Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Well, if you will buy a 5 year old van for the huge price of £2000 you expect to have to put some money up to get it back into fine fettle. And the van has been at the van hospital now for over a week, being restored to full and excellent health. It was previously a post office van, so I assume it was quite well looked after by the Royal Mail. The immediately previous owner, though, who has only had it a few months, according to the owner’s log book, seems to have given it a bit of a whacking. The heating wotsits were broken, which is why it wasn’t starting in the morning. They’ve been replaced, and it starts now. It had cloth rags tied around its oil pipes, either to prevent it being obvious that it had an oil leak or (being charitable, here) to minimise the impact of the oil leaks. I assume this has been fixed. It’s been for an interim MOT and has one or two little bits that need adjustment. All in the pipeline. The big problem, however, is that it smelled remarkably like that canal boat the Builder and I were on last spring. All fuel-ly. It was also going through diesel like nobody’s business. It therefore came as no surprise to me, at least, to discover that there was a problem with the fuel injector thingy. The bigger problem is trying to get it fixed. Nick the Mechanic has been having trouble getting it off. And it looks as though a new injector unit is called for. Still, better to get it organised now, get everything fixed, and trundle along for a long time with a happy, healthy van. (It still feels like a happy van to me).

I’ve had a long weekend off. I worked a silly number of hours Monday to Thursday last week so arranged to have Friday off in lieu, and this afternoon off as well (I’m at Psalter Lane at the moment, wrapped up in one of my cosy winter cardies – but still a bit on the chilly side. Might go and close all the windows in a bit. If that doesn’t help I might have to put my little heater on). It was a weekend of food and drink and shopping and markets and pottering. My kind of weekend, then!

The weekend also happened to coincide with the Chesterfield Market Festival. Nice! So we ambled in to Chesterfield on Friday, looking for a tax accountant for The Builder (which we failed to find), some market action, which we did find, and a general rummage around. We bought some new table lamps in one of the gift shops (a lot of the gift and craft type shops had tables with marked down stuff outside their windows). I had intended to put them in our bedroom, replacing the green ones The Builder brought with him and which don’t really go. When we got home I propped them in the dining room while I thought about other things. They looked so well in there, they’ve taken up permanent residence on the window sills. I’m going to need new, new ones for the bedroom! We poked around in the Chesterfield Department Store and bought some more blue towels for the bathroom. I bought some yellow, orange and red peppers in the market. I took a few steps into the Post Office, saw the queues and left again. We pottered around some more, then hopped back in the car and headed into Sheffield, so The Builder could visit Labour Ready and pick up his holiday pay (he, lucky boy, has been on leave this last week, while I have been slaving over hot classrooms!!). We had intended to have lunch somewhere, but by the time I thought about it properly, it was so close to dinner time it hardly seemed worth it. Poor, starving Frannie! Poor, knackered Frannie. I was in bed good and early, and asleep almost immediately. Didn’t stay asleep, alas. Woke up several times overnight. Not a restful sleep.

Saturday kind of felt like Sunday. We did lots of Sunday things. We went to Chatsworth for supplies – and acquired loads of stewing steak and braising steak and things for making autumn and winter casseroles and soups. We decided not to head into Bakewell for lunch but instead went to the Devonshire Arms in Beeley, a little hamlet on the way home. We usually go there for Sunday lunch but decided that a Saturday lunch would be pleasant. And it would have been. The Builder’s food was lovely. I’m sure my broccoli soup was lovely. Alas, it had so much salt in it that all I could taste was salt. And for some reason, my mussels in white wine, bacon and pea soup had also been quite heavily seasoned with salt. I’m not sure why you would think something with mussels and bacon needed extra salt; in my mind it emphatically didn’t. Wasn’t nice :-( I really must remember when we go out, to ask which are the lightly, even better un – salted dishes.

The clocks went back on Sunday morning, early. I was in bed even earlier on Saturday evening. Woke up at midnight (BST). And at 2 and, apparently irrevocably, at 3. At 4 (still BST – hadn’t changed the clocks yet) I despatched The Builder down for a Nice Cup of Tea. Twice! And then I finally did go back to sleep, waking with a definite sleep hangover at around quarter to 8 (GMT). So much for my extra hour in bed. I was still knackered!!!! Still – it was a nice, restful day in the end. It rained! Hasn’t rained for ages, at least, not properly. I had all but stopped taking rain into account when making plans for any given day. Meant we couldn’t do any of our garden things. So I cooked. I made a huge pot of braised steak and a smaller pot of steak and ale casserole and some beef stock and some pea, ham and potato soup and lots of lovely things to feed to the freezer. We had gin/vodka and tonic with our lunch and wine with our roast pork dinner and listened to Rutter and Shostakovich and Delius, and watched Songs of Praise on the telly – and watched The Coal House, which seems to be another series of those programs they do from time to time when people go and live as if they were in the second world war or in an Edwardian or Victorian house. This is a 1920s coal mining cottage terrace. Quite enjoyed it. Didn’t go to bed particularly early, but that’s because I dozed off in my chair! A really rather nice Sunday. I do like Sundays. She says – again!

And another quiet, peaceful morning today. You could get used to them! We ambled back into Chesterfield late-ish in the morning and had lunch in the Rutland Arms next to the church. I like the Rutland. It’s plain and inexpensive and good value, and I like the building. I had a chicken BLT which had no added salt (!!) and which was crammed full of bacon and chicken (and lettuce and tomato!). The chips were crispy. I could only eat half of it! We’ve visited the allotment and made Spring Garden plans and generally had a good day. The Builder isn’t really on holiday this week – the agency didn’t have any sensible work for him. So he told them he would take this week off as well – he has plenty to be doing at home. He’s taken out the bed by the back gate which was filled with ivy and a droopy tree. The earth has been wheel-barrowed down to the back fence. The ivy and tree thingy are in the recycling bin. He’s started concreting in the resultant elephant trap. There are lots of garden things he could be doing – assuming the weather stays dry.

The really exciting thing we did over the weekend, however, was to book our trip to Japan and Australia next April! We went to STA travel in Sheffield on Friday afternoon and they sorted it for us. I had intended to go to Japan for a week, then Australia for 10 or so days and then come home. It had crossed my mind that Austin can’t take time off during the week, and I wasn’t sure quite what we would do for all that time on our own. Then I thought – we could go for two weekends, there and back. And lo – it was do-able. Very exciting indeed. We leave Manchester on April 3rd and are back on April 23rd (I think), with just over a week in Melbourne in the middle.

I have just started listening to a Learn Japanese tape. So far I can say, with confidence, Good afternoon. I fear that the application for this might be a tad limited!! Can’t even confidently say good morning or good evening!

I seem to have all but finished my Christmas shopping. I am a bit worried. October hasn’t even finished yet and I’ve only got a couple of presents yet to get, and a few bits and pieces. I’ve done the Big food items and have even started planning my menus and things. Not my normal behaviour at all. It isn’t mid December is it?

Monday, October 22, 2007

We’ve had quite a few frosts these last few days. There’s a thermometer on the same pole as the garden clock and it’s been showing -1 when we’ve got up. The sun has come out nice and warmly later in the morning, but it does mean that the zucchinis and the runner beans are taking a bit of a hammering.

So I’ve pulled the zucchini and sort of weeded the bed it was in. The top bit had already been weeded and has autumn planting broad beans in it. I’ll hoe the rest of it and sow some more, though I could do with another packet.

The Builder has pulled the runner beans. I have a basket full of them, some of which have the most beautiful bean seeds in them. Pink and speckled and shiny. He’s kept back 24 of the prettiest of them, for sowing next spring. I’m gradually sorting them out into big beans and little beans ready for winter casseroles. (On a related note, I’ve also sorted out the veg freezer so that things are more or less together and I have some hope of finding things!)

The cabbages and broccoli are doing ok. We’re eating the cabbages and the bright green calabresi; some of the plants are producing sprouting bits now as well. We’re also beginning to get some carrot thinnings. Was a lovely veg collection last evening: little carrots, little zucchini (the last from the plants) and little florets of broccoli. Went very well with the roast beef, roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings.

The Builder has turned his attention to the front of the house. The little “rockery” by the back gate, which had been filled with ivy and a tree which flowered for about a week every spring but otherwise was unremarkable, has now gone, to open up a bit of space around the gate (which will eventually be the door into the porch). He’s intending to cut back the wall in front of the house by a bit and to remove the front rockery. A much larger undertaking than the back one!!

There are still squillions of little fish in the pond, along with the 6 big ones. I wonder how many of them will survive the winter. I wonder what sort of a winter we’ll have. I seem to recall it being milder than this last October (a quick squizz of the Meanderings blog for last October suggests that it was milder and damper and greyer but I wasn’t really keeping a weather report).

I’ve been very impressed with this season’s produce from the garden, the orchard and the allotment. It was the first year for all of them, it hasn’t been particularly good weather for growing food – and the vegetable freezer is full to capacity and we continue to eat from the greenhouses and from the veg garden. True, only brassicas from the veg plots, but I’m not sneezing at cabbages and broccoli.

And here’s looking towards next season.

Autumnal meanderings

For the first time this season, we've had to clear the ice from the van before we could leave for work on Thursday and Friday. We've put a round thermometer on the same post as the garden clock and it's been -1d for the last few mornings, misty or foggy, clearing to beautiful days with glorious sunshine. Once you get over the freezing starts to the day!

The van fits, just, in our driveway! Its letters are UCJ and it seems to think that its name is Uncle John. This surely can't be right. Does anybody have any better idea what its name might be? It seems to be fitting in quite well, though I think it might have a slight fuel leak. It smells remarkably like a Broads Boat when The Builder starts it in the morning. It is also proving a bit recalcitrant to get up and move. I can fully empathise with this; so am I. But its job is to get up and move in the mornings. Mine doesn't start until at least an hour later!!! It’s going to Nick the Mechanic for a thorough going over tomorrow.

I had breakfast with Freyja on Thursday morning in Alfie and Bella's, a sandwich shop across from the main entrance to the University. Ordinarily, they do fantastic food. On Thursday, however, it seemed as though we were waiting for ever for our breakfast. It was beginning to get to the point where we were wondering if Freyja would actually have time to eat her breakfast before she had to leave for work. I can usually be a bit flexible about my starting and finishing times. Freyja cannot. Anyway, the girl came panting up to the upstairs dining area with a tray of food and apologised for the delay. She was, it seemed, the only person in. No one else had turned up yet. I looked at my plate, where I was expecting to find toast, poached eggs and some mushrooms. Hmmm. The poached egg was in bits, a lot like scrambled poached eggs. It was virtually inedible. The mushrooms weren’t cooked. The toast was nice, though. I might have sent it back, except that Freyja would then have run out of time – and I’m not sure the replacement would have been nay better. The poor girl had clearly done her best. But she might have been better, if she didn’t know how to poach an egg, to tell me that they were off the menu that morning. I’d have cheerfully had something else. Something that I could eat!

It was quite a chaotic day at work, as well. By about half past nine I was seriously considering the possibility of going home, going back to bed and starting again. Or not!

Otherwise, it’s been quite a good week. I’ve had some lovely teaching sessions where the students have been keen and interested. I had Monday morning off to allow for an evening duty at Psalter Lane. I had Wednesday off until 5, when I was on in the Adsetts Centre until 9. We’ve had some pleasantly relaxed evenings. I’ve also taken delivery of 24 bottles of mixed European dry white wines, which certainly enhance the relaxation process.

Yesterday was designated (earlier in the week, mainly by Freyja) as Sleeping Day. I can’t say we slept all day, but I turned off the radio so it didn’t come on at 5:30. The alarm never rings at weekends anyway. We did wake at 5:30 but turned over and went back to sleep. Woke again around half seven and The Builder didn’t make the morning tea until 8:00. I realise this isn’t late for most people, but if you’ve taken up with a builder … We ambled about and did domestic things, then went to the Post Office to post a parcel on behalf of Freyja. Then we took ourselves across country, along lanes we haven’t previously travelled, to Chatsworth to buy some beef. On Friday evening I had asked The Builder what he would have for Saturday dinner if he could have anything in the world. Roast beef and Yorkshire pud was his response. ‘Twas the one thing I didn’t have available for roasting in the freezer! We bought the Christmas beef while we were there. Will have to make sure we don’t eat it in a moment of inattention between now and then!

We would have had lunch in the restaurant, but the queues were even longer than they were last Saturday. Back into Bakewell, then, for mushroom soup in the Peacock and a womble around the town. And so home for a little light gardening and a potter about. Was all very pleasant. And clearly highly exhausting. I went to sleep in front of the telly at around 5:30 and didn’t wake up again until 7 or so! We did have out roast beef and Yorkshire pud, just a bit later than I had intended. There’s lots more for tonight. I’m going to heat it all up and have it with onion and mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts. But it really was a sleeping day. Should have more of them.

Had a lovely morning this morning. It was once again cold and frosty and just below zero when we got up. We pottered inside, heating on, eating fruit toast and drinking tea, until the frost lifted. Then we went for a walk around the wetlands walk, which we haven’t done since we went with Lindsey and Ian. There were loads of people out there, walking their dogs, ambling about in family groups, power walking. It’s lovely to see people out there enjoying it. The Hebridean sheep and the highland cows seem to have gone, though. Wonder where they went. Then we got home and it was, alas, time for me to get organised and come to work. Was a glorious morning. Such a waste of the afternoon to be sat in the Office at Psalter Lane, waiting in case the new Customer Service Advisers (!!!) come across questions they can’t answer. Still. Think of the money. I am being remarkably well paid to sit here as a “duty adviser”.

The Builder has finished his job in Sheffield. He had announced his intention to have this coming week off and had been given to understand that there would be work for him on the BT site when he came back. On Friday at 4pm, the boss told the whole lot of them that there was no work with him now until possibly in December. The agency reckons they can probably have all of them in remunerative employment well before then. Like tomorrow! (Apart from The Builder who is not available until the Monday after.) A bit poor, I reckon, to give them all to understand that there was no more work right up until the very last minute. Not so bad for The Builder who has a pension and other odd sources of income. But the boys run a bit tight for cash and the agency would have been actively looking for them, had they but known.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Autumn report

Things are coming on well in the garden. The cabbages and broccoli are growing nicely (and tasting nicely too). We've almost come to the end of the runner beans and the zucchini, but are still getting some. I've started putting the empty beds, and empty bits of beds in use, to bed for the winter. I've weeded them and covered them with manure and or ash from the volcano, then topped that with grass clippings. On Monday I planted autumn planting peas and broad beans in two of the beds and top dressed with ash. We'll have to see if we can beat the slugs, frost and snow this year!!

Oh - the corn has started to fruit. Too late, of course, but it did finally get there. If nothing else, I can make corn stock with it!!!

Things are in a moderate level of disarray on the allotment. The top beds desperately need weeding. There are leeks and tiny onions in there and you can't see them for thistles!! The potato beds aren't so bad. I've weeded the bottom one by the greenhouses and today planted white and red onion sets and some garlic for the spring. The tomatoes are producing prolifically! I came home with yet more today. There's now a huge pot of "ratatouille" waiting to go into the freezer. It's got tomatoes, onions, garlic, zucchini and wong bok (instead of aubergine!) and smells wonderful.

We are considering getting another couple of greenhouses for the allotment, plus a small tool shed. When The Builder has time, he’s going to start putting new beds in, starting at the bottom (I think) and working up towards the greenhouses.

The flower garden is looking very smart. I’ve weeded both the centre beds and they’re looking very cheerful. Last winter, inspired by a friend’s tales of wandering about in her garden the previous summer and eating wild strawberries for breakfast, I moved a few plants I found in the lawn into the first bed. A nice edging, I thought. Well, the most ardent evil dictator in human history could lessons in world domination from those strawberries. They’ve colonised that entire bed, made serious inroads into the brick path and even started to straggle into the next bed!!! I’ve hacked them back but I am seriously wondering whether this really was a terribly good plan. Didn’t even get any tiny strawberries (though I got loads on the real plants in the orchard). I’ve just bought some seeds for “black” hollyhocks, cornflowers, sunflowers and sweet peas. I’m pondering whether to dig out the wild strawberries and replace them with the “black” seeds. Apart from the sweet peas, which I might grow along the fence! That would give me (more or less and not absolutely) a black and purple bed which would be quite cute.

I now need to weed (urgently!) the original flowerbed along the wall. We are intending to take down the two rockery beds out the front and I want to rescue some of the plants in the bed by the front wall. Then we’re going to shorten the length of the wall outside the actual house by a bit. With both beds gone and the wall shortened, we should be able to get the new van onto the concrete and off the road. Mind you, the power pole in the middle of the new gap will still be a problem, but I don’t imagine the power people are going to shift it for our convenience!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


PS. I was coming home this evening. As I was driving along Abbey Lane, which passes through Ecclesall Woods, I saw something dog-sized and squat crossing the road. Slowed down so as not to run it over and damage the car. Knew it wasn't a dog, but couldn't see what it was. As I got closer, and it was galumphing across the road, I realised it was a badger. It's months since I last saw a badger. I do like badgers

Vans, Railways, Gardens and more

The Builder has bought a replacement van on eBay. Not, I am pleased to say, for £180000, nor for £18000 but for the much more reasonable price of £2000. We went to Leeds on Saturday to collect it, Jenny the Sat Nav getting us there (and back) in a nice and calm manner. (I don’t like navigating around Leeds. Once found myself trapped in the city centre at night with no obvious way of getting out again!)

It’s a very cute van. It’s a red, former postal van and it has six, that’s SIX seats in it, three of which come out if you want to carry huge big things in it. It seems to have been quite well kept and Nick the Mechanic appeared to approve when we called in at his garage to show it to him. The Builder reports that he had trouble starting it this morning, but otherwise it seems to go OK. He’s taking it in to Nick next week for a look see.

The Builder has also bought many sticks of wood, also on eBay, from someone he has previously bought sticks of wood from who lives around the corner in Tupton. He has plans to build a new shed, replacing the potting shed and the tool shed. He also has plans to put a porch over the back door so we have somewhere to keep the boots, and also so that we aren’t walking straight into the kitchen from the backyard. It is very hard to keep the kitchen floor clean at the moment, it must be said. I think he now has almost enough upright sticks of wood for both these projects. Possibly also for the roof trusses. Now he needs bits of wood to fill in the walls.

Freyja has also been out, looking for useful things to buy, such as chairs and tables and couches and stuff. To this end she took herself off to the charity shops to see what was about. And came home, not with things to sit on or to eat from or to put things on. Though I suppose you could put things on it. But no, she came home with none of these things. She came home with -- -- a piano!!! At least, she came home having paid for a piano. She didn’t actually carry it herself. An Oxfam delivery person came with it several days later. He charged £5 per step to get it up to the front door.

We had quite a pleasant weekend. Quiet. Restful. I was not working. Neither was The Builder. After we got back from Leeds we went to Chatsworth and saw Roger loitering in the meat queue in the farm shop. At least, I think it was the meat queue. It was very crowded and I didn’t go to investigate. He might have been in the bread queue, I suppose. We ambled into Bakewell for lunch and pottered about the shops. We pootled about in the garden and went to inspect the work on the train line. They’ve been working on the line between Derby and Sheffield at weekends for weeks now. The station at Chesterfield is closed to train traffic on Saturdays and Sundays (not entirely conveniently!). Now they have reached the Tupton stretch of the line and had been working in shifts since late evening on Friday, under arc lights during the night. It looks magnificent, all lit up. But it was very odd to see the line with no track at all on it! And I didn’t have my camera :-( Then we had dinner, watched telly, pottered about and went to bed, with no fear that we would have to be up indecently early on Sunday morning.

Enjoyed Sunday as well. Did not get up indecently early. Did a little light housework before a mid-morning breakfast. Then spent most of the rest of it in the garden, weeding the flower beds and tidying up and generally enjoying it. We did make a trip to the garden centre to buy some hellebores. We also bought some seeds and some bird food and some pansies. Going to the garden centre is always a dangerous activity! We went to collect the wood sticks. The Builder stashed them in the “chook” shed and started digging a bed along the side fence for the little lavenders and for the tayberry. We went and inspected the railway work some more (I had my camera this time). Then it was dinner time (beef wellington) and a pleasant, relaxed evening. Did go to bed way too late, though. Happily, I’m on the evening duty today so could have a nice, leisurely morning. Unlike The Builder who was also late to bed and who had to go into work bright and early :-p

I spoke to Austin yesterday lunch time and he broke the unwelcome news that he and Julia split up shortly after Julia went to Greensboro (That’s Greensboro, North Carolina, not Greensborough shopping complex). I think it was about that time. It was a few weeks ago, anyway. It’s very sad. At least, I’m very sad. They’ve been together a long time. However, no one yet has managed to break away from the Hyde Collective once they’ve been assimilated and I can’t imagine it’s any more likely to let Julia go than anyone else. (Austin, of course, has no chance – he was assimilated before birth!!) So that’s alright then. I shall expect to find her at my table tucking into Yorkshire puddings along with the rest of us. Always assuming that the Yorkshire puds rise better than they did the last time I attempted them. They hardly even deserved the term Yorkshire pancakes, they were so flat! Unlike the bread I made at the weekend which rose and rose and rose to the point I was beginning to worry about the roof of the oven! And still it was quite stodgy. But I digress; I’m supposed to be breaking bad news here, not discussing my risings and fallings!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Alarming moments on eBay

So. The Builder and his boys have been working all the hours that God sends over the past few days, trying to get their fire door project finished by the time the inspectors came to look at it.

They succeeded. Just. There is still some modification and adjustment to be done, but by 12:00 it was finished and The Builder and the boys repaired to the pub.

I met The Builder back at The Vixen at around 20 to 6.


I drove home. :-p The Builder slept home.

He slept quite enthusiastically for most of the evening, too. He did manage to wake up for his egg, bacon and toast (he and the boys hadn't thought to have any lunch, being preoccupied with celebratory beer) and in time to have a restorative glass of wine before going to bed. And then not again until the radio came on at half past five.

Thus it fell to me to monitor progress on the van The Builder was watching on eBay.

He had instructed me to put in a fishing bid of up to £1800. So I put in a bid of £1855.

And was a bit surprised when I checked to find that his bid on the van was showing at £2500. Investigated further - and found that I had inadvertently put in a maximum bid of - - - - - - £18055!!!!!!!!!!!

You could buy a shiny, magnificent, all-singing, all-dancing one for that :-S

I emailed the seller to explain what had happened. By the time I got back to the auction page, The Builder's bid was up to £15000.

I thought this was odd, but didn't have time to think about it much. The auction closed in ten minutes and you aren't supposed to retract bids after the auction has closed.

I retracted the bid and went to The Builder's email to make sure a confirmation email had come through. It had. But before it arrived another email came in saying that he had been OUTBID!!!!!! I think someone must have made a similar sort of mistake. Actually, I'm not sure quite what was happening there. It all seemed very odd.

Happily for all concerned, the van eventually sold for £1950. Well, happily for all except the seller, though I don't suppose he could have held anyone to a bid of £18200. Nobody would spend that much on an ancient little old van!

But let this be a lesson to us all. It is a Very Bad Plan to put bids on eBay while you have a cat asleep on your lap, the laptop balanced on the arm on the chair and while you are watching something on the telly at the same time. At least, not before checking that you have actually bid what you thought you were bidding. Almost gave me heart failure, it did!!

The Builder left his boys in the pub when he came out and weaved his way back to The Vixen. I wonder what time they got into work this morning. I wonder if they did get into work this morning!

I think we should be allowed to go to the pub for the afternoon when we complete major projects. Sadly, this seems to be frowned upon by SHU management

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Food Festivals Galore

Goodness. Not one but TWO food festivals in a week!

We didn't get to have lunch with The Builder's parents last weekend. Mick had a very unpleasant chest infection. It was so bad that Gwen said that she had rather thought on the Friday and Saturday that he might not still be with us by Sunday. Happily he was, but not in any state to go out. So we rethought our plans.

First, we had to go into Salisbury to sort out a replacement for his phone. He's now once again connected to mobile telephony, with a free insurance policy which covers him for accidental damage. At least, it covers his phone! Probably not worth actually paying for insurance for it, but free is worth having - he can inadvertently throw it under any number of taxis now!

Rumour had reached our ears of a food fair in the market square. We had a bit of time to kill so wandered in to investigate. It was lovely - just like an ENORMOUS farmer's market. Wonderful meat and fish, yummy breads and rolls, English wines and cordials. Busy enough to feel buzzy but not so busy that you couldn't move. Had a lovely time. And filled up my shopping bags. And, eventually, the freezer!

We had lunch in the Yew Tree in Odstock, the next village along from Gwen and Mick's. We'd booked a table in case they could join us and figured we might as well use the booking - after all, we had to eat somewhere. Then we trundled along to visit them. Mick was looking all grey and sad and sickly, though he did perk up as our visit progressed. Gwen was a bit sad when we said we ought to go. I can see that it must be a bit dull being at home with someone with a nasty chest infection. Not only is he confined to the house, but so perforce is she, effectively. Unfortunately, it's quite a long drive from Salisbury to The Sidings and we didn't want to be too late home. We'll have to organise another run down soon.

So it was, then, that we left this Saturday morning for the York Food and Drink Festival with both freezers more or less full and my wallet more or less empty. We'd booked to go about a month ago, not realising that food festivals would come out of the woodwork in the interim. However, the B&B was booked and we were all geared up for it, so off we went. It's not far from us to York and we don't usually stay - it's an easy day trip. It seemed a bit extravagant to make a weekend of it - but if you're going to a food and DRINK festival you don't want to be driving home. And the trains aren't stopping at Chesterfield over the weekends at the moment - some work they're doing on the lines. There are alternatives, but they take up to five hours (it takes an hour and a quarter by car!). An overnight stay it was, then.

The B&B has just taken delivery of week old twins. Grandma is in charge while the twins and their parents sort themselves out!

The festival was fantastic. The big market square in Parliament street was packed with stalls and things. I've bought the Christmas ham and the Christmas salmon (£10, or £12.50 if they filleted it for you - I had them fillet it and give me the bones and head as well. I now also have the stock for the Christmas bouillabaisse!!) I've got artisan sausages and cheeses, chops and lamb mince, all sorts of very yummy things. We had lunch in the Lendel Cellars (where we have eaten before). They weren't being all that efficient - the timing of the last weekend of the (10 day) food festival coincided with the end of Freshers' week and the arrival back of the returning students. Wave after wave after wave of groups of students and groups of foodies rather overwhelmed the poor kitchen staff. Lots of people gave up, reclaimed their money and went away. Our lunch was well worth the wait - but we only waited because we didn't actually have any plans for the afternoon, other than wafting around food stalls. We ambled around the actual market square (not part of the festival but always an interesting potter) and wandered about the shops. My Christmas present shopping is going well too - if unconscionably early!!

If you should find yourself in York overnight and are looking for somewhere to eat, the Waterfront Restaurant on King's Staithe does absolutely wonderful steak and seafood dishes. Our great pleasure in our dinners was only lessened by the twat at the table next to ours pontificating to a couple of bewildered and bemused listeners about all sort of thins (primarily business related) in Australia. He assured them he was a regular visitor. Didn't sound like it to me. I oh so wish I'd been wearing my kangaroo jumper - which I did have with me but which I had left back at The B&B. The Builder wouldn't let me push him into the Ouse and diverted me with ice cream and chocolate syrup!

I hadn't thought to take the program for the festival with me and although I knew there were events happening around the place I wasn't sure where they were. I had a feeling, though, that some of them were around the Yorkshire Wheel at the Railway Museum. So we went to investigate after our hearty breakfast on Sunday. Got there at ten, just as things were opening up and decided to start the day with a trip on the wheel. It's not anything like as big as the London Eye and has little pods rather than huge capsules for travellers to sit in. Even so, I don't think people who are nervous of heights would be too troubled. You are beautifully enclosed and there is no danger at all of falling, flying or toppling. The weather was beautiful, if a trifle cold, and the views were amazing. It travels faster than the London Eye, but you get several revolutions so you can look at things you missed on previous revolutions. Really enjoyed it.

Never did find the exhibitions and events I thought were at the Museum. Eventually, on looking it up today, realised that they were at the Eye of York, which is not the wheel (as in the London Eye) but on the other side of the city near Clifford tower. Oh well. No worries. We did a second riffle through the market stalls, collected the car and came home.

There was something of a problem stowing away all the shopping. Eventually, armed with a gin and tonic, I took all the drawers out of the freezer, put everything on the floor (Marlo was convinced this was a special jigsaw puzzle just for him! Though it was perhaps a bit cold for comfort) and packed things back in V E R Y C A R E F U L L Y I N D E E D. It does all fit. Just.

I've made stocks and soups and things. We had home made pizza for dinner last evening. I've got a pork hock for tonight. Oh - and during the week I tried my hand at making potato crisps/chips. They were very, very nice. I've acquired a parsnip to try parsnip crisps now.