Thursday, 30 January 2014

Shelfie (It's What A Shelf Would Take If It Owned a Camera Phone)

Look at me, all down with the kids using a play on the word 'selfie' in this post and 'twerking' a couple of posts back. I'm just so with it. Although I'm sure people who are actually 'with it' wouldn't say that they are, as it wouldn't be cool. So I'll just stick with being me then.

So, back to the point of this blog post. Do you remember when I bought this shelf-y/display unit thing, back in August 2013 at the Shepton Mallet Flea?

Of course you do! I know that you commit to memory everything that I write about on here. There will be a test later.

I bought it with the intention of painting it and putting it up in DC's room. But that was as far as the intention got.

Fast forward five months and I finally got round to buying some paint and cracking on with upgrading this yellow and brown 'beauty' into something slightly less painful on the eye and slightly more suitable for a small boy's room.
I chose Firecracker Red 3 by Dulux. It's from the range that you get mixed in store and I simply bought the tester pot size. I had originally gone into the shop thinking I'd just buy a couple of off-the shelf testers but the ones I was looking at came in 50ml sizes and I was pretty sure I'd need at least two, if not three since it seems almost impossible to get all of the paint out of a tester pot/tube. And they cost about £1.50 each, so that would have been £3-4.50, if not more. The joy of the Dulux mix tester pots is that they contain 250ml of paint in a lovely little metal tin all for the bargain price of £3.39 (or thereabouts.) So, that's five times as much paint as a regular tester pot, for a lot less than five times the price. And there are somewhere in the region of 1200 colours to choose from. (And I'm not being paid to say any of this!)

Let's get down to the nitty gritty. I gave the shelf an all over light sanding (out in the garage, to keep the dust at bay) to rough up the surface ready for the new paint, then I brought it into the kitchen (waaaay too cold to stay in the garage painting) ready to begin the transformation.
Here's the before shot of the back of the unit.
And here we are after one coat of paint.
While I waited for that coat to dry I wrapped my paintbrush in a cheapy sandwich bag (I buy the roll of 500 from Poundland as they are great for this sort of thing); you probably all know about doing this as it's a great time-saver. In the 11 days that it took me to paint the snug I didn't wash my brushes once, just wrapped them in plastic bags at the end of each painting session and they were good to go next time I needed them.
After two coats were dry on the back, I flipped this little beauty over and set to at the front.
It's got quite the Chinese pagoda look going on, don't you think?
Waiting for the second coat to dry.
Et voila. What a little (fire)cracker.
Much nicer than the yellow and poo-brown look it was sporting previously.

Now it's just a case of deciding exactly in DC's room to hang it. I'll let you know when I finally decide.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Less Haste, Less Speed

Last year I made a New Year's Resolution to stop being late. Needless to say, I broke that resolution the first time I was due to be somewhere at a certain time. I am totally rubbish. It's not that I do it on purpose, but I always, always underestimate just how long it will take me to get somewhere and overestimate the number of things I can do before I need to leave to get to where I'm going for the set time. If you get what I mean.

Just before Christmas I was due to meet my dear friend Rachel for lunch. And, guess what? I was running late. It would be true to say, therefore, that I drove a little faster than I should have in an attempt to not be late.

And, guess what? I got clocked by a speed camera and now I have to do this:

The first time I've ever been caught speeding in nearly 25 years of driving. It was a fair cop. I won't do it again. And I'm REALLY not looking forward to going on the Speed Awareness Course :( Still, on the bright side, I don't have to pay a fine (although I do have to pay for the pleasure of going on the course...), nor will I get any points on my licence. I did consider paying the fine and accepting the points, but I didn't know how much it might affect my insurance premiums.

Perhaps I need to resurrect my old New Year's Resolution to not be late and make more of an effort to set off in plenty of time next time I need to be somewhere.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Snuggier Snug

Finally after two-and-a-half years of living with the white walls in the snug, we made a decision on a colour and went for it.
The number of test patches on this wall gives you some idea of the colours we toyed with, ranging from pink to green to beige and back again.
The snug is at the front of the house which makes it north facing; it doesn't get a lot of sun although it is surprisingly light during the day. However, we tend to only use it in the evenings after DC has gone to bed and then mostly in the winter as it is the room which has an open fire. Taking all of these things into consideration we knew we wanted a colour that would be conducive to snug-ness as the white walls felt rather stark. Finally we settled on Natural Hessian by Dulux which to us feels much warmer, cosier and softer.

I started on the small wall by the door, knowing that once the whole wall was done (with two coats) it would give us a good idea of whether we were happy with the colour but also knowing that it was a small enough wall not to be too tiresome to repaint if we decided that colour wasn't right.
I must admit as the first coat started to go on I wasn't too sure of the colour since it was somewhat reminiscent of wet plaster.
But once it was dry I was converted.
And after two coats, it was definitely a winner.
Moving round the room in an anti-clockwise direction brought me to the wall with the window and curtain track and radiator and heating pipes and pretty much every awkwardness the room had. It took me an absolute A-G-E to get this wall done. Bah.

But look at the lovely contrast between done-zo wall and original stark white wall. And it was all worth it.

Then I tackled the big wall at the back of the room, the one which originally had all the tester patches on it - you can still seem them peeping through like shadows despite several coats of white being slapped on top of them.

Let's take a step back and admire the mayhem in the rest of the room...
Looking good, huh?
 Further mayhem ensued as I moved on to the final wall.
But at long last, 11 days after I started, I was able to lay my paintbrushes aside, move the furniture around a bit, step back and declare the room fully painted.

Compare to 18 months ago.

Again, compare and contrast.
And, best of all, over a year since hubby gave me (most of) my lovely ducks (the larger three were Christmas 2012 gifts, the smallest one was birthday 2013) they were finally attached to the wall in homage to our favourite TV programme (I'll leave you to guess what it could possibly be!)
The furniture isn't quite in the right place at the moment as we are looking to sell the bookcase in the far left of the photo; once that has gone the clock will move to the corner and the other bookcase will move to a more central position. Eventually we are hoping to have bookshelves built across this entire wall.
Compared to 18 months ago it actually looks like a step backwards furniture-wise, but at least the walls are a better colour! And I wonder if I've actually read any of the cosy crime books from that bookcase...

Quack quack.

Friday, 24 January 2014

The Eyes Have It

I've contemplated having laser eye surgery for quite some time - years rather than months, in fact. But, until now, I've never actually done anything about it. I've always been nervous of finding somewhere that I would feel comfortable having it done - the high street options haven't appealed to me for a number of reasons, but I figured that unless I had the sort of money that could take me to Harley Street, then I would have to bite the bullet and head to the high street. But then I did a little bit of extra Googling and came up with a clinic that operates within the Bristol Eye Hospital and, somehow, that made me feel happy; something about the security of being in a hospital environment and finding a clinic that wasn't interested in the hard sell. So I called and made an appointment; there was a fair bit of to-ing and fro-ing beforehand as the clinic wanted to gather as much information about me and my eyes as they could, particularly prescriptions from sight tests dating back at least two years. This involved me racking my brain to remember past opticians. Anyway, that was soon sorted and all was good. And then, today, hubby and I made the trip up to Bristol; hubby had to come too as I was told I wouldn't be able to drive home afterwards due to the drops they put in your eyes to dilate the pupils which cause blurred vision.

I was in the clinic for about three hours having my sight tested, and my eyes photographed, measured, poked, prodded, filled with yellow dye and dilating drops and talking to surgeon about which surgery would be best for me (LASIK or LASEK are the options; I won't go into the details in case you're squeamish...) The surgeon now needs to look through all of the test results to ensure I'm a suitable candidate and, if I am, decide which surgery I should have. I'll talk to him next week to find out if we are good to proceed. I'm tentatively booked in for surgery on 2nd April, if all goes to plan!

Once everything was done and I was ready to go home, I called hubby to come and pick me up and then decided to take a quick photo of my eyes to see what they looked like after all the goings on. Please try not to be too alarmed...

Isn't it scary! I'm not purposefully staring or anything in that shot, but the drops they put in my eyes made the pupils dilate and, boy, do I look like the sort of crazy woman you would not like to meet on a dark night (or at any other time, really)?!? 

I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that it's now several hours later and my eyes are back to normal.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Book Review No. 1 of 2014: Clare Balding's Memoirs

I started this book on New Year's Day (a Wednesday) and had it finished by the Friday evening. I think that says something. Well, it could say that the book is only a few pages in length, or it could say that I was reading the EXTRA EXTRA LARGE PRINT edition. Or perhaps it says how much I enjoyed the book. What do you think? Yes, that's right, I enjoyed the book. A lot.

The book follows Clare's life from birth up to the time she went to university. Each chapter is based around an animal that was special to her during these formative years, hence the title. Hers was clearly an unusual upbringing, in fact you get the feeling that she almost brought herself up as her parents were rather preoccupied with other things. Being a champion race horse trainer is more than a full-time job, it's a way of life and Clare's father was completely and utterly devoted to this way of life. Her mother was also heavily involved and the children (Clare also has a brother) seemed to come a very poor second to all of this. That's not to say that this memoir is written in any way as a 'poor me' kind of story, far from it; Clare seemed to relish the freedom that she had and spent a lot of time out riding her favourite horses or playing with the dogs.

Clare's father ranked the Queen as one of his race horse clients - it's not everyone who can write a memoir which mentions the time(s) the Queen came for breakfast, or the rather frosty encounter with Princess Anne following a race in which they both rode (Clare beat HRH and HRH was not amused.)

The book is written in a very honest and engaging way, it is light-hearted and amusing but also poignant. As an autobiography it stands out from the crowd by being written around the animals that featured in her life rather than in the 'in 1986 I did this, in 1987 I went here' style. This makes it slightly rambling, but in a good way.

Perhaps if you have no interest in horses and/or dogs whatsoever you might find this book a little tiresome at times as there is a LOT about horse riding and horse racing, since this formed so much of Clare's early years. I didn't know, until I read this book, that she had been a winning jockey in her teens; several chapters are spent discussing the races she took part in, the difficulties she faced in trying to maintain a low weight and trying to please/impress her father, and the highs and lows of life as a jockey. But, the anecdotes make for an interesting read - the chapter featuring Princess Anne being a case in point.

If you are looking for an easy and very enjoyable autobiography to read, then I would highly recommend this one. Go on, give it a try!

Friday, 17 January 2014

Mantle Tweaking (Much Safer Than Twerking)

I've done a little bit of tweaking to the mantle shelf in the living room. This was much a much safer option than trying to do any twerking on the mantle as I'm not sure the plasterboard could support my weight.

Previously, the mantle looked like this

Over Christmas there was some festive twerking  tweaking.
And now the mantle is sporting some totes gorgeous mercury glass votives that hubby gave me for Christmas. He bought them while on a recent work trip to India.
Didn't he do well? They are rather lovely.
Although I did realise yesterday when I was dusting that a bare mantle shelf would probably be easier to deal with. Still, that's the price you have to pay for pretty-pretty.

And while we're on the subject of votives, candles, etc, here is a Public Service Announcement.
When blowing out a candle please be careful not to blow the highly-coloured wax in the direction of your (fairly) newly-painted walls.
Unless, of course, you like the Jackson Pollock effect.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Light(shade), Camera, (Tiny Bit of) Action

Yesterday I made a quick dash into Crewkerne to return some books to the library and pick up a couple of things in Waitrose. While I was there I thought I'd just pop into a couple of charity shops for a nosey round. And I'm very glad I did as the second charity shop yielded this lovely brand new light shade, for the bargain price of £3.50. Isn't it purrrrty? (Sorry for the rubbish photo.)
I had it earmarked to replace the ok-but-not-very-lovely light shade currently in-situ in the guest room. 
There's nothing wrong with this shade, it came with us from our previous house(s) and has been perfect in many rooms since it's plain and inoffensive. But a pretty little upgrade tends to go a long way.
And here we have it. 
(Apologies for not getting a photo of the old light shade in-situ but I only thought of it after I'd put the new one up.)
Except now this photo has me thinking we need to get some colour on those walls...

Since the inoffensive light shade was now twiddling its thumbs, I decided to go one step further in the 'Great Light Shade Switcheroo' (as it shall henceforth be known.) Our fourth bedroom is something of a no-man's land. It's perfectly functional as a bedroom if we have need of more than one guest room simultaneously, but otherwise it's mostly used as a place where all sorts of things get put when we don't really know what else to do with them (hubby also keeps lots of his clothes in here in a VERY large chest of drawers.) 
As a result of being a bit of an after thought, things in this room aren't very matchy-matchy.
See: blue/grey blind, red/pink light shade, purple check bedding, cream rug. 
It's all very "make do" since the light shade, rug and bedding came with us from previous home(s) and the blind was bought cheaply at John Lewis because it happened to fit the window. One day when we win the lottery or finish all of the other rooms, this poor, neglected little space might get a makeover.
But until then, a change of light shade will have to suffice.
I know it's not brilliant, but at least the cream light shade doesn't announce its mis-matched presence quite as much as the pink/red one did. 
And since we now have a spare shade - anyone out there in the market for a pink/red light shade? Going cheap.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Book Reviews 27, 28 & 28.5

In January last year I set myself a challenge to read more books in 2013 than I had in 2012 (you can read about it here). 2012's tally was 24, so the challenge for 2013 was to read at least 25. I'm very pleased to say that I DID IT! I actually read 28.5 books in 2013. I really, really wanted to get that last book finished before midnight on Dec 31st, but I was just too tired and had to admit defeat with about 60 pages to go. So, I suppose I can only claim 28 books, but I did finish that 0.5 of a book the next morning.

Since I don't want my reviews of last year's books to start running over into this year I've decided to bunch these last three together in one post.

Book No. 27: Damsel in Distress by Carola Dunn

Set in the UK during the 1920s, this is a cosy crime series which differs from many, as I've mentioned in previous reviews, since most cozies (that I've read) are set in modern-day USA. The main character is Daisy Dalrymple, a fairly well-to-do young lady fighting against the social constraints of the era to be 'independent'; despite her mother's complaints, she is employed by a magazine to write about stately homes around the country, which is how she so often happens to be in the right place at the right time to help solve murder(s). The atmosphere of the 1920s is apparent in the language, behaviour, settings, etc throughout the series, making it a gentle read where the modern world (computers, mobile phones, even motor cars for the most part) does not intrude. I'm sure a historian of the 1920s would find fault with some part(s) of the book, but I enjoy the fact that we are taken back to a time when things seemed, even if they weren't actually, a little gentler and less frantic.

This is the fifth in the Daisy Dalrymple series and the story goes something like this: Daisy's good friend Philip falls head-over-heels in love with a young American lady whose father is extremely rich. The young lady, Gloria, is kidnapped and held to ransom and it's down to Daisy and her friends to track her down after the kidnappers warn against any police involvement. After several days of searching Daisy finds, but then loses (yep, it's true) Gloria and finally her "friend" Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard is brought in (under cover) to help.

I enjoyed this book for its gentle but still quite fast-paced style of writing. I didn't get bored with it or find myself skipping paragraphs, it held my interest throughout. The style is the same as with the other Daisy books: gentle, easy-to-read and engaging, just so long as you are willing to suspend belief and simply enjoy the book/series for what it is.

If you are a fan of cosy crime books you might be interested to give this series a go; even if you're more au fait with Agatha Christie and/or Patricia Highsmith you might enjoy it, for the settings or time period as much as anything else (autopsies, finger prints and other detection methods are evolving which is interesting in itself), although I'm not sure the plots are anything to match those penned by Ms Christie.

Book No. 28: A Highland Christmas by MC Beaton

Apparently this is billed as a standalone book for fans of Hamish Macbeth, rather than part of the series; having read it, I'm not sure I'd agree with that since there is talk of other characters who have appeared in the actual series (Priscilla, for example) and discussion of their past/present relationships/interactions with Hamish. I can't see that this is a standalone any more than any other book in the series could be. Having said that, I've also seen it described as the 16th book in the series, and I think that is a more accurate description. Had I known that before I started reading it, I probably would have put the book on hold and read it in its proper place since details are revealed about Hamish and Priscilla that I would rather have found out 'in order'. Anyway, enough of my complaining and back to the book. It's Christmas in Lochdubh, but you wouldn't know it. The Calvinist element in town have always resisted the festivities, so there are no carols, feasting, gifts, etc. But when a Christmas tree and lights are stolen from a nearby village, Hamish must investigate and put things right.

This is a sweet little book - more of a pamphlet really, since it comes in at just 136 pages! A swift read indeed. But perfect for reading at Christmas time to put you in the mood for the Yuletide season. I've only read one other book from the Hamish Macbeth series and, as with that one, this is a gentle, easy read as books in the cozy crime category tend to be. There's no murder or major foul play here, but Hamish still has the opportunity to right a few wrongs and make Christmas a happier time for several village folk.

Book No. 28.5: As the Pig Turns by MC Beaton
I didn't intend to read two MC Beaton books back-to-back, but I really fancied a bit of Agatha Raisin to read over Christmas and thus it came to pass. I call this 'Book 28.5' of the year since I started it in 2013 but only finished it on New Year's Day, hence it spilled over in 2014. Hubby insists, therefore, that I can't count it towards my total for either years, so it's a bit in limbo.
The first crime committed in this book is actually a bit gruesome for a cozy; Agatha and her friends visit the nearby village of Winter Parva for a hog roast but it turns out that the hog has been replaced by the body of a local policeman - urrgghhh. Not long after and the policeman's ex-wife is also killed and Agatha's friend Roy is kidnapped. It's time for Agatha to solve the mystery.

Oh, what to say? I do love this series but, honestly, some of the books are SO badly written (especially, it seems, as the series progresses) as to be laughable and this happens to be one of them. When I read cozy crime, I'm not expecting Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare but that doesn't mean that the story can't be put together without it feeling like the author was in a hurry to meet her publisher's deadline. There are a lot of characters in this book; many of them are recurring ones like Roy, Toni, Bill, Agatha's ex-husband James, her friend Charles, and various employees of her detective agency. I can imagine if you haven't read any other books from this series you would find it very confusing trying to work out who they all were and their relationships with Agatha. There were also a lot of other characters introduced just for this story and it was hard to keep track of them all at times. The plot? Umm, what was it? I only finished this book a week or so ago and I'm struggling to remember what happened. There were lots of tangents, lots of page-filling for no apparent reason, lots of loose ends. Quite honestly, I can't recommend this book at all unless, like me, you are an avid Agatha Raisin fan and you can't bear not to read all the books in the series. Otherwise, you should definitely give it a miss :(

So, there we have it, a quick round up of the last books I read in 2013. I'm rather pleased that I managed to read that many (28.5) in a year; shall I resolve to read even more in 2014?!?

Monday, 6 January 2014

A Slightly Belated Happy New Year!

Well, where has the time gone?! Christmas and New Year over already. We've withstood (so far) the wind and rain that have been battering this part of the country almost continually for the last couple of weeks with just one fence panel needing a little TLC and some cardboard and empty food tins to be recovered from the recycling box that blew up the road. Even as I type the rain is lashing down on the Velux window in my study. What a glorious start to 2014. Humph.

I hope you all had a wonderful time over the festive season and that Father Christmas was kind. He certainly unloaded a lot of pressies from his sleigh at this house. Dear old DC fully appreciated Christmas for the first time this year; he had lots of fun unpacking and repacking his stocking throughout the day and carrying it round with him wherever he went - I'm not sure if he thought someone might make off with it if it wasn't firmly clamped under his arm at all times.

He was also quite amazed that the pile of presents in the living room were all for him - so sweet, but to think we could have got away with buying him quite a lot less...

But look at the excitement on the face of a 4.75-year-old who's just unwrapped a light saber!
Father Christmas (in the guise of hubby, my mum, my in-laws, friends and employers) was also very kind to me this year. And, as is my tradition, I've taken snaps of all the gifts I received, so that I can look back in years to come and enjoy them all over again (sad but true.)

Here's what my super-talented and all-round fantabulous BFF Rachel (of Lazyhill Gallery) made, yes made, me - four lovely Christmas-y coasters.
My in-laws gave me this large tin paced full of Sanctuary goodies, as well as some money that I'm putting towards something special.
Smellies and candles from my bosses (I realise I've yet to share the gory details of where I'm now working since being made redundant from the publishing job back in August.)
Apologies for the sideways photos - Blogger is playing up [or it could be me being inept]
A game, a DVD, some lovely old fish knives and forks and a set of 6 mercury glass votives (along with some cash for the 'special something') from dear hubby.
Starbucks coffee and gingerbread syrup, socks, fantastic granny slippers, a voucher for a massage and some cash from my dear mum.
And, continuing the tradition which she started when I was a poor (and clearly, unhygienic) student, a large hamper of smellies
and food, from my Mum.
It has to be said that all the smellies and foodstuffs will come in very handy as I attempt to do some seriours budgeting this year.
(Can you see we like to eat healthily in this house - all food groups are covered: chocolate, crisps, biscuits and jellies.)

As I said earlier, this documenting of gifts received is an annual tradition, and it led me to look back at this blog post on the gifts I was given last Christmas; as I look through the photos I can say 'haven't read those books yet, haven't worn those shoes yet, took that gilet back and swapped it for a coat that I have worn almost constantly, used up all those toiletries, used that cake stand and trifle bowl quite a bit, nearly worn that cardigan out, haven't hung those ducks on the wall yet, use the clock radio every day, worn some of those socks, use the scales every week, and eaten all the biscuits.' Quite interesting really to see which gifts have been used and appreciated, which have been filed away and which are simply biding their time. It will be interesting to look back next year on what does and doesn't get used and/or enjoyed from this year's haul.