Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A bounteous summer harvest

The summer has been a touch on the cool side. Quite grey. Very dry and not much sunshine to encourage the vegetables.  Nevertheless, we have had a bounteous harvest of many vegetables.  I came in yesterday with a basket positively groaning with vegetables. There were zucchini and tomatoes, chard and French beans, peas and broccoli, cabbage and carrots.

What to do with it all?

So I made a vegetable stew

And I mashed some of our allotment potatoes and dotted them over the top

And then I baked it all in the oven, with some strong cheese grated over the top

It was extremely delicious and very, very frugal. And until I put the cheese on the top, it would have been suitable for vegans.  It was suitable for vegetarians.  Although we didn't have any to hand!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bank Holiday Weekend Adventures

Actually, apart from the excitements in the Swan's car park, the weekend was mostly taken up with feasting.

We went with Barb and Greg to a hidden pub, out in the wilds of the countryside near Warminster. The Cross Keys. A pretty little pub which I am not sure I could ever find again - it was hard enough finding it with Barb and Greg in tow, and they'd been before. There are chickens in the gardens and a Bassett hound in the bar, accompanied by a 12 month old Bassett Cocker cross. There are naked cricketers in the loo, a heron in the fish pond and a very amiable landlord overseeing it all. It was a good evening. Would suggest we try and find it again, except that the chickens, dogs and landlord are all off to go exploring Mainland Europe for the next 12 months.  Still, maybe the new landlord will be amiable and have interesting things for us to play with.  We shall send Barb and Greg on a reconnaissance mission after the new person has had time to settle in.

On Sunday we collected Gwen and meandered out to Whitely for lunch with Jeanette, Matthew, Rebecca and Evie. I've been trying to think when we last saw them and, according to my diary, it was after Christmas LAST YEAR!!!!!!!  No wonder Evie had grown so much!!!!!  Really must go more often.  And not just because Jeanette makes magnificent cottage pies, and they ply me with wine and there are young people for me to tickle (although all these things are true :-D) I think we might have worn Gwen out though, with all the excitement of playing with Evie and trying to hear what we were all saying without benefit of her hearing aid (the batteries had gone flat and she couldn't get new ones without her New Battery Pass thingy, which she had forgotten to take with her).

Back at The Swan, we had a lovely supper. And I caused some level of confusion when, in a moment of inattentiveness, I asked if I might have a short black. I knew as soon as I asked for it that that was wrong. And simply couldn't draw to the front of my memory what it should have been called. So I drank my small, long black coffee with the addition of a little of the very delicious brandy that Carl had put The Builder's way. Next time I shall try very hard to remember to ask for an espresso. Not sure where the "short black" came from. I haven't been in Australia *that* recently!

Monday found us munching on steak and chips in the Wheatsheaf in Romsey before heading home. A fitting finale for a magnificent weekend of feasting.

As well as feasting, we have mooched around in the New Forest, visited the Lyburn cheesery, discovered that the New Forest Farm Shop has vanished without trace (unusual for a farm shop to go under), admired ponies, cows and piggies, got held up in an incredible traffic snarl between Stoford and Wilton (usually takes 5 minutes or so; took 40 minutes on Monday - an hour to get from the Swan to Waitrose, which is usually about 15 minutes),  had a quick explore of Romsey, drunk a very little wine, and generally had a merry time.

SHU is closed today, so we will almost certainly mootle out for lunch somewhere today.  And I have the rest of the week off :-)

Not a bad life, really.

You'll find all the pictures for the weekend here, if you missed the photo link of the Tarrant Hinton blog

Monday, August 29, 2011

No need to go to Tarrant Hinton next week

"Bloody hell," said The Builder.  Except he didn't say 'bloody'.  "The pub's on fire!!"

I was sat on the bed, with my back to the window, reading the Saturday papers on my laptop. It didn't seem likely to me that the pub would be on fire. Why would the pub be on fire?  And even if there was a fire in the kitchen, you wouldn't be able to see it from where we were. The kitchen is out the back. I looked round. There was indisputably smoke going up past our window.

"It's OK," said he. "It's not smoke.  It's a traction engine turning into the car park."

This also seemed unusual, so I got up to look. And there was indeed a traction engine turning into the car park, followed almost immediately by another one. And over the course of the next hour more steam engines turned up until there were, all told, six or seven of them, with their little caravans and their trailers and other paraphernalia cluttering up the car park of the Swan@Stoford.  It was all very exciting.

We ran across a rather quizzical looking Carl when we were heading out a bit later.  Had he been expecting a load of steam engines to rock up into his car park?  Seems they come every year, on their way to the Great Dorset Steam Fair in Tarrant Hinton, near Blandford Forum, which is held in the week after the bank holiday weekend. But there are usually only two or three of them!  Still, all of the traction engine attendants were ambling around in the car park armed with pints of beer, so I guess he does all right out of them for food and drink. And they hadn't taken up absolutely *every* space in the car park.  There was still room for us to park when we got back later.  Although we noted that Carl had taken the precaution of moving all his notice boards off the lawn so there was extra parking if need be.

Being owned by a traction engine requires early starts. We were awake by six - but we are accounted weirdly early risers by our friends and acquaintances. By half six there were one or two hardy steam souls out polishing their engines. By seven all of them were out and about, stoking their fires, polishing their machinery, running a little sausage sizzle barbie, getting ready for the day. By the time we were ready to head off, they had started making their stately way out of the car park and were heading slowly and steadily off towards Dorset. They spaced their departures out so as not to cause too much disruption. But we headed off by a back way anyway, expecting there to be no steam engines left when we got back later that afternoon.

But there were. There were two more. New ones, whose people were sat in the same alcove of the pub as we were when we went down for supper.  Nice people. 8 men, one woman and a lad, changed out of their Fred Dibnah gear, cleaned up and looking as though they had never been anywhere near a traction engine that day!

So it was something of a worry when we came down for breakfast this morning to hear one of the blokes cheerily informing whoever it was he was talking to on the phone that there had been a bit of a drama overnight.  A bit?  It surely counts as more than a bit of a drama when one of your party gets carted off to hospital in an ambulance at 5 in the morning after suffering carbon monoxide poisoning when his caravan fridge malfunctioned?  I would call that quite a lot of a drama, especially since he had to be kept in hospital for a further 24 hours and therefore was out of action for the day's events!!!  Carbon monoxide monitors are the way to go!

We left before they got underway so I don't know if the bloke was OK.  But none of the rest of them seemed unduly worried so I suppose he was.

But we don't need to buy a ticket for the Dorset Steam Fair this year. Enough of the engines came to us to make us perfectly happy :-)

Steamy excitement in The Swan's car park. Click on the photo for the weekend's photo album

Monday, August 22, 2011

A late summer Sunday lunch

A large platter of roast chicken, roast potatoes and mash
One of the really nice things about cooking at this time of year is that you can just wander about in the garden and on the allotment and collect fruit and vegetables for the table more or less at will.

Garden vegetables and a bowl of stuffing
Tabitha, Gareth and Richard were coming for Sunday lunch. So was Cally, but she's only 5 months old so doesn't figure largely, yet, in my menu calculations. So I went down into the garden and got some bramley apples from the tree and some blackberries from the bramble overhanging the garden and put them in the slow cooker overnight to stew down.  We have potatoes from the allotment and organised some to be turned into roasties, and some to be turned into mash. I made a big pot of a ratatouille type vegetable stew with zucchini, tomato, onions, garlic, rainbow chard and basil. I got carrots and a variety of beans. And we bought from the Chatsworth farm shop a free range chicken, which I roasted stuffed with a home made bread, sage, onion and lemon stuffing.

One small fruit pie per person
The stewed fruit I made into little fruit pies, which we had with home made ginger ice cream (I use Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's basic vanilla ice cream recipe and then leave out the vanilla pods and use other flavours if vanilla doesn't float my boat on that occasion. This weekend I put finely chopped crystallised ginger pieces into the cream when I was scalding it. I left the ginger in when I churned the ice cream and it was nice and delicately ginger flavour when I served it. Went down a treat with the apple and blackberry pies.

Pie and ginger ice cream

A little bowl of mash and carrots for the baby. She wasn't impressed!

We had a little wine and lots of chatter and a good time.  Sunday lunches are a great and glorious thing. Even better when almost all of it comes from the garden!

A sunny weekend

I was talking to Lindsey at some point over the weekend and she was saying that it had been quite chilly in Ballarat but that the temperature had, over the weekend, climbed to a pleasantly mild 20d. This amused me not a little. 20d would be considered pleasantly warm in Derbyshire. The average temperature for Derbyshire in August is 21d and if it gets any warmer than about 25d it gets really unpleasantly humid. The temperature last week was a little down on the  seasonal average, but had come back up again in Tupton over the weekend to between 23 and 25d. The sun shone. The breeze was mild. In our world - it was a beautiful weekend.

Hello :-)  Wearing my best bib and tucker for Sunday lunch

So we trotted out into the countryside on Saturday and meandered our way to Chatsworth to raid the farm shop and then trundled out to Clay Cross to raid Tesco (our local Sainsbury's is closed for a week for renovations and while Tesco is not my first choice supermarket it seems ridiculous to drive past a brand new and rather large Tesco in order to reach another Sainsbury's several miles away!). Then we went to the dairy for milk and cream and then we just pottered about. It was all rather relaxing. And on Sunday Taffa, Gaz, Cally and Ginger Rich came for lunch. Marryk was supposed to be coming too, but he piked. He *said* he had picked up a bug. We ponder whether the bug came in on a wave of alcohol!!  Oh well.  All the more for us. Although there was almost nothing left when everyone went home. Cally, it transpires, likes Mr Sainsbury's carrots a great deal more than she likes our home grown ones. It is true that I would be sadly disappointed if our carrots tasted the same as Mr Sainsbury's - but they're not that bad, surely?  I assume it was because we don't peel our fresh dug carrots. And they taste carrotier. She also emphatically did not enjoy her first taste of mashed potato. I shall add chocolate sauce next time. Everyone likes chocolate sauce!!
Sunshine, Taffa and Cally

And so to Monday. And the weather remains glorious. Seems a terrible waste to be sat in an office. The Builder, on the other hand, is stuck in the house. He is awaiting a delivery of some guttering pipe and can't go out until it arrives. He doesn't actually know when it is going to arrive. He considers it an even greater waste to be stuck in the house on a day like today. At least I get paid for being in the office!!

Is it safe to get down? Has the small creature gone yet?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Birthday bash

It was Freyja's birthday on Wednesday. She goes skating on Wednesday evenings so we couldn't meet for tea. And Wednesday was the one day last week when my diary was particularly busy, so that scuppered lunch. So she and Simon went out for lunch instead. And she went skating in the evening.

We celebrated her birthday on Thursday instead.  She and Simon, Nate and Duncan (her ex housemates), Taffa and Cally, The Builder and I and Stephen, a work colleague of Simon's all got together to party at Fired Arts in Sheffield. Tabitham, Cally, The Builder and I got there much too early, so we tucked Cally under our arms and snuck her into The Banner Cross Pub - which doesn't allow in anyone under 18 but didn't argue about the baby!  A swift one later, it was time to meet at Fired Arts.

And it was a good evening. We all selected something to paint. We had all come with snacks and nibblies and things.  Someone had bought bottles of wine. There were other groups of grown ups there too, also eating and drinking and painting and generally making merry. No children apart from Cally - but we had made her an honorary grown up for the evening :-P  I had thought we might only stay for an hour or so, but suddenly it was nearly 10:00!!  Charlotte, the host, brought around a birthday plate for Freyja. Duncan drew a hippo on it.  I coloured the hippo in. Then Charlotte made finger print animals from a print from each of the guests, around the rim of the plate.  I am very much looking forward to seeing those when the plate is fired and ready to go and live with Freyja.

Only thing, though, is that I am really getting too old to go out to play on a school night. It was quite late by the time we got home, had a sit down and a nightcap and eventually went to bed. It was a serious struggle getting up out of bed on Friday morning!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


When I first got my allotment in Hangingwater, Tabitha, Austin and Freyja and their friends Alex, Julia and Kal all clubbed together for my birthday and Christmas and bought me an apple tree, a morello cherry tree and a Victoria plum tree. The apple and cherry trees did all right for fruit. The Victoria plum, alas, never fruited. Every year it would produce blossom, but a bit too early - and the mid-spring winds would blow it off.

When The Under Gardener and I moved to Tupton we dug up the apple tree and the cherry tree but the plum tree had grown too big to move so we left it and bought a replacement.

Each year it has produced blossom early. And every year the mid-spring winds have blown it off.

So it was a pleasant surprise last year when we found a very small number of plums hiding amongst the leaves. Gave us hope for a plummy future.

This year the tree produced blossom early, and the winds and frosts got rid of most of it.  So it was a GREAT surprise to find that there were several plums hidden among the leaves - and a whole abundant harvest lurking on one branch!!

We picked them yesterday. And brought in a little over 4kg of plums. And that doesn't include the ones the wasps got to before us!!

They're all in bags in the freezer now, waiting for pies and cakes and things

Monday, August 15, 2011


We came back from a fortnight away to find that the garden had run riot!  Mostly, alas, it was the weeds that were rioting.

So we've started weeding the flower beds and I have weeded the melon bed - thus liberating two very small melon plants that were in danger of being suffocated by bindweed and thistles.  The runner beans are looking excellent, and the chard is magnificent.  We also found two marrows which we have picked. We are now getting a fairly steady supply of luscious zucchini. We are also doing well for carrots, cabbage and (to my surprise) broccoli. The bramley apples are almost ready for picking. The plums are ready. And we are getting a steady crop of cherry tomatoes from the hanging baskets.

Things, alas, are not so happy up on the allotment.  A helpful allotment neighbour had volunteered to water the greenhouses while we were away. Noticing that the potato plants were beginning to turn yellow he did not think: Oh - it's been very dry this year, they must want watering. No. He decided that they were struck with blight and has been busily digging them up.  They are not blight struck (hasn't really been blight weather up until this weekend) and some of them hadn't been in all that long so weren't at all ready for digging.  Still, at least he put the resultant potatoes in paper sacks for us to pick up when we got back. He gave the two rows of peas he felt obliged to pick (waste not, want not; they would have been a bit hard when we got back - never mind the winter stews I use the slightly older peas for) to people in hospital. It is, of course, good to be charitable. But he might have asked!  The tomatoes in the greenhouses are doing well, however. A mixed bag of heritage seeds, so lots of different colours and shapes. And very tasty they are too. There are cucumbers very nearly ready for picking.  So it's not all bad up on the allotment. The Under Gardener wasn't very happy when he first saw it - but his forgiveness has been bought with a lovely bunch of beetroot!!

We are eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables now. It's rather nice to wander out in the mornings and evenings and decide what to have for breakfast, lunch and tea!

Up on the allotment:

Some allotmenteers are adding livestock. So far we have chickens, bees and goats
Cucumber so very nearly ready for picking

There are tomatoes of various hues in the greenhouses

Round, yellow ones are almost the dullest!!

We are looking forward to trying the nearly black ones

Potatoey destruction by our  trying-to-be-helpful neighbour

A young, healthy currant bush

And a young, healthy gooseberry bush

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Back at home

We got back into London late-ish on Tuesday evening, after staying in a very budget hotel at Narita airport on Monday night.  It might have been budget, but it was less that 5 minutes from Terminal 1, it was clean - and it was twice the size of the hotel in Nagoya.  Did us perfectly well!

We had a 4 hour lay over in Vienna, which seemed a bit daunting until I remembered that I have a lounge pass through my bank account which gives me free access to airport lounges 4 times a year, and access for guests at a cheap rate. So we sat in the lounge in Vienna and drank their wine and ate their cheese and salads and cakes. It was really rather pleasant. And above all - it was quiet!

So was the bit of London that we were in. There was looting in parts of London, not to mention parts of Birmingham and Manchester. But only an idiot would try to loot anything near Heathrow. Mind you, only idiots would try looting anywhere but it would have to be a particularly dim idiot who tried it near the airport.  The police in Britain are not routinely armed.  They are at Heathrow!!!

We came home in an orderly manner on Wednesday. All was quiet in Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. All was quiet at our place, except the garden had run riot  (but a rioting garden is OK) and the cat was deliriously delighted to see us. He remains so!  I don't mind him sitting on my lap when I am still in bed, but sleeping on my head is not entirely comfortable.  Well, it is obviously comfortable for him, but not for me!!!

On the first Sunday we were in Tokyo I got out of the shower and found I had a dry rash on my left shin. On Monday I had a rash on both shins. By Tuesday it was all getting quite painful, the rash was spreading and was beginning to look cross and grumpy. Fortunately, we were travelling with Lindsey, so there was no need to kidnap Austin and head to a Japanese hospital with Japanese doctors who speak, funnily enough, Japanese and not English!!  Lindsey handed over a course of antibiotics (doesn't everyone travel with a spare packet of antibios?) and my leg began to get less cross. Lindsey thinks it started out as a contact allergy. Ian thinks it was bedbugs (it is true that we were all getting bitten by something, not including the deer in Nara). I don't know what it was, but it was certainly complicated by the addition of a heat rash on top of whatever was causing the infection.  Happily, the antibiotics seem to have done the trick and my shins and ankles are more or less restored to normal. Although they still ache if I stand still for any length of time.

We also travelled with a small, nagging mystery.  Before we left, I bagged up a supply of Yorkshire Tea bags. I distinctly remember putting them in a bag. The Builder saw me bagging them up, but didn't see what I did with them. We got to Tokyo, went hunting for the tea bags - and couldn't find them anywhere.  We unpacked everything. We searched everything. We hunted. We fossicked. We both looked in all the pockets of all the bags. No tea bags to be found. So I bought some Japanese black tea bags in a supermarket and on we trundled.  But from time to time we pondered the whereabouts of the Yorkshire Tea bags.

We got home, assuming that there would be a bag of tea bags on the dining room table or on the dresser or in the kitchen.  But no. No sign of the tea bags anywhere at all. It was very, very peculiar.

The Builder decided that his travelling backpack had been on its last travels. It is fraying and unravelling and needs replacing.  He decided to throw it away.  Before it hit the bin, I decided to have a last check of all the pockets and stuff, not wishing inadvertently to throw away a credit card or a membership card or a stray yen. And there, right in the very bottom of the backpack, was a wodge.  I investigated.  And there was the bag of tea bags.

So the only mystery now is, where was that bag when we both searched the backpack?  Because we would both swear that they were not there when we were in Tokyo!!!

And that, I think, is that.  Freyja and Simon are on their way back from Osaka as we speak.  Lindsey, Ian, Austin and Kaori are in Hong Kong partying. Everyone else is back at home and back to normal. I am even back at work. They called for volunteers to work today while I was away. I decided I would volunteer. A summer Saturday is not an unpleasant way of getting back into the swing of things. Back to work properly on Monday

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

After wedding frolicking

So what do do on the day after the wedding?

Christian, Cass, Ant, Jess and Emily went home at the crack of dawn.

Austin and Kaori stayed in the Hilton and ate bacon.

Freyja, Simon and Ross vanished into deepest, darkest Nagoya - which is possibly the hottest place in the world at the moment.

The rest of us went to the Nagoya Castle.

While we were planning this, Lindsey mentioned that there might be time to go to the electricity museum. Why, I wondered, would anyone want to do that?!?!?!?!  Seemed that Ian wanted to do that. So did Freyja and Simon. The Builder thought it might be quite interesting too. So in the afternoon all of them, plus Ross went to play with power. Lindsey, Judy and I had a spot of lunch and then went to the Noritake Gardens to play with china, pottery and dinosaurs (an odd combination in my view!)

Austin, Kaori and Zoy went back to the wedding venue to collect various things that had been left behind.

We all met for dinner.

And then it was Monday. Lindsey and Ian were off to Hiroshima. The Builder and I accompanied them as far as Kyoto, had lunch and returned to Nagoya. It really does seem to be hotter in Nagoya than anywhere else.  We walked up to the Noritake gardens so The Builder could see the dinosaurs.  Alas, they are closed on Mondays. Even more alas, we turned too early on our way back to the station and had much too long a walk in the heat and humidity back to the hotel to collect the luggage. We met Austin and his entourage at the station and farewelled Zoy who was on his way back to Melbourne. Everyone else went to explore the bottle shop. The Builder and I took the shinkansen back to Tokyo. and now here we are in a budget airport hotel, very handily located next to Terminal One ready to leap out and head back to London.

Austin - we would have made the 17:33 Narita express with about 5 minutes to spare.  But I would have been Very Stressed Indeed about missing it. And it was no hardship to wait at the station for the 18:33. We found a seat and ate rice thingies and drank coffee and watched commuters squishing themselves into very very crowded trains.

Oh - and my phone charger eventually turned up, hiding in a generally unused pocket in my backpack. So I thin that is all the lost things now turned up again - apart from a couple of train tickets but they were not too onerous to replace

What the hell is happening in London?  I don't know - turn my back for ten minutes and they start rioting!!

Thank you everyone for a really lovely time in Japan. It was great to see everyone. And a great privilege to be at the wedding

Nagoya Castle. Click on the photo for the rest of the album

Monday, August 08, 2011

A wedding in Nagoya

So small group by small group we all assembled in  Nagoya. Christian, Cassie, Ant and Jess came from Hiroshima and Osaka. Freyja and Simon w returned from Tokyo. Judy and Theo moved from Kyoto. We five arrived from Nara. Ross had flown in from Melbourne during the week. We were all assembled, except for Zoy who was due on Friday evening.

After a boisterous dinner, a few of us went to meet the train he was due on. We waited, and waited and waited and waited. And *finally* up turned Zoy. Without his luggage!!!  All he had to wear was his t-shirt and jeans. And it would be considered uncouth to turn up to any wedding dressed like that and what the Japanese would think about this doesn't bear thinking about.

So while the rest of us were prettying ourselves up on Saturday morning, Zoy and Judy dashed out shopping. There was a slight panic about this because the shops don't open until 10:00.

The rest of us made our way in an unhurried, unflustered way to the wedding venue.  Zoy and Judy hurtled back to their hotel and got changed.

We were siting in an air conditioned anti-chamber, drinking tea. Zoy, Judy, Theo and Ross were scootling as fast as the subway system would take them, Ross getting more and more stressed as the signing in time of 11:30 came and then went. He thought that that was when the wedding actually started. But no. It started at 12 and they were there in plenty of time for that!

Freyja picked up a stray bloke on a subway platform. Turned out he was a mate of Austin's and was on his way to the same wedding. It did seem a bit random when he came up and asked her if we were all going to a wedding.  I know we were dressed in our best frocks, but we weren't carrying an "off to a wedding" sign!

So at 12:00 we were all sat in the chapel and in came Austin. He strolled down the aisle and collected white roses from the guests. These were then made into a bouquet at the front. Kaori and her dad came in. Austin handed her the bouquet and Kaori put one rose into his top pocket. Then the ceremony took place, all in Japanese. There was a very great deal of clapping! And a Japanese hymn. Now either my Japanese had improved miraculously during the course of the ceremony - or those two women were singing in English!

Stella and Tony dropped in from Mount Martha to attend the ceremony and then went away again. The wonders of modern technology, of iPads, dongles and Skype's web conferencing facility!

Austin and Kaori came out and were showered with petals by the families and guests.

Then we went in for an amazing reception with wonderful food, nice wine, speeches, hilarity. Ross made the opening toast. Austin's Japanese teacher made a speech.  Christian made a speech. Kaori's dad played his guitar. Zoy sang a song. Ross had made friends with a gaggle of girlies.  He said they were hanging all over him - until Zoy began to sing!!!

There was a candle relay, where Austin lit a candle at each table from his candle and then that person lit the candle of the person next to them until everyone had a lit candle except for Kaori. Then he lit her candle and we all made a wish for their future happiness and then we all blew our candles out together. It was lovely.

Then we came back to our hotels on a coach and had time for a bit of a sit down before going out for the evening entertainment, at a pizza place. Old fossils don't usually go to the after party but Austin insisted that his ancient furry ners should be present. And so we were.

Then the young people rocked on to karaoke and the fossils went home to bed.

It was a lovely, lovely day. It was also, to say that we mostly didn't have to do very much, strangely tiring

Click on the photo to see the wedding album

The after party photos are here

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Things I have learned in the last 24 hours

  • The rapido train from Kyoto to Nara takes 30 minutes. If it should happen to be cancelled, the local train takes 80. It's a nice train trip
  • There are deer in downtown Nara wandering around the streets. They cross at the zebra crossing!!
  • Little, tiny 8 seat bar restaurants cook the food in front of you and serve delightful, top class but slightly Westernised food
  • I do not eat raw chicken, no matter how well cured it is!!!!!!!
  • If you are wandering through the extensive Nara parklands and have deer biscuits in your hand, you might want to give them to the deer.  Otherwise they nudge you. And push you. And even bite you. They stop biting you if you smack them lightly on the nose
  • Apparently, some deer have learned to bow if they want to be fed.  I saw no bowing deer!!!!!!!
  • Little cafes in shopping arcades will sell you delicious but Americanised toast and eggs for breakfast
  • Little cafes out off the beaten track will sell you inexpensive but authentically Japanese tempura dishes
  • If you already have a blister on he ball of your foot, it would be wise to wear a pair of socks with your sandals, no matter how much that is frowned on. A band aid might not be a bad idea either
  • If you have trouble locating toilets, heading somewhere hot and humid would be a plan. You can drink gallons of liquid and barely need to pee at all. 
  • The Japanese provide umpteen public loo facilities and signpost them well
  • If you book into a hotel which offers you the choice between a new room (Lindsey and Ian, Emily) or an old style one (Frannie and Jim) take the old style one
  • Nara is beautiful
  • You should all come at once. The Nara festival starts tomorrow :-)
  • We are going to Nagoya tomorrow and miss the festival by one day. On the other hand, Nara is quiet and peaceful and unhurried. This might not be the case during the festival!!
Deer, the signature animal of Nara
Click on the photo for the Kyoto & Nara album

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Losing things

It all started on Monday when Lindsey, Emily, The Builder and I were running around on the subway in Tokyo and I lost my day pass.  This struck us all as odd because I routinely got through the barrier and immediately stick the pass in the coin part of my wallet. But there it wasn't. We dismantled my pouch and my wallet.  There it still wasn't.  This was a bit perplexing. It was, of course, possible that I had dropped it. But The Builder had been behind me and hadn't noticed. So I bought a new one, in the sure and certain knowledge that the original would immediately turn up again.  As, indeed, it did. The back of the passes are black and you couldn't see it against the blackness of the inside of my wallet!  But this was, to some extent, fortuitous for Lindsey's pass had stopped working and she couldn't go through the automatic barriers.  So she had my original pass. (And Austin later had Lindsey's - a station person fixed it!!)

Then Freyja lost her ticket when we were going to the Ghibli museum. But hers was only a single trip ticket, so that wasn't too hard to replace.

And so we move to Tuesday, where during the course of the day we managed to lose not one but two phone chargers, although one later turned up (not sure at all what happened to mine. It has totally vanished. I can only assume we left it in the hotel in Tokyo, although both of us scanned the room to make sure we hadn't left anything).

Much, much more alarmingly, we managed to lose Judy and Theo!!!!!  We were supposed to be meeting them to catch the train to Kyoto together. First they had a doggy-related drama back in Ballarat. Then they couldn't get tickets for the train. Then they couldn't find the train. Then they did :-)  This was all very well for them but we were at Shinagawa station wondering how we were going to tell Zoy that the last time we had had word of his parents they were in the bowels of the earth in an earthquake zone!!  On the other hand, it did mean that we found a mighty food hall which sold loads of truly delicious things for us to eat on the train.

And so we trundled sedately on the shinkansen to Kyoto. Although Austin, who seems to have some quite complicated plans for the coming weekend had decided not to come playing with us in Kyoto but to hop off the train at Nagoya and go home. So he did.  On we went. Then Lindsey had a phone call.  Austin had lost his train ticket.  He had his seat reservation and Theo's seat reservation but no actual train ticket. They wouldn't let him out of the station!!!  Lindsey checked to see what Theo had about his person.  He had the train ticket but no seat reservation!!  It was all sorted out by the railway staff. The station people rang the train people, who consulted Lindsey and then allowed that perhaps Austin should be liberated from Nagoya station and be allowed on his way.

Fortunately, we didn't lose the hotel. They run a coach up from the station, which Lindsey and Ian have used before. You could very easily get lost in the labyrinthine depths of the hotel - but we have a compass and a fine sense of direction. Judy and Theo didn't get lost, as such, as they made their way to join us for dinner - but it was a much, much longer walk than they had expected.

And we haven't so much *lost* Ant, Jess, Christian and Cassie. We know where they are.  But they are not where they were intending to be. They had intended to go to Mt Fuji but had failed to pre-book a bus and you can't get tickets on the day. So they have gone to Hiroshima instead.

I have poorly, poorly ankles.  They started out red and flaky on Sunday. They have got progressively redder. Then yesterday they got all puffy as well and started to hurt.  Ian thinks I have been bitten by bed bugs (something has certainly been biting us - both The Builder and I have bite marks and so, I think, does Emily). But Lindsey has decide that my leggies are now getting infected and is threatening to chop them off with her electric carving knife.  Mercifully for me, she hasn't brought it with her!!

Oh - and Freyja and Simon stayed in Tokyo. They are moving to Austin's place today.  Ross is arriving today. Then our party is complete, apart from Zoy who is coming only for the weekend and arrives on Friday.

Not something you see everyday. Trains are usually delayed in the UK because someone has nicked the copper wiring. Earthquake a much more acceptable reason

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Wandering about

It seems that not only can I sleep through earthquakes, but I can also sleep through Lindsey trying to reach me by text message, mobile phone and other means of communication. She finally managed to wake me by ringing the hotel bedroom phone.  This did not, however, induce me to get up out of bed and go with her to collect Emily from the hostel she had been staying in.  I sent The Builder instead!!

It seems that we have all gathered in Tokyo precisely so that Lindsey could visit the Mac shop in Ginza and buy a red cover for her iPad. They don't sell them in Melbourne.  Although - I am not absolutely sure how she knew that they made red covers for iPads, since they don't sell them in Melbourne.  But they do make them, and they sell them in Tokyo, and Lindsey now has one.

We spent the afternoon with Austin, Emily, Freyja and Simon at the Ghibli museum and had a really nice time.  It would possibly have been slightly more informative had The Builder and I actually watched either of the two Ghibli animations that I have on DVD at home. But we hadn't.  Haven't seen any Ghibli films. Enjoyed the museum anyway :-)  Then Freyja and Simon disappeared off somewhere. Austin and Ian went Mac shop hunting and then went looking for the elusive Turkish restaurant. Lindsey, Emily, The Builder and I came back to the hotel, allegedly for a rest before dinner.  Except that Lindsey decided that she and I had not walked far enough during the day and took us down to the supermarket and to the 7-11.  Twice! Fortunately, my sandals are extremely comfortable!

Ian and Austin FOUND THE TURKISH RESTAURANT and invaded the Turks. This especially amused Theo who is, as you might guess from his name, Greek!!  The food explained why Ian had been so determined to find the place!!

There was another earthquake last night. 6.2 this time.  And this time The Builder and I were still awake and noticed it.  I have to say though, that had I been asleep the gentle swaying of the room and bed probably would not have woken me. The hotel is obviously extremely well engineered!

Right.  Must go.  Off to Kyoto today :-)

Down and outers at the Shinjuku Gyoemmae station

Monday, August 01, 2011


You must, you really must go to Asakusa, said Freyja to me.  You'll really, really like it.

So on Sunday, after Lindsey and Ian had lobbed in from Melbourne, we hopped on the subway and took ourselves off to find out why Freyja was so insistent. (She and Simon didn't come - they had gone off with Austin, Christian and Ant; Jess, Emily and Cassie had wandered off elsewhere). We contacted Theo and Judy who decided that they too would come to Asakusa.

And wat there was in Asakusa was a large market full of craft type things and tourist tack and other fun things to play with.  What else there was in Asakusa was a large Shinto shrine and a Buddhist temple. There were also a very large number of people in the market, and in the shrine, inhaling smoke and lighting incense sticks and making votive offerings, and in the temple praying.  It was noticeable just how very well dressed all the young people were, and how devout they were being. We were neither smartly dressed nor being especially devout!

Ian found us a lovely little restaurant off a side lane for lunch. We went for a nice walk along the river and counted bridges. We bought little things to take home. and Freyja was absolutely right.  I did really really like Asakusa.

We went back to our hotels for a little rest, and then reconvened in Shibuya, by the dogs, to meet the girls.  We got lost :-S  It took AGES to find the dogs.  Then we lost Emily. She had somehow found herself in a large supermarket and couldn't escape from its foodie clutches. Finally we were all together and made our way to Shinjuku to find the boys and Freyja.

We've gone to the dogs in Shibuya

Ian was very keen that we should visit a Turkish restaurant that he, Austin and Kaori had been to once. Could we find it? Could we heck.  Austin and Ant had gone for a reccie but had no joy.  So we walked into the first restaurant that looked as though it might be willing to host an entirely unexpected raiding party of 14 and were shown upstairs to two booths (youngsters that way please) where we ate lots of food and drank lots of wine. It was a good evening.

I woke up on Sunday morning to Facebook telling me that there had been an earthquake of 6.9 in Tokyo at 3:30. It had woken most of us, in our various hostelries, up. The Builder and I had slept right through it, entirely undisturbed. So, it seemed, had Theo.  But it can't have been a collective hallucination - it was reported in the Melbourne Age!