Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Poor Old Builder

It was another beautiful day on Sunday. I had a nice piece of brisket to roast. I made a Yorkshire pudding batter. I spoke to Tony (whose birthday it was) and Stella on Skype. And I decided that we needed not only some milk and bread from the dairy, but also a nice bottle or two of wine to go with the Sunday roast.

So off The Builder and I went, crossing the road on our way to collect the car, enjoying the sunshine and the unseasonably mild weather.

And all of a sudden, The Builder caught his foot in one of the potholes, or cracks, or possibly one of the raised iron things that adorn Bridge Street outside our place - and he went flying ;-(

He ended up cracking his head on the kerb and lying full stretch in the side of the road.  His glasses went flying.  The car key went flying (eventually I found it under the ivy which grows over the wall of the house across the road).  All I can say is that it was just as well it was a Sunday morning, when there is almost no traffic.  If it had been a Monday morning at that time, not only is there much more traffic, but it comes round that corner far too fast and would likely have run him over ;-(

There was blood pouring from his head when he finally managed to get up. Luckily (and extremely unusually) I had a wodge of tissues in my pocket.  Very fortunately, his glasses were not broken. And extremely fortunately, neither was he.  We went back across the road (gingerly) and inspected him. A cut on his temple. Two very grazed, bruised and swollen knee caps. Grazed hands. And a wrenched shoulder which still hasn't properly recovered from when he fell down the stairs.

He had to change his clothes (his jumper was in a very sorry state!) and we made another attempt at the dairy and the supermarket.  I drove!!

While I was in the supermarket I also bought some cans of Old Speckled Hen, some antiseptic wipes (for minor cuts and grazes) and a supply of band aids (because I couldn't remember if we had any in the house).  He wouldn't let me take him to the hospital to be checked over and all my internet doctors were asleep. So we applied the antiseptic wipes and the plasters externally and the beer internally, all of which seemed to work.

It was extremely scary to watch his head bouncing on the kerb :-S  How he didn't knock himself out or give himself concussion is a mystery to me! 

I have written a somewhat grumpy email to the council pointing out to them that the state of the road outside our place is a disgrace.  I wonder if they'll do anything about it

Monday, February 27, 2012


Tony asked me a little while ago whether I favour the meteorological start to spring (1st March) or the astronomical one (21st March, on the equinox).  I don't really have a preference, because I tend to listen to what Nature is saying - and Nature doesn't appear to consult a calendar. 

I think spring has probably sprung in our garden - although there is, of course, nothing to say that winter won't mount a vigorous counter attack between now and summer!

Small narcissus coming up in a tub by the back door

No flowers yet on the cyclamens - but it won't be long

Narcissus and fritillaries coming up along the back path

Crocuses and hellebores in flower

Crocuses amid the leaves from last autumn

The washing actually dried in the warm spring sunshine and gentle breeze

Snowdrops along the fence to the orchard

We've almost finished the Brussels sprouts ...

... but the purple sprouting broccoli is beginning to flower

Pretty hellebores
We have just about finished the peas from last summer, and I have just roasted and turned into sauce the last of the tomatoes.  We still have lots of onions, and a mountain of fruit in the freezers (mostly gooseberries and rhubarb). We finished the potatoes a couple of weeks ago - and have had to buy back up supplies from the dairy farm in Old Tupton. On the other hand, we have also bought the first of the seed potatoes and some more onion sets from the garden centre in Wilton. We should probably get more, but I'll get them from Thompson and Morgan I think.

And spring might well have sprung. The sun might well have some warmth in it. I might have set aside (for now) the winter woollies. But it is still ONLY FEBRUARY and much too early to start planting!!!  (Although - I am a bit tempted to try an early sowing of carrots in a box, and putting them in the greenhouse to see what happens)

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Back in December 2010, when Lindsey was here, I had a couple of weeks off work and we ran across a rather funny quiz program on BBC 2.  Pointless. All three of us thought it was really very good and I was quite sad when I went back to work and couldn't watch it any more. Lindsey was even sadder for it hadn't made it across the world to Australia at all!  Then it moved to BBC 1 and to a time when I can, sometimes, watch it.  The hosts opened Twitter accounts. Pointless itself opened a Twitter account and a Facebook page (though it is quite difficult to work out which is the official Facebook page!)

Then one day one of the hosts put on his Twitter feed that tickets were now available for people to be in the audience to watch Pointless being filmed. I immediately sent off an application for three tickets on an afternoon when two episodes of the show were being filmed.  And much to my excitement, I got three tickets for that very afternoon!!

So, nice and early on Saturday morning, we collected Tabitha from Chesterfield and off we drove down to London Town. I had looked into going on the train, but the cheapest tickets I could find for three of us to make a day return to London were going to cost in excess of £250!!!  It seemed much, much cheaper to drive the car down and park somewhere in outer London and take the tube in.  Ruislip is on the same line as White City, which is where we were heading, so we pootled down the M1 (which, mercifully, was behaving on Saturday) and parked at the West Ruislip station.  It was something of a challenge paying for parking. It was an even bigger challenge topping up our Oyster cards (like Myki cards but much less controversial). But eventually we managed and off we went on the train to White City.

In the sunshine!  It was a beautiful day.

BBC Television Centre is pretty much across the road from the White City station. And we were there in lots and lots of time.  And there is a Westfield shopping centre just up the road. So we went up there in search of a spot of lunch. And found, to Tabitha's great delight, a Gourmet Burger Kitchen loitering amongst the restaurants on the terrace. So we went there for lunch (and I can see why Tabitha was delighted to find it there - my chicken fillet burger was delicious).  There was a big bowl of Minties on the front desk!  Always a pleasure to see a big bowl of Minties :-)

And then we went back to Television Centre to go and watch Pointless.

I have to say, it was lots and lots of fun.  I have never been in a television studio before, so it was also extremely interesting. I don't think I have ever applauded quite so much before either!!  It was very funny, so we laughed a lot. There was lots of different lighting, and we could watch the cameras doing their recording thing. I must admit that I am extremely pleased that it was not I who had to edit it though. If either Alexander Armstrong or Richard Osman got things wrong they simply said it over again, pretty much without pausing. And sometimes the equipment refused to work so we all had to wait while it was persuaded to play.  It was a great afternoon and I'm really glad I applied for the tickets. I want to watch other programs being recorded now!!

And then it was all over and it was time to hop back on the train to West Ruislip, collect the car and come home.

I wouldn't mind the chance to go and have a proper look at Westfield too.  Freyja tells me that they have opened a new one out her way which is enormous (and has a Lakeland - although not, I think, a Gourmet Burger Kitchen). Might have to take up collecting Westfields!!!

Oh - and it cost £30 for fuel, £4 for parking and £2.80 each for the train trips to and from White City. Very much cheaper than going on the train!

This is what we could see all the way home on Saturday evening

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

It's been a funny week

Do you remember, oh around 18 months ago, I had a terrible, terrible time trying to convince British Gas that our day and night electricity readings were the wrong way around?  Took months to sort it all out. And then it was sorted out and all was well, and the nice man who eventually did sort it all out gave us £30 towards our winter gas bill. Well, he didn't personally, but he arranged a credit for us from British Gas and we received that with great pleasure.

You'd forgotten all about that?  Hardly surprising.  So had we.

So I was not a little disconcerted when I recently looked online at our electricity account to find that we were suddenly and abruptly £1100 in credit. By my reckoning we  should have been about £150 in debit. I had, in fact, gone onto the website to make a contribution towards the debt!

I looked more closely. And about 3 days before that, someone had gone through and painstakingly reversed 18 months worth of readings and therefore amounts owed.


So I griddled my lions and rang them. At least this time I knew to talk about "twisted meter readings". They pay a lot more attention if you actually know the jargon.  And someone has been doing something about it.  Alas, however, the account now reads that we are £190 in credit (we aren't, I tell you) and the meter reads are still twisted and the nice someone has gone on holiday.


Still - at least he seemed to be doing something useful before he went away.  I am assured he'll ring me when he gets back.  In the meantime, it was oh-so-tempting to ring them up when we had a balance of more than a thousand pounds in credit and asking if they could reimburse us. Would have been a mighty deposit for the Grand World Tour fund!!

In the meantime ...

The doorbell rang at about 10 to 10 on Wednesday evening. This is a highly unusual occurrence, especially at that time of day. The Builder went to investigate. And it was the new chap down in Number 12, asking what we thought about the appeal against the planning decision the council had made about the block of land at the back of his place.  We weren't thinking anything about it.  We didn't know about it.  Come to that, we were blissfully ignorant that a planning application had ever been put in in the first place (it had - last October).

Odd, we thought. The council wrote to everyone else about it.  Wonder why they didn't write to us.  So on Thursday I investigated. And found that the OS maps the council and the developers were working to showed the back of our garden as still belonging to #4 - thus meaning that as far as they were concerned we didn't share a boundary with the planned development and therefore didn't have a direct interest.

This was a tiny bit of a worry. We don't want people deciding we don't own that bit of land.  We paid CASH for it - well, a cheque but you know what I mean.  I rang the Land Registry. 

Should you ever be minded to ring the Land Registry and ask if they have any suggestions as to what you should do under such circumstances, may I gently suggest that you don't bother.  Nearly half an hour later we finally managed to establish that no, I wasn't complaining that the LR had the certificates wrong and that no, I wasn't in anyway suggesting that they were responsible for OS maps and no, I understood that they weren't responsible for the maps that the Council used and yes, I do have the certificate in front of me and no, I am not wanting to complain that it's wrong and ... Well, you take my point. I was none the wiser about what I could do about it and had neither the strength nor the time to ring the Council and try and explain it to them - so have written them a letter.  It's not that we necessarily wanted to make an objection to the planned development (I can't think of any legitimate grounds for objection) - but it would have been nice to have been in the loop, as they say!

Apart from all that, though, things have been trundling along. I was working Saturday afternoon, again at Collegiate, earning a few more pennies for the GWT fund. I think we now have enough to get possibly as far as Moscow, maybe a little further.  I just have to RESIST the temptation to spend the moneys in the fund (maybe I should actually set up a fund :-D  )  We had a lovely potter about on Sunday, in the glorious sunshine. We went to Chatsworth for a few supplies, then across country back into Chesterfield for Marlo-supplies. Otherwise we didn't really do anything very much on Sunday.  I was a bit tired after all that trying to sort things out during the week, on top of all the other things I do - like go to work!

Freyja and Simon are back from New York.  Austin and Kaori are in the throes of arranging to move. Tabitha and Gareth have the day off today and have gone to Endcliffe Park with Cally. Not sure why Endcliffe when there are two other huge parks nearer to them, but I'm sure there is a reason. Oh - and Austin and Kaori have *finally* remembered to ask what flavour their forthcoming baby is and think that it is probably going to be a boy

Monday, February 20, 2012

Chicken and chips

I've been watching, in an on and off sort of a way, the new series of "Perfect" on the Good Food channel.

In "Perfect Saturday Night In", Paul Merrett made thrice cooked chips to go with his fried fish. And for another dish he made fried chicken.  The interesting thing about both these was that he pre-cooked them and fried them from cold.  The chips he made over three days, the chicken over two.  And I have to say that they both looked absolutely delicious. I decided I would give it a go. One day. When I was being sufficiently organised!

Now it has to be said that the likelihood of me thinking that we would have chips for dinner three days in advance is quite remote. However, one evening The Builder peeled far too many potatoes for us to eat in one evening so I decided to cut the excess into chip shapes and boil them up with the potatoes for that evening.  When they were cooked I drained and dried them and put them  in the fridge.  The following morning I jointed a free range chicken and cut it into eight pieces.  I put the pieces and the left over bones in my stock pot with carrots, onions, parsnip and celery and simmered it all for about an hour. I should probably have simmered the chicken pieces for a bit less. The recipe calls for 30 minutes and that would have been better for the breast pieces which were a bit overcooked in the finished product.  Anyway, I dried the chicken pieces and put them in the fridge too, for the rest of the day.

Chips waiting for their second frying

That afternoon (you can tell this was a Saturday, can't you!!!) I fried the chips for the first time and left them to go properly cold. Meanwhile, I dredged the chicken pieces in plain flour seasoned with black pepper and paprika, then coated them in crispy breadcrumbs.

The chicken is ready and is waiting impatiently for the chips to be ready too

At dinner time I fried the chicken until it was heated through and then popped the chips back in for a final crisp up.  We had the chicken and chips with red cabbage and baby sprouts, and a gravy made with the chicken stock which was the result of the simmering in the morning.

Fried chicken and chips, veg and gravy - a Perfect Saturday night in!

It was all a bit time consuming, but not especially difficult and the resulting chicken and chips were absolutely lovely.

The rest of the chicken stock went to make a really rather lovely vegetable soup. We ate the leftover chicken for lunches with baby new potatoes and a salad of finely shredded red cabbage, pieces of pink grapefruit and pomegranate seeds. It might have been a bit time consuming, but the chicken kept on giving in various ways.  And I have made chips that way again, when once more The Builder was a bit over enthusiastic with the potato peeling!!

Lunch on Monday

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sunday brisket

I found a piece of brisket in the freezer when I was rummaging the other day and decided to use it for Sunday lunch. Although, Sunday "lunch" was actually in the early evening because I was working in the afternoon, so no time for lunch at lunchtime - and no time for proper roasting when I got back, either.

So I put the brisket, along with a variety of pot vegetables into the slow cooker with a glass of white wine and a healthy handful of fresh thyme, set the slow cooker to automatic, and took myself off to the Collegiate Learning Centre.

When I got back I took the beautifully tender meat and put it into a moderate oven for about 30 minutes to crisp up a bit on the outside.  While I was about it I also put some small potato pieces in to roast.  The rest of the contents of the slow cooker went into the blender and then through a fine sieve to make a really lovely gravy.  We had this feast with winter vegetables and followed it up with a gooseberry crumble.

It was all well worth waiting for :-)

The following day I braised the leftover brisket in the remains of the gravy, just so it was all hot. I made some mashed potato and cooked up some cabbage and some rather fetching pink/purple Brussells sprouts. I also made a Yorkshire pudding which I think had designs on the whole universe it grew and grew so much in the oven. I think I had probably made enough for four or even six people - but The Builder and I man- and womanfully devoured it all :-D

Monday, February 13, 2012

Weekend Report

There was a meeting at Bishops' House on Friday evening for people who might be interested in acting as guides and/or enactors from time to time. The Builder and I decided to go along, even though The Builder probably wasn't particularly keen to be a guide (and certainly not an enactor) - but I was interested to know what they had in mind, and was possibly willing to act as a guide from time to time.

So we met at Waitrose when I finished work and pottered about there for a while. Then we dropped in for some wine at Sainsbury's, and then we went to the Bishops' Coffee Shop and Bistro, where they do Caribbean food on Friday evenings, for an early bite to eat before heading to the meeting.

The Builder has decided that he definitely doesn't want to do guided tours, but is still happy volunteering to open up at weekends. I might actually volunteer as a guide once or twice and see how it goes. It's a nice little building and I might enjoy showing people around it - provided that they don't ask too many complicated questions!!

Other than that it was an unremarkable weekend. We went into Chesterfield on Saturday morning for a bit of shopping and for a wander about the market and the shops. We don't go into Chesterfield all that often - and we should, perhaps, go slightly more often. There are some nice shops, amongst the charity shops and pound shops; the market is sizeable; there is a lovely bakery on the market square which not only sells nice bread but also really nice, almost Australian-style pies. We were, though, slightly underdressed. The sun was shining brightly, the sky was nice and blue, the wind was a gentle breeze. It was quite warm in our lounge room with the sun shining in through the window.  It was definitely not in the least bit warm, when we got into town and started wandering around outside!!!

I was working on Sunday afternoon - earning a bit to put towards my GWT fund (which has reduced further and is looking more like a "bus trip to town" fund ;-( )  The only thing we had to put on the weekend report from there was that the vending machine had run out of both tea and coffee and was cheerfully dispensing hot water and milk - to the bewilderment of the students. We have run out of neither tea nor coffee at The Sidings. Rather to our surprise we also haven't run out of wine, despite the fact that we had put it by to drink with our slow roasted brisket on Sunday evening. There is some left over brisket for tonight. We'll probably finish the wine with that. Then it's back to frugal austerity while we try Very Hard Indeed to be diligent savers of money so we can party hard at the end of the year

Freyja, Simon and the hippos are in New York this week.  I don't suppose they are being either frugal or austere. Austin and Kaori are planning to move house at the end of February. They have found a place that is both slightly larger and slightly cheaper than their current place, not to mention more conveniently located. Tabitha and Gareth are recovering from the excitement of their night out together. In Australia, Ant and Jess have moved to Perth. Emily has moved to Townsville.  I'm not sure they could actually be any further apart and still be in the same country!!!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Babysitting Cally

Tabitha and Gareth had the absolute temerity to decide to go out. Together. At night!!!  All Freyja's fault - she had bought them tickets to a gig as their Christmas present.

Now obviously you can't go out and leave a not-quite 11 month old baby on her own all evening.  People would frown upon this, even if you shut her in a secure cupboard.  And as to what Cally herself would have to say about it - well that doesn't bear thinking upon.

Freyja, the instigator of this mass breakout, was unavailable for Cally sitting duties.  She had taken herself off, back down to London. And so it fell to The Builder and me to look after Cally while her parents were gadding about.

It happened that the date of the gig fell upon a day off for me.  So The Builder and I went out for lunch at The Bull's Head in Holymoorside which we hadn't been to before. (I had a Groupon voucher for it, which was nearly out of date. Question: Why do I buy Groupon vouchers and then sit on them for nearly the whole six months validity before using them?)  And it was really rather a nice lunch. A beautiful broccoli and brie soup for me, followed by a nicely fried chicken fillet with a stilton sauce. The Builder enjoyed his garlic mushrooms and pork steak with apple fritters. And then we trundled into Sheffield to take up our Cally Caring Duties.

So. We waved goodbye to Taffa, who went off to meet Gaz when he finished work. We had biscuits and some milk. We watched Baby Jake on the telly, and ate a few more biscuits. We talked to Grandpa Tony and Grandma Stella on the laptop, and Cally showed them how she can dance. We watched a program with a yellow panda with green eyes on the telly and played with some toys. We talked to Lindsey, Emily and Lucy the Dog on the laptop and Cally showed them how she can laugh and sing. Cally and The Builder had a lovely story. Cally had a "delicious" green sludge for dinner which she seemed to thoroughly enjoy, and then she watched some Mickey Mouse on the telly. Then she had a night time bottle and went off to bed happy and cheery.

All was well. The Builder and I turned the telly over to something slightly more grown up.

At about 20 past 11, Tabitha sent me a text message to say they were on the bus and would be home in five minutes.

At which point Cally woke up - although how she knew is a mystery - she can't possibly have heard my phone!!!

By the time Tabitha and Gareth came home five minutes later she was screaming hysterically and was a distinct puce colour!!!!!  I was going to try to persuade Tabitha that Cally had been like that all evening. But she said she wouldn't have believed me - both The Builder and I were laughing when she and Gareth came in!!

So a good night was had by all, especially by Tabitha and Gareth who had gone out together for the first time at night since Cally was born!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Exciting news

Freyja is going to be IN THE OLYMPICS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

She's going to be skating in the opening ceremony.

How exciting is that?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

Turning into my aunt

Slowly, very slowly, but ineluctably I appear to be turning into my Aunt Margaret :-S

We went to Bishops' House on Saturday. It was a chilly, grey, damp sort of a day. The sort of day when comforting, warming drinks are called for. And nice warm, toastie things to eat.

So did I suggest that we should drop by to the nice cafe just up the road, which does lovely Caribbean food on Friday evenings and buy breakfast sandwiches and hot drinks?

I did not.

Did I suggest that we should go to the Co-op next to the cafe and buy the makings of a picnic breakfast?

I did not.

So what did I do?

I took egg and bacon sandwiches, wrapped up in foil, which I had made before we left home.

And ...

I took a flask filled with hot chocolate and two cups from the picnic set


I've turned into Margaret, I tell you!

But not absolutely entirely,.  I haven't yet turned against alcohol and Sunday afternoon torpor.  When these things happen, the transformation will be complete!!

We woke up on Sunday morning to find that the Weather Dogs had FINALLY realised that it was winter and had turned on the snow.  Nothing like as exciting as the snow they sent us last November/December; only around 5cm or so.  Enough to disgust Marlo who walked out through his cat hole out into the back garden, found all the snow and sharply turned around and came straight back in again!  We have laid in some kitty litter, although the snow seems to be melting away now.  The chickens were equally unimpressed, but The builder dug a space for them in their run so it was snow-free - and in any case they can be bought off with warm porridge or warmed bread and milk.

And it is true that the snow is very pretty. But it really isn't very practical.  People were not game to use the back roads to commute to work in the ice and compacted snow on Monday morning (you can see their point - anything smaller than a landrover was struggling mightily to get up Hagg Hill to Grassmoor), so everyone was on the main road.  Which was at a standstill heading into Chesterfield from well before our roundabout.  Took us over an hour to drive to the station. Usually takes ten minutes!

For those of you who aren't on Facebook, you should be able to view the snow photos here:

Wednesday, February 01, 2012


Right then.  Pay attention up the back, there.

We have been to Warminster for a party. It was Barb, the ex-Mrs Builder, 's brother Greg's 70th birthday party. (Got it?  There might be a test later!!)

The party was held in the Cornmarket cafe in Warminster. (There might be a test on this later too!!)

So we trundled down to Stoford on Saturday after lunch and booked into The Swan, as is our habit when pootling about Down Sowf.  Then we went to Nunton and collected The Builder's Mother, Gwen and took her with us. 

None of us was exactly sure where the Cornmarket was, so I put the postcode into Kathy the Sat Nav and off we went.  Alas - Kathy's map assured us that the place we were going to was down a side street which, once we got to Warminster, proved not to exist :-S  So we went down another street, which did exist, and more or less by accident found ourselves in a car park which had a board announcing the existence of the Cornmarket Mall, or something very like it.  I went on a little recce - and found the cafe with Barb and Greg and Jeanette and Matthew and Rebecca and Evie all sat inside. We decided that this must be the place we were heading for!!

It was a good do.  Greg's sons came with their children. His other sister Pauline came with her family.  There were friends and colleagues.  I think there were something like 40 people there. The cafe was running a bar. There was music and dancing. There was food and merriment. One of Greg's sons presented him with an inflatable zimmer frame festooned with balloons.

Spot the birthday boy!!! (Click on the photo to get to the album)

It was all lots of fun.  But we couldn't stay terribly late.  Gwen was fading quite a bit by 9:30 or so (might have had something to do with the glass of wine I gave her, but I think she is usually heading for bed by around 10 anyway). So we took her home and then repaired to The Swan for a pre-bed tipple and a lovely, snuggly bed.

And then we more or less came home, after breakfast and a visit to the Wilton garden centre to see what varieties of seed potatoes they had.  Marlo was quite surprised to see us. Usually if we are away overnight we either get back shortly after breakfast because we've stayed in Sheffield overnight, or not until later in the evening, because we've been gallivanting down in Wiltshire or Hampshire for the day. It's unusual for us to come home before lunch. But I had had the foresight to take a small piece of roasting meat out of the freezer before we left on the Saturday, so no excuse for a lunch out.

Alas, however. Poor Frugality has fallen flat on her face and seems to be rolling around in the gutter.  Even without having Sunday lunch out, the savings for the GWT took something of a battering over the weekend.  I think our "how-far-can-we-get-with-what-we've-got" meter might have plunged back to somewhere like Southampton. 

Had a nice lunch with Freyja, Julia and Timon last week.  Julia and Timon are back in New York now. Freyja is back at Uni. I think the partying is all done now.

Well - until Easter when I think we can start again :-)