Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Friday, March 30, 2012

Keep calm - and panic buy

I don't normally discuss politics on this blog -  but when you wake up and find that the country's prime minister, chancellor and other senior government figures have shown themselves to be absolute and complete idiots then sometimes you have to.

So we have rumours of a possible fuel tanker driver strike. The Union has decided possibly to take strike action at some unspecified time in the future. At present there are negotiations going on. Talks are being held. Tanker drivers are still driving tankers.  At present there should be absolutely nothing to see!!

So what does our wise and parentally minded government advise us to do?  The prime minister, no less, advises us to go out immediately and to fill our cars up so we have reserves should the tanker drivers immediately go on strike. Not surprisingly, this leads to long queues at the service stations. So the prime minister amends his advice and tells us not to queue, but to fill up as soon as practicable. No one heeds this and the queues get longer. The cabinet office minister weighs in and tells us to go out and fill up, just in case, and not only that but to buy jerry cans and fill them too - completely failing to take into account that storing petrol in jerry cans is unwise, unsafe and (in the UK, at least) illegal. He also told us to put these jerry cans in our garages.  I had a look as The Builder drove me from home to the station this morning and the very large majority of houses we went past don't have garages. Not sure where they're supposed to hide their clandestine stash of fuel! In the meantime, the queues at the service stations grew and stocks of jerry cans began to fail. Then the government changed its advice again and told us not to store petrol in 20 litre jerry cans (because that is unwise, unsafe and not legal) but instead to fill our cars when they get to about 3/4s full (not 3/4s empty, you notice) - just in case.

So now we have not a potential problem looming at some unspecified time in the future, but a proper crisis with people rushing to the service stations to fill their cars, long queues in many places causing hazards on the roads, a shortage of fuel which the tanker drivers (who are still driving) can't keep up with and general chaos. Almost entirely caused by idiotic advice from the government.

This has partly, but not comprehensively, diverted attention from the recent imposition of VAT on hot (but not cold) baked goods, such as pies, pasties and sausage rolls which has caused a significant ruckus in the media. And nobody is paying any attention at all to the other things that are going on, you know, like the economy or the health service and minor concerns like those.

In the meantime- the tanker drivers have decided not to go on strike until after the Easter holidays, if then.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I meant to say yesterday, and completely forgot ...

I was out on Sunday morning, hanging out the washing nice and early in the sunshine.  Marlo was sat beside me, supervising. The chickens were behind me, in their run, scratching and pottering. The garden birds were all fluttering about and generally enjoying the early spring.  All was peaceful and quiet. It was even too early for the lawn mowers, garden machines and light planes.

All of a sudden the peace was shattered by an amazingly loud squawking, from somewhere Over There.  Pigeons and doves all scattered. Blackbirds and sparrows shot under the prickly bush up by the pond. Marlo sat up abruptly, ears pricked. (The hens completely ignored it!)  What on earth was it?

I looked around and peered about and all the while the strange squawking continued. Eventually I stood up on my tiptoes and drew myself to the fullest hight I possibly can and looked over the side fence (remember I was right down at the bottom of the garden near the field). And there, Over There, sat on a distant neighbour's shed, was a cock pheasant, yelling loudly - I assume summoning a volunteer to be his wife.

We do not have many, or indeed (up till now) any pheasants around us, although The Builder did report seeing one on our back fence a few weeks ago. And I saw one in a field up near Grassmoor a couple of weeks ago. I assume it was the same one, looking forlornly for a mate. No idea what it's doing in Tupton, nor where it came from, nor indeed how it got here. But I don't think it's likely to find a mate hereabouts. I think it should move on.

Very striking bird. But VERY noisy!!!

(And to those people who I have told about the pheasant who have suggested I might like to catch it and pluck it and eat it - you really aren't supposed to dead the game birds in the early spring. They're out of season!!!)

The clocks have gone forward, and we're past the equinox - it must be properly spring now

And so the seasons cycle by. And here we are, properly back at spring and the garden is coming back to life after what was really rather a mild, but very dry winter.

The flower garden needs some attention - but not a lot. It needs weeding and tidying up after the winter but that won't take long. And I've got some flower seeds to make new plants where they are needed. I might also go to one of the herb nurseries in a couple of months and buy some culinary and some medicinal herbs to plug gaps.

The fruit trees are beginning to come to life. There is loads of blossom on the peach tree. It's an amazing tree that one. It was about a meter high when we planted it, and quite a weedy plant. And now it's taller than The Under Gardener and looks quite robust and is obviously very healthy. I don't know if we'll ever get any peaches from it. It flowers very early and the flowers tend to get blown off in the April gales. But you never know - we would only need a warm and calm spring and we might get some peaches.  And it's a white peach tree, rather than a yellow one. I absolutely love white peaches and they're hard to get in your bog standard shop in the UK.  We've had to trim the grapevine back - it was proving impossible to get past it without being impaled! But we still have plans to extend its trellis so that it acts as a "green gazebo". One day - when there's time and money!!

The Under Gardener has made a start on preparing the beds in the kitchen garden and on the allotment for the coming season and has planted up a second bed of white onions in the garden. I have planted a box of rainbow carrots (not that each individual carrot is a rainbow colour, but the pack contains yellow, white and orange carrot seeds) in the green house and a tray of cascading cherry tomato, black cherry tomato and alicante tomato seeds, also in the greenhouse. a bit early, but the tomato plants won't go outside at all, apart from the tumbling cherry tomatoes which will go in baskets in the driveway - but not for a few months yet. And The Under Gardener has planted two rows of broad beans and peas up on the allotment.

We're under way!

The garden as at March 26th

The allotment as at March 26th
Spring flowers in the garden. Click on the photo to view the garden at the weekend

Monday, March 26, 2012

My goodness but it was foggy on Saturday morning

So foggy that you couldn't see the garden at all, let along the farm or the railway or Grassmoor or Churchside. You couldn't see ANYTHING!! It was as though the place had been eaten by The Nothing :-S

Fortunately, it had lifted a little bit by 10:15 when I had to go out.  I had an appointment with a hairdresser.  Not the hairdresser in the village, where I've been going since we moved in. I got a bit cross with them when I went for a haircut just before we went to Japan (having booked it with my usual stylist and having told her it was the cut before I went to Japan for my son's wedding) only to find I had been bumped to another stylist who never cuts my hair all that well, because it was the day of the village festival and my regular one had to do the hair of the pageant princesses and wotnot. I know that that was important, but had anyone mentioned it, I could have gone on another day. Wasn't happy! I wasn't happy last time I went either when I couldn't make an appointment for 8 weeks hence because "We haven't made the book up that far yet - you'll have to ring us in a couple of weeks". And of course, I never did. And eventually I was starting to look like a rather unkempt Old English Sheepdog.

So I decided to try somewhere else. But where? In times of recession, hair salons appear to breed like rabbits.  They're everywhere. How to choose? The barber The Builder goes to has recently taken on a women's stylist and I considered trying her. But then I noticed that every morning on our way to the station we drive past a unisex salon in Grassmoor. I decided to go there. And so I went, through the fog. And she didn't do a bad job. And she's cheaper than the other place. AND, when I asked if I could have another appointment in 8 weeks time they didn't say they hadn't made their book up yet - they said yes. So I did!

So I have finally had a hair cut, I no longer look like an unkempt Old English Sheepdog - and I have a new hairdresser, not a five minute walk from home but a five minute drive :-)

The fog did eventually clear on Saturday, but not until the mid-afternoon, by which time we'd been and done a little shopping and we'd done a few useful domestic chores and had settled down to watch television and generally while away the rest of the day.

The clocks went forward by an hour on Sunday, overnight.

We woke up to more fog.  But it cleared very early and turned into the most glorious spring day. It was almost summer-like. The Builder watched the Grand Prix and I made a start on cutting back the deadness of winter in the garden. The Builder came out later to help. And instead of retreating inside, we sat outside on the patio and drank Sunday wine and planned our gardeny plans for the coming season. The thermometer on the grape trellis proudly proclaimed that it was 35d - which it was in the sunshine, but not quite so much in the shade. It was, nevertheless, a stunning afternoon. And then we went back inside and had a lovely Sunday roast and some plums in a sweet Yorkshire pudding batter

And then it was Monday and back to work for me. No fog this morning. Just a really hard frost which had covered the car windows in ice. Took The Builder ages to clear the windows. It's lovely and sunny and warm now though.

Sunday wine in the garden

I decided that to further our attempts at frugality, we really must start eating from the store cupboards and freezers. We have run out of vegetables from the last season now, apart from onions - but we still have mountains of plums and gooseberries and rhubarb, not to mention hillocks of red currants and assorted other bits of fruit.  And it won't be long before the new season rhubarb is ready to pull. We need to eat the fruit!  We also have quite a few home-made "ready meals" waiting in the freezer for rainy days. Well, we don't ever seem to have rainy days. I've decided they need eating up too - winter weight stews and soups won't be all that appetising when the weather is warm and sunny and we want to be eating summer food!

So I made a start this weekend. We had a minced beef and Japanese curry style stew that I made a few weeks ago with rice and vegetables on Saturday. Then yesterday I slow roasted a large piece of pork, on a trivet of chopped onions and the last of the frozen Bramley apples, roughly chopped, with some sage leaves and a glass of white wine. When the pork was cooked I set it to rest and put the apples and onions and all the juices in the blender with a very little of the vegetable water, then passed it all through a fine sieve to make an apple, onion and sage sauce. We had the pork and sauce with roasted potatoes and lots of vegetables.

And then for dessert I made what was in effect a plum clafoutis. I took a bag of plums from the freezer and when they had defrosted cut them in half and destoned them. I put the plum halves cut sized down in a baking dish and then covered that with a chilled, sweet Yorkshire pudding batter (I sweetened it with a vanilla infused caster sugar) and then baked it all in a hot oven for around 20 minutes. The batter didn't rise as a proper Yorkshire pudding would - I think the sugar and the plum juice would prevent that. But it did become quite fluffy and sticky and delicious.

And the store cupboard and freezer frugality continues today. I have some left over pork, all the left over veg and potatoes and the left over apple and onion sauce from yesterday in the slow cooker for tonight. We can choose whether to have it with potatoes, or rice or pearled barley or pearled spelt :-)

Can't freeze the left over pork stew though - I need to run the freezers down so they can be defrosted and cleaned ready for what I am hopeful will be a bounteous harvest this coming season!!  Leftovers will have to be eaten tomorrow as well

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tuesday off

I must say - I do agree with my colleague who tries hard to take off the day following an evening duty that is is a very good plan. When I first started working here you couldn't have done it. I had an evening duty every week and it would have eaten too vigorously into my annual leave. And I was younger then, and also lived very much closer to work so it didn't matter as much. But now I do one late shift a month and it's quite easy to take the following day off. I can almost always take it as time in lieu and not even as a day of annual leave.  Works a treat.

So that is what I did on Tuesday, following a Monday evening late shift. It was lovely. No need to get up and dash madly about in the morning. No need to dash madly about at all.  And it was a glorious day. The sun shone and it was pleasantly warm (although I think it was a very similar temperature in Ballarat - and while I was turning off our heating, Lindsey was declaring it to be far too cold and was turning hers on!!!)

So we went and bought some shelving for the porch, which The Builder has now put up. And the washing flapped happily on the line while the chickens pootled happily about in the orchard and Marlo lazed about in the sunshine. The Builder and I (but not the washing, the chickens or Marlo) went to The Nettle for lunch (but not to the chocolate feast in the evening). I made the grievous error of deciding to wipe some cobwebs and smudges off some tiles near the back door - and then had to keep on cleaning the tiles at the back of the kitchen because several years of neglect had made them look much darker than the newly cleaned ones now looked :-S (I must sort out the rest of the kitchen and clean that up before the Birthday Party visitors come on Easter Monday).

All in all it was a lovely day. It did make Wednesday morning a bit of a shock, though. I had had four mornings in a row of gentle pottering about. No gentle pottering on Wednesday :-S

And I think the coming Monday may well come as a horrible shock to the system. It was properly light when I got up this morning and got ready for work. It will be properly dark on Monday. Not that I intend to get up any earlier than normal - but the clocks go forward on Sunday morning :-)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sour Cream Pastry Dough

A little while ago I was listening to someone describing how they had made a batch of pastry using sour cream rather than milk or water to slacken the pastry. It sounded quite interesting to me so I made a mental note of it.

On Saturday morning I wanted to make some party pies and some party sausage rolls for a birthday party that afternoon. So I took 200g of cold, unsalted butter (grated) and mixed it with 250g of plain white flour, gently, by hand. Then I stirred through around 60ml of sour cream - enough so that it formed a soft dough when gently kneaded. Then I left the dough to cool in the fridge for about an hour. I rolled half of it very thinly and cut into a long oblong which I filled with a long thin sausage of pork and sage sausage meat. I rolled the pastry around it, sealed it with egg wash, painted the top with egg wash,slashed the top several times and then cut in into bite sized sausage rolls. I baked the sausage rolls at 150d for about 30 minutes.

While they were baking I rolled out the other half of the pastry which I cut into rounds which I lined my mini-muffin tray with. I filled this with a beef mince and tomato filling (flavoured with extra tomato paste, a little balsamic vinegar, some soya sauce and some black pepper), popped lids on the little pies, egg washed them and then baked them also at 150d for around half an hour.

The pastry was a lovely, rich, rough puff pastry which went really well with the sausage rolls and the pies.  Then I made a second lot of pastry, with less butter and more sour cream, to make mini potato, leek and cheese pies. This made a lovely, light shortcrust style pastry which went extremely well with the potato pies.

While I was about it I made up a batch of vanilla biscuit dough (200g unsalted butter, 150g vanilla infused caster sugar, 400g plain flour, 1 egg, a dash or two of vanilla essence, rolled quite thickly, baked at 150d for 4 minutes, then turn the tray around, then bake for another 4 minutes) which I cut into kangaroo and teddy bear shapes (although most people seemed to think they were koalas). I cheated and used writing icing to decorate them. They went down a storm at the birthday party :-) (So did the pies, sausage rolls and veggie pies.)

Baking, baking, baking - and a party

So. I got up at 6:00. At 7:00 I started baking

I made:

24 party pies
24 party sausage rolls
20 party potato, leek and cheese pies
12 kangaroo biscuits
25 teddy bear biscuits

By the time we were due to leave at 12:30 I had managed to decorate the last of the biscuits and get all the pies, sausage rolls and biscuits packed up safely ready to transport to Sheffield.

You can see why proper bakers have to be up and in their bakeries quite so early!!!

Then off we drove to Woodseats, detouring slightly to go via Nether Green to collect Freyja from Simon's place.

And it was a lovely party.  Lots of people came.  Lots of babies and toddlers came. Ginger Rich was there. So too were Paul and Carol.  Gareth's dad came from Glossop (you can't go directly from Glossop to Sheffield by train; you have to go via Manchester which is about the same distance from Glossop but in the opposite direction. And not only did poor Ron miss his connecting train, but the bottle of wine he was bringing to the party leaked everywhere too. His visit to Manchester Piccadilly on Saturday was not a happy one!!!) Freyja's pal Nate came (but not her pal Duncan who was working). The Builder and I were there. There was LOTS of food, and plenty of wine and beer. There was orange juice for the ankle biters. There were presens for Cally. And fairy cakes. It was all very excellent.

Except that Tabitha had to cahnge Cally out of her party dress. It was very pretty and she looked lovely. But it did rather impede her getting about. She changed into a dragon - and had a much better time wosshing around!!

So that was all good. A lovely way to spend a Saturday (just as well I like baking!!)

Cally and her birthday hat. Click on the photo to view the weekend album
Sunday was a lovely day. We woke up to nice steady rain which cleared, conveniently, just as we wanted to go out, to a lovely sunny day. We went to the dairy and to the petrol station and otherwise just pottered about. I was asleep good and early, mind.  All that baking on Saturday morning and a bit extra on Sunday had apparently tuckered me out!

Nice lazy morning today - I'm on an evening shift so no need to get up and rush about. No need to rush about tomorrow either. I have the day entirely off :-)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cally is a whole ONE!

Goodness me.  Cally has jsut turned one.  One whole year old. How on earth did that happen?

She had a lovely day yesterday. Tabitha and Gareth are on holiday this week and they all went to Graves Park during the day. There's a children's farm in one corner of the park and at the moment they have loads of baby emus there. Some still in incubators but others big enough to be out and about. Tabitha was quite excited by the emus. Cally was, I'm told, more excited by the ducks!

After I had finished work, The Builder and I went round to Cally's place. We all had fish and chips for dinner. Cally talked to Grandpa Tony and Grandma Stella on the laptop. There were presents for her to open. She thought it was all great fun.

And little does she know - but the fun continues on Saturday when there will be an afternoon tea party to celebrate her birthday and even more people will come to play!

So Happy First Birthday Cally - and many more to come :-)

(There was a beautiful conjunction of Venus and Jupiter in the sky last night as we left Cally's place. Very bright and very large in the sky. A celestial birthday candle for Cally, perhaps)

Monday, March 12, 2012

A sunshiney weekend

It was something of a concern, when we turned up for our morning shift at Bishops' House on Saturday morning to find this on the path

It was something of a perplexity to see this on the lawn

Inside the house there were Land Girls and ARP wardens and Home Guards and soldiers and ladies in scarfs and pinnies. The Builder said it was like being a little boy again - there were women there who looked just liked his grandma did when he was small!

Had we time shifted? Were we back in the 1940s? No! The 1940s had come to visit us!!

The Bishops' House events people had arranged for a group of WWII enactors to come and play for the day. We were fortunate that the weather was kind - and so we had loads of visitors. In the morning we had over 80 visitors (as against the regular 10 if we're lucky on an average Saturday morning). And lots of the visitors came ready to enter the spirit of the day. Little boys came dressed in 1940s style shorts and jumpers. Grown ups came dressed in 1940s style clothes (including some "proper" stockings with the seam up the back!!). One of the events organisers had baked ginger biscuit bombs which were bought with enthusiasm by the visitors. The Hall in the house was filled with stalls selling things or demonstrating things. It was lots of fun.

And fortunately the bloke with the bomb didn't blow us all up!!

They're doing the Civil War on the Saturday of the Easter weekend.  I've volunteered us to  be there that Saturday morning too :-)

It was another absolutely glorious day on Sunday as well.  We had thought we might go out and start doing some tidying and weeding in the garden.  But instead we went for a lovely walk around the Nature Trail in the beautiful sunshine and remarkably mild temperatures.  We haven't been round for ages - and there have been a few small changes.  You can see the pictures of the walk here

It really was a lovely weekend weather-wise. A proper taste of spring. But this morning we were enveloped in misty fogginess. Although they are promising us sunshine this afternoon

Thursday, March 08, 2012

The electrician has been

After all that excitement we had really rather a dull weekend. We did practically nothing. We didn't leave the house on Saturday, unless you count going out to feed the chickens and the birds, and me going out to inspect the back garden in between showers.  We did leave the house on Sunday, but only to go as far as the supermarket and the dairy (mission accomplished this time without either of us tripping up in the road)  One of The Builder's allotment friends, though, did trip over the pavement up towards the shop. She didn't fare quite as well as The Builder in that she is very bruised and scraped - but she didn't hit her head, I don't think.

The council did come and fill in some of the pot holes outside our place, but has done nothing with the cracks and the raised metalwork.  The pavement up Ward Street (where Marilyn, the allotment friend tripped) is in very poor condition. The council has replaced the entirety of the pavement on Green Lane from the school up to the shop - but I don't suppose they want to be sued by parents when their children fall over and break themselves heading up to buy after-school lollies!!

And on Monday the electrician came. And to our slight embarrassment it seems there was nothing wrong with the light in the bathroom. The problem was purely that the new bulb we put in was itself broken :-S  But our embarrassment is only slight. The original bulb did go with an almighty bang, so it wasn't unreasonable to suppose that it had damaged the wiring. And I don't expect Phillips light bulbs to be taken from their packet in a broken state - and with the new bulbs you can't see if they're broken, which you could with the filament ones.  Anyway - the electrician didn't laugh at The Builder and he did fix the kitchen spotlights which are now VERYBRIGHTINDEED in the kitchen!

I really must remember in future that our boiler and central heating cover extends to loads of other things in the house. No point paying all that money each month and then not using the service. (Even less point paying all that money and then paying for other electricians to come and play!!!)

Oh - and I have been reminded this week that having cream bed linen, a black cat and rain overnight is a Bad Plan!!!!!!!  (Unless you find cat paw prints on your doona cover cute, that is)

Saturday, March 03, 2012

The Builder has had a few excitements

So, after starting the week with his rather spectacular fall, The Builder had settled down into a nice, peaceful routine, hoping for a nice, peaceful week in which nothing in particular would happen.

And more or less, that is what was happening. It hasn't really been the weather for gardening or useful outdoor pursuits so he was passing his time indoors, messing about on the Internet, reading, watching television, playing with the cat.

And so the week progressed.

On Wednesday morning I was in the kitchen, peacefully minding my own business, listening to Today on the radio and washing up Tuesday evening's dishes.  The Builder, I assumed, was in the bathroom - probably about to hop in the shower. All of a sudden, he was stood behind me, in his nightshirt, dressing gown and slippers.  Couldn't I hear the chickens?  Nope.  All I could hear was the radio and the running water from the tap. "You can hear them in the bathroom," he said. "Squawking, fit to burst!!!" (window in bathroom open; window in kitchen shut!). And out he ran, in his nightshirt, dressing gown and slippers, dashing down to see what was upsetting the chickens so. I stopped and put my gumboots on (I, you understand, was fully dressed, but was wearing my slippers) and trundled down after him. And indeed two of the chickens were down by the back fence, yelling as loudly as they possibly could and all puffed up to make themselves look ferocious.  Another chicken was still in bed (it was only just getting light and ordinarily none of them would have been up yet). The fourth was right at the other end of their garden, out the way, ignoring it all ("By the time whatever it is gets to me, it will have eaten two whole chickens and won't be hungry enough to eat me!!!")

We have no idea what it was all about. We couldn't see anything in their run and in any case it looked as though the two were yelling at something over the back fence.  We couldn't see anything in the field to yell at and nor could The Builder see any sign of a disturbance when he went down later to look in proper daylight.  I bought a chooky silence with some mealworms (don't want the neighbours complaining about them making a huge racket before the sun has risen!!) and we went back to what we had been doing. We assume a fox had been passing by, but if so it didn't seem to be very interested in getting into our garden.

And so the week went on, back on quiet and peaceful track.

Until Friday morning. When once again I was up and dressed and doing useful things. The Builder was in the bathroom. Minding his own business, in a quiet and peaceful sort of a way. And all of a sudden the bathroom light went BANG, the house was filled with a burning electrical smell and the bathroom was abruptly plunged into darkness.  This was all a bit exciting - especially for The Builder!  I produced a spare light globe. The bathroom remained obdurately dark. The Builder decided not to shave and shower right at that moment. Maybe later, when it was properly daylight.

And later, when it was properly daylight, he put up a new light fitting that we happened to have, handily, lying about not doing anything very useful. Still no electrical light. This calls for an electrician :-S  We were gloomily deciding that the electrician would have to be paid for from the Grand World Tour fund and that we might need to reduce our Grand plans to Mediocre or even Small ones - when suddenly I remembered that we pay a small fortune each month to British Gas for the absolute top range Home Care cover. Which includes lights, wiring and (you may be surprised to hear) repairs to kitchen appliances such as fridges, freezers and washing machines.

I have made an appointment for a British Gas sparky to come and look at the bathroom light. And while he's here, he can look at the kitchen spotlights, two of which have refused to work for months.  Could have had someone out ages ago to look at them, if only I had remembered that our Home Care cover includes lights!!! He's coming on Monday morning. We can ablute over the weekend during daylight. And I'll have to shower by torchlight on Monday morning

The Builder's bruise, following his collision with the kerb