Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Thursday, February 28, 2013


We haven't been to Salisbury for ages.  Months, even. Not since we went down and stayed at Barb's place and took Gwen for a (very) early Christmas lunch in mid-November.

So we went last weekend.  Now as you may remember, if had been our habit over several years to stay at The Swan in Stoford. But now there are new people running it so we decided that it might be time to look for other, equally charming places to stay.  I had a look online and found that The Old Mill in Harnham had some weekend offers on.  Now we've stayed at the Old mill a couple of times, but lots of years ago.  We've eaten in their restaurant too, but also not for several years.  But when we did go, we really enjoyed it.  And you can't fault the location; it's just across the meadows from the cathedral and sits next to and even over the river Nadder.  So I booked us in for a couple of nights (having taken Monday off to allow for a leisurely trip back home) and off we went.

And it really was delightful.  I am fairly sure that I hadn't booked us into a "superior" double room - but that was what we got. We were right upstairs and had a lovely view of the river. We had lunch in the bar on arrival (I had a sausage sandwich, you might be astonished to learn - and it was delicious; the sausages weren't in the least bit salty or gristly or fatty and the accompanying chips were OK). Then we toddled out to Downton to see if we could find Matthew, late of the now abandoned Swan and who is now manager of the White Horse in Downton. There wasn't an opportunity to eat there (although we will make sure we do take the chance to eat there one day soon) but I must say that the cup of tea they made for me was excellent. Pub cups of tea are so often a disappointment! And then we dined in the restaurant at the Old Mill - and the food was exceptional. Our only problem was that we are off the booze for Lent and had no idea what to drink instead.  We each had an "adult" soft drink (elderflower presse for me; ginger beer for The Builder) but they didn't last long (there is only so much soft drink I can drink!) and we were reduced to drinking water with our meal.  There really must be something slightly more celebratory or even more interesting than water that isn't alcoholic, surely?

Anyway. We slept well in the ENORMOUS bed (I almost needed binoculars to see The Builder :-D ), made a good breakfast - although I had to be fairly restrained because we were going out to lunch - and then trundled into Salisbury for a quick visit to Waitrose and then to Currys . Then we collected Gwen and made our way out to Whiteley where were waiting for us Jeanette, Matthew, Rebecca, Evie - and Ian who is now back from his six month stay in Canada. There was also a visiting dog, Poppy,. who belongs to a friend of Jeanette and Matthew and who was spending the day with them while her human was off doing other things. We had a good time. Delicious lunch, a good natter; a play with Poppy; a tickle of Evie. A lovely afternoon.

Monday saw us heading to Warminster to visit Barb.  We had some things to drop off with her and she made us a delicious sausage frittata for lunch.  Then we came home - well-fed, full and very slightly fatter than we had been when we set off on Saturday morning!!

Japanese classes have started again. I am hopeful there won't be too many unscheduled breaks this half-term. If I don't go regularly I forget everything I've learned :-S

Click on the beautiful roof to reach the photo album

Monday, February 18, 2013

That was something of an odd week

So.  We had snow on Monday, which turned to rain, which washed the snow away.  There was a Japanese class on Tuesday - but missing the one when I had flu was a definite reminder that you need to attend ALL the classes if you are going to get anywhere.  They had done the Dictionary Form of Japanese verbs in that class and I had absolutely no idea what was going on :-S  I suppose I should be able to work it out - I have borrowed some grammar books from our little Japanese collection at work :-)

Wednesday dawned grey and misty and damp.  The damp turned to rain. The rain turned to snow. The snow turned to heavy snow.  Julia and I got to Sheffield station in the evening to find a general level of chaos. The electric wires were down beyond Luton thus meaning that any electric trains had stopped running.  But so too had the diesel trains. Even they can't run when the lines are all cluttered up with electrical wiring!  This meant that train services to London were stopping at Bedford, if they were running at all. And many other services were severely disrupted.  Fortunately, Julia and I managed to get to Chesterfield without too much trouble and without much of a delay. The Builder, however, was stuck in traffic not all that far from our place. It took him an hour to get to the station (usually takes about ten minutes). It took us 45 minutes to get back home from the station.  Still.  Could have been worse.  One of my colleagues who lives up beyond Fulwood took nearly three hours to get home because the buses simply stopped running and he had to walk through the snow.

And then the snow once again turned back to rain and the roads were washed clear.

Even the desk rotas showed a distinctly anarchist tendency on Friday. One person had misread their shifts so wasn't about for the morning - and complete chaos ensued.  We did get it all sorted out in the end but it was all rather chaotic while the day was progressing.  Fortunately there were a few bodies around without anything particularly pressing to do so we could all be a bit flexible.  But the rotas aren't usually that difficult to tame, even when people don't turn up!

The weekend (rather disingenuously, I fear) was redolent with the promise of spring. Saturday and Sunday mornings dawned foggy, it is true - but then the fog cleared to reveal bright blue skies, a strange yellow orb in the sky and even fairly warm temperatures for the time of year.  I hung washing out on the line on both days and on both days it pretty nearly dried. We went for a wander around the Wetlands on Sunday morning, and dropped by for our first inspection of the allotment for the year. But winter is about to fight back. They are forecasting a significant drop in temperature later in the week - and even the possibility of yet more snow :-S

In the meantime, poor Freyja did not have a particularly delightful Thursday evening.  Some charming person decided that s/he had a more urgent need to own Freyja's backpack than Freyja did and ambled out of the pub where Freyja and the backpack were spending the evening with the backpack in tow. They probably didn't gain as much as they might have hoped from this action.  Most fortunately, Freyja's wallet was not in the backpack, so no thiefly joy there. Her keys and her passport (no, I don't know why you need a passport to go to the pub) and her student card and her staff card and her brand new notepad for taking lecture notes were all in it - but won't have been of much value to a thief.  And so too was her laptop, which was much too elderly to be of any real use to a thief, and which she had been considering saving up to replace - but she hadn't intended to give it up entirely, nor quite so abruptly. Fortunately, it is password protected so your average opportunistic thief wouldn't be able to get into her various accounts and we have, in any case, changed as many passwords as we could think of. But she was definitely not happy about its loss. I wouldn't be happy if my laptop randomly wandered off either. (Mine wasn't password protected - it has been since Friday morning!!!)

On a happier note, though - she and Simon have bought tickets for their very own Grand World Tour (so she can't afford to replace the laptop!!!). They leave London on December 7th, heading to Melbourne via a few days in both Bali and Perth. I would worry that their itinerary seems to have them arrive in Auckland on January 2nd with no obvious means of escape - but Freyja tells me that the second part of the itinerary isn't finalised yet and she isn't anticipating being held captive in New Zealand indefinitely.

New Highland cattle have arrived in the wetlands

Muddy bridge over what is usually a tiny stream

This is generally a tiny trickle that you hardly notice

and there is, allegedly, a footpath from where I am, through the field, to that gate over there!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a country far far away ...

... I spent some time living on the edge of a desert during a prolonged drought.  Day after day after day dawned with blue skies and perpetual sunshine. It never rained, not even a little bit. You might find this hard to believe, but ongoing, unbroken blue skies and a complete dearth of rain become very dispiriting and rather boring. And if you rely on lake, river and rain water for your supplies, a complete lack of rain also gets quite worrying.  I kept the garden alive by putting the washing water from the washing machine on to it.  Rinsing water became the next cycle's washing water. We became very creative and resourceful in our use of water.

Then, one day, the drought broke.  I remember very vividly when it started to rain.  I happened to be out in the depths of the countryside visiting someone and remember quite clearly turning round and looking for the idiot who had put a sprinkler on their garden.  Austin, on the other hand, who must have been only two or three, had screaming hysterics because he, of course, had no memory of ever having felt water falling out of the sky before.

I vowed and declared that I would remember this experience and that I would remain perpetually grateful for the gift of water. In short, that I wouldn't ever complain about the rain again.

And by and large I don't complain much about the weather, if for no other reason than that there is absolutely nothing that I can do about it so it is a complete waste of time and breath complaining about it.

But really, dear Weather Dogs - this is ridiculous.  It hasn't stopped raining for months and months and months and months.  Months, I tell you. It started raining in something like April 2012 and hasn't properly stopped since. And when it isn't raining it's just dismal.  And when it's neither raining nor dismal - it's bloody snowing.  Enough already.  Or I might need to emigrate.  Again :-S

They were forecasting heavy snow for Sunday so on Saturday we hit the supermarket for supplies, making sure we had plenty of bread and milk and wine, and generally preparing ourselves for bad weather coming.  And we woke up on Sunday to find that - oh look: it was raining!! Persistently and dismally and drearily.  No snow. It was also the Chinese New Year (Welcome, again, Year of the Snake - who we had previously welcomed in a temple in Gifu at the beginning of January).  Snakes like warm sunny weather. Maybe we could swap the Weather Dogs for Weather Snakes?

I decided that we would celebrate the Chinese New Year, even though we don't usually.  So for an entree for our Sunday lunch  I prepared home made gyoza in the way Kaori had shown me but using home made gyoza wrappers. We had Chinese style poached chicken for the main course, reserving the poaching liquor for chicken noodle soup during the week.  We had remarkably non-Oriental chocolate and black currant brownies for dessert.  It was all extremely delicious.

And it remained wet and dismal and dreary outside. But we didn't care for we were warm and well fed and well wined inside.

We woke up on Monday morning to find that the promised snow had materialised overnight.  Fortunately there wasn't too much of it and The Builder was able to take me to the station to go to work. And equally fortunately it was only short lived so there is no snow lying about today. Which means, I hope, that my Japanese class will go ahead this evening.  If it does it will be the second class (out of five) that I have made it to so far this year. (Two classes cancelled and one I missed when I had flu.) My Japanese fluency is never going to get going if classes keep be cancelled :-S

But my gyoza are proving to be quite tasty!

Welcome to the Year of the Snake (again!)

Monday, February 04, 2013

Birthday Shenanigans

It was Stella's birthday on Saturday and, as far as I can tell, pretty much everyone in the Victorian branch of the family descended on Mount Martha on Saturday for lunch.

It was a bit far for us to go, just for lunch, even though they have now opened the new bit of the Peninsula Freeway so that it goes all the way to Mount Martha instead of running out in Frankston. In any case, we were due to be at Bishops' House on Saturday morning, so even less of an opportunity to go to Mount Martha for lunch.  But we could meet Tabitha, Gareth and Cally.  And we could go to the Bishops' Coffee House for lunch in honour of Stella's birthday, after the afternoon shift had turned up at Bishops' House.

So we did.  Gareth and The Builder had Full Breakfasts.  Tabitha and I had burgers and chips.  Cally had sausage and chips.  It was all very delicious and I managed to eat the whole burger and most of the chips, but not the bun. (Although I am *Still* not very hungry - we had been into Chesterfield, The Builder and me, on Friday to collect my new glasses and had gone to The Rutland for lunch. All I had wanted was chips and gravy so got round this by ordering the steak and ale pie. Truly delicious it had been - and I could only eat half of it ;-(  It's time my appetite came back. I miss eating food!!!).

And after lunch we went to the pub for a quick drink.  It's not far from where Tabitha and Gareth live.  The Builder and I have been in once before - for about 8 seconds; the amount of time it took to turn on our heels and walk out!  Then it closed and it's been refurbished.  And all the manky, germy, grubby people who used to be in there have been replaced by men with labradors, ladies in dresses and even a few families.  It's much nicer. We stayed for longer than 8 seconds this time!

We didn't anticipate very many visitors in Bishops' House on Saturday morning.  It was quite chilly in the park and not many people go pottering about on Saturday mornings, usually.  And especially not on Saturday mornings in February. So we had gone prepared for a nice, quiet morning.  Instead of which we had a constant stream of people wandering in.  Very peculiar!  Still, it made our stats look nice and healthy.

We had a supplementary celebration of Stella's birthday yesterday.  We went to the Marsh Green Farm Shop to restock on our meat supplies and bought for our Sunday lunch a nice piece of lamb shoulder which I roasted very slowly for several hours. I'm sure that Stella would have enjoyed it very much - except that she had already had coconut prawns for Sunday lunch.  It would have been very greedy to have had both!!

Back to work today.  I still have a cough that would do Mimi proud but otherwise am feeling very much better.  The cough is still on offer to anyone who would like to give it a good home!