Saturday, July 29, 2006

Damned Armed Robbers!

The two men that held up mine and 25 other shops in the South Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire regions have been sentenced today. The gunman pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 years. The getaway driver, who pleaded not guilty and protested his innocence was sentenced to 14 years. No other shops had been held up in the same way whilst they were on remand or since.


Friday, July 28, 2006

That bloody van

... is poorly sick again. It's got new paws, it's got a new fuel tube, it's got new engine thingies, it's becoming a new van, being rebuilt gradually, bit by bit. The Builder went to get in it at the crack of dawn (well, not perhaps the actual crack of dawn cos that's about 04:30, dawn itself is about 05:00; but at 06:15 it's early enough. We have to get up around 05:30. Horrible time!) tried to start it; it gave a half-hearted whirr and stopped. New battery needed, it seems. Sigh. He's gone off to Rampton in the car. I came to work on the bus and train. Must be a day for vans breaking down though. Just as the bus was due, a van turned from Birkin Road onto Queen Vic Road and stopped dead half way round. Was still stopped dead, coughing gently to itself, as the bus (having finally got round it) pulled away from the bus stop.

It's quite pleasant coming in by public transport. Happily read my book in the morning sunshine while other people took the responsibility of conveying me into Sheffield. Very pleasant. Bloody expensive, though. £7.30 return, plus £1.50 for the bacon sandwich that attacked me at the station. Setting aside the bacon sandwich, that's £36.50 for the week. Only costs £20 for fuel for the car. I might try a combination of bus/train and car next week. It was certainly fairly relaxing on the bus and train. Won't work for days when I need to be at Collegiate for a 09:00 desk shift, though!

Weather's been lovely this week. Pleasantly warm (in the low 30s) and sunny. Not all that humid. Was humid yesterday though. Made me coff. And coff. And coffandcoffandcoffandcoffandcoffandcoffandcoff. Just as I was about to leave for work. Left me absolutely buggered and feeling slightly sick. Didn't come to work yesterday. Sat at home and coffed on and off all day and did almost nothing. And drank blueberry cordial. Then, at about 17:30, huge great big clouds blew in from the South. The Builder blew in too, bearing tales of torrential rain around Mansfield. Didn't come to us, though. Not a single solitary drop :-( Clouds blew away, and took the humidity with them. Not coffing today!

The fish are getting braver. You see them now, in a little shoal, just drifting about the pond. They still hide when they notice us, though.

Had occasion to call the police on Wednesday evening. There are two empty houses to one side of us (4 and 6) and you occasionally see a small group of 14 year old or so boys playing in the garden of Number 6. Don't know where they come from; they're not there all that often. On Wednesday their ball bounced into the garden of number 4, which you can't get into because the gate is locked. (No 4 is in the hands of bailiffs or someone). At least, you couldn't get into it until they took down one of the fence panels. This appears to have got them somewhat over-excited, and they turned their attention to trying to knock down the back fence with their ball. Then they hopped onto the shed roof and started kicking that. Don't think they're habitually violent; I think they had just got a bit over-excited. Anyway, they knew we were watching them. Eventually I rang the local police just to let them know it was happening (We don't want small gangs of kids knocking down fences and sheds; so untidy). "Ooooh," said the woman who answered the phone. "We can't have that. Can't have that at all". A few minutes later two police officers had appeared and were telling the lads off. They've been quite subdued since then. Was *very* impressed with the speed of the response, mind!

Not working this weekend. Two whole days off. And they're forecasting rain!

Monday, July 24, 2006

And oh boy did it rain!

Two massive thunderstorms there were, in the end. Torrential rain (nearly drowned escaping from Waitrose!), spectacular lightning. All very exciting! Filled the (new) orange bucket up to nearly a third. Plastic ducks on the pond all bounced up and down (according to The Builder who was at home for the first downpour). Garden and pots all well and truly watered. Debbie next door got caught in it coming home. She said she resigned herself simply to getting very wet -- and was drenched through to her underwear by the time she got in!

Cleared into a lovely, non-humid evening.

Yesterday was just a lovely day. Pleasantly warm, nicely fresh. We ambled about in a relaxed and lazy manner (memo to self: next time you decided that you simply *must* clean the shower -- do it before getting dressed!). The washing flapped lazily on the line and dried nice and quickly, and was ironed piece by piece as it came off. All very satisfactory.

At just before 11 we took ourselves off to Chatsworth. I wanted some of their ciabattas and plain bread rolls. If you don't get there early, they're all gone. We went exploring on the way, going by Another Route which is straighter than the way we have been going but which has a quite spectacularly steep descent (including one very, very tight curve) into Rowsley. Was fun! Lovely and green, the steep descent! And so on to Chatsworth for the bread, a few vegetables to supplement the ones from the allotment (can anyone explain to me why I have completely failed to grow carrots this year? Might plant some this week. And some more beetroot, not to mention lettuce and radish), a few bits of meat and some lunch time treats.

Then we meandered on to Bakewell. Haven't been to Bakewell for simply eons. Visited the farmers' shop (now have a ham for roasting and 5 counties cheese and the less exotic double Gloucester and red Leicester. Went for a wander around. Catastrophe!!!! There is now a Wittard's (coffee and tea shop) in Bakewell. Hidden in a Ralph Something or another shop which sells dried fruit and seeds and snack-type mixtures and things. Even bigger catastrophe. They sell the Japanese rice cracker peanuts ALL ON THEIR OWN!!!!! I have bought two packets. And two packets of Japanese rice crackers. Plus some Bombay mix. We can have these as lunchtime treats as well.

We dropped briefly into the shopping village in Rowsley on the way home, but the shopping impulse had passed and we neither lingered nor bought anything. Went home instead and weeded the garden and dead-headed the roses and planned the new layout for the bottom of the garden (will be quite costly; must sell Freyja on eBay again!) and sat about and drank gin (or vodka if you happened to be The Builder), then moved onto a rather nice NZ sauvignon blanc, which we drank rather too much of. Then we had roast beef from Chatsworth, with new potatoes from the garden, peas and broad beans from the allotment, carrots from Chatsworth, thyme and tarragon from the garden. Was extremely yummy. I do enjoy summer, and this one is being particularly balmy.

At one point late-ish in the evening, 4 or 5 Virgin hot air balloons sailed serenely by, quite low. Sat and waved at them. Then a multi-coloured, not Virgin hot air balloon sailed by further to the north. Was quite a bizarre sight, all those hot air balloons. Do you think it was an invasion?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

General musings

Here we are. It's Saturday again. And I'm at Collegiate Crescent for the day. I'm wearing a pink, floaty skirt and an off white shirt. Don't usually wear skirts to work -- not exactly ideal attire if crawling around under book shelves! But I anticipate no crawling today, so a skirt it is (has nothing at all to do with the fact that all my trousers appear to have shrunk slightly, oh no no!)

The weather has been mostly glorious this week, in the low 30s and, most unusually for England, very low humidity. Gorgeous weather for lazing about in the garden (which we have been doing quite a bit of in the evenings; still lovely and long and light). There was one day when the temperature dropped a little and the humidity rose. I don't like very humid weather. Makes me coff! So, not pleasant but thankfully short lived. But no rain. Or at least, perhaps a dozen drops sometime early this morning, but that really doesn't count. Mind you, having said that, I've just looked outside and it's looking very black and heavy. I think a thunderstorm is on its way. Bummer. The Builder was going to go to the allotment this afternoon and pick a zillion more blackcurrants and the next row of peas. Looks like it might be a tomorrow activity!

Speaking of The Builder, thank you to all who have been thinking Gainful Employment thoughts for him. You can stop now! He left his phone in the car on Tuesday for a few hours. Went to collect it and found something like 32 missed calls on it, from people wanting to offer him work. He's now working for somebody in Rampton, about an hour away. Looks like it might last until October or so. Excellent. We eat again!

Actually, we've been eating quite well. Lots of lovely salads, baby potatoes, fresh herbs, light summer things. I even lit the barbecue last evening. The Builder had pointed out that we were having a spectacularly lovely summer and hadn't lit it at all, really (once, I think, before we moved). So I bought burgers and chicken fillets and thin, thin beef steaks and baking potatoes and sweet potatoes and two fabulous salad mixes and fired it up. I do hope it wasn't that that drove the people next door inside! I only use wood, never charcoal. And it wasn't a very smoke-y fire. It was a fine barbecue, if I do say so myself. Sweet potatoes, wrapped in silver foil, cook up beautifully in the coals. As do baking potatoes. They take very much longer, though.

Now that The Builder has gainful employment elsewhere, I've been bringing the car into work. I suppose I should be using public transport but it looks as though it's considerably cheaper to come in the car -- if you don't have to factor in parking charges. I've been leaving the car in the roads around The Mudhut and walking in from there. Which may explain why my trousers have shrunk ever so slightly. I'm back to walking around 11-12k steps each day. Since we moved to The Sidings, The Builder has been driving me in and dropping me at the door. I've only been averaging 5 or 6k steps. Makes a difference, obviously! I shall carry on doing this until they make parking in those streets residential parking only (a move that is apparently about to happen). Then I suppose I'll have to investigate the public transport option more thoroughly.

I wonder if that hedgehog is still about. I've been putting down mealworms in a bowl on the lawn, intending them for birds. They've been getting very crisp quite quickly and I haven't seen anything show any real interest in them. But each morning when I go out to replace them they've vanished overnight. Now, The Builder did see two blackbirds feasting on them (Toasted mealworms. Yum!) this morning when he went down to make the tea. But it's the first time either of us has seen avian life forms eating them. And yesterday there was something definitely a-rustling in the woodshed, um, sorry, woodpile (where we've stashed all the tree bodies) and at the bottom there's a small, hedgepiglet sized hole, with a spiderweb canopy. We have ten tiny, tiny goldfish as well. I picked them up on an impulse when I was wandering past the pet shop one afternoon during the week. So that gives us ten fish, five or more frogs, a possible hedgehog, a puppy-next-door and zillions of birds (I've seen a greenfinch and two bullfinches in the last few days, as well as all the other birdies that drop in).

Oh yes. I've had a letter from the Allotment Man in Tupton. The new allotment is definitely ours. Let the weed-slashing commence!

The thunderstorm has arrived!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Random day off

Well, if you are going to take a random flexiday, yesterday was the day to do it. It was a stunningly glorious day. Nice and still, light breezes only. Around 32d or so, which, in England is unusual and very nearly always accompanied by one million per cent humidity. Not yesterday. Was a lovely dry heat. Lots of sunshine. A lovely, lovely day.

So we did useful things. We went to the sorting office in Chesterfield and picked up a parcel. I don't know quite why it was sent there. Normally the postie drops things off at the local post office where it is much easier to pick them up. We dropped into the Chesterfield library so I could join up. We lobbed into the church with the twisty spire so I could look at post cards. Then we went home again to have a nice cold drink and a bit of a potter.

Great excitement then ensued. I was hanging out the washing when The Builder came out to tell me something. Suddenly he stopped telling me whatever it was and exclaimed "Look! There's a hedgehog!!" For some reason, I assumed he meant a concrete hedgehog. The garden was absolutely stuffed with charming concrete animals, mermaids, gnomes, fairies and wotsits when we arrived but I thought we had winkled them all out. Mind you, odd, small ones do still occasionally reveal themselves. So I looked around for a hedgehog. Couldn’t see one. And anyway, that bed has been thoroughly cleared of almost everything. So where is this hedgehog? Oh look. It's a real one. Quite a small one. Lying on the pennyroyal, which is in a pot on a ledge inside the pond. Hmm. Can't leave it there. Might be nice and cool and lovely, all curled up in the mint, but how will it get back out of the pond. So we hoiked it out on the fish net and I dropped it (gently!) under one of the large ferns. Then it spent a merry hour or so snuffling its way around the garden, fossicking for things in the lawn. I've never seen a real, live hedgehog before (or, I have, but not since I was a tiny child). Dead ones, yes, but not live ones.

I hope it's stayed in the garden. Hedgehogs are a good form of slug control. Although I'm told frogs are too and it is certainly the case that slugs are not eating the cabbage plants.

But I don't know where it went, for we went out again. In the van this time. And had a wonderful time at the Chesterfield tip emptying the van of all the rubbish we had gathered up at the house and dumped in there. Including all the concrete artefacts from the garden, and the laminated flooring we took out of the kitchen and all sorts of things. You will notice from this that the van is now operational again. £58 for a new fuel gizmo about *this* long! And now it needs three new paws as well. Sigh. It's a money pit is that van. I did enjoy throwing all those things away, though. And it's very useful to know where the tip is as well. Never did find the Sheffield one! Next visit will be to take all the tree bodies :)

Then we went home, swapped the van for the car and went to the allotment. And picked: the whole next row of peas, about 2/3rds of a carrier bag of pods; all the broad beans, about ½ a bag; all the cherries from the morello cherry tree, about half a bag; all the remaining raspberries, a large tupperware box full, a trug full of onions and shallots and a gadzillion blackcurrants. We watered while chatting to Martin Next Door (I’m going to miss Martin when we give the allotment up; he’s been a real treasure while I’ve had it) and then we went home.

Sat outside in the garden, wine glass at the ready, The Builder podded all the peas and the broad beans. He then podded the beans and peas I bought at the supermarket at the end of last week and which we hadn’t finished eating. And I did the blackcurrants. Do you know how long it takes to destalk and pick over a gadzillion blackcurrants? It’s a long, long time, I can tell you. There are six margarine containers full of blackcurrants loitering in the freezer as we speak. And that’s just what was ripe from one bush. There are two more bushes and loads of not quite ripe currants from the first bush still to go!!! And the freezer is now full. Of peas and beans and raspberries and cooking cherries and red currant juice and blackcurrants and gooseberries. Not to mention the stocks and soups I have made extra of. And, of course, stuff from the meat boxes and things. I may need another freezer! The larder is now coming into use as well. The Builder has made three of the four veg drawers, one of which now houses the onions and shallots. I’ve also started putting the new preserves down there, but not yet in their proper place. I think The Builder is hoping to finish the last drawer and putting the rest of the first coat of paint on today. Then one more coat to go and the larder will be properly up and running. Good. It will soon be time to start pulling the potatoes. The Builder’s new ones first, when we’ve finished the ones we bought at Chatsworth last visit.

So dinner was late, by the time we’d sorted all of that out. We had pork and apple sausages with new potatoes, the beans and peas from the supermarket, shallots from the allotment and also some of the beetroot thinings, leaves and stalks. We ate it outside and watched the sun set. A lovely day all told.

The Builder still doesn’t have any work. The man who rang on Sunday evening didn’t ring back yesterday. Hope something comes up soon. As I said, our finances are beginning to look slightly tattered. On the other hand – we are not short of food!

Monday, July 17, 2006


I've been to the seaside. I have, I have! I paddled in the Solent and watched the yachts and admired the Isle of Wight and everything!

It all started at breakfast (and a very nice breakfast it was too). What shall we do today before we go and visit The Builder's parents this afternoon? Let's go somewhere for a walk. Avebury? Find a National Trust or English Heritage park, garden or castle to explore? New Forest! Let's go to the New Forest. Even better, suggested The Builder, let's go through the New Forest to Lepe and have a walk there. And so we did.

England is very green. The little country roads are bestraddled with beautiful trees covered in their dark green mid-summer glory. The verges are all green as well. It's true that many of the fields are not, being covered in hay or corn or whatever (many of them were being harvested as we went past) but the avenues of trees covered us in green light and it was all very glorious. And sunny. Ever so sunny.

There were cows and ponies and ramblers wandering loose in the New Forest.

And so we reached Lepe. The last time I was there is was late December (2003, I think) and very very misty (you could barely see the Isle of Wight) and ever so cold. Not Sunday. Sunday was sunny and still and about 29d. While I was waiting for The Builder to get the binoculars from the car, I trundled off through the mudflats to the water. It was ever so warm. So The Builder picked his way gingerly through the mudflats (being in his proper shoes, for some reason) and I splashed in the sea (being in my surf shoes, much more sensibly) until we reached a spit of shingle and walked to its tip. Me in the water. We didn't have all that much time and in any case the tide was coming in -- but it was lovely to be unexpectedly splashing in the sea. The sea was all glittery in the sunshine. And children and dogs and old folks were splish splash sploshing as well.

Back to the car. The original idea had been to meet The Builders APs and take them out for lunch. But Mick has nasty emphesema and really doesn't like the warm weather on account of not being able to breathe. So we had abandoned that plan and arranged to meet them later. Lunch for us then. But not in the New Forest, oh no, no, no. We had intended to eat there, but the pubs we had in mind were all as full as full could be. Even though we were passing through just after 12. Oh well. Other pubs on the edge of the forest then. But no. They were all as full as full could be too. Hmm. Eventually we went to The Bull in Downton. Not full. Not full at all. And I don't really know why, because the roast beef melted as you ate it. The Yorkshire puddings were crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside. So were the roast potatoes. The veg were more than adequate. Had a pint of raher nice local cider. Was all excellent. Can't think why the pub was quite so empty. The regulars must have been out clogging up the pubs in the Forest!

Right. Onto Nunton and The Builder's parents. Mick really isn't well and can't leave the house in warm weather (and it eventually got to 31d which is very hot indeed in ENgland) and has a horrid, horrid cough. We worry about him quite a bit. Gwen was more or less all right, though she doesn't like hot weather much either and doesn't really enjoy being confined to the house day after day. We were there for longer than we usually stay, chatting and looking at the photos of the house and garden on the laptop and listening to "do you remember" stories. Then we relocated to Barb's place (much later than planned) to swap brassica seedlings (broccoli and cabbages from me, curly kale from her) and to sit in her garden in the sunshine and drink cava (or tonic water in The Builder's case for he was driving). And then we came home.

We got home quite late, really. The traffic was very heavy and slow in Wiltshire. Not too bad on the Fosse Way. But the motorways were iffy so we came back along A roads and in a roundabout sort of a way. Was very late by the time we eventually got to bed.

Have taken today off as a random flexiday. Was strangely reluctant to get up when the alarm went at quarter to six this morning. I shall go, this afternoon, and help The Builder pick fruit. Oh, and that man rang him back yesterday evening about the job in Lincolnshire. It looks as though he may get some work this week after all. Just as well. Our finances are beginning to look a wee bit tattered!
It’s amazing how much difference 5 or 6 minutes makes. If we leave, in the car at half past seven, we get to the Adsetts Centre at around half past eight. If we leave at quarter or even 20 past, we get there at around eight o’clock, or often earlier. Time for me to have breakfast, then, before opening up the desk!

The big advantage to having been there around eight, or quarter past each morning and not leaving until half past five is that my hours are looking very healthy. I can leave early on Fridays!

Have been up to the allotment. The cherries on the morello tree are almost all ripe. There are gazillions of blackcurrants on the currant bushes. The onions, shallots and garlic all need lifting. There are loads more raspberries. No point picking them all today, though. Time is ticking on and we are off away tomorrow morning. A Monday activity. I shall have to make sure Monday evening is kept nice and empty for jam making, freezing and drying. The apples are still quite small. Shall I pick them early and make chutney with them, or leave them and eat them as dessert apples? Depends on what else decides to eat them I guess. Picked them early last year because they were being attacked by some sort of insect.

I knew this was going to be a good growing year!

Back in the garden, sat outside with the laptop, a gin and tonic and The Builder, when his phone rang. One of his buildering mates asking if he were interested in a job in Lincolnshire if it comes up. So nice to sit outside and to look up where the place is and how to get there. Wireless connection is well worth all the hassle I had with Orange!

I had lunch with Freyja today. Met her at the Blue Moon café (a nice little vegetarian restaurant up by the cathedral). We had spicy vegetable concoctions and I had ginger beer and she had orange juice and I secretly handed over a training DVD and we had a natter and then we both went back to work. A nice little interlude in the middle of the day. It’s been a beautiful day today. Warm, still and not remotely humid. A lovely summer, so far.

And so to Saturday, which dawned bright and sunny and warm. I pottered about at home, doing basic Saturday chores. Then we had to drive into Sheffield, completely unnecessarily, because I had left my wallet in my intray on Friday afternoon. I had put it there in the course of the afternoon when I had occasion to wander off around the building. Didn’t want to leave it obviously on my desk. Made a mental note to remember to pick it up later. Completely forgot. Ordinarily would have left it there until Monday. Can’t do that, though, if we are going away overnight. Can’t go away overnight completely penniless!

We have decided to go to Salisbury down the Fosse Way, as far as Cirencester where it stops. We are only going so we can visit The Builder’s parents on Sunday afternoon. We do this every 6 to 8 weeks or so and have taken to making the trip down more of an adventure. Gets very boring storming up and down the motorway just for an hour or so of the APs’ company. We didn’t have anything much we wanted to do in Salisbury on Saturday afternoon and, in any case, are staying in Amesbury near Durrington. So we are going to explore the upper reaches of the Fosse Way. The Builder is familiar with it when it becomes an A road lower down, but has never done the upper B-road bit. It follows, in a much more curvaceous way than would have been original, a main Roman road, which went from Cirencester to – actually, I’m not sure where it went. A long way. Must find out.

And it’s ever such a pretty road. Dotted with beautiful little villages. We had lunch in a pub in one of them. This particular pub, full of friendly locals, only served sandwiches. That’s fine. A sandwich will do nicely. And the bread was fresh and the ham was nice and the cider well kept (strongbow can be a bit hit and miss in pubs, depending on how well they keep the barrels and pipes). But there are loads of other pubs in many other villages. There were lovely, green hedgerows and lots of trees. Lots to look at. And things to do as well. We may come this way several more times. There’s a roman villa we could visit, plus lots of things in the villages. Not to mention all those pubs to investigate.

Today, however, we were heading to Cirencester. Neither of us has ever been. It’s a roman town with some lovely mediaeval buildings. I believe that there is an amphitheatre and some roman walling somewhere but we didn’t see them. We did visit the rather splendid parish church. It has a fantastic pulpit, carved in stone and from the early 1500s. There’s a sermon timer on the wall (though I’m assured it is no longer in use!). Couldn’t find the cat and mouse on the roof in the Lady chapel, though.

Ooh. An ice cream barrow. Let’s have one. Cotswold ice cream. Very nice. And a very nice amble around the town as well. We ran across a Wittard’s coffee shop. Everything half marked price. A cute little milk jug for 5GBP instead of 10. Oh. But no. The half marked price appears to apply to the discounted price as well! So 2.50 GBP, then. In that case, we’re going to have 4 of those pasta bowls and a flower pot as well. All of that for 12 GPB. Quarter price!!!!!!!!!

And so on to Amesbury. I like Amesbury, though there is not very much there. It’s close to where The Builder used to live in Durrington, small supermarket, a few shops, pretty little town. We’re staying in a rather nice small hotel with very friendly proprietors. We’ve had a wander about and a potter. We’ve walked up to the Avon and admired the bridge. Can’t properly collect it though. There’s absolutely no way I can get a photograph of it. Have half collected it by walking across it and admiring it from the footbridge. We had dinner in The George (which the hotel man was a bit dubious about – although he was dubious about all of the eating opportunities in the town. Tried to persuade us to drive out to one of the villages. Clearly not a man who likes wine with his meals!) It was all right was The George. Full of overseas tourists, munching merrily. I had steak and chips; The Builder had a mixed grill. English hotels don’t usually go far astray if you have grilled things. It’s when you try to be adventurous in your menu choices that things go horribly wrong.

And now here I am, propped up in my bed on Sunday morning. Talking to you and supping tea. Another glorious morning. Will soon be time for breakfast.

It’s amazing how quickly I’ve got used to having the Internet available at all times. No unsecured network here. Oh – and SKY. I know we had it at The Mudhut, but it was up in the attic and we hardly ever used it. We’ve had it a couple of weeks at The Sidings, and really missed it last evening. News and cricket scores on demand at home!

Went to sleep on the bed watching telly last night. Again. Beds and televisions are clearly not compatible.

Now. What to do today …..

Oops. I’ve just made the bathroom all soggy wet. Really, really soggy wet. Using the hand-held shower. Water pressure stronger than I realised. Wall wet. Door wet. Carpet wet. Clothes wet. Wash bags sopping wet. Fortunately it is a nice warm day. Clothes drying out, with me in them. Used damp towel to wipe down the wall and door. The Builder has decided to have a wash rather than a shower. Imagine how soggy wet he would make the bathroom using the hand-held shower!

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Yesterday evening we went to see a man about adopting a new allotment. Was very exciting.

The allotments are on Ward Street, about a 3 minute walk from our place. So nice and close. But it really was deja vu all over again. The plot is absolutely *stuffed* and I do mean **STUFFED** with weeds. But the weeds are waist high rather than head high. The plot is nice and level, so no toe curling slope to contend with, and the Allotment Man says that the soil is sandy and probably quite friable once we've got the weeds out, so no hard, clay digging to contend with. I think The Builder is going to hire a cutting device and get the weeds down to ankle level so we can start digging. The allotment costs the princely sum of £5 pa, as against £35 in Sheffield. Only downside is that there is no water on site, which there is at Hangingwater. Looks like several water butts will be needed, especially if subsequent summers are as dry as this one has been so far. So deja vu but not quite the mind boggling, overwhelming challenge that the Hangingwater allotment was when I very first set eyes on it

In the meantime, we've still got the Hangingwater allotment. Seems a pity, really, to be adopting a new one. This is the first year that it's all been under cultivation, thanks to the good offices of The Builder who has been digging vigorously. And it's been a good growing season so far. We are still eating raspberries (I made a pot and a half of raspberry jam last evening, in addition to inspecting allotments -- oh and a couple of pots of rhubarb and apple chutney, though the apple was not from the tree for they are not yet ripe). We are eating onions and garlic from the lottie. Next week the next row of peas should be ready, along with some broad beans. We have had two cherries each from the sweet cherry and the morello should supply us with lots of cooking cherries very shortly. And I am confidently expecting a bumper crop of black currants next week. I might need to buy a new freezer to accommodate them all!

The garden at The Sidings is coming along quite well, too. The herbs are all settling in and beginning to spread out. The pond plants seem happy and thriving, mostly. The shrubs we've replaced the conifers with are bedding in. The Builder has turned his attention to the larder now. We shall commence Phase 2 of the garden plan in August, I think. We need to have the raised beds ready to receive the fruit trees in October/November, so starting them in August gives us time to get them sorted and them time to settle down before they receive their fruit.

The Builder hasn't had any work from the agency since we got back, which is inconvenient from a financial point of view, but quite handy from the Getting-Little-And-Major-Projects-Done-Around-The-House-And-Garden point of view. He's working quite hard while I'm gadding about in Sheffield during the day. Today he's out searching for a part for his van, which *still* isn't working a month after it broke down. Colin, the semi-retired village mechanic, has been having trouble finding the relevant bit. The Builder has gone to the Volkswagon dealer in Hillsborough this morning to harass them.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Cautionary Tale

Let us all learn a valuable lesson from this. If you have something that works very or even reasonably well, resist at all costs the urge to upgrade it!

I did not observe this object lesson and spent nearly all of last evening (expensively) on the phone to Orange.

I have my broadband with Orange. Although, when I started out, I had my dial up Internet connection with Freeserve, which transmuted into Wanadoo, from whom I later took my Broadband. Now Wanadoo has been subsumed by Orange. Sadly. Anyway. That’s not the object lesson. As I say, I take my Broadband through Orange and got back from Australia to find that, in our absence, the account had transferred seamlessly to The Sidings and we were merrily online. Excellent.

Oh but I did miss Lindsey and Ian’s wireless connection. I had got quite used to spending leisurely mornings sat warm and cosy in bed, drinking tea and chatting aimlessly by messenger or email to people dotted about all over the world. I wanted wireless in The Sidings, I did. Not that I have very many mornings where I can loll about aimlessly in bed. Nor does my bed need to be cosy, it being pleasantly warm and sunny at present. Nevertheless, I wanted it. So I contacted Orange and they assured me they could make this happen with no effort or inconvenience on my part and for the outlay of a mere £20.

On Monday, the wireless box arrived. With great excitement, I set it up. Nothing. Lights flashing, yes, but no Internet connection, either wirelessly or by cable. Oh well, thought I; the account can’t be live yet. They did say it would take about 10 days.

Yesterday I got an email from them telling me the changes I had asked for had been implemented. With great excitement, I went home to embrace wireless virtuality. Nothing.

I reinstalled the new modem. Nothing.

In desperation, I rang Orange, to be told that my account was indeed active and I should ring the Techie people.

So I did. And after much waiting and listening to dodgy “on hold” music, got hold of a nice and helpful person called Amy. After much faffing about, she decided we should reset the modem. So we did. All was going well – until I accidentally put the phone cable into the Ethernet cable hole. And lost Amy.


Rang back. Was put on hold. Waited. And waited. And waited. Got hold of someone whose name I didn’t catch. Her computer crashed. Her computer crashed again. Then she completely vanished. My phone was reduced to a mere dial tone.


Rang back. Andwaitedandwaitedandwaitedandwaitedandwaitedandwaited.

Hung up.

Decided to hang up and have a go at resetting the modem myself. Worked a treat. Instead of one steady light and one manically flashing light I had one steady one and one gently flashing. Excellent. Tried accessing the Internet via the cable. Worked perfectly. Even more excellent. Tried to access it wireless. Nothing.


Sighed deeply. Took the bit between my teeth, girded my loins, filled my wine glass for the zillionth time. And rang Orange. Waited a little bit. Got through to someone who reset the wireless connection for me. And IT WORKS!!!!!! We have wireless connectivity at The Sidings. Hoorayyyyyyyyy!!!!!

I think I spent about 3 hours on the phone talking to or waiting to talk to Orange last evening. Drank lots of wine. Didn’t watch much telly. Ate quite well, though. Before the telephone extravaganza I had grilled some chicken fillets. We had them with salad potatoes, lightly cooked peas and broad beans with summer savoury, corn on the cob, grilled mushrooms and a vinaigrette dressing. Was very nice. I do like summer food.

The Builder has completed Phase One of the Digging Project. All conifers deceased. All conifer roots grubbed out. All other relevant trees deceased and partially grubbed out. And the stumps and bits of those whatever they were by the fish pond (the ones that looked a bit like demented yukka plants) have also been properly dug out. The flagstones have been properly laid in the herb garden. It looks fantastic. I might buy some thyme plants to dot about amidst the mint and oregano. And perhaps some more chamomile. He has turned his attention to the larder now.

He reports another healthy harvest of raspberries from the allotment this morning. And two cherries from the sweet cherry tree which has never fruited before. I might make a pot of jam. Raspberry. Not cherry :-P

Monday, July 10, 2006

A merry weekend

Sometime last week, Roger was telling me about a walk he and Kate had taken the previous evening at the Linacre Reservoir near Cutthorpe, where they had seen loads of tiny frogs. Now Cutthorpe isn't a million miles from Tupton and isn't really a significant detour from Sheffield to home if you don't mind taking rather longer to make the journey (it's along a winding, country lane and you can't go all that fast). So we decided on Friday, after visiting the supermarket and Tabitha's Thresher, to make the detour and go and investigate.

Well, it isn't normally a significant detour. Not if you go directly. I, on the other hand, directed us up through Ringinglow and onto the Hathersage Road. Can't think why. Not remotely the way we should have gone. Mind you, it was a very pretty drive and we both rather enjoyed it, so nothing was really lost I suppose. And so, eventually, we found the Linacre reservoirs. Three of them. Quite small. And there were indeed tiny frogs. Really, really tiny ones. About the size of a 10 cent piece or perhaps a little smaller. You had a job not to stand on them. They were more or less the same colour as the gravel and you couldn't see them unless they moved. We spent about half an hour pottering around the reservoirs. It was a very pleasant end to the day. And to the week.

The Builder has done an amazing job on the garden. We are now a conifer free zone. The laurel by the potting shed has gone. The grass has been cut. There is now a compost bin where the laurel was. It's all coming on fantastically. He's also made a start on the larder, which I realise isn't in the garden. He's put a first coat of paint on and filled in the holes. It's going to be wonderful when it's finished!

We did quite a bit of wandering around on Saturday too. We started out a Chatsworth where we had gone for bread and veg. First, though, we called at the Chatsworth garden centre, where we have not previously explored. It's fantastic. Not quite, perhaps, as good as the one on the Cutthorpe Road but fairly excellent. We bought a fern for the lounge room and two clay pots for the garden. One of them is out the front housing a climbing rose. The other one is out the back bearing lettuces -- though the lettuces were not looking very happy this morning. Must investigate this evening. Then we mooched, across country, to the aforementioned garden centre on the Cutthorpe Road. The last time we were there they had a magnificent red rose with a fantastic scent. We didn't buy it only because we didn't have anywhere then to put it. We do now. And it's gone :-( We had bought a yellow rose instead, one with another magnificent scent. It's behind the fish pond where once there were conifers. Then we called at Sainsbury in Chesterfield (having first had to work out how to get to it!) and then went home, By Another Way (we're exploring, right?)

I was supposed to be sorting out the study, partly in preparation for visitors but also because The Builder is looking for some paperwork the taxman has asked for and we don't know where it is. I was going to, truly I was. But it was a lovely afternoon and there were things to plant and beds to sort out and garden things to do. And suddenly it was gin and tonic time. The garden was looking rather good by then, if I do say so myself. We've planted things in the holes left by the conifers. We've dragged all the rest of the debris from up around the back of the house and dumped it on the debris pile on the concrete. It's beginning to take shape. Nearly time to start tackling the concrete, now!

All this meant, however, that we had to get up quite early on Sunday morning. We simply must get the study sorted out. Though it is perhaps not the very best of ideas to start sorting through your years of accumulated papers at 07:30 when there are 12 people descending at 13:00 expecting to be fed!! Still, we did it. We've cleared into a big pile years of individually acquired paper clutter (it's all in a big bin bag waiting for us to revisit it before shredding it. A wet winter weekend activity, I think!! What's the bet that it's all still there when we move out -- I've hidden it in the big wardrobe!) Anyway, the study/spare room was sorted out. We found all but one of the bits of paperwork the taxman wants. We tidied up. The Builder podded a mountain of peas and beans and scrubbed a positive Everest of new potatoes. I put away Saturday's ironing and washed lettuce, peeled beetroot, generally prepared lunch. And we were sat down at 13:15, glasses to hand, when Tabitha, Gareth, Freyja and Mark arrived. Followed by Bea and Steve who brought Heidi from work, Kathryn who brought 3 ½ year old Patrick, and a bit later Em from work and her partner Col and Baby Freyja who is now 19 months old.

I had forgotten how much like hard work small children can be. Very well behaved but absolutely exhausting!

The morning had been grey and overcast and windy and wet. No garden party for us then. I was resigned to having everyone squished inside. But no. As the Nether Green/Lady Bridge contingent arrived, the clouds cleared, the wind dropped and the sun came out. People all gravitated outside. And there we stayed while we ate our roast beef, roast pork, boiled potatoes, build-your-own salad and Yorkshire puddings. Yorkshire puddings which rose. Rose so much that I had to take them out of the oven before they were really properly cooked so they all sank a bit again. There was wine and beer and fruit juice. There were blueberries and raspberries and cherries and strawberries. There were fantales and jaffas and freckles. It was a merry afternoon. Taffa, Gaz, Big Freyja and Mark all went for a wander around the village. They seem to like the village itself but were a bit alarmed by their experience in The Britannia pub. Had they asked, we would have warned them not to bother. The language that comes out of there is sometimes quite alarming. There’s another pub on Queen Victoria Road which looks better but neither of them is especially enticing. Think we’re going to have to go pubbing further afield. Aha! A project!!!

Then everyone went home. We started on the washing up. Sat down with some more wine. The Builder went to sleep. I finished the washing up. Then I too went to sleep. I don’t know how much of the World Cup Grand Final he saw, but I didn’t see any. I did get the kitchen completely cleared up before I dozed off though – in my chair, that is, not stood up in the kitchen. That would have been silly!

The Builder reports today that he has picked over a kilo of raspberries from the allotment and there may yet be more! I do like summer fruit. Blackcurrants next.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A productive few days

We've had a very productive few days. Last weekend I sorted out the kitchen, the lounge room and the bedroom. The house is fairly sorted. Just the spare room to organise now (we can't have visitors -- the spare bed has vanisehd under all the junk!) and the dining room table to tidy. And I want to sort out the television, it's accesorries and all the cables. A Saturday job, I think. We've cleared out the pond. The Builder has demolished all but one of the conifers. I've laid a path, in a manner of speaking, through the herb bed and edged the paving stones with bog sage, mint and oregano. We have Manifold Garden Plans.

Plus. We've been to the allotment and picked a whole row of peas and we've eaten raspberries from the canes and I've eaten strawberries from the plants. The Builder picked almost all of the red currants. Enough to completely fill my stock pot. I've made loads of red currant juice and am planning to make some more jelly tonight. The Builder has netted the raspberry canes and the cherry tree. The apple tree has loads of little apples on it and there is still some rhubarb to pull. He's cut the grass, both on the allotment and at home. We've weeded and watered. And the toy snakes appear to be discouraging the pigeons from eating the broad beans. More peas on their way.

We've eaten well too. Roasted pork chops on Sunday evening with loads of roasted veg. Fillet steak on Tuesday evening (from the meat box) with new potatoes and baby chinese cabbage, mushrooms and onions. Last night there were chicken fillet "pizzas" with salad. The weather has been warm and sunny, until yesterday, more or less, when it turned warm, cloudy and very, very muggy. Keeps threatening to rain but hasn't yet. Unlike various other bits of the country which have been hit by torrential thunder storms.

We've watched the football. Italy and France into the final. Good :-) The Italy Germany match seemed to have been very well played. But Portugal do not play nicely, not nicely at all. Keep flinging themselvesto the ground for no apparent reason and looking very miffed when penalties are, rightly, not awarded.

We've been back to Chatsworth, though we missed the food festival. We've been to the magnificent nursery on the Cutthorpe road and lusted after loads of plants. We went to a party on Saturday evening. A farewell for a colleague of mine who is moving to Cambridge to work as a law librarian there. There seems to be a black hole in or around Cambridge. Lots of people are being sucked into it. Including, now, Tabitha and Gareth who are expecting to move there in early September (or sometime in August, I suppose). Gaz has been offered a job teaching design, technolgy and IT at Queen's School in Wisbech. Wisbech itself doesn't seem to hold much appeal for them but Cambridge is within easy commuting distance. Good. I like Cambridge. I'm a bit worried about the black hole, though. What if it sucks us in as well? Marlo is moving back in with us.

Oh. And The builder has moved all the junk from the back courtyard into his van. That's all that's happened to it, though. The van still isn't working (Colin the Mechanic is, apparently, waiting for a part) so the junk hasn't had a chance to be taken to the tip. But at least we can move around the courtyard without danger of dismemberment or catastrophic disaster. And we can see what we're doing.

And I have come back to work. I dunno. You turn your back for a mere ten minutes and they fill up your inbox, desk and intray with things for you to deal with. Anyone would think they expected me to *earn* my money!!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

A miscellany

We’re home! We were delayed another 45 minutes on the tarmac in Hong Kong, then flew through beautiful weather and interesting views on to London. It is very, very irritating the way airlines make you close all the blinds half way through the long sector so “people can sleep” There were interesting views of deserts and roads and what looked like dried up river beds and lakes; the sun was shining. I was having a lovely time reading my book and watching the view. And almost no one was actually sleeping. It wasn’t sleeping time either where we were or, indeed, in London. Anyway, the airlines provide eye shades for people who do want to sleep. However, “That’s just what we do, sir” was the response The Builder got when he queried this edict. And my blind was closed. Gloom. So I had a sleep too.

Young Harry (3½) who was sat behind us (and who was spectacularly well behaved) and his parents well and truly missed their connecting flight to Amsterdam. Gomez and his carer and her muso friends equally missed their flight to Helsinki (and the onward flight to wherever the wine and folk festival is). We, however, did not miss our train. Just! I had booked us onto a train at 19:25 from ST Pancras. Takes about an hour from Heathrow to Kings Cross. WE had been due in at 13:30 so, in theory, we had plenty of time. In the end we got to St Pancras at 19:00, more or less just in time to walk onto the train. And we had to be on that train. I’d bought very cheap tickets which required us to be on that train and in those seats. Would have been expensive to have missed it! And so we got home more or less at the time we should have got home, despite the delays.

The house seemed quite pleased to see us. Nearly all the seedlings and pot plants in the garden had survived. All bar one of the indoor plants had survived. The neighbours seemed pleased to have us back. Max the puppy even licked my hand. But I don’t think we’re going to be allowed to buy the land at the back of the house. Number 4 has a For Sale sign outside it now. Must remember to ring the agents on Monday and quiz them. Never mind, it would have been nice to have it, but the allotments aren’t all that far away. Must ring the allotment man.

We’ve been into Sheffield by bus and by train (have worked out now how to get from the bus stop to the station!!) and collected the SS Vixen (*not* Sally the Stilo, which is what Tabitha has been calling her). She has had to have a new paw. Her left hand inside tyre had gone flat just before we left. We’d pumped it up, but it had gone down again while we were away. Nail in her hoof. Tyre buggered because of being driven on for who-knows-how-long before we’d noticed it was soft. New tyre required. We’ve stocked up at Waitrose, been to the allotment and collected broad beans, peas, onions, garlic and red currants. We’ve been to Chatsworth and bought other vegetables and a beef box. They’ve having a food festival this weekend. The continental market is in Sheffield too. I can see lots of foodie things happening on Saturday and Sunday! The allotment is doing not too badly. The broad beans and peas, potatoes and cherries, gooseberries and strawberries, beetroot and rhubarb are all doing really well. For some reason the sweet corn and runner beans are struggling. Strange, the ways of fruit and vegetables!

And so home. I’m in the process of making a small amount of red currant jelly. We had home made lamb and mint burgers (mint from the garden) with the beans and peas from the allotment, together with buttered Chinese cabbage and new English potatoes from Chatsworth for dinner. And The Builder slept through most of the evening. I do like this house. If you go out the back you have a rural aspect. If you look out the front, you have a suburban aspect. It’s fun. There are all sorts of things to watch.

Time to get up. The sun is shining. The birds are tweeting. The sheep are baa-ing. Best find something useful to do.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Sunday 25th onward

Sunday 25th June

A truly peaceful, quiet day. Started very gently indeed. Tea in bed, lounging around, pottering and pootling. Doing nothing in particular. Pottered some more. Ambled about.

Ian decided that today was the day for going to the tip. Got out the trailer. Packed it. Not sure that I had realised that we were all going to the tip with him; kind of assumed it would be him and The Builder bonding. But no; we all went. The bottom of the trailer was absolutely covered with bottles. Was fun throwing them all into the skip, but not as much fun as throwing them into English skips when you get to smash them as well! I expressed the hope that these weren’t bottles generated by us in the previous week. No, I was assured. Many of them were still there from our last visit!

Right. All that energy expended removing bottles from the trailer. Time for lunch. We went back into town and had lunch at Oscars, opposite Target. Roast beef for The Builder and me; soup and a sandwich for Ian; an enormous BLT (with egg) for Lindsey. And a nice bottle of wine. At about half past one we had an urgent request from Austin, Julia and Ant for emergency breakfast supplies. They had kicked on from Austin’s birthday feast on Saturday and gone clubbing. They none of them felt that it was quite safe to drive, given that they hadn’t got home until nearly getting up time! We took note of the emergency breakfast request and continued to much and sup.

The Builder and I have bought new luggage. I fear that the Pink Bag is approaching retirement. Sad, really; I’ve had it since I was at Ballarat CAE doing my library course. But we will take it back to England. It’s not quite ready to go into complete retirement just yet.

We delivered the breakfast supplies and The Builder and I stayed to chat to the recoverees while Lindsey and Ian went off to buy a washing machine. AS you do! Then we repaired back to Mount Helen and pottered about watching the kookaburras buzzing the currawongs in the garden, while Lindsey and Ian went to look at a car they are thinking of getting for Emily.

And so to dinner. Austin, Julia and Ant appeared and we had fish and chips and started the new bottle collection. Then Austin and Julia declared defeat and went home. Lindsey went to bed, for her holiday has now finished and she leaves at 07:00 to go to Melbourne when she’s working. The Builder and I also went to bed, thus finishing a lovely, lazy day. I do enjoy long, lazy Sundays, especially when they involve Sunday Lunches out!Monday 26th June

And another peaceful day. Well, it was peaceful for The Builder and me. More or less. Lindsey vanished at 07:00 to head to Melbourne for her first day at work after the holidays. Ian trundled off at 09:00 for a meeting in Ballarat, followed by a meeting in Melbourne. The Builder and I pottered about and meandered through the morning. I cleared up the kitchen, which was not an onerous task given that we had had takeaway the night before. I was just sorting out some washing when there was an interruption to the peace and quiet …

All of a sudden Harry, Zac and Lucy started barking. Really, really barking. Excited, come-and-look-at-this barking. I was just putting down my bundles of washing when I saw The Builder going out to investigate. Some minutes later I thought: Those dogs are still barking and there is no sign of The Builder. Went out to investigate myself. No sign of The Builder or, indeed, of anything to have excited the dogs in such a way. Eventually, The Builder came back and reported that, when he went out, there were a rottweiller and a husky merrily making free with the driveway. He very bravely decided to show them out. Brave, for rotties and huskies are not small dogs, though they don’t normally attack people. I think he was worried that Lucy would eventually bounce over the fence and we really don’t want Lucy discovering that the fence is not a real barrier to her freedom!

Anyway, after all that excitement, it was time to meet Austin for lunch. Back to Pipers at the head of the Lake. I didn’t have Greek lamb salad!!! I had a warm beef salad but without the walnuts and with extra beetroot. Was very delicious. Then we went for a wander around the wetlands bit of the lake (closed when we were over at Christmas). Not very wet wetlands, I have to say! Strange. A visit to Ballarat and we haven’t been for a circuit of the lake. Must Do Better next time!

So Austin went home to play with his new games machine. I was about to take off back to Mount Helen via the supermarket when I saw a sign to Snake Valley and decided to take The Builder for a bit of an explore. Went out to Carngham to show him the Magnificent Church which so astonished me when we first moved to that area (big church, substantial tower, very few people thereabouts) and on up through Beaufort just to see if it is still there. It is! We came back along the main highway. Lake Burrumbeet is in an even more parlous state than Lake Wendouree. Almost no water in it at all.

And so back to Mount Helen to prepare dinner. Tonight I was cooking. Roast lamb, roast potatoes, roast carrots, pumpkin, parsnip, with boiled peas and corn and Yorkshire Puddings which rose AND crisped this time. We sat in the lounge room, dogs in their baskets farting smellily (the dogs, not us!) drinking gin and tonic (us, not the dogs) and watching the lights of Ballarat twinkling while we were waiting for dinner to cook. Was rather nice. Austin and Julia joined us. Ian came back from Melbourne to join in. Lindsey stayed in town, varying her usual night from Tuesday to Monday. We all had a good time, the boys played snooker, we ate the Sunday Roast on a Monday, then Austin, Julia and Ian went back to Drummond Street to watch the soccer and The Builder and I went to bed.

Tuesday 27th June

Not a quiet start to the day. I was on dog feeding duty!! First I had to get them out. They bounced. Then I sorted out their food. They were bouncing outside. Then I let Lucy in. She really really bounced. Then I fed Zac and Harry outside. They bounced. Then I let Lucy out and fed them their Green biscuits. They really bounced. Lucy ate Zac’s biscuit. Had to give him another one. Nearly took my finger with it! Dogs successfully fed I turned my attention to the kitchen and eradicated all signs of a previous evening’s lamb feast. We trundled into Ballarat and picked up the supermarket supplies for Sheffield and Chesterfield. I happened to notice that they were selling crays for $20 and remembered that Ian and Lindsey had suggested I might like to refurnish their freezer with lobster bisque. Decided that I could do this, if only I could remember what the other ingredients are besides cray, prawns and fish stock. Wandered to Austin’s place to check, then we all made out way to Pat’s place for lunch.

Pat and Eric had moved into a rather large, light and airy house on the far side of Alfredton sometime in February and not all that long before Eric died. The Builder and I haven’t been there before. It’s a nice house, but I wouldn’t want to live in quite that location, neither town nor country if you see what I mean. But I think it had been handy for Eric for driving to Beaufort without going through town. It was nice to see Pat and to catch up (and to suss out the house!). We stayed for a couple of hours then went back to the supermarket for the rest of the bisque ingredients and then on to meet Ian for more bowling. (Blows my average this; until I went bowling twice in less than week I had been twice in four years!). I have learnt my lesson and only played the first game. I made ONE HUNDRED AND THREE!!!!!!!! And I made a strike. A really proper one. In fact, I made two, but one bounced in off the bumpers. The second one went straight down and whacked all the skittles over. Big Grin. The Builder only made 107 and Ian 109, so I wasn’t last by a long way at all!! Mind you, Austin was streets ahead with 150 summat. The boys played the second game with the bumpers off. Ian won this time, 151 to Austin’s 148. The Builder demonstrated exemplary consistency with 109.

Our last evening. Lindsey came home, with Emily in tow. Ian made a most magnificent seafood platter. There were a fish curry, tempura prawns and scallops, crayfish in a yummy sauce, salmon in nori seaweed, salad with asparagus and lychees, there were home made fries. There was passionfruit soufflé to follow. The boys played snooker. Again. The dogs were less farty cos this time I remembered to give them their charcoal biscuits. I made up the crayfish bisque, leaving it to be strained in the morning. Austin and Julia wandered off. The rest of us went in leisurely stages to bed.

Australia has been bundled out of the soccer World Cup. A very late, somewhat dubious penalty to Italy resulted in the only goal of the match. The Australians think they wuz robbed, with a tiny amount of reason. Austin and Ian have now transferred their allegiance to England, who has made it through to the quarter finals. However, the Socceroos have no reason to feel shamed. It’s only the second time they’ve ever reached the finals, and the first time they’ve advanced into the final 16. Well done them!

Wednesday 28th June

Our last day. And not a peaceful start at all. Lindsey and Ian vanished in a puff of smoke at around 07:00, Lindsey driving Ian’s car and running him to a station somewhere. We need to take our hire car back this morning so have Lindsey’s huge, big, ginormous car for the rest of the day. But first, there’s the kitchen to tackle. The plates and things had been put into the dishwasher last evening, but there are loads and loads of dishes remaining, and two sinks’ worth of pots and pans. Plus there’s the bisque to strain. Right. Set to it. I tackled the kitchen in stages. The Builder and I strained the bisque, using brute force and Ian’s meat tenderiser. We took the car back, The Builder pausing to complain about the tyre pressure when we got he car. I had been driving towards Melbourne when we very firs got it and happened to mention that it had a pronounced pull to the left. We tested the tyre pressure. The left hand front tyre was well over the mark. The other three were significantly under. And none of them was the same. The man at ?Hertz was somewhat dismayed. At the very least they’re supposed to supply you with roadworthy vehicles!

Anyway, back to Mount Helen to finish the tidying of the kitchen, strip the bed, and pack our bags. Just as well we have new ones. WE seem to be going home with very much more than we came with! Oh. And we have FOUND Matthew’s present. Tabitha gave me a small something to give to him when we left Sheffield. I remember picking it up and then it completely vanished. We have searched high and low for it. Today, The Builder found it in the very front pocket of his back pack. I think it’s been hiding! We’ve given it to Emily to pass on. She seems quite reliable in these matters!

I went out into the dog compound, being Very Brave Indeed, to say goodbye to the Danes. I don’t really expect Harry to be there the next time we come. And there is the possibility that Zac might not be either. He’s only 6 but Danes are not a long lived breed. Harry is very very unusual to have lasted to 11. Anyway. Out I went. Up the BOUNDED, screeched to a halt and started bouncing around me. Zac tried to jump up and put his paws on my shoulders, failing only because Lucy pushed him aside. This is unusual behaviour for Zac; he’s normally slightly aloof. Harry leant on me. Lucy bounced up high. Then I went inside and sluiced myself down. Said farewell to Emily, then jumped in Lindsey’s Leviathan and took ourselves down to meet Austin and Julia.

Julia has the beginnings of a cold L

GCs for lunch today. I had a magnificent lamb souvlaki. Not that it ws really a proper souvlaki; had loads of marinated, rare lamb with a greek salad, tzatziki, and toasted Turkish bread. Fantastic. Then we all went for a final amble in Target and around the shops. We called into the poster shop which used to be run by Jill, a woman we knew when we were in Jeparit. Still is, although it’s on the market so they can go travelling and have a change of direction. Spent a few minutes catching up with her, then we took Julia home so she could get ready for work. She’s recently started working full time so she can save up some money for next year. Austin is hoping to spend most of 2007 in Japan, while Julia is planning to spend the second half of the year finishing her course at a University in North Carolina. I see travel possibilities coming our way!!

A fond farewell to Julia.

The Austin, The Builder and I took ourselves down to Carlton. I’m pleased to report that I can still navigate my way around Carlton without having to think about it. More than can be said for a lot of Melbourne – but then they haven’t put in an extensive new road network in Carlton. WE parked in the Safeway car park then walked into the city so Austin could visit a couple of sports shops (he’s on the track of a red wind cheater), the Asian supermarket (he bought us a packet of biscuits shaped like very tiny burgers, but filled with chocolate) and the Minotaur, sci-fi book shop. Then we ambled back to Carlton. “Let’s go up Swanston Street” said I. So we did. Imagine our surprise when, as we neared the top, we ran across Ian coming down Swanston Street, chatting into his mobile phone. We flagged him down and dragged him to Lygon Street with us. But then he escaped. He needed an express post envelope and all the Post Offices were shut. He fled to his office.

So Austin, The Builder and I drifted up Lygon Street to the University Café where we sat and drank wine and ate antipasto while waiting for the others to join us. Ant and Christian rocked in. Then Lindsey. Finally Ian. While we were waiting for our food, Simon rang Lindsey’s mobile. I was chatting to him when I became aware that The Builder and Austin were chatting happily to someone Not Of Our Party. It was Rich Smith who left Sheffield in November to come to Melbourne in the hope of finding teaching work somewhere. He’s now working in Altona and living in St Kilda. But a true coincidence to run across him while sitting in a pavement café in Carlton. What are the odds?

Snapper for me. I do like Australian fish.

And so to the airport. Lindsey and Austin, in Lindsey’s Monster car (actually, it’s very easy to drive, until you want to park it or manoeuvre it into small spaces) delivered us to the airport in plenty of time. We met Ian there. Ant and Christian have gone to Mount Martha for a few days. There was a very tiny queue so it took almost no time to check in. Then Lindsey, Ian and Austin took themselves variously back to Ballarat, where Austin and Ian went to the pictures and then to the casino, where Ian won $50. Lindsey allegedly went home to bed, though she was responding to text messages from me right into the early hours. We went through customs and immigration, where3 there were also no queues, bought Tabitha’s perfume (which I had entirely forgotten about until Austin reminded me in the car) and pottered about until it was time to board.

We boarded. And sat there. And sat there. And sat there. I dozed off. It seems there was a problem with the toilets and the water. So not an insignificant problem then. A plumber and a plane engineer and a crew of helpers came to sort it out. We sat there. I dozed on. Then I woke up as the pilot was saying: It’s been fixed, we’re just putting the plane back together. We sat there and sat there. The Customer Service Manager came on to say they had closed the doors and we would be leaving shortly. WE sat there. Then, worryingly, an announcement came over asking if there was a medical doctor on board who was willing to be of assistance. Someone got up and moved to the front of the plane. I assume they were a doctor. We sat there. The “medical incident” was sorted out. WE sat there while the paperwork was dealt with. Then we sat there. And sat there. Then we were told that a second medical incident had occurred and that this one was quite serious. We sat there. Eventually an ambulance arrived and the poor poorly passenger was off loaded, along with their bags. WE continued to sit there while more paperwork was dealt with. It worries me a bit that the ambulance was still sitting there when we finally took off, three hours late, several minutes later. It still had all it’s lights flashing but didn’t seem to be in any hurry to go anywhere.

And so to Hong Kong, without any real further incidents. Was a bit bouncy coming into land, but that was kind of fun. I slept most of the way so even if there had been incidents, I might not have noticed.

Awake now. We were further held up leaving Hong Kong – but at least we only sat on the tarmac for around 45 minutes before we finally left. And nobody died, or was taken seriously ill. Whether we will make our train is a moot point. What is certain is that all the folk musicians on their way to a wine and folk festival in Finland will not make their connecting flight. Still, someone will get them there somehow. The muso sat next to us is carrying a toy sheep called Gomez. Looks much too young to be going to a wine festival does that sheep!

We’re flying over China. There are the most fantastic views of the mountains, valleys and rivers. It’s quite stunning