Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cambridge 2

Robert reminds me that when you come to Cambridge you come up to Cambridge, regardless of the direction you are travelling. This is true. If you are coming up to the University. If, however, you are heading South from Tupton to Arbury then you are clearly heading down to Cambridge! But I shall remember for next time!

But it doesn’t matter which direction you are going, up or down, it nevertheless continues to rain in Cambridge. Persistently. Ongoingly. Irritatingly! Clearly we are not visiting Wicken Fen (a nature reserve) or Flag Fen (an archaeological site) this weekend. Must think of something else to do. Other than sitting in the lounge room, drinking tea and reading A compendium of nosh!

Even the bunnies were looking pissed off, sat in their hutch, gazing out at the persistent drizzle. Eventually we brought them inside (no pets are allowed to be kept in the house, according to the lease – no reason to assume that means that rabbits can’t visit!) and they sat on my and The Builder’s knee and gazed about. Then they spent half an hour or so playing on the couch before being put back in their hutch.

We, in the meantime, had decided to go out for lunch and think about something to do for the afternoon. A country pub in a village. We all hopped in the Vixen and headed back up through Milton and back towards Stretham. And decide to stop at the Lazy Otter, because it was a riverside pub (on the Great Ouse) overlooking boats, but mainly because it had a fantastically whimsical name. It also does fantastic food. For me, really nice button mushrooms in a stilton sauce, followed by a chargrilled chicken breast with vegetables. Quite defeated me. Almost unheard of for me to leave new potatoes on my plate!

What to do for the rest of the afternoon? On the road leading to the Lazy Otter, there is a ruined abbey with an attached farming museum which was having a fair for the long weekend. We decided to go there. It wasn’t raining all that heavily and there looked to be buildings with roofs to shelter in. The farming museum was very interesting. There was a basket maker there, making baskets. There was a jazz band. Lots of tractors and farming machines to look at. But the Maypole dancing had been cancelled because of the weather. No matter. Can live without that! We explored Denny Abbey which has a long history as a monastery, an abbey (developed by the Countess of Pembroke for nuns), and then farm buildings, until it was allowed to fall into disuse and ruin. It doesn’t do a tiled refectory floor a great deal of good when you turn it into a barn! There’s also a farm worker’s cottage, decorated and furnished as if it were the 1940s. It was a lovely cottage. I could quite fancy living in it myself – though an inside toilet and bathroom would be a comfortable addition! But I could live with the kitchen quite easily.

And so home for a sit down and a nice cup of tea. It had been our intention to head out in the evening to one of the local pubs for an ale drinking fest. What actually happened was that Gaz and Taffa headed out to a Greek take away place in town and came back bearing souvlaki, calamari rings and dolmades. I opened a cask of wine. And we sat and watched a series of programmes on telly about children’s television in the 1960s, ate lovely Greek food, drank lots of wine and went to bed. It was rather a nice day. We don’t very often get the chance to sit about and do nothing in a gentle sort of a way. Even going to the farm museum wasn’t vigorous exercise. It was all very pleasant and relaxing.

It is not, actually, raining as we speak. But it is still grey. And the drizzle is hanging about. I hope it stays dry for a time this morning. I want to go to the market!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Cambridge 1

We have come to visit Tabitha and Gareth in Cambridge for the Spring Bank Holiday weekend. And it is, of course, raining!

We came down after I finished work on Saturday. Not a bad trip down; took just over two hours. We arrived around 8:15, said hello to the new rabbits (very cute, and only ten weeks old), and took ourselves, through a dry, warm evening, into town for dinner. We called at the Cambridge beer festival, where Tabitha and Gaz have been volunteering in the evenings during the week, only to find that it had closed early. We suspect that they might have run out of beer!! So we took ourselves to Don Pasquale’s Italian restaurant for a fantastic dinner. Their seafood pizza remains magnificent! Then we visited The Eagle for a quick one before making our way back to the house. So much food. So much wine. No wonder then that I woke in the night with Horrible Heartburn. I always do, if I have excessive food and wine in an evening. Not normally quite so horrid, though. Made me coff and coff and coff and coff and coff and coff and coff. And kept me awake!

So it is no surprise that I slept late on Sunday morning. More of a surprise that The Builder also slept late. He had slept through my coffing fit (as had Taffa and Gaz) but still didn’t waken until I poked him at twenty to ten! Almost unheard of. Mind you, it’s half past eight on Monday morning now and he’s still loitering in bed, listening to the Today programme on the radio.

Nobody really got up and moving until close to lunch time. What to do today? It’s raining persistently, so no outdoor activities. Let’s go to Anglesey Abbey. I’ve been several times, but only around the grounds. I seem to go in the winter when the house is closed. But first lunch. They’re still building the new restaurant and visitor centre, but the restaurant is open. And offered us a beautifully cooked roast pork. I do wish, though, that British chefs wouldn’t put quite so much salt in their cooking. It ruins the flavour of things! And is completely unnecessary on roast potatoes.

So. Off to inspect the house, which was an Augustinian Abbey until the intervention of Henry VIII, when it became a private house. It’s a beautiful building which had been turned into a repository for a vast collection of art and statuary (and clocks!) by the first Lord Fairhaven in the mid-20th century. Quite enjoyed poking about in it. Many, many pictures and statues of naked men. It somehow comes as no surprise to learn that there was no Lady Fairhaven! Then we went through the drizzle to the water mill, where the others went up to the top to investigate. Not that long since I was last there, and in any case my back and legs were not entirely happy, so I stayed downstairs and watched a yellow wagtail bouncing about on the water lilies in the mill race. I wonder why they call these wagtails yellow – they are mostly grey. Greyer, indeed, than the grey wagtail, which is substantially yellow. You’d think they’d have been named the other way around!

Back home for a cup of tea, then we all took the bus through the rain to Clare College for evensong. Which turned out to be a sung Eucharist, in honour of Pentecost. It was lovely. A nice little chapel with a fantastic choir and a nice, relaxed atmosphere. You can even stay, if you are minded, for wine and supper afterwards. Though we did not. We took ourselves to The Bath for a glass of wine and then out to the leisure complex for ten pin bowling. We had intended to eat before our session at 9, but none of the chain eateries had spaces. We arranged to return to one of them after bowling and went for our pre-dinner exercise. Ten pin bowling in a neon lit bowling rink! There’s also a DJ – a loud DJ. Fortunately, he eventually shut up. Was quite fun after that. And I didn’t finish last by a long long way. In fact, in the first match, I didn’t end up last at all! I beat Tabitha by one point! Mind you, she redressed that situation comprehensively in the second session!

We went back to the Italian place for dinner after, only to find that they had closed the kitchen, because no one had been in for over an hour. Frankie and Bennies was still open, so we went in there. Not an entirely successful experience. They smothered Tabitha’s burger with mayonnaise, despite her having carefully explained that she can’t eat mayo. And you wouldn’t think it was possible to mis-cook steak and prawns, but their cook managed. My rare steak was stone cold in the middle and the prawns were very over cooked. I think next time, we will stay at Clare College for supper. Only £4 for wine and food. And I bet that they don’t cook steak badly!

It was the sort of place, Clare College, where if we lived locally, I could see us going to regularly on Sunday evenings. I wonder if we could convince them to establish an outpost in Tupton.

The Builder has gone back to sleep. And it’s still raining.

Monday, May 21, 2007

So. The Builder and I came into Sheffield on Saturday morning, dropping Bea and Steve off in Woodseats as we passed through. Parked in the nearby car park, for which I have an evening and weekend parking permit. The Builder went off into town in search of some breakfast. I came into the Adsetts Centre to go to work. The Builder, suitably breakfasted, came back to the car – to find a parking ticket on it complaining that we had not paid and displayed. Well of course we didn’t. I have a parking permit! I have passed this to the powers that be at the University to sort out!

The day passed by, as days are wont to do. I finished work, and took myself to Freyja and Mark’s place where they and The Builder were packing the van preparatory to their move to Meersbrook. We all crammed ourselves into the cab of the van. Four of us. All sardined in together. So it was not, perhaps, an absolutely top notch idea for The Builder almost to run a stop sign – and almost to collide with a police car!!! Fortunately, he did stop before the stop sign and the police officer didn’t seem interested in how many people were in the van. He seemed more surprised that the van had actually stopped!!

Freyja and Mark’s new flat is a ground floor flat in a mid-Victorian villa. Well, I say ground floor. And strictly speaking, it is the ground floor. It’s just that it’s half way up a massive hill, which has 22 ½ steps to get to the front door! Still, that’s an improvement on the 80 odd steps it takes to get to their old flat. And the new one is lovely. It has a sizable bedroom, a lovely bathroom with a free standing bath with feet, a frantaniastic kitchen with a double kitchen range to die for and a very large lounge room with a huge bay window with beautiful views up to Meersbrook Park. An excellent choice. And it’s nice and close to Chesterfield Road which boasts some nice coffee shops and cafes, a whole food store, a greengrocers and Rails of Sheffield, in case we develop a sudden need for model railways. Oh – and a dolls house shop. Just in case!

On Sunday, The Builder went to Leeds to pick up a 1k litre water butt. I pottered in the garden, weeded the bed with the baby blackcurrant bushes, cleared most of the blanket weed out of the pond, sowed seeds and generally gently gardened. Freyja caught a train to Chesterfield, where The Builder picked her up on his way back from Leeds. And we all had Sunday lunch together and watched the DVD of Pirates of the Caribbean 2. A bit long, if you ask me. And very confused in parts. I was just thinking to myself that I might not bother with PotC 3 when the DVD came to an end. Bugger. It’s a cliff hanger ending. Now I’ll have to watch part 3. Sigh.

In the meantime, The Builder had a dilemma. This 1k litre water butt, which he had intended to put down in the kitchen garden by the “chook” shed, was tooooooo wide to fit through the gate. “Hmm,” said he. “I may have to put it on the allotment and get smaller water butts for the kitchen garden. Bother.”. But can’t we lift it over the top of the gate and next door’s fence? “Good plan,” said The Builder. “But I can’t do it on my own. I’ll need to someone here to help.” But Freyja and I are here. “You’ll never manage,” he said. Well, we certainly won’t manage if we don’t try. Being realistic here, there is no chance we’re going to get the metal frame over the gate. It’s too heavy and too bulky. But we can get have a go at getting the butt itself over. So. We balanced it on the rubbish bins. Hoiked it up. Balanced it on top of the fence and the gate post, where it wobbled alarmingly. And bumped it over into the back garden. At the point where we were bumping, Freyja was just this much too short to be able to reach, even on her tippy toes with fingers outstretched! But it was very useful to have her for all of the rest of it. We’ve taken it down to the orchard for the moment. We can’t take it to its final resting place - there’s a volcano in the way.

Oh. And reports of the death of the volcano proved to have been premature. It might have looked extinct on the outside, but that concealed a smoking, red hot heart, which we discovered when The Builder poked it with a garden fork! It is now, though, pretty much dead.

We took Freyja back to Sheffield, collected Mark from the old flat, loaded more boxes into the van, squished the four of us back in the cab, drove to the new flat, avoiding running through stop signs and stray passing police cars, off-loaded the boxes and came back home to spend the evening in the garden, potting on seedlings and drinking wine and admiring the surroundings. It’s not dark until after half past nine now, so it was a very pleasant time out in the garden.

We were coming in to work today, in the van. The Builder is still working at the BT building near The Moor. As we were driving along, we passed the turn off to Freyja’s new place. I looked to see if she was at the bus stop or walking along but there was no sign of her. We turned off the road and I forgot about her. Suddenly The Builder exclaimed: That’s Freyja! And stopped the van. As long as The Builder is working at BT, we’ll be passing by at around that time most mornings. He’ll look out for her tomorrow at the bottom of her road. I’m on an evening shift, so will be loitering at home.

The Cutty Sark is on fire :-(

Saturday, May 19, 2007

There is a volcano in the garden. There is, truly there is. It smokes and everything!

On Wednesday of last week, The Builder lit a bonfire to rid us of all the dead tree and other burnable rubbish lying about. Then he packed couch grass turves around it. We have many of these. Two or three mountains, which were dug up when The Builder was putting the new raised beds in. Since then, he's been raking out the bonfire and putting the turves around it two or three times a day. It finally went out overnight last night. And so several heaps of unusable couch grass leaves and roots has now been transformed into a small mountain of very-usable-indeed ash. The garden will be very glad of it later. Now we just need to find somewhere to store it.

Things are doing well in the kitchen garden. The earlier sowings of peas and broad beans are now producing flowers. And I have potted up my tiny cherry tomato plants into seed pots. The other tomatoes will be ready for potting up probably in a week or two. Everything else is being quite slow to germinate, especially the peppers and the Cape gooseberries. I am tempted to re-sow those. They should be showing some sign of life by now. None of the summer beans are up yet, but they've not been in so long. I put two sweet potatoes into pots about a week ago. The temptation to rootle about and see what they're doing is very strong!

All the cherry trees have cherries. The ones we brought from the allotment are positively laden! The apple trees have tiny apples. The gooseberries have little gooseberries, the strawberries have little strawberries. The raspberries, blueberries and white currants have flowers. The red and blackcurrants are too small to have flowers. Or at least to be allowed to keep their flowers. And the rhubarb is positively Rampant! I'm about to make chutney and jam to complement the cakes, upside down puddings and stewed rhubarb!

The foxgloves by the pond are resplendent. They are about to flower and will be Truly Resplendent. And the bog sage has finally come back - just after I'd despaired and bought a new plant!

I can't report myself on what's happening on the allotment, for I haven't been for ages. The Builder tells me that the potatoes have finally begun to come through. And he has put guttering on the greenhouses and attached water butts. I assume they are collecting water. The water butt which is collecting rain water from the kitchen roof is full. He's just bought a 1k litre butt which he is collecting from Leeds tomorrow. I think that is going on the allotment. Our intention is to buy another one for the garden as well.

Oh - and we have a picnic table and chairs on the new patio now. Just as well, the table by the pond has been turned into a plant nursery, carefully netted against the pigeons!

Beer, Buses and Trains

I met The Builder at Waitrose after work yesterday evening. He's working in the BT building not all that far from the Adsetts Centre, but on Fridays he has to go up Ecclesall Road to the agency to get his pay. Eccie Road is not a pleasant experience on a Friday late afternoon, so it seemed easier for me to walk up and meet him somewhere. Anyway, we went home, ambled about, had a bite to eat, (Memo to self: you DO NOT like frozen burgers. You never have done. You are unlikely to change your opinion on this matter. So DO NOT buy frozen mini burgers, even from Sainsbury or Waitrose. You won't like them and they will give you mild indigestion!), pottered a bit more, then caught the bus into Chesterfield, where we were meeting Bea and Steve at the station. There was a free bus service running old buses from the station to the Barrow Hill roundhouse (http://bhess.shu.ac.uk/) where we were going for the Rail Ale (sic) Beer Festival. The driver was very enthusiastic. Very enthusiastic. Said okey-dokey at last once in every sentence, much as writers use commas and full stops!

I've never been to a beer festival before. Hardly surprising, for I do not drink beer. Or not very often. However, there was real cider at this festival as well. Not as many ciders as the 98 different real ales that were on offer. About 6 or 7, with an equivalent number of perries.

It was an interesting evening. The roundhouse is really a large train shed, with a proper, round turning table for the engines. There are many engines to admire. There were also lots and lots of people, and a not terribly good band which played extremely loudly and dressed extremely improbably. Although, interestingly, their performance seemed to improve as the evening progressed. And the lead - erm, guitarist? singer? flautist? Whatever he was the lead of, he played the guitar not all that impressively - but he was very very good on the very long flute and the sax.

I enjoyed the ciders, though they only had two dry ones, one of which was quite startling in its astringency. So I embarked on an adventure in amongst the medium ones, some of which were a bit on the sweet side, while one was really quite dry. Bea, Steve and The Builder happily tasted many different kinds of beer (the grapefruit flavoured one was one I thought I might drink in the summer on hot evenings). Steve had a group of friends there. It was a convivial evening. But it was very crowded and very very noisy. I didn't really get a chance to get to know Steve's mates. I had a good time but I had the distinct feeling that this was something I would really, really enjoy if it had been in a field (with the trains!) where the noise could have escaped upwards and I might have had a chance of hearing some of the things that people said to me.

And there is only so much real cider a body can drink. Unlike the factory made ciders, real cider is full and rich in flavour and body. It is not remotely like drinking Strongbow or Magners, which go down like oddly flavoured water. After a couple of hours I felt that I didn't particularly want to drink any more cider and that a glass of wine would go down quite well. So I moved onto the moonshine style cider, which is very alcoholic but not terribly rich or full-bodied.

Then it was time to go home. We caught the last bus back into Chesterfield, driven by the okey-dokey man. He was sorting out which of the various point en route he needed to stop at. Steve asked if he went to Tupton. Unlikely, since we are on the other side of Chesterfield. "Might do," said the okey-dokey man. "I live in Wingerworth". Got to the station. We, assuming that he ahd been joking about driving on to Tupton, went to get off. He asked us which train we were taking. No train for us. We are going to Tupton too. "What, all four of you?" enquired the okey-dokey man. Yup. All four of us. SO he drove us to the chippie on Green Lane, a whole 5 minute walk from The Sidings. Didn't save us any money, for we put the taxi fare into his voluntary contributions bus. But it did save us faffing about trying to find a taxi. And it's fun riding on the old buses.

Back at home we all had a restorative glass of wine and went to bed. At least, I went to bed. The four hours sleep on Thursday night had seriously caught up with me! I think The Builder, Bea and Steve were not long behind me.

So a good evening. And I would happily do it again. But if we go to the Barrow Hill one next year, I would quite like to go in the afternoon. They do steam train rides between 11 and 5! And, of course, you can stand outside during the day.

I wonder if there are festivals in fields which do ale and cider in more equal proportions. I shall go and find out!

A cunning night out

So. Here we are, about 20 minutes before I was due to leave. The Builder is due any minute for a quick wash and a change (not in the office, in the men’s washroom!).

The web page I have been working on for the group project has had one or two niggling, irritating imperfections. Mat, the Placement Student, and I had been looking at it for about an hour trying to work out how to fix them. Finally, it all became clear. We fixed them. Happily, I wombled off back into the office, ready to think happily of my evening out. Had a warm and fuzzy look at the web page. CALAMITY! It had all gone horribly wrong. The data was sprayed randomly all over the screen. Nothing made any sense. It was all catastrophically disastrous. The most recent save before that was beset with the same muddle. None of it worked. The pictures had all vanished. It was All Over The Place! And the hand in was 3pm the following day, though strictly speaking it was at my class which starts at 9, since I wanted to put it into the lecturer’s paw rather than submitting it electronically.

I tried to rescue the situation. The Builder arrived, all dusty and hot, eagerly expecting to wash and change. I more or less ignored him. The Placement Student came in to help. I choofed him out. It was All Bad :-( Nothing worked. A problem for tomorrow, I think. We are Going Out.

So we did. We wandered up through town towards the City Hall, and met Freyja in ASK for pizza and wine (and a restorative, calming gin and tonic for me). Then we all three headed to the City Hall, for we had tickets to see Tony Robinson in his One-Man-Show. Front row tickets, as it turned out. On the side of the stage, it’s true, but front row nonetheless. And it was fantastic. He is a very funny man and his show strung together lots of bits of his life in this rambling, funny, melodramatic, poignant monologue that made us all laugh and laugh. The second half saw him fielding questions from the audience, most of which gave him the opportunity to ramble some more. It was a great evening. I even forgot about the trauma of the web page. We hardly ever go out in the evening, and almost never to things like that. WE should do it more often.

We’re going out again tonight. To a beer festival just outside of Chesterfield, at a railway museum. Two nights out in a row. How will I get up to come to work tomorrow?!?!?!?!?!

You will be pleased to hear that I got the web page fixed, working and looking very pretty. It was even handed in at this morning’s class. I even made copies of it so the rest of the group could see it. Thus far, I’ve been the only person who’s actually seen the entire finished product (apart from The Builder and the Placement Student). Certainly nobody from the group has. Though I hope they have now!

It was our last class today. I shall miss it. It’s been a great addition to Friday mornings, and I’ve enjoyed the other students and the two lecturers. I now have two quite large projects to work on, but they’re not due until September. Still, I can’t leave them for that long. Apart from the fact that I’ll forget everything and never be able to write them up, they are sufficiently substantial to require a bit of time devoting to them.

It’s a post-grad certificate I’ve been doing. I wonder if I should look into converting it into a Masters.

On Wednesday of last week, The Builder lit a bonfire. It burned merrily for a while, then he covered it with couch grass turfs and left it to smoulder. Each day he has covered it with more couch grass turfs and raked out the ashes from underneath, morning and evening, and it has smouldered on. Now, we have nearly run out of turfs to put on it, it is smouldering less enthusiastically, and we have what looks remarkably like Mount Etna growing in our back garden. And where once we had mountains of useless and invading couch grass turfs, now we have useful and non-aggressive potash to put on the gardens. He’s a clever little arsonist, is my Builder.

Oh look. Nearly time to go home. Hooray! A beer festival beckons

Monday, May 14, 2007

On, I think, Friday, I gazed out of the bedroom window on rising. Oh Look. There's Marlo pottering on the path in the garden. Turned around. Oh Look. There's Marlo on my pillow, sleeping. Looked out the window again. Marlo on the path, pottering. Turned around. Marlo on the pillow, sleeping. I suspect one of these black, black cats of not being Marlo. In fact, I suspect the one in the garden of not being Marlo.

The Builder came into the room, bearing mugs of tea. Someone has eaten all of Marlo's meat and biscuits and Licked The Bowls Clean. Unlikely to have been Marlo. He seldom actually licks the bowls clean. Cleaning is our job.

Marlo woke up and decided it was breakfast time. Ambled downstairs. Stopped in the dining room and began sniffing vigorously and very suspiciously. Sniffed his way into the kitchen. Sniffed even more vigorously and suspiciously. Sniffed his bowls in horror. Stalked out into the garden and began patrolling. The Marlo clone had disappeared.

In the meantime, I lit all the oil burners. Downstairs smelled ever so slightly of cat pee. And it wasn't Marlo. He never makes the house smell of cat pee.

We've not seen the black cat since. The two grey tabbies have been about. Marlo sees then off when he spots them. I have decided not to bother with them. I've never had any reason to think that they're coming into the house and they do no harm in the garden. They seem quite well behaved, in fact. Mind you, the one who jumped on the garden fence when Marlo was sat sunning himself outside my potting shed disappeared pretty sharpish when it saw him!

Something has helped itself to three of our fish :-( One day there were ten, happily basking in the sunshine. The next time we looked, there were but seven. Steve next door could only see seven. And only seven have there been ever since. The Builder suspects a duck. We don't think it was a heron - that would have scoffed the lot. I suppose it might have been the black cat, though it would be a clever cat who could catch them. The Builder wants to cover the pond to prevent birds (or anything else) nicking the fish. I am a bit reluctant. Marlo drinks from it. So too do the blackbirds and the starlings (though I do have a water bowl for the birds). And once we found a hedgehog. Mind you, it was a bit of a worry this morning when I went out to feed the menagerie. I couldn't see any fish. Not one. None at all. Eventually four or so appeared. I hope the rest are still there or I may yet lose the pond-covering discussion!

It's been raining!!!!!!!! Really proper rain. The water butt which collects water from the bathroom and kitchen roof is full. You can hear the vegetables and fruit trees purring. Come to that, you can hear the flower beds purring as well. Don't want loads more just now, though. A burst of sunny weather with some more gentle rain next week would be absolutely ideal! Earlier last week The Builder built a bonfire, which has been smouldering away ever since, covered with couch grass turfs. Two or three times a day, The Builder places more turfs on to block the smoke holes. It's now absolutely enormous and looks remarkably like a volcano which is imminently about to explode. Since it started raining, it's been steaming vigorously as well. Quite amusing to watch. We rather thought that yesterday's downpour would put it out. But it was still smouldering this morning. The large piles of couch, dug from the new veg beds, are slowly but inexorably being turned into useful, wholesome potash!

Oh. And The Builder has a job! A real one. One that pays money (as opposed to the work he's been doing at home which is certainly a real job but one which generates no income). He's working in Rotherham hanging fire doors at (I think) the BT building. The agency thinks it should last 6 weeks or so. That will be nice. From a financial point of view anyway.

I think I might have worked my last Sunday shift. I was at Psalter Lane yesterday. I am working a further couple of Saturdays but am not available for any of the last three Sundays before the end of term. None of the branches is open on a Sunday over the summer. And by the time the next academic session starts all the new weekend workers in the new weekend structure should be in place, up and running. There should be no need for me to work weekends at all. Which will be nice from a not-working-at-the-weekend point of view. Catastrophic from the earning-lots-of-money-and-paying-off-my-once-very-large-and-now-medium-credit-card-bill point of view, though.

Marlo, in the meantime, continues to patrol the garden, suspiciously awaiting an invasion of clones. It's a bit like having a small dog. If you are out there doing anything he sits with you and watches. I think, at the moment, he is on guard, lest we be viciously attacked by these putative clones!!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Weekend Continued

One Happy Matt and One Happy Builder
(though he doesn't look very happy! You'd think he would - he's got beer!!!!!)

End of Stage One of the Great Garden Project

Well now, those boys did a really fantastic job on Monday. They backfilled all the levels with the soil and stuff that had been dug out, especially in the post holes. They levelled things and tidied. They got one of the gravel beds ready. Then Mike had to head home, for the day was getting on and he had a two-three hour trip to Devon ahead of him. Matt and The Builder carried on. By the end of the day they had built all the edgings for the gravel beds, sorted out the gate and got the entire edifice ready for Stage Two. Which will be when the decking and rails and steps actually go in. I fear we have run out of time and budget to proceed any further this month!

While they were doing that, Jeanette, Rebecca and I went back to the craft market. There were things Rebecca wanted to do. While we were out, there was a sharp shower of rain. No worries, we were in Tesco buying beer for The Workers. WE came out and it was sunny. WE got to the market and the heavens opened right up. Only for a few minutes (but it was enough to drive the boys inside for a time!) Drove us in too. Into the face painting tent. Which also had a Make and Take section – which is a bit like the Plaster Fun Factory, where you get a plaster moulding and paint it. While Rebecca and Jeanette were doing that I went for a mooch around the shops. Was quite tempted by a three tiered steamer in the Cook Shop. Sadly, the only money I had was The Builder’s, and I couldn’t really spend that on an unexpected steamer, no matter how many tiers it had.

Wandering along, I espied a goat in a pen in the centre of the market. Went to investigate. Awwww. There were little tiny ducks and little tiny chickens. There were lambs (which, apparently, grew into micro-sheep). And there were piglets. Ever such cute piglets. They too apparently only grow to be quiet small pigs. The mean Builder wouldn’t let me have one. Not that he was there. Hard to see how he could have stopped me! But he might have noticed the addition of a pig to the garden, even a small one. Especially if it ate his runner beans:-P

So not a bad day on Monday. Nice and productive for the boys. Fairly restful for me. Mostly I watched, played on the Net, read, pottered.

We stayed over to Tuesday morning and left Whiteley just after 9. Jeanette, Matt and Rebecca had, of course, left much earlier than that (Matt had left just after 6, I think!). We were off to Salisbury to visit The Builder’s parents. We went a roundabout way through Southampton, to avoid a hold up on the motorway. We called at the Landford garden centre, where I bought a replacement grape vine, then mooched on to Gwen and Mick’s.

In we went. General greetings and settling in. Tea was brewed. “Oh,” said Gwen, The Builder’s mother. “It’s a pity I didn’t think to ask you to bring a saw.” But The Builder has his van! “Yes, but a saw would have been useful. You could have cut my kitchen bench/table in half.” Pause, while we pondered that unlikely suggestion. “But I’ve got my van,” said The Builder. It’s got all my tools in it! Including a saw.” Including, in fact, the very saw that you would need for the job Gwen wanted doing. Ten minuets later, the bench/table had been pulled from the wall, cut in half and reattached to the wall. It seems that she isn’t allowed to keep her fridge freezer in the cupboard anymore. So she is buying a new one (just because) and needed the space on the wall where half the bench/table had been. Job done, then. Though I’m not sure why she can’t have her fridge in a cupboard. Ours is built in to a cupboard!

In the meantime, she asked if we would like to stay for lunch. Chicken and dumpling stew. Nothing special, she hadn’t prepared anything for us, but there would be enough if we wanted to stay. Just as well we did! If we hadn’t, I think she and Mick would have been eating chicken and dumpling stew for the rest of the week. I suspect she might have secretly prepared extra, just in case we could stay! And it was very, very nice. Don’t get dumplings all that often – and hardly ever properly cooked ones! Freyja makes her own gnocchi. Proper Italian dumplings!! Gwen’s were suet. And very nice too.

And so we made our way home. Not too bad a trip, given that we arrived on the M1 just in time for the Peak Hour Traffic. In fact, we came off a junction early to avoid an accident further North, and had a lovely run up through Alfreton and Clay Cross. Might do it again from time e to time. Much more interesting than the motorway and bypass.

Marlo was very pleased to see us home. So were the goldfish, for we hadn’t asked Tammy to feed them while we were away. And the garden is positively blooming.

But we are both tired (even me, who has done virtually nothing all weekend). I think we both slept through the 10:00 news!


The new bricks arrived on Monday a week ago. The Builder moved them all around to the patio area. Then he started fiddling with them. Then he started bricking over the concrete path up the side, until he only had enough bricks left to do the patio. I came home from work the next day to find that I more or less had a patio.

He ordered more bricks.

They arrived.

He finished the path!

It all looks fantastic. We’ve left spaces between some for the bricks for putting low growing herbs, such as chamomile, in. There’s also a little, irregular bed around the edge, to prevent people accidentally stepping on the edge and turning their ankles!

Today I have planted out dwarf bean, sweet corn and black and white kidney bean seeds. I’ve also planted into pots in the propagating tent the last of my Black Valentine bean seeds that Clarissa gave me for my 50th birthday.

Plus, I have bought a replacement white grape vine, about a million times bigger than the red vine. It’s planted and I’ve mulched the bed with bark. I’ve also mulched the bed with the little lavenders and rosemary by the patio.

Today The Builder began digging the trench where the asparagus will eventually go. I intend to use it as a de facto compost heap for the next little while. When it is full, I’ll cover it with manure and soil ready for the asparagus next autumn/winter. I’m hoping to have two asparagus beds. You can’t have too much asparagus! And he's put guttering around the two greenhouses on the allotment and connected water butts. There's no water up there, really. There is a well, but I don't think it's very easy to use. If it ever rains again, we can have our own supply. And he tells me that lots more potatoes have come up. Excellent. We may yet have
something to eat later in the year!

Oh – and I’ve begun putting plastic drinks bottles in by the fruit trees and new ornamentals, to act as watering ducts. It’s been such a long time since it rained and I fear we are about to have a very dry summer. Don’t want all my new trees to die of dehydration. And it doesn’t much matter if it does rain all summer. I don’t have to fill the bottles up!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Visiting a Building Site

We are down in Whiteley for the May Bank Holiday weekend, so that Jim, Mike and Matt can build the frame for the extensive decking that Jeanette and Matt are putting in their backyard.

We came down on Saturday evening, after I had finished a quiet, peaceful, calm shift at Psalter Lane. Not a bad run down, although we did have to have two attempts at leaving. Got as far as Grassmoor when The Builder started cussing to himself. “What haven’t I brought?” he asked. Well, I don’t know. You haven’t brought lots of things. Most of the things in the house in fact. What haven’t you brought that you meant to bring? Ah. The electric drill! Still in the kitchen. Sort of need that if you are building decking frames! Apart from that, though, we had a good run down. There are advantages to going away for a long weekend and not leaving until later on Saturday. By that time, most people who are going anywhere have already got there! And I have taken Tuesday off as well, so we can wait until everyone has got home again before going ourselves!

Got to Jeanette and Matt’s to find Mike there, though without Rosie. She has been very poorly sick lately and isn’t yet very robust. Plus they have sold the farm and are moving to a house in one of the older parts of Whiteley. She is spending the weekend sorting out things ready for the move which is planned for a months time. Oh, and Rebecca wasn’t here. She’d gone to a birthday sleepover.

Sunday was the Great Building Day. After a hearty breakfast, the boys went out to make a start. There was the possibility of rain later in the day (after many, many days of dry weather!) and they wanted to get as far ahead as they could. In the meantime, Jeanette and I walked to Mike and Rosie’s new house to have a nosey. It’s a nice walk from their house to Mike and Rosie’s new place. Across the playing field, along a few roads, through the wood, the onto an established estate of very big houses with lots of trees. Took about 15 minutes, though we were walking quite slowly because Jeanette is 22 weeks pregnant and finding it difficult to leap about! Would take perhaps ten minutes at my normal walking pace. Though at that speed we might have missed all the wood carvings of animals that someone has put in the tops of the trees in the wood.

Got back to find that the boys were making grand progress. Decking frame number one was in place; number two was underway. So off we ambled to collect Rebecca from her sleepover, calling at a computer warehouse type thingy for a web camera for our laptop, and at the supermarket on the way back for lunch. The boys were going great guns. Rebecca, Jeanette and I went to the Whitely shops to look at the Bank Holiday Craft Market. Got back, and the frames were finished. Just the little support posts to be finished and all the posts cemented in. Luckily, Mike had brought a baby cement mixer from the farm! Mind you, we nearly dedded him! He was carrying a bucket of cement and concrete mix, went to step up onto a duckboard, missed his step, stepped in a post hole and went flying. Not good when you are someone who has to wear a back brace to keep all your bones inside your frame! In fact, they were all getting tired. The Builder kept dropping the posts he was drilling screw holes into. Matt was sighing and slipping. Fortunately, they finished for the day, all posts cemented in, before anyone met with a more serious accident. Not the safest of building sites I have ever seen!

And now it’s Monday. So far we still haven’t seen any rain. A tiny bit of drizzle yesterday, though not enough to stop any of us doing the things we were doing. A little drizzle overnight. But not enough to make anything seriously wet. The clouds are heavier today, though, the wind is stronger and the temperature has dropped. I think we might have some rain this afternoon. Rosie rang yesterday evening to say that it was raining quite hard in Devon. I do hope some of this heads to the gardens at The Sidings. Some over the allotment would be nice, too.

I had a test last Friday. A 25 question, multiple choice, online test on theories of adult learning. Prepared for it very hard, I did. I read each of the four articles we had been given at the beginning of semester twice on Thursday and again on Friday morning. This, let me tell you, is called “Surface Learning”, which is task-orientated, superficial, short term learning. Couldn’t even say that it was “Strategic Learning”, though it was my strategy for passing the test! And it worked. I got 18/25, which is 72%, which strictly speaking is a First. Personally, I think that Firsts should be awarded at 75%, but University policy is 70%, so nyerrrr! Actually, it doesn’t matter, for the PGC is only a pass/fail award. And I have forgotten it all now. But my surface learning worked!

The Builder has been very busy in the garden. We had 500 bricks delivered earlier in the week, which he wheelbarrowed round to the “patio” area. And which he has now laid. We don’t have a “patio” anymore. We have a patio! I have started putting herbs and low flowering plants in the spaces. Plus there is an asymmetrical thin bed around the edge. I might plant a hyssop hedge. Or something very like it. In addition, he has bricked all the way up the concrete path to the step. Not quite enough bricks, but another lot was ordered, arrived and was speedily turned into path. He’s a busy little bee, is my Builder! He’s also put guttering around both the greenhouses on the allotment, and connected water butts. Now all we need is rain to fill them!

I was stood at the kitchen sink on Saturday morning, more or less getting ready to go to work. A very pretty train went down towards Nottingham or Derby. A little while later the carriages came back up gain, this time not pulled by a diesel engine but by a steam engine! That’s two in a week :) I had a text message from Richard later telling me that the train was the Duchess of Sutherland. Last week’s train was the Rood Ashton Hall. If there are going to be steam train trips up our line on a regular basis, I want to go on one. And happily, I have found one. A trip from Nottingham, stopping at Chesterfield, to Carlisle in September. Saving up now!!

The boys are outside. It’s still not raining – in fact, the sun is coming out. The Builder has sawn all the long posts so they are the same height. And they are backfilling under the frames with the soil and rubble they dug out earlier. Should be finished in a couple of hours, ready for the decking to go on. But that is not happening today.