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