Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com rockpool in the kitchen: 12/01/2008 - 01/01/2009

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Never rains but..

This is the jolly bit: Granny and Beloved's version of a Christmas tree, consisting of an agave - cactus - spike, which sits in their sitting-room all the year around and gets hung with coloured balls and Ikea lights (the environmentally kind, of course, you know Granny) over Christmas. Very nice it looks too, though Granny does wish Beloved had removed the grotty dog basket before taking the picture. Nothing to be done about the books of course - why should she mind those anyway - she has no objections to showing how literate she/they are. Another use for agave is making tequilla, she hears. Now there's a thought - though you have to be careful of tequilla: Granny got very drunk on her Californian host's lethal margarita a little while back - she only had one of them too. Ah well.

Now for less desirable wetness. That old cliche - it never rains but it pours - could have been invented on this island.

The skies broke here last night and are scheduled to go on breaking through tomorrow. Wouldn't you know it... these are the days Beloved's Beloved Family are all due to arrive to celebrate his 70th birthday (Beloved is one of those unfortunates whose birthday is on New Year's Eve: could be Christmas Day of course, still worse.) Not the best time to have water pouring through the roof: some of the repairs to the roof done in the summer seem to have held up, but new leaks have appeared elsewhere, and the leaks in the sitting-room are unavoidable. This room was once the courtyard - all old Lanzarote houses have courtyards at the centre - it is roofed over making a wonderful room, but the centre of the roof is a large glass dome and though Granny and Beloved have done much to strengthen it, when the rain really pours there's not much can be done to keep some of the rain out: the worst leak this time is stationed directly above one of the sofas, naturally. Expensive electricity is now blasting out heat from radiators, the stove in the sitting-room is lit, cushions and throws from the sofas stood and draped all round them. Normally Granny would be happy to have all that forbidden heat- but with the rain and wind coming from the south, it's not so cold as sometimes and she could quite happily live without it. Sods law that is...

It could be worse. A roof down in the main town Arrecife not only leaked, it blew in. Things were flooded down east, and still more in the centre of the island. Beloved is down there at this very moment trying to buy fish for the birthday feast, and he just rang up to report.

Otherwise the Christmas holidays wend their way on. Very different here - much less commercial and the day after Christmas is a normal working day - locals have their big meal booze-up on New Year's Eve so are able to stand up by then. (Though trying to get anyone to come and fix anything here between Christmas Eve and 7th January can be difficult... does drink flow in the water/electricity/postal/telephone utilities for the whole period? If so, why not? And everything chez Granny does appear to be working at the moment.) Fireworks have been let off as always here at any fiesta - there'll be many more at the new year - drinks and nibbles offered at the entrance by all the local shops, all the towns' Christmas cribs are well set up and much viewed - they get more elaborate every year, all the municipios now competing - oh and the lights on the big roundabout in Granny's town features two large twirling local dancers, serenaded by not so local cherubs. The depression - this island is very depressed indeed - doesn't seem to have affected things like this yet. It will be interesting to see what happens next year.

Granny and Beloved's B&B now features on the Alastair Sawday website. Only one enquiry so far. Wouldn't you know it, this is the year the great British public - of the sort can still afford holidays - are looking outside Europe because of the ever-continuing slide of the pound against the euro. Sods law again. Feel like a holiday anyone? Here we are...


Monday, December 22, 2008

Mince pies and pea pods...

The sun is out......the wind - cold - from the Sahara - but not bringing too much sand with it for once and certainly not bringing the cloud of locusts it carried in one memorable winter; memorable but not very nice.

Granny makes mince pies. Of an evening she sits by the fire shelling peas.... their neighbour Juan brought in his surplus yesterday, plus large amounts of pea pods for Ruby, lucky goat. She is going to freeze any she and Beloved can't eat tonight. An odd combination - winter, fire and peapods - to her English self, but preferable to brussel sprouts for sure.

On Wednesday - Christmas Eve - there will be the usual ritual exchange with Juan and his family; her mince pies and Beloved's lethal fig brandy against a plate of curious pasties filled with some kind of faintly gingery, very sweet gunge - Granny and Beloved don't care for these much and will probably donate the lot to Mr Jonah and his family with whom they are partaking their Christmas feast - a feast much augmented by goodies from G and B: Mr Jonah's cooking is not half as good as theirs. (This is not a boast. IT IS TRUE.) G and B are not crazy, either, about Juan's wine, even though it is made from the grapes which grow alongside their drive. The bottle they receive will probably be used for cooking. Whether Juan and his family likes the mince pies and the fig brandy any better isn't clear, but either way it doesn't matter. It is the thought that counts....Granny's cliche for the day. But actually Christmas needs its rituals whether recent or antique and Granny is as glad of this one as she is glad of the ritual by which she will make chestnut stuffing and weep to the sound of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College Cambridge between 3 o'clock and 4.30 on Christmas Eve. (Beloved absents himself throughout. But that's Beloved for you.) It's her time for remembering her dead -added to this year by the death of Beloved - if sighed-over - big brother. Sentimental. Yes. Who cares.

Enough for now. Time to be thankful for the fact she has water again, and a Beloved and a goat and a dog and a cat - time to wish the world was a nicer place elsewhere - time to wish everyone a Happy Christmas, if such a thing is possible. For all of you she really hopes it is...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cat and mouse and..

Little scene from Lanzarote wild life, viewed out of Granny's window while she's on phone to Beloved Daughter. Cat strolls along terrace with mouse in mouth. A little later she strolls back, mouse still in mouth and disappears out of sight. A little later still appears a mouse - almost certainly the same mouse: it's a very small one. It takes shelter under the side of a raised flowerbed and remains there -still - most likely it has died of fright. Cat viewed through the gate shows no signs of interest whatever.

Next up - friendly local kestrel swoops in, grabs and then veers off, the mouse dangling from its talons .. judging by the fact Granny saw it not two minutes later heading off mouseless the other way it must have made a very quick dinner.

The kestrels are everywhere here. This one hovers often over the sunken land at eye level with Granny working at the sink or at the kitchen desktop. It lifts her heart even on bad days. Having been brought up - as everyone was in her day - to learn poems by heart, a constant rhyming or not rhyming pleasure in her head, she recites Gerard Manley Hopkins to herself - 'I caught this morning morning's minion/kingdom of daylight's dauphin/dappled-dawn-drawn falcon in his riding/high there how he hangs on the rein of a wimpled wing/then off forth in his striding'.....etc - she suspects that's not quite right, the reams of poetry in her head have, inevitably at her age, corrupted somewhat, but there it is, even corrupted it's the best arouser and description of adolescent ecstasy she knows, which gives her a bit of that lift and shiver even now. She doesn't need to bother with the religious bit at the end of the poem: she's never much cared for that. The kestral-simple bit, the wimpled wing, the striding, will do for her. It does.

Yet again, you see, the kestrel with its wild yet so precise eye has made her morning. Good.

(OK, sorry - Pollyana stuff: nothing wrong with Polyanna stuff, though: at bad times silver linings can continue to look nice - especially kestrel-shaped ones. Granny is feeling better these days, anyway, in case you hadn't noticed; or even in case you had.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A horse's ass...

This is something might amuse you all over Christmas - sent Granny by an old friend.

Who would believe it....? It even seems pretty likely to be true.



Railroad tracks. This is fascinating. Be sure to read the final paragraph; your understanding of it will depend on the earlier part of the content.

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That's an exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used? Because that's the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the US railroads.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used.

Why did 'they' use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England , because that's the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England ) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. Therefore the United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specific ations for an Imperial Roman war chariot. Bureaucracies live forever.

So the next time you are handed a Specification/Procedure/Process and wonder 'What horse's ass came up with it?' you may be exactly right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses. (Two horses' asses.) Now, the twist to the story:

When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRB's. The SRB's are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah . The engineers who designed the SRB's would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRB's had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains, and the SRB's had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses' behinds.

So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the wid th of a horse's ass. And you thought being a horse's ass wasn't important? Ancient horse's asses control almost everything... and
CURRENT Horses Asses are controlling everything else.

In case you were wondering...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

private life of chickens..

Yesterday it rained on and off all day. Right now Granny looks out on sun and sea - though cloud also comes and goes. She is not feeling any warmer - currently wearing her warmest sweater with a fleece on top. But with floods in Somerset, snow in Scotland, ice storms in the North East of the USA she knows she has nothing to complain of really - she can, she will put her head out in the sun shortly - it's much warmer out there. Good. And so that's it for now for the weather report.

How about a report on chicken relationships instead? You think little girls are bitchy and have to be watched to make sure they are not bullying each other? Believe her they have nothing on barnyard fowl - not above dispatching younger birds if given the chance before turning to bully the mother of the murdered babe.

Three weeks ago there was a three month old bantam chick and its mother living in the coop on the back patio. To make room for the new batch of clipped beak chicks from the chicken factory they had to be moved to join the rest of the bantam flock, in one of the runs down on the land. Granny wondered - these days, from experience, she knows something about the morals of chickens - if that mightn't be a bit brutal, not to say a mistake? Beloved, the practical farmer, was having none of it. 'There's nowhere else for them,' he said. 'They will have to take their chance. We've got more than enough bantams as it is.' Inevitably now there is no chick to be seen and the mother is cowering in the corner of the run. Surveying such tribalism, such territorialism in chickens, makes Granny realise what animals - she is not using that word derogatorily just literally - humans still are. You only have to watch the news - national, local international - most nights to see it. Compared to all that tribal viciousness, chickens are just chickens after all. But she still dislikes seeing this hen or that one miserable down on her land. Sad hens are a very sad sight.

Water - ah water. Beloved this very moment is in the main town signing a water contract, she hopes. Their house and they will from that moment start to exist, though how long it will take the company to take the red tag off their meter and turn the water on is another matter.

But that is not the end of it. They got their water tank - the ajjibe - an Arab word relating to the days of Andalus and the Muslim empire - filled up last week by the big blue tanker. Good. Not so good was discovering as as a result that the tank is leaking, badly. Something they would have found out about long ago had they not been non-people in the water company's eyes. This means the tank has to be re-lined - a major and expensive operation, all the more so now that Granny's inadequate pounds are almost at parity with the euro. Plastic tanks will have to be put to use temporarily so that the newly flowing water does not drain off into their land. But at least the plastic tanks can be used thereafter for the grey water system with which they are proposing to water their garden and their vegetables down on the land. One way and another their water use will be on a much more ecological basis from that time on. Granny thinks this is one - or two - good results of Beloved's going to the water company, making her marginally less cross with him. On their mostly dry island she doesn't like to see water wasted. You know how virtuous, how environmentally conscious she is.

Such virtue though, means she will have to forget the interesting OU course she had picked out, to start her brain off with. The OU doesn't come cheap alas - the money not spent on her intellect will go a good way to pay for re-lining the tank. She can always study the set texts by herself, of course, she probably will. But she does rather wish that halos came that bit cheaper.

And by now wouldn't you know - though the view out there may be just as spectacular, the bloody sun has gone in.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


A good definition of depression that Granny came across lately: when inanimate objects have more energy than you do....

Which doesn't mean to say she doesn't, sometimes, try and confront animate objects, even beat them down. Yesterday she hauled herself out of bed, hauled the sheets, pillowcases, duvet cover off the mattress/pillows/duvet respectively, hauled them downstairs, washed them, hung them out to dry - yesterday was a much nicer day than lately - hauled them upstairs again, put them back on the bed. Wow. Clean sheets. A TRIUMPH. Believe her. This does not mean to say these inanimate objects, so-called did not inflict their energy on her meantimes. POW. WHAM. BIFF. SMOTHER. Linen does that to you - it can do. Trying to get a duvet-cover on a double duvet for one is like fighting an opponent with a lot of stuffing but no edges. At the best of times. This wasn't the best of times. But she won: just. A triumph, like she said.

So what's biting her?

1.) Getting old probably, among other things.

2.) Not being able to sell (good) work. (No getting her face onto the front of HELLO - or even the TLS - so where's the market?) Not even being able to sell a good piece on the subject of the market as censor of the writer - 'write about this, not about that'. (Guardian didn't even bother to acknowledge the piece: sod them.)

3. The upcoming of dread Christmas - not that anyone's coming out for this year - though Beloved's family are all turning up for the new year and his 70th birthday. (More wrestling with inanimate objects. The dead kind, that you cook. Granny has made some mincemeat, so far. But that's it.)

4. Getting a 90 euro fine from the local traffic police for merely advancing on - not entering - a closed road in order to ask them a question.....She could fight this probably, but, see below, the hassle would probably not be worth it; and most likely wouldn't even succeed. (Paying the fine, in itself involves hassle, wouldn't you know. Nothing is simple here.)

5. Thinking of exercising her brain and applying to Open University to do another degree and discovering that any degree pre-1971, no matter how good - let alone any interim experience - will not count as credit, and that you have to start from scratch with access courses. (Teaching you to write essays, etc...) How discriminatory is that? Even so, Granny does not know quite why this minor matter should have upset her so. But it did.

6. The credit crunch is biting hard, on the lives of some of her family, not least. Much more serious of course. Not to say worrying.

7. WATER. As in having no water. Oh God. Where does she start.

With this perhaps. That Granny believes in letting sleeping dogs lie. Beloved - alas - doesn't. He discovered recently that they haven't been getting any water bills lately. He doesn't know if they have ever had water bills here - no way of finding out, because it turns out he throws all bills away. The water's been flowing none the less - whenever it does flow, which is not always the case here - the water company is something else: all utility companies here are something else. Meaning that you confront them, get embroiled with them for any reason whatsoever at your peril. The local consensus in such cases therefore is: do nothing - if it's not broke don't fix it - always Granny's own activity of choice; you can see she has Spanish blood. Beloved does not have Spanish blood - merely Scots and Irish. He could not/would not let well alone. Suppose our predecessors have been paying the bills? Suppose they sue us? (Like hell they've been playing the bills. The predecessors are canny developers from Surrey. They do not pay other people's bills, even by mistake.) Oh we must go and see the gestor (a necessary fellow here who mediates between the consumer and bureaucracy - Beloved is always communing with the gestor; he loves things like that; though it costs him.) Oh we must get a lawyer to find out our position. (More expense.) Oh we must go to the water company and get it sorted out.

DON'T GO NEAR THE WATER COMPANY is stated loudly and clearly by everyone, all locals etc, who knows the score. Which might sound strange to you out there in places like the UK, USA, Oz, wherever, but this isn't even Spain, darlings, this is the Canaries, and they do things differently - very differently - here, or rather, as in this case, DON'T do them, very differently here. But Beloved is Scots, as said, and is not taking advice from anyone, least of all Granny. Off he goes. To be told there's no sign of a contract with them etc etc - in other words the water company have been supplying their produce all these years to some place that according to them does not exist, to people who according to them do not exist - this despite the very same company having installed a meter and the equipment via which the water is pumped in at the non-existent house and even, once or twice, having come and fixed the water problems from time to time for the people whom they claim do not exist. And now, guess what, they have disabled the meter and the equipment that doesn't exist: there's a big red tag attached to the water box at the bottom of Granny's driveway. Which means they have cut the water off. Without, of course, informing the non-existent people they are going to turn their water off. All Granny and Beloved knew was that, suddenly, there wasn't any water. This was/is awkward.

Now what? Endless hasslings. Vast bills. Take local advice, Beloved. Leave well alone in future. Please. He and some language assistance are down at the water company's ranch this very moment trying to sort something out. Some hope. Meantime it looks like their house will need a visit from the big blue water tanker - the resource of choice - an expensive one - for places and people that according to the water company do not exist; the equivalent of paying for your electricity by pre-paid meter and we all, in England, know about that.

But at least Granny doesn't for the moment have to wrestle with recalcitrant linen.

What a relief.

And at least it's raised her adrenaline to the extent she has managed to write this: which may or may not be a good thing. She couldn't say.

(And, by the way, she knows all these matters are trivial, mostly, compared to the wretchedness of many, at home and abroad. But she does just wish they didn't get her down so. As they do.)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The big chill

Granny has just seen that snow is forecast in London today. Meaning that she has no right to complain really. The temperature in Granny's courtyard is currently around 12-13C by day and warmer outside in the periodic bouts of sun: mild enough weather, it would seem in London even forgetting the considerable wind chill factor (the wind has mostly been blowing from the north or north-east lately and feels like it comes from the arctic; most likely it has. The normally stalwart locals have been wearing fleeces and woolly hats to work in their gardens and complaining bitterly - this year they didn't have a summer, they say and the normally halcyon early autumn wasn't: now look at it. Beloved himself, a man who does not normally feel the cold, has been seen huddled up in the red fleece Granny bought him once, to his mild scorn at the time.)

Even so, out of the wind especially, these temperatures would not be too unpleasant for walking, gardening, going to the races, watching birds or football, playing golf, whatever outdoor activity people fancy. What is not so good is having similar temperatures inside the house. In Granny's office, one of the coldest rooms. the thermometer has barely reached 12C. She's wearing her sheepskin slippers and warmest sweater, is swathed too in the wonderful woolly shawl given her by Texan visitors three winters ago who were not too impressed by the year-round summer the island is supposed to enjoy. She doesn't possess either a woolly hat or mittens - but if she did she would be wearing them. (Is Father Christmas listening to this? If not, he should be.) Temperatures fine for working or taking exercise outside are not so good if you are sitting at your desk. Believe her. Even down in the much warmer south of the island it's cold, relatively. An expat Granny sat next to at a charity dinner last weekend complained the thermometer dropped to to 14C overnight. She didn't have the heart to tell him it's lower than that in her kitchen all day long. Back in London she tries to remember the environment - and her fuel bills - and keep the thermostat at 18C: a temperature that never feels warm enough to her there would feel tropical if the temperature reached that round her Canarian chopping boards.

The upside is the evenings when the wood stove is lit in the sitting-room. Oh the heaven of that blazing wood, those flames - even more heavenly than the sun outside when it shines and you're out of the wind. In front of the fire there's not so much as a draught disturbing the delicious warmth; such warmth Granny even removes her sweaters in due course and shifts her chair back a bit. Feeling too hot - what LUXURY - is better MUCH- than the 18C in her London flat .....where, watching telly in the evenings, she has been known to advance the thermostat to a naughty 20C - or even, let's whisper it, 21C. It's amazing how relative all these things are.

Still, it's rained a lot too. Good. All the plants are growing; even better.

No such luck with the incubator, the chicks. What chicks? The eggs turned out to be infertile, as suspected. The past-it cockerel, Damian Daphne, with his fat, waggling, epicene backside has been removed from the scene. Granny would happily have kept him as a pet, but the brutal farmer, ie Beloved, wasn't having any such sentimentality - 'we can't afford to feed non-productive animals' (how about the Tiresome Terrier then, Beloved?) So that was that. A new red cockerel with a dramatic white tail has been acquired for 6 euros, and six month old chicks- 4 euros each -bought from the local, disgusting, chicken farm. Attempts to get ones young enough not to have had their beaks clipped, were, alas, in vain. Beloved didn't want to get chicks from the farm for that reason, but Granny thinks that even with clipped beaks this lot will have a much much better life on their land, and that rescuing them from egg serfdom in the poultry version of a particularly nasty sweatshop is a kindness equal to acquiring your dogs and cats from pet rescue. They'll be good layers too, if they're anything like the last hens from that source. Good.

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