Monday, 23 November 2020

A Gallstone of a Year

I'm an early riser and, every morning at 5 to 6, I listen to Radio 4's 'Tweet of the Day'. It is a moment of quiet sanity before the usual trauma of the 6 o' clock news. By far my favourite presenter is Samuel West, the actor son of Timothy West and Prunella Scales, who recently triumphed as Siegfried Farnon in the remake of James Herriot's 'All Creatures Great and Small'. His descriptions of the bird calls are sheer poetry and this post's title is a misquote from his recent programme on the Eider duck. In it, he described the 80s as being 'a gallstone of a decade'. In his teens at the time, and worrying about the cold war, he decided that what he would choose to do in the event of a 3 minute warning, was feed some ducks. Speaking as someone who feeds the numerous ducks in our garden on a daily basis, I can only agree that as choice of final activities go, it's not a bad one. Incidentally, his description of the noise the eider duck makes was 'like a coven of Frankie Howerds, gossiping round the village pond'. Not only is this hilarious, but also uncannily accurate. You can listen to the call  here and judge for yourself.

2020, I think we can all agree, has been a bit of a gallstone as well - and having undergone a cholecystectomy many years ago, I feel quite qualified to make the comparison. I have noticed that my blog posts have become few and far between. This is not only because we have ventured out less and done far fewer exciting things during lockdown, but also because my mood has meant that I haven't had the inclination to write more. Today though, I am forcing myself. The camera is filling up and I want to clear it and start afresh.

Here then is a photographic representation of the past few weeks chez nous. It's not terribly exciting I'm afraid, but it's the best I have at the moment:

Trying to capture a photo of the green woodpecker on the bird feeder. As you can see, I failed miserably!

Glazing my 'Autumnal Man'. I'm reasonably happy with it given the glazes that were available and, if nothing else, at least it emerged intact from the kiln. I have named him 'Mabon' after the pagan festival that takes place around the Autumnal equinox. It's all about reaping what you sow - both literally and figuratively. 

A Sunday walk around Whitchurch:

Candle making on Diwali. The timing was purely coincidental. The pots were the first items that I threw on the wheel, so they wobble a bit! The mug celebrates the coronation of Edward VIII, which of course didn't take place. I picked it up at a charity shop for £1; not too bad for a bit of history.

Another walk and picnic, this time around the Durrington Walls settlement near Woodhenge.

The 'Cuckoo Stone'. In the Bronze Age the cremated remains of 3 people were buried in pots near here.

A stonechat. I might like listening to 'Tweet of the Day' but I'm no expert when it comes to bird identification and had to look this one up when we got home.

Woodhenge. A timber monument with 6 oval rings of posts, built around the same time as nearby Stonehenge. Like Stonehenge, they are broadly aligned with the direction of midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset. Pottery, tools and human remains were found nearby. The posts were of varying sizes and their places are now marked by the concrete pillars seen below.

    'Zombie Land' socks have been finished, blocked and worn.

A little premature, as usual:

I didn't carve a pumpkin for Hallowe'en this year - part of that general Covid malaise again - but we did enjoy pumpkin soup and roasted seeds.

I managed to fit in a visit to Bristol to see E just before the second lockdown was announced. We stocked her up on provisions from the local zero-waste shop:

My orchid has been flowering its little heart out for several months now. There was a period when I was given quite a few of these as gifts and managed to kill them all with monotonous regularity. That was before I realised that they quite like the conditions in the bathroom and, since then, we haven't looked back: 

Re-reading my favourite book. They didn't even manage to spoil this in the 'kill a book' sessions at school. Does anyone else remember those wrist-slashingly awful lessons, where everyone took a turn to read a page? Harper Lee's tale makes me both laugh and cry, and I was both bemused and dismayed to learn recently that it has been removed from the Mississippi school reading list after an official claimed that 'the language made some people feel uncomfortable'. As far as the rating in my book journal goes, there aren't enough stars in the sky.

Walking along the Ridgeway on a beautiful Autumn day:

A walk closer to home at Donnington Castle:

Making vegan banana bread. It keeps surprisingly well and has accompanied us on many a picnic. Recipe to be found here.

A very blurry photo of a deer in the garden. There was a tiny fawn too but it was rather elusive. A few weeks ago our neighbour came round to ask if we had an injured deer in our garden as she had spotted one and called the RSPCA. We hadn't, but have seen it since. Somehow it has lost a rear leg but is managing to get about and feed itself, so I am hoping that it survives. Apparently, muntjac are considered pests, so I imagine that if the RSPCA had captured it, they would not have released it back into the wild and, instead, it would have been killed. As it seems to be managing, and no longer appears to be in too much pain, I hope it's left well alone.

Finally, one of my favourite teas. Rather a strange photo I know, but these were the teabags that E used to get from the dining room when she lived in Wills Hall in her first year at uni. We haven't seen them since, but she found an old one recently when tidying out her drawers and gave it to me. As it was the last one, I kept it for a while and used it when I had a quiet moment to savour it properly. It tasted of Wills.

Well, that's my camera all clear. One more week of lockdown to go before we revert to the tiered system. Stay well and cheerful, my friends. May your tier be low in number and any gallstones few and insignificant.

Toodle pip for now. x

Monday, 12 October 2020

Reasons to be Cheerful

I'm normally a big fan of Autumn. This year though, I'm feeling a bit 'Blah' about it all. I blame the Coronavirus. I feel as though we have been cheated of our Summer: Seeing less of family; only 3 days of holiday (nice though they were) and the general feeling of doom and anxiety hanging, like the Sword of Damocles, over our heads. So, this week, I've made a concerted effort to look for the good bits that I usually enjoy and I've surprised myself with how many I've found. They've all been there, in the background, just waiting to be noticed. I've just been too busy grumbling and feeling generally sorry for myself to realise. Here then, are this month's happies:

Harvesting my pumpkins from the veggie patch. I usually carve one for Hallowe'en but R has told me that I'm not to encourage any Trick or Treaters this year; dirty, Coronavirus infested beasts that they are! :O)

Enjoying the October edition of Gardeners' World. I bought a year's subscription using my Tesco vouchers and enjoy a monthly 'Titchmarsh Moment' with a cup of tea:

Lighting the first stove of the season:

Enjoying a cheerful splash of yellow on my dining table, courtesy of the neighbours as a thank you for cat-sitting:

Making a picnic and doing the circular walk at Leckhamstead and Peasmore. This is my favourite cottage. I love the shepherd's hut in the garden. There was even the smell of a garden bonfire to add to the autumnal vibes:

Our first trip to the theatre since lockdown. They had it all organised - temperature taken on arrival, table allocated, paper menus on the table to order drinks which magically arrived during the interval. It was at about 25% capacity and it all felt very safe. The play was a 1 man affair, the actor playing multiple characters, swapping between them with impressive speed, and also the banjo and saxophone. It was a good night out with a hint of normality:

Attending a Quentin Blake exhibition. I love his artwork as I always associate it with Roald Dahl's books, a big part of my girls' childhood.

Digging out my Hallowe'en project bag and winding up some spooky yarn - 'Zombie Land' by Fab Funky Fibres:

Casting on a pair of Hallowe'en socks. Well, if I'm not allowed to encourage Trick or Treating, I've got to get my spooky vibes somehow!

Enjoying the changing colours from my kitchen window:

Hot bowls of soup - we've changed from courgette and tarragon to leek and potato and Borscht:

I'm sticking to my 'I will read mainly Classics this year' resolution, apart from my monthly Audible purchase, where I'm getting my crime genre fix! This is Book 4 of the Simon Serrailler series:

Enjoying the Autumn sunshine in between the showers:

Our theme for this term's pottery is 'Colours of Autumn', so I'm making another 'Green' Man for my garden. He still needs firing before I can paint him:

Lastly, E being home before going back to Bristol to finish her MPhil and start job hunting. To be honest, I'm more than a little concerned about the state of the job market at the moment but she's certain that she doesn't want to do a further 2 years and upgrade to a PhD. Hamish made the most of the cuddles while he could:

Well, that's all my happies for the month so far - not a bad haul considering. Throw in some mists to go with the mellow fruitfulness and I'll be a very happy bunny indeed.
Sending all the Autumnal happy vibes your way.

Toodle pip for now. xx

Wednesday, 23 September 2020


Hello there. I'm sitting here feeling rather smug at the moment. The reason being that we went away for a short break last weekend and the weather was absolutely glorious. Not so at the moment - I've just had to charge outside to rescue my washing as it's currently pouring down. Autumn seems to have well and truly arrived.
We had, on a whim, booked 3 days and 2 nights in a hotel in Hereford. Neither of us had been before and it looked like a good base to explore the area. 
We stayed at the Green Dragon Hotel next to the cathedral. The hotel was fine, apart from the overly heated room and the noise from the kitchen vent which kept us awake when we opened the window to try and cool down. The noise stopped at around midnight, only to start again at 5:30 the following morning. To be fair, it wasn't the noise that woke me up but R bellowing 'There's that noise again' down my ear! They did a fine vegan breakfast though, so I shouldn't complain.

We stopped off in Tewkesbury on the way. We had stayed here before, renting a small Tudor cottage back when we were students. I remember that after getting over the initial shock of there being no TV, we raided the charity shops for 2nd hand books and board games, collected wood for the open fire and had a fabulous time. It was just as beautiful as I recalled.
Bridget parked in front of Tewkesbury Abbey. We had our picnic lunch in the grounds:
Interesting dragon gargoyl:

We then continued to Hereford itself. The statue of Edward Elgar stands overlooking Hereford Cathedral. Designed by Jemma Pearson, it depicts Elgar supposedly finding inspiration in the Herefordshire countryside, which he loved to explore on his Sunbeam bike. He lived in Hereford for a while with his wife and daughter, composing many pieces there before moving to Hampstead in London.
The cathedral:
The SAS 75th anniversary stained glass window:
I loved the ceiling bosses and decoration:
The font, dating from around 1150:
Beautiful floor tiles:
The chained library containing many rare and valuable manuscripts. The books are shelved with the page edges facing outwards, rather than the spines, so that the chains don't tangle when thay are lifted onto the desk. One end of the chain is attached to the book's front cover and the other edge to an iron bar. Lists at the end of the row enable readers to find books on the shelves.
The Mappa Mundi, showing the world and heaven as they were understood in the Middle Ages. It is the largest complete world map drawn on vellum known to have survived from that time:
The Old House Museum. Built in 1621, it was restored and now depicts Jacobean life.
Hereford Library and Museum:
We liked the carved animals playing instruments:
On Sunday, we drove to Hay-On-Wye, famous for its Literary Festival:
Hay Castle, built between 1200 and 1211:
One of the many second hand bookshops in Hay. I bought a copy of 'Larkrise to Candleford' as a souvenir. I've never read it, nor seen the TV programme, but am assuming it must be good if it has been televised.
The riverside walk:

After leaving Hay, we visited Arthur's Stone, a Neolithic chambered tomb, over 5000 years old. According to legend, it was here that King Arthur slew a giant, who left the impression of his elbows on one of the stones as he fell. It was also thought to have been C.S.Lewis' inspiration for the stone table in the Narnia books. Then again, I've heard that said about the stone table in the gardens of Merton College in Oxford!
We went for a walk down the Golden Valley. It reminded me about the film 'Shadowlands' and I wondered if it was the same one ....... it was! Apparently, C.S.Lewis had a painting of the Golden Valley on his bedroom wall  when he was a boy. He thought it was a picture of Heaven and didn't realise until later that it was an actual place. For the film, they used a view from Symonds Yat (see below!) as the valley wasn't considered picturesque enough! It is thought to be called Golden Valley because of the River Dore that runs through it. It is actually the Welsh name for water (dwr) but the Normans thought it was the French word 'd'or' meaning golden.
After seeing the actual Golden Valley, on Monday we took a walk at Symonds Yat:
OK, so it is quite a nice view!
We planned our circular walk, going along one side of the valley, across a scary bridge, back along the other side before crossing the river again by a hand ferry. As it was quite a long walk, I suggested to R that we do it in reverse, just to check that the ferry was operating in these Covid times. He assured me that they would have put up a sign if it wasn't, so off we set. You can imagine my expression when, after completing 95% of the walk, the ferry was closed and we had no option but to turn around and walk back the way we had come - crossing the scary bridge for the 2nd time! The vertical climb back up the valley at the end nearly finished me off and I needed a vegan sausage roll from the cafe to recover! :O)

Bridget in the Forest of Dean:
We came home on Monday evening, popping into Ross-On-Wye on the way. It was a glorious few days away, seeming much longer than a long weekend, and I'm so grateful that we were able to make the most of the last of the sunny weather. 
Anyway, back to normal life ......... I'd better go and check on that washing!
Toodle pip for now. x