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 eBay.com.au. 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