Wednesday, January 31, 2007

End of January Musing

Phew. All that blogging two weeks ago, and then nothing!

Not a great deal to report, really. I have been busy at work; lots of people off sick so lots of covering to do. Happily, people are starting to trickle back, including a couple of people who have been off for weeks and weeks and weeks. Eases the pressure a bit.

The old SE team went out for dinner last Friday evening. We went to a new “Italian” place on Ecclesall Road. The food was lovely, but it’s only notionally Italian. Mediterranean might be a better description. Mediterranean with a distinct Chinese influence. Crispy duck with hoisin sauce pizza, for heavens sake! Not that I had it -- but it was tempting!!! Felicini, it’s called. Excellent place to eat, as long as you are not, actually, wanting Italian. Fantastic pizza, mind. But with ham and mushroom rather than duck :-)

Actually, I’ve been doing quite a bit of eating. Last Thursday I was coming in for my evening duty early. I had a class of post grads at 1 and wanted to be in for 12 to get ready. The Builder said he would drive me in, and what about a spot of brunch. Excellent idea. We went to CaffĂ© Uno where I had a vegetarian breakfast with poached eggs and loads of roasted vegetables. Then we hastened in to the Adsetts Centre, where I found an email sent from the tutor to say that the class had been cancelled because no students had turned up. She had sent it a mere ten minutes after we left home! Pity. Had she sent it just that wee bit earlier, we would have gone out for a leisurely lunch somewhere interesting rather than a hasty brunch!!

On Monday we did go out to lunch. Another evening duty, and I had the afternoon off as well. So we went into Chesterfield. I was looking for the shop which the Ecover website assured me refilled empty bottles (Ecover is a brand of allegedly environmentally friendly cleaning products.) Eventually found it tucked in a little laneway I had not previously noticed. There’s Organic Heaven (which refilled the bottles), a cookware shop, a card and craft shop and a bookshop. I do like Chesterfield. It has lots of little lanes tucked away with interesting things down them. Off the Shambles you will find the Royal Oak, which is a 14th century building, connected to a 17th century building. The 14th C bit was once two little butchers shops. The whole thing has been a pub since the 1700s. It was fortunate that we called in for lunch on Monday. It was closed on Tuesday and Wednesday for refurbishment. The menu is not extensive, it must be said, but it’s a more than adequate pub menu; the food was cheap, filling and very tasty. You are always but always better off with a limited menu that is cooked on site than an ambitious menu which is shipped in from elsewhere and heated in a microwave! We will go there again. After we have tried the other pubs in town!!!!!

Garden news. The orchard is all but complete. The beds down the side of the path have been dug. One of the things we did on Monday morning was a visit to the Chatsworth Garden Centre, where we bought some more fruit bushes. Everything is now planted except the red currants which have just been moved from their “striking” pot into larger pots to continue rooting. I’ll plant them out in April or May. Here is the grand total of fruit, then:

3 x sweet cherry
1 x sour cherry
1 x sweet apple
2 x cooking apple
1 x pear
1 x plum
4 x black currant
3 x red currant
6 x gooseberry (4 green, 1 red, 1 yellow)
2 x blueberry
12 x raspberry canes
2 x tayberry canes
12 x wild strawberry in the garden
1 x rhubarb on the allotment

There is a peach tree coming and I'll put some proper strawberries in, in the spring. There will be room for another couple of bushes in the red currant bed. I might see if I can get a couple of white currants. The Builder, who is not in paid employment this week, will now turn his attention to the allotment. We need to crack on up there, ready for March sowings of onions, shallots and things. Potatoes and cabbages/sprouts/caulis/broccoli to follow in April, and the kitchen garden needs to be up together ready for May, I guess. Perhaps I should keep him at home digging until it is all done. After all, what do we need money for?

It is getting noticeably lighter in the mornings. The sky was lightening in the East when we left at 07:10 this morning. It won’t be long before I will be able to see the garden before I go! The weather this week has been stunning. Beautiful still, sunny days. Around 11d yesterday. Not exactly hot, I grant you. But strikingly warm for late January. Should be around 2 or 3d. I’ve put my thick winter coat and hats away and am wearing my spring stuff. I haven’t put my thick winter stuff very far away, though. I am confident I will have further need of them before very long. It’s cloudy today. But still quite mild.

PS I have this very day sent off my notice to quit the Hangingwater Allotment. End of an era. A bit sad, really. Will be mine until March 31st. Hope it gets someone who loves it. But who's going to tell Martin?



Monday, January 22, 2007

Another weather report

Well, I said there was winter weather on the way.

Left Collegiate yesterday at about 10 past five, to find it was raining heavily. There was snow in the rain. The pedant in me said "then that's sleet." But it wasn't. It was rain, which had snow in it. Got to the car. Jumped in. Couldn't see anything! Eventually, because of traffic on Collegiate Crescent headed up to Broomhill and came down Brocco Bank to Hunters Bar. By then it was properly snowing. Wipers were going nineteen to the dozen. I was peering carefully into the gloom.

Hunters Bar roundabout was flooded! Went round it very, very carefully.

Headed up Ecclesall Road and out towards Abbey Lane. Lots of snow. Eventually got to the Meadowhead roundabout, a bit worried. None of the roads had been gritted and the snow was settling. The bypass to Chesterfield was not going to be fun. Not fun at all.

Though, in fact it was rather. Once I got out of South Yorkshire and into North East Derbyshire, the roads were gritted. I drove very slowly and it was like driving through a shower of meteors. Very pretty. Bit scary too, though. And then by the time I got to the Sheepbridge slip road the snow had turned to heavy rain. By the time I got home the rain had reduced to just gentle rain. The Builder reported no exciting weather at all. Just a day of mostly rain with not enough dry spells to do anything useful.

The forecast for today was ice and snow and road misery. No snow or ice in Tupton. Or in Chesterfield. Quite a lot of standing snow in Sheffield, though. The roads are still not gritted. And the sun is shining.

At last, a beautiful winter's day

A blustery day

Goodness, but that was weather. Real weather.

The Met Office had been forecasting Armageddon-like weather for Thursday all week. Deep, dire warnings. Severe weather alerts issued for the whole of the United Kingdom. Storms and tempests of biblical proportions. If you don’t absolutely have to leave the house, then don’t.

So I didn’t. Not that there was all that much wind at 07:30 when I had intended to leave. Lots and lots of rain, it’s true, but no severe wind to speak of. Just your average winter gale, really. But I wasn’t feeling all that clever. My digestive system wasn’t feeling all that clever. In fact, I was engaged with a minor argument of sorts with the said digestive system. I really didn’t want to go out. Probably would have, had it not been for the weather, but I really, really didn’t want to. So I didn’t. After all, the weather man had said not to. (And probably it’s just as well, for shortly after I rang in sick I was accosted by a startlingly disagreeable headache which stayed with me resolutely until sometime mid-Saturday. Resisted all pain killers and made me feel distinctly sick. Not nice!). And then the wind hit.

So here is me, wrapped up warm, draped around a cup of tea, in the lounge room during one of the most spectacular storms that has hit the UK in decades. It was a bit alarming, watching the trees across the road bending and swaying and rattling in the wind gusts. The actual wind speed itself probably wasn’t much above 50 or 60 miles an hour, but the gusts were much stronger, and howwwwwwwwled in from the west. We have found where the leak in the lounge room window is – if the wind howled in from the west it blew rain in through an unsealed bit where the window frame meets the wall. The Builder was about to go out and fix it, when the weather convinced him that would be a bad idea! (It’s fixed now) The wind whistled and howled and whomped, and the rain fell and fell and fell.

But really, in Tupton we got off very lightly indeed. Very lightly. Some branches blew off various trees. My propagating tent got blown down the garden and all the recycling bins got blown over and fetched up down by the soon-to-be-dismantled raised beds, strewing recycling stuff all over the place. For some reason I thought it a good idea to go out and collect them. Didn’t bother the second time. But that was it, really. Elsewhere, 11 people were killed in Britain, by falling trees and branches, by flying walls and roofs, by toppling lorries. Many motorways were closed. Many places were flooded. Many roofs were ripped off. The Builder had to go into Chesterfield on the bus during the afternoon. Took 45 minutes to get there and perhaps 35 minutes to get home. Normally takes 10 minutes or so. The traffic on the A61 was at a standstill, because the M1 was closed due to trucks that had been blown over, and all the traffic had diverted down the A61. Clarissa took 3 hours to get to work in Leeds in the morning and as many to get home again in the evening. Tabitha was marooned in London after all the trains to Cambridge were cancelled and the coaches were running several hours late. Happily she has friends in London and went to stay with Alex.

And not just in Britain. The storms blew across us, took out France and the Netherlands, crossed into Germany and Austria and then made their way into Eastern Europe, spreading chaos, death and disaster in their wake. Rhona, who is a member of the email group I used to belong to (before I ran away with The Builder and was disowned!) was stranded in Nuremberg after trees fell onto the train line when she was trying to get home. Bavarian efficiency swung into action and all the people on the trains, and from the airport were diverted to emergency accommodation where the Red Cross and local emergency services provided blankets and pillows, soup and sandwiches, then breakfast in the morning.

I think in Tupton the worst of it was around 2pm. That was when the winds really picked up and became really quite exciting. Almost the eeriest bit was when the winds fell silent. Everything was completely, utterly silent for just a few seconds, until the winds whooshed back in. The birds had all vanished, apart from the seagulls who are over-wintering on the wetlands. I think they were quite enjoying it, having roller coaster rides up quite high, on the wind gusts. The wetlands were being blown about all over the place. You could see the spray from the kitchen, and very clearly from the bedroom.

I was at home again on Friday. Not a nice headache, not nice at all. And not getting any better. So now I have a headache, a sickly feeling and a bout of this-is-rubbish depression! And still it was windy. Actually, had it been any other day, we would have been discussing how windy it was. But in comparison ¾ a nice gentle breeze!! And not raining. And strangely mild for January. Another day spent in my lovely, light, cosy lounge room with the cat for company. The Builder went out in the morning and the afternoon. He’s got a bit of casual work lined up for next week.

Then on Saturday we went out and spent our Christmas money and vouchers, plus £10 left over from my birthday money. With the money we’ve bought two sweet cherry trees (one of them is a Stella!), one sweet apple tree, one bramley apple and a pear tree. Also, I have bought a Victoria plum to replace the one we had to leave on the allotment. It was one of the three trees (morello and apple being the other two, both of which are planted in the garden with a sweet cherry tree, also from the allotment) which Tabitha, Austin, Julia, Freyja and Alex gave me when we were all gathered for Christmas in 2002. So in its memory I have bought a new one which is nearly as tall, but nothing like as wide in the trunk! The Builder has now planted them all. So in the orchard we now have 9 fruit trees, with perhaps room for one more. The path is hedged at the top with blackcurrants to one side and raspberries to the other. It will be hedged lower down by red and white currants and by red, white and green gooseberries. The Builder had hoped to dig at least one of the hedging beds today, but it has continued to be very wet and rather windy. Yesterday was a really, really mild day. It felt a lot like March or even April when the planting was happening. I was beginning to think that I was running a bit late with the spring seed sowing!

They’re promising us some really proper winter weather next week. We can but hope.

Freyja reports that all the ducks on the weir she overlooks ran away during the storm. I wonder if they ever came back. She also reports a really exciting story about a concert she went to in Newcastle. Only I can’t remember the name of the artist she went to see so can’t tell you about it. If she emails it to me, I’ll post it here for us all to enjoy.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Minor Excitements

Well. That was all a bit exciting.

I ambled into the Ladies’ yesterday at about lunchtime, to wash my cup and teaspoon. Wandered in and thought: that looks remarkably like a pony tail poking out under that cubicle door. Looked again. It *was* a ponytail. Not only that, it was attached to a head. A head which was reclining, entirely motionlessly, on the floor. Moved briskly out of the ladies into Roger’s office where I called for security. All our security people are first aid trained to the highest degree possible. They would know what to do. Not much I could do, not being able to get to the poor kollopsed body on account of the locked cubicle door.

Found Bea and Richard at the information desk. Told them all about it. Two students came to report a kollopsed body, just as the security people arrived. In they went. And in they stayed. It was simply ages before they came out again. This worried us a bit. Either she should have been trundled out in an ambulance, or she should have walked out, all within a few minutes. It seems, though, that she had fallen against the door and they were having trouble getting to her, although I think one of them clambered over the wall to administer basic first aid. Anyway, an ambulance did come and trundle her away. It seems she had fallen into a diabetic coma, was taken off to the hospital and came out today much better and (I hope) better able to manage her condition. It is distinctly disconcerting to find ponytails poking out underneath toilet cubicle doors when you are innocently intent upon washing your tea mug and spoon!

But it would seem that it was a day for kollopsing. Gwen, The Builder’s mother, rang us today to report that Peter-the-brother-who-didn’t-go-to-the-dinner had picked her up yesterday evening to take her to the supermarket, got out of the car when they got there, and promptly tipped over backwards, like a plank of wood and started frothing. Not only that, he hit his head quite hard and cut it open! A bit of a worry for poor Gwen. Fortunately, supermarkets have first aiders lurking within and quite fortuitously, there were some student nurses doing their shopping at the time. Peter was taken off to the hospital, where they apparently found nothing wrong with him at all other than symptoms of a migraine, and the student nurses sorted Gwen out and took her home. There is some complicated arrangement in play at the moment which involves Marie and Terry getting together and rescuing Peter’s car from the car park!

But I think that might be enough kollopsing. Two bodies in one day is quite sufficient.

In the meantime, I have had what was more or less a day off. I’m at work now, it’s true, but I didn’t get here till nearly 5. I passed a pleasant morning watching the drizzle turn to rain, and engaged in gentle domestic pursuits. I also did The Builder’s tax return, which wasn’t at all gentle and really quite confusing. The Builder took the car to the garage, for all Fiat Stilos have been recalled :-S. Something to do with the suspension. Anyway, that’s been fixed now. Then we pottered out into the garden in the rain and planted the raspberries and the blackcurrants in their new beds. Just as well I have waterproof, spotty gum boots! Cleaned up, dried off and changed into non-muddy clothes, we took ourselves off to the Chatsworth Farm shop for a magnificent lunch and some vegetables, for The Sidings was completely out of vegetable matter :-( Well, apart from the sprout tops and kale, but you can’t eat only sprout tops and kale. You’d end up dark green! Then home again for a cup of tea and so to work. The Builder brought me in. He’s just reported back that it took over an hour in driving rain to get home again. Oops!

So, a nice quiet evening with no excitements would be nice.

Oh - and we had a letter today from Mr Micawber containing, amongst other things, a title from the Land Registry showing that the garden is entirely ours. Good. Wouldn’t want anyone else laying claim to it. And certainly no to the orchard!!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Let the Orchard Commence

Under normal circumstances, you would have got up, at The Sidings, yesterday and complained about persistent drizzle and strong winds. Under prevailing circumstances, we got up and thought: Oh look! It's stopped raining. More or less. And the wind has finally dropped. Hooray. We can shift the fruit trees.

Fortunately, the weather had improved on one of my rare days off. We took a leisurely start to the day, ambled through a rather pleasant breakfast of tinned tomatoes and boiled eggs on toast, with orange juice and a coffee chaser, then off we went to Sheffield in the van, through intermittent drizzle and gusting rain. Taking with us the bottles, cans, foil and tins that won't fit in the blue recycling box which has been unemptied since Christmas. And the plastics. For some reason, our council refuses to collect plastic. We take it to Waitrose in Sheffield when we go and put it in their plastics recycling box. Anyway. Off we went. And then headed up to the allotment at Hangingwater to collect the fruit trees.

The rain sort of held off. Drifts of drizzle wafted in up the valley, but there was only one proper shower which didn’t last very long. No real wind, to speak of. I harvested the leeks and some of the kale, then dug up some raspberry canes, while The Builder dug up the trees. The apple tree was fine. Came up with no problems at all. The sweet cherry wasn’t too bad. The morello complained and fought and hissed and spat and really, really struggled! The Builder eventually prevailed, though it was a hard fought battle. We decided, reluctantly, not to attempt the Victoria plum. It has never fruited; the blossom blows off as fast as it is formed. It is true that that might be less of a problem in The Orchard, which is more sheltered, but the real problem is that it has grown into quite a substantial tree while we weren’t watching. I think you would need a JCB to shift it. And we haven’t got one!

Somehow, The Builder managed to get the trees, the wheelbarrow and all the tools and things into the back of the van. Not as easy a task as it sounds; the trees are taller than the van space, which is enough for The Builder to stand upright in. Then off we went, taking the trees to their new home; the start of The Orchard!
Was a bit sad, though, digging them up from the Hangingwater allotment. I’ve been thinking lately that I will be pleased to hand it back at the end of March, when my tenancy runs out. It’s not really convenient any more, having it there, and there is more than enough to do in the garden, the kitchen garden and on the new allotment. We did, briefly, consider hanging onto it for another year or two, but swiftly gave the idea up. I was reminded yesterday, though, of how very beautiful it is on the Hangingwater allotment. And I do miss Martin!

Anyway, that aside, it was very exciting to get The Orchard started. The Builder began digging the hole for the morello. Got it planted. The morello fought back and tried to scratch his nose! Marlo and I came down to watch and encourage, though Marlo seemed a bit worried by the process for some reason. And we now have all three trees planted and have plans for more. We’ve also decided to dismantle the raised beds on the bricked area. We would never have put them there had we had any idea that we would get the extra ground. We are going to use the fruit bushes and canes as hedging along the concrete path, and the boards as edgings for the vegetable beds. Then I think we will brick the area where the raised beds were, properly as a patio. The barbecue can live there!

And we woke today, after a stormy, stormy night, to find that the rain really has stopped and the wind finally has died away. The barometer is set fair. The sun is shining in a clear blue sky. It’s a beautiful day. And it’s absolutely freezing! We had to scrape the car windows before The Builder could bring me in to work this morning. Have barely had to do that at all this winter, so far. Will have to dig out my deep winter kit again!!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Weather Report

Well that wasn’t nice, not nice at all. It has rained and rained and rained and rained and rained and rained and rained. For most of January so far, and especially this last week.

The wind has blown and blown and blown and blown and blown and blown and blown.

The two together have been NOT NICE!

On Thursday, I was coming home. It was raining in Sheffield. It was raining in Tupton. In Chesterfield it was absolutely chucking it down. Absolutely. The streets had turned to rivers. The water cascaded down off my waxed jacket and soaked into my trousers and dripped into my shoes. The puddles were over ankle height. Not nice :-(

In the meantime, The Builder had been at home, communing in a Builder and feline sort of way with Marlo. Suddenly there was a strange and unusual noise from above, loud enough to hear over the howling wind. He went to investigate - and found that the bathroom window has blown in and was hanging from its top hinge. He’s jerried it back together again, but I suspect that this means a new window will eventually be required. Oh well. It will have to wait until either the jerrying becomes obviously unfit for use, or the window irritates either me or The Builder sufficiently to warrant spending all that money.

But that might be enough rain and wind now. They, together with the very unseasonably warm temperatures (it was 12.5 yesterday when I arrived back into Chesterfield, and it’s mid January!), might have been fun and interesting for a while, but you can have too much of a good thing. And I want to shift the fruit trees! And it has been ever so, ever so dark in the mornings. I had got to the point where I was worried that the cars might not notice me, the weather was so dark and wet. Then I remembered that Barb had given us both high visibility vests just before Christmas. Dug one of those out and am now much more visible.

So. After all those months, The Builder has finally finished at Rampton. He doesn’t actually have any other work lined up at the moment. Or, no paid work, apart from one or three jobs for friends and acquaintances of mine. Plenty for him to be doing here, mind. If nothing else, there’s an estate, not to mention an allotment to work on .

But tell me, if you can, how it is that I have been completely unnecessarily wide awake and ready to function since about half past four. Not only does The Builder have no need to get up and leave, neither do I. And it’s Saturday, for heaven’s sake!

Monday, January 08, 2007

65 years wed

You find us once again down in Salisbury. We’ve come down for the Platinum anniversary celebrations of The Builder’s parents. 65 years! Quite some achievement.

The anniversary was actually on Friday. They had lots of cards and presents and phone calls. And a card from the Queen! They were very excited about that!

Unfortunately, The Builder and I couldn’t get down for Friday, so we all went out for dinner last night. Well, when I say all, everyone except The Builder’s brother Peter was there. Peter declined to attend, allegedly because they last time they met brother Terry threatened to beat him up. Now, even if Terry had threatened to do this, it is unlikely he would make good the threat in a crowded pub in front of his small but terrier like mother, or, indeed, in front of the rest of us, who could be guaranteed to intervene. In any case, Terry fell off a combine harvester some years ago and completely buggered his back. He is now quite severely impaired in his beating up abilities. Should he be taken by a murderous mood all you would need to do would be to step out the way. So. An unlikely reason for non-attendance. It is generally (but perhaps unfoundedly) assumed that his occasional girlfriend forbad him to come. Oh well. His loss. The rest of us had a very merry time. Terry and Jen were there. Marie and Tim were there, having off-loaded the boys onto Tim’s mum. Barb was also there, having maintained her relationship with Gwen and Mick despite her divorce from The Builder. We were there. So, of course, were Gwen and Mick.

And very merry it was too. We ate good food and drank beer or wine or soft drinks. I managed three courses! So too did Mick and Gwen, by the judicious means of not finishing their main course. It was good to catch up with everyone, and for me to meet Jen for the first time. And after a celebratory and cheerful few hours, we took Gwen and Mick home again and returned to Bridge farm at Britford where we are, this time, staying in the B&B.

It’s been a good find, has the Bridge Farm complex. The stables for longer stays and The B&B for short ones. It’s not that expensive, certainly in the winter. The service we got was amazing. Norma made us a tray of tea when we arrived. Another tray of tea was delivered to our door at 07:00 on Sunday. Our breakfast was amazing, served in an old style Farmhouse kitchen-style dining room. The mushrooms were beautifully cooked. The bacon was tasty and not salty. The eggs were crisp around the edges. The bread was from a fresh loaf, hand sliced. And it was hugely plentiful! We might make Bridge Farm our Salisbury base for future visits.

Had a good trip home, despite the ongoing rain. Stopped near Birmingham for a trundle around Webbs’ Garden Centre. Not that it is, really, a garden centre. It is also a food hall and a gift shop and a craft shop and all sorts. In fact, we didn’t really look properly at the garden bit, it being seriously wet outside. Had a good mooch around in the food hall though!

It was an awful shock last week, having to return to 05:30 getting up times, though I am at least developing the habit of going to bed at 10:00 to go to sleep, rather than sleeping in m’chair! However, the need for such truly early starts may be about to end. The Builder has been told that the job, which started last July for a few weeks, is finally going to finish on Wednesday. He will start casting about for something else, though he has a few little jobs to do for friends and acquaintances, plus there are, of course, the small matters of the allotment and the kitchen garden demanding attention. But even so, we can’t stay abed too late. I still need to leave to catch the 07:04 bus in the mornings. Perhaps we won the lottery last night! (We didn’t!)

The farm shop didn’t have any seedy granola or muesli :-( I might have to start making my own!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Down on the Farm

SATURDAY

Well, that was an absolutely ideal Holiday day, was Friday. The sort we all wish for and really never have. A day in which I did Absolutely Nothing. Nothing at all. I didn’t leave the house. I barely set foot out of the lounge room!

We are down on the farm at Beaworthy, near Okehampton in Devon. The weather yesterday was absolutely awful. Howling gales, relentless rain, swirling and nasty. We abandoned our plans for a walk on the beach. Am prepared for all weather. I have brought my weatherproofs and my gumboots and walking shoes and two sorts of hats and everything. I am also prepared for seriously inclement weather. I got out my current stitching project and stitched the day away. It’s going to be a garden sampler. I have now finished the peas and made a start on the lavender planter. Plus we ate. Porridge for breakfast. Ham and cheese buffet for lunch. Roast gammon for dinner. And cakes and tea throughout the day. Definitely no weighing of me for some weeks to come! Mike and Rosie had to go outside from time to time – there are animals to feed. Though no chickens this time. The last one was eaten by a buzzard quite recently :( Must remember when our chicken run is being made to put a lid on it. We too have buzzards. Rosie’s sister Sandra pottered about with Rosie and sat about and read her Harry Potter book. Even The Builder, unusually for him, sat and played on the computer and chatted to Mike and did Nothing At All.

I think the weather is expected to be slightly better today. I might actually step outside!

We came down on Thursday and had a remarkably good run down. We stopped in Clay Cross on the way to buy calendars and things, then ambled off to the M1. We were delayed by traffic, rain and fog for a bit; that cleared and, apart from a hold up at Bristol, trundled without impediment down to the West Country. Mind you, I am enormously grateful that we didn’t want to go into Bristol. The slip roads off the M5 in both directions were at a complete standstill and backed up for miles! Can’t think what the attraction could possibly have been in Bristol at half two or so on a Thursday afternoon. Sales, I guess, but it seems a funny time for people to indulge in the sales.

We were indulging in the sales on Wednesday. I managed to murder my cake mixer at the cake party a couple of weeks ago. Into Currys then to see what’s there. Ah – a food processor for half price. £50. Good one. Oh – and look at that dinky little LCD television. Very cute. Integrated DVD player. Let’s have that too. It can go in the dining room and the pink/green/yellow screened TV that’s there now can go upstairs into the spare room. Mind you, it’s been quite well behaved over Christmas. The screen has been clear the whole time, I think. Got home and started unpacking. That food processor has sooo many bits an pieces. Not just the cake mixing bit, but a whisk, a blender, a grater, a grinder, a juicer, other bits that I can’t identify. Excellent. £50 well spent! And I’ve tested the cake mixer. Clarissa came around for afternoon tea and I made a lemon torte with it. And very nice it was too.

It was good to see Clarissa. Haven’t seen her since she left SHU and moved to Leeds Met. We took a tour around the estate, drank tea and ate cake, chatted. Nice, leisurely afternoon.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, The Builder and I have been planning the new orchard and plotting the allotment. Mike has a large pile of horse manure which has been rotting for several years ready for us. We have come armed with rubble sacks. I hope the weather tomorrow is sufficiently calm for us to bag it up. It’s practically rotted down to potting compost! Need more; the planned asparagus bed would really enjoy this sort of growing material

SUNDAY

The intention was that we should be up this morning, bright and early, shovelling the muck heap into rubble sacks. Half eight, we thought. Woke up at 06:45 and decided that it was much too early to be creeping around and making tea. Went back to sleep for an hour or so.

Woke up again. Yoiks! It was quarter to nine!!!!! Check to see if The Builder is still breathing. Fortunately yes! Despatched him for tea. By half past nine, so a mere hour late, we were outside with Mike merrily shovelling 7 year old horse much. It’s so well rotted that it’s almost back to a rich, friable loam. The van is full of 30 rubble sacks of it and there’s about a third of the heap let. I’ve also got a couple of bags of last night’s offerings to add to the compost heap. Excellent. We are now showered and cleaned up and waiting for breakfast.

I did manage to leave the house yesterday. Twice! In the morning Mike, The Builder and I went into Okehampton to do a bit of shopping. I’ve not actually been into Okie before, just past through in the car. It’s a pretty little town with some interesting shops and a castle which I think might pay further investigation one summer. Okehampton was bathed in sunshine, a little oasis of good weather surrounded by cloud. As we came out of Waitrose the rain was just starting, heralding the onset of the storms which were forecast for later. We came back, watching the rain and clouds rolling in from Bodmin and Dartmoor, and drove round the water board access to see Mike’s new pond and bridge without necessarily having to get our feet wet. Then back to the farm to discover that Jeanette, Matthew and Rebecca were going to be later arriving than anticipated. Hmm. An early, alternative tiffin then and lunch when they arrive.

Then I got muddy. My boots got very very muddy. You couldn’t see the spots at the bottom of them! The rain had lifted in the afternoon, so Mike, The Builder and I went for a wander around the new underground reservoirs the water board are putting in. They’ve bought part of the farm and are hiring another field for access and for putting the soil heaps from the excavations. It is very very VERY wet round there. Very wet. And not a little muddy. But the reservoir structures are really quite fascinating. Had I realised we were actually going in, I would have taken my camera. There’s no work going on at the moment, for the Christmas and New Year holidays, so there was nobody around. But I’m fairly certain that, even if Mike is allowed to wander around the site, he isn’t supposed to take visitors into the actual construction site! Still, it was very interesting and I did enjoy wandering around in the mud and wet. And even when the rain started again, I was still all right. My waxed jacket and tasselled hat kept me nice and toastie warm.

I also have lots of seeds. Mike’s son in law acquired thousands and thousands of packets two or three years ago. They are out of date but should still germinate. I really must go through them and my existing seed box when we get home and see what we still lack.

More food. More wine. General chatter and so to bed. Another quiet day. They are very pleasant are quiet days, but I am beginning to get bored. Had we been at home in very inclement weather I have lots of things set aside to do. Sort out the photos, sort out the pile of papers, sort out The Builder’s accounts. Can’t do those here. Not used to sitting about doing nothing!

Nearly time for brunch. Here’s to the very last day of 2006. Wonder where the year went. I quite clearly remember it starting, in a blaze of excessive heat, fire bans and fireworks, only two or three months ago.

Tuesday

We had one heck of a storm on Sunday afternoon. Absolute deluge. And a swirling, twirling, spiralling wind. All the little birds, generally legion around the feeders, had completely vanished. I’m not surprised. I was rather glad to be under cover myself.

And if I had three Christmas Eves last weekend, I’ve more or less had three Sundays this weekend. Quiet, gently lit afternoons in front of the fire. Reading and chatting and lazing. Rosie made late breakfasts and roast dinners (apart from Saturday which was lasagne). I was a tad bored on Saturday afternoon, it’s true. But once I realised that I was having a sort of Groundhog’s Day of Sundays it all became quite pleasant. And, of course, this Sunday was New Years Eve. Even better.

We played a strange sort of Uno after dinner. Uno Extreme, I think it is. If you can’t go, or when certain cards are played, instead of picking up the discard pile, you have to press a button on a machine. And sometimes no cards come out. And other times whole streams of cards spew out and pretty much cover you. Was rather fun. And very satisfactorily filled in the hours until midnight.

They had a fantastic fireworks display in London, over the Thames. The Eye was turned into a vari-coloured giant Catherine Wheel. Was really spectacular. Not that we were in London, of course. We watched it on the Beeb. Even Rebecca was still up. Not bad going for an 8 year old.

Despite a late, late night, The Builder and I actually managed to be up on time for our planned 9 o’clock departure back to Tupton. We do, after all, have a van full of much sacks to offload when we get home. And we rather fancied being ahead of the New Years Day traffic. And, despite the early start to the day (by recent standards, at least), Mike still managed to rustle up bacon and scrambled eggs and toast for us.

And so home. We had an amazing run. After stopping for fuel just before joining the M5 after Okehampton, we didn’t stop once. Not even for traffic lights (The Builder ran all the red ones :-p - No, no; there weren’t any!). We didn’t have any weather to speak of apart from skirting around the edge of a very ferocious looking rain storm near Worcester. There was an absolutely magnificent double rainbow, but we didn’t catch much more than the tail edge of the storm. And we hit some quite strong winds on the M1. But nothing too dramatic. And we were home in 4.5 hours. The Builder can’t have been speeding. The van was filled to the gunwales and couldn’t go beyond the speed limit. Nice one. So The Builder unloaded all the muck while I made pea and ham soup for a late lunch.

Then the weather found us. Lots of rain. Lots of wind. We retired indoors for the evening and are watching our way through Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on the new telly with integrated DVD player. Very nice.

The Builder went back to work today. I did not. I go back tomorrow. It was something of a shock to have the alarm go at 05:00! And I had forgotten to reset the timer on the central heating. I reset it last week because I couldn’t see any point in having the house warmed for two hours before anyone got up. I have now put it back. I also can’t see any point in heating the house for two hours after everyone has left.

In the event, The Builder only worked a half day. They were let out at 12:30. He’s shifted all the manure from the driveway down to the kitchen garden. And I have made a tiny, tiny start on clearing it. I’ve cleared some of the bramble and plastic from the “orchard”. Harder than I was expecting. The brambles have grown over, under and through the plastic. The plastic is disintegrating. Knackered now. And my back is very, very cross. So is my knee. And my wrist. Not to mention my shoulder. I’ve been and had a bath and am now having a restorative gin. It’s going to take time, this garden, I fear. Oh well. Slow and steady…… On the other hand, once the brambles have been dug out and I’ve finished moving the plastic, that side will be ready to receive fruit trees. The other side is going to be very much more like hard work. I have found rocks and bricks and general chaos while I’ve been wandering around today.

Happy New Year, everybody. I hope 2007 brings us all prosperity, health and general excitement and adventure.