Monday, November 6, 2017

How times change

It's that time of year when in the UK Guy Fawkes is remembered with bonfires and fireworks.

As a child I recall children going round the streets and knocking at doors asking for a 'penny for the guy', hoping to get enough money to buy some fireworks.  They would have an effigy of Guy Fawkes which they dressed in old clothes, usually transported by pushchair, awaiting his fate on the top of the bonfire.  There were no laws forbidding the sale of fireworks to youngsters. The 'celebrations' were usually a family affair, organised bonfires were a rarity.

We carried on the tradition when we had our own children.  F. took charge - preparing a bonfire in the back garden, buying as many fireworks as he could afford, and being chief of the proceedings.  I had the job of keeping the children safe while the fireworks were being let off, and cooking suitable snacky food - baked potatoes and sausages.  Sparklers were a must and the children enjoyed waving these through the air, watching the patterns they made.  There were some organised firework displays and as we lived on the opposite side of the valley from the local raceway we had a good view of their firework display from the bedroom windows.

Now the family has grown up we don't bother with fireworks and F. sees bonfire night as a good time to burn the garden trimmings that are too large to compost down.  Fewer people have home bonfires and fireworks (a consequence of gardens in new homes getting smaller? ) and organised firework displays complete with funfairs and food vans are well attended.

This year bonfire night happened at the weekend  so there were three nights when people celebrated.  We went shopping to our usual supermarket on Saturday evening and arrived at the car park just as the  people were leaving the display organised by the local Scouts.  The supermarket car park which usually has very few cars at that time of day was crowded with cars that had been parked there by people attending the firework display.  Now families were piling into their vehicles - it wasn't quite mayhem but it was an entertainment watching the manoeuvring as everybody tried to get their car out of the parking space and back onto the road.  We stayed still, watching and waiting till the car park was less busy before we tried to park. 

On Sunday, F went on a journey to the other side of town.  He had to cross the road which runs past the County Showground.  On the return journey, he made a detour because the traffic on the road to the showground was one long traffic jam - people attending the organised fireworks display at the showground  - he didn't fancy driving several miles in slow-moving, bumper to bumper traffic.

It's easy to watch spectacular fireworks displays on the television nowadays for New Year's Eve or Royal Weddings, but I think you don't get the same atmosphere as watching fireworks live. Of course, the best firework display I've attended was the one put on at the Oshkosh Airshow - that was spectacular - but I don't have to photographs to prove it.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Autumn already

Summer this year has been  miserably wet and cool and although we have only been able to enjoy a few days of warm sunny conditions, the garden seems to have thrived.  We've had bumper crops of peas, runner beans, tomatoes, apples and rhubarb, and the bee friendly flowers that we bought at Plant Hunters Fairs have certainly attracted plenty of pollinating insects.  The sunflowers have grown up to eight or nine feet tall and produced massive seed heads, ready to feed the birds in the winter.  The pumpkins and soft fruits have not done well at all.  Still, we might get more favourable conditions next summer.

Now with Autumn well on its way, we have had to get the garden ready for the winter.  A hazel tree that is too big for its space needed some drastic cutting back, so when a friend suggested it could be coppiced I duly watched some YouTube on how to coppice hazel.  I was able to supervise F cutting down the stems to just above ground level.  I assured him that he would not need to cut again for seven years when we would be able to harvest the canes for plant supports.  Coppiced trees apparently, live much longer than trees that are left to grow naturally, and are also attractive to wildlife.  I think future generations will get to do the job next time.



With the nights drawing in we have enjoyed some beautifully coloured sunsets from the back garden.

We have spotted a hedgehog who seems to have adopted our garden.  He has left us presents around the garden for the last few weeks.We think he has decided to  spend the winter with us.

It's unusual to see hedgehogs about during the daytime, so we had to be very quiet and not get to close when we photographed him. Look for the brush-like spines in the middle of the picture

B put out some cat food and  by the next day it had vanished.  We are hoping that the local cats haven't been getting extra rations.  We have been putting out food everyday since and have put a large pile of leaves at the back of the garden so that if he chooses to stay he will have some cover to hibernate.  We also have a healthy quantity of snails and slugs so that he can enjoy a varied diet.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A birthday treat

It was B's birthday this week, and she has a week's holiday so the family went out for the day to a National Trust property called  Biddulph Grange Garden , a large Victorian Garden, but with lots of different planting styles.  It was created by James Bateman  who travelled the world collecting plant specimens for his large garden.

The weather was quite warm, but drizzly, and the grounds looked lush - the garden is on a hilly site and the different styles in the garden are connected by paths, tunnels, high hedges and rock-work - JB was fond of geology too. 

Just a few of the photos taken on the day.

This is a view from the terrace of the house, the borders being very formal plantings in a Victorian style.

The lake, complete with large areas of water lilies, lies beyond the formal borders and is stocked with large carp and waterbirds.

The stumpery has been renovated with new supplies of oak tree stumps - ferns establish themselves among the stumps.

If you use your imagination you can find all sorts of creatures amongst the stumps - we thought these looked like two birds.

The Chinese garden - the temple is being renovated so  surrounded by scaffolding it didn't take a good picture.  This bridge is painted in the same colours as the temple will be when the renovations are complete.

High above the bridge is a small shelter, in the same colours. 

We spent a couple of hours walking around the garden but still didn't manage to see all the different features.  We plan to visit again, perhaps in a different season.

On the journey back we stopped for a birthday meal and dined at an Indian Restaurant - another place we plan to visit again.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Spring is here

There have been a few flowers in the garden since January, but they are tucked away in the borders and are not always easy to see from the house.
Two months later we have lots of brightly coloured spring flowers, and to make sure that I can see them from the kitchen window when I am washing up the dishes or preparing vegetables, B has come up with a solution  - put some in pots, on a garden table outside the kitchen window.

We cheated a little. The hyacinths and pansies B planted up, but we bought the daffodils and snowdrops ready planted from the clearance section of the  garden centre.  I even managed to get myself in this picture.

These spring bulbs were planted at the front of the herb patch, which is opposite to the kitchen window, so there is plenty of colour still to come when the tulips are ready in  a few weeks time.

F did the major pruning jobs taming the larger shrubs and cutting the Apricot trees to a manageable size.  This year we are hoping for fruit - we lost last year's crop to a late frost.

G mulched the rhubarb patch with leaf mould last autumn to protect the crowns from the worst of the winter weather and the rhubarb s almost ready to harvest.  Some will have to be frozen as it is producing lots more stems than usual - I think the leaf mould fed as well as protected the plants.

We are looking forward to a more settled summer than in 2016, so that the plants don't get confused. B has made good use of the small greenhouse and it is filled with flower and vegetable seedlings ready for planting out in a few weeks time - hopefully. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Taking Stock

I am always surprised that being retired seems busier than when I was working full time. One of the many ways my time gets consumed is  studying with the OU, and the last two years have been demanding of more time than I can find so I have decided that I will take a break from my studies.

In trying to find more study time over the past two years I have cut down on taking part in the book club at the local library - I can find an hour once a month for the meeting but reading the chosen book from cover to cover is something that I did not always succeed in doing.  I meet up with colleagues for a pub lunch once a month and I've managed less than half the meetings in the past twelve months.  Other friends , I know I am neglecting, because I don't contact them for a chat or to meet for coffee.  I haven't attended all the concerts this season run by University of Keele Concert Society, even though I have a season ticket.

The things that take up my time are looking after home and family and that is too important to cut down on.  I also have a volunteer role delivering library books to housebound and that also matters to me.

So,taking time out from studying is my way of achieving a better work life balance.  I hope to read more novels, garden, meet up with friends, have more hours sleep, and post on the blog more often.

It may sound perverse, but the day after I informed my OU tutor of my decision to take a study break I enrolled with 'FutureLearn' to study for three hours a week, over the next six weeks on the topic of the six mass extinctions, a free course run by the University of Cape Town.  It somehow fits in with the studying I have been doing since 2009.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Summer holiday - belated post

In June F and G left the Isle of Man where they had spent a fortnight in glorious weather  watching the TT races.  From there they flew to Dublin and joined B and G for a tour around Ireland.  In the next fortnight the four of us stayed in eleven different accommodations, travelled over two thousand miles (I think), and G took in excess of 2500 photographs, though not every shot was a masterpiece.
How do you choose what to post and now it is so long ago since they were taken.

Resident seagull at Trinity College, Dublin

The above seagull robbed G of his lunch as he was sitting at an outside table at the Trinity College cafe.  He just swooped in, snatched the food from G's hand and flew on.  We watched as the seagull performed the same tactic with several other customers.

No holiday is complete without ice-cream
F didn't really eat both of them - but I couldn't hold my ice-cream and take a photograph at the same time.

The Giant's Causeway

One of the most famous tourist attractions on the north coast of Northern Ireland, this is a world famous site of geological interest. We braved the drizzle and the wind to walk around this extensive area.

The Peace Bridge, Derry
Another day, another centre.  In Derry we visited the Guild Hall, spent time in the Tower Museum, walked around the city walls, a complete wall surrounding the whole of the city during the middle ages and we ended the day walking across the Peace Bridge into another part of the modern city.

We left the North coast and travelled inland before making our way towards the Wild Atlantic Way -  but the weather was wet and misty. We couldn't see the Cliffs of Moher because they were shrouded in fog.

Travelling to the south-west the weather brightened and we were able to see some of the coastal scenery.  We visited the island of Valentia, getting onto the island via the road bridge and travelling back to the mainland by ferry, for the experience and to save miles of travel by road.

View from the top of Geokaun mountain, Valentia.
Travelling  along the south coast we visited the city of Cork, a bustling place with plenty to catch your eye.

A street musician with his own musical invention a violin cum trumpet.

From Cork we went onto the historic city of Waterford, home of the Waterford Crystal factory.  We toured the factory watching the different stages in the production of the cut glass.  We browsed the shop,but didn't buy
It is difficult to choose from so many thousands of items on display.

The holiday was coming to an end and we headed along the east coast towards Dublin and Dublin Airport.  On the way we travelled through the Wicklow Mountains National Park, and spent a little time at Glendalough, an area of early Christian settlement. The scenery was so beautiful - it was easy to see why the area had been chosen by the missionaries as a place of tranquility.  We walked for a little while but the weather changed  and we headed back for the car and onto our final Hotel.

So much more could have been included; a 'Hooley night' where we dined and were entertained by Irish dancing and a folkgroup; travelling through an underground cavern by boat and on foot at the Geopark in Northern Ireland; relaxing in the rose gardens in the town of Tralee;  and so on.
There's so much more to see and we would like to travel there again.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Tonight I burned the sprouts

For the first time ever, as far as I can remember, I left the sprouts cooking on the hob and managed to simmer them until the water evaporated and the bottom of the saucepan burned black.

I had left the kitchen for what was intended to be a couple of minutes, but got engrossed in another task.  It wasn't 'til I could smell burning that I remembered the saucepan was still heating on the cooker. I grabbed the saucepan off the stove top and put it on a wooden breadboard.  The bright green of the sprouts was in stark contrast to the blackness surrounding them.

The smoke alarm then sounded so I switched it off.

The sprouts lifted off the bottom of the saucepan quite easily, leaving behind the layers that were burnt onto the base, and they tasted fine, surprisingly, so we were able to have them as part  of our evening meal.

I left the saucepan to soak in cold water - much hissing - and have floated off the worst of the debris.

It was then that I realised this was the saucepan that was a Christmas present from A and R the first time they visited us.  I shall work hard with the Brillo pads to return it to a better state.

The main problem now is how do I get rid of the smell of burning that seems to have wafted through the whole house.  I can't leave windows and doors open tonight, but tomorrow I shall try that method.