Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas miracles

So that was Christmas. The lunch with friends passed without incident – the OH’s truffles were suitably admired (especially by an eight-year-old who managed to eat most of them while the adults were otherwise occupied with chitchat and coffee) and in the Secret Santa lottery we came away with a home-made shopping bag and a jar of salted lemons.

The bag has already been pressed into service at Sainsbury’s. The salted lemons are sitting in the fridge while the OH decides what to do with them.

It was lovely to see the latest grandchild and his parents later in the day. They stayed overnight and for lunch on Boxing Day.

I do sometimes wonder if my son is turning into Goldilocks – the bed was too soft, the room was too hot – but at least he had enough common sense to wait until his father was occupied in the kitchen before attempting the traditional parental Christmas task of assembling various items given to children by fond relations. 

Indeed, he managed to put together the push-along trike with only the advice of his wife and his mother and without losing his temper. Truly, a Christmas miracle. 

There were other wonders. The OH (who once bought me an iron for Christmas and has never been allowed to forget it) gave me a smart red handbag which was even smarter than the one I had been coveting in John Lewis. Thank you Google and cookies

And thanks, too, to Facebook and Instagram, whereby we could see that Father Christmas had managed to find our other grandchildren on an island in Thailand (even if it was rather hot for the reindeer).  

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Rocky Road

This year we are not having the Family Christmas Lunch. The children and grandchildren are variously in Wales, Thailand and another part of North London and, although a little sad not to see them all, part of me was secretly looking forward to a meal where we could eat what we fancied instead of having to remember who wouldn’t or couldn’t eat sprouts/chestnuts/Christmas pudding etc.

The OH, however, clearly felt differently. (He likes company, an audience for his jokes and his stories – I’ve heard them all before.)

So when one of his mates suggested we join him and his family, plus a famous actress friend and her family, plus some other friends the OH had known through his work a while ago, he jumped at the chance. 

‘Don’t bring anything,’ said the friend’s wife, another former colleague. ‘Just something for the Secret Santa. We just do a craft thing, something home made.’

As far as I know, the OH has never taken part in Secret Santa but, channelling his inner Heston, he came up with a plan. An elaborate foodie pun.

He would make some chocolate truffles, then present them on a half a wooden log with ‘earth’ made from crumbled chocolate biscuits. 

So far he has spent some time sourcing the right sort of biscuit. (I have refrained from pointing out that a true chef would have made his own.)

He has bought all the ingredients for the truffles but has abandoned his idea of presenting them on half a log as the log pile outside is too wet.

This morning he asked me if I had a small box he could use instead. When I found one he said he didn’t need the lid. Foolishly, I asked what would happen if we had to put our gifts into a Secret Santa sack.

He is now not talking to me. I am not sure if he will still go ahead with any part of his plan but luckily I have a secret supply of amaretti, marshmallows and glace cherries in the cupboard in case of emergencies.

Just right for a Christmas rocky road.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hear, hear

When the OH and I were both gainfully employed full-time we saw far less of each other in the course of 24 hours. 

So we talked less to each other. And we seemed to annoy each other less.

We clearly have a problem – but I’m beginning to think it’s less about character and more about communication. More specifically, about hearing.

Take this recent exchange for example.
Me: Your phone pinged.
Him (looking a little insulted): You’re a penguin? 

The OH insists I mumble. That I need to speak more clearly. That I DO NOT NEED TO SHOUT.

The other evening he came back from the pub where he had been having a pint with two of his mates. One of them has recently had very expensive hearing aids fitted because he has suddenly and inexplicably become very deaf. There seemed to have been a fair bit of discussion about wives and being able to hear them (or not).

Apparently, the OH said triumphantly, we ALL lose the ability to detect really high-pitched sounds as we get older – so the problem was not husbands getting deafer, but wives speaking in high-pitched voices. And clearly the answer was for me to speak more like Mrs Thatcher. And not to speak to him when he was in another room. Or with my back to him.

Today the OH thrust a newspaper under my nose.
‘This is what you’ve got,’ he said.

I skimmed the article which said that scientists had demonstrated that inattentional deafness is a genuine phenomenon. This explains why a person can be so absorbed in a book or a crossword they become deaf to normally audible sound.

The OH looked triumphant. I think he said something but unfortunately I was concentrating, so I didn’t hear him. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Testing, testing

The phrase ‘three little words’ used to mean ‘I love you’. These days they mean income draw down.

Flushed with excitement now that he is getting his hands on some money, my OH has decided to replace his much loved Jaguar - or as he put it: “What we need is a new family car.”

His original plan had been to keep his special edition Jaguar XJR until it became a modern classic and shot up in value. 

Now he is suggesting we sell both the Jag and my Ford Focus (the car used for essentials of family life such as collecting Christmas trees, making journeys to the tip and ferrying grandchildren around), then buy one car that we can share.

I am not entirely convinced that this is a good idea. Apart from one brief period in the past when mortgage rates were running at 12 per cent we have never had a ‘family car’. We had his and her cars.

His was the big shiny one that impressed clients and was taken to the car wash every week. Mine was the scruffy little one full of empty crisp packets, used baby wipes and CDs of Paddington Bear and Stig of the Dump. (Thanks to grandchildren, it still is.) 

Besides, his idea of a suitable family car and mine are completely different. We have already had a test drive in what he laughably refers to as the little Jaguar. And we have looked at a BMW 3 series 340 which is - apparently - superior to the BMW 3 series 320 (although not to the naked eye).

The test drives, it seemed to me, were all about 0-60 speeds, and the handling round corners and technical issues like that. The salesmen laughed when I observed that the real test would be whether I could manoeuvre the car into one of the miniscule spaces in Sainsbury’s car park. The OH was not at all amused.

He is now insisting that some of the cars he has his eye on are actually narrower than my Focus and only a few centimetres longer. I suspect we will never agree. 

  1. His earliest memories of family cars include his father's Ford Thunderbird. My Dad’s pride and joy was a Ford Anglia!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

A bit of a barney

IN all the time we have lived in this house I have had one cast-iron rule: never do anything at the door.

I have implacably turned down offers of salvation, new dusters and tarmac for the driveway. I have said no to knife sharpening and tree trimming.

I have resisted the importuning of market researchers, window cleaners, students trying to sign me up to various charities and even the fresh fish van men (despite the fact that I felt sorry for them as they had driven all the way down to London from the frozen wastes of the North – but the OH can’t stand the taste or the smell of fish, and that tipped the balance).

So imagine my surprise this week when I heard my husband answer the door and, a few moments later, saw a ladder going up past the front bedroom window.

When I went downstairs the OH explained that a kindly builder had knocked on the door and told him that a number of tiles had come off our roof as a result of what the Met Office had called Storm Barney.

He had then taken the OH outside and suggested that more tiles were likely to slip the next time we had a bit of a blow. 

Luckily, he went on, he was doing some work in the area and, as he had his sons with him, they could fix our roof  immediately...

“But,” I said firmly, “you know we never do anything at the door. Besides, when it comes to repairs on the house you always say we have to get at least three quotes, and use your subscription to Which? to check out trusted tradesmen.”

The OH did not meet my steely gaze. “Well I’ve told them to go ahead,” he said. “I’ll pay them myself.”

And he did. Quite a lot.

I have no idea what, if anything, they did on the roof. Probably not a lot. But the following day the doorbell rang. It was one of the neighbours from across the road.

“Hi,” she said. “I just wanted to ask if you were happy with the work those builders did on your roof? Only they knocked on my door, said they were working for you and offered to fix some missing tiles.”

I explained what had happened. “Oh,” she said. “I was really taken in. I thought you knew them. I don’t think they did what they said they were going to do at all. My husband will kill me.”

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Mysteries of Marriage 1

Why is it that when the OH dons his Masterchef  hat and does Sunday lunch, I get the joyous task of washing up but when I'm allowed to cook* I'm left to do the dishes too?  The only silver lining is that I use far fewer pots and pans.

*(Today I produced roast chicken with dauphinois potatoes and cauliflower and it was yummy although the OH couldn’t resist remarking that my dauphinois looked like potatoes in scrambled egg. He still had seconds.)  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

It's a carve up

The OH is on his knees. We have the Welsh grandchildren for three days.

It’s lovely, of course. In fact, it’s the first time their mother (the OH’s second son’s wife) has ever allowed them to stay with us - so that makes it extra special. Particularly for the OH.

As we see far less of these grandchildren than the others it gives him a chance to be In Charge. 

Yesterday he fell back on an old rainy day stand-by – the RAF Museum in Hendon. So while they looked at planes and helicopters, I stayed at home and cooked a lasagne without any input from Masterchef.

Admittedly, when they came back he moved it down a shelf in the oven and turned the heat up a little, but I let that go and was pleased to see that everyone cleared their plates and even asked for seconds – even the youngest.

This was particularly gratifying as, despite their parents’ reassurance that the children (and I quote) ‘eat anything’, it turns out that ‘anything’ does not include courgettes and red peppers, tomatoes (unless they are cooked), crusts on sandwiches, home-made carrot cake and strawberry yoghurt.

I am not sure – yet – how they feel about pumpkin. The OH has just taken them off to the supermarket to buy one, possibly two, although I feel he may baulk at the price. His plan is to carve (with the grandchildren’s help) Halloween lanterns.

In the past, this was a task always left to me: he has asked for no advice, so I have offered none. But there’s a way of cutting off the top so the lid still fits, and there’s a fine line between removing so much flesh that the pumpkin collapses and not enough so that it hardly glows at all when you light a candle inside.

And it’s much harder than it looks – unless you go for a very basic design.

And children get bored after five  minutes!!

And I’m just wondering if he will have the stamina to create a pumpkin pie (which he used to insist I made with the leftovers) once the morning is over. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Sit Rep

The dinner party went well. The OH abandoned plans for a souffle which was probably as well although I am not sure what I am going to do with the carton of egg whites in the fridge - make meringues, possibly.

It is now half term and we have the oldest set of grandchildren for three nights. As I am a step-gran to this lot, my input vis a vis meals, entertainment, teeth brushing etc is neither welcomed nor required. The OH has gone into Supergrandad mode. I suspect it is more of a strain then he lets on.

This morning I received this text from him, headed Sit Rep.
After Seale to 11.45, tube to Piccalilli then tube to South Kent. Queued for Bat Hist Musee fir 30 mibs then gave up and went to Siennce Must.  Now having gabguette in V&a. xx

Rather him than me :)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Stewing in his own jus

We are back from two short jaunts to Spain and hostilities have yet to break out. However, I suspect tomorrow will see the temporary truce stretched to breaking point.

The OH has invited an old school friend and his wife to dinner. That’s fine – but he has also decided to do all the cooking. In addition, he has announced that he is meeting another friend – one of his journalist pals – for lunch.

So far I have managed to keep calm, but I anticipate that at lunchtime at least one bottle of red – if nor two – will be consumed in keeping with the old ways of Fleet Street. And I fear that this may have consequences in the kitchen later.

For one thing, he has announced that his ‘dessert’ (I usually cook what I call puddings) is to be pear and ginger soufflé. He has never cooked a soufflé in his life and I am pretty sure that by the time he has greeted his guests with a drink, then dispensed wine in the manner of a generous host during course one and two (celeriac soup and beef pie – sorry carbonade de bouef en croute) his sense of timing may be a little impaired.

So far I have merely asked if he knows that the soufflé recipe he is planning to follow has to be cooked at the last minute. He said rather snappily that he did.

On top of this he has been to the Iranian shop to buy onions and such like and came back with the beef for the pie. Triumphantly he explained that it was topside and had cost a fraction of the price Waitrose or even Sainsbury’s would have charged for braising steak, and it was incredibly lean. He showed me the meat. It looked very pale. It may well be beef. Or not.

He is now cooking it in the oven and I am not sure about the smell.

Meanwhile the daughter-in-law is bringing the baby for me to play with tomorrow afternoon, so I am planning to let him stew in his own juice. Or – as he would say – jus. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Surprise, surprise

The doorbell rang. It was a courier delivering a box from that emporium of all things gadgetty, Lakeland.

For a moment my heart sank. I had no recollection of ordering anything - not even the perforated pie pan I covet (because it holds out the promise of no more soggy bottoms). Was this proof - as the OH* often triumphantly observes - that I must have early stage Alzheimer's?

Further investigation revealed a chocolate melting pot, a blue object called Limey and some sticky stuff remover. There must have been a mix-up, I thought. I definitely hadn't ordered this.

The OH appears. Under cross-examination he admits that he is responsible for buying these items. My heart, which had recovered, sinks again. He has discovered Lakeland online. This is truly serious.

Ever since he retired (sorry, ever since he decided to reduce his workload) the OH has been compensating for the drop in income by making 'savings'. Sometimes this frugality has had unexpected consequences. Take the day he drove to Morrisons to buy a leg of lamb that was on special offer, only to have an unexpected collision in the car park. That resulted in the loss of his no claims bonus and an increase in his car insurance premium.

One way the OH 'saves' us money is to shop for things online. Things that mostly can be used to fix stuff, so we can go on using them instead of taking them to the tip like normal people.

Add to this the fact that the OH is a sucker for gadgets, and you will understand why I foresee trouble ahead. Does anyone else own a gizmo for coring and peeling pineapples? Or a whistling egg?

Anyway, he was very defensive about his purchases. The Limey would solve the problem of getting limescale off the bottom of taps, the sticky stuff remover would be great at getting rid of sticky stuff, and he always found it difficult melting chocolate so the chocolate melting pot would be very useful.

The bill came to £14.33. The Perfobake Pie Tin is only £10.26. I could do a swap and get a bag of soft liquorice thrown in. Now where's the returns slip ...

*OH= Other Half (certainly NOT Old Hasbeen or Overbearing Husband, whatever were you thinking?)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Pants to that

Next week we are off to Spain where we have a modest terraced house with a (very distant) sea view.
We bought it so that the family could come and stay with us during the holidays - only they don't, so it's usually just us.

The last time we were there things started off badly. The first morning went thus:
Other half (crossly): "I have no underpants. I will have to buy some."

Me: "Were they in the last load of washing we did before we left. Could they by any chance be on the washing line down in the garage?"

I suspect he thinks I binned them. He shrugs and starts rummaging around in the kitchen. Since he retired he has added housework to his list of newly acquired skills.

I make coffee and say nothing when he uses the cloth we use for dishes to wipe the down the garden table and chairs. But when he takes the new broom (the one I bought specially) out to the patio I cannot resist pointing out that it is the indoor broom.

He objects to my tone, insists I am mistaken and tells me to lighten up - then maybe I'd enjoy life more.
He carries on sweeping the patio with the indoor broom.

When I go down to the garage in search of his underpants I spot the outdoor, stiff bristled broom and take it back up with me. I put it where he can see it without saying anything. I can tell by the set of his shoulders that he is not speaking to me.

There were three pairs of pants on the washing line.

Finally - a diagnosis

At lunch with a girl friend. Usual moaning about trials and tribulations of life. Then she said: "You know your what your problem is - you've got RHS*."

Light dawned. She had diagnosed the root cause of all my symptoms. Being snappy. Feeling worn out. Gaining weight.

Better still, she came up with a solution. Never mind talking therapies, she said. Write it all down. And so I will.

*Retired Husband Syndrome.