I’ve just come back from a pleasant lunch in town with a friend I haven’t seen in ages.  We were looking forward to a gossipy catch-up. Very nice, I hear you say. Lucky old you. What’s your point? I’ll tell you.

The first restaurant we tried, the music was so loud we politely asked for it to be turned down, only to be told they couldn’t do that from there as it was “controlled by head office”. We looked at each other in disbelief. This was a new one on us. I even felt sorry for the unhelpful staff. I’m sure they didn’t necessarily want to be constantly bombarded from all directions with piped “muzak” chosen at random by some spotty little oik based umpteen miles away and well out of range. We left.

In the next likely-looking place, we were also told they couldn’t turn the music down (bizarre!) but they did, at least, show a bit more willing and directed us to a relatively quieter corner. We stayed.

Back home, after a little online visit to TripAdvisor, I vented my spleen on FaceBook, secure in the knowledge I would have plenty of support amongst my sensible, like-minded friends. I did.

I think we’ve all got used to background music so much, it would seem strange to walk into a shop where there isn’t some form of musical accompaniment. I’m not against it all.  Besides, you’re not very likely to be lingering, chatting to friends, in a clothes shop or the like.  But it does seem to be more than a little odd that the very places where you would like to hear yourselves think are the very places where they insist on playing music.

Now, please don’t write me off as a moaning old minnie. I love live music and loud music in the right setting and if I’ve paid specifically for that purpose.  I’m going along to a gig, secure in the knowledge that I’m in for a belting good time, listening to the music of my choice and returning home with my ears ringing and a huge smile on my face.  Job done.  But, when eating out, why in God’s name would anyone want to hear background music they haven’t chosen blaring out and battling against the general cheerful hum of contented diners?

Recently, another friend and I were enjoying a catch-up lunch where the music, merry though it undoubtedly was, was kept to the business, ie counter end of the cafe and not the seating end – thereby keeping both staff and customers happy. Excellent idea!

Do restaurants play the music to encourage diners to eat quickly and leave? Then surely they are wrong, since, if you are lingering somewhere, you are likely to spend more money and order another course/bottle of wine/basket of bread/your favourite waiter lightly dressed and served on a platter.

Or do these places just like to play the music loud for the staff’s benefit? I pondered this when on holiday in Cornwall last year. We visited a recommended burger place in a popular seaside resort, only to be met with disco-level music blaring out everywhere we tried to sit. It was just us and a family with young children in there at the time. I was very surprised the parents hadn’t requested a bit of peace and quiet, though maybe they preferred the din to the sound of their squabbling offspring, so it was down to us to ask the question. The response received from the young woman behind the counter was churlish and surly, to put it mildly but even she could see, through the thick haze of her resentment, that she would be two valued customers down if she didn’t do something about the almighty racket, so very reluctantly and gracelessly did so.

At a time when restaurants and pubs are closing down everywhere, why do these places seem to be hellbent on making their customer experience as uncomfortable as it is possible to be? Surely the staff would like to hang on to their jobs? Many of these High Street places are much of a muchness, particularly the two Italian chain restaurants my friend and I originally tried. So why aren’t they all a lot more concerned?

Perhaps one answer would be to designate some quiet areas but my guess is that everyone would gravitate towards these and the more noisy areas would become barren wastes. Who knows how it will pan out (excuse the pun)? But, really, isn’t it about time someone at least tried?!










A silly question which often crops up on social media is: ”Are you a dog or a cat person?” Why can’t you be both?  It’s the same as that equally silly music-related saying back in the day: you couldn’t like the Stones AND the Beatles; it had to be one or the other.  Why?  I’m proud of my broad, eclectic musical tastes and happily admit to liking both. Anyway.  Back to dogs.  (Sorry, cats.)

Everyone I know who has ever owned a dog always wants to get another almost as soon as it dies. They leave a massive void to be filled and are a huge joy but also a huge responsibility, of course. Hence the preference for cats. (Sorry, dogs.) Not a decision to be made lightly, though many do seem to do just that, sadly – just ask the RSPCA or Battersea dogs and cats home, or any one of the many worthwhile and wonderful animal charities we have in this country, especially around Christmas and New Year.

We had two dogs in our family, a Westie and a Cairn, though not at the same time, and both were my mother’s pets. I wasn’t living at home when they were around but I always looked forward to taking them for long walks whenever I went back for the weekend and was glad to hand them over at the end of it.  A bit like other people’s children, really. (Sorry, children. And parents).

My life circumstances changed quite dramatically almost two years ago now (as mentioned in a previous blog) and, since then, every now and again, knowing how much I like dogs, someone will say: “Why don’t you get a dog?” In some ways, it would help enormously. Company and a reason to leave the house every day – twice a day, even. Some much-needed exercise for both of us. It’s also very sociable. But my reply is always along the lines of: “It wouldn’t be fair to the dog. I’m out and about quite a bit and what if I end up going back to work full-time?”

Then there’s the expense. I know someone who had to cancel the family skiing holiday one winter, when their dog developed back problems and the vet’s bill came to the cost of said holiday. Ouch. And someone else who couldn’t afford to finish doing up their house because of their new puppy’s vet bills.

Despite all this, though, I will admit to occasionally (all right, frequently) looking online at rescue centre websites and have been known to sob at pictures of sad, abandoned animals.  They know, you know!  Their eyes are full of the pain of knowing they’ve been rejected. It’s heartbreaking. I daren’t go and visit any of these places. I know I would: number one, be in floods of tears, which would be very unhelpful to all and cause the animals even more distress and number two, want to run off with the whole damn lot and our house, not to mention bank balance, just isn’t big enough.

So, what breed would I go for (theoretically)?  While I don’t mind if it’s not the most intelligent, I don’t want one that’s too thick, either. I met a beautiful dog the other week.  A lurcher crossed with something I can’t now remember. He was friendly and adorable but his owner cheerfully informed me he was “very dim” with it.  Oh dear.  I do hope he was too dim to understand what she was saying. (I covered his ears, though, just in case.)

However, craftiness is something altogether different and all dogs seem to be experts at this, especially around food. My OH’s niece’s dog, Dougal, has somehow learned to open the fridge door, select what he wants from it (usually the family’s packed lunches for the following day at work and school) and remember to close it after him, as well. Worry now.

I wonder at the advisability of all the cross-breeding that goes on these days.  Almost every dog I admire in the street is something-crossed-with-something-else. Where will it all end?  Perhaps a cat crossed with a dog?  That way, the old-hat aforementioned question of which you prefer will become redundant.

Moving on swiftly… There are agencies, such as Borrow My Doggy, which do what they say on the tin.  And there’s fostering.  And dog-walking for the more energetic. And the wonderful world of therapy dogs. We recently met Max, a hospital therapy dog for Great Ormond Street.  What a fabulous idea! Apparently, he goes down a wow.  I’m not surprised.  He’s gorgeous. Therapy dogs visit homes and hospices as well and it’s been proven that people’s stress levels go right down when stroking an animal – whatever it may be. OK, maybe not a wildebeest.

We have looked after our neighbour’s dog, Charlie, a wire-haired fox terrier, since he was a puppy.  He is now nine years old and treats our house and garden as his own. Naturally.  While we love having him, though, it does open our eyes to the ups and downs of dog-owning. Lots of places won’t accept dogs – cafes, pubs, garden centres, holiday lets – and this often curtails our plans, which can be frustrating.

On the other hand, having him around the house definitely lifts the energies and he makes us laugh with his antics and funny ways. We are always sad to see him go and it’s a poignant moment when I lift his water bowl from the floor and put it away until the next time… He collects legions of adoring fans wherever he goes and my OH, being the one usually attached to the other end of the lead (he’s always SO keen to volunteer), relishes being on the receiving end of the most female attention he has ever had in his entire life (so he tells me).

Seriously, a dog on the end of a lead opens up all sorts of social possibilities. Try to imagine starting to chat to a total stranger without it. See what I mean?!

In summary, then:  A source of joy and fun, great company, free exercise, unconditional love and almighty babe magnet (both sexes), versus one or two “minor” restrictions and “a bit” of extra expense… You can see which way this is going, can’t you?  I’ll keep you posted.














I don’t really care, to be honest – whether you are a tidy or untidy person, I mean – but, over the years, I’ve noticed that my natural tidiness seems to trigger some sort of defensive mechanism in others.  Truly, I don’t care how others choose to live, even if I don’t really understand it, but, once they have been to my house, the second thing they say, after: “Haven’t you got a lot of STUFF?!” is: “Wow, aren’t you TIDY?!”

That’s all down to me, since I’m living with an untidy person who can make a room look messy within seconds of entering the house. “The floor is for shoes and furniture and nothing else!” I chant gaily as he passes, but it falls on (selectively) deaf ears – he’s already switched the kettle on and is now moving purposefully towards the television remote control (volume UP) and the sofa, shedding bag, jacket and shoes as he goes. After 10 years of living together, I still live in (vain) hope that he will see the light and follow my example.

I, on the other hand, know how to make a room look tidy within seconds of entering it. A lot of that involves straightening things. It’s so satisfying. You will be amazed how much neater everywhere will look if it’s all in straight piles. Try it!  Though others won’t thank you for straightening their own piles, big or small, especially at work. My boss forbade me to do this to her desk. I was itching to get in there and neaten it all up but she claimed she knew where everything was, despite the way it looked. Untidy people always say this. I don’t believe them.

I have found, rather annoyingly, that others are always happy to have a cheap laugh at my expense for being tidy.  As though it’s some sort of character default.  Blimey, if I did it back to them, there’d be World War Three. As I said before, my theory is that they are on the defensive but, as I haven’t commented on their untidiness in the first place, I do wish they would just shut up about it. I’m not judging them. I have been told I have expressive eyes, though, so maybe they’re secretly giving the game away, drat them (the mind boggles. Perhaps the eyes do too).

Before you all hate me and start calling me names (oh, you’ve started already?), I have a confession to make and it involves paperwork. We are drowning in the stuff and we don’t have the storage space in our house to file it all away properly. How do other people manage theirs? There are so many things I want to keep.  Unfortunately, they have all ended up in black plastic sacks in the floor.  Yes: in, not on.  Our canny predecessors here built two huge storage holes in the hall and living room floors and I will own up to it – this is where all my papers are “stored”.  I don’t just mean letters, cards, important bank and pensions information and the like.  It’s files on stuff to do with our house, it’s recipes and jottings torn from other places, it’s manuals and instructions for appliances, it’s scrapbooks and other memorabilia from when I was a child and teenager, it’s brochures, pamphlets and catalogues. The odd loose photograph and all my old diaries. I do want to keep them all, before you ask.  Seriously, what do other people do with theirs? I’d love to know.  One thing’s for certain: I don’t think they will ever get sorted in my lifetime (believe me, I’ve tried) and will most probably end up on a sacrificial bonfire when I’m gone.  Feeling better now?

So, it’s all a bit out of sight, out of mind with me.  Even at work.  My desk surface was probably the neatest (and straightest) in the entire office. Until we started hot-desking, anyway. (Then everyone’s desks looked exactly the same.  Empty.)  My desk drawers, however, were a very different story. I go into this in much more detail in a previous blog, so won’t embarrass myself – I mean, bore you all – with it again.  Ahem (whistles).

Paperwork aside, I do try to keep things where (I think) they should be because I believe it makes life a lot easier. And calmer. When I was at college and living in a student hostel, I would call for my friend in the mornings. Every single day, she would be in an almighty flap over her missing door keys. I couldn’t understand it.  Why didn’t she just allocate a handy pot or saucer or the like and remember to put them in there every night when she came in? Or just keep them in her bag? It seemed such a simple solution and so obvious to me, yet she never did this. Instead, she would get in a fluster about it every single day and I would have to bite back my irritation every time (and keep my boggling eyes under control too).

When it came to leaving college and finding ourselves jobs and digs out in the real world, she said to me very seriously: ”If we ever live together, it will be the end of a beautiful friendship.” Sadly, I knew she was right, so we never did and thankfully we are still good friends today.

Another friend, who regularly bemoans the fact that it’s always him in his family who does all the clearing up and nagging the kids to get their things off the floor (he loves coming round to our house, which he describes as a tranquil haven), says his wife drives him mad, because every day she comes downstairs, ready to go out the door to work, then has to go back upstairs to find her watch, yelling for help as she goes. Every. Single. Day.

Feng Shui and decluttering has pretty much been big business for many years and we’re all now invited to undertake a “life laundry” – the trendy new term for a good old-fashioned clear-out. The current star of the show is the lady who suggests we hold objects in our hand and, if they don’t “spark joy”, to let them go.  Try telling that to our partners. The divorce rates are going to rocket.  Cheers for that, lady. I’m afraid I’m not likely to be following her example. I have so much stuff and so little patience and besides, I love everything in my home, whether or not it “sparks joy” (get real!) and I have no desire to rid myself of any of it. For now, anyway. Whoever held a pair of trusty M&S knickers in their hands to see if they “sparked joy” or not?  We’re not going down the Fifty Shades route here – all I’m asking of my knickers is that they are reasonably pretty and match my bra (yes, I am very OCD about that. I must be coordinated at all times. It gives me confidence.  I’m always very happy, when I have found a bra I like, to notice the little sticker attached that reads: Matching knickers available. Yippee! Job done).

This same lady has decreed that none of us needs more than 30 books in our homes.  She would most probably hyperventilate if she came to our house, where we have 13 bookcases, all crammed full.  Yes, I do have regular culls. No, I’m not getting rid of any more – for the moment – thank you. None of that “One in, one out” nonsense here.  In fact, my current reading pile stands at 18, so there with knobs on, missus. Can you imagine her house?  Lots of white, shiny surfaces everywhere and – no, that’s all I can imagine, actually. Pass me my sunglasses, someone.

Right, I’m off now. Got me some serious tidying to do. The boyfriend has fallen down the back of the sofa again and I need to go and straighten the cushions.





Last week, we heard the sad news we have been dreading for years: our beloved Renault Megane, Derek, had failed his MOT and the cost of repairing him was not going to be worth it.  I should add that he is 22 years old this year.  We felt as though we had been living on borrowed time for the last few years and he has had ongoing issues with leaks and damp that can’t be resolved.  We have both been in tears.

“Good grief, it’s only a car,” I hear you say.  Allow me to explain…

We inherited Derek from a relative who died eleven years ago and who we named him after. We have fond memories of family holidays (he lived in Devon) and, at the risk of sounding fanciful, we have always felt the “real” Derek was looking after us every time we went out in him and, boy, did we go out! My partner hadn’t owned a car for many years and I had never had one, so we made the most of it, exploring our local area more thoroughly and beyond. We called him our “freedom pass” and went out in him every weekend. Having both fitted our lives around unreliable public transport timetables for many years, this new-found spontaneity was wonderful.

We love to visit antiques and vintage fairs and shops, discovering many off-the-beaten-track ones and, thanks to Derek’s generous boot capacity and folding back seats, we have brought back many large items of furniture from them, including a table, drawers, bookcase, huge mirror, large wooden chest, bench, chairs, big pots for the garden (and big plants to go in them), garden statues, a staddle stone, an extremely heavy garden roller that took three of us to get in and out of the car and through the house and many other exciting treasures – though not all at once, of course.  When we moved here, ten years ago, we agreed an awful lot wouldn’t have been possible without Derek’s stalwart support.  There have been the many, many trips to garden centres to stock our “new” garden and many, many visits to the dump with garden rubbish and other stuff.  We always joked our next car would have to be a van.

This afternoon, Derek left our drive forever (cue more tears) and a new car is already in his place.  It’s not a van.  It’s a Honda Jazz.  Smaller, neater and probably more economical to run than Derek but, in common with most cars today, regardless of make and price, it looks as though it’s come out of the same mould.  It lacks Derek’s stately grace and distinctive shape that stood out so well from the madding crowd.  He had style and class. You rarely see another car with his lovely, regal, deep blue colour. Others laughed at his wind-up windows.  We loved them.  He didn’t have a CD player and the radio frequently wavered between stations.  We didn’t care.  We liked being different and having the oldest car in our street and (most likely) entire neighbourhood.  We live in an area dominated by flash four-by-fours and racy sports cars and it was a bit of a fingers-up to everyone else, with their silly, incessant need for bigger, better, faster…

We will grieve for Derek as we have grieved for his namesake over the years.  Now, though our hearts aren’t really in it, we need to come up with a name for our new car.  Any suggestions?





Recently, a friend said to me how much he hated February. People often admit to this and I have never really understood why, so, without further ado, I would like to go on here to officially declare that I REALLY QUITE LIKE FEBRUARY.

After the big build-up and broo-ha-ha over Christmas and New Year, January is the month I hate the most.  Long and bleak, with far too many weeks until pay day, there is nothing to commend it, in my view.

First, we have the lingering embarrassment of the office Christmas party shenanigans to try to blot out (your colleagues will keep reminding you, though. Like, forever. You’ll have to resign).

Then there are the shops: full of dreary leftover festive tat.  Your more – er – “careful” friends will be crowing over their reduced-price bargains, to be stowed away until December rolls round again.  It never fails to irritate you.

Oh yes, and on January 1st, the shelves will be instantly filled with crème eggs and Valentine cards because, let’s face it, with such a long and dreary month to face head-on and somehow plough through, you’re going to need all the help you can get.

The garden centres are places of barren despair.  You can’t do much in the garden in any case: the lawn is more mud than grass, the borders are looking very sorry for themselves and it’s far too dank and cold to spend any useful time out there, so you press your nose against the window pane and dream of perennials to come…

So why not just embrace February? You know it makes sense. It’s the shortest month of the year, the evenings are starting to get noticeably lighter, the shops are perking up again, ditto the garden centres and you’re one month closer to Spring. Come on, what’s not to love?

If you need any further encouragement, guess which month contains the most depressing day of the year (it’s official)? That’s right: January.  I rest my case.





What are YOU reading at the moment?


I was in a charity shop the other day, which had a notice on the door: Please do not donate any more books. Our shelves are full! There’s a turn-up for the – er – books. Time was, I can recall them begging for them. Incidentally, I have noticed that, in any charity shop, fete, fair or jumble sale, it is the books section that is the most popular – usually with men, for some reason.

I envy the choice of books children have these days. They have so many more than we did.  An ex-boyfriend of mine, being of artistic bent, used to collect children’s books for their exquisite illustrations. (Sadly for me, he took them all when he left.)  There are now even bookshops entirely devoted to just children’s books.  Heaven!  You would never have got me out of there when I was that age. As it was, I loved my weekly visits to our local library and would use not only my ticket but my mother’s and sister’s as well (they didn’t mind).

“You can never have too many books,” I used to say, airily, to people who commented on the huge amount I had.  I firmly believed this, until the day came to move house and I was cursing them all as I spent hour after hour after hour packing them up into box after box after box…

However, having been an avid reader all my life, I do find it odd to go into some people’s homes and not see a single book anywhere. It makes me uneasy. I think you can tell an awful lot about someone from what they read, though God knows what people make of me when they see the wildly eclectic mix of titles on my shelves. Books make a home; stop it from looking too sterile. They are a decoration in their own right – some people even arrange theirs in colour groups to tone in with their décor. A bit OTT, perhaps, but at least they have some to arrange (I do hope they READ them as well)!

I have started to notice that adverts for homes for sale and photos of homes in the glossy magazines often have no books anywhere. This disturbs me. I search for them in vain.  No cookery books in the kitchen. Nothing on the coffee table in the living room, or even on the bedside table. What do they DO without books in their life?!  I just can’t imagine it.  (Perhaps they are all like someone I once knew, who couldn’t understand why I kept my favourite books to re-read again.  I asked her if she played her favourite records over and over again.  Same thing, in my book; no pun intended.)

Pictures of retirement flats, in particular, always depress me. They are usually very small (it’s a well-known trade “secret” that furniture is built especially scaled-down to fit show homes, to give the impression of more space than there actually is), with little or no outside space and no sign of the aforementioned books, nor even any favourite knick-knacks or photographs, etc. Bland and sterile and devoid of any warmth. I mean, there’s downsizing and getting rid of clutter and too many possessions (see my last blog for more about this) and then there’s going to the other extreme entirely.

Homes seem to be built so small now, the need for extra storage has never been greater. I have read about people paying out for container space for the things they can’t fit into their minute homes, and visiting their precious possessions each week. That’s sad.

I once looked at a flat in a new conversion block. The reception desk to register your interest was in the small room you walked straight into off the street.  I politely asked where the living room was.” You’re standing in it,” was the helpful response. I didn’t bother looking round the rest of it.

Anyway.  Taking a breather from dipping in and out of my current pile of books (I always have more than one book on the go; doesn’t everyone?!), I’m off out to those charity shops I mentioned earlier. When I left home for good, many years ago now, I rashly gave away most of my childhood books and have started to buy them back when I can.  I don’t think those predominantly male customers are going to be interested in Peter Pan or Mary Poppins or Worzel Gummidge… are they?!



















What are the things you would find really hard to let go of in your home?  Read on to discover mine…


In a previous blog, I quoted a woman who, on moving house and downsizing, exclaimed in exasperation to a friend:  “Are we all too possessed by our possessions?” This chimes with something I have been thinking about for a while now.

Isn’t it funny.  We spend at least half our lives building up our belongings, only to then reach a peak at a certain age and start dwindling them back down again.  Or perhaps that’s just me…

My OH, when I once raised the subject of moving house, said in panic: “But we have too much STUFF!”  As though that would stop us from ever doing anything.  “We’ll just have to get rid of it then,” I replied airily.  Ha!  I think we’re going to need help.

Fear not; help is out there aplenty. Decluttering is huge business. Visit any bookshop and you will see all manner of titles purporting to help you downsize your possessions. Yes, yes, we know: Work through a room at a time, and do it in bite-size stages, so it doesn’t overwhelm us. Enlist the help of a kind but firm friend, who won’t let you dither about: “I’m just tidying it all up and putting everything back for now.” “Oh, no, you’re not!” Sort things into three piles: Chuck, keep, charity shop.

What did we DO before charity shops came along?  Even our local dump is running a small shop now, and it’s full of quite decent-looking stuff which people were chucking out.  Some nearly new. That’s affluent Surrey for you. But, seriously, it’s a great idea and I hope it catches on everywhere.

Back in our grandparents’ day, and beyond, there were no dumps.  People buried their unwanted stuff in the garden, or they burned it. Hence why we’re always finding bits of broken china when we dig over our flowerbeds and, one time, a real treasure, as in the pic below: a stone foot-warmer, made around about the time our house was built.

Of course, in those days, we have to remember that most people didn’t own a fraction of the amount of stuff we all have now (I’m not talking about the very wealthy classes here). Things were made to last and people saw no reason to chop and change their décor on a whim, as we are encouraged to do now (though I did used to know a lady who had summer and winter curtains).

My mother still has the oak 1950s sideboard she and my father bought when they were first married.  And the G-Plan furniture they bought later on in the 70s. Now fetching a small fortune at mid-century modern fairs. People have latched on to this style in a major way and the industry is booming. I have the Terence Conran 1960s coffee table (complete with label) my sister and I used to leap over when we were dancing to Top Of The Pops (“Shaft” was climbing the charts at one point and proved to be particularly suitable for this, as I recall). I bet the hipsters and fashionistas would love my trendy table. But no, I’m not selling!

It’s not the potential worth of an item for me: it’s the meaning behind it. I am a terrible sentimental hoarder. I can’t bear to throw away the chipped yellow china custard boat and floral-patterned gravy boat (also chipped) which belonged to my grandmother, and which always made an appearance when we had one of her stupendous Sunday roasts, followed by an equally hefty pud or three.

Talking of being sentimental: when it came to clearing out his parents’ house, my OH took a load of china, glass, etc to the local charity shop.  He immediately regretted it, went in there the next day and bought the whole lot back.

You can see why we might be in trouble when it comes to downsizing!  However, all is not lost: recently, I have become obsessed with taking weight out of our house. I’m not sure why, or even what exactly started me off. It just seems to make sense to me. Perhaps I have reached that peak I mentioned earlier and am now starting to declutter my possessions – give or take the odd sentimental object, of course.  (One area I find very hard to declutter, however, is books – my next blog is all about my lifelong love for them.)  Whatever, nothing gives me greater satisfaction than to be able to carry heavy bagsful of rubbish and sundry unwanted items to the outside bins, or the charity shop, or dump.

But look, it’s a lovely day out there.  Far too nice to be cooped up indoors, going through cupboards, so, if you’ll just excuse me, I’m going to take some more weight out of the house:  Me.  I’m off to the shops. Just browsing, honest! I promise I won’t buy anything…


stone bottle