Saturday, June 28, 2014


We had a lovely trip to York yesterday.  The weather wasn't quite as lovely as it's been for the past few days, but it wasn't too bad.  Only one shower of any note, and that was when we were just thinking about heading back to the station to nab a train and go home.  You can't really complain about that.

MBSW, The Builder and I took the bus to Chesterfield and then the train to York.  We were joined on the train by Tabitha and Cally, who got on in Sheffield, and by cousin Jane, who joined us in Leeds.  A good raiding party!

The first place that we raided was the National Railway Museum, which is a short walk from the railway station, is free to enter and which is full (as you would expect) of trains.  We've taken Cally there before but I don't think she remembered.  She was delighted when she walked into the main hall and saw the trains!  I think Matt was quite pleased too.

Jane and Matt admiring trains at the railway museum

Then we walked up to the city centre and had lunch in the Star (where we often do have lunch when we are in York).  We followed that with a potter around the little streets and lanes - and an unexpected stroll through the York Food Festival market. The Food Festival is usually in September so it was a pleasant surprise to find that there was an additional June.

And then it was time for the main event.  The reason we were in York was so that we could all (except Jane) go to Jorvik.  I had pre-booked tickets which meant we could avoid any queues (and ignore the long line of school children waiting to go in!). I think everyone enjoyed their ride around, and the little museum after. William bought himself another wooden sword, this time with a shield that he says I can't use to defend myself.  I will have to rely ion the tickles that so far seem to have been working!

Jane met up with us again after Jorvik and we went for another wander around the city, and to admire the outside of the minster.  Then the rains came and we headed to the station for the trip back home.

And that was where the bedlam started.  The computer reservation system seemed to bear absolutely no relation to the actuality of the reservations.  We didn't have reservations ourselves, because we hadn't known which train we would be catching home.  The train was busy, but we managed to scatter ourselves around so that the children were in sight of the adults.  Jane got off at Leeds. A million people got on, all complaining that we were sitting in their reserved seats, despite the fact that they were marked as available.  So we moved.  And the same thing happened in Wakefield.  And the irritating thing was that we had deliberately not sat in the seats which were marked as reserved. And it wasn't just us.  It was happening to loads of people!

Tabitha's big concern was that she was separated from Cally's push chair by hordes of people and she didn't know if she would be able to reach it when the train arrived in Sheffield.  fortunately she did, otherwise she and Cally would have gone without it and I would have wriggled my way down and taken it home from Chesterfield.

We missed the bus home by *this* much and had a 30 minute wait for the next one.  But it wasn't raining, so that was ok.  It was a good day.  I'm glad we all managed to make it to York.

Friday, June 27, 2014


It's very pleasant working the odd day here, the odd conference there, another day or so at work.  The difficulty, though is that it really does get very difficult to work out what day it is. I woke up on Tuesday morning absolutely convinced that it was Saturday and that there was something vital that I had forgotten to do.  In the (highly unlikely) event that I ever retire, I'm going to have to work out some sort of weekly routine that makes it possible to identify the days otherwise we're never going to work out what's going on.

Fortunately, there was nothing vital that had been forgotten.  All we needed to do was to clean and dust and tidy and organised for the arrival of Matthew, Belinda, Sage and William on the lunchtime train from London.  Not that they would be likely to notice if we hadn't but they do count as proper visitors, having not been here before.

Anyway, they rocked in in time for lunch. Then we pottered up to the allotment for an inspection tour.  We were going to stroll round the wetlands but there was a HUGE black cloud hurtling in so we headed home instead. We still haven't done the wetlands, but I hope we will do before they head off again.

People scrumping raspberries on the allotment
When we were in Kilkenny and visited the castle, Matt and Belinda were much taken with the Long Gallery.  We have long galleries around us.  We had been intending to head out to Bakewell on the bus, but then I thought that we could go to Haddon Hall on the way home.  Only if we had the car, though.  And we won't all fit in the car.  The Builder said that he would stay at home - until he realised that we were intending to meet Gareth and Cally and then have lunch in the Peacock.  He decided to come to Bakewell on the bus.

We had a lovely lunch in The Peacock, and a nice potter around in Bakewell. Then The Builder, Cally and Gareth headed off on the bus, and the rest of us went in the car to Haddon Hall

Oops, I appear to have dedded the family
The long gallery in Haddon Hall is much less ornate that the galleries in either Kilkenny or Hardwick Hall but it is none the less beautiful for that

Oh - and some of you may know that I have a photo of the beautiful little packhorse bridge on the bridge wall in our lounge room.  I take a photo of it every time we go - not sure why, because I have loads of them now.  You can see it from the walled garden, if you stand on a little step, but you can't get anywhere near it.

Yesterday's photo of the bridge
Yesterday, however, they had the gate open so you could get down to the river, and ever so, ever so close to the bridge.

But not actually to it

Unless, of course, you are Sage and William who just hopped over the wall and ran across it.  William paid the price for his misdemeanour though when he got stung on the legs by stinging nettles.

A quieter day today, we went into Chesterfield for lunch

Monday, June 23, 2014

We seem to have lost our paths ...

The weather this year has combined to make it an excellent growing season for cottage-y plants, weeds and some vegetables and fruit.  Everything is seriously over-grown!

There should be brick paths in here:

We've done a bit more weeding of the patio and are pulling out the bindweed, but not the bindweed root.  I would just prefer it if it didn't strangle absolutely everything else that is in its path!

The under-gardener is picking red currants by the bucket-load.  I feel some jars of red currant jelly coming on

It's beginning to look a lot like Sunday ...

This was possibly because Friday looked a lot like Saturday!

I had taken the day as time in lieu for the trip to Edinburgh. And very lovely it was too.  The sun shone and the weather was very pleasant.  We did indoor things and outdoor things and pottered about - and failed significantly to get ready for our forthcoming visitors.

All of this mean that Saturday had a very distinct Sunday feel to it.  I got up and did largely Sunday things (although the radio was not playing Sunday programs!).  It became even more confusing when my parents, who I speak to at 6:30 on Sunday evenings, Melbourne time, called me at 6:30 pm, Melbourne time on Saturday!  I was never going to get the days sorted out after that!!!

And then it was Sunday.  Really.  I spoke to Stella and Tony again. We did Sunday things again. I made this for Sunday breakfast:

Soda bread, which I filled with tomato slices and strips of bacon

And then we went off to Tabitha, Gareth and Cally's place for a Sunday afternoon barbecue.  The weather was kind and the big, black clouds that blew over from time to time didn't drop any rain. And we ate lovely food and had a good time.

Now it's Monday.  We still haven't got ready for the visitors, and they're coming tomorrow.  But I'm sure that all will be well.  We have food and wine and we will have beer by then.  There will be places for them to sleep. I doubt they're going to do a white glove test for dust (I would strongly advise against that if they want to keep their white gloves pristine!).  And after I finish work this afternoon - I am off until the 1st of July, which sounds like a long time away but is, in fact, only a week!

Friday, June 20, 2014


So.  I had a day and a half back at work, after out jaunt to Ireland - and then disappeared on the lunchtime train to Edinburgh, this time leaving The Builder and Farley languishing at home with Marlo the (real) cat.

I was off to the almost annual Geoforum, hosted by Digimap, for whom I am the Site Rep at SHU.  I have been to them in Edinburgh (where Digimap lives), London and York. These are all get-at-able for me from Sheffield, although Edinburgh requires an overnight stay. This does not worry me!

I enjoyed the Geoforum yesterday.  The key note speaker was Peter Gibbs, a BBC and Met Office weather forecaster.  He talked about how you make weather predictions and how you make flood predictions and environmental things.  I sometimes find, not being either a geographer or a cartographer, that the key note speeches are a bit beyond my grasp of science.  Not this one.  I thought it was extremely interesting and understood pretty much all of it. The rest of it was equally interesting. Plus, we got to go outside at one point and play with a field trip app that they have been developing.

You couldn't fault the food.  They provided Tunnocks caramel wafers, delicious and interesting sandwiches, water that was flavoured with pieces of watermelon and mint. And in the afternoon break, where oh-so-often I find that places proved nutty things which I can't eat, they offered more caramel wafers, chocolate shortbread thins - and slices of watermelon and kiwifruit. Not a nutty thing in sight!

You couldn't fault the weather, either. The sun shone brightly from when I arrived until I left again at 6pm yesterday evening.  I realise that by Australian standards 20-25d is not especially hot, but it is about as hot as it gets here. Also, once it gets to 24d or so, it gets very humid.  It was quite humid (and about 25d) when I arrived and had to walk up a big, steep hill to my hotel.  I was quite hot and sweaty and ready for a big drink of water when I got there. It was less muggy, and there wasn't a big hill to walk up yesterday :-)

I stayed in a really funky hotel, right in the centre of town, amongst pubs and restaurants and cafes.  My room was very small, but plenty big enough for me and my needs.  It had quirky decor and lots of pretty things dotted about.  It's not especially cheap, and you wouldn't expect it to be in the centre of Edinburgh in the height of the tourist season.  But if you book ahead, or go out of season, or save up a load of dosh,  and don't mind stairs, I would recommend The Grassmarket Hotel for something a bit out of the ordinary.

Day off today, to compensate for a very long day yesterday.  The sun is still shining :-)

The view from my bed at the Grassmarket:

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Ring of Kerry

I didn't really know what we were going to be looking at when Matt said that we were going to spend Sunday doing the Ring of Kerry.  Stone circle?  Several stone circles?  So I looked it up and discovered that it is a 170+ km circular tourist drive around beautiful parts of Kerry. Kenmare, where we were staying, is part of the route.

But a whole day, spent in the car, driving in a 170+ km circle?  Seemed a very odd idea to me.  Why would you want to?  But Matt said that the Ring of Kerry was why we had come to Kenmare and that it was supposed to be very beautiful.  I wasn't going to argue, so after breakfast we hopped in our cars and off we went.

And Matt was right.  It's stunningly beautiful.  Bits of it are like the Cumbrian Lake District but without the lakes.

Then we found a lake (I thought there probably had to be at least one lake):

There are rolling hills, farm houses, towns and villages.  There is a wide variety of scenery.

There are inlets and bays and the sea

And places to eat, places to drink and places to buy ice cream.

It was an excellent day.  I am so glad that we did it.

We could probably have done without all the cyclists, though.  There were properly organised bike races going on.  There were experienced cyclists our riding.  And there were Sunday cyclists, also out, who were an absolute menace.  But I wasn't driving.  The Builder was driving, so I didn't have to worry :-)  Matt didn't like the cyclists one little bit!

There were also loads of coaches out and about, for it was a beautiful day. It is traditional for people doing the Ring of Kerry to go anticlockwise.  Many of the roads are narrow and if people are going in both directions (especially the coaches) it would be hard to pass by in some places.  But of course not everyone using the roads is actually doing the ring. Sometimes it was a bit of a challenge. Especially with the cyclists factored in.  But everyone succeeded.

We all met for breakfast on Monday morning, which we had in the bakery in Kenmare.  And then we parted company with MBSW and made our way back to Dublin airport where we dropped off our car and came by plane, train and taxi back home.

I had never been to Ireland before. It was absolutely lovely.  We will definitely go again - and possibly go back to Kenmare.  There was more to see and do than we had time for in one full day. There are more tourists ring drives as well

William, a tad disconcerted by the size of his burger at dinner!
Click on William and his burger if you want to see the Ireland photo album

Sunday, June 15, 2014


I went to work as usual on Thursday but instead of going back home again in the late afternoon, I left a little early, met The Builder at the railway station and we took a trai. To Manchester airport.  From there we caught a plane to Dublin, arriving a mere 50 minutes later.  We took a coach to the city and then wandered around a bit until we found the hotel we were staying I . And there, in the hotel was -- MY BROTHER MATTHEW!!!

There was no choice but to repair with him to the bar.

On Friday morning we came down to breakfast and were met by Belinda, Sage and William, who had been in the hotel the previous evening but had been in bed by the time we arrived. Then they went off to collect their hire car, and The Builder and I went back to the airport to collect ours. Matt and I were both a bit anxious about driving in Dublin and around Ireland. A waste of a worry, really. Ireland is lovely to drive in. Nicely maintained, largely empty roads. The only thing that is a bit disconcerting is that the locals appear to completely ignore the speed limits in the town.  I'll be driving along sedately at exactly the 50km speed limit and realize after a few moments that I have a long queue of impatient locals champing at the bit behind me. And people wander out across the road randomly. This doesn't matter so much in somewhere like Kilkenny, where you are only doing 2 km a week.  It matters quite a lot more when you are bundling down the motorway at 120km and realize that up ahead there is a car parked (just) in the emergency stopping lane with its door jutting out and there is a bloke stood IN THE ROAD ushering an elderly woman into the car.  How I didn't hit him is a mystery to me. Most fortunately, the semi trailer behind me had been alerted by my abrupt braking and my bizarre avoidance tactics and had pulled into the outside lane.  Quite what that bloke thought he was doing is an even bigger mystery. Even if you need to change drivers urgently, you don't do it on the side of a motorway, with you stood in the road. Well, not if you want to survive the experience, you don't.

Anyway.  Enough of him.  Kilkenny.  Pretty little place with an imposing 18th or 19th century  castle.  We met MBSW there for a look around and then made our separate ways to Blarney, where we were staying in the Golf Club resort.  A nice enough place, outside of Blarney itself.  They promised us wifi but mostly it didn't work, which was a bit frustrating when there were things to do.  But the food was good, the wine was good and the company was excellent.

We spent Saturday morning go exploring the Blarney castle. Everyone climbed the tower steps to kiss, or blow kisses at, or look at the Blarney Stone. Well, everyone except me.  There was a huge long queue to go up the narrow, narrow stairs.  I got a bit of the way up then realized that I was going to be stood, motionless, for a long time in very narrow stone spaces. This did not strike me in any way as being a fun thing to do, so I pushed my way back down the stairs and waved at the stone from below.

The castle is in beautiful grounds and the sun was out and it was a lovely day. We explored the poison garden and the rock garden and the witch's waterfall and had a lovely time. And then we moseyed along down to Kenmare, a very pretty little place near the coast. You can't see the sea from here but we are not far from it. We're all going out later today to drive the Ring of Kerry. The sun is shining and it looks set to be another lovely day. I'm glad I was rash enough to bring summer clothes with me!

There will be photos but they'll have to wait until I am reunited with my laptop and can edit them properly. Here's a taster:

Blarney Castle and grounds

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

We were back at Bishops' house on Saturday morning.  It was our regular shift and we figured we might as well do it, despite the fact that we had been there the Saturday before.  We weren't expecting as many visitors, though.  In fact, we weren't really expecting any visitors.  The weather was atrocious on Saturday morning!  Richard says that I report rain-free days or events as though they are some sort of miracle.  But in my mind, they are a mini-miracle.  There is a reason why England is so green - and it isn't because we get day after day after day of unalloyed sunshine!

We didn't get any visitors until nearly midday.  And then a small form of bedlam ensued.  There was to be a ukulele sing-a-long in the afternoon (which we didn't know about) and from midday people began turning up with ukuleles and/or their singing voices.  The treasurer of the committee turned up.  A wedding couple turned up to meet with the treasurer.  We even got some ordinary visitors.  Then the afternoon shift turned up and we pottered off back home, leaving the wedding couple, the ukulele-ists, the songsters and any stray passing visitors to it.

And the sun came out and we passed a pleasant late afternoon in the garden.

I think if you were to describe Sunday as a day of "sunshine and showers" you would be fairly accurate.  Except that the sunshine was bright and shiny and warm - and the showers were torrential!  We spent little time in the garden. Actually, I spent most of the morning getting ready for our long weekend in Ireland.  We are going on Thursday evening, after I finish work.  Ordinarily I would pack and organise and get ready just before we leave, but I am at my Japanese class on Tuesday evening and won't get back until late.  I am then at a supplementary Japanese class on Wednesday evening (re-scheduled from a class that Sachiko Sensei can't teach at the end of term) and I am leaving straight from work on Thursday, so there isn't much time left to get ready.

The weather has continued its "sunshine and showers" theme.  Lots of nice sunshine.  Some quite interesting showers.  And not one but two spectacular thunderstorms, one of which was accompanied (in Tupton, at least) with rain of positively tropical intensity.  The Builder says he hasn't seen anything like it since the thunderstorm we encountered in Singapore when we were there with Lindsey.  Our guttering is not designed for tropical rain storms! Fortunately, The Builder was at home and the kitchen floor needed washing anyway :-D

It was a public holiday in Australia yesterday.  Matthew, Belinda, Sage and William celebrated by leaping onto an aeroplane, Europe bound.  They get to Dublin this afternoon, where we will meet them on Thursday evening.  It's all very exciting!

In anticipation of their arrival, we have bought an extra picnic bench.  In the sunshine-y bits of the past few days, The Builder has stained it and assembled it.

Now we just need sunshine (and no showers) when all the visitors come for Sunday lunch at the end of the month!!!

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Lessons Learned

In preparation for our long weekend in Ireland, I had booked us a hire car to travel around in.  I can't remember now whether I went through the car hire link on the Aer Lingus page or the Dublin Airport page, but it was one of those.  I found a nice little car at not too horrendous a hire rate and booked and paid for it. I also booked and paid for insurance to reduce the excess down to zero. I hadn't heard of the people before, but they had a pick up at Dublin Airport so they must be reasonably legit.

I printed out the two vouchers.  I also downloaded and printed out the credit card statement and the utility bill that they wanted me to produce (in addition to my driver's licence AND my passport).  I must say that I thought this was a bit odd.  I haven't hired a car for some years but I have never been asked for all that amount of identification in the past.  And I don't really get any bills in the post any more.  I do everything online.  The only relevant bill that does come in the post is the council tax bill - and that was specifically excluded! Fortunately, after a bit of digging around, I discovered that you can download PDF versions of your statements and bills.

Some days after this, I was reading the terms and conditions, not for any particular reason but just because. In amongst all the small print I saw that the car hire company was intending to pre-authorise my credit card by €1200.  My credit card doesn't have a limit of €1200.  Even if it did, pre-authorising it by that much would reduce my spending power to zero!  But that can't be right, surely?  I've bought the excess waiver insurance.

I emailed them to ask.  Answer came there none.  I emailed again.  And was met, again, with a stony silence.

I went to the internet forums. And found that person after person after person was complaining that their cards had been pre-authorised, even when they had bought the waiver insurance.  Or that they were refused a car because they didn't have sufficient credit on their card to cover it.  And that they were being charged extra things that no-one had previously mentioned. And that I wasn't actually dealing with a car hire firm, but an aggregator which was trawling through all the various car hire firms and picking up the cheap offers.

I decided to cut my losses.  I cancelled the car hire - and got some, but not all of the price back.  It was too late to cancel the waiver insurance but fortunately that hadn't been too much.

I've gone to Avis, have paid the waiver insurance with them and am assured that they won't pre-authorise my card by anything other than the cost of a tank of fuel. I really should have gone to Avis or to Enterprise in the first place.  I've used them both before with no problem.  They don't ask for millions of pieces of identification. And they aren't significantly more expensive than the original people.

Listen and learn, Dear Reader.  Listen and learn!

Monday, June 02, 2014

June 1st 2014

Bishops' House and a Summer Fair

We weren't expecting to be at Bishops' House on Saturday morning.  Normally we do the first Saturday morning of the month.  However, I noticed that Tabitha had sent out a message calling for volunteers on Friday morning.  When I checked the roster in the evening, there was still a gap.  We weren't doing anything on Saturday morning, so I rang Tabitha and offered our services. We didn't want to have to close the museum two Saturday mornings in a row unnecessarily!

And it was just as well that we didn't have to close.  Normally we don't get very many visitors on Saturday mornings, and usually the ones that we do get tend to be later in the morning.  On Saturday they were queueing to get in when we opened the door and put the "open" sign out!  We had 30 visitors between 10 and 1 !  It was positively frantic :-D  It also wasn't raining, which helped.  But we had an unusually large percentage of first time visitors.  Not sure what had provoked them all to decide to come to play on the same morning.

Actually, it didn't hurt that we were in Sheffield on Saturday at lunchtime.  Tabitha, Gareth and Cally had been intending to head out to Chesterfield on the train after they had been to a birthday party in Endcliffe Park, and then to come out to our place to stay overnight.  Instead, we moseyed along to Endcliffe Park, where they were attending the third birthday party of one of Cally's nursery friends.  The parents of the friend had organised with the park cafe to have chips and fish fingers ready for the children at 12:15.  Alas, the cafe people had forgotten this and had taken loads of food orders just before the party was due to start. The children's party food got later and later and later.  In fact, the chips and fish fingers had just turned up when we got there at 1:30.  Alas, by then the children had filled up on vegetable sticks and fruit sticks and bread sticks and cup cakes and crispy things and weren't very hungry by the time the hot food finally arrived.  So the grown ups had to eat it instead.  Including the two grand-parental gate crashers who just turned up out of the blue and had a lovely lunch of fish fingers and chips, thank you :-D  (The birthday girl's parents didn't seem to mind; I think they were just glad to get the food eaten. But they were not very happy with the cafe people!)

Eventually, we headed back to Tupton and spent a pleasant late afternoon and evening sitting outside.  It wasn't sunny, particularly, but it was warm enough (and not raining!) so we lit the barbecue and had new potatoes and barbecued meaty things and salad, and sat outside until it was Cally's bedtime.

Sunday dawned bright and shiny and sunny and warm and lovely.  As befitted the first day of the meteorological summer.  We had a lazy-ish morning, pottering about.  We went to the allotment and the shop. Then we all hopped in the car and went to the Summer Fair that was being held at the Peak Edge hotel not far from us (It has a pub, the Red Lion, attached to it, where we and Lindsey and Ian once upon a time had the worst pub meal I think we have ever had.  The food has improved considerably since then and the hotel bit is relatively new).  At first we thought that the market was made up only of the stalls out the front in the car park.  And egg stall, a pancake stall and a plant stall.  Seemed a bit little to be called a fair! But we had a look around and discovered lots and lots of food, beer, wine and craft stalls actually inside the pub.  It was quite cute.  We all bought a few bits and pieces, then headed off to Marsh Green for something to cook for lunch. Then home we went and roasted a leg of lamb and boiled some more new potatoes and made another salad, and all repaired outside in the warm, warm sunshine to eat our lunch al fresco.  Gareth had bought some apple puffs at the Summer Fair (whole apples encased in puff pastry).  We shared those amongst us and drank some rather nice dry white English wine that Tabitha had found at the fair.  Cally didn't have the wine!!  It was a lovely day. But none of us had been expecting summery weather and Tabitha and Gareth hadn't brought light clothes with them, nor hats, nor sunscreen.  Fortunately The Builder and I were at home and had a choice of clothes.  And we have hats.  And sunscreen.  Cally was not impressed being made to use Gamma's sunscreen.  She has her own, designed for young children.  Alas - in her bathroom but not ours!

The weather is back to normal today.  It's not actually raining, although it was at 3 am.  But it's overcast and cooler.

One of the nice things about this time of the year is that we have long, long, light evenings.  An unfortunate corollary of this is that we also have long, long, light mornings.  Sunrise isn't until about 4:45, I think.  But it's properly light by 4 am.  And the birds start singing loudly from around 3:30 or a little tiny bit later. None of this really worries me, much.  If it does wake me, I usually just laze in bed and doze and listen to the birds. But whoever it was who was up and banging around outside in their back garden at 4:50 this morning was pushing it a bit!!