Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The last blog of the year.

Small things amuse small minds so they say... this little chap, known as Fred, is only six inches high and he amuses me no end... 'nuff said I think?
Well, it's almost upon us, Christmas that is, and once again there was a discussion on television this morning about how stressed out women are at this time of year, how EVERYTHING is left to them to sort out and so on. Well, first of all, if you aren't able to delegate, if you have no bribery methods up your sleeve, or if you have DOORMAT on your forehead, then tough! On the other hand, there are lots of women who thrive on this kind of stress, so good luck to you too. If you're someone who has no family to share it with, or who prefers to spend it quietly with your other, dearly-beloved half, then there is no stress, no rushing about. It's all perfectly lovely and quiet and calm. All I need is snow to make it complete, or a heavy frost at the very least. Please, no sunshine and mild temperatures, whoever is in charge of weather control at this time of year.
Last time I blogged I wrote about the smells of Christmas.. how about the sounds though? One of the worse sounds is piped muzak, and in Tesco last week, it was so loud, you couldn't hear yourself think, people were having to shout at each other to be heard, and you felt sorry for the staff, who must go home stressed and deafened.
More welcome sounds though are those of schoolchildren singing at their Nativity Play, the Salvation Army playing outside our village shops, carollers outside the surgery. And no matter how often I hear it, good old Roy Wood and WIZARD always brings a smile to my face, a lift to my spirits.
And whilst it may seem too early to be writing the last blog of the year, this is what I intend this one to be, for I know that whilst I bask in the luxury of a non-stressful time, there are many of you with lots to do, places to go, people to see and so on, and looking at blogs will be the last thing on your mind.
So, speaking of spirits, I raise a glass to you all, thank you to those who have taken the time to comment on my blog ... although I'd do it anyway, having feedback has led me to read other blogs and given me enormous pleasure.... except for a certain American WINDOW TREATMENT company who invaded one of my earlier blogs, so I discovered yesterday, and who have received a very strongly worded email about same. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Monday, 15 December 2008

The JOYS (?) of being a 50s Housewife!

Well, apart from the inconvenience of no dishwashers, automatic washing machines, hoovers that whizz around corners on a ball thingy (and how did we ever live without that I wonder?) and all the other labour and time-saving devices and desired objects that have come into being in the last fifty years, what was it like to be a housewife in the 1950s?
According to 'Housekeeping Monthly' from 1955, there was a whole raft of rules and regulations to follow if you wanted to be a good wife. Apart from the obvious, such as taking that extra 15 minutes before your dearly-beloved, heard-working breadwinner of a husband came home to 'touch up your makeup and put a ribbon in your hair' (that'll be after you've removed rollers and hairnet presumably!); made sure the children are clean, being seen but not heard and that their toys are not cluttering up the family home; ensured that cushions are plumped and placed regimentally in their allotted positions... apart from these, what should the 'little lady' do?
Naturally she will keep schtum because her conversation is not going to be anywhere near as interesting as her husband's is it? And it goes without saying that what He has to say is far more important as well. Nor should she question His decisions, judgement or integrity. He is the man of the house, and apparently, this elevates him to almost God-like status in his own home.
The advice goes on in similar vein ending with the words, 'A good wife knows her place.' Hmmm...
Now I don't know about you, but if I appeared 'gay' as they describe having a happy, smiley face to greet Himself with, and wore a ribbon in my hair, my husband would think I'd been at the sherry again. If I had lit a fire because it was cold and I wanted him to feel more comfortable, he'd worry I was about to set the house on fire again... this being a rarely-referred to incident involving a woodburner and an unlined chimney in our old house back in the 80s. (His workmates thought getting a phone call saying the house was on fire, fire brigade on their way, was one heck of a novel way to get a morning off work!)
And if I didn't tell him anything of my day, but kept quiet waiting for him to speak, there would be long silences since he prefers to leave work behind and that's it once he's home and he'd assume I had laryngitis since I am never quiet for long!
Oh, and the picture has nothing to do with the blog... I just thought we could do with cheering up on this cold and grismal day and remind ourselves of warmer days to come.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Christmas delights.

The first time I tried Lebkuchen, it was from a small bakery in Ruislip, on the High Street, owned by an Austrian couple. It was so yummy, the mere thought of it is making my mouth water. The offerings in the photograph aren't anywhere near as good... they have a sell-by date for next year, whereas the freshly-baked ones had to be eaten soon... Very Soon I said! They crumbled in the mouth, the taste was gorgeous.. these are a bit dry and have an artificial taste to them, but in the absence of an Austrian bakery and freshly made ones, they 'will do'.

They are part of my Christmas treats, delights that I always associate with this time of year. The gorgeous smells from the kitchen of home made whisky mincemeat and sloe gin. Of oranges starred with cloves to hang in the porch. Of fresh greenery from the garden to entwine with scarlet ribbons, lay across the mantlepiece of both our fireplaces, interspersed with fat ivory candles. Of dried apple rings and burning apple logs.

The tastes evocative of Christmas for me include roasted chestnuts, home made parsnip crisps and spiced nuts for nibbles, Christmas cake with Wensleydale cheese, violet and rose creams, a box of handmade chocolates, Bendicks mints. REAL Turkish delight... not the chocolate covered apology for the stuff. I had an aunt who could eat the real Turkish Delight by the box, stuffing one piece in after another.. so fond was she of this that she had a box for her and a box for visitors. She and I never really got on, she was a Lady Bracknell type of woman who looked down her nose at me and most other members of the family. To be honest, although I have bought a wooden box of real turkish delight for the first time this year, I am not sure if I really like it - but the box is very pretty!

Sights to delight include a real Christmas tree... we have a slow growing one in a large pot in the garden, which lives out of sight of the house for eleven months of the year, then we wheel it up to the patio, string fairy lights on it and go 'Aah' every time, even though it looks the same, just maybe a little bit bigger. I am always enchanted by houses with fairy lights around the doors, the eaves, windows and trees. And indeed I am one of those sad people who loves to go out in the car in the evening to nose at people's houses, see their decorations, act appalled at the OTT-ness, the tackiness of some houses full of dangly bits from ceilings, walls festooned with garlands, trees weighed down with baubles, every available surface covered by nativity scenes, snow globes, figurines and so on. Their gardens too, often full of lit-up reindeer, Santas, elves and snowmen.

Then we sigh with delight at the classiness of the 'less is more' brigade, with just a one-colour themed tree on display in a window, a simple wreath on the door, a few lights around a tree in the garden perhaps. We just string lights along a hedge dividing the garden in two, around a couple of holly trees and along the eaves of the summerhouse. Sometimes I make a ball of lights, by fastening together two wire hanging baskets, stuffing it with greenery from the garden, nicking bits of cut-off Christmas trees from the local garden centre, those bits they're not going to make into wreaths and charge a fiver for, and then fill it with fairy lights. I hang it by the front porch where it gets many an admiring glance, and it's the only one on the street. This year it will be a simple row of lights around the inner front door, and a country style wreath, which against the cheery red door looks very pretty and well... Christmassy!

Monday, 1 December 2008

More thoughts on writing, this time for posterity.

As those of you who follow my blog will know, writing has always been an important part of my life. From school essay writing, through teenage diaries with their 'will he, won't he' 'does he like me or not' entries amongst the notes of current fashion trends, anecdotes about my friends, snippets from my own life and so on, right through to more recent years and my success with short stories, dozens of social and local history features, my novel,and the daily journals I have been keeping for the last twenty odd years, writing has been something I have always enjoyed. I find it easier to write than talk sometimes, so important things I have wanted to say to family or friends, have often been said in the form of a handwritten letter. This gives me time to gather my thoughts, put them down in a cohesive manner, make sure they cannot be misconstrued, that there are no lines to read between for the recipient. I read them several times over, correcting a word here and there maybe, until it is just as I want it to be, and the message I want to get across is there, plain and simple.
But as well as all this, since the early Eighties, I have been a contributor to the Mass Observation Archives. Now there may be some of you who have never heard of these, so here is a potted history.
They were founded in 1937 by three young men who recruited volunteer writers and observers to study the day to day life of ordinary people in the UK. The M-O archive holds all this information at the University of Sussex and their work continues today. When I joined I was given the option of keeping a daily diary, answering questionnaires, or doing both. I chose to answer the questionnaires, and this I continue to do. They arrive about three or four times a year, and cover a wide range of subjects, from world events, events here in the UK, and less serious matters, all aimed at getting an idea of how people think, live, work and play.
Several books have been published about the M-O, and using some of their material, though I should point out, that rather like in the cult TV series, 'The Prisoner', you are known and filed as a number, not a name. There is complete privacy, and where work has been published from the material held in the archive, it has always been with the express permission of the person whose original work it was. One book which is perhaps the most well known in recent times, has been 'Nella Last's War', which was made into the television drame 'Housewife, 49' starring Victoria Wood. 'Housewife 49' refers to the occupation of Nella and her age when it was written.
If anyone is interested in writing for the M-O they are always keen to hear from people, and the best way to approach them is via their website, where you then follow the link 'Writing For Us'.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Love is.....having someone who will go out and plant hundreds of bulbs, various anemones, cyclamen, bluebells and small woodland plants in general, which arrived on what has been the coldest day of autumn/winter so far. The temperature struggled to about five degrees, in the cold northerly gales it was even colder, even being in the comparative shelter under the holly trees and laburnum didn't do much to stop the fingers freezing. But these days my bones are too cream-crackered to be able to cope with bending for more than a few minutes... I well remember Simon, my very sexy GP at the time, telling me on my fiftieth birthday back at the start of the millenium, that I had the bones of a woman 10 to 15 years older than me. You can go right off some people! So this is my wonderful, gorgeous husband doing the planting for me.. such a star you are ... xx

It started with a kiss... the gentlest, smallest pecks from tiny white flakes of snow. This is Ceres, otherwise known in our household as Mrs Cornflake, standing in her little arbour of Spirea 'Bridal Wreath', now bereft of foliage of course, getting kissed with the first fall of snow on Sunday.

But before too long it turned into a full-blown snog, with horizontal snow, the churchgoers crawling home along the road in their cars, each with a bemused expression on their faces as it hadn't even been the gentle kissing bit when they entered the church. Others more intent on getting their Sunday supplements than a Sunday sermon, slithered and gingerly stepped along the pavements, turning into monochrome images, their front half covered in snow, the back almost free of it. And Mrs Cornflake, though still visible, was up to her ankles in the white stuff... the buddha looked as if he were wearing a coat and hat, just his cheery cherubic face visible... plants became weighed down with snow and there was three to four inches of it. In the distance could be heard the shrieks and screams of happy children playing on the only accessible, modestly hilly bit in these parts, at the entrance to our village, and topped with a seat for those who want to look out over the Bog and nature reserve. Yesterday it was an adventure playground, sleds taken out of garages and lofts and being made full use of for the first time in ages, until the snow all but melted by teatime.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Drifting by my window, autumn leaves

I think this will be the last time I get to photograph the beautiful leaves from the cherry tree this autumn. Although it's a fine day today, the forecast is for lots of rain, even snow possibly on Saturday, but definitely a blast of real wintry weather.
Today the leaves off the silver birch are raining down like a golden shower, a pale honey colour and the other leaves lying around the garden, from hedging and shrubs and other trees and all waiting to be raked up after lunch are in shades of caramel, bitter lemon, oranges, duffle coat brown, some even a pale eau de nil green almost.
I love the leaves, the colours, the texture, scrunching them underfoot or in my hands, gathering handfuls to put on a green, leaf-shaped plate, just so I can admire the many different colours. It was looking at leaves that first got me interested in designing my own free hand tapestries, which I did when we lived in London before moving yet again and having a change of direction with my handicrafts and doing something else. Leaves and old brick and flint walls, with mosses and tiny plants growing out of them, which on first glance just seem to be made up of a few colours, red and grey and a bit of green maybe. But when looked at closer they are actually made up of many different shades of reds, and greys, and greens, with sometimes the odd pink or purple here and there, sometimes a sharp yellow to shock you. The textures too were varied, and this was easily translated on the canvas with different stitches. All very time consuming, all very satisfying though, and in the days when my eyesight was much better than it is now!

These days it's knitting that takes up most of my crafting time... the wool here is a fine four ply, handpainted wool, being used on chunky needles to create a loose knit shawl, perfect for wrapping around the shoulders as I sit and read in bed. And as you can see, I collect knitting needles, some are the ordinary plastic or steel, bamboo too, whilst others are in pale pastel colours, lemon, pink, lilac, pale blue, and made from a by-product of the dairy industry in Australia. There are some hand-painted wooden ones, some with lots of different colours dyed into the wood before it is cut and shaped into needles. There are fat sparkly ones, made of metal and too noisy to use in company or trying to listen to the radio, garish orange and yellow swirly ones in plastic, not as nice to look at but a whole lot quieter. I am also knitting hottie covers... some are for standard sized bottles, being knitted in a very soft, tweedy brown chunky wool, others in a variegated wool in shades of pinks and purples, all gathered at the top and tied with ribbon. Some are for mini hot water bottles, and knitted in blue chunky with cable patterns, or two balls of doubleknit worked together in plain stocking stitch or moss stitch. Some are properly shaped at the top and bottom, others are just a sack really, tied with pretty ribbons. All are comforting to use, and to knit, and perfect for these colder days.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Passion in November

I thought finding one of my gorgeous poppies in flower in October was quite amazing, but how about this? A passion flower plant in bloom.
Obviously, the eagle-eyed gardeners amongst you, well J A-S anyway, will notice that the leaves and foliage are not that of a passion flower. (It is in fact a thyme, in a planter under the kitchen window, easily accessible) The plant itself is growing in my neighbours garden, up a conifer, and hanging on our side of the garden divide. But, it is at the bottom of the garden, behind our shed, where it actually doesn't get that much sunlight (even less on a dark and damp day like today) but presumably enough to encourage it to bloom. There were three flowers on it and my husband has removed this last one just so I could take a quick snap of it.. in the wind and rain... but a cheery sight on such a day, nevertheless.

Books and reading

Among the many pleasures that dot my life are books, and anything to do with them really. I read for escapism, for knowledge, for my studies, for research for my articles, but mostly just for the sheer pleasure of reading. I love the thrill of receiving a parcel of books, of touching and smelling new and old books. I love browsing in bookshops old and new, buying books, choosing a new book to read or selecting an old favourite to re-read. The photos here show some of the books have read in the last month or so, not all by any means, just a sampling of them. Unfortunately, although they looked all right on screen, by the time they translated to the blog, the covers were all but indecipherable. Sorry, but I am no expert with the digital camera.
'Variable Winds at Jalna' is one of a series of sixteen books written between 1927 and 1960 which cover one hundred years of the Whiteoak family and their estate Jalna. The matriarch of the family is Adeline, a strong female character who lives to be over a hundred and a driving force in the family to the end. It is the usual saga of family rivalries, tangled relationships and secrets, and was written by Mazo de la Roche, probably not known to many who will read this blog, if any at all. My late mother had all the books in the series, which I now have, but because of my penchant for old dustjackets, I am trying to buy old hardback copies of it when I see them, for the artwork. I also like to re-read the stories from time to time.

The Margaret Forster is another of those books I bought because I knew her writing, but mainly because I loved the artwork on the dustjacket. Many people will know her for writing 'Georgy Girl' perhaps this maybe less well-known. At the beginning of the book Maudie, who is 68, from Glasgow and as outspoken and domineering as you can get, decides to make the long bus journey to London to visit her daughter, a disastrous visit, only to be outdone in its awfulness by her next trip, a visit to her other daughter... she finishes up with 'the mecca' of her travels as it's described, visiting her beloved son. But again the visit doesn't match the expectations, but you know that because of duty, these visits will be repeated the next year.
I recently bought a boxed set of classic Penguins, and have begun working my way through them, starting with 'Notes on a Scandal' by Zoe Heller, because it had been recommended by several friends. It was a good book to start my reading with, though the next one didn't appeal as much and has been put aside until I am perhaps in the mood for it. I tend to do this with books, trying them for a couple of dozen pages, then strong in the belief that life's too short and there are too many unread books to waste time on those I am not connecting with or enjoying, I will put the book aside and try it again at a later date. But three strikes and it's out, off to a friend or the charity shop!

Jodi Picoult is an old favourite, but this, 'Songs of the Humpback Whale' I found more of a struggle, it zapped about from one time to another and left me confused at times. But, it was a good read for all that, engrossing as her books are, and with a satisfying ending.

Kate Atkinson is another favourite, and I especially like the books featuring the retired policeman, Jackson Brodie, of which this is the latest. Each time I read one of them, I think it's better than the last, and this was no exception. The first book of hers I read was her first novel, 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum', which was just so brilliant, and like many debut novels I have read over the years, left me feeling a bit deflated, wondering why I bother trying to write mine.
'The Wonderful Weekend Book' by Elspeth Thompson is just such a pretty book, the photo doesn't do it justice. I often buy a book because of its cover; unless the author is known to me, it's the first thing I notice, and if like the read of the blurb, then I buy it. This delightful book gives you lots of ideas for passing the time at weekends. For those who need inspiration.

And these two may give the impression I am an idle glutton.. not so. But I am a follower of idle pleasures, and a lover of food and cooking. The Idle Pleasures includes such pursuits as sneering, paper folding, and yawning amongst its more energetic pursuits, so you can see it's not for the faint-hearted! There are useful idle pursuits such as learning the names of trees, gathering food from the hedgerows and hanging out washing, so you can see it has it's not all laying about and contemplating your navel.. though strangely enough, that's not one of the pursuits. And the 'Joy of Eating' is another of those irresistible covers, and the book itself is a hotpot of international food writing, recipes and thoughts on food and cookery. Anyone who likes food and anthologies will enjoy this book.
So there you have a brief example of some books I have been reading - there may be more another time.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Journals, notebooks and thoughts on writing

This is just a very small sample of some of the notebooks in my collection. I use them for journals mainly, and have a box full of them, A4 and A5 sized, going back to when we first moved here over twenty years ago, plus some old straightforward diaries going back further. Apart from my daily journals I use them for writing exercises/writing diary; keeping notes from various courses I have done in rune-reading, tarot, astrology; for notes on various faith systems I have read about, Native American, Buddhism and so on; and now I am using two as family history journals for my grandchildren, which they will have on their 18th birthday, some time away yet. I use spiral bound ones for this, so that I can stick in photos without too much strain on the spine. My daily journals also have pictures, from magazines as well as the occasional magazine article, recipes tried, tickets from exhibitions or a special ferry ride we took once across a beautiful lake. But mainly they are full of words, my words, some private and some I have made public elsewhere, and none of them will ever be read by anyone after my death, I've made sure of that. As they are honest, there are certain family members who would not be pleased after reading my thoughts!

Long before emails and texting became the norm for most people, when it comes to communicating with friends, there was letter-writing. Some of us still indulge in this delightful pastime, and I am one of them. I have been writing to penfriends since I was 14, when my first penfriend was Jane, who lived in Cupertino in California, and whose life at high school was as different to mine at a private school as you could get. At 16 I was writing to a Radio Caroline DJ - Caroline was a pirate radio station for those who have never heard of it. But then real life became more important, having a job (or rather a variety of them for I got bored quickly then as now!), a real boyfriend (Hello Neil! I know you read this), and penfriends were something I didn't seem to have time for. Until I was 21 when I again began writing to a penfriend, thanks to Terry Wogan. This penfriend was called Keith, and it was love at first write, for within four months of the first letter being exchanged, we married. Sadly, he died only a few years later, but never fear, dear reader, for the story has a happy ending and I remarried, my soul mate as it turned out, and we have been together for over thirty years now, through thick and thin and the raising of my two sons.

And whilst I love emailing, the immediacy of it particularly, I also love hand writing, or using the computer to write letters to many penfriends, some I have known for almost forty years now... sobering thought. The act of using a nice pen, pretty paper, coloured inks adds to the pleasure of writing to an old friend, and at least it's something you can still do when the power goes out!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Life's too short to live the same day twice.

Someone more famous than me said the above about life.. but there again, so many famous, and infamous people have probably uttered a quote about life at some time or other, but this one struck a chord.
I am not a creature of habit really, other than things I have to do every day. I prefer to wing it, go wherever the mood takes me, do whatever I feel like doing, and if that be sitting reading a book for most of the day, so be it. As long as my chores are done, I can do so with an easy conscience. But I do like variety in life, and so the above picture reflects some of my activities for the week.
One morning there will be tarot morning with some female friends. I am a reader of the cards, did a course in it, and find them fascinating though like most things, don't take them too seriously. Another morning will see me finishing off the boring bit of sewing up knitted hearts which have been stuffed with smelly stuff... love the knitting of anything but do find sewing up a chore, hence there are lots of scarves knitted from time to time, to give me a break from the sewing-up. And I shall also sort out wool for the next project, which is bedsocks, cabled or lacy, all soft, some fluffy.
I am going to have a writing day as well, with work on my novel and my writing course, answering letters to friends that are long overdue as well. No emails, just the luxury of choosing a lovely fountain pen, some coloured ink and coloured stationery to complement or contrast, stamps and a walk to the post box. The emails will be for another day.
There will be an afternoon closeted in the kitchen, and hopefully the weather will be as miserable as it is at the moment so I can listen to a story tape whilst making apple chutney and Grandma's Apple Cake.
I will spend Saturday morning shopping at small local-ish shops, with a trip into the nearby market town the day before. Hopefully an hour or two in the garden, weather permitting, to start filling the garden waste recycling bin before the next collection. We do compost a lot of things, but make full use of this scheme to save trips to the tip itself, which is quite a distance from us. Sunday will be a day of rest, apart from cooking the traditional Sunday roast dinner with pud. An afternoon of reading magazines, snoozing and generally being very lazy indeed.
And here will endeth my week, with no two days the same entirely, the time away from the necessary housewife/domestic goddess chores being passed with doing some of my favourite things.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Time for a question to gardeners

Now ignoring the gorgeous dragon, unimaginatively called George, can anyone identify the berries please?
We were clearing the garden and found a small group of tall thin green leaves, about 12-14 inches in height, similar to those you have on lilies, and two stems of these berries. Well, there must have been flowers presumably, a lily of some sort maybe?
They were quite well hidden by other foliage, so the flowers were not seen at all. Neither of us can remember planting anything in this spot, of this ilk, so haven't a clue how they got there, presumably birds or wind, or birds with wind, who knows?
The open one looked like the closed one until it dried out, and apart from wanting to know what it is, I would also like to know how to plant the seeds, and when.
A quick word on gardens in general... around here they are looking decidedly sorry for themselves, very bedraggled after a wet weekend, all the flower heads that were left for the birds to peck at are dark and grungy, not the most appetising of meals I wouldn't have thought. Soggy leaves everywhere, squidged walnut outer casings ready to catch you unawares and cause you to slip and lose your footing momentarily. Still there is some colour from marigolds and grasses, and lots of budding flowers on my wallflower plants, which line the path down to the bottom of the garden. Another month and it will be time to put the outdoor lights around the holly trees for the first time this year, and along the hedges that separate the garden into different areas, traditionally not done until the weekend after my birthday on the 7th December, by which time, a neighbour who decorates his house for charity, will have already spent a weekend or more hanging lights and goodness knows what else this year. Very colourful, a bit OTT, but in its own way, fabulous and uplifting, as well as helping worthy local causes.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Open wide, say 'Aah'

Isn't it strange, that as we get older, we find ourselves saying with ever-increasing frequency, things like 'I remember when', or 'When I was your age/younger' and so on. My last post was a touch nostalgic, and so is this one, all about going to the doctors.
Back in the 80s when I first lived in Norfolk, we had a marvellous GP called Martin. I think I was in the minority thinking him great, the majority of the older people in the community especially, didn't like his forthright manner. He had a certain brusqueness, and could spot a time waster a mile off. He also had the endearing habit of shouting 'Next victim please!' when he was ready for the next patient. Being a Northerner, I appreciate straight talking, so he and I got on famously, and I like to think we were friends to a degree, before we both moved away and on to different things.
But in those days, and earlier ones too, the family GP knew his patients, often treating several generations of the same family, 'from cradle to grave' as they say. They often called their patients by their Christian names, and whilst some may think this is not the done thing, I happen to think it puts you at your ease.
But how different it seems to be these days, or maybe this is just where I live, and my experience of a family GP. Well, for a start they change so frequently at my local GP practice that there is no way they could know anyone from the cradle to teenage years, let alone to old age. I have a nominated female doctor, my preference, but she isn't at the surgery every day, so often I have had to 'make do' with someone else.
The appointments system is a joke, you can only book ahead so far, and that means that if a doctor sees you on Thursday, has said he wants to see you on the following Monday afternoon, you can't pre-book. You can only pre-book as far ahead as the Monday morning.. which means you have to ring the surgery at 8.15am prompt on the Monday, at which time you will be told you are number forty or something in the queue, spend fifteen minutes hanging on the end of the phone listening to some dire music, and hope that by the time it gets to your turn, said doctor's afternoon appointments are not all taken. Hardly good for the blood pressure, all this.
And now it seems we have a do-it-yourself hospital referral system. My other half was told he would need to be referred to a specialist at the local hospital, and we assumed this meant that the doctor would write to the specialist, who would then get back to us with an appointment. Oh no... my husband got several pages listing the hospitals in the area he could choose from, and the doctors, giving him a password, and instructions as to how to select the doctor of his choice and do it all online! Well, needless to say the wonders of technology weren't all they were cracked up to be, the computer locked out due to a fault on the system, which necessitated a phone call to a particular number, manned by someone who checked the appointments at the hospital with the specialiast my husband had selected. None available he said, but nothing as to whether this was in the immediate future or next year, or whenever! He informed us the hospital would be in touch... which is what would have happened the normal way, the old way this was done, so why change the system?

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

One for the ladies...

Do you remember 'Jackie' magazine? I felt so grown up when I was able to change from 'Bunty' and 'Judy' to this teen magazine. This was in the 60s, a time of Flower Power, surfin' sounds, pin-ups like David Cassidy, Radio Caroline, manufactured pop group The Monkees, mini skirts, white leather boots, lots of dark eye shadow and mascara a la Dusty Springfield, and the back-combed hair to match.
I was prompted into this temporary wallow by an advert on television for a new CD by The Dave Clark Five. This brought back so many memories of the sixties... getting into trouble for not wearing my school uniform correctly inside or outside school, and for having my boyfriend meet me from school when I was 15. Memories of chats with the careers officer, who seemed to have such a cushy job when she asked me what I wanted to do, I said 'Your job, it looks easy!' This went down like a lead balloon of course, but the only options at that time were shop work, office work, factory work (Mullards valves) or the fish processing plant on the dock! I chose office work and embarked on a career where I changed jobs every few months, having got bored once I knew how to do it and how the company operated. I worked for electrical contractors, stockbrokers, estate agents, working my way up to a better job each time, until finally having my own secretarial business when I was 19.
I remember the Dave Clark Five doing a summer season in Blackpool where I worked, and of my girlfriend Ann and I sitting outside a house they rented in Lytham St. Annes, hoping for a glimpse... she fancied Mike Smith, I was all for Dave Clark. She had an old Ford Prefect, cream and green, and with a hole in the floor on the passenger side where, if you moved the mat, you could see the road, so I had to sit, rather inelegantly, with my legs apart so as not to go through the mat! It took us all over the place with no bother, even as far as Tewkesbury, a journey of several hours, not very comfortable in my position so it was a challenge to find new ones which didn't involve the mat being touched.
For me they were such carefree happy days with great memories... how about you?

Monday, 27 October 2008

The story of moving part of our library and lerve in the air (still) for Esme.

Well, this is part of our book collection, and who needs a gym when there are this many books to be taken out of one set of decrepit bookcases in a hallway, and moved into new bookcases in the dining room. There are hundreds and hundreds of books here, mainly history from prehistory, through Anglo Saxon, Medieval, Roman etc., with some gardening and topography books thrown in, plus what I call 'coffee table books', thick ugly books ideal for propping up the broken leg of a coffee table. No, I jest... you know the sort I mean, books with lots of lovely photos and ideal-for- dipping-into books. The history books belong mainly to my husband, the topography I used for research when writing my articles for county and national heritage-type magazines. But the old bookcases had seen better days, so a lot of huffing and puffing went on as books were hoiked about the place, old bookcases taken to bits (being donated to a bonfire in the next village along), new ones cobbled together, and books shuffled about into groups. We also had to move furniture to make room for the new bookcases.. a painted dresser which has now gone in the hall, and two shorter bookcases which stood either side of it, now upstairs on the landing. This is definitely a house of books.
And I must just bring you up to date with our favourite SOP, Spinster of this Parish. She and I were having a mardle as they say hereabouts, outside the post office the other day, a shop she seems to visit an awful lot. Unlike most of us who have been enjoying the Indian Summer type days, she is longing for the colder temperatures forecast for later this week. Now, I like a frosty morning as much as the next person who likes frosty mornings, but I rather felt there was more to it in Esme's case, so I had to ask. It seems when it starts to get colder, she intends asking 'that lovely postman of ours' in for a warming drink. How 'Smiler' as I call him, to his face as well as behind his back, will react to an invitation to 'come in and have a little something warming' I don't know. And if you're wondering why he's called Smiler, then fans of 'Last of the Summer Wine' will know a certain lugubrious character of that name ... this is our postie. Underneath the long face is actually a very caring, happy man.. he just looks miserable. But a touch of Esme's warming should bring a smile to his face, don't you think?

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Counting your blessings

I have just finished reading a book by Elspeth Thompson about reclaiming life's simple pleasures, and in it she mentions the blogspot called Three Beautiful Things. The idea behind it is that each day the lady who owns the blog lists three things that she finds beautiful. They can be sights or sounds or feelings, but the idea that we count our blessings seems to me a good one, in these days when the news is full of doom and gloom to a large extent. Rather like a gratitude journal I heard about, where you write down the things you are grateful for at the end of each day, a way to remind yourself of the good things in your life, things we can often overlook or take for granted.

For me, my three today would be hearing from my first love, a series of emails and catchy-up photos. Not that he is beautiful, though at seventeen I thought him the bees knees and a good lookalike for Gene Pitney (and when he reads this he will howl with laughter at that!) But the idea that despite all that happened between us, despite it being forty-odd years ago, a friendship still exists, on a different level of course, but a friendship none the less, and how beautiful is friendship?

The pink fairy in the photo, who isn't traditionally beautiful, nor is she a traditional fairy, more like an alternative fairy, as I see myself as a bit of an alternative grannie as one of the ladies on the forum I belong to puts it. But she makes me laugh and is the origin of my name.

The fading beauty of the poppy I photographed (badly according to some!) which has now been hit by wind and rain and temperatures of two degrees last night, so has lost most of her petals, and those left are a beautiful dusty, musty lilac which looks as if it has been sprinkled with coppery dust... makes me think of Miss Faversham in her faded beauty.

These are the three beautiful things in my life thus far today.. by far the best though is yet to come, but that would make four, and three is the limit to write about.

I hope you reading this have three beautiful things in your life that you can list today.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Jelly Bean Socks and fluffy purple hearts

OK so they're not strictly the colour of jelly beans, but they are a more strident version of the colours of the expensive jelly beans I buy sometimes and stick in a glass jar, just because I like the colours of them! These are for littlies, not grown ups, and are cheating socks.

It sounds 'cool' as one friend said, to say you knit socks. Possibly less cool to admit to doing it on two needles only, cheating possible, both little ones and big 'uns for grown ups, like my fluffy lilac bedsocks on the previous blog. I haven't ventured into the world of dpns yet. I know I must, and to force the issue, bought myself some expensive multi-coloured sock yarn. So there it sits, in a basket, looking beautiful and soft and inviting me to use day.

Apart from the jelly bean socks, I also knit coloured pencil socks, where the main body of the sock is a sort of beige colour, to represent the newly-sharpened pencil, and the heels and toes are in colouring box colours of yellow, lime green, pink and blue.

The fluffy purple heart is just a bit of a comfort thing, nice and squashy to hug when one feels in the need of a non-reciprocated hug. Nowhere near as good as the real thing, when it comes to hugs of course, but sometimes any port in a storm will do.

All these, and more comforts, I am knitting to have a stall sometime next year, possibly autumn might be the best time, since I love knitting comforting things, and autumn is a time for such.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Autumn - the season of comforting things

Here are some of my comforting things.. a couple of handmade snugglies, a hottie and fluffy bedsocks.
But, with apologies for filching this idea from the ladies at PC, there are various smells that I associate with autumn as well as homemade comforts.
The smell of bonfires that lingers in the air, often in the evening; not an unpleasant smell like smoky chimneys or 'Honey I burnt the toast again' smells, but burning wood and leaves, an almost sweet smell. The smell of pine or apple logs being burnt in the hearth on a chilly autumnal evening is a favourite smell too.
Freshly made toffee apples, that wonderful loud crack as you break through the golden toffee, followed by a mix of crisp, crunchy and sweet toffee mingled with a slightly tart and aromatic apple.
Potatoes wrapped in foil, baking in the garden bonfire, and the smell when you take them out, split them open and fill them with a dollop of whatever you like. They taste so different to oven-baked potatoes and don't even mention microwaved. All right if you're in a hurry and desperate I suppose, otherwise, not to be countenanced in this house.
And then there is the old family recipe for Beef Olives, where you take the thinnest possible slices of the very best braising steak, cut into pieces about four or five inches by three, fill with a stuffing, sage and onion works really well, tie up, then brown in a frying pan. Add to a casserole dish with diced root vegetables, a bouquet garni, good beef stock, cover tightly and cook for at least two hours on a low heat, no more than 325 degrees. Serve with mashed potatoes to soak up all the lovely gravy, and a green vegetable of your choice.
And snugglies.. what could be better than snuggling down with a hand-made, soft snuggly blanket, watching 'Brief Encounter', 'It's a Wonderful Life' or 'Little Women', or reading a favourite book, or just dozing, warm and content, snug as a bug in a rug?
Such are my autumn comforts... the simple things in life please me.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

A late bloomer and a bit of a rant

Isn't she lovely? This gorgeous poppy opened out earlier this week.. the mother plant usually produces at least ten, side-plate sized blooms, and once they are over, I cut the plant down. Well, the weather has allowed it to produce another, single bud, on a tall straight stem. I did wonder if the mild conditions would hold out long enough for it to open, and it did. Sadly, we now have rain, drizzle, wind and it is already drooping and sad, losing it's colour and perkiness and prettiness... a jaded beauty. Much like myself....

We had the gas man here... oh, boy what an experience. We were blessed with probably the most opinionated, mouthy workman ever; his opinions covered everything from the proliferation of lap dancing clubs in the new Yugoslavia (he couldn't remember the new name and since I writing letters, or trying to, I had no interest in informing him!) to the lost socialist principles of the present government!!! He just strolled into my workroom and struck up a conversationk, irrespective of what I was doing, even had the cheek to look at what was on my computer screen and comment on it! Not that it was anything important or secret or private, but even so..... Had he kept his cakehole shut, he'd have only been here six hours instead of the eight, long.. very long... hours that he was.

At the end of which we were left with a very damp kitchen floor, as due to his (admitted) not paying enough attention to what he was doing, he caused a flood. Instead of asking one or other of us for a mop, he used my tea and hand towels from the kitchen to mop up what was a dirty floor after he'd been traipsing all over it in his dirty great boots. He left a huge puddle on a worktop, several floor tiles have lifted, the plasterboard ceiling in the kitchen was soaked, and is still damp, as is the loft insulation above it, and we have the most awful smell, a mix of the inside of rubber gloves and curry powder. I am hoping it will get better as it all dries out.. but I tell you, when the bill comes from the gas company, it will be left to the very last possible minute before being paid, and will then have a narky letter of complaint with it.

Well, this is the first time I have tried adding a photo.. can't wait to see what it looks like!

Friday, 10 October 2008

Country matters and affairs of the heart continued.

It's that time of year when we go gathering nuts and berries, windfalls and freebies.

Our walnut tree has fruited so well this year, every day I go out and there are more of the green outer casings on the ground, split open to reveal the wrinkly brown nut inside. I am drying them off in a mesh hammock in one of the sheds, but I think there are too many for us and some will be given away. They don't keep forever after all.

And not far from here grow chestnuts, not the conkers - well there are masses of those all around the village green and outside the village too - but the chestnuts you roast, then try to eat whilst juggling them because skinning a hot chestnut is a painful experience really. It always sounds so romantic that when we go to Cambridge, we look out for the street seller with his little oven and hot roasted chestnuts. The reality is scalded red fingers, indigestion and a yearning for the taste they used to have, which was more, well, tasty than it seems to be now.

We have had apples off the tree, and in the lanes nearby are crab apples, which I always mean to gather and use, but somehow always forget. We have had plums as windfalls from a neighbours trees, some pears too. Lots of rosehips in the garden, which again I know I should make more use of than I do. Also the old favourite of blackberries, growing along th quieter, less petrol-polluted narrow lanes not too far from here. We have some of our own in the garden, but the bush, which began life next door, then forced its way SAS-like through the wooden fencing into our garden, has put on lots of growth when it comes to length of branches, and thorns, but very little in the way of fruit. So, being kind, I leave them to the blackbirds, who already have a lovely diet in our garden from various berries like pyracantha, holly and so on.

Pretty flowerheads to be gathered and hung in the kitchen or left to dry off in the summerhouse... thistle, hydrangea, lavender, alliums, nigella, honesty, grasses... all manage to be picked at their peak, left to dry and used in arrangements over the winter, with added colour from bronze and coppery chrysanthemums, and branches of scarlet berries. Seeds to be harvested as plants begin to die off, cuttings to be taken from penstemon and buddleia - we have a pale apricot one, as well as white, lilac, and a very deep purple which smells deliciously of plain chocolate, about 70% cocoa solids I think. And now time to be thinking about putting away some of the tender plants, the fuschia and scented geraniums, to dig out the tuber of the scarlet flowering 'Bishop' dahlia from his summer bed and put him in the greenhouse where he'll be cosy for the winter.

And speaking of cosy.... remember love's old dream I talked about in my first blog all those weeks ago? Esme, newly arrived spinster of this parish and many more before, moved into Walnut Tree cottage as she named it, next door to old Sam, our resident old codger? He with the designer stubble, which has been allowed to grow now into a fine white beard, not straggly but well trimmed and making him look a bit of a handsome old sea dog... or in practise for being Father Christmas at the village school Christmas Party. It seems he gave Esme a talking to about their friendship. Laid it on the line, that he wasn't looking for anything at all like a relationship at his time of life, too set in his ways. He enjoyed the odd bite of supper and a chat now and then, but nothing more serious. He told Sheila, at the pub, that he felt he ought to tell her straight, now, before things got out of hand.

Esme took it well apparently; at the local coffee morning for charity, she was happy to tell all and sundry that she'd had to tell Sam straight, there was no hope of anything permanent with them, only friendship. Besides, he was too old for her, she added, turning to look at the new, single, postman who's just taken over this round! Hope springs eternal, so they say.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Oh my gourd!

There it sits, not unlike the proverbial 'lonely little petunia in an onion patch', only this time it's a lonely little gourd in a vegetable patch. 'It' is a butternut squash, my favourite kind of squash, which is why I am growing it. Or maybe nurturing it would be more to the point at this stage. 'Mollycoddling' Himself calls it .. yes, that's you dear husband, I know you read this at work, on the quiet, whilst making out you are always busy, or it's not your kind of thing. Just like you say you don't care for Coronation Street, yet always manage somehow, to appear for the last five to ten minutes!!! Now everyone knows you are a closet Corrie fan, how will you live it down?

Back to the gourd... at one time, little BS had sisters and brothers, lots of them. But one by one they have dropped orf, died, shrivelled up, gone pale yellow and faded away. What did I do wrong? I am sure a certain gardening gentleman will be only too pleased to tell me where I am going wrong, I await comments!

The plant was watered, talked to, excess non-flowering shoots were removed, and then when we had about half a dozen plants, all the others were taken off so that the mother plant could concentrate on raising this little family. But her maternal instincts seem to be non-existent, and now, she is fading, but this one little gourd hangs on. So, it has been raised off the ground so it won't get too wet, and today it's getting lots of lovely warm sunshine... you can almost hear it sighing with contentment. But I fear BS is going to go the way of the rest. It looks like a giant comice pear at present, doesn't seem to have grown much, if at all, this past week.

I can't understand it, I don't usually have too many problems growing things. We bought a stick masquerading as a contorted willow, for a quid, complete with pot. Now it's the most beautiful 12 foot high tree. A walnut in a pot has produced a massive tree which will give us about two carrier bags full of walnuts this year. And that after I insisted it was brutally hacked about last winter.. maybe it's a masochist and was standing there going 'YES, YES, YES' loving every minute of it, which is why it produced more walnuts this year than before? I grew several passion flower plants from seeds off my neighbours plant, growing through a conifer, and hanging on my side of the fence, so I wasn't stealing, honest guv!

I'm not too hot with lavender cuttings, they seem to shrivel up and die on me, and there are other things, come to think of it, that I'm not as good at growing as I like to think, although having said that, my cutting garden was 90% successful this year.

So maybe it's me... maybe it's not the gourd who has lost the will to live. I shall leave it be, talk to it now and then, water when necessary and maybe it will reward me by growing - or maybe it's destined to forever be the lonely little gourd in the vegetable patch.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Home is where the heart is.

Doing some family history research has put me in contact with second or third cousins I never knew I had, people who talk with a strong Yorkshire accent, who tell me I've no accent at all to give away the fact I was born where they were. I've always considered myself a Yorkshirewoman through and through, but it's strange how I've been taken out of the county of my birth - at a very young age, too young to have a say in the matter anyway - and then spent most of my adult life moving about the place, so that now when I go back 'home' as I've always referred to Yorkshire, it no longer feels like 'home' in that sense.

I was born in Bradford, where the air was so mucky the ducks had to fly backwards, so old wags used to say. And it's true, that even now memories of Bradford gleaned from visits to family in my teens, evoke dark buildings, streets of tall, terraced houses begrimed with soot from the many mill chimneys. A rather cheerless place it seemed to me in those days, a complete contrast to the fishing town over the Pennines, where I then lived. There the air seemed fresh and salty, everywhere looked clean, as if scrubbed by the sand that blew off the Irish Sea. Bradford meant mills and factories, worn down people who worked in them, reminiscent of the paintings of L.S. Lowry.

But of course it wasn't all like that - if any of it at all perhaps? Inside my uncle's house all was light and laughter... his evening job was as a stand up comedian in the music hall so life was never dull with him around. His son, my cousin, was my hero.. he was allowed to eat baked beans, cold, out of the tin. Well so he told me anyway; it all added to the cause of hero worship to a ten year old girl, gawky with red plaits, a bit like Anne, of Green Gables fame.

We used to go up on the moors for picnics, which invariably included seed cake, something I couldn't stand then, or now. Luckily, the sheep that roamed the moors had no such pernicketiness about them and would greedily eat it when I threw it behind me. Possibly anything was a change from the weedy grass and heather they had to live on. The highlight would be later in the evening, going back home, going to the famous Harry Ramsdens for fish and chips. Nothing tasted better, nothing tastes like them now either. Or maybe they do, maybe the memory is wearing its rose tinted specs here?

Because going back, it's all different. Art galleries where there used to be millworkers toiling day after day, culture everywhere it seems, in Bradford. The UNESCO World Heritage Sight at Saltaire, a preserved, perfect example of a Victorian village built by Sir Titus Salt for the housing, education and leisure of his workers, just one of many fine examples of such villages around the country. The moors are still wild and beautiful, with a rugged splendour all their own. But somehow it doesn't feel much like 'home' any more. I still feel strongly enough to say I come from Yorkshire when asked, still feel proud to do so, but live there again? No, I couldn't.

Home now is Norfolk... wide open skies, no mill chimneys or grimy buildings in my part of the county. The sea, wild and wonderful beaches, bird reserves, tiny coastal villages and historic market towns. Yorkshire may be the county of my birth, but Norfolk is 'home' and home is where the heart is.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

A bit of a moaning minnie - just a little bit.

Don't let that title put you off, but I do want to begin with a moan, a rant. I saw an advert on television last night for Heat magazine I think it was, and at the end they promised what I am sure said 'startling revalations'. Surely they can't have made such a blatant spelling error? It wouldn't surprise me though, you see it all the time. Business letters sent from large companies, insurance firms and the like, with grammatical or spelling errors, that in my day frankly, would not have been sent. My own pride in my work would not have allowed it, and my eagle-eyed bosses the same. Is that missing today, pride in one's work? Aren't people bothered about being the best they can be, are they too busy, with too many demands on their time to check letters before they're sent out? I might point out that in my secretarial days there was no magic 'spell checker' other than myself.

I have to say I am not much of a one for goggling at the television mindlessly, just soaking up whatever comes on. Adverts are something that if I look at, half of them I don't understand - usually blokey ones to do with cars I find. I do like the graphics on those for a certain bank, with people getting on a train, going to interesting little houses and so on. But there is one that I always, always watch, as soon as I hear the dulcet tones of Jason Lewis, the so-called 'Aero Bubbles Hunk'. Now you will have to excuse this temporary lapse into frilly, silly, girliness.. I know it's not befitting someone nearing bus-pass age, but you know, I do want to grow old slightly disgracefully, and I think sighing over this young man, together with dancing around to the latest by Boyzone (can't get the tune out of my head for hours, know all the dance moves as well from watching the video on a certain website) is part of that growing old disgracefully ethos. I can even watch the Aero ad via the computer as well, if I should feel the need.

I went to a crafts exhibition recently, and the crafts on display seemed to fall into two categories...'Can't do that myself' and 'Can do better than that myself'. Not that I am blowing my own trumpet, but sometimes when I look at the standard, the quality of hand-crafted goods on offer in various places I go to, I wonder how they conned their way into the shop, because to be frank with you, the finishing often leaves a lot to be desired. Why spend hours making something that you hope to sell for a little profit at least, but not make sure it is finished neatly? And why do people moan about the cost of handmade gifts? The consumer wants something different, yet isn't prepared to pay the extra few pounds to get that difference it seems to me. Even worse are those people who come and look at the crafts you have made, say greetings cards, and you hear them say to their friend, 'I'm not paying that much for a card, I could do that myself at home.' So why don't you bog off and do it then? I have felt tempted to say, in the past, before I learnt to hold my tongue, count to ten, engage the brain before opening my mouth.

I haven't actually sold anything for a long time now, but our village is planning an autumn fair next year if this year's is a success so I might have a stall with my 'handmade comforts' as I call them. (Comforts which have come in very handy these cold nights I might add!)We are only a small community really, but there are a lot of smaller villages on the periphery and for big events we all come together, pool our resources so to speak. This year we have work by several local artists, in oils and watercolour, fabric and clay, plus home made preserves, goats cheese, a herbalist is having a stall, someone with calendars made from photographs of the surrounding area, and a used book stall.

They always ask me for books on the basis that because our house is full of them, we might not miss the odd box or two. If we don't stop buying at some point though, then we'll need an extension to house them all. But I'm not very good at giving books away, except those rare ones I know will only be read the once and then languish on a shelf, gathering dust. The rest get read at least once more, several times in the case of some old favourites. But somehow, I always manage to gather together a small boxful, but then come home with several books to add to the collection.. or go into the box for the next time they ask!

As I sit writing this, marvelling at the technology that allows me to sit in the garden, in the summerhouse, using a laptop and not a wire in sight, the ageing cat of an equally ageing neighbour down the road, is basking in the fleeting moments of warm sunshine, under a large hebe.. and when I say large, I mean large, at ten feet high and in circumference! It is hard to recall it when it was first planted in the nineties, a small, two foot stick of a shrub and now look at it, big enough to have a woodland type area beneath it, where I grow cyclamen, anemones, snowdrops, lily of the valley seem to like it here as well.

But looking at the size of this hebe got me thinking about how we don't really notice things changing. I can't remember this shrub as it grew, have no recollection of what the area must have looked like before this giant was as it is now. It must have looked completely different ... well, I know it did because the garden itself has evolved over the twenty years or so that we've been here, but though I can remember the various changes I made, I can't remember watching them mature. When we first came here the garden was given over to green manures in a large vegetable patch, growing alongside asparagus and not much else. There were a couple of ramshackle sheds made of packing crates, and it was intriguing to read the labels on them, the names of people who used them, where they were sent. Of course, this social history was fascinating, but 'scruffy' didn't adequately describe the state of them, and when the word 'ramshackle' could be applied, before it got to 'fallen into disrepair', we demolished them and had a grand bonfire for friends and neighbours on a field belonging to one of them.

I rather like sheds, I know they are supposed to be 'a man thing' but I love them and have several around the garden, painted in different colours, plus a summerhouse and a new one of those, slightly modified, will be added to the garden next year for Himself. (That's my other half.) But we have a shed for gardening equipment and DIY equipment, a shed wherein sleeps the cat because she hates being closed indoors and MEOWS loudly if you won't let her out when she says. Coming in to eat, having the occasional cuddle, is about as near to removing the feral from her as we have got, and as she is now fifteen, I doubt it will get any less. And we have a small shed for storing apples and seeds, old riddles and other hand tools, and all the paraphernalia for potting in, plus the greenhouse of course. All dotted about, and the only one you can see from the house is the summerhouse, the prettiest of them all of course, painted green and purple.

But the cat I mentioned... he is old, fat and deaf as a post. You can get up to his nose when he is asleep and the only way he will know you are there is if you blow gently on his face. Of course, our equally old cat doesn't go in for blowing gently, more a smack across the chops and a meowing session which roughly translates as 'Wha' d'ya think you're doing in MY garden, push off fatso.' And so the said old, fat and deaf cat does just that, shambles off muttering about not being left in peace, to find another, more secluded spot in the garden. The one problem with him is, that he finds these spots, and you can't see them, but you suddenly put a foot on him, accidentally and it's hard to say who's more surprised or frightened.

There was also a large expanse of lawn when we first moved here, plus a line of everyone's favourite ... huge, overgrown conifers, all down one side of the garden. A bit of a concrete path, some straggly hedging, a couple of washing lines, an ageing apple tree (which is even older now but more productive, with the most wonderful Bramleys), and not much in the way of colour. The garden was for growing veggies, hanging out washing, dogs and cats peeing and pooing, and children to play in, so it was all very green really. Flowers didn't get a look in, but looking back, I can see that the previous owner was ahead of his time possibly, growing green manures in the mid-nineties? We have done a lot of work over the years, getting rid of lawns and resowing a new, smaller one, creating different areas for growing veggies and soft fruits, planted trees, created shrubbery, beds and borders, a small dry garden, and installing a pond. Now we have a wonderful composting system of bins and boxes, green manures still play a part in the garden. There has always been a lot of comfrey growing here, so I have a small waterbutt with comfrey in the bottom in summer, which I use for the tomatoes and squash plants in particular. There are as many rain butts as there are sheds, because each shed has guttering leading down into a butt, plus one on the house, so we do our bit to save water.

'Save water, bath with a friend' ... remember that? I wish I'd taken advantage of it more then, nobody wants to bath with me now... even the rubber duck has to be bribed to come in the water!

Monday, 29 September 2008

The return of the geese, and the turnip apparently.

I know that several of you who are kind enough to follow my blogs hale from Norfolk but now live in other parts of the country, in fact in other parts of the world, so I am going to try and include something Norfolky in my musings.

Today it's the return of the geese. Where I live I am right under the flight path for the tens of thousands of geese that come here to overwinter on the muddy flats of the Wash, where they roost at night. So twice a day we hear the honking of them, look up and see huge skeins, small skeins, some with only a dozen or so geese, others with upwards of forty or fifty. To me, they are beautiful, I love to watch and listen and for as far as the eye can see - well mine anyway - are skein upon skein of geese. In the morning they fly over on their way inland to munch on the sugar beet tops and other delicacies in farmers fields, and in the evening, replete and ready for a kip, they fly back over. As soon as I hear them, I have to stop what I am doing to look out of the window, or stand in the back garden to watch and listen to them for as long as I can. Yet I seem to be the only one doing this. People walk by when the geese are flying overhead and don't even look up, aren't gobsmacked by the sight of so many birds at one time, not even when silhouted against a pinky gold sunset when it looks even more spectacular. I have lived here 20 years and for as long as the geese have been flying over, and for as long as they continue to do so, I shall stop and stand and stare and marvel, and wonder too, how many of them have been here before, and do they recognise houses, gardens from up there?

And turnips are making a comeback too, it seems. For some people, they have never gone away of course. So why this sudden interest in a rather unprepossessing looking vegetable? Well of course it's all to do with celebrity chefs using them and popularising them. All well and good, but there are those who say that this has caused the prices to increase quite a bit. 'Twas ever so.... But north of the Border of course, neeps and tatties is a national dish, so they might be surprised at the fuss being made of this common vegetable here. Personally I prefer swede, but a mixture of root vegetables plus a butternut squash, roasted and blitzed makes a tasty soup, left chunky with added sausages - and I'm talking GOOD QUALITY sausages here, not those pink plasticine-like things that pass for sausages in some supermarket chiller cabinets - it's a filling and economical meal for a family. Or just cooked in a hearty casserole topped with cheesy scone (cobbler) topping is a filling meal on a cold winter's day.

But it seems we are returning to the days of 'make do and mend' if media reports are to be believed. (Hmm, no comment!) People are having shoes mended instead of throwing them away and buying new, so new cobblers businesses are opening up. Clothes are being repaired by professionals, and more and more people are queuing up for an allotment to grow their own. All due to the credit crunch. Yet it was only a couple of weeks ago I read that people who repair household appliances like washing machines and freezers for example, have reported a downturn in business, many of them going out of business as a result, because these white goods are so low in price these days that it's often cheaper to throw one out when it goes wrong, than to buy new. So who do you believe?

The Norfolk accent is one of those, that when it's spoken by a true old boy of the county, can be really difficult to understand. If any of you heard of the Singing Postman several decades ago, you will know what I mean. But I much prefer to hear a dialect - preferably one I can understand! - than that everyone speaks in a bland, regionless tone. I was talking about language and nationality and being proud of where you come from with a friend recently, who had been worried that I mistake her for an American when in fact she is Canadian, and proud of it. I am British, but when asked always specify I come from Yorkshire, rather than saying I am from the North of England which covers a wide area. Most people can tell I come from 'somewhere in the North' as they vaguely put it, often waving an arm in the general direction of the north at the same time, but not which part. Even in Yorkshire, you get variations of language... those from the east riding speak with a totally different accent to those from the west riding, who again speak differently to someone from the south of the county. But all these accents and regional dialects should be kept alive, don't you think?

I am lucky living in a part of Norfolk that hasn't been affected by flooding, but over on the other side, the eastern seaboard side, there is talk about flooding deliberately, to flood an area of the Broads to help prevent coastal erosion. Great swathes of land will fall victim to what is called 'no active intervention' to prevent further coastal erosion. Many of you will already know that this is a serious problem along certain parts of the east coast of Norfolk, especially around the Happisburgh area. These new plans though could see the loss of six villages in the Broads area, loss of churches and whole communities and many people, including all those affected by this plan, are up in arms over this. Of course, the loss of villages, for one reason or another, goes back centuries.

Many villages in Norfolk alone have been lost or moved.... the village around Houghton Hall, or what passes for a village since it consists of a few houses only, was moved in the days when emparkment was common. This was when a landowner decided that a village in its current position was in his way, blocking or spoiling his view often, and so it would be moved, as with Houghton, or New Houghton as it was called when moved. Other villages have been deserted and abandoned when the land became too poor for people to work and make a living from it. Some villages, maybe consisting only of a few houses originally, moved and grew around newly created village greens many centuries ago now, and some were swept away to create military training areas in the Breckland area of the county.

And of course the sea is now the main predator of coastal villages. Between the 14th and 18th centuries many villages were lost to the sea as the cliffs were eroded, and this remains a worry to this day, when you would perhaps think we knew better, knew enough to try and prevent this happening in vulnerable areas like the east coast of Norfolk for example.

Well, these are the musings for today, coming out of a mind that is rather like a loft waiting to be converted...full of 'stuff' that isn't much use to anyone really.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Random musings on a fine autumnal morning.

It's one of those days that typifies autumn for many people.... this morning dawned bright but chilly, condensation on windows and cars, glittery, pearl-drop laden cobwebs hanging like Christmas decorations along bushes, trees in the distance were pale in the mist, and it was cold enough for that first step out of the warm bed to be an 'OOH', sucking in breath kind of moment and for the first cup of tea of the day to be more than unusually welcome.

Now, mid-morning the sun has a lot of warmth in it for the time of year, and I have just wandered around the garden, knelt down to stroke the cat who is relishing the warmth of the sun on her old body as she lies amongst the cyclamen under a laburnum tree (so that's why they never grow and multiply?!), and then went to water the butternut squash. It's the first year I have tried this, my favourite squash I think. Pumpkins and those pretty little gourds are fine for giving away at Hallowe'en with the former, and decorating with the latter, but this year I am growing to eat. I love it sauteed with eastern spices, mixed with other root vegetables in a warming stew, in rabbit stew with parsley dumplings, and made into a soup with chopped crispy bacon and croutons on top it's just the thing for a chilly day. A perfect lunch with home made bread.

This time of year has me baking bread more than any other, I think it's the snug feeling of being in a warm kitchen when it's cold outside. I also tend to make more soups... a glut of tomatoes has me making tomato and basil soup, tomato and pepper sauce for pasta to store in the freezer. I plan on making carrot and coriander soup tomorrow, a new recipe not tried before, so fingers crossed. There is something satisfying about making soup.. and making preserves from the garden produce, like blackberries, loganberries... green tomato chutney... and as we seem to have more walnuts than usual I wonder shall I try pickling them? My dearest friend Grace used to love them, but I never dared try one, it seemed such a weird thing to eat. Walnuts were never my favourite anyway, but it might be interesting to try and pickle them I think.

Several American friends are planning their Hallowe'en events, and have asked me if it's celebrated over here. Sadly it seems to be more commercialised here than there, and in many cases is just an excuse for the trouble makers and young louts to go around scaring old people or getting 'treats'. I am sure that there are many areas, possibly rural ones like mine, where it is celebrated with children going from door to door, accompanied by an adult keeping their distance, and when it is looked on as a fun time. I like to think this goes on maybe more than it does?

I wonder how many of you reading this will be bloggers? The interest in it seems to be growing, and I can understand why. Initially I just thought I'd have a go at it, hoping that someone might read it and maybe even make a comment. From the messages I have received privately, it seems more look than comment. Maybe they didn't find anything worthy of comment - should I be more controversial then? But it's gratifying when someone does, when they say nice things. We all like to be liked I suspect, no matter how often and loud we may say it doesn't matter to us. But I have rather got hooked on having a bit of a blether to you all every week now, much to my surprise.

But from having my own blog I have now found several others I regularly visit... such as yarnstorm, which is the blog of Jane Brocket who wrote a wonderful coffee-table kind of book but which I use such a lot rather than leaving it to languish on said coffee table (come to think of it, I don't have one anyway!). It is all about the Gentle Arts of Domesticity, and a lovely blog to read as well. Then there is chapteriii, written by Lesley in southern California, recently discovered but a firm favourite already.

And then we have the blog of gardener James Alexander Sinclair, last but by no means least. To some of you this name may mean nothing at all, but to watchers of television gardening programmes here in the UK, his name is familiar. Think of James and you think flamboyant, in manner, language and style. He uses big words a lot, and actually knows the meaning of all of them too, without recourse to a dictionary! Now that's impressive don't you think? He designs beautiful gardens, and his enthusiasm for the subject comes across loud and clear. Something he shares with other well-known gardeners who appear on our screens... Monty Don, so enthusiastic about organic gardening, composting and such, and if I may be allowed a rather frilly, feminine comment which doesn't normally sit easy with me, he is rather pleasing on the eye too!! And the lovely Carol Klein, the lady who is passionate about getting plants for free... no, she doesn't say we should go round stealing from other's gardens, well not without permission, but then it wouldn't really be stealing would it, but that we grow our own from seeds and cuttings. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and that's what you need in someone who is in front of a camera, talking to a nation of garden-lovers. Someone who can inspire you to have a go, get off your bum and out in the garden.

Ours is looking pretty good still, and I just wish I could always remember the name of plants so that when friends come and see something they like and ask the inevitable question, I can just answer without hesitation. Some I can remember... others always elude me. We have a pretty blue flowering shrub, the leaves a dusty green, which is doing better this year than before, but I have to through several names before getting it right... caryopteris, ceanothus.... then it hits me... no it doesn't, I've forgotten it again!!!! We have some pretty small flowers flopping out of a border, self-seeding in the gravel path alongside the border, and I haven't a clue what they are. They begin flowering in Spring, come out white, then fade to lilac, then to a mauve colour and stay in flower months. Then the seedlings start to flower, going through the same cycle of colour changes, and some are still at the white stage so will be providing a little pool of colour for a few weeks yet. The blowsy mauve poppy has produced a bud after being cut down, but I worry that it will be too cold, or not warm enough for long enough, to enable it to flower properly.

Well, this brings my ramblings to an end. I originally called this blog The Three R's because I thought I would be doing some ranting, as well as raving and rambling. It's something I am known for, being opinionated and free with those opinions, whether you want to hear them or not. But it seems I have chosen to keep this positive and light-hearted, keeping the rants for other outlets. And the news at the moment is so depressing and negative isn't it, that we all need a bit of light relief. I remember hearing yesterday that several of the worlds wealthiest people were saying that if the American plan to help solve the financial crisis didn't work, then doomsday was twenty four hours away. Well, last I heard it hasn't worked out, so what next?

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Ain't life grand?

Sitting in the garden this morning, enjoying my first mug of tea of the day, on the bench by the fruit and nut trees, feeling the warmth of the sun as it rose and thinking, as the cat stretched and rolled about on the damp grass (foolish cat!), and listening to chickens clucking and chattering away to each other, what a lucky woman I was to have this. This beautiful space, many areas secluded thanks to hedges and shrubs, summerhouse and sheds. I have often watched holidaymakers as they drive through the village, and wondered what they think of it? Are they envious that they don't live in somewhere so beautiful? Are they glad they live somewhere with a bit more life? Do they feel sorry for us with none of the bright city lights, the large town shops, the shopping centres, do they think we are missing out?

When I have been out for the day, or the morning, and drive home, see the village sign for the first time and knowing I will soon be home, I always look at it with fresh eyes, never feel downcast, always uplifted. Just the thought of coming into the house, into my country kitchen with all it's pretty mismatched crockery on the shelves, bunches of herbs and lavender drying from the hanging rack, rag rugs on the floor, makes me smile inside and out.

And at the moment we get a lot of people just cruising round, hoping for a glimpse of the lovely Stephen Fry, and gorgeous young Karl Davies possibly. For this is KINGDOM country, the market town of Swaffham is the Market Shipborough in the series, and somewhere I occasionally make the effort to drive to, it being almost an hour away, for a forage in Waitrose, and just to see what's going on re the filming. The huge fleet of location vehicles is parked up on the outskirts of the town, those that are not being used, and in the centre of the town, where a lot of the filming of the solicitors office is done, is where the locals go about their business not giving it all a second glance, but people from outside (like me) can't help but stand a while and gawp (wishing I were about forty years younger in the case of the young Karl!) And having seen him at closer quarters than usual, he is really quite handsome. And Mr Fry, larger than life, as you would expect. (Have any of you read his blog I wonder?)

We are having a real Indian summer at the moment, though I am not sure what constitutes an Indian Summer to be honest. But the lady who delivers my book orders and I agreed yesterday, that it was summer at last, unexpected, and both of us cross that we had gone out in the morning dressed for the coolish day it looked set to be, only to find ourselves wishing we had put layers on that could be removed. Anyway, the mornings are chilly, with pretty pearly cobwebs adorning every surface it seems, ready to catch the unwary out as you walk under archways, between buildings where they are strung across from fencepost to window frame. So beautiful, but I hate getting them across my face, and always wonder where the spider might end up!

Evenings too, are turning chilly, enough for us to contemplate setting fire to a few apple logs just to help take the chill of the sitting room. But it feels like we are rushing forward into autumn and winter too fast by doing this, so out come the snuggly blankets or a shawl, and we do fine.

But the days, ah the days are becoming really warm, with temperatures at twenty degrees yesterday, clear (almost) blue skies, warm sunshine, and set to remain the same for this weekend. But then colder next week apparently, so maybe the log basket will get emptied after all!

A lovely time of year to be knitting though, or crocheting a blanket. Inspired as I was by Jane Brocket and her ripple stitch crochet blanket, I decided to make one of my own, and have used colours which have a particular meaning to where I live. So, am using a flinty grey for the flints used in local buildings and a rusty red for the Norfolk Red bricks used similarly. A mid-blue for the flax grown in this area, and bright yellow for the oil seed rape and purple for the lavender. There will be a green for the sugar beet tops, another popular crop, orangey pink for the sunsets and a pale summery blue for the skies. As this grows, it will keep me warm on these chilly nights!

I have a glut of tomatoes at the moment, some little ones in hanging baskets, and outdoor bush ones as well, and plan on making a batch of tomato and thyme soup, and some pasta sauce, both of which will store in the fridge in jars, to be used in the next couple of weeks. I bought some dried yeast and bread-making flour too, and am looking forward to using it when it turns a bit cooler next week. For now, it's apple and blackberry pie for Sunday lunch pudding, flapjacks for the grandchildren and husband has put in a request for some mince pies... well, who said they were only for Christmas!

Bye for now.... the pfg wearing pink DMs.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Furbelows and fancy things

I love living in the country, couldn't imagine myself living anywhere else, and never have. But it has its drawbacks... for me, one of these is not being near a decent craftshop, or a craftshop of any kind, nor a bookshop! I rely heavily on the internet for my shopping in these two areas, but once in a while, we have a blowout. Maybe only a couple of times a year, but it's so lovely to go into a big craft shop, marvel at all the lovely things you can buy these days. It may not be anything like the haberdashers of old, which were generally rather dark places, with interesting drawers of 'things' and a smell all their own, but if you are starved of a shop like this, it matters not.

I gazed in wonder at all the buttons (even though I have found a brilliant place on the internet), at the trimmings, the fabrics, the notions, all the kits for embroidery, cross stitch, tapestry, the cubbyholes full of the most glorious wool. Now this is definitely where the shop wins over the web, because you can feel the wool, pick it up and roll it around in your hand, rub it against your cheek, marvel at the true colours and texture which you simply don't get online. I dipped my hands into bargain buckets of wool, the odd couple of balls of this one, that one... ideal for cozies, fingerless gloves, the odd small lacy scarf, a hottie cover. I hummed and hah'd over the soft, expensive wool, knowing I wanted it, but not knowing what I would do with it exactly. At one time I would have bought it, but that way lies a cupboardful of wool, unused, many years later, and I promised myself would be more restrained in the future, only buy small quantities of wool I KNEW would be used up within the next six months or so.

I spent ages wandering around the fabrics, and in the end bought many fat quarters as I intend taking up quilting again. I bought some white with red stripes, with green stripes, with red dots, with green dots, with ebullient red roses, and together with a plain scarlet and plain leaf green, these will make my first small quilt in years. I also bought some rather retro/60s looking, deep blue background with stylised purple, green, orange, yellow flowers, and some plains to match, plus a striped navy and white, which will also all go together.

Then a wander over to the paper crafts side, and here I filled my hands with packs of stickers, with some Christmassy ones for quick and easy cards... just a small square card, sticker placed on a contrasting, smaller piece and fixed with a sticky dot, cost no more than a few pence to make, and are one offs, each of them. Other people may have the same idea, but the chances of them using exactly the same combination of cards is unlikely. I bought some peel off MERRY CHRISTMAS stickers in silver to add to my special friends cards. I looked at the punches for cut outs, at the fabulous cards and papers, at all the scrapbooking materials, and even though I do love some of the creations I have seen, this is one craft I haven't tried, and don't really think it's for me somehow. I do have scrapbooks, but these are of the old-fashioned kind, the slightly thicker card outer cover, and the pages of different coloured blotting-type paper inside, filled with photos, cards, mementoes of holidays (bus tickets, entry tickets to museums, menus and such like). These modern day creations are truly works of art and admire anyone who has the patience to create them... a wonderful heirloom for your children and grandchildren, if they are the types who would appreciate something like that.

My husband patiently walks around with me.. I always smile to myself because whenever we go there are always several cars in the car park occupied by a lone male behind the wheel, snoozing or reading the paper, having a crafty cigarette, whilst their spouses are inside having a fabulous time. Occasionally you see a husband accompanying his wife, always you see mine, who walks along carrying the basket, or goes off to look at something that has caught his eye perhaps. And he pays at the end too!!

We then went to another emporium, a place selling old pine furniture, but also lots of fancy things, storage boxes by the hundreds, in various shapes and sizes and styles and every colour imaginable. Candles and pot pourri, beautiful hand made cards amongst the more common mass-produced. Gorgeous hand-thrown ceramic bowls, a particular weakness of mine. Scarves in a rainbow of colours hang from mannequins, old iron lamps, bird feeders. Bags, embroidered, felted, leather, suede, patchwork... another weakness. Colourful cutlery and storage tins and jars, fat bellied teapots that cry out for a knitted cozy and afternoon tea in the garden under the apple tree when we get home. Cake stands to fill with pretty fairy cakes and walnut shortbread when friends come to have morning coffee. Candlesticks... not another one? he says. It's true, I can't resist a pressed glass candlestick. Nor a fat little jug to add to the dozens that already dangle from hooks along the edge of shelves in the kitchen at home.

This is another of our treaty day out shops... but alas, it had suffered a major power outage and many of the areas of the old buildings were barricaded off for safety, and the cafe which sells delicious home made soups and pasties, gooey cakes and sandwiches oozing with savoury fillings, could only sell cold drinks and the left over cakes on display. And they could only accept cheques (we had no cheque book with us, so many places won't even take them these days we never think to have it with us in the case of emergency like this, yet we should really, electricity liable to go off at any time for any reason these days it seems), and not enough cash to buy more than a few storage boxes. These are to keep stationery items like pens and cartridges, sticky tape too, and one like a little suitcase with a gorgeous rose-patterned paper exterior and jazzy black and white stripe interior with silvery handle which is for sewing threads. I do have a beautiful sewing box, but the lid is stiff and the box unweildy, another of my impulse buys that I later regretted. And the other box I bought simply because I loved the lime green bottom and the star-covered lid... I know I shall find a use for it, after all, a woman can't have enough storage boxes, or pressed glass candlesticks, colourful bowls and chubby jugs, can she?