About this blog

This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.

Thursday 29 December 2011

WEEK 52--Hot Air Balloon Ride (deferred)

Up, up and away!  I've always longed to go up in a hot air balloon.  What a fabulous final New Thing of 2011, to round off my New Year's Resolution!  We are glossing over the fact that Week 51 is unaccountably missing.  It was Cooking Quail.  But frankly, it was right before Christmas and I couldn't be arsed to write it up.  Also, I was aware that rather too many New Things were already of a culinary nature.  This is because you can do a new thing in the kitchen fairly cheaply.  And it has been the cost of all those fabulous new things that has reined me in on so many occasions.  Seeing the Northern Lights, travelling down the Mississippi by paddle steamer, having my own bespoke fragrance created by Creed.  And going up in a hot air balloon.

Or so I had assumed until our older son gave the chancellor and me a joint 50th birthday present of a hot air balloon trip.  Calloo callay! It has been deferred into 2012 for weather reasons.  Freezing your ass off is a bit of a busman's holiday if you live in a listed building and have run out of prayer books to toss on the fire.

For me, there is something magical about the sight of a hot air balloon.  That teardrop shape hanging in a flawless sky over English hills.  It's part of my childhood.  My heart leaps up when I behold, and so on.  I've noticed that this thrill isn't shared by the public at large.  If you are travelling by bus, for instance, and you suddenly cry out, 'Look!  Look!  A balloon!' people will eye you strangely.

I grew up with a view across wheat fields towards the Chiltern hills.  On summer evenings we would quite often see balloons coming over from the Dunstable Gliding Club.  Silent, then the whoosh! of the burner.  Sometimes they flew quite low.  Once the passengers were offloading sand in attempt to gain height.  Some of it landed in Mr Routledge's pristine garden.  He danced in rage and shook a fist.  The balloonists were too high to interpret this, and waved back benignly from their basket.  Mr Routledge was very proud of his garden, as we four girls found out by chucking bits of mortar into it from our garden across the lane.  He caught us at it and threw it all back.  We cowered giggling in the shed as missiles clanged off the corrugated iron roof.  'Have your bloody rubbish back!' were his words.  Some of his words.

Once a balloon landed in the field over near Pitstone windmill.  We watched from an upstairs window as it struggled like a wounded bird.

And then there was The Borrowers Aloft.  They escaped in a home made balloon, didn't they?  And lived happily ever after in Bekonstcot Model Village, or something.  All these things, like the unforgettable smells that rocket you straight back to childhood (lime blossom, creosote fences) combine to make a hot air balloon ride impossibly romantic to me.  Not forgetting wanting to fly--something I can do in my sleep, with my eyes closed, but unaccountably cannot master while awake.  But next year, next year I'll be up, up and away.

Friday 16 December 2011

WEEK 50--Buying a Christmas Tree

Well, fancy getting to the age of 50 without ever buying a Christmas tree.  I mention my age quite unashamedly, in an attempt to lure you into saying 'You never are!'  That is the correct liturgical response whenever a lady mentions how old she is.  Be careful not to overdo it though chaps, or it becomes patronising.   I was hailed thus by a youth selling programmes at the theatre last night: 'Evening, gorgeous!'.  Later my older son suggested I respond: 'Evening, smarmy!'  But the moment was long gone.

The buying of Christmas trees is an area of modern life that is still subject to the unwritten rules of patriarchy.  Like the vulcanising of meat on a barbecue, it is something men do.  My father always bought our tree while I was growing up, and so, I realise, the chancellor is the chief tree-buyer in our household.  I go merely go along in an advisory position, and tell him which tree to buy.

This year, in keeping with my New Year's resolution, I decided to go it alone.  I am 50 years old (Why, thank you, you old flatterer!) and I can surely buy my own Christmas tree without male help.  But then at the last minute I decided to take my older son along to handle the manual labour side of things.  He's good company and I've missed him while he's been up at university.  We drove to the cheap Christmas tree outlet at a Farm Shop in Walsall.  This is only cheap if you forget to factor in the petrol.  And if--here's the thing--they haven't sold out of trees.  Apparently there was a rush.  Loads of people have all suddenly decided to buy a tree in mid-December to decorate their house.  It's some sort of festive custom in the UK, it emerges.

So back to Lichfield and off to the Plant Plot.  'We'll just buy one and pretend we don't care how much it costs,' I said.  But flip! (as we say when the chancellor is listening)  SEVENTY QUID?!  'I'll go and do a strip tease for the woman, and you sneak out with the tree,' suggested my son.  'That way we'll probably make money, because she'll pay me.'  But then we noticed that it was only these new-fangled non-shedding blue spruces that are so expensive.  Your old-fashioned traditional Norway spruces were less than half the price.  So that's what we got.  £24 well spent.  And so long as nobody touches it or sneezes within three yards of it, the needles will probably stay attached till the twelfth day of Christmas.  And then it's next year's kindling.

Sunday 11 December 2011

WEEK 49--A Morning at KwikFit

You will be pleased to see that I have finally caught up with the calendar and we are now in the correct week of the year, Week 49.  This was achieved by quantitative easing.  Quantitative easing is when people high up in finance do something mysterious and then say, There, it's all right now.  I've simply applied the same process to my blog.  There.  It's all right now.

My New Thing for Week 49 was to spend Saturday morning at KwikFit, Lichfield.  The previous day while on the M6 (everybody's favourite motorway!) our car began juddering as though we were driving over non-stop rumble strips.  It was worse when accelerating or going up hill.  A scary little icon began flashing on the dashboard, one we'd never seen before.  I screamed and grabbed the user manual.  It generally says 'If a scary icon appears, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DRIVE YOUR CAR OR YOU WILL SURELY DIE! Make your way slowly to your nearest specialist dealer who will sell you an engine part for £900 plus labour.'  The icon looked a bit like a cam-corder, but according to the book, it was something in the exhaust system.

So at 8.30 the next morning--having phoned and booked a slot, please note--I rumbled off to KwikFit.  At the last moment I grabbed a paperback thriller, and I'm very glad I did.  Three hours is a long time to sit getting cold and waiting for someone to sort out your car.  It certainly gave me time to contemplate the word 'kwik' from all possible angles.  Below is my view:

I'm afraid to say that I'm a complete girl when it comes to cars.  This is why I knew I had to embrace this challenge as a New Thing, rather then let the chancellor sort it out.  The KwikFit fitters (better than whom you cannot, of course, get) asked me a whole bunch of technical car-related questions, like, 'What's your registration number?' and 'Is it the two 2 litre?  Is it turbo?  Is it petrol or diesel?'

I floundered through gamely, but then they began to outline the possible reasons for the juddering.  Here's what I heard: 'Well, it could either be the tssss-shshshsh-chchchhh-crrr, or possibly the crr-tsss-chchchc-crrr-ssssshhh, or maybe the spark plugs.'  White noise--exactly the same as when my accountant is going through my tax return with me.  Obviously, the car then needed chhhchh-shhshhh.  Diagnostics, I believe that translates as.  Diagnostics, as you've probably guessed, is where they put an elf up the tailpipe so that he can scamper through the exhaust system with his tiny silver hammer, testing everything with a Ting! Ting! Ting! and finding out what the problem is.  Obviously it's expensive, because you've got to pay the supernatural creature minimum wage, and that's not cheap, thanks to the EU.

Well, it turned out it was one of the coil packs.  I was shown the culprit.  I frowned at it in what I hoped was  a knowledgeable-looking way.  Bad coil pack!  All that remained was for them to ring their parts supplier for a new one, and all would be well.  Shouldn't take long, they're only coming from Tamworth.

Well, as I said, I'm glad I picked up a book on the way out.  (Thank you, Joseph Finder, for your company in my trial.)  In KwikFit's defence I will say that when the part finally came, they fitted it very kwikly indeed.  I got the impression they couldn't quite believe I hadn't thrown a monumental tantrum.  Perhaps this is why they rewarded me with the promise of a £20  MOT.  That's a whole £10 off.  To be honest, I was rather more interested in another offer I saw advertised on a poster on the wall: 'A VIR FOR EVERY CAR'.  My Latin is pretty rusty, but I think that means 'A man for every car.'  I choose a fireman.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Peterborough Diocesan Conference

Last night I had a nice experience.  I was invited to be the after dinner speaker at Peterborough Diocesan Conference at the Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick.  All diocesan conferences are held there.  I expect its decreed by canon law.  You might think that there could be nothing worse outside of Oxford or Cambridge  than 300 clergy and licensed lay ministers in a confined space, but you'd be wrong about that.  Anglicans make an excellent audience.  How much this had to do with the wine served at the meal, I cannot say.  If I tell you that most people probably had several glasses, this would be misleading, as the Hayes serves wine in the world's smallest glasses.  Thimbles, practically.  Pff!  A mere mouthful.  More merlot, vicar?

I promised someone that I'd post a copy of the Lawyer's Festive Greeting, which I read out.  It was forwarded to me by a barrister friend last year.  (This is not my own composition, by the way.)  Here it is:

Festive Greetings
Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.
In addition, please also accept our best wishes for a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2011, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make this country great (not to imply that this country is necessarily greater than any other country or area of choice), and without regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual orientation of the wishers.

This wish is limited to the customary and usual good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first. 'Holiday' is not intended to, nor shall it be considered, limited to the usual Judeo-Christian celebrations or observances, or to such activities of any organized or ad hoc religious community, group, individual or belief (or lack thereof).

Note: By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher at any time, for any reason or for no reason at all. This greeting is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. This greeting implies no promise by the wisher actually to implement any of the wishes for the wisher her/himself or others, or responsibility for the consequences which may arise from the implementation or non-implementation of it.

This greeting is void where prohibited by law.

Thursday 1 December 2011

WEEK 45--Cooking Moose Steaks

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have realised that I am not going to manage 52 New Things in 2011.  Or not unless I cram rather a lot of novelty into the next four weeks.  Cooking moose steaks was really last week's New Thing.  We had them for lunch on Advent Sunday.  Please notice that these were Deluxe moose steaks, because we all hate those crappy non-deluxe ones.  I bought them at Lidl for £9.99.  A bit steep, but hey, it was a New Thing.  Cheaper than sky-diving.

I did a bit of culinary research to discover the traditional way with moose.  Perhaps marinated slowly in a fragrant combination of pine bark and Norwegian toadstools, then served up on a bed of sphagnum moss?  But as far as I could make out, most recipes treated moose pretty much as beef.  So that is what I did.  There was a nod in the direction of game in my made-up casserole, in the form of juniper berries.  Nothing says 'game' in a casserole quite like juniper berries.  Apart from lead shot, of course.

Well, was it worth it?  Was it delicious?  Will I be serving up my Advent moose casserole for years to come?  Nah.  The verdict round the table was that it was nice.  'Nice' is not a rave enough review to tempt me into a repeat performance.  I need an 'astonishing', or even the silence of cross-eyed drooling bliss.  Moose is basically like a slightly game-y beef.  Unless I was cooking it all wrong, that is.  If you know better, leave a comment.