Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Still wagoning

And that's three weeks on the wagon.  And yes, I know - it isn't Lent.

But haven't you been reading the papers and listening to the news?  There's an economy drive on.  The government is busy closing everything down and sending the deserving poor to the workhouses and the undeserving poor out to sea on leaky rafts.  We're all supposed to be Doing Our Bit, Making Do and Mending, Pulling Together and coffing up all our money to the exchequer.  (Actually we, of course, are putting our money towards going to Japan in the summer - but don't tell either the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer or they might want that too).

So we are reduced to Core Business only.  Although this isn't quite as arduous as wartime austerity was.  If you buy a whole sheep or half a pig for the freezer you get a lot of meat for your money, not to mention all the cuts that you don't see in the butcher's.  So I made sausage meat with the trims from the lamb ribs yesterday and we now have a whole pot of fragrant sausage and vegetable casserole to keep us going over the next couple of days. Alas, we are now out of vegetable stores from last season's harvest but it won't be all that long before this year's harvest is starting again. And seasonal vegetables are not all that expensive to buy. And I've been making bread and cakes and puddings myself which are also not particularly expensive to do at home - and it's not as though we are at all short of eggs for baking, or eating, or anything else!!!!!!!

But we won't make four weeks uninterrupted wagoning.  We're off to The Swan on Saturday and have no intention of being austere there!

Happy Australia everybody, btw.  Hope it's nice and dry and temperate wherever you may happen to be

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Gas consumption

It has, as you may have noticed, been unusually cold, on and off, this winter.  This has meant that we have had the heating turned up higher than normal, plus we've had it on for longer than we might ordinarily do.  I have been pondering the gas bills in a nervous sort of a way.

I was listening to the radio the other week and an "Efficient Energy Usage" bod was on chatting about how to minimise the damage the cold weather was having on people's energy budgets.  He suggested that heating should be left on all the time, but the boiler turned down to low and the radiators individually turned up to high, or the thermostat turned to around 17 or 18d. He argued, convincingly, that turning the heating off overnight and during the day meant that houses got very cold and damp, twice a day, and that restoring things to a normal temperature took lots more energy than just keeping things ticking over in the first place.

Made sense to me, so I decided to give it a go.  And found that turning the radiators up to high bumped the temperature up to about 23d or so which is too hot for me.  I like to have the room temperatures lower than that and to wear a jumper so as to minimise the shock when venturing outside.

I turned the radiators down.  And found that it is actually quite easy, by playing with the radiator taps, to keep the house at a fairly consistent 17d.  The boiler didn't seem to be working as hard.  All seemed good - except that when i have a bit of spare money kicking about (so in about 2055, then!) I might arrange to have a wall thermostat installed rather than messing about with the individual radiator valves.

Then I  got the monthly gas bill (yes - I do get monthly rather than quarterly energy bills; makes it easier to monitor things) and was seriously appalled.  HOW MUCH?!?!?!?!?!?!?  This experiment was clearly a major failure.  I looked back to see how much the equivalent month was last year.  And found that, huge though January's bill might have been, it was actually half what it was last year.  Last year's bill had obviously come as such a shock that I had blotted it from my memory :-S

I have decided to carry on with the experiment for the time being and see what happens.

In the meantime, after waiting for over two weeks for a plumber to come and sort out our hot water tap in the kitchen, a boy finally turned up. It seems that British Gas (who supply our plumbing and boiler insurance) had been battling with an extraordinarily high demand for fixing burst water mains, burst pipes, dead boilers and other such catastrophes and our faulty tap didn't count as urgent. He hasn't fitted the new tap but managed to put a new washer in the old one.  So we need to sort out a plumber to put the pretty new tap on when we get back.  And also to have the stop cock replaced so we can actually use it.  I admit that a stop cock sat behind the fridge isn't entirely convenient, but it is even less convenient when you can't turn it!  The running hot water tap, I hasten to add, hadn't added to household expenditure.  Out hot water is an "on demand" system and we had turned it off unless we actually needed hot water.  And we don't have a water meter but pay a set fee per year so it doesn't actually matter at all how much water we waste.  This horrifies the Australian in me but did make life more relaxed when we couldn't turn the tap off. We try not to let it make us profligate with water use most of the time.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Get thee behind me Roger

So.  On Tuesday The Builder and I knocked up the somewhat surprising milestone of 2 weeks on the wagon with no days off or anything.  We were a bit surprised, purely because on the whole we had hardly noticed.  I happened to mention to a couple of people at work that we were wagonning, only because I had also mentioned that we had plans to go to Australia in February and to Japan in August.  If we are to afford both of these comfortably, then non-essentials will need to be curtailed and some will need to be abandoned.

We will, of course, step gently and gracefully off the wagon while in Australia and Japan, and also while in Salisbury in a couple of weeks and probably for Easter.  Otherwise, we are trundling through the days on our comfortable wagon, admiring the view.

So far, so sober.

Then I ran across Roger in the Adsetts Centre.  In appalled, disbelieving and horrified tones, he said that he had heard a rumour to this effect and was it true?  I confirmed that it was.  But, he said, it's NOT EVEN LENT YET (capitals definitely not mine!!!!!).  No indeed.  But needs must if we are to achieve all the things we want to achieve this year.  Money doesn't grow in even the most well cultivated orchard.

But what if you don't actually have to pay for the wine?  Er, ... Don't know.  Probably would hang on to it until an occasion arose when we were not on the wagon.

The very next day he appeared with a bottle of French red wine, produced by some famous French rugby player (of whom I had never heard!!) with the instruction that it needed to be left to breathe for an hour before reaching its best and that we absolutely had to drink it before we left for Australia.  We can do that.  We'll take it to Salisbury with us.

But who would have expected Roger to be trying to lead us from the straight and narrow?!?!?!?!?!?  I assume he had intended to get us to test the wine before he had heard of our sudden and unexpected move towards temperance.

The bottle is sat on my trolley at work, waiting for its trip to Salisbury.  It seems quite happy sat amongst the leaflets and books and other library paraphernalia.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


The ice has finally melted on the fish pond, revealing 9 dead frogs which got caught in the ice, and one dead fish.  We think that that is all of the frog family.  But there are still around 30 to 40 fish swimming around so the fish population is not much depleted.  We are hopeful that more frogs will colonise the pond in the spring.  Still not sure what we're going to do about cleaning it out and repairing the crack at the back, though.

We have severely pruned the "weeping" apple tree in the orchard in the hope that the upward twigs we have left might encourage the tree to revert to a more standard form.  We won't let it set fruit in the next couple of years to encourage this! The rest of our garden clear-up plans have been thwarted by a sudden mild but very damp and windy spell.  Fingers crossed for next weekend!

Must give some attention fairly soon to our fruit plans for the allotment.  We're off to Australia in just over three weeks and it may be getting a bit late by the time we get back!  Although I suppose early spring is OK for planting fruit trees and shrubs.

The chickens continue to lay well.  We have had no days with no eggs and are mostly getting 3 or even 4 a day, with the lowest being 2.  We had 92 eggs in December, as against 120 in August.  The cost per egg as at yesterday was 65p.  So not exactly cheap, but plentiful and delicious.

We've been eating frozen chips!!!!!

But shhhhhhh - don't tell anyone!!

Actually, it wasn't as bad as it sounds.  When The Under-Gardener  dug the potatoes late last summer, there were obviously some that weren't suitable for storing.  So I prepped them and turned some into ready-mashed potato, and some others I cut into chip shapes and par-boiled before putting them in the freezer.

Then I more or less forgot about them!

We still have quite a lot of potatoes left in the storage drawers, although none now up in the landing cupboard in hessian bags.  But I have been sorting out the freezers this week and found all the frozen potatoes and decided we need to eat them too.

I bought a lovely sea bream at the weekend and decided to have that last night with chips. I didn't do anything to the sea bream at all, other than put it in the oven and let it get on with things.  The chips I fried twice in a mix of vegetable oil and goose fat.  I have a tin of goose fat in the fridge and decided to add it to the vegetable oil because I think that plain vegetable oil is not particularly tasty when used for chips (usually I have rapeseed oil but I have run out). The mix made beautiful, crispy chips which were fluffy in the middle and nothing at all like the commercial frozen chips which are almost always dessicated in the middle.  Not sure what they do to them to get them like that.  The fish was delicious - almost steamed in its skin.  And we had it all with a beetroot stew, for which I diced a large beetroot into small dice and added thinly sliced leeks, a thinly sliced fennel bulb, a teaspoon of fennel seeds and a happy glug of orange juice together with a dollop of butter.  That simmered gently for about half an hour while the rest of the fish and chip supper was being prepared.

Monday, January 17, 2011

And now it's Victoria's turn

So Brisbane CBD more or less disappeared under the Brisbane river.  Lindsey's friend Myra posted photos on Facebook of  the views of the river from her place, showing the fortunes of the riverside park bench which slowly vanished and then later reappeared again.  Who knew there was a walking path by the park bench!!!!  The ABC showed the former Prime Minster and now Foreign Minister helping people in his corner of the world move their belongings to higher ground.  ("We live up the hill there.  If we get flooded then we're all buggered," said he).

The rains moved their way, slowly, slowly across most of the rest of Australia, leaving only Western Australia, as far as I could tell, dry.  And they had their (smaller, I think) problems with scrub fires.

And now Victoria is flooded.  The Wimmera (poor, poor Horsham); Halls Gap; Beaufort; Skipton; Quambatook; other places all known to me.  And I'm told Jeparit is under threat.  Who would expect tiny, desert-side Jeparit to be flooded?

Ross and I lived in Jeparit for three years in the early 80s. When we left, Ross flatly refused to let me put paper covers over the signs on the three main road routes into the township saying "Abandon hope all ye who enter here".  But I did leave, after three not entirely happy years, metaphorically and biblically wiping the dust from my feet and vowing never, ever to go back there again.  Since then I have hardly thought about it.  Just in the occasional, dusty dream and vaguely, from time to time, in amorphous and cloudy ways.

Until recently, when Ian G happened to find himself in Jeparit and in a moment of idleness went hunting for the manse.  Couldn't find it.  Reported this to me.  I went hunting on Google Maps' street view and found what I thought was almost certainly the manse, pretty much where we had left it in the January of 1985.  Off I trundled for a stroll around Jeparit - on street view, not via a quick tardis trip to the township. Nothing much seemed to have changed. Even the Post Office is still in place, which is more than can be said for rural Post Offices hereabouts.  I began to form a small plan for a quick visit to the area.  After all, January 1985 is a long, long time ago.  No one would be likely to recognise me (I could wear a wheat bag over my head to make sure :-D ).  And The Builder hasn't ever been there.  As far as I am aware he hasn't been to the Wimmera at all.  We could make a quick trip up in February, stay in Nhill overnight, have a potter around, suss things out, pick up Halls Gap on the way back.  All seemed fairly safe.

I think the Wimmera floods might be my fault :-S  I have a feeling that the Weather Dogs heard my vague plans and decided to save me from myself.  After all, places that have been comprehensively flooded are unlikely to welcome wheat bag wearing tourists a mere matter of weeks later.  Sorry :-(

(As a side thought - I do remember waking up one morning in around 1984, after the drought of the early 80s had broken, and thinking that the river was looking particularly pretty that morning.  A slight double take later, I  remembered that you couldn't actually see the river from our kitchen, and I went out to investigate, and found that the swollen river had moved out over the river flats and formed a very pretty and definitely temporary lake.  But it didn't come into the town and made for a rather nice contrast to the previous year when we had had ferocious fires in South Australia which had blown smoke, ashes and huge mountains of dust across the township and enveloped us in an apocalyptic darkness for several days.  The soil from our vegetable garden more or less blew to my parents' place on the edge of Melbourne, about 200 miles away).

But enough of this historical retrospection.  We probably won't go to Jeparit in February.  Maybe next time.

In the meantime, back in the Yook, our wintry weather has abruptly returned to what had passed for normal over the decade or so prior to the past three winters.  The temperature has gone up and got noticeably milder.  The clouds have gathered.  We have reverted to the mild, grey, gloomy damp winter weather that we had when I first arrived.  I might almost prefer the snowy, freezing blue skies and sunshine, except that this is much, much easier to move around in.  And the chooks very much prefer it.  They don't care about the rain.  But they really, really do care about the snow and ice. They hate it with a hatred to thwart all previous hatreds!!!

At least we are not flooded.  Well, not yet

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A truly lazy weekend ...

... during which we more or less did absolutely nothing.  We did go to the dairy for some milk and cream and to the library to return some books.  We trawled around the DIY shops looking for a new kitchen tap (got one in Focus for half price :-) ). I pruned the apple trees.  We shifted the chook run. Apart from that and the usual weekend domestic activities I don't think we did anything much. Apart from eat, of course.

It was really rather nice.

Around Christmas time we noticed that the hot tap in the kitchen had started to drip. Over the next few days the drip became more pronounced.  The Builder decided to try and change the washer - even though mixer taps are notoriously difficult when it comes to changing washers.  This cost-saving approach to solving the problem was doomed.  We might have found the stop tap to the house when we replaced the built in fridge in the kitchen with a free-standing one (or, The Builder found it - I don't think I've actually seen it) but it has been unused for so long that it has rusted solid and can't be moved.  There is an isolator valve in the very faaaaarrrrrrrrrrr corner of the under-sink cupboard, which we have used once when we first moved in.  But that is sheared and won't readily turn.  We deferred the problem to another day.  And now that other day has arrived.  The tap is not now dripping so much as running.  We can't turn it off at all.  We have acquired a nice new tap, but of course can't fit it because we can't turn the water off.  And in any case I think that fitting it might be a challenge too far.  The current one looks to have been welded into place rather than having proper fittings attached.  Plumbers are very expensive!!!

Then I remembered that we have not only boiler insurance with British Gas, but also plumbing, drain, electrical, appliance and all sorts of other useful insurance cover with them.  I rang them up and explained the situation.  It seems we are covered for running water and an inability to turn the stop tap - but not for replacement of taps though we can have a discount for that.  A plumber is due sometime today :-)  A non-running tap would be nice.  The Australian in me is aghast at the waste of water, even though we don't have a meter so are not being charged per litre of water rushing down the plughole.

The Australian in me is even more aghast at the awful things that a superfluity of water is doing in Queensland.  Rockhampton.  Toowoomba.  Even Brisbane. From drought to complete devastation in almost no time. Think dry thoughts for Queensland.

Freyja has a new job :-)  Yesterday morning she was offered a job and two job interviews in the space of a couple of  hours.  She's accepted the job and turned down the interviews.  Some sort of finance admin with the engineers at UniSheff.  She's very pleased.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

I think that Timon had been a bit surprised by our proximity to Sherwood Forest when he first arrived in England.  Actually - I suspect he might have been a bit surprised that Sherwood Forest is a really truly place.  He saw the signs as we were coming up the M1 last weekend and got quite excited by them.  So we all arranged to go for a visit tomorrow.

But then Julia and Timon decided that, exciting though a visit to Sherwood Forest might be, a visit to London to do the sights might be even more exciting.  In this I tend to agree.  There won't be a lot to see in the forest in the depths of winter.  The Major Oak will be bare and forlorn.  Even the visitor centre and shop will be shut.  So they've booked themselves a coach down to London tomorrow and I met them and Freyja for lunch today, in the Millennium cafe across from SHU.

When I got to work this morning it was chilly and a bit damp, but quite a nice morning.  By the time Jared came in half an hour or so later it had started to snow.  By mid-morning it was properly snowing.  By the time I went to meet Freyja, Timon and Julia there were several centimetres lying and there was light snow swirling around in the air.  A fitting farewell to them!!!  (J and T - not Freyja who, as far as I am aware, has no immediate plans to go anywhere).

It was good to see Julia again.  Haven't really seen her for ages.  Even when we were in Melbourne last April we only saw her very briefly when we dropped some stuff off in her flat.  And we hadn't met Timon before. Always a pleasure to meet new friends.

Speaking of Melbourne - I have booked another trip for mid-February, a mere 5 or 6 weeks away.  It's Tony's 80th birthday on the 26th and there's a party on the 27th.  You have to go to an 80th birthday party.  Even if it is only ten months since you were last in Melbourne.  It's the law!!!!!  I've also booked train tickets and hotel rooms in London on the way there and on the way back.  Just as well I went in and seduced the bank manager just before Christmas!!!!!

(Actually, I did it online - but the effect was the same :-)  )

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Hmmm. Well - that didn't work

So the grand plan of being largely dry in 2010 resulted in the grand total of 44 Alcohol Free Days.  Not a good result at all it must be admitted!!  Must do better in 2011

And it has to be said that having a December which was pretty much a Month of Sundays has had its inevitable effect on the scales, the waistband and the wallet.  I fear a Month of Mondays lies in prospect.  Or maybe even a month and a half.  I weonder if that might mean that all my clothes which somehow seem to have shrunk in the wash over the past few weeks might be persuaded to expand again.

So.  Our Month (and a bit) of Mondays starts today :-)  I just won't admit to the chocolate cake I have with me for afternoon tea

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A lovely end to the festive season. Or a lovely start to 2011, take your pick

And however you call it, it was a lovely weekend.

Saturday was New Year's Day, which we passed fairly quietly.

Sunday was a Sunday.  I went with Freyja to East Midlands Airport to collect Julia and her pal Timon who had Christmas in Copenhagen and New Year in Berlin.  They're in Sheffield for a week before heading to New York until the money runs out, or their visa runs out in 14 months time, whichever happens first.

Then in the evening Tabitha, Gareth, Richard and Marryk came for Sunday roast.  Pork this time. With the chocolate cake and Christmas cake that Gaz and Taff had bought for Christmas as dessert.

On Monday, which was a public holiday, Freyja, Julia and Timon came for lunch.  We had Frannie's meat pies and steamed chocolate pudding with chocolate custard for lunch.  It was all very delicious. And a fitting end to the festive season which seems to have involved a great deal of eating and drinking.  From the end of November, now I come to think about it!!

Freyja put onto Twitter last night that she thought this morning's early start would come as an unpleasant shock to the system.

She was right!!!!!!!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

And so begins 2011

First the good news.  I think the fish are not frozen solid.  We went out earlier to find that the ice is slowly melting and there were fish gulping for air around the edges of the pond.  And I've just been out to look, and most of them have moved away from the edges.  Dead fish generally do not swim around!

There are gadzillions of sparrows in the garden, a whole flock of long tailed tits, goldfinches, a robin, some blue tits and great tits, an occasional visit from a bullfinch and a bird about the size of a sparrow but slightly longer and not as rotund, and paler underneath that I don't recognise but which I think *might* be a linnet. They are enjoying the bird food we put out.

This was an upstanding ceanothus at the beginning of December

And this was an upstanding rosemary bush

It was part of a whole hedge of rosemary bushes ;-(
The twisted witch hazel is still upstanding

as is the dogwood

But these cabbages don't look very well

and the chard is very dead

With luck, these will recover

The chooks are happy though

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Coming to the end of 2010

We had a lovely meal in The Wheatsheaf.  Jeanette, Matthew, Rebecca and Evie were there, as were Ian and Sophie, and also Chloe and her boyfriend Lee.  We haven't seen Chloe for years, and had never met Lee.  It was a good evening.  The food was delicious, the company convivial.  The pub got busier and busier as the evening progressed.  It's no wonder that Matthew the landlord is so wiry.  He was the only one behind the bar and the only one waiting and the only one clearing.  He dashed around like a mad chook all evening!!  I think he needs staff!

We had a lovely lunch on Thursday at The Swan with Barb and Gwen, now back from the hospital and not looking too bad to say that she had had a general anaesthetic on Wednesday.  And then we came home.  We had a lovely lunch today at The Nettle.  We have ended the year on a gastronomic high with meals at each of my three favourite pubs :-)

We've had to take Marlo to the vet.  He's had an abscess on his back which has resolutely refused to get better.  He's now on antibiotics.  I have to figure out some way of getting his capsules inside him!!  He was very good while he was at the vet's.  He didn't bite or scratch or even growl :-)  He was, though, very glad to come home.

It appears that this has been the coldest December since 1890. Nearly all of it has been snow covered in Tupton.  We've had temperatures on our garden thermometers that I've never encountered before.  We've had something of a thaw since Boxing Day - it's funny how 5d feels quite warm in comparison!  But despite the last few days of the month seeing the snow slowly disappearing, we have ended the year very much as we started it.  Frozen!

Global warming, anyone?

More winter

The poor garden has definitely been beaten up by all that snow.

Shrubs and small trees are squashed, knocked over, flattened.

The pond we think was frozen almost down to the bottom and the fish all seem to be encased in solid ice.  I assume they are frozen too.  This is a bit sad, but I suppose it means we'll finally be able to empty the pond, fix it and start again.

The cabbages are all battered and looking very sad.  The carrots have emerged unscathed - we had some with our dinner last night.  The chard are very, very dead.

The chickens are much happier now that the snow has gone, but their garden is extremely muddy.  I think this worries me much more than it worries them!!

We haven't made it to the allotment yet.  After the snow there was ice.  After the ice there was fog.  And now it's raining.  Maybe tomorrow