Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Thursday, January 30, 2014


I am, as some of you may know, a big fan of Masterchef Australia.  It shows on subscription TV in the UK, frustratingly a month or two after the series has finished in Australia. This makes it extraordinarily difficult to avoid finding out who has won. I follow the regular judges on Twitter but even if I am very careful what I read, it is still nigh on impossible not to know who has won by the time you get to the final.

Anyway.  One of the judges started re-tweeting tweets from something called Jimmy Grants.  What, I pondered, is Jimmy Grants?  Oh look.  It's a souvlaki eatery, owned by the judge in question, on Smith Street, about a kilometre from Lindsey and Ian's flat in East Melbourne.  I like souvlaki. We must go when next we are staying.

So on Tuesday we The Builder and I braved the hot wind and the hot sunshine and strolled up Smith Street and found Jimmy Grants.  The Builder wasn't impressed by the style of restaurant (it's really a takeaway, with a big benches rather than tables if you want to eat in).  But you couldn't fault the souvlaki. Slow cooked lamb shoulder in a pita, with chips.  Next time I am planning to gather up another person or two and have the sharing platter, which you can mix with salads and various wotnots.

Tuesday night is pub night.  Except in my world where it is Japanese class night. But Japanese classes are on hold at the moment, so we declared Tuesday to be pub night for us too and joined the pubbers.  It was also Emily's farewell night. So we all decamped to The Fox in Collingwood to fare her well.  She's gone back to Townsville for the start of the new academic year. Ian had a seafood platter.  If we go there again, I am definitely having one myself!!

Wednesday lunchtime is not, ordinarily, Pub Lunchtime.  But The Builder and I decided that it could be if we wanted it to be and wandered across the road to the Prince Patrick on Victoria Parade.  It's a funny place.  If you didn't know about it you would almost certainly walk past it, on the assumption that the peeling paint and general scruffiness of the outside clearly indicated that it was a dive and a hovel. You would be mistaken, however.  The inside is anything but scruffy. And the food is lovely. It's a limited menu but what they do, they do well.  The Builder had a vegetarian noodle dish and absolutely loved it.  Vegetarian is not normally his cuisine of choice!!

Then we came back to Ballarat with Lindsey and had what was effectively an  auxilliary Steak Night. The Builder and I had stopped in Woollies on the way to Lindsey's surgery and had grabbed some steak and the makings of a salad and some potatoes. I knew we would be back into Ballarat quite late so we didn't want anything that took a lot of cooking.  And the steak was really quite nice. (So was the salad - I put mango in it :-D)

And the food theme continues as the week progresses.  There are more lunches to come.  (I like lunches :-) )

Bye Emily

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I know that I am always looking for interesting things to put on the blog ... But that was not the sort of thing I have in mind

It was the Australia Day Public Holiday yesterday. Australia Day is January 26th and when it falls on a weekend, the following Monday is taken as the national holiday.  It marks the end of the summer holidays in the same way that, in the UK, the August Bank Holiday weekend does.  The kids go back to school this week.  Teachers who haven't already gone back do so today.  People who have taken a summer break will return to work today.

The Australia Day weekend is, of course, not a holiday for people who work in retail or in hospitality.  It was a nice day yesterday and people were out in pubs and wine bars and coffee shops.  Other people were out shopping or window shopping.  The city was bustling in a pleasantly relaxed kind of way.  And my ankle, which is substantially better, was up to a slow stroll into town, although we took the tram back.

When we are in Melbourne on Monday evenings, which happens fairly regularly, if infrequently, we join in with anyone who happens to be eating steak and roast potatoes and salad.  Emily joins in too, when she is in town (perhaps not as regular in her attendance, but much more frequent). Last night many steak eaters were otherwise engaged, it being a national holiday and everything.  However, a whole new group of steak eaters was available.  Ant and Jess have been in town for the weekend. They head back to Perth after attending a family funeral this afternoon.  So they came, and Jess's sisters came, and a fiance came, and Jess's cousin who also lives in Perth and happened to be around also came.  We've met him before, last trip, when we too were in Perth.  There was lots of food - steak, of course, and Lindsey' famous roast potatoes. I made the salad, and a fruit salad for afters.  There was wine and beer and chat and more merriment.  It was all good.

So this morning Lindsey and Ian got up and got ready for work.  I unloaded the dishwasher and reloaded it.  Emily came down from the rented holiday flat and pottered about. I emptied the dishwasher and reloaded it.  Ian and Lindsey went to their respective places of work. Emily went back upstairs.  I emptied the dishwasher and did not reload it, the dishes now being done.

The Builder was sat in the lounge room with his iPad.  I was just considering whether I could be bothered getting out the vacuum cleaner and sorting the carpet out --------- when there was an almighty bang behind me, followed by a crashing noise that was so loud that I'm not sure quite how to describe it. The Builder and I looked at each other.  What the hell?????  Then we looked into the kitchen to find that the shelves on which the crockery sits had fallen off the wall and they and the (cleaned) crockery were now disported all over the floor, the crockery in bits :-S

I am not, normally, an easily frightened or terrified person - but that did figure quite highly on the Very Alarming scale.  It was a very, very loud crashing noise!

Actually, it was probably just as well that it had happened when there was someone here.  It would have been seriously disconcerting to have come home to find it like that.  I think your first thought would have been that you had been ransacked.  As it was, I sent Lindsey a message telling her about it.  I alerted Emily and Jess who were due back down at any minute.  And then we set about clearing it all up.

Lindsey says it's all my fault for having made sure that all the dishes were done and put away.  The Builder says it was her fault - she said when we first arrived that she didn't really have anything much for him to do, other than to make some fly screens for the kitchen in Ballarat.  Now he's pondering how to fix the wall and get some (secure) shelves up in the kitchen in East Melbourne :-D

Hot and very windy in Melbourne today.  The Builder and I will probably have a fairly lazy day.  But there will most definitely be lunch.

Monday, January 27, 2014

It's Party Day

We're all gathered.  Everyone is here.  It's Australia Day.  It's Birthday Party Day.

So let's party!

Belinda has a hurty toe (it's probably broken).  I still have a hurty ankle (though it's much better). William and Sage are only 9 and 11.  The RACV Club on Bourke Street is probably too far to walk.  So we trammed.

And then we partied.

There was wine. There was food. There was dessert.

The family makes up a party all on its own :-D

There was merriment and chatter and fun.

And there was the birthday girl.

It was a great afternoon

Click on the birthday girl to reach the party
And then we moved on to Australia Day.  Lindsey, Matthew, Sage, William, The Builder and I took the tram down to Docklands for the Australia Day fireworks display at 21:30.  It is not lawful in Australia for private individuals to set off fireworks so all displays of pyrotechnics tend to be public events, often over water.  So New Year fireworks over the Yarra, Australia Day fireworks over the marina in Docklands.  And loads of people gather to watch.  We weren't in the main arena, where there were announcers and activities and things going on.  We were around the back where there was less going on, but far fewer people.  And it was great fun.  Sage and William hadn't seen a big fireworks display before and were absolutely entranced.  And you could easily see why the Japanese call fireworks "hanabi" or "fire flowers".  There were lots of fire flowers in the sky :-)

There are no photos of the hanabi.  But here's the Victoria album, so far, which does have photos of Docklands.  More photos will be added to this album over the course of the next couple of weeks

Click on Bourke Street to reach Victoria

Sunday, January 26, 2014

What to do if you have a hurty foot and cant walk far

... you go shopping, is what you do!

Ordinarily we would walk into town from the flat, but I'm not at all sure that I would have enjoyed that and, in any case, Lindsey would let me.  So Emily, Lindsey, The Builder and I all armed ourselves with Myki (Oyster) cards and took the tram.

Lindsey and Emily were on the hunt for shoes, bags and other party and not-party things.  The Builder and I were on the hunt for summer pyjamas and a jumper for him.  We have brought jumpers and cardigans with us.  I lived in and around  Melbourne for 30 years.  I know that the weather is very changeable.  Alas, I forgot to bring The Builder's jumper from Ballarat and while the temperature wasn't particularly cold - the wind was! And bizarrely in Chesterfield it is possible to buy affordable winter sleeping kit for gentlemen but it appears not to be possible to buy affordable summer sleeping gear.  So we bought summer PJs here!

Missions all accomplished, we headed off for a spot of lunch.  Souvlakis all round.  I lerv, lerv, lerv souvlakis and you can't really get them in England. Or at least not ones I am prepared to eat.

Then The Builder and I headed home and Lindsey and Emily carried on shopping.

The family continues to gather for the birthday party.  Stella and Tony have now arrived in town from Mount Martha.  So we decamped with them, Lindsey and Ian to Simon's place for an evening of pizza and wine. Ordinarily we would have walked, but ....... (Stella and Tony couldn't have walked from where they were so someone was going to have to drive anyway.)

And now it is the morning of Sunday, 26th January.  It's Australia Day.  And it is the day of the party. Matthew, Belinda, Sage and William are coming from Warragul as we speak.  we are beginning to put on our party clothes.  In preparation for an afternoon of feasting we have had a healthy and wholesome fruit salad for breakfast.  The day is set fair.  Let the party begin

Happy Australia Day. And Happy Party Day

Saturday, January 25, 2014

If your car must break down, it is best if it is not on the freeway

We were heading down to Melbourne, The Builder, Emily and I. Emily and I were discussing cups of tea and tropical humidity and various other things. All was going well - until we got to Bacchus Marsh and the radio failed.

I think we all assumed it was a problem with the radio, which is elderly and has been behaving erratically. Until, that is, the clock failed. And then the indicators. And then the lights. Not good!

We emphatically didn't want to break down on the freeway, and absolutely not while going over the Westgate Bridge. So we pulled off at Melton. Someone has put a shopping complex by the exit from the freeway at Melton. It has supermarkets and a Kmart and various other things. And food outlets like Macdonalds and KFC  and loads and loads of other fast food outlets.

The car failed as we pulled into a parking bay outside Nando's

We called the break down service and took ourselves into Nando's for a small spot of lunch. I wasn't expecting fine dining but was pleasantly pleased to find nicely cooked chicken and not too bad chips. I have only been into a Nando's once before and hadn't been in any hurry to repeat the experience but it seemed only reasonable that we should go in, given that it's car park was providing shelter for the car. I might not have taken is attitude had we been in the Macdonald's car park!

Anyway.  The breakdown man arrived within the hour, as promised and diagnosed a dead alternator. I think we had more or less surmised that that would be the problem.  A taxi came and took us to Sunshine. Jess borrowed Ian's car and drove to Sunshine to collect us. We could have taken the train, of course, but Emily had quite a bit of baggage for she is returning to Townsville from Melbourne next week and had brought all her stuff down with her.  A big thank you to Jess for coming to get us, to Ian for offering the use of his car - and to Julia who also offered to come and pick us up when I put the whole story on Facebook.

Excitement over.

But no! As we were heading from Sunshine towards the city, the car beeped loudly and the sat nav display changed to a warning display.  Sudden loss of tyre pressure :-s. We pulled over and had a look but the tyres *looked* ok. So we drove on into the city, slowly and cautiously, waiting for a tyre to go flat.  Fortunately none of them did, but that was two out of three available cars now out of action. Emily's Hyundai is in car hospital in Melton and Ian's BMW needs a pedicure.

Just as well then that our friend Rod had offered to pick us up and take us out to our dinner date.  I had been planning to go in Emily's car, but that was no longer available and Rod had offered to collect us when I had spoken to him on  Skype a day or so earlier. And so we headed out to leafy North Balwyn for a lovely meal with Robert and Susan, who I have been friends with since before Tabitha was born. Come to that, I have been friends with Rod for even longer. The last couple of times we've been in Melbourne we've met Rod and Robert for lunch on Lygon Street and hadn't seen Susan, so it was a pleasure to be invited to dinner and to catch up with her too.  And they did us proud with lovely wine, fabulous food, and a post prandial liqueur. There was much chat and catching up, and the cats came to talk to us and to make a fuss of us.  Then Rod brought us back to East Melbourne, where the flat was empty.

The family is beginning to gather for Sunday's festivities.  Ant and Jess are over from Perth, Emily was here anyway for the summer vacation. But it was the first opportunity that they had had for a family dinner for over six months. So they took themselves off for a Japanese meal in Richmond and then kicked on to a cocktail bar before coming home, where we were waiting.

Lindsey has rented a holiday apartment in the same complex as their flat.  It's on the top floor and has a fabulous view (not that the view from their flat is particularly shabby, but from the holiday flat you can saw the bay without hanging over the balcony in a suicidal manner)

I am hoping that we can get through the next few days without breaking any more cars. But I don't think I'll be doing much walking this weekend.  My hurty finger is all but better.  My hurty ankle is not ;-(

Friday, January 24, 2014

Hippos, puppies and rain

It's been quite interesting this trip.  For the past umpteen years, whenever we have gone anywhere interesting, we have taken the Travelling Hippoberries with us.  It started when I had to go to Warsaw on my own and Freyja sent them with me because hippos are big, strong animals and don't stand for any nonsense.  As it happens, the good people of Warsaw were charm personified and I didn't need protectors.  But I got into the habit of travelling with them.

This trip, however, they weren't available.  They've gone to the Dominican University of California in San Rafael near San Francisco for a semester studying Journalism and Creative things with Freyja.  However, I enjoy travelling with animals. You take different sorts of photos and put up different sorts of Facebook statuses.  So I brought my dog, Farley (I didn't think that Marlo would enjoy the experience, particularly. Plus, he doesn't have a pet passport and probably wouldn't have got a visa for Australia.)  Because there are two hippos, they usually travel about in a backpack and not all that many people notice them. There s only one Farley, and he does travel in a backpack, but equally, quite often I just carry him, out loose.

Farley, enjoying life in Singapore
It is surprising how many adults think, at first glance, that he is a real dog (although I probably wouldn't ordinarily carry a real dog upside down!).  When they realise that he is a toy they stop and talk to him and pat him, in a way that they don't as much with the hippos.  I guess people are more used to talking to puppies, rather than to hippos.  One bloke stopped his ute at Melbourne Airport, while we were loading the car, rolled down his window, and beckoned me over precisely so that he could pat him!!

Children are under no such illusion.  They know perfectly well that he is a toy.  They want to play with him.  And take him away :-S

Carrying a toy dog means that complete strangers stop and talk to you (or to the dog) - even the ones that think a nearly 60 year old woman who is carrying a toy dog around the world with her can't be completely in possession of all her faculties :-D

So.  We are in Ballarat.  Lindsey left early this morning to go to work in Melbourne.  Emily, The Builder and I will go down later today, mostly so that we can go to the birthday party that we have come for, but also so that we can play with people and places and things.  Excitingly, we have brought rain with us.  We are Good Beings :-)  Victoria needs a drop or two of rain. It also needs some warm but not hot weather.  The temperature today is due to be about 24d.  I am even wearing a long sleeved t-shirt (I may take that off later, but don't be alarmed; I have a summer shirt underneath it.  I am not proposing to wander about clad on the top only in my bra.

My hurty finger is still hurting.  Now I also have a hurty, swollen ankle (where my summer sandals rubbed against it when we were walking around at the Singapore Zoo, and along the Singapore River).  I have caved in and am taking antibiotics for all the hurty-ness.  I really and truly can't remember the last time I took any antibiotics.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

And so to Melbourne/Ballarat

We had a lovely final day in Singapore.  The temperature was pleasantly in the mid-20s, the wind was still (apart from occasional bursts of extreme windiness!), the humidity was low and the sun shone in the afternoon.  It was a perfect day for a good walk.

So walk is what we did.  We headed upriver along the north side of the riverbank (discovering on the way that last time we were there, when we turned back and retraced our steps to get back to the pick up place for the coach - we had in fact been within five minutes stroll of the place!!!!!)  There's a promenade that ambles up along the riverside to beyond Clarke Quay. We stopped at the point where bridge building and metro station building were going on, and crossed the river and headed back to the marina along the south side of the river.  It was all very colourful and bustling but not frantic or chaotic.

We stopped at one of the eateries along the old Boat Dock for lunch.  It was extremely tasty, but I thought it was a tad on the expensive side for the portion sizes.  But it was extremely tasty - and included one of the nicest satay sauces I've had in a long while.  And then we took one of the boats that ply up and down the river for a river and marina cruise, pausing at Merlion Park properly to make the acquaintance of the Grown up and Baby Merlions.  And then, we walked the river again, but in reverse this time, pausing at Hooters (are you listening, Tabitha, Austin and Freyja?  Hooters!!!) for a glass of something appropriate.

And then we headed back to the hotel, collected our bags and made our way by taxi to the airport, in extremely good time for our 10:30 pm flight to Melbourne.

It was a good few days in Singapore.  It felt properly like a holiday.  We were very happy in the Residence at the Singapore Recreation Club and the dress codes didn't bother us (we are neither of us in the habit of wandering around public places in swimwear, nor of going into hotels in tatty track suits).  Despite the complaints of the tetchy on Trip Advisor, we enjoyed the varied choices we had for breakfast; there were some different choices each day.  And I actually went for a swim.  My bathers were astonished (they, obviously, went too - I put them on in the pool changing room, and didn't go marching through the hotel in them).  There are an astonishing number of people exercising, using the running machines and swimming at 7:00 in the morning

And now, here in Ballarat we are. Another plane, another time zone. Lindsey picked us up from the airport and we came up to Ballarat.  Lindsey and Emily have gone for a walk.  The Builder is making the frames for some new fly doors for the dining room. I am not doing anything terribly useful.

Oh - except that I have sorted out the photo album for Singapore.  You'll find it by clicking on the link below:


Wednesday, January 22, 2014


We've been having a lovely time in Singapore.  It's not too hot, not too humid - so far there haven't been any torrential downpours.

One big advantage to this hotel is that it is very central.  Within easy walking distance of most things that we want to do.  And a five, ten minute walk from Suntec City, which is where the Hippo Duck tour people are, who I bought tickets from for things to do while we're here.  We did go slightly astray on our first morning, when heading to Suntec (I misunderstood the receptionist's directions) but fortunately we have a map which set us right - and took us past Raffles on our (amended) way!

So we spent the morning of Monday touring around Singapore on a hippo hop-on-hop-off bus (although we did no hopping). We walked to Plaza Singapura on Orchard Road in the afternoon and visited Build A Bear and had a humongous iced coffee. We found a supermarket and acquired some wine. And we had dinner in the Chinese restaurant at the Recreation Club. Rather more expensive than I was expecting, but also very good quality and very delicious.  And so to bed.

We seem to have moved more or less on to Melbourne time, though we are in fact in the same time zone as Perth. But we were ready for bed strangely early on Monday night and awake very early on Tuesday morning.  No worries.  We'll be in Melbourne on Thursday. Won't hurt to have acclimatized to Melbourne time in advance. And no one is inconvenienced by our sleeping and waking early except for perhaps us :-D

Yesterday we took a hippo coach to the zoo. And a very, very beautiful zoo it is too. It's in a remnant of a rainforest and almost entirely surrounded by water.  We rode on a boat and on a road tram. We walked and walked and walked and walked. We saw cheeky otters having their lunch. We had lunch!
(Not an ottery lunch - we had chicken and rice and soup in the human cafe). We saw loads of different monkeys, and lemurs, and orang utans. We saw elephants and lions and giraffes. We saw lots of things. And we saw mouse deer. MOUSE DEER!!!!!  I've been wanting to see mouse deer ever since I discovered their existence (not a long held ambition, I only found out that they existed about 18 months ago) and now I've seen lots. I've seen greater mouse deer and lesser mouse deer. And it seems they aren't deer at all but are more closely related to goats. They don't look like goats though. They look like deer

Lesser mouse deer

Greater mouse deer

There is a photo album for Singapore but I can't edit it properly on the ipad. I'll do it when I have access to a laptop or desktop computer. You'll all have to contain your impatience until then :-d

Oh. And it's very awkward trying to eat with chopsticks when you have a poorly finger tip on the middle finger of your right hand. I can't manipulate the chopsticks properly!!!

Last day here today. We checkout at mid day but our flight isn't until tonight. So we'll abandon our bags and go exploring along the river, I think. And then leap (or fly ) into another time zone

Monday, January 20, 2014

Heading off to Jump Around in the Time Zones

And suddenly, it was departure day.  It snuck up on me in a way that the GWT of 2012/13 didn't. Fortunately we were, more or less, ready.

We left home at about half eleven, waving goodbye to a Marlo who had been sadly puzzled by the appearance of the long haul suitcases on Wednesday.  He knows what the suitcases signify, but usually they come out on the day we leave, or at a pinch the night before.  But he knew exactly what they meant when they came downstairs on Saturday morning!

We took the car to Tabitha and Gareth's place and then we all, Cally included, headed down to the Woodseats Palace for a pre-departure lunch.  We took the bus to the station, then The Builder and I headed by train to Manchester airport, while Tabitha, Gareth and Cally stayed at the station for a bit of train spotting.  

And then we flew to Singapore.  You can't fault Air France.  The flight was comfortable, the cabin crew was pleasant and friendly, the food was lovely and there was plenty of wine.  Oh, and the flights were on time and there was no rushing about.

And now we are at the Residence, at the Singapore Recreation Club, in the centre of the city.  We are a stones throw from the cricket club, which we can see from our room. We are round the corner from Raffles, a stroll from the Suntec Centre, another stroll from Orchard Road, and not far from the Marina.  Not a bad location!

If you look on Trip Advisor, or on the ratings on, you will find that amongst the various complaints that tetchy Westerners put up, there are complaints about the poor breakfast that is served here.  Not enough (I assume Western) choices, poor quality, poor this,  poor that.  Oh, and the Breakfast room is next to the pool and you can smell chlorine.  I have to say that I didn't notice any chlorine.  And the breakfast was magnificent.  There was cereal and fresh fruit and toast and pastries and bacon and eggs and baked beans and a whole host of Oriental breakfast options.  There is no way you could have even a tiny amount of everything that was on offer.  I was quite unadventurous is morning in my breakfast options.  I shall be less so tomorrow!

The view from our room. Not bad, is it

Friday, January 17, 2014

One Sleep to Go

Hmm, the whole "We'll-Manage-Without-An-Oven-Until-We-Get-Back" thing didn't go well!

But it's only small, and it only cost £30 and I've been thinking of getting one for absolutely ages. And it did lovely baked chicken fillets with mushrooms, cheese and tomato last night, not to mention potato croquettes (made by me in the early autumn with our potatoes from the garden and kept in the freezer).  And it will keep the Housesitters happy while we're away.  It will take me a while to get used to it, though.  The recently deceased oven was a fan oven and this isn't.  You wouldn't expect it to be at £30 and a microwave size.  But I have got very used to having a fan oven in the seven and three quarter years I've had one!

So.  there's only one sleep to go before we head off.  We are unusually organised this time.  I've even done the packing - largely because we were trying on our party clothes and summer clothes to see what we should take with us, and it didn't seem worth while putting them back in the wardrobe or leaving them on the spare bed.  So I got out the suitcases and put the clothes in there instead.  And then  I figured I might just as well pack everything else that was going while I was at it.  This seriously confused the cat, who knows what the suitcases mean. But usually, of course, it means that we are going that day or, at a pinch, early the next.  This time, however, the suitcases have been sitting on the bed since Wednesday, and thus far The Builder and I haven't gone anywhere.  Or nowhere out of the ordinary!

And I have decided that I am going to have to give up foreign travel.  Last time it was a hurty eye on the morning that we left, followed by an infected foot in Singapore.  When we went to Japan, I got an infected ankle or two.  And this time?  This time I have an infected fingertip.  I assume I caused it when pruning the apple and pear trees last weekend.  It started to hurt a bit on Monday or Tuesday, on Wednesday I noticed that it was a bit swollen.  By yesterday it was swollen and red and sore ;-(  It still is.  It's my right hand middle finger - and it's amazing how much I use it.  I had never before noticed that I used it much.  But I do.

If it's not better by, oh Thursday or so, I shall give it to a doctor to have a look at :-D

RIP Udon

Goodness me, but we're getting through this batch of chooks!

Udon has been looking quite unhappy for some time.  We put it down to her unseasonable moult, making her cold, we and miserable.  Well, you would be miserable if you were outside during even a relatively mild January without proper clothes on.  But she was eating and pottering about and didn't look ill particularly.

Then she just more or less stopped, as chickens do.  Upped and died on us more or less overnight.

I'm beginning to wonder if it was the names. All of the dead chooks were called after Japanese food.  The two remaining ones are Curry (which could be from anywhere) and Dimsim (which is Australian).  It is true the ducks also have Japanese names, but we never use their names because we can't tell them apart. They're just called "The Ducks".

I think I'll call the next lot of chickens after fruit, or vegetables or something. Definitely not Japanese food, though!

Monday, January 13, 2014


I suppose we should be very grateful that the oven didn't decide to up and die on us over Christmas.  Partly, of course, because it would have been quite difficult to have done all the Christmas food without it, but mostly because I think we would have felt that we needed to buy a new one quite promptly.

It was moderately inconvenient that it decided to die on us yesterday.  It had been working perfectly well on Saturday when I had made a huge platter of roasted veg for dinner.  It appeared to be working yesterday when I put more veg in to roast for our Sunday lunch.  It was only when I went in half an hour later to swizzle the veg around a bit that I discovered that the element wasn't heating :-S  No amount of cajoling would convince it to heat.  This was inconvenient because we had been to Marsh Green earlier in the day and bought a nice piece of topside for roasting. I had also bought other things that would have been best prepared in the oven. So I tipped the veg into the wok and more or less treated that as a makeshift oven.  I sliced off two "steaks" from the topside and did them on the griddle.  It all worked, after a fashion.  I put the piece of braising steak into my slow cooker.  Everything else will have to be re-thought as the week progresses - because I am not buying a new oven a mere 5 sleeps before we disappear off for a month. Housesitters will have to make do with the woks, the frying pans and, at a pinch, the barbecue.

I had been intending to bake some bread, a cake and some biscuits to see us through the week.  That plan has had to be abandoned too :-(  Fortunately we can buy bread and I guess it won't hurt us to do without cake and biscuits for a week.

We shall save up and buy the double oven that I have been hankering after, when we get back. I'm not sure, though, whether to put it at the top of the list of things to do or leave it languishing at the bottom.

My brother Matt's suggestion that we should have taken ourselves to the pub for Sunday lunch was a very good suggestion indeed.  Alas, by the time I realised that the oven really wasn't going to work, it was a bit late to go out.  We'll go to the pub for a pre-flight dinner on Friday instead

A proper winter frost

My goodness but it was cold yesterday morning. Properly, properly cold.  The thermometer said it was 1.5d. It was certainly very frosty! It was the first truly cold day of winter. We've had a few frosts but nothing quite as substantial as this:

So we took the opportunity, given that it was beautiful morning, to go down and prune the apple trees and the pear trees. We've been meaning to do it for ages - the Under Gardener has had a great deal of trouble mowing in the orchard because of low hanging branches.  So we've removed those and tidied the trees up a bit. The Bramley apple no longer hangs quite so spectacularly over into next door's garden and we can move around in there a bit better.  We need to sort out the blackberry canes and definitely do something about the nettles.  They don't seem to worry the birds - but the nettles in particular don't seem to like me very much!

We can't do anything in the garden without an audience!  What are you doing?  Why are you doing it? Is there anything in it for me?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Chickens and ducks

A week or so ago, Dim Sim discovered that if she stood on the roof of the duck or the chook house, she could fly over the fence into the rest of the garden. This is not absolutely convenient, if only because the orchard is as fox and dog proof as we can make it and the rest of the garden is not.  So The Under Gardener raised the height along the back part of the fence.

Yesterday morning I was stood outside, chatting over the fence to Debby, when I looked down towards the orchard and thought: "Good heavens.  There's a chook in the cherry tree."  At which point Dim Sim flew from the middle of the cherry tree, over the fence and into the rest of the garden.  Accompanied, it must be said, by some very grumpy quacking from the ducks who can't fly, can't climb in the trees and therefore can't escape!  We have run out of fence wire so the Under Gardener is going to put some netting up to see if we can stop her escaping.  We don't want Steve and Debby to be having to chase around after her while we are gadding about in Australia!

And if she goes over the fence the other way, into the garden of the new bungalow - then she's on her own!  She may lay regular, pretty, very tasty eggs, but we are not chasing around all over Tupton looking for a chook!

We have been giving a bit of thought to getting a pond or a bath or something for the ducks to play in.  They don't seem keen to get into the fish pond and we can't work out whether it's because it's winter, or because the fish pond is covered with pond weed or whether they just don't like it. But in any case, they aren't able to wander around in the garden all of the time and although they have a baby bath in the orchard, it's a bit small now that they are full grown.  So we've been looking into getting something a bit bigger for them.  Then someone put a bath out by their wall on Ward Street a week or so ago, with a note on it saying that it was free to a good home.  Someone else took the fittings, but we didn't want those.  The bath, on the other hand, was just the thing.  So we brought it home and the Under Gardener has dug a hole and sunk it into the ground by the pear tree.

The ducks don't like this either, as you can see from the pure, clean water.  But they'll get use to it!!

Sunday morning

Looking down Bridge Street towards the railway line and the bridge

Looking up Queen Victoria Road

Ankerbold Road

Our snug and cosy lounge room

It's not snug and cosy out there! (Looking from the bathroom up towards Grassmoor)

From our bedroom

And again, looking towards Chesterfield

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Back to normal. For now!

It was quite odd going back to work last Friday.  Not surprisingly, it had a distinct Monday feel to it.  On the other hand, the roads were empty, the station was practically deserted, the train had a surprising number of seats to choose from, the Learning Centre was devoid of students and almost as devoid of staff. It was all very peculiar!

What was even more peculiar, given that the day had a very Monday feel to it and I was definitely doing Monday things, was that I was also doing Friday things.  And then, when I woke up the next day - it wasn't Tuesday, but Saturday!!

Following the deep exhaustion cause by having to have a whole day back at work ( :-D ) we had a quiet and uneventful weekend, in which nothing in particular happened, we did nothing in particular and nothing in particular was noteworthy.

And now we are more or less back to normal.  Many of the students are back (although this week is a reading week, preparatory to the fortnight of exams and assessments which start on Monday, so lots of them are still at home). Pretty nearly all the staff are back. The schools are back, so the roads and trains are back to normal (fares went up again on the railways on January 2nd, but the punctuality hasn't improved all that much!!).  Workplace meetings have started up again. My Japanese classes haven't started yet but will next week. Nearly everything that we do on a weekly or regular basis is back in place.

For now.

There are only 9 sleeps to go before The Builder and I embark on our second bout of jumping around in the far distant time zones.  This one has snuck up on us rather.  I am nowhere near as ready as I was last time!!! But now that I have noticed how close it all is, I was thinking about pinching Freyja's idea of putting a countdown on Twitter with cute sleeping creatures counting the nights down. But she might have sued me for plagiarism, so I won't.  On the other hand, she and Simon have been having a mighty and merry time in Disneyland in California, so she might not have noticed. But the risk is too great  :-D

Friday, January 03, 2014

And greetings to 2014

2014 started with a bang!


We had gone to bed nice and early because we needed to be up nice and early on New Year's Day.  I had remembered to set the alarms to ring nice and early.  I had got into bed and almost immediately fallen into a deep and dreamless sleep.

Until suddenly I was jolted awake by mortar attacks and explosions and goodness only knows what was making that VERYLOUDSCREECHINGNOISE. The Builder and Marlo were equally jolted awake

It turned out to be Phil and Sarah having a New Year Fireworks party.  Not unreasonably, at midnight!  I've just never heard fireworks make that particular noise before.  It really did sound like we were under attack.  But fortunately we weren't.  We settled down and went back to sleep.  Or I did.  The Builder reports that he was awake for the whole of the rest of the night.  I don't think he was, but he certainly didn't have a very good night.

This was a bit unfortunate as we had to be up at our usual week day waking time, and had got out of practice over the previous week.  Nevertheless, we were more or less ready to leave by 7:15 and took ourselves off in the calm, dry, windless darkness, heading south.

The rain started as the light began to dawn. By the time we had reached Birmingham it was light and raining steadily. The further south we went, the harder the rain got. By the time we got to Hampshire and Wiltshire it was raining very hard, the wind was very windy and the roads were very wet and in some places flooded.

Mercifully it was only drizzling by the time we got to Gwen's place and got her in the car. Even so, we still got quite damp.

We drove along the main roads to Waterlooville, avoiding the winding country roads we usually use. And it wasn't really raining at all by the time we got to Jeanette and Matthew's place so we didn't get particularly damp getting into their house.

Gathered for the New Year's luncheon party were us, Jeanette, Matthew, Rebecca and Evie, Gwen, Ian (The Builder's son), Pip (The Builder's first wife) and Tom, Mike and Rosie (Matthew's Mum and Dad).  We ate a delicious banquet and drank delicious wine. We made merry, and caught up, and chatted and had a good time. It rained, very hard, from time to time. The wind roared, and whispered, and roared again.  We didn't care much. We were all inside a nice, cosy house, with a nice cosy fire burning (and the central heating on for good measure :-) )

Then Matthew and The Builder took Gwen home in Matthew's range rover (better on flooded roads than The Vixen), and the rest of us played board games with Evie.  And then there was more food (a smorgasbord of party food), more wine, more merriment, more chat. Then everyone went home, except for The Builder and I who made our way up to the spare room.

It was a lovely day, and began the New Year in good style.

Day 2 of 2014 dawned still and sunny and cloudless.  We made a leisurely start to the day. Everyone gradually appeared downstairs.  Matthew made us a mighty cooked brunch before we bade them all a fond farewell and came back up north. Apart from a detour around part of the M1 (which we had intended to join but which was at a standstill - we joined it a junction or so further up) we had a good run home. It was dry pretty much all the way and the roads were unflooded. We got home while it was still light.

Normal service has been restored today. I am back at work and it was dark, raining and windy when we left to head to the station. It's starting to clear now though.  I bet it's raining when I head home though. It's forecast for heavy showers on and off throughout the day.

Thank you to Jeanette and Matthew, Rebecca and Evie for a lovely start to the year.

Jeanette, The Builder and Ian

Evie giving us a post-lunch concert

The guitar is new. It was a Christmas present

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Farewell to 2013

So, The Builder took Taffa, Gareth, Cally and Marryk back to Sheffield late morning on Boxing Day and was back almost within the hour. I heard someone coming in through the door and for a brief moment wondered if it was a burglar! While he had been gone I had sorted out the spare room, vaccuumed the house, tidied up a bit and generally sorted a few things out.

And thereafter we more or less fell into a post-Christmas torpor. We ate and drank and watched television. We pottered and mooched and dallied.  As far as possible we avoided the wind and the rain. I quite like the period between Christmas and New Year. The University is closed. I am not at work. And this year, at least, we were not away. Christmas Day and Boxing Day themselves seem to have an out-of-time quality; they don't really fit into the normal pattern of days and dates and times. Then, between Christmas and New Year, the days all blend into one another - not timeless as such but almost anonymous.  There is nothing urgent that needs to be done, nowhere in particular that we need to be, no urgency, no pressure, no impetus. If I don't mark the days off on the calendar, it becomes extremely difficult to remember what day it is.  I suppose it doesn't really matter what day it is!

But it matters today.  It is New Year's Eve. And we are celebrating by having lunch at The Nettle. We tried to have lunch there yesterday but it was closed.  Not unreasonable, I guess. They have been very busy through December and at the moment there are only Marcus and Sandford holding the fort.  I *suppose* it's fair that they should have one day off. Every now and then! But it was open today (as you would expect on New Year's Eve).

And there goes 2013. Not a bad year, all things considered, from a personal point of view. We've had lots of fun, lots of adventures, lots of good food and wine. No major catastrophes have befallen us. Can't complain at all.

Let's hope 2014 is as good a year. For every one.

(Mind you, I seem to have been remarkably taciturn on the blog this year. A mere 86 posts. I'm sure that more than 86 blog posts worth of adventures happened!)

The Nettle, being festive: