Dust, dust and more dust

I was taken out to dinner on Friday by grateful friends whom I had helped recover some money they were owed, and I was persuaded to have a cocktail at the expense of the debtor. Oh dear. One drink and I am under the table.

So, after that late and (for me) boozy night, it was somewhat shocking to be awoken at 8.00 the following morning by three burly Polish builders walking through my bedroom because it is the only accessway to the work they are doing. Fortunately they are used to me usually being in bed with my computer when they arrive in the morning, although I hate to think how they are tying my way of life in with normal English habits.

The builders have been in now for 10 days separating off a room and dividing it into 2 to make an ensuite bathroom and walk-in wardrobe for me. The entire ground floor of the house is inches deep in dust from all the hacking off, plastering and sawing that has taken place, and it is impossible to move for the stored packages of bath, shower, washbasin, loo, bathroom furniture, tiles, lights etc. waiting to be installed. There is no point in doing any cleaning because they will be back tomorrow to start again. All I can do is huddle up and pretend that I am somewhere else.

But from tomorrow it should be downhill all the way (famous last words). Once the floor is tiled and the walls painted they can start installing the plumbing and electric points they have already put in.

And I have an English plumber! No-one in London has an English plumber, they are almost extinct. But my Polish builder brings in sub-contractors, all extremely efficient, mostly Polish but the plasterer is Bulgarian and the plumber English. The builder himself is trained as a PE teacher, and he was joined last week by his father-in-law (his wife has just had her first baby and the in-laws came over for the event) who tired of his womenfolk after two days and begged to be allowed to come to work: in real life the father-in-law is the head of a school where he teaches agriculture, as well as running a nursery growing tomatoes and cucumbers. They are all unbelievably versatile and the work is to a very high standard.

By next weekend things should be very different. I can’t wait.
  • Current Music
    Dies Irae

(no subject)

My cultural life for 2010 ended with two visits to the Torch. The first was to see the local pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk. This was aimed at children and as such it was very successful, persuading the kids to shout back and to singalong, and reading out greetings to families who were present that evening, including two youngsters from the US who were seeing their very first panto. Since this was Wales, I was curious to know how they would deal with the giant’s refrain: Fe Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman. In fact, he turned out to be a very soft-hearted giant who hadn’t been able to bring himself to kill and eat the pantomime cow he had bought from Jack, and declared: Fe Fi Fo Fum, I’ve become a vegetarian. For adults, however, not nearly as much fun as John Barrowman as Robin Hood last year in Cardiff.

The second visit was to see Mike Leigh’s latest film, Another Year, and a right bundle of laughs that was……not. I cannot image any American film showing its stars with all their physical flaws, nor any US actors being prepared to be filmed so very unflatteringly. It was very well acted and very bleak, depicting only too well what empty and lonely lives some, perhaps many, people live. I had an uncomfortable feeling that ‘im inside and I rather resemble the Jim Broadbent/Ruth Sheen couple except that I hope that I do not come over as quite as sanctimonious as her. Admittedly, she was a counsellor by profession, but to come out with the line “I’m not angry with you, I am disappointed” is real therapy speak, especially when the truth of the matter was that she was (justifiably) pissed off.

So, let us see what 2011 has to offer.
  • Current Music
    distant hum of the dishwasher

Exasperation, despair, anger

If I believed in an afterlife I would hope that the suicide bomber who blew himself up, killing a number of poor sods who were queuing for food at a relief agency on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border, would discover that this was a route not to heaven but to eternal damnation.
  • Current Music
    Radio 4

Weather Report

At –4C Milford Haven was the warmest place in Wales last night: we had 1cm of snow. It’s incredibly cold, at least by my standards, but it is much better than practically anywhere else in this country at the moment.
  • Current Music
    Endless Bach

"The Cold Wind doth blow......"

I feel a complete fraud. The news broadcasts are full of dire stories of deep snow, traffic disruption and chaos, but here in Milford Haven we have no snow.

I arrived back in London on Monday after spending a few days with my brother in Connecticut, and spent the next three days wandering round in a jet-lagged daze. I could have done with a day in London to get myself together but the weather forecast for Friday was bad and for Saturday, worse, so I girded up my loins and made my way through the 2 inches of snow that had already fallen in London and set out. My journey was totally uneventful, despite the snow increasing as I travelled west, but by the time I finally reached Milford Haven it had disappeared.

The decision to leave on Friday turned out to be good. Saturday travel would have been much more difficult.

Local shopping on Saturday morning, and I filled my car with petrol. Not needing it in London, I had left the car in Milford Haven for the last few months, so I was out of touch with petrol prices, which have risen dramatically. My car does not have a particularly large tank and last time I filled up I paid about £30. This time a full tank for the Lady Fabia (as ‘im inside insists on calling her) cost £50.

The pain of paying this was somewhat mitigated by the sound of the Fishguard Brass Band (apparently 145th in the world) playing outside Tescos. I went to admire it because, apart from their expertise, the wife of our esteemed postman (the source of all local knowledge) plays the euphonium in the band and at least one of his sons is also in it.

We had tickets for a performance of the Messiah on Saturday evening at St. David’s cathedral. With great trepidation on the part of my sister in law, who had been taking note of the news broadcasts, we set out and again had a stress-free journey. Others were not so lucky. The performance started with an apology because the orchestra had not made it from Cardiff, so the choir was accompanied just by the organ.

I have in the past frozen in the cathedral in winter, but the heating system has been improved considerably and, taking into account the thick tights and long johns I was wearing under my long skirt, the temperature was tolerable. At the interval, however, the audience unanimously groaned to their feet: those wooden pews are very uncomfortable.

It is fortunate for church architecture that I was not in charge of building the cathedral. Instead of the roof towering magnificently 60 feet above I would probably have put in an eight foot ceiling: it would have been so much cheaper to heat.


I am becoming much more thick-skinned. When I was a student it was customary to stand for the National Anthem before all theatre performances (Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Royal at Stratford East was the exception: her rule was to play it only when the monarch was present and since the monarch never ventured to Stratford East it was never played). As a student at the LSE it was a matter of political correctness to sit through it and I duly did, but in a state of total embarrassment. Well, ‘im indoors declines to join all those who stand during the Hallelujah Chorus. He maintains that just because on its first performance the Hanoverian king was dozing through the performance, was awoken by the opening chords and jumped to his feet in shock, that is no reason why he should be required to stand through it now. So while everyone else stood he sat and in solidarity so did I, and I was totally unembarrassed to do so.

But the concert was lovely and the sound of the sopranos metaphorically raising the roof, glorious. One can disregard the words, which are mostly fairly meaningless:

"Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle."

That sounds like a hack, having to fulfill his quota of words.

But remind me not to be reincarnated as a 9th century monk. However beautiful the buildings, life must have been dire.
  • Current Music
    The Messiah


I think I can congratulate myself on a job well done. A combination of School Hard and, especially, Once More with Feeling, and Spike has another minion.

A newbie

I have a charming Russian girl staying, whom Eve and I met at The Hub last year. She was very enthusiastic about Torchwood and John Barrowman, but told me yesterday that she had never really watched Buffy or Angel.

I thought that this was a situation that could not be allowed to continue. So, over breakfast this morning we sat in front of the DVD and watched the first ever episode of Buffy. When we got back this evening she suggested that we should watch the second and then asked for another so, because I do not like the third very much, we saw the fourth.

I think I will introduce her to Spike tomorrow, and stand back and see if there are fireworks.
  • Current Mood

Woe, woe

The most nauseating picture of the week was George Osborne sitting down after giving his speech on the cuts in Parliament, being congratulated by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander, all grinning all over their faces as if they had announced some great triumph. In fact, this Chancellor of the Exchequer who has a £4 million trust fund and is one of 14 millionaires in the Cabinet, had announced cuts which will affect them to a minimal extent, but according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies will bear most heavily on the poorest section of the population and 72% most heavily on women.

I am fed up with being told that the cuts are necessary because we have all been living above our incomes for the past ten years. First, I was born in Yorkshire. I have never in my life lived beyond my income. Second, 75% of the deficit was caused not by my fellow citizens living beyond their income: it was caused by the bailing out of the banks. OK, it may well be that the banks should not have been bailed out or that if a rescue had to be mounted it should have been done in some other way, and OK I have no great fondness for the late Labour Government, but it was faced with a unique situation with no precedent as to how it should have been handled: and now to put the blame on it rather than the banks is not just being economical with the truth, it’s being downright stingy.

For me, the inconvenience will be minimal. Subsidies to public transport are being cut so that my train service from London to West Wales will probably become even less pleasant and more expensive, and buses in London (car transport there is, generally speaking, just too much of a hassle) will once again become a rarity. My local theatre is likely to be under great financial pressure. Crime rates are likely to rise and police numbers on the street to fall. Unlike many others, however, I will not run the risk of losing my home if I lose my job and my Housing Benefit is cut; or forced to move out of London if benefit is capped to an unrealistic level so that there is just no housing available in London at that price; or who may no longer be eligible for working tax credit because my family obligations prevent me from increasing my weekly working hours from 16 to 24 (or because 24 hours per week is unavailable); or whose state pensionable age will be raised from 60 to 66 (and the French are rioting because theirs will be raised to 62!).

If I had a nasty suspicious mind (which Heaven forfend) I might think that our rulers are deliberately creating an underclass so as to have a supply of domestic cheap labour to enhance still further their already very high standard of living: not factory-fodder, because we no longer have factories. All we produce are financial services.

And to what end? Two winners of Nobel prizes for economics have cast severe doubts on the wisdom of these policies from an economic standpoint (let alone fairness, compassion or any other emotive terms). And we have another 4.5 years of this lot.
  • Current Mood
    angry angry

Doom and Gloom

I have a simple mind. The only point of cheer in yesterday's Guardian was a letter recording that the consultant urologist at a Taunton hospital is a Mr. Burns-Cox.


I am one of the generation who benefited from free tuition and maintenance grants which enabled me to go to university. My parents were of a generation who believed in education as the key to a better life, and encouraged their children to take the opportunities offered. But they had also lived through the poverty of the pre-war period, and if going to university had meant saddling ourselves with the equivalent in those terms of at least £30,000 of debt they would, I think, have been too terrified at the prospect and would have warned us off.

Many of the people who are now proposing to bring this regime in similarly benefited from free education themselves. How they can be so hypocritical as to deny it to others I do not understand.

I am tired of hearing about the mess the Labour Government left behind. It is not the Labour Government itself which created this situation, it is the way the Labour Government handled the chaos created by the bankers. I may not have agreed with how they handled the economic crisis (although I did not hear the right way complaining and suggesting alternatives) and I may have felt that a change was necessary in order to deal with some of the mistakes of the past, reversing the restrictions on civil liberties, getting rid of identity cards, admitting that the Iraq War was wrong, etc, but what we are creating now is a plutocracy which is going to create a permanent underclass: cuts everywhere except for the armed forces (now 5% instead of the 25% originally envisaged) religious schools free to preach creationism, Rupert Murdoch controlling a large proportion of the media, …..

How can basically decent people like Vince Cable be prepared to go along with this? Have they really sold their souls for a mess of pottage? Is this the corruption that even a little power brings?

Where is the JD to drown my sorrow? No, that’s what Spike would drink. I’m a Brit: I’ll have Glenmorangie (except that with my head and stomach for alcohol, I can’t even resort to that)
  • Current Music
    Heartbreak Hotel?