Archive for the 'Hair Shirt' Category

The Bedside Table

There were many reasons I was dissatisfied with my bedside table.  First, its colour: orange.

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Not even a subtle orange.  Second, it has no drawer.  I must either leave my book on the top (which would be fine if I could constrain myself to two books) or I must reach down awkwardly while on the edge of sleep and open the door and throw the book onto the half-shelf within (or as you can see in the photo, simply throw them on the floor).  Third, with a square base and a monolithic stature it has a utilitarian oomph which is not to my liking.

Fortunately, my taste in furniture tends towards peasant rather than palace. When I last persuaded K-man to visit the local junk emporium, we came across this:

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This is the most poorly-made piece of furniture  I have ever encountered, and that includes Swedish flat-pack specials I incompetently put together myself. It seems to be made predominantly from waste wood by a person who hated their job. In places where surely – surely – a nail would have been better, glue has been used and did not stick properly.  Someone made a bad decision to try polishing this turd, and attached a piece of spare dowelling rod to the outside.

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This little cupboard was very cheap, and I have vision. And my vision couldn’t withstand more morning orange.

Yesterday the sun shone, and in our house that means embarking on a stupid project outside using power tools.  Hurrah!

K-man had to shore up the flimsy construction, and wrench off the stupid dowelling. Then I got busy with the power-sander. A short time later, I looked up from my cup of tea and realised this might not turn out too badly after all.

DSC_1016When all the black shit – I know not what it was – came off, the little cupboard grew a personality.  There was an interlude when I got a bit too busy with the power-sander and the bottom piece of wood holding the door up broke off, but what’s a husband for if not to clean up after his wife’s manic sanding experiments?

Then it was time to paint.  As we know, paint is a shit piece of furniture’s best friend. It covers a multitude of sins and can turn something horrible into something you can stand to look at without crying.  I do believe, however, that the trend should be reserved for crap pieces otherwise beyond rescue.  All those people painting over beautiful woodgrain because of fashion are nuts.  Especially if they do stupid shit like two-tone blue and pink and then sand down one layer of paint to display the nonsense.  I have seen more overpriced ruined chests of drawers than I can bear because people think that shit adds value.  Hell no, you just ruined a decent piece of furniture.  What is it with these people?

Sorry – that rant has been inside me for a long time and it needed to come out.  Obviously, I would never paint something pink and blue two-tone. I would simply use whatever left-overs I had available in the garage. Which turned out to be Farrow and Ball New White.

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Of course, every insect for miles around stuck itself in the paint. But progress was made and soon it was time to wax the top.

DSC_1018I was very surprised and pleased with how well this turned out.  You would never guess the top was plywood, or that it cost only around £20 and a few hours of my time.  Check out the sanded and waxed top:

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Here it is in situ:

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A full year after K-man accidentally sold our bedside tables on ebay for a song, I finally have a book-drawer and no orange.

That’s our new carpet you can see in the photo.  What a revelation!  More about that another time.

 

 

 

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Extreme

I was at a party a few weeks ago, which for me means like-minded souls and I get together and become irate at the world’s apparently intractable problems, corporate behemoth uber-un-accountability, slavery, feminism v classism and is it a competitive or complementary relationship, intersectional discrimination, environmental hell, and other light-hearted subjects.  Obviously, we blame everybody but ourselves.

During one of these wine-fuelled if I ran the world people would all just love each other and be happy sessions, in a moment of fairly ironic hypocrisy someone pulled out their iPhone and tuned me in to a quiz with some particularly insightful results.  I pulled out my iPhone – for I am nothing if not a  champagne socialist – to give the quiz a whirl.

The quiz lives at Political Compass and here is a quote from the website:

The old one-dimensional categories of ‘right’ and ‘left’ […] are overly simplistic for today’s complex political landscape. For example, who are the ‘conservatives’ in today’s Russia? Are they the unreconstructed Stalinists, or the reformers who have adopted the right-wing views of conservatives like Margaret Thatcher ?
On the standard left-right scale, how do you distinguish leftists like Stalin and Gandhi? It’s not sufficient to say that Stalin was simply more left than Gandhi. There are fundamental political differences between them that the old categories on their own can’t explain. Similarly, we generally describe social reactionaries as ‘right-wingers’, yet that leaves left-wing reactionaries like Robert Mugabe and Pol Pot off the hook.

The test plots your politics not on one linear ‘left/right’ line, but in a quadrant that accounts for the distinctions between social and economic political liberalism or authoritarianism.  Or something.  So:

If we recognise that [the left-right line] is essentially an economic line it’s fine, as far as it goes. We can show, for example, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung and Pol Pot, with their commitment to a totally controlled economy, on the hard left. Socialists like Mahatma Gandhi and Robert Mugabe would occupy a less extreme leftist position. Margaret Thatcher would be well over to the right, but further right still would be someone like that ultimate free marketeer, General Pinochet.

That deals with economics, but the social dimension is also important in politics. That’s the one that the mere left-right scale doesn’t adequately address. So we’ve added one, ranging in positions from extreme authoritarian to extreme libertarian.

That line goes vertically from top to bottom, resulting in a diagram divided into four quadrants:

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The thought occurs that you readers probably came across this test years ago, but it’s new to me and I’m soldiering on.

There is far more information on the website, but as we know, when attention spans wane it is time to introduce FAMOUS PEOPLE.  That’s right. Here’s where they plot on the graph:

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At this point I’m thinking that it’s no wonder I firmly believe the world is royally screwed up – it seems that many of our leaders reside in the upper right hand part of the upper right hand quadrant. In common with lots of world leaders, I have studied both law and political science (specifically, human rights) and I continue to be amazed that folks who must have read the same weighty tomes of convincing left-wing libertarian thoughts of a bundle of eminent thinkers can consistently spew such right-wing ill-thought-through downright-mean old clap-trap.

Ed Milliband is the son of a full-blown Marxist and known as Red Ed in the UK for his astonishingly left-wing position on many policy areas. Yet there he is, in the upper right quadrant.  I’m not even going to comment on the inclusion of Mitt Romney, because it hurts me to think about him for the length of time required to formulate the violent expletives warranted.

So I took the quiz and wondered where I would come out.  And the answer is:

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That was a surprise even to me.  It’s no wonder I spend such a hefty dollop of time getting righteously pissed off at The State of Things.

Am I such an outlier? Not based on the self-selecting sample of folk at the party – I found one person whose dot was so far over to the left the graph wasn’t big enough to accommodate his views, and someone else who was just slightly more to the right and up.  Even K-man (and I say this with fondness) sits in the lower left quadrant.

If you are inclined to spend the five minutes to take the test and tell me the results, I would be interested to find out where your dot lands on this chart.  No judgment, no authoritarianism, nothing but curiosity.  I think left is best, but that’s because that’s what I am.

Ambitious Pursuit of Magazine Life

We’re decorating the spare bedroom.  My role during performance of a particularly delicate decoration operation is to take cover outside the blast zone and pretend it isn’t happening.  Attempts at diffusion are misinterpreted as supervision, and nuclear fission swiftly results.

As my contribution, I decided to paint the spare room bed.  We bought the bed from a charity shop for a pittance two years ago, and while neither of us were in love with it as a piece of furniture, it is a solid workhorse.  It didn’t look noticeably awful in the spare room, because the rest of the spare room always looked like shit too, so there was a happy harmony of decor dissonance.

Now that the spare room is being addressed, the vexing question of the foul appearance of the spare room bed must be answered.  The shape is acceptable, even pleasing: it is the vibrant orange sun-damaged pine varnish hue that is desperately off-putting.  Observe:

 

OK, it doesn’t look that bad in this photo.  That’s because it’s outside in sunlight and the photo is weird.  Inside, this thing is orange and shiny.   Believe me.

So, I thought, I will paint it.  This will be productive: paint is cheaper than a new bed, the bed is solid wood and very sturdy, and it could not look worse painted than it does now.  It will be easy, I thought – I read articles about how to do this stuff all the time.  It will be satisfying – it is very many years since I did something even vaguely creative with my own bare hands.  It will bring this piece of furniture bang up to date in terms of fashionable interiors – painted shabby chic furniture is all the rage.  Thinking ambitiously, I decided I would artfully distress the bed so that it looks like an antique that belongs in a manor house rather than a piece of crap we unearthed from the damp section at the back of the YMCA shop.

You will no doubt be shocked to discover that magazine articles can be misleading.

In the magazine, the preparation phase is over in the time it takes to flip the page.  In real life, after three hours of arm ache and finger burn and the disintegration of huge wadges of coarse steel wool, there will be no discernible difference in the appearance of your potential masterpiece.  To wit:

If through my tears of fatigue I had examined it through an electron microscope, I may just have been able to detect a slight difference in the surface of the wood.  I was covered in dust, which indicates that something was happening.  Just not the magical transformation I’d been expecting.  I hoovered the dust off the wood, and then wiped it carefully with a damp rag to make it really clean.  K-man, who was not convinced this project would work and who forbade expense other than cheap paint in the pursuit of improvement, was practising his Skeptical Eyebrow.

By this time four gruelling hours had passed and I had begun to question the wisdom of my endeavour.  Still, the really worth-it part was fast approaching: painting!

In the magazine the lady of the house spends money like it is going out of fashion, buying industrial quantities of the best paint on the planet.  In real life, there’s a husband who declares the expensive paint verboten, forcing a compromise of some clearly inferior product.  In the magazine the best brushes are worth the investment because money is no object.  In real life, the aforementioned compromise restricts the decorator to two cheap old brushes with the few remaining bristles sticking out in every conceivable direction.  In the magazine, the painting environment is a carefully air-conditioned sensitively-lit studio of wonder.  In real life, the blazing hot sunshine and the outdoors makes life uncomfortable in a number of ways.

Let me count the ways.  The paint will dry very quickly.  It will dry on the wood almost instantly, on the brush itself shortly thereafter, and in the paint pot within the half hour.  It will be virtually impossible to achieve the desired smooth finish and instead brush-strokes and lumps will be clearly visible.  Sunburn will be a significant issue, and insects will be strangely attracted to fresh paint, becoming embedded in it  up to their shoulders.

I would have done it indoors, if I didn’t have a husband who convinced me this was a job that would be better done outdoors.  Like a fool, I listened.

After another four hours of tirelessly cutting in to get all the detail, the first coat looked like shit.

At dusk it looked otherworldly, like the malevolent ghost bed of childhood nightmares.  At this stage I was dead on my feet and gasping for a beer.  I tried hard to focus on the fact that every time I have painted anything, I have always thought it looked crap after the first coat and restored my faith with the second coat.  K-man was looking less bemused and more impressed, which I took as a good sign.

The next morning I couldn’t face the bed until after lunch: I knew the magazines were misleading with their implication that a second coat goes on in the time it takes to cancel your subscription.  At 2pm I recommenced.  The second coat was looking much more promising, and though the weather was even hotter and the drying issue was even more pronounced, it did seem to be working out.  Behold:

At the time, I was just so bloody relieved to have the thing finished by 6pm that I didn’t much care what it looked like.  I painted it in Old English White by Crown, and there are some weird grey streaks in the dried finish which I am not very happy about but which K-man says add to the character and charm, and will make it look fantastic when it has been suitably ‘distressed’ by my steel wool and furniture wax combo.

All I can say is that it had better look damn good in the new spare room.  More on that next week.

 

 

How Does Your Garden Grow?

It’s been a dreadful summer.  Rain in biblical proportions, and temperatures that made it into the 20s twice.  The wettest summer and the coldest August day on record (i.e. for about the last 100 years).

What this means for the peaks and troughs that graph my affection for the suburbs is this: one of the principle peaks of living here is nugatory.

You see, I have agrarian pretensions.  I’ve read the magazines – no self-respecting suburban household is without a vegetable patch these days.  And it’s so! easy! 

This is my second year growing my own food.  Let’s review.

Potatoes:  Chock full of confidence following last year’s harvest, I decided upon three containers, rather than two rows in a raised bed.  I grew plenty of lush foliage, but hardly any potatoes, and half the harvest was mouldy. We ended up with enough for one meal each.  Next year, I will use topsoil rather than pure compost, as I suspect that there was too much nitrogen in the soil for decent cropping.  I will hope for less rain.

Courgette: Last year, Bob the courgette produced so many, and for so long, that we didn’t know what to do with them.  We grilled them with every meal.  I baked courgette bread.  All visitors who showed even an eyebrow-raise-worth of interest went home with a bagful.  This year, not so much.  Bertha had a very slow start.  She was nearly beaten to death by a weather-bomb of unexpected high winds and heavy rain the weekend I planted her.  Lack of light caused her to lean desperately over to one side in search of sunbeams.  Eventually, she produced a rash of courgettes, but she has already slowed down and we haven’t cropped any for over a week.

Tomatoes: The less said about these the better, really.  I’ve had about fifteen microscopic ripe tomatoes, and I’m going to be bequeathing leftover green tomato chutney to my children’s children.

Spring Onions: I cannot comprehend the reproductive oddities of spring onions.  I bought some young plants two years ago.  I planted them, I applied my usual hands-off approach to gardening, and every so often when I needed one I would pull it up. Mainly they existed as a barrier to discourage carrot-fly from chomping my carrot supply.  In about March, I observed that they magically survived several frosts and a ton of snow and what’s more: each one had split into a collection of teeny tiny onions, like when cells divide.  I carefully dug them up, binned half of them, and separated each little new onion.  I planted them in rows in between where I would eventually want my carrots to grow.  They flourished.  In May they flowered, I failed to collect seed, and I thought that would be that.  Not so: the odd cell-division thing has started again (albeit months earlier than last year).  You cannot kill these things.  Along with cockroaches and George Galloway, they will be all that’s left after WW3.

Carrots: Fewer carrot fly than last year, but I imagine tiny insects find it a bit difficult to thrive when they are deluged every week.  Sadly, a generous description of my carrots would be stunted.  They are so small and insignificant that I forgot to photograph them.

Salad leaves: Carrot fly might find it difficult when flooded out, but slugs have a party.  I planted my leaves – never having had a problem with slugs before – and left them to it.  Overnight, the young shoots disappeared.  It kept happening, and I kept feeling beaten.  Then, a toad moved in and suddenly I had lettuce.  I had it for all of two days before a freak hot spell caused the whole lot to bolt.

So, those are the crops with which I now have a couple of years experience.  This year, before I knew that the Ark might be a sensible thing to build, I opted to diversify slightly.  By popular demand, I attempted strawberries.

Strawberries: It was quite a bit of effort.  I had to carefully plant and nurture them.  I constructed a wire cage to keep the birds off the fruit.  I visited the pet shop and fended off a massive allergic reaction to procure the straw required.  Every week I trimmed off long shoots trying to grow more strawberries where I didn’t want them.  And what did I get for all this effort?  Five strawberries.  Count them.  FIVE.  Actually, I got two and a half, since I had to share them with K-man.  And while they did taste very nice, each of those strawberries cost a couple of quid.  Animals got some of them (troublesome burrowing birds and squirrels, and the aforementioned slugs of doom), and mould got the rest.  My cage was virtually pointless. Oh, they look all healthy now the fruit season is over:

 

Beans: After a glacial start and a bean-germination rate of one in five, I had some plants.  The beans have done phenomenally, and take this year’s Courgette Prize of please lard no more.  Three plants actually grew, so next near I will plant three and we’ll see what happens.  I learned this year to germinate them inside and grow them until they are long enough to be tied up.  I wasted weeks of growing time hoping they would germinate from being sown straight into the soil.  They started cropping about a month ago and are still going strong.

 

Peas: these were also a success, but they’re done now and I forgot to take photos when they were verdant.  We had several meals with fresh peas and they were delicious.  They are a definite for next year.

Other plans for next year include leeks, which are apparently ridiculously easy.  I would dearly love to grow sweetcorn and I will try, but success will depend on the weather being considerably more clement.  Having witnessed sweetcorn in the USA for 2¢ an ear, I cannot bring myself to purchase it in this country where it retails at 50p an ear during the five-minute season.  You can get it plastic-wrapped and flown thousands of miles at a price marginally cheaper than dinner for two at a decent restaurant but you know how I feel about that.  If, if I could grow it myself I would be deliriously happy.  I also plan more fruit.  Fewer tomato plants and instead a blueberry bush in a container.

Even with the variety of miserable failures, I am not discouraged in the long-term.  There are few things more satisfying – and more convenient or environmentally friendly – than growing your own organic food.

Ballast

This weekend the household decamped to the countryside to enjoy a change of scenery.  As with any foray into the English countryside, one is reminded that one is but a pimple on the giant moon-faced complexion of history.  The inescapable knowledge that lots of people before you suffered existential angst and lots of people after you will suffer existential angst is oddly comforting.

You can’t wander about the English countryside without falling over something that is 15 times older than you.

The Butter Cross isn’t even that old.  Just up the road, there’s this:

The cracked info-board asserts that the Great Hall was built in 1190.  I’m going to try and stay calm while I posit that I’m pretty sure it looked much nicer in medieval times without all those fucking incongruous cars parked outside it.

Inside was the kind of folk art event happening where an old hippie (and I say that with fondness) sits behind a piece of wood they jig-sawed into a random shape and marked with an outlandish overestimate of its value.  There was cat folk art: had I been willing to sever my right arm, it would have been a suitable adornment for Mrs. G’s writing room.

What with all this earnest folk art going on, it didn’t seem right to snap photos of the vaulted ceiling and impressive collection of commemorative horse-shoes.  I’m going to count myself lucky that my father wasn’t present and I wasn’t dragged kicking and screaming to the nearest display of Morris Dancing.

When I was a kid I despised old things, as though they no longer had a right to remain on this earth because the times they are a-changing and revolution was the only way to go.  I still think revolution is the only way to go, but the social revolution and old shit are not mutually exclusive.  I like old shit.  It reminds me I’m not the centre of the universe.

Within the locality were a number of poncy antique shops run by people with names like Mungo Cadwallader-Strumpet.  We eschewed these in favour of the junkier end of the market, where we fell in love with this:

It is a 1920s cupboard thingy with original bakelite teardrop handles.  The top is polished oak, and the rest of it has been painted matt off-white and pleasingly distressed.  I am hurriedly re-working my bedroom decor ideas around it.

It felt real to me, this piece of furniture.  I could see it in a house I could imagine living in, or visiting.  It’s a feeling entirely different to those that arise when I traipse into proper antique shops to gasp at price-tags.  In those places I look at the items and think they are hideously overwrought and indulgent.  This cupboard thingy is honest.  I wonder who owned it before me, and what their lives were like.

I opened up the cupboard when we’d got it home, and stuck my head inside, and noticed a little sliver of perforated paper sticking out between one of the upright pieces of wood and the side.  Careful extraction revealed it to be an old postage stamp.

The internet informs me it is at least 44 years old, probably older.  It’s a pre-decimalisation one penny stamp showing the Wilding portrait of Queen Elizabeth II surrounded by a pattern of the four symbolic flowers of the countries of the British Isles (English Rose, Irish Shamrock, Scottish Thistle, and Welsh Daffodil).  Sadly, it is not the postage stamp equivalent of a lottery win, or I would be writing this from the mojito-splashed deck of my new yacht.

But seriously, I’m not much for the value of material stuff.  We probably overpaid slightly for the cupboard.  But the point is, I love it.  I love the stamp.  They’re true and real in a very human sense.  I’m adding the stamp to my box of little things I love, where it can nestle happily until my children’s children find it and wonder why the hell I kept it when stamps are obsolete, the times they are a-changin’, and revolution is the only way to go.

This Suburban Life

I went into town yesterday to try and buy a book I’ve been wanting to read.

The independent bookshop closed down while I wasn’t looking, apparently just a few days ago. This leaves the remaining literary dispensary in town being a well-known low-brow chain that only stocks things that have been reviewed recently in the newspapers or are inexplicably selling in large quantity (in this category see ‘You Only Live Once’, Katie Price’s fourth biography). If I wish to buy something slightly off the current mainstream interest I will need to get in my car and drive to another town, or buy online from a mega-corp.

I can count the independent stores (of any variety) remaining in this town on one hand.

Meanwhile, from my perch in the study I am witnessing the fourth enormous and noisy bin-lorry belonging to a private mega-corporation visit my street in one morning. Four lorries, to collect two bins full of stuff from each householder. Serco are taking over the world and laughing all the way to the bank.

Lost and Found

Remember that sock I lost?  The probability I would find it again was 1.  During the laundering process it hid inside a pillowcase which was then shoved at the back of the airing cupboard for months.

A few weeks ago we lost our camera.  I was quite pleased, because I hate the camera and have been looking for a reason to finally get a much better, more expensive, DSLR camera.  I procrastinated about actually buying one, and now I want to slap myself because I just found our original camera in a little-used pocket of the rucksack so my excuse has evaporated.

But!  The found camera is a good thing because I now I can post photos of something I really love.  Dry stone walls.  Laugh if you want to, but I tell you these things blow me away.  I acknowledge I am easily impressed – I once spent hours pondering about, and marveling at, the global postal system.

Dry stone walls are a key feature of the English countryside but I’m not sure how many people really give them a second glance.  As far as I am concerned a really good dry stone wall is a work of art.  I mean, check this out.

 

Your inner dry stone wall appreciation chip might need some calibration, so allow me to remind you that the ‘dry’ means the stones aren’t held together by any cement or other fixing.  It’s a stack of stones, folks.  It’s been there for a long time without falling over.  Someone built it, by hand.

Need more convincing?  Here’s the side view:

K-man is six feet tall, which gives you an indication of the height of these things.  More importantly, observe the way it all just hangs out.  Especially the vertical stones on the top, and the little stones shoved into the spaces between the big ones.

I tried to build a dry stone wall out of some york stone in my own back garden.  It is much harder than it looks.  My wall is around 18 inches high and maybe 9ft long and it took me one afternoon of effort and one day of aching.

The walls aren’t ornamental; their purposes is to demarcate the boundaries of fields.  There are many fields in England, and that means miles and miles of dry stone wall.

This particular dry stone wall is a prime example of 5ft Peak District Field Boundary Mossy Dry Stone Wall.   Did you know there are over 180,000 miles of dry stone wall in the UK?

That fascinating interlude was brought to you by my rediscovered camera.

I’m also happy because now I can take the camera away with me on my forthcoming seaside weekend with JR.  In between now and then I have pressing things to attend to, like watching paint dry and waiting for a particular train to arrive.


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