Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Lazy Days

One of the nice things about being on holiday in the summer and not having anything that you particularly need to do is that you can have long leisurely mornings that pass by gently. The Builder and I have been waking quite early and just drifting along until lunch time.

Yesterday we went with Ian on the tram to Lygon Street, intending to have lunch at Papa Gino's. Alas, Papa Gino's is closed until mid-January. Quite a lot of the pizzerias, cafes and restaurants along Lygon Street were closed for a couple of weeks.  I'm sure the business holders know what they're doing, but I have to say that I would have been open.  There are lots of holiday makers around and the businesses that were open were absolutely packed. I appreciate that everyone needs a holiday from time to time but my worry would be that regular customers would go elsewhere because I was closed, and then potentially not come back.

Marinara pizza at Cafe Notturno

Anyway, we went elsewhere and had quite a pleasant lunch and then pottered off to see if we could get an iPad mini in the post Christmas sales to replace The Builder's Hudl which he has never really got on with. Lately the battery life has been absolutely pathetic and takes for ever to recharge. We got an iPad mini 2, which he seems much happier with.

After Lindsey got back from work we walked down to The Fox, where we met Simon, Jacob, Ant and Jess for dinner. The chip test was passed with flying colours. The T-bone steak I had was very tasty.  I even ate the salad!

Steak and chips at The Fox in Collingwood

Farley is attracting the puzzled attention of particularly the children who wander past and see him sitting near me, or on the table, or travelling in my backpack. So far, happily, no one has tried to steal him!

Another day, another lunch spot.  Today has been another fairly lazy day, enjoying the sunshine and the leisurely lifestyle.  Ian suggested that we go to the Boathouse Cafe in Studley Park for lunch.  So we did!  It was quite hot when we got there but we were by the Yarra and there was a pleasant breeze.  And rather nice food

Wednesday's lunch spot

But that's enough of this lazing about.  We are about to help ourselves to Lindsey's car and take ourselves off to Geelong for the night.  And thus commences a few days of moving around quite a bit. (Not that we have stolen Lindsey's car for all of that - only for tonight!!)  Time is beginning to get away and the schedule is busy now until we leave for Cairns next Thursday, en route to Japan.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

We came back to the flat after a very nice Sunday lunch in the Dava in Mount Martha.  Stella and Tony took us to Frankston and we caught the train. It's quite a nice journey from Frankston into town.  It takes about an hour.  Apart from a large group of very giggly and loud revellers (who really were old enough to know better than to be making all that racket on a train!) the trip back was uneventful.

The Builder has been thoroughly enjoying himself watching the Test Match at the MCG (on the telly - we didn't go wild and buy tickets!).  It is true that he could have done this at home, but he probably wouldn't.  Aside from the fact that it's winter and therefore football, not cricket season, most of the Melbourne test is played overnight if you are in the UK. He follows it, but doesn't actually watch it.  The chance to watch it has been something of a pleasure to him.  Mind you - he nearly had to watch it but not listen. I was changing the channels yesterday morning and the volume gradually decreased to the point that you couldn't hear anything at all!  A quick phone call to Ian fixed that.  Fortunately!

Lindsey and Ian arrived in the flat later in the afternoon, then a load of people lobbed in for dinner in the evening.  The customary steak had been procured at Chadstone (it might have been a public holiday yesterday, but the Chadstone Shopping Centre was absolutely packed). Lindsey made a salad.  We had roast potatoes on the side.  And today Lindsey has returned to work after over a month off.  Ian has gone to reclaim his laptop, which had to go to hospital for a new screen after it got dropped. And we are sat in the sunshine, admiring the view and contemplating the day.

This is what happens when you put lots of little bottles of tonic water in the freezer and forget about them for 12 hours

It wasn't me who forgot the tonic water!!

It's a great pity this happened a mere day after I had defrosted and cleaned out the freezer.  It had to be done all over again - but much more excitingly :-D

Sunday, December 27, 2015

After Christmas

People all got up much earlier than is usually the case on Boxing Day.  Ant needed to get back to town so he could go to the Boxing Day test match at the MCG. Matt, Belinda, Sage and William were off to Kaniva to see Belinda's mum.  Sue was off to Bendigo to visit friends. Simon and co were heading into Ballarat to meet a mate for coffee and then heading home.  Wendy went off with Christian and Cassie.  And Tony, Stella, The Builder and I were heading down to Geelong to catch the ferry from Queenscliff to Sorrento, and then back to Mount Martha. Leaving Lindsey, Ian and Sam in what I assume was a much appreciated peace and quiet.

About 8 km from Queenscliff, Tony decided that he needed a loo stop.  We had passed a service station a little while back but hadn't stopped, and no one was quite sure where the loos are in Queenscliff.  So he pulled up alongside some scrubland, which had lots of nice ti-trees forming a hedge that he could go behind.  I have to say, it didn't look particularly stable to me.  Lots of dead branches, foot traps and things.  Not stable at all.  As Tony discovered when he caught his foot in something and toppled over, into a dead ti-tree lying in the way :-S  This was all a bit disconcerting!  Fortunately, The Builder and I were there and eventually managed to get him up (it was The Builder who did most of it.  Happily he is tall, bulky and quite strong!).  I think it probably took about ten minutes to get Tony up and sort it all out.  Ten minutes after that, we were in Queenscliff, passing by a lovely block of public loos!!!

We caught the 13:00 ferry by the skin of our teeth.  Not that it would have mattered particularly - they run every hour.  But we were if not the last car on, then the second last. It was remarkably empty, although I suppose Boxing Day was the Saturday of what is a four day long weekend this year.  I guess most people aren't planning to head home until Monday.  It was a very pleasant crossing and we arrived back at Mount Martha in time for a light, late lunch.

But let there be no more scampering up scrubby slopes in search of relief stops.  Let us all use the find-a-loo app on our phones in future :-D

Tony and I went to the Sunday service at the Mount Martha church this morning.  A much better experience.  No 30 minute sermon, proper hymns - we even said some prayers. No temptation towards vicar smiting this morning!

It's nearly lunch time.  We are all off to the pub, then The Builder and I are heading back to Melbourne. It's beginning to get a bit hard to work out what day it is - and where we are supposed to be!!

Crossing Port Phillip Bay on Boxing Day

Saturday, December 26, 2015


I woke up bright and early on the morning of Christmas Eve.  Lindsey had said that we needed to leave at about 7 to get the fruit and veg and various other bits and pieces for Christmas Day.  The sun was just beginning to come up and it was just starting to get light.  That probably meant it was a little after 6.  Fortunately, before I leaped out of bed and started dashing about so as to be ready on time, I checked the time.  It was 2:15!  The "sun" was, in fact, a solar lamp out in the yard!!!  I went back to sleep.

I was awake and ready to leave by 7.  Again :-D  We headed to Wilson's to get the fruit and veg.  It was fairly busy but hadn't been open long so nothing like as busy as it would almost certainly be later in the day.  We went to Coles for the supermarket provisions.  That too was fairly, but not too busy.  Then we killed a bit of time until Dan Murphy's opened at 9.  We got there, oh about five past nine.  And it was packed.  Absolutely packed. By the time we came out again, the car park was chockers and Dan Murphy's was even more packed.  Glad we got there early!  We took all the shopping home and were back by 10:00.  We were ready for Christmas.  More or less

Stella and Tony arrived from Mount Martha at lunch time. They had come on the ferry from Sorrento to Queenscliff and driven up from Geelong.  Ian's brother, John, and Jane his wife dropped in in the afternoon on their way somewhere else.   It was a pleasant and quite relaxed Christmas Eve.

Christmas morning.  Tony and I took ourselves off to church.  We had decided to try one that neither of us had been to before.  And old, traditional looking Victorian church.  I was a bit worried when I walked in and saw that they had decorated the chancel with a Christmas tree and four yellowish comfy chairs.  I was a bit more worried when I found that they are intending to have a very "different" Christmas service.  It certainly was different. We talked very briefly about the people whose houses had been burned out in the bushfires a few days before, and the refugees. And then never spoke of them again. We sang some very odd songs. And a couple of Christmas carols. The vicar proclaimed a sermon that lasted for about half an hour and which said very little and was filled with some very peculiar notions. Much too fond of the sound of his own voice was that vicar.  The notices went on almost for ever too.  We had to imagine what God might give us as a Christmas present, if we were sat in his lounge room around his Christmas tree.  I was hoping for patience, lest I rise up and smite the prolix vicar.  Turned out it wasn't patience, but Jesus.  God granted me patience anyway - no vicar smiting happened on Christmas Day. But I think I might not bother going there again

Eventually the service finished and we went back to Mount Helen. And put up a tent.  As you do on Christmas morning!

As the afternoon progressed, revellers began to arrive.  The regular things happened.  Present exchanges. Backyard Cricket. Eating, drinking and making merry.  More drinking and merriment. It was all good.

We saw a pair of wedge tailed eagles circling around when the backyard cricket was happening.

The people sleeping in the tent forgot to close the awning when they went to bed, and got wet in the thunderstorm that rolled in in the wee smalls.

And my new, not yet acquired, kitchen got its first present. This is what the family bought me for my 60th birthday and Christmas present:

Click on the food processor to reach the Christmas photo album

Thursday, December 24, 2015


Well, it's oh so nearly Christmas. You more or less have to feast!

After a lovely Sunday lunch at Mount Martha,  we drove back to East Melbourne early in the afternoon on Monday so we were in time to walk to Simons' place in Clifton Hill for an evening meal of steak, roasties and veg. We took a taxi back!

On Tuesday we hopped on a train out to Macedon where we had a magnificent lunch with our friends Chris and John. Our friend Irene (who we met up with in Richmond when she was doing the coast to coast walk) also came. And so, for a time, did Chris and John's daughter Megan with Mabel, who is about 18 months old and had been sent home from child care with a fever. I think she just wanted her fair share of the chocolate dessert we were all indulging in.

It was a good afternoon. Thanks to Chris and John for a great lunch. And thanks to Mark, Megan's husband, for driving us into Gisborne so we could catch the train back.

And then it was Wednesday.  Lindsey and Ian were due back from their Great Adventures. And we had to be up and out early. First we had to get to Mount Clear to collect the Christmas meat and seafood. I was not a little disconcerted when the lad at the butcher couldn't find the order. I have no wish to be the one who broke Christmas! Then he nearly forgot the seafood :-s. But I think we have it all now. Then we took it to Mount Helen, where we found Ross and his little dog Bernard. I think Bernard thinks he's a cat, the way he bounces about all over everything. We also met Sam, Lindsey and Ian's somewhat serious and somewhat large Great Dane. I am told he can be somewhat aloof with strangers. Fortunately he seemed to like us!

Right. Off back to Melbourne to collect Lindsey and Ian from the airport (having first stowed the Christmas meat and seafood out of the way of the dogs) and then back to get Christmas underway. We need a tree. Ian and The Builder headed out in search of one and returned with what seemed to be the last one left in Ballarat. I can't see why it was the last one. It's a pretty tree, beautifully shaped. They also returned with the makings of lamb cutlets for our evening feast. And chocolate mousse.

We need veg and potatoes for the Christmas feast, and then I think we're done. Oh, and extra supplies of white wine. The family mostly seems to drink red. There's a lake of red wine the size of the Red Sea. Not enough white!

The blog might think it's the evening of December 23rd but really it's early in the morning of Christmas Eve. I don't know why Blog Time remains determinedly on UK time. Everything else adjusts itself to whatever time zone I happen to be in! Time to get up. There is much to do.

Part of Chris and John's beautiful garden

Monday, December 21, 2015


Not here. There are no fleas where I am!

We flew to Melbourne from Darwin on Friday and arrived in the early evening. Jess had volunteered to meet us and take us to Lindsey and Ian's flat in East Melbourne (Lindsey and Ian are in Tokyo). Poor Jess had to circle the airport several times before meeting us in the pick up place - our luggage took at least 20 minutes to turn up. Bad show QANTAS!  But the pick up points are brilliant. You tell your collector which lane you're in, they swing by and pick you up and off you go. No parking fees, no trekking off to the farthest reaches of the multi-storey because that was the only parking space available, no worries. Although I think we will park in the car park on Wednesday when we come to collect Lindsey and Ian. I no longer know my way around the airport well enough to circle it till I get the nod that they're in one of the pick up lanes!!

We braved the heat on Saturday to head to Lygon Street for some last minute Christmas shopping, although we took the tram rather than walking. Later in the day we took the tram into the city to buy another pair of shorts each and to look at the Myer Christmas Windows. By then it was not only very hot, but the wind, which earlier in the day had been pleasantly cool had now changed direction and was also very hot. We returned to the (air conditioned) flat and stayed in for the rest of the evening.

We came to Mount Martha on Sunday for lunch with Stella and Tony. Wendy, and Matt, Belinda, Sage and William came too. So, in the mid-afternoon, did a much appreciated cool change. All the other visitors went home after lunch but The Builder and I stayed over. We had a pleasant stroll with Tony round the complex once it had gone dark, to admire people's Christmas lights. And here we remain, on Monday morning, supping our breakfast tea and admiring the rather pleasant, much cooler morning.  We'll head back into the city later in the morning.

What's that? Ah yes. The fleas.

Tabitha, Gareth and Cally headed out to our place on Saturday, intending to stay overnight and to check the house out. They walked in to what they described as a tropical greenhouse! We had left the heating up quite high, not realising that the Derbyshire temperatures were going to lurch towards spring-type levels. They turned the heating down. Then went upstairs to find a marauding army of titchy, tiny,  teensy and VERY hungry baby fleas colonising the upstairs. Once the very hungry fleas noticed that food had arrived downstairs, they made for the stairs, engulfing a very alarmed Cally in their way down.. We assume that the high level of heat in an empty house had encouraged flea eggs lurking in the carpet to hatch out. They don't get much of a chance when we are there. Henry the Vacuum Cleaner keeps any fleas that decide to hatch under control. And Gareth has gone into battle against the marauding army of tiny fleas, first with Henry and later with masses of flea spray. It will be a brave flea that tries to form a new army!

And just in case you are still considering the idea of wandering by and emptying the house while we are away - the House Minders noticed very quickly that there were people in the house. They'd be bound to notice something as big as a removal van :-P

Melbourne Town Hall, prettied up for Christmas

Friday, December 18, 2015


When we first started thinking about what to do to celebrate my 60th birthday, we thought about taking a steam train trip around the Christmas markets of Bavaria. Lindsey and Ian were going to come too. But then they were invited to a wedding in South Africa at the time the steam train would be going. We thought about other options, but the timing was too tight if we were going to be n Melbourne for Christmas without a great deal of rushing about. I didn't want to rush about!

I thought about it a bit more. And then decided that coming into Australia via Darwin might be the way to go. Neither The Builder nor I had ever been to Darwin. I started investigating, and found that among the many, many things we could do was a day's coach trip to the Kakadu National Park. This all seemed like a suitable celebration for a sixtieth birthday, so I booked it all.

And this morning we were waiting at 6.00 for the coach to pick us up. An early start. But Kakadu is about a 2, 2.5 hour drive from Darwin and there was much to do when we got there. I had had the foresight to pack sandwiches for breakfast - no time to eat before we left, and really it was much too early!

I enjoyed the trip out. It started to rain here about two weeks ago and has very quickly turned the plains green from the parched brown they were by the end of the dry season. We paused for a coffee stop about half way, and then made our way into the park and to a cultural centre depicting the way of life and traditions of the indigenous Traditional Owners of the site. From there we made our way to a cruise along the billabongs and rivers of the wetlands (now filling up again after the dry season). Then lunch, and then a walk to view some aborigines rock paintings. And then home, arriving back at the apartment at about 8pm

It was a very long day. But it was also a very good day. Our driver guide was informative and entertaining. We saw brolgas and jabirus, sea eagles and egrets, little tiny jacanas, or lily hoppers and various herons, and of course the ubiquitous sulfur crested cockatoo. We saw lots of wallabies, some feral pigs and a young dingo. And we saw crocodiles. Lots of crocodiles! We enjoyed our lunch of cold meats, salad and tropical fruit. We very much enjoyed the river cruise and the rock art was fascinating. 

And we really have been lucky with the weather. No rain at all today, apart from a bit when we were on the coach this morning, and rather more when we heading back into Darwin this evening. But none at all that inconvenienced us.

So Darwin and Kakadu were my main birthday celebration. And a very good celebration they have been too. My ticket for the sunset cruise on Wednesday was paid for with money given to me for my birthday from work colleagues. Tabitha, Gareth, Freyja and Simon contributed towards the Kakadu trip. Contributions towards adventures are an excellent birthday present. 

There are photos to come. I'll let you know when they are ready. 

And now it is time to turn attention away from my birthday and forward towards Christmas. We're off to Melbourne this morning.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


We have been extremely lucky with the weather. We are in the Northern Territory at the start of the rainy season and have watched some very exciting rain storms swirl their way round the harbour.

We decided to do a trial walk this morning to the jetty where the sunset dinner cruise was due to depart from, partly to make sure we knew where it was but also to check how long it took. (15 minutes, since you ask). As we approached the jetty we saw a huge, big, black rainstorm heading our way. A huge,huge, very black rainstorm. We took cover in amongst the cafes and restaurants, which weren't open yet but which were sitting inside an enclosed area. No getting saturated for us :-D

The rainstorm observed this and headed off in search of other victims. We walked back into town - and incidentally found a whole, watery complex complete with wave pool, swimming pool, life guards and fish pools with barramundi and trevally in them. All protected from the estuarine crocodiles which roam the harbour!

Later in the afternoon, I watched a foggy, misty entity sneaking up on us from behind the apartment block. It seemed odd, fog when it was hot and humid outside. It brought a bit of rain but not much and then went away. We decided to have a short nap before our evening adventure and woke up half an hour later to find that you could see absolutely nothing from our windows except thick cloud and torrential rain. No city centre, no parks and gardens, no drowning people. Nothing. This was a worry. We were supposed to be leaving in 45 minutes and neither of us wanted to go out in that. Then it started to lift, gradually, almost imperceptibly. And by the time we were due to go it had all gone away and was merely drizzling gently.

The cruise itself was lovely. We were taken around the harbour for about half an hour and told about the buildings we could see on land and the history of the harbour and all sorts of things.  Then it was time to eat. We were supposed to be dining spread out over two levels but the air condoning on the lower deck had failed. While we were cruising around, the crew had relocated everything to the upper deck, which meant we were all much closer to our neighbours than we would have been. Which meant that we all talked to each other. It was great. The food wasn't too shabby either. Lots of local produce and very tastily cooked.

The rain held off until well after we got back at about 9.00. Now we are being entertained by the usual nightly thunderstorms. But we must go to bed soon. We have a spectacularly early start tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Neither The Builder nor I have ever been to Darwin before. I passed through the airport in 1965 en route to Melbourne for the first time, but that doesn't count. And even if we had taken the time to stop and have a look, things have changed dramatically since then. Not just because of the march of time; more substantially because Darwin was more or less destroyed on Christmas Eve in 1974 by Cyclone Tracey. It is effectively a new city.

It is also a very small city. The Central Business District looks to be about four streets wide. It takes about ten minutes to walk from one side to the other! And we are in an apartment on the edge of the CBD, overlooking it and the harbour. Nice and convenient! Its size makes it easy to get about on foot, which is all to the good when the previous day was very busy and was followed by an overnight flight of five hours which involved very little sleep.

So we had an easy day. We found a supermarket for the important purchases of tea, coffee and milk. We had a potter around. We found the Visitor Information Centre, where we booked an evening dinner cruise of the harbour for tomorrow. We found a cafe which sold us barramundi and chips for lunch. Mostly we spent the day watching the world pass by from our balcony. An excellent holiday day. No rushing about.

One of the main CBD streets at 5:30 on a Tuesday.

The alcohol licensing laws are interesting in the Darwin CBD. The Liquorland bottle shop opened at 10 but can't sell boxed wine until after midday. And then each adult can only buy one x 2 litre box per day. There were two of us, so we would be allowed to buy two.  I'm not sure what would happen if we wanted to buy a dozen bottles - he had cases of wine in the store. I believe the liquor laws are different outside the City Centre but it seemed a bit odd. If I wanted a ridiculous amount of wine in boxes, I can't see what would stop me going into every wine store in the Centre. Unless, of course, there is only one. Or, I guess, I could head to the suburbs.  The licensee didn't seem very impressed by it all.

The other thing I discovered, when we bought the tickets for the harbour cruise, is that you are entitled to Seniors' discounts in Australia from the age of 60 (thus I got two discounted tickets, being 60 years and 8 days old when I went to buy them). I mentioned this on Facebook and am told that you can get discounted tickets to some things in England from age 60. But you can't now get the equivalent of a seniors' card (or bus pass) until you reach the state pension age (for me that would be 66). But what a nice First - an age concession on a dinner harbour cruise :-)

So then. This visit to Darwin means that I now have all the capital cities in Australia. Darwin has long been the only omission. But it's a very long time since I was last in Adelaide or Brisbane. I might have to re-collect them.

                                                            I think I've worn him out!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


We had a lovely day in Singapore. And to make it even lovelier, it didn't rain - or at least not very much!

I had bought us coach and entry tickets out to the River Safari Park, one of the three zoo complexes in Singapore. And it was lovely. It's a zoo themed on the major rivers of the world. And we really enjoyed it.

We saw two of these

Two of these

And lots of these

We saw lots of other animals and fish too but it's almost impossible to sort out the photos on my iPad. I'll do a proper album when I have access to a desktop computer next week.

We went on a boat tour of the reservoir that the zoo is built around, which was interesting. Then we went on the Amazon Quest which was lots of fun. The people at the front of the boat got quite splashed as we set off down quite a steep watery slope. There were lots of animals to look at on both tours.

We have now done all the Singapore zoos. What will we do next time?

We were pottering around in Suntec City and went into a cookware shop. A bloke came up to us and asked if we were Australian. The Builder said that I was.  "Aha," said he. "Thought so! You have a hat. The Australians all wear hats!"

And then it was time to go. And now we have arrived in Darwin, very early in the morning. I had asked for an early checkin but hadn't heard anything back, so wasn't sure what time they would let us check in. I was therefore very pleased when we got here at around 6:00 this morning to find that they were ready, willing and perfectly happy to let us in. We are in a little apartment with a tiny living, kitchen area, a bed alcove, a bathroom and some fabulous views. Not a bad discovery on my part!

Our room with a view, Darwin

Monday, December 14, 2015

Let the World Birthday Tour commence

The rest of my week off at home trundled along uneventfully.  A man came to replace a slate that had blown off the roof during he gales. We remembered to ask Bev Nextdoor to look after the chooks and ducks. We tidied the house. I remembered to clean the fridge and, rather startlingly, the oven. We met Tabitha, Gareth and Cally at Cally's school Christmas fair. And then, suddenly, it was Saturday, and time to fly. It was raining as we left.

We flew with Lufthansa, Manchester to Frankfurt, then Frankfurt to Singapore. I looked at the hordes and hordes of people waiting to board the flight to Singapore. The noisy hordes. The shrieking children. I listened to the hubbub and kerfuffle. And I went to the enquiry desk and bought an upgrade to premium economy! (I couldn't afford business class and even if I could, I couldn't have done it from the enquiry desk.). But premium economy was more than adequate. Nice and quiet. Nice and comfortable. Extra leg room for The Builder. The only issue was that we were in the middle of the central section, sandwiched between a bloke who seemed to sleep the whole way and a burly German bloke who watched films the whole way. But this wasn't much of an issue. And I was all the happier when I discovered that I could get wifi ON THE PLANE. All the way up in the sky. Over a rather large ocean. How exciting was that? It was turned off when we were near China's air space but other than that it was sturdy and fast.

And now we are in Singapore. It as raining when we got here.

But at least it was warm rain. And it had stopped when we stepped out of the place we are staying in search of milk and wine. We've stayed here before and haven't previously realised that the building across the street houses a large supermarket in its basement. So very handy!  We're in Singapore for just one day and I've booked us onto a coach out to the the zoo complex.  We've done the Night Zoo with Lindsey. We've done the Singapore Zoo. Today we are off to the third and last of the zoos, which is themed on major world rivers. Then we will have run out of zoos. What shall we do next time?

The wifi here last night was dreadful. So slow that it was practically non-existent. I was almost tempted to get back on a Lufthansa plane so I could use the rest of my day's super fast High in the Sky wifi allowance!

This morning it seems to be fine. Mind you, it is only half past five. I assume everyone else is still asleep!

The view from our room. We're not looking out over water. That's the sports fields

The Singapore Recreation Centre, ready for Christmas

In the meantime, back in Woodseats, Marlo seems to be feeling at home

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Birthday Feastings

When you have significant birthdays you are pretty much obliged to party in my view.  I have long thought that my Uncle Peter was much mistaken when I asked him if he was having a party to celebrate his 80th birthday and his reply was that he couldn't see why you would have a party to celebrate the fact that you weren't dead yet.  We had the party to celebrate his life a few years later, after his funeral.  It would have been so much better if we had also partied when he was around to celebrate with us!

Yesterday was a fairly significant birthday for me.  We definitely partied!

We started on Saturday, with an afternoon tea.  I wanted everyone who came to be able to eat everything that was on the table.  I didn't think that I could cater so that everyone found everything delightful, but I could definitely take into account people's allergies, intolerances and dietary preferences.  And so I produced a table which was nut, strawberry, mushroom, shellfish and pumpkin seed free (taking into account all the allergies I knew about).  I also had a table which was suitable for vegetarians and, with the sole exception of a bowl of cows' milk yoghurt, also suitable for vegans. It was my party - I figured one bowl that the vegan friend couldn't eat wasn't bad.  She could eat everything else, including the cake.

A vegan-friendly feast

Cake and pastries, good for everyone to eat

The Builder and I are about to head off on a five week adventure in Singapore, Australia and Japan. We have people in place to look after the house and to feed the chickens and the ducks (so no point heading round with a furniture van to clear the house out while we are away - you'll upset the House Minders!!).  Marlo was invited to go and stay with Freyja, Simon and Aidan while we were gone. Sunday seemed like a good day to take him round to start his holiday.

Freyja and Simon have just come back from a few days exploring in and around Marrakech.  They brought this back with them

Amongst the exciting things they did while in Marrakech was to go on  a day course learning how to make Moroccan food.  On Sunday they gave their new tagine its inaugural flight.

Delicious vegetable tagine
They also bought a beautiful bowl while they were there.  I put a load of edamame beans in it. African and Asian fusion food :-D

I was very pleased with the Moroccan saffron that Freyja and Simon brought back for me.  But I was also very jealous of the tagine.  So you can imagine my delight when I opened my cards and presents yesterday and found that the vegan visitor on Saturday and her partner had bought me this

Isn't it beautiful?

Yesterday The Builder and I culminated the Birthday Feasting with a visit to the Three Cottages for lunch

A sharing platter to start

The Three Cottages is noted for its pies ...

... and its chips

A mighty birthday feast

We definitely didn't need anything else to eat after that!!

Marlo wasn't entirely convinced by his holiday destination.  Or indeed, the idea of a holiday at all. But he seems to be settling in

I think that I will sit on this squishy sofa

Or maybe I will sleep on Aidan
(The last two photos are courtesy of Freyja and Simon)

Monday, November 30, 2015

Wet and windy

The weather forecaster on the radio this morning said that the forecast was quite simple.  Cold in the north, mild in the south and wet in the middle. He did say that he would give more detail, but we didn't really need much more in the way of detail. It was windy pretty much all weekend and rainy for most of it. It's still wet and windy today.

We didn't do very much over the weekend.  The Builder has been decorating the pantry/cellar so I had a good sort out of the tins and jars and bottles that live down there. I didn't dust the lounge room. I did do most of the washing, but not very much of the ironing. I went and had my hair cut (the hairdresser was a tiny bit worried when I asked for a "summer cut, please"). I almost forgot to get dressed on Sunday morning and was still pottering around in my PJs and dressing gown mid-morning.  It was all nice and quiet and peaceful.

Mostly I spent the weekend practising making vegan friendly party food.  I am quite pleased with my custard tarts and fairly pleased with my apple tarts.  I'm not sure about the cake yet - I haven't tasted it yet but it looks a bit dry.  We'll find out later (I have a piece with me to have with my afternoon cup of tea).  I think I have a reasonable, vegan-friendly menu worked out for next Saturday's afternoon tea party.  I am also fairly confident that everyone who comes should be able to eat everything on offer. Provided, of course, that they have told me all of their allergies/intolerances/preferences. And I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to buy dairy-free oil spreads and nut- and dairy-free "milks" in our local supermarket.  I had been assuming that I would have to go hunting in the health food shops and vegan stores.

We have given up trying to feed Marlo his pain killer tablets.  Nothing that we were doing was working. He's just going to have to manage!

Freyja and Simon are off on a two day safari in the Sahara today.  There will be Bedouin tents and camels and everything (I'm not sure about food, but I expect there will be some).  Lindsey, Ian and Emily are en route to Johannesburg for a wedding next weekend.  And The Builder and I have a mere 12 sleeps to go before embarking on the World Birthday Tour. Hardly seems possible that it is so nearly time to fly.  It seemed such a long time in the future when I bought all the tickets in July!!

Friday, November 27, 2015

An expensive cat

Marlo, you may recall, was having trouble jumping and rushing around early this year. His back legs were no longer as powerful as they had been. He had lost his bounce.  So we took him to the vet, where he was diagnosed with arthritis and possible hip dysplasia and prescribed anti-inflammatories.

He is still on the anti-inflammatories and goes for a check up at the vet every now and then.  I decided that now would be a good time because we are going away for several weeks shortly and he will be going to stay with Freyja, Simon and Aidan while we are gone.  Better if he had a good supply of medication, and also that he was pronounced to be fairly healthy before we disappeared.

As it happened, he also had to have blood tests, because his bounce has deteriorated a bit, and he had a slight heart murmur and for various other reasons.  He has been put on pain killers in addition to the anti-inflammatories.  I had to get double lots of everything to tide him over while we are away cavorting.  It was a very expensive visit to the vet!!!

So we got home with his brand new pain killers.  Tiny, tiny things they are.  I hid one, crushed up, in his dinner.  He took one mouthful, backed away and looked at me with a very accusing glare.  What have you put in my food?  Why are you trying to poison me???  I hid one, crushed up, in his treat paste stuff that he absolutely loves.  He sniffed it and backed away, deeply offended.  I took the whole lot away and put a whole one in a new dish of food.  He ate most of the food - but not the bit that the tiny, tiny tablet was hiding in.  Sigh.

Somewhere, in the deep depths of the freezer I knew there were some turkey slices. Marlo's most favourite thing in the whole world is turkey. I found them and dug them out.  This morning I hid one of the tablets, uncrushed, pressed into a turkey slice.  He ate his contaminated turkey with no fuss at all.  All gobbled down, pain killer pill included.  So that's good then.  But he's supposed to have two a day for the foreseeable future.  That's an awful lot of turkey slices :-S  I'm going to have to see if there's another way to convince him to swallow them.

It's just as well that he is a friendly, affectionate and snuggly cat.  It would be very much cheaper and a whole lot easier to replace him with a new model that works :-D

PS Friday 27th November.  The turkey trick isn't working. It only worked the once.  Since then he has wised up, eats the turkey and spits the tiny, tiny tablet out.  I don't really know what to try next. The vet suggested crushing it up, putting it into some water and syringing it into his mouth.  I don't think so!!!

Monday, November 23, 2015

More windy weather

It really was quite spectacularly windy last week.  Positively gale-like. So much so that one of the concrete fence posts down the back (by the asparagus bed) cracked with the force of the wind and blew down, taking a couple of fence panels with it.

This was particularly a problem because that fence separates our "bottom" garden from the "bottom" garden that belongs to #10 Queen Vic Road. Their garden runs down along the back of several house but more worryingly isn't properly fenced where it backs onto the farm behind.

There are foxes on that farm.

There are chickens and ducks in our garden.  Our garden is properly fenced between us and the farm but if a fox got in through the big gap in the side fence, it wouldn't take much for them to get into the chicken and duck run!

So a man came later in the week and took away the broken post and the rather large amount of concrete that had been holding it in place.  He put a new post in its place.  But he couldn't replace the panels.  It was still too windy and the new post wasn't properly set in place.  We didn't want it to blow down before it had even started work as a fence post!

Fortunately, Tabitha, Gareth and Cally were coming over on Saturday afternoon. Equally fortunately, the wind had dropped by the time they arrived.  Gareth and The Builder put the panels in while I made pizzas for a late lunch.

Marlo had been sorely puzzled by the big gaps in the fence.  It wasn't right.  Not right at all! Much better now that it has all been put back together

While all this windy weather had been going on, Freyja had been cavorting in Copenhagen, where our friend Julia was visiting other friends.  She got back into Luton mid-afternoon on Saturday and made her way to our place.  Simon, in the meantime, had been doing useful things in Sheffield and got to our place at about 7pm. Once everyone was assembled we had a positive merry feast. We had hash browns and vegetable spring rolls and vegetable samosas.  Cally had baked beans and hash browns.  Then Cally went to bed and we all had chicken and leek (or quorn and leek for the veggies) pies with mash and veg.  Then it was bed time.

We did not have an entirely restful night.  The inflatable bed that Freyja and Simon were using gradually deflated and kept them awake. Simon somehow managed to find the sticky tape and made an attempt to stop the deflation, but it didn't work and the no-longer inflatable bed is now residing in our rubbish bin.  Marlo bounced from bed to bed and eventually ended up sleeping in the bath, where I found him at 3:30 when I went to the loo.  I took him into our room and shut the door. I had a coughing fit which woke the household.  Several people had snoring fits which woke the household.  Cally woke at just before five and felt very much that it should be time to start the day.  By the time it really was time to start the day, we were all in need of several cups of tea and/or coffee to get us all going! And breakfast.  But not too much breakfast for The Builder and me; we had lunch plans.

So after breakfast everyone relocated to Woodseats.  Tabitha, Gareth, Cally, Freyja and Simon all live in Woodseats and Bea and Steve (who we were visiting for lunch) also live in Woodseats.  The Builder and I are beginning to think that we should move there too!

We had a lovely lunch with Bea and Steve.  We feasted on home made ravioli, then chicken wrapped in ham with loads of veggies, then a nectarine crumble and a chocolate and cherry steamed pudding. Absolutely no need for anything else to eat when we got home!

I don't know about anyone else, but The Builder and I slept very well last night.  No alarms or excitements.  Nothing to disturb our slumbers at all.

The sky was a deep, dark, vivid orange as my bus trundled along the bypass this morning.  If I happened to be a shepherd, I would be Very Worried Indeed.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A weekend feasting

We left fairly early on Saturday morning and made our way down to Salisbury, where we picked up The Builder's mother, Gwen, and took her out for lunch. We haven't seen her for a little while, and won't have a chance to see her again before we head off on the World Birthday Tour in four weeks time.  The weather wasn't absolutely delightful so we took her to the Old Mill for fish and chips (burger and chips for me) and then out for a slightly soggy drive around in the countryside.

She was looking very well. Life in Bemerton Lodge clearly agrees with her. She has been positively thriving since she moved there.  The staff appear to be lovely and Gwen certainly seems to like them. And I was impressed, on Saturday, when we were there to collect her at lunchtime, to notice that the residents were being offered fruit juice, water or red or white wine with their lunches (as well as tea and coffee).  Gwen says the food is very good as well, though she is certainly not averse to being taken out to eat by way of a change.

Waiting for fish and chips in the Old Mill

We ran into The Builder's sister and nephew on our way out, after dropping Gwen back. The staff were a bit worried that they had come to visit Gwen, because "Some people came and took her out". Fortunately, Marie had known that we were coming to take her mother out. And had also figured out that we had probably brought her back, since we were there and it was unlikely that we would have left her in the pub!  We haven't seen Marie for ages either.  It was good to catch up with her as well.

Then we made our way to Waterlooville, where we were staying with Jeanette, Matthew, Rebecca and Evie for the night.  Ian, The Builder's son, came over for the evening and we had a merry time catching up with them all,  eating Chinese food and drinking an assortment of alcoholic beverages. Apart from Ian who was driving back home later and had to stick to the non-alcoholic beverages (and Evie who at only 8 is a bit young for carousing!).  We hadn't seem them for some time either.  We probably should Do Better all round when we come from from the World Birthday Tour!

We had a fairly leisurely start to Sunday morning. The Builder and I even managed to sleep in - well by our standards it was a sleep in!  I was up, ready to talk to Stella and Tony at our regular Sunday time.  But I wasn't dressed.  Or I was dressed, it being a bit rude to wander around stark naked in someone else's house, but in my pyjamas and dressing gown.

Evie and Bayleigh hard at work on Sunday morning!

Eventually pretty much everyone managed to get up and dressed for the day and Matthew proved us all with a magnificent Full English Brunch.  Then we left them to get on with things and took ourselves home, where we were greeted by outraged chickens and ducks, who had waited for a whole five hours for their breakfast (although there was still plenty of food in their hoppers so I don't know what all the outrage was about!) and a relatively relaxed Marlo who had eaten all of the extra food that we had left for him but who seemed to be assuming that we would eventually turn up again and give him some more!

And now here we stand on the brink of a new week.  I wonder what it has in store for us all.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


After the stormy weather yesterday morning, the day cleared into sunny but windy. Excellent, thought I. Very good drying weather.  And hung the washing out to flap around while we went to take some things to the charity shop.  Came back and engaged myself trying to make some "oat milk" (we have a vegan potentially coming to visit in a couple of weeks). I looked out the window. Something didn't seem quite right.  Where's the washing?  The line had snapped and the washing was disported all over the trees :-S  It was oh-so nearly dry so I hung it back on the other line and wrote "new washing line" on my shopping list.

Oat milk appear to be surpringly easy to make.  Now I need to see if it can be used to make tasty custard, using Mr Bird's egg-free custard powder.

The day went by and it was bedtime.  Up the stairs I went - and the handrail came away from the wall. Clearly I have a strength I was unaware of.  Help, I called.  HELP!  What, said The Builder, somewhat grumpily from his chair.  And eventually came to investigate, and found me stood there, holding onto the rail so it didn't pull completely away from the wall. He fixed it back, temporarily. And forgot all about it when he went  co come upstairs this morning carrying the cups of tea.  It's fixed back properly now.  I hope!

I did, however, with very considerable patience, manage to fix this to the wall

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


My goodness but it was windy yesterday evening and last night

As the X17 bus made its way along the Dronfield bypass towards Chesterfield yesterday evening, it was buffeted and blown about.  It was a bit like being on a small plane in a huge storm - a lot, in fact, like the time The Builder and I flew into Jersey in a gale and as we landed in St Helier the plane was caught by several gusts of wind and was blown about all over the place.  The pilot of that plane and the driver of the bus yesterday both did a sterling job of keeping everything upright and together.  But I bet the bus driver was delighted to get off the bypass - it is quite high in places and rather exposed!

Then I got home and went to light the fire.  As I was laying the kindling out, a huge gust of wind came blowing down the chimney and blew ash all over the carpet.  Then, after I had lit the fire, the wind blew back down the chimney and the wood burner filled with smoke - which began to seep out into the lounge room.  This was a bit worrying!  We closed all the air vents down on the fireplace and opened the window.  After the smoke had cleared from the wood burner, we tried again. This time the fire caught, but it wasn't terribly happy.  Took ages for it to look cheerful and chirpy.

Then it was bedtime.  I pottered upstairs with the cat.  Pulled the curtains across - and the wind gusted and tried to suck the (brand new!!) curtains out the slightly opened window.  I pulled the window shut (but didn't close the clasp). Throughout the night we were woken by the wind gusting and the window being sucked slightly open and the curtains being sucked out and blown around.  (I really should have closed the window properly in the first place!).

All in all, it was a very disturbed night.  And I had some very peculiar dreams to accompany the sound of the wind.   It came as something of a relief when it was finally time to get up.

It's a much calmer, nicer day in Sheffield today.  The sun is shining and it's fairly still.  But The Builder tells me that it is still very gusty in Tupton.  He nearly got blown over when he was feeding the chooks and ducks this morning.  Marlo, very sensible, is sleeping at the foot of our bed, out of the way of gusty wind - for we have now properly shut the front bedroom window!  (Our usual bedroom is still being decorated and is out of use for now)

Weekend report

So the weekend began extremely well with our dinner at Wagamama followed by my early birthday treat of an evening with the Hairy Bikers (and about 200 other people :-) )  Austin tells me that "wagamama" means selfish, self-indulgent or willful in Japanese, which seems an odd choice for a restaurant! I suppose I am self-indulgent when I go there - I always eat too much!!  But Kaori, my Japanese daughter-in-law, also said that it seemed a very strange name for a restaurant. I guess Wagamama isn't planning to expand into Japan!

Anyway, Friday was a very successful evening.

Then The Builder and I had our workout on Saturday morning, getting all that wood in from a huge heap in the drive to neatly stacked in the lounge room and in the porch.  We had to move fast because it was drizzling and we had paid for seasoned dried wood.  No point paying for dried wood that works well in our wood burner, only to leave it out in the rain getting all wet again!  About 30 minutes after we had finished getting it all in and stacked, the drizzle turned to an absolute downpour. We were hugely pleased that we were inside, sitting down with a celebratory cup of tea by that time! Marlo watched the wood moving enterprise with a definite expression of incredulity on his face.  You can very clearly hear him thinking "What on earth are you two up to now?" as he watches us engaging in what seems to him to be yet another madcap activity

We spent the afternoon at Bishops' House, where we had a good number of visitors. The rain had pretty much stopped by then - but it was very definitely on the windy side.

Then we went home, via the supermarket, and settled in for the rest of the weekend. We spent Sunday pottering about, sorting things out, doing useful things, eating and drinking, and reading and watching telly. It was very relaxing and restful.  Which goes nowhere to explaining why we both more or less slept in this morning and had to rush about to get the working week under way. Maybe we had got so much into Sunday Relaxed mode yesterday that it had carried over to Monday morning!

On Thursday evening I made a huge cauliflower and broccoli bake to use up a cauli that was beginning to look very sorry for itself.  Yesterday I made a pork and mushroom wellington.  There is lots left of both of these dishes.  I am currently reading Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's new book Love your leftovers.  I am very lucky.  I have lots and lots of leftovers to love :-) (I was simply going to freeze the leftover dishes to keep for later but have decided to be slightly more creative and combine them in one way or another - thus probably creating even more leftovers!!)

Hmmm. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to get down from here

I shall have a little snooze while I think about it

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Let the Birthday Celebrations Commence

… albeit a month early :-D

Freyja and Simon, mindful of the fact that we are vigorously decluttering our house and possibly therefore don't want additional Things to find homes for, bought tickets to an Off the Shelf event, featuring the Hairy Bikers for my birthday/Christmas present.

They gave us the tickets when we saw them last weekend - fortunately, we had no plans for yesterday evening an were free to go.  We don't often go out in the Sheffield city centre in the evening, and when we do it is usually planned well in advance.  All this spontaneity  was a bit disconcerting!

So The Builder came into town at about 5:30 and we went for an early dinner at Wagamama's.

Chicken katsu for me - it's becoming my regular choice.
Maybe I should be more adventurous next time!

Chicken with udon noodles and a chilli and ginger sauce for The Builde

And then we made our way up to the Octagon Centre at the University of Sheffield.  A drink in the bar, a bit of a wait in the auditorium while they ran sound checks in the theatre, and then in we went:

I had remembered to bring the tickets :-D

Waiting for them to arrive

And it was great.  The Hairy Bikers talked for about 30 minutes about their early lives and their Biker Travels and various other things. They were very funny, very entertaining and Quite Interesting.  Then they took questions from the audience for about 45 minutes. And then they went and signed books and things and we hopped on the tram and headed back to the car and thence home.

It was a great evening.  Thank you very much to Freyja and Simon for the tickets and the splendid launch to my birthday festivities.

This morning, quite early, a small truck pulled up outside our place and delivered this:

It took The Builder and me about an hour to get it all in from the driveway, out of the rain, and stacked up.  Tired now!  But wasn't it an inspired idea, all that time ago, to build what is effectively a huge wood store

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Front Bedroom

Some what to my surprise, I find that I have very few photos of our front bedroom. We have pictures galore of pretty much every other room in the house, but almost none of the front bedroom.  Had I realised, I would have taken some "before" snaps before The Builder took to decorating it.  But I didn't, so we will have to make do with the small number I took as we were moving in in 2006

A bit dark, sorry - but you get the idea

We still weren't properly sorted 
Still unpacking

I don't have any photos at all of the main wardrobe from before, but this is what it looks like now:

The gentle yellow and gold used to be white.  The jade panels used to be apricot. The tile stickers are new, as are the jade curtains

There used to be a "fitted" wardrobe where the bookcase is. It and its companion have moved to Heeley in Sheffield

We have temporarily moved in

because our room currently looks like this!