Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Day Out

So what shall we do today?  We were supposed to be taking The Builder's mother out for lunch but she is now unavailable.  She's going to the hospital to have a skin graft (that we didn't know she'd had done) checked out.  Much as we enjoy being at The Swan @ Stoford, we didn't really fancy sitting in our room al day.  We went and got in the car and I inspected the road map.

Let's go to Christchurch.  Lindsey likes Christchurch a lot and regularly recommends that we should go for a visit.  It's a bit far to head to New Zealand for lunch - we have a dinner engagement at 7pm.  But this Christchurch is near Bournemouth and within easy striking distance.  Neither of us has ever been before so had no idea what was there, but it's no effort to go and have a look see.

So we did.  And what was there was a lot of fog, a huge priory church, a quay that we could hardly see for the fog, a river, lots of old buildings, walking tracks, lots of shops.  It was a real find.  We must take Lindsey one time when she's here.  We had a lovely wander around and then headed back to the car intending to head into the New Forest for lunch.

Memo to self: do not attempt to find a pub in the New Forest at any time around Christmas and New Year. We tried last New Year's Day and gave up.  We tried today - and gave up!  We ended up in a pub right on the edge of the forest.  It's a beautiful building - thatched roof, well maintained exterior, beautifully decorated for Christmas, full of teddy bears.  The menus were well produced and had interesting things on them.  It sparkled with foodie promise.  Alas - the food really was not very good.  Not nice at all.  It's unusual for a pub that is so well looked after to have quite such bad food.   I can only surmise that they had run out of supplies and had had to hit the nearest supermarket for emergency supplies.  We might go back in the summer and see if my theory is correct.

Must go.  We're heading out to meet Jeanette, Matthew and Ian, plus all their children for dinner in The Wheatsheaf in Braishfield, where I am confident that the food will not be dire, nor even not particularly nice!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Treats

We had Christmas dinner at Tabitha and Gareth's place this year, so no massive cooking for me.  But I did make sausage rolls to have as pre-dinner nibblies, and apple slices and vanilla slices for dessert, although we didn't eat them in the end and had them at home on Boxing Day instead.

This is how I made the sausage rolls.

I took a healthy double handful of pork mince and mixed it with slow-caramelised onions, chopped sage leaves, sausage rusk and a little ginger syrup, all scrunched together to make a very slightly damp sausage mix.  I left that to rest for 24 hours.

I then made a rough puff pastry, using Delia's recipe.  I had always thought that making your own flaky or puff pastry would be time consuming and difficult.  Life was too short.  But it isn't - and it isn't!!  It was easy and not too time consuming at all.  And extremely delicious.  Noticeably more delicious than even the best shop bought puff pastry.

After everything had rested and marinated and got itself together, I rolled the pastry out quite thinly then put a roll of sausage meat down the middle.  I egg-washed the edges of the pastry then rolled it all up and cut the sausage rolls into bite sized pieces.  I then egg-washed the top of the sausage rolls and baked in a moderate to high oven until the sausage rolls were fluffy and golden - about 25 minutes in my oven.  They were delicious hot, and equally delicious cold when we had them in the evening.

Christmas

We had been a bit worried about whether we would be able to go anywhere over Christmas, what with snow and ice and fog in the forecast.  In the event, however, the roads were clear and the fog was not obvious on Christmas Day and we were able to follow all our plans.

Which were not particularly onerous.  It was, in fact, quite a quiet Christmas.  I spent most of the morning baking and late in the afternoon we decamped to Tabitha and Gareth's place for a fun-filled evening with them, Freyja-with-flooooo and Marryk (without flu).  It was a good evening.  We ate party pies and sausage rolls then chicken and beef and didn't eat the desserts.  We watched Dr Who and Patrick Stewart's A Christmas Carol.  Freyja went home. The rest of us stayed in Nettleham Road and drifted off to bed in due course.

We came home early on Boxing Day to liberate the chickens.

I had intended to roast a rolled turkey breast that Lindsey had bought while she was with us for our Boxing Day Feast.  But on Christmas Eve I had happened to be in Waitrose in the afternoon while they were reducing the price of the left over festive fare.  As I wandered past the turkey fridge they had put them down to £25.  The next time I went past, about 20 minutes later, they had come down to £6.  I bought one.  A big one.  A HUGE big one!!  Far, far too big for the two of us.  So I took off the legs and thighs and put them in the freezer.  And we had the crown (still much, much too big for two of us) roasted for Boxing Day.

While I was carving it, I became aware of something thumping my leg.  I looked down.  It was Marlo bashing me with his head.  He kept on bashing me.  Slowly he turned into an episode of Simon's Cat (check YouTube if you haven't seen any Simon's Cat cartoons).  It seems that he really, really, REALLY likes roast turkey.  Who knew!!!!  Every time I go into the kitchen he's there, staring fixedly at the fridge demanding that I give him more of HIS turkey right now this very minute!!!!!

Alas, I have put the rest of the turkey in the freezer now, for we are about to head to Salisbury for a couple of days

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Still frozen

We got up yesterday morning to find that the temperature by the back door was a mighty minus 8.  It was minus 11 down in the garden.  The temperature hadn't broken 0 all weekend.

I got to work to find the office absolutely arctic-like.  I wasn't dressed for arctic conditions :-(  We had our little heater on but it was struggling to make any difference under the conditions.  It was freezing in the rest of the building.  Why is this so?

Peter endeavoured to find out.  Apparently they turn the heating off at weekends to save money.  Even in the Adsetts Centre which is open at weekends.  And, it seems, even on weekends where the forecast was for sub-zero temperatures all weekend.  It didn't really warm up in our office at all, all day.

Got home to find our house nice and toasty warm.  But with no cold water in the kitchen.  The pipe to the sink had frozen again.  Alas, this time the hair dryer and the little heater had no effect.  The piping is something of a mystery, because we do have running water in the bathroom, and the hot water in the kitchen is also flowing.  We think that the pipes must come into the house from next door and make their way immediately upstairs and that the cold water for the kitchen must come down the back wall somehow.  We can't get in to lag the pipes because that would involve taking the kitchen out.  Don't really know what to do, other than get someone in to investigate during the summer.

It's cold again in the office today.  Apparently the heating in the Adsetts Centre tripped off overnight.  It's been reset and we now have an additional free-standing heater.  And today I am wearing my snow clothes.  Winter walking trousers, thick knitted sweater, Dr Who scarf, possum gloves.  But today's very bad news is that they are forecasting a substantial increase in the price of hot chocolate because of a smaller harvest of cocoa beans than usual coupled with a much higher demand :-S 

I went into town yesterday at lunchtime.  It wasn't too bad, considering we are less than a week from Christmas.  Only problem was that I was oh-so nearly knocked over several times by small, fast-moving, darting creatures.  I have to go back into town today. The jug I bought was broken when I got it home.  I shall take a stick to keep the small, darting things at bay

Monday, December 20, 2010

By Thursday the garden was snow-free.  The only snow we had was the remains of the snowberg in the front "porch" which had come when the roof snow had avalanched off.  Otherwise everything was green rather than white and we were beginning to consider going out and rescuing the garden.

On Thursday afternoon it snowed again.  Not a lot, just a couple of centimetres.  But enough to turn everything white again.

And the temperatures plummeted.

The plan had been to head to London on Saturday.  I had bought tickets to the Wartime Food exhibition at the Imperial War Museum and we were going to run down in the car for the day, park at an outer London station and tube in.  The forecast for the south of England was dire for Saturday. Extreme weather warnings had been issued.  Traffic alerts had been issued.  Rather aptly we were getting lots of  "Is your journey really necessary" messages.  We decided not to go. 

So we stayed at home and rather vaguely began to think about next weekend.  We did go out, though.  We went to the local dairy which is now in addition to milk and cream selling bread from Jackson's bakery.  We bought some.  And then we headed off to Chatsworth for a final, pre-Christmas shop.  We took off along our usual route, which got icier and icier, and slippier and slippier, and scarier and scarier.  Granted we were up quite high and were out on the open moor, but the thought of the narrow, winding, steep slope down into Beeley was not enticing.  True, that road might have been less harrowing, because it is tree covered and more protected.  But it might not!  So we turned around and went back into Chesterfield and went out on the main road.

The shop was strangely quiet.  The lad who took our money says he expected it to get busier as the day went on.  But I had rather expected it to be busy quite early.  Still - nice for us that it wasn't.

Then we went home.  And that was more or less all we did all weekend.  It was cold and icy outside.  It was neither cold nor icy in our house. We have food and wine and bread and milk. No reason at all to go out. So we didn't.

In the meantime there seems to be travel chaos over most of Britain.  Airports are closed, railways are not running, motorways have become parking lots and it is veryveryvery cold.  But it's OK where we are, mercifully
.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Positively spring-like!

I appreciate that 5d is probably what you would term as fairly chilly.  And indeed it is.  Unless you have had a run of days around -11, -15, when +5 seems positively hot!

It came as something of a shock when I went outside on Saturday morning to find that the temperature had shot up to +8 and that the snow, which I had been absolutely confident would stay in place until at least April, was showing signs of going away!  The fields were almost snow-free.  The chicken orchard only had pockets of snow.  You can see that we have a fish pond.  You can even see some of the plants in the garden.

I almost took my jumper off :-D.

We didn't have anything in particular that we needed to do, so we did nothing, more or less, and then took ourselves to The Nettle for lunch.  There is virtually no snow on the roads, and also none in the car park.  And it was very busy.  I was wondering, when we saw the number of cars in the car park, if we would actually get a table :-S

But we did, and had a lovely lunch. And went home, and continued to do very little at all until bedtime.

Doing very little was rather self-indulgent.  There was quite a lot that I could have usefully been doing.  And having lunch at The Nettle was seriously indulgent, for we were heading down to Salisbury on Sunday to collect The Builder's mother to take her out to lunch.

The plan had been to go to The Swan.  But Matthew has moved from there to a new pub near Romsey.  Being insatiably curious about what my friends are up to, we changed our plans and went to The Wheatsheaf instead.  And I have to say it was a lovely meal.  You can read all about it here.  We all had a good time.

We did not, however, have a good time getting back to Tupton.  There had been an accident on the M5 early in the morning which had closed the motorway in both directions.  Now we knew about that, because there had been signs up saying the M5 was closed between 2 junctions on the way down and we had Gone Another Way.  There were no such signs on the way back so we thought it would be OK.  In fact it was still closed - but heading north it was closed between 4 junctions.  It took over an hour longer to get home.  Thank goodness we had Kathy-the-sat-nav with us, for there were no useful diversion signs to help!  And yes, I can read a map, but it's a little more awkward in the dark!

But at least we weren't involved in the accident.  Lots of people were quite badly hurt and one person died.  An extra hour on the trip doesn't seem significant compared to that.

The weather remained warm(ish) and dry and sunny for the whole weekend. The roads are more or less free of snow and ice. It is positively easy getting about.  It does have improbable suggestions of spring.

They're forecasting more snow for parts of the UK later this week and into next.  People are beginning to worry about their Christmas plans.  We are less worried.  We are supposed to be going to Tabitha and Gareth's place on Christmas Day.  But at least they're close enough so that if we get snowed in we can reschedule and go at another time.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Wheatsheaf, Braishfield, Nr Romsey



Matthew-from-Stoford has transmogrified into Matthew-from-Braishfield!  He's moved to manage The Swan's sister pub, The Wheatsheaf.

Being incorrigibly nosy we decided, when we went down to collect The Builder's mother to take her out for lunch yesterday, to drive out to Romsey and have a look see for ourselves.  Matthew had assured me that the food was good, even on a Sunday.  (I have noticed that many places who manage to do lovely food during the week seem to find Sundays very difficult to deal with.  I have become quite fussy about where I will go if lunching out on a Sunday! But if Matthew said that the food was good, then that was enough for me.)

I have to say that The Wheatsheaf absolutely surpassed itself.  I had a half pint of prawns to start with.  It came accompanied by a little bowl of Marie Rose sauce, a finger bowl with warm, lemony water in it, and a bowl for the carcasses.


It was absolutely lovely.  Gwen had a plate of smoked salmon, which she demolished at speed.  The Builder had a plate of whitebait which he also demolished at speed.  We were impressed with the presentation, with the flavours, with the service, and with the fact that all these interesting things were available on a Sunday menu.  The starter choices are so often boring and traditional on pub menus.

Being also boring and traditional, we all elected to have the roast beef for our main course.  It is a very, very long time since I had such a nice piece of roast beef.  It was extremely tasty, beautifully cooked and had obviously been properly hung before being sold.  It came with little Yorkies, roast potatoes and a quenelle of horseradish mousse atop the beef.  It was magnificent


The vegetables were fairly magnificent too.  Mashed swede and carrot would not ordinarily take my fancy, but this was lovely.  The broccoli was cooked just right - not too soft, not too hard.  And the red cabbage was a tour de force.  I especially liked the addition of the star anise.  I am pondering doing aniseedy red cabbage myself, with star anise, fennel seeds and a little pernod.


As an aside, my mate Richard, who in addition to being a train fanatic is also a cutlery fanatic, has been admiring not so much the food in these pictures but the cutlery.  He is definitely of the opinion that any pub which uses such good cutlery really ought to redefine itself as a restaurant.  The food was certainly restaurant food but I suspect The Wheatsheaf is also a very good pub as well.

We each had a dessert, an unusual event.  My bitter chocolate torte with raspberry sorbet was delightful.  The Builder enjoyed his sticky toffee pudding.  Gwen had ice cream.  Absolutely spot on for the end of a very indulgent Sunday lunch.

The prices hover between pub and restaurant prices but the food is excellent value for the money.  If you are anywhere within striking distance of Braishfield, I would thoroughly recommend a visit. I am now trying to figure when I can get back to Romsey myself so I can go again!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Thursday

We had to get up at 04:00 :-S  It was dark.  And cold.  And the heating hadn't come on :-S

So we put the heating on and had a cup of tea and got dressed and I made us a bowl of porridge each to sustain us on the way.

We left the house just before 05:00 :-S  Fortunately the roads weren't too icy, the temperature was around -2, it wasn't raining and the car started.

Off we headed to Manchester to drop Lindsey off at the airport.  In fact, we made extremely good time.  The roads were very quiet (oddly enough!) but also quite clear of snow and ice.  And once we crossed the Pennines there was virtually no snow and ice at all.  So we got Lindsey to the airport in good time for her flight and headed off to Sheffield to deliver me to work.

We didn't try to come over the Snake Pass.  It's usually closed when there is snow, and in any case is a winding and quite steep road in places.  It was still dark, still below or around freezing, still icy.  We came back over Woodhead instead - and found an enormous number of people apparently commuting between Sheffield and Manchester and between Manchester and Sheffield.  You might think it would be easier if everyone either swapped jobs or swapped houses!

I got to work in good time.  It took about an hour and a half to get Lindsey to the airport and a little over an hour to get me to work.  It then took nearly an hour and a half for The Builder to get home!  The Dronfield Bypass is still down to one lane and people are driving along it very slowly indeed.  It really isn't necessary to drive quite that slowly.  The roads aren't that bad.

Lindsey's plane was delayed by an hour.  We could have stayed in bed!!  Well, for a bit, anyway.

She's now back in Melbourne, where the temperature is 19d.  She left some winter kit here, although she is a bit dubious about coming back in winter.  We have pointed out that this is the coldest start to winter for decades and that November and December are usually characterised by dull, grey, damp, mild weather, but I'm not sure she believes us.  She does believe that the snow depths are highly unusual, but that's because she's seen all the fuss on the news.  And now that she's gone, the temperatures have, obviously, gone up.  It was 5 or 6 d this morning when I was getting ready for work.  I suppose we can expect flooding next as all the snow melts!!  At least we gave her some spectacular weather while she was here.  And some quite beautiful days.  The temperature might have been veryveryveryvery cold - but it is never that cold around here unless the sky is blue and the sun is shining.

I am extremely tired this morning.  I had a Japanese class last night and didn't get home until 10:00 or to bed until nearly midnight, then we were awake this morning at about 5 (unnecessarily, I might add - I blame the cat!).  I'm feeling slightly sleep deprived.  Still, tomorrow is Saturday and we have no plans so there is no need to get up particularly early.  And it's only two weeks to Christmas when I get a week and a bit off.

Freyja won second prize in the Language School raffle.  She gets a term's worth of fees repaid :-)

Paul Hudson, the BBC Weatherman for Yorkshire, says that it has been an unusually cold start to winter.  You can read his blog here

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Lindsey's last day with us

I went out to feed the chickens yesterday morning and found that the temperature by the back door was -0.5.  Under normal circumstances I'd be complaining that that was a bit on the chilly side for early December.  Under these circumstances, it felt positively balmy!! I'm not sure that the chickens agreed, though.  And Marlo certainly doesn't!

So.  What do do on Lindsey's last day?  We pootled about in the morning.  I made a chicken "curry" for dinner, using the River Cottage Every Day that The Builder had bought me for my birthday.  I use the inverted commas because I didn't put any chilli in so it was fragrant and tasty but not hot or even particularly spicy (The Builder ate his with a very hot chilli sauce added!).  Lindsey packed up.  I made some soup. We did useful things and got ready for Thursday.  So nothing particularly noteworthy but it was a pleasant, unflustered morning

Then we hopped in the car and took ourselves off to Freyja's place and had lunch in a deli/cafe just around the corner from where she lives.  I must say I was impressed with the food.  Have marked it in my memory as somewhere to go when loitering around in Nether Edge.  We checked out the gift shop and the little gallery and the Oxfam shop.  We went back to Freyja's place for a little while and then we went home and made biscuits and ate the chicken curry and drank some wine and went to bed quite early.

So not an exciting day.  But certainly a very pleasant one.

There is still a lot of snow lying around.  But now, where it has begun to melt, it is turning to ice.  The paths are extremely slippy. We are moving around wih extreme caution when outside!

Freyja gave me a hand decorated reindeer which says "Happy Christmas" in Japanese on the back.  Very cute.  And Stella and Tony have sent gloves and a hat and a scarf to keep me toasty

A memorable birthday

Well that was a memorable birthday.

I went out to feed the chickens at about 7:45.  The temperature by the backdoor was minus twelve.  It was around minus 16 down by the grape vine.  I couldn't deal with any of the metally things with my mittens on.  Froze my fingers to the back door handle ... poured warm water over fingers ... blew on fingers.  Froze my fingers to the latch into the chicken orchard ... poured warm water over fingers ... blew on fingers.  Poured warm water over the door to the run.  Still couldn't open it.  Poured more on.  Door remained resolutely closed.  Opened back door and liberated chickens.  Gave them warm water to drink.  Didn't blow on them.

Went to open back gate.  Padlock was frozen shut.  Poured warm water on that.  Managed to open it.  Went back inside. Didn't pour warm water over me. Had already had my shower!

We celebrated my birthday by ... wait for it ... are you braced? ... sat down? ... brandied up? ... by going to MEADOWHALL!!!!!!!  I don't remember the last time I went to Meadowhall.  It wouldn't have crossed my mind to suggest we go yesterday, except that Lindsey had been reading the latest Lakeland catalogue and had noted that they had opened a new store at Meadowhall.  Lakeland is one of my favourite shops.  So off we went to inspect it.

The whole experience was much enlivened by trying to find a place to park amid the snowhills in the car parks (not a problem that usually besets you in Melbourne!).  And I really feel as though I ought to enjoy wandering around the complex. I do enjoy wandering around shopping complexes in Melbourne. But I seldom enjoy the whole Meadowhall experience.  Now this might be because I hardly ever go and so don't know where things are.  But I have to say that it really is appallingly signposted.  We did eventually find the information boards - and once you've found one the others become much more obvious.  But I was looking for electronic information stations and there weren't any.  It was quite remarkably busy to say that it was a Tuesday morning.  And therein lay my other lack of enjoyment.  People were just wafting around, wrapped up in their own little bubbles, paying no attention to anything that was going on around them.  Had I not been paying attention I'd have been walked into multiple times!!  Oh - and it's a positive route march to get to any of the loos!!!!!!

On the other hand - having found the information boards we also found maps of the place.  Which meant that we found Lakeland.  And an Apple store.  The Lakeland is smaller than the ones in Cambridge and Salisbury but also much more conveniently located.  Lindsey and I had a good time mooching about in it.  And she bought me an electric food slicing machine for my birthday :-)  Must be extra vigilant when I use it.  I am quite fond of my fingers and would like to keep them attached to my hands!!!!!  In the Apple Store, Lindsey bought us a charger for our Macbooks.  We only have one, cos we gave the other to Freyja when hers broke.  We also found a Disney store and a Build a Bear store.  We enjoyed pottering around in Build a Bear.  The Disney stores don't excite me a great deal but the rest does.  The Builder and I may come back.  At quiet times.  Not in the three weeks before Christmas!!!

We went home via Waitrose so Lindsey could have her Waitrose fix and then trundled home to prepare for our visit to The Nettle for the Christmas Chocolate night.

We drove out through the icy snow and got there - to find that the chocolate night had been cancelled!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  They had been trying to ring me to let me know but either I had given them the wrong number, or they had written it down wrongly :-(  So that was a bit disappointing.  On the other hand, we all three had a magnificent piece of rib-eye steak each with extra chips on top of the rosti potatoes that came as standard.  And Lindsey and The Builder had cheese cake and I had ice cream with chocolate sauce, so it was after all a more than satisfactory birthday feast.

So.  Freezing temperatures, lots and lots of laying snow, a visit to Meadowhall, a cancelled chocolate feast and an unexpected steak night.  I'd say that was quite a memorable birthday!!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Winter

We ended November with about 4 inches of snow in the garden.  The chickens were definitely not happy about this! They flatly refused to come out of their run and churtled at us disgruntledly as though somehow this were our fault!  The carrots were buried under a mound of snow.  I managed to get some sprouts from one of the sprout plants but the chard was pretty much buried.

We have begun December with almost two foot of snow in the garden! The Under-Gardener has had to dig out the chicken coop, and excavate a bit of ground around the coop for them to forage in.  The sprout plants have disappeared.  So too has the fish pond.  The birds are making merry with the bird food we put out but are much happier now that the Under-Gardener has dug down almost to grass level in the snow on the little lawn so they're no longer in danger of sinking in.  Which one of the chickens did when it tried to fly down the garden, following the Under-Gardener and sank into 24 inches of snow.  The under-Gardener, when he had stopped laughing, said all he could see was a little head poking out over the top of the snow!  He had to go down and rescue her.

When I went down to feed them yesterday morning, the bolt into the orchard was frozen shut, the door into their run was frozen shut and their water was frozen. This morning I went prepared with a jug of warm water.  It was minus 18d down in the garden!!!





Wintry weather

In fact we had a really good run back on Friday.  The roads were clear and only had light traffic.  The sun shone.  It was a good trip back.  We saw virtually no snow until we got to Mansfield.  Then the snow got more and more interesting.  Until we reached Tupton when it got extremely interesting indeed!

When we left last Saturday the garden looked like this:


When we got back, it looked like this:


It came as something of a shock!

We had to dig the chickens out!!  Fortunately, Steve had managed to keep them from getting covered over, but they only really had their little run to move about in.

We managed to get to the library and to the dairy and to Sainsbury's on Saturday.  The Sainsbury's car park was completely chaotic.  Someone had obviously gone around with a plough or some such and created huge mountains of snow, leaving a few areas where people could park their cars.  The store itself was crammed - but no sign of any food shortages :-)

The Builder set to and dug tunnels through the garden.  One tunnel down to the chickens.  One for the cat to get to the shrubs.  One for us to reach the bird table.  Marlo thinks the tunnels are great!

We were sat in the lounge room on Saturday evening, minding our own businesses, doing nobody any harm, when suddenly there came a thunk on the front window, followed fairly swiftly after by another one.  Bloody kids, throwing snowballs at the window.  The Builder raced off outside to roar at them.  The kids were well up the road by the time he got out there!!  He came in and sat down again.  And suddenly there was a roaring from above, followed by a scruntling, followed by a whooshing - and half a roof's worth of snow came avalanching down onto the front yard, filling it up almost to the top of the wall.  Pity the kids weren't still out the front!!!

Yesterday Tabitha, Gareth, Rich, Marryk, Fiona, John and the German shepherd Madeleine came for lunch.  Everyone managed to navigate safely here, although Rich said it took a bit of doing digging his car out of the snow.  Marlo was a bit surprised when we let him out of our bedroom after Madeleine had gone home, to find both his dishes had been licked entirely clean!  So had the dishes on the dining room table - although they had not actually been licked and certainly not by Madeleine.  But there weren't any leftovers for breakfast this morning!!

The thermometer on the back wall read minus 11 when I went down to liberate the chickens this morning.  The one on the grape trellis read minus 18.  Was a touch on the chilly side

Friday, December 03, 2010

Winter holiday on The Broads

Sunday Morning 28th November 
Well now.  That was all very exciting.
They had been forecasting snow in Scotland and North East England overnight, but not really very much around our way.  A light snow shower or two maybe.  So you can imagine our surprise when we woke up at 5:00 (!!!) on Saturday morning to find that Tupton had been blanketed in 3 or 4 inches of snow overnight.  Not that this would normally be a problem, but we were supposed to be meeting Lindsey at Manchester Airport at 08:00.  This required that we leave home at 6:30, even earlier if there was snow.
We got up and got ready to go.  The Builder went down to let the chickens out - much to their astonishment.  Not only was it still pitch dark, but it was cold - and what was all this horrible white stuff on the ground?
Lindsey sent a message to say that she had been delayed in Munich.  Not absolutely sure why they had stopped in Munich, but they had.  The web suggested that the plane would not now arrive until an hour later.  Excellent.  The roads might be snowy, but at least it would be light when we set off.
Off we went.  And in fact, it wasn’t too bad. There was half the amount of snow in Chesterfield, not much more out over the moors, and virtually none once we had crossed the Pennines.  The roads had been gritted.  There wasn’t much traffic. We arrived in the Arrivals Hall more or less as Lindsey did.
Jenny-the-sat-nav has had a personality transplant and is now Kathy-the-sat-nav.  Her helpful Belfast accent directed us back onto the motorway and then, bizarrely, off to Sheffield.  Not absolutely sure why.  Jenny never took us that way.  And Kathy hadn’t brought us that way.  Not to worry.  In addition to an electronic map, I also have a paper one and we went down, through little villages and wooded areas, towards Disley and back onto the road to Chesterfield.  Very pretty it was.  And then on home, for a quick re-organisation of Lindsey’s bags, a potter around the snowy, snowy garden (the free-range chickens had elected to stay in the little run which is covered over and is therefore snow-free. They really, really don’t seem to like the snow!!) and a spot of lunch.
And so to Norfolk.  We had a good run down.  There was little traffic and the roads were clear of snow. And here we are in the boatyard of Barnes Brinkcraft, from whom I have previously hired cruisers for boating holidays in the broads. They have converted the former sail lofts into holiday apartments.  Ours has a double and a single bedroom, together with one en suite and a separate shower room and loo room on the ground floor, a lounge room and a kitchen on the middle floor and two and a half bedrooms and a bathroom on the top floor. There are only three of us - we are not using the top floor!  The double bedroom on the ground floor, plus the kitchen and lounge room have little balconies.  Not that we plan to sit out in them - at the moment they’re dusted with snow.  Quite a heavy dusting of snow! We also have the use of a little boat.  I’m not absolutely sure that we’ll use that either.
The kitchen is sizeable and quite well equipped.  Except that all the knives in the knife block are the bluntiest knives in a whole big blunty blunt world. The range is wonderful though.  And there’s a tiny Zanussi dishwasher.  One that might almost fit into our kitchen, if I could work out where to put it and how to plumb it.  There’s also a Zanussi washing machine, not to mention a fridge freezer. This time there is a coffee pot, and even a double toaster. But not a single clock in the whole house.  And no radio.  Sigh - didn’t even think to bring my travel radio.  Nor a clock
We had a chicken and vegetable pie we had brought from home for dinner, and some wine  Lindsey found in the local supermarket (cunningly hidden behind a very large MacDonalds!!) and all slept very well.
We woke up to find that there had been more snow overnight (and it is snowing now, as I speak). Undeterred, Lindsey and I donned our winter outdoor gear and set off for a look around, leaving The Builder in bed watching the football program (so no clocks and no radio, but a television in every room except the kitchen!!).  We’re in Hoveton, across the bridge from Wroxham, on the river Bure. We’ve found a Nisa corner store with Post Office, Roy’s supermarket, Roy’s toy shop, Roy’s pharmacy, Roy’s department store, Roy’s - oh just loads of Roy’s shops.  We went for a walk along the river, and a boardwalk, and along the Hoveton staithes.  We were nearly eaten by a dalmatian which didn’t seem overjoyed to see us out and about (although his dalmatian friend seemed happy enough) and almost violently attacked by a man who was also walking along the staithe - although I think he was probably out for his Sunday constitutional and we just hadn’t heard him coming along behind us until he said good morning!  We came home and had a proper Sunday breakfast.  And now we are planning what to do for the rest of the day.
The lounge room smells of chocolate.  Raspberry chocolate bullets, courtesy of Lindsey, and a bag of Waitrose peppermint sweets, including peppermint chocolates.  They’re very tempting!
Tuesday 30th November.  St Andrew’s Day
And what we did was to go and have a proper Sunday lunch.  We hopped in the car and drove up, across country, to Blakeney on the north Norfolk coast, and went to the White Horse where we had had lunch after casting Peter out into the North Sea. The countryside was beautiful, all brooding and white with the dark silhouettes of the trees looming. Lunch was lovely too - with huge thick chunks of rare roast beef and crunchy roast potatoes. Then we went for a walk out along the sea defence wall.  We’ll not bother putting out walking boots on.  Not planning a very long walk.  And how muddy is it likely to be?
Bad error!  The answer was “Very Muddy Indeed”!!  We enjoyed the walk - but we did get very muddy feet.  And it was very slippy.  Everyone else was wearing wellies or proper walking shoes.  Both of which we had.  In the boot of the car :-S
Then we came back along the coast road and down the main road back to Hoveton.  It was a very pleasant Sunday, if a little chilly.
We woke up yesterday to find that it had snowed again overnight.  Everything was covered in snow.  And ice.  Lindsey and I went up to Roy-town to lay in supplies and found the traffic slithering and sliding about on the roads.  We slithered and slid a bit too, even thought we were wearing our boots.  We headed back to the - I never know whether to call it an apartment or a house; it’s a three storey terrace, more or less, but built out of the old sail lofts and feels like an apartment.  Anyway, we headed back feeling that going out in the car might not be the best idea we’d had all day.  Snow showers flurried by.  No real need to go out at all, if we didn’t fancy it.  We’re on holiday.  We can do what we like.  And there’s a pub in the village.  We could always try that for lunch.
Then we thought: the river isn’t slithery and slippy.  We have a boat.  Let’s go out in the boat and head to Horning and see if we can find lunch there .  So The Builder went and de-iced the boat and we all rugged up and off we set.  It was beautiful on the river. And the top speed you can go is 5mph so you have plenty of time to admire the scenery and watch the birds and generally enjoy life.  Although I can’t say that I enjoyed driving the boat through snow showers with no windscreen wiper!  Lindsey came to the rescue with a towel and the ice scraper from the car, leaning out through the side window and wiping!
We were assisted in our mooring by a kindly gentleman who tied us up, and had a lovely lunch in the delicatessen in Horning, recommended by the kindly gentleman. Then we headed back to the boat and were just noting that the kindly gentleman was on his boat eating a pasty from the deli and reading the paper and getting very close to our boat - when there was a sudden noise.  And the canopy of our boat … COLLAPSED!!!!!!!!!!!  The Builder and Lindsey tried vigorously to get it back up again, after The Builder had rid the canvas of a load of snow.  But to no avail.  We had to cruise back to Hoveton effectively canopy-less.  Mercifully there were no further snow showers until we had got back.  We think the weight of the snow caused the canvas to tear, and it’s the canvas which holds the canopy in place. Just as well we weren’t standing underneath it when it gave way!
Apart from that, though, it was a lovely day.  We don’t have enough daylight to go far in the boat, but (assuming they fix the canopy) we might well go out in it again on Thursday or Friday.  Today, however, we will use the car.  We want to go a bit further afield, and the roads are looking better today.  Not in most of England, by the sounds of it - but East Anglia looks OK according to the news.
We have discovered that we *do* have internet access.  But the signal isn’t strong enough to reach us in the sail loft.  We have to go and sit in the reception office of the boatyard.  Not absolutely convenient, given that we usually want to use the internet out of hours.  But at least it’s there for useful things like banking and so on.
Wednesday 1st December (how did that happen?)
We had a lovely day yesterday. We wandered up to Blicking Hall, a National Trust property with a farm shop which is mentioned in the Top Ten Farm Shops in my guide to East Anglia. Can’t say that the farm shop inspired us all that much, but they did have some hogget chops which looked quite tasty. So we bought some of those and then made our way back to a shop called something like Farm to Fork and Fish which we had passed on our way to Blickling and thought looked quite nice.  And nice it is indeed.  Lots of lovely fish and seafood.  Lots of lovely looking meat and stuff.  We acquired the makings of a fish pie and then Kathy the sat nav took us across country to Ranworth.
We had a good, snowy walk along the boardwalk to the (closed for the winter) visitor centre on the Ranworth Broad, and then up along the road past the church and back down into the village.  Lindsey was a bit surprised to find that Ranworth Broad is privately owned.  How, after all, can anyone own a bit of water.  But they do.  Whole stretches of rivers are privately owned which can make it difficult to navigate around by boat.  The publicly owned or at least accessible broad is Malthouse Broad; Ranworth Broad is a protected conservation area with lots of birds.
Anyway.  Lunch. The Maltster pub appeared to be doing nothing much more than sandwiches, burgers and sausages. That was not enticing, so we drove back to a small brewery/pub/visitor centre/shop that we had seen earlier.  The Fur and Feathers in Woodbastwick, near Salhouse Broad.  You couldn’t fault the food - good, basic pub grub.  The shop was quite fun too; lots of beery things.  But I remember that I didn’t like the smell in Blackburn when I was a child and the brewery was brewing.  I didn’t like it as an adult in Sheffield when the brewery was a brewery and not a block of expensive apartments.  And I don’t like it still, even in small breweries doing proper brewing.  The combination of malt and hops is remarkably unpleasant.  Well, to my nose anyway!
We came home and Lindsey and I went for a wander around town. Then we settled in for a quiet evening just mootling.  The Builder has been doing jigsaws.  Lindsey had been reading.  We’ve been watching the telly, eating and drinking and generally enjoying a relatively peaceful lifestyle.
There isn’t much in the way of snow and ice here now.  But the Midlands and Yorkshire appear to have come to a standstill.  Hallam is closed!!!!!! I can't remember the last time both campuses were closed without notice. Occasionally buildings get closed.  A couple of times the city campus has closed when the power in the city centre was abruptly turned off.  But ordinarily we struggle on as best we can.
Our boat is still broken.  A man came and looked at it and took the weathered and tattered canvas roof away.  It seems the metal bit is broken too. I think they are thinking they might simply give us a new one to play with.  But not today.  Today we are off to Cambridge to play.


Thursday 2nd December


I think that Joan assumed, when I rang to check that she was still OK to join us for lunch, that I was ringing to cancel. The news and weather reports are so full of dire stories of snowbound misery that she assumed that we had thought better of travelling.  No snow where we are.  No real snow where she is.  Beautiful day in Norfolk.  Beautiful day in Cambridge.  Cold, I agree, but sunny and still.  We'll risk the roads.


And the roads were fine.  Not much traffic. Roads clear of ice and snow.  We got to Cambridge with time to play in the market and the shops before heading to Girton to collect Joan for lunch.  We had intended to go to The Plough in Fen Ditton.  But it was CLOSED for redecoration :-(  So we headed to Trumpingdon and to the Green Man.  I have to say that the lunch was something of a disappointment.  We may not go there again.  But it was lovely to see Joan.  She seemed quite well and cheery.  And she enjoyed her onion soup. She was a bit disappointed that we couldn't go in for a cup of tea when we delivered her back home, but it was three o'clock and it was an hour and a half journey back to Hoveton and we didn't want to be travelling much after dark. Next time we'll arrange to go earlier.


Our return home was uneventful and we were back in time for a drink before our dinner of slow baked hogget chops.


Hallam has opened again, but only between 10 and 3 and with limited services and no teaching.


Friday 3rd December


We had a pleasant and quiet day yesterday.  We went for an amble in Hoveton in the morning.  They have a butcher, pharmacy, travel agency running in opposition to the ubiquitous Roy. The butcher has lovely things. We bought some chicken wellingtons for dinner and some pate and cheese straws for nibbling. We decided not to go very far, and not to ask if we could have a replacement for our still canopyless boat but to head to Horning in the car.  It takes about ten minutes to get there in the car, as against the hour and a half in the boat!  We had lunch in The New Inn - and very nice it was too.  They obviously weren't expecting anyone.  They were polishing the brasses when we got there.  But they nevertheless rustled up very tasty beef and stilton pies for Lindsey and me and a more than acceptable steak and kidney pudding for The Builder.  Plain, hearty food is one of the great joys of British country pubs.  Even better when it's icy cold outside!


We went for a drive around North East Norfolk and then headed back to the house.


We have been looking at the weather forecast for The Midlands for the next couple of days.  Yorkshire and much of The Midlands are still extremely cold and snow-covered.  The forecast for Friday is for sunny, blue skies.  The forecast for Saturday is more problematic.  We don't particularly want to get stuck here, although the house would be available for next week I think, and the people in the house next door have extended their stay because they thought it might be hard to get to Sheffield.  I am not due back to work until next Thursday and could probably take another couple of days if necessary.  And there are certainly worse places to get stuck.  The difficulty is that Lindsey is due to fly out from Manchester at the crack of dawn on Thursday morning and that might be more difficult to re-arrange.  But more to the point - we don't want to get stuck on the roads and driving through sunny daylight seems to be the way to go.  So we're heading off this morning.  I must say - it looks lovely outside.  There was a light dusting of snow here overnight and it's glinting prettily in the sunshine.


Off we go.  Wish us luck

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A fruit pasty

I had kicking about in the kitchen some puff pastry that needed using up.  I was pondering what to have for dessert.  In the freezer I had some gooseberries.  In a box I had some apples.  On the baking shelves I had custard powder and various diferent sorts of sugars.  In the fridge I had some cream that was slightly beyond its useby date.

So.  I rolled out the puff pastry fairly thinly and put in the middle a mound of frozen gooseberries.  I took some of the apples and peeled them, then chopped the apple up into small pieces.  On top of that I put a couple of dessertspons of custard powder and of  soft dark brown sugar.  For good measure I tipped the left over cream on top of all of that.  Then I folded over the pastry and formed it into a rough pasty shape and crimped the edges.  Egg wash and a *little* springling of sugar over the top and into a medioumn oven it went until the pastry was golden and the fruit and custard were bubbling.

It was delicious.  Amazing what you can do with left overs and a few storecupboard/freezer staples!

It really should have been a Sunday indulgence.  But a rare Wednesday afternoon at home seemed a good enough reason for a mid-week indulgence!

A mid-week mini-weekend

There is something rather indulgent about having a Wednesday off.  But should I have a mid-week Saturday and do lots of useful things, or a mid-week Sunday and eat and drink lots?  A tough call!

We started out doing Saturday things.  We took some stuff to the Post Office.  I did some washing and ironing. We cleared up and tidied. I even washed the kitchen floor.

Then we segued into Sunday and had a Sunday G&T and roast chicken with veg from the garden (chard, sprouts and carrots, since you ask) and roasted bright red potatoes, with a fruit pasty to follow, accompanied by white wine.  I had a nice hot bubble bath.  We had home made bread with my plum jam for supper.  It was all very indulgent.  A nice counter to the icy winds outside.

I really  must work out some way to have Wednesdays always off.  I quite enjoyed my mid-week mini-weekend :-)

A great big enormous box arrived on Monday.  Inside were some calendars, some Advent calendars and a much smaller box bearing Freyja's Christmas present.  (Freyja - your clue is that we saw your Christmas present in Cambridge, but that is not where I bought it!).  The rest of this enormous box was filled with wads and wads of brown paper.  Marlo has decided that this box, minus the calendars and the box but including all the brown paper, was clearly intended as a cat basket and has moved into it.  The box has taken up residence in the lounge room!

I actually worked a weekend shift last weekend.  I haven't done a weekend shift since Psalter Lane closed two years ago.  They called for volunteers to work 1-5 on Sunday afternoon.  4 hours.  That seemed OK to me, especially since Sundays get paid at double time.  It didn't seem quite such a good idea as Sunday lunchtime approached and I had to get ready to come to work. But it was all OK when I got to the Adsetts Centre.  It's ages since I had seen the weekend staff and it was good to catch up.  It was, mercifully, a nice, quiet, uneventful shift.  There were no floods, plagues, famines or other catastrophes.  A nice afternoon.

And now Lindsey is nearly here - the temperature has plummeted, they're forecasting snow showers for the end of the week and the weekend and winter is most definitely making an early but vigorous appearance.  Lindsey is presently in Indonesia, with Ian, Stella and Tony, playing with elephants in 30d temperatures.  I think she's going to notice the difference!!!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mid-November

We've had our first pickings from the sprouts!!!  They are small but very tasty.  And we're still eating the chard.  We're pulling up the plants in the bed that also contained the runner beans.  The later plantings are sat in a bed with some cabbages.  We'll get onto them when we've finished the first planting.  There are carrots that are big enough to eat now.  So we're doing well for fresh autumn veg, plus we've still got lots from the spring and summer in the freezer.  Now we need to get in and sort out the empty beds - weed and manure them so they can sleep productively over the winter.

The chickens remain hale and happy.  The cost per egg has dropped now below 90p!  And egg production is holding up quite well.  Many days we are still getting 4, although there are more days now when we only get two.  The egg bowl is still full though and we are eating lots and lots of eggs.

The weather has warmed up a bit this week - we've had wet, mild weather with a lot of wind.  The leaves are nearly off the apple and pear trees so soon it will be time to prune them.  And we're still hoping to plant up a supplementary fruit garden on the allotment.  I've also decided to dedicate a bed in the veg garden to autumn fruiting raspberries and another one to "perennial" broccoli.  We've also decided to put in an extra asparagus bed.  We might need to consider buying the field behind us!!

Speaking of fields, Farmer Jayne and Farmer David had decided to give up their sausage, burger,bacon, ham and prepared food business.  This came as something of a blow - not because I buy many sausages or bacon from them but because I assumed it meant that they would also be closing their butchery - and I buy virtually all of my pork, lamb and hogget from them.  Fortunately, they will keep the butchery open for the time being while they see if they can encourage other food enterprises to use it.  I hope this succeeds.  I can live without sausages and burgers, but their pork and lamb are delicious!!

The Builder has been occupying himself this week, in between rain bursts and gales, in digging up the garden bed by the back door.  We've never really used it for much and it doesn't get much sun.  And we've a plan to put a lean to up to keep some of the mud out of the kitchen and to provide a bit of space to keep the shoes and freezers in.  So now it's all dug up and the flagstones have been pushed down and are lying in an orderly manner where there used to be soil.  And now there are wooden poles up ready to become the frame for the lean to :-)

We must, must, must do something with the flower beds and the "shrubbery".  Really - we must!!  And I need to sort the greenhouse out quite soon.  I think the sage and bay tree would be quite pleased to move into their winter quarters

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Well, that was all very exciting

The Sunday team rocked in to the Adsetts Centre at the usual time on Sunday morning.  And found that one of the heating pipes on Level 4 had burst and that we now had a new and unexpected water feature pouring down all over the book stock on Level 3.  Oh, and incidentally, a smaller water feature pouring down over the book stock on Level 2!

They swung into action and carted as much of the book stock out of the way as they could.  Buckets, rubbish bins and other receptacles were pressed into service as flood defences.  Facilities were called.  So were Maurice and Edward. Levels 2 and 3 were closed to students.  Mopping up commenced.

So to Monday, when I was working an Evening Duty and thus was at home eating cake and drinking tea in the morning.  Everything needed sorting out.  Water was still dripping onto Level 3.  A damp and musty chaos reigned.

By the time I came in, Level 2 had reopened to students and Level 3 was more or less open, except that the book stock was cordoned off.  Student shelvers were there in force, as were the General Assistants, running a delivery service of books.  Actually - that worked quite well.  The students enjoyed having their books collected for them and we enjoyed having books that stayed where we had put them.  Except that where we had put lots of them was in damp piles and on trolleys and all over the place.  Still, when they did make it back onto the shelves, they stayed in their place!

Level 3 is now open to students again.  Thanks entirely to the prompt action of the Sunday team, we've lost perhaps 4, maybe 5 trolleys of books instead of the wholesale destruction of the book stock on Levels 2 and 3 that might have happened had nobody noticed, or had the pipe burst overnight.  There are industrial strength de-humidifiers down on 2 and 3.  Things are more or less back to normal.

In the meantime, the blokes who were painting the lift areas carried on painting.  So now Level 3 in particular has the very peculiar aroma of wet carpet, wet books and wet paint drifting around it.  Not a mix I would recommend for a new perfume range!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Time to decorate?

You may remember that I noticed some weeks ago that whenever we go to anyone's house we find it absolutely spotless.  Gleaming.  Shiny.  Cobweb-free.  Dust-free. Beautiful.  Immaculate.

Our house, on the other hand, is dishevelled, dusty, cobwebby, not gleaming, definitely not shiny.

I have embarked on a clean up operation.  Weekend by weekend, I have been cleaning and polishing one room.  The Builder has tackled the manky window sill and window frames in the kitchen, although the kitchen itself needs a deep clean.  I have more or less done the spare room (need to clear away some of the stuff lying on the bed before Lindsey comes). The dining room has been done, apart from the window sills.  I've been dusting skirting boards, I've cleaned the banister and dusted the wooden thingies down the stairs.  Anyway.  This weekend it was the turn of our bedroom. 

Well.  Such a palaver.  The Builder has vacuumed the carpet.  I have vacuumed the carpet.  You wouldn't think a vacuum cleaner had ever been in the room.  I've dusted the slatted wardrobe doors.  I dusted the horrid door.  ENOUGH!

Who thought that it was a good plan to put a cream carpet on the floor?  Who on earth thought it was a plan to put slatted wardrobe doors in a house backing on to a field? And the doors have always been horrible. 

I have begun thinking about what we might replace everything with.  Wooden floors, I think.  Nice new, unslatted, dust-free doors for the wardrobe.  A proper bedroom door.  And we might even take off the wallpaper and paint the room.  A whole new colour scheme :-)  Alas, we can't do it yet.  Need to save up.  My plans are not cheap, sadly.

Today I have turned out the lounge room and moved all the chairs around.  Looks good - but the little entrance bit needs doing still.  And I have discovered a sledge hammer in The Builder's possession.  I wonder how hard it would be to knock down the little bit of wall by the front door ....

Mind you, if you are going to look under the cupboard in the bathroom, you either need to do it regularly and often, or not at all.  Once every 18 months is absolutely not a good plan!!  I am much too scared to look under the bath!!!!!!!

Might have to tackle the cellar at some point.  Marlo came up from there over the weekend looking for all the world like a white cat.  Oops!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

We've had a bit of rain over the past few days

Quite a lot of it, really.  Not to mention the odd gust of wind, and very cold temperatures to say it is only November.  It was quite an adventure getting in to work yesterday.  The wind kept trying to blow me home again!

Tabitha announced that every single time she had stepped outside yesterday, the rain had rainedandrainedandrainedandrained harder

It was Monday yesterday, but our game of Hunt The Japanese Lesson had found this week's lesson hiding on Monday afternoon, so Taffa and I rolled in for it.  Do you know - it rained both getting from the car to the building, and getting from the building to the car!!!  (Freyja didn't come.  She was on a train heading to London and thence on to Valencia.  I don't know how her rain cloud was faring)

It didn't rain much over the weekend.  In fact, it was a lovely weekend.  The sun shone and the wind was light and it was even quite warm in the sun.  The Builder and I didn't do much though.  We had a nice and lazy weekend and just pottered about and did nothing of any note at all.  Nice :-)

Sunday, November 07, 2010

A trip to Manchester

I had occasion to go to Manchester On Thursday, to attend a day of workshops at an institution of higher learning.

It all started off quite well. It was a pleasant morning and the train trip across the Peak District and Pennines between Sheffield and Manchester has to be amongst the most beautiful in the world (if you discount the bit out through Sheffield and the bit once you get towards Stockport!).

I always but always leave lots of extra time, when heading to events like this in places that I am not familiar with.  It's amazing how often the little maps they send have no bearing on reality, and how easy it is to get misplaced.

On this occasion, however, the maps were splendid and I didn't get misplaced at all.  So far so going well, although I was of course extremely early for the event.  No matter.  Early is better than late in my view.

At this point, it all descended into a shambles.

I found the building where the workshops were to be held.  The receptionist had no idea what I was talking about, had never heard of the organisation in question, didn't know any workshops were being held and couldn't think where I should be.

She looked at the program I had printed out and brought with me.  Her eye alighted on the word "librarians" in the heading. Aha!!!!!  The workshops must be in the library.  Go there.

Off I went.  No.  Not being held there.  The program quite clearly states which building I should be in.  Go back there.

So I did.  No.  she still had no idea.  What contact phone number did I have?  Oh - that was her number.  Hmmmmmmmmmmm.

She consulted the room bookings sheet.  Oh look - some of the sessions will be in this room.  Go there.

I was quite early so instead I went to a cafe and had a cup of tea and a biscuit.  Then I went in search of the workshops.

No joy.

I went back to the reception desk where a new lady had arrived.  Oh, she said.  These events usually start with refreshments for early arrivals in the staff refectory.  Go there.

So I did.  And there, in a far corner, was a table with a tiny sign proclaiming that refreshments could be had there by people coming to the workshop.  And there was a slightly bewildered organiser, wondering where we were.

He despatched a runner to the reception desk to tell them what was going on and where we were all meeting.  And eventually, people found us.

The workshops were good.  Informative.  Interesting.  Useful.

Lunchtime.  In the staff refectory.  Mostly sandwiches, with a bowl of dip, some chicken skewers, and some crisps.  Vegetarian options?  Cheese and tomato sandwiches ( no idea if the cheese was veggie friendly) and egg mayonnaise sandwiches (no idea if they were free range).  Not labelled as vegetarian.  And on a platter with tuna mayonnaise, prawn mayonnaise and some other fish and mayonnaise sandwiches.  So not vegetarian, then.  And not much use if you happen not to like mayonnaise.  The dip was vegetarian.  It was also horrible!

The little cakes with coffee were from the freezer.  I know this.  The middles were still slightly frozen.

They forgot about our afternoon tea.  There was nothing there at all, until people were scrambled to sort it out.

I won't tell you which institution of learning it was that was so shambolic.  But it wasn't the main University in Manchester (which is where the organisers are located - they had been told that librarians would be much more familiar with the other place so they should hold it there.  None of us had ever been to the venue before.  Most of us had been to the main University!)

I realise that ours was an entirely external event - but there were people there from 18 or 19 Universities from across the country.  You'd think they might have made something of an effort!!  I won't be holding an event there.  I won't be applying for any jobs there!

I emerged from the day's activities to find that it was raining.  I trotted along to the Oxford Road station to find that my train had been delayed by a few minutes.  Then a few minutes more.  Then even more.  And more.  And more.  Then there came an announcement that we should all go to Platform 2.  So we did.  To find Platform 2 absolutely choc-a-bloc with people. Down we all squished.  (At this point someone coming down the stairs behind us, in exasperated and irritated tones cried "Ex-Quooooooooooooose me!!!!!!!"  Not quite sure where she wanted us all to move to - the tracks, perhaps?)

Anyway.  Eventually, in came the Norwich train.  Lots and lots and lots of people came off the train.  Then lots more.  In the meantime, the Liverpool train had also come in on the other side of the double platform.  Lots and lots and lots of people got off that.  Then  lots more.  The platform had no room now even for a tiny, tiny mouse.  Then it was declared that all the people waiting on this side for the Norwich train would need to move to that side, and all the people on that side waiting for the Liverpool train should move to this side, including all the people who had just got off both trains.  Ready ...... Steady ..... GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!

Actually, it was quite dangerous.  Had someone slipped and fallen - this is where catastrophes are made.  And it took ages to get everyone to the right side of the platform.

Miraculously, I got a seat.

And off we trundled. Slowly. Stopping at various stations, including Sheffield and Chesterfield on the way to Norwich.

Until a soft, crackly announcement came over the loudspeaker.  (Shhhh.  We don't want to disturb people. Be quiet lest they hear us) They had just heard from the Fat Controller that the train would be diverting around Sheffield and therefore not stopping there.  Nor would the train be making it scheduled stop at Dore, a tiny, tiny station where few trains stop.  Passengers for Sheffield should not be enticed by the train stopping at Dronfield, for very few trains stop there either.  Instead, they should carry on to Chessie and change trains there.

Talk about confusion.  Talk about fury.  Talk about a thousand or so Very Cross Chappies.  I'm glad I wasn't the person they were all yelling at, nor the station personnel in Chesterfield, nor the recipients of the emails and letters the next day.

I didn't mind.  I was going to Chesterfield anyway.  And it made up a bit of the time we had lost with all the delays.

Talk about a day of shambles.

The workshop was good though