the photos, putting interesting copy in the listing, listing fees, weighing, wrapping and going to the Post Office, and the commission taken by Ebay and Paypal, it really wasn't worth the effort. Although eight items sold and seven didn't, I don't think I'll bother doing it again.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Makes me laugh, anyway

Johnny Depp, thinking about Lola
From a calendar, with amendment by Lola II.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Dennis the locksmith

Yesterday I got a few more things done. It's all very well having a nice holiday after all the exam slogging, but if I reach next term without having achieved at least a few of the big jobs that need doing around the house, then I'll feel slightly ashamed of myself.

One of the most interesting tasks I did yesterday was to call a locksmith. Our front door mortise lock had been a bit sticky, to the extent that one day we had to leave the house via the back door. I unscrewed the lock from the door and looked up locksmiths in to check out where I could buy a new one.

I called 'Lockmedics' and a woman answered and told me that Dennis was out at the moment, but he could call me back. He did, and suggested that he call round on his way home. This was not what I expected - I was anticipating going to a shop, showing them our lock, buying a similar one and coming home. I'm glad I called Dennis, though, because when he saw the lock, he just said "It must be the key. That's a Chubb lock, you never need to replace Chubb locks."

I offered him a cup of coffee, which he refused, then I gathered all the keys we possess, and Dennis examined them and singled out the ones that had been copied from copies of copies, then identified the original and said if we ever needed to make more copies we should use that one. Then, just in case, he opened up the lock, and found a tiny fragment of what looked like brass, which he reckoned might be what was causing the problem. He oiled it all, reassembled the lock, and even the not-very-good key worked fine. He did all this out of the back of his van, which was full of all sorts of interesting locksmith stuff.

While Dennis was hard at work, I wandered next door where Jason and Dan are working on the pub's beer garden. Since we've lived here, it's been a concrete yard surrounded by brick walls, and all the flowers and hanging baskets in the world couldn't have made it look attractive. Smurf and Mark decided to do something more drastic, which has turned out to be decking. It's going to look really good, and nice that they're using local people - Jason has occasionally been out motorcycling with Mr A, and Dan helped us out with some carpentry a while ago. Jason gave up his job as a graphic designer a few years ago to retrain as a landscape gardener, and looks pretty happy about it.

When Dennis had finished, I asked him to look at our Yale lock - might as well take advantage of an expert. He confirmed that one feature didn't work, showed me how to double lock it and suggested I screw it on to the door more firmly. One of the brass discs with a keyhole cut out of it that you fix around a keyhole was missing; Dennis gave me a new one and told me that it is called an escutcheon.

He charged me next to nothing - a fraction of what a new lock would have cost, let alone all the keys we'd have needed to cut. If we ever need a locksmith again, I know who to call.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

De-clutter update, calculators and credit card fraud

Pink flowerI've now taken one lot of clothes to the charity shop, and what's more, Mr A sorted out some of his unwanted clothes so I could take them too. I've listed 15 items on ebay, and three of them now have bids, with one standing at £3.50 with under two days to go. Who'd have thought that the most wanted item would be the travel version of the game Rummikub?

The de-clutter revealed an old calculator with its soft case and instructions, dated 27 Sept 1980. That must have been bought for my A levels, and it almost works except the seam between the back and front has split at the battery compartment so you have to hold it together to make the battery work. I must have stopped using it after A levels, because I've been using another calculator which must have been bought for my degree the first time round. That one has a whole corner broken off, but it still works too. I thought I would treat myself, though, and I splashed out on a new one. The main advance in 28 years is that now they come with a hard protective cover. Given the state of the other two, this seems like a good idea.

I had an automated call from my credit card company this morning. It asked me to call another number urgently, and because it used my real name I thought on balance that it was more likely to be real than a scam. I did call the number, but I was still highly sceptical and ready to hang up if it turned out to be some Spanish lottery or member of a Nigerian royal family.

CactusIt was real; my credit card details have been stolen, and probably because of buying fuel in a Shell garage in Stockport. Apparently there has been some publicity about dodgy card readers in some Shell garages, but I don't remember hearing about it. Anyway, no harm done, no money has been taken, and I'm grateful to the bank for having systems clever enough to pick up the problem so quickly.

These photos were taken in the Temperate House in Jephson Gardens, where I met a friend last week, and had a cup of tea and a cake in the cafe. I love being on holiday!

Friday, 20 June 2008

Civil liberties

I don't normally comment on politics, but the current hot topic of civil liberties vs. public protection is one that I feel unusually strongly about.

I saw a cartoon a while ago showing a couple inside a house, and officers of the state were removing the walls to build a fence. The house is labelled 'privacy' and the fence is labelled 'security'.

Privacy replaced by security
Mr A and I were driving around Manchester when we heard about David Davis. For those not following UK politics, there's been some discussion about how long we should lock people up before charging them. At the moment we can be held for 28 days, but the Labour Government thinks that it should be longer - 42 days - just in case. Not that 42 days has ever been needed before, and the police say that it really isn't necessary, but never mind those inconvenient facts. The Government says "The people agree with us," but I guess that most people really think it doesn't matter. To be honest, I'm not sure why I think it matters; it's not as though I expect to be arrested for anything.

But I do think it matters, and I don't think people should be locked up for six weeks without any good reason. In the debate and the vote last Wednesday the Government won, although most reports suggest that it was through pleading and political dealing, since 36 Labour MPs voted against the motion. The day after, the shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, resigned as an MP.

It was amazing: we were listening along to events as they happened and were reported on the radio. He made a speech about the 42-day issue, but also brought in all the other ways in which this country is eroding the freedoms of its citizens, and we listened live as it was delivered. Nobody seemed to have expected it, not even his own party, and you could sense researchers in the background trying to work out what the rules are in this situation. I started to feel uncomfortable - I'm left-wing by nature, and agreeing with the words of this senior Tory didn't come naturally.

By resigning, he has forced a byelection in his constituency. The intention was to focus all campaigning on this single issue, so if he were re-elected it would show that the people did not agree with the 42-day issue. But what if he were to lose? The next thing that happened was the the Liberal Democrats announced that they wouldn't put up a candidate. Wow! They were also against the Government in the vote, so this demonstrated their support of David Davis's position.

It took Labour a week to announce that they wouldn't be putting up a candidate either. Of course they couldn't - it would re-open a debate that they had already won, and if they lost the byelection then their declaration about having the people's support would be undermined.

The strange part is that although the motion for 42-day detention was passed in the House of Commons, it still has to go to the House of Lords, where everyone agrees it will be thrown out. There is some uncertainty about what happens after that - it will come back for debate in the Commons, but if the Lords maintain their position then the Government either gives in and it doesn't become law, or they force it through using the Parliament Act. As I understand it, the Parliament Act should only be used for issues that are in the Party Manifesto, and this isn't, so by rights it should eventually be dropped if the Lords don't support it.

If this is true, then a) why has the Government spent so much time and effort pushing it through the Commons against so much opposition, and b) why has David Davis taken such drastic action when it won't become law anyway? Critics suggest that he's really after the Tory leadership, but I don't see how this gets him any nearer to that, except that some of us know who he is now, where we didn't before. Could it really be a matter of principle?

I admire what he's done. I don't know whether there are ulterior motives behind the scenes, and politicians aren't known for being the most honest and trustworthy individuals, but it's been a while since someone has taken a stand for a principle that they believe in, and luckily for him it's one that I feel strongly about.

Our constituency Labour MP won by only 266 votes last time, and he doesn't stand a chance in the next election, so the Conservatives might have just stolen my vote. If they don't manage to piss me off too much in the meantime.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

What I've been reading

Image of the book cover
On Royalty
by Jeremy Paxman

"Jeremy Paxman delves deep into the past and takes a long hard look at our present incumbents to find out just what makes them tick. Along the way he discovers some fascinating and little-known details. Such as: how Albania came to advertise in England for a king; which English queen gave birth in front of 67 people; how easy it is to beat up future kings of England; and, how meeting the Queen is a bit scary."
Jeremy Paxman is an extremely good writer. He could write about the history of paint drying and it would be interesting, so take a subject that's interesting to start with, and it's utterly gripping. He's the only 'celebrity' I've ever met, and he signed my conference programme. Unforgivably, I've now lost it. I'm clearly not very good at being a proper celebrity follower.

Image of the book cover
See Delphi and Die
by Lyndsey Davis

narrated by Christian Rodska
"Greece, home of the ancient Olympic Games, is a favourite destination for Seven Sights Travel, a seedy company which provides escorted tours for wealthy travellers. When Marcus Didius Falco and Helena hear that a young girl and a newly-wed woman, both Roman visitors, have been murdered at Olympia, they step in to investigate."
You get a taste of the life in ancient Rome as well as the whodunnit aspect of the story, although I don't know how authentic the historical bits are. It's a good enough story, though.

Monday, 16 June 2008

De-clutter and the Peace Festival

Lola II came to stay this weekend, to help me clear up in much the same way as I helped her out with her paperwork. Except my filing is fine and dandy, it's all the rest of the junk in my life that needed dealing with.

Junk in my roomShe was almost as brutal with me as I was with her, and I couldn't have managed without her help. We achieved a binbag of rubbish and four carrier bags of stuff that might be useful to someone else. I'll try selling some of it on ebay, some will go to Freecycle, and the rest will end up in local charity shops.

Peace Festival montageIn between bouts of purging my life of superfluous crap, we wandered around the Peace Festival, together with other sister D and her daughter J. Luckily the weather was good, but that meant that D and J didn't want to sit in direct sun, so we missed all of the music because the shady spots were well out of the way. It was nice to sit and chat, and wander around looking at the stalls. But I'd have liked to see the bands too. When we came back to the house, D even helped out with some gardening.

I'd better get back to listing stuff on ebay, it's very time-consuming. I've only tried to sell one thing on ebay before: my saxophone, but I was looking for some serious money and I didn't get any bids at all. I've listed three items so far, and already got one bid for 99 pence. Hurray!

Sunday, 15 June 2008


Mr A needed to visit the Manchester office, stopping off on the way to see Glenn the accountant. Usually I welcome the chance to have the house to myself, but that's when there's work to be done. This time I had the bright idea that I'd go with him.

Mr A's business is in pretty good shape, really, but it's a constant worry, like a small child. If it's not making any noise, is that because everything's fine, or because something terrible has happened? The resignation of the key employee a few weeks ago was swiftly followed by the return of a valued ex-employee, plus a chance call from a graduate who wanted some work experience in a web company, and was prepared to work for a time for nothing. If he turns out OK that will help a great deal.

The Manchester office used to be run by Mr A's son out of his flat. A week ago they moved into proper serviced offices, very nice, all refurbished. It still needs a kettle, vacuum cleaner and a couple of chairs, but they're doing fine. While Mr A got stuck into the pain of running a web design company, I headed off to see Hugh and Bernadette. After I'd checked my exam results.

Hugh and the new kitten
I did brilliantly. People are good at different things, not all of them academic, and in the light of my life experience, doing well at exams doesn't necessarily contribute to the range of abilities needed in the modern workplace, for example. But I'm very good at revising and taking exams, especially when I'm so interested in the subject, and I got a First, top marks, so I'm very pleased indeed.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Comedy nights

Garden full of flowersI've been wandering about town recently taking summery pictures of flowers, trees and gardens. This one is a garden in the road next to ours.

I went to a gig on Monday night: the not-very-famous comedian Richard Herring. He's actually been a comic for a long time, but never quite broken into the big time. He has a blog, and a podcast that he does together with Andrew Collins, a not-very-famous writer and broadcaster.

It was at a local pub that has a reputation, whether deserved or not, for attracting a very young clientele - I would never have gone there if the gig hadn't been taking place. It was a hot day on Monday, and the pub smelled pretty horrible, but luckily we were downstairs in the cellar where it was cooler and less smelly. Mr A didn't come with me, because he rightly thought it would go on very late, and he had an early start the next day.

It's a regular comedy night where new and upcoming acts have the opportunity to learn their trade and practise new material, so there were three short acts along with the compere in the first half, and then another short act before Richard Herring came on. It was a very small venue, and inexperienced performers, but I was surprisingly well entertained. Nobody bombed, and a couple of them were quite good.

It was interesting to see emerging comedic technique so blatantly on display; they were truly learning their art. The compere used members of the audience for his material, asking questions and involving people directly, which worked only some of the time. Two of the acts read their jokes from clipboards, and it really wasn't a problem. I didn't find one of them so funny; he kept using disability for comedic effect, but the rest of the audience didn't seem to mind. One wasn't using notes, but had a prompt written on her hand as a kick start when she lost the thread at one point. Two of them recorded their sets - not such a bad idea. There was only one I didn't actually find funny at all, but he managed to maintain my interest in his stories, he just didn't make me laugh.

Richard Herring was obviously head and shoulders above the other acts, he's a professional. He did a good set, and I didn't time it, but it must have been less than an hour. What a life - driving around the country, in this case about two hours each way, for such a short time on stage. And then having to talk to local idiots from the audience afterwards who think they're funny, which in this case included me. Poor man, he suffers for his Art.

One of the subjects he covered was Leamington Spa itself - always a good idea, talk about the place where your audience live. What had attracted his notice was that, as he arrived, there were ducks walking in the road. This is the sort of thing that warms my heart and makes me glad to be a resident (this is becoming the strong theme of the summer). I know that London is a happenin' place and Lola II has told me often enough that it's great living there, and Richard would probably agree with her. He didn't exactly ridicule the kind of town where ducks take the place of traffic, but I got the feeling that if he hadn't actually been here, he might have.

More comedy last night when we watched the DVD of Run Fatboy Run, from Simon Pegg, who previously brought us the classics Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. It was great, although I had to brace myself for the necessary sugary Hollywood ending. At least it didn't finish with a wedding.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Nothing much

There isn't much to report, which is why I haven't been posting. You don't want an entry that says "Did nothing much today", do you?

Since the wine tasting evening, I've done some things, like cleaning parts of the house. I've starting filling in my self-assessment tax form, chatted to the neighbours (no movement on the house sale), been to the greengrocer, and enquired at the tourist information office about what the accommodation situation is like in the town during the Bowls National Championships. We're hoping to have a party in the summer, and the preferred date coincides with this key event. We're not expecting many people will want to stay over, but if they do, their B&B options will be quite limited.

Last night we watched 'No Country for Old Men', which is the recent Oscar-winning film by the Coen brothers. It is good, but I'm not giving anything away when I say that everyone gets killed except the sheriff, and it gets a bit tiring towards the end.

I could list endless interesting things that I am going to do, but it's probably safer to wait until I've done them. So instead, here's a picture I took of someone's front garden in town a couple of weeks ago.


Thursday, 5 June 2008

Wine tasting

It's very late and I shouldn't be blogging at this hour, but Mr A's away and I've just come back from a great evening. It was a wine tasting event, held at a health spa salon boutique in town, hosted by a great charity called NCT (National Childbirth Trust) and featuring local wine supplier SH Jones.

Having no children, I have no personal experience of NCT, but at least four people I know rate it very highly so that's good enough for me. The NCT contact on this occasion was Sophie who lives round the corner, and she'd taken me to one of these wine tastings before and it was excellent. So I left a message on her phone during the day asking what the arrangements were for this evening, and didn't get any reply, so I turned up on her doorstep. She'd forgotten all about it, and didn't have any childcare, so she couldn't actually go. We couldn't find a stand-in for her ticket, either.

I'm not entirely comfortable among the trappings of health spa treatment places, with their endless plinky plonky nondescript piped music and the threat of depilation round every corner. I need all the hair I've got: it's cold in this country. So I tried to ignore all the mirrors and creams and stuff, and concentrated on the booze.

SH Jones was uncredited in yesterday's list as part of no.19: local shops (independent). We tasted one sparkling wine/champagne, three whites, one rosé and two reds (I haven't got the names because I gave Sophie the sheet with the details). They were very nice, especially the red that came one before last, at £3.99 a bottle. I talked to a couple who were planning a holiday in France, I didn't win anything in the raffle, and staggered home in a very good mood.

I really like living here.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

I love Leamington Spa

I really love where I live.

I sat down recently and thought I would write a list of all the things I like about Royal Leamington Spa, the town where I live with Mr A. The following list came out just like this, in no particular order. All of it within 20 minutes walk from our house.
  1. Jephson Gardens and the Pump Room Gardens: the wonderful green spaces that run alongside the river all through town.
  2. The river Leam itself: the weir, the canoe club and the annual races. The only downside is that the river has flooded on a couple of occasions, filling our cellar during the worst inundation. That was before we lived here, in April 1998.
  3. The bowling greens and the bowlers, especially during the National Championships when they close our road to traffic.
  4. Victoria Park, with its tennis courts, paddling pool, play area and skateboard park. They even have cycling, running and walking races there.
  5. Pubs: The Cricketers (of course), The Star and Garter and The Red House in order of distance from our front door. We don't see the Star and Garter or the Red House much nowadays.
  6. Newbold Comyn, which is a relatively wild area with a golf course as well. There's an play area with stuff that's suitable for older children (i.e. me), and a hill, which is the only high ground around the town. There's also the sports centre and swimming pool, which I have only been inside once, but it's nice to know it's there should I need it. It's where we played rounders when I used to organise the badminton club summer picnic.
  7. The Apollo cinema and Royal Spa Centre - two music and film venues within walking distance. I should include Kellys, even though we don't go there any more, for having the most unconventional manager and clientele. And not quite walking distance, but definitely in cycling distance: Warwick Arts Centre.
  8. The annual Leamington Peace Festival, which is the oldest of its kind, or something. Taking place over a weekend in a couple of weeks' time, it's free to all, and has all sorts of strange stalls and services as well as live music. Not so much fun when it rains. It usually rains.
  9. Lansdowne Crescent and Lansdowne Circle: a crescent and a small cul-de-sac in the Regency style with beautiful houses and gardens. Lovely architecture.
  10. The glorious gothic town hall and nearby statue of Queen Victoria, who awarded the town its 'Royal' status. Her statue is an inch or two off-centre on its plinth, due to a WWII bomb that fell a bit too close and made her jump.
  11. Holly Walk: a wide avenue bordered by trees that is a slightly longer but very pleasant walk into town. A new sushi bar is advertised on this road - I have warned Lola II that I might not need to visit her any more if I can buy sushi in my home town...
  12. Our own house, garage and garden. It's perfect. If only we could maintain it in the order it deserves. I have a few jobs to do over the summer.
  13. Our neighbours: Mr A knows nearly everyone in the three roads that form our little enclave, because he is so often in the garage and people stop to chat.
  14. The mainline station that has direct trains to London, Oxford, Bournemouth, Birmingham, Manchester and Scotland. Chiltern Railways runs between London and Birmingham, and is one of the nicest train companies in Britain, I'd say.
  15. The town's restaurants, especially Eleven, Casa Valle, Wilde's, Paprika Club, Five Rivers, Oscar's and the Thai Elephant. I'd include the Saxon Mill and the White Lion but they aren't within walking distance, although we did walk to the Saxon Mill along the canal once.
  16. Mill Road footbridge over the weir, which used to be our route into town from our rented flat on Leam Terrace when we first moved to Leamington. I really miss that walk over the bridge and through the park into town.
  17. Clarke's greengrocer shop, and the Regency fishmonger's shop. Clarke's is an amazing place, with vegetables and other goods in racks, on the floor, hanging from the ceiling, on the walls, outside and everywhere else you look. It's all fresh, often unusual, and I'm so glad I decided to forgo the out of town supermarket in favour of local shopping where possible.
  18. T&H motors, despite the car seat fiasco earlier this year. They know our names, and are always as helpful and friendly as can be.
  19. Local shops, both independent and national: especially Waterstones, Bravissimo, and all the art shops that seem to have migrated here, the organic food shop where I get olives and the Asian supermarket for noodles and pickles. Even though I don't do shopping, I love the fact that I could walk around town and find almost anything I want. The two shops I actually used to go into have now both closed: Hawskhead and Fopp. I wonder if it was my fault.
  20. The Pump Room Library: I love a library, and this one is even open on Sundays. The building houses an exhibition about the baths that used to be there, an art gallery and a café.
What I might do is wander about taking pictures, and doing a few blog entries about all of these. Or I might not.

After I'd finished that list, I thought I try and think of things that weren't so good about living here. The only one I came up with, and it's pretty pathetic, is that we are a long way from the sea, in every direction. About as far from the sea as it is possible to be on this island. That's not too bad. We're very lucky.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Certificate in Advanced Filing

That last exam was a cinch, and I feel strangely bereft without something to learn, to the extent that on my trip to London to spend some 'quality' time with Lola II, I brought the Pocket Guide to Clinical Nutrition. Lola II and I learned about clinical handling of diabetes on our tube trip home. It's just so interesting.

This visit to Lola II, apart from being a post-exam treat, has a serious intention. She has a small problem with paperwork. Not at work, where everything is thoroughly shipshape, but at home, where it doesn't really matter. So she drafted me in to assist with an attempt to get everything in order and impose a System that will be easy to maintain.

Before embarking on the Herculean task, we started out with some R&R, and went to see the Mike Leigh film 'Happy-Go-Lucky'. Very good, and lots of food for thought afterwards, which is the kind of film I like. And there were two old ladies behind us in the nearly empty cinema, who commented on what was going on in a way that would have been annoying if it weren't so funny. "Ooh, look, there's a bed, they're in the bedroom," one of them said, when the screen characters were in the bedroom.

But on Saturday morning the work started, no more mucking about. Well, maybe some mucking about, we can't help mucking about a bit. I started by asking Lola II to show me all the stuff that needs putting away and filing. I knew I'd seen a bit on the living room table, and she has a plastic box with stuff in it, but she took me on a tour of the flat, and I think there was stuff in every room except the bathroom. Even the kitchen. It was very, very impressive. We put it all on a table (actually, it wouldn't all fit on a table) and I stood back in admiration.

Paperwork on floorMy idea was to think up as many categories as possible, and put all the stuff in the categories, and then put it all in a filing cabinet in suspension files labelled with the categories. Not an original idea, but an impossible mountain to climb alone when you have a busy social life and just empty your handbag onto the floor when it gets too full. Lola II had a filing cabinet, but it only had two drawers. And they were full.

Paperwork on tableToday is Sunday, and we have achieved a great deal. The whole of the living room floor started out covered with all the paperwork in the chosen categories. We went out and bought a filing cabinet, and even carried it between us up the metal stairs to the door of Lola II's flat. That was quite hard, but we are Strong and Determined. Most of the categorising work was already done when we had to take a short break because a friend came to fit a second telephone point, so the modem cable doesn't trail across the hall.

Piles of receiptsThe placing of documents in categories seemed to turn out very well. With a little help, Lola II attacked some of the more difficult categories early on, such as the variety of documents associated with the building where her flat is located - company tax, insurance, maintenance, the purchase of her flat, ongoing improvements and so on. Her own financial information was also a tricky one, but we made it, with a certain amount of detective work.

We were still working hard late into the evening, but I was able to break off and write some of this, because - and I am so proud - Lola II has graduated. Yes, by 9 p.m. on Sunday she was deciding for herself how things could be categorised, and coming up with new ways of combining the files.

FilingIn only two days, we have turned a mountain of paperwork secreted in every corner of the flat into a well-ordered fully-labelled entity, filling more than fifty suspension files in one beautifully crafted four-drawer filing cabinet. Plus several ring binders, three box files, a full sack of rubbish, a sack of paper for recycling and another sack of paper for shredding. And she has two new telephone points as well.

It is also worth noting, as an additional burden, Lola II has been coming down with what looks like the same cold that I had two weeks ago. She has been very brave, and worked through it, mostly because I gave her no other option. You have to be cruel to be kind.