My week in words

Last weekend whizzed past in a blur of activity. Our tiler Mark worked tirelessly on the bathroom to get it finished. Unfortunately he ran out of tiles right at the end so we are almost finished! The tiles look like planks of wood in a pale creamy colour with a darker version inside the shower. In the absence of any bathroom furnishings it looks like the inside of a Swedish log cabin but I think it will come together nicely.

Monday morning we all got up nice and early as we were expecting the plumber. I went to meet a friend for coffee and when I got back at lunchtime no one had materialised. I spent a quiet afternoon emptying the bookcase in the living room while Vern worked in his office.

Tuesday. Vern left early as usual for Birmingham and I got up soon afterwards to be ready in case anyone turned up. My mum popped round for a cup of tea. We sat in the orangery enjoying the sunshine and my sister also dropped in on her way back from the gym. Neither hide nor hair was seen of any labourers. By this time I was frustrated because I couldn’t get hold of anyone to ask if there was a problem so I just seethed quietly. As I had a free afternoon I decided to watch a film that I’d heard about on Netflix called Roma. Apparently it’s the first film on an independent tv network to be nominated for several Academy Awards and is tied with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for the most Oscar nominations for a film not in the English language. I was expecting great things. Some people find films with subtitles hard to follow. I find that it depends on the film. Roma is set in Mexico, the title being the name of the district it is based in. It follows the life of a housemaid, Cleo, who lives and works at the home of a middle class family. It becomes clear that she is a well-loved member of the household, especially by the four young children she takes care of. Head of the family is Antonio, a doctor, who leaves early in the film for a conference in Quebec. His wife Sofia and her mother-in-law are distraught at his departure and it soon becomes clear that Antonio is in no hurry to return. The film is beautifully shot in black and white which seems to amplify the background noise so that the viewer really gets a sense of being present in the moment. We are not distracted by colour which forces the viewer to focus purely on the mundane of the daily routine Cleo must endure. Not much happens during the film until near the end, yet I remained enthralled throughout and I was not even aware that I was reading subtitles, it was so engaging. I would recommend you see it if you get the chance. It’s one of those rare moments when I felt that my outlook on life had been changed through someone’s story.

Wednesday was another non-productive day. I visited my mother-in-law in the morning as it was her birthday and Vern was away. I took a freshly made chocolate cake which made her smile, she loves chocolate! The carpenter turned up to board out the little alcove I had requested for the shower and later the tiler popped in and tiled it. That was the sum total of work done all day. I busied myself going to war with the dust which had returned with a vengeance.

Thursday and finally getting up early paid off. The carpenter was here bright and early to sand the wooden banisters and cover the hall floor with special boards which the new tiles will be attached to. I must admit it was good to see something happening again. My son and his girlfriend visited in the afternoon with my grandson Jason. It was lovely to see him but the state of the house meant that it was a little stressful keeping him away from all the dangerous scenarios. He does make me laugh though, he is a cheeky chappy who has just started to say a few words, his favourite being Oi! in a broad Berkshire accent. His mum thinks it came from her because when he is doing something naughty she shouts “Oi, don’t do that”!

Friday came and went without a visit from any workmen. Not sure what has happened to the plumber, maybe he was ill or sent off to another job but I have been promised his undivided attention next week so maybe by next weekend we will have a working bathroom downstairs, fingers crossed. We met with our kitchen designer Marco who has drawn up some splendid plans to refurbish the most important room in our house.

This weekend has been a strange one. My other half is normally a happy bloke. Nothing much gets him down. He often makes up silly songs and when he is singing or whistling I know that all is well. Every so often though, he becomes withdrawn and quiet. It often happens on the weekend and more often during the winter months. He just kind of shuts down and I can’t get through anymore. No amount of cajoling will bring him back. He loses interest in everything around him and won’t talk about it. I never know how best to deal with these black moods. I’ve learnt to just ignore it and carry on as usual. Eventually he snaps out of it but it can last for several days and I find it very distressing. My mood automatically drops too because I’m worried about Vern, but also I’m angry because our weekends are sacred. We spend a great deal of time apart during the week as he is away with work so any time we do get together is a big deal. I have suggested he sees a doctor but this is a waste of breath, after all, he’s a man and a stubborn one at that. He has tried to explain why this happens and he has assured me that it is nothing to do with me. I take it personally, thinking I must have done something to upset him but I know now that this is not the case but it doesn’t make these episodes of depression any easier to deal with. I’m not a naturally positive person myself, I’m a glass-half-empty kind of girl but I think I’m generally happy, so these sudden mood swings Vern has are hard to bear. I adore the very bones of this man. We will soon be celebrating twenty-five years of marriage but I still have no idea what is going on in his head most of the time. It is said that men and women are an entirely different species and I for one would agree with that!

Well, this blog is ending on a bit of a downer but I find that when I start writing it all just pours out onto the page, like a sort of therapy. Hope he comes back to me soon.

Thanks for reading. xx

The Best Chocolate Cake You’ll Ever Eat.

I delivered this beauty to my lovely mother-in-law this morning for her birthday. I got the recipe from my daughter who made it recently for her friend and it’s so darkly delicious that I had to make it myself. It’s a liquid cake, using oil instead of butter, with buttermilk and black cocoa so the texture is similar to a red velvet, dense and soft. The frosting is rich and fudgy, not too sweet, and sets to a truffle like texture. In short it’s possibly the most delicious chocolate cake you will ever taste. Xx

The Favourite – to see or not to see?

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Photo by Leo Cardelli on

Last week I went to the cinema with my mum and sister. We had been looking forward to seeing the much-anticipated historical film The Favourite. I’m a real film buff, I love a cinema trip. The whole experience with the big, comfy, adjustable seats and the surround sound brings me joy. Even if I don’t particularly enjoy the film, I don’t mind.

I don’t normally review films on my blog but this one was such a head-scratcher that I felt the need to discuss it. I’ll try very hard not to include any spoilers in case anyone is planning to see it. If you have already seen it you might be questioning my choice of companions on this occasion and quite rightly so. In my defence I had no idea of the nature of this particular film, which will become evident later.

So the film is based around the later life of Queen Anne, daughter of James II and the last of the Stuart monarchs. Although generally thought of as a fair and just ruler, Anne was unfortunately plagued with ill-health and may have been more than a touch mad. The title of the film alludes to the two women in Anne’s life who are embroiled in an unladylike war with each other for her favour. I was expecting a period drama with beautiful costumes and elaborate palaces and, to some extent, this is what I got but both the storyline and the settings were rather more gritty than I was prepared for.

The palace is dark and oppressive, think dark wood panelling and elaborate tapestries covering all the walls. Lit only by candlelight, it is an unforgiving and seemingly dangerous environment. We meet the Queen in her vast sleeping quarters, crippled by gout and unable to govern effectively as her health declines. Bored to distraction, she spends her time stuffing her face with cake until she is sick and petting her ‘babies’, the domestic rabbits she keeps for company in her bedchamber. Anne’s constant human companion and trusted advisor Sarah is a childhood friend whom Anne had remained close to all her life, despite the disapproval of her family. Anne is so enamoured of her friend that she even commissioned Blenheim Palace to be built for her to live in with her husband. Sarah is a strong, career driven woman who happily takes over most of the royal duties, but is also devoted to keeping her Queen happy. After the death of Anne’s husband George, this also includes Sarah satisfying the royal carnal appetite, which Sarah is seemingly willing to fulfil. At this point I should mention that the film is really quite rude, which is why I was mortified to be sandwiched in-between my mum and my sister. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude, I simply wasn’t expecting such strong sex scenes and I was squirming slightly. No one wants to be in the same room as their mum when two people are getting it on!

The overall feel of the film is one of debauchery and excess, which I suppose is probably accurate of the time. Members of the court creep along the dimly lit corridors in the dead of night, entering bed chambers willy nilly and no one seems to bat an eyelid. By contrast the political members are seen as a bit of a joke and are routinely humiliated by their peers. Again, nothing new there. We see the Queen being ridiculed by Sarah for her choice of make-up in a scene which really brings home the vulnerability of Anne and the trust she has in her friend. Indeed, theirs is a mutually beneficial relationship, with both parties gaining much from it. Then along comes Abigail Hill, the younger cousin of Sarah, who arrives at the palace seeking employment after her father loses all their money to his gambling habit. Enjoying the power she can wield over her impoverished relative, Sarah bestows a lowly position as a scullery maid on Abigail but she seriously underestimates the savvy of this beautiful young woman who is seeking a much higher position in court. Abigail immediately begins to find ways to ingratiate herself with the Queen and this doesn’t go down well with Sarah, who finds herself being unceremoniously usurped as the Queens favourite. This triggers a truly gut-wrenching series of events as the two women fight for Anne’s attentions, leading to some very unpleasant consequences for them both.

All this is going on against the backdrop of political unrest and war. On several instances throughout the film the audience is subjected to an eerie noise (it can’t be called music) like a cello being viciously plucked which gets louder and more ominous until it drowns out the dialogue. I found this disturbing and eventually irritating as it distracted me from the plot somewhat. I guess it was meant to signify a feeling of impending doom amongst the subjects but I have honestly never experienced anything like it during a film. The director of the film, Yorgos Lanthimos (no, me neither) is also a fan of using a wide-angle lens which gave me the feeling of watching from behind a fish bowl and also gave me a headache. Maybe he intended for his audience to feel physically uncomfortable like his characters during the film! If he did, it worked.

The film is divided into chapters, each with intriguing titles, and the final chapter was predictably cryptic. As the screen went blank, the whole audience at our showing remained deathly silent, no doubt as bewildered as I was. I honestly felt like I had been clubbed over the head several times and as I uprighted my chair I could not have told you whether I had enjoyed the film or not. This still puzzles me now. On the one hand, the acting was superb. Olivia Coleman was deliciously self-indulgent as the Queen and Rachel Weisz was gorgeous as the complex and scheming Sarah but I can’t pretend I understood it one tiny bit. Perhaps I wasn’t meant to. Perhaps we are supposed to draw our own conclusions about what it all meant. However, as the rest of the audience filed silently out of the cinema, there was a joyous moment when my mum, who had been staring intently at the screen throughout as if in a hypnotic trance, looked at me and said, and I quote, “I think she might have had a stroke at the end”, at which point my sister and I erupted into hysterical laughter. For a good five minutes we couldn’t speak and tears ran down our faces. My mum simply looked at us until the penny dropped and declared that she was not coming out with us ever again!

All-in-all, and for various reasons, it was a pretty good evening, not necessarily because of the film, but if you do intend to go and see it, please don’t go with your mum!

Thanks for reading. xx




Living on a building site.

I’m trying not to get stressed out but the house is a bomb site at the moment. On any given day there may be a plumber, carpenter, decorator or labourer here and some days they are all here! It becomes a full-time job keeping everyone in hot drinks and biscuits. And then there are the dogs. I have to pen them in and herd them from room to room and of course, all they want to do is say hi to everyone. I set my alarm each night, get up very early and try to be dressed and ready before anyone arrives, although there is usually a van or two on the driveway before 7.45am. When Vern is here I can relax a little as he is always up with the lark but three days a week the responsibility rests on me to be up and ready before they turn up. By 4pm they have all packed up and gone and I am left with the aftermath of the days’ work. Did I mention the dust? It gets everywhere. It covers every surface and collects in every crevice. I hate it. Often there is wet paint to avoid, not easy with three dogs running around. New hazards crop up all over the house from tools being left behind for the next day, extension cables trailing everywhere and actual holes in the floorboards. I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m having my house beautified beyond all recognition but IF we ever move house again it will have to be to a completely refurbished house with nothing to be done, because I am never doing this again!

Our builder Lee reckons Phase One of the Money Pit refurb will be complete in the next couple of weeks. He is throwing everyone at us in a bid to get it done as he has a huge job coming up in the Spring elsewhere which will need all his tradesmen. Phase One covers installing underfloor heating in the living room, decorating and creating new steps. When we moved in there were huge semi-circular steps down into the room which dominated the floorspace. These are now sitting proudly in the skip and we have smaller square steps which are much more modern. We are also turning the downstairs bathroom into a wetroom with an LED shower which has mood lighting. Now that the hall floor has been levelled we are decorating throughout and replacing the floor, along with the old wooden banisters. We now have eight new doors downstairs, all of which shut properly and I am planning to upcycle some of the old furniture. Vern plans to build a bookshelf and tv stand using industrial steel fittings (his company makes them) and reclaimed wood. It’s all very exciting. This weekend I got really excited when I found the perfect light fitting for the living room. It was pricey so I had to compromise on the hall lighting which will be simpler and cheaper but it’s totally worth it. Since the day we bought this house I have had a vision of how the living space should look and I’m sticking to my guns, no matter what. Lee thinks I’m mad because I want to paint the hall ceiling dark grey but he will eat his words when he sees the finished result!

Phase Two will happen later in the year. This will be a total kitchen revamp. I want to include my baking hobby in my little tea party business so I will need an all-singing, all-dancing kitchen with double oven and proving drawer (this is a deal-breaker) to create beautiful cakes and scones in. The bedrooms also need a facelift but we will decorate those ourselves once all the building work is finished. Oh, and I forgot to mention that we also need to work on the back garden as there is currently a two foot drop down from the orangery! So plenty to keep us busy, and broke, but I cannot wait to get it all finished. I’ve been taking photos throughout to make into a book so we can look back at the changes.

Thanks for reading. xx