We all know that domestic murders tend to peak around Christmas time, when kitchens become war-zones and family members who have not spoken to each other for a year get together again so that they can renew the declaration.
Well here's a handy tip for defusing any situation which looks as though it's going to get physical - put a pair of rubber gloves on your feet and walk around talking in a very serious tone about whatever has sparked off the dispute.
I defy anyone who is not on the extreme side of the sociopathic spectrum to keep a straight face for any longer than two seconds when someone - in this case, Green-Eyes - dons the Marigolds.
I know I said I only have to finish two jobs before I ice the cake, but thanks to my very unglamorous assistant, I think it is going to be one. Words cannot express the feeling of fury and frustration he has caused in me over the last few weeks, for simply not finishing the only job which stands between me and the Workhouse this Christmas, and what a complete and utter tit I feel for ever believing that he would.
He attempted to deliver the carved urn to me in the dark last night, muttering that there is 'a little cleaning up' to be done to it, but even in the half light of the back of his car I could tell the the cabbages scratched into its side which are supposed to represent roses, bore no resemblance to the ones on the urn he is supposed to be copying.
I had better not say any more for the sake of my blood pressure, but there were some scenes on the road in public last night when I shocked the neighbours by shouting to him that he was a complete waste of FUCKING time. Suffice to say that I am picking up the bloody thing today no matter what state it is in, and if I have to spend the three days finishing it off myself as I suspect I will, then I will be picking up the keys to my workshop at the same time.
I took a few deep breaths, then returned home to tell H.I. the latest news about it, and she helpfully said something like, "I told you so", so I went to the computer to check my emails only to find she had painted the area around it where I naturally rest my hands to type, with a paint which takes about 5 days to dry, especially in the winter. I stick to it as I write this.
It reminded me of how once - when I lived in the country - I returned home to my dark cottage to discover that someone had painted the black doorknob blacker, using a similar paint which takes days to dry. That was somewhere either side of Christmas as well - I know that, because the place was deep in snow.
H.I. - being a Northerner - works herself up into a cleaning frenzy on a regular basis. I, on the other hand - being a slovenly, male Southerner - follow the Quentin Crisp school of household management by sleeping in filthy linen, surrounded by thick layers of slut's wool.
If we had a sandstone doorstep, then H.I. would be out there on her hands and knees, scrubbing it with a brush every Monday, like they used to do in Coronation Street before East Enders was invented.
Despite the fact that only the kids are coming on the 24th, she is starting to behave as if the Queen were popping round for a cup of tea, having given two weeks notice so we can prepare for it.
She told me to get some decent knives and forks for The Boy and his girlfriend, as they are lacking good cutlery, so I took a stroll round the Saturday Market, coming home with the above knives and the wolf skull.
These knives are the posh version of a famous French folding-knife made by a company called Laguiole, and have been made for many years. I spotted them and asked the stall holder how much, and he thought for about a minute before saying £8.
When I took them home, H.I.'s eyes lit up and she picked one up to fondle it. I looked them up on the net and found out two things - that the handles are made of a natural, metamorphosed kaolin rock called Nacrite (and not plastic as I first thought), and that they retail at about £200 for six.
That was that. The Boy and his girl will have to have something else, because these knives are going in our drawer. They can use them for the dinner I am cooking on Christmas Eve, though. We're quite generous like that.
Two phrases (or descriptions, before any of you pedants jump on me) floated into my head this morning - 'Brilliant Cut' for diamonds, and 'Herding Cats' for what I will be doing as Project Manager for the next round of improvements to our pub.
I have two jobs to finish this week before I can get down to the serious work of icing the cake.
A friend of mine's son was wading around in a stream in the Peak District when he found this - what he thought to be a dog's skull - and he brought it home with him.
Research showed it to be a Wolf's skull.
Further research still showed it to be a medieval Wolf's skull, because Wolves - apparently - died out there in the 15th century.
I know the last British Wolf to be shot in Britain was killed in Scotland somewhere around the mid-nineteenth century, but I don't think that this one wandered down as far as Derbyshire, though they can wander quite far on a cold, snowy night. Usually, around a hundred mile round-trip in deep snow is their maximum when really hungry.
It is now in my custody, and that involves doing further research still, so I can sell it at best price in order to help finance my friend's son's passage through university.
If it is - as everything indicates - a remarkably well preserved Wolf's skull dating from late 1400s England, then this is a rare thing indeed.
I am looking forward to getting to know it over the next month or two.
I've just had an email from a friend of mine who tells me that his beloved Land Rover Defender has been stolen from right outside his house last night, at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac.
Even worse, it was full of his tools (he is a metal worker) including angle-grinders, welders, hammers, etc. He is now stuffed as far as getting to work and earning a living goes, and he is not a wealthy person, but a hard worker.
That's him, his dog Dolly and the Landy, when he delivered a large lump of marble to one of my clients for me a few years ago. All the client's cars are fitted with hidden satellite trackers, but he wouldn't have thought that necessary. The number-plates are probably off already, but I have a running search for the same model on eBay now, in case the thieves are stupid enough to put it up there. It happens.
I had an uncle who used to say that 'stealing a man's tools' was one of the lowest things you could do as a human being - meaning that you leave him without a livelihood, rather than just taking money which has already been earned.
He keeps his vehicles for a long time - his previous van was on the road for about 40 years.
If you have ever found yourself wondering what Berlusconi's 'Bunga Bunga' parties were like, then all you need do is watch the film, 'The Great Beauty' (Paolo Sorrentino) as H.I. and me did the other night. Right. That's the end of the film critique.
It's the season for works parties, and you cannot go into any bar or restaurant here at the moment without an office-full of people in paper hats or matching woollens, screaming at each other from a distance of 12 inches.
I opted out of a works party last night, partly because I am at home nursing man-flu, and partly because I don't think that the owners of the 'works' were going to be there, and I am a bit of a snob when it comes to things like that. Also, the party was held in a gigantic storage warehouse some distance from the main house, and about 12 miles from the middle of Bath.
Although busses and taxis were being provided, I always want to be able to escape within 5 minutes of deciding that I don't want to be somewhere, and the only thing that would make me get into a car and drive when drunk is alcohol. If I got caught with only one milligram more booze in my veins than legally acceptable, then all my carefully-hatched plans for the next ten years would be destroyed, and I would never get a second shot at it.
Many years ago, I lived in a tiny hamlet about 8 miles from Bath, and my next-door neighbour was Chris Patten, who later became the last Governor of Hong Kong. My best friend ran a wine bar in town at the time, and almost every night I would drive home having visited him for a couple of drinks - not rat-arsed, but certainly over the limit.
Chris (yes, I was on first-name terms) was being punished for refusing to remove a part of a speech he had written for Margaret Thatcher which she disapproved of, and this punishment came in the form of being appointed Junior Minister for Northern Ireland, a post from which Mrs T. probably hoped he would not survive.
The narrow lanes around this little hamlet were always teeming with police, both in uniform and without, but they had all long since carried out extensive searches into my background, and all knew the number-plate of my car very well. One invaluable, positive spin-off from this intrusion into my privacy was that they would never stop me for any reason when driving around the area - they had bigger fish to catch.
The biggest draw-back to having Chris Patten as a next-door neighbour was constantly having to knock on his door to get him and Jonathan Dimbleby (my spell-checker suggests 'Dumbbells') to move their cars so I could leave my own house. He and Mr Dumbbell played tennis at every opportunity, then went back to the cottage for refreshments afterwards. Chris would be driven back from London in a ministerial car, then decant himself into an old Morris Traveller to visit his constituents.
At this time, I regularly baby-sat for my wine-bar-owning friend by looking after his huge Deerhound/Greyhound Lurcher, Bill, as Bill loved staying with me in the country. Chris (Lavender and the kids, as he wrote on a Christmas card to me once) had a very old and very blind little mutt which used to wander around near my garden, bumping into walls and constantly growling for no apparent reason.
Bill was the most gentle and playful dog - until another dog growled at him, whereupon he would turn into a murderer in about a quarter of a second.
Our cottages were - and still are - set at the bottom of a precipitously steep hill, and the lane going down it was lined either side by a handful of houses containing our nearest neighbours. Chris's cottage was - ironically - once the temporary headquarters for Oliver Cromwell, and his troops left the famous spring (by which the hamlet was named) untouched for the sake of Cromwell. All other springs in the locale were poisoned. The photo above is of my cottage, taken about 100 years before I moved in.
One Sunday afternoon, I was cooking lunch for friends when I heard the familiar growling of the Pattens' dog as it stumbled around near my front lawn, and I thought nothing of it - until I remembered that I also had Bill as a guest.
I looked at the open door, then I looked at the empty sofa, but before I had a chance to react, I heard the unmistakable sound of Bill trying to kill something outside.
I ran through the door and found the mutt lying on its back with Bill's jaws wrapped tight around its neck as he tried to bite through the spinal cord of the Patten's family dog. The noise was ghastly, and brought people out of their houses, including Chris.
As I was wrenching Bill off the blind mutt, our neighbour directly above - who was an ardent and unreconstructed Socialist - leant over and shouted, "Let your dog kill the bloody thing! It should have been put down years ago!"
Luckily for 'the kids' I managed to get Bill off and lunchtime was saved - as well as a minor diplomatic incident.
I just looked out of the window to see an old, overweight and very unsporty-looking man hobbling along in a pair of bright white trainers.
Yesterday, I awoke before dawn thinking I had cold feet, but when I reached down to warm them up (yes, I can still just about reach) I found they were not cold, but just numb.
A little later, I told H.I. about the loss of feeling in my toes, and she just said, "Diabetes."
The look of horror on my face must have betrayed the anxiety which she dropped on me with that one word, because she immediately tried to reassure me by saying two more - "Don't worry."
DON'T WORRY?! She plants a seed like that in my head before I have had any coffee, and she expects me not to worry?
Later still, I furtively consulted some online doctors by typing the symptom into Google, and after a great deal of trawling through 'cures' which included amputation, I found that I could add this numbness to the already quite large list of symptoms typical of one who suffers from a congenital spine disorder such as A.S. My worry subsided a little.
By the laws of probability, I can discount the prospect of amputation or life-long medication for a while. The bent neck, the lumps on the tendons, the loss of feeling in certain parts of my right hand, the ribcage thing, the swollen knee, and now this. How progressive.
I have not grown so old that I no longer care about what I put on my feet just so long as they are comfortable, but - it seems - I have started to become a bit boring about sharing my aliments with the rest of the world. It's just that any problems to do with the spinal column always add about 30 years onto the sufferer - or that's how it feels from the inside.
In any case, I bet I paid about six times more for my Crockett and Jones' than the old bloke paid for his Adidas'.