Thursday, 27 January 2011

Family Pets and a Trip to the Vet (aka things I wish I'd witnessed)

When I was growing up, our family had a succession of pets - rabbits and guinea pigs to be precise. By far and away, none touched our hearts like our last rabbit did, a beautiful black bunny with the sweetest temperament and the surprising, but adorable, name of Piglet.

Piglet was the runt of the litter, and probably because she was squashed in the womb (according to the vet) she grew up with a twisted hip bone - which left her looking like her front legs were trying to head forwards toward you, while her back end attempted to head off to the left. She didn't let it stop her from getting around though - and if there were fingers or toes to be licked, she would be all over them like a rabbit who really wanted to lick those fingers or toes.

Mainly due to her adorable personality and condition, she spent her life as a house rabbit, where she lived a happy and warm life, worshipped by the family. As she grew older, she developed something of a mischievous nature, along with a taste for remote controls. A taste for the buttons of remote controls, if I am being exact.

This is the remote control of the TV we inherited from Mum and Dad when they bought a new one:

Damn vandal rabbit, with her apparent dislike of yellow and white (the only two colours of button that remained untouched by her inquisitive teeth).

However, despite getting a little side-tracked by the beautiful Piglet, she is not the intended focus of today's post - that honour goes to Blackberry, a pretty little grey thing who made up one half of our first pair of rabbits along with her life partner, Pipkin.

When Blackberry was about two years old, Dad (who had inevitably turned into Chief Rabbit Carer as time passed) noticed a couple of lumps on her underside. Devastated that our first pet might be ill, we waited with baited breath while Dad made the trip to the vet to have the lumps checked out.

This is how events unfolded:

How we weren't overrun by baby rabbits I don't know, but we sure learnt that you can't necessarily trust the word of any pet store who sell pets for a living. I also learnt that there is nothing funnier than your Dad trying to avoid using the word 'testicle' whilst explaining exactly how the vet had revealed that our pet was a boy.

Anyway, given that I don't actually have any pictures of the deliciously sweet pets we had over my childhood, I thought I'd finish with the cutest pictures of bunnies that the internet has to offer.

Bunnies - you are so adorable, it hurts. We love you. 

Links for pics from these sites, respectively:

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

An Ungraceful Beginning to Being a Bride

It's been a while since I've written about The Wedding, and given that it is approaching quite rapidly - less than three months to go - things that have been put off until now are suddenly in need of our prompt attention. Wedding fever, as a friend put it, has started to take hold.

I have just reached the end of two very wedding focused days, and I feel practically brain dead as a result. My ability to make a decision - which is shaky at the best of times - has deserted me completely, and I miss it.

Things started out superbly on Sunday - we took our parents to the venue to try some dishes from a sample menu so that we can find the perfect meal to feed to our guests. Some dishes were a delight to eat... and some were not. These two facts led us to a fairly unanimous decision by the end of the meal, and we were easily able to confirm our choices for the wedding breakfast before we left the building:

Fabulous, dahling. (And trust me, it is - even if you can't read my scrawly attempt at calligraphy).

So, onwards to decision number two - the cake. Yesterday morning, me and Mum went to meet the cake lady - a sensible arrangement given that Fiance has advised that he will be happy with the bakery-based arrangements as long as the cake is made out of cake, and that I am full of ideas about the pattern, the colour, the shape, and ensuring it consists of layers of both sponge and fruit cake.

Despite my preparation, it turned out there were still a couple of important cake-related things I hadn't thought of. Like if we definitely wanted sponge for the bottom layer and fruit cake for the upper layers, we'd have to keep the layers separate using a cake stand - a fact which I had neglected to recognise earlier despite it being pretty obvious that a wimpy sponge wouldn't be able to hold the weight of a hefty fruit cake without the use of steel reinforced marzipan.

The question that threw me the most though was what would be going on top of it - my reaction when I realised I hadn't given this any consideration whatsoever went along the lines of 'arrrgggghhh, I don't know, stop asking me questions I don't have the answer to', which I think I controlled by maintaining an outwards appearance of human-mimicking-rabbit-caught-headlight. The cake designer was obviously used to dealing with easily bewildered brides-to-be, and calmly handed me a bunch of wedding cake magazines for me to peruse at my own leisure so I could go back all inspired with what exactly should sit atop our cake.

Magazines in hand (mistake - they were heavy), we headed into town where I nearly found my ideal bridesmaid dresses during a three hour shopping marathon in Debenhams - waiting for me in the Jane Norman outlet were dresses of the perfect colour, the perfect shape and as for the price... well, at £13.50 a pop they were a fraction of what we've been intending to spend (I feel obliged to point out that they weren't cheap dresses - they had been knocked down to a giveaway price as part of the end-of-sale-price-drop-bonanza). Sadly, however, it turned out they were not to be the perfect dress - I tried two on, both of which had unworkable zips that stuck at a certain point and refused to move any higher. Or any lower, for that matter. 

By the way, the wardrobe malfunction was nothing to do with the size of me, or the size of the dress - the zip got stuck even when it was on the hanger. But just for the record - Jane Norman, there is no way that was a size 10. 

Bearing in mind that I was guessing at whether they would fit my bridesmaids, and the distinct possibility that the zip could give way on the morning of the wedding, a prudent decision to not make the purchase was taken. A prudent decision that I was incapable of making and that came mainly thanks to my mum stepping in with her voice of reason as she realised my brain was stuck on a hamster wheel, going round in circles about what to do.

The potential bridesmaids dresses left behind, we took a break from the shopping to grab a bite to eat and to take some time to look through the cake magazines. It was a painful process - being faced with hundreds of pictures of cakes was somewhat intimidating when I didn't really know what I was looking for, and I felt my head fuddle as I turned each page and found myself faced with yet more options. Once again, Mum came to the rescue with some sensible opinions and gentle questions that helped me to narrow down what I'm after. Eventually, it became a productive browse, and I now have a couple of ideas that I can go back with to seek a professional opinion on which would work better. This is a rather bad impression of what the ideas look like:

And yes, that is a faint image of Winnie the Pooh that can just about be seen on the bottom left of the paper. I've only just noticed him - and he seems to be looking at the bottom image with some excitement. I wonder if he's indicating his preferred design? I'm happy to look to anyone else for an answer - even if that someone else is a cartoon character printed onto notepad paper that completely accidentally happens to looks like it is giving an opinion.

There was only one more decision I was asked to make yesterday, and once again I failed. This time, it was during our trip to pick The Wedding Dress up (wooooooo, I have my dress!) and to try it on before taking it away for alterations. While I was being laced up, I asked if I could try on a veil too, as I hadn't got one sorted yet. They were most obliging, and after I tried on a lovely example, the shop assistant asked if I wanted to order one. My brain had melted by this point, and while I didn't really want to pay them anything else because of the far from ideal customer service I had experienced previously, the convenience of sorting it there and then was rather enticing. I turned to Mum. 'I don't know, what do you think', I said, while my eyes pleaded TELL ME WHAT TO DO! On this occasion, it was the assistant who came to my rescue and said we can always order it at a later date because it only takes three weeks to arrive. I was delighted - I had been handed a get out of jail free card by the establishment itself, which meant I didn't have to feel guilty for testing their stock before going and buying the winning item from another shop.

My conviction for not giving them any further money was entirely confirmed when the dress was presented to us for transportation - no box, no tissue paper, just a wedding dress sized suit protector and a hasty farewell.

I had to wander half a mile from the shop to the car, carrying my prized dress across weary arms that had been burdened with the magazines and a handbag full of junk for most of the day. I did not feel like an elegant bride-to-be by the time I placed the dress as tenderly as I could into the back of the car, and slumped like a sack of jellyfish into the front seat.

This wedding planning malarkey is harder work than I gave it credit for.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Home Made Burgers (and mild concussion)

Last night, I took over cooking duty from Fiance who had just started to make burgers for our dinner - he does an awful lot of cooking, and my turn to create something fabulous was well overdue. I sent him back to the TV, where a football match that I have absolutely no interest in was being shown, and set to work continuing the burger making process.

I should probably point out that I had already drunk three glasses of wine by this point.

Now, our kitchen isn't the largest of rooms and we have to scrabble for space at the best of times. but on this occasion the washing up hadn't been done, which made the fight for room even more tactical. Fiance had already managed to reshuffle the plates to find a big enough gap in which to place the hallowed container that contained the beginnings of the meaty treats (aka a pack of minced beef in a bowl), and with a sprinkling of imagination (that I will come back to later) I was able to find a little more space in which I could weave my culinary magic.

A little onion, breadcrumbs, cumin, cayenne pepper and regular S&P seasoning later, the meaty mixture was ready for its glorious transformation from mush to burger. Having heated the oven (for some chips, obviously), started frying some onions and set a griddle pan on the hob to heat up in preparation for the burgers, I looked around and noticed that the room was getting a little smokey.

No problemo, I thought, as I opened the panel that started the extractor fan and waited for the air to clear. It was taking a bit longer than I expected, and thanks to the washing machine going at full pelt and the mp3 dock blasting out its wares at top volume, I wasn't entirely sure whether or not the extractor was working, on the technical basis that I couldn't hear it.

I decided to investigate by moving my ear towards the hatch and assessing whether it made a noise when I was closer to it and less distracted by the music and machinery. My mistake came from holding the handle of the panel as I leaned in to get my ear closer to the vent - thanks to the laws of science, my weight bore down on the hatch and pulled it closed.

That's right - I pulled it closed, right onto my head.

It must have taken me ten seconds to work out the physics behind my head becoming trapped in the extractor fan door, all the while giggling at the sheer stupidity of the situation I had ended up in. I extracted my head, and thanks mainly to the alcohol, plundered on regardless, frying my onions, baking my chips, flippin' my burgers and grating some cheese. Burning my fingers a couple of times too. Fiance came through to see how things were going, and immediately commented on the imaginative techniques I had used to clear some space in the kitchen (I told you I'd come back to it).

Fiance raised an amused eyebrow. To me, a teapot on the floor made perfect sense - it gave me a teapot's worth of room on the side to play with (a worthy prize, regardless of the implications of me frequently forgetting it was there and tripping over it). To him, a teapot on the floor was plain weird. 

I went on to confirm that the unsuccessful teapot hurdling hadn't been my only issue and revealed that I had in fact also suffered an altercation with the fan only minutes earlier. He thought he must have misheard the first time round.

Fiance: What, you banged your head on the edge of the fan?

Me: Um no, not really. I said I actually managed to shut my head in the fan.

He walked away laughing.

Fortunately, the end result was (somewhat miraculously) a success, leading us to the drunken consumption of a couple of beautiful burgers, with the added bonus of knowing there is left over meaty goodness that will make delicious meatballs at some point over the weekend.

On reflection, the lump on the side of my head and accompanying headache is a small price to pay.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The Seafood Platter: A Tale of Danger

If you've read through previous posts, then you'll probably have noticed that Fiance and I love food and eating out. A year or so ago, we'd gotten home from work, had a couple of drinks and decided to head out for a spontaneous meal. Within half an hour, we were in a taxi on the way to our local Loch Fyne - which, for anyone who hasn't come across it, is a chain of seafood restaurants throughout the UK.

Electing to continue the consumption of alcohol, we ordered a bottle of white wine to quaff while we perused the menu, so we were heading towards tipsy as we honed in on our food-based decisions. It was the tipsiness that led to my confident suggestion that we should try the seafood platter - a selection of clams, mussels, oysters, langoustines and crab. It sounded amazing to my slightly addled mind, I love shellfish and was more than ready to eat my first oyster - I have seen tens of people knocking them back in pure delight on various TV shows and I was confident that I would join their ranks and be a natural at swallowing whole oysters whilst enjoying the whole experience.

Fiance selected an oyster and elegantly swallowed it, the effortless manner in which he proceeded filling me with confidence as I reached for one of my own and chucked it into my open mouth. I was convinced that for me too, nothing but the most sophisticated of swallows would happen.

It did not. Sadly, the oyster I had chosen was somewhat larger than Fiance's, and as a result, my throat was entirely unwilling to let it slip down my gullet in one piece, which left me with a rather unpleasant salty lump of flesh in my mouth. I had started to panic a little by this point, and without me expressly ordering such an action, my mouth began to chew on the oyster - a mistake of epic proportions. I instantly started to retch as the salt water found its way down my throat and the chewy-jelly texture of the damn thing sat obstinately on my tongue.

Now, I don't know if you've ever tried to heave silently and calmly to maintain an air of composure whilst in a seafood restaurant, but for the uninitiated, I can confirm that it isn't a particularly easy, or enjoyable task. It is, however, possible. Mustering willpower on a level I believed I was incapable of, I eventually managed to chew the oyster into submission, and took a few deep breaths as I convinced my body that it really wouldn't be appropriate to vomit whilst sitting at a table in a restaurant. Eventually, a noise that that can only be described as a strangulated hiccup cleared the feeling of nausea from the back of my throat.

While Fiance saw the whole thing happen, and allowed only the smallest hint of amusement to show through his concerned face, the people on the neighbouring table had somehow remained oblivious to my plight. Sadly, the same couldn't be said when we came to sample the crab.

I love crab, but in a lazy way - I usually only come across it after someone else has done the hard work, specifically, after it has been coaxed out of its practically impenetrable shell. The arsenal of weaponry that had been laid on the table shortly before the platter had been delivered had indicated that it might be a little difficult to get much out of the shelled critter, but we were drunk and naive and happy that we could manage it.

Keen to redeem myself after the oyster incident, I picked up a tool that resembled nutcrackers, and tried to begin the fiddly and remarkably difficult routine of separating the body and legs. It took me a long time to not get very far, so I abandoned the original implement in favour of a hammer, which I took to the joints with a drunken enthusiasm. Eventually, I freed a claw, and handed it to Fiance who set about cracking the shell with vigour.

I think the people on the nearest table would say he went about things with too much vigour - after stubbornly refusing to crack for an uncomfortable length of time, the shell finally succumbed to the pressure he exerted on it and gave way with such force that the shards actually reached our fellow diners. There was only one way we could possibly proceed, and so we started giggling. It probably wasn't the most efficient way to show we regretted covering our neighbours in bits of crab.

We did our best to avoid eye contact with our victims for the rest of the evening, but I don't think we got away with being unnoticed this time. We have since given up ordering seafood platters - the amount of effort significantly outweighed the amount of food we actually got to eat, and it is never nice to leave an establishment wondering if they will forever remember us as the Seafood Platter Couple.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

I'm Back! (Also, call centres and catharsis)

Firstly, let me wish you a very Happy (albeit belated) New Year. I hadn't intended to have such a long break in between posts, but thanks to a string of events ranging from festive drunkivity to catching a dose of the flu, I found myself unblogging for an extended period. Fortunately, after some time spent sobering up, returning to work and battling a nasty winter bug or three, my brain is now fully functional (or as close to it as it's going to get) and ready and raring to blog. Plus I have a topic that is fresh in my head, and that requires some furious typing to act as a form of catharsis.

So, let me start at the beginning. About six months ago, Fiance and I purchased a swanky new(ish) car - it hits a year old this month and it has practically no miles on the clock. It is a beautiful car, it was pretty expensive (although the female in me needs to proclaim that we did get an amazing deal and a lot of motor for our money) and it is our pride and joy. I swear owning this car is like having a child - if the alarm goes off in the night, I wake instantly, aware that all is not right with our precious baby vehicle. It has a name - Sweep - and I am seriously considering holding a first birthday party for him. Um, I meant it. As far as it is possible to feel emotion towards a machine, I would say that we love our Sweep.

OK, now that the importance of our car has been emphasised, we shall fastfoward to yesterday, when I noticed a long scratch down Sweep's side as I got out and headed towards the house. Further inspection revealed the likely culprit was a scroat with a key - sadly, we had found ourselves in the unenviable position of being the victims of vandalism. We didn't think to check the rest of the car, the one injured panel we had seen demanded our complete attention and didn't allow us to focus on anything else. With the benefit of hindsight, this turned out to be a mistake - there was another scratch down the driver's door and yet another on the passenger side when we checked again this morning. We have no idea if the damage was there all along and we missed it, or if someone had come back and added to their handiwork last night. Not knowing is a bit of a mindfuck, to be completely honest.

We set the practical wheels in motion this morning - mainly finding out how we could get the car fixed and how much it would cost. This is where the quite inevitable crapstorm of confusion begins. First off, we checked the warranty which revealed that we had to find a dealer approved garage to carry out the work, thus not invalidating the cover. Fair enough. Of course, there isn't a dealer approved garage within a ten mile radius and no, the closest one couldn't give us even the vaguest of estimates without seeing the car. Also no, they wouldn't be able to book it in on the same day that we drive over there to get a quote because that would only involve one annoying journey on our behalf, and why limit the timescale for this hateful affair to a couple of days when it can easily be extended to at least a week? Indeed.

Can you feel the frustration building? My keyboard certainly can. Sadly, this was only the beginning and while it was painful enough, it was nothing compared to the experience that was my next telephone-based enquiry. I should have known better. I should have prepared myself for it. But stupid Virgin Media have lulled me into a false sense of security about what I can realistically expect from call centres, with their choose the style of music you want to listen to while you're on hold, ensuring you speak to someone who can answer an question while laughing at lame jokes and generally making you glad you called, before offering HD TV for a small one-off fee and nothing-else-to-pay-forever approach to customer service. They are awesome for recognising our awesomeness which is, I assume, why they keep giving us stuff for nothing, very politely and preceded by a musical theme of my choice.

As you can see, I have been spoilt and was naive to expect such courtesy from the insurance company when I tried to ascertain how many years' no claims discount I would lose if I claimed, and what the impact of that would be on my renewal quote. After five minutes listening to muzak of indeterminable style or origin, it turns out that I might as well have enquired about their interpretation of the meaning of life, and whether or not the existence of anti-matter should have any impact on what I can expect to pay for my car insurance next year.

It took three departments before I got anything close to an answer: Department One transferred me immediately to Number Two, the representative of which insisted on taking all the details of the incident - most of which I don't actually know, other than that our car has been hurt and we want to make it better as cheaply as possible - and giving me a claim reference number, even though I expressly stated that I did not wish to actually make a claim right then. Repeating the original, apparently unanswerable question to Number Two led to me being swiftly dispatched to Three, accompanied by an explanation from Two revolving around not knowing why I had been sent there in the first place. Number Three was on the phone for a matter of seconds before proclaiming they too were unable to help and inevitably transferring me back to Department One. I wasn't quite able to maintain my cool when I was asked to confirm my details for a fourth time upon arriving back where I'd started out.

At least on this occasion, I spoke to someone who was very apologetic and who did eventually come up with an answer (for anyone who wants to know, the meaning of life is apparently £15.12). I will be honest - I don't believe him. I think he got scared and shouted the first number that popped into his head when he sensed the increasingly annoyed tone in my voice, the undercurrent of which threatened to somehow reach through the phone line and throttle the nitwittery out of him if he didn't come up with the goods.

Reflecting on the experience, I will be honest and say that it felt like a fruitless mission that achieved nothing more than making me feel worse about the whole affair.

But looking on the bright side, I am rather relieved that Fiance spoke to the authorities to report the incident - being a bit snappy with call centre staff is one thing. Being snappy with a police officer is something that I would rather avoid. So thank you Fiance for potentially keeping me out of jail.

And screw you, whoever scratched our car and made me spend too much of today on the phone to irritating call centres. You suck, and I hope you smell bad forever.