Sunday 30 September 2012

It's Been A Funny Old Summer..... so many ways, with an assortment of highs and lows as summer went along - starting back in May when I narrowly avoided hurling myself down a mountain in the Lake District, but hurt my knee quite badly in the process :-(  
We did a circular route up Whiteless Pike - a walk of about 8 miles in length and 2000ft of (what felt like) mostly up, so not one of the highest or longest walks we've ever done but that day, certainly one of the windiest!
Almost at the top, with Crummock Water and the Irish Sea in the background. Definitely a high on both counts there!
 We followed the path along the ridge ...yep, that leeeetle faint yellow line going off into the distance is the path! I did have to hold Himself's hand at a couple of points along there as the wind was gusting SO strongly. I'm not normally such a wuss on walks but I was in real danger of being blown off . Over the years we walked in the Alps, the Himalayas and the Karakorums as well as our own Lakes, Peaks, Dales, Scotland and Wales but I have never known anywhere to be as windy as it was that day - but that wasn't the problem!
 We came down  a scree gulley, which was tricky but do-able with care even though it got a awful lot steeper than this and the gap between path and stream got much higher .....
 but I didn't fall until I was on a 'proper' path about 20 ft above the river and rocks - when I tripped on a stone sticking up in the path, idiot that I am! After an impressive bit of stumbling and windmilling of arms for about 20 feet, I finally fell, landed on my right knee, started to tilt ominously fast towards my left - and that drop, so twisted to face-plant into the heather instead. Ouch.
I've walked in the Lakes often enough to know that you need to take care At All Times or the Fells bite back!
 Then there was the 3 mile walk out back to the car ...including a bit of scrambling! Good job it didn't happen at the top of the gully or Mountain Rescue might have had to come and get me. I was down to an agonising painfully slow painful hobble-limp by the last mile. Yep, that was a definite low!
Fortunately, the weekend was saved by the fact that the hotel we'd booked had turned out to be close enough to Bilbo Waggins of for us to go and visit her and Management and plans were already in place for a curry with them at an excellent Indian restaurant that night! Laughter, convivial company, great conversation, good food and beer worked as excellent pain relief! So much so that we went back the following morning for a top-up on the laughter and conversation ...and, bless her heart, Bilbo produced a shepherd's crook so that I could hobble up their wonderful garden and have coffee overlooking the pond - but the racket we made with laughing so much scared away the wildlife! Meeting them was another high :-) I was just sad that I didn't get to drive Miss Daisy because of my knee!

June saw me still in pain, but only limping a bit as I undertook one of the scariest 'jobs' of my life!!! My wonderful SIL was getting married and she and her equally lovely almost-husband asked me to perform a Handfasting Ceremony after the Registrar has done her bit - it seemed like a good idea last year when I agreed to do it (now where have I heard that phrase before?Oh yes, The Big Bash!), but it took 2 months of research and writing/re-writing/re-re-writing before I had a 30 minute ceremony that I was happy with - and they had no idea of the contents of! Trusting or what? I could have had them strip naked and dance round a bonfire for all they knew of what I was up to!!!

Don't be fooled by the calm exterior here - I was (to use the vernacular) 'bricking it' on my way to the chapel at this point!The box had my Handfasting kit in it and was given to the happy couple as a gift after the ceremony. The photos were taken by, who just happens to be SIL's best friend and a dear friend of ours :-) 

My dress was made to measure by First-Born, aka and my jewellery was made by Last-Born, aka . 

Proud to be dressed by my awesome daughters!
 The 'tying of the knot' part of the ceremony ...happily they loved everything that I'd prepared! Not sure what I'd have done if they'd hated it!
 The photo shoot (by Rachel Barnes Photography again) of me and Last-Born for First-Born's portfolio. She's a costume maker and can turn her hand to anything - clothes, wedding dresses, costumes, chain-mail, armour, weapons, wings......! You name it, she can make it.
I have to confess to the wedding being a retrospective high as I put myself under HUGE pressure to get it right, but did enjoy looking back at it!

The London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics began at the end of July and I rapidly became an Olympic addict - so apologies to my Facebook friends who had to put up with several weeks of what one friend described as my 'stream of consciousness' regarding both Games! 
I'd managed to get Olympic tickets in the first round of bidding so, on the 4th August Himself and I went off to London and the North Greenwich Arena to see the women's trampolining.
It was amazing - people talked to each other on the train going down ...Hello Britain, we don't DO that!!! We got free lollies when we arrived at St. Pancras, the Games Maker volunteers were fantastic, the police and army were wonderful, EVERYONE was so friendly, happy, smiling, didn't matter who you were supporting or where in London you were, the atmosphere was simply amazing!

Outside the North Greenwich Arena. See that blue line up the roof? You can go on guided (roped up) tours up there! Sadly I didn't know about that beforehand or I'd have booked us tickets to go up. We'll just have to go back and do it another day :-D

In the arena having a Boadicea moment! 

Spot the trampolinist? I'll give you a clue...she's above the left hand bed. I did quite a bit of trampolining when I was a teenager, but never achieved the heights these girls can bounce, nor the complexity of their routines - we were gobsmacked!

There were thrills and spills - and the gold medal was decided on the last bounce of the last girl to go. The Chinese favourite landed badly at the end of her routine and dropped to Bronze, Canada took the Gold.
After the medal ceremony we went of to Hyde Park to find the free big screens that were showing various events of the day. Again a brilliant atmosphere. Bradley Wiggins, cycling hero, put in an appearance at the free concert whilst we were there and I pretended I was doing a lap of honour! Gold medal for idiocy, but still a massive high of a day!
However, all that walking took its toll on my knee so I was reduced to forcing champagne down me for pain relief at St. Pancras before hobbling onto the train home in agony! A dip into a low.
The whole carriage had the volume turned up on someone's iPad to listen to Jess Ennis win her 8000m race and take Gold in the Heptathlon - massive cheers all round! What a high!

The Paralympics were also a major high for me. Stuff the old idea of 'disabled athletes' somehow playing at doing sport - 'cos, let's face it, that's what many, many people think, although I'd never bought into that, having worked with lots of disabled people over the years in my job as an Occupational Therapist. These were SERIOUS ATHLETES who just happened to have a disability, but who had trained hard for 4 years and were giving it their all to get that Gold. Incredible races and competitions that had me on the edge of my seat - again, and pumping up the adrenalin - again! The Russian archer who had no arms and fired his arrows using his feet and mouth yet still scored perfect tens - awesome. The Team GB Equestrian squad were amazing. ALL the wheelchair basketball games were so much more exciting than ordinary basketball because they rely on sheer skill rather than just having the tallest players! Murderball, oops,Wheelchair rugby - fantastic! The 100m final battle between Oscar Pistorius and Jonnie Peacock - nail biting! Ellie Simmonds (swimming), David Weir (wheelchair 1500m, 800m, 400m  and marathon), Hannah Cockcroft (wheelchair racing), Sarah Storey (cycling), Richard Whitehead (athletics) and so many others whose names became so familiar to us proved what incredibly dedicated and skilful athletes they were - and Jody Cundy's justified rant after he was denied a restart in the cycling time trial showed just how quickly their disabilities had become invisible in the face of their athleticism!

A HUGE, HUGE HIGH! ...and I still can't believe that the USA didn't broadcast ANY of the Paralympics - what a missed opportunity. And what a mega low for the American TV broadcasting companies!

I thought it was brilliant that ALL the Gold medal winners in both Games got a gold postbox in their home town and a special edition stamp print run as well. You've just got to love Royal Mail for that! 

SO, mostly highs so far. Lows? The wet, cold, windy, grotty, horrible, miserable flippin' British weather this year! My garden has suffered badly and I've had the worst fruit and vegetable crop ever in the 11 years that I've been growing stuff. 

My salad bed grew lots of radish tops, but no edible radishes. I gave up trying to grow salad outside after repeated sowings got repeatedly drowned. I had a bit more success growing salad in trays in the greenhouse, but the crop was still very small compared to normal.

The runner beans took until August to even flower. We've only been picking the beans for a couple of weeks now and in way smaller numbers than usual. The French climbing beans that I grew for the first time have, however, proved to be a winner - crispy, tasty and quite prolific...the only crop that is! The pea crop produced enough peas for one meal for two of us ...and I'd planted extra plants this year because I LOVE fresh peas! There are a fair few flagelot  beans, but they haven't matured into decent sized beans. 

Whilst the squash, courgette and sweetcorn plants look good from a distance, they're rubbish close up - all foliage and very little substance (or sustenance!)

It wasn't warm enough for long enough for the corn cobs to fully mature....

I only managed to grow 7 cobs from a dozen plants. Disappointingly few. They were all small when measured against that well known measuring stick of the teaspoon, but they were very tasty and we've marked them down as a success ...mainly because, although there were far fewer cobs than last year, at least we got to eat them this year instead of the badgers!!!

I'm not sure if this is a courgette, a squash or a squashette, but it's the only one that all those plants combined managed to produce! :-(

The onion tops and all the herbs got eaten by pigeons. Half the leeks got washed away by the rain and everything  else got eaten by slugs and snails. 
Spot the carrots and parsnips?! There are 2 carrots and 3 parsnips lurking in this bed - out of  repeated sowings on 3 rows each of each vegetable. Huh! What a waste of time and effort that was!
So - vegetable growing a low, fruit also a low - most of the blossom got washed off in the downpours, so we got very few apples, no pears, plums, damsons or cherries (although to be fair, the blasted pigeons ate what few cherries there were!). The summer raspberries were large and tasteless because they were waterlogged, but the autumn raspberries have redeemed themselves and the new blackcurrant bushes gave us a reasonable first year crop after several years of poor yield on the old bushes due to undiagnosed big bud mite!

The other big low was that I hit the 'woman of a certain age' thing big time. No energy, no motivation, no oomph, no internal thermostat, no sleep, constantly hungry, waistline disappearing, porridge where my brain used to be...... NOT impressed! But we'll gloss quickly over that and admire the sedums whilst gasping in horror at one day's rainfall in my rain gauge - whilst bearing in mind that that was on the last day of the huge storm that hit us at the beginning of the week and flooded parts of the UK again. On the first day, the gauge overflowed!

And to finish on a old Hunter wellies finally wore out - well, they were 28 years old and third hand (or foot!) when I got them, so it's not that surprising really! So I treated myself (or 'tret mesen' as they say round here) and bought a brand new pair of really girlie RHS designed Hunter wellies - that I couldn't bring myself to wear for the first week or so because they're so pretty that I didn't want to get them mucky! 

Told you my brain had gone to porridge!

Sunday 15 July 2012


After the wettest April to July period since records began back in 1910, my vegetable garden is looking pretty...well, pathetic really! Want to take a tour with me and see what's grown? Well I can tell you now for nowt, it's sod all!! Too wet, too cold and too flamin' miserable!

Here are my sweet peas - the grand total of 3ft tall and, after a couple of days of sunshine in amongst the rain, I've got ONE flower - it's the middle of July for heaven's sake and I've got one sweet pea flower!
Did you notice the salad bed behind the sweet peas? No? Hardly surprising as nothing has grown here except for 2 bolting spicey mixed leaves and a fine crop of radish tops - but no radish bottoms... as it were! :-(  I seeded and re-seeded about 8 rows of different salad crops and have now given up and am growing them in trays in my greenhouse.

Here are my runner beans. They should have romped up to the top of the frame by now and be full of flowers and beans, not skulking away down at the bottom with narey a flower in sight*sigh*
The potato tops in the background are coming into flower and look healthy enough, but I have no idea of the state of any spuds underneath them...if indeed there are any spuds underneath them!

And as for the peas......... :-(  I adore freshly picked peas, but I'll be very lucky to get any this year at the rate things are going - and the rate crops are rotting!

Can you spot the carrots and parsnips? No, neither can I! Actually, after 3 sowings of 3 rows of each I've got the princely sum of 2 carrots and 4 parsnips. What's happened to the rest of them? Drowned!

Spinach and kale...juuust about holding their own. But the leeks are struggling as the amount of rain we keep getting in each deluge fills the holes and lifts the leeks out. I've lost count of the number of times I've stuffed the leeks back into the holes...and have NO idea if any of them will stay there long enough to grow.

Sweetcorn, squashes, pumpkins and courgettes - many have rotted away and the rest are doing nothing much, so I don't hold out much hope of a crop here either. Last Born is quite happy about this as she really doesn't like courgettes ever since the first year I grew vegetables and grew 8 courgette plants...well I didn't know how many courgettes one plant could produce, did I? We all overdosed on courgettes that year! :-P

Anything that doesn't get drowned has a fair chance of being eaten by the huge slug and snail population that has grown because of the very wet weather. I accidentally trod on one yesterday - it was nearly as big as my foot and it was like squashing a sausage!

The things that are doing well are....the weeds! Yesterday I completely filled my large green bin with sticky weed and willow bay herb that I pulled up on the island at the front - miserable! ...and I haven't even touched a couple of other weed-filled areas yet :-(

Although one bed along the right hand boundary in the back garden (which has had absolutely No attention whatsoever since I did some planting there in late March) has flowered  well in spite of the weather - it obviously thrives on total neglect and lots and lots and lots of rain!

Another special thing that has planted itself in the garden (with a bit of help, obviously!) is my recently acquired sculpture,'Atmos' .......Atmos-sphere, geddit?!! Ah well, it made me laugh!
It was a present to me from me for a job well done recently - something that was so far out of my comfort zone that I could barely see it in the you just have to reward yourself after times like that don't you?!

It was made by Alex Moore from Moore Designs in West Sussex and I absolutely love it.Once I'd seen it - in a magazine if I remember rightly, but don't ask me which one, I just had to have it...a response that is most unusual for me except for with plants! And, yes, it IS meant to be rusty and, no, it's not just rusty from all the rain we've had! He makes them in shiny stainless steel too, but I didn't think that'd sit so well in my garden. It was made to order and delivered within a month - and with a phone call from Alex to check when I'd be in to take delivery. A very impressive personalised service.
Check out Alex's website for some other great ideas!

Another acquisition that cheers me up every time I look out of the kitchen window is Gerald, my Javanese wood carving. Why Gerald? That is First-Born's fault! I'd popped to Nottingham for the day to see her back in April and there was a craft market on....dangerous places, craft markets! Anyway, we both loved the carvings on one stall and I couldn't resist buying this one. I had a very interesting conversation with the stall holder about the village he supports by selling their produce, about the Suar hardwood they use and about various Javanese names that I could pick from. As we walked away, purchase completed, First-Born announced "Gerald. You should call him Gerald"!

You try remembering complicated Javanese names once Gerald is in your head!!!

Hope the weather's better where you are?!

Monday 23 April 2012

La Grande Reunion?!

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...well, Rotherham back in 1973 to be exact! (*gasps of horror at how long ago that was*), I did a school exchange trip to La Mayenne in France and was lucky enough to be randomly paired with Claudine. We hit it off straight away and became firm friends, we shared secrets, shared friends  and became part of each other's family. We continued to visit each other independently every summer right through our teenage years (but some of our exploits should not be discussed in polite company, especially as our offspring can read my blog!). My parents went to Claudine's wedding to Gerard - I was in Canada at the time so I couldn't go. Claudine and Gerard came to my sister's wedding and, later, to my wedding with Himself 25 years ago.....and that was the last time I saw her, even though we stayed in contact until about 15 years ago when young children and house moves on both sides of the channel meant that we lost touch :-(

                                         Ower Dave, Claudine and me in 1976
Fast forward to last year. I had long wanted to find Claudine again as she and her family had been a large and important part of my life. I had tried all sorts of things without success then, one day, a spark of inspiration hit me....that doesn't happen very often, so I have to go with it when it does!! Knowing the names and approximate ages of her sons, I searched for them on Facebook!
RESULT! Within 24 hours her First-Born son had replied to me saying that Claudine was so happy  to hear from me again she had cried least I think that's what he said! :-P

Claudine and Gerard came to visit us for a couple of days last November. It was a wonderful and easy visit, but Himself and I wimped out big time on speaking French! Anyway, when the invite came to visit them in Paris AND to go back to La Mayenne to see the rest of the family (who Himself had never met), we just had to do it.....and, given that the majority of the family don't speak any English, we set ourselves the task of getting our French and our confidence up to scratch!

Me and Himself have very different learning styles (surprise, surprise!). Himself went for the Michel Thomas CDs, with all the rules explained - well, he IS a mathematician after all! I went to the French Assistant at school! Himself loved finally understanding all the rules and how to build up the language. I loved chattering away in (frequently corrected!) French and, surprisingly, doing my homework each week!

Thus sorted and confidence (mostly) built, we tootled off on Eurostar for our Easter break en La belle France avec la famille! I was excited and nervous in just about equal measures as it was 32 years since I'd last seen the family and, let's face it, I'd always had a bit of a crush on Didier - Claudine's older brother!!!

 Claudine and Nutty Gnome chez mamie (Gerard's mum)

 Gerard, Claudine, Nutty Gnome and Himself

La famille as I remember them - a larger version of this photo was on the wall in Claudine's parents' house whenever I visited, so seeing this one brought so many memories flooding back...and you've got to admit that Didier was rather cute!

I'd always called Claudine's parents Monsieur et Madame, never by their Christian names (Sacre Blue, il n'etait pas possible!) and, even now 32 years on, Monsieur et Madame they remain! We were greeted with such warmth - 4 kisses...full family honours, and Monsieur's assurances that he would have known me anywhere....I could have cried with joy!  
Saturday night saw us at a birthday party in the village hall  for one of the granddaughters. There were 37 of us in total, and it was a scary moment walking in to a sea of familiar faces spanning 4 generations - the genes run strong in that family!  We spent about 90% of our time with la famille speaking French. Himself was a revelation - for someone who is generally quite reticent and quiet when meeting groups of new people, he amazed me by chattering away quite happily AND making jokes in French with complete strangers. It. Was. Awesome!   HE was awesome!                                          
Monsieur et Madame et moi :-D

Most of La Famille of my generation. One brother couldn't come and one was still at work when the photo was taken. Not quite as neat as the other family photo!

 Moi et Didier! That's all I'm saying!!! (but he's a grandad  now!)

On Easter Sunday 24 of  the clan gathered chez Monsieur et Madame for lunch. I got a touch of vegetable garden envy....and coveted Monsieur's chickens and sheep!

There was the obligatory Easter egg hunt for the great-grandchildren (or was it the adults?!)

...and a very slow, careful ride on a quad bike for a much loved nephew

before champagne aperitifs and a 4 hour barbecue lunch in the garage, with Monsieur plying us with wine and making us laugh as each new bottle he produced went up in quality from 'good' to 'better' to 'best' to 'superior', before he brought out the big guns of the home distilled calvados, or Calva as it is locally known. Good job there were lots of bottles of water on the table or we'd have been under it!
It was wonderful and to be there and to be part of the love, laughter and warmth of la famille was a real privilege - it was so like when my own family are all together, only with double the people and in French!
We stayed at La Fleurie, Gerard's mum's farm. It's out on the edge of the village.....

 so it doesn't matter how noisy the neighbours are!

 Mamie is an amazing woman and almost as sprightly as I remembered her, in spite of her being 91 now - and only giving up milking a few years ago although she still checks on the herd daily. She also did us the very great honour of giving us a bottle of her husband's home distilled Calva - a gift not to be taken lightly as the bottle is around 50+ years old! It tastes amazing :-)
Himself, Elisabet (one of Gerard's sisters), mamie, Nutty Gnome

Monday saw us return to Paris and the rain, accompanied by Gerard's niece. I'm suspecting it was her parents rather than Melanie, who thought a couple of days with us would be good for her English. That's a laugh! Who wants to learn English with a Yorkshire accent?!

We spent Tuesday doing the sights, but didn't go up the Eiffel Tower as there was a 1&1/2 hour wait to walk up it or a 3 hour queue to go up in the lift! 
                                         La Seine in the rain
 I still have the photo of me pushing the Eiffel Tower over when I was 20, so it just had to be done again - much to Himself's despair!
 Parisienne flower shop
 Garden near Notre Dame
 Notre Dame
 Part of the queue to go in Notre Dame...didn't bother to join that one either!
 Bikes for hire to use round Paris - a bit like Boris's bikes in London although these don't seem to get nicked and end up in Romania!

You can also hire electric cars to use in the city, but I didn't have chance to look at how much it costs or what deposit you have to pay.
 I love French shutters and balconies
 We went by the Moulin Rouge, but weren't prepared to pay bucket loads to go in so we had to make do with looking at the paintings above the entrance!

 A random Paris side street.

 French food shops....mmmmm!
 Heading up towards Sacre Cour
 It's a bit of a climb, but at least the view is good!
 After Sacre Cour, which we did go inside, we went to Montmatre to have a look at the rather soggy street artists,
 have a little beer whilst giving Melanie an English lesson(!)
 and looked at a few more paintings
 before falling in love with une petite maison on the way back home.
 Our final day in Paris took us to the Champs Elysees to  look at the shops. We ventured into the Louis Vuitton shop to look at the world's most expensive - and most hideous handbags.  I definitely prefer my (much cheaper) gorgeous leather bag that I haggled for in the souk in Marrakesh last year! We also spotted a shop with shoes I could fall off!
 Time for a last photo call
 or two

before heading for the Gare du Nord, the Eurostar and home, very, very happy with the reunion! It won't be 32 years before we're back next time!