Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Post Christmas Relaxation

We went up to the Post Office on Friday to post (late!) all the calendars. Well, all the calendars except Austin’s which isn’t ready yet. It crossed my mind as we ambled up that that was the first time I had left the premises since we got back from the airport last Sunday! I hadn’t really got out into the garden much. I had fed the rabbits and the birds and gone as far as the shed once. Apart from that I have been more or less confined to the house! So we walked all the way around the block to celebrate my sudden freedom! And then went down to inspect the orchard and kitchen garden. Marlo was stunned!

Tabitha wasn’t able to get replacement tickets for the train so she’d swapped her shift at work and gone with Gaz to his mother’s place on Thursday evening and they both came back to our place on Friday evening for stew and mashed potato and to collect the rabbits. The stew was made with a rich, glorious stock which I made with the left over Boxing Day vegetables and potatoes plus the rib that was on the rib of beef. That, and loads and loads of vegetables and some chive dumplings. Thus fortified, they and the rabbits made their way through torrential rain and howling gales back to Cambridge. The Builder and I stayed warm and snug inside. We’ve been playing scrabble and doing jigsaws and watching films – yes films! We’ve watched Mrs Henderson presents and The history boys and Hogfather (though I need to watch that again – I missed most of it) and others as well which now escape me. It’s been very peaceful and relaxing. I haven’t finished my jigsaw yet though. It’s only got 500 pieces but it’s quite complicated and I can’t give it my full attention alas.

We had to go out on Saturday, however. There are things to do. We trundled off to Chesterfield to hit the bank (we are out of money. The Builder has had to cash in his ISA – which had rather more money in it than we had expected. Always a pleasant surprise!). We went to the market and to the organic shop and hunted in vain for somewhere to buy cartridges for the printer and bought cat food and tried to keep out of the wind. At least it wasn’t raining. Well, not until we got back in the car to make our way to Leeds, when the rain came back.

I had tried to update Jenny the Sat Nav on Friday afternoon and it all came to a crashing, unpleasant end when the system stalled half way thtough :-( I had to reinstall her application software :-( Fortunately, she wasn’t actually broken but she’s lost some of her fancier bits – such as mooing when The Builder goes over the speed limit and bugling when he goes over 75! Happily, however, she is still working. Just as well because we were off to visit Clarissa and Mike in their new house and I had absolutely no idea how to get there. That bit of Leeds is largely made up of small housing estates which differ from each other but once you get into one all the houses and streets look the same. Jenny didn't care about that. She knew that Carr Manor Drive is not the same as Carr Manor View or Road or Gardens or whatever and took us straight there.

It’s a nice, light and airy house. They are having their garden made over but there seems to be very little to do to the house itself. They have two kittens, Casper and Crocus (I keep wanting to call her Clover for some reason). Casper was rather taken with The Builder. It was good to see Mike looking so well. And Clarissa, of course, but she hasn’t been very seriously poorly sick this last year. They seem settled and happy in Leeds. We had a nice cup of tea and some cake and a good chat. Then we came back through the rain. I hate navigating around Leeds. It’s a lot better with Jenny but even so it can be trialsome. The signing is very peculiar. However, we did escape. Eventually. And got home where I managed to find Jenny’s moo and bugle again.

And now we are going out again! Only as far as the supermarket it must be said, but out is out. Marlo won’t be impressed. He is draped around my shoulders as we speak, sound asleep. It’s Sunday. It doesn’t feel like Sunday. It feels like a Saturday. Come to think of it, most days since I finished work on the 22nd have felt quite a lot like Saturday. Apart from the feasting days which did feel like Sundays. Though they were not. Odd!

We've clearly moved into proper holiday mode. Didn't wake up this morning until well past 8. Usually we're up and moving at the latest by half six, even at weekends. Might push it to 7 on actual holidays. Even The Builder was asleep this morning. He didn't get up until after 9!!!! Wednesday is going to come as a bit of a shock!!

Friday, December 28, 2007


Towards the end of last week, I had an email from my wine merchant to say that if I ordered one of their mixed cases, they would guarantee delivery for Christmas. So I did. I also ordered a half case of fizzy wine on the grounds that it didn’t really matter if that didn’t turn up for Christmas, though it would be nice if it did. I also ordered three things on Amazon for The Builder, one of which was sent by one of their partner sellers.

The case of mixed wine duly turned up a day or so later. No packages came from Amazon, despite the email I had saying the partner seller’s package had been posted. I did get an email from Amazon, however, telling me that their stuff would get here on time if they had to bring it themselves.

On Christmas Eve at about half past eight in the morning, there was a bang, bang, banging on the side window. It was a courier with the fizzy wine. He couldn’t get to the back door to knock in the traditional manner on account of the gate still being locked. A bit later thee was a bang, bang, banging on the door (the gate by then had been unlocked). It was one of the Amazon packages. Some time later, there was a bang, bang, bang, bang, banging on the front door. You’d thing that all the plants in front of the door would be a fair sign that the door is not in use, but apparently not. So, everything had turned up – apart from the package that I had had the first email about. That still hasn’t turned up, though about a million seed catalogues came in this morning’s post. But I digress.

I despatched The Builder to Sainsbury just after 9am on Christmas Eve, not really expecting to see him again for several days. The crowds in there even at the end of last week were astonishing. When we called into Waitrose at some point well before Christmas Eve, the car park was absolutely chockablock. Never seen it like that. Never! In the meantime, I dealt with the ironing mountain. He was back in a surprisingly short space of time. It seems that the supermarket was practically empty. So too were the vegetable aisles! He got the last two packets of mixed veg – for Tabitha and Gareth’s rabbits who are staying with us over Christmas. They were starting to discount things even while The Builder was there. Alas – we are out of money. Anyway, last year’s Christmas Eve turkey haunted me right through until the summer when I finally managed to find an occasion to eat it!

We watched the King’s College carol service and pottered about and went to bed.

I was woken on Christmas morning by the theme tune to Dr Who faintly ringing in my ears. It was my phone! But where is it? Aha – downstairs in the dining room being charged! Ran down to get it. And it was Freyja who was astounded to find that The Builder and I were both still asleep at the late hour of 7:00! It is true that we are normally up well before then. And if not up, at least awake and drinking tea. The Builder provided us with tea. Then we got up and opened our presents. I got lots of lovely presents. I got a festive waistcoat and a camel apron and a Dr Who scarf all from Australia. The Builder’s daughter and family gave us a festive Marks and Spencer hamper. His son and co gave me a wine glass with a single glass bottle of wine (he gave The Builder a port glass with two miniatures of port). It was all very jolly. I listened to the Christmas Service from Worcester cathedral. We had a SKYPE video call with the assembled merry-makers at Mount Helen. We talked to Austin and Tabitha and Freyja again. Then I started cooking. I cooked and cooked and cooked and cooked and cooked. All day, I cooked. Eventually the dresser in the dining room was positively groaning with party food ready for the Boxing Day feast. Well, the lunch bit of it anyway. Then The Builder and I sat down to fizzy wine, a truly wonderful seafood platter (langoustine tails and scallops grilled with garlic butter, mussels cooked in white wine, and strips of monk fish and salmon fried in tempura batter – absolutely wonderful). We watched the Dr Who Christmas special and retired reasonably early to bed.

To a disturbed night, from my point of view at least. I kept waking up worrying that the cat was eating, sitting on or pushing off the dresser all of my Boxing Day party food. He didn’t do any of these things, though he did jiggle the plate with the mini prawn toasts on in the morning.

So to Boxing Day. Which I mostly spent cooking again! Tabitha, Gareth, Freyja and Mark, together with Alex all lobbed in at around 1pm, to a layout in the lounge room of twiglets and dips and munchy things. Freyja brought twisties and barbecue shapes and violet crumbles. There were more presents. Alex gave me a Dr Who annual. I haven’t had an annual for years. Taffa gave me two Dr Who facecloths. Everyone gave me a cartoon style puffin picture. They gave The Builder jaguars and tea sets. Freyja seemed to like her mezzaluna. And Taffa liked her pig bell that The Builder and I bought in the flea market at the Great Dorset Steam Fair in September and have been restoring ever since. At least, I think she did. Everyone liked their presents rather more, I believe, than the present Mark’s brother had given him and Freyja. A fondue set. Bought on eBay. With the heating bit missing. Thus making it hard to use as a fondue set!!

Then it was lunchtime. We had: party pies and party sausage rolls; mini quiches and mini prawn sesame toasts; bacon rolls and cold chipolata sausages; and mini pizzas. There was a separate plate with all of that again suitable for the vegetarians. Apart from the quiches which neither of them likes and the prawn toasts because I couldn’t think of a veggie alternative to the prawns! We had coke and Dr Pepper and Schloer and wine and fizz to hand. We watched a very odd film on the telly and then Hogfather (not that we watched Hogfather, it was just on in the background). They played games. Then we had seafood bisque and potato, leek and cheese soup. Austin SKYPEd in from Gifu where he and Ant (who’s there for New Year) were merry-making in parallel.

Then Mark’s parents rolled in and Alex had to leave to catch the coach back to London. He’s gone snowboarding in France today.

The feasting continued. We had roast rib of beef and roast gammon. The veggies had quorn Wellingtons. There were roast potatoes and roast parsnips and mashed potatoes and peas and broad beans (from the garden, carefully hidden in the freezer for this very event) and sprouts and carrots. We followed this with raspberry trifle and chocolate pavlova and steamed fruit pudding and chocolate mousse made by Freyja and Taffa. We had crackers (not helped by Gaz who left last year’s crackers in Cambridge AGAIN! Fortunately, I had take evasive action by buying some a couple of weeks ago when they were on offer) and chocolate crackers and all sorts. Then Mark’s parents left, taking Freyja and Mark with them. I retired to my boudoir after two solid days of cooking. Taffa, Gaz and The Builder stayed on until much later.

The lounge, dining room and kitchen this morning looked like a major war had been fought in it. The Builder had to excavate the kettle! I came down after my second cup of tea and made a start on it. Actually, it didn’t take all that long. I dealt with it as if it were a battle plan. The Builder helped. Everything now looks quite as normal. Tidier, even, apart from the kitchen floor which I’ll deal with later. Perhaps! Oh, and the spare room but that’s a day’s job in itself. I really must put the old table and chairs on eBay. Though one of the chairs came in handy yesterday when we had one more person than dining chairs.

Our SKY has gone down :( It says it’s updating software and will take 10 minutes. It’s been saying that all day. The SKY woman in an Indian call centre says it will cost a call out fee of £65 to get it fixed. Who has £65 spare the day after Boxing Day?!?!?!?! It’s been something of a day for talking in vain to Indian call centres. Tabitha has lost her train ticket back to Cambridge. She does, however, have the email confirmation of purchase. She rang the train company to see whether if she went to the station with the email printed out, they could reissue the ticket. The woman at the other end failed absolutely to understand any of that. Did Taffa wish to change her ticket? Buy a new one? What precisely was the problem? Eventually Taffa gave up. She’s decided to go to the station in the hope that she finds someone there who understands English! In the meantime, I think the four of them have gone to the cinema. The Builder and I are in our nice, cosy lounge room eating cheese and biscuits, drinking tea and nibbling on twiglets.

Someone seems to have assassinated Benazir Bhutto. Makes you despair, really it does.

PS I've fixed the SKY box. I dismantled absolutely everything, removed the viewing card, and pulled out all the wires and cables. Put everything back and it's all hunky dory again. Who needs a £65 engineer? I would have done all this earlier except the message on the screen said not to disconnect the box.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Let the Feasting Commence

That poor Vixen is well and truly in the wars! We came out yesterday morning to find that her number plate was all covered over with mud and gunge and could hardly be read. And – her right hand wing mirror was hanging off, all limp and broken :-( Oh, and her brand new windscreen has a tiny, tiny chip in it!!

We went round to consult Nick who says he can fix it after Christmas and did we want to replace it with the heated one now broken or would an ordinary one do. Did you know that wing mirrors came heated? No, neither did I! While The Builder was talking to him, I cleaned off the number plates.

Then we went into Sheffield to Waitrose and I finished the food shopping.

We called at Penny’s to drop of a present for the children. Steve was wrestling with the tree lights. Penny was looking very well and quite chirpy. The children showed us their advent calendars and “helped” Steve with the lights. He eventually managed to convince them mostly to work, but I think a replacement set is in the offing for next year. We didn’t stay long; it was almost lunch time and I think they also wanted to dress the tree.

Instead we came home and started getting ready for the Five Day Feast, which commenced at around 8:30 last night when Gareth, Julia, Freyja and Mark rocked in for Julia’s beef and Yorkshire pudding party. We festived it up with twiglets, crackers and candles. We had roast beef and roast pork with potatoes roasted in pan fat and goose fat (the veggies had quorn kievs and potatoes roasted in olive oil and butter). We had mashed potatoes with butter and Jersey milk. And peas, sprouts and carrots with gravy. And Yorkshire pudding! Mercifully it rose, though it was a little singed around the edges. We had steamed cinnamon pudding with thick Devon cream and then chocolates. And we had wine. Or coke. Or fruit juice depending on how the mood took us. I got the birthday giraffe out in case anyone felt like starting to inflate it, but no one did. The telly was playing festive programs in the corner (I had put it on earlier to listen to “Britain sings” and wondered why the selections were all supermarket Christmas songs – until I realised that this was an ITV program and the majority of the people who would have voted would be supermarket people, if you see what I mean). It was a good evening. Julia seemed to enjoy it.

Then Gaz and Mark went back to Sheffield and I went to bed. The Builder stayed up for a bit then joined me. Freyja and Julia stayed up late trying to sort out her luggage. Julia’s that is. Freyja didn’t have any luggage. Unfortunately for Julia, the Americans demand a massive luggage allowance for flights in and out of their place. The rest of us have much more modest allowances. They rang the airline – excess baggage from Manchester to Singapore is £35 (yes, that’s THIRTY FIVE pounds) a kilo!!!!!!! They re-adjusted Julia’s luggage plans.

The alarm rang at 5:30 this morning :-( :-( :-( Snot fair, having to get up at that time in the morning when (i) it is Sunday and (ii) in any case you are on holiday :-(

Just before 6:30, The Builder went to bring the car round. I was just beginning to wonder where he was when he reappeared. The car, he reported, was all over icy. Yes? Well, it’s December and it is very cold. No, said he. REALLY icy to the point he couldn’t open the doors. Went out to investigate. I have NEVER seen the car looking like that. You had to wrest the doors open with force. The ice scraper was making no impression at all on the windows. The kettle was called for. The application of boiling water helped. Eventually, the car was rendered driveable and we headed off to the airport. Very slowly. Very, very slowly. Partly because the country roads were icy and ungritted. Partly because there was rather more traffic about than we had expected at that time on Sunday morning, including a crane being taken somewhere very cautiously. But mostly because of the thick, thick, thick fog. Occasionally we would come up out of it and there would be a full, shining, icy moon. And it must be said that all of the houses with external Christmas lights looked beautiful in the fog and mist and ice.

Anyway. We got to the airport in good time and got Julia checked in. We pondered briefly the idea of breakfast but it was quarter past eight and boarding started at nine – and you can’t tell from outside how long the security queue is. We also discovered that the one hand luggage rule includes laptops and plastic bags of shopping. Julia had to stop and try and pack everything into her smaller case. In the end she more or less succeeded, though Freyja inherited some of the chocolate. We last saw her, having readjusted her case again On The Other Side, trundling towards security. We didn’t wait long, given that the pre-security security people had finally agreed she could go in, so I hope she got all her stuff through OK. She’s on her way to Singapore now. And we have some of her stuff here ready to take when we go in April – we have two lots of 20kg available to us and in any case tend to travel (out, at least!) fairly lightly.

Back home, via Freyja’s place. As we came up to the Snake Pass Freyja looked back towards Manchester. We were in bright, bright sunshine. Manchester was gone. Completely gone. There was a Nothing where once Manchester had been. I assume it will reappear eventually. And at least Julia wasn’t trying to fly from Heathrow or Gatwick, both of which were closed for quite a bit of the day due to fog.

Today the feast continued. Gareth came for lunch. I put in smoked haddock and fresh salmon and prawns and added a tomato and cheese milk sauce and topped it with mashed potato and baked the whole lot in the oven. We had it with sprouts and carrots. It was lovely, if I do say so myself. Gareth and The Builder seemed to enjoy it. They had something along the lines of three servings each!! The Builder has been asleep for most of the afternoon, probably a combination of being sat next to a toastie warm radiator with a cat on his lap, a large, comfort food lunch and about 4.5 hours sleep last night!

The Builder has blown up my birthday giraffe. It’s stood now, watching out the window wearing a Santa hat (being festive, you see). Marlo was absolutely appalled when he first realised what The Builder was doing – when the giraffe was about half blown up!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The winter solstice was, apparently at 06:08 this morning. The shortest day is behind us :-)

I’m on holiday. H’ray. Nearly a whole two weeks. The University is closed now until January 2nd, and I took Thursday and Friday off last week because Julia was coming. That made it 13 days off. H’ray!

We took off for Manchester bright and early on Thursday morning to collect Julia form the airport. Her plane was due in at 9 so we added a bit of extra time for peak hour traffic in Stockport. Plus, it was foggy. Very foggy. We drove across over the hills and it was extremely foggy in the Dales (Derbyshire, not Yorkshire). It was, mind you, very atmospheric. And we got to the airport at bang on 9:00

To find that Julia’s plane was delayed by an hour and ten minutes.

So we went to the café and had one of the least appetising bacon sandwiches I’ve eaten in a long time and a disgusting hot chocolate that I didn’t drink (I bought another one from the coffee barrow by the arrival gate). I bought a newspaper. I bought a foodie magazine. The plane landed.

Passengers began to trickle out. No sign of Julia. Passengers came out in a flood. No sign of Julia. Passengers reduced to a trickle. No sign of Julia :-( I was beginning to worry a tad, if only because I didn’t have any means of contacting her. Nor did I quite know what I was going to say to her parents when she entirely disappeared off the face of the earth. The arrivals lounge began to empty of people waiting for passengers. And, eventually, she appeared. She had once again been held back by immigration who seem determined that at no point should she ever be allowed to come into Britain in a smooth manner. This time it was because she couldn’t remember our address, though why she didn’t just make one up is a mystery. Still, eventually she was allowed in. I do hope that one day she’ll be allowed to come to visit without being hassled by immigration – it’s not as though she poses a huge threat to society!

So. Back to The Sidings for vegemite on toast and tea – American bread is not, apparently, conducive to a pleasant vegemite on toast experience, and they don’t drink tea in quite the way that we do. We couldn’t go out – we were waiting for the windscreen repair people to come. We couldn’t surf the net. I simply couldn’t convince my wireless router to talk to Julia’s MAC and my laptop simply refused to see any networks at all! I spent ages trying to sort it all out. Failed completely to get Julia online – I am beginning to think that it is a problem with MACs, though Ian’s laptop connected quite happily. I did, eventually, work out what was wrong with my laptop. Or, to be truthful, it told me in the end when I hovered an unknown to me icon on the task bar and it told me that the wireless facility was turned off. I think it must have been Marlo wandering over the keyboard!

We took Julia to Freyja’s place in Uncle John – the Vixen had to wait for a couple of hours for the windscreen glue to set. We had fajitas and stuff which Freyja had made for us and profiteroles for dessert and came home, leaving Julia, Freyja and Mark to natter and (I assume) stay up late.

We stayed up late too, but in The Sidings.

And didn’t get up unduly early on Friday morning, not having need to do anything in particular.

We did get the bulk of the Christmas food shopping done. We drove out across country over the tops of the hills to Chatsworth. It was still quite foggy and freezing cold. The trees and shrubs and some of the grasses were covered in frost and ice. The sky was white. It looked just like a Christmas card and was absolutely beautiful. The Chatsworth Farm shop was busy but not frantic. Bakewell was strangely empty. We had lunch in The Peacock (again!!) then made our way to Sainsbury which was frantic (and it’s only Friday!!!) and then home for a gin and tonic by way of recuperation.

I made a sausage and Guinness casserole for dinner. Gareth came around and dropped off the rabbits for their Christmas holiday in the country.

Then the police came around looking for The Builder!!!!!!!!!!!

Some many weeks ago he bought a saw on eBay. There has been no sign of the saw. I was patiently, on his behalf, sending messages to the seller, who was quite new to eBay, eventually asking for a proof of posting receipt or the return of The Builder’s £50. My patience abruptly vanished when I happened to notice that their approval rating had absolutely plummeted. There were FIVE negative reports of non-show of items. I put one in too. And all the people got together and reported it to the police. It might only have been £50 of our money, but in total it came to over a thousand. Two cheery police officers came around to interview The Builder to add further evidence to the case the Staffordshire police are putting together.

They seemed to fancy the sausage casserole, simmering happily in the oven. One of them said he was sooooo starving that he might have to eat the cat. But since he was stroking the cat’s ears at the time I didn’t take him entirely seriously.

While The Builder was talking to the police I was talking to Barb on the telephone and Lindsey on SKYPE. Poor Barb had to have her cat, BeeJay, put down yesterday because of severe kidney failure so she wasn’t entirely happy. Suddenly, I smelled a strange burning smell. Went into the kitchen to find it full of smoke. The police had been so long interviewing The Builder that the potatoes had boiled dry and were intent on destroying the saucepan. No mashed potatoes for us then. We had dumplings instead.

Right. Must away and tidy up and get ready for today. Julia, Freyja, Mark and Gaz are coming for a Sunday roast on Saturday this evening and Freyja and Julia are staying over. I’d better convert the junk room back into a spare room so they have somewhere to sleep.

Today marks the start of the Winter Food Fest. Yay! I’ve started taking things out of the freezer.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Weekend Merriment

Well now. That was a lovely weekend. Just by way of a change, it included lots of food, wine and pottering about!

We dropped into Salisbury after breakfast on Saturday, to visit the farmers’ market, which runs as part of the ordinary market. Got lots of very yummy things and had a lovely wander about. Then we called into Waitrose before heading out to The Builder’s parents place. Happily, they are both well, although Gwen has a sore eye and Mick has to have a cataract operation this week. Otherwise, all was well, so we ambled off to the Yew Tree with them for lunch.

Note to self: It is a Bad Plan to have a “starter” bowl of fish soup at the Yew Tree if you are then intending to have a main course. The “starter” bowl of soup is bigger than the bowl I use for soup when it *is* my lunch! Made it difficult to do justice to my tempura vegetables when they arrived! I have a feeling that even The Builder struggled to finish his scampi after his “starter” bowl of tomato soup. Gwen and Mick didn’t even try. They had steak and kidney pies and just nibbled at them. No desserts for us!!!

We took them back and stayed chatting until it became clear that they really quite fancied their afternoon naps. It was a bit early to return to the B&B so we headed out for a mooch in the forest, along roads I hadn’t been on before. It wasn’t entirely ideal weather for mooching about, being grey and gloomy(though nothing like as gloomy as Friday had been!) but the forest was certainly atmospheric!

While we were out and about, a cow came ambling across the road, as they do. Then another one. And then another one. And then *loads* of cows all came ambling across the road. Big ones and little ones. Brown ones and “saddleback” ones (like the ones we saw last time near Berwick St John, the belted Galloways) in black and grey this time. And all the cows were in their fluffy winter coats and looked very cuddly. I assume they were going for their evening feed, although we did run across a ute, a little way further along, which was offloading cow feed. The cows, alas, had gone in the other direction. So many cows!! We saw horses too. But no deer.

Another picnic in the bedroom, and a nice early night. And I slept the sleep of the Just - no strange dreams such as I had had on Friday night!

Sunday was Jeanette’s 40th birthday so we headed down to Whiteley to visit, wish her birthday greetings and hand over her present. We stayed for two or three hours, drinking tea, watching meerkats on the telly, chatting and playing with the baby. Then at around 2pm we headed off. Shopping to do, doncha know. It’s nearly Christmas so there is lots to do. Must mosey on.

And we did go shopping. Really, we did. I needed more Christmas cards and some table presents for Boxing Day. Then we might perhaps have just found ourselves wandering into Frankie and Bennies (an American style burger bar). Oh look. There’s Pip (The Builder’s first wife and Jeanette’s mother) and Tom. And – who’d have thought it? There are Mike and Rosie, Matt’s parents. And who should coincidentally wander in but Ian (The Builder’s son and Jeanette’s brother) and Donna and their daughters. And there was even an old friend of Jeanette’s in there too. What an amazing coincidence! Except, I don’t think Jeanette believed for a second that it was a coincidence when she turned up with Matt, Rebecca and Evie about 20 minutes later to find us all at a long table, decorated with balloons, perusing the menu!!! Grin! Was surprisingly nice food for a burger bar.

We were intending to stay for dessert and then to go back to the house with people for the cake. Was happily looking at the dessert menu when my phone rang. I might not have answered it, except it was The Builder’s parents number. “Hello?” said I. “Hello,” said Gwen. “Who’s that?” A bit surprised, for it was, after all, my phone that she had rung, I told her who it was. “Who?” said she. Sigh! Eventually she worked out who I was (I think she couldn’t hear all that well. It was quite noisy in the restaurant). It seemed that she had some Christmas presents which had been left with her and which she had forgotten to give to us when we were there on Saturday. Nothing for it, really, but to abandon the party and head back to Salisbury to collect the parcels. We didn't want to do that too much later as it added about an hour to the trip home.

Parcels safely collected we headed back to Tupton, where we found the cat sat on the side of the settee staring out the window watching for us. I wonder if he had heard the car. He was certainly absolutely delighted to see us. He tried to convince me that he hadn't been fed a single crumb since we had left last Monday. Really? Then where are all of the tins of cat food we'd left? What has happened to your biscuit barrel? And where are all the cat treats?!?!?!?!?

Was a bit of a shock coming back to work on Monday. Fortunately, I was on the evening duty so didn't need to rush. It was a horrible shock this morning when the alarm rang and I actually had to get up! Fortunately, there's only tomorrow and then I'm on holiday again!!! Though I can't sleep in on Thursday. We are going to the airport to collect Julia on Monday morning.

The Vixen has a poorly windscreen. We were heading into Sheffield this morning along the Dronfield bypass when a car whooshed past and threw up a stone, taking a sizeable chunk out of the windscreen. A repairing man is coming on Thursday

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Back in England

I write to you from Bridge Farm Britford, back in England.

Getting here was a bit problematic, though. We left the Apollo Hotel at about quarter to ten and got to the airport at about 10 past ten. So far so good. We left the hire car (good car, thank you!) in the car park, as instructed, dropped the keys into the key box and went to check in. So far, ok, though we noticed that some of the early planes had been delayed or cancelled. The man at check in said they were expecting our flight to leave on time - - but!

We went through to the departure lounge. And remembered that Jersey is not in the EU so we could do duty free shopping. Cautiously, for we are not made of money and our bank accounts are beginning to look a bit sick. Plus, plane after plane was being cancelled, including the one immediately before ours but nearly 2 hours away (I assume because the incoming flight had been cancelled). Others were being delayed. We decided not to run too much amok in the duty free shop because if our flight were cancelled we would need to return all our purchases to the shop (and who knew how long it would take to recredit my bank account) and we would need, presumably, to pay for another night’s accommodation. And food.

I’m not absolutely sure what the problem was. They kept talking about the severely adverse weather conditions. Agreed, it was a bit foggy, but visibility didn’t seem that bad to me. However, no doubt they know what they’re doing, and I emphatically don’t want to be flying if it is not safe!

Mercifully, our flight left. And on time. It was a perfectly untroubled flight and we landed nice and smoothly, bang on time.

As we were leaving last Monday, going into the departure lounge, The Builder said: Did I lock the car? Well, I hadn’t noticed, but assumed he had. He normally does it automatically. We pondered this question from time to time while we were away, but didn’t fret too much. No point fretting about something you can do nothing about. We approached the car on our return. “Try the door handle” said The Builder. No need. The little red flashed “locked door” light wasn’t on. Oops. We’d left all the Wiltshire/Hampshire Christmas presents in the boot while we were away. Gingerly, I opened the boot. Hooray! All the presents were still there!!! Mind you, if I were planning to raid a car boot, it wouldn’t be in a carefully monitored airport carport!

Reunited with the Vixen (and with Jenny, who hadn’t enjoyed being left in the (unlocked!!!!) freezing boot all week; her battery was flashing red, if the car’s light hadn’t been), we took off down to Salisbury. I am oh so, oh so glad we hadn’t tried to take off from central England. It was freezing cold, 0d, and covered in freezing fog and very dark and gloomy with almost no visibility even at 2pm. Even so, we had a remarkably easy run down and arrived in Salisbury around 5 o’clock. Call into Waitrose for another picnic and on to Bridge Farm for a Quiet Night In. In fact, The Builder slept through most of the early evening and I was in bed by nine. It seemed to have been quite a tiring day, despite the fact that we hadn’t really done anything very much.

Norma does do a lovely breakfast. It helps that it’s cooked as you ask for it. But she does a magnificent fried egg, to the point that even when we go to equivalent B&Bs, I still come away saying: that was a lovely breakfast, but the egg wasn’t a patch on Norma’s. She’s close to retirement age. But I’m sorry; she can’t retire ever, ever, ever!

Really enjoyed our time in Jersey. Will go again, but perhaps for a long weekend rather than 5 days. I’m not sure Jenny would have been much help with the navigating, though. I think she would have been as confused by the maps, which suggested that you would be going straight on when in fact you were doing a tight right turn onto a tiny road, as I was.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A day at the Jersey seaside

Today we have mostly been collecting beaches. After breakfast (kippers and smoked haddock for me today, along with tomatoes and mushrooms and fruit. I had the fruit separately!), we took ourselves East, back to Gorey and thence up a narrow road to St Catherine’s. There’s a long breakwater at St Catherine’s. We decided to walk along it, despite the fact that this morning was misty and chilly. There was ice on the car when we got up!

It was windy on that there breakwater. Very windy. I put my gloves on and did up my fleece and regretted very strongly that I had left my waxed winter jacket in the hotel! Boy was it nippy. And there was a man, right at the very, very end, fishing! Mad. We dropped down to the lower, more sheltered level and went back to the car park and into the café for tea.

Then we got Very Brave Indeed – trusting both our Jersey navigating abilities and The Builder’s careful, cautious driving and went up some back tracks to Couperon, for there is a dolmen marked on the map and I wanted to see it. We haven’t deliberately driven on any of these very narrow tracks before. The Dolmen du Couperon has been badly excavated and restored, according to its information board. But it’s a Neolithic grave site with imposing views of the bay. It is accompanied by a 16th Century gunpowder cottage. We pottered about on the cliffs, admired Rozel Bay from the top then got back in the car and carefully, cautiously navigated our way back to the ---- argh!!!!!! A post van is in the lane. Stop dead! Consider where we could go (other than all the way back to the dolmen) to let him past. But fortunately, he turned into a driveway and we made our way very slowly back to the “main” road. Which is about 6 inches wider than the track we were on.

We drove into Rozel, which is a pretty little hamlet but had no pressing need to stop, then along beautiful country roads to Bonne Nuit Bay – I wish I knew why it was called that, but it seems to have had a history of smuggling and profiteering. We had a little potter there and then made our way to St John’s, where there are shops and a Post Office. I’ve been carrying around Austin’s Christmas present and felt that it would be sensible to post it at some point before we left, rather than taking it on a random holiday to Jersey and then taking it home again. It was an odd place to find a Pound Shop, though, in this elegant little village and surrounded by elegant shops.

We decided to trundle up to Greve de Lecq, because it had another sign for an ancient monument on the map. There was an Iron Age (I think) settlement there but there are no obvious signs of it. The name means, they think, Beach (greve, which should have a grave accent on the first e but I can’t convince the laptop to put it there; odd because it’s perfectly happy to give me acute one) and creek because they *think* that Lecq is a Norse word for creek. It is one of the most beautiful little beaches I think I have ever seen. I’ve seen more beautiful big beaches, but often that is magnificence from scale. This was just lovely, and little. It also boasted a beachside café which, to our astonishment, given that it’s December and we were in the middle of nowhere, was almost full. We stopped for lunch.

And then we spent the afternoon driving around. We drove down to St Peter’s because there’s an M&S Simply Food there and we have decided to have a picnic in our room this evening. We drove down to St Belade and on to St Aubin, intending to take the road up through St Peter’s Valley, which is alleged to be very beautiful. But we missed the turning. So we drove up through St Lawrence, back up to St John and tried to find the road through St Peter’s Valley from up there. Lost it entirely. Tried a more circuitous route and found ourselves in another little web of country roads that my map really doesn’t cope with (they’re marked as lines like this _____ and I can’t see them properly when there are lots of them!) It doesn’t really matter, though. On an Island this size you are bound to run across something you recognise, or a signpost. Eventually. As it happens, and quite fortuitously, we found ourselves coming along a road which had St Peter’s valley waymarked. I had begun to think it was a mythical place, like Brigadoon! We drove down it, and it was indeed beautiful. But not, perhaps, the most beautiful place on the island, which is what it’s reputation was. Perhaps it is stunning in the summer. Certainly, when Queen Victoria came here and asked to be shown the most beautiful spot, she was taken on a drive down that road.

Back to St Helier, and here we are, waiting for it to be picnic time and watching the snooker. Tomorrow it will be time to go home. Well, back to England. I had been worried that there might not be enough to do on Jersey to occupy a whole 3.5 days. There has been. But only just. There would, of course, be more, if we had come in summer. The thought of driving along some of those roads during the season is quite mind boggling!!!!!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Jersey Wednesday

So. There we were, pondering what to do for the day after breakfast yesterday. Consulted one of the guidebooks and decided to head into the middle of the island and take our chances on the web of country lanes and see if we could find the Hamptonne Country Life museum. We were just congratulating ourselves on having navigating around the island more or less sussed – when we missed a disguised left hand turn and ended up heading back into St Helier.

So we took a random turn to the left and ended up on a Green Lane much earlier than we had intended to. The Green Lanes are very narrow lanes where the speed limit is restricted to 15 mph and pedestrians, cyclists and people on horseback have priority. The maximum speed limit anywhere is 40 mph and there are only two very tiny sections of divided road (and one of those is out in the middle of nowhere and had no apparent practical purpose!). It’s amazing how quickly you get used to moving about slowly. I turned to remind The Builder not to go too fast and found he was doing less than 30!

Anyway, back to the Green Lane. We were proceeding along quite well, until we reached a diversion and were flung unexpectedly out into the network of Green Lanes and other small roads. We did see some beautiful countryside but didn’t feel as though we were progressing with any degree of intent towards Hamptonne (though we did keep seeing signs to it). Eventually, The Builder notice a small sign on a stone building we had passed several times. And that was the only indication that that building might indeed be Hamptonne. We surmised, in the absence of any other signs or any vehicles at all, that it was closed for the winter. At least on Wednesdays.

So we drove down the middle of the island to St Aubin where we got out and went for a wander along the “esplanade” and pottered in the shops. It reminded me, for some reason, quite strongly of Mornington, though it is very much tinier. I think it must be the yucca trees growing along the roadside. And the design of some of the buildings. It was the least French architecture that I’ve seen.

Then we decided to drive up along the Green Lane near our car park, and ended up in Portelet, an out of the way hamlet with lovely views over the sea. We went for another amble along the cliff tops, admiring the many little inlets and beaches that are hidden away. Proper smugglers coast! And into St Brelade for lunch in a “suburb” called Red Houses (don’t know why – didn’t see any red houses). And up the west coast road. Absolutely beautiful. Magnificent views, including of the other Channel Islands, lovely beaches, nice countryside. Eventually (after a somewhat hairy million point turn because we – yet again – had missed a turn) we passed a somewhat unlikely racecourse absolutely in the middle of nowhere – goodness only know how they get the horses there! - and so to the ruins of Grosnez Castle on the north western tip, where you can see not only the other Islands but also the Normandy coast. There are also some very, very secluded beaches up there. Even better smugglers country – and so close to France for the smuggling!! Another walk along the cliff tops, a pat of a happy, friendly puppy and back in the car and back to St Helier for a nice cup of tea and a sit down.

We had dinner in a local wine bar/pub. Not a pretentious menu, but they did a fine job on a piece of sirloin steak, some garlic prawns and some chips, then back to the hotel where I managed to have my regular Wednesday chat with Tony on MSN Messenger. The hotel has, it says, wireless connectivity in the public areas of the hotel only. However, having once connected to it, I find that the laptop connects automatically in the bedroom. The signal may be low – but it works. I am not complaining.

One day left before we head back to England and thence to Salisbury

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Jersey dinner update

Dinner last evening was fantastic!

We had intended to eat at the Cock and Barrel which has good reviews in my Jersey Good Food guide. But they only do lunches. They recommended Dix Neuf, and gave us directions to find it which failed completely. So we fetched up in an unprepossessing looking bistro where we were warmly welcomed, tucked into a cosy corner and given olives and pretzels to amuse us while we perused the menu.

I had a filo cup filled with sea bass, scallops and prawns in a very very light curry sauce for a starter. I normally avoid curry things because chilli and my mouth really are not good friends. I don't think there was any chilli in this sauce. all you could taste was seafood and many delicate spices. It really was delicious. Then I had lobster in a garlic sauce. There was rather too much of the sauce but the lobster was absolutely magnificent. Magnificent, I tell you. The Builder had asparagus in hollandaise sauce to start and tournedos of beef on a horseradish rosti for main. He also had a mini Christmas pudding (I ate his fruit!). I grant you that the bill was about twice as much as on Monday night (though the lobster accounted for a good bit of that) but the difference in attitude, ambience, quality, cuisine and experience was immeasurable. And in any case, in the hotel restaurant we had one course, one course only and wouldn't have considered for one moment ordering anything else. I have no idea what the bistro's name was!!!

We have woken up to another beautiful sunny day. We are about to go out and test the breakfast. Wish us luck (They can't really do anything to ruin a packet of cornflakes, can they?)

Breakfast update: It was All Right. A buffet with a huge choice of things from cereals and fruits and yoghurts and the makings of a very full English indeed. And fish and kippers which I didn't see until too late. TOmorrow!

Jersey Jaunts

We left North East Derbyshire on a dark, drizzly, cold morning and made our way to the motorway. Mercifully, the strong winds of Sunday had abated – so strong that the plastic beads at the back door were hanging perpendicularly towards the garden! Wouldn’t have wanted to have taken off in a little plane in that.

Got to the motorway. And immediately hit standing traffic. Gulp. Inched along. Sped up. Hit more standing traffic. And that was the pattern all the way to the airport (East Midlands, helpfully situated south of Derby and Nottingham, towards Loughborough.) I think we were both worried that we might be so delayed that we would miss our flight. And there is only one a day :-S

Happily we got there with loads of time to spare. So we checked in and had some breakfast and pottered about. Then we boarded the flight and off we went. We went uppppppppppppppppppppp, then we levelled out, then we almost immediately went downnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn. No time for cruising on that flight! We flew over Chesil Beach and we saw the Isle of Portland and lots of fields. We also saw either Guernsey or Sark, or perhaps Alderney as we flew into Jersey.

The pilot had warned us that it was very gusty in Jersey as we left. He warned us again as we started our descent. And you could feel the plane being buffeted about as we were coming down. And then, just as we touched down, a huge gust of wind caught the plane and tried to blow it sideways. I thought we might be blown away. Or over. But no. The pilot corrected it and all was well. Just as well – The Builder and I had been moved from our pre-booked seats to the emergency exit seats because “somebody has to be sitting there”. I’m not sure I’d have been much use getting the emergency exit open if we’d been blown over!

We have a hire car while we’re here. So we decided, given that the plane was early and we couldn’t check in at the hotel until 1pm, to drive around and have a look. Neither of us has been here for years and years – and I was only here for a matter of hours when Simon, Karen and Yvette were living in Poole and Karen, Yvette and I came over on the ferry one day to meet a very, very distant relation of Karen’s.

Now I can read a map. I don’t so much, anymore, now that we have the Sat Nav, but I can do. And yet, we kept ending up in various places that I didn’t expect to be in. And then I realised. Jersey is only 9 miles long and 5 miles wide, so the map is in a much larger scale than I am used to. Further, very frequently the mapping suggests that you are going straight on when in fact you are turning left or right. This is not made all that clear on the road, because they often don’t have the route numbers marked but the street names (mostly French street names. Charming French names, but not marked on my map!) Eventually, however, we ended up in St Helier. Could we find the street the hotel was on? Could we heck. Somehow, we ended up driving through and out again. Back we came. Found the street. Found the hotel. But the car park is out the back. Which meant we had to navigate our way around the intensely complicated one way system to find the back road. Hooray! Success. The hire car is parked and we are booked into the hotel. Magnificent room. Bed big enough to fit the population of a small country in. View over the swimming pool. Staff a bit ineffective but pleasant and charming.

Out into St Helier for a mooch around and a spot of lunch. (Moules á la crème for me, stir fry for The Builder, bottle of Chilean wine. Absolutely magnificent!) Then a wander around the town, a potter about, visit to the tiny French market and back to the hotel for more wine and some telly watching. When we landed at lunchtime, there was a woman in the airport handing out tourist packs. In amongst the stuff was a guide to Jersey and – a map with street names on it as well as route numbers!!! It’s smaller than my map (So I have to take my glasses off to read it) but it should make navigating easier!

Dozed off.

Woke up again at about 8. Couldn’t be fashed going out again so we decided to eat in the hotel restaurant, despite the mixed reviews it gets on Active Hotels. A mistake. A bad, bad mistake. The menu was awful. The food was awful. The service was chaotic. They tried to give me a squillion pound French bottle of sauvignon rather than the much cheaper Chilean one I had ordered. They couldn’t do much to ruin a sirloin steak (though it wasn’t particularly well cooked) but the vegetables were absolutely inedible. Bleurgh. Quite how you can render French beans inedible is a mystery to me. But they did. Even the potatoes were Not Nice. Ate the steak, drank the wine, left the rest. Came back to the room and went to bed. We shall eat out tonight. Amongst the bumf the woman gave us at the airport is a Good Food in Jersey guide!

Today, by contrast, the weather has been absolutely wonderful. We decided to give breakfast a miss – though the reviews for breakfast are quite good) and took ourselves off to the Durrell Wildlife Zoo. It was founded by Gerald Durrell and is a major wildlife conservation project. It had been an ambition, which I expected to be a forlorn one, to visit it ever since I started reading Durrell’s books and eventually, to my surprise, I achieved that ambition when I came with Karen and Yvette and Karen’s charming, hospitable very, very, very distant relation. And it was at the very top of my list of things to do this time as well. It is remarkably well signposted. No need to trouble myself with a combination of two maps!

As a “Winter Warmer” offer, they give full entrance fee paying people a voucher for either a free full English breakfast, or for a Jersey cream tea, depending on what time you redeem it. Just as well The Builder had forgotten to ask for a Senior discount for him! We redeemed it at once and went straight to the Dodo café for breakfast. A very nice breakfast. Including all sorts of things like a tiny potato waffle. More than I could comfortably eat, really. Then we came out to talk to the animals. There are lemurs. Lots of different sorts of lemurs. There are grillas and macaque monkeys and orang utans and Andean bears (asleep in a hanging basket!!) and gadzillions of birds and iguanas and frogs and flamingos and cranes and fruit bats and all sorts. And there are aye ayes. There was no sign of the aye aye when first we came to call, though we waited, patiently in the gloom (aye ayes are nocturnal so the enclosure was only very dimly lit). So we went to look at some other things and had a lovely bowl of vegetable soup in the Dodo café and went back. And there it was, running up and down its ropes and cleaning its face and hanging upside down. It came to look at us and then went back to playing on its hanging things and branches. I love aye ayes. I’m so pleased it came out to talk to us.

We spent the afternoon pottering about in Gorey on the Eastern tip of the island. It’s a lovely little harbour village. The tide was out. Way, way, way out. Nobody was going sailing from Gorey while we were there. Then we drove back along the coast road to St Helier, drove through and around it and managed quite successfully to navigate our way back to the hotel car park (I would have brought Jenny the Sat Nav, but the UK maps don’t include the Channel Islands and it hardly seemed worth buying maps of the whole of Western Europe for a 3.5 day trip to an island which measures 9 miles by 5!). Then we went for a wander around town – to suss out likely eating places. And now here we are. Pondering what to eat this evening.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Birthday Blog

I had a lovely birthday - thank you to everyone who sent good wishes. I did absolutely nothing. Actually, that’s not true, not really. I did loads of washing and a whole mountain of ironing and cleared and cleaned the kitchen and tidied the lounge room and dining room. But I wasn’t at work in the office. (I found some shards of the Jamie Oliver glass when I was sweeping the kitchen. Don't know where they'de been in the meantime!)

I spoke, by one means or another, to almost everyone. Stella and Tony rang at half seven. Lindsey, Wendy and Matthew sent text messages. Simon, Austin and Ian SKYPEd me. Gareth and MJ texted me. Julia, Helen and Emily sent me messages on Facebook. Lots of the Boys sent Facebook messages as well. It was all good.

The Builder was at work in the morning. Got home at about half two.

We went to Clay Cross after that. I had received a letter some weeks ago announcing that now that I was a woman over 50 I was entitled to regular, free mammograms, courtesy the NHS. My appointment was for 3:36 on the afternoon of the 7th. I was a bit worried about the precision of the time – I like to be punctual but to be that precise is a bit on the hard side. Still, despite the unexpected traffic on the main road, we got there in good time. The whole process took two minutes. Didn’t hurt. Didn’t feel strange (which the radiographer said it would). Just felt like having my boobs squished!

People had expressed surprised that I would go for a mammogram on my birthday. Ah – but it gave me an excuse to have the day off. I’ve got most of December off, one way and another, so I wasn’t going to take my birthday off too. But I was damned if I was going to take a birthday afternoon off just to have a breast test!

It was windy and bloody cold in Clay Cross.

And the traffic was awful. We came back Another Way!

After we got back I trashed the dining room by bringing down all the Christmas presents for wrapping, along with the wrapping paper, sellotape and stickers. I got two parcels wrapped before Marlo discovered what I was doing, decided that the wrapping paper had been put there just for him and took over. So I trashed the kitchen while preparing dinner. And the lounge room by moving things out of the way and leaving them on the chairs. I’m not absolutely sure why I bothered tidying up in the morning!

For my celebratory dinner we had a magnificent (if tiny) piece of rolled lamb, with home made chips, Brussels sprouts and garlic and mushroom gravy. Washed down with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot that Marryk gave us for Christmas last year. I’d put it down in the cellar at the time and (somehow!!) had managed to forget about it. Found it when I was looking to see how many re-sealable beer bottles we had (for making ginger beer; I bought The Builder a ginger beer kit for his birthday. It also got forgotten about and was found when I was looking for something else in the kitchen cupboard. It was a long streak of re-discoveries!!). All very pleasant. We spent the evening in the lounge room drinking wine and generally chatting and went to bed in a mellow frame of mind. (The Veuve Clicquot was really remarkably nice, though I am not usually a huge fan of champagne; I prefer Spanish and English sparkling wines. But if anyone wishes to give me Veuve Clicquot again, I shan’t be complaining!)

And slept remarkably well. Woke up quite late (by our standards). Just as well I was working at Psalter Lane today. It only takes half an hour when there’s no traffic (and there is usually no traffic on a Saturday morning) and we don’t start until quarter to ten.

The weather today is absolutely foul. It’s extraordinarily windy and it’s RAINING. Really raining. One of the skylights in the library is leaking. Nothing that can be done about it at the weekend. I’ve put a rubbish bin on a chair underneath where most of the drips are falling. It’s also very dark. Has been all day. The Builder tells me that when he was going home this morning it was trying to snow. It’s not been doing that here. It’s much too rainy for snow.

I got lots of lovely presents for my birthday. Amongst them was an inflatable giraffe which stands at 6’ tall when inflated. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do with it. I may have to have a summer party and tether it to the patio!!!!!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Pasta Party

I am beginning to think that I should stop having food parties at The Sidings on Sundays.

The Saturday before a Sunday food party is always, without exception a lovely day.

Come the Sunday, and the winds howl and the rain pours and the temperature plummets.

I’m beginning to think it’s A Sign.

Anyway. Yesterday The Builder, Freyja, Mark and I ignored the weather and met up at The Sidings for a Pasta Party. Freyja and Mark had come on the bus from Sheffield. The Builder met them and brought them back. They had a cup of tea. The Builder and I had a glass of wine (it was nearly 2pm by this point!) Mind you, if your food party doesn’t require being outside I don’t suppose it matters much what the weather is like. And I, at least, had no reason whatever to leave the house!!!!

And Freyja and I made pasta. From first principles. With flour and eggs. And my pasta gizmo.

It did look at first as though it was all going to go horribly wrong as we followed the recipe which told us to put the flour on a board, make a well, add eggs and start integrating flour and eggs. Egg went everywhere!. Freyja had to fight it back with large spoons while I integrated as fast as I could! Phew. The eggs stopped escaping and the dough began to look dough-like. Freyja and I kneaded until it was smooth and shiny, then we began putting it through the gizmo. The gizmo (which I don’t use very often) is lots of fun and the pasta became nice and very thin.

So we made two large ravioli each for starters. We made pumpkin and mascarpone and sun-dried tomato and mascarpone (the tomato mix tasted very odd before it was cooked!). And we had it with a pumpkin broth I had made earlier. The tomato one was rather nice. The pumpkin one was fantastic! And we made a lasagne with roasted vegetables (that I had also made earlier) and ricotta cheese and tinned tomatoes. It tasted nice but was a little on the dry side. More juice next time. I think Freyja and I declared the pasta party to be a success. I think the boys thought it was fairly successful too. The Builder had two helpings of the lasagne. He and I had more wine. Mark and Freyja had coke.

Things I discovered this weekend:

· If you knock a Jamie Oliver glass off the draining board with the cuff of your dressing gown it will fall to the floor and shatter into a zillion pieces which will go absolutely everywhere, including into and among the cats biscuits and his food bowl.

· Neither Mark nor I could figure out how to connect Freyja’s laptop to my wireless modem. It refused to accept the password. It sat and wibbled. They refused to talk to each other. And we don’t know why. It can’t be because it’s a Mac. Ian has a Mac and it was happy to talk to my modem. Oh well. We gave up. Next time they come out I’ll get them to bring the Mac again and we’ll see if we can sort it out. Oh – not the next time. That will be Christmas and I won’t care. The time after!

· Making pasta is lots of fun. It will, however, cover the kitchen, you and anyone within a 200 mile radius in flour. And you will inevitably get dough smeared all over your jumper.

· Freyja has a new camera and will take zillions of photos of exciting events like pasta making so everyone else can have the pleasure of following us, step-by-step later

The Builder has renamed Marlo Bagpuss. I’ve been collecting the Christmas presents on the spare bed. In amongst them there is a brown paper carrier bag. A few days ago, The Builder was in the spare room doing something and could hear a strange rustling noise. He looked around and saw that the bag was moving slightly. Rat! Mouse! Possum! But no. It was Marlo, who had decided that this bag would make an acceptable substitute to the ironing basket. And since then he has hardly moved out of it. He gets up in a tardy manner and demands his breakfast (assuming we are still home when he finally emerges; if not his breakfast is waiting). He gets up again later for bladder stops. He usually gets up at about coming home time – he is generally waiting on the table when we get in. Evidence when there is one of us at home is that he comes down about 2 minutes before the returner comes in. If we go and look in the bag we get an “oh for goodness sake – what do you want now?” meep. He was quite happy to see Freyja and Mark though. Actually emerged from the bag to talk to them. Even came downstairs to talk to them. Wanted to help with the pasta making but Freyja deemed this to be unhygienic so he wasn’t allowed. He wouldn’t have eaten it anyway. All those vegetables!

I wonder how Marlo will react when Julia comes to visit and we have to move the bag? He still hasn’t forgiven us for moving the ironing basket!!!