Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Merry Christmas Everyone

Well, despite Gareth’s best efforts to ruin it, we had a fantastic Christmas. It started on Christmas Eve when we trundled into Sheffield to hit Waitrose before it closed. I needed carrots, cat biscuits and a new saucepan. The Builder had broken the old one while peeling Christmas potatoes and flooded the kitchen at the same time – the handle had come loose (which I knew) and as he added potatoes to the water it was draining out the hole I didn’t know about where the weld had previously been! Water had gone everywhere! Anyway. WE didn’t really need to go to Waitrose in Sheffield to acquire those few things; Sainsbury in Chesterfield would have done. But I wanted to see if they were discounting any of their Christmas luxury yummy things. And they were. A Norfolk Turkey for £9; a marinated fillet of salmon that is so long I’ve had to bend it slightly to get it into the freezer. I may never get it out again! Other nice things. Freezer now well stocked for the foreseeable future.

We collected Freyja and Mark and came back to The Sidings for the celebrations to commence. We had a veritable Christmas Eve feast – a considerable departure from my more normal snacking as I prepare for Christmas Day! We had leek, potato and cheese soup, then chicken (or “chicken” for the veggies) kievs with roasties and mash and veg. Then we had a baked cinnamon pudding with ice cream. Was all very yummy. Then Freyja and Mark went to bed, The Builder and I moved onto the comfy chairs – and promptly went to sleep!!!! Went to bed about two hours later. Grin.

And so to Christmas Day. Up fairly early, given that it was Christmas Day, but late by our more recent standards. Bacon (facon) butties all around, then onto the first burst of present opening. :). Austin rang from Mount Helen and I spoke to all the family. Very noisy, it sounded. Then Tabitha, Gareth and Marryk arrived and we had a second burst of present opening. Austin rang again. Alas, Freyja and Mark had to leave us then. The Builder took them back to Sheffield and the rest of us had a Nice Cup of Tea while we waited for him to come back. Then the full enormity of Gareth’s transgressions were slowly and gradually revealed to us when Tabitha asked him where he had put the golden syrup. Oops. And the crackers? Double oops. This wouldn't have been half as funny, or generated anything like the teasing had it not been that I had particularly asked if they could bring beer, syrup and crackers and they had specifically gone out on Friday evening to buy them!

So, what to do? There are no shops open in Tupton over Christmas. I can’t think of a convenience store in Chesterfield that would be open (not to say there isn’t one; I just don’t know where one might be). But the Spar on Ecclesall Road will be. I’ll ring The Buil…… Nope. Can’t. He is still phoneless. Oh well. Never mind. Don’t suppose we’ll really miss the crackers, and I have honey and jam for the rice pudding. Mind you, The Builder had suggested in Waitrose yesterday that we should buy crackers given that they were half price but I couldn’t think of any likely Christmas cracker emergency that might arise so didn’t bother! Tabitha rang Austin, and talked to the whole family. It was still noisy!

The Builder came back and we cracked open the beer and fizzy wine and embarked on a third round of present opening. I have a magnificent haul of pressies. I have a radio controlled dalek and a radio controlled K9. I have money/vouchers for fruit trees. I have perfume and candles. I have a very nice bottle indeed of French champagne. Lots and lots of lovely things. Rod rang just after 2 and spoke to Tabitha and me. He and Simon had met each other at The Boulevard Christmas lights earlier in the week. Simon had said that Rod intended to ring, as he customarily does, leading me to worry whether I had given him the new phone number. I had!

And we ate. And ate. And ate. And drank. We had nibbly things courtesy of Mr Waitrose and Mr Sainsbury at around 12:30 (the party pasties were especially yummy). At 3 we had a truly wonderful seafood soup. I added tiger prawns, crevettes, tiny crayfish tails, scallops and mussels to the lobster broth just before serving it. I surpassed myself with this soup, even if I do say so myself! Everyone except me played a complicated looking game with zombies. At 5:30 we had bacon wrapped pork loin and breast of lamb with apricot stuffing, both of which I bought at the Farmers’ Shop in Bakewell, with roasties and mash and veg. Then at 7:30 we enlivened the Doctor Who Christmas special with rice pudding, mince tart, gooseberry crumble, shortbread biscuits, custard and ice cream. At which point I retired from chef duties! We seem to have drunk prodigious quantities of beer (not guilty – I don’t drink beer!) and wine. I asked Gareth whether a rather nice bottle of Spanish red, fetchingly decorated with copper wire, would do for dinner. Oh, said he; you don't want to waste a really nice bottle of wine on me just for Christmas dinner. Strangely enough, I can think of very few more festive occasions when you might want to open a rather nice bottle of wine!

The Builder and I retired nice and early to bed, replete and happy. I do like sleeping :P (And Christmas!).

You wouldn’t think I could possibly be hungry this morning! But I am waiting very impatiently for Gareth to return from taking Marryk back into Sheffield so I can have my egg and bacon butty!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Interim Christmas Blog (I'll do a proper one later)

Gaz has ruined Christmas!!!!!!

More accurately -- he's LEFT IT IN THEIR KITCHEN IN CAMBRIDGE!!!!!!!!!!

He forgot the beer. They had to stop and buy more.

He forgot the cocktail sausages. Fortunately I have chicken sausages.

He forgot the GOLDEN SYRUP for the rice pudding!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Honey anyone?

AND he forgot the crackers. 40 luxury Christmas crackers loiter in *their* kitchen. Quite what they're going to do with 40 luxury Christmas. crackers is anybody's guess

Much giggling. Much much giggling. Poor Gaz is loking quite despondent. And not enjoying the merciless teasing that will go on for ever and ever and ever.

A proper report tomorrow!

Merry Christmas everyone. And God bless us every one!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve Musings, early morning in bed

We closed the Adsetts Centre early on Friday. Several hours early. 2pm! I suppose we could have stayed and worked on, had we chosen (though only until 2:30 when the University as a whole closed). I didn’t. I caught the next train back to Chesterfield.

I am enjoying travelling by bus and train at the moment. We may not have had much fog, but the rest of the country remains enveloped. Gareth reports that Cambridge has been entirely covered in fog all week. In and around Chesterfield it has been icy. Very icy. I quite enjoy letting somebody else worry about the travelling conditions while I read my book. This week an exciting tome on motivating students in information literacy!!

The Builder met me at the station and we made our way out to Chatsworth. We found some fog out around Baslow, but not a huge lot. Chatsworth was very full. And somewhat reduced in vegetable supplies. No leeks :( Can’t make leek and potato soup without leeks! Will get leeks tomorrow. But apart from leeks and syrup – oh and bread rolls (Chatsworth was denuded of bread rolls too), I think the shopping is done. Let’s go home!

It’s the first time for ages that I’ve seen the garden in daylight. And it looked absolutely GORGEOUS. Everything was covered in ice. It looked like those pictures where people are trying to depict snow – all feathery and crisp and shiny. Everything was white, except for a tiny bit right down at the very back where the chicken run is eventually going to go, which is the only bit to get much in the way of sun at this time of year.

I still think of the very back of the garden as being somehow separate. I haven’t yet mentally linked the two gardens as ours yet, or indeed as one garden.

Lobster for dinner. Dressed Scottish lobster which I had bought with a view to making lobster bisque. Then I found in the freezer at the supermarket larger American Maine lobsters at half price. I have no idea why they should be at half price just before Christmas but I wasn’t arguing! We’ve kept the Scottish shells to add to the broth!

Yesterday the ice had all gone and the cloud has come in and the temperature has risen. The fish will be liberated from their icy cage if this goes on! (We can see them swimming about underneath the 1 or 2 cm cover of ice!). An early morning dash back to Chatsworth where we found leeks and bread rolls in abundance. And Clarissa and Mike who, it seemed, were intending to join the phenomenally long queue for the meat counter! We, happily, do not require meat!

And so we moved into a pleasantly slow and relaxed Christmas Eve eve. It’s like having three Christmas Eves in a row. We were doing Christmas Eve things, a bit, on Friday as well. We went to the Dunstan Hall Garden centre and spent my birthday vouchers from Jeanette and Matthew on two green, one red and one yellow gooseberry bushes. We bought a candlelit lantern and some chain and The Builder has hung both my candle lanterns (Kathryn Conway gave me one back in the summer and it’s been wandering about the house ever since, but unused for its proper purpose) in the Christmas grotto. Father Christmas has made an early fly by and dropped off some presents to adorn the grotto, which now glitters and glistens festively. I’ve made leek and potato soup for the first of the Christmas Feasts on Christmas Eve night when we are expecting Freyja and Mark. We went on a planning wander around the new garden. It really is stuffed full of junk. I think we might have to empty the shed on a slow-but-steady basis, nibbling in from the door, and clear the junk heap in a similar way. The Builder has a simply enormous van and there are several van loads of rubbish there. But we can clear the “orchard” side quite simply and get that underway. It was a lovely day, really. Remarkably calm, not much frenzied cooking, no frenzied shopping, no panicking.

And then we went out to dinner, through fog and gloom, to the Famous Red Lion (no, no -- I still don’t know why it’s famous) on the Darley Dale road near the evocatively named hamlet of Spitewinter. I had a plate of smoked salmon (would have been enriched by the presence of some toast!), roast turkey and then, not Christmas pudding, which had nuts in it, but a truly lovely little baked chocolate pudding with ice cream. You have to keep reminding yourself that it is only a pub, lest your food expectations be too great. It serves not top restaurant food. But it does serve absolutely magnificent pub food. Next time we shall go in a taxi. I hadn’t thought to go in a taxi last night because it’s an out-in-the-country pub. But there was a taxi dropping people off when we got there. Never mind. The Builder had a pint of beer and a glass of wine with his dinner. And it’s not as though we are short of alcohol at home!!

Tabitha rang me on Friday afternoon with a sad, sad story. Their friend Maryk has to work on Boxing Day and was going to be lingering sadly in his lonely garret bedsit, all on his own on Christmas Day. He’s coming to us instead. Must remember to peel a potato for him!

Right. It’s nearly 20 to 7. Better get up and make the lobster bisque. And perhaps a cup of coffee

Thursday, December 21, 2006

You may now doff your cap

... whenever you see me. We are now officially "landed". Mr Micawber's secretary rang yesterday lunch time to tell me that they had completed on the piece of land and that it was now ours. There are one or two bits of paperwork to complete but that doesn't alter the fact that the land is ours.


There will be a small orchard-ette, a chook run and a substantial veggie patch. In the fullness of the fullness of time!!!

So much to do. Could really do with six months off to get on with it all!

And I don't even get weekends. They called for volunteers. I told them when I was available, indicating that I *prefer* to do Saturdays over Sundays (unusual this; you get paid better on Sundays but I do like a nice Sunday Lunch!) and I prefer to go to Collegiate or Psalter rather than Adsetts. I seem to have gathered most weekends, both days sometimes. And it's strange the number of Sunday shifts I have been put down for at Adsetts next term. However. I shall make the most of the extra money. I fear that the opportunity for regular overtime may rapidly be drawing to a close. Nothing has happened on the Weekend Working Reorganisation for so long we had all forgotten about it. I think it might be about to kick back into life.

The weather has been absolutely stunningly glorious in Chesterfield and Sheffield the last couple of days. The sun has shone in a still blue sky. It is freezing cold and everything is covered in ice. The area is positively golden. The rest of Britain seems to be buried in dense, freezing fog. We in Sheff/Chesterfield are indeed blessed by the golden sun god!

I think I'm nearly ready for Christmas. I need to get veg and cream and stuff on Saturday. And I have forgotten to buy crackers. But I have the twiglets!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Cake and Fizzy Wine

Well, that was a very festive Sunday.

Mind you, it started remarkably early, given that it was a Sunday and neither of us was working. But there were cakes to make. You can’t have a Cake Party without cakes, now can you? And I had to transform the front door space from its everyday existence as a “conservatory” to a festive Grotto. After all, you can’t have a Christmas Cake party without fairy lights and tinsel, now can you?

But first we had a visit from Tabitha, Gareth and Alex. They’d been in Doncaster at a party overnight and called in for lunch on their way back to Cambridge. Since we had Boys to hand, The Builder decided to shift the fence at the back. The land isn’t officially ours until Wednesday, but there will be no Boys on Wednesday and the fence posts have been in position for a couple of weeks and the concrete bottoms, and indeed the fencing itself, are very, very heavy!. The Speculator had said he didn’t really mind when the fence went up as long as it did. So we’ve moved it. (When I say we……). Ours is going to be the most fantastic garden when it’s all sorted out!

We had ham and tomato sandwiches and nibbly things from Waitrose for lunch. Then Gareth and Alex (and The Builder, a bit) gave life to my dalek. For Tabitha and Gareth and Alex have given me an inflatable red dalek for my birthday! It’s amazing.

Then they went away.

Shortly afterwards, Visitors came for the Cake Party. Roger came, without Kate who was at home with a cold and a bad temper. Bea and Steve came. Aileen and George-who-was-sick-for-months-but-is-now-better came. Peter (my boss) and Diane came a later. We ate: a cherry trifle, with cherries from the allotment; a chocolate cake; a cinnamon cake; mince pies, made with my fruit mince; and a steamed marmalade cake, made with my marmalade. I’ve never made a marmalade cake before. It was scrumdidliumptious! We drank fizzy wine and tea and coffee and fruit juice.

Then they all went away, except for Steve and Bea who stayed and had chips and egg and bacon and tomatoes and mushrooms and more wine/fruit juice and stayed quite late. Then they went away. The Builder and I poured ourselves up the stairs and went to bed.

The dalek, in the meantime, had been stood on the landing, preventing people going into our room (such a slack artist ¾ I hadn’t even made the bed!) or the spare room, temporarily transformed into a junk room. You could hear startled, nervous laughter as people went up the stairs to go to the loo and found him there.

Fortunately, I was on a late shift today. Got up and made The Builder’s lunch and then retired back to bed with a Cup of Tea. Got up around 8 and made a start on the first lot of dishes. Had another cup of tea and tidied the lounge room. More dishes. More tea. A bath, I think, with Vanilla bubbles and my new dog plug in the plughole (He floats on a chain attached to the plug. He’s inside a swimming ring. He’s very cute. Also a birthday present.) Wash last lot of dishes. Tidy up kitchen and dining room. All traces of Visitors now eradicated, except for the presence of a piece of chocolate cake and a mince pie on the dining room table. Excellent! Time for a cup of tea, I reackon. But I’m very glad I didn’t have to get up and drive in at 7 o’clock this morning. Actually, I wouldn’t have driven. I’d have gone by train.

Freyja has just been in, bringing my birthday presents from her and Mark. I like this idea of having a second birthday nearly two weeks after the first! I now have a Food for Free book, an allotment book and a letter holder with a watering can poised over where the letters would go. Will clearly have to put bills there!

The Builder has lost his phone. He had it on Friday when he met me at the station. He didn't have it when he left for work on Saturday. If you ring it you get straight through to his voice mail. The only thing we can think is that it dropped out of his pocket when he was getting the shopping out of the van on Friday evening. A new phone has been sent for.

Robert’s daughter Rosi has had a baby son. His name is Daniel Robert Gribben and he is a big laddie, weighing in at 4280g!

The dalek has moved into the spare room. He was gazing idly out the window the last time I saw him.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday Fritterings

The Builder had yesterday off. Hooray! No reason to get up at 05:30. He can take me to the station for the half past seven train. And pick me up again later. Hooray!

Well, the best laid plans …. Drifted back to sleep. Woke up -- to find that it was 07:50. Oops. Should be walking through the doors of the Adsetts Centre by now. Fortunately, The Builder is not working. He can drive me in.

Rush about. Leap into car. Off we go ……… Very, very slowly. Traffic horrid in Chesterfield. Traffic horrid in Sheffield too. Walk into building at precisely half past nine.

Hmm. Hungry. Amble off to the student refectory for an egg, bacon and tomato sandwich. Grab a glass of orange juice. Whole lot comes to £2.06. Excellent value. Return to office. Eat sandwich. Drip egg yolk all over desk. Clean up. Drink orange juice and a cup of coffee (sequentially!) Go on Information Desk. Finish at one. And GO HOME AGAIN!!!!!! A fantastically short day.

The Builder met me at the station and we wended our way home, via Hasland. We stopped for a mooch in the shops, something I’ve been meaning to do for many months. Like Chesterfield itself it’s an interesting mix of tacky discount stores and rather nice gift and flower shops. Plus an astonishing number of food places. We found a fabulous present for Jeanette, whose birthday is on Saturday. I might find it a bit of a struggle to post it, though. I think it wants to live at my place :-s I’ve also found a tiny, tiny Christmas tree and a holly stick for Freyja. The holly stick is full of berries and VERY prickly!

The reason that we both had time off is because today is finally the day of our Registration-at-a-new-surgery medicals. It’s a cute, tiny, wee surgery just up the road. I think I was the youngest person in the waiting room, though I suppose it was half past three on a Thursday afternoon. The doctor seems to think that my BMI is just fine (though I think it’s a bit high). He says I have slightly elevated blood pressure and wants to monitor it. Plus he thinks that a gin and tonic when I come home followed by half a squillion glasses of wine might be a trifle too much alcohol. Knew I should have lied about the wine! The difficulty lies in deciding which glass to give up. The first one? The last one? One of the ones in the middle? And in any case, I can’t reduce my wine intake at this precise moment. I’ve just taken delivery of 51 bottles of wine. 12 free using my Nectar loyalty points and 39 through the National Trust Wine Club offer. The whole lot cost me the grand total of £145, and it’s excellent quality wine. But anyway. Back to the medicals. I shall go back to yoga which should fix my blood pressure and revert to my normal practice of doctor avoidance. Though I suppose I ought to see the practice nurse to have my BP monitored over the next few weeks. The Builder, in the meantime, came out of his appointment looking smug and cheery. NO BP problems for him. No suggestion that he cut back his alcohol intake. Pff!

Still, at least we're now registered with the practice

And so home. An early G&T, in defiance of the doctor(!), then roast chicken and some wine from a bottle (rather than a cask) for dinner. A very pleasant evening.

Woke up at 04:00 this morning :-( Was up and running about by 05:20. Had The Builder ready to leave by 06:00, by which time I was mixing together the ingredients for another batch of fruit mincemeat (it does smell fantastic when you mix it all together). And now here I am. Back on the Information Desk. It is drizzling outside in an irritating, grey and gloomy manner. Everything is waterlogged. And yet the South East is still declared to be a drought area!

Tell me what your favourite cake or cake-like pud is.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Taffa's Blog

Tabitha has blogged the death of the Wendy Car. You can find her blog here:

(She told me to tell you!)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Horrid weather

Well, I'm sorry to all who are dehydrating, being smoked to a kipper and slowly expiring of heat exhaustion. But it WAS NOT nice weather yesterday. Not nice at all.

Normally I leave home at 7. It takes half an hour to drive to Collegiate, then a further half hour to walk to Adsetts if that's where I'm heading. If I leave at 07:30, it usually takes an hour or a bit less to drive to Collegiate.

Yesterday at 7 I looked out the window at the wall of water that had enveloped Tupton and thought: I'm not going out in that. I shall wait and see if it eases. And by half past seven it had. A bit. The rain was merely torrential, the wind gale-like. It didn't get light till nearly 09:00, mind!

Took about 50 minutes, driving very very carefully, to get to the Psalter Lane turn off on Ecclesall Road. Not bad thought I, given the conditions. Should still get to Collegiate, which is where I was headed yesterday morning, for 8:30. Usually only takes three or four minutes to get there from here.

Not yesterday. Oh no. Not yesterday. Took THIRTY minutes. Thirty!! The traffic didn't even crawl along. Mostly it was at a standstill. I think it was caused by the pedestrian lights at Hunters Bar. They only let 4 cars through at peak times. Next time I shall go down Psalter Lane and double back!

To make matters worse, I was supposed to be doing my assessed teaching yesterday. I was there. Keith the assessor was there. There were no students :( I shall have to do my assessed teaching now in January and the whole semester's written assessment is due in on the 12th :(

More happily, however, I am looking for volunteers to be sold on eBay. I had a phone call this morning from Mr Micawber with the final total for the land at the back. He wants a cheque so he can complete on December 20th. So that looks as though it's more or less sorted. The chickens are hoving into view!

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Holiday blog

Sunday December 3rd

Well here we are in a sun-bathed Britford, just outside of Salisbury. We came down yesterday. Took around 3.5 hours. Not too bad a trip, then. No traffic to speak of. No real hold ups, beyond a *very* slow moving car on the road between Marlborough and Pewsey, and a dragon breathing fire in Pewsey itself Yes, really. NO, no –REALLY. There was a fire breathing dragon in Pewsey. Oh, all right then. It was the fire burning gizmo that they have inside hot air balloons for raising the temperature in the balloon. We could see the flames when we were waiting at the stop sign for it to be out turn to go. There was a Christmas fair in the main street and one lane was closed. Looked quite fun.

So. A good trip down, made only slightly more exciting on Friday evening when I felt in my trouser pocket and thought: What’s that? Oops. I have the key to 6624, the teaching room, in my pocket. Can’t take that to Wiltshire for a week. So we had an unscheduled trip into Sheffield yesterday morning. Didn’t really matter, though. We managed to do all the messages we had planned to do in Chesterfield in Sheffield so it wasn’t too bad.

We’re staying in a rather lovely unit in the converted stables at Bridge Farm. We discovered the farm shop last winter and a bit of investigation led to the discovery of these self-catering stable units. There’s a B&B in the old farm house as well. It was rather nice yesterday afternoon. We got settled in and then went, basket in hand, to the shop to select our dinner and breakfast requirements, then came back and had a drink while we pondered how to have the potatoes. Pork chops would be grilled. The veg lightly boiled. Likewise the potatoes. Put all that on. Wandered off to the loo. Came back. Found smoke pouring out of the grill. OOOOOPS! Quick; Open the windows and doors! The Builder leapt into action. I opened the grill. Oh dearie woe. Not just smoke. FLAMES!!!!! Took the grill pan and chops out. Oh no! Flames leaping about even more vigorously. Rushed outside with grill pan and deposited it on the patio. Flames gradually died down. The smoke gradually blew out of the unit. The Builder decided he could now safely take down the towel he was holding over the smoke detector!!! It bipped a bit for a while but was otherwise unmoved!

So that was exciting. I don’t think I’ve ever actually set fire to a holiday house before :)

Tabitha’s Wendy-car is no more :(. Gaz was coming home from school on Friday evening and someone turned right into their driveway and took him out. Fortunately, he didn’t actually take Gareth out – he is still with us. However, Wendy the Cinquecento is beyond help. I don’t think the other car is very well either. A third driver who was peripherally involved was taken away in a police car for driving an uninsured car. Gareth was taken away in a police car too – but they delivered him home. The hunt is now on for Wendy-car II. Tabitha says there is some sort of an irony in the fact that Wendy-car was her car and she never actually drove it!

We had the most spectacular storm last night. It had been forecast but I hadn’t paid much attention. Woke up at 03:00 to find a positive gale howling overhead. By 04:00 it had been joined by torrential rain. Apparently the winds got up to 90/100 mph and bits of the south west are flooded. We do not seem to be flooded here but are about to go out and about so may find differently. I am hoping either that the storms didn’t get to Tupton or that The Sidings was unperturbed by it all. I assume that the lack of phone call from Tammy the Cat Sitter means that all is well. Though she is only 15. And it is only 10:00 on a Sunday morning so there is time yet!

Monday December 4th

I am pleased to report that the wind had died down a bit by the time we had to go out. The rains had dropped. We had coffee and orange juice for breakfast accompanied by a bowl each of seedy granola which we had bought in the shop. Was very nice. Must buy supplies to take home.

We made our way to The Builder’s parents’ place via the local garage, where there were lots of people milling about. It seems that the Downton Road was closed to traffic because of a massive accident. We went by Another Way. And found that all the traffic from the main road had been diverted down their little village road. Some of it was moving very fast along the narrow, muddy, winding road. It’s no wonder there are massive accidents when people drive like that. We didn’t stay for long. Enough time to collect Christmas presents for Jeanette, Matthew and Rebecca, arrange a day to go out during the week and to say a general hello. Then we relocated to Whiteley, near Portsmouth.

You could see the evidence of last night’s storm. There were twigs and sticks and small branches all over the place. The roads were wet and partly flooded. There was standing water in the fields. I am very glad we had not been driving along any of the tree lined roads during the night!

We had Sunday lunch with JMR. A lovely piece of pork with crunchy crackling. Lovely fluffy, crunchy roast potatoes. Lots of vegetables. Then we had apple and blackcurrant strudel with custard. Rebecca had smarties with her custard. Ate them all :( Not even an orange one for me !!! :p Matt and The Builder drilled a hole in the outside wall and ran an extension cord through it so there is now an electrical point outside. The weather was blustery and squally so we couldn’t go out for a walk. We watched the Disney channel with Rebecca. They were doing Christmas films. In fact, it was all beginning to feel quite Christmassy because we had had to give J&M their Christmas present early. It was a poinsettia which needed watering and a wooden bowl with some Christmas preserves in it and they needed to go in the fridge. I was deeply tempted to go home and create a Christmas Grotto in the “conservatory”! We stayed for a buffet tea, and I ate far too many pieces of toasted pita bread with hummus and way too many spring rolls. Then we made our way back to Britford, via The Builder’s parents. An unplanned stop. We had got half way to Whiteley in the morning, along a tree lined, stick spattered road when I thought: Where’s my phone? It was not with me. Either I had left it in the stable, or it had dropped out of my pocket in the armchair at Nunton. We rang The Builder’s mother. Yup. It was there. Had to drop back to collect it on the way home. Couldn’t possibly live without it until Friday.

Tuesday December 5th

I write to you from my squishy bed upstairs in the stable. There is a howling gale blowing outside. Australia has just won the second test. I have tea and fluffy pillows and a snugly duvet. There is no temptation to get up at all!

We got up yesterday. The wind was behaving reasonably, there were only light showers and the sun shone in fits and starts. And we were off to Lyme Regis to have lunch with an old friend of mine, Farishta Kaker, now Purwin. She and I had been at Haberdasher’s together in the early 60s. We lost touch when I went to Australia and she found me about 18 months ago on Friends Reunited. I am not an active member- registered just to see what it was like. Had to subscribe when Farishta sent me an email; you can’t reply unless you are paid up! We’ve kept up an email correspondence since. Anyway, we haven’t met since we were playing skipping games in the playground when we were 9. Since we were so close, and would have been likely to make a trip to Lyme Regis anyway if spending a week in Salisbury, we arranged to meet for lunch.

We had a lovely drive down and got there in good time. First to the Post Office then. Oops. Huge queue coming out the door. I have a complicate series of transactions. Let’s go away again until later. So we browsed the shops, found the appointed pub, discovered that the restaurant had been given over to a charity fete and the kitchen was closed, inspected a few more shops, went back to the post office, sent my post off on its travels, went back to the appointed pub. Met Farishta and ambled off to another pub. She is very elegant, is Farishta, and speaks with a very plumy London accent. Her husband, who died at Easter 2005, had been a masterchef winner, trained in his 30s as a chef on the back of that and they moved to Lyne Regis for his new career. And I don’t think they ever regretted it. She now has a very new gentleman friend, her children seem happy and fairly successful and it was a good meeting. She and The Builder seemed to get on quite well too. The food was good as well! She had to head off to Axminster to collect her daughter who is at college in Exeter. The Builder and I went for a walk along the harbour path towards the cob but were driven back by the rain. I like Lyme Regis. Even In the rain it looks very cute. And at the moment, of course, it is decked out in its Christmas finery.

We decided to come back along the coast road, just for fun. We missed the turn off in Weymouth and came back to it along a network of very little country lanes. Made all the more adventurous by the fact that the lanes were marked on the map, but had the name of a local village stamped over the top of them so you couldn’t read them! It was fun, but one or two of the roads were very muddy and the wind and rains were picking up and the light was fading. We abandoned the coast road and came back through Ringwood, getting back in time for me to raid the shop. New potatoes for dinner (I had brought some quiche in Waitrose on Saturday: brie, bacon and cranberry; they needed eating! They were also extremely delicious). I also bought some ice cream. Bitter dark chocolate ice cream. For grown ups! They do a whole range of interesting flavours intended for grown ups. It was very nice, too. Didn’t lick the bowl out at all, no, no, no.

And then I snuggled down in the squishy sofa to watch telly. Made it almost to the end of Going Green at 8:30 and then went soundly to sleep. Squishy sofas and wakefulness are not compatible as far as I am concerned! I know I like sleeping but half past eight is ridiculous!!!

I have thought of a temptation to get up. I also bought some unsmoked streaky bacon and some eggs. It might nearly be breakfast time.

Wednesday December 6th

And the eggs and bacon were lovely. We had them with orange and mango juice and a cup of coffee. Then we took ourselves out in the improving weather to Salisbury. The Builder has a stakeholder pension which matures in April and we’re really not sure what to do with or about it.

We parked in Waitrose and meandered up to the Friends Provident office. Only to discover that they do not have anyone in the (very large) Salisbury office who deals with stakeholder pensions. Their stakeholder people are all in Dorking. Or some such place. Deepest darkest Essex anyway. Hmm. Not going there. So I asked the girl whether, if you wanted to do nothing about the pension at this stage there was actually any need to do anything at all. It seems not. It appears that if you should wish to leave your pension gathering dust until you are 75 you can do. She altered it on her computer. And that was that. We left and went to Lakeland.

The kitchen in the stable is remarkably well equipped. But I do miss my small tongs. I now have some small tongs. I also have some jam jars, which is why we went, and some other odd bits and pieces. The problem with Lakeland is that it is full of things that you didn’t realise that you desperately needed until you see them! Even worse, I now have a catalogue and have been dreaming my way through it!!! We escaped and went to explore the market. We didn’t buy anything, but there is a substantial farmers’ market which, I believe, is also there on Saturdays. We shall stock up both at the market and at the farm shop before we go home on Saturday.

Nearly lunch time. Let’s go through the Forest to Lymington and find a pub there. The one by the harbour was nice the last time we were there. We saw loads and loads of ponies, passing through the Forest. The Builder saw a red deer. I saw piggies!!!!!!! They stopped letting the pigs loose in the Forest during the foot and mouth outbreak some years ago. They started doing it again last year I think. But I hadn’t seen any ever. They let them out in the autumn to eat the acorns, I think. I’m not sure when (or how!) they gather them back in again.

Lymington is lovely. The pub we were intending to have lunch in is closed for refurbishment over the winter. So we wandered up the cobbled street towards the modern bit of town. Just before we stepped off the cobbles onto the main road, we saw an old pub. The King’s Head. Went in. And it was fantastic. So too was my grilled fish platter (haddock, sea bass and salmon) with new potatoes and veg. The Builder’s liver and mash was the biggest plate of food I think I have ever seen!! He did manage to squish it all in. Just! Then we went for a wander. An abridged wander. As we stepped out it started to rain. Before we had had time to change our minds re wandering and turned to go back down the cobbles it was positively downpouring! Downpouring with hail! All of me was as dry as dry can be, being covered with my Scottish waxed jacket and my hat – apart from the backs of my trouser legs which were not covered and were as drenched as drenched can be. And then, as we got to the bottom of the hill, it stopped. Sigh!

We have bought our Christmas present. We decided to buy ourselves a big Galileo thermometer and a digital barometer. There is a weather shop in Lymington. We went in just to investigate, and to dry off a bit, and came out with both the thermometer and the barometer!

The weather looked set to remain squally so we decided not to go for a walk but to meander back through other bits of the Forest and see what was there. Eventually we fetched up in Burley and stopped for a bit of a mooch, since it wasn’t raining and didn’t look as though it was going to. Anyway, it was time for tea. And a toasted teacake. We had better have a small walk. We are going to Barb’s for dinner this evening and we need to have some room left for food. We both saw piggies on the way back to the stable. I still haven’t seen a deer.

We got to Barb’s to find the lounge room fire lit, the Kottage nice and Kosy and the dining room set for a feast. More sea bass for me. I do like a nice piece of sea bass. Barb had made it with ginger and garlic, Chinese style vegetables and a hoisin, sherry and soya sauce. Very nice. Then we had huge cocktail glasses full of chocolate truffle mix. Couldn’t eat more than a tidge of mine. Very nice, but a tad too rich for me. Had to drink Chianti instead!! We have arranged to meet for coffee and cake and an exchange of bulbs on Saturday morning during the market raid. Then we came home. Was well and truly past my bedtime by then!

Although – I am starting to sleep later. Didn’t wake up till The Builder sighed heavily at around half past six this morning. And even then I dozed until around seven. Starting to get back into more civilised sleeping habits!

Right. The sun is shining. The wind has dropped. The sky is blue. We’ve finished the eggs and bacon for breakfast, done the shopping for dinner tonight and cleared up. There are storms, tempests, catastrophes and disasters forecast for tomorrow. Best go out today, then!

I do like a holiday in which you do little more than plan where to eat, get to the decided eating place, and eat!

Thursday December 7th

It’s my birthday. Hooray for birthdays! :) :) :) :)

It was very windy and wet overnight. Woke me up briefly. Then The Builder woke up at just after 6, went to the loo, came back to bed – and WENT BACK TO SLEEP!!!!! Neither of us woke up again until twenty to eight. We’d nearly missed the tea drinking slot!!! And this is the man who, when I met him, got up at the dot of six every morning regardless of the day or what needed doing. Talk about being corrupted by lazy lie-a-beds! It seems to be calmer now, though the forecast is still for storms, tempests and catastrophes for much of the country today. It *sounded* as though much of it might miss us.

Right. I know you are all waiting impatiently to learn yesterday’s lunch destination. We went to …… dah daaaaaaah: Avebury :) We drove through fitful sunshine and occasional light showers and got there to find the stone circle in lovely sunshine. We did, however, decide to put our walking boots on before we went to explore. Just as well. It was very, very muddy. Even slightly flooded in bits. But it was a lovely walk, in sunshine, nice and dry. Parts of the ditch ramparts have been closed to visitors for reclamation but the stones stand majestically and you can still walk the circle itself. The only time it rained was when we went into the barn museum to have a poke about. I’ve never been in before, having always previously been at Avebury in a group and it being £4.50 per person to go in . Today it was just The Builder and me and we are National Trust members so it cost nothing. And it was very interesting. A restored 17th century wooden barn housing various species of bats (which I didn’t see) and an interactive display about the stone circle and other local Neolithic monuments. Then we ambled over to the other museum, and looked at archaeological finds and then went to find the pub for lunch.

It is, apparently, the only licensed premises set within a henge in the whole world. You can see why, really; most henges are not big enough to house even a tiny pub! The food was fantastic. I had a spicy tomato soup with a slice of paysanne tart (ham, potato, mushroom and red onion), with home made bread and salad. Very nice it was too. Then we made our way back through showery rain to Salisbury to visit Waitrose and then we came home. I did a load of washing, we had a cup of tea and then we took ourselves to Winchester on the present run to Ian, Donna and the girls. Donna was being Santa’s little helper and was surrounded by zillions of small Russ teddies, wrapping them up for a visit by Santa to her school. She was later going out to dinner with a group of girl friends. Ian and Sophie were settling in for an evening at home. Chloe had gone ice skating with her class from school. I must say, though, I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite so many small Russ teddies in one place before!

And so home to eat pork sausages with apricot and ginger which we had bought In the shop in the morning. I do like having a shop on the doorstep. You can pick up what you need as you need it! I managed not to set fire to the flat this time :p

I managed to stay awake until about quarter to eleven. I am moving back onto civilized hours just as it is nearly time to go back to getting up at 05:30 :-s

It has been very blustery today. Very, very blustery. We had a leisurely start to the morning and then decided, the weather being fairly reasonable at 11:00, to go out for lunch. You will be amazed to hear! We set out for the New Forest. Our Forest Animal total today is: several lots of piggies; zillions of ponies; cows ambling in the middle of the road; highland cows in a field; goats in a field; several flocks of birds. Plus there was water. Lots and lots of water. I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite so much water in the Forest. Puddles and ponds and little lakes in all sorts of places where there are not normally puddles, ponds and little lakes. And several places where the water had crossed onto the road. The tide was even very high when we got to Beaulieu, so the lake and little harbour were also really full of water. Was all quite exciting!

We had lunch at The Red Shoot near Ringwood. It’s a nice pub. Ordinarily there are doggies, though there weren’t any today. There was an open fire and the pub is wearing its Christmas clothes and looks very jolly. The food is plentiful and very delicious. I had a beef stew with huge wodges of crusty bread. And half a plate of mushrooms. Couldn’t eat half the stew there was so much. Did spoon up the gravy though. Couldn’t waste it, it was so nice. The Builder had the other half of the plate of mushrooms with his half chicken and chips. I do hope there is still room in his tummy, for we are supposed to be going out to dinner in a Proper Restaurant tonight! We timed our arrival well. Shortly after we arrived, loads of carloads of people turned up and filled the place up. We timed our departure quite well too – as we left the clouds were hurtling in.

We decided to drive through the Forest towards Lepe Beach. The weather was squally but not too bad. Then we arrived at the beach, to find that sea water was blowing across the road and making huge puddles. The sea wasn’t very high – I think it’s protected a bit by the Isle of Wight. But it was angry enough to be fun to watch. The Builder decided to go to the loo. Got out the car and nearly got blown away! I got out to take a photo; it couldn’t be that windy, surely? Oh yes it could. I couldn’t breathe in. Could breathe out but absolutely not in! Got back in the car pronto.

Back at the stable now, having had tea and potted The Builder’s father’s Christmas lemon tree into a bigger pot. It’s not quite so blowy now but I think there has been quite a bit of storm damage in parts of the country.

I have had presents today. The Builder bought me a toilet brush holder, a biscuit barrel and a muddy boot scraper. His parents gave me £10 in my birthday card. Jeanette, Matthew and Rebecca gave me a card with some National Garden Centre vouchers in it. Stella and Tony gave me my annual diary and a bookmark. I do like presents. I have also had lots of phone calls and text messages. Tabitha, Austin and Freyja all rang me. I had text messages from Simon, Freyja, Stella and Tony, Wendy and Lindsey. Not to mention messages from a few friends. Now, who have I missed from this glittering list ……?

What? Sorry? Yes, of course The Builder still lives. Why do you ask? Oh. Yes. The birthday presents. Really, he took me shopping and I chose the presents. The toilet brush holder is a ceramic Wellington boot covered in coloured spots. The biscuit barrel is a Bridgewater one, also covered in spots which I am going to use as a flour bin. And the boot scraper is a startlingly heavy, metal dachshund. Will look very fetching by the back door.

Might be time for another cup of tea. Better go to the shop and get some more milk.

Friday December 8th

Oh boy was it windy when we went out last night. Not quite as windy as it had been in North West London earlier, when a tornado went through and took out several streets. Nor as windy as it was in Southampton where the roof of a block of council flats was ripped off, leaving the top level flats uninhabitable. But quite windy enough.

We went out in a taxi, to the Old Mill. We’ve stayed at the Old Mill, and really enjoyed the restaurant. Seemed an appropriate venue for a birthday dinner. It’s a 15th century building that the restaurant is in, with the full and swollen river Nadder running underneath it providing a continuous underlying rumble. It is beautifully decorated for Christmas. It all looked gorgeous. As indeed was the meal. I wondered, as I ordered it, whether the scallop soup with aioli (so no kisses for me after dinner!), whether it would come with real scallops in it. And oh boy, did it. Not to mention tiny, tiny, tiny crayfish, two mussels in their shells and two magnificent crevettes. The Builder had a wild mushroom mousse. Then I had a wonderful rack of lamb with a redcurrant and potato mash and a sumptuous winter ratatouille. The Builder had a game trio of partridge, venison and pheasant. We had a bottle of Spanish cava with all that. Now. Is there room for dessert. Well, there is for The Builder. But all the desserts look a bit substantial for my poor tummy. Call for a bottle of French Sauvignon Blanc while we ponder. What I really want is some fruit and some ice cream. And my wish was fulfilled. Fully Fulfilled. I wasn’t expecting anything very exciting, given that fruit and ice cream wasn’t on the menu. But I got exciting. It was a red fruit salad with red currants, raspberries, strawberries, red grapes and a few green ones to add festive colour, with proper vanilla ice cream and a red fruit coulis. It was wonderful. The Builder had an apple puff which he really enjoyed but would have enjoyed more if the apple had been warm. It really was a fabulous birthday dinner. Yummmmmmmmmmmm!!

Time to get up. The wind has dropped, though the rain hasn’t yet cleared. Looks very grey and damp outside. However, we are out today, taking The Builder’s parents on an outing. Can’t really go on an outing in my pink pyjamas with bright green frogs all over them.

Sunday December 10th

We went for a lovely walk on Friday morning before we went to pick up Gwen and Mick. The Builder was looking out the attic window and said: I’m sure that’s a river. What do you think? All I could see from the attic was the very tips of a couple of very big trees! We had a bit of time spare before we needed to leave; after all Nunton is only a 5 or 6 minute drive. So out we went. And there is indeed a river, running under the bridge for which Bridge Farm is named. We wandered along the road until we reached the church. Walked all around the church looking for its name and service times. There is no service board! I assumed it is St Peter’s church because the house immediately opposite is called Peterslea and does indeed back onto a water meadow. Went and peeked through the grille leading to the porch. Yup. It is St Peter’s. Still don’t know what time the services are, although the church is clearly still in use. Must look it up.

We took The Builder’s parents to Yeovilton to visit the Fleet naval museum. It is a museum for air craft carriers. Mick was on the Formidable during the war and was hit not once but twice by kamikaze pilots off the coast of Japan. He was keen to see the WWII exhibition, where there was quite a bit about the Formidable and its experiences. Then we went on a tour around a simulated air craft carrier. It was very interesting and I would have thoroughly enjoyed it – were I not in the company of two frail people in their 80s who can’t walk far, can’t stand for long and who resolutely refused to use the wheelchairs provided. They wouldn’t use the lifts either, insisting on using the stairs until I simply announced that my knees would cope with no further stairs and just used the lifts!!! I think they enjoyed it too, though they were clearly struggling a bit what with all the walking and standing. I might write to the museum and suggest they put in a few strategically placed seats!

It was quite a noisy exhibition. Mick says that air craft carriers aren’t really quite that noisy. Wouldn’t surprise me if it were, though. I think you would probably just get used to it.

How to let them sit down for an extended period, honour intact …. Lunch! At the museum cafeteria. Then we hopped back in the car and drove back to Salisbury along the more scenic route, passing through places where Gwen had grown up and where, in more youthful times, they had brought the children on the train to visit her relations.

We saw three alpacas in a field on the way back. Alpacas are lovely animals.

I think next time we might take the scenic route on the way out and come back along the more direct route. They were both very tired when we got back. I suspect they were asleep in their chairs before we left the driveway!

I have stroked a tawny owl!! We called at Waitrose yesterday morning to sneakily use the car park and to get some money and the animal rescue people were there with a tawny owl and a barn owl and a Mexican something or another harrier. I was pondering what the Mexican wotsit was when the man came to talk to me. He told me. I immediately forgot. He then asked if I would like to stroke the tawny owl. But of course. And it was soooooo soft. I didn’t realise that owls were quite that soft! There was a ferret too, in a cage. At least, we think it was a ferret. I suppose it might have been a stoat. Then, all the animal excitement past, we met Barb for the most horrid hot chocolate of all time in a cafĂ© filled with smokers. Came out smelling of smoke, tasting smoke and coughing. Was not a nice experience. Won’t go there again! Did, however, come away with a carrier bag full of spring bulbs that Barb and her brother Greg have dug up from alongside the path. The Builder and I went to the Saturday market and raided the farmers’ market bit of it. I handed over quite a lot of ten pound notes but did come home with a very satisfactory number of bags of meat and veg and fish and bread.

And then we came home. Had a fantastically quiet and speedy trip back. Got home to find the house in one piece, roof intact, kitchen unflooded (as we had supposed we might; Steve sent a text during the week to say that all was well. WE rather assumed he would tell us if it were not). The good news is that Marlo did not run away while we were gone. He emerged from somewhere inside the house as I opened the kitchen door. The bad news is that he has got very fat while we’ve been away. I think he and I shall start a mutual diet. Tomorrow!

We did have a lovely holiday. Well, I did. It was lovely and restful and peaceful and had lots of food and wine and pubs and lunches and sleeping and traipsing about in a more or less aimless manner. My sort of holiday!

Eastern Victoria is ablaze. They think the fires may rumble in for months. So far Matthew and Belinda seem to be safe.

The Sidings smells of chutney and marmalade today. I have been making extra supplies of preserves. Time now for a sherry, I think, then I shall go and sort out our Sunday dinner. Roast beef today. Sometime around 4 or 5 o’clock I reckon.

I do like Sundays!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Expanding the empire

I really do think that our conveyancing solicitor has escaped from a Dickens' Novel!

His name is FW Meggitt for a start. In my mind he is grey and wizened and stooped and elderly with clawed hands. In fact he’s nothing of the sort. He is grey haired, it’s true, but he stands nice and straight and has an unlined face and is only, probably, in his late 50s or very early 60s. Today he was wearing a collarless shirt with no tie (and trousers -- of course he was wearing trousers).

But his office is in a building which I’m sure has magical disappearing properties. I only ever see it when I am looking for it by appointment. He sits behind a large, leather-inlaid desk. He has an ancient receipt book and a paper ledger. He requires currency rather than cheques for “small” amounts. And he makes the most taciturn of men appear positively loquacious.

Today his building was indeed apparent, for I was there by appointment, bearing my signing pencil and a wad of used ten pound notes. He was positively chatty, by way of a change. I was in his office for, oh it must have been at least seven or eight minutes, during which time I signed a contract agreeing to buy the land at the back of our place, we counted 65 ten pound notes, he rang The Speculator’s solicitor and told her that he had a signed contract and a 10% deposit and agreed a completion date, told me what was to happen next, photocopied our money-laundering credentials, wrote me a magnificent receipt, added the cash to his ledger, shook my paw and ushered me out. To the point, is that man!

He rang later this afternoon. “Fred Meggitt here. You’ve bought that land. I’ll send you a bill when we know the final total for the land. Pay by cheque. I’ll have some paperwork you both need to sign. I’ll post it to you.” Grand, said I. Thank you very much. “You’re welcome,” said he. “Goodbye”.

You don’t waste money on meaningless pleasantries with him!

Got into work to find that someone had handed in a wages envelope they had found lying about on a library table. It had £700 (!!!!!!!) in it. Luckily the name of the person whose money it was, was on the envelope. Luckily the person who found it was not tempted to put it in their pocket. I must say, though; when I was wandering about with 65 ten pound notes in my bag I kept a very tight grip on it. Clutched it tightly to my bosom. At no point whatever would I have allowed the envelope to sit, unchaperoned, on any table at all. Certainly not an Adsetts table. And if I had been foolish enough to do this, I would never had walked off and left it there. I do not like carrying large numbers of bank notes about!

We shall be having a Land Clearing Party sometime in January to clear the ENORMOUS heap of rubbish off the new land. And the extraordinary number of plastic tricycles out of the shed. Who’s coming to help? (BYO gardening gloves and gum boots. Roast chicken and liquid refreshments will be provided)

Memo to self: It is a bad bad thing to buy chocolate money to add to the grandchildren's Christmas Packages. And then to eat them!