Smugglers, baking and boot camp

TiVo, get your act together!

I have to get this one off my chest. Has anyone else ever felt insulted by the ‘suggested recordings’ choices of their TiVo box? The TiVo has only been installed for a couple of years, and the instruction manual was never read because the gizmo worked and there are many more fun things to do with an afternoon. So the fact that there were suggested recordings at all, was something of a surprise. At first I thought it rather sweet that the blinking box in the corner would think of you throughout the day, get to know you a little and consider what TV treats you might like to enjoy later. Even going ‘off piste’ a bit and perhaps selecting something you may not have considered for yourself, but you end up loving. Similar to being given olives to try again, because although you claim not to like them, you like salty things, for example.

In the ‘getting to know you’ stage the suggested programmes were baffling. But early on in a relationship you can easily get the wrong signals, or send mixed messages. So, it proffered the local news programmes, and the BBC News, and the ITV News…. Well, news is fine, but watching it back at a later date is generally not so interesting. Really I have no idea how these things work but figured it would take time to somehow recognise what was watched and build a kind of profile. But then the random selections started to kick in. I can‘t remember specifically what, but they were not impressive.

Why wasn’t it trying harder? Why was it recording shows about border control and smugglers when such programmes were never actually watched, and should surely never be part of the viewing profile?

Then the ‘thumbs’ were discovered. Yes, perhaps this should have happened earlier. For anyone who doesn’t know, you have a green ‘thumbs up’ to say you like a programme, and a red ‘thumbs down’ to show your displeasure. You can hit the button up to three times, presumably to indicate your strength of feeling either way. Now, I get why up to three thumbs-worth of happy viewing might be useful information: I hope that if there was a recording clash between a one-thumb and a three-thumb the lovely considerate box would prioritise. This is an optimistic theory, not yet tested.

But why bother giving any more than one thumb of disapproval? Surely the TiVo is not going to think ‘Hmmn, well, there is very little of interest at the moment, so I’ll just record a single-thumbs-down programme. Can’t sit here doing nothing can I?’ Well, yes actually, you can. If you can’t record something good, don’t bother recording anything at all…

In an effort to train the beast, every time the TiVo is caught red handed i.e. recording something undesirable, the red thumb is pushed three times, still with little idea of why three is necessary but we are sending a clear message here. Same if it does good, although sadly this is less often. So now the on-screen TV guide has more up and down thumbs than a busy day at the Colosseum.

Today, late morning, the box pinged up a message to say it wanted to switch from the current programme (you know, the one you have actually chosen to watch) and record Mary Berry doing some cooking instead. Interesting. Not the choice of programme – for once it was a good choice – but that meant it was sneakily off recording another couple of shows, because it can only record three things if you are watching one of them. On further investigation these turned out to be Police Interceptors (or something like that) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Excuse me?? I honestly don’t think ANY of the viewing history would suggest these as likely to meet with approval. Knowledge of the Ninjas is sketchy, but a programme about the real Donatello or Raphael would stand a better chance!

I have just deleted more suggestions of yet more border control programmes, ones about sheriffs and debt collectors, gadget reviews, and a marriage boot camp, all of which would never have been watched. This feels more like a marriage of convenience, or of one where apathy has taken over. Like those who shop for their spouse’s or partner’s gift in the last hour on Christmas Eve. Just get something, no matter what. Who cares if it is the wrong size and wrong colour? It’s the thought that counts right?

Wrong, Mr TiVo, wrong.

Neither of these cards are for you. We are not friends and you are not awesome.

halftone and super scripthalftone super script 2

I have used current stash from Altenew plus a guilty purchase of a stencil. It cost under a fiver so I don’t feel too bad. Sometimes you just need something new to freshen things up a bit. These cards are very similar to one of the marketing shots, but it is kind of an obvious thing to do and I was just itching to use it! I blended three different colours of Altenew inks onto my base card, then stamped and die cut the Super Script words and cut out the Label Love sentiment. I love the look of the spotty symmetry!


It’s Christmas! Welcome to Disaster Central!

Anyone feeling a bit stressed? Under pressure? Fretting that you have forgotten something vital? Or that with the holiday season upon us, something is surely bound to go wrong?

Well, here’s a thought. Despite the most meticulous planning, or maybe only haphazard planning, or no planning at all, disasters may well happen. The trick is, how to deal with them. Sink or swim. Rise above or drown in an eggnoggy mess. No matter how much we all run around, planning, making list after list, crossing things off, adding more to the bottom; no matter how many genuine and ‘emergency’ presents we buy; no matter how many cakes, cookies or pies we make; or extra rolls of gift wrap we buy and don’t even use; Something. Might. Go. Wrong. And guess what? It’ll still be FINE!!!

So, in the bloggy spirit, it occurred to me that if we share some Christmas disaster stories ahead of the big day, and if you are unfortunate enough to meet with a planning/gifting/cooking/family/whatever trauma, well maybe you will find a bit of solace by remembering that it is not only you, it does happen to everyone and it is not a big deal. I think I may have kinda stolen that last sentence from ‘Friends’, but changed it up a bit.

Anyway. I get to go first. These are some of my seasonal potential dramas, that in the end just become anecdotes. Some happened to me, some have been recounted by friends and family.

A former colleague, not a big fan of Christmas, or cooking, and with a family that were not big on tradition, told me how one year she was so ‘anti Christmas’ that she rebelled and just served food from whatever was left at the bottom of the freezer. I think I remember her mentioning curry, sausage rolls, savoury pancakes, garlic bread and smoked fish. Oh, and sandwiches. Maybe they were dessert. The following year she felt bad, so decided to be a bit more conventional. She ordered a turkey from the local butcher and collected it late on Christmas Eve. Imagine her surprise, on unwrapping it, to find the turkey only had one leg. Apparently it was really hard to balance it in the roasting tin and her family never believed she hadn‘t done it on purpose! Still, this is the woman who thought her budgie had died overnight because he was hanging upside down from the perch in his cage. Turned out the sandpaper they wrapped around the perch to give him a grip and keep his claws trim had just come loose…

My sister, about to spend a first Christmas with her boyfriend’s family, arrived on the day to find her prospective mother-in-law defrosting the turkey with boiling water, in the bath. Side dish of salmonella, anyone? I think they ate out.

Years ago my sister and I shared a flat for a while. We were keen to have Christmas dinner there, hoping to give our parents a treat as neither of them enjoyed cooking much. So we spent loads of money in a posh London butcher shop getting turkey and a ridiculously oversized ham (neither of us were good at working out how much was needed and the butcher clearly had the £ signs in his eyes). We had instructions to soak the ham in a bucket of some solution (I can’t remember what. Brine, maybe?). So we took out a second mortgage to buy a large enough bucket and followed instructions. On the day, our parents warily eyed the ham swimming in its watery world and looking like a half finished biology lab specimen. They asked us, carefully and kindly, what we had done. We happily assured them it was all under control, and the ham had been soaking in the required liquid, for the required time. Then one of our parents mentioned that it just might also need to be cooked….

I can’t remember exactly how old I was for this next one. I think mid-late teens. Dad got locked in the bathroom on Christmas Day. Now, for non-Brits reading this, you need to know that, certainly back then, most UK houses had only one toilet, and it was often in the same room as the bath and/or shower. Not many ‘en suite’, guest bathroom or downstairs cloakroom facilities were around. So, aside from our obvious concern about the dilemma Dad was in, we all had our own comfort break situations to consider. And of course teenage girls need mirror time too! Anyway, the lock was not budging, and could not be taken apart from the outside. A huge call-out fee was looking on the cards, but there was no guarantee you could even get anyone to turn up. Dad was pretty cross. But then, all those Enid Blyton books came to the rescue! We fed yards of string under the door and told Dad to hold the string out of the bathroom window. We tied a screwdriver onto the string, to be hauled back up through the window and escape achieved! Christmas, and comfort breaks, all saved!

And then, of course the surprise Christmas guests. My sister and I, and our other halves are at my parents and close to serving up lunch on Christmas Day. The kitchen is a hive of activity. The doorbell rings and a young couple appear, laden with port, stilton and champagne. Hmmmn, odd. Five of us have never seen them before in our lives. My dad, though, does seem to know them, brings them in and offers them a drink. Well, it is Christmas, right? Dad stays chatting to them for a few minutes, whilst there is an increasing amount of confused faces and stage whispering going on in the kitchen between us womenfolk. The other menfolk retired to the garden with beer and cigarettes to enjoy the unravelling pantomime through the windows. Dad eventually made it into the kitchen. The word ‘sheepish’ has never been more appropriate. It turned out, that as the couple didn’t have family in the UK, my dad had invited them to Christmas dinner weeks ago. A lovely thought. Except he had forgotten to mention it to mum, or anyone else, and had forgotten it himself too until they showed up!

So, quite a lot more stage whispering, extra vegetables deployed, frantic table laying adjustments and a rehash of a smoked salmon starter into a smaller ‘amuse bouche’ and we were fine. And hey, we have Irish heritage so had done enough roast potatoes to feed 20 people anyway. Actually the couple were great company, very entertaining and an absolute pleasure to meet. And afterwards they even named a racehorse they trained after my dad.

So, sometimes the disasters are really not that bad. They give you a story to tell at least!

Anyone else got a Christmas disaster or two they would like to share? C’mon! The stage is yours….


The universe, coincidence, and walnut whips

I have had a couple of run-ins with coincidence recently. This is just one of them: for about three weeks I had been planning to start another ‘series’ of occasional blogs, titled with what I thought was a pretty old-fashioned couple of words. Then one of my favourite bloggers used those very same words in one of her posts this week, on the same day I was planning to do mine, so I postponed. Now, I am sure she won’t mind when I go ahead with the series, and you know, none of us have a monopoly on the English language, but it just made me go ’hmmmn, what are the odds of that phrase coming up right now…?

Here’s the next coincidence. A fellow blogger Flo, commenting on my post on Thursday asked if walnut whips were still available. A random thought that had popped into her head and she didn’t know why. Funnily enough I had seen some just last Saturday (in italics to show it is important), so I could say ‘yes‘. It was odd that I had noticed them because I can’t remember the last time I did. It would have been years upon years ago. I don’t like them AT ALL, never have: they always made me pull the ‘bleah’ face, so I probably actually avoid them. But my sister does like them, and, equally, always has, so I thought of her immediately that day. Another blogger Samantha, reading the comment from Flo, mentioned that she had 3 walnut whips in her fridge… Hmmmn, I don’t know if walnut whips are rare or not, but bear with me here because I was beginning to spot a theme. Never say I am slow to catch on.

My sister (lifetime walnut whip lover) and her partner Painter live at the coast, 60+ miles away from London, and from me. Whilst out shopping last Saturday in their seaside town Painter and my sister bumped into an old neighbour of Painter’s from his North London days, someone he hasn’t seen for over 20 years. Sarah (I am not using real names because I can’t ask these people if it is ok) was just visiting the coast for the weekend with her boyfriend Pete. Amazing, huh? Over 60 miles, over 20 years, randomly meeting a great distance from where they previously knew each other.

Anyway, Painter and my sister arranged for Sarah and Pete to come around that evening. Sarah and Pete duly turned up with another old neighbour, Robert, that Painter and Sarah had both known from the same time in London, who was also just in town for the weekend and who Sarah had also just bumped into in the street. Double amazing. But I am not finished yet.

That evening, in conversation with Sarah’s partner Pete, it turned out he has a house in the road next to mine in South London! I have no idea what the odds of this strange convoluted chain are, but I believe the chances of a jackpot winning lottery ticket might be better. And they are not good odds, in case you didn’t know!

Now we need a little context, for those who may come from small communities or not know much about the UK population density. I know some people visit their nearest town miles away and see many acquaintances, family or friends. But London has a population of over 8.7 million people. The odds of bumping into someone you know a few miles away from your usual haunts is pretty high, never mind it happening over 60 miles away. For those people to then meet someone else the same day from the same old neighbourhood, and for their partner to live in a whole different area of London, but in a road adjacent to another family member is, well, astronomical basically.

I’m sure there must be a reason for this. We have random people, in a random town, historically connected to each other, and brought together on the same day. We have family geographically elsewhere (me), also linked by coincidence, also on the same day. And then I am reminded of the event later in the week by another two random connections.

It has to be important. The stars are aligned. There must be a message, a meaning to this. I have given it much careful thought and have come to a conclusion.

Maybe the universe is telling me to try a walnut whip again, just in case?

Has anyone else been experiencing odd or amazing coincidences recently?


Are you feeling Emoji-nal?

This is a tongue in cheek, bit of Friday fun post.

Emojis. Those little icons that say so much. At first my reaction to them was a bit older-generation ‘oh for goodness sake, why can’t people just use the words?’ But now, I understand their usefulness, and actually rather like the idea. Let me be clear first up that the only one I know how to do is the smiley face. And that is only because the lovely blogger Karen at libleycraftsblog (go see her site, she is jawdroppingly awesome) talked me through it, keystroke by keystroke, because I needed it. I love her for that. And yes I know it is only three keys, but if you don’t know, you don’t know, right? I’d like to use more emojis, but I actually really have no clue what they all mean and should probably read up a bit. Otherwise I could unwittingly insult someone, or flirt with them, or threaten to kidnap their pet ferret or something.

So, why not have a mood or an emotion expressed in a few keystrokes? It suits our 21st century lifestyle for sure. But then again, what about taking it a bit further? Move on from a smile, or a laugh, or whatever else they convey. Like kids learning to talk, we start with single words, then build up to more complex phrases and thoughts. Maybe emojis can do this too?

So, what feeling would you like an emoji for? No adult themes please, this is an all-ages-friendly blog. What would you like to just be able to send to your loved ones or friends to indicate your mood, or your circumstances, with just a couple of keystrokes? Here are some suggestions…

How about ‘I have had a really bad day. Be nice to me.’

Or ‘just don’t speak to me, I am in the worst mood EVER’

I have nothing to wear. Can we go shopping?

I will be there in 5 minutes. Get the tea/coffee/wine ready.

I need pizza.

I need chocolate.

Do we have any cake? I need cake. Can you get some cake?

Don’t mention the haircut. It is a disaster and I look like a 1970s convict. Pretend like it hasn’t happened.

I have broken my favourite pair of shoes. Please look suitably sombre. Also, can we organise a state funeral as a fitting send-off?

I need 15 portions of fruit and veg today because I am 3 days behind on my recommended daily intake. So are you. Please go to the shop on the way home and buy all you can carry. Nobody sleeps ‘til we are caught up.

Or ‘the dog has pooped in the hallway and I didn’t have time to clean up. Be careful where you tread’. So much easier in little happy symbols. Especially if the other half is not keen on the pet, or at least the poop, anyway.

How about double emoji action? So ‘you know that emoji I sent saying I had a bad day? Well the pet rescue place was open when I went past just now…’ Closely followed by ‘who knew you could fit a kitten comfortably into each coat pocket?’ And then we would be back to the smiley faceJ

So, over to you. What would you like to have a bespoke emoji for?


A proper scientific experiment, with unexpected results

Another Caturday post…

Whilst reading one of my favourite blogs samanthamurdochblog last weekend, apart from adding to my ongoing crystal education, and making me laugh as she always does, Samantha mentioned a self awareness test for animals. It rang a tiny, tiny bell. Somewhere in my brain, behind the Doris Day archive, next to the ‘what is my favourite cake’ index (pretty large), I had tucked away a little snippet of similar information, but, once retrieved, dust blown away and cobwebs removed it just read ‘see if they recognise themselves in a mirror’ without the added and interesting ‘stick something on the cat’ element from Samantha‘s post. And I knew I had previously tried this first version of the test with every single cat I have cared for. With mixed results. No ‘amazing, awesome, this cat is a genius’ results, to be clear. Just mixed from zero reaction to a reflection, to attacking the reflection, to checking around the side of the mirror to find the ‘other’ cat, to running away. So I had fairly low expectations with the current incumbent of the pussycat-in-residence role, Riley. But, you never know, right? Why not try the newer version of the test and see what happens!

So here is the (very) scientific experiment.


One cat

One bit of not-too-sticky sticky stuff. I am a crafter, so plenty of low tack masking tape on hand. I felted it a few times just to be sure it was barely sticky at all.

One mirror



The googled version of the experiment I found said the animal should be sedated first. Obviously this is not going to happen. I opted for a a catnip treat as a suitable safe alternative. For the cat, of course. I had a glass of wine, to be sociable. Human catnip.

Affix the barely-sticky sticky thing to a part of the body the subject (Riley) cannot see. This took longer than expected. Cats can swivel their head A LOT. I stuck it on his back – saw it. On his shoulder – saw it. Back of his ear – fell off. My care to make sure the sticky stuff was not too sticky was backfiring somewhat. Top of the head – he saw it coming and just threw his head back so again it fell off. About five times. This calls for a bit of sleight of hand: make an interesting diversion with one hand (pretending to be a spider) whilst positioning with the other. Houston, we have contact!


Now as I wanted to capture the moment my dear pet proved he was indeed self aware, I needed to take pictures, whilst holding the mirror. Really this was a two-person job, but there was only one person around at the time. So I tried holding both bits of kit and took quite a lot of pictures of my knee, the carpet, the corner of the sofa and the ceiling before giving up on the photo shoot and just showing him the bleeping mirror. An instant reaction! Ears pricked and forward, whiskers perked and….and…and nothing. He was reacting to the spot of bright light created by the mirror. Or ‘Tinkerbells’ as we call it, courtesy of my brother-in-law. Once the Tinkerbell disappeared he settled back down, sticky stuff still in place.

But, here’s where it becomes truly great science. Does everyone know the story about Viagra? How it was developed as a drug for cardiac problems but in the clinical trials, where each tester records in great detail all the side effects they have noticed…well, that’s when the target market was changed. It’s the testing you see, where you make great discoveries. And this is what we found out…

Felting (sticking on your clothes a few times to make it even less tacky) a small, normally super-light strip of low tack masking tape, changes the density, or atomic weight, or something science-y anyway, as my pictures clearly and irrefutably demonstrate…


After the last photo the sticky paper fell off and he jumped up, right as rain. Clearly it is kryptonite for cats. No doubt the Nobel Prize will be in the post.