Monday, March 31, 2008


The damson orchards are entering their full bloom stage.

I'm making the most of it right now, as the weekend should see it's fair share of cannon and musket fire, so I predict a blizzard of petals and bare branches by Monday.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Smells Like Festive Spirit

The electricians had been here for the best part of the day. So far they had got off to a bad start. After explaining the various problems that needed looking at I left them by the fusebox and returned to my office. I heard footsteps going upstairs. My daughter was in bed as she gets up at 5am to do her morning job and then gets her head down for a couple of hours when she returns. My husband had taken time off work and was enjoying a lie in. I dashed upstairs to warn them not to go into any of the bedrooms, but I was too late.

"Whaffuck?" said my husband as he awoke to find a strange man in the bedroom doorway.

I was cross. I hadn't said they could go upstairs in the first place, they hadn't said they were going off on a voyage of exploration, and you'd think they'd at least knock before heading into bedrooms with closed doors.

I returned, stompily, to my office. Where the computer screen went dark, the lights went out and the fire door slammed shut as the power was unexpectedly cut off.

I was cross. "You could give me a warning before you do that," I said. "Otherwise I lose whatever I was working on."

They apologised.

They moved on to the installation of a new immersion heater. The old one would trip the switches every time I tried to use it on its overnight setting. I could have hot water if I remembered to manually switch on the immersion heater, but the night time setting had to be deactivated.

The first sign all was not going smoothly was the request for a mop and bucket.

The next was the sound of pouring water some time later.

When the electrician came through to ask me to call a plumber I knew for sure.

The verdict was not good. The old immersion had been tricky to remove, so a bit of pressure was applied and the result was a broken hot water tank.

"I can't get hold of a new tank until Friday morning" said the plumber.

The thought of two long days without hot water loomed before me. It didn't help that the weather had just become very cold again and the thought of shivering in the bathroom while trying to have a strip wash in the basin was not an encouraging one.

"I know," said my husband. "We could bring the urn over - that would be a useful way to heat up lots of hot water."

"It's broken," I wailed.

"There is the other urn," said McColleague. "The one we do mulled wine in."

The urn we use for mulled wine can be used for no other hot beverage. No matter how thoroughly it is cleaned after use, it never loses the smell. Still, it does, inarguably, heat up a lot more water at once than a kettle. Handy for washing pots and pans and me.

So, for the next couple of days I washed in water still slightly scented with cinammon, cloves and red wine. It was great to get the new hot water tank fitted, but I do rather miss smelling like Christmas.

Monday, March 17, 2008

These Are Not Just Pants...

I did not attend the pre-season conference this year.

My Boss did, and was therefore the one to receive the certificate awarded to our team by the Director General for exceptional results in recruiting new members last season. He duly put it in a frame and presented it to me upon his return.

This was enough to make myself and my visitor reception assistants preen with pride, so imagine our delight when we heard that there was an actual prize element to the award too! "Our apologies for not having the prizes ready for the pre-season conference," the email read. "Your vouchers will be in the post tonight."

The morning's post did not disappoint. Inside the big envelope addressed to me were four smaller envelopes, one for me and one for each of my visitor reception team.

Thirty pounds worth of Marks and Spencer vouchers each! Unexpected riches!

I don't know what the rest of the team have bought with theirs but McColleague and I immediately took ourselves into town for a bra shopping marathon. (I should point out at this stage that McColleague didn't win any vouchers, being on the conservation side of things, not visitor services. She came along solely to keep me company in my bra buying frenzy.)

I managed to get the whole ensemble for my thirty quid. Bra, matching knickers, and seamed fishnet stockings. How tempted do you think I am to rip open my work issue anorak and shout "look what I bought with my award vouchers!" next time I meet the Director General?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Wagons Roll!

For some years now a small, green, battery powered vehicle has stood in the courtyard.

It is yet another item my Boss acquired because it seemed like a good idea at the time. He bought it, painted it green and got the same amazing artist who created our nursery rhyme boards to paint a slightly deformed hedgehog on the doors.

When I first arrived here the Trusty Wagon, as it came to be known, still worked. It went about as fast as slow walking pace and myself and my daughter would have great fun driving it around outside and performing slow motion Professionals style dives and rolls out of the moving vehicle.

Our fun was cut short, sadly, as the Trusty Wagon simply stopped working one day and was left to stand, motionless, outside for the next few years. Children, of course, loved it and would climb inside and over it, pretending to drive as they turned the steering wheel back and forth.

It had its uses. It was a convenient weight for tying the marquees to when we had outdoor events. Still, it was beginning to look tatty, bits were starting to fall off it and McColleague and I were, frankly, sick of the sight of it.

At long last, this week, we finally persuaded the Boss that it was never going to be fixed and was an eyesore. He sent Lovely Warden to remove it and take it to the warden's yard.

The plan, according to Lovely Warden, was to simply tie it to the Gator, which McColleague and I would drive, towing the Trusty Wagon, which he would steer.

McColleague and I watched as Lovely Warden attached the rope, and put the vehicles into position.

"Have we done a risk assessment for this?" asked McColleague.

"Yes," I replied. "It's a bit risky, but probably ok."

"I'm not sure about how safe it'll be when we do the hairpin bend."

Lovely Warden was unconcerned. "It'll be fine," he said.

So we set off, McColleague driving the Gator, Lovely Warden steering the Trust Wagon, and me making sure we hadn't lost him and taking photographs. There was a slightly hairy moment by the moat, where the Wagon lost it a bit on the gravel, but Lovely Warden seemed unfazed, smiling and continuing to eat his lunch.

Of course, once we had dropped off the Wagon at the warden's yard, we were left with a two-seater Gator and three people to transport back to the house.

"You'll have to sit in the back," McColleague informed Lovely Warden.

"I'd better get my deckchair then," he said.

"He is joking isn't he?"

He wasn't. He emerged from the warden's shed with a red folding camping chair and proceeded to clear a space for it in the back. "See how I am ensuring it is on a level surface," he explained. "Safety is my primary concern."

Of course safety is our primary concern. So at no point would McColleague and I agree to drive Lovely Warden around the estate as "King for a Day" on a deckchair, we would certainly not go off road and go through the woods, and Lovely Warden would most definitely not therefore claim that he was going to need to have the deckchair surgically removed once we got back to the house. There would certainly be no opportunities for McColleague to shout "Is he ok?" above the engine noise, while I replied "Well, he's still there, if that qualifies as ok." And anyone who says otherwise is lying.

Monday, March 03, 2008


Changing behaviour is a challenge, to say the least. Changing things, as opposed to behaviour, is easy in comparison. We now open an hour earlier, for example, and the long awaited volunteer room is complete and in use.

At the pre-season volunteer and staff meeting I talked at length about the new room. I took the volunteers to look at it. I gave them all a sheet of Frequently Asked Questions relating to the changes for this season. When my volunteers arrived on the first open day of the season this weekend I reiterated the salient points.

These boiled down to:
  • Do not bring drinks into the house. Apart from the fact it looks unprofessional to be swigging cups of tea while on duty, last year I found someone had left a hot cup on the chest in the Screens Passage (despite the provision of a desk with coasters on it, for just this purpose) resulting in white marks we then had to remove.
  • Do wash your own cup after use and put it back.
So, naturally, when I walked through the house an hour later to see how everyone was doing, I was somewhat disappointed to spot a cup of tea balanced on the brass alms dish in the Screens Passage and another being held by the volunteer by the desk.

My frustration (masked by a big smile and a tactful "we mustn't put cups on the precious things" as I whisked the offending utensil away) was matched only by the arrival of the two shop volunteers at the end of the day, who had thoughtfully brought me the days takings along with their dirty cups.

What are my chances of getting them to accept the new room as the place to drink tea and do their own washing up before the end of the year?