Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Friday, November 29, 2013


You may remember that we took Gyoza to the vet a while back because she suddenly started limping very badly.  Nothing appeared to be wrong.

A little bit later we noticed that she was bleeding on the other leg.  We caught her and had a look. Nothing seemed to be wrong.  The other chickens also noticed that her leg was bleeding and started to peck at her.  This did not help matters. Gyoza started nestling down, out of the way, in amongst the brambles and nettles.

One day recently I went down to check the next boxes and found Gyoza in the chook house with blood running everywhere.  So we fetched the little hutch we bought when she and Dim Sim and the ducks were but chicklings. We moved the wire run which had been around the duck house and attached it to the little house and isolated Gyoza so her leg would have a chance to heal without being pecked by the other hens.

The ducks were a bit puzzled by this - but they never actually used the run and (as far as I am aware) are still sleeping in their house.

Gyoza's leg stopped bleeding.

We were just about to release her back into the micro-flock when her leg started bleeding again. We we had a proper investigation and found that there's some sort of growth on it.  I'm sorry, but I'm not taking her back to the vet. Apart from her leg she seems to be fit and well and happy, except that she doesn't want to live in a run any more.  And you can see her point. So we've decided to isolate her semi-permanently from the rest of the flock. We've going to bring her hutch and run up to the little lawn by the pond and put her up there. We'll keep her in the run for a few days until she learns where her new bed is and then we'll let her out during the day. This means that she will have the run of the whole flower and vegetable garden.  Queen of all she surveys!

In the meantime I have decided that I will do an autumn cut back of the flower garden.  The Under Gardener has reminded me that weeds that we don't want to put on the compost heap can mostly go in the orchard where the chooks and ducks will deal with them.  And I can still leave some of the plants which have seed heads on them unchopped for the garden birds. It also means that I can plant some spring bulbs in the places where the weeds have been dug out.  Gyoza can help with the process, once we let her out of the run into the garden!

We must remember, though, to make sure we shut her run with her inside it at night.  The orchard is as fox proof as it is possible for it to be (which is to say that a very, very determined fox could get in but probably wouldn't bother when there are other, easier targets close at hand). The garden isn't fox proof at all, but a closed up run will act as something of a deterrent

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Council garden waste collections

A year or two ago, the local council decided that, in order to save money, it would suspend the collection of the garden waste bins over the winter. So it ceases collection at the end of November and starts again sometime in March.

I'm sure this suits the people who only use their bins to put their grass cuttings in. We never put grass cuttings in ours - they go in the chook run or on the compost heaps. We do, however, put things like morning glory, mint, other pernicious weeds or tenacious plants in ours.  And about now is the time that I would be cutting things back for the winter. And the collections have now stopped.  So my options are that I can cut back the flower garden and pile the cuttings up somewhere and then put them in the green bin over the course of several weeks in the spring; I can cut the garden back and take the cuttings to the council tip; or I can not cut the garden back until the spring.

Which is what we did last winter - but that was because the weather was not conducive to putting the garden to bed for the winter in the late autumn, and then we went away for six weeks.  The weather is OK for gardening at the moment - a bit cold and damp, but certainly do-able. And we are not going away just yet.

I was all set to rush out and get at least one load of stuff in the bin prior to the last collection of the year - when I noticed a load of small birds messing about amongst the remaining mint flowers and in the seed heads of various flowers.

Do you know - I might leave the cutting back of some of it until late winter or early spring.  We're away for a few weeks over the winter and there's no point starting to feed the birds now, only to stop mid-January. The garden will provide sufficient food for the birds until we come back. That works pretty much on all levels. Well, apart from me wanting it to look tidier. But I don't suppose we'll have many visitors coming to inspect the garden between now and March. And I can always tidy the paths and plant my bulbs and work around the overgrown herbs and creepers and climbers.

Still irritates me that the council ceases a service just at the time that I really want to use it, though :-S

Monday, November 25, 2013

And another expensive weekend

although, in truth, nothing like as expensive as the previous one!

We wanted to go down and see The Builder's mother sometime around Christmas.  December wasn't looking like a good option - mostly because we seem to be quite busy. The Old Mill had a Dinner, Bed and Breakfast deal for Saturday night which was quite reasonable, so I booked it.

We trundled down to Salisbury on Saturday afternoon and booked in to the Old Mill. It was quite misty and atmospheric around the meadows by the river. You can see why Constable thought it was a good place to paint! And dinner was delightful. We thought that, given it was a deal, we might be restricted in our choices.  But no. We could make merry with the entire menu. So I had scallops poached on a stick of lemon grass, and a magnificent piece of steak and a truly lovely cappuccino crème brulee. But I really rather wished I had ordered the fish dish once our main course arrived.  The Builder did - and it came with a piece of hake and a load of scallops and mussels and prawns and garlic potatoes and veg.  It looked AMAZING! Next time.

We caught the second half of the Doctor Who fiftieth anniversary special when we got back to our room. Fortunately I had it set to record at home so we can watch the whole thing.  I have a suspicion that it might make a bit more sense if we see it from the beginning.  Not a lot more sense, of course - this is Doctor Who after all.  But a bit.

On Sunday we breakfasted at The Old Mill (and I had the foresight to have a light breakfast, unlike some of us who greedily chomped into a full Full English!) and then we gathered up Gwen and took ourselves off to see Jeanette, Matthew, Rebecca and Evie and (as a pleasant surprise) Ian. Gwen hadn't been to the new house before, and hasn't seen Ian for a long time, so she was very happy.  Evie (who is 6) and Matthew (who is not 6) had made us a chicken and ham pie, which they often have on Boxing Day.  I have to say that it was very delicious and I was very glad that I had had the foresight not to have a huge breakfast!. I shall remember that pie for a later occasion. I shall also remember the scallops skewered on lemon grass. lemon grass is one of my current favourite things.  I could replicate the scallops on lemon grass skewers.  And I think it would work quite well with chicken breast pieces as well.

We had a lovely afternoon. Then we took Gwen home and made our way back to Tupton. Marlo was quite pleased to see us.  I assume the ducks and chooks were OK. It was very definitely dark by the time we got home at 8:30. It was also cold and a touch windy. So we didn't arm ourselves with a torch and go down to inspect them.  But Steve had been in in the morning.  I'm sure he would have said something if there had been a problem.

Click on the Old Mill to get to the photo album

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Goodness but that was an expensive weekend

We were in the office on Friday afternoon and my colleague Paul remarked in passing that he had had an email from a group called Rated People instructing him to declutter his house.  Decluttering is, of course, always a fine thing to do. But I had never heard of Rated People and wasn't sure why they were sending out instructions to Paul by email.

It turns out that Rated People is a website where you can put in details of household jobs that you want done and a small number of tradespeople will contact you and give you quotes for the work.  It looked a reasonable site, Paul has used it himself and the reviews I could find on the internet seemed ok. And we have a number of things that we want done and in some cases have absolutely no idea how much it would cost.

I decided to give it a go, starting with something quite small but which really did need doing before the winter sets in.  The guttering had come adrift from the fascia board and whenever it rained water would cascade down our beautifully re-painted front wall.  This was making the paint look quite dirty but it was also making the front wall quite damp.

So I put my job in, stressing that we were only at the planning and budgeting stage. About fifteen minutes later my phone rang and it was a cheery bloke saying that he could come around on Saturday morning and give us a quote.

Excellent.  I withdrew my job from Rated People. The tradespeople have to pay to see the full details of the job and I didn't want people paying unnecessarily, because if the quote was good and the people looked OK, we would give the work to them.  When we had saved up.

So at 8:45 on Saturday morning in lobbed two general tradespeople and an apprentice roofer.  They shimmied up and down their ladders.  About £250.  This didn't seem like a lot to us, so we told them to go ahead.

Alas. Once they had taken off the guttering and the perished fascia board it became clear that we were missing the drip trays that channel the water from the roof into the guttering. And they were very, very unhappy about the rendering on our chimney, which was pulling away.  We knew that the render was going to fall off one day, but it's been like that for a year or two so we weren't expecting it to drop on our heads immediately.  But the tradies were unhappy.

£530 and 3 hours later we had no render on the chimney, we did have drip trays in the roof, we had a lovely new plastic fascia board and we had guttering attached to it.

It rained yesterday - and no water cascaded down the front of the house! We might now be completely out of money but I do think it was money well spent.  And I suppose we didn't really want the render to fall off the chimney and take out the postman!

We went into Sheffield on Sunday to meet Taffa, Gaz, Cally and some of their friends for lunch in The Rutland. Very, very fortunately, it was Tabitha and Gareth's turn to pay.  If it had been our turn it would have been chip butties and tap water all round :D  As it was we all had roast beef and wine or beer, except for Cally who had a fish finger sandwich, chips and juice!!!

We've been pondering the de-rendered chimney and have decided to call the cheery tradies back in the spring. We thought we might have it opened up again (someone has capped it so it can't be used for anything at all) and re-rendered. Then we thought we might have the fireplace opened up again. We might even put a pretty faux-Victorian fire place in it.  And now that we have found Rated People we thought we might have the side of the house painted as well, so it looks as pretty as the front of the house.

After, of course, we have done some hard saving up.  Not something that we are especially good at :-D

 Click on Cally to get to the Sunday album

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Passports and Visas

A few weeks ago, The Builder and I were passing a lazy, early Saturday morning in bed, drinking tea, messing about on our iPads, listening to the radio. Out of the blue, The Builder pondered that he wasn't sure when his passport ran out.  Neither was I, but I thought it was sometime next year.  I got up to get the passports to investigate.

His is fine. Doesn't run out until some time in 2015.  What about mine then?


It runs out on November 20th. This year :-S

I'm likely to want a valid passport in mid January!!! Otherwise I'll have trouble leaving the UK and getting in to any of the countries I want to visit during my Jumping Around in the Time Zones adventure. And I definitely won't get to the party ;-(

So I filled in a passport application form online.  A few days later it arrived at our place, waiting for me to sign it and return it, by one means or another.

Alas - I had just spent ALL of my available money resources on plane tickets.  I can't fly out on those tickets without an up-to-date passport, but equally I can't buy a new passport until I next get paid.  The application form sat about on the dresser and the dining room table - and acquired a few muddy cat paw prints as a decoration.  I hope the Passport Office is fond of cats!

A bit later The Builder ran across the passport application lying about and said he had the money for a passport.  I went and got some passport photos done.

If you had run up against the person in those photos in a dark alley on a winter's night you would have run away as quickly, screaming as loudly as you could.

A few days later I went and got some more taken. They might make me look as though I am about to cry but at least they don't make me look terrifying.

And then finally I got around to taking the form, the photos and The Builder's money to the Post Office where they ignored the paw prints, accepted the sad looking photos and The Builder's money and sent everything off to the Passport Office. That was on Thursday of last week.

On Monday I had a text message to say that my application had been received by the Passport Office.

Yesterday morning I happened to be at home in the morning when the doorbell rang.  It was a passport deliverer with my brand new, electronically chipped, very, very pretty passport in his hand.

I can go to the party!!

Freyja, in the meantime, has a perfectly valid passport but is waiting for the paperwork to arrive so she can apply for an American student visa. She leaves for Australia in 21 sleeps!!  There's an American consulate in Australia somewhere - there is bound to be. She can spend her Australia time camped out there badgering for a student visa.

(I've checked.  There's a consulate on St Kilda Road in Melbourne. She can camp there during the day and stay in Lindsey and Ian's flat in East Melbourne when the consulate is closed overnight.  Sorted :-P )

Monday, November 11, 2013

Up on the allotment

It was a gloriously beautiful day yesterday - which meant that there had been quite a hard frost overnight and although very sunny it was also quite cold. So we went to the allotment to have a look at what was going on. We decide to pull the tomato plants - they were still producing flowers and tiny fruit, but the tops had been caught by the frost and it's really a bit late now for tomatoes to ripen.  We took home the unripe fruit, which may ripen in the kitchen. Otherwise it's fried green tomatoes for breakfast (but not at the Whistlestop Cafe!). I also took some small side shoots from the plants. I thought I might see if they strike if I pop them in a pot and keep them somewhere warm.  I am not optimistic about this, but one of the garden blogs that I read says that its author does this nearly every year, usually successfully.  So there is now beetroot, leeks and brassicas on the allotment, although the brassicas a spring producing, rather than autumn producing so there won't be anything to eat from them for a while.

We let the ducks and chickens out of the orchard yesterday. The only thing that is now growing is the chard and they didn't show much interest in that. Wouldn't matter much if they did, the chard would almost certainly grow back. But as it happens they ignored the chard and pottered about for the afternoon seeking out slugs and snails and insects and other tasty morsels. We should do it more often. They're good little garden clearers :-)

It is now time to start clearing the flower garden for the winter. I want to dig up the seaside daisies that are in the beds and bring them inside. I am also intending to dig out the fern that is growing by the side of the pond. It's not coming inside though. It's going. It is a bit too big for where it is and it doesn't really fit with the rest of the garden. I was going to put it in our garden waste bin - but the under Gardener thought it might as well get chucked into the chook run.  They might enjoy destroying it and it doesn't really matter if they don't.  It can always be used to mulch the currant bushes in the spring.

Looking from our bedroom window

Puddling about in the vegetable beds

Out exploring

The ice in certain bits of the garden didn't melt at all

We didn't leave the house and garden, no not even once over the weekend

Well ... that was the plan, anyway.

In pursuance of that plan we went to the supermarket after I finished work on Friday. Because we had a load of money off vouchers, we went to Tesco. Only to find that they didn't have any wine.  Yes, OK - they did have wine, but not the wine that we prefer to drink. So we bought a little supply to see us through Friday evening.  I must say that I am getting more than a little irritated by Tesco. They always have irritated me a bit, but the irritations are getting worse.  We had to have each and every one of our money off vouchers approved, individually, when we went through the self service checkout machine. Two of our vouchers simply wouldn't work at all at the self service checkout machine (it was only later that I saw the tiny print that said you couldn't use them at the self service points). It was all quite a lot like hard work.  I am beginning to think that they may almost have irritated me to the point that we might not go there any more (once we have used up all the other vouchers we've got :-D ).

So that meant that we had to go out to Sainsbury's on Saturday to buy wine for the rest of the weekend. Fortunately, I had some wine vouchers! And fortunately, there was no real problem using my wine vouchers.  But this meant that we did have to leave the house and garden on Saturday.

On the way home we called into a recently opened "antiques" shop by the station.  We decided that we weren't much minded to spend £50 on a rusty tin bath for the ducks. If it had been £20 we would have been tempted, but not at that price!  It's a cute shop though. Like the Tardis, it is much, much bigger on the inside than it is on the outside and there are loads of rooms with loads of fun things in them.  There is also a little tea shop at the back.  Must try it out one day. But not today.  Now we are going home to pick up our plan of not leaving the house and garden for the whole of the weekend minus Saturday morning.

Then the doorbell rang.  It was Sarah, who moved in to #4 Queen Vic Road with her husband Phil three or four months ago.  They had been out and bought fireworks and wine and potatoes and meat and veg and were having a fireworks party that evening.  Would we like to go?  Debbie from next door was also going - but not Steve who had to go to work.

So we left the house and garden AGAIN at about 7:30 and wandered around to Sarah and Phil's place - to find not just Debbie there but also pretty much all of both Sarah's and Phil's families (apart from Sarah's dad who for reasons best known to himself lives in Mackay in Queensland).  So we drank wine and ate baked potatoes with meat and cheese and salad and went outside all wrapped up against the cool evening air (although mercifully it wasn't raining) and watched 15-20 minutes of fireworks and then everyone went back inside for cake and more wine but Debbie and The Builder and I went home.

It is probable that it might have been better if we hadn't decide to sit down in front of the telly with another glass of wine and for The Builder to watch the football show.  Largely because the next thing I knew was that something very odd but not football was on the telly, I hadn't drunk my wine - and it was 02:30!!! I shook The Builder awake and went belatedly to bed.

We didn't even manage not to leave the house and garden on Sunday! I spoke to Stella and Tony on Skype.  I spoke to Taffa and Cally on Skype. (I also later spoke to Freyja on Skype - but not to Austin). Then we got dressed and had breakfast and went out! But only as far as the allotment which *nearly* counts as part of the garden.  We did manage to stay at home for the rest of the day though. We had deconstructed chicken kievs for our Sunday lunch, with a three fruit crumble to follow (cherries, blackcurrants and apple). We watched telly and played with the ducks and chickens (who we had let out of their run for the afternoon) and generally mooched about.

So we didn't, at all, really, manage to fulfil the ambition of not leaving the house and garden, no not once over the weekend.  But it was a very pleasant weekend, filled with nice surprises, nice wine and a lot of rather nice food.  So not so bad, then.

Looking out of the bathroom window

Out exploring and munching on slugs and snails and tasty morsels

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

We were at Bishops' House on Saturday morning.  It's having something of a facelift. A lick of paint, a spot of wood repairing, a bit of a clean up:

To divert attention there are lots of musical instruments dotted about inside the house:

It was a fairly gloomy day so we were surprised by the number of visitors we had. Still, it passed the time and was nice to have lots of people to talk to

The Builder and I have some quite anachronistic toys to play with to keep us amused
We drove home through an absolutely torrential rainstorm.  We had to slow down to a crawl on the bypass. And then we settled in to a wet and windy autumn evening, but it was warm and toasty inside and we drank wine and ate food and watched telly and it was all good.

I was working another SHU Open Day on Sunday. It was drizzling when I got to work - it was properly raining by the time the Open Day formally started and most of our morning visitors were all soggy wet.  Fortunately, most of them remained good humoured! Then the afternoon brightened up and the sun came out and the visitors stopped being soggy wet. But I don't think we had quite as many as we were expecting.  But I'm not sure that I would have turned out on a wet, wet, wet and windy Sunday morning, had it not been for the fact that I was being paid for it.  I have Sunday's money ear marked for a visit to the Singapore zoo, and a visit to a theme park based on international rivers, also in Singapore.  That was an incentive both to go to work, and to stay :-)

Alas, the weather was so wet and windy on Saturday evening that many community bonfire parties had to be cancelled. Some were moved to Monday or Tuesday (Tuesday was actually bonfire night) but others were just cancelled.  Fortunately, the ones that were scheduled for Sunday night could go ahead. I don't think there was a bonfire or fireworks planned for Tupton - but Chesterfield had one.

We had our first proper frost of this season on Monday.  It was a glorious, glorious morning - but it took ten minutes or so to scrape the car clear. It's amazing how quickly you forget about frost scraping over the summer!  But mostly this week is expected to be wet and windy. I shall mostly stay inside!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Our first frost of the season

We woke on Monday to our first frost of the season. This is a bit of a pity, because the zucchini plants are still producing a zillion tiny zucchinis. They seem to have survived, just - but there won't be many more fruits.

We have picked (and eaten) all the pears.  We ended up with quite a big bowl full and they were extremely tasty. We also have loads and loads of grapes on the grapevine. They too are very tasty and much sweeter this year than last.  There is chard growing in the vegetable garden, but then that's pretty much all that's left. There are beetroots, leeks and some various brassicas growing on the allotment.  There are also tomato plants still doing their best in the greenhouse up there. They continue to flower and to produce tomatoes, despite the fact that we picked the main crop some weeks ago.  We'll leave them for the time being and see what they do.

So all in all, and despite all the signs back in the spring, we've done well for fruit and veg this year. The freezer is packed to the brim and all our produce was tasty and mostly disease free.  We shall start preparing and planning for next season shortly.

We are doing quite well for eggs at the moment.  Curry is laying absolutely every day, and Udon is laying three or four times a week.  We are a bit puzzled by Dimsim and Gyoza, though.  We would have expected them to have started laying by now and they haven't. They don't even really look ready to lay. Dimsim's comb is beginning to fill out, but Gyoza's is still quite small. I am beginning to think that they weren't the 11 or 12 weeks we were told they were when we bought them.  We are not expecting duck eggs, however.  Terriyaki  and Hoi Sin are both clearly males - so no eggs from them :-D  It is fortunate for them that they are very cute so we aren't minded to get rid of them.  In any case, Indian Runner Ducks have pretty much no meat on them, so we couldn't eat them even if we did despatch them.  Although I suppose I could make a duck broth with them!  We shall get some more ducks in the spring and see if we can get a couple of girls in with them.  We will also buy a duck bath or two.  We considered putting in a pond, but then discovered that you can buy duck baths.  Much cheaper to buy, and much easier to maintain!  The other alternative, of course, is to let them roam free in the garden during the days and they can swim in the pond that we already have, up by the house.

I wonder if it could be moved ...