Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ship's Log 19th - 26th March

Captains Log, Stardate ... Oops. Wrong Vessel.

Herewith, Tales from the (Norfolk) Riverbank

***************************************

Oh boy, was that a change in the weather! I decided, way back when, that a week on the Broads in the early spring would be nice. The boats are cheaper at the start of the season and the Broads are much, much emptier. So I booked it. And here we are.

And the weather has changed from the balmy, pleasant, unseasonable spring-like weather that we’ve had for the past two or three weeks to positively Arctic. We’ve had snow and sleet and hail and howling gales, interspersed with pleasant sunny spells. The temperature has plummeted to 3 or 4 d. Winter has returned with a vengeance! The Met Office has blanketed the country with red weather warnings. Although I think that was a bit extreme. It’s wintry but not especially bad weather. Even so, I’m glad I didn’t succumb to the temptation to plant the potatoes before we left!

Anyway, we left ourselves extra time to get across here yesterday but in the event had a really pleasant drive in not-too-bad weather. We saw squillions of piggies on the way to Newark, then even more when we crossed later into Norfolk, including one black one. There are lots of tempting places to explore on our way home next Monday.

We arrived in Wroxham a tad early to collect the boat, so repaired to the King’s Head for absolutely fantastic fish and chips and a pint for lunch, then ambled into the ubiquitous (in Wroxham, at least) Roy’s Emporium. In addition to the food hall, there’s a millinery shop, a little department store and all sorts dotted about the town. The supermarket is a pleasure. Loads of local produce, loudly labelled. Add a couple of cartons of wine and sorted. Provisions for the next couple of days.

Back to pick up the boat and off we amble along the River Bure to Horning, about 4 or so miles downstream. The sun was shining, but it was very windy and there were definite storm clouds round about. Took about an hour to get there, watching Crested Grebes and various kinds of ducks and geese on the way. Happily, we found a free mooring right outside an old, thatched pub. Except that it is closed on Mondays. Pity – it gets a write up in the Good Eating guide that the boatyard gave us. The next pub was open, but was having a Quiz and Chilli night. Hmm. Could go back to the boat and cook, but not. Let’s chance our arm at the Brewer’s Fayre, where the food is pretty much what you would expect for a chain with a name like that. The Builder had, and very much enjoyed, a chicken tikka. I had salmon with prawns and hollandaise. It was alright, thought the fish was a tad overcooked. I really didn’t enjoy the baby potatoes, though. They did not respond well to being microwaved to death!!

Back to the boat for another glass of wine and so to bed. Early. The excitement of the day has quite worn me out!

We had something of a restless night. The boat was almost the cheapest you can hire and has sleeping for two. It is, however, very small, and the berth tucks under the bulkhead. So no room to stretch out, much. In addition, it was very windy and the plastic fenders kept hitting the side of the boat. Took ages to work out what the banging was! Then we woke up to heavy rain and a positive gale. No worries. Breakfast, tea, coffee, then the weather cleared to a cold and still windy but sunny morning and we went for a wander around Horning, which is a little village based on the river for its economy. There are one or two lovely gift shops, a couple of veg shops, a deli, where we bought lunch stuff, a private marina and a very cute village sign which we went up the road to inspect. Ready now for some exploring, fortified with a cup of tea.

When we registered with the boatyard yesterday, in addition to the 10% discount we got for booking last year, they also gave us a bottle of Cava. Very nice!

Tuesday:

Off we went, through a bright but breezy morning to Ranworth, spotting lots of birdlife on the way. We managed to find a mooring at Ranworth – first time I’ve ever managed that! This was the place where, when I came with Paul, Helen , Claire, Tabitha and Austin , we had to moor with a mudweight in the middle of the Broad and row in, when followed a decidedly sleepless night for Paul and me when we realised that the mudweight wasn’t holding and the boat was drifting about the broad. Got into terrible trouble the next day from Tabitha and Austin for “messing about with the boat all night when you *know* you aren’t supposed to drive after dark”!!! No such excitements this time; we just hoped hard that the place we had tied up really was part of the 24 hour free staithe, for it was slightly apart. Still, no signs saying we couldn’t. Ambled up to St Helen’s and climbed the tower right up to the bell chamber. Decided not to go up the iron ladder and out the trap door. Every time we went past a little window the wind nearly blew us back down. Didn’t seem an entirely auspicious day for admiring the view from outside, 89 steps and two ladders up! Went back down, to the considerable crossness of my poor legs which weren’t enjoying the tight, uneven spiral stairs, and went for a cup of tea in the tea shop instead. It was rather cute. Staffed by retired volunteers. It would be so nice to be retired and to volunteer at the local church tea shop. Seems such a peaceful existence (Although I do realise full well that it probably isn’t at all peaceful, nor would it be idyllic!).

Then we went along the nature trail, through the swamp and wetlands. Never done it before. When I was here in 93 it was flooded. Last time we moored in the middle of the broad for lunch but didn’t come ashore. This time, The Builder and I walked the boardwalk and found many more birds, swamp trees, reed beds and all sorts. Was lovely. Though the visitor centre isn’t open yet. Swings and roundabouts, really. This early in the season there are few boats about and you can get moorings and things; on the other hand, many things are not yet open. Oh well. I can manage without visitor centres!

Back to the boat, and had great excitement trying to cast off. The wind kept blowing the boat back onto the staithe. Eventually, after a fraught couple of minutes, we were off into the choppy, choppy broad and heading off up towards the River Ant.

The Ant is much narrower than the Bure and was very choppy indeed. At least now, though, we were heading into the North wind. On the Bure it had been blowing across us and blowing the boat sideways! We got to Ludham Bridge and decided to stop for lunch and to take on water – our water levels seem low for some reason. Tried to moor. The Builder stepped ashore to tie up the bow. We got swung right about. Decided to go down to the water mooring place, seeing as though we were now facing that way. Well! The trouble we had trying to moor. Nearly brought us to the brink of divorce! The stern of the boat was determined to blow out back into the river. I managed to hit the boat in front. Not hard, and fortunately they were not aboard. But Bernard the Business Hippo fell off his watching post (perhaps he had been tippling at the Cava?) and The Builder was yelling instructions that I couldn’t hear and gesticulating instructions that I misunderstood. Eventually, after many very fraught minutes, I hopped ashore and fetched the water hose while he HUNG ON TO THE MOORING ROPE, and filled the water tank. While all this was going on, the people from the boat in front turned up and took their boat away. WE pulled ours down and took that mooring. And decided to cut our losses. The water was exceeding rough going back under the bridge. I profoundly did not want to try and cast off and turn the boat around to go up river (the original plan). We decided to defer our fish pie and vegetables bought in Horning for another time and walked up the road to The Dog and had lunch there, with a genial landlord and a British Blue cat for company. He says it’s very busty during the season but dead at this time of year when the boats are just starting to drift back and no one is in the caravan parks. Back to the boat and we passed the afternoon drinking fermented Norfolk apple juice, watching the world go by and wandering up the path by the river, in the cold and wind. Several storms passed by us, but to either side and not over us. We watched two boats being hoisted by crane onto lorry and being taken away. We ate dinner aboard and were into bed early.

The landlord of the Dog has introduced me to Aspells Cyder. When I asked if it was dry, he said it tastes of apples. And it does. It has a lovely green tinge and is very nice. I may develop a taste for it. I think they sell it in Waitrose in Sheffield :-S

The bed is very narrow and mostly under the bulkhead. My stretched, tight, cross leg muscles did not enjoy that at all. Slept badly until The Builder and I swapped so I was on the outside of the bed and he was shoved up against the wall. Slept much better after that.

Bright and sunny but still windy this morning. Best get up and face the day, I suppose.

Well, what a difference a day makes. Wednesday, after a slightly blustery start, had settled into a sunny and moderately windy morning by the time we were ready to go for our morning constitutional. After a visit to the local shop we went for a walk up the Ant, for a mile and a half or so. There were many, many birds, including a skylark. We came back to the boat ready to top up the water, and ran across the crew of Peace 1 (we are on Peace 2). They too had found Tuesday’s wind difficult. He had tried to turn around just past where we were and had hit the staithe and been unable to get off for quite some time! We are all agreed that next time we will hire something slightly larger! But I am please to learn that it wasn’t just me that completely failed to cope with the windy conditions – though I at least had the wisdom to give up, moor up and stop for the day!

Heading up river, we were just past a pretty little hamlet and discussing the birds when I saw a flash of turquoise dashing up the river. Then another. Two kingfishers which perched on nearby trees so we could see them properly. A great privilege to see not one but two, and to see them so well.

And then we crossed Barton Broad, a large expanse of choppy water which bounced our little boat about in an interesting manner. Was a bit disconcerted to find a large tourist boat rushing up towards us at well beyond the 5mph speed limit and passing by on the right. You are supposed to pass on the left! He’s lucky I saw him. My rear vision is very limited and I’m reliant on The Builder to alert me to hazards appearing from behind! Anyway. Onward and upward , on to Stalham and Sutton

We stopped at Stalham to seek a source of cash and some lunch, once we finally found the public staithe which is well hidden behind boatyards and private moorings! Finally we found a bank so could cash up. Then we ventured into the Swan for a spot of lunch. Didn’t look much. Didn’t inspire confidence. Lots of people who really should have been at work (you’d have thought) smoking and chatting and larking about. Just shows that appearances can be deceptive! We both had fish pie, which I expected to be frozen, factory fodder hearted in a microwave. Nope. Was a beautifully made , enormous smoked haddock and salmon pie topped with rich, magnificent cheese-topped mashed potato accompanied by beautifully cooked vegetables. Absolutely delicious – and much more than I could comfortably eat. Have felt quite bloated since! But goes to show you shouldn’t judge by appearances. I was a bit suspicious of the Dog yesterday and the food there was more than alright too.

Ran across the Peace 1 lot at the staithe in Stalham. Do you think they’re stalking us?

We relocated to Sutton, where we moored at the very end of the staithe and wandered into town. We’ve had a lovely walk up through the village. To the left to a pottery, then back and up the road to the Sutton Mill, then back and across to the Sutton Church and back to the boat. This has rendered my muscles even stiffer than they were after I came down St Helen’s tower yesterday, and doesn’t seem to have shaken down my fish pie appreciably! We are now sat on the boat on a still, still river with the sun beginning to set goldenly behind us. It’s very peaceful. Even the greylag geese, mallards and coots who are pootling about expectantly outside the boat are doing it in a peaceable manner.

We seem to have shaken off the Peace 1 stalkers. We did see them approaching Sutton Staithe but for some reason they turned around and went away as they got near. Can’t have been the horror of seeing us here; we had told them we were coming.

Thursday.

Today we broke the boat!!!

We took ourselves up to the Sutton Staithe hotel last evening for dinner. And found: a couple of dogs and their walkers who have been stalking us for a couple of days and who were walking ahead of us on our afternoon walk through the delights of Sutton; a cheerful landlord; an open fire; 160 farmers and their partners who were in for their annual Beef Carving Evening out; the man who was chatting to Diggory in the Swan in Stalham who was “only having a couple of pints because I’m out tonight with a fancy woman” and the aforementioned Fancy Woman. And more lovely food. Crumbed scampi for me. And a play with the liver-coloured border collie called Freyja and the young black and white spaniel. Then back along the star-lit dike to the boat.

So far, so good. All was well.

Slept magnificently. Was in bed and snoring peacefully (allegedly!) by 21:30 and didn’t wake up until 5:30. And then went back to sleep until 06:45 or so. Bliss! Porridge and bananas for breakfast, then I went out to swab down the boat while The Builder was getting dressed. Went to come back inside. CONSTERNATION!!!!! The door handle was broken on the outside. We could get out – but not back in. More to the point, we couldn’t secure the boat from outside. Hmmm. Couldn’t ring the boatyard, not enough signal. What to do?

Right. Here’s the plan. We’ll head back down the Ant, abandoning our intention to go walking in the nature reserve at How Hill, then head up the Bure back to the boatyard, stopping at Ludham Bridge for a loo stop (better to use land-based facilities when possible). Got there, and realised that we did have mobile phone signal, so rang the yard and waited for a Boat Mender to come. Had a cup of tea and individual visits to the facilities while we were waiting. Half an hour after the Boat Mender arrived, we were underway again.

I’m still not very good at mooring the boat. We arrived at Ludham Bridge a tad sooner than we expected and were neither of us really ready. The couple from the boat in front helped to haul us in. Even so, I managed to turn the boat around entirely unintentionally. No worries, it was easy enough to turn her around again when we were ready to go, and off we trundled, back down the Ant, along the Bure then briefly up the Thurne where we moored (slightly more successfully) at the staithe to have lunch. On board. We have food and need much lighter lunches than we’ve been having in the pubs. But we might have a pint in the Lion while we are waiting for our fish pie and Moroccan veg to heat. Or perhaps two pints.

In the event, we decided to stay at Thurne and pay the £3 overnight mooring fee (which was waived by the landlord anyway, so that was OK!)

Lunch. And while we were eating it and clearing up, we were vastly entertained watching the stalking dogs’ walkers trying to moor their boat. Took them FOR EVER! I might inadvertently turn our boat around, but once we get ourselves together it only takes a few minutes to tie up. Took them about half an hour. They are thinking of chucking it in a day early and going home tomorrow. It seems they are cold. It’s nice and warm on our little boat. It may be cramped, it might be a bit pokey. It is easily wind blown. And the bed tucks in under the bulkhead so that you’d have no chance of turning over in the night if you were clinically obsess, and you can forget now any possibility of an exciting sex life (or, indeed, any sex life!!). But it is economical and very warm with the heating on. Mind you, had Tuesday been towards the end of our week rather than the beginning, I might have given up too. I nearly did. Had Wednesday been as bad, I’d have been very tempted to go home.

Happily we didn’t. This afternoon we walked up river to Potter Heigham. About an hour each way. No chance of us getting under the bridge, however. The maximum height this afternoon was 6’ and our boat is 6’7. I fear the wildlife and wilderness excitements beyond the beautiful medieval bridge at Potter Heigham remain closed to me. Unless of course it was high tide. But the rivers are very high and I am not much minded to try, this time. We shall go exploring up there another time. Perhaps by road?

It has been a beautiful, early spring day on the broads today. Weather has beset the rest of Eastern England, perhaps even the rest of East Anglia. But it has passed us by. Mind you, the walk knackered both of us. The anterior muscles over my knee, which were not best pleased about coming down the tower at St Helen’s on Tuesday, were very unhappy about coming back from Potter Heigham, and really, really unhappy on the uneven path for the last km or so. And The Builder’s back, right side, ribs, shouted even more loudly. Clearly need to walk more :-)

I have seen an otter!!!!!! We were coming slowly down the Ant when I saw something long and low and dark, undulating across the fallow corner of a field and slide down into the water. I haven’t seen an otter in the wild before. Took me a moment to realise what it was. The Builder, alas, missed it.

Now it’s 6pm and a beautiful heron has just flown slowly past the boat. So many birds. We are keeping a list.

Dinner in the Lion, with the stalking dogs, their walkers and a few other people with their dogs. Then off to bed for a good night sleeping.

Friday found us ambling down the Thurne and down along the Bure, with the intention of dropping into Acle and then deciding what else to do. For some reason, we didn’t but kept heading downstream instead. It was a very happy accident that we did, for we found ourselves at Stokesby, which has the last public staithe before you reach Great Yarmouth. And it is such a pretty village. We found a pub (it’s odd how many staithes have pubs attached to them!!) and a map which suggested the presence of a shop or two. Just as well – we are running out of milk. So. Out for a morning stroll, then. And it is a pretty little village. Lovely thatched roofs and old houses. But no sign of the promised Post Office. Back the other way. There it is! And look – there’s a shop as well. One that does breakfasts. Excellent. We shall eat out for breakfast tomorrow. First, a pint in the Ferry Inn while we think about what to do next. Maybe another one. Let’s do nothing next. We could go for a walk, but in fact I quite fancy an afternoon drinking wine, reading my book, dozing and lazing. So that’s what we did. Dined in the Ferry Inn, which is rather lovely – except the non-smoking bit is kind of stuck out the back, out the way. It is very irritating when those of us who wish not to eat our magnificent meals smothered in a fug of cigarette smoke are hustled out the way to obscure corners built in the 1960s when others get to sit in pleasant, atmospheric, old buildings. Still, as Tabitha said, I only need to wait until July when smoking in establishments selling food will become illegal!!!! Already is in Scotland. The pubs are lovely there. They smell of beer and wood and bread and wood smoke and not of stale tobacco smoke!

Look. It’s Saturday. What to do today? Apart from breakfast in the riverside caff, which was not too bad, considering. We’ll head back up the Bure, and then maybe head up the Ant, moving to Dilham (keep wanting to call it Dilma which is, as far as I recall, a type of tea!) rather than Stalham and Sutton. Let’s just potter and see what happens. Oh – but Tabitha mentioned that they might just possibly be available to come and visit us on the Saturday (at first she suggested that we go and visit them, it not being far. That’s very true, though it’s a lot further if you have to get there by boat, particularly since our rivers run upstream and out of puff in the direction of Cambridge!) I rang her. Yup, they might be able to come depending on where we were going to be. I know. Let’s just go back to Ranworth and meet them there. In the pub. For dinner. Good plan. The weather wasn’t all that bright, but there were lots of birds and at least it wasn’t windy! And The Builder took over the driving. Up to Ludham Bridge first to top up the water. Swift in, turn around and out. V Good! Then, coming back down the Ant we encountered not one, not two but a whole flotilla of sailing boats coming upstream. We tucked in by the side of the river and let them go past. Excellent. Sail has right of way, and neither of us really understands how yachts are likely to move in the water, especially when they are tacking. We got to Ranworth staithe and found a nice mooring at the end, behind a very little day boat. We were just tying up when a grumpy old man erupted from the boat round the corner, complaining that he would never get out if we stayed with our bum stuck out like that. Hauled the bum back in a bit tighter. Still no good. He wanted us to shift the little boat. No way. You can’t just go moving other people’s boats about. It’s not polite. Anyway, he had loads of room to get out. Even with his enormous, luxury-for-two-with-spa-bath cruiser. We left him to his muttering and took ourselves to the Maltster by the broad to check the food out for tonight. And very, very nice it was too. My chicken strips in beer batter were fantastic! Ideal place for dinner tonight. Back to the boat to find that another boat had come in, tucked stern on, just under our bow. Hmm. Not supposed to do that. No stern on moori ¾ oh. But here that’s what you’re supposed to do. Oops. Hopped off and The Builder and I swung out boat around. Then another boat came in and moored up next to the grumpy old man’s boat, also stern on. He came out to remonstrate, and found that loads of very helpful people were turning him around too. Eventually we all ended up as we should be and it transpired that the grumpy old man and his wife were out celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary in the places they had honeymooned when they first got married. Awww. Sweet. And he wasn’t all that grumpy, really, just nervous about coming in and going out. I can understand that. Mind you, The Builder and I seem to be doing a grand job of mooring now that he’s bringing the boat in and I’m hopping off and tying it up.

There’s no mobile phone signal out on these here broads. Made it ever so difficult to guide Tabitha and Gareth in. They had fetched up down by South Walsham and couldn’t talk to me to get directions. Fortunately, the pub landlord sorted that out, using the pub phone and talking them in. Hooray! Was a lovely evening when they finally arrived. Good food, good wine (but not for Gaz who was driving!) good company. And they had an eventful trip home. “How’s this for an animal spotting collection (almost blogworthy?)? On our way home we counted alive and happy, grazing at the side of the road, 57 bunnies and a deer!” Blogworthy indeed. But not, perhaps, quite as exciting as my otter!

Sunday dawned beautiful, sunny, warm and still. There were yachts on the broad. There was a half marathon approaching from somewhere. There were birdies singing. And The Builder and I went for a walk in the sunshine, through woods and fields and trees, until we reached South Walsham broad and strolled along one side of that, and back to the car park. Was very beautiful. And VERY sunny!!! And so we made our way back to Horning for Sunday lunch in the Staithe and Willow, a lovely old restaurant by the river. Mind you, we had quite some fun getting there. We encountered what seemed like and entire fleet of sailing boats making their way downstream, moving about all over the river and being Very Scary Indeed. We tucked in ever so close to the side of the river, catching tree branches on our top. There was an almighty crash as the buoyancy ring fell from the roof onto the little deck at the back. We ended up with twigs and branches and little cones and all sorts all over the place. Ever such a mess. Mind you, we weren’t in anything like the state that one of the boats was in. We were wondering why it had stopped, and discovered it had its ropes all tangled up in the trees. At least we were only covered in twigs. Reminded me, though, why I do not want to head to the broads in summer. It’s been quite nice having the rivers more or less to ourselves. Enough people about to be companionable, but no worries mooring at night. And very few bloody yachts cluttering the place up!! And we’ve got damned good at mooring now. To the point where we can help other people who are struggling!

And so we arrived back in Horning. Had a magnificent lunch in the Staithe and Willow, where they accommodated my wish not to eat animals with four legs during Lent by roasting me a chicken fillet (the Sunday roasts on offer were beef, lamb and pork). Sadly, I was unable to do this justice as the shrimp cocktail I’d had before had been very tasty and nicely filling. Still, The Builder didn’t seem to object to finishing my roast potatoes for me! Then we went for a wander along the road out as far as the school, about two miles, then back, stopping for a pint in the New Inn and eventually fetched up back in the Swan for dinner. I do not like Brewer’s Fayre pub food. Don’t like it a bit. But surely they can’t get much wrong with a bowl of spicy vegetables, hummous and mint yoghurt? Oh yes they can. I don’t think a spice had been closer than about 100 miles of the vegetables which were emphatically Not Nice. We should have remembered. In fact, we had intended to go back up to the New Inn. I don’t know why we didn’t.

Last night aboard, in which I slept badly, being as how I spent the entire night packing and cleaning the boat to within an inch of its life, over and over and over again. Then, of course, I had to get up quite early and do it for real. Knackering it was! The advantage to a small boat is that it doesn’t take long to clean it. Then we left Horning at around 7:30 and made our way through the early morning sunshine, the river mist and the silence and stillness back to the boatyard, disturbed only by a few cormorants, ducks, geese and coots, and a couple of people working on boats goijg downstream. Handed the boat back, loaded the car and trotted off, homeward bound. Got ever so slightly lost in Norwich and ended up going all the way around the ring road, right around the city! Stopped for a truly horrible sandwich and a loo stop just outside of Swaffham. And actually called into Kings Lynn as we were passing. Neither of us had ever been before and the old parts of it are really lovely. Some mediaeval buildings and an enormous church and buildings where King John lived and a lovely little harbour along the Ouse. And then home, stopping at one quite disappointing and one quite interesting farm shops on the way. Had a fabulous holiday, but it was rather nice to be home again. And it was very nice to have a proper shower this morning. It is, of course, economical and environmentally sound to wash in a sink, but a proper shower is loverly. And Marlo was ever so pleased to see us back.

Poor old Harry dog had to be put down while we were away. His back legs finally gave out on him. Mind you, he’d done remarkably well for a Dane – I think he doubled the average life span.

So. The final bird tally (I told you we were keeping a list!):
Crested Grebe
Coot
Moorhen
Mallard
Tufted Duck
Mute Swan
Greylag goose
Canada Goose
Egyptian Goose
Cormorant
Shag
Black headed Gull
Common Tern
Song Thrush
Dunnock
Wood Pigeon
Chaffinch
Blackbird
Pheasant
Collared Dove
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Lapwing
Marsh Harrier
Oyster Catcher
Rook
Red Shank
Wren
Skylark
Herring Gull
Kestrel
Reed Bunting
Pair of Kingfishers
Pochard Duck
Crow
Marsh Tit
Tree Sparrow
Starling
Pied Wagtail
Robin
Grey Heron
Little Grebe
Goldfinch
Jackdaw

(And, on the 22nd, I saw an Otter running in a field!!)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

It's Monday

Oh boy was it quiet at Psalter Lane yesterday. Four queries. Yup, that’s FOUR queries for me from 1-8. You really wonder why they bother. I realise that I need to be there to deal with emergencies, complications and other matters that it’s not fair to expect the counter staff to deal with, but really. Closed is what it should be, on Sundays. On the other hand, I take home around £120 for a Sunday. If they want to pay me huge amounts of money to sit about for 7 hours, I suppose that’s fine by me.

The Builder, in the meantime, had dug and laid the winding path by the side border. And very, very pretty it looks too.

Today dawned a very strange red colour, which transmuted into a very odd golden colour. We assumed this meant there would be rain, as there was until around half nine or so when we took ourselves off to B&Q for some trellis and some ericaceous soil for the Japanese Maple. (I was on the evening duty, lest you think I had actually taken some time off!) I really don’t know why I keep going to B&Q; it is enormously frustrating. They did have trellising, but no ericaceous soil at all. That in itself is not frustrating (although they also didn’t have solar powered garden lights and I *really* want some of those, but I think that’s a garden centre job). But I am absolutely convinced that if you are a laddie, or perhaps even a lassie, under about 30 and you want to work for B&Q you must take an intelligence test – and fail it dramatically. The boys who work there are oh-so, oh-so DIM! Took nearly six weeks just to pay for the trellises. Though I suppose that might be a very, very slight exaggeration. Sigh!

So. Off we trundled in our search for ericaceous soil. I really want to plant the Japanese Maple in the garden. It hasn’t ever been happy in its pot and this is a last ditch effort to save it. I am clearly not going to replace all the soil in the whole garden bed with this soil, but I thought I’d put some in the planting hole, just for it to be getting on with. They don’t sell it at Wickes (or even have a garden centre; and can anyone explain to me why I always but always want to call it Mitre 10?), nor at Focus. Right. Getting fed up of trundling around the DIY stores on my morning off. Going home for a cup of tea. And on the way I remembered the garden centre at the top of Furnace Hillock Lane (isn’t that a fab name?) which doesn’t appear to sell plants but does sell crafts and potting mixes and snakes and things. Off we went, passing a local protest outside the coal yard against some sort of in-vessel composting facility. They’ve been protesting about this for months. I first noticed when a proliferation of signs appeared in people’s gardens proclaiming “No! Not this time in Grassmoor” Or Churchside, or wherever. Not that this was particularly meaningful, since at no point did it indicate what it was they didn’t want. Took me ages to find out – and even then I wasn’t sure what an in-vessel composting facility was. And now I do know, I’m not sure quite why they’re objecting to it. Can’t be much worse than the coal depot, surely?

Anyway. Off we went to the Van Gemeren garden centre, where we found a small packet of ericaceous soil. Hooray. So we paused and looked at the snakes (some rather fetching pink corn snakes, some sleepy pythons and two stripy things dashing about in their vivarium, amongst other things). There were some very furry tarantulas too. And yes, I do know that tarantulas are not snakes. In another area there were some very dozy looking chinchillas and some tiny hamsters and a very intelligent looking rat. There are some plants at this here garden centre – but they’re outside behind a locked glass door. We pootled about in the craft section and then went home for that cup of tea.

Then I planted up the new garden bed (and discovered that there wasn’t actually a useable drainage hole in the Japanese Maple’s pot – no wonder it wasn’t happy, all water-logged around its feet), meandered about in the garden, had a shower and got changed, had some lunch and came into work, leaving The Builder to build a step down from the eventual patio down into the kitchen garden. It’s quite a drop on the right hand side and unless my knee is working at better than complete capacity, I struggle a bit to get down. The single brick I’ve been using as a stepping stone probably isn’t ideal. Or even particularly safe, I guess!

Rebecca rang up last evening. (The Builder’s 8 year old granddaughter – do pay attention at the back!) She has some very exciting news :-)

Ornamental Garden update







And in the Kitchen Garden:

(If you look very, very carefully, you can see the grapevines!)

So. Things are moving along in the ornamental garden. The Builder has now finished digging up the grass and putting in the new beds. There is still the raised bed to dismantle and the patio to lay (I think we will need more bricks!) but all the beds are in place. He is now putting a step down into the kitchen garden from the right hand side of the patio - it's quite a drop on that side. We've put a trellis up next to the passionflower on the fence and stuffed in a honeysuckle which was lifted from my friend Sue's garden. I've also put in some, but by no means all, of the daffodil bulbs that Barb gave me in January. Roger has now added to my delight by giving me a rubbish bag full of snowdrops!

We have decide to keep the grass "patio" that the picnic table is on. Now that we have a proper grass cutter there's no practical reason to get rid of it, and it is nice to have a picnic table on lawn. The wine glasses bounce if they should fall off the table!

In the vegetable garden, there are now four raised beds, three of which need extra soil adding to them. They should be nice and ready for the next sowings of broad beans and for the first peas. The Builder decided not to make a trellis himself and we bought a ready made one at B&Q for the grapevines (which you can hardly see so far - but I'm sure they'll grow eventually!!)

Most of the fruit trees have blossom and leaf buds on them. All the soft fruit are doing well, apart from one single gooseberry bush which looks as though it has given up. Have no idea why; the others are all doing fine. If it shows no sign of perking up in the next week or so, I'll replace it - with another red one, if I can find one.

Next task for me is tidying, then weeding. And finding out when the herb nurseries re-open. And The Builder is definitely turning his attention now to the allotment!




Monday, March 12, 2007

A spring weekend

So. While I’ve been loitering lazily at work this last few days, The Builder has been a busy busy busy, playing out in the spring sunshine.

I was at work until 6 on Friday and got home just before 7 when it was too dark to go outside and look at what he’d been doing. I declined the invitation to go out with a torch to see whatever it was, deciding to wait until the following morning so I could look properly. Marlo had stirred from his bed and been down to investigate and seemed to approve. I waited with great patience.

Until half past seven on Saturday morning when I dragged The Builder protesting, kicking and screaming from his bed and made him put on his dressing gown and slippers and accompany me outside so I could see what had been going on. My goodness but he’d been busy. He’s de-turfed and bricked the rest of the paths in the ornamental garden (I do so enjoy having so many different bits of garden that they need descriptors!) except for the path up by the border. He’s also tipped over and buried the concrete “altar stone” we found where I want to put the grape vines. Plus he’s boxed in the bed. All it needs now is some soil and a trellis and we’ll be ready to roll!

Meanwhile, I wandered off for a hard day’s slumber in the salt mines at Psalter Lane, getting home at around half past five. I do like this time of year. The days are getting noticeably longer; it’s light now when I leave in the mornings and it was still light when I got back yesterday, to find The Builder still hard at it, dig, dig, digging away, having virtually finished digging the last bed in the ornamental garden. My goodness, but it makes a difference to the way the garden looks. It just needs planting now! (Actually, I have some things ready to go it; I just lack the time to do it, having spent this morning ambling about the countryside looking for a small - that’s *small* - bag of ericaceous soil to fill the hole I’m intending to dig to put the Japanese Maple in. You can buy this soil, but only in bags of 60 and 75 litres, which is MUCH too big!!!!!) I’m on the evening duty tomorrow. I might do some planting in the morning, if the weather, which has been beautiful, holds.

In the meantime, I have been considering my health. I am pleased to report that my blood pressure has been steadily falling since I bought my digital BP monitor. It is true that I take it on Saturday mornings before I get up, when there is very little for me to be stressed about. However, yesterday it was 127/92 with a heart rate of 66, a very considerable improvement on the 150/98 (72) that it was when I started monitoring it 6 weeks ago. Emboldened, I decided to use the test-your-own-cholesterol-levels kit that I bought on a whim some weeks ago. Now that was fun. You drip a drop of blood onto a testing strip which, after 40 seconds or so, turns a fetching shade of grey. You then have to match it against a master strip of many shades of grey and decide where your grey fits. Hmm. Clearly not this pale grey with the cheery, bright green face with a huge grin above it. Nor, I think, the next shade along, with the green face and the slightly less cheery grin. Might be the next one, with the yellow face and cheery grin, within acceptable limits. Ah yes, but it just might be the next one up with the yellow face and straight across mouth, just over acceptable limits. I don’t *think* it’s the next one up with the orange face and the down turning mouth and I’m absolutely certain it isn’t the shade of grey with red, cross and grumpy face above it. No, I think it’s the one that looks ok … Oh I don’t know. Let’s go and have an egg and cheese sandwich while we think on it. But surely they could make the test a colour other than grey and where you can see the results reasonably clearly! Perhaps I’ll book into the SHU wellness clinic and they can run a complete physical, in work time :-)

I’m back at Psalter Lane today. The library has been open since 1 and I’ve had precisely two queries, if you don’t count the occasional cheery hello that passing students offer as they go past. It is very boring when there is no one to talk to and no students to help. I have been reduced to looking at picture books of stately homes, historic monuments and garden design. I was here yesterday too. It was much busier!

Steve next door has been made redundant from his railway welding job and is therefore at home during the day (he was a night worker so was at home, but in bed during the day). This means that he has been watching The Builder at work. I think he is hoping that some of the excess fruit crops (when the trees have settled in) may come their way. I wonder how long it will be before my two tiny, minute grape vines produce grapes

Friday, March 09, 2007

Hooray!

The Vixen has come home. H’ray!

The Vixen is very, very shiny. Even bigger H’RAY! (Do you think that perhaps we should have her washed every so often? We find that she is a very shiny red when she is clean!!!!)

The Builder came and collected me from the station at 20 to 5 yesterday afternoon, just after the news had arrived that she was ready for collection. Off we trundled, eventually found the repair garage, handed over the space craft hire car and took The Vixen home. This morning The Builder took me to the station (fortunately, nobody has ever thought to ask exactly what I do for all those hours at the station!) and then went to put some fuel in the car. Was trundling home when the red, there’s-no-water-in-this-here-car warning light came on. He called at a local dentist’s surgery (dentist? There’s a dentist somewhere near? ) and borrowed a jug of water and topped the radiator up. Got home and rang the garage. Hmm, they muttered. Very very sorry and all. Air blockages, don’t you know. Air blockages? A whole radiator full of air! Very bad garage, to let the poor car out without water and anti-freeze in its radiator. Memo to self: must check that The Builder has thought about anti-freeze. The weather may still be mild, but there is still a serious danger of frost and freezy weather!

I reckon the rhinoceros will be happy The Vixen is back. Poor thing has been reduced to guarding the fruit bowl since we dried it out after its snow adventures.

It’s a beautiful, beautiful day today. I went out for an amble at lunchtime (trying to increase my step count from 7-8k to something closer to 10k!) and had a lovely wander. Someone is erecting a large marquee on Fargate, though I don’t know what for. In the meantime, The Builder is at home, digging.

I am still very, very, very tired. This might be a tail end consequence of the virus I had last week or the week before. Personally, I put it down to all this clean Lenten living. It is clearly not good for us to live without cakes, biscuits and CHOCOLATE for more than one or two hours at a time
The Builder has now made up four boxes and dug three. I shall put successive sowings of peas and broad beans in them over the next few weeks/months. I think he's intending to dig the last box and then turn his attention back to the allotment. We need a time turner so we can dash back and forth to and from the dry days!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Weekend report

I’ve been at work, mostly, this weekend :-( Thinking hard about the money. Grin. Oh, but I do like Sundays off! I think I might not make myself available for quite so many Sundays in the future; I do seem to get put down for every session I say I can do, as opposed to a selection of them. Still. We aren’t open on Sundays over the summer. And the word on the street says that the weekend work will dry up next academic year as they are about to recruit to the new weekend structure. That will be nice, from a staying at home and pottering point of view. Less nice from a money in the bank one! However, they have been saying that the weekend rota will be sorted out very soon now for years and year and years. I am not holding my breath!

We were out last evening. We went to visit Bea ad Steve, who were having a small party to celebrate Steve’s birthday (which I think is actually today). Bea had cooked lots of lovely food, including a roast vegetable medley with white sweet potato. I lerv white sweet potato. It has the texture and almost the taste of roasted chestnuts. You never see it in the supermarkets. I wonder where she got it. Must remember to ask. I wonder if the sell it in the market in Chesterfield – must investigate one day. It was a good evening, but I was very tired. I have had a low grade cold all week which has rendered me very lethargic. Plus, of course, I had been working all day. And, of course, I had to be up and ready for work this morning. So we didn’t stay late.

I guess we left just before half ten, which meant I got to watch the eclipse of the moon as it happened while The Builder was driving us home. It was nearly totality when we got back so we sat on the south facing front wall, glass of wine in hand, rugged up snugly in our jackets and watched for 15 minutes or so. It really was very beautiful. The moon was a lovely rusty colour, the sky was absolutely clear and the stars were all twinkling. I’m really glad we were able to see it. For some reason I had thought it was at around 8, when we would have been having dinner with Bea and Steve and their other guests. Bit rude to abandon dinner and dash outside for astronomical events!

Great excitement this morning. The builders have had a great big crane delivered to the building site and spent a merry few hours this morning assembling it. In the rain, so perhaps they were not so merry. We had a merry time watching it being assembled. Matt and I have been out in the rain taking photos of it, for the online archive we are hoping to assemble. We were merry, even in the rain!

My new pedometer is very swish. Positively space age. Does all sorts of complicated things, most of which I can’t work out. It came from Hong Kong (I bought it on eBay) and the instructions are in a strange, Chinese form of English which doesn’t read terribly fluently. Still, I don’t suppose I really want to do complicated things. I want it to count 10k+ steps each day. Which it is resolutely refusing to do. 8 or 9k is as much as it will condescend to count :-(

Spoke to Austin yesterday. He's getting ready for his 18 months in Japan. He's planning to fly on March 25th. (I think that Julia is preparing for her six months in North Carolina too, but I'm not sure exactly when she is going.) I've seen Tabitha too. She just called in to the Adsetts Centre to say hello. Hmm. There appears to be someone missing ...

Today I’ve a nedake :-( Initially I put it down to over exuberant birthday celebrations last evening. But now it’s nearly 4pm and I still have it. Don’t think it can still be the excesses of yesterday. Think it might be a real nedake. Odd. Don’t normally suffer much from them

Sunday, March 04, 2007

February report

Allotment beds. Top one has shallots already planted. Next one is for onions and leeks

Looking up, towards Ward Street. Not as pretty as the Hangingwater Allotment, but much easier to dig. Soil nice and friable. Weeds not quite so high. Plus The Builder has a magnificent brush cutter!

The Builder has marked out the proposed new beds with string . We can more or less see what we are doing
First raised bed, in place and ready for digging. (Update - it is now dug and ready for planting!)
Soft fruit beds.


PLAN (as at March 4th)

The Builder has been busy. He's built a first raised bed and now dug it so that it is ready to receive the broad bean seeds, I hope later this week. He's also pegged out the next few beds and shifted the fridge out the way. Then he found even more rubble than we had expected and has moved most of that. The second plot is now ready for preparation. He was hoping to start the frame for it today, depending on the weather. He's extended the raspberry bed up towards the fence line and has planted some extra canes that Martin on the Sheffield Allotments gave us.

Last weekend he also started digging the little bed for the grapevines, which I bought at Dunston Hall on Sunday (one red, one white). This was complicated when we found what looks like a concrete sacrificial altar stone buried under the soil! Despite his best efforts he has so far been unable to get it out. We may need to work around it if all else fails!

The Builder now reports that he has three more frames ready to go


Saturday, March 03, 2007

RIP Audrey Hallam

You may remember, when we first came to look at The Sidings at the end of March last year, that our concentration on the house was somewhat offset by our concern that the lady showing us around should keep breathing until after we had left or until her son had arrived, preferably both! Fortunately, she did keep breathing, accepted our offer on the house, signed it over to us, moved into a bungalow around the corner and began recreating her “fairy” garden in the little courtyard at the front of her unit. I saw her from time to time over the summer, lying on a sun lounger being attended to by elderly ladies from around the village. More latterly, she hasn’t been outside so much, it being a tad on the chilly side for frail, sickly people to be lounging outside. But I did catch glances of her and there was clearly life happening inside the unit.

Over the past week or so, there was no sign of life. Not that I was stalking her, you understand, but her unit is virtually opposite the gate onto the allotment site. It seemed unlikely that she had gone on holiday. I’m not sure what was wrong with her but guessed at lung cancer or emphysema or perhaps both. Whatever it was, it required the presence of large oxygen machines. I assumed she had gone into hospital.

And so she had. Debbie Next Door called by last evening to tell us that she had gone into hospital Friday last, had been subsequently stricken with pneumonia and had died on Wednesday evening. Pity. She didn’t even make it to a twelve month in the new unit. And it seems a real shame, given the effort she had put into her courtyard, not to have seen it through a full run of seasons.

Still. Given that I was convinced she was likely to drop off her perch the very first time we met her, I guess she didn’t do too badly.