Feathering The Nest

Nesting. Ew! Who invented this word?

Nesting is apparently an obsessive urge to clean, organise and get your life in order – before welcoming a new being into the world.

Obsessive organisation? That sounds like my normal daily life, with or without an impending addition to the family.

Whatever you want to call it, this strange lull between finishing work and awaiting the baby is a last-chance opportunity to do all the jobs you’ve been putting off for years.

This is because – as everyone keeps pointing out – when the baby arrives you won’t even have time to trim your own nostril hair let alone clear out the condiments cupboard.

Here are some jobs around the home that I have finally got round to tackling (mainly out of sheer boredom at not being at work, rather than any primal nesting instinct).

First up…  the freezer. Does anyone ever actually clean a freezer? This necessity was only brought about by the fact that people have been helpfully messaging me saying, ‘stock up the freezer’.

I’m not sure exactly what happens when you have a baby but I can only assume that you turn into a sleep-deprived zombie, unable to stagger the 300 metres down the road to the nearest Co-Op, or too enfeebled to speed-dial Dominos.

Still, there did seem to be a worrying amount of frost building up in the top compartment of the supposedly frost-free freezer – so much, in fact, that for several years now, I’ve been having to literally ram items into it, between mounds of ice.

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There was only one thing for it: in order to stock up the freezer, I was going to have to un-stock it first… Fossilised fish pies and leftover lasagnes – entombed in ice – were languishing in the bottom shelf, buried beneath Jolly Green Giant’s finest frozen peas. There was even coffee in there. Who freezes coffee? That must have been me! 

I have to say there was something strangely satisfying about chiselling off great hunks of ice with a kitchen spatula.

Next task: washing the duvet. One day, I was enjoying a coffee in my favourite Caffe Nero when I looked out of the window and saw a friend from work bundling her duvet into the laundrette opposite. When quizzed, she revealed that she had taken the duvet to be washed… and does so every six months! Dry cleaning the duvet? This essential housewife responsibility had somehow eluded me.

It’s time to come clean here (no pun intended)…. I have NEVER washed our duvet. The sheets get washed, ironed and changed every week but the actual duvet? ‘Fraid not. My mother-in-law will be horrified.

I asked a few people at work and apparently yes, everyone takes their duvet to be washed at fairly regular intervals. The husband and I are clearly the only people to have spent 10 years lying under a filthy duvet, weighed down with dust mites and dead skin cells. 

One quick trip to the launderette, three hours later and £20 lighter, I was in possession of an (almost) brand-new duvet.

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It felt good. So good, in fact, that I decided to return the next day with another duvet. By Day 3, I was seeking out anything that could be dry cleaned: pillows, cushions, you name it…

This was going to become an expensive pastime.

Luckily for me, there was a more pressing matter to attend to: namely the smelly washing machine. Strange as it sounds, our washing machine has been emitting a rather pungent odour for quite some time. I’ve been trying to ignore it but in recent months the smell has been begun to seep out of the cupboard and into the hallway. What could it be?

A quick Google search revealed that a malodorous washing machine is the result of using too much washing powder, easily cured by several alternate hot cycles of bleach and white vinegar. Job done.

It was time to turn my attention to the ‘odd and sods’ drawer. Everyone has that drawer. It’s the drawer that you shove ‘stuff’ in when you don’t know where else to put it.

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The odds and sods drawer may contain (in no particular order):

a. Old currency from an unknown holiday destination. The only way of determining which country it is from is by studying the obscure portrait on it for some time and then reaching the realisation that Greece converted to the Euro in 2001, thus rendering those drachmas completely useless.

b: A variety of phone chargers and leads – a great nest of tangled wires with absolutely no idea where they came from or which device they belong too.

c. Hundreds of lighters, most of which don’t work. A legacy from the days where a man would stand on the street corner shouting, ‘gas lighters… three for a pound’.

Also likely to be swimming around in the odds and sods drawer: dud batteries, leaky biros, furry sweets, out-of-date paracetamol, mini rolls of sellotape and myriad spare keys.

I binned the lot. It felt quite liberating.

So there we have it. Nesting complete. The baby will almost certainly be happier knowing that its parents are sleeping under a freshly-laundered duvet and that there’s an emergency charger for the Nokia 8210 (circa 2001) in the kitchen drawer.

And if the baby happens to fancy some lamp chops of indeterminable age, I know exactly which freezer compartment they’re in.

Wisteria Hysteria

Until two weeks ago, I had absolutely no interest in gardening. Now, I’m concerned that this whole blog might turn into an extension of Gardeners’ World – where I just wax lyrical about my petunias, peonies and pagodas.

After the departure of the old gardener, and a small interlude where I attempted to manage the garden myself but realised that the water supply to the house had been cut off and I had no idea what I was doing (details in last blog here), a saviour appeared in the form of a lovely lady called Margaret.

Margaret was recommended to me by a friend and she offered to come down to the house to explain exactly what was in the garden and what I needed to do.

When I arrived to meet Margaret at the house, she was already deep in conversation with Zak the baby-faced foreman.

‘Is that boy actually in charge?’ said Margaret. ‘He looks about 10-years-old!’

‘I know!’ I whispered conspiratorially. ‘He probably should be at school!’

Margaret and I pottered round the garden, while she pointed out various plants, such as this shy clementis lurking in the shadow of an over-bearing conifer.

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And this yellow peony tree which with a little bit of TLC, could produce more of its buttercup-coloured flowers.

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But how lovely does this wisteria look?

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The saddest thing, according to Margaret, is the wisteria up the front of the property (which was destined for the skip anyway). Because it had been stuck in a pot for years, it hadn’t been able to grow properly. Same goes for the sickly-looking clematis armandii, draped listlessly over the side fence.

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Knowing how lovely the wisteria looked on the pegoda, I immediately started a Save The Wisteria campaign and decided to replant it on a different part of the pegoda.

Cue The Husband (aka. the muscles behind this futile operation). First, on Margaret’s instructions, he smashed both the wilting wisteria and sickly clementis out of their pots (the husband enjoyed this bit the most).

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Then he had to dig a big hole.

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Next, plonk wisteria in hole.

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According to Margaret, water like mad.

(With the water turned off, I daren’t go back to beg at the nearby restaurant like last week – so have taken to watering the plants with large bottle of Co-Op’s finest spring water – oh yes, only the best for our precious perennials!)

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On Sunday, I told the husband that he had to dig two more holes that day. This did not go down well. The husband is fed-up of digging holes. There’s a book called Holes, which I read with my class at school. The protagonist, Stanley Yelnats, is sent to a juvenile delinquent camp out in the desert and forced to dig several holes a day.

In short, the husband said he felt like Stanley Yelnats. It probably doesn’t help that while the husband is digging his holes, I stand around issuing instructions in my role as Chief Delegator.

‘This is an entirely fruitless operation,’ grumbled the husband, as he stabbed resentfully at the clay-like earth.

‘But if I does work, think how nice the wisteria will look,’ I said.

‘Think of The Sense Of Achievement!’

‘You’ve gone wysterical,’ said the husband. ‘And you’ve got hydrangea mania to boot!’

He begrudgingly continued with his digging.

I, meanwhile (in my new alter ego of Margo Leadbetter) was already plotting my next gardening adventure… namely, what can I grow in these boxes?!

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To Fetch A Pail Of Water

This time last week, after being unceremoniously sacked by the gardener (Yep, the gardener we’ve foolishly been paying £16 an hour to – to mainly to sit in the sun, read his newspaper and eat sandwiches for the last year and a half. Details here), I was contemplating a future where our back garden turned into an unruly forest and there was… (first world problem alert!) no-one to mow stripes in my lawn.

There was only one thing for it: become a gardener myself. Despite years of horticultural indifference, I’ve started piously pruning plants with my own bare hands, watering them obsessively, and religiously tuning into Gardeners’ Question Time. I might even get really serious and invest in my own pair of secateurs.

That’s not all. After 18 months of inaction, the builders have descended on the house like a plague of locusts and started stripping it down to the bare bones. I’m trying to not be alarmed by this. Not least because when I peered through the gates, I noticed all the Yorkshire stones had disappeared. Apparently, they’re being stored somewhere for ‘safe-keeping’.

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The good news is, they’ve left us a grand piano. But, as we can’t get it out of the room without disassembling it, it’s only a matter of time before that becomes firewood too.

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It’s probably time for a quick reminder of who’s who in the line-up of characters involved in our ill-fated house renovation.

Prickly planning officers aside, there’s sweet-smelling Jonny from the floor store (details here), who nearly took an injunction out on me after I visited him five times in one week, and affable Gary from Porcelanosa, who has spent many hours with me pouring over every tile in the showroom until a bout of angina nearly finished him off. Luckily for them, we’re a long way off tiles and floors right now – but fear not, I’ll be back!

Last week, I was introduced to our lovely foreman Zak and, after I had recovered from the shock that a teenager appeared to be in charge of building our future home, baby-faced Zak was incredibly obliging and yes, he said he would do everything in his power to retain the cornice in the ground floor rooms and yes, he would take care with the Yorkshire stone and store them somewhere safe etc etc.

‘You know I’m not supposed to just turn up like this,’ I told my new pal Zak.

‘You can come down anytime you like,’ said the baby-faced foreman, with a wink. ‘I won’t tell anyone, if you don’t!’

Anyway, back to the garden. Despite his sudden retirement, I did manage to strong-arm the old gardener into meeting me back down at the house to do a hand-over. This went quite well. It appears we have (amongst other things) a damson tree, blackcurrant bushes and another big old pile of Yorkshire stone hidden away somewhere. Ex-gardener even offered to dig up an Acer bush (below) and re-plant it. It’s the least I can do, he said. Tell me about it!

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To cut along story short, the garden has now become a slight obsession of mine. I’ve taken it upon myself to try and save as many plants as possible from the middle section, which is facing an imminent bull-doze.

Guess what the reluctant and not-so-green-fingered husband spent last Saturday doing with his borrowed spade?!

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(The husband would like to add a disclaimer that this is not his usual gardening get-up. He was about to go for a run before he was ambushed by his botanically-barmy wife and put to task.)

According to those in the gardening know-how, re-planting at this time of year isn’t ideal and the up-rooted plants need watering every day if they are to have any chance of survival.

So, every evening after work (when baby-faced Zak and co. have clocked off), I’ve been sneaking down to the house to water said plants.

There’s just one problem: I can’t actually gain access. This is because the builders have completed barricaded the site (to stop would-be Yorkshire stone thieves and nosy owners, no doubt).

But as it turns out, breaking into your own home is a lot of fun.

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On Thursday evening, I parked up as usual, looked around me to check no-one was watching, and then clambered inelegantly over the fence next door (clutching trusty watering can) and crawled, pretty much on my hands and knees, through the undergrowth to pop out eventually in the garden. Feeling like a criminal, I furtively crept towards the outside tap, only to find they had switched off the water. Drat!

I scrambled back through the rhododendrons and scaled the fence to re-emerge on the road. I scanned the park. Surely there was a source of water nearby? It was the hottest day of the year – the plants needed it!

I pitched up at the door of the The Mansion restaurant nearby, just as the chief waiter was about to lock up.

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‘Excuse me. Would you mind just filling up my watering can? There’s a plant I need to water…’ I faltered.

‘It’s going to take a lot of water for all the plants in the park,’ he said, a glint of amusement in his eyes.

‘It’s only a few plants,’ I pleaded, thinking, ‘he thinks I’m a Mad Plant Lady but I’m just going to have to roll with it’.

Watering can filled, I scuttled back to the house, leapfrogged the fence, crawled back through the undergrowth and… Slosh! … I tripped over a stray plank, sending the sacred water spilling everywhere.

I think it’s time to get a new gardener.

Lawnmower Man

It’s Tuesday morning and I am sat on the wall in the sun opposite our empty house (yep, the house that we bought but still haven’t moved in to. Details here). I’m waiting for a gas engineer to disconnect the gas supply, ready for the building work to finally begin.

I’ve been here for two hours now and naturally there’s no sign of the gas man. A few dog walkers have eyed me suspiciously. A little bunny rabbit just hopped by.

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This time last week I was in the same spot but with sunglasses on, hiding discreetly behind the wheel of my parked car. This is because I was spying on the gardener.

It’s probably time to come clean about what’s been going on here. Since November 2013, I have foolishly been paying a substantial sum of money to the gardener we inherited with the house. Parting with this cash is particularly galling, given that we don’t actually live there. We visit once a month, largely just to check the house is still standing and squatters haven’t taken it hostage.

The gardener has been maintaining the garden for 30 years so it seemed mean to sack him. I’m not sure exactly what he does for his eight hours a week. To my untrained eye, there seems to be quite a lot of weeds around. However, he mows stripes in the lawn. And I’m a sucker for a striped lawn.

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I have never actually met the gardener; I just obligingly transfer large sums of money into his bank account each month. He must think we’re his dream clients and it’s probably no coincidence that he takes three months off over winter to go abroad. I can visualise him in Barbados, surrounded by my bank notes as he chuckles into his cocktail.

Anyway, after 18 months of this madness, I’ve decided to get to the bottom of what he’s actually up to. Quite by coincidence, I drove past the house early one morning and spotted his van there.

‘Aha!’ I thought. ‘Time to find out just what £16 an hour is getting me.’

Resisting the urge to get the binoculars out of the glove compartment, I pulled over and peered through the gates. He was sat reading a newspaper!

‘Fair enough,’ I thought. ‘Everyone deserves a break.’

I decided to return at midday. Pulling up outside the house, I could see him eating sandwiches in his van. It seemed like one long lunch break for this horticultural joker!

At 2pm, I returned for a third time. He was gone! According to his invoices, he’s supposed to work an eight hour day. If he had departed by 2pm, that means he would have had to start work at 6am. This seemed unlikely, lunch break or no lunch break. I smelled a rat.

The next day, I phoned old greenfingers and left an answerphone message asking him call me.

I didn’t hear anything for a week. In the meantime, a large bill came through my letter box.

‘He’s probably back sunning himself in Barbados,’ I thought grimly.

I toyed with the idea of installing CCTV or perhaps a clocking-in system to monitor his hours. I was all prepared to stake out the house for a whole day, if necessary.

But then the gardener finally rang and left an answerphone message.

‘Hello Katy,’ he said. ‘I’m just ringing to let you know that I’m semi-retiring. I haven’t minded keeping things ticking over for you but it’s a long way for me to drive from Otley and it’s probably time for me to step down.’

What?! I’d been sacked by my own gardener. And worse still, despite the thousands of pounds I’d paid him, he made it sound like he’d been doing me a favour!

So there we have it. I now require a new gardener. It’s a coveted role: flexible working hours, extensive lunch breaks, three-months off over winter, dealing with clients who wouldn’t know a dandelion from a rhododendron (but must have the skill to mow stripes in lawn). Apply within.

(Oh and yes, the owner of the house may secretly stalk you.)

Mother… And The Londoners

Blog star mother – aka student landlady extraordinaire – hasn’t been caught on camera for some time.

But here she is… rhapsodising about meeting two new London students straight off the Megabus for an unscheduled guided tour of Preston – and recalling the time her and my father stumbled across some alternative characters at Camden Lock…

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/127398789″>Mother&#8230; and The Londoners</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user33278695″>Palmersan</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Pillow Talk

Someone wished me a ‘happy New Year’ yesterday. I think they may have missed the cut-off point for this.

It’s a terribly British problem but when exactly is it socially appropriate to stop saying ‘happy New Year!’? It feels like we’ve been shrouded in grey skies, beset by biting winds and plagued by slippery pavements for weeks.

Aside from sodden Uggs (aka Sluggs), January’s biggest fashion problem is Hat Hair. Hat Hair occurs when you leave the house wearing an on-trend woollen hat, only to arrive at your destination, remove said hat – and then realise that your hair is plastered to your head and flatter than a pancake.

As I type, I’m currently battling the dilemma of whether to remove my hat and expose the inevitable Hat Hair or keep it safely hiding my flattened tresses. Outside, this bushy beast passed for something relatively fashionable; now that I’m wearing it indoors – sans coat – it looks like a giant toilet brush.

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It’s so cold that I’ve become obsessed with ridiculously hot baths. It’s not even that our apartment, aka the Holiday Home, is even that cold (the heating’s been on for four years because the husband and I never did work out how to turn it off); I’ve just got The Perma-Chill Within. I literally cannot function at home without clambering straight into a scalding bath to warm my cold bones.

But the ultimate weapon against The Perma-Chill Within is the hot water bottle. Anyone who doesn’t use the trusty bottie is seriously missing a trick.

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Simply fill it up from the kettle (ignore the naysayers who warn against this), pop it under the duvet and it will heat the bed all night (White Company cashmere cover optional). I’ve even been known to leave the house with one strapped to my back. I’m now just  one step away from the ultimate statement of slobbiness: the slanket.

In other mundane/ inane news, my cleaner (she of the bizarre presents; details here) has finally returned from her extended break in Poland. Thank the Lord. (Yes, I have a cleaner. I’m far too important educating the next generation to iron my own smalls).

However, I fear she might have taken leave of her senses. Evidence as follows…

ME: Hi! Bit of a strange question but do you know what you did with the pillowcases that were on our bed? I wanted to wash them but I can find only the sheets…

CLEANER: So sorry Katy! I will ask my friend. She clean the bed today. She not answer her mobile. Oh I am so very sorry about this. I don’t check her today very carefully.

ME: Don’t worry. I’m sure they’ll turn up!

CLEANER: She still not answer her phone. I can come and sort this out now because I don’t feel so good about this.

ME: It’s fine. I was just a bit puzzled. Please don’t worry.

CLEANER: I come to house now to sort this out.

ME: There’s no need to do that. It’s fine!

CLEANER: I am so sorry! Maybe she put the left this cases on the pillow and she put new cases on top?

ME: Hi! You’re right – she has. I’ve found them!

CLEANER: Oh my good! I am so very sorry. Next time I do the beds. So so sorry Katy!!! I am really sorry!

ME: Please don’t worry. Have a great weekend.

CLEANER: Thank you. I am one more time SO SO SORRY!!!!

Reading these messages, you probably now think that I keep the kowtowing cleaner locked in a cupboard and occasionally beat her with a mop.

But honestly I couldn’t be a better employer: I always make sure I’m out when she comes, eat and drink her strange Polish gifts out of guilt, and have given her jobs with at least eight other friends. I even clean up for the cleaner. Who does that?

Following The Curious Incident of the Vanishing Pillowcases, by way of apology she presented me with a fine bottle of… Zubrowka Bison Grass.

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I’m not sure exactly what it is but I can only assume from the picture that it’s a highly potent Polish vodka, mixing the blood of a bull with the semen of an ox.

Thank God for Dry January.

Trunky Want A Bun?

A peculiar email from our old nosy neighbours snooping Susan and deflated Dick landed in my inbox today.

Our favourite curtain twitchers (details here) may have moved out six months ago but it’s reassuring/ slightly frightening to know that they’re still keeping tabs on the comings and goings of our apartment block – from their new abode several miles away!

Hi Katy,

Thought I would send best wishes for 2015, particularly for happy relationships with your neighbours.

I had a brief phone conversation with Bea (Apt 2) recently, who told me about the party in our old apartment: held by son of new owners, with police being called, she thought. She also thought the police had been back looking for the previous woman tenant of no. 4, but she was a bit vague about it.

Here in new apartment: all quiet, reliable and pleasant neighbours, all owner-occupiers with one exception – and that tenant sleeps here during the week only, and we have never seen him since our arrival in July!

Best wishes,

Susan and Dick

I re-read the email and am still completely baffled as to its purpose.

Is it that they merely want to boast about the serenity of their new domicile?

Do they want me to tell them how hellish it is living here, in order to justify their move?

Or are they simply hoping I will provide them with insider information about their erstwhile neighbours – to feed their insatiable appetite for gossip?

Answers on a postcard please…

* Trunky want a bun? – possibly my favourite-ever phrase to describe a nosy person (trunky being an elephant sniffing out a bun).