Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Let them eat cake...

Today was something of a first and a last for me. The first time I've been to a garden party and wandered aimlessly around Buckingham Palace gardens. And probably the last time I'll be allowed back. Not that I did anything naughty just that that's what most of my readers would presume...


Queue hats...
Best laid plans of mice and harridans meant that I didn't actually leave my office until after 2pm for a 2pm start, which was nice. On the bright side it meant I was expecting queues from Buck House to the home counties. Wherever they are. The event was part of the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the Women's Institute.

I wasn't disappointed, the queue from the main gate was along most of Constitution Hill, but fortunately it disappeared before I found my intended queue at Hyde Park Corner. I whiled away the time chatting with a lovely lady from Wiltshire - I think - who was looking for her mum as she knew she was there and wearing a hat...

Hats. There were a lot of them.

I was definitely in the minority as I didn't have one as a) my head is slightly larger than Phobos and b) it was a trifle windy and I'm actually not as daft as I look.

Fortunately the extremely well behaved queue moved quite quickly and after a quick look at my passport and a suppressed smirk from the policeman we were inside. I forgot to mention, we were warned clearly, everywhere, that no pictures were to be taken and phones should be switched off.

It seemed only I read that bit...

Hats. And cranes.
There were endless excited ladies of a certain age having their photo taken amongst Lizzy's shrubbery, I even took one for the nice lady from Wiltshire, though had to decline one of me as yes said phone was firmly switched off.

We meandered through the fabulous parkland with no idea of where we were going until we reached a frenzy of hats and heels. As near as I could gather this was waiting to meet a royal lady in a hat who also probably had heels. Sort of a cult thing was all I could thing.

At which point I fell in to conversation with a fabulous lady from Oxford. When I say conversation I really mean cackling, lets's just say we were kindred spirits and had an almost identical sense of the occasion...

Nobody but me and a tree :-)
Eventually she went off to attempt to get near the tea tent as I wandered off to have a snout round the garden. I didn't actually get massively far as I found a bench by the lake under a glorious tree where I sat and thought. Living in London you don't get much time in the open to yourself and there was something utterly magical about being so isolated with the sound of the wind in the trees drowning the traffic on Grosvenor Place and beyond.

A lady came to join me, I explained that I was simply enjoying the peace because normally in London I get so little, she made to go but I insisted she was welcome. It turns out she was from Norfolk so I naturally asked whereabouts, she launched in to a familiar explanation of "about 15 miles south of Norwich" when I interrupted her and said where my Norfolk house is. We chatted amiably for quite a while before we wandered back towards the tea tent as she explained she'd come down from Norfolk with friends and she'd mislaid them. Oops. Turned out that you will always find a Norfolk lass near food as they were all there when we wandered in.

Band. Ladies. Hats.
In the queue I began chatting with a lady from Northamptonshire, I think, she'd left at 7am to get there! I admitted I didn't leave until 2pm... She couldn't quite get that I was happy to have just one small slice of victoria sponge and a cup of tea. For me the joy was in simply being out and soaking up the atmosphere.

As the day wore on I slowly wandered towards one of the two military bands that were entertaining the massed hats though I was slightly distracted by a tub of ice cream that a young man with a tray offered me. It would have been rude to say no...

After a few hours of being windswept I decided it was time to head home, I'd toyed with the idea of popping in to Duke's for a martini as I was so close, or maybe wandering up to Claridge's for similar, but as ever the feeling of not wanting to drink alone in a place won over so I scuttled to Green Park and the journey to Contrary Towers.

It was a pity I didn't bump in to any of the ladies I wanted to bump in to but it was also unsurprising and really didn't detract from what was a very pleasant afternoon.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Doing nothing special...

Yesterday afternoon I received a whatsapp message from our foreign correspondent asking:

Done anything fun this week?

Initially I replied in the negative, probably because at the time I was metaphorically knee deep in trying to understand what was available in a new system. But then I realised I was talking out of my proverbial derrière. So since I last wrote...

Well firstly there was a WI meeting where we had people from Dragon's Hall to talk about tech to the ladies. I have to say it was probably one of the most successful evenings we've had an ages as almost everyone had looks of wonder on their faces as they tried the new toys.

And the best thing? Well as it's rather my day job I could just zone out and natter which was good as my batteries were beginning to fail after a very busy week!

Saturday morning heralded the arrival of the offspring who were dropped off for the weekend. I half expected the elder offspring to agree to join the littlest offspring and I on a trip to Mudchute Farm which, as its name implies, is in Mudchute on the Isle of Dogs. Near Canary Wharf. Yes, there.

I've been meaning to go for ages and having a small boy in tow seemed the perfect excuse to have a nose around! And I'll say if you fancy a wander in a little bit of countryside in the big bad city I can't recommend it highly enough. Especially as the wildlife were so tame that when I squealed squirrel they
didn't even flinch the teeniest bit.

And it was free. Which is always a win.

Back home in Contrary Towers I was persuaded to try flying the kite and as I couldn't really bring myself to wander to the park we went on the roof and flew one from there. If nothing else it's very windy...

Sunday brought the threat of a trip to the Natural History Museum. Now I live in London. Which means day to day I have to suffer a) tourists and b) the underground. Not necessarily in that order. So the idea of heading to one of the most tourist infested places in the capital on a bank holiday weekend wasn't exactly high on my list of things to make me sing with joy.

To paraphrase, I'd rather eat my foot with a spoon.

But the littlest offspring wanted to go so I packed a small packed lunch to keep him going, threw the sun block in my go-bag and after confirming that the eldest was not going to be joining us we set off to the DLR as Mile End was utterly closed.

Of course it was.

The miracle though came when we arrived in South Kensington... There wasn't a queue at the entrance. THERE WASN'T A QUEUE. Crikey. So off we wandered and saw fossils, volcanoes and rode an earthquake simulator. And this kept us entertained for an hour or two until it was offspring refueling time.

Needless to say having stopped, eaten, had an ice cream and a general natter we decided not to go back in as the queue had appeared so after the call was made that somebody needed to go to the loo we headed to the V&A where I managed to persuade the littlest offspring to actually look at some displays...

Sunday evening brought a visit by my lovely friend Stef to eat, drink and make merry. That and I needed some adult conversation.

Monday was... well let's not say too much about that. The big thing today was that the littlest offspring wanted to try flying the kite again. Which pretty much comes down to me running around, skirts flying trying to find a breath of air to make the thing take off. Which it did. For a bit. And then crashed down.

The trouble is this was the kite we found at the surfline of Scarborough beach last year. It was cheap, poorly made and after a life afloat was a little knackered. Also it had clearly flown away from its previous owner so is known to be uncooperative.

But isn't there something magical about a serendipitous kite?

A few modifications were needed so it was out with my sewing machine to repair the seams, lock the structural rods in place and attach a longer tail which I fashioned from a length of wrapping ribbon.

But we never got to try it as their ride had turned up to take them back home. But not before we all scooted off to The Crown by Victoria Park for a spot of lunch with Stef followed by a brief promenade and ice-cream.

Needless to say I was quite squiffy so a several hour nap was in order...

The next day it was back to Fitzrovia for that there work thing. Which was good as a lot of progress has been made recently on a major re-engineering project for the core Energyhive system. Now this went well until sometime in the afternoon when everybody appeared at my desk with cake, fizz and the HotPerm™ wearing a party hat.

The boss told me I wasn't to commit any further code that afternoon so in a rare moment of me actually doing what I'm told I didn't. And finished the bottle.

As you do.

Noisy sods.
Wednesday brought the long awaited trip to the O2 to see Fleetwood Mac with my lovely friends Clarissa and Ryan. The place was packed, the atmosphere electric and the music just wonderful. Having not been to the O2 before I had no idea how bad the crowds would be leaving so the planned Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf then 277 home wasn't going to happen. It would have been quicker swimming the Thames, though that's dangerous so don't try it kids.

Obligatory safety notice done.

Anyway. Home by just before midnight and as Ryan was going to crash here rather than attempting to find a passing charabanc to take him to Essex I broke out the Victoria sponge and made cake eating a compulsory entry requirement.

Next morning I awoke groggily and somehow made progress through the day before scuttling down to the Trafalgar Square Waterstones to meet Stef and hear a talk by Lucy-Anne Holmes of No More Page Three fame.

It was a fascinating talk and I sat next to Stephanie Davies from the campaign, I met her a couple of years ago when she came to talk to my WI about the campaign. There was plenty to take away but the thing I like the most was learning that the now infamous text layout was based on the Frankie Says Relax t-shirts.

Needless to say after the event Stef and I retired to a local hostelry and test their chateau plonk and finish a lovely evening.

Friday night... Okay now this was an unexpected delight as I was invited to dinner by an old and dear friend. We met at Toms Kitchen in St Katharine Docks and proceeded to enjoy the bubbly delights of champagne. Obviously I complained endlessly about the lack of actual plates to eat of, but the pie was really good so they are forgiven. And I was given a plate in the end...

For pudding I chose another special, it duly arrived and before I could take a bite I was told it was the wrong one as it was the old special the one on the board being for tomorrow. Err. Whatever. As it was it was delicious, which was a win. When I was almost finished another pudding arrived. The one I actually ordered as I think the staff felt bad.

So I ate that too.

Is it any wonder I'm the size I am? Anyway, it did mean the rather lovely and friendly waitress could ask my opinion and I'm afraid the first was definitely the best.

And this brings me to today. The big news is that the intrepid traveller has upped sticks and scuttled to Dubrovnik as she begins her long journey home. Hopefully very long as I've not finished tidying the house. Did I say finished? Started. Yes, that's the word.

Ooh, but I did receive a postcard which is exciting in itself and here's an image of it next to the invitation for next weeks excitement when I skip off to Buckingham Palace...

But that will be another tale.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Blood, sweat and airheadedness

I'm sure that's a real word. Owing to me slightly forgetting that I needed to set a doctor's appointment before my HRT ran out, well, yes, I had to scamper along to get an extra month as it will run out before the date I've booked.


Anyway, I also asked for a blood test as I was supposed to have one after three months to check whether my oestrogen levels were still low and my stroppiness high. Oh, wait, no that was cholesterol being high. I was asked to wait so the doctor could sign my form then trotted off to 55 Wimpole Street where the Doctor's Laboratory is.

Or, as it turned out, was.

I was so busy reading the form to check where I needed to add my address that I didn't notice the address change on the top of the form. But did see it on the door as I was about to go in. Oops.

Fine, whatever.

Fortunately the new place is on my way back to the office. Also fortunately they were as stunningly speedy as ever, I was in and out, bloods taken, in under ten minutes. Though I must say I don't like the decor of the new place. Fussy, I know. I also had a new phlebotomist which unsettled me. I've had the same Australian girl testing me over the last few years and whilst Simon was very efficient I didn't feel the friendly warmth that I used to get. It also meant my stress levels shot up and I had a hot flush. Great.

Oh well, I'll know for next time when I'm sure I'll be less off an airhead.


Meanwhile back at the ranch...

Whilst the wanderer is out making like a walrus and eating fish, something like that, it's been very quiet in Contrary Towers. As it's midweek and I'm working not a great deal is happening other than me endlessly swearing at the underground on a morning and then tourists on the evening as I march to Embankment.

The big news though is that owing to me a) forgetting to buy any bread and b) not being in the mood to make any I've c) finally rekindled a taste for porridge. This is good, right? Healthy and everything!

Especially when laden with nananas and honey.

Okay so maybe I've not quite got this one right. But at least it gives me an excuse to use the spurtle.

Things will get a little busier at the weekend as I have the offspring visiting for the bank holiday, fortunate really seeing as there might be a rail strike that would have caused me a bit of an issue if I'd headed to Norfolk. But before that I will continue to dodge the rain, forget to do things, and have very early though invariably sleepless nights.

I need a break.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Whilst the cat's away...

Normally you'd expect this mouse to play, however this first week with just one Contrarian meant more sleepless nights and trying to make myself useful.

Which I singularly failed to do on Saturday.

Victoria Park
Instead I took myself up to Victoria Park to spend some time with my lovely friend Veep. This mostly involved walking around the park for a while before having a natter over wine. I mean that's kind of productive, right? And the park was oh so pretty at dusk with happy groups of people sitting around after a day in the sun.

And not napping as I had managed.

Sunday involved a trip to the Fortnum and Mason of E14 which was a delight to behold and something everyone should aspire to do.

If they are insane.

I really don't know what I was thinking, the worst place to be on a Sunday is the Burdett Road Lidl as the entire populace has clearly forgotten that they needed food and must rush out to get it now. Which would be okay if they didn't bring their entire family with them to share the moment.

After a soothing nanana milkshake (two nananas, remains of cornish ice cream, milk, blend, wince at ice cream headache) I tackled the uncharted territory of the downstairs loo. Now you have to understand that whilst we have this for guests we almost never use it as it's normally crammed with shoes, more shoes, bags, extra shoes, boots and a few more bags along with the evil vacuum cleaner, skittles, bits of artwork that have been forgotten about and my trusty zebra trolley bag.

In short, it's not our finest moment. Though it's also not the worse place in Contrary Towers.

After fevered activity and supported by a glass of chateau plonk from a Chez Lidl bag-in-box - I know, all of the class - I managed to somehow beat the room in to shape and empty all the remnants out of various handbags before finally finding a new home for goodness knows how many pairs of boots.

I imagine the room won't last long in this state...

The next job was the scary one... As we will need somewhere to store various bits and pieces of Clare's when she buggers off for her big adventure next year I really needed to do something about the tumult of the useless store cupboard.


You know the phrase it will get worse before it gets better? Yep, that. Just imagine chaos in cardboard. I wasn't totally mean though, I kept contacting the happy wanderer to see if she really wanted to keep X and then relocated whatever it was to the bins. Fortunately by this point Veep turned up and fortified by wine we made a number of trips to the recycling and waste bins to get rid of stuff, stuff and more stuff.

Ta da!
Very cathartic.

So now the cupboard is clear, reorganised and I even managed to not throw out everything! It'll never catch on.

So all in all an unexpectedly productive weekend. I even created a new dictionary definition for a word...

Declare: to make your kitchen spotless whilst your flatmate is on holiday.

Well it made me giggle...

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Pease Pudding in the Pot...

As some of you know I'm quite northern. My days of parading around Newcastle in a short dress and heels as the snow lays deep and crisp and even may now be at an end, but some characteristics remain. I know, amazing.

The biggest is food. The sort of food that would leave the average southerner might gape at in heart attack inducing wonder. But, amazingly it's not all bad for you. Some even passes as healthy. Ish.

Pease pudding.

I get a craving for this from time to time. What I really* want is a stottie cake, pease pudding and a saveloy dip, but sadly the nearest branch of Dicksons to me is about 270 miles away. I know that they do a saveloy dip kit, but seriously, I want the real thing. There.

My Aunty Sheila still smuggles contraband saveloy dips in to Norfolk when she visits...


As I was saying, I get cravings. The last time I couldn't find any yellow split peas in either Poplar's answer to Fortnum or the WORST TESCO IN THE WORLD. Shocking.

Fast forward a few months to me finding a huuuggggeeeee back of them in the Isle of Dogs Asda. So I could make pease pudding. And that always means... gammon!

You'll need:

  • 300g or so of yellow split peas
  • a chopped onion
  • a bay leaf
  • about a teaspoon of salt
  • half a teaspoon of grated nutmeg
  • half a teaspoon of dried thyme or a bit more if it's fresh
  • a beaten egg
  • ground black pepper
  • 50g or so of butter
As the split peas are dried they need to be soaked first, there are two ways: Fast and slow...

First rinse the split peas in a sieve under the cold tap.


Put the peas in a pan, cover with cold water and leave overnight. Not recommended if you have just told your flatmate that pease pudding, gammon and mustard sauce are on the menu for that evening


Boil the kettle, put the peas in the pan and cover them with the boiling water. Put the lid on to trap the heat and wait about half and hour.

Done, good. Heat about half the butter in a frying pan, add the onion, thyme, and bay leaf to the pan and cook gently until the onions soften and are just starting to colour, maybe about 15 minutes. Keep stirring!

Drowned peas
Drain the peas and add in the stuff from the frying pan. Add about a litre of water and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 45 minutes. Or longer if you start chatting with your flatmate.

Or she's desperate for food and you want to torture her with the smell.

Torturing done and the water well reduced remove the bay leaf and use your trusty hand blender to, well, blend until you have a thick puree.

It can take a while.

Finally beat in the egg, nutmeg and whatever butter is left. Obviously adding salt and pepper to taste.


As shown above this can be with saveloy, gammon and even works as a fine spread in a bacon sandwich.

I also found today that it works brilliantly with left over pasta arrabbiata. Lovely.

One note of warning. As you may be aware the nursery rhyme goes:
Pease pudding hot, Pease pudding cold,
Pease pudding in the pot - nine days old.
Some like it hot, some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot - nine days old.
Nonsense, it won't last nine days. The first batch didn't even last until bedtime.

Saturday, 13 December 2014


It's been the week from hell.

Normally at this point I'd write about the myriad of things that have happened. However some of them must remain private and frankly I'm not emotionally strong enough to write about any of them.

I'm at my lowest ebb.

And I'm still digging.