Poking the hedgehog

We have a new euphemism, “Poking/waking the hedgehog.”

After eleven months of legal and other wrangling, the household now has a household. I have been asked repeatedly by German friends why we have bought at all. When they see the horrors of renting in the UK they understand.

And as usual on such occasions, we have gone from one form of excitement to another.

…The new fitted kitchen obviously cost a lot, complete with its glowing pink/lilac internal cupboard veneers, but sadly what they spent on cupboards they saved on fixtures and the whole thing is held up with Roald Dahl’s Sky-hooks…

… The new fitted kitchen mimicked the original layout without understanding needs – there is now nowhere to put a fridge or freezer, or to store perishable food…

… The smart meters are so smart that they won’t talk to anyone, not even the companies that supposedly use them to bill the household. They’re blank until further notice…

… The sky-hooks in the built-in wardrobe failed – the door leaning against it was also suspended 30cm up, so it was quite memorable when it came crashing down…

… The former residents liked square rooms, so simply fitted plasterboard over the walls, regardless of shape or size, leaving the edges, voids, smothered electrics…

… The number of windows on the outside doesn’t match the number of windows on the inside. More plasterboard again…

… The ornamental arch is structural, the wall it’s in isn’t…

… The plasterboard is so soggy that one panel bent when we walked past it…

… There’s a weird smell throughout, but it’s not the cigarettes, dog or cat…

… The lino and carpets are structural. The floorboards are ornamental…

And the hedgehog? Well, our new companion is a real, live, snuffling hedgehog that goes to sleep under the car when we park outside. Before driving off we have to gently poke or wake the hedgehog, as we’re prefer it to be alive and well.

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Sudden breakages

Small but weird trials continue.

Woke to a loud ‘bang’ the other day. Nothing apparently wrong, so went back to sleep.

Half an hour later, the neighbour appeared and asked if we were doing any work as his kitchen had just flooded. I invited him in and asked him to point to where on our kitchen his kitchen had flooded. We looked at the place on ours that could leak through to that part of his… and found that our unopened 2 litre bottle of lemonade had ruptured across the bottom, spilling its whole contents, which had soaked through to his kitchen.

The other bottles now live in the bath and the shop gave a refund.

In other news, Frankie has broken down, so Dragon is enjoying some exercise. Dragon isn’t complaining. How long Frankie will take to fix is anyone’s guess.

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Mrs Sims’ fur coat

We’re having an election round here. It’s believed to be a foregone conclusion, which it will be if no one goes and votes. I’m in a quandary. After great ponderance I’d chosen who to vote for then a leaflet came through the door from them where they totally put me off. But there’s no one else that I could vote for round here with a clear conscience.

Domestic events continue. I have lost a work jumper somewhere at home. There’s not many places it could be and it’s a flamboyant shade of vivid pink so it’s not something that we’re likely to have overlooked. It’s definitely in here somewhere but in the meantime I’ll have to dress a little more drably. Little things, but puzzling. Nothing quite like Sherlock’s ‘Giant Rat of Sumatra’, more Miss Marple’s talk of the little mysteries such as ‘why Mrs Sims only wore her new fur coat once’ which hint at life’s rich tapestry.

Listening to another audiobook. We’ve finished all available HG Wells and are considering buying the Orson Welles ‘War of The Words’ broadcast. If we’re really good we won’t use it for scaring people. So now I’m listening to ‘Postern of Fate’ by Agatha Christie. It’s 7+ hrs and I’m halfway through. I don’t know who ‘did it’ and I didn’t know who did it in ‘Black Coffee’ either which I’ve just heard. It’s nice having something that’s new but different and still within the comfort zone while everything else changes.

Yesterday we saw friends we’d not seen for nearly a year. We were comparing notes on how everything’s going and it was interesting that when I asked how older friends of theirs were they couldn’t remember who I was talking about. Sadly we were able to go through a catalogue of divorces, but at least we could also talk positively about how people had happily moved on. Some even have children now they thought they couldn’t have. The friend is now a stay-at-home mum and thoroughly enjoying it – her child is a delight and being raised with the explore-and-find-out-for-itself directed school of learning. As far as he’s concerned everything in the world is amazing, especially trampolines and hosepipes.

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Hidden culture

Yesterday, the household were united! That’s to say, everyone was in the same place at the same time. The price for this was that one member hadn’t slept for 32 hours but that’s not the point. So to celebrate we went on a cultural tour of Essex. Those familiar with the cultural stereotypes of the UK may raise an eyebrow, but would agree that having started at Rochester Castle and Upnor Castle, it was only fitting to move on to Tilbury Fort and Hadleigh Castle, through the excitement that is the Dartford Tunnel.

Rochester is huge and looks like a version of the Tower of London after someone’s nicked the roof. It’s hollow inside but it’s possible to walk through the galleries inside the walls. It has a well shaft going up to the roof, something I’ve not seen anywhere else and we pondered how often someone’s water was nicked by the floor below. The roof netting has signs reminding everyone that the 100ft drop can cause terminal excitement for anyone heavier than a pigeon, which enjoy sitting on the netting appearing to all below that they’re floating. It was very odd seeing (closed) rotting walkways that I remember standing on 30 years ago now hanging into the void.

Opposite the castle is the Cathedral which is the second oldest Medieval one in the UK (others were churches that grew). The household are collecting pilgrimage badges as we plan to visit the lot, given they all have some bizarre one-upmanship feature.

Tilbury is the largest best preserved 17th Century fortifications in the UK and the scene of Elizabeth I’s “weak and feeble woman” speech, which showed if anyone needed it that she was her father’s daughter. A note of advice would be not to visit on the day they cut the grasses in the marshy bits – we spent a lot of time in the underground power magazines hiding from the clouds of flies.

All of these places had one thing in common: paranoramic views across the Thames and Medway estuaries. Given what their purpose was, that’s hardly surprising, but to be stood at such a height on a warm, bright sunshine, with as Bryson noted, no one else about if you go on a weekday, meant it was even more enjoyable. Hadleigh helped itself in its views as half the castle dropped off the edge of the clay ridge it was built on, making it just that bit more panoramic.

Upnor Castle was somewhere we’d never even heard of, but it had something extra unexpected lurking in the basement… 350 years ago in June the UK was just emerging from a Civil War and The Netherlands had just snatched back self-government. Both are geographically small and had realised that bagging through sea-faring might be the way to go, especially as bagging by land as an island isn’t likely to work all that well. So the Dutch had a look around, noted the UK sat opposite, sailed up the Medway and nicked the UK’s flagship. With a rope. I don’t know what the Dutch is for, “Ooo – nice! We’ll take it!” or “We’re having that!” but they did, towing it down the river to the horrified admiration of the UK fleet and sailing it back to the Netherlands. Just to make the point they used some fireships and pelted a few forts too on the way to and from. So, as we walked in we were regaled with a recorded enthusiastic explanation of events, in Dutch. This June they’re having an event with a possible re-enactment. I hope they bring ships!

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New definitions

Well, as of yesterday, we now have a new definition of evil:

The taking down of a country’s entire health network.

(Won’t link to it. It’ll only encourage them).

If we leave paranoia aside for a moment, I’m pondering the difference between artificial intelligence, learned processes, automation and the definition of life.

CGP Grey does a nice video explaining how the advert before youtube videos is chosen. It highlights just how badly the system works: I keep getting sent videos for pregnancy tests and there is no way it’s from my search history or perceived age. So that’s got to be something tallying off maths and getting it wrong, with no ‘thought’ or ‘learning’ otherwise I’d be sent something I’d actually buy. But all this tallying is set up within a framework and theoretically can’t spread beyond it.

Yesterday’s software also just kept repeating until it succeeded but it was also self-replicating and spread without human intervention – does that mean it’s alive?

It reminds me of why I actually think the House of Lords is a good idea. Hear me out on this one… When the laws were defined at the birth of embryology in the 1980s, the House of Commons debated the moment life began and the ethics involved as a bunch of lawyers, tallying against binary points. Then it went to the Lords, where it was debated by an Archbishop and a Professor of Microbiology, who had a lifetime’s ability to discuss the nuances. I would much rather that laws that could ever affect me are debated by people who have a far deeper understanding and appreciation than I do.

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Literary adaptations

We’re watching Poirot at the moment – I have got my hands on the boxset. What is striking after the first couple is that they only appear to have had access to a couple of 1930s houses, so various mansions are reused from different angles, which causes a bit of personal detective work to see how they did it. Most locations can be narrowed to West London before searching for them as that was in relatively easy reach of the studios and anything that striking would have had a preservation notice slapped on it years ago. I’m having a voyage of online discovery to find locations such as ‘The Hoover Building’, not to be confused with anything officious from across the Atlantic, but simply a building that in the 1930s overlooked the A40 and was full of people industriously making hoovers.

Osterley Park was in the last one. My Dad’s wedding ring is still somewhere in that lake.

We’re also listening to HG Wells, who very thoughtfully limited the length of his novels so that these days they can be turned into six CDs without needing abridgement. A problems with Pratchetts is that to shorten them to two tapes they were abridged by removing the jokes and chunks of plot, so we’re appreciating the HG Wells. We have read The Time Machine for the first time and now we’re on to The Invisible Man, which I read years ago but am now wondering about because we’re up to chapter 17 and I don’t remember any of it. Next we shall have War of the Worlds, for which I shall have Jeff Wayne’s Dun Dun Daaarn  in my head every time I hear the title.

And I have just finished reading ‘Wings’ the third in the Nomes trilogy of Truckers, Diggers, Wings. I’ve read them for the first time and in order. For some reason I didn’t get on with them when I tried reading them 20 years ago, possibly because the ideas were too new or they didn’t ‘fit’ with discworld characters. I think at the earliest opportunity I shall be inflicting them on small children.

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Much travelled

Earlier, I quoted Roald Dahl’s Matilda, saying that with a good book it’s possible to travel anywhere in the world while staying sat in your room. The same is true for audiobooks, but I do still plan to watch Palin’s ‘Himalaya’ as I have heard it and glanced at the book, but I feel that there’s  something lost by converting from live action. Like Monty Don’s ‘Around the world in 80 gardens’, it is another programme full of wonder, explanation and sights I won’t see round here.

But there are still sights that I’ll only see round here.

On Easter day the household visited Eltham Palace, the medieval hall that was renovated and made part of a state-of-the-art (central telephones!) art deco 1930s mansion. Controversial, but at least we now have both, whereas it was a ruin when it was done and the 1930s style was replaced elsewhere. We made the mistake of travelling with satnav, so I got a marvellous tour through the middle of London, past the Natural History and V&A museums, through the shining Portland stone of Knightsbridge, past Harrods, past the Wellington Arch and ‘Number 1 London’ Apsley Place, which I had to explain to the household is where ALL postcodes lead back to. We were amazed at how clean and bright everything was, we only saw anything with peeling paint or dereliction once we were through central London and on to the boroughs to the SE, which are still stuffed full of the beautifully preserved glazed tiles and architecture that are found nowhere else.

On the way back, as I like to cram as much into one trip as possible, we went via Chiswick House. This week we went back there to have a proper look. The house and gardens were renovated 2004-2010, the gardens replanted, the ‘eyecatchers’ (follies) redone according to the original plans, so that the cascade now works properly for the first time – it hasn’t since it was originally built. Chiswick is unusual in that the house is square but with a central octagonal, domed room with interconnected rooms off it.

Chiswick and Eltham have apparently simple designs but as they involve several geometric shapes overlaid they are full of hidden spaces and rooms to regularise the outside while keeping the novel shapes of the inside. One member of the household in particular, who isn’t entirely appreciative of art but knows a good bit of construction when he sees it, was fascinated at how the upper outside balcony doors work: the sash window slides up, the wall has a vertical 45o cut through it and folds inwards. I think he may be getting ideas…

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