I was made to live on a desert island…

**Once again, I’d like to thank all of you who have been kind enough to send me such caring messages. It really means a lot that you have taken the time to send us all these little supportive comments. If I could send you all chocolate, I would!**

I’ve decided that, on the whole, neighbours should be banned. There should be a strict vetting process before people are allowed to live in close proximity with others, and those who fail the vetting process should be exiled to a very crowded commune, a long way from civilisation, along with all the other inconsiderate idiots who make their neighbours lives a misery.

As you may be able to pick up, if you are talented at detecting nuances from the writing of others, we are having some problems with those who live around us. Unfortunately, as we live in a flat, it’s literally people who live around us. We have neighbours directly overhead who think nothing of parties until four in the morning, and although these don’t happen that often, most of the other nights we can enjoy the relaxing sound of a four year old being chased up and down the flat by her parents at half past ten at night. Not to mention the regular loud and heated domestic arguments and the incessant playing of their ‘Coldplay’ album (I’m wondering if they own any other music). Then there are the neighbours diagonally above who rent the flat and don’t give a monkeys who they disturb with their stomping up and down the stairs and slamming of doors at all hours of the day or night. Not to mention the phone calls which they feel a need to take in the communal hallways at significant volume. I sometimes feel like going and joining in the conversation. But our favourite of their activities has to be when, as happened last night, their friends show up in the early hours and hammer on the security door to be let in, and then ring each doorbell in turn. Let’s be clear; the security door at the entrance of the flats is just on the other side of the wall from the head of our bed. Their flat is on the second floor. I’m assuming that they don’t hear the pounding as easily as we do. And the doorbell ringing is extremely special. They obviously aren’t in their right minds because what sane person would expect any one of us in the other flats to buzz in a drunk person who has spent the last twenty minutes standing outside the building screaming at the top of their voice? After about fifteen minutes the tenant graciously let the screaming, drunk, hammering woman in, only to stomp up the stairs, slam the door, have an argument (yes, we could hear it clearly from that far away!), come back downstairs and let her out again (slamming the door just for good measure). I think a trip to their letting agents may be on the cards for me. Not that I expect that to improve matters; these tenants are actually significantly better than the last ones. These ones at least don’t stand in the hallway screaming obscenities for no known reason at the other residents of the block!

In theory, there is a phone number we could call to alert the police or the noise pollution officer to the problem. In practice, we’ve tried this before and nothing happened. I miss so much our house in Mid-Wales. It was a detached bungalow in the middle of an acre of land, surrounded by trees. Peace and quiet was the norm, and if you heard a car you’d get up to see what was going on. I’d dearly love to pick up that house and land and put it down in the middle of Cardiff (pick carefully and I could obliterate quite a lot of other buildings in the process!). We crave tranquillity. Perhaps when we move we could look to build a large wall around the perimeter of our new house and maybe install the finest soundproofing that money can buy. Until then I shall continue, I expect, to fume, within the confines of my own flat, about the thoughtless nature of some of those with whom I live in such close proximity.

And yes, in answer to the unspoken question, my early training to become a grumpy old woman is going very well, thank you.

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Plans and optimism

Thank you all for letting me be so self-indulgent here recently. I’ve been alternating between miserable and happy like a weathervane in a buffetting storm, and it must be quite hard for some of you to keep up. Today alone I’ve veered at least three times!

However, I’ve come to an important conclusion. January and February are stupid months to try to change my eating habits, and so I’m postponing my conscious dieting until March. I shall keep on trying to exercise more, and I’ll think more about what I eat, trying to get more fruit and veg into my diet, but I’m not calorie counting or anything until March.

I’ve decided that the fewer things I have to stress about in my life the better. There are several things which I can’t do anything about, but those that I can, I will. And dieting is one of those.

Speaking of exercise, did I mention that I went on a (for me) long walk at the weekend? I’m hoping to have another long walk this weekend, so long as the weather isn’t filthy. Eventually I’ll build up to jogging, but one step at a time. Perhaps that’s something else I’ll get to in March!

January though, is just for me. And spring cleaning. I made a good start today, and with my three free days next week I’ll press on some more. February will be a planning month, I think, easing myself into productivity, then hopefully by March I’ll be back in full flow.

Also, by the end of March my sister-in-law will be half way through her pregnancy, and then I will be thinking about crafting for my new niece or nephew!

Plans for the weekend? A little exercise, some visiting relatives and croissants for breakfast – sounds good to me!

Volcano ‘fall out’

Well, the news broadcasters are in a quandary right now, trying to decide whether to talk about Nick Clegg’s victory in last week’s Prime Ministerial Debate, or discuss the effects of the Icelandic volcano. I think that Mr Clegg should be impressed that he is managing to sway so much media and public attention away from this natural phenomenon which is affecting so many thousands of people and costing more industries than just the airlines millions of pounds!

I see that the pressure is mounting on the air traffic controllers to allow planes to fly once more. The news reports claiming that the dangers of volcanic ash are exaggerated are becoming more and more prolific. I can’t help but wonder if that’s simply because there is not much new to report – the ash is still up there, the airlines are still losing money and British cirizens are still stranded overseas. Or maybe it’s all to do with the blame culture in which we find ourselves living. It seems that for every bad or inconvenient thing that happens, a culprit must be found. And as the eruption and subsequent weather system that pushed the ash our way cannot reasonably be blamed upon anyone (although try telling that to the Radio 4 listener who thought that Gordon Brown should be in Iceland sorting the volcano out rather than running for re-election!), people are trying to find someone to blame for the grounded aircraft.

I don’t know about you, but if the aeroplanes started flying in twenty minutes time and were offering flights for fifty pence, I’d not feel happy about travelling by air until I was as certain and reassured as possible that there are no more clouds (however thin) of ash hovering above us in the skies. Maybe I’m more susceptible to the fear-mongers than I’d like to admit, or maybe I’m not so susceptible to the blame merchants. However, it is now being widely reported that NATO fighter jets have suffered engine damage with a build up of glass in the jet engines after flying through the ash clouds. So maybe the people exercising the caution in not reopening our airspace aren’t as ‘Health and Safety’ wacky as some journalists would have you think.

However, given the state of my car every morning since Friday, the ash is settling. I gave it a good wash this morning, in company with a couple of my neighbours who were cleaning theirs at the same time. It took a lot of cleaning to shift the dusty ash deposits, and it’ll probably need doing again tomorrow, but I suppose I’ll have a good indication of how much ash settles overnight! Journalists in Iceland are reporting that the ash plume is no longer as high as it was, and it is suspected that the eruption may be entering a new phase. So maybe a few more days will see a significant difference in the concentration of ash in the atmosphere. In the meantime, and without reliable indicators of how long this will go on, I’m very glad that those of my nearest and dearest who have holidays planned, have booked to go on a cruise!

£65 million for a piece of bronze? Craziness.

I’m watching the BBC ten o’clock news. I’ve just watched a piece about the sculpture which has created a new world record for the most expensive item of artwork to be sold by auction. £65 million (£58 million plus Sotheby’s fees) is ridiculous. How many mosquito nets would that buy to help prevent malaria spreading mosquitos in Africa? How many water filtration systems could that provide for third world countries? How many people could this sum of money help to start their own businesses and become less reliant on charity?

I know I’m probably in a minority, but I strongly feel that spending this amount of money on some static, unresponsive lump of metal is immoral. A huge fuss was made when the UK wide amount of money raised to send aid to Haiti reached £35 million, and that’s only half what someone has splashed out on something that will probably sit in a bank vault, or heavily guarded display case.

This is an excellent example of the huge divide between the richest and poorest in this world. According to Oxfam Unwrapped, this sum of money could pay to build 38235 classrooms or 151515 libraries, train 1,300,000 farmers, buy 812,500 cows or provide clean water for upwards of 72 million people. Hmmm, cold bronze statue/clean water for an entire country. Such a hard choice.

Is ‘live and let live’ not an acceptable way of life?

I rarely buy newspapers, but while I was out shopping today I bought the Guardian. While reading it, I came across an article about Pope Benedict and his remarks on a recent meeting with the British R.C. Bishops about how they should unleash their ‘missionary zeal’ on the UK in an effort to sort out our ‘unjust’ equality legislation that prevent people from adhering to the tenets of their religion in their every day lives. At first, I genuinely thought (bless me and my optimistic innocence!) that he was preaching the sort of tolerance and acceptance which is such a part of my Christian faith (for the sake of clarity I should state that I’m a protestant, although I believe that these are at the core of the whole Christian faith). But no. Apparently, the ‘unjust’ equality legislation is that which we have already recently gained in the UK with regard to homosexual couples and gay adoption as well as employment equality rights.

It made me so cross to read that. It made me angry that the Pope was essentially preaching intolerance for people of other beliefs and other ways of life. This is what leads us into so many conflicts. Surely in these troubled times internationally we need our civil and religious leaders to be talking about unity, tolerance, understanding and compassion. There is far more that unites the peoples of the world than divides us, but the last thing we all need right now is for such influential people to preach such hatred and send such divisive messages around the world.

Mindful consumption, and teaching children to be thoughtful consumers

Something I meant to write about it my last post (but completely forgot, or at least got sidetracked!) is my effort to teach my children to be mindful consumers. I always seem to forget to write about WHY I do things like make jams and preserves at home, rather than take the easy and cheaper route of buying low price preserves at the supermarket.

In recent years, we as consumers have been made very much more aware of the journey that our food takes to get onto our plates. We have seen campaigners like Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall using their influence as high-profile chefs to highlight the poor conditions in which a significant number of animals are kept before being killed to produce meat for our tables. We have heard about harmful chemicals being sprayed on food crops, and have witnessed the rise in popularity of organic food.

We don’t have the space ourselves to grow more than a couple of tomato plants and a basil plant as we have only windowsills but no garden. However, the boys have enjoyed this windowsill horticulture, and are on a daily hunt for the ripening tomatoes and chilli peppers. So, as we have no garden ourselves, I’ve enjoyed taking them blackberry picking in our local park, as they get the experience of seeing food growing at first hand, and can start to appreciate the work it takes to prepare food truly from scratch rather than buying pre-made foodstuffs in the shops. It was an added bonus this afternoon when I was able to take my younger son, Cheeky, outside our flat to pick even more fruit (the elderberries) within view of our front window. We will ask around to see if anyone has any cooking apples ripening that they can spare for our jam making, and then the boys will help me to make the jam which they will love to eat on their toast, in their sandwiches and in their porridge through the coming winter.

This all fits together with my teaching them about where their sausages and roast dinners come from. Jo has been a great help in this, as my boys have been able to get to know her various livestock and realise that animals should be treated well (like royalty, in Jo’s case!) even when they are destined for the dinner table. They have also had the opportunity to learn and accept from a young age that the sausages, ham, bacon and roast gammon they both love, as well as the minced beef in Cheeky’s favourite lasagne and Handsome’s favourite cottage pie have all come from what was once a living animal. I’m doing my best to teach them to buy meat according to whether the animals have been treated well, and I’m also trying to teach them to question where their food comes from, rather than just accepting whatever arrives in front of them. They have both eaten and enjoyed meat from Jo’s pigs, even when they’ve known the pig. I’ll admit that at first, they were a little wary and squeamish of eating meat from a pig they knew and talked to, but they are very receptive to reasonable argument and so after I’d explained that there’s really no difference between eating pork from a pig you’ve known and from one you haven’t, they were both fine with it.

Well, this post has got away from me a bit, but I’ve been meaning to write all of this down for some time. Sometimes I feel like I don’t really write much about what I believe to be right. It’s much harder to express beliefs than it is to simply write down the events of the day.

Surely it’s not November already?

I could have been forgiven for mistaking today for a November day. This morning, driving across Cardiff before breakfast, it was dark, damp, miserable, windy and generally as unlike a typical August day as I have ever seen. I was wearing a jumper under my coat, for goodness’ sake!

Whinge over. I’m sure the ground is benefitting from the hydration, blahdeblah. I’m seriously considering petitioning the council/assembly/government to move the summer holidays to either June or September though, so that the kids have half a chance of getting out in the sunshine once in a while during their holidays!

Thank you for all your comments recently; please don’t think I’m ignoring you! I’m just paying a flying visit today, but will be sure to read them all and reply tomorrow. Hope you’re all keeping well!