Thursday, December 31, 2009

Oh so nearly in the New Forest

Monday 28th December

Tabitha and Gareth were muttering about heading to the Grafton Centre this morning, partly to check out the sales and partly because they were bereft of food and drink in their house.

We didn’t really have time to do the Grafton Centre, but did need some supplies for the next day or two, and it seemed sensible for them to do a proper shop while they had access to a car to bring supplies home. We headed off to Tabitha’s Sainsbury’s - which I am a bit worried to discover I can nearly find my way around as well as I can the one in Chesterfield, and certainly better than the one in Archer Road in Sheffield, which merely confuses me. Collecting Sainsbury’s is quite fun though, it must be said, not nearly as much fun as collecting Waitroses!! Tabitha’s is one of the best. It is also one of the largest.

Anyway. Enough of that. Time for us to head to West Dean, which is oh-so-nearly but not quite in the New Forest, near Salisbury. We bade a fond farewell to Tabitha and Gareth and left them to put their shopping away and to spend the day playing Mario Kart with friends and relatives around the world.

We were extremely keen to avoid the M25 so asked Jenny to take us avoiding motorways. She took us across country via Milton Keynes to Oxford and then down the A34. Not, perhaps, the way that I would have taken us to Oxford, but it would do. The middle part of the plan was to find a roadside pub, or a pub in a village not far from the road, for lunch at around 1:00. Off we set.

At around 1pm, having navigated our way around the gadzillion roundabouts on the ring road around Milton Keynes (bloody roundabouts; stupid town planners; poor back ;-( ) it gradually dawned on us that not only had we not seen any roadside pubs (most unusual), but we also had not seen any signs to pubs off the road (practically unheard of). They must be unusually abstemious in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire is all I can surmise. When we did venture into a village, it was to find that the pub was not serving food. Oh well, never mind. We’re getting close to Bicester. There’s bound to be something there.

And there probably is. But we will never know. For the road into Bicester was at a complete standstill. We decided to head for Oxford by Another Way and turned round.

ALL the roads into and around Bicester were at a complete standstill!!!!! There was traffic chaos all around us. We snuck onto an almost deserted slip road heading to Aylesbury and escaped. But still we could find no pubs! We were nearly into Aylesbury when we ran across a pub. And it was open. And there were cars in the car park. And they were serving food. But very, very, VERY slowly. They were completely unexpecting quite so many people to call in for lunch. I think that most of the people had done what we had done, found no pubs, and simply stopped at the first one they saw. If you kept going, there were quite a few pubs serving food further down. But who was going to risk it?

We had a long, long wait for lunch. But it was definitely worth it. I had probably the best steak sandwich I have ever had, even in Australia. And the side chips were thrice cooked and delicious. If you should be passing near Aylesbury, The Plough and Anchor, run by the two fat men (this is not me casting nasturtiums on their corpulence, but the description over the door) would be well worth a visit.

It did, though, mean that we were quite a bit later navigating the narrow, winding roads around West Dean than we had meant to be, and it was extremely dark. This had the advantage that you could tell if traffic was coming towards you, though. And Jenny delivered us to the door - so no need for map reading for me. Tiny country lanes are a bugger to try and read in a national road map.

The Hobbit House is a studio flat conversion over a barn or cart shed. And it’s lovely - although one of the wood beams is a little low for The Builder. Sort of forehead height :-S

There is no internet here. And no mobile signal for me, although The Builder has full signal. There are only three television channels, and they are all snowy. We may actually have to go wild and talk to each other!!! And the kitchen, though quite well equipped, doesn’t have any sharp knives, or scissors. It does, though, have a hand turned cake mixer and a large fine mesh sieve. Not quite sure what you would want them for - there’s only a caravan style oven. You couldn’t possibly bake a cake!

Tuesday 29th December

We seem to be doing a run of continuous Sundays!

One steak sandwich is not enough to sustain a Frannie indefinitely, no matter how good a steak sandwich it might have been. We had bought in Sainsbury’s in Cambridge a turkey breast which I had roasted last evening and which we had with a potato, cabbage and carrot mash. Today we have mostly been eating. Roast beef with all the usual Sunday roast accompaniments.

We collected Gwen this morning and took her down to Whiteley so we could all visit Jeanette, Matthew, Rebecca and Evie.

It was raining. Hard. Before collecting Gwen we had to visit Waitrose so we could post the calendars to Stella and Tony and to Austin. There was a very long queue at the post office counter at Waitrose, all complaining about the rain. But at least it wasn’t snowing. We could all move about without trouble r danger. And it is, after all, late December.

Didn’t take us long to reach Whiteley. The motorways were busy, but not unduly so. Mind you, the Tesco car park as remarkably full. Anyone would think the supermarkets had been closed for weeks. In fact, some of them opened on Boxing Day and all of them were open on Sunday and Monday. No idea what the attraction of Tesco was. We drove past and pulled up outside Jeanette and Matthew’s place.

And spent a lovely afternoon tormenting Evie, eating roast beef and roast potatoes, talking to Rebecca, getting an internet fix, chatting with Jeanette and Matthew, drinking wine (even Gwen had a glass, which is uncommon), playing on our laptops (Rebecca had a new one for Christmas, and Evie had a baby laptop - one for babies, not a very tiny one), and generally catching up. Then suddenly it was nearly five o’clock and time to take Gwen home!

Oh - and I have acquired a new hat. Jeanette has/had a leather Australian akubra-style hat that she doesn’t seem to like. It has come home with me to live on the hat wall with my actual akubra. I wonder how waterproof it is - for it is raining hard again this morning.

I have a quiche in the fridge, intending to have it for supper after lunch with Jeanette and Matthew. But in fact neither of us was remotely hungry. So we spent the evening watching a snowy June Whitfield tribute evening on the telly and nibbling on twiglets, hula hoops, ginger biscuit and chocolate.

It was very definitely a Sunday on a Tuesday. So much so that I was quite surprised when I rang Freyja to find that she was at work!!

Memo to self: It is best NOT to drink the last mouthful of tea when using West Dean’s water, even if the water has been filtered before being put in the kettle. Chalk is not an appetising addition to the breakfast supplements!

It’s Wednesday morning now. Time for bacon rolls before braving the weather and heading out

Monday, December 28, 2009


We were supposed to be heading to Cambridge on Thursday to collect Tabitha and Gareth and convey them back to Tupton for Christmas. The BBC, the Met Office and the AA (that's the vehicular AA, not the alcoholic one) were advising against any travel unless absolutely necessary. I looked out the window. Our road didn't seem too bad. And is collecting Christmas guests an abslutely necessary activity? Then they said that the motorways were all clear of snow. And someone said that the East Midlands and East Anglia were pretty much OK. That's us and Tabitha and Gareth. We decided to give it a try.

I did make sure we had snacky things in the car, and a bottle of water - just in case.

And we went down the M1 - not something we habitually do. The M1 has loads of roadworks on it, and is often at a standstill for various reasons. But we could be reasonably assured that it would have been gritted!

And, in fact, there were no problems at all. The roads were nice and clear, both of traffic and of snow. We made excellent time. We didn't eat the festive twiglets or hula hoops I had brought for emergencies. We saw very little snow until we actually arrived in Cambridge!!

The pavements around Arbury were like ice rinks. We decided not to attempt a stroll into town for lunch and instead took the car the three minute walk to the local shops and acquired fish and chips.

Tabitha was working until 4, so eventually we trundled off to her supermarket, did the last minute Christmas shopping, captured Tabitha and made our way back up a fairly clear A1 back to Tupton. The journey was entirely uneventful, apart from an unscheduled detour when a misunderstood direction from the back seat sent us not towards the north but towards Bedford. And Jenny, the Sat Nav, wasn't working. Her power cord had, for some reason, ceased to power her up. It was amazing how much we missed her!

And then it was Christmas Day. The sun was shining, but we still had snow in the garden. It was a beautiful day. Freyja, our friend Marryk and two Kiwis arrived at lunch time. The Kiwis are here for a year or two and live in Sheffield. Freyja used to work with Ellen and has kept in touch with her since she (Freyja) left DLA Piper and had discovered that they would be on their own at Christmas. There really isn't a lot to do in England on Christmas Day if you are on your own, and still less if you don't have a car. There is no public transport in England on Christmas Day!!! So they had to hire a car to get to us, but that conveniently meant that they could also bring Freyja and Marryk.

We had roast pork for Christmas lunch. I know it's not traditional. And ordinarily we have beef. But we have half a pig in the freezer with some magnificent joints just waiting to be devoured. Seemed a bit extravagant to go out and buy a joint of beef when there is some beautiful pork just asking to be festive. And Freyja pointed out that we pretty much had a child's birthday party spread for dessert. Except there was no fairy bread. And you probably wouldn't put quite so much sherry in a trifle intended for children.

Then Noel and Ellen left for Birmingham. We tried to save them. We entreated them to reconsider this misguided ambition. But they were determined. Since they had the car they had decided to do a little tour around. Our place, then Birmingham, onto Cambridge on Boxing Day (thus missing meeting us up again by a day), Norwich on Sunday then home. They were a very pleasant couple. Although I am not sure that I ever really understood why they were in Sheffield. They do have rellies in England - but I'm fairly certain Noel said they were down in Bristol.

The rest of us stayed where we were and snacked and sipped our way into the evening. It was a lovely day. And the Christmas Feast seems to have been something of a success. There wasn't a huge amount left over. Just enough to add to Boxing Day lunch.

We spoke to lots of people in the course of the day. The Ballarat contingent on Christmas morning. Austin two or three times through the course of the day. Lindsey again later in the day. Skype is a wonderful thing!!

We had a lazy Boxing Day, in comparison. We all got up late (some later than others!). We had toast and vegemite for breakfast, and ham and veggie lasagne for lunch. Then The Builder took Freyja and Marryk back to Sheffield, I discussed hiragana with Austin on Skype, and Taffa and Gaz went for a walk along the nature trail and then up through the village. And we had a lovely seafood pie for dinner.

I seem, though, to have created a certain level of confusion, and I'm not quite sure how. It transpires that everyone, except The Builder and me, was under the impression that we were bringing Tabitha and Gareth back to Cambridge on Monday. I am assured that I had stated this quite clearly. And I'm equally certain I said Sunday, because we are heading to Hampshire on Monday and no-one would go from Chesterfield to Hampshire via Cambridge. At least, they wouldn't if they were travelling in a single day. My plan had always been to head to Cambridge on Sunday afternoon and then on to Hampshire on Monday at some point. And that is what we did. Spent Sunday morning pottering around, tidying the house, packing, then hopped in the CAREFULLY packed car after Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang had finished and trundled down to Cambridge, where we had dinner in the Milton Arms (maybe not something we'll do again, though Taffa tells me that the bar snack type food (onion rings, chicken wings, fried stuff) is OK) and where you now find us on Monday morning, in bed and drinking tea. But I have a feeling that this meant that Tabitha and Gareth might have had to do some hasty re-arranging of their Sunday plans. And certainly their housemate Magda wasn't expecting us back last night. Oh well. These things happen. I'll just have to double check next time what everyone thinks we're all doing!

On to West Dean in Hampshire later today. Have a feeling we might be offline until next Sunday. But I'll carry my laptop about in case we run into wireless internet in various places.

Oh, and Jenny is working again. The Builder had ordered a replacement cord which arrived on Christmas Eve. But it turned out that it wasn't the cord but a fuse in the car. Nick the mechanic, who was conveniently in his garage on Sunday morning, replaced the fuse and Jenny is up and running again. And we have a spare power cord for her. So should you find yourself in need of an in-car charger for a Tom Tom - we have one you can borrow

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

More snow chaos

We woke on Sunday morning (very much too early - I seem to have moved onto Athens time for some reason) to the news that several Eurostar trains had broken down in the Channel Tunnel and trapped lots of passengers for lengthy periods of time. Apparently the trains didn't like going from freezing cold conditions into the warmth and humidity of the tunnel. This is the stuff of nightmares, as far as I am concerned, especially when it was reported that in some cases the heating and lighting had failed as well. Very, very occasionally I consider the possibility of going to mainland Europe on the train. Fortunately, it is always much too expensive. But it will be a very long time before I consider travelling through the tunnel again!!

Monday morning (again awake much too early) brought the news that the Eurostar was still not running, there was road chaos, train chaos, plane chaos around the country, snow was creating chaos in many places and that councils were, apparently, running out of grit.

Got up, wondering if Richard would make it to our place from Sheffield, given that he was planning to travel by bus.

He did, reporting that Chesterfield town centre was snowy and icy. Happily, the roads around our place were navigable and we made it to the Nettle for lunch. Equally happily, the Nettle is still open, seems to be thriving, and is now open on Mondays at lunch time. A lovely lunch was had by all. I assume he made it back home again. The last time we saw him he was standing at the bus stop by the primary school. He isn't there now, so I take it a bus took him back into town, and another took him back to Sheffield.

We drove along the main roads to Chatsworth yesterday. The Peak District was looking exceptionally beautiful. The shop was pleasantly quiet (though the chap at the fish counter said it was extremely busy at the weekend - so our plan not to go then had been a wise one). Sainsbury's was packed, on the other hand. And seemed to have been invaded by Christmas Elves all dressed in green and festooned with tinsel and fairy lights.

And still the snow chaos continued - although in other places. It's not too bad here. We have had no more snow, although we have also had no real sign of a thaw The Builder's postman son reports that the snow was so bad on Monday that he had still been delivering at half past six in the evening, and the mail planes had been unable to come in on Monday night so there wasn't much post to deliver on Tuesday. The road network in some parts of the country seems to have come to a halt. Planes are not flying. The Today program is reporting the news in those measured, calm tones that you expect to hear at times of national disaster. Although, one of the things that they are reporting is that people's presents may not arrive on time so I suppose a certain level of pacifying the nation may be in order.

I suppose I'd better get up. I'm expecting visitors on Friday (weather permitting), two of whom are complete strangers. We need to clean and tidy. And cook. And I discover that I have no vanilla pods. We might need to make a trip into town this morning. Actually, we do need to make a trip into town. The Post Office is holding one of my packages to ransom in the sorting office. But I think we might go on the bus.

Monday, December 21, 2009


It has been snowing, on and off, pretty much since Thursday. We had snow showers followed by sunny spells throughout the day on Thursday. The sun tended to melt the snow, until I was on my way home, by which time, of course, it was dark and the snow started to lie. It was very pretty on Friday.

We didn't really have anything to write home about after that in Chesterfield or Sheffield. Just occasional flurries. This was not the case in the south of England, and I noted that there were problems when listening to the news. But I more or less stopped thinking about snow, except for admiring it in the garden and lying in fields, and began thinking about Christmas plans.

First plan. Griddle the lions, grab a brace of shoulders, and brave Sainsbury's on Saturday. Actually, Sainsbury's wasn't too bad, despite the fact that the Saturday before Christmas is meant to be the busiest retail day of the year. And not only that, almost the entire shop was paid for by my mammoth number of loyalty points (I've been collecting but not spending them for a couple of years, so had acquired rather a lot!). Stood the lions and shoulders down for use later. And decided not to go to the Chatsworth shop until Monday or Tuesday.

Sunday dawned. Eventually. Carried on with the Christmas preparations and decided to leave for Sheffield, where we were due to take afternoon tea with Freyja, a little early and call at the Forge in Dronfield (it's a small craft, jewellery, amusing little shops, complex) and drop into Waitrose in Sheffield. We came out of Waitrose - more or less into a blizzard!!! I started thinking about snow again, quite had! Trundled off in Freyja's direction, and the snow got stronger and stronger, and deeper and deeper. Slid gently up the road that leads to her place, decided not to attempt her road (which you have to reverse out of) and also not to stay for afternoon tea. We were beginning to worry a bit about getting back home!! Rushed up to her house, dropped off some stuff we had for her, tested her Christmas baking (well, you have to have proper quality controls on Christmas baking!) and dashed back to the car.

The traffic on London Road was pretty much at a standstill, so we made our way to the A61 - where the traffic was also at a standstill. Took us nearly an hour to get to the Meadowhead roundabout. Not a gritter to be seen, although some of the residents were out throwing grit on the roads. Fortunately, the Dronfield bypass was clear, at least in one lane and the traffic was moving freely, albeit a bit slowly. And by the time we got to Chesterfield there was almost no snow at all.

I was beginning to feel slightly guilty about abandoning Freyja's afternoon tea quite so abruptly. Until, half an hour or so after we got home, we got this:

I think, on the whole, we timed it quite well. Though I hope Freyja has taken a photo of her Christmas tree; she was decorating it as we got there.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A weekend of somewhat thwarted intentions

At one stage it looked as though this last Saturday was going to be quite a busy one. We were coming into Sheffield in the morning, following my 09:00 hair trim. Then there was the usual shopping and general Saturday things, not to mention tidying up the house for visitors. It looked as though it was going to take some careful planning if everything was to get done.

Then Sheffield was cancelled (but it's all right - I don't think anyone noticed the abrupt disappearance of one of England's larger cities!)

So I had my hair cut, then we went to Chatsworth, getting there just ahead of the December crowds. We came home and tidied up. And eventually had quite a peaceful afternoon playing Scrabble (online, I hasten to add) and doing things and generally pottering.

At about 6:00 we heard a rattling out the back. The cat sat upright - and bolted for the back door. I'm sure he has some guard dog in him; he is an exceptionally good guard cat!! We assumed it was Bea and Steve, who were expected at about that time. But no. There was nothing to be seen. Someone next door, putting rubbish out. Or a fox rattling the door or the recycling bin. But not Bea and Steve, who turned up about 5 minutes later.

We were off to the Three Horseshoes for a Festive Feast. We had booked a taxi so no one had to worry about driving home. We had selected our menu choices a couple of weeks back. We were all ready and quite happy – always excepting that The Builder and I were aware that this might be the last time we would see Mike, Margaret and Damien. The taxi driver did not try to drive us all around the houses. All was well. Until we got to the Three Horseshoes and found it all in darkness, all locked up and with a huge To Let sign out the front ;-( Events must have moved faster than they had anticipated. No festive feast for us.

We might have tried The Nettle, or maybe even the Red Lion (which we haven’t been in since a remarkably unsatisfactory visit two or three years ago, although I believe it now has a new owner and it is getting good reviews in the local papers). But it didn’t seem likely that we were going to get a table at no notice on a Saturday evening so close to Christmas. And there is a limit to how much purposeless touring around you want to do if you are in a taxi. We went home.

Very fortuitously, I happened to have a rather nice piece of topside in the fridge. I had acquired it from Farmer Jayne and had set it aside for Sunday lunch. It would just have to be pressed into service for Saturday dinner. I scrambled to get the oven on and the meat ready. The Builder sorted out potatoes and some veg. I made a Yorkshire pudding batter and flung it into the coldest part of the fridge. Bea poured wine and beer, Steve helped to set the table. I got some apple and some gooseberries from the freezer and set them to bake in an earthenware casserole.

And somewhat to my surprise at a little after half past eight we sat down to a perfectly respectable roast meal with even a Yorkshire pudding which had risen very obediently (although I usually leave the batter in the fridge for much longer). We had our stewed fruit with some cream I had extremely fortuitously picked up at Chatsworth. We had lots and lots of wine and/or beer. It was a lovely evening, enlivened only by Bea trying to choke to death on a piece of beef, and imbued with a gentle sadness that Mike, Margaret and Damien had gone and we hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye.

But I really should have acted on the impulse I had had when we went to Chatsworth in the morning to suggest that we drive past the pub and check for signs of life. I didn’t, because I thought they would ring if they had had to close earlier than they had expected. But I guess if you have to close earlier than expected, and presumably also have to move out sooner than expected, then you probably have more things on your mind than ringing The Builder and me to tell us about it.

Bea and Steve went home after breakfast on Sunday morning.

We do not, as a general rule, buy the Derbyshire Times. Although we should do because it has all sorts of useful pieces of information tucked inside it. But The Builder is intending to sell Oscar and was considering putting an ad in the paper (though he is now giving vague consideration to selling both cars and buying a single something else at a dealer. I have not told The Vixen this!!) So he had bought the paper to look at the car ads.

I did not look at the car ads. But I did read the news and other reports. And thus discovered that Haddon Hall, having closed for the winter during October, was open last week up until Sunday for a Tudor celebration of Christmas. Sunday was a simply glorious day, even if a touch on the cold side. We decided to go for a look.

We drove past the Three Horseshoes. Definitely closed and deserted.

Haddon was not closed and deserted. There were loads of cars in the car park and lots of people wandering about. There was a brass band playing carols in the courtyard (somewhat anachronistically - although if you want anachronism you can't go past the huge glitter ball hung in the front parlour and surrounded by yew and holy and candles in a big wreath!!). There was no snow on the ground, which felt sort of wrong, somehow. In fact, the house was bathed in sunshine. Really, really wrong, that! But the chapel was decorated with ivy and holly and yew, and there were orange pomanders hanging on ribbons from the pews. There were fires burning in the house, and carol singers in the hall. There were greenery and candles all over the house. There was a banquet table laid out with Tudor foods made in salt dough. The long gallery had more of a Victorian feel to it, with a nod towards the 1930s. It was all rather lovely.

We had a wander in the gardens – and were pleased to note that a more suitable weather front was coming in. Then we headed to Chatsworth with a view to buying some chicken fillets to replace the piece of topside. But the queue to get into the farm shop was so long we decided not to bother and to have the piece of pork I was going to cure into ham instead. But we did go home via The Nettle to make sure that it was open ands till thriving. It is clearly still open – the car park was almost full.

And the roast pork was delicious. I am still determined to get to grips with ham and bacon curing. It can’t be that difficult. But I don’t really have a pressing need. Farmer Jayne is bringing us a ham next week, in time for Christmas. I hope none of our Yuletide visitors have any objection to eating pork, for I seem to have quite a pork-centred menu this year. (I know Freyja does, but she doesn’t eat any meat. I have alternatives for her!)

Four days (not counting today) to go until I stop for my winter holiday. I am much looking forward to it. It’s been a busy semester and I am quite tired.

You will find the Haddon Hall photos here

Thursday, December 10, 2009

So that's the holidays sorted out for the next year or so

At least, it is barring unexpected and very large lottery wins!

We are heading to the New Forest this year after Christmas for very nearly a week. Little place called West Dean. We're staying in a bedsit over a converted carthouse. It's called The Hobbit House. I am hoping very hard that The Builder will fit into it. One other place I looked at on the same website did warn that the place wasn't suitable for people over 6' because of low flying ceilings - and the Hobbit House did not, so I am hopeful, if not exactly super confident!!

Oh well - I don't suppose we'll be in it much; and he can always use excess height as an excuse for being permanently sat down.

Then, we've just booked our flights for next April to Melbourne. We arrive on the evening of April 12th and leave again on the evening of May 1st. It's very exciting. I know when a visit is about due - I start craving coffee scrolls, Carlton pizzas and fried flake (that's fish, not chocolate. Fried flake bars would be disgusting!!). The Builder should be all right for leg room on the flight. I've booked us with Etihad, which I believe has extra leg room

And for next winter I've booked an apartment in the Norfolk Broads for the week before my birthday. There shouldn't be any problem with height there. It sleeps 9 and is quite a modern building.

Alas, all this means I have run out of leave, not to mention money. No *summer* holiday for me in 2010

Monday, December 07, 2009

We have had the loveliest of birthday celebration weekends.

We went down to Cambridge on Friday after I had finished work and made such good time that we were there for 6:30!! We expected Gareth to be there. But not Tabitha, who works late on Friday evenings. We had gone armed with copious quantities of wine, and plans for a visit to one of the city pubs for dinner.

To our great pleasure (though I suspect not hers at the time) the store manager had rung her at about 9:00 in the morning and said there was a training emergency (how, I ponder, can you have a training emergency!) and pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeez could she go in. So she scrambled out of bed, threw some clothes on, commandeered Gareth’s bicycle and hot-pedalled it to her store. This meant that she was free to come home early (I suspect this bit did please her) and come to the Boathouse for dinner with us.

I love the Boathouse. It doesn’t pretend to do anything other than pub food – but the pub food it does is very good indeed. I’m trying to work out a way of getting it closer to me. Only that would involve moving the Cam as well. Which seems a trifle beyond my engineering capabilities. And may also slightly annoy the good folk of Cambridge who are probably quite fond of their river.

Not too late for bed, for we needed to be up fairly early on the Saturday. The four of us were going to London for the day.

The plan was to drive to Redbridge station in Ilford and take the tube into central London. Sadly, I had noticed some time ago that I had lost my Oyster card*. I had intended to buy a new one, but Gareth had a spare which he said I could have. Somehow, I managed to misplace that even before we had gone to the Boathouse. Not sure I’m a fit guardian for an oyster card! Fortunately, Gaz found it again (it had fallen down the side of the settee) and we set off for London Town.

First stop, Starbucks so Taffa could have a latte. Next stop, the Black Horse pub off Oxford Street, where they do fabulantastic fish and chips. And then on to the British Museum, where I had tickets for us all to go to the Moctezuma Aztec exhibition. I really enjoyed the exhibition (although it was still a bit crowded for me – must remember when we go to the next extravaganza to go mid-week!). Roger points out to me that the Aztec regime was reprehensible and rather gruesome. There is no arguing with that. But so were many medieval regimes. They may not have been quite as big on human sacrifice, but they had lots of other good reasons for dedding people! Anyway. I though the exhibition was great.

We had a quick side trip to Covent Garden so Tabitha could look for a necklace, then made our way back through the hideously crowded underground back to Redbridge and on back to Cambridge.

But what, as we were walking from Bloomsbury to Covent Garden, was causing all the bubbles we could see floating about in the air? Couldn’t see any source for the bubbles. Until we walked around a traffic jam, and found a van advertising a handy company – which had a bubble machine attached and was attracting attention to itself by churning out loads and loads and loads of bubbles. It was ever so cute.

I wonder if I could have a bubble machine for The Vixen?

You may remember that when we were last in Cambridge we tried to book a table at The Plough in Fen Ditton for Sunday lunch, and the earliest we could book was into the evening. I was determined that we were going to have my Birthday Lunch at The Plough and had booked a table earlier in the week (although even then I couldn’t have it until 1:30). I won’t describe the meal here (you’ll find a description on the food blog but it was certainly worth making the effort to get a table. We had a long, leisurely birthday lunch, then made our way to Taffa’s Sainsbury’s to get a few things. And it was raining, and windy and cold and dark – so we decided not to head home that evening. I am on the evening shift at work today, so there was no hurry to get back home. We repaired to the Carlton so Gareth could practise his darts skills. I practised too. I’m not very good, I fear. I don’t think I’d be allowed to play with the team that Gaz plays with.

So all in all, it was a very celebratory weekend. And today I have had lots of text messages and birthday cards and messages on Facebook. A good birthday :-)

* Similar to the forthcoming Myki card system in Melbourne

In the Carlton, Sunday evening:

And in the Plough, on Sunday afternoon:

A magnificent birthday repast at The Plough in Fen Ditton

You have to book early if you want a table for Sunday Lunch at the Plough in Fen Ditton. I booked mid-week and couldn't get a table until 1:30. And when we got there at about 20 past, the place was absolutely buzzing. There were people of all ages form the very, very young to the very, very old, and lots of ages in between.

Amongst all the other things they offer on the menu, including various choices of roast meat is a Sunday Roast Platter, which gives you three different types of roast meat (beef, pork and turkey on this occasion), Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes and loads of different vegetables. The Builder, Gareth and I decided to go for that. Tabitha decided to have the half chicken and put the breast meat onto the platter (not being a huge fan of white chicken meat). We also have little sausages and pork stuffing. It was absolutely delicious. And *such* a good idea to offer a platter. Tabitha's half chicken turned out to be a chicken cassoulet, more or less. Certainly the breast meat was delicious - she reports that so too was the rest.

My birthday Sunday lunch

Tabitha's cassoulet

The Builder, tucking in

I don't suppose we really needed dessert. But we had held back on the starter so we would have room. And the dessert menu was rather enticing, it must be said.

The Builder had a fruit crumble

Gaz had a treacle tart (at least, I think it was a treacle tart)

And Taffa and I shared a truly wonderful raspberry trifle:

And we washed it all down with copious quantities of white wine or ale. Apart from the poor Builder who was the DD. We topped up his alcohol levels later.

I have to say that on top of the wonderful food, the waiting staff were also friendly, competent and a real pleasure. You could do a lot worse than to have Sunday lunch in The Plough. But book well in advance!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Winter is i-cumen in. And so is the Frost man

There may be some dispute amongst various bodies whether winter officially starts on December 1st (meteorologically) or December 21st (astronomically). But there was no doubt this morning what the weather thinks. It was nearly -4 when we left the house just after 7 this morning. The grass, rooves and fence tops were covered in frost. The Builder had to scrape the car down. I have dug out my winter coats (originally typed coast; I want a winter coast!!) and my winter scarves. Cold, it was. Cold! Still, I suppose at least there was no high wind or pouring rain. I believe that is due tonight!

So at least it is unlikely to be absolutely freezing in the morning.

In the meantime, I have been poorly sick. I had to have Thursday and Friday of last week off work. What? No, no. Of course it wasn’t swine flu. It wasn’t any type of flu. I don’t know what it was. My lower back had been playing up for some time before, but that is not all that unusual. My shoulder had been quite painful for several days, which is also not absolutely unknown. But on Thursday morning when I got up my arms and legs ached too, my head ached (though I didn’t have a headache, if you see what I mean) and my brain felt as though it had been battered by a sopping wet sandbag. Not that I ever have been battered by a sandbag, but you can imagine how that might feel. I stayed at home, put the central heating on and sat in the armchair in the lounge room next to the big radiator. Marlo thought it was wonderful!

I felt slightly better on Saturday and went out with The Builder to Chatsworth, the garden centre and the supermarket. It was good to get out, but I was mighty glad to get back to my warm armchair. Sunday was better still, though it was wet and windy so we didn’t really do anything. I don’t think we so much as left the premises. Yesterday I came back to work, but I wasn’t an entirely happy little vegemite and my back and shoulder were extremely cross about being made to do anything. Today I feel very nearly human again.

Mind you, it may have been as well that we decided not to go anywhere on Sunday. I had been soaking some clothes in napisan in a bucket. Put them in the washing machine and went out to pour the water down the gully trap, only to find it absolutely full up with manky water. I *thought* I had seen bubbles blowing around in the courtyard after I had had a back and shoulder soothing bubble bath on Friday morning. I poked about with a broom handle to see what was what. Summoned The Builder to see if he had any wise words (he certainly had words to offer, but whether they were wise is open to discussion – and I certainly wouldn’t repeat them on this here blog!!). We poked about a bit more and managed to get it to run free. But testing it with the hose suggested it was really still blocked. In the end I got in with my hands to find out what was what. And it was all filled up with grit and rubble and what looked like a decade’s accretion of remnants of bath salts and things. Not me. I’m a bubble person on the whole. But Mrs Hallam left a whole load of bath salts and mini bath bombs and things when she moved out. Eventually I threw them away. Bath salts make a bath feel gritty to my mind. Anyway. It’s clear now and water is running away as it should do.

On a much snugglier and cosier note - here are Jess's magnificent continental cushion covers:

Our bed

Guest bed

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My washing basket decided to disintegrate over the summer. So I pressed the ironing basket into service as a washing basket and carried on.

This last couple of weeks, the handles of the ironing basket have been inexorably unravelling. Time for a new basket, I think. A wicker one. I like wicker baskets. And the two that have just died were amongst the first things I bought when I came to England, so they’ve lasted quite well!

So, while we were pottering about on Saturday morning we decided to call into Homebase for a new basket. Hmm. No baskets. Not unless we wanted a cheap and quite nasty plastic one, or we wanted to spend £30 or £40 on a wicker one. Which seemed slightly excessive for a washing basket. Off we trundled, on our quest for a basket. You really wouldn’t have thought it would be quite so hard! Eventually, I thought: Dunelm Mill. They’ll probably have washing baskets. Let’s go there. So we did. And they did :-) Mission accomplished. (But it really shouldn’t have been so hard!!)

When we got married, Jess (Ant’s partner) had made for us two beautiful covers for European pillows. This confused me a bit. I had never heard of European pillows. I went out hunting for large pillows. No luck. I searched for European cushions on Amazon and eBay. No luck. I went out again, looking for large cushions. There were lots of large cushions but none which were the right size. Hmm. I looked on the John Lewis website. No European pillows. I looked on Found European pillows. Also described as Continental pillows. Of course! That’s what you might expect them to be called in the UK. A trawl through the online shops and John Lewis’s website brought up loads of Continental pillows. We decided that a trip to Nottingham or Derby one weekend to explore the John Lewis pillow selections might be an amusing way to spend a day.

In the meantime, Jess’s pillow covers were draped decoratively over the spare bed and seemed to be quite happy.

I forgot about the Continental pillows.

Until we were mooching about in Dunelm mill, having found a new washing basket. Suddenly found myself confronted by piles of Continental pillows of varying sizes. Happily, The Builder remembered the size we needed. We now have a Continental pillow adorning our bed and the spare bed. I’ll take photos of them this weekend so you can all admire Jess’s handiwork (I tried on Sunday, but the photos came out all fuzzy ;-( )

So that was all very exciting. Two missions accomplished, one of which I had completely forgotten about, on one trip out!

So. What to do on a drizzly Sunday? One of my Twitter foodie pals had mentioned on Saturday evening that she had had a lovely time at the Belper Christmas Market in a big house just outside of Belper. We decided that that sounded quite fun – plus it had the advantage of being inside. So we hopped in the car and took ourselves along some interesting and pretty back roads to Belper. We got to the house at about 11. The queue to get into the parking area was really quite long. This might not have deterred us. We don’t mind waiting. But then we noticed that the parking was mostly in a very muddy field. This was a bit disconcerting. But what made us abandon the plan was the presence of tractors and JCBs equipped with chains for dragging cars out of the mud. We decided to go for a nice drive through the pretty Derbyshire countryside and made our way home again, once more through back roads.

So we had our Sunday roast earlier than planned. And very nice it was too. Then we just sort of drifted into Sunday evening, and reasonably early to bed.

Then I had to get up on Monday morning and come back to work. Something of a shock after a nice three day weekend!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A day off

I woke up, as is increasingly becoming my habit, at 3:30 the other morning panicking because The Builder and I were effectively will-less. I had taken our previous wills into our solicitor to get them updated. She had said that she would contact us when they were ready for signing. And I had heard nothing since. I went in to investigate on the first lunchtime I had enough time to go wandering around in town.

The wills were ready. The solicitor had sent us a letter. No letter had reached us. They had been sent to Khartoum Road!!

As it happened, I had a few days earlier discovered that my diary was completely empty on the Friday. I had immediately arranged to take it off, before anyone noticed and started filling it up. I made an appointment for The Builder and me to visit the solicitor early on Friday afternoon.
So we ambled slowly into Sheffield, through the wind and the rain and the chaotic traffic. Several times other vehicles made determined efforts to squash us, no doubt enjoying the potential irony of us being squashed flat on our way to sign our new wills. Eventually, though, we made it safely into town. Lunch in the Millennium Gallery café, which was extremely busy (I had forgotten that the graduation ceremonies were last week, so the city was filled with returning graduates and all their guests). Then we went to the solicitor, sorted out a change of address, signed the wills and went away.

We came out to find that the clouds had gone, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining brightly. We decided to go for a ride on the Sheffield Wheel, which is modelled on the London Eye, but much smaller, and which is at the top of Fargate until sometime in January. You do get some mighty spectacular views from the top! Plus we got to go round four times instead of the usual three because the people in the capsule in front of us wanted to get off after the first revolution. We had no objections to this at all!

We dropped in to visit Freyja in her office, to drop off a computer game she had asked us to get for her. We drive past her office quite frequently but had never had occasion to go in and inspect it before. Then we went home for a quiet evening in with nice food and wine.

All in all, it was a good day off.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It was extremely stormy on Saturday. Rain and high winds battered the south of England to the point that the south coast nearly got blown away. It all sounded rather dramatic. We had no such dramas. In fact, Saturday morning was quite nice. Then rain arrived and so did wind. But nothing really excessive, especially given that it is November. The seagulls, who are back from their summer holiday, rather enjoyed the winds.It is fortunate, though, that we weren’t having the gales they were having in the south. We had arranged to meet my colleague Joanne and her daughter in Bakewell later in the afternoon. She is hoping to buy a house there and wanted The Builder to cast his eagle eye over a place she has her eye on. It would have been quite dangerous driving to Bakewell in a truly, proper howling gale!

The house/cottage that Jo has her eye on is in the same terrace that she is renting in. And it’s rather cute. It’s up on the hill above the church with spectacular views. But it isn’t worth what they are asking for it. And it’s odd, because they had it on the market a year ago for less, they even had it featured in a house selling TV program – and it didn’t sell. The market hasn’t really picked up since. You’d think they would have put it back on the market at, or slightly under what they were asking last year. But no. Up by 5 or 6K. It’s still not selling! The vendor caused much mirth when she asked Jo if The Builder and I were her parents (I’d have been starting motherhood at an unusually early age if I were her mother!). And it was unfortunate from her point of view that it was raining heavily, thus indicating that the roof was leaking into the upstairs bedroom. What really horrified her was when Jo pulled up the rug which was tastefully arranged in front of the gas fire and which was the only piece of furnishing in the otherwise empty house – to reveal a mess of dried cement on the tiled floor!!!! Jo has put in an offer, but at considerably below the asking price. I don’t suppose for one minute they’ll accept it, but she can always offer a little more!

We went back to Jo’s for a cup of tea, and a late afternoon snack of cheese and bread and red wine.

For some time I’ve been thinking I should be more adventurous in what I eat. I’m extremely adventurous when it comes to types of cuisine, but not so much when it comes to ingredients, especially meaty ingredients. Once I went to a friend’s place for dinner and we were served boar. I was extremely suspicious about this. Don’t know why. I eat pork perfectly happily. And the boar was delicious. Many years ago I went somewhere where I was fed rabbit. Extremely suspicious of that, I was. And it too was delicious. I’ve had it once or twice since and really enjoyed it but have never cooked it and wouldn’t choose it in a restaurant, although I can’t think why not. I was absolutely appalled when Simon fed me barbecued kangaroo once when we were in Melbourne. That too was very tasty. Clearly I need to eat more widely among the food animals available. But if you are going to be adventurous when you are out and paying good money for your food, then you need to be adventurous somewhere where you know the food will be of a high standard and beautifully cooked. Not an easy call, somewhere with high standards and unusual things on the menu.

Now you may recall me mentioning that The Builder’s mother has been unwell lately. She had been pretty much confined to the house, had been getting forgetful and confused, was fairly miserable and extremely bored and lonely. People have been going to visit her, of course, but she really wasn’t a happy little vegemite at all. So we arranged to go down to visit her on Sunday. It had to be a day trip, although that is definitely not our preferred option (dinner on Saturday evening, followed by breakfast on Sunday morning in The Swan is definitely the preferred option) partly because we were going to look at Jo’s potential house, partly because there were Things To Do, and partly because we need to be a bit more careful with the pennies sine The Builder retired. Mostly, though, was that we simply wouldn't have driven to the south of England in the storms, tempests and inundations of Saturday!! Fortunately, I was working an evening shift on the Monday, so that gave me a bit of leeway for getting to work. And as it happens, I didn’t go in until later in the afternoon anyway.

Anyway. We rang Gwen on Thursday and found that she was feeling a lot better. Her medication has been changed and I think her memory and confusion are not as bad as they had been on the old medication. Certainly she was nothing like as bad as it seems she had been the previous week. We asked if she would like us to bring something for lunch with us, or if she would like to go out. She leapt at the opportunity to leave her four walls. I rang and made a booking for Sunday lunch at The Swan. (And it was just as well I did – The Swan was extremely busy).

It did not go unnoticed by Matthew or Carl that we had rocked in for lunch but had not stayed over on Saturday night! (We’re going for lunch on New Year’s Day without staying New Year’s Eve too – but that didn’t seem to worry them when I made the booking)

The Swan, of course, more than fits my requirement for high quality food which is well cooked and which has adventurous menu offerings. And amongst the Sunday roasts was roast partridge. The Builder’s mother was very excited by the partridge. I had never eaten it. But if Gwen was excited, and if The Builder was carefully considering whether or not to have it (he had the pork in the end) – I really had to go for it, in the spirit of being adventurous. And you know – it was lovely. Absolutely delicious. I had a remarkably nice tomato and butternut squash soup before it. No room for dessert, alas, despite not having had any breakfast.

I must keep an eye out for partridges and try cooking them myself. Or find myself in Stoford for Sunday lunch more often!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Birdy excitement

Last weekend I was down picking some sage leaves for our pork Sunday roast. While I was doing this something I noticed that the sparrows were making a very strange peeping noise and were hunkered down in the prickly bush. Suddenly, something swooped past me and flew fast down into the herbs and things by the fish pond. I didn’t see what it was, but I did turn round to look. You know – “what the hell was that?” sort of thing. A few seconds later and it swooped out again, carrying what I think was a mouse and headed up to the sycamore tree in the field. It pretty much had to be a sparrowhawk. It was very exciting. I’ve never really been that close to a sparrowhawk.

Later in the week, The Builder was making a cup of tea and idly watching out the window. He noted an absence of bird life in the garden. Then he noticed something sat, motionless, on the fence. At first he thought it was a kestrel, but we have since come to think that it was probably the same sparrowhawk. Kestrels do not usually come hunting for lunch in peoples’ overgrown gardens. The sparrowhawk sat there patiently until her lunch appeared!

And this morning I was changing the pillowcases and watching out the bedroom window. The birds all suddenly disappeared. I looked up, and there, flying overhead was what appeared to be a sparrowhawk. I think she may think that the gardens of Bridge Street and QVR are a snack bar carefully cultivated for her!

But how cool to have a sparrowhawk in the vicinity. I hope it stays (although I hope it doesn’t come hunting for lunch when I am doing the bird count next January!!)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Apple and cinnamon cake

I asked The Builder at the weekend what kind of cake he would like me to bake. He replied that he fancied a sponge cake. What, just a plain sponge cake? Well, he said - maybe flavoured with cinnamon. And apples? And apples!

So I chopped up some small apples that someone had given us. Then I made my usual recipe (200g each of butter, sugar and SR flour, plus 4 eggs) except that I reduced the sugar to 150g. I am beginning to find cakes with 200g of sugar too sweet. I also added 25g of cinnamon and a half a teaspoon of baking powder. Oh - and I added the chopped apples. Baked it in a 150d oven for about 50 minutes then took it out to cool.

I made a frosting with 100g butter, 130g icing sugar (was suppsoed to be 140 but I only had 130!!), the zest of a lemon and the juice.

The frosting was a bit more lemony than I had intended. But then the cake was a bit bit more cinnamony, so it equalled itself out!

We had some for afternoon tea on Sunday.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Never again! Never, ever, EVER again am I going to catch the 16:38 Liverpool to Norwich train to get home after work.

Actually, I very seldom do catch any of the Liverpool to Norwich trains. Normally I catch the London train, which has the significant advantage that it departs from Sheffield, so there is no unseemly haste to try and get on, nor any barging about trying to get a seat. However, Sheffield station on Friday was absolute bedlam. There were queues waiting to join the queues waiting for the ticket machines and the even longer queues waiting to go to the ticket offices. So there was no chance of catching the London train.

It didn’t look too bad on the platform for the Norwich train. The problem is that the trains are almost always only 2 carriages long, and they are among the very few trains which stop at Dronfield, so more people catch the commuter trains than otherwise might. On a Friday afternoons, of course, they are extremely crowded. I was among the last to get on and moved across to the opposite door, just to keep out the way. There were three huge suitcases there, which was irritating, but I guess they have to go somewhere. And it was busy, but not unpleasantly so.

Suddenly a whole crowd of people surged on – I presume from further down the platform where there were a lot of people waiting to board. It was such a surge that I nearly got squashed. I would have got squashed, had there not been the three large suitcases providing a buffer between me and the opposite door. We all jiggled around so there was breathing space, and discussed amongst ourselves the lunacy of running a two carriage train when the operators know that it is dangerously over-crowded on Friday afternoons. You not only have the regular commuters, but also the weekly commuters, not to mention the students who tend to go home for the weekends. Plus, of course, Norwich is a holiday destination. Lots of the people who travel on this service do have large pieces of luggage.

But I have to say that it was amongst the very most unpleasant train trips I have ever endured. And I won’t be doing it again. Next time it proves impossible to catch the London train, I shall catch the Plymouth or Nottingham train. They may not start in Sheffield and they may be busy, but at least they have considerably more than two carriages.

Apart from that little excitement, it was a fairly quiet weekend. We did a bit of shopping on Saturday and went back to the Three Horseshoes for lunch (We are planning to go for dinner on the 12th of December with Bea and Steve and took in our menu choices). They are definitely giving the pub up, though I think Margaret and Damien are less sure whether they are doing the right thing than Mike is. I assume they are intending to finish during December – they are still not taking bookings for Christmas Day or for New Years Eve.

Mostly, we ate well over the weekend. We had steak and garlic mushrooms on Saturday evening. We had a slow roasted slab of belly pork for Sunday evening (came from the half pig we bought in the summer. We are now out of small pieces of pig and lamb and only have large slabs left. Better start saving up for more for when the large slabs also run out!) I made a rather nice apple and cinnamon cake. We had rather nice wine. On Sunday we had our weekly gin/vodka and tonic. We sat in the lounge room and read and messed about on the internet. We sat in the dining room and watched telly. Marlo has greeted the reappearance of his radiator hammock with enthusiasm (more so than last year, but I’ve put it on a different radiator and I think it’s more stable).

The only downer over the weekend was The Builder’s tax bill, which lobbed in looking large and scary on Friday. He has definitely decided to sell Oscar. This will (we hope) more than cover the tax bill. But realistically we don’t need two cars any more. And we also can’t afford to run two cars any more, especially when Oscar is hardly ever used.

Came to work in The Vixen this morning. Took me nearly ten minutes to scrape the ice off the windscreen so I could see to drive. Took some time to persuade the door to open too – it was frozen shut. I think it might have been a tad on the chilly side last night.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A Hallowe'en Excitement (but not for us, fortunately)

It was, you may have noticed, Hallowe’en last Saturday. Generally speaking, this is something that The Builder and I ignore, although last year we did have some charming little moppets, accompanied by their very polite parents come a-knocking on the door in search of treats. Fortunately, I happened to have some candy about the place, and also some small oranges. They got a bit of each!

This year I decided I really couldn’t be bothered and locked the back door and the gate at about 5, when it went dark. I also, most unusually, pulled the curtains closed, thus declaring us Not Available for the delivery of either treats or fruit.

We settled in for a cosy evening in and pretty much ignored the sounds of teenage merriment which we heard outside from time to time.

We also ignored the sound of Max barking with determination. Max is always barking. Had the door and gate been unlocked, we would probably have gone to investigate but they weren’t and as it happens on this occasion we didn’t.

The Builder was talking to Steve yesterday. Apparently, the people in the lovely, red-brick house diagonally opposite were having a Hallowe’en party on Saturday evening. Their children are quite young; the oldest would only be 11 or 12 at most. It seems that a young man of around 17 or 18 decided that he wanted to attend the party and was prevented by the adults in the house. For reasons which I am sure made sense to him at the time, in retribution he smashed one of the large windows. Apparently, by putting his fist through the window. This did not do his fist much good. It also attracted the attention of the adults who came out after him. He, showing a surprising level of common sense, ran away. The grown ups called the police.

It seems that the boy ran down the lane to the sewage treatment centre, then cut across the fields at the back of our garden, aiming, we think, for the alleyway further up, which would have dropped him unobtrusively back onto QVR. Instead, he fetched up in Steve and Debbie’s garden, where the gate was locked thus preventing him escaping, and where there was a VERY barky dog in the kitchen. Steve let Max out. The boy tried to hide. You can’t hide from Max! Very foolishly, when Steve went down to enquire why he was hiding at the bottom of the garden and why his arm was bleeding with vigour, instead of apologising nicely and going away, the boy decided to have a go at him. Steve, of course, knew that the police were at the house across the road, grabbed the boy, frogmarched him through his house and across the road and into the grateful arms of the gendarmerie who were about to go out hunting.

It’s the most excitement our corner of Tupton has seen for years. And we were completely oblivious, sat in our cosy lounge room and ignoring the outside world!

In addition to losing our window cleaner, we also appear to have misplaced our neighbour in the adjoining semi. I noticed her packing her car as full as it could possibly be packed on Monday morning. Her car was not there when I got back at about quarter to ten on Monday evening. It wasn’t there when I got back yesterday evening either. And the lounge room curtains were open. The room appears to be empty of furniture. I suspect her of having moved!

Barb has been to see The Builder’s mother. She reports that Gwen is in reasonable spirits and seems quite chirpy but that her sciatica is very painful. She also says that Gwen is beginning to be quite repetitive in what she tells you, although I think that is not uncommon in older people who live alone, have few people to talk to and for whom very little ever happens. And now that there isn’t a warden resident in the complex she lives in, I don’t think much is happening in the way of organised activities in the communal lounge room. We will go down for a Sunday in a couple of weeks but we can’t really go down much more than we already do. If nothing else, it would bankrupt us fairly quickly!

Oh Nooooooooooooooooo

Mike and Margaret and Damien are giving up the Three Horseshoes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We called in for lunch on Saturday and Mike told us then that he had handed his notice in to the people who actually own the pub. He says he's sick of people complaining about how much more expensive they are than Wetherspoons (a chain, where you can buy things which purport to be vaguely edible for tuppence ha'penny, so The Three Horseshoes is never going to compete on price) and he's fed up of trying to stretch the budget and on the whole he's just fed up. ;-( So they're leaving. Not sure when. But although they're advertising a December Festive menu, they are not advertising a Christmas Day menu, nor are they advertising anything for New Year. And he wouldn't take a deposit from us when we booked for a festive meal in mid-December. So I would suggest that if you want to go for a meal while Mike, Margaret and Damien are still there, you should probably do it quite soon.

I assume that someone else will take the pub on. I wonder what their food will be like. We won't be going if the new people decide that they are going to try and compete with Wetherspoons. The folks at The Nettle are showing no signs of spitting the dummy. And their food is *lovely* (even if their approach to customers isn't quite as jovial!)

So that was a gloomy bit of news - although it has been clear for sometime that the business was struggling. I was never quite sure why. Food excellent, hosts amiable and friendly, location not too bad, and other pubs that we frequent, selling the same sort of food at much the same sort of price don't seem to be struggling quite so much. But I hadn't taken into account the chain pub down the road (two for tuppence ha'penny) , nor the other pub about a mile in the other direction which sells pub grub at pub prices and picks up the hikers who just want a jacket potato on their way past. Mike and Margaret might have been better marketing themselves as a restaurant, which is primarily what they have been - a restaurant in a pub.

Oh well. I hope The Nettle doesn't follow suit. And absolutely NOT the Swan @ Stoford!!

Apart from that, we had quite a pleasant weekend. We pottered about on Saturday morning, did a bit of shopping, bought a new iron to replace the one I blew up last weekend. We dropped out to Chatsworth for supplies, pottered about a bit more and then went home and didn't have the casseroled pork steaks in apple and cider sauce I had intended for dinner. We had eaten SO much at lunch that it seemed remarkably wasteful to have more in the evening. The pork steaks in their sauce are now in the freezer, awaiting an instant casserole need.

We woke up on November 1st to rain, strong wind, a distinct chill in the air, and a slight cascade of water down the inside of both front windows. Thank goodness someone once upon a time decided to invent towels! In a brief moment of uxorial devotion, I took The Builder (still lazing about in bed) a cup of coffee. As he sipped and gazed out the window (at the back, so no water dripping down the inside), he mused that the guttering looked quite full. I hopped up on the (low!) ottoman to investigate further. It was indeed full. It was, in fact, overflowing. At that point it was merely raining and blowing. They were predicting actual storms for later in the morning. If anything was to be done, it needed doing RIGHT NOW. Unfortunate that it was only quarter to eight, but we didn't want the gutter actually falling off. Nor did we want water cascading over the top, for that would be right over the back door! The Builder got up, got dressed and went out to fish out the ladder. Fortunately, it took but a moment to clear the blockage, The Builder waving about on top of it, and me hanging staunchly on to the bottom of it to prevent him blowing away, and we had our rain coats and boots on. But it clearly meant that we had to have bacon and eggs and buttery toast and hot chocolate for breakfast. As warming, comfort food, you understand, for such a wet and abrupt start to a Sunday morning!!

And we did. Right after I had had my Sunday morning web chat with Stella and Tony, now returned from their jaunts in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

We didn't do much after that. I played with the new iron and baked a fruit pie and made stews and things for the freezer. The Builder watched the grand prix. We ate roast chicken and yummy things. I went to bed nice and early, for I have a very busy diary this week. Then, of course, I woke up again at half three and couldn't go back to sleep!

I still have that annoying, low level cold ;-( But it could be worse. The Builder's mum said on Sunday evening that she had such bad sciatica that she could barely move and hadn't even been able to get to the kitchen to get anything to eat until quite late on in the day. This is a bit of a worry. Mostly, there are people about to help, including Peter, The Builder's brother. But there is never anyone much about on a Sunday. It is not unusual for her to speak to Peter quite early when he drops in on Sunday morning and then not to anyone else until The Builder rings her on Sunday evening. There certainly isn't anyone about to help her get food. I'm not even sure you can organise meals on wheels for a Sunday. And even if you could - how would she get up to let the delivery people in? Fortunately, she called the doctor out first thing on Monday. And he has prescribed pills and potions, so it may well be OK.

We seem to have misplaced our window cleaner. He never came to collect his money after he cleaned them the last time, about three weeks ago. And we've not seen him since. He'd been doing the windows fortnightly over the summer. I had intended to drop it back down to monthly over the winter - but I hadn't said anything about it yet. And I don't know how to get in touch with him :-S But I hope he's OK. His sidekick fell off his ladder a few weeks ago and got quite broken

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A visit from Amanda

We had a fabulously foodie weekend. I'll put the food details on the food blog - but I'll tell you here that we ate a great deal of really lovely food on Saturday and Sunday!

Amanda, Zoy's girlfriend, has been touring around Scotland and England for the past few months. For the last little while she has been living and working in London. Ian and Lindsey met up with her in August. Ian and Freyja met up with her in September. And now it is oh-so nearly time for her to head back to Ballarat.

And, of course, we couldn't possibly let her go without making her come and admire the delights of the Peak District. So she came up this weekend just gone. And the Peak District turned on some gloriously autumnal weather for her. It was misty and the trees were in full colour. Then the sun came out and the trees all glinted gloriously. We went out for a country drive, then fetched up in Bakewell for a wander around. And then we went into Sheffield via Hathersage to collect Freyja, who was also coming to our place for Saturday night. It is also possible that we may, quite by accident, of course, have possibly found ourselves in the Chatsworth farm shop, where we may have bought a wonderful carrot cake, and maybe some salady things for dinner. Maybe!

We had roast vegetable lasagne to go with the salady things. Freyja and Amanda helped to make the lasagne sheets. It was very delicious.

Sunday was pretty much devoted to food. The Builder and Amanda went to the allotment to collect the last of the peas and some corn. We had roast rib of beef with all the Sunday Roast trimmings (Freyja didn't have beef. She had a veggie alternative roast which tasted remarkably chicken-like). We had steamed chocolate pudding with ice cream left over from when Ian was with us. We had a proper red wine to wash it all down. We had good conversation and a merry time.

The The Builder took Amanda back to the station to go back to London, and Freyja back into Sheffield, and I stayed at home and made a start on the dishes. It was a fabulous Sunday. And I found the battery charger for my camera. I've been hunting for it for weeks. We have turned the house upside down and looked EVERYWHERE. On Sunday morning I found it sat under one of the spare dining room chairs. And I know it hadn't been there before, because not only had we looked there, but we had also hoovered there. I suspect Marlo of having hidden it!!

But we ought to have visitors more often. When visitors come, I pretty much deep clean the house. This is not to say it doesn't get cleaned when there are no visitors; it does, just not thoroughly and properly cleaned. And you don't count as a visitor if you are family and less than 10 years older than me, or if you have already been more than two or three times. On the rare occasions when people come who fall outside those categories, I pull out all the stops and dust the skirting boards and the irritating little ridges on the doors, and I scrub things that usually only get wiped down. So we need to organise real visitors perhaps three or maybe four times a year!! Amanda says she may be returning to the UK in the spring. She would still count as a visitor. She'll just have to come back!!!

I still have that irritating, low level cold. Sigh!

A busier week in prospect this week. More teaching than last week. But nothing like as daunting as it would have been without Caroline. My diary looks quite manageable when you take out the sessions that she is doing :-)

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Fabulously Foodie Weekend

Amanda, who has been staying in London and Freyja, who lives in Sheffield, came to stay for the weekend. It's Amanda's second last weekend before she heads back to Australia. So we decided to have a weekend feast.

We started our feasting with a roast vegetable lasagne on Saturday evening.

Earlier in the day, I had roasted some onions, pumpkin, courgette, capsicum, garlic and some herbs and added some steamed shredded cabbage. Then I stirred it all into a bowl of light marscapone cheese and shoved it in the fridge until later. Amanda, Freyja and I made the lasagne sheets early in the evening, making the pasta very, very thin. It would never pass muster on Masterchef - the pasta was all holey. But we didn't care and it was certainly very light. And you can't see the pasta sheets once you put all the rest of the stuff on it, so holey doesn't matter!

We layered the cheesy vegetables and the pasta with pureed tomatoes and low fat mozzarella and baked it in a moderate oven until it was bubbling. Then I put some grated parmesan over the top and baked it until the cheese was golden. We had it with a mighty, mixed green salad and some white wine. It was an excellent introduction to a foodie weekend

This was the first trip out for my new pie/lasagne dish that we got in Salisbury last weekend

On Sunday we had a rib of beef with all the trimmings.

I sat the beef on a trivet of vegetables with some marjoram and a little red wine and put it into a hot oven for about 20 minutes. Then I turned it down to about 140 for a further hour or so.

A mixed vegetable trivet which will form the basis of the gravy

The meat sits on top to provide juices and tastiness to the gravy

When the beef came out to rest, I turned the oven up as hot as I could get it. Once it was hot, I put the Yorkshire pudding batter, which had been chilling in the fridge, into a pie dish which was smeared with oil and which had been heating in the oven. I took the vegetable trivet and put it in the blender together with some of the water the vegetables had been simmering in and the juices from the plate the meat had been resting on, and blended it down to a paste, which I pushed through a fine mesh strainer until I had a thickish liquid, which I then gently heated to form the gravy. And we ate it all with roasted potatoes, steamed vegetables and the Yorkshire pudding. Freyja had a veggie roast alternative and bog standard gravy. We must try to make a vegetarian friendly gravy next time.

Time to eat :

Wonderfully soft and melting beef. Alas, it wasn't all for me!

Another Yorkshire pudding successfully risen

The gravy never tastes the same two occasions in a row. It depends on how the vegetables and the meat intermingle. But it is always delicious.

Freyja's veggie alternative and the vegetables

We finished up with a steamed chocolate pudding, Jersey cream and a homemade vanilla ice cream. Magnificent autumnal food (although it's a bit mild for autumn food, really)

Pudding time


(The Builder was also around at the weekend. He was the Chief Eater and food taster, but didn't actively participate in the food preparation - apart from collecting the peas and corn from the allotment on Sunday morning)