Sunday, September 28, 2008

Off to a birthday party

We are in a nice cosy room, in a nice cosy bed, with warm cups of tea in the Swan@Stoford. Outside it is foggy and coolish. I shall stay in here with my cup of tea and my Hot Water Builder until it is time to go down for breakfast. I booked us in for a late breakfast this morning :-)

We came down yesterday for The Builder’s sister-in-law, Jenny’s 60th birthday party.

Before we left, though, we dashed about at home doing tidying and cleaning things (or I did - The Builder sat in bed and played with my MacBook). Then we went and watered the allotment, dropped a parcel in the post and then headed down, asking Jenny the Sat Nav (not Jenny The Builder’s sister-in-law!) to avoid the M1. It was a lovely trip. Took us down the A61 towards Derby along quite a pretty route and then we joined the M6 toll road. We don’t usually use the toll road; it’s not really on the way unless we are avoiding the M1. Nobody else uses it either, in order to avoid paying £4.50 for the privilege. In my opinion, it’s £4.50 well spent. You get a beautifully built, fairly new, nearly empty road to drive along, until you reach the M40 near Birmingham.

Actually, we had quite a good run all round. Not a great deal of traffic anywhere, until we got to Salisbury itself, where the traffic was very heavy! Still, we got to Gwen’s place (that’s The Builder’s mother - pay attention up the back!!) at about the time we had expected to, changed into our party clothes and took ourselves off to the party, which was at The Builder’s niece’s place at Ringwood in the New Forest.

There were lots of people there! The Builder’s sister Marie was there with her lot. His daughter Jeanette was there with her lot. There were oodles of people that I didn’t know and some I had met once or twice before. The Builder’s son Ian wasn’t there. I think his invitation must not have reached him. He didn’t know about it when we spoke to him earlier in the week and I know an invitation had been sent. His brother Peter wasn’t there either but that was because he chose not to go.

We were extremely lucky with the weather. It was foggy yesterday morning when we got up in Tupton. Gwen says it was foggy in Salisbury too. But by party time the day had cleared to glorious sunshine and it was nice and warm. I was very, very glad to find a spit roasted pig sizzling away. All I had had to eat all day was three Cape Gooseberries (Chinese Lanterns, Physalis, however you know them) from the greenhouse. They were very tasty but only about the size of a finger tip so not entirely substantial. By half three, four o’clock, I was very hungry !! So was The Builder, even though he had had a bowl of cereal for breakfast. But he hadn’t had any morning tea or lunch so was more than ready for roast pork rolls with various salads, then more roast pork rolls with more salads, then jelly and trifle and ice cream. I had wine with mine. The Builder had Fanta; there was still a fair bit of driving to do.

By half past six it was getting chilly and Gwen was looking a bit tired. We took her home and trundled to Stoford to the Swan. Topped up The Builder’s wine levels and then went down for supper. I wasn’t at all ready for anything substantial. The Builder can always manage a little spot of something. He had shepherd’s pie. I had the soup of the day, which was a really lovely Vietnamese style chicken and noodle soup which a side bowl of salad greens. It was exactly what I needed!

It was a good day. We had expected to be in York this weekend at the food and wine festival. We cancelled our hotel booking in York when we got the invitation to the party. I’m glad we did. It was a good afternoon.

I had a really weird dream last night. I was off somewhere for a work activity with Roger. For reasons that don’t make much sense I took my Mac, my back pack and my red country road bag full of hippos that belong to Freyja. I lost Roger :-( Then I found a room with some Housing academics. I popped in to speak to them, leaving all my bags at the door. The room turned into an aeroplane and disappeared for a sightseeing tour of wherever we were - leaving my Mac, my back pack and all the hippos behind :-S Mercifully I woke up (deeply anxious, it must be said!) before I had to explain to Freyja where a bag load of her hippos had gone

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Terminal Etudia

I absolutely have to tell you about the Warsaw Airport Departure Terminal! If you are flying on a budget airline you pass by the rather elegant Terminals 1 and 2 and fetch up at Terminal Etudia. Terminal Etudia is a tin shed. It is, honestly. It’s a tin shed. The website says that it’s services are rudimentary and that therefore the airport taxes are lower.

Rudimentary? It’s facilities are non-existent!!!!

I arrived there just under an hour before check-in opened. And found Mike the academic, Mike the administrator and Jackie his wife already there looking a bit glum. There was nowhere to sit and nothing much to do while we waited. Mike the academic found a “bar” next door. The bar consisted of loads of outside tables under huge sun umbrellas (in this case sheltering the tables from the rain). Your choice of beverage appeared to be beer or coke. I had beer!

We went back inside the terminal at the time check-in opened. The queue was for all flights. It snaked around and around and around and out the door. In the rain!

It was a bit despairing, really. I fancied that there was no chance at all that we would get to the check-in desk before the flight left.

Actually, it took just over half an hour.

Then we went airside.

I had intended to buy some biscuits and sweets and souvenir-y things at the airport. Easier than buying them in town and carting them about with me.

A cunning plan.

Except – there are no shops airside at Terminal Etudia. Not one. Well, apart from a stall selling not very nice sandwiches. Not a biscuit or a sweetie in sight. So therefore no presents for anyone. Sorry :-(

Also not very many chairs for sitting on. We managed to get four together pretty much by pushing past everyone and making a grab for four right at the back, which had been protected from everyone else by someone’s suitcase and a push chair blocking the path. We simply asked for these impediments to be moved!

Wizzair, on the other hand, is a nice little airline. It’s based in Hungary. I had nothing to read (no magazine shop selling English language papers in the terminal) so amused myself by watching some of Hogfather on my Mac. I’ve started watching it several times and always drift off to sleep. Don’t know why; it’s quite a fun film. I have got further into it now. Didn’t stop watching because I fell asleep but because the flight back to London is not quite two hours, so there was really only an hour available for using the laptop.

Mike the administrator and Jackie his wife brought me back to Chesterfield. Mike absolutely hurtled up the M1. I sent The Builder a text message as we passed exit 28 to say that’s where we were. He left the house more or less immediately. We got to exist 29, came off and drove the 3 miles to Frankie and Bennies restaurant, where I was to meet The Builder. He left our place and drove the 3 miles to Frankie and Bennies. And we beat him in . Only just, but we did get there first. Hurtling, that’s what Mike was doing!

A late supper in Frankie and Bennies.

The Builder was at work yesterday. I was not. Or not at work in the Adsetts Centre. Instead I ironed and washed and peeled a million potatoes and prepped them for frozen roasties or frozen chips. I also swept and washed the kitchen floor, though I have no idea why. It’s raining again and no sooner had I done it than it was muddy again. On the other hand, it was absolutely spectacularly muddy after I’d finished sorting through the Arran Victory potatoes, so something had to be done!

I begin to think I am carrying around my very own, personal rain cloud. Everywhere I’ve been for the past few weeks it’s been wet and cold (except for when Ian came with his personal sun burst). The Builder reports that the weather in Chesterfield was magnificent while I was away. The locals in Warsaw were aghast by the state of the weather while I was there.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Still in Warsaw

I took a taxi to meet the folks on Friday night. Got to the meeting point just as Steve got there, bringing with him Mike, another Nottingham Trent academic, and Chris, who lives in Warsaw, comes from Croydon and has a Real Estate business in Warsaw.

Mike and Jackie had got lost :-S They were ages away in another part of town. They got in a taxi and Chris, who is fluent in Polish, gave instructions to the taxi driver on how to get to us. Mobile phones, doncha know!

So at about half nine, I found myself in a Polish restaurant in the Old Town. Had a bean and sausage soup for starter. It was very nice, if a little salty for my taste. But the salt wasn’t over powering. Then I had pork with potato dumpling. The pork was wonderful. The potato dumpling was rather nice too, although enormous. The cabbage was well cooked but had been flavoured with something I couldn’t identify and didn’t much like. And I neither expected nor needed French Fries with it all. There was enough on my plate for a GIANT! Couldn’t eat it :-S Ate the pork and half the dumpling and a bit of the cabbage. The others also left much of theirs, except for Steve who was determined to finish his, and finally did so, leaving only a few fries. How they all managed to find room for dessert is a mystery to me. And quite how Steve manages to be as skinny as he is is an even bigger mystery! We finished up with a cherry liqueur which was lovely!

Up bright and early on Saturday morning and left the hotel for my teaching engagement in good time. Arrived at the venue about half an hour before I was due to start. Managed not to get lost this time! Steve and Nick, the SHU course leader, who had come in from Prague on the overnight train, met me in the room and set up Steve’s laptop for me to use. I don’t think Nick enjoyed the trip by train from Prague. He hadn’t slept very well, and said he felt crumpled. Have to say, he didn’t look crumpled. Everyone was very smartly dressed when they were meeting the students. I must take something other than my normal work clothes to Prague in October. A skirt and a jacket, perhaps.

The session went quite well, I think. There were the obligatory few at the back who didn’t care about the electronic information resources and couldn’t see why they were wasting three hours being told about them when they could have found them for themselves. Everyone else seemed to be listening closely, and they asked questions and seemed engaged. Then Nick, Steve, and Mike the academic from NTU came back, the students went to lunch and we took ourselves off to Coffee Heaven (like Starbucks only with better coffee) for lunch. Mike went off to entertain the students for the afternoon. Steve and Nick trundled off to the airport to head back to England. And I wandered off up the Royal Route. Had I realised there was a flight back to the UK on the Saturday afternoon, I would have taken it. I don’t actually need to stay in Warsaw into Sunday. But I’m booked on the same flights as Mike the Admin bloke and thought that there wasn’t one late on Saturday afternoon.

Had a lovely walk back up the Royal Route. They had been setting up what looked like a street market when I had been walking down in the morning. I was able to walk back up in the afternoon at a much more leisurely pace. I’m not absolutely sure what they were doing. Some of the stalls had things for sale, but many of them seemed to be information stalls - for the police and fire service, and for things like aid for Afghanistan, and church related things, and lots of other stuff. I was hampered, rather, by my inability to speak Polish, so couldn’t work out what some of the stalls were about. But it was interesting poking about. And there was a stall with jazz musicians playing, and other stalls with music further up. It was all rather jolly. I had a quick look into the grounds of the University of Warsaw, ambled about in the Old Town Square and pottered about. Then I decided that I really was rather tired and headed back to the hotel.

There are some more musicians back near the hotel, only they’re made of brass and play very silently.

I was tired. I was watching a DVD on the laptop (River Cottage hits the road) and suddenly realised that the DVD had finished, I had no idea what had happened after the first 15 minutes and it was half past seven!

Had to have room service in the evening. The restaurant was hosting a function. I consulted the room service menu. Looked OK. I ordered a shrimp starter, a lamb chop main and a carafe of white wine. My experience in the restaurant on Friday night had suggested that a glass of wine comes as a serving of about two mouthfuls! You’d have thought I might have learned from my food experience on Friday as well. But I didn’t. I was expecting my shrimpy entree to be a small plate with a few shrimps and some salad. But no. It was an entire small lobster with two beautifully shaped mounds of rice and a huge salad. It was very, very nice (and, when I checked the price list - very, very expensive!). It was more than enough as a main meal. But still there were the lamb chops to tackle. FOUR of them. With roast potatoes, a very strange sort of ratatouille and yet more salad. With the addition of three or four more potatoes, it would more than easily have fed both The Builder and me!!! I did my best. I did my best with the wine as well. I was expecting, well - a carafe. And got what looked like a litre or more of white wine.

I slept remarkably well last night!

And now it’s Sunday and I’m heading home this afternoon. I had intended to go and visit the zoo this morning. But the weather remains grey and drizzly (though it’s brightened up a bit now) and I have a seriously cross foot. For some reason it has the father of all blisters at the back of my right ankle, where it’s obviously been rubbing on the shoe. Don’t know why - the shoes are not by any means new. So I’ve stayed in the hotel this morning. Am about to go and check out (checkout isn’t until midday) and see if I can sit in the lobby until it’s time to leave for the airport. I can’t imagine they will say no!

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Here we are in not-so-sunny Warsaw.

I arrived last night, at around 10:00.

I had met Mike Smith, the course administrator for the MA in Property Appraisal and Management (PAM) course and his wife Jackie outside the University at half midday and went down to Luton Airport with them. We had a surprisingly good trip down the M1. The travel gods must have been smiling upon us.

We got to Luton, I went to check in. They went airside - and I haven’t seen them since!!! It’s not that big, airside at Luton, although there were quite a few people there. I did see the Nottingham Trent academic from time to time, in the distance. I had also seen him ahead of me in the security queue, plus I saw him board and alight from the plane. I know he’s about because he rang me this morning. I assume mike and Jackie also made it to town.

Bernard the Business Hippo and SLeepy hippo are with me, to look after me and to keep an eye on my leaflets and things. We decided at the airport to have a light meal to keep us going. Calamari rings, chips and a glass of wine. Very nice, too.

There were tiny children on the flight :-S And I have read my guide book and my magazines. Don’t know what I’m going to do on the flight home on Sunday :-S

I got to Warsaw airport and was greeted by a man bearing a taxi accreditation badge. Did I want a taxi somewhere. The thought crossed my mind that the mini cab system (and he had to be a mini cab driver - regular ones don’t go touting for business, they sit in their taxi ranks and wait) tends to be quite a bit ore expensive than the regular one. I was, however, quite shocked by how much more expensive it was. Three times, rather than the double I was expecting! I have got a receipt in the hope I can claim it back!

It’s quite a nice hotel. The room is quite large, has a nice bathroom, a good shower, a telly and lots of drawers and cupboards. There’s bottled water but no tea making facilities. I had remembered that European hotels often don’t provide these things so had brought the travel kettle and some tea bags with me. I need to acquire some milk. And a cup! There are glasses aplenty, but no cups.

There was something of a catastrophe on Wednesday evening, not long before it was time to talk to Tony. I nudged against the dresser on my way past - and the top piece can’t have been on properly because it toppled off. And lots of my best china toppled off with it. It was like watching dominoes falling :-( Three of my bread and butter plates smashed. So did my glass plate. And my cake plate is all chipped ;-( I shall have to get new ones. Mercifully, the meat platter did not break (that would be *very* expensive to replace) and the casserole dishes and mixing bowl didn’t fall off the top. They would be all but impossible to replace - they’re among the items that are only made for a short time. He ho. The Builder re-assembled it and hoovered up the shards. And I did have a couple of bread and butter plates in a cupboard because there hadn’t been enough room for them on display. Their time has now come!

The good news is that The Vixen has passed her first MOT.

Right. Time to don a rain coat and go out exploring. I hope to have exciting (but not too exiting!) travel tales for later


I’m back from my day out exploring.

I left here at about quarter to eleven, to meet Mike and Steve (the chap from Nottingham Trent) at 12:00 so we could suss out where we are actually working this weekend and generally to catch up. Off I went, through drizzle and gloom. Was making quite steady progress when I came upon an impediment to progress. The road went under a tunnel, but pedestrians couldn’t go with it.

I climbed up some stairs to the plaza above. Pretty plaza. Must come back and inspect it at some point. Now. Where to go now. I think I’ll follow along that way, which is more or less where the road was heading when it disappeared under into the tunnel.

On I wandered. No idea at all where I was. Completely misplaced. Couldn’t see any trace of the main road. None of the roads appeared on my map. My map, in fact, wasn’t really very helpful (it was a print out of a google map page) because it didn’t have any of the little roads named. Eventually, just as I was about to ask someone where I was on the map (will they dislike it more if I ask them in English or in German - probably German; they don’t seem to like the Germans very much) when I recognised one of the street names. I was WAY off course!!!

Back down that way. OK. That’s the way I need to go. Now - how do I cross the road? Aha. Under that metro tunnel. Down I went. But which exit to go back up? Tried one. Pottered around. Nope. Went back down and tried another. I **think** so. Went cautiously along for a bit, discovered that I wasn’t actually on he right road, but that I was on a road that would do. Gave up on google maps and fished out my proper map of Warsaw, which does have the little streets named and which I hadn’t been using because I didn’t think it mattered if the google maps got wet. But my Insight map is laminated and didn’t come to any harm.

I made it to the appointed meeting place Just On Time.

We went off to find our teaching room. Found the building ok. Would be quite hard to miss it. It’s new and shiny and quite tall. Finding where the room was was slightly more difficult. Eventually we located it. There is a slight worry that it has no PC and, although it has a very large screen, the only connector we could find was a serial cable. My Mac doesn’t have a serial port. I left Mike and Steve trying to work out how to make Steve’s laptop (which does have a serial port) talk to the screen and went to find the hotel Bristol.

Mike says he found it a bit disconcerting when I simply vanisehd at Luton airport yeserday. He had been waiting for me to emerge from the check in queue, and I wasn’t there at all (I had been hived off to an empty check in desk so was much quicker than he had expected). He went airside, and couldn’t find me in the crowds. He waited at the Warsaw airport and didn’t see me. He decided that I hadn’t come after all! Steve (who had run across him at the Warsaw airport) said that he was sure he had glimpsed me at one point airside in Luton. And that I was a woman of the world (really?!?!?) who seemed to know what she was about and that I would certainly have got to my hotel all right. And anyway - we all had each other’s mobile phone numbers.

I’ve been out on a coach tour of Warsaw this afternoon. I was picked up at the hotel Bristol, then we picked up people from other hotels. We’ve been to the Lazienkowski Park, where we had a walk around in the rain, and admired a memorial to Frederic Chopin, and a lovely building that now houses a jewellery gallery, and the King’s palace, which is built on an artificial island in an artificial lake. We drove along the Royal Route and went to see the Memorial to the Jewish Ghetto, and ended up having another walk in the Old Town. The Nazis completely routed Warsaw in the course of the war. After the Warsaw Uprising, Hitlers order was to raze the city. They very nearly succeeded. The old part of the city has been carefully reconstructed from photographs and paintings. It was a remarkably imaginative approach, given that the reconstruction was done under a communist regime. I think. Of course, they did succeed in destroying (The Nazis) the Jewish ghetto. It hasn’t been reconstructed.

It was a very interesting afternoon - though if I had realised quite what the weather was going to be like, I would have brought a hat, scarf and some gloves. It wasn’t particularly warm! I had known, of course, that Poland had been invaded by the Nazis. I hadn’t realised that it had virtually simultaneously been invaded by the Russians. And I hadn’t known until I started researching before coming here, quite what a turbulent history poor little Poland has had.

The tour ended in the old Market Square by the mermaid, who has been protecting the city in one incarnation or another since the 14th century, with the invitation to rejoin the bus for a lift back to our hotels. However, I am ot actually staying at the hotel Bristol; that was just wehre I was being picked up. I decided that going back there would be a foolish thing to do. I would just have to walk almost back to where I was to get to the bridge to cross the river. I walked back from there. Took about twenty minutes. Shouldn’t be too long to get to the Rondo building tomorrow morning - always supposing I don’t get lost again!!

I’m knackered now. And I have to go out again. I’m meeting Mike, his wife Jackie, Steve and another Mike back near the mermaid at 21:00 for dinner. I think I might take a taxi (not a mini cab!). Not only is it once again raining, but I don’t much fancy that walk all on my own in the dark.

I’ve managed a cup of tea of sorts. I bought some UHT milk and made a brew of something resembling tea in one of my water glasses. Didn’t taste much like tea should, but it was warm and wet and very welcome

Monday, September 15, 2008

Birthday Lunch

Well, who’d have thought it. It’s a whole year since Evie was born. Mind you, it’s a bit harsh being over the hill and past it at the ripe old age of one! I was in Sainsbury’s the other day and was looking at very cute jackets for babies. Wanted one in a size 1-1 ½. Could I find one? Could I heck – they stopped at nine months!!! Had to buy her something else :-S

After a lovely breakfast at The Swan (I don’t normally have a proper cooked breakfast if I am also to have a Sunday Roast at lunchtime, but I wasn’t paying close attention when I was asked if I wanted a cooked breakfast and absent-mindedly said yes), we trundled back to Salisbury to collect Gwen. We were off to Evie’s second birthday lunch. (She had had one on Saturday with Mike and Rosie and Pip and Tom).

Alas – her teeth are causing her much misery, although her attention was diverted by the application of a plate of roast beef with all the trimmings – mushed down, of course. She may have four teeth but they aren’t up to much in the way of chomping yet.

The rest of us had ours without the benefit of mushing. And very nice it was too. You can’t beat a plate of roast beef with roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding, I reckon.

There was cake. And a candle. Evie didn’t blow it out, however. I think in the end Matt did.

We all went upstairs and Rebecca entertained us with magic tricks and she and I played a game of “Who is it?”

And then, alas, it was time to go. We had to take Gwen back to Salisbury and then make our own way home.

I had noticed on Friday evening that there seemed to be an unusual number of VW camper vans out and about. But I didn’t think much about it because of being driven insane by the stationary nature of our visit to the M1. Coming home, I noticed that there was a quite remarkable number of VW camper vans and even a noticeable number of VW beetles heading south. Until we got to Gloucester, when the number heading south dried up completely and we found we were overtaking oodles and oodles and oodles of them heading north. From this I surmised that the VW machines had been out to play for the weekend. Probably somewhere in Gloucestershire, or very near it. Some of them had web addresses printed on their rear windows. When we came to think about it, we recalled a similar phenomenon at about the same time last year. This all gave me sufficient information to have a good stab at finding out what they had all been up to. Van Fest, 2008. At the Three Counties Showground near Malvern. Looks like fun. If you are a VW Camper Van fanatic J

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A trip to the zoo

The autumnal morning mist cleared to beautiful sunshine as we drove from Marlborough to Salisbury. We had come down with a view to taking Gwen out for the day. The Builder had been musing a day or so ago that it might be nice to go to the zoo in Bristol. I hadn’t really been aware that there was a zoo in Bristol! But it looked as though it was going to be a nice day for it.

Gwen thought that a visit to the zoo would be a good idea too. So off we went.

It is a beautiful drive from Salisbury to Bristol, via Bath. Takes about two hours.

Back in August, Barb had taken Gwen out for the day and they had hired a wheelchair for the occasion. You can hire them through the council or through Aged Concern. Gwen thought this was such a good wheeze that she decided to buy one. It’s a nifty little thing. Folds down quite neatly and the wheels come off. Fitted tidily into th back of The Vixen even with all of our clobber in there.

The other advantage to the wheelchair is that Gwen got into the zoo at a discount for a disabled adult. The Builder got in at a discount for an Ancient Monument - er, I mean Senior Citizen. I got in free!!!!! Each disabled adult gets to take an able bodied carer in for free! :-)

It’s a lovely little zoo, is the Bristol Zoo. And it was extraordinarily popular yesterday - probably because it was the first properly sunny day we have had since The Wedding. And that was the first properly sunny day in a long time as well. We had trouble finding anywhere to park. And the zoo was packed. Still, we found a table outside the restaurant for our lunchtime sangers and then wandered off to look at the place. We found lemurs and meerkats and prairie dogs. We found penguins and seals and monkeys. There are lions and okapis and tapirs. And grillers and capybaras and flamingos. And there are two pygmy hippos with an indoor swimming pool. I tried to take a photo of one for Freyja. It came up for air, I positioned the camera, it laughed and went back down underwater and swan around in circles. We played that game for a while, then I got fed up of taking photos of muddy water and put the camera down. At which point it came out and stood up for quite some time - until I picked up my camera again!! Eventually, I espied one stood quite still outside in the sunshine. I hoofed off to find somewhere where I could actually see outdoor hippos. The Good Hippo stood nice and still until I had taken my photo. I went back to find The Builder and Gwen. The Bad hippo had come out to watch me taking the photo - and dropped back into the water as soon as I reappeared in the indoor swimming pool room! I’m sure it knew!!!!!!!

Time to return to Salisbury. The Builder decided to come back via the Cheddar Gorge, where I have never been. It’s magnificent. Truly magnificent. It’s not altogether wheelchair friendly - certainly not the gorge itself which had loads of people rock climbing up and down it, but not even the village, really. So we didn’t stop for a proper explore. But it is absolutely somewhere The Builder and I will go and have a proper potter around one day. Though I think I might forgo the rock climbing and the cave exploring and just admire the crags.

Gwen dropped safely back in Nunton, we made our way to The Swan @ Stoford for a lovely dinner, a bottle or six of wine and the second half of the Last Night of the Proms on telly.

Was a lovely day :-)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I hate the M1. I really, really hate it. In fact - in future I might instruct Jenny to avoid it at all costs, at least when we are heading south after work. There is very little in the world that is quite as frustrating as sitting on a completely stationary motorway, with stationary traffic sitting in queues as far as the eye can see!

We were heading down to Ogbourne St George, near Marlborough. When we head to Salibsury via Marlborough we see signs pointing to the Inn with the Well, about 3 miles outside Marlborough. Intriguing. Bt we’ve never turned of the road to investigate. I was looking for somewhere for us to stay last evening and found the Inn and the well on Active hotels. I booked us in. We’re staying at the Swan in Stoford tonight but they didn’t have a room for last night. Excellent. We’ll inspect the well.

We left at about quarter past five. We should have been inspecting the well shortly after 8. Off we trundled. Oops. There were signs on the M1 warning of long delays further down. We decided to come off. So did lots of other people. The signs were also waring of congestion on the slip road. As we reached the exit, there were signs indicating that the congestion was ended. The motorway seemed quite clear. The Builder decided to stay on.

JUST around the corner, only just out of sight and only just when it was too late to change his mind, the traffic was at an absolute standstill as far as the eye could see. I put the traffic alert on the radio. It seems that at half past ten that morning a container truck had caught fire, causing chaos. Then, much later, when a rescue lory had come to collect it, before it reached the next exit, the burnt out lorry had come slightly adrift of the rescue lorry. More chaos. THEN, when that had all been sorted out, the rescue lorry had come off the southbound lane, turned on to the northbound - and overturned. Excellent! Chaos on both lanes of the M1!

We lost an hour in all that and arrived at the Inn at quarter past 9, too late for dinner :-( So we checked in and trundled into Marlborough where we found a Caffe Uno. I had rather a nice pizza. And a tiramisu. Don’t normally have dessert. It was chcking it down in Marlborough!

We have had a very quick inspection of the well, which is in the dining room area of the pub, sunk quite deep and covered with fortified glass so you can walk over it. I shall have a closer inspection when we go for breakfast.

The well is lovely. It's about 50 foot deep and has water bubbling in the bottom (the landlord says it's not supposed to be bubbling). It's a stone well with ferns growing up towards the top. It was interesting to watch the other guests all walking around it. I figured if it were a hazard there would be barricades around it. Anyway, the landlords walk directly over it. I went and stood on the glass and looked down!

Think dry weather thoughts for Bristol. We are considering taking Gwen there today to visit the zoo. The forecast looks promising.

It’s Evie’s first birthday today. We are going to visit her tomorrow bearing a Frannie-style stripey cardigan and a charm for her bracelet

I am, you may have noticed, supposed to be going to Warsaw next week. They asked me to go ages ago. There was a flurry of communication, I booked my flights and a hotel room, send in an expenses claim form and began to wonder what I was supposed to be doing with the students when I got there, and what I might do with time when I wasn’t with students, never having been to Warsaw before.

I was beginning to get a bit anxious by the complete lack of communication from the Property people. Even my pal the administrator wasn’t replying to emails. Someone else had offered me a lift to Luton and had then vanished. I didn’t even know who the course leader was. Might this all be an elaborate scam designed to get me to Warsaw at the busiest time of year to absolutely no purpose?

To my immense relief, one of the senior property academics rand me yesterday and asked me to go to a planning meeting to sort out what we were all going to do and when. It was someone I had heard of! Even someone I knew. WE all met, Nick the academic, some academic from Nottingham Trent, the course administrator (who had offered the lift to Luton) and me. We sorted everything out. I noticed with pleasure that I have all of Friday afternoon off.

I was just pondering the possibility of finding a guided tour of Warsaw that runs on Friday afternoons when Nick the Course Leader said: Right. That’s sorted. Which more or less means that Prague’s sorted.

Prague? Waddya mean: Prague?

They looked at me in consternation. You are coming to Prague, aren’t you?

I didn’t even know we had a cohort in Prague. Nobody has ever mentioned Prague to me. When are you going? Mid-October? Highly unlikely I’ll be free in mid-October. Let me look. Oh look, by some absolute miracle, I do happen to be more or less free those days. I shall enquire of the boss if I can go.

I’m going to Prague in mid-October :-)

I have booked a place on a coach tour of Warsaw on the first Friday afternoon. Assuming the same timetable in Prague, I though a lunch cruise down the river?

Bernard and Sleepy Hippo are coming with me. The Builder is seeing if he can have the Thursday and Friday of the Prague weekend off. If he can, he’ll come too – although probably not to my teaching sessions, unless he wants to see what I really do when I say I am going teaching!!

It seems not to be raining

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

We could really do with a few days of sunshine in the garden. Too much rain and the bees can’t fly. The bees not flying means that the runner bean and zucchini flowers won’t get pollinated. Nor have the last couple of pumpkin fruits, but that’s no so important. There isn’t time now for them to grow properly anyway, and seven pumpkins should be enough for anybody’s freezer! Also, some sunshine would be useful for ripening the sweet corn and the tomatoes, not to mention the pumpkins.

I was too late on Saturday to pollinate the melon flowers. They had fallen off the vine. Also, the cucumbers in the greenhouse are not getting pollinated. We’ve only had a couple; the rest have dropped off. Definitely next year the cucurbits can grow outside. I might get The Builder to make wigwams for them to grow up. Or at least tent type structures. But the Cape Gooseberries are beginning to ripen. Some of the lanterns over the fruits lower down the plants are beginning to turn papery :-)

The rain also hampered potato digging over the weekend. Fortunately, the ones we have got up are not rotting, but they are being munched on by slugs and wireworm. I need to sort through them and make ready for the freezer those that have been badly munched. Unfortunately, I am not at home now for a weekend for about five or six weeks :-( And I really, really need to get into the flower garden and get that sorted out. I have desperately struggling hollyhock seedlings to go in.

When we first bought our fish for the pond, I also bought some oxygenating weed which I threw in and left to get on with it. It survived the winter and kept on growing. We noticed that the fish hide in it and play in it and lay on top of it in the sunshine. Then we noticed that there was so much oxygenating weed that there wasn’t very much room for anything else. Yesterday evening, The Builder went and pulled loads out. I think we need to take yet more out. This will probably not entirely delight the fish. Or the very large frog which took evasive action as The Builder’s hand reached down to engulf it. The fish had all retreated to the extension bit at the back as soon as he started yanking out weed and were out of the way!

Frannie is building an ark

OK. I think that might now be almost enough rain. I know I’ve said several times that it hasn’t rained as much in Chesterfield as it has in much of the rest of the country – and that’s true. But it’s been raining consistently for most of August in Sheffield and I do spend quite a bit of time there!

It rained all day on Friday. ALL day! There was thunder in the evening and everything.

It rained (in Chesterfield) on and off on Saturday. More off, to be fair. Except that we went from the Chatsworth farm restaurant (where we had lunch – a lovely roast beef and salad sandwich for me) to the farm shop in sunshine. Emerged some time later, bearing a half a lamb (in pieces, you understand) in a box, together with a few other bits and pieces stashed in a trolley, to find it raining VERYHARDINDEED. The Builder, in his haste to get to the car, rushed down the ramp, the trolley wheel hit an upturned bit of flagstone, the trolley tipped – and lamb chops went EVERYWHERE! The box had clearly not been properly closed :-( We very hastily grabbed them and shoved them back in the box. They’ll be right. I patted them down with some kitchen paper when we got home! Mostly, though, the day was dry even if overcast. It didn’t really rain while we were pottering about in Chesterfield in the morning. We got to the allotment to water the greenhouses and pick tomatoes. It did rain later in the afternoon and in the evening (more thunder) but we were back at home and inside and didn’t really care very much.

And I suppose it was all right, really on Sunday. We got back to the allotment. We went back to Chatsworth to buy a pork box (having discovered that there was still a bit of space in the meat freezer). Just as well we had bought the lamb on Saturday, though. It was on special on Saturday and not on special on Sunday! We had lunch in the Three Merry Lads on the way home, and there were people sat outside in the courtyard. The lunch, though, was something of a disappointment. The food there is usually really nice, but it is never a good sign when you order a roast meal and it is brought out to you within minutes (normally, I am almost ready for a second glass of wine before my food arrives). The meat had almost certainly been in an oven for part of the cooking process, but had spent quite a bit of time (I’m fairly sure) in a bain marie keeping warm. So not crunchy on the outside and virtually tasteless. The baby potatoes were cold in the middle. The vegetables were raw – couldn’t even get my fork into the broccoli! I’m not sure how you manage to make broccoli and cauliflower hot in the middle while still being rock solid on the outside, but they did. It makes me very cross when places which normally do good food manage comprehensively to ruin a roast which surely has to be the easiest thing to get right!

Anyway. Enough of that. This is supposed to be a weather report, not a food report!

Actually, it wasn’t too bad on Sunday afternoon, really. A few showers. And overcast. I made jam tarts and a quiche, which was supposed to be for lunches this week, only I kept nibbling on it so by the time dinner time came along, I wasn’t hungry any more and half the quiche was gone :-S The Builder had some for his dinner and we had the rest for lunch yesterday! It rained on Sunday night.

And on Monday. All day! Again. Until we got home, when it had stopped. In fact, it had stopped pretty much as we left Sheffield. This morning, as we left Tupton, it was quite a pleasant morning. We got to Dronfield and it started to spit. It was raining when we got to Meadowhead. It’s Sheffield, I tell you. I reckon it’s got a huge big storm cloud tethered over it on a semi-permanent basis (although the storm cloud has been affecting Wales and the south of England as well this week).

They say we are likely to get the tail of Cyclone Hanna in the next few days. Not wind, so much, as yet more lashing rain. What fun!

At Tabitha and Gareth’s wedding afternoon, The Builder had resurrected his video camera to record parts of the proceedings. I went into PC World on Sunday to see about getting a cable to connect the camcorder to a computer so we can transfer the movie onto DVD to send out to people who couldn’t be there. Hmm, said the boy. You’ll need a Firewire card and cable. Will cost you about £50. Fifty quid?!?!?! Not spending that amount. You can buy a basic DVD camera for just over £100, so I’d only need to use the Firewire connection once. I’ll take it into work and see if the techies can do it for me. Gavin tells me that they probably can (but not until next week, so if you’re waiting for the DVD, I haven’t forgotten, it’s just more complicated than I expected it to be). He also says that he thinks it’s unlikely that a six year old camcorder will work with Firewire, so it would probably have been a complete waste of £50. I’ll bring the camcorder in next week and see what they can do. Otherwise, I’ll need to sort out a video to DVD conversion. Assuming I can still find a case to put the video in, so we can play it! (I may need to use The Builder’s eBay account if all else fails)

I’ve been trying to lay my hands on a list of course codes recently. You would think, in a University, that course codes would be dead easy to lay your hands on. Module codes are. You run across module codes all over the place. Course codes? Forget it. You’d think I was asking for the keys to Fort Knox. To get course codes you practically have to seduce the course administrator. Always supposing that you can find out who the course administrator is! Can I go home now this very minute and never, ever come back again? I’ll make jam tarts and fruit scones if I can go home now this very minute!

The nights are getting noticeably longer. It's dark now when we wake up in the morning. Properly dark. The radio is waking us up. And it must be getting colder at night. Marlo has taken to sleeping with us rather than outside or in the bathroom

Thursday, September 04, 2008

I've had to pull out the tomatoes in the garden. They were beginning to look blight struck. The stems were turning black and so too were the tomatoes. I probably could have treated them but it might well have been too late and there are lots of tomatoes in the greenhouse. It may be just as well I did - there were zucchini hiding underneath them which ambitions to be marrows!

The Builder and I disagree about the success of the runner beans. He says we've not had all that many and that there won't now be all that many to come. We've been eating them in some quantity for a while now and I've got at least two packets of them in the freezer - sort of the size that you buy in the supermarket, if you see what I mean. And there are still quite a few flowers. I reckon we'll get some more. It's only just September. I'm not anticipating frosts just yet (though this may be tempting fate, bearing in mind the late frosts we had at the end of spring!) I think he's just grumbling because he only ended up with 12 plants instead of the 18 or 24 he usually has!! (some seeds didn't germinate; a couple of plants vanished when very small)

We had one of the baby pumpkins on Monday. I've never eaten a young pumpkin before; they're usually mature and "cured" with a hard skin by the time I get my hands on them. The young pumpkin was surprisingly soft and succulent and moist, more like a zucchini. Which makes sense when you think about it, given that they are of the same family and have similar habits. Speaking of which, there appear to be (finally!) a couple of female flowers on one of the melon plants in the greenhouse. I must go up on Saturday morning and paint them with male pollen. They were only very tiny when I was there on Monday so Saturday may be in time. Reading my vegetable books has informed me that all the cucurbits need pollinating apart from some varieties of cucumbers. But I think that next year I may not put them in the greenhouses. THey seem to be perfectly happy out in the open (apart from the one melon plant which I planted with the cucumbers and pumpkins in the garden and which was very rapidly smothered to death!) And I won't put any tomatoes outside. I wonder if I could persuade The Builder to put up a large Victorian hot house on the "wild" bit of the allotment ....

However, if the tomatoes in the garden are blighted, then this would suggest the potatoes on the allotment are also under threat. I think we will try dodging the showers at the weekend and dig the rest up. It's mostly the Arran Victory and the Pink Fir apples left, plus half a bed where I just shoved all the left over potatoes at random. And then all the stray potatoes that are self invited from last year! So quite a lot really. I hope there are lots of spaces between the showers!

The caterpillars are still making merry with the cabbages. Spraying is holding some of them back. The cabbage whites have been replaced by small green ones! We had a very tiny cauli last night. It was small but very flavoursome

I really need to sort out the flower garden. I may need a month's gardening leave!!!

Oh - and there is one, solitary, lonely bog sage strand gamely flowering. I didn't think there were any this year. I must buy new ones next spring

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

I got up on Sunday morning to be informed by Ian that he had waited up for the return of Bernard and the Sleepy Hippo, lest they should have trouble getting back. No worries about Freyja and Mark; they’re grown ups. Bernard and Sleepy Hippo are not used to living the high life. Ian was concerned that Bernard appeared to have been drinking at the reception! This didn’t really surprise me – I’m fairly certain that it was Bernard who drank the complimentary bottle of wine that came with our boat when we went to the Broads last year! It was a bit of a surprise to find both Bernard and Sleepy Hippo coming to breakfast wearing sun glasses. Freyja tells me that it wasn’t because of a hang over, or not very much, but because they were sad that Ian was going!

When we had got back to the guest house on Saturday evening, we had found an invoice for our stay on the bed. It was for loads more than the girl had quoted me on the Saturday morning and twenty five pounds more than my email confirmation had quoted. Ian further reported that at some point, very late, while he was Hippo-waiting, a man had appeared in the lounge room, apologised for the non-booking of the third room and had asked if there was a problem with the invoicing. Ian agreed that there had been. It seems that this man was the manager from London. He said that we should pay whatever we had originally been quoted.

This took some explaining to the nice young woman who attempted to relieve us of our money on the Sunday morning!

Mind you, having had a proper description of the room from Freyja and Mark later, I’m amazed they had the gall to charge us for it at all. Freyja reports that it was full of dead insects and dead furniture, that it had no television and no headboard on the bed, the bathroom door (shared with the next room) had no lock on the door and was full of the next door room’s people’s bathroom stuff and that the door from the laundry into the little corridor was mostly locked. I assume the people in the next room were long term residents. However, as we won’t be going there again, I decided not to make a post-departure fuss!

We went to Stansted airport instead, in search of breakfast and a plane to put Ian and his Gr’ck (Graham’s Radial Competency Chart, I believe – Gr’ck sounds much friendlier!) on to take them to Prague, where Ian was to present it (The Gr’ck, not the plane) to an expectant and admiring audience on Tuesday. Or Monday. Or sometime. At a conference.

We abandoned Ian to an enormous queue at the airport and took ourselves back to Cambridge to collect one of the marquees (the other one can stay in Cambridge for us to use when we go to visit) and my plastic boxes to take them home. Amazingly, I got home with lids to match all the boxes, and boxes to match all the lids. I was astounded!

We took Freyja and Mark through driving rain, back to Sheffield. We were soooooo lucky with the Wedding Weather. The rest of August has been, more or less, rubbish (unless you are a vegetable gardener, In which case it’s been very nearly ideal, except slightly more sunshine would have been useful.)

We got home to find a message from Nick the Mechanic. We had left the van on Ward Street during the week so Nick could clean the brake pads and do various other arcane mechanic type things. There was no hurry from our point of view. We were away for a good part of the week and not intending to use it when we were about. Nick’s message was to say that some mad old bat had left a stroppy note on the windscreen telling us off for parking there. Ah yes. Mrs Bay Windows. Mind you – she might be mad and she might be a bat, but she’s not all that old. Only about my age, I think. Anyway, Nick had kept the note for our entertainment. She very disparagingly referred to poor Uncle John as a Postman Pat Red Van. Gave us a right telling off, she did, for daring to park outside her place (though we were only half parked across her front; we were parked across her neighbour’s front too). She will shortly (well, later, I sent it second class) get a properly laid out, typed letter on proper paper (none of this ripping pages out of spiral notebooks for us) telling her, very, very politely, that she can go whistle. And not to leave any further notes. We ignored all references to sisters in Australia (hers, not mine), the deleterious effect that having to look upon a red *trade* van was having on her view, her difficulty in getting out of her drive with such a large vehicle parked down the road (although if that was a genuine complaint, she really ought to rethink her suitability to be on the road) and all attempts at snobbery, bullying and intimidation.

Actually, we hardly ever park Uncle John on the roadside. If we do, The Builder takes all his tools out and puts them in the kitchen. This is not entirely convenient. But sometimes there is need. Like last week, when Nick asked us to. I would very much prefer not to upset Nick. He’s a good mechanic and he’s not exorbitantly expensive. Don’t care much about upsetting Mrs Bay Windows. (I didn’t call her that in the letter, BTW. I used her proper name)

On Monday, everyone went back to work. Except Taffa and me. I can’t speak for Taffa, but I spent the day washing up, clearing up, doing the washing, hanging the washing out, bringing it in when there were showers and then ironing it. Was knackered when The Builder came home in the evening!

Freyja has very exciting news. She is now the proud possessor of a Certificate in Marketing. She got all Bs for her results :-) And all of the marketing books which have been on my SHUcard (somewhat disconcertingly – I don’t expect to find marketing books on my library card!) for months have come back to the Adsetts Centre.

I came back to work yesterday to find that nearly all the staff had moved offices in my absence. It’s been something of a challenge trying to find people since!

And the Gr'ck went down a storm at the conference. On Monday. Not Tuesday. Just as well Ian checked.

Can you REALLY imagine The Builder being intimidated by anyone? Really?