Saturday, March 31, 2007

Carry On Innuendo

The Gardener decided to have some sport with McColleague.

"I heard a rumour about you and Lovely Warden," he said.

"Oh yes?" replied McColleague, with a due sense of wariness.

"I heard he rubbed his nuts on your chest."

"That's true, he did."

"Were they raw?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Were they raw? Or were they cooked? The nuts."

"You are a very naughty man and I am not going to talk to you any more."

Friday, March 30, 2007

The News in Brief

Two geese set up residence on the moat. They are very noisy. They make honking noises that rival the alarm system for startling me out of bed in a "what in the yellow rubbery fuck was that?" kind of way. They also do enormous poo. They may come to a bad end.

Froggy love has happened. It looks like an explosion in a tapioca factory out there. I had to shovel spawn into the moat from where some horny toads had peaked too soon, before they reached the water. Dirty amphibians.

Dead mole found on back drive, in comedy "I am so dead" pose. Kept it to prove to the gardener that the cats do more than just shit in the flowerbeds.

HR department sends all staff a cardboard folder in which to file their important self developmental paperwork. I am going to customise mine. I am thinking of writing the word "arrested" on it, after the word "my", in crayon. Or something. Suggestions?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


I just ran over a squirrel.

My husband was pleased. As far as he's concerned, grey squirrels are vermin, to be shot before they get at the hazelnuts.

I always try very hard not to kill anything on my journeys through the estate. (Yes, even ramblers). This is harder than it sounds, as all the bounty of creation seems to want to dart out in front of me and throw itself under the wheels. Tonight, before I hit the squirrel, I avoided three lively escapees from the cowsheds, four ducks and a moorhen, before I even got to the first set of gates.

It has all led me to recall the Worst Thing That Has Happened Since I Moved Here.

I was heading back down to the house, along the road that leads through the parkland. Sheep were grazing peacefully. One half-grown lamb was nibbling grass at the edge of the verge. I slowed down. I never took my eyes off it. I thought "that lamb is going to dart across this road any moment now". I drew closer. It remained nibbling, oblivious. The distance closed. I thought, "hmmm, seems I was mistaken and it's staying put". I drew level with it.

It darted out and went straight under the car.

Ba-dump Ba-dump went the wheels.

"Nooooooooooooooo!" went me.

I was distraught. I had run over a sheep. Maybe it wasn't too badly hurt. I got out of the car to take a look. It was stone dead, not a mark on it, though its head was at the wrong angle.

"I'm so sorry, sheep," I wailed.

It was wedged firmly under the car, so that I could neither move the vehicle, nor the animal. Legs stuck out at a jaunty angle. I tugged, fruitlessly. Well, that was Plan A out of the window then (me leaving the dead sheep on the side of the road and saying "Tsk! Just look at what some naughty visitor has done!") My big red car was sat, blocking the main visitor route to the house, with a sheep stuck under it. I could see walkers approaching. Oh joy, a pushchair. Now I would be responsible for upsetting a small child, too.

Plan B kicked in. In true, sorted, together, competent manager mode I started to cry. I phoned my Boss, then my Husband and then the Farmer, and sobbed and sniffed the same urgent message to all of them. "I - I'm at the top of the estate. I've run over a sheep! I can't move it or the car and people are coming!"

As it turned out, the people on foot were very nice. As they drew level they looked at the car, the dead sheep stiffening slowly beneath it, and then at me, blotchy-faced and snivelling.

"Aw, you ought to go and have a nice strong cup of tea, love, for the shock".

My husband and a warden arrived. The warden tried to cheer me up by telling me of the many sheep he had run over in his time. It wasn't really helping. Meanwhile my husband jacked up the car and they were able to remove the sheep and hide it behind a tree, until the farmer arrived.

"That was a good sheep, that," he said, casting his eye over it before tossing it into the back of his landrover.

"I'm really, really sorry," I said for the umpteenth time that afternoon.

I finally made my way back down to the house. Everyone had heard, from various visitors, of the sobbing woman at the top of the estate, with a dead sheep under her car. I could see my staff and volunteers registering my tearstained appearance and the lanolin smeared on the front bumper of the car. It was a fair cop.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Big Sleep

Over the past few weekends I've been updating my staff and volunteers on what changes occurred in the house over the winter. As I demonstrated the new alarm system to one of my colleagues I was reminded of why we needed to upgrade it in the first place. Apart from the annoyance caused by repeated false alarms due to bat activity there was always a strong chance that I would sleep through it anyway. The old alarm system had one sounder, situated far away, over the front door, with many fire doors and walls between it and my bedroom.

One morning, not long after I first moved in, I came downstairs as usual, bleary-eyed and wild haired and went to punch in the deactivation code on the alarm panel.

"That's odd," I thought. "It says here, 'Alarm - Great Hall, 4.06am'".

I was confused. I hadn't heard the alarm. I went back upstairs and asked my husband if he'd heard anything during the night. He hadn't. Neither had my daughter.

I decided to shrug off this little mystery for the time being and head outside to the meeting that was scheduled on site, first thing. On my way to the door I spotted my mobile phone, which normally never leaves my side, but had been accidentally abandoned on the kitchen table at bedtime this once. Five missed calls. Bugger.

I stepped out into the early summer sunshine. Leaning on my gatepost was my Boss, rolling a fag.

"You sleep soundly, don't you?" he smiled.

"Um....yes, it seems I do! The alarm panel says the alarms went off last night."

"They did, yes. When the alarm company couldn't get hold of you, they phoned me."

"Shit! Sorry!"

"When I got down here, there were two policemen waiting at the gates. So, we all came down to see what the problem was."

"I never heard a thing!"

"Yeah, well we walked all round the house, shined the torch in the windows, and since we couldn't see you lying on the floor bleeding or anything we reckoned it must be a false alarm."

"Didn't the dog bark?"

"Nope, just wagged his tail and seemed happy to see us."

"Bloody freeloading mutt," I muttered.

"So, how much did you get through last night?"

"What? Ah. Oh. Hardly any. Honest. It's the sounder, it's not loud enough. I just slept through it all. We all did! I am so sorry you had to come down here at 4.30 in the morning."

"S'all right Doris, I was too hot at home in bed anyway."

He is truly a laid back man. My old boss, Agent Orange, would have given me a good few days of finger wagging and lecturing about how I really mustn't sleep through the alarms and how tired she was now, so if she suddenly just collapsed it would be all my fault, and so on and so forth. No wonder moving here felt like such a reward.

So, that is why we now have an alarm system with sounders galore. Strategically placed ones, designed to jerk me, flailing and mewling, into wakefulness, with their brain-buggering, ear-bleeding, impossible-to-ignore noise.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Get Out of Jail Free Cards

  1. It's always been like that.
  2. Ah, well, that's nature for you.
  3. We are aware of the situation and measures are being taken.
  4. It's completely organic.
  5. I've been having problems with my email.
  6. It's a habitat pile.
  7. That's the traditional method of doing it.
  8. What memo?
  9. I'm just a volunteer.
  10. That's not my dog.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Conversation at Closing Time

"It never gets any better does it?"

"Doesn't it?"



"Bea was just cashing up in the tea room when in comes Bertha with a huge box of eggs. Well, we don't have any room for them. You know how we're fixed."

"I do, yes."

"So, Bertha, she says 'Where d'you want these eggs?' and Bea, she says 'What?' and Bertha, she says 'Where can I leave these eggs?'

Well, Bea's trying to do the till, and you know how she gets when she's doing the till, so she says 'We can't take them here, I haven't room for them here, you'll have to take them down to the shop.'"

"Ok, fair enough."

"Yeah, but that Bertha, she goes 'Stick 'em up your arse!' in front of everyone, in front of the tea room girls and the customers, and walks out!"

"Oh dear!"

"Well, Bea's not happy."

"No, she wouldn't be."

"'Stick 'em up your arse' she said! In front of everyone!"

"Yes...yes, that's terrible. Awful. Sorry, I shouldn't laugh. It's very serious. I'll have a word."

Friday, March 23, 2007

"I don't have any cash on me at the moment..."

McColleague and I are playing a game.

It is called "Avoid the Collection".

This is where we try to avoid, for as long as humanly possible, having to contribute to the leaving present fund for a colleague.

(I should mention that our contribution will in no way effect what gift is selected. One of our team has a jewellery shop, which tends to be where all staff presents come from. The silver snuff box/frame/letter-opener will already be in the bag.)

We upped the stakes a bit by having both already signed the leaving card, thereby committing ourselves to being asked for cash for the present. (This is one of those universal workplace laws.) As the week wore on we put a lot of effort into hanging on to our cash, to see how long we could get away with it. This is how new sports are invented.

McColleague's technique was to combine the laying low, Flying Under the Radar approach with timely deployment of the Body Swerve, when certain members of staff headed her way.

I, on the other hand, went for the tactical brilliance of the Sodding Off to Norfolk for the Rest of the Week approach.

Neither of us reckoned with receiving identical texts this morning, informing us that if we want to give anything for the leaving present we're to leave it with the Estate Secretary. Call me Mrs Sensitive, but I see that as a thinly veiled "Give us the money. Now."

Damn. Game over.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Time Out Take Two

I am planning another escape.

I shall be visiting my parents for a couple of days, so expect a brief hiatus in postings and comments management.

And much like my last Time Out, I have already been sucked back into work mode this morning. There I am, first thing, stood at the kitchen sink, when my doorbell rings, long and loud. It turns out to be a would-be volunteer, returning their registration form.

"A lovely young man said I could find you here," she said.

What lovely young man? I scanned the area behind her. Hah! A builder's van. The work has obviously begun on the Courtyard Interpretation Project (new display boards, to you and me). They have just as obviously left the gates wide open, hence my potential volunteer finding her way in. It's an ongoing problem. I know it's a pain in the arse, having to keep climbing in and out of your vehicle to open and close the gates. I know better than most, having to do it many, many times a day. But it's far more of a pain to have to keep chucking people out.

Still, I don't have to worry about that for a day or two. It's Somebody Elses Problem. Hurrah!

See you Friday!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Customer Care Challenge

One of the exercises on the Customer Care course that all staff and volunteers are supposed to attend concentrates on signage. Laminated A4 signs with negatively worded phrases (such as "Keep off the Grass" or "No Dogs") are handed out to groups who are then faced with the task of giving the same message, but in a more positive way. (For the previous examples, they would be expected to come up with something like "Please stay on the paths" or "Dogs on leads welcome in the car park", for example.)

Now, I can see the sense in this, to a point. It isn't very welcoming to be faced with a plethora of "Thou Shalt Not" signs, and if they can be re-worded to make everyone feel warm and loved whilst still getting our visitors to take their litter home with them and keep their sticky fingers off the ceramics, then great.

The problem is when we come to the great "closed" issue. The customer care team do not like us to use "closed" signs. Too negative. Instead of "closed" our signs are to state when we are open, instead. But given that every property in the organisation has different open days and times, and these vary as to what time of year it is, the confusion this generates is considerable. When visitors arrive at the gates here, there is a big wooden sign that says:

Open :
March weekends only 12-4
4 April - 30 September Weds - Sun 12 - 5
1 October - 29 October Weds - Sun 12 - 4
Open Bank Holiday Mondays and Good Friday
Last admission 30 mins before closing.

Even I am confused, and I know when we're open.

So, in a daring move, I have taken to putting up a "closed" sign on the gates, next to the admission times one, when we are not open. I had hoped it would help me to avoid situations like these. After all, it is far more negative to be asked to leave, I think, than not to have entered the property in the first place.

Now, as last week was so sunny and unseasonably warm, I had even more people than usual wandering down on our closed days and refusing to accept that they shouldn't be there. Myself or McColleague will spot a couple (they always seem to be in pairs) on the bench, or strolling down the drive, and take it in turns to go through the "Excuse me, can I help you? I'm afraid we're closed" spiel. Unfailingly they respond to this information with "Oh yes, we know you're closed, we just wanted to see the house."

(Do other attractions suffer from this? Does the West Midlands Safari Park have to put up with people scaling the fences and saying "Yes, I know you're closed, I just wanted to see the lions close up"? Are people found bobbing about in the Sea Life Centre, cadging a quick free peek at the penguins?)

After pointing out that the gardener is mowing the orchards, the farmer is moving livestock, building works are going on in the courtyard, and no public are allowed on site for health and safety reasons, nine times out of ten they still sit there, blankly. Or agree, totally, make as if to leave, and then ten minutes later I'll find them somewhere else in the gardens. I then have to start the exchange all over again. If only I had some hounds to release. I could release Zed, I suppose, but he is likely to immediately go and shit in the flower bed, which lacks the desired effect. "There," I would have to say, pointing dramatically. "Think on. It will be your picnic rug next, so move."

So, the customer care challenge I have is as follows:

1.How do I word my "closed" sign so that it is quite clear that we are not open, at all, in any way, shape or form and, yes, that does mean you, and no, you can't just have a quick look at the house. Because it is closed. That means you cannot come in. So stay out. That sort of thing.

2. Once I've done the smiling, "I'm sorry we closed, I'm afraid you can't stay here" bit, how do I tell those reluctant departees to get out, without it coming across as a tad on the negative side?

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Short Musical Interlude

Red and yellow and pink and green
Purple and orange and blue
I can sing a rainbow
Sing a rainbow
Sing a rainbow too.

Up above the streets and houses
Rainbow climbing high
Everyone can see it smiling over the sky
Paint the whole world with a rainbow.

Many colours in the homo rainbow
Don't be afraid to let your colours shine
Many colours in the homo rainbow
Show me yours
I'm gonna show you mine.
You know, until I saw the rainbow, earlier, I had no idea I knew so many rainbow songs. Yes, I know. It's not a proper post. But. I am mellow. It's this day off, four bottles for a tenner, thing.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Mother of a Day

12.01am - Finally get to bed after a long, long day. (As yesterday was World Forestry Day, we had put on an event in the afternoon where the public could have a go on a pole-lathe, or building a bird box. Amazingly no one got nailed to anything they shouldn't. Though the wardens did accumulate plasters as the day wore on.

Once the house closed, McColleague and I set about transforming it into a high class venue for the local history society's cheese and wine tasting event. This involved much shifting of heavy oak tables, fetching in 50 extra chairs and protecting as much as possible from potential damage. We then hung around for the rest of the night, sweeping up broken glass here, mopping up wine there. The plus side was that we were given wine and cheese to sample along with everyone else. The negative side was that we had to listen to the very dull wine talk that went with it. McColleague and I retired to the office and speculated on our own version of a cheese and wine event.

"I like this cheeky little red, as you can get four bottles for a tenner from Londis."

"Indeed. I find it goes particularly well with a Dairylea Triangle on a TUC biscuit."

We even got "shhhhushed" at one point, we were giggling so.

We were on duty until 11pm, when the last attendees finally left.)

3am - Wake up from a dream involving bits of wood and Dairylea Triangles. The wind is whistling around the house like a bad sound effect. Struggle to return to sleepy oblivion.

8am - Discover the dog has not been well in the night. Maybe the wind bothered him, too. He has opted to not be well in front of the Rayburn, so that by morning it has pretty much baked onto the tiled floor. Don disposable gloves, fetch cleaning products and fantasise, as I scrape up stinky brown nastiness, of an alternate reality with less poo and more leisurely lie-ins and breakfast in bed.

8.26am - Discover message on the answer phone from one of my volunteers. She has car trouble so won't be in today. The chances of finding another volunteer on Sunday morning who has not already made plans for Sunday afternoon are slim to none. Bugger. That means I am going to be room stewarding all afternoon.

9am - Go through to showrooms and assess what needs putting right before we open. Rather a lot.

9.30am - Stuff wine-stained cloths in to a bag, ready for sending to the laundry, pack away the table protectors and marvel at the many and varied places I have found cheese and biscuit debris.

10am - 50 chairs and 3 trestle tables stubbornly remain in the house. I am all achey and simply can't face carrying them across the courtyard and up the stairs, back to the Granary, where they belong.

10.30am - 50 chairs and 3 trestle tables have been removed by my lovely daughter and her lovely boyfriend. I am pleased. I am so pleased I also get them to bring in the 20 solar-powered lights I put out to illuminate the drive last night. Before my pleasure at a job well done can lead to any more tasks, lovely daughter and boyfriend make themselves scarce.

10.38am - The house is finally looking as it should. The furniture has been shifted back into position, the pewter plates and candlesticks are all where they belong and I have vacuumed up every last crumb and shard of glass.

10.50am - Remember we promised Mother's Day card-making activities in the Family Room today. Go on a hunt for art and craft materials.

10.55am - Unearth cardboard box filled with motley collection of dried-up felt tip pens, felt-tip pen lids, broken pencils, empty glitter glue tubes and crayons. Hurrah! Crayons! They'll do. Decide to sift crayons into this useful wire letter tray.

11am - Why did I choose this crappy wire letter tray? It's designed for sheets of A4 paper, not crayons. They keep falling out of the big lattice-work squares. Decide to line letter tray with something, so the crayons can't escape.

11.01am - Why did I choose a 1-ply paper napkin?

11.05am - Carry the basket of crayons carefully, at optimum angle, and put, with sheets of card, in Family Room.

11.06am - I forgot the glue.

11.08am - And the scissors.

11.10am - Check toilets are clean and have adequate supplies of loo roll, soap and hand towels.

11.11am - Remember we promised lavendar-bag-making activity too. Check the "you will need" list.

11.15am - Nuts to that, no way am I cutting out dozens of muslin circles. Squares are quicker.

11.30am - Put muslin squares, lavender, wool and tags in Family Room.

11.35am - Go to kitchen to fill kettle and fetch milk, cups and spoons for volunteers tea-making corner.

11.36am - Realise I left the front door open and the dog has fucked off.

11.37am - Step out of the front door, yelling "Zed!" as my Visitor Recption Assistant arrives to collect his cash box.

"Zed's round the corner," he says, pointing. "And I think he' something."

11.38am - Go round corner. Zed is in the flower bed, doing something.

"Noooo! No, Zed, not there!" I am too late. He is still not well.

11.40am - Fetch watering can to wash away sticky brown nastiness from flower bed and indulge in a brief fantasy of an alternate reality involving less poo and more poise and readiness. And space hoppers.

12noon - Open to the public!

12.01pm - 3.59pm - Welcome hundreds of people, explain why the timbers aren't black, exclaim over the snow/wind/sunshine and smile, smile, smile.

4pm - Close the doors!

4.05pm - Put bat covers back on, close all curtains and doors, set alarms.

4.30pm - Abandon cashing up. Too tired to stand much chance of an accurate return. When I was a girl I always put "7" as my answer to unfathomable maths questions. It worked for me then (surprisingly often), but I have my doubts as to its efficacy now.

5pm - Wonder if it's too soon to start drinking?

6pm - Yeah, that hit the spot. Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Blog Chug

If you are a fan of humourous blogs, you may well already be aware of this, but the Shaggy Blog Stories book is now published and available to purchase online. For more details on how it all happened, what it's all about, and how to get a copy, head on over to Troubled Diva.

(No, I'm not in it, but you could always buy a copy and I'll tell you a story later.)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Bottoms Up!

The Granary was full of two years worth of accumulated junk. It's supposed to be our education room, a base for school groups. It also doubles up as a meetings room. And trebles up as a dumping ground for things that no one can think what else to do with. It looks bad enough, having mountains of boxes at one end of the room, but a small bird has taken up residence in there, and everything is covered in bird shit, too.

McColleague and I have undertaken the mammoth task of cleaning and tidying the Granary. Yesterday we found two enormous poo-spattered boxes containing a computer and monitor. Our Boss happened to be with us at the time.

"Oh yes," he said. "I got that ages ago for the education room, for the kids. It just needs setting up."

As McColleague and I laboured among the dust and cobwebs today I had a thought. "If I set that computer up now, it'll take up far less room than it is in those boxes, and we can chuck the packaging in the skip."

This seemed to be an idea without flaws, and I duly unpacked the monitor and computer, connected everything up, and switched it on.

Aw, I thought to myself, as it booted up. I haven't seen Windows 98 in ages! Still, it'll do to keep the kids occupied on rainy days, I mused, sorting through the assorted educational CDs that had been left in the box with the computer.

I looked back at the computer. At the desktop, specifically. I couldn't tear my eyes away.

"How's it going?" asked McColleague from the other end of the room.

"Well, I've got it going. Um....Do you know who the Boss got this from?"

"No, why?"

"Come and have a look."

McColleague and I were unable to continue with our cleaning for quite some time. We were bent double with the unexpected hilarity of it all.

"At least we didn't have a group of excited school children around us as we booted it up for the first time," I said, when I could speak again.

I simply can't wait for the Boss to pop back down.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Wonky Sign

I could see my Boss and Lovely Warden in the distance, working by the newly erected kiosk. I braked to a gentle stop beside them and wound down the window.

"We're just putting up the new sign," explained my Boss, somewhat redundantly, given the massive red board he was holding.

I squinted at it and tried tilting my head, first to one side, then the other. No, whichever way you looked at it, the wording wasn't level.

"What do you think?" he asked.

"Um....I'm just proof-reading it...."

"Well I took the prices off your sheet," he said, testily.

I didn't have the heart to break the news that the myriad price options, while correct, were all wonky.

"I'm sure it'll be fine when it's finished," I smiled. "I'd best get back down to the house."

McColleague was awaiting my return. She had a surplus of duck eggs to be eaten up, so I had volunteered to buy bread and cress while on my trip to town, and make eggy sandwiches for everyone on my return. We stood in my kitchen, shelling the hard-boiled duck eggs. "I saw the Boss at the top," I said. "He's made the sign."

"Is it bad?"

"Yes, it's really wonky. Plus there's a big bubble in the paintwork he kept trying to smooth out with his thumb. And you could see where he's gone wrong earlier and peeled some letters off and then stuck others on top, so it all looks blurry."

McColleague nodded. We both expected as much.

As it was such a glorious day we took our plate of eggy sandwiches to the bench by the moat, to while away our lunch break. We heard a car approaching down the drive and looked up.

"Here he comes," I said.

"Must have given up on the signs."

The Boss stopped his car when he drew level with our bench. Out he stepped, fingers automatically reaching for his baccy and papers, rolling a fag on autopilot, as he always does when he goes from inside to outside.

"I really should wear my glasses more often," he announced. "Bloody sign was fine while I was working on it, but when I stepped back it was all wonky."

McColleague and I glanced at each other, then quickly away again.

"Was it?"

"Yes. And I buggered up some of the letters too. Had to order new ones now."

He looked quite downcast. "I thought I could maybe saw a bit off the sign, to level it out, but no joy."

"Have an eggy sandwich," I suggested, brandishing the plate his way. He brightened up a bit at this and joined us on the bench.

We munched thoughtfully together. We heard the sound of the Gator approaching. Lovely Warden drove up behind our bench, with an off-road kind of flourish.

"Sign's all wonky," said the Boss.

"Did you try sawing some off the bottom?" asked Lovely Warden.

"No, it's too wonky for that."

"Eggy sandwich?" I offered the plate to Lovely Warden.

We all sat and chewed for a while.

"I'll knock something up on the computer for now," I said.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Time Out

I had a day off today. It was lovely. I actually left the estate and everything.

Before I went out I decided to take the dog for a circuit of the moat, so he would be happier for the rest of the day. I spotted the Learning Officer and her volunteer in the distance and waved, cheerily, but kept moving so I wouldn't get sucked into worky stuff on this, my glorious day off. Cars began to arrive on site and I began to walk a little faster. Inevitably one drew up alongside me, the window rolled down, and a voice emerged.

"Hello! I've got all the lunch boxes for the school visit today. Where can I leave them?"

I indicated where she should go and raced the dog back to the house. It was now or never. If I didn't leave immediately I was sure to be involved somehow. I could sense my presence had been detected and I could almost hear the first cries of "Dor-is! I know it's your day off, but..."

I locked the dog in the house, leapt into the car and accelerated away, The Professionals-stylie.

Blessed freedom. Sweet liberty. I must do more of this "day off" stuff.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Tea Time Troubles

“Could I have more water for the kettle?”

“Give me a mo, I’ll just go and fill it.”


“Sorry to be a pest, but are there any more mugs?”

“I thought I’d left enough for everyone?”

“Oh, yes, but I had coffee earlier and now I want tea, so I need a new cup.”


“Shall I just leave these dirty mugs here?”

“Well, I’ll just move them off these timesheets, and I’ll take them through to the dishwasher later.”


The problem is, my office doubles up as the volunteer’s room, where they come for their sandwiches and cups of tea. As the only kitchen is my own, in my living quarters, they are unable to wash up their own cups or fill their own kettle. I try to leave everything they could possibly need in advance of their arrival at 12 noon. I fill the kettle, leave a spare jug of water, a jug of milk, a sugar bowl, teaspoons, cups, tea bags, coffee, a biscuit tin and a cake.

By 12.30 every cup has been used, the kettle is emptied, coffee rings adorn my paperwork, and crumbs have found their way into every crevice. Used tea bags squat on the side of the desk, infuriatingly close to the bin. If they’ve had their sandwiches too the wastebasket will now be overflowing with discarded wrappers and banana skins. The worst is when they bring fishy sandwiches in a plastic box….that “pfftt” as the lid comes off and the scent of salmon fills my working environment.

It’s not their fault. They do a long stint and need a bite to eat and a cup of tea. And if they see me in the office, typing away at the computer, they find it hard not to pull up a chair alongside mine and ask how I’m doing, tell me how they’re doing, how their families are doing, how their neighbours are doing. They are fascinated by whatever I might be doing on the computer, and show no shame in craning forward for a better look. Otherwise, they’d just have to sit there, quietly, watching me work, and that would be boring for them.

Next week sees the commencement of work on our new visitor facilities. We are turning the old milking parlour into new toilets, complete with baby changing room, accessible WC for disabled visitors and, joy of joys, a volunteer room. They will have their own area, outside the house, outside my office, with a sink and a fridge and a chair! It will be their room, their responsibility. If they leave it in a state, they will have to face the ire of their colleagues. If they decide to carry their hot beverages back to the house I am hoping the distance is such that their drinks will have cooled enough not to leave nasty marks on the historic furniture! They will have to clean their own cups! Oh my. I am quite giddy at the implications of it all. Still, it is quite a way in the future yet, and until then we are still thrust together at refreshment time. I made a small effort to get them used to the concept of separation. I moved the kettle and tea making paraphernalia to the other end of the office, away from my desk. It hasn’t been an unqualified success. One lovely chap came in today, looking in bafflement at where the kettle used to be.

“If you’re looking for the kettle,” I said, “it’s over there.” I pointed to the other end of the room, which I had tried to make inviting, with a chair and a poster. (To be fair, the tyvek and tape repair, billowing ominously overhead, does spoil it somewhat.)

“No, no, it’s all right,” he replied. “I’m just looking for somewhere to eat my sandwich.” And he pulled up a chair alongside mine and asked what kind of winter I’d had.

I have a feeling the new room may take a while to be accepted into common usage.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Shaggy Blog Stories

Charity begins at home. In this instance it begins on a computer at home. Mike, over at Troubled Diva, has had a toptastic idea for Comic Relief. Be a love and pop along and look at this, if you haven't done so already.

Excellent, thank you, have a biscuit.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Top Tiptastic

Today I learnt something new and useful.

The Elizabethan chest in the Screens Passage had an unsightly, white watermark on it, where a wicked, bad, naughty volunteer had stood a cup of hot tea, instead of using the coaster on the desk, a mere 6 inches distant.

"Do you think there's a way we can restore that?" I asked McColleague.

"Funnily enough, " she replied, excitedly, "I was watching a telly programme the other night about furniture restoration, and this woman said if you rub it with a Brazil nut it'll remove the watermark."

Well, if some woman on the telly said it'd work, that's good enough for me.

"OK," I said, "but I've only got hazelnuts."

"Ooh, I bet Lovely Warden will have some in his lunchbox!"

Lovely Warden is a vegetarian and brings lunches the squirrels would kill for.

Sure enough, he did have Brazil nuts in his box. "That's my favourite nut, too, " he said, wistfully, as he handed them over.

We gathered around the chest in great anticipation as McColleague set to work, rubbing the Brazil nut over the mark. Wow. I mean, seriously, wow. It really worked. The watermark had completely gone.

I began to laugh.


"I'm sorry," I managed. "It's just that when people ask about this I'm going to have to say we got great results when we rubbed Lovely Warden's nuts on our chest."

And now I have, and I am happy.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Signs of Spring

Today I spotted three sure signs of spring.

1. Frogs in the drainage channel from the moat. A sure sign that Froggy Love Day will soon be upon us.

2. A duck nesting in the hollow oak tree. She nests there each year and every time I miss the moment when the ducklings plummet like little fuzzy missiles, from the tree to the water.

3. A beetle in my bra. Sadly I have no photo of this, as I took off the aforementioned garment to see what was so itchy within it, and my first reaction was to exclaim"oh!" and to ping the beetle into beetley orbit with a flick of my finger. Wonder what sort of beetle he was....?

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Season Starts Here

On Friday I discovered a hole in the footpath, near the side of the moat. A hole with water in it. A hole with crumbling edges, of ankle-snapping dimensions. An aptly exciting way to end the week, really. When re-opening for the season, a few health and safety hazards in the preceding days help to keep things lively.

Much frenzied activity later and the hole was filled in and roped off with some stylish red and white hazard tape. Picture postcard perfect.

The weekend itself went surprisingly well. Only one of my volunteers forgot they'd put their name down for duty and failed to turn up. And there was only incessant rain resulting in flooding of the courtyard on Sunday. I reckon I can consider that a result.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Let There Be Light

How many conservation charity employees does it take to change a lightbulb?


Well, it did today anyway. Kind of. The lighting system in the Great Hall is an example of staggeringly bad design. There are four halogen spotlights, hiden way up high in the ceiling rafters. When a bulb blows we have to wait for a passing builder with a long ladder to check it out for us, as our stepladders don't come close to reaching the lights.

Two of the four bulbs have been out since October. The passing builder who bravely ascended his super-long ladder on our behalf reported that the bulb was fine, it was the light fitting itself which was broken. Naturally, I flagged this up to the Buildings Department immediately. Just as naturally, the required electricians, and their hired tower scaffold, only arrived today, two days before we open.

Turns out both lights are beyond hope of repair. Hooray! Now begins my campaign for replacement, accessible lighting!