Little things

This is one of those blog entries made up of several observations, none of which deserve an entry to themselves.

I’m sat in my new kitchen waiting for my new cooker to warm up before cooking a pie, which I will have with mash. The oven is electric; the first time I’ve used electric at home although when I stay in holiday cottages the ovens are always powered by the spark. This oven came with an instruction book. Now I’m old fashioned, and content with that. To me an oven is an oven. Video recorders came with instruction books. Cameras come with instruction books. An oven should be intuitive.

This oven has a clock and timer on board. I can use the timer, says the book, to start cooking at a pre-determined time and for a pre-determined period. But for some reason it won’t switch the oven off. IN order to do this, I need to press buttons 2 & 3 simultaneously and then press button 4 or 5 (but not both) to set the time. Or maybe that’s to set the clock? One of the buttons sets the timer in hours and minutes but another function sets it in minutes and seconds. I’ve just spent ages trying to set 25 minutes only for it to stop at 24.59 because it was in hours and minutes.! Read the manual! But at least it has a light to enable me to see my pie as it cooks.

After they’d finished the kitchen (apart from the under cabinet lighting – one can’t operate properly without the under cabinet lighting but I am trying my best), I went shopping for stuff. Many would call this stage of the new kitchen process accessorising. I prefer ‘buying stuff’. In the kitchenware shop, I was looking to see what was available – I have no idea of what accesso… er… stuff I need for a kitchen so I wanted ideas. I came across a kettle. It cost £99! I don’t understand how a kettle can cost £99. In preparation for the disruption of replacing the kitchen, I bought an emergency kettle for £5.99. It boils water, which is all I ask from a kettle. In the shop, I celebrated saving £93.01 by buying a mop. (It cost £6.99).

I gave blood today – my 29th time. If you’ve never done it, do it tomorrow and help save a life. It’s quick and painless and you get a chocolate biscuit at the end. Part of the process includes making sure you don’t dehydrate and that you maintain your fluid level. In the past, this was in the form of advice to drink before and after donating, along with a hot or cold drink immediately after the session. Recently, they have started giving us a pint of water before we donate. Inevitably there is a wait between drink and donation. With my walnut sized bladder, this rapidly creates an overwhelming urge to visit the toilet as rather than replacing lost fluid, the water somehow senses I still have my full volume of blood and makes its way to the nearest exit.

Negotiating the table on which I lie while my lifeblood pumps out of me, the 20 minutes or so of actual donation and the walk to the drink and biscuit table can be awkward when the bladder is protesting. After the sweet relief of a visit to the toilet, it only takes a few minutes for the body to sense it’s a pint of blood down and start complaining but it’s too late as the water is gone. The secret, then, is to drink in moderation over a longer time.

I chuckled at the warning card they gave me to read which stated that I shouldn’t donate if I was planning on working underground or going mountain climbing afterwards. Needless to say, my summit bid for Pen y Fan via the caves of Dan yr Ogof have been postponed.

The nurse that supervised my bloodletting talked about what to have for tea and we agreed that pie and mash would be ideal. Hence I’m sitting waiting for my pie to cook in an oven that requires a degree in food science to operate. 

 

Kitchenwatch 4 – When things come together

It’s called a living room, but that doesn’t mean you have to live in there all of the time. Both Rufus and I have struggled a little bit remaining in one room during kitchenwatch. We’ve had walks together and I had considered leaving him out in the garden while I went shopping. The threat of thunder storms and the need for me to be around some of the time as the builders discover more little legacies from the guys who built the kitchen extension meant I didn’t want to do that. So we’ve lived in the living room for most of the last 10 days.

Today, the builders were due back to finish off the fitting the bits and pieces, check the water and replace the fridge and washing machine. As we wouldn’t really be needed I decided we’d head off for a morning on the hills. The weather forecast was for a cooler morning which meant better conditions for both of us. So after making sure the builders had everything they needed, we set off.

The plan was to revisit the waterfalls on the hill above the River Tawe near Cerrig Duon stone circle. We set out from the car and there was a chilly breeze but we soon warmed up as we walked. It didn’t take long to climb the side of the hill on an old sheep trail. They’re always the best way to ascend a hill as sheep take the easiest route and we often follow their tracks for this reason. Today, in the cooler weather, Rufus was ranging far and wide, enjoying the freedom to investigate interesting aromas without me calling him back.

At the crest of the hill, we surprised some green sheep, their wool dyed to identify them. A few years ago I saw pink sheep, the red dye having run and faded over time and once I saw a flock of multi coloured sheep. There were reds, greens and blues and with the fading creating subtle differences in shade, the effect was surreal.

The sun had warmed the morning up as well and it was pleasant as we walked over the flat of the hill. We found the stream and followed it against the flow. I stopped to take photos of the waterfalls and Rufus waded and paddled and lapped at the fresh water. Suddenly, I realised we were fairly close to Llyn y Fan Fawr. This circuitous route had brought us close to the southern end of the lake and although we still couldn’t see the water, I knew from previous times (when I’d been lost in mist and had passed the lake without realising) exactly where I was. I took the executive decision to head for the lake. Rufus was already ahead and I knew that once he saw the lake there’d be no stopping him anyway. So off we went, a little further than I had planned. We’d done the climb and the going was flat with a few little ridges. On one of those ridges, I saw the water and Rufus charging towards it.

We sat on the bank of the lake for a few minutes and I threw stones for Rufus to chase or catch. He seemed to be doing well with plenty of energy and I was feeling good and over to my left was the path that led up to Fan Brecheiniog. It was very tempting to set off but I wasn’t sure as I hadn’t planned it and it was only a few weeks ago that Rufus was seriously ill. But all the time we’ve been walking this past two weeks he’s been strong and although his right knee is stiff when we get home, it’s never stopped him from charging out into the garden at the least excuse.

So we set off slowly up the path. It’s steep and rocky and I kept a careful eye on Rufus; as he was ahead of me it wasn’t hard. He was pulling away and at first I called him back to try and ease his pace. But he was happy, and eventually I let him go. It’s a short but sharp ascent and although I’ve done it many times, it’s not often I do it without at least one pause for breath… ahem… to take photographs. This time I managed to do it in one go. I think it was because I kept my pace slow and steady. At the top of the path, we stopped to chat to a trio of walkers also making their way up. Rufus was keen to get going so I left them behind and we set off for the final pull to the ridge.

I love the top of Fan Brecheiniog. It’s my favourite mountain in the Brecon Beacons national park. The views are stunning and on a day like today, they were all visible. The lake was a deep turquoise blue and clear enough that I could see the bottom of the lake around the banks. A breeze kept the sun’s heat at bay. We walked along the top with a sense of space and freedom that is one of the reasons I love it here. There were more people on the mountain today than I have ever seen in one go before. We passed a group of about 20 young walkers all chatting away; I overheard one say he loved this mountain because of the solitude and I chuckled at the irony. We passed two small spaniels and their owners and there was much wagging of tails as Rufus said hello.

At the far end, Foel Fawr, we sat and enjoyed the view from the cairn back along the way we’d come. Rufus was looking bright and still had energy to wander about but I didn’t want to push things, so we turned around and headed back down. I’m constantly on guard looking for little signs that his blood disorder is coming back to the point of paranoia but there was nothing. At the lakeside, we chased stones again and then set off on the direct route back to the car. Despite days of fine weather, it was still boggy underfoot and I struggled to find a fairly dry path through it all. Above us, two Red Kites wheeled and soared in the warm air. By the time we reached the river again, we were both starting to tire a little but as we neared the car, Rufus was still walking faster than me. He was glad to get onto the back seat and have a lie down, though.

The journey home was uneventful and every time I checked on Rufus, his eyes were shut or drooping. We got home just in time to speak to the builders. They had just finished and were clearing up. Everything that was planned to be done had been finished, apart from the wiring in of the oven, underfloor heating and sockets, which is due to be completed on Monday.

I have a kitchen!

Although I was tired from the walk, I managed to clear the living room of it’s temporary kitchen (kettle, toaster, sandwich toaster and water) and started to fill the cabinets. As there are so many more of them than I had before, I still haven’t filled them all and I’m still trying to decide where everything should go to make the most of the new layout. It’s all strange at the moment and I’m sure I’ll change my mind before the week is out. Rufus has indicated his approval by having his food and drink there.

There is still work to do to finish it all off. I will be having the gas fire and boiler replaced later this year and all the existing pipework runs through the kitchen, so that has been left for the time being. I haven’t decided what to do with the space by the window where the units used to be, but they left me offcuts of worktops which I can use to make a breakfast bar of sorts. And I have to decide on the tiles I want so that I can get the builders to come back and do those.

But I have a kitchen. Now all I need to do is learn to cook!

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Kitchenwatch 3 – the canine perspective.

Dave’s finally lost his marble (there was only ever one in that big head of his). I was having a post breakfast doze on Wednesday when all of a sudden there were some people in the house. I barked a bit for appearances sake and went back to lie down, as Dave seemed to have it all under control. Next thing I know, there was a lot of odd noises coming from the kitchen area. I had wondered why a lot of my food was in the living room – I guess it was luck he’d moved it there before they came.

Anyway, I took Dave out for a walk and when we got back, the people had moved bits of the kitchen out into the drive. Including the cupboard where my food is kept! Dave didn’t seem too surprised and that’s when I began to suspect a conspiracy. Sure enough, for the rest of the morning Dave was quite relaxed while the people cleared the kitchen of everything. Even the fridge, that sanctuary of ham. Gone! He knew what was happening and hadn’t told me.

I had an appointment at the hair stylist in the afternoon and when Dave picked me up afterwards, we went straight off to the river where we had a splash about and then a picnic on the river bank. It was most enjoyable but I knew he was only trying to make up for the disturbances of the morning. Sure enough, when we got back to the house, the people were gone and so was the kitchen. It was just an empty space.

Thursday was more of the same. The people returned and this time they dug the floor up and dug holes in the walls. We went walking in the hills but it was all still going on when we got back. By Friday I was tired from all the walking and having to keep an eye on the people and on Dave in case he did something equally silly with the living room. But fortunately we had a lie-in and the people didn’t show up until the afternoon, after we’d strolled around Fairwood Common. After they’d gone, Dave pointed at the ceiling and went on about ‘fresh plaster’ and ‘looking good’. It was pink, and I don’t do pink. I wasn’t impressed and instead I used mind control to get him to give me more than my usual portion of ham.

This morning, I was up ready to take on the people and find out when the kitchen was going back in. But they didn’t show up and instead Dave disappeared off mumbling something about new tyres. It’s a rubber thing, apparently. Not my scene but I don’t judge. It turns out we have the whole weekend free of the people before they come back to make more noise next week.

I indulge Dave some of his bizarre whims despite not really understanding them and I’ll give this one time. But it better be good!

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Kitchenwatch 2 – what kitchen? I see no kitchen.

Rufus knew something was up on Wednesday. First of all, after his early, early morning garden visit, I went back to bed rather than got up and made him breakfast. Being the every caring hound, he checked to make sure everything was alright – at 6am, 6.15am, 6.30am and 6.45am. After our long hill walk on Tuesday, I wanted a lie-in and we weren’t going anywhere until the builders had started, which was supposed to be 8.30. But no. We were up at just after 7am. Yaay!

The builders were here early and started straight away. Once I’d talked through with them what was going to happen, I took Rufus with me to the recycling dump where I got rid of another car load of junk, then we set off for a walk in the warm morning sun. Initially, I thought I’d just take him for 30 minutes or so before heading back to make sure all was ok. But we ended up strolling around Fairwood Common for about an hour, mainly because the normal thick mud and boggy marsh had dried out.

When I got home, I found my old kitchen, complete with kitchen sink, in a gigantic rubbish bag in the drive. Even the old cooker was lying there, looking totally out of place. Inside, the kitchen was and empty, echoing shell where the builders were busy cutting into the walls to rewire and shift sockets. I was surprised at how big the empty space was but I still couldn’t picture the new layout.

Rufus was due a haircut and thanks to a cancellation, he had an appointment that afternoon. So while he was pampered and preened, I sat and enjoyed a coffee sitting outside in the sun. With his new slick look making him far more comfortable in the heat, we set off for a picnic by the River Tawe. By the time I got home again, the builders had gone and Rufus and I had a good look through the kitchen before we flopped down on the sofa.

Today, after the 5.30am garden patrol, I was generously allowed an hour of extra sleep time before Rufus checked on me. This time, possibly because he was more comfy in his fur free state, we stayed in bed until 7.30. The decadence! As soon as the builders arrived, we set off while the weather was still cool back tot he river for a longer stroll there. It was a glorious morning and walking on the side of the hill high above the river, we were cooled by a breeze which took the edge off the heat of the sun. We ended up at a series of waterfalls hidden from the road and casual glances and all the more attractive for it. They were little more than serious trickles but I prefer waterfalls like that. They’re more delicate and from a photographic point of view, you get more interesting patterns and shapes.

It was nice just to be able to sit by the waterfall and enjoy they day and even Rufus took the opportunity to calm down a little – in other words, he trotted or walked rather than ran between pools. He enjoyed the opportunity to cool his paws and to get in the way of my camera every time I stopped to take a snap. There was plenty of barking and chasing and catching stones.

On the way back to the car the breeze had died down and it got quite hot but fortunately, there were plenty more pools and streams to cool Rufus down. By the time we’d set off home again, he’d fallen asleep in the back.

Back home, it was time for toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. One of the great things about not having a kitchen is that I don’t have to make excuses for eating junk. Both of us were tired and we settled back on the sofa to watch daytime TV. Next door, they were ripping the floor up in preparation for the under floor heating and both Rufus and I fell asleep to the grinding drill. The floor now looks like something out of Time Team. In the old kitchen, there is a portion that is concrete (it was laid after we had dry rot in the floor joists. This turns into small red clay tiles that look Victorian (I suspect they were original from when the house was built in the 1920s). Then, where the extension joins the house, we get really rubbish concrete (real cowboys built the extension; they tied their horses up in the back garden every morning).

I’m trying to persuade Rufus that we can have a proper lie-in tomorrow, as they won’t be here to start until later in the morning. I’m not sure I’ve got through to him. Time will tell.

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Kitchenwatch – 1

It’s been a long time coming but finally I decided to upgrade my kitchen from stone age to modern age. Many things have prevented me doing this in the past. The main one being the ongoing subsidence which, although largely cured, has left me a bit nervous of splashing out a great deal of money on major internal improvements in case the walls fall down. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but if I had to do remedial work to the structure, it would probably involve removing internal fittings as well. And then there’s the cost. Have you any idea how much a nice drawer handle is?

Finally, there was the decision on exactly what did I want? Shaker, modern, solid, soft close, granite, wood, gloss, metal, overhead, underfloor? My kitchen is small, even with the extension, and I wanted to make the most of it. But how? I’m no design visionary and every time I tried laying things out I was left with a small square of space in which to stand while surrounded by units.

But then I had a brainwave. Before the extension, my kitchen was a tiny galley style affair. With the extension, I could return to the galley style and bring some of it back into the old kitchen area. With a built in oven, that would free up much of the extension for a breakfast table. If my life were a cartoon (some say it is), a small electric lightbulb would have appeared above my head.

Fast forward through the purchasing process to last week. I spent most of my spare time clearing out the kitchen. To give you an idea of what that meant, I found a brand new frying an at the back of a cupboard. I have no idea when I bought it. I found a collection of empty rubbish bags showing the progress in style of the council’s bag decoration. Early bags were made with thicker plastic, for example. And the font has changed on the directions printed on the bags.

On Friday, I was given my delivery slot. I was told at the time of buying that delivery would be today, and that I would be given a two hour slot. That’s great. I had the chance to take Rufus for a walk, clear the front room to allow storage of the units and take a trip to the local recycling site with a car load of rubbish. So imagine my surprise to get a phone call while Rufus and I were dodging stealth cows and watching a little foal playing with it’s parents on Fairwood Common. “It’s the delivery driver here, we’re 5 minutes from your house.”

20 minutes later, I was screeching* to a halt outside my house where the van was, indeed, parked and the guys were unloading the units. 45 minutes of huffing and puffing later, there was a complete kitchen, with oven and hob, sitting in some cardboard boxes in my front room. Everything but the kitchen sink. Which turned out to be there as well.

*may have been a gentle and considered parking maneouver, ensuring the vehicle ended up parallel to the kerb without the tyres touching the pavement.

Rufus and I started to gather all the rubbish that was going down to the tip. As you can see in the photo below, he did his bit in preparing the cardboard. Then, after a busy 20 minutes sorting all the recycling out and trying to figure which container it all went in (the guys working there were really helpful with that) I was driving back home and finally managed to get to sit down after 5 hours on the go.

They come to fit it next week. Between now and then I have to eat my way through the contents of the freezer (Rufus has offered to help with that), finish emptying the cupboards and set up a temporary kitchen where I can make tea or coffee while they work.

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Recovery

Rufus continues his recovery and so do I. My paranoia about his every little cough or weary look is slowly subsiding; it helps that I am reminding myself that for every little cough, there is also a tail wagging run to investigate some irresistible aroma and for every weary look, there is a bark as a result of me being too slow to throw the squeaky bone for him to chase. And so while I don’t think things are quite back to normal yet – he’s still on steroids, for example – we are getting much closer.

Today was about ‘normal’. In the house of Rufus, normal is a subjective word. Normal is waking me up to go out in the garden while it is still dark. Normal is waking me up again because, despite it being the weekend, we still need to get up at 6am for breakfast. So I decided that is things were back to normal, then we’d go with it. Normal, for a sunny Saturday morning, would be a hill. Now, I know Rufus still needs to work up his fitness to tackle a proper hill but I had a small hill in mind that I knew he would be able to cope with and that would offer us fine views and the option to walk on good ground.

Mynydd Carn Llechart is part of the moorland to the north of Swansea and it’s a part of the world we’ve visited and I’ve written about many times. After an initial few metres of climb away from the road, the slope is gentle and there are several tracks to follow. The one we usually use curves around the highest point of the hill until it reaches Carn Llechart, an ancient ringed burial cairn overlooking the valley that leads down to Morriston and Swansea. from here when the weather is clear, you can see DVLA, the Merdian Tower and Mumbles lighthouse. Today was such a day, beautifully crisp and with a hint of the warmth of summer to come.

We took our time on the moorland and Rufus seemed to enjoy being out in the big world again. As we headed back to the car, the views to the north were equally spectacular with the snow covered Bannau Sir Gaer in the very distance. It’s what we’re working up to but for now, 90 minutes on this hill was enough.

Back home, while Rufus snored his walk off, I spent an hour in Gelli Hir woods looking for bluebells. I have some in the garden but they haven’t yet appeared in any great quantity in the woods. Nevertheless, I was able to get a few decent photos by lying on my stomach in the mud and getting up close.

Back home I had things to do. With the work on the kitchen dues to start shortly, I have to start clearing things out and getting rid of the rubbish. I thought about it last week and that’s as far as I got. So after a quick coffee, and more medication for the hound, I started on one of the cupboards – the one that everyone has which is full of plastic containers, many without lids. They breed, of course. I’m sure I only ever bought four. I pulled out more than twenty. After the cupboard, I took down the bookshelf with all the cook books I never use on it. That’s not strictly true, I’ve used several but I don’t use them as much as I should., Maybe with the new kitchen this will change.

The snoring stopped and it was time for a light lunchtime snack. Then, when the snoring resumed, I went and cut the grass. This time, my work was supervised by Rufus, who checked the consistency of the cut and then joined me to sit on the sun for half an hour. I took that to be a sign that my standard of work was adequate.

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The Simple Things

There are some simple things in life that really aren’t that hard to get right. This blog is about one of those things – customer service.  The basic premise for me, which holds true for many situations, is that if you promise to do something, then do it, or explain in good time why you can’t do it. The measure of good customer service is not just whether it is 100% perfect first time but how, when things do go wrong, it is dealt with.

Here are two recent examples that illustrate my viewpoint.

We are told that we are living in hard times, and small businesses are struggling. Support your local trader, they say. I used to support my local grocery shop until the first time we had a really bad snow fall, with roads blocked and traffic at a standstill. Then, to support the people he had previously asked to support his business, the owner of the shop raised all his prices. He’d had deliveries because he was on a main road. He just chose to support his profit margins rather than the loyal customers. He went out of business a little while later because we all stopped supporting him.

It sometimes seems, based on the level of customer service, that many traders don’t really need our business. In fact, it seems that they only provide us with a service out of a noble, charitable sense of duty. So when I went looking for someone to replace a gas fire and back boiler, I should have been eternally grateful that anyone was able to offer that service. And I was. He turned up, looked around a bit, muttered some technical stuff and then said he’d get back to me with a quote within a few days. That was four weeks ago. Clearly a more deserving cause came along and mine was relegated to a back burner. Or boiler?

The bigger companies are more financially sound and are able to help more people out of goodwill alone. So when I went to a big company to ask them if they would consider selling me a kitchen and fitting it too, I was a little more hopeful. And to it’s credit, the big company said “yes, we’d love to sell you a kitchen and we can get someone to fit it as well”. They did a good job of designing a kitchen just the way I wanted it. And since I’m not very good at that sort of thing, they also steered me away from the bizarre and unworkable ideas I’d had and gave me a practical solution. But silly me, I went away and decided that I couldn’t afford the quote and needed something a little less expensive. So I rang them up to ask if it was possible to save some money. Well, I tried ringing them up. But the first number I was given turned out to be a local insurance company, who explained that they didn’t offer a kitchen design service. I used the general number for the big company and for two days running, every time I got through someone picked the phone up and put it down immediately.

Not easily deterred, I finally got through on a different number they had forgotten to hide from me and explained to someone that I needed to save some money. I asked if it would be possible to do this when they came to my house to do a final measurement. They said yes and gave me an appointment, 11am today. I even checked that they had my address, to which the person said yes. Imagine my surprise when I had a phone call from the big company this morning to ask what I wanted from our meeting, and found out that the meeting was for midday, not 11am, and that no one was coming out to see me. I would have to go to the big company. Again.

Maybe I’m a fool, But I went. And to it’s credit, the big company managed to retrieve the situation. And that’s the measure. Yes, they shouldn’t have got things wrong in the first place but it was a simple mix up. The measure was that when I turned up a little annoyed at the big company, the gut I dealt with apologised, explained how he was going to make sure that didn’t happen again and provided a swift and pleasant service changing my design. The result – I placed an order with the big company, because they got their customer service right. And an added bonus is that they might be able to get me a gas fitter to do the fire and boiler.