Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Today I Learned Something New

The streamers from party poppers, when dampened with certain beverages, leave brightly coloured stains on flagstones.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Big Clean Up

One of the major perks of living on the job is the fact that I can hold private functions in the house. I have hired out the Hall for several birthday parties, lunches, wine tasting evenings and the like, and I always enjoy seeing the place being used as it should be. After all, a medieval Great Hall was built for feasting and merriment. It was never meant to be a room to tiptoe in and out of reverentially. Its purpose is to provide a perfect place to party, and this is what it did over the weekend. Better still, this was my party, rather than one for the public.

Well, by "my party" I actually mean "my daughter's party". She has reached the official state of adulthood and the occasion was marked in style. The only request she made with regards to the festivities was that there should be balloons. I duly obliged, hence the wondrous balloon model I subsequently fashioned as a conversation piece.

Admittedly, many of the balloons were ones I had left over from children's events. I appraised the logo and iconic hedgehog emblazoned across them and set to work with a black marker pen. Brilliant. No one would ever guess that they were not professional, shop bought balloons. Well, given the dim lighting and a few drinks, anyway.

I feel that my quality balloon decorations, hand crafted banner, and assorted novelty items were a key factor in the success of the party.

The only downside is that now I have to face the clearing up. The food and drink were consumed on the night, with glasses and plates brought through to the kitchen the morning after. The now wrinkled balloons still hang forlornly from the rafters though, and hundreds of little metallic "18"s and "Happy Birthday"s are stuck in every crevice. The multicoloured streamers from countless party poppers languish under tables, waiting to snag on any passing heel to be tracked further through the house. I need to take down the disco lights and move the big speakers from the Minstrel's Gallery. Part of me is reluctant. After most functions and events I have to get the house back in order by 12 noon the following day, preferably before the volunteers and visitors arrive. There is still another month to go before we open to the public again. Surely I can think of another party opportunity before then?

Friday, January 26, 2007

I Have a New Skill

I tried to make a giraffe or a poodle, but they went bang.

I have made this instead. It is my creation and even I am disturbed.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Decipher This

I have been away for the last few days, refreshing those skills which enable me to facilitate my modules with confidence and enthusiasm. I am now more enthused and motivated to develop and promote the six standards of customer care.

Yes, that's the way I have had to speak. That is the language of the print-outs and Powerpoint Presentations.

Can you work out, from that morass of management-speak above, what I have actually been up to?

Monday, January 22, 2007

A Breed Apart

"Could I just have a cup of hot water, please?"

There are certain gatherings where this always occurs. Having taken pains to set up the tea and coffee well in advance, with insulated jugs of beverages on a tray, there will always be one person who wants something which involves another trip back to the kitchen.

"I'll just have to go and put the kettle on again. Biscuit?"

"Are they gluten free?"


The location here is such that just providing the hot drinks at meetings can be a struggle. Mains water has only recently made it here and is currently disconnected anyway, due to an, as yet, unfound leak. The house is supplied with water from a spring, with a nifty filter unit built into the kitchen. So to make tea and coffee for more than a few people involves repeated boilings of the kettle and transporting the fruits of my labour to elsewhere in the building.

There is also no convenient place to just pop out and buy lunch. If we're making a day of it people have to bring their own supplies. So, when lunchtime comes around and everyone is rummaging in their bags for their sandwiches, there will always be that breed apart asking for "a bowl, a spoon and some boiling water for my couscous."

It's a conservator thing. Over the years I have noticed that conservators and curators have certain culinary tendencies. You could go round the table at lunch time and know which ones they are just from the food in front of them. A typical table in the staff room in winter would have the following:
  • sandwiches
  • sandwiches
  • pastie
  • sandwiches
  • two oatcakes and some grapes
  • pot noodle
Spot the conservator.

Friday, January 19, 2007

That's Entertainment

"...extreme weather conditions mean that our engineers are unable to give a time for restoration of supply. Further updates will be given as they become available, otherwise this message will be updated at 8am. Thank you for your patience."

I sat, in the flickering candlelight, and reflected how useful it was that at least the office phone was still working. I also reflected on how useful it was that we had recently had a candlelit event in the house.

The high winds had caused another bout of devastation. The lights had flickered gamely for a while and then the power failed altogether.

"Woohoo!" I cried as the computer monitor went blank before my eyes, taking with it all those annoying emails asking me to do things.

"Yes!" I exclaimed as my mobile phone lost all signal, presumably as a mast died somewhere. "I am incommunicado!"

The office phone rang. "Damn." It was my boss, advising me to switch my two-way radio to the special channel, reserved for such situations. I was partially communicado. It would do.

Once it got too dark to see comfortably in the office I decided to take a walk with the dog and see what had detonated in the storms. The orchards did not disappoint. As I took Blair Witch Style footage of the broken trees I had a brief moment of health and safety angst, but it soon passed. No bits of tree fell upon me, I am happy to report.

The most fortunate aspect of living where I do during a lengthy power cut is that the house was created for a time without electricity. We lit the wood burner, stoked up the Rayburn, and were all set for hot water, hot food, hot drinks and heat. We ate as a family around the big kitchen table, surrounded by my selection of candles, from tiny tealights to enormous church-style pillars of wax. Conversation flowed. Then ebbed. Flowed again. Ebbed.

"Hey! We could watch a DVD on the laptop!"

Fantastic. Trying to read my book by candlelight had been making my eyes hurt anyway. And Radio 4 was not holding my interest. So, we gathered around the miraculously fully-charged laptop and got our fix of pretty colours on a screen. Modern living is addictive.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Paws and Effect

Look at this! That bloody cat has been in the office, marching up and down my paperwork with his muddy paws, chewing up my pencils, stealing elastic bands and knocking as much onto the floor as he can.

What makes it worse is that this is exactly what used to make me Very Annoyed when I worked at the Big House, where my then-boss, Dorian, would allow her cats to roam freely in the office. I used to fume at the ruined letters, the cat hair in the printer and the dead animals left on the mat. Not to mention the strategically timed puking-and-poo-fests her feline friends would engage in whenever we were trying to impress anyone. I used to boot them, unceremoniously, out of the office whenever she wasn't looking.

But now, here I am, with my own office, with my own cats. I picked up the muddy paw-printed paper this morning and wailed "My god, have I turned into Dorian? Will I become orange and lose all my friends?" I had to boot the cat out, and fast, before I started down that slippery slope.

That was a close one. I settled down in my chair and began the serious business of the day. After an hour or so I became aware of a low purring. It dawned on me I had been absently stroking a small furry body for some time. That cat was back, on my lap, and I am officially one of those mad women.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Power Cut

I stepped out of my car and crossed the car park to the darkened office. My boss stood outside, smoking his bedraggled roll-up.

“The power’s gone,” he said, as I walked towards him. “Went off about ten minutes ago.”

Inside the office things were gloomy. No computers glowing, no fluorescent lights humming, no phones ringing. One by one everyone left their respective desks and gathered in the open space, near the door. It was dark. It was getting cold. I kept having a strange mental block about the power being out. No computer, no email – no problem, I thought, I’ll just fax things through instead! (Head – desk – thud!) Ok, scrub that. I’ll just get this photocopying done. (Arg! How can I be this much of a doofus?) Eventually I began to get the concept of “power cut” and joined the others for a bit of cheering banter.

“How long,” I asked them, “before we go feral, Lord of the Flies style?”

They reckoned about ninety minutes before the charcoal stripes appeared across our cheeks and we would have to eat one of the wardens.

Fortunately the power came back on again 57 minutes later, I was able to complete my photocopying, the kettle went back on, my colleague had her Cuppa Soup and cannibalism was averted.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ramblus Interruptus

Upon returning home after a sojourn off the estate it is not unusual to find people near the locked gates, a subject I have discussed before.

They tend to fall into three main categories:

1. Those who have walked down to the gates, seen the closed signs and are about to walk back up again.

2. Those who loiter, hopeful that as you unlock and enter the gates they might enter also.

3. Those who are about to climb over the gates for an illicit free visit (or those who have just done so).

The walkers next to the gates today were particularly funny, as they fell into the “just about to climb over” category.

The amusement factor came from the chap who was in the process of lifting his dog up over the gate. Upon noticing our arrival behind them, the subsequent turning of that movement into a nonchalant, "I-wasn’t-really-in-the-process-of-lifting-this-dog-over-your-gate, this-is just-the-time-of-day-I-do-a-bit-of-dog-lifting, wheeeeee-he-likes-it!" gesture is a joy to behold.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Joy of Winter Weekends

From March through to November I work every weekend and Bank Holiday. Which is fine by me, as I loathe Sundays, as a rule, and Bank Holidays are simply an extra Sunday equivalent. This time of year is when I revert, for a brief period of time, to a normal working pattern of Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, so I can spend my weekends experiencing those joys that others take for granted all year round.

I have to say, going to the supermarket on a Saturday is not a great deal of fun. The crowds! The children! The screaming! (Bizarre, disembodied, continual screaming from the far reaches of the supermarket - what on earth was that all about? Had someone else realised that shopping on a Saturday was a terrible idea?)

Still, the good thing is I get to enjoy leisurely starts to the day, sleeping in late and then pottering about the place in my nightwear, without having to race against the clock, to get myself, and the house, decent before everyone arrives. I also get to put my wellies on and go and play in the woods - and that can't be bad!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Tales of the Unexpected

Oddest story of the week:

Whilst out in the woods, the wardens found a wooden money box. This was in a location nowhere near where we would ever choose to put a donations box. Upon further investigation they determined the box rattled.

Could an occasional passerby, a lone walker, have actually put money in it from time to time? They opened it. No money. It was full of snails. To be more precise, snail shells. Which were larger than the slot for the money.

That’s odd, isn’t it?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Cluster Flies

Cluster flies are pretty much harmless, as insects go (unless you happen to be an earthworm, but that is another story). They do, however, become a problem in the autumn – and periodically on warm sunny days throughout the winter and early spring – as they enter buildings to hibernate. They get their name from their habit of clustering in vast numbers at such times. They will often return to the same building year after year. In my case, their preferred winter venue is the ticket office. They love it. It has everything a cluster fly needs for that perfect hibernation destination.

This means that every time I enter our ticket office it’s like a scene from the Amityville Horror. The fly clustering scene, most particularly. The windows are black with lazily buzzing flies, the sills and floor covered in drifts of the fallen. These fallen flies should not be confused with dead flies. They are the fallen undead, with randomly reanimated individuals suddenly flying back up toward the light in dozy circles.

Tackling these beasties is problematic. Chemicals are not only ineffective but could well have a detrimental effect on the other friendly creatures that live in the building. Bug zappers can only handle so many bugs at a time. That leaves our method of sucking them up the hoover. This needs to be done daily, as the clusters of flies return, biblical plague-like, within hours. Emptying the hoover afterwards can be a traumatic experience if you haven’t thought it through.

I recall a day last year when I proudly took the ticket office staff a gift of a cordless handheld vacuum cleaner, for fly busting activities. I spent a happy few minutes hoovering up all the cluster flies that had magically reappeared since the last big blitz. The “handy-vac” was by now full and lightly thrumming with the vibrations of innumerable flies. I took it outside to empty it. This was a Stupid Thing to Do. As I took the unit apart hundreds of undead, somewhat dusty, flies swirled upwards to get in my face and hair. The resulting squealing like the great big girl I am and leaping around, frantically brushing out my hair, was witnessed by every visitor walking by on the path at that time.

This year I am going to continue my quest for a better solution to my cluster fly problem. Experiments with super large spiders continue.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Oh Happy Day

It is 8.50am when I look out of the window and see a white van approaching. Not just any white van, either. No, this one has what looks to me to be a very long ladder attached to its roof rack.

With a little whoop of joy I race downstairs and get to the door a nanosecond after the doorbell rings. "Hello," smiles the nice young chap at my door, "I've come to fix your guttering."

We walk round to the side of the house, so I can point at the leaky bit. He unshoulders the ladder, extends and places it against the wall. "Do you need me to the foot the ladder?" I ask, aware he is on his own and very high up. He declines my kind offer. I decide to give him some advice, in order to fulfil my health and safety obligations. "If you do fall, try to roll with it." (This is a variation on my other health and safety briefing, "careful now!")

The job is completed impressively quickly and water now flows through the gutter rather than through my wall. The CDs can move back to their rightful place. Now, how long will it take to get the big damp stain painted over, I wonder?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Best Toy Ever

"There is nothing- absolutely nothing- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in a 6x4, all terrain, off road vehicle. "

As Ratty would have said to Moley, if he'd stopped arsing around on the riverbank and gone for an insane, mud-spattered jaunt through the Wild Wood in a Gator.

Officially the Gator belongs to the wardens. But if they leave it unattended, with the keys in the ignition, they know full well that McColleague and I will be off. Well, if they didn't, they do now.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

She Who Waits

I am waiting for the man to come with his long ladder and fix my guttering.

I discovered, while doing the ironing the other day, that water sheets down the corner of my living room, straight into my CD collection, whenever it rains heavily. The water is also slightly foamy, like bubble bath, which I can only assume is something to do with it coming through the timbers. Maybe some chemical thing is happening. Maybe it is ectoplasm and the house is haunted, after all.

I went upstairs and leaned out of the bedroom window to try to discover the source of the problem, but couldn't get close enough to the gutter to work out if it is blocked or corroded. All I could see was a lot of water apparently coming out of the bottom of it and cascading majestically down the side of the house. And the back of my neck. I ducked back inside and closed the window. It was late in the afternoon at the weekend so I sent up my distress flare (a short "help me!" email to Those Who Can Fix Things) and waited.

Yesterday I had two messages - count them, two! - informing me the man with the long ladder would be here some time today.

I waited all day for the man with the long ladder. I even left a useful note on the door just in case he came while I was in the shower this morning. It's dark now. I don't think he's coming. I'm going to move my CDs and hope for dry weather.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Minstrels and Mayhem

Returning to the office after any time away is always trying. The numerous phone messages to pick up, the pages of email to sift through, the post to open; all that catching up before you even start on the actual work in hand. Returning in January also involves many teetering boxes of Christmas decorations to negotiate a pathway through, abandoned packets of mince pies and other festive ephemera strewn across every surface. All of this is manageable. It is expected. I know where I am with it. What has really thrown me this week is the fact that my diary is not in its usual position on the desk. It is the source of all information, the first thing I look at when I sit down. It is where I write my to-do lists and reminders. Foolishly I believed good old ink and paper was a safer bet than the electronic interweb for storing such things. Oblivious to power cuts, immune to viruses, it even repels tea and biscuit crumbs more efficiently. And yet, here I am, with my diary 75 miles away. I never foresaw this turn of events.

This is what happens when you let your office be used as a dressing room by Tudor minstrels. They accidentally pack your desk diary along with their books and music and return to their own place and time.

I am hopeful that, even as I type, the Royal Mail is bringing my diary back to me with all speed. Until it arrives I am in a state of office limbo. Do I have any appointments today? Meetings? Training days? Did I arrange anything? I simply don’t know.