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Running to stay still

I’ve not posted much recently – mostly because I’ve been far too busy working. The end-of-year rush meant that lots of meetings had to be deferred to the relative quiet of the new financial year, and since then I’ve been dashing around all over the place. I put an expenses claim in today for business trips to London, Salisbury, Birmingham, Portsmouth, Salisbury again, and Sunbury-On-Thames. I’ve got an upcoming trip to Oxford planned, and there’s a threat of another trip to either Glasgow or Birmingham!

And of course, since I did most of the trips by public transport, I’ve had to put up with the appalling service provided by GWR trains. I think my record this month is a delay of 90 minutes on a nightmare trip to Salisbury when the most direct train was cancelled, I had to go via Reading and Basingstoke, and we “misplaced” the replacement train driver at Oxford as he was stuck in the chaos further down the line. You know it’s going to be a bad trip when the woman at the ticket office hands you a complaints form when you buy your ticket!

Throwing with a migraine

I woke up on Sunday morning with a blinding migraine – a full-on pick-axe pounding at the temples number. Which was really annoying, as I had planned to spend the day at Eastnor Pottery doing some throwing, a date I’d had to reschedule once already due to being snowed in back in March. Fortunately, my whole approach to migraines has been transformed since my doctor started prescribing triptans.  They work absolute miracles  – within an hour of taking one, the pain has vanished entirely, and I can get on with my life rather than spending an entire day lying in silence in a darkened room.

I took a triptan as soon as I woke up, and by the time I’d finished a leisurely breakfast the pain had completely gone and I was feeling well enough to go to the pottery. However, as anyone who gets migraines knows, they’re not just a “bad headache”, but rather a whole-body experience. Whilst the triptans are brilliant at dealing with the pain, they’re not so good at fixing some of the associated symptoms such as the lack of energy and exhaustion. And, as I discovered at the pottery, my hand-eye coordination wasn’t back to normal. Every single pot I threw was wonky!

I decided there was little point throwing anything that I would actually want to keep, as I just didn’t have the fine motor control to keep my two hands working together. Even a slight imbalance of pressure is enough to throw the pot off true, and that kept happening time and time again. So I decided the best use of my time was to practise throwing cylinders and try to get the bottoms and sides as thin and uniform as I could, cutting the pots in half when I’d thrown them, so that I could see the profile.

Overall, it was a very frustrating experience, as I knew I ought to be able to throw so much better than I was managing to do. And by lunchtime I was so overcome with post-migraine exhaustion that I decided I’d better call it a day and come home early. But I still managed to enjoy myself, which I would never have been able to do before I discovered how to control my migraines with triptans. I can thoroughly recommend them to any migraine sufferers reading this.

The mice are back – again!

It’s been several months since there has been any sign at all of mice in the loft, and I was getting complacent. That was a mistake! They came back on Friday night, just as I was trying to get to sleep, and were scurrying backwards and forwards directly above my bed, all night long. I ended up having to put earplugs in so that I could get some sleep.

They were doing the same again last night, but by the sound of it wearing clogs and tap-dancing. I’ve had to send a desperate text to Martin the pest controller, asking him to come over and deal with them again. I have to say that he is extremely responsive – I texted him over a weekend and he’s replied that he’ll pop round mid afternoon on Monday. I’ll need to be home from work a bit early to meet him, but since I still work part-time that’s not a problem.

I hope this sorts them out quickly, as I really don’t like sleeping with earplugs in…….

From Roman York to Roman London

The Roman Wall at Tower Hill

I had a meeting this morning at a hotel very close to Tower Hill tube station in London. The trains worked fairly smoothly for once, and I got to Tower Hill with plenty of time before I had to go to the meeting. I sussed out where the hotel was, and it was literally two minutes walk from the tube station. I knew that somewhere in the vicinity was quite a large section of the original Roman city wall, which has somehow survived to a height of several metres. It seemed a shame to walk on by when I had some time in hand, so I decided to go looking for it before I went to my meeting.

I found it, took some photos of the wall with the Tower of London in the background, and was just standing there soaking up the history for a moment when I heard a voice say “Hello Gillian, you’re looking lost! Are you going to the meeting?” It was an ex-colleague of mine, whom I see regularly at meetings of this particular interest group.

I said that no, actually, I wasn’t lost. I knew exactly where I was, which was next to a nearly 2000 year old chunk of Roman Wall. He however was clearly looking for the hotel, rather than a historic monument, and had been walking in completely the wrong direction whilst staring in confusion at the map on his smartphone. I pointed him in the correct direction, told him how to find the hotel, and said I’d be along in a moment, once I’d had a proper look at the rubble!

A few days exploring Roman York

After the very long and tiring “final quarter” of the financial year, I was badly in need of a holiday. But preferably not one that would be too exhausting. So I booked myself a few days away in York. I last went there about two years ago on business, and had just half a day free for sightseeing. That made me think that I really ought to return and see the sights at a slightly more relaxed pace.

Multiangular tower, York

This time, I had two full days in the city, and despite some really dreadful weather on the first day, I was keen to see as much of the Roman remains from the original settlement of Eboracum as I could.  Fortunately the weather on the second day was much better. York was originally a legionary fortress, and the city walls still follow much of the path of the Roman original. The picture above is of one of the original Roman defensive towers, at a corner of the fortress. The arrow-loops are medieval, but the stonework up to and including the brick courses is Roman. It’s one of the few bits of Roman York still visible at the surface – most of the rest is buried a few metres below ground, underneath the medieval and Viking settlements.

York Minster is a lovely building with some beautiful medieval stained glass windows, though the compulsory £10 entrance fee is decidedly steep. However, this does at least include access to the Undercroft, which was excavated in the late ’60s and early 70’s as part of a major underpinning exercise to stop the cathedral from collapsing due to inadequate and sinking foundations. It turned out that the reason the central tower was leaning at a dangerous angle was because half of it was resting on the remains of the Roman Principia, or legionary HQ building, whilst the other half was resting basically on mud. The underpinning gave an opportunity to excavate parts of the Roman HQ, and it’s now accessible underneath the main crossing of the cathedral.  Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor in York, quite possibly at the Principia. He was the first Christian emperor, something the cathedral displays made much of.

Roman military bathhouse under a pub

One other remnant of the Roman city can be found in the basement of a pub a few minutes walk from the Minster. It’s the partial remains of the military bath house, found in 1929 in the aftermath of a major fire in the pub. You can see in my somewhat blurry photo the remains of the hypocaust, or heating system, underneath the hot room or Calderium. The pub used to be called “The Mail Coach Inn”, but is now rather unimaginatively called “The Roman Bath” – though at least that does give one an indication of what to expect!

The Turn of the Screw

It seems ages since I’ve been to the theatre. I always avoid Pantomime Season as a matter of course, but that finished a little while ago. However, I’ve just not had the energy recently to go to the theatre – the last quarter of the Financial Year is always a tough one at work, and this year it seems to have been even more exhausting than usual. I’ve mostly spent the weekends doing as little as possible – other than shovelling snow, of course!

However, I’ve got to the end of the Financial Year more or less in one piece, and for the first time in months felt up to going out to Malvern Theatres on Saturday. I looked up what was on, and was in luck – it was a touring production of Henry James’ classic supernatural thriller, The Turn of the Screw. Even better, they had standby tickets available for the matinée, so I treated myself to one.

It’s set in the mid nineteenth century, with a governess sent to take charge of two young children in an isolated manor house. Then things start to go horribly wrong, leading to tragedy. In the book it’s deliberately left unclear whether the house is indeed haunted by the ghosts of two dead servants who are “coming for” the children, or whether the governess’ overwrought imagination has made it all up.  The staging managed to bring out these inherent contradictions very well. Whatever your reading of what went on, there was certainly an unpleasant undercurrent of what we these days would call child abuse.

Overall I didn’t find the play as creepy and unsettling as I remember finding the book when I read it some years ago. But it certainly made me think – to the extent that I spent much of Sunday searching online for literary criticism of the book, to get a feeling for what other people thought was going on. So I suppose that has to be counted a success for the play, as I most certainly don’t normally read deep and meaningful reviews of 19th century literature!

Wet Bank Holiday model making

    Constructing a wooden safe

For each of the last few Christmases my parents have given me some wooden and/or cardboard model kits to make, which I generally save to keep me occupied on a wet Bank Holiday. This year, my mother has surpassed herself – the model was a plywood model safe with a fully functioning 3-digit combination lock!

Since it was pouring with rain all day on Good Friday, I decided I’d have a go at assembling it. The blurb on the packaging said that it just slotted together, no tools needed, just push out the pre-formed shapes from the sheets of plywood supplied, and slot them together in the correct order.  I’ve done lots of those types of kits in the past, and their success is heavily dependent on the precision with which the pieces have been stamped into the card/plywood. If the shapes are accurate enough, they slot together fairly easily. If not, it’s a struggle to force them to line up – like with poor quality flat-pack furniture.

But when I opened it to look at the instructions, it was immediately apparent that they had been badly translated – from Ukrainian. And whatever else the Ukraine is famous for, precision engineering does not feature! I knew immediately that it was going to be a tricky build. And I most certainly was not wrong with that assessment….

In the end, I needed to raid the toolbox for:

  • A mallet
  • a hammer
  • 3 knives, of increasing size and ferocity
  • the saw implement from a multi-tool
  • a candle
  • glue
  • snub-nosed pliers
  • needle-nosed pliers
  • a needle
  • sandpaper

I broke two fingernails, lost my temper with it twice, and made full use of my wide vocabulary of profanities. But I finally got it to fit together, albeit using a fair amount of brute force! You can see the nearly completed safe in the photo above. It’s an interesting model, but far more difficult to build than was advertised…..

Electrical Woes

I knew I had electrical issues in the extension when my washing machine and tumble dryer tripped off in the middle of a cycle, and wouldn’t come back on again, even when I reset the trip-switch in the consumer unit. But it turned out to be more widespread than just one pair of sockets being out of action. The following day, I went to get something out of the freezer in the garage, and found that it was quietly defrosting itself. That socket was dead too. Further investigation showed that all the sockets in the extension were dead, barring, somewhat oddly, two double sockets in the study which power the computer and peripherals. Because those had been working fine, I hadn’t thought to check on all the others.

I’ve managed to get by for the past couple of weeks by running very long extension cables from the kitchen out into the garage and across the kitchen floor to power the critical appliances. But that was at best a temporary solution, not to mention something of a trip hazard. Clearly, something needed to be done, and it was outside my limited knowledge of DIY and electrical power distribution.

I had trouble getting hold of my usual electrician – it turns out he’s semi-retired now. However, once I finally managed to speak to him, he agreed to come over here mid-week to have a look and diagnose the problem. He said that if it was relatively minor, he’d be able to fix it himself. If it was a serious problem that needed substantial work, then he would need his tools and that might take longer to arrange, as his son was gradually taking over the business and had taken ownership of his van and most of the equipment.

It turned out that the trip-switch in the consumer unit was faulty, and wasn’t resetting correctly once tripped. So the entire ring-main had failed safe, i.e. off. The computer stuff in the study is powered from a separate ring-main, which only supplies those two sockets – I think that must have been something Christopher agreed with the architect when we had the extension built, as he was in charge of planning the wiring layout, not me. Fortunately, the problem was fairly simply and easily fixed – the electrician simply had to source a new trip switch and replace it. That did mean powering off the electrics for the duration, so was well beyond my comfort zone, but it wasn’t a big job for a professional.

Phew! Everything is working again, though I still don’t know why it tripped in the first place. It’s not the first time it’s done it either. But since it turned out to be a faulty part, I’m just going to put it down as “one of those things…..”

Yet more snow

This is getting ridiculous. It’s officially Spring already, but I’m snowed in again! I was meant to be at Eastnor Pottery today, at a throwing workshop. Jon the Potter phoned me last night to say that all the other attendees were travelling some distance, so were cancelling due to the Amber weather warning for snow, but that he’d be there anyway as he lives on the Eastnor estate within walking distance of the pottery. So if I could make it I was very welcome, but if it was too difficult to get there then not to worry, he’d rearrange it.

I woke up this morning to that very strange white-blue light coming through the curtains, which means the garden’s covered in snow. It’s drifted on the drive, and is nearly a foot deep in places. It’s going to be at least an hour’s worth of digging to get the car free. Plus the road didn’t appear to have been ploughed overnight and looked downright dangerous to me. So I phoned the pottery and said that there was no way I would be able or willing to get there today.

Thats a shame, as I’ve been looking forward to doing some more throwing. There was a craft fare in the grounds of Malvern Priory yesterday which I walked around, and one of the pottery stalls had stuff that was very similar to mine  (and no better thrown – I had a good look!) which made me hanker to get back on the wheel and throw some bigger pieces to stretch myself. But that will have to wait until I can actually get there safely and without the need for a snow plough!

In need of tradesmen again

I’ve had over a month free of tradesmen working on the house. The last time was in early January, when I had Dynorod around to unblock the drains. I’ve rather enjoyed a month free of writing large cheques in return for getting the house put back to how it ought to be! But I might have known that it was too good to last….

The first thing that’s gone wrong is that a stain has appeared on the hall ceiling. I first noticed it just as the heavy snow was thawing, and it made me think that something in the loft had maybe frozen in the cold and was now leaking. But it’s not a big enough stain to come from a burst pipe, and I’ve had a poke around up in the loft and everything feels dry. So I’m going to just keep an eye on it and see if it gets any worse. At the very least, I will have to add “Painting the hall ceiling” to the long list of jobs I ask Rob the Decorator to do when he has his week here over the summer. At worst, it will be a job for a plumber to track down and fix a leaking part of the hot water system.

The next problem is more immediately annoying. I was doing several loads of laundry yesterday when both the washing machine and the tumble dryer stopped dead, mid-cycle. I checked the fuse box in the garage, and the utility room ring-main had tripped off. But resetting it made no difference – the appliances were still as dead as a dodo. I managed to wriggle behind the machines to unplug them, and plugged them in to an extension cable which I ran across the kitchen from a socket on a different ring-main. Both appliances happily switched themselves back on and carried on with their programmes. So that implies to me that it’s the plug socket itself that has died for some reason. That is beyond my DIY capabilities, so I’m going to have to call in an electrician. In the meantime, I can carry on as usual, but have to take great care of the cable running across the kitchen floor, as it is something of a trip hazard….