Saturday, 30 January 2010

Spring Clean

Day Fifty Eight.

What a lovely sunny day! Perfect for staying indoors and sorting out the piles of STUFF in our upstairs sitting room, right? Er - right. I did manage to get out and enjoy a bit of a walk as well as visiting my friend Jenny and her 6 month old baby, but before that I had a successful day of Getting Stuff Done.

You might have liked to have seen a before and after picture, but due to the camera battery situation, that was impossible. And when I looked at the mess before I started I was actually quite glad that no one would ever see it! It was disgraceful, to say the least!

As I have hardly any time before I go out to what I'm expecting to be a lovely party with music and food, I'll keep it brief:

I fixed the hoover (again - the sucky part keeps falling off, but I managed to re-attach it for the time being) and sucked up a ridiculous amount of cat hair as I cleared new areas of the room.

I've moved lots of things which I won't need for the next month (but wish to keep) downstairs into the spare bedroom, ready to go to the smallholding. These included our very few Christmas decorations (we usually collect holly and ivy and foliage in general, so have limited tinsel and a few red and gold baubles); the bag of carefully selected teddies; some wooden CD racks; and some more books.

I cleared the HORRIBLE hexagonal coffee table we have hated sine we were given it by a friend who was moving house and had no room for it, and Phil Took It Away, never to be seen again. Now there will be one less ugly clutter magnet in our world.

There was a whole pile of scraps of paper with people's phone numbers and addresses on them, and I've 'downloaded' them into my diary. At least now I might be able to find them if I need them, ha ha.

The folders full of the accounts were out, all over the sofa, so I put them away - out of sight and mind.

I can't believe I can see so much floor now, and moving around the room has ceased to be an obstacle course. If you could see it, you'd be amazed. :)

Better go and get ready now - in the coming days I hope to slowly catch up with myself and fill in the missing days... That is the plan, anyway. Maybe if I do two a day... Got a gig in Walthamstow tomorrow night (so sorry you can't make it, Tammy, I was looking forward to meeting you in person!), so leaving before noon - not sure what I can achieve before that time, but if I don't have time to blog, I shall write it up early next week.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Blogging Backlog Hell

Friday 29th January.

Argh! I have been so stupidly busy that I've somehow managed to build up a backlog of about 12 as yet "unblogged" days, and it's driving me mad! I know I'm not alone in this, Beth has had difficulties too. It's not easy! :) The big push to get the album finished and safely to the manufacturers is completed, so at least that stress is off. It has consumed most of my waking hours for the past two months, but especially in the last four weeks.

Another problem is that the batteries for my camera need recharging, so I will do that when I have finished typing this. My blog without photos would become a little two dimensional, I reckon. You need before and after photos, right?! So I will do that now. And if you'll bear with me I'll just try my best to catch up, even if it happens somewhat slowly.

Meanwhile, allow me to direct you to the amazingly creative world of Citrus Girl, a woman who's talents and energy know no bounds, a Maker of Many Lovely Things...

And you might like to know that one of my favourite bloggers is giving away some of her beautiful designs this week... here's the 4th giveaway, but you can easily find the others!

Oh, and finally, I was overjoyed to receive the Sunshine Blog Award from the Heartful Blogger, for being one of the twelve bloggers who inspire and enrich her! :) Thank you, Tammy! Woo! I am looking forward to nominating my favourite bloggers and passing on the love! I shall do it, I promise, I just need time... :)

Filing Accounts Online, and a Secret

Day Fifty Seven.

Despite my earlier post about my nightmarish blog backlog, I still intend to persist with the 100 Day Project, and endeavour to fill in the gaps. I realise now why my camera batteries needing charging had become such a big issue - when I found the charger I saw that the plug had been snipped off, leaving just bare wires... This was the problem I came up against last time I tried to solve the dead battery crisis... So there may not be any photos for a little while :(

I felt a huge sense of achievement today, not least because I successfully filed my Self-Assessment Tax Return online, with a little help from the telephone helpdesk, but also because I DISCOVERED A SECRET. I'd left it this late because I knew I needed to know something IMPORTANT before I filed it, and the Important Thing turned out to be called 'Profit Averaging.'

It only applies to farmers and "creatives," whose self-employment earnings can fluctuate hugely from year to year, and allows you to make an average figure of income from two consecutive years. It makes a magical difference, and even the helpdesk man was surprised to learn about it from his guidebook.

After the number crunching was done, I took myself off for a brisk and lengthy walk, incorporating an amazing twenty minutes or so of lying on the pebbles by the river, enjoying the shapes of the trees, the smell of the breeze, and light reflecting off the water.

It almost feels like Spring is here!

SEEDS! Spring is on the Way!

Day Fifty Six.

We drove with Phil's parents to the smallholding today, as they'd not yet seen it. I managed to stuff a few big boxes of books into the boot, so little by little we are moving over there. It also helps to reduce the clutter in the house, which is brilliant.

While Phil took them outside to see the land, I sat by the woodburner with my mother, and we compiled a list of seeds we'll be needing for the coming year. It was very exciting to start thinking about growing, and to envisage the outdoor life we're looking forward to living. I'm hoping that all of my stress will fall away, and that the increase in excercise and outdoor activities will serve as a physical and mental therapy.

Far too soon we had to leave, so that Phil's parents could get on their way to South Wales to visit Phil's grandmother. My mother and I had made a pretty comprehensive list of all of the seeds we fancied sprouting, but we thought we'd both better check what we had at home before the order was placed. Of course, when I got home, I realised that I had a huge boxful of seeds, including most of the vegetable types we were planning on growing, and so did my mother, so in the end we decided that we would only buy in seed potatoes and onion sets for now. If the other seeds don't work out, we can always buy seedlings from the local nursery - perhaps the local farmers' market sells them too? All good things to be investigated. I can't wait!


Tuesday, 19 January 2010


Day Forty Seven.

You don't want to know what I've been doing ALL DAY. It made me feel like a cross between a robot, a data entry clerk, and a zombie. I was preparing the songs for mixing, and it doesn't half take a LONG TIME.

Like I said, YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW the detail, it's all very tedious.
But now that it's done, rest assured that I have de-cluttered my computer by deleting all of the unnecessary GarageBand and iTunes files. I hadn't realised how many versions of a song one goes through when making an album, sometimes eight or ten - over time. Well, the old versions have gone now, and my computer is a lot happier.

I'm looking forward to having done the final mixes so that I can be rid of the last few remaining back-up versions. And of course, by then we'll also be a huge way towards having the finished product in our grubby little paws.

Good night!

Monday, 18 January 2010

Last Recording Day

Day Forty Six.

Not an easy day, but we did the very last of the recording for the album, and now all that's left to be done is... well, quite a lot of fiddly things, but the project is moving on and all is well.

After a long bath in the relaxing, evening silence of the house, I plugged my headphones in and got to work on topping and tailing all of the tracks (and making sure we had only the essential tracks) on each song. Sometimes when you record a few takes, you keep all of them, even though you may have decided at the time that they weren't good enough. This can be useful if you need material to cannibalise later, but more often than not it's simply confusing and a drain on your time.

Got to bed at 1am, tired, but satisfied with a job well done.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

All about Bread

Day Forty Five.

I used to bake bread on a regular basis. There was something satisfyingly earthy about sinking my hands into a big bowl of wet organic flour, and then wrestling with the bulging lump of springy dough until I felt it had been tamed. Then putting the bowl in the airing cupboard, protected beneath a clean tea-towel, and coming back to find it twice the size it had been only half an hour before. The smell of freshly baked bread. The rich, moist slices, hot and buttered...

I gave up kneading by hand and baking in the oven when we came across a perfectly functional breadmaker in a skip up the road. A quick online search gave us a free, downloadable manual, and that was that. Whenever we neared the end of a loaf, we would throw the fresh ingredients into the machine, and three hours later (accompanied by some frenzied beeping!) the new loaf would emerge - steaming - from within.

Eventually that breadmaker broke, after two or three years of regular use. An internal malfunction meant that it would not recognise any of the pre-set programmes. We took it back to the skip, and started hunting around for a replacement. We were given an unwanted breadmaker, but it only lasted a few months. Then we went back to cheap sliced wholemeal bread from the Co-op. It wasn't all that great.

About a year ago, a friend offered us another breadmaker, and we readily accepted. But when we tried to use it for the first time we found that there was no paddle, so apathy set in and the machine gathered dust in the cellar. A few months ago I managed to order a new paddle on eBay, so we were all set. We just couldn't be bothered. Nothing happened. More dust gathered.

What I'm trying to get round to is the fact that finally, finally! - today I succeeded in summoning the motivation to get the breadmaker going again. I downloaded this new one's manual, and cleaned the inside and outside. I got the yeast going, and just as it was frothing found that our store of organic flour was not only mouldy, but providing bed and breakfast for a small family of maggots. I almost gave up, then decided to go next door to Spar to buy some (non-organic) wholemeal flour. They only had white. Then I gave up.

But luckily our thoughtful tenant decided to bike down to the Tuffin's supermarket and buy some decent flour for me - beautiful organic wholemeal flour, fresher than I've had for a long time. I threw everything into the machine, and now, almost four hours later, I have a lovely (if a bit sunken, having missed the best moment for the yeast), tasty, homemade loaf. Worth every obstacle!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Quitting with CBT: Day 1

Day Forty Two.

This is my first day following the cognitive behavioral techniques (or CBT) developed to help smokers to stop smoking. The book I borrowed from the library is hopefully going to help me to train myself to get over the nicotine addiction, as well as the many "smoking habits" that a smoker develops.

Though I've given up (and obviously restarted!) many times since I began smoking daily (when I was about fifteen or sixteen years old), I've never tried this method before. Deciding to give up at 'the right time' has worked for me (under my own steam), as has getting ill... The Allan Carr 'Easy Way to Stop Smoking' was really good (you can get the book for 1p on Amazon!), its main point being that nicotine withdrawal symptoms are barely existent (otherwise how could a smoker sleep for a full night without needing a fix?) - Carr believes that the reason why giving up is so hard is because we feel deprived.

This CBT method is completely different. On the first day you are told to put an elastic band around your cigarette packet (so that you cannot smoke 'automatically'), and you are encouraged to smoke whenever you feel like smoking (because holding out makes the cigarette feel like more of a reward when you do finally smoke it, and the method is to train yourself not to see smoking as a reward), but whenever you do smoke, you must recite the following 'program' as you do so:

Smoking this cigarette is giving me NO SATISFACTION.
This is an UNPLEASANT experience.
Smoking actually makes me feel ROTTEN.
I am losing the DESIRE to smoke.

This is easy to remember as the acronym NURD, ha ha. As you say these things to yourself, you must think about just how unpleasant it is, and what parts of your body are potentially being damaged by the smoke and toxins.

Oh, and you must keep track of how many cigarettes you smoke over the day, noting the time, and starting to think about possible 'triggers' for each one.

I smoked six three-quarter size rollies (with filters) over the day. It felt weird to be telling myself how disgusting it was even though I wanted each one... It took all the pleasure away, ha ha. Or did it just help me to realise that there really is no pleasure in smoking? Ah...

I also learned from the book that nicotine releases a tiny amount of dopamine in the brain. We like dopamine. It feels good. So every time you smoke, you are rewarded with this little hit of dopamine. Weird, eh? I can see now why it's so bloody addictive.

I shall be keeping you posted.
But now I must go and smoke a fag.

Just kidding :)

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Proper Accounting

Day Forty One.

Paperwork. Hmm. It's a lot weightier than it should be, isn't it?
Today's hoped-for achievement was concerned with sorting out Ember's account with our CD distributor: Proper Music Distribution. It's been bugging me for a few months now, and keeps appearing on 'to do' lists, but so far has avoided closer inspection.

First I got all of the unfiled sales sheets together from the four cluttered corners of my office (which really should be a sitting room - bah), then got the 'Proper' file out and did some sums. We have not received any payments from Proper, as when we released the CD with them, they offered various publicity packages - basically we could buy advertising space and CD reviews in a variety of different folky magazines - and our CD sales would cover these costs over the following months.

I wanted to see whether we'd crossed over from owing into being owed yet, but after some basic maths I discovered that we actually still owe them. The reason for this might be something to do with the fact that our CDs are being sold at dealer prices (sometimes as low as £5) to companies such as HMV, Amazon and a handful of independent record shops. Then there are further discounts to take off.

Still, despite being sightly disappointed with the outcome of my investigation, I am proud to be working with Proper - the biggest independent distribution service in the UK - and teaming up with them has raised our profile as well as made our fourth CD available in places where it otherwise wouldn't be, so that can't be bad!


Here's our CD on Amazon - though it's cheaper from our own website!

Bottles and Jars

Day Forty.

Horray! Day forty! I can't believe the time is passing so quickly. By the time the One Hundred Days Project is complete, I'm hoping that we'll be settling into the smallholding. Not only that, but Ember's ten years of endless touring will be over, and there will be time to breathe, stay still awhile, and put down some proper roots. I have been trying to cut down on our (OK, my - !) belongings, ready for the move. Once you get into the swing of it, it gets easier. Well, no, there are good days and bad days, I suppose, if I'm to be truly honest.

Today was a good day in some ways, and a bad one in others. I decided to tackle the built-in kitchen cupboard, which could accurately be compared to Pandora's box:


Disaster area!

War zone!


So I took everything out, gave the shelves a little wipe, got rid of the empty (empty! Who - I would like to know - WHO puts empty packages BACK INTO THE CUPBOARD?!) boxes and cleaned out the jars with nothing more than scrapings left at the bottom, and replaced the remaining items. In a slightly more orderly way:

Ignore the middle shelf in the picture below, it's packed full of our tenant's food :)

Yeah, now that I look at the pictures it seems like I've hardly made a difference, but it was quite a satisfying task, and it served to remind me of what we actually have (mostly lurking at the back) and now I feel that I am equipped to start eating through some of the emptier jars...

I feel better, anyway, ha ha :)

Monday, 11 January 2010

Music Magazines

Day Thirty Nine.

The sitting room is also my office - much to Phil's continuous dismay. I must admit that the clutter of boxes, folders, files and paperwork (not to mention all the random miscellaneous little things - argh!) is an ongoing eyesore for me too, but we've never really had the spare cash to buy appropriate storage 'solutions' (as they seem to be known nowadays - years ago people didn't have 'storage solutions', they just had cupboards, and that seemed to work for them). I'm not going to post a photo of the mess, but trust me, I'm working on it :)

The project I set myself today was to get rid of all of the magazines that have been piling up, most of them barely read. As a member of the Musician's Union, I receive their quarterly 'Musician' magazine. It often has some interesting and helpful features, ranging from guides to finding the right agent to tips on home-recording, but a lot of the articles are fairly dry. The PRS (Performing Right Society) magazine is also quarterly, and somehow I find that I've not read the last issue before the new one arrives. And so they grow in number, taking up space and making me feel that familiar guilt. Then there's the 'Properganda' magazine, sent to us by Proper Music (our distributors) every so often, and which is just what it says on the tin: a platform to showcase and advertise the music and new releases of Proper's artists, which on our 'entry' level means that we would have to pay them to promote any of our releases, and possibly write the reviews ourselves! It was an eye-opener which made me realise that a lot of the music media today works on the same (commercial) model.

I got quite good at speed-reading today! So that I wouldn't feel too wasteful, I tore out the articles which may still be useful in the coming months, but managed to put most of the pile into the recycling bag. Here's a pic of just a few of the glossy lovelies which will no longer be gathering dust and snagging the eye:

Off they go... I'm sure the reinforcements will be plopping through the letterbox soon enough.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

A Contract with Schrödinger's Cat

Day Thirty Eight.

Isn't it really annoying when you finally get around to doing something that's been nagging you for what seems like weeks, and then you go to cross it off the list (or completely scribble through it until the words are no longer legible, if that's the way you do it), and discover that it's not there.

Good, I'm glad we all agree.

I've been searching for the contract we were sent for our 21st January gig (at Y Galeri in Caernarfon) for a couple of weeks now, becoming more and more bewildered as the days pass as to where in the house it could be. I knew it was in the sitting room. But I'd checked every cranny several times over, and it was getting to be a bit of a frustrating joke.

Well, needless to say, I found it today, and that is a BIG SUCCESS. But where was it, I hear you cry (in my mind). It was in a brown envelope on the table - in full view - masquerading (in my mind, again) as another similar brown envelope (which in my mind holds something other than a contract - it's got lots of weird official papers and photocopies of deeds and death certificates, it's an envelope full of documents and the human history surrounding our last house), so you can see how the confusion arose.

When I'd kicked myself, and read it through, and signed it, and sealed it in a smaller brown envelope, I went to seek that rush of satisfaction that can only come from ticking an annoying job of the list. You already know the rest.

But what lesson can be learned from this, you cry (shedding real tears this time), what lesson?

There is a lesson in there somewhere, and maybe more than one. How about:
Never assume you know what's in a brown envelope (think of Schrödinger's cat - you may be convinced that Tibbles is going to come bounding out as soon as you can get the thing open, but oh - what's that smell?)

Don't judge a brown paper envelope by its cover.

Though they may look the same, not all brown envelopes actually are the same. Leave room for some personality. Unexpected in an envelope, I know, but...

That's all from me. Anyone else found any lessons in there?

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Beautiful Books

Day Thirty Seven.

Inspired by my trip to the library to sort out the floppy disks, I decided to go back and have a look at the books (and get warm, ha!). I know I have a lot of (as yet) unread secondhand books in my bookcase. I know that. But it's still nice to think about borrowing the special hard-backed library ones! Think I might have a book fetish...

I picked out quite a variety:
Delia Smith's Vegetarian Collection - I am hoping that this will inspire me to cook some lovely meals, as the photos alone start the saliva flowing. Most of the dishes in the book look more exciting than my cheesy cauliflower bake (see my recent blog post)!

Overcoming Your Smoking Habit: A self-help guide using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques - yes, I must admit that I'm struggling a little despite my earlier success...

Earth Grids: The Secret Patterns of Gaia's Sacred Sites - sometimes my curiosity leads to interesting google searches, but often the results can be quite far-out and without enough evidence for the scientist in my head. So I thought I might get more backed-up evidence from a 'proper' book. Hmm, maybe I'm old-fashioned...

The Hive: The Story of the Honeybee and Us - we're hoping to keep bees when we settle in at the smallholding, and I've always been fascinated by the creatures. This book is bound to inform and inspire.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, author of 'The Tipping Point' - described by the author as "a book about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. Well, "Blink" is a book about those two seconds, because I think those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good." I started reading a borrowed copy when I was in the States this summer, and although I only made it to page 40 before I had to return it, I found myself learning a great deal from this work. I can only assume that there will be many more gems in the remaining 245 pages!

There's something motivating about having a deadline by which to read one or more books, it begins to feel like a personal secret mission. I'm excited and itching to start reading, so without further ado...

I'm off! :)

Friday, 8 January 2010

Exorcising the Attic

Day Thirty Five.

There's been a growing feeling that something is weighing down on me, a dark shadow is looming over us both. Sometimes figurative speech is as close to the mark as you can get. It's emanating from the attic. Where all the carefully packed boxes are, gathering dust. They've been there, virtually untouched, since we moved them out of our last house. Possessions have a weight, possessions drag on the psychology of the owner: with ownership comes a strange costly responsibility.

I feel it!

I have so many things. Thus the reason for this 'de-cluttering' theme. Apart from his tools (he's a builder) and brewing equipment, Phil tells me he owns about two boxes' worth of stuff. I can believe it. He's not a lover of books, as I am; he has no crafty hobbies (whereas I have far too many!); he has no instruments other than a beaten up guitar (strung backwards due to left-handedness) - I have three violins, two guitars and a miscellaneous banjo, amongst other things... When Phil moved in with me at our last house, he arrived in a friend's Land Rover, and before I knew it he was calling out "OK, cheers for the lift - see you!" I was thinking "Where's all his stuff?" Then he burst his way into the sitting room, scarcely visible behind the biggest box I've ever seen, and that was it. One (albeit giant) box, and he was moved in.

Back to the task in hand. Up in the attic I counted twenty boxes in all, mostly books, but the other random things included: one hand-operated Singer sewing machine, an ancient and huge accordion (which is unplayable due to its awesome weight!), a chimney flue (?), a box of random CDs which I have kept as back-up in case my laptop dies), some camping equipment and a big bag of tangled miscellaneous cables.

I have no desire to get rid of any books at this stage,but I am looking forward to going through the boxes at the smallholding - who knows, the books could serve to insulate our sitting room walls once we have renovated the house and put up a whole load of shelves! Our current plan is to prepare the items we plan on taking to the smallholding, ready for when the snow disappears. We want to clear most of the stuff out of this house, ready for the last touches prior to putting it on the market. We are so lucky to be able to move all of the boxes out before the sale!

Phil helped me to get everything down, and we carried it all into our spare bedroom (recently vacated by a tenant) - I know it's all still there, but it feels good to know that it's gradually working its way towards the door. Phil even sorted through his cables and has minimised the camping things, so the pile is getting smaller.

After I'd swept the attic, I climbed down the ladder, closing the hatch behind me. "No need to go up there again," I thought to myself, and you know what? I think the heaviness started to fade.

PS - No photos, I'm afraid. You wouldn't want to see a picture of our attic anyway. And capturing that 'dark shadow' I mentioned? Impossible with a flash :)

Flipping Floppies

Day Thirty Six.

Three and a half inch floppies...

What were they all about? And more to the point, why do I still have about twenty five of them in a messy, regularly collapsing pile which not only takes up valuable space, but which also offends the eye several times daily?!

Why, indeed. As I recall, by the time they were officially well and truly outdated (some years ago, ha ha!), I tried to get the files off them and onto a memory stick, but without much success. By this time the disks were claiming that they needed formatting, or that their files were corrupt, but I couldn't give them up for dead as they contained rather a lot of my own stories, poems and song lyrics - things I would hate to lose. So I kept them, hoping that one day I would find a machine futuristic enough to be capable of solving the technological blunders of the past.

And the pile kept being knocked over, but I got used to that - it became a familiar routine to reassemble those dusty squares without even registering what they were any more.

Today I gathered them up, along with my memory stick, and took myself over the road to the library, where the lovely ladies provided me with a floppy disk reader which could be attached to the computer via the USB port. Very modern! Getting the info off the disks wasn't easy, and I think I've lost some bits of writing, but the important thing is that I've gained most of it, and can now throw away (alright, put in the recycling bag) those horrible plastic squares which have been bothering me since I bought them sometime in the year 2000.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Remembering How to Cook

Day Thirty Four.

I'm not going to lie to you. I think I forgot that I could cook.

Phil's been doing it all recently, and that's absolutely great, but it means that I don't cook much anymore, and then I forget that it's even an option. It's something I've been meaning to do for a while... Maybe I'm just being lazy?

We do have our different tastes, so it would be better if we just took it in turns. Or if we each cooked two nights in a row - something we used to do a couple of years ago which worked out really well, and for much longer than expected. Phil likes complicated meaty, creamy, fried, roasted, fatty, multi-flavoured affairs. I like simple (preferably steamed or stir-fried) vegetables, noodles, and basic stuff you can cook in two pans maximum, maybe with a little chunk of butter or some grated cheese melting over the top. Phil is the better cook, and gets a lot of pleasure out of cooking. But unimaginative as it may sound, I absolutely adore noodles and vegetables with a blob of pesto and some grated cheddar on the top. I could eat it several times a week without growing bored.

This evening I suddenly got it in my head that I should cook up some vegetables. When I went to the fridge I discovered that we didn't have much in the way of variety: one huge cauliflower and some leftover new potatoes, yesterday's peas and a couple of carrots... Hmm... Cauliflower cheese, anyone?

Actually it turned out really well. I used three saucepans - three! - one in which to steam the cauliflower and carrots (and to which I later added the cooked potatoes and peas), one for homemade white sauce, and the third to fry up some onions and garlic in butter. Then I threw them all together in a large baking tray, grated loads of cheese over the top, and put it under the grill.

Add a large bowl of salad, and hopefully everybody's happy. Except there's no meat. But there's no lack in the creaminess department, and we all love cheese, right?

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

A Most Difficult Goodbye

Day Thirty Three.

When my parents were getting ready to move from their Pembrokeshire farm to the smallholding, Phil and I helped them to get everything out of their attic. We helped them to go through the boxes - some of them had not been unpacked for over twenty years! - and sorted the items into four big piles: to keep, to sell on eBay, to take to the charity shop, and: to bin. Amongst the glassware, old suitcases, framed prints and wedding photos there was a big, bulging, green bin bag full of teddies. You may well laugh, but seeing their little faces after so long filled me with dread - because I knew it would be wrong to hang on to them, but getting rid of them would leave me feeling guilty forever! Why? What could possibly make a thirty-two year old stall when it came to throwing away the things of childhood?

OK, I'll tell you why. My brother and I never had the view that teddies were just cuddly, fluffy things which were a comfort before you went to sleep. No. We made an entire Teddies World. We had a Newsagents (a specially altered cardboard box) which sold the newspapers we wrote in tiny handwriting, a Video Store (a two storied cardboard box, as I recall, with accommodation above the shop) which rented out the many "videos" we created (like cartoons) in frames on strips of paper, which were pulled through a "video-player" (a small cardboard screen which showed one frame at a time... There was a School, and everyone had their own handmade exercise books, a Bank (Big Ted was the manager - funny that!) with "real" coins and notes. Some of the naughty teddies smoked, and I remember going through the process by adding red felt tip to the end (when it was being "lit"), then cutting about millimetre off at a time as the "cigarette" was smoked down to the filter. Each time you cut a bit off, you had to add the red pen again, to show it was still burning.

We played out many, many scenarios with the teddies; homelessness, scandals at school, running a successful businesses, struggling with debt, dealing with crooked politicians, amongst many others. So you see, the teddies really were a big part of my childhood, they were our closest friends, and throwing them away would be the greatest betrayal...

Despite this, I thought I'd better bite the bullet and at least take them out of the bag to have a look at who was in there, and to see what condition they were in. I lined them up, and found myself greeting each of them by name. They looked... well-loved. Some had ears or arms missing, others had holes with the stuffing poking out. Some actually looked OK. I decided I would have to be quick. Choosing the least characterful first, I started putting them gently back into the bag, and that's how I was left with the ten threadbare favourites, the ones who were the main characters in all of the teddy episodes, if you like.

Here are a few of them, posing for their picture in the sun:

The others will go to the nice people at the Dog Shop, I'll let them decide what to do with them.

Gigging in Cardiff

This does not count as a day in the 100 Days Project, because the whole day was taken up with driving to Cardiff (and back) for Ember's gig at the Wales Millenium Centre. It's amazing that a one-hour gig is in reality an eleven-hour day. The ice and snow and many tractors on the road made the journey longer than it should have been, but we would have left with plenty of time to spare anyway, being the conscientious little musicians that we are. :)

The time spent on stage is the tiny tip of the iceberg in comparison to the off-stage work. But a lot of people don't realise that - they think all you do is perform. Wow, that would be a very glamorous life! At a gig in October, a guy came up to me and we had this little exchange:

Guy: "So how many days do you work, then?"
Me: "What do you mean, 'how many days'?"
Guy: "I don't know, how many days a year?"
Me: "Do you mean how many days a year do we play gigs?"
Guy: "Yes."
Me: "It varies, but we probably play between 60 and 100 gigs a year, give or take a few."
Guy [grins in disbelief]: "And you make your living from it?"
Me: "Yes, a very frugal living, but a satisfying one."
Guy: "Wow, I wish I could only work one day in three, or even one day in four - why have I been wasting my time working five days a week all these years when I could have been working two?!"
Me: "Actually for years we worked every day of the week, and only recently, when not gigging on a weekend, we might take that time off. There's a lot more to it than doing the gigs... Like getting the gigs, promoting them, getting to the gigs, writing songs (when we have the rare chance!), recording... And all the boring admin like sorting contracts and invoicing people, updating the website, accounting, and even packing up CDs that people have ordered online, then standing in the post office queue..."

And then he might as well have said: "But it's not really work is it..." as many others have before.

Ha ha. Do you know what, I am going to mark this as a 100 Days Project after all - I think I've done OK. I've got a lot off my chest (that's some de-cluttering, ha ha), and I've done something I've been meaning to do for a long time. Put this annoying conversation to rest.

Day Thirty Two.

A Sunny Sunday Walk by the Sea

Day Thirty One.

Sunday 3rd January.
It was such a bright and sunny day that we had to do something with it, in the great outdoors. So we packed up some fruit and jumped in the car to drive to Ynyslas in order go for a long walk along Borth beach. It was a funny walk in some ways, and we've done it before and enjoyed it immensely. We park at Ynyslas golf club, then precariously pick our way along the sea wall, looking out for interesting bits of driftwood and all the random things which have been washed up. This time there wasn't much in the way of flotsam, but the strange conveyor-belt feeling you get from walking along the narrow wooden wall made up for that. It quickly starts to feel weirdly mechanical, as though the wall were moving towards you rather than you actively moving along it, and you start to feel like you might have been hypnotised and any minute now you'll wake up and stumble out of the trance and fall into the pebbles.

We bumped into a couple of Borth-dwelling friends, and had a lovely pot of tea with Jonno, who showed us his latest project - a genuine gypsy caravan which has rotten away to leave nothing but a sturdy base and undercarriage decked in bright red and yellow paint. As a carpenter he'll have no problems renovating it, and when it's finished it'll live at the end of the garden: a beautiful and highly decorated get-away! Oh, the romance of it! :)

We ate hot pies in the sun (the chip shops we'd been getting excited about were all closed, unfortunately) then headed back up the beach, taking time to marvel at the petrified forest (only stumps remaining, but impressive ones).

No photos today, as I decided I wanted to experience it firsthand, rather than from behind a lens... But you can see a panoramic view of the beach here.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

One Complete Hat

Day Thirty.

It took longer than expected, but I can now announce that the woolly hat which I started a couple of days ago has been completed! It was a really good experience following the pattern in Stich 'N Bitch - I had ambitiously set about making a hat for myself last winter, without a pattern (and being a beginner knitter too!), and the result was hilarious: I looked like a garden gnome at best.

I'm really pleased with the way the colours in the stripes turned out, I used two different wools (both Wendy Chameleon Chunky) - a blue-green mix and a red-orange mix. It might be a bit colourful for Phil, but he seemed pleased with it. The proof will be in the wearing!

I was so excited that I forced it onto his head while he was in the bath, which explains his less than impressed face... Maybe I'll get a better photo in the coming days. :)

Friday, 1 January 2010

A Day Without Nicotine

Day Twenty Nine.

Wow, what a beautiful start to the new year!
Phil and I went for a long walk along the river and up the back road to the Centre for Alternative Technology, a route we've not taken for a good while. It was sunny on the way there, but very chilly, and the distant hills were dusted with snow.

At CAT, we visited the bookshop and admired the pond (Phil reckons we should be able to have one of a similar size on the smallholding), then went to the restaurant for hot drinks. I had a delicious hot chocolate, thick with creamy milk and topped with grated chocolate, mmm! :)

As we meandered back down the track towards the road, giant fluffy flakes of snow started to come down all around us, whitening the ground within a matter of minutes. It was magical.

Today I succeeded in not smoking. Yes, I'm quitting AGAIN! And on the first day of the new year, it's a well-timed cliché. So I'm seeing this as a de-cluttering mission of sorts, as well as a "something I've been wanting to do for a long time" item. Let's see how it goes, shall we? I'm feeling positive. :)