Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Friday, January 30, 2009

We went down to Salisbury on Wednesday morning so The Builder could attend the funeral of Barb’s mother (his former mother in law). I realise that the lady is no longer with us and that there is therefore no real hurry for the funeral to be held. I don’t suppose that she was champing at the bit or tapping her foot impatiently. But I must say that the Australian in me was really quite profoundly shocked by the three week delay between the death and the funeral. It just seems somehow wrong for there to be such a long gap - though many people may think the 3 days or so in Australia shows unseemly haste!. It was because of a backlog of cremations following the Christmas/New Year closure of the crematorium and an unusually high number of deaths which they think might have been caused by the sudden cold snap around Christmas. I know that the crematorium staff would expect to have the public holidays off - but they surely don’t expect the Grim Reaper to take a ten day holiday just because they want to have the time between Christmas and New Year as well? Seems very odd to me. And I’m not sure why a cold spell in December should see a spike in the death rates. People who are of an age to receive the Age Pension get paid £125 a year towards the winter heating bills. If you are over 80 you get £200. And if the temperature drops below zero for 7 consecutive days you get an additional £25 each time so there’s no real need for people to freeze to death. Perhaps they all picked up viruses or flu.

Anyway. I don’t suppose it really mattered. It’s not as though Barb’s mum was going anywhere or was particularly inconvenienced! The Builder and I ambled down to Salisbury and had lunch in one of the pubs on the market square, then went for a wander around. Then he went to the funeral and I pottered about in the shops. There is a kitchen shop on the town square which Barb had very unkindly drawn my attention to. It’s like a magic cave full of delicious cooking equipment and serving things ad it goes on for ever. It is most definitely a shop we will have to keep Ian absolutely out of!! There were so many things that positively insisted that they wanted to come home with me. But showing considerable self restraint and fortitude I managed to leave without buying anything. (This may be because I had not a lot of money with me and also didn’t have the car to put things it - it had gone to the funeral with The Builder - but we will put it down to restraint and fortitude for the moment!!) I did buy something in Lakeland (another kitchen shop), but only some cling film. I bought a book on growing vegetables in another shop. And that was it. A highly austere shopping trip!

Then I took the bus out to Nunton, where lives The Builder’s mother. It was quite exciting, trying to buy a ticket on the bus. The ticket machine wasn’t working - wouldn’t accept the driver’s pass number to sign him in. Never mind, he said. We’ll sort it all out later, when you get off. And most people had passes and return tickets anyway. There were only a couple of us without. And he managed to fix the machine before we set off. As we passed through Odstock, it occurred to me that I didn’t actually know where the bus stop was in Nunton. So I pressed the button as we went past the village sign and stood p. And was astounded when the bus driver asked if I wanted to be dropped anywhere in particular, or would the bus stop do?!?!?!?!?! The bus stop was fine by me - hadn’t realised I could have my pick! And as I got off all the other passengers watched me carefully - I think they must have suspected that I was just visiting and not a regular user of the 3:20 bus from Salisbury :-) And the bus driver wouldn't accept any money for the ride. He said it had been his problem and not mine!

Gwen had been looking out for me and was out on the side path to her unit. She was worried that I might not be able to find her place from the bus stop (You can see her place from the bus stop!). We had tea and home made chocolate muffins and a nice chat until The Builder turned up at about quarter past four. Then we had more tea, more muffins and more chatting until five o’clock when The Builder and I left to come home.

I believe that the funeral went very well, as did the afternoon tea which followed.

We stopped for dinner at the Air Balloon near Gloucester. Although, I wasn’t really hungry. And my back was aching. And so was my neck. And my shoulders. And I was still tired. I put all this down to spending most of the day in the car and not doing very much and eating too much cake. Then I got up yesterday morning and everything was still aching only worse. And I still wasn’t very hungry. And I had a coff. And I was STILL tired. And none of that would have kept me home from work yesterday, for my diary was quite busy. It was the waves of dizziness which beset me from time to time. No point going to work when aching all over AND feeling dizzy. I arranged for other people to cover the things in my diary and stayed at home and drank tea and read my book and played with the cat. I’m home again today too, although feeling quite a bit better. Still ache and still have a cough but nothing like so dizzy. Fortunately, my diary was nice and quiet today so nobody is really going to miss me.

It has been quite exciting, sitting in our lounge room today. At about half past nine two men in yellow coats came and closed QVR from Ankerbold Road up towards the village. This caused a certain level of confusion because for several weeks Green Lane, up by the school, has been closed and traffic has been diverted down Ward Street and back up along QVR. Green Lane is now open again, QVR s closed and traffic is still being directed along Ward Street. Only cars were coming down Ward Street, trundling the little bit of Ankerbold and expecting to turn left onto QVR. It has been very amusing to watch it all. It was made even more amusing for the half hour that a man from the water board was stood in the down side of Ward Street fiddling with the access cover to the mains, thus effectively reducing Ward Street to a single side - to carry all that traffic. Alas - he’s gone now.

There so often are fun things to watch if I happen to be at home during the week and have nothing particular to do, so am sat in the lounge room gazing out the window.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

To say that I had a lovely and quiet weekend, I really shouldn’t be quite this tired! Anyone would think I had spent the weekend rushing about and doing things. And I most certainly did not.

I did manage to get to the post office on Saturday morning. And we finally took my library books back – calling at the Wingerworth library which is a large room or small hall in the Wingerworth Parish Council Hall. It was quite cute. I have borrowed more books. I must remember to read them! Then we went to The Nettle for possibly the best bacon and cheeseburger I’ve had in years and years. They make proper chips too. I ate virtually every scrap, and kept chewing long after my tum had pointed out that it was full to bursting because I couldn’t bear to waste so much as a mouthful.

Then we went home. We had been going to go and do the shopping, but really couldn’t be bothered. Instead we went home and sat in the lounge room and played on our laptops and read magazines and I watched telly on my laptop and we had baked beans and eggs on toast for supper and went to bed nice and early.

On Sunday I did the RSPB bird count. Alas, there were no long tailed tits, and only the usual 4 goldfinches (although a flock of about 25 of them were sat in the tree just on the other side of our fence later in the afternoon). Also, the magpies were entirely absent. But there were about 15 starlings and several sparrows. The blue tit popped in. The robin was dancing about on the ground. There were two blackbirds, three collared doves. Two great tits called by (these are not regular visitors) and there were two dunnocks and a wood pigeon. So not a bad count – just nothing really exciting. And five or six minutes after I had stopped counting, Marlo woke up, ambled outside and sat in a pensive mood by the pond for about ten minutes. I am so glad he didn’t do that during my count!

We went to the Three Horseshoes for the Sunday carvery. It was much, much busier than it had been the previous Saturday. There were only four or five tables occupied at half twelve when we got there, but by one there were only a couple of empty tables. And the food was fab. You barely had to chew the beef.

There were lots and lots of sheep ambling about as we drove through the Chatsworth estate. Everyone was being very careful. But it wasn’t as exciting as Roger’s drive out in the Derbyshire countryside on Sunday. He and Kate were driving along when, all of a sudden and entirely unexpectedly, a large red deer stag leapt over an embankment and ploughed straight into the side of the people carrier in front of Roger and Kate’s car, causing very considerable consternation (not least to the stag, I suspect). The stag pulled itself off the dinted car, belted across the road and leapt over the wall and carried on wherever it was going. The cars had all stopped to assess the damage. Which fortunately, I believe, was minimal to the people carrier. Roger had managed to stop before hitting the vehicle in front and had managed not to be run into by the stag. It was all the more surprising because nobody knew there were any deer up in that bit of the countryside. But it is a very good example of why you should leave at least two seconds between you and the vehicle in front!!!

I was deeply, deeply reluctant to wake up yesterday morning. I was deeply, deeply reluctant to get up. I was deeply, deeply reluctant to leave the house and come to work. Why I was so tired is a mystery. And I had quite a pleasant day lined up. I had a “start the week” coffee meeting lined up with Sarah, my temporary line manager. Then I had a 10:00 coffee meeting with Roger. Then he and I went for a wander over to the new Facilities Building to meet a BigWig from Facilities. Then we called into the new Fusion Café and gallery on the way back to see what it was (It’s an organic food café with a gallery of student jewellery and other stuff from a college attached to it that I didn’t know existed – the college or the gallery). Then it was lunch time. Then I had two hours on the Helpdesk, followed by coffee with Peter (my actual line manager, but he’s not line managing Paul and me until he feels very much more up to it!), then I was on the desk again for another hour and then it was time to go home. I scarcely noticed yesterday.

Still tired. I think I need a holiday. A nice long holiday. :-)

Friday, January 23, 2009

The alternative universe at The Sidings

There is a whole other world that plays out its lives in our garden during the day when we are not there.

It was raining on and off for most of the morning, but by 11:30 the clouds had cleared, the sun had come out and it had turned into a lovely day. I was in the kitchen, idly drinking a cup of tea, gazing out the window and watching two pairs of goldfinches arguing over who could eat the niger seeds from the hanging feeder. They're always arguing, those four. There is, in fact, room for all of them, but the first pair isn't having any of that. It's their niger feeder and no upstart goldfinches are going to share it with them, oh no, no, no.

A blackbird glided in, onto the little lawn by the fish pond. And suddenly up flew a flock of about a dozen goldfinches, which had been doing something down on the grass. I had had no idea they were there - the dead fronds of the fern were blocking my view. Pause to ponder what goldfinches might be doing in a little flock down on the ground. And to admire them. Goldfinches are very pretty little birds and I haven’t seen so many all together before.

As well as them, there were sparrows and dunnocks and the two collared doves doing their usual thing. There was a robin bouncing around by the pond and a blue tit chewing on the fat balls.

Suddenly, there was a kerfuffle and all the birds flew away. Look. There's Marlo coming up the path. Mind you - he looks unusually interested in the birds. He's not normally bothered by them much. Well, he enjoys watching them but I've never seen him looks as though he were minded to hunt them. And, I had thought that Marlo was asleep in the dining room. Quick look in the dining room. And there he as, sound asleep. Aha – a Marlo clone! I picked up the original and took him to the window. He was distinctly unimpressed at the presence of a Marlo clone in *his* garden, shot out through the cat flap and escorted the alien invader off the premises.

The birds returned.

A little later I went out and cut the dead fronds from the fern so I could actually see the patch of lawn. And discovered that the arguing goldfinches are clearly shaking the seed feeder and there is a small mountain of niger seeds on the grass which the little flock was enjoying. As the afternoon progressed the goldfinches came and went, starlings came and went. The robin and the sparrows and the dunnocks didn’t go anywhere very far – I think the sparrows live in our little holly bush. At least, they do during the day. The seagulls that overwinter on the sewage farm and the wetlands flew over and about. And I think they must all do this on most days – everybody knows where everything is!

In the meantime, I made myself useful and finally got around to making the marmalade I had started preparing on Saturday. It’s sat in 5 jars in the kitchen now, awaiting labels.

And then I came to work. Was a bit of a struggle dragging myself away from sunny Tupton and all the birds making merry in what they clearly think of as their dining room. However, it doesn’t tend to go down well if you randomly fail to show up for work. And even less well if it’s an evening shift you fail to show up for!

I hope all these birds are around over the weekend. And I really, really hope the long tailed tits are there (they weren’t today). It’s the RSPB bird count weekend and I so long to be able to put goldfinches and long tailed tits onto my tally (You have to count the numbers of different birds you see together in your garden for one hour on either day. It’s kind of a nationwide bird census)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It was a delightfully quiet weekend. We even had some sunshine. It was a tad on the windy side. Perfect drying weather!! I had the washing out on the line on both Saturday and Sunday. Unheard of, in January! Mind you, it wasn’t exactly what you would call hot. The washing didn’t dry properly. But it smelled nice and fresh when it came in again at 3pm on each day, still damp but happily wind-blown.

We had a truly lazy Saturday. We headed out for Chatsworth quite early and had breakfast in the farm shop café before hitting the shop. Never wise to go into the Chatsworth farm shop on an empty stomach! Then we went home and did, more or less, nothing for the rest of the day. We sat in the sunlit lounge room and surfed the net and read books and magazines. I got the Seville oranges ready to be converted into marmalade. We had pork chops for dinner. It was all very peaceful and relaxed.

On Sunday, The Builder hit the supermarket while I got Sunday Lunch ready. Our friends Sue and Roger (a different Roger to the work one) came for lunch. It was another relaxed day, really. I did a roast chicken, so there was no real need for me to think or rush about. We don’t see them all that often. Usually in January, near to Sue’s birthday. Perhaps we should aim for a summer visit as well. I think they want to see the garden while it is awake!

I think Tony must be feeling better. He and Stella are off to Healesville for the night and you don’t go away even for very brief holidays when you are feeling remarkably like death warmed up! I don’t think they ever did really work out what was actually wrong with him. Either some sort of particularly virulent gastro, or a tiny bowel obstruction or something. Whatever it was, it seems to have gone now. Though I am alarmed that Stella appears to think that scrambled egg is an acceptable invalid food. Everyone knows that invalids should be offered mashed potato. Mashed potato!!!! Scrambled egg indeed

He rang my mobile phone on Wednesday morning of last week, apparently thinking he was ringing my SKYPE account. Well, he was ringing my SKYPE account, only I’ve got it set so that if you ring it and I’m not there it diverts to my mobile phone (it’s OK – I pay for the diversion and it’s cheaper than me ringing you if you aren’t in the UK!). He didn’t realise that and wondered why he wasn’t getting live images from my web cam. I didn’t realise, of course, that he was SKYPE-ing me and couldn’t work out why he would expect to get web pictures from my mobile. But we got it all sorted out in the end. He had an old school friend visiting, who I don’t think I’ve seen since I was about 9, and he wanted to show him how well I have weathered the years. At least, I think that’s what he wanted to do! Alas, I was in Oscar being transported through a dark and snowy morning to Sheffield and not available to be admired.

It is remarkable what having massive heart surgery does to your sense of adventure as well. I was talking to Stella on Saturday morning (SKYPE, web cams primed and all working) when she announced her intention, all things being equal, of getting Tony to escort her on an inspection visit in the summer. Assuming, of course, that she can sell sufficient of the grandchildren on eBay to be able to afford luxury class. If Stella and Tony are coming, white gloves at the ready, we’d better start thinking about sorting the house out. Margaret used to decorate. I don’t have to decorate, do I? Couldn’t I just dust?

Still haven’t made the marmalade. The peel and stewed juice are in the fridge waiting for me to have time. I have an evening duty on Thursday. Perhaps I’ll do it on Thursday morning.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A winter Sunday lunch

Onion Soup

I made a vegetable stock with carrots, onion, parsnip, celery and fennel
Then I finely chopped some red onions (though white would have been just as good) and caramelised them.
Then I combined the onions and the stock and simmered them gently for a while.
Then I left it overnight until lunchtime when I heated it gently and served with grated cheese (but no bread or courtons because I needed something light as a starter)

Steamed Steak and Ale Pudding

I used (boneless) shin of beef for this, which I got from an online butcher based near Aberdeen. I buy meat boxes from them two or three times a year. The meat is extortionately expensive but always very high quality and comes frozen, in covnenient freezer friendly packs. Most recently I bought a winter slow cooking selection which has lots of goodies you seldom see in regualr butchers shops. Anyway. The recipe

I chopped the beef into bite sized pieces and browned it gently with some sliced onions. Then I added about 150g plain flour ahich I stirred in until it was incorporated. I mixed half a pint of ale (The Cat's Whiskers - cute!) with half a pint of water, which I then slowly added until the sauce thickened. Then I added a dash or three of soy sauce and left it all to sit overnight.

In the morning I mixed up a fluffy patry mix with self raising flour and lined my pudding bowl with it. Then I poured in the beef and sauce, topped with more pastry, covered the pudding bowl with foil and simmered it all in a very gently simmering stock pot for 3 hours (or, on this occasion, 4). I think there might have been a touch too much sauce - the pudding fell apart when i took it out of the bowl. Fortunately, i had tried to turn it out into a serving bowl so all was not lost! I just arranged the pastry over the top of it and covered it all with a mixture of mushrooms, sauteed.

We had it with baby potatoes and cauliflower, sprouts and carrots. It was very tasty but I think that next time I'll make the sauce slightly richer and I'll incorporate the mushrooms. And I think I'll add a bit of suet to the pastry. Not too much but enough to make the pastry also slightly richer

Apple and Rhubarb Snow

I stewed some bramley apple and some rhubarb with a very little caster sugar and divided it among four ramekins. Then I topped it with a meringue mix and baked in an oven preheated to 180d until the meringue was crispy on top and soft and squishy in the middle. We had it with home made vanilla ice cream.

With all of this we had white wine and red wine and lots of pleasant conversation

A gastronomic weekend

I have been reading the blog for 2008 this last week or so, and then I was moved to read my Twitter history back for a few pages.

I have come to realise that I am completely obsessed by food!

My tape measure has come to realise it too – the Christmas avoirdupois and my tape measure finally encountered each other at this Saturday morning’s measuring session. I may need to declare Lent a little early!!

In the meantime, the weekend just past would have satisfied the most ardent of obsessed foodies. From a gastronomic point of view it was wonderful!

Friday saw us joining Bea and Steve at Roger and Kate’s place for a truly magnificent wild boar stew. I’ve never eaten wild boar before. I’m still not entirely sure what it tastes like – Roger had made it with chorizo and juniper berries, bay leaves and thyme, onions and garlic, and lots of red wine. It was absolutely delicious. But not a sauce where you could taste naked boar, so to speak. I would try cooking some for myself, but the only boar meat I encountered over the weekend, apart from that on my plate on Friday evening, was extortionately expensive. I think they sell boar in some of the farm shops in Hampshire. I shall have a look the next time we are down. Or – I could ask Roger where he got his from!

It was a good evening.

Saturday found us lunching at the (remarkably quiet) Three Horseshoes.

Sunday had Jane and Glynn Thompson around for Sunday lunch. I have hardly seen anything of Jane since she retired because of her fairly significant ill health and Glynn’s very significant ill health. Happily they are both in reasonably good health at the moment and were able to come out to play. In order to reduce the obviousness of my food obsession, I’ll not discuss the menu here. I’ll put it on the food blog!

It was a good afternoon. And nice to see them. I can’t think when I last saw Glynn. It surely can’t have been at Austin’s 21st birthday? And The Builder had met neither of them before.

It’s raining today and the temperature has gone up to about 8d. It’s the first time for about 3 weeks that we’ve had rain and no frost. It was FREEZING over the weekend. When The Builder got up on Saturday morning to make the tea, the temperature on the garden thermometer was minus 10d. Even the thermometer on the (outside of the) dining room wall didn’t make it up as far as 0d all day. The best it managed was minus 0.3. And everything was covered in white. We went across the moor tops towards Beeley in the middle of the day on Saturday and the trees were white, the ground was white, the sky was white. It was an entirely monochrome world! It was also very beautiful. And lovely to look at from the warmth of inside the car!! It was extremely cold when I got out of the car to take some photos. I think it took my feet about 2 hours to thaw out again.

Tony is in the hospital with a sorely tum. I don’t know why his tum is sorely, but no doubt the doctors will work it out. And, we hope, make it better.

Friday, January 09, 2009

I am sorry to have to report that Barb's mum (and the erstwhile mother in law of The Builder's) Hilda May died this morning. The death was not unexpected. She was in her 90s and had been ill for a very long time with dementia and since before Christmas with a ferocious chest infection. So I suppose that it's something of a relief. But still sad, nonetheless.

In the meantime, Stella had caused me a tiny tad of dismay by drawing my attention to an obit in The Age for Bill Gillies. For a second or so, my eyes didn't register the somewhat significant "(senior)" in her email. Briefly, I thought she was drawing my attention to an obit for Will - who was an extremely beautiful young man that I dallied with for a couple of years in my youth. Fortunately, it was for his octogenarian father (although I don't suppose that Mr Gillies Senior would have thought it was particularly fortunate).

And I think Richard would be pleased if I were to tell you that he didn't actually call me hideously fat. Or not in so many words. He called me a Woolly Mammoth. He says that this was a reference to the very bright, rainbow striped, very warm, cuddly and snuggly jumper I was wearing at the time. However, I can't see how it could be interpreted in any other way than as a veiled reference to post-Christmas portliness. Although - my tape measure says that far from putting on weight over Christmas, I might have lost half a centimetre around my waist. Given the excessive overindulgence of food an alcohol and the inadequacy of the exercise levels between Christmas and New Year, I fear that my tape measure may be lying to me!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Deeply offended, I am. Outraged. Mortally wounded.

My one time friend, erstwhile pal Richard bounded into the (freezing cold) office this morning. "Morning chaps," he trilled in a cheery, jovial manner to my two colleagues. "Hello, you horribly, hideously, obesely fat thing," he trilled at me. Fat? FAT?!?!?!?!?!?!

Completely ruined my self-confidence, self-image, self-everything else he has. I shall go on a strict fasting diet immediately.

No further cakes or biscuits for the wage slaves in the offices on Level 2, that's for sure.

Woolly mammoth, indeed. Woolly mammoth! Just because I'm wearing my thickest, cosiest, stripiest winter jumper. Hasn't he noticed how cold it is down here? (Actually, I presume not - he's been wandering around in shirt sleeves all day!)

Woolly mammoth. I ask you!!!!!



Monday, January 05, 2009

Memo to self ...

In future, when we decide that a little light lunch in a pub with a pint would be a good way to celebrate the New Year – do not go into the New Forest!

All the parking places around the popular walking areas were chockablock.

The Red Shoot, which is where we usually eat if in the Forest, had folks hanging from the rafters, out the doors and sitting outside even in the cold and mirk.

Other pubs where we occasionally eat were similarly crowded.

The New Forest was full :-S There was no room for us at the Inn :-S

So we drove to Lymington, parked up in the town centre car park rather than the harbour one and had lunch in the Angel up in town and not the Ship down by the water. It was extremely nice, except that my salmon and crayfish ravioli had pesto drizzled all over it. The menu didn’t say anything about pesto. I scraped it off as best I could and hoped for the best. Actually, the reaction to the pine nuts wasn’t too bad (it’s usually only mild). I think it was the effect of the antihistamine that had me feeling really, really spacy for the next 45 minutes or so!!

So. What to do on Friday. We had arranged to meet The Builder’s mother and take her out for the day. The plan had been to take her down to Whiteley and to meet up with Matthew, Rebecca and Evie and then to go for a pub lunch. Alas, Matthew had come down with a very unpleasant cold, which we emphatically did not wish to pass on to Gwen. Or to us, come to that. The weather wasn’t ideal for sauntering around gardens or parks. Cold and misty. Avebury, perhaps? Could do, only you can’t comfortably get a wheelchair around most of the stones, although there are indoor things to do. Aha. Marwell zoo, near Winchester.

I think Gwen enjoys going to zoos. Certainly she seemed to have a good time at Marwell. Mind you – it was spectacularly crowded. We had thought, given that it was Friday and January and not very nice weather, that it would be fairly empty. But no. It was crawling with people and their children. The brand new café was heaving (I’m not convinced it’s really big enough; it seems quite small for a new café). Fortunately, if you have somebody in a wheelchair with you, adults tend to give way with grace and speed. Children don’t tend to notice the wheelchair, but the grown ups do!

There are lots of baby animals at the zoo. Many different kinds of young antelope. There’s a new camel. And a baby pygmy hippo. Alas – I couldn’t get photos of them; they were both curled up in their little stalls keeping warm and cosy. I could see them, but couldn’t get in line for a picture where you could have seen them. There were also lots and lots of lemurs, and a snow leopard and an ocelot. All my favourite animals :-) The sun came out during the afternoon, although Gwen was snug and warm wrapped up in a new, wool-lined duffel coat and fleecy blanket over her knees. And I was wearing my winter waxed jacket and my tassel hat. The Builder was nice and toasty warm, pushing the wheelchair up and down the hills in the zoo! We came home via the hill over the top of Portsmouth, so we could admire the very spectacular view.

And then it was Saturday and time to come home. We woke up to find that the sun was shining in a clear, blue sky and it was minus four degrees outside. The Vixen was frozen solid. The Builder poured warm water over her windows. The water froze. The gear stick didn’t want to move. The windows wouldn’t open. It was all very dramatic. And cold! Had it not been going home day, I think we would have stayed inside for another few hours and seen if things thawed out at all.

We came home across country. On the way to Marlborough we were surrounded by about 20 hot air balloons, drifting slowly about quite low in the sky. It was very beautiful – if slightly alarming in a British Science Fiction sort of a way.

We had lunch in The Nettle (a truly outstanding lamb shank for me) and then pottered on home, where Marlo was delighted to see us. He tried very hard to convince me that nobody had fed him for the entire time that we had been away. Alas for him – the empty pouches were in the bin and his bowl was filled to overflowing with biscuits. We didn’t believe him! Since then he has followed us around like a three year old. Everywhere we have gone, he has gone too. I don’t think he was starved but I do think he had missed us.
So. I’ve defrosted the freezer (the back of it looked like permafrost. Took the hair dryer to shift it. I think perhaps this is a job I should do slightly more often than once every two and a half years!) and we’ve been to Chatsworth to buy supplies to restock it. I’ve slashed back half the garden bed around the pond. I didn’t make soup. I did do a rack of lamb for dinner with potatoes, peas and beans from the garden via the freezer.

And now we are back at work. It snowed vigorously at 06:30 this morning – the first real “rain” we’ve had since mid-December. The Met Office says it’s been unusually cold and unusually dry for December/January this year. I know I’ve got the central heating up higher than I usually do and I’ve dug out my very extra thick winter woollies. I must say, I did enjoy the more leisurely start to the mornings over the past two weeks. On the other hand, it absolutely scuppered my morning routine. I nearly forgot to make The Builder’s flask of tea this morning!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

We marked New Year's Eve with a trip to the Isle of Wight :-)

On Monday The Builder had suggested that we had a day trip to the island. I have never been and have occasionally mentioned that it would be nice t go there one day. So I had a look at the ferry fares. FIFTY TWO POUNDS from Lymington to Yarmouth. FIFTY TWO!! For a half hour trip and back. Portsmouth isn't running a car service at the moment. How much from Southampton? Oooh. An internet special. A mere £32 for a day trip. And a day trip was exactly what we wanted.

Bought the tickets - and then realised that we didn't have a printer! Fortunately, Barb does and we printed the tickets out when we were at her place for dinner.

We had an extremely good run to Southampton and were there nice and early for the ferry. A bacon sandwich and a hot chocolate while we were waiting. And just as well we hadn't decided to have breakfast on the boat- there were lots of people on board and the queue in the sandwich shop was enormous. Takes 55 minutes to get from Southhampton to Cowes. The Solent was flat and benign. It was very misty, but otherwise a good trip.

We disembarked and took ourselves off to look at a Roman Villa, whose brochure we had fund at the ferry port in Southampton. Apparently open daily during winter between 10 and 4. Well, daily, it turns out, apart from between Christmas and New Year, which little piece of information wasn't on the brochure. I found it later on the website, and the villa itself was manifestly not expecting visitors. A bit irritating, but never mind. Let's go and visit The Needles instead.

There is a Fun Complex at The Needles, rather like the one at Lands End only smaller. I think I had vaguely know that it was there but hadn't paid much attention. And it was, of course, closed for the winter, which is what you would expect. What nobody had expected was that the coffee shop, gift shop and toilets, which are open over the winter, would also be closed between Christmas and New Year. It was, I think, a seriously missed business opportunity. There were lots of people there when we were, who had anticipated being able to have a walk on the cliffs or the beach and then have morning tea or lunch afterwards. It was cold and foggy, but not empty of visitors. I would have been open (although perhaps not on Christmas Day itself) and taken my holiday when the schools went back next week! We went for a walk, climbed down and then up nearly all of the steps down to the beach, didn't have lunch, exercised good bladder control and went along the coast road, stopping at the Wight Mouse (sic) for lunch, a loo stop - and a drink for me. I was very, very thirsty and quite stunned The Builder when he asked what I wanted to drink by demanding a soda water. No wine? Well yes, that too - but SODA WATER FIRST

I had, for some reason, rather expected the Isle of Wight to be more like Jersey than Hampshire. Can't think why. It is, of course, very much like Hampshire, as you would expect if you had any sense. Except around Ventnor, which is remarkably like Jersey!

We had a fun run along the coast road and then made our way back to Cowes for the ferry home. Far fewer people on board on the return trip, although there were lots of cars waiting to board when we got back to Southampton. The Builder tells me they were probably commuters returning home from work. We had a good run back to Salisbury, found that we had just missed Waitrose which closed yesterday at 6, found that we had just caught Sainsbury's, which was open until 7 (and is open today between 10 and 6), acquired emergency supplies of wine and came back to the cottage for steak pie, chatting on skype, drinking wine and seeing 2009 safely in. Hadn't intended to do that. Had rather expected to be well and truly tucked up by midnight. But got caught up with the quiz program on Channel 4 and then watched the London fireworks and then Jools on Channel 2.

Having a nice and lazy entrance into 2009 this morning. Still in bed with a cup of tea and a pensive builder. Suppose I ought to get up and have a look at the shiny, squeaky, brand new year. There are no plans for today. None at all!