Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The pumpkins in the greenhouse on the allotment appear to have designs on the whole known universe! The Builder has them growing up strings. They’re now reached the roof and are busy making their way along the wire the string is tied to. One of the plants has three tiny pumpkins. I wonder if I’ll need to support them with nets when they get bigger (They’re Queensland blue pumpkins, so not small ones). The cucumbers in there are also doing quite well. Even the melons are starting to perk up a bit and the sweet potatoes are producing quite a good crop of leaves. I hope they are also producing a good crop of sweet potatoes!

It was just as well we went up yesterday. The Builder had been up and watered on Saturday so we nearly didn’t bother, and the greenhouses were very dry. The beans were quite dry too.

We’ve now dug up all the Arran Pilot potatoes. Will eat those and the rest of the ambos before starting on the maincrop potatoes – blight permitting! We also picked the first two rows of peas (on the allotment). There are still a few pods to go on those rows – but we took home 1.6 kg of pea pods! There is also a LONG row of peas still in the kitchen garden, but they’re not quite ready yet. We also pulled the autumn planted white onions a couple of weeks back. The spring planted ones should be all right for a few weeks, although the shallots are nearly ready.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen garden. The Builder has now fully glazed the greenhouse and we have found some trellis for the kiwi fruit vine to grow up. We must plant that – it’s getting a bit dry sat in the very warm greenhouse in a small pot. And speaking of things in pots in the greenhouse – the Christmas potatoes have appeared. I’ll let them get a little bigger then cover them over and plant the second lot.

I had gone down to pick some broad beans for last night’s dinner. As I was wandering back, I thought: That’s odd; I could have sworn I picked the zucchinis earlier. Then I thought: that can’t be a zucchini. There aren’t any in that bed. They’re all over in that bed there. So I went to look. Tucked under a leaf was a zucchini-sized cucumber! I thought we only had wee, tiny embryonic ones. It is amazing how sweet young cucumbers are, fresh picked from the vine. There’s another one on the other cucumber plant. I must remember to check the vines in the greenhouse. There may be more hidden up there too.

Otherwise, all is well. We have finished almost all of the fruit, except for a few raspberries and some tayberries. The apples, of course, are not ready yet. The flower garden has run amok but seems happy enough. I need to plant some more wong bok and pak choi – I was too tardy in planting them out and they’ve run to seed. I must do that this week.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Pottering about on Saturday morning, a significant flaw appeared in my otherwise excellent plans for the day. We were expecting Bea and Steve to arrive at about 1pm for an afternoon and evening of eating, drinking and making merry. At 1pm, the Tupton Carnival Parade was due to commence. The caravan route goes past our place and along QVR. There would seem to be a significant conflict here between our moving our cars about and the parade's priority.

I rang Bea and suggested that they perhaps would be advised to arrive a little earlier than planned. They did. Happily, the parade started late, but there were lots of people lining the route ready to watch it. We went out and missed it.

Our first plan was to go to lunch at the Three Merry Lads at Cutthorpe. It was a beautiful day, so we sat outside in the beer garden. I decided to have an appetiser portion of mussels – I have been ambushed by full portions before!! And it was just about the right amount for lunch. Only, being an appetiser portion, it didn’t come with chips or bread. The lack of chips was a bit sad – they properly home cook their own chips and they’re lovely. But they brought me some bread when I asked for it. Steve had the biggest ploughman’s I think I’ve ever seen.

Thus fortified, we went up the road to the Linacre reservoirs, which are three small dams in around 200 acres of broad leaf and conifer woodlands with walking tracks and riding paths and things. It was lovely. Mind you – we nearly acquired a Westie terrier. Some people came towards us with an older Westie on a lead, and a younger grey dog of indeterminate breeding bouncing along beside them, not on a lead. Was this Westie by any chance ours? They had found it crying in the woods at the other side of the lake. Not ours. Tempting to say yes and take it home and see what Marlo made of it, but no. Not ours. And it’s just as well we didn’t give in to the temptation to nick the dog. It’s rightful owners appeared shortly afterwards, looking for it.

The weather really was beautiful on Saturday. The Builder had put the gazebo up in the morning. I had made a potato salad with some of the Arran Pilots, and a salad with some peas, broad beans and tiny runner beans, and a leafy salad with the French spicy mesclun mix growing in one of my salad boxes. We sat under the gazebo and drank wine, then Steve and The Builder lit the barbecue and when the wood had burned down to coals, I barbecued some tiny hamburgers and some sausages and some steaks. We had mint and chocolate ice cream for afters, with cherries (alas, not from the trees), and the last of the raspberry ice cream and the cookies and cream ice cream. I am now pondering what flavour to make next.

And then it was time to go inside (for it was getting a bit chilly) and then to bed – for Bea and Steve needed to leave at 7:30 on Sunday morning to go to the RHS Garden Show at Tatton Park.

Bea found a strange man leaning against the wall of the house diagonally opposite when she got up in the morning. He was still there when they left at 7:30. I noticed that he was still there when I went into the front bedroom to grab a clean shirt at 8:00, only now he was sitting on the wall. By 8:20, I was beginning to wonder whether perhaps we should do something about it, particularly as by now he was sitting on the pavement, propped up by the wall. We had all been assuming that he was very drunk. But it’s unusual for people to be quite that drunk, quite so early on a Sunday morning. Maybe he’s been taken ill. I was just debating whether to alert the police or to call an ambulance when I heard a police siren. A little police car came buzzing around the corner and stopped by the slumped man. Someone had beaten me to it. I think that he was, after all, just drunk. It’s not normally this exciting in Tupton, first thing on a Sunday morning!

Yesterday was the day we were to go and collect our pottery from Planet Pot. First, though, we collected Freyja from her place and we trundled to Ecclesall Road for lunch in Felicini, which is an Italian-style, but more a kind of Mediterranean chain of food places. Allow me to warn you that, when you stop to think that crispy duck with hoisin sauce is an odd topping for a pizza – you are thinking this for a very good reason. It is a VERY peculiar topping to put on a pizza. The first few mouthfuls were quite pleasant. By the time I got half way through it was very definitely not pleasant. And there was way too, way too much duck. Duck should be eaten in extreme moderation. Much to rich to be eating mountains of it! The Builder managed to finish his duck pizza. But I don’t think he’ll be having it again. I think Freyja more or less enjoyed her margherita pizza.

Then we went and collected our magnificent pots. And they do look magnificent. Freyja’s tea pot is a positive work of art. I’m hoping that she’ll put the “After” photos on the web very soon! I used The Builder’s oven dish last night to do some roast beef and roast potatoes. I don’t think it enjoyed it very much. Some cracks have appeared in the base. I think I might use it as a serving dish in future. It crosses my mind that it would make a magnificent serving dish for a plentiful quantity of soup or stew.

We’ve just had the fire alarm go. I have a suspicion that it might have been a test – no fire engines turned up and usually, even when it is a false alarm, fire engines arrive within a couple of minutes. If it was a test, I think we probably failed it. Someone has put tables and chairs in a stash right in the middle of one of the escape routes, and we trapped a load of students. Mercifully – there was no actual fire.

I spoke to Stella this morning. She seems to be making excellent (but slow) progress. I am a bit worried, however, that she was drinking milo. I don’t remember her ever having drunk milo before. I believe that Tony is being well looked after by Martha, the doggie across the road from their place, and Martha’s person.

Ooooooo. Ooooo. I knew I had something to tell you. We’ve SEEN the invisible Joanne next door. Her brother in law came around to mow her very overgrown lawn and she actually came outside and stood in the garden for a bit while he was doing that. I was beginning to wonder if something Evil and Mysterious had happened to her. All we ever really hear is the occasional closing of a door and sometimes the upstairs curtains open. (Cue spooky music). They do have a cat, however. I saw it sat on the inside windowsill yesterday morning. Like the cats in No 6 – it never comes outside. (Cue even spookier music)

Taffa and Gaz have gone to Paris on the ferry. Not that they can get all the way to Paris on a ferry. I think they might have to take a train part of the way.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Stella, pensions and ghostly libraries

I spoke to Stella yesterday morning and she seemed much cheerier, though her heartbeat was still quite irregular. Today she has been zapped, in the hope of bringing it back to regularity. Tony and Lindsey both report that it has only been partially successful, but that the heart rate is better and that she is feeling a bit better. I *think* they are hoping that she will move into a rehab unit sometime over the next few days.

Do you know - I'm not sure that they have rehab units here. I don't think I've ever heard of anyone going into one. At least, not on the NHS. Must investigate.

(Seems that they do, though they appear to be mostly for stroke patients. Will investigate further. Although - I suppose one of the family medics might know. I shall ask one of them).

I don’t know how many of us know this, but the British government has some incentives for people to defer claiming their state pension when they reach pension eligibility age. Amongst these are claiming a slightly larger monthly pension when you do claim it, or, providing you defer it for a minimum of 12 months, calling in a lump sum with interest. When The Builder reached 65 he arranged to defer his on the grounds that he was still working and that a lump sum might be handy in the future. He decided to claim it after twelve months. You can, if you are minded and financially able, defer it again later.

Back in March, I mused that I was a bit surprised that he hadn’t had any paperwork from the Pensions People asking what his intentions were. And that it would be quite handy to have a bit of extra money while we were pootling about in Australia and Japan. He rang them up. No worries, said they. We’ll fix it. Ring us back in a couple of weeks just to set it all in motion.

So he did.

Huh? said the chap he spoke to. That’s not how it works. You need to fill in a couple of forms. I’ll send them to you. Get them back to me and I’ll make sure you get your money for just after your birthday.

So he did. And off we went to Australia, armed with my credit card, rather than The Builder’s money.

Birthday came and went. No money. Japan came and went. Still no money. Got home, to find a letter from the Pensions people saying that his State Pension would start being paid on a particular date, at such and such a rate. We blithely assumed that the lump sum payment would go in then.

As if!!

He rang the Pensions People. Oh no, they said. That’s not how it works. We can’t calculate how much we owe you until your pension is first paid into your account. It will take six weeks after that. Deep, deep sigh

The first pension payment appeared.

We waited six weeks.

No money!

Thereafter followed a period during which The Builder rang the Pensions People on a weekly basis, with absolutely no result. Until, out of the blue, some more forms appeared.

He filled them in, signed them and sent them back.

No money resulted.

He rang and yelled again. And was told that his money had been paid in the previous day. The following day, a letter appeared telling him the money was on its way.

Nearly one week after that – the money APPEARED in his bank. A mere 4 months and gadzillion phone calls later!!!

Somehow, I don’t think he will be deferring it ever, ever, ever again!

Level 2 of the Adsetts Centre looks like a ghost library today :-( Nearly all the furniture has gone away. Large swathes of it are roped off. Some of the book shelves are empty of books. There are dead bits of furniture and stray bits of rubbish. There is nobody in our office except me today. Richard and Hilja are in the office next door, but the rest of the floor is empty of humans. It’s like the last scenes in On The Beach! I think Richard, Hilja and I should move somewhere more life-infested, lest we be swallowed up too!

Actually, I have. I’m on the (strangely busy, to say there are so few students about) Level 5 desk. Where there are the disconcerting sounds of sawing, drilling and hammering. It sounds remarkably as though someone is trying to tunnel out of the wall behind me.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Nuther Stella Update

I have just spoken briefly to Stella (and, incidentally, Simon - but only because he answered Stella's phone). She sounds quite cheery, all things considered, though rather tired. She says that she has, in the course of her life, felt better, but that she has felt quite considerably worse at some points over the past week!

Tony reports that she is no longer routinely on oxygen and is sort of moving about, but that her heart rate is still a bit too high and she is on IV medication to keep it slowed. So not ready to run marathons quite yet :-p

Right. I'm off to a meeting. I shall probably be late for it. I hadn't realised it wasn't in this building until Right Now!!

Monday, July 21, 2008

For months now, Freyja has been asking me to clear a Saturday or a Sunday in my diary to indulge in a mystery expedition.

I kept forgetting.

Finally, finally, we set a date. That date was yesterday.

The Builder asked where we were going. I didn’t know. All I knew was that Freyja had said we would meet outside the old flat in Nether Green. That seemed a bit silly; although we can get to Nether Green without driving past her street, it’s no real detour to stop by and pick them up. I assumed, though, that if the original plan had been to meet there, then whatever the activity was, it was likely to be somewhere around there.

Freyja would divulge no further information. Other than to say that no, it wasn’t to be a walk in the park. Although I would have been quite happy to go for a walk in Endcliffe and/or Bingham Parks, and certainly to go for a walk in the Whiteley Woods. Haven’t been walking in any of these places for simply ages.

So. Off we set, yesterday afternoon, picked up Mark and Freyja and duly trundled to Nether Green. Parked in our old, habitual parking spot, next to the deli. Got out of the car. Looked around. And discovered that the old pet shop up Hangingwater Road isn’t a pet shop any more. It’s Planet Pot. And we were to spend our Sunday afternoon choosing and then painting a pottery object of some sort. A bit like the Plaster Fun House, only more expensive and much more useful. No need to select plaster ornaments. You can have practical pottery utensils or crockery. So, I selected a baking dish. The Builder chose a large oven dish. Mark decided to do a cereal bowl and Freyja determined that they had a teapot for one and a teapot for 8 at home, but needed something in between, so picked a teapot for two.

The Builder went for a fairly minimalist approach to his oven dish and finished quite a lot earlier than the rest of us. I was a little more adventurous with my baking dish. Freyja created a VERY complicated pattern for her teapot. I got to help finish it :-) But they were all rather fantastic when we had finished. Mark and Freyja took photos of the events in progress. The Builder and I are due to pick up the finished items (glazed and kilned) next Sunday. I must remember to take a photo of them entirely finished.

So, after a merry and creative afternoon, we took Freyja and Mark home and returned to The Sidings for roast beef, Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes and mushroom and onion gravy, accompanied with vegetables from the garden and the allotment and a bottle of Australian red wine and followed by home made raspberry ice cream. It was rally rather a lovely Sunday. Made all the better by the opportunity to speak to Austin and to Tabitha when they each rang to find out why Freyja and Mark weren’t at home ready to play Mario Kart online.

Both The Builder and I had our hair cut on Saturday. Mine is rather shorter than I was expecting it to be. I wasn’t really paying close attention when they girlie asked how much I wanted off. About an inch? Hmmm…. Ok. I was listening to the salon’s owner who had been out the night before to a pub in Grassmoor to see a drag act. She was describing the event in quite graphic, attention grabbingly awful detail. Consequently, I look something like a sheep does after being shorn! But no matter. It’ll grow. And as Freyja says – it’ll be a while before I need another haircut!

I got back, pretty much as The Builder got back from his trip to the barber in Hasland. I was hanging out the washing and pondering that we hadn’t had any breakfast and I was a touch on the hungry side, when I remembered that a young woman who was having her hair coloured had rung the Cornerstone Café and ordered take away breakfast sandwiches for her and all the people working in the hairdresser’s. The Cornerstone Café opened about a year ago. We went in with Ian just after he arrived last summer, when they weren’t doing much in the way of food. However, they are clearly doing breakfast now. So The Builder and I wandered up to try it out. Not bad. Not bad at all. I must just remember to ask for my bacon to be crispy next time.

There was no real need to go as far as Chatsworth for supplies this weekend. We’re not short of most things, just needed some cheese and a bit of meat. So we decided to go to a farm shop on the Darley Dale Road. We’ve been in a few times, but not recently. It’s got BUSY since we last called in. It also now has a lovely butcher’s section and sells some rather fine cheese.

Otherwise, we’ve been pottering, more or less. We been on the allotment and out in the garden. We’ve been drinking real ale and real cider and eating nice food and generally enjoying life. We’ve even had the odd burst of sunshine and warmth.

I have no recent news of the invalids. Stella was, apparently, looking quite good on Saturday but wasn’t so well yesterday. She has, though, now moved to a general ward from the high dependency ward. Nobody is about for me to enquire so far today. And I haven’t heard anything about John. I assume that both are doing all right, in the absence of anything to the contrary.

I seem to be entirely alone in the office ………

PS Have found Lindsey. She says that Stella looks a bit better but is not yet ambulatory. However, it seems that she is improving (mind you, to have not one, not two, but effectively three major operations all at the same time, it would be remarkable if she were ambulatory less than a week later!) John, on the other hand, has gone home. We shall remove him from our worry list for the time being

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Stella update

The word from Melbourne is that Stella has moved from Intensive Care to a High Dependency Ward. If all goes well, she'll probably move to a private (no dependency!!) room tomorrow.

Lindsey says that Stella was quite bright and cheery when they went in to visit her during the day, but was rather tired when she visited this evening (bearing in mind that Melbourne is 9 hours ahead of Sheffield, so while I am eating my lunch at Psalter Lane, they are having their Thursday evening nightcaps).

So all is going well, it seems

The travails of staying with your electricity supplier

Some few weeks ago, I received a letter from our electricity and gas supplier saying they were sorry we had decided to change suppliers and was it anything they had said.

This came as something of a surprise to me. I hadn’t even considered changing supplier, let along actually done it. In fact, I have quite a strict policy of not changing supplier unless the need is very dire.

I consulted The Builder (who seemed a bit alarmed at the thought that he might change our supplier without first consulting me or, indeed, change them at all).

Girding my loins, I rang them up. It seemed that they thought we were transferring to An Other Supplier*. News to me. I hadn’t even heard of An Other Supplier, let alone arranged to transfer to them.

I rang An Other Supplier. Who are you, and why are you nicking my gas and electricity accounts? Oh, they said, after some considerable faffing about. Must have been a mistake. There’s a Bridgewood Street at your postcode too. It seems it was the people at 2 Bridgewood Street who wanted to change. Our mistake. We’ll fix it.

This, mind you, was a load of nonsense. Our postcode covers only the houses actually on Bridge Street. I might not have pondered that too closely (because all the postcodes in Tupton are very much alike and may differ only by a single letter), were it not for the fact that there isn’t a Bridgewood Street anywhere in Tupton or, once I came to investigate, anywhere in the area covered by the Chesterfield Street Directory. I suspect them of trying to kidnap our accounts.

Anyway, all was well. I received a letter from our supplier saying that they were pleased we had changed our mind. The direct debit was taken out of our bank account as anticipated. All was serene.

Or so I thought.

I attempted today to get into our utility account to supply meter readings, not wishing an estimated bill to bring the shock the last one brought when they estimated our gas use at £250! Logged in, and received the message that they had been notified that we had changed our mind and that they had closed our account and we would remain with our original supplier. But they ARE the original supplier. Sighing heavily, I rang them up. Yes. We have gas and electricity with them, but it seems our electricity is meant to be moving to An Other Supplier only there seems to have been a hold up.


About 30 minutes it took, to sort it all out. It seems that An Other Supplier had cancelled the gas transfer, not cancelled the electricity transfer but then taken no further action on it, other than to raise an objection to the request to cancel from my present supplier. Huge big SIGH!

I *think* it’s sorted now. Except my web account still isn’t sure. I did manage to find a circuitous way to put the meter readings in, though.

Ofgem and the energy watchers wonder why people don’t change their suppliers more often to pick up the cheaper deals. It’s a complete nightmare trying to swap – I’ve never had anything other than disasters when I’ve tried. I really didn’t expect it to be quite such a nightmare trying to stay peacefully with the same supplier!! Perhaps I’ll go off-grid and generate my own power. Just as soon as I work out how to do that!!

Back at Psalter Lane today. Not my last shift, I don’t think. I am anticipating three more – though the final one might not happen if the whole book stock has moved to Adsetts by then. They might close the library early if there is nothing here at all bar a couple of dustballs.

I don’t have a current update on Stella – nobody seems to be online to ask. But things seemed to be going quite well when I “spoke” to Tony last evening. I’ll post one when I do. Ian’s brother, who is in the same hospital, I believe is recovering well from his operation to remove a bowel tumour. So all seems to be going smoothly, except that alas, Ian’s Auntie Jean dropped off her perch last week. But she hadn’t been on my list of things to worry about, so I hadn’t been (also, was ignorant of her existence until I was alerted to her cessation of existence!)

*Identity of the Thieving Supplier kept anonymous to protect me from allegations of libel

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Stella update

The news from Melbourne is that Stella has had her bypass, replacement heart valve and repaired aneurysm operation and is now more or less awake and doing Quite Well. Lindsey says that the intensive coronary care nurse seems quite cheerful. So - so far so good. If there are to be any setbacks or problems they are most likely in the next 24 hours, but at the moment there is no real reason to expect anything untoward to happen. Hoping fingers still hoping, of course, but we can probably pretty much expect Stella to bounce back in about 6 weeks time - her surgeon said before the operation that she would be a New Woman. Sherry or gin all round in Melbourne, then. Bit early here. Gin for breakfast is not entirely encouraged at SHU, alas.

I have had a falling out with eBay. Grrr. They keep sending me emails telling me that my account has been compromised and that a "third party" has learned my password and that I might have unwittingly given it to Evil Doers by responding to a phishing email or whatever. And when I ask how they know this they tell me that they Just Do and that they are sure I understand that, for security reasons, they can't possibly divulge how they know. But you know - it seems quite an extraordinary coincidence that this Evil Doer always learns my password when I have logged into my eBay account at work using a PC which is not my regular one or when using my laptop when I'm away from home. And this last time, when I tried to reset my password (again!) it all went horribly wrong and now it won't let me do it again. A very grumpy email to eBay was responded to with a series of questions which I am not really inclined to answer; not because I'm doing anything nefarious, not being an Evil Doer myself - but my banks and Amazon and even PayPal don't ask all these questions - or, indeed, suspend my account when I log in in odd places, though the bank does sometimes email me and ask if it was really me, which is not irritating at all but Very Sensible of it (puff, puff, puff - takes a deep breath and calms down). And I can't see why eBay can't be equally sensible. So. I'm off to find other places to buy all those things that you suddenly realise that you desperately need but can't get anywhere else. Like Amazon, and Lakeland, and I Want One of Those (though I try not to visit that site all that often, because then I find that I *do* want one of those when I had shortly before been entirely ignorant of its existence!)

There is an extraordinarily irritating beeping noise coming from downstairs. I think that someone must be testing the anti-theft barriers. I may have to go down and throw the anti-theft barriers out the window if the beeping keeps up!

There is raspberry ice cream at our place this evening, if anyone fancies it. I made it with raspberries from the garden :-)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Early summer 2008


The Builder has now almost finished glazing the greenhouse in the kitchen garden. He stopped only because he’s run out of glass and bits. He’s ordered some new pieces of Perspex (rather than glass) and more clips. He thinks that the reason the panes kept blowing out when Clarissa and Mike had it was because the workmen who erected it didn’t put enough glazing clips in. Two on each side, he thinks, are not enough to hold in a wind. He thought that three probably would hold but, just to be on the safe side, he’s put four. (Our garden can be Very Windy Indeed down a the bottom, when it is minded!)

We have bought a kiwi fruit vine to put in the greenhouse when it is finished. I was quite surprised to find them in the garden centre but am more than happy to have one. The Builder is going to put up a trellis for it to grow along. In the meantime, I have put the potato barrel in there, where it is properly glazed. I bought five seed potatoes for Christmas purposes. They were quite big so I’ve cut them in half and put the first lot in the barrel about half way up. As they grow, I’ll fill the barrel with more growing compost and plant the other half about three quarters of the way up. With luck, we’ll have fresh new potatoes for Christmas.

Kitchen Garden:

We have finished the peas in the first pea bed. The Builder has now dug that over. We’re going to scatter manure over it and then plant the pak choi and wong bok there. I’ve also started pulling out the broad beans in the first broad bean bed. I’m having to be careful, though. I put the last of the seeds in there to fill the gaps from the patchy autumn germination. Wouldn’t do to pull the new plants out.

The second lot of brassica plugs finally arrived. I’ve planted them between the broad beans along the fence, and between the long rows of peas and amongst the runner beans in the runner bean bed. They seem to be settling ok. We’ve got 15 each of Tundra savoy cabbage, Marcher cauliflower, Revenge Brussels sprouts and purple sprouting broccoli.

The zucchini plants are growing well. The pumpkins are also growing well. The cucumbers are trundling slowly along. But the melon plant is seriously sulking. I don’t know why. The melon plants o the allotment are sulking too, but not as loudly. I suppose it might be the seedlings rather than the conditions. Next year I want to see if we can grow miniature watermelons!

The amaranth and asparagus sees that I threw into a couple of spare bits of ground a few weeks ago have finally germinated.

We are eating peas, broad beans, carrots, a few courgettes and a couple of the Veronica broccoli while they were very tiny. They’re growing apace now and will be ready for eating as proper vegetables in a few weeks. Everything seems to be doing quite well and to have very much enjoyed the rain and sunshine of last week.


We are doing remarkably well for fruit. I am absolutely over run with strawberries – if there is only one member of the household who can eat strawberries, then a bumper year is a bit of a struggle! I’ve been giving them away by the punnet load! Alas, I don’t much like strawberry jam, I’m not hugely fussed by strawberry ice cream and I never make strawberry sauces, because The Builder can’t eat them. I shall just continue giving away what I can’t eat, I think. Maybe I should have a cull!

The gooseberry bushes have done quite well, given that they’re only small. We’re doing well for raspberries and cherries as well, though the morello cherry hasn’t been all that productive. There are apples on two of the apple trees and, I think, two plums on the plum tree! I’ve picked all the gooseberries and popped them in the freezer. Oh – and there are two new tayberry canes growing where The Builder dug up the tayberry last autumn. We’ll dig them up this autumn and move them over to the “fruit fence”.

Flower Garden:

Is verdant, over grown and in dire need of weeding – largely because of the extensive wheat crop that’s growing everywhere. Although, bearing in mind the doomsday predictions about the fate of commercially grown wheat – maybe we should encourage it?


We’ve now dug up the last of the ambos and Colin has given us a half trug load of rocket potatoes to try. They’re a first early too. Very nice, but I think I’ll stick with the ambos, which this year have been a huge success. Not a slug-bite or wireworm trace in any of them. I think that this week we might dig up the next lot (Arran Pilot). They’re beginning to go a bit yellow, and the conditions at the moment are perfect for potato blight. I really don’t want all the potatoes blight-struck. I especially do not want the tomatoes struck. Must get some more of that copper stuff to spray the tomatoes.

The Builder has dug the red onions I planted last autumn. It was more or less time, although we haven’t yet dug the white ones. But he did it yesterday because the red ones were beginning to rot. Colin says mildew. That would be an improvement on onion rot, which would be an unfortunate thing to find on the allotment. I am going to pull the garlic too. It’s beginning to die back. I suspect the onions have not much enjoyed the dry spring followed by the damp early summer. The spring planted plants seem quite chipper. So far.

The peas and the beans are doing well, as far as I can see. The soya bean seedlings I planted out last week have settled in and are beginning to grow nicely. I am hoping to get some fresh soya beans this year.

Super-Sized Frannie

I don’t think I have ever eaten quite as much as I did this last weekend! I think my girth has extended by about three inches, just over the course of the weekend.

We were supposed to be going to visit Joy and Ron in Loxley for Saturday lunch. Joy used to work at the Collegiate Learning Centre on the weekend team until she retired about 18 months ago. I had run into her a few weeks ago and she had invited us for lunch. Excellent. A nice little interlude in the day.

I had assumed soup and a sandwich and a couple of hours gentle chat. Instead, we arrived to sherry and nibblies. Soup. Main course. Dessert. Cheese course. Coffee. Couple of bottles of wine (between us, not each), and the whole afternoon gone. Didn’t leave until nearly 5:00. Was a very pleasant catch up. And absolutely no need for anything else to eat for the rest of the day.

We continued the eating theme on Sunday. Not having realised that Joy was planning an Uber-Sunday lunch on a Saturday, we had booked ourselves a table at the Three Horseshoes at Spitewinter for the Sunday carvery at 1pm. They’ve reorganised it in there since last we were there. It’s very nice. And the food is magnificent. Locally reared meat, beautiful vegetables, ENORMOUS Yorkshire pudding. And we indulged in dessert. The Builder had an apple pie with custard, while I have a sumptuous blueberry pannacotta with a little custard swirl and some proper vanilla ice cream. The views from the Three Horseshoes are equally spectacular. Yesterday it was also very clear. Alas – I had, most unusually for me, left my camera at home.

Before we went for lunch, we had been to the garden centre at Dunston Hall. It took much less time than we had expected to get what we wanted, and we had loads and loads of time to get to the pub. So we asked Jenny-the-Sat-Nav to take us the shortest way. This is nearly always also the longest way in terms of time. As it was in this case. We zigzagged our way across and found some really quite interesting little places. It’s quite fun getting the Sat Nav to do unusual things. You get to see lots of things that you might not ordinarily see.

After lunch we went to Bakewell which, given that it was a beautiful summer Sunday, was unsurprisingly packed with people taking the air and having picnics. We had gone purely for shopping purposes. They have an excellent tool shop in Bakewell that The Builder wanted to visit and I wanted to go to the farmers’ market shop and to the kitchen shop. I was tempted to visit the ladies’ loo before we went back home, but the queue stretched out into the street. I decided that my wee need wasn’t that urgent!

On the way to Bakewell, we turned off and went to visit Caudwell’s mill in Rowsley. I’ve seen the sign to it but have never bothered to go and investigate. We decided to on this occasion because I’ve been looking for some proper pasta flour and haven’t been able to find any. I thought they might have some. Also, that they might sell bread flour in larger quantities than they do in the supermarket. And it was really something of a find. Although the mill no longer grinds its own flour, they do sell lots of different flours from other mills. Including pasta flour. And bread flour in 6 kg bags. Should keep us in bread for a while (though we are eating shop bought bread today). But there’s also a working forge, a jewellers, a glass maker, various other crafty things (and a vegetarian restaurant which we didn’t need to sample) AND a fantastic craft and gift shop full of lovely things that I really couldn’t afford to buy (not because they were expensive; they weren't particularly, but we seem to have spent a great deal of money lately). It’s not that far from the Rowsley shopping outlet so would be an excellent day out for any enthusiastic shoppers who might come to visit.

We spent a bit of time in the garden over the weekend. I’ve picked all the gooseberries and put them in the freezer. And The Builder has put as much glass into the new greenhouse as we have to hand. He’s ordered some more to complete it.

Freyja called at the Learning Centre towards the end of last week to collect some strawberries (I am over-run with strawberries). She works at a law firm not far from the Adsetts Centre. She was not a little surprised to go to a meeting during the week to find cousin Helen there as well. Helen has been doing a post grad law course this year at the University of Sheffield and is now doing a short placement at the firm Freyja works for. Neither knew that the other was going to be there! mind you, Freyja is there most of the time, but Helen didn't know that!

Debby, Steve and Tammy next door left for a two week holiday in Spain at about 4:00 this morning. Danny, their wayward 18-ish year old son has not gone with them. Last year he stayed at home, allegedly on his own. This year, he has been sent to stay with grandma – I think Steve and Debby were quite horrified by the state of the house when they got home last year. His key has been taken off him so he can’t sneak back in while they are away. The Builder and I have a key to their place, though. Steve dropped it off yesterday with the request that we collect their mail, check the house and put the bin out. I think it’s quite funny that *we* are trusted with a key and Daniel is not!! Mind you, we are unlikely to trash their house, nor are we likely to throw fag ends over the fence to accumulate around their back door!

Stella has gone into hospital now, ready for what (Uncle) Peter apparently called her Little Holiday and the rest of us call her by-pass operation, scheduled for tomorrow. It seems that Peter’s most recent chest xrays came back with perky, pink, clear lungs. I wonder if he’s better enough to try going out for lunch again. I must drop him a line to find out.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

So. What to do? As we checked out of the Swan @ Stoford, the heavens opened and it RAINED. We waited in the bar for it to ease a bit and than made a dash for the car.

But a bit puzzled about what to do next. Whenever we come up or down the Fosse Way, we see signs for a National Trust Roman Villa near Moreton in Marsh. We keep thinking that we must go and look at it, only we tend to be driving past rather too late on a Sunday evening, or during the winter when it’s closed. Sunday had seemed like an ideal opportunity to go and investigate. But we don’t want to be doing a Roman Villa in torrential rain. But perhaps it’s under cover. Oh, let’s just go and find out. We can always go away again if it’s raining hard and the villa is outside.

In fact, by the time we got there, the rain had stopped. The villa is well off the beaten track, along quite a narrow, winding road. We saw almost no traffic – and so were quite surprised to get there and find the car park almost full and loads of people about! We spent a pleasant hour or so pottering about the ruins ( and then hopped back in the car and made our way back along another narrow, winding road back to the Fosse Way.

Another thing that we have repeatedly passed on our way along the Fosse Way is a sign to a small farm shop called Simple Suppers, which is accompanied by a sign which invites you to visit the farm’s piglets. Again, whenever we have been passing, it has been too late to go and visit piglets. They would all have long since retired to their piggy beds. So we took the opportunity to drop down, visit the (very cute) piglets and raid the farm shop. This solved the minor problem of what we were going to eat when we got home. I had intended to take a Sunday joint out of the freezer before we left on Friday afternoon and had completely forgotten to do it. So – roast pork instead of roast beef. And very nice roast pork it was too. Had some more of it last night in a pork, mushroom and bean “pie” with a rosti potato topping. Equally nice.

I had yesterday off. I meant to do loads of useful things like washing and ironing and vacuuming and weeding. What I actually did was washing and ironing and making ciabatta (my first attempt at proper ciabatta – worked out quite well, except I might leave it in the oven a bit longer next time; the air holes collapsed when I took it out and it’s a bit denser than it should be now) and mint and chocolate ice cream, and planting the 60 brassica seedlings which eventually arrived from Thompson and Morgan (had to do this between showers). Oh well. I guess the cleaning can wait for another day.

Stella is due home from the hospital tomorrow. Then she goes back in next week for bypass surgery, plus a valve replacement, plus a repair to an aneurism. Might almost be cheaper to buy a new heart!

Uncle John has had a new accelerator cable fitted. The old one, apparently, was a hybrid made up of accelerator cable and bicycle break cable held together with a jubilee clip!!!! No wonder it abruptly broke. The brake lights are being very hard to get along with. They keep failing. We are beginning to think that it would be very considerably cheaper to trade Uncle John in. Preferably for something that Nick the Mechanic has had a hand in fixing. He is most unlikely to repair and then sell on a vehicle with a cobbled together accelerator cable.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Music, noodles and other things

We came down to Stoford near Salisbury on Friday after work. We’ve stayed here before, in The Swan by the River Wylye, only last time it was warm and sunny and this time it is chilly and wet. We’ve come down primarily for a concert in the Cathedral on Saturday night.

However, can’t hang about in the hotel all day on Saturday, waiting for a concert in the evening. So after a magnificent eggs benedict (The Builder had a full breakfast, but I really, really can’t eat a full breakfast followed by a proper, full lunch, not any more), we trundled off to collect The Builder’s mother ready for a day out. We stopped en route in Waitrose, where I caused consternation to a youthful boy by asking where the powdered milk was. It seems he had no idea that there was such a beast!

Peter (The Builder’s brother, not my uncle) dropped by to say hello while we were there. Odd that for all those years, even after he moved into The Orchards, we never clapped eyes on him and now he seems quite keen to see us. Anyway, after admiring Gwen’s garden and Peter’s garden and Peter’s tomatoes (about three weeks advanced on ours) we bounced Gwen into the car and off we took, across country, to Whiteley, where Jeanette, Matthew, Rebecca and Evie were expecting us for a Sunday lunch on a Saturday. I don’t think Evie (now 10 months old) was all that delighted by the notion. She was VERY grumpy when we arrived. Though she perked up a bit when she realised that the crab we had brought for her ran about and made lots of noise when you pressed the starfish on its back. I would feel slightly wickedly guilty about bringing her a noisy toy - except that Jeanette and Matthew have bought her something which makes even MORE noise. We had a lovely lunch and then sat about in the upstairs lounge room for a wee while before taking Gwen back to Nunton. It was a good afternoon. Everyone seemed fit and happy and cheery.

We took ourselves off, in the drizzle, to Salisbury Cathedral, for a concert of Vaughan Williams music as part of the 750th birthday celebrations. The musicians were at the very back of the cathedral; the audience, which was seated back as far as the central altar, was facing the back, obviously. And I think virtually all the seats were taken. In the first half they played Pilgrim’s Journey, based on a Pilgrim’s Progress, which was new to me. Then they played the Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis (which was pretty much the reason we had come down - I love the Fantasia) and the Serenade to music. And then To an unknown region, which is a setting of a Walt Whitman poem and which was also new to me. It was performed by the Salisbury Music Society with soloists based locally (and connected with the cathedral, I think). We really enjoyed it. The only odd thing was the acoustics, which were curiously flat for a cathedral. Normally the acoustics in a cathedral spear the sound through you; on this occasion the sound abruptly disappeared, if you see what I mean. I wondered if it was because we were at the back and the sound is supposed to be generated at the front. But Lindsey tells me that she has been to a concert at the back of Notre Dame and the acoustics were magnificent. Oh well. But it was a shame that such lovely music had a strangely flat tenor to it.

But it was still worth coming to. Beautiful music in a beautiful building. Lovely.

Tell you what, though - if RVW had been born thirty or forty years later, he’d have made a dam fine composer of film music. What he could have done with the theme music to Star wars!

We had been pondering what to do about dinner. We couldn’t eat before the concert - our roast chicken wouldn’t have had time to wear off. Most of the pubs stop serving around 9 or 9:30. Most of the restaurants likewise. Fish and chips after the music it might have to be. But while we were checking out the fish and chip options before the concert, we chanced across a Wagamama (a Japanese style noodle bar). I like Japanese style noodle dishes. I wonder what time it closes. Ooooo - not until 11. Japanese noodles after the concert it is, then. So an evening of firsts for The Builder. His first classical music concert and his first visit to Wagamama.

So. All in all, a good Saturday for us.

Stella, Tony and Lindsey, alas, hadn’t had anything like such a good Saturday, over in and around Melbourne.

Stella woke up at around 2:30 on Saturday morning with chest pains. She woke Tony. He (at least, I assume it was he) called the ambulance. A MICA rocked in and carted Stella away to the Frankston Hospital Emergency Department. Tony rang Lindsey. At 5:00 Lindsey left Ballarat and also rocked off to the Frankston Hospital Emergency Department. Tony went back to Mount Martha to sort things out there. Stella stayed in the Emergency Department. Eventually she was taken to the Carbrini hospital in Malvern (That’s Malvern, Melbourne, not Malvern Worcestershire, which is in any case properly known as Great Malvern), with, I believe, Lindsey and Tony following. Eventually, everything was sorted out. Stella is resting in Cabrini and awaiting tests this coming week. Tony went back to Mount Martha armed with fish and chips. Lindsey went back to East Melbourne.

Nothing like as fun and exciting as roast chicken, baby-tormenting, Rebecca-tickling, Vaughan Williams and Japanese noodles.

Haven’t heard anything this morning about Stella’s health. Or anybody else’s, come to that. I assumed things remain as they were yesterday.

Had a full English breakfast this morning. Not expecting to be required to eat a two course, roast Sunday lunch today :-)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Going home from work

We were making our way home yesterday. I was sat, gazing out Uncle John’s window, not paying much attention and pondering whether the bread dough, which I had kneaded in an experimental mood in the morning and put in a large bowl on the dining room table to rise (the dining room stays quite cool during the summer; it gets very little direct sunlight while the sun is high in the sky) would have risen, not risen because it was too cool, or over risen and collapsed. And whether to try making mint-choc ice cream with the super abundance of mint there is in the garden and if the skimmed milk we had in the fridge would make a tasty ice cream or whether to stop somewhere and get some full fat milk. And watching the rain and mildly bemoaning to myself that we had intended to go to the allotment and dig some potatoes and heavy showers are not an ideal condition for doing this.

As we started to trundle up the hill from Woodseats towards Meadowhead, The Builder suddenly expostulated: “Something’s gone!”. Gone? What something? Oops – the accelerator cable had gone. No power to Uncle John’s wheels at all :-( Fortunately, the engine was still working and we had just enough oomph to crawl up the hill at a gentle walking pace, through the traffic lights by Morrison’s supermarket and up on to the flat, top of the hill.

Clearly, we cannot drive all the way from Meadowhead to Tupton at a gentle walking pace. Fortunately, however, we have breakdown cover – as any sensible person would do on a vehicle they have bought on eBay! While The Builder was coaxing Uncle John up the hill, I was talking to the breakdown people on his mobile phone (The Builder’s, not Uncle John’s!).

There we sat, waiting patiently, by the side of the road. It stopped raining and the sun came out. I almost never go anywhere without a book or a magazine somewhere to hand. By a minor coincidence, the book I had with me yesterday was one about bread-making. Did you know that you can leave bread dough to rise in the fridge for up to 24 hours? No – neither did I. It will take very, very much longer to rise and (I think) works better with rolls rather than loaves – but I might try it one day. Makes it look slightly more promising for my experimental bread back at The Sidings, though.

Anyway. Eventually the breakdown man turned up. Didn’t even attempt a roadside repair but efficiently hauled Uncle John up onto his wagon and off we all trundled towards The Sidings. All was well. Perhaps there may yet be potato digging.

Well – all was well until we got to the Unstone slip road on the Dronfield Bypass. The traffic ahead was queued about a mile back from the roundabout and pretty much at a standstill. Looking down to the right, onto the northbound lane – there were police cars and an ambulance and flashing lights and all sorts. The northbound lane was closed. Somebody had clearly gone down the embankment.

Slowly, slowly, we inched forwards. The air ambulance flew in. Slowly, slowly, we crept a tiny bit more forward. Uncle John could have done this under his own steam no worries! The air ambulance flew out again. I assume it took at least one patient with it. Eventually – we reached the roundabout. And finally managed to get round it (all the traffic that would normally go up the bypass was being diverted onto the little side road that runs up to Unstone and was blocking southbound traffic from exiting). And eventually got home 2.45 hours from when we had left the Adsetts Centre and 3 hours almost to the minute since The Builder had left work.

I left The Builder to transfer his tools and things from Uncle John to the Vixen. Walked into the dining room and thought. That’s an unusual smell, sort of yeasty. What is it? Looked at the table and saw my entirely forgotten about bread dough, all risen and puffy and full or air holes. Grabbed it, took it into the kitchen and re-kneaded it and set it in the late afternoon sunshine to rise again. Had it been in a baking bowl rather than a mixing bowl, I might have been tempted to bake it as it was. As it was, I just plonked it on a baking tray and left it to get on with things while I fed the cat and poured The Builder a vodka and tonic. Turned out to be a very tasty loaf. Extremely crusty!

We didn’t go to the allotment and dig potatoes. We didn’t really do anything else terribly useful. We had beef and tomato sausages and chipped tiny new potatoes with gravy instead, and watched a Time Team special I had on DVD and talked to Stella and Tony and went to bed.

I think The Builder is considering trading Uncle John in on a station wagon (that’s an estate car for those of you who don’t speak Australian). I’d have thought if he can get most of his stuff in the Vixen’s boot, a station wagon would do for most things he needs to carry about. And it would be easier to park in our very narrow driveway to boot.

There must be something about this particular week and us being thwarted in our attempts to get home. It’s a year ago this week that those floods prevented a smooth return home from work. Although – I think last year’s effort seriously outdid the excitement and interest levels that yesterday’s trip engendered!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Builder has now finished levelling the area where the greenhouse is to go. Not only that, but he's put the frame up. Took quite a bit of swearing and throwing things, but it is now up. All that needs to be done now is to put the glass in, and then the greenhouse will be ready for its new life as an orangery.

The Builder has also dug the rest of the row of ambos and the next one. We have a trug full of new potatoes. They are VERY tasty! He's also supported the tomato plants in the greenhouse on string. Everything on the allotment is growing beautifully, including (now) the bean plants that were hit by that late frost. We lost a handful of bean plants from that. Fortunately, my soya plants are now ready to go in, as are the capsicum plants. I'll plant them some time this week.

So we're eating quite well at the moment. There's no need to buy much in the way of veg - just a bit of beetroot and some cherry tomatoes this week. Oh, and some mushrooms, but we always buy mushrooms.

Something has been eating the raspberries and the strawberries just as they were getting ripe. So we've netted them. There were several raspberries this morning which looked as though they would be perfect this evening. I do hope that whatever has been munching them can't now get to them.

Oh - and last autumn, I put some chocolate cornflower seeds into one of the flower beds (that's seeds for chocolate coloured cornflowers, not seeds made out of chocolate which would just be silly. Nothing came of them. I decided that I must have hoed them out as weeds when they germinated and decided to do it again this autumn, but to put the seeds in a seed box rather than directly into the ground. I was pottering about yesterday, thought: What are they, ambled over to look - and I have TWO chocolate coloured cornflower plants which have survived :-) But I will still put some seeds into a seed box this year.

I've potted up all the peace lilies. They look much happier. And I've put the orange tree and the bay tree out onto the patio and tidied up the front door "conservatory".

It's all looking very productive. I wonder if my next instalment of brassicas will arrive today. They were supposed to arrive during June. The May contingent arrived on May 31st. There is no 31st of June!

One of the nice things about working for this department is that once a year we have a “Well Being Event”. Used to be a week, then it became a fortnight and now it’s three weeks. During that time, boxes of fruit are delivered into the staff rooms. Plus, we get the chance to try different sorts of activities which you probably wouldn’t pay to do. Like Reiki. Would have been very disappointing to pay for a reiki session only to discover, as I did at a Well Being session two years ago, that reiki really is terrible rubbish.

This year there were some quite interesting activities. There was Fired Earth mug painting, which Bea went to. Rupert is going on a guided tour of the botanical gardens this week. He also went to jujitsu, which is an odd activity for a Well Being Event. This year I took the opportunity to try tai chi, which Lindsey and Stella seem to love. And it was fabulous. I really enjoyed it. Plus, on Friday afternoon, I spent half an hour having a neck and back massage, in the university’s time and at its expense. Was wonderful. My shoulders haven’t felt this good in years! Mind you, it did feel slightly daring to be lying down in work time while someone fondled my shoulders!

We met with Bea and Steve on Friday evening for a night out on the town. We started out in a pub on London Road (where a very strange man came and sat down at the table I was minding and proceeded to unpack all his belongings until I asked him to move; AND the pub had no white wine and hardly any of the advertised beers!) and then we moved on to a Greek Restaurant which I would strongly advise you not to visit should you be struck with a Greek Food urge whilst ambling around the London Road area. The food was veryveryvery salty. And not, particularly, Greek. Nothing like as nice as the food in the Mediterranean restaurant in Cambridge, and quite a bit pricier. We did score complimentary shot glasses of ouzo – I think because my food went back largely untouched. But I wouldn’t rush back there. I think we’re planning Japanese next time.

We went back to Bea and Steve’s place for a wee, tiny bit more wine and went to bed quite late for us.

And got up amazingly late for us! Was practically lunchtime by our standards. Bea sent us on our way with egg, bacon, tomato and mushrooms on home made toast. Just the thing, for we were off to Chatsworth to a small food fair, and it is not ideal to go to a food fair on an empty stomach!

But first we went to Dunstan Hall to the garden centre. Alas – they didn’t have any purple carrot seeds. I had to buy orange ones. Nor did they have any mesclun mix seeds. I have curly leafed lettuce seeds instead And lots of things for the birds. Then we made our way to Chatsworth to meet the people who supply the shop. Came away with some nice cheese and some lovely cider. And a chicken. Ready for roasting, not for running around in the garden.

And thereafter we mainly did garden things this weekend. On the allotment and in the garden. Mostly the sun shone and it was nice and warm. The Builder spent most of the weekend preparing a place for the greenhouse that Clarissa and Mike gave us, and then building it. All it needs now is the glass putting in. I spent quite a bit of time baking and cooking and pottering in the kitchen. Nothing too dramatic, except that I burnt the bread rolls in a bout of inattention. It was really rather a nice weekend. Quiet and quite productive.

I've just had lunch with Richard. The height of my prandial decadence was to have a bowl of chips with my crayfish tail salad. Richard went further even than a bowl of chips (though he had those too). *He* had a treacle pudding with custard for dessert. I wonder if he is still awake. I'm fairly certain that I wouldn't be!!