Friday, 16 March 2018

Hot chocolate and rugby

So I went to the rugby. The rain was of biblical proportions. You can see in the third photo the steam rising off of the scrum. It was a bit of a last minute idea to entertain the  French exchange student, who is a rugby fan. It rained all of the way there in the car, on the walk to the ground, in the queue to pick up the tickets, for the whole of the match and all the way home. I could hardly see going over the hill on the drive back. The biggest boy pointed out that it was the Full English Experience.

While we were waiting for the tickets I did the whole tour guide thing. Look, there's Pulteney Bridge, it's really famous. Look, there's the Abbey, it's really old. There is a lot of water going over the weir today, it is really wet. I ran out of interesting things to point out after that.

For those who might be a bit vague as to what rugby actually is, it's, oh goodness, I have no idea to be honest. I was going to sum it up in a couple of pithy sentences, but I only have a very tenuous grasp of what it is and I run the risk of enraging those of you who actually know what's going on. I was no doubt the most annoying person at the ground, continually asking what was happening. It's all very stop-start, not like football, which I can just about follow, and even explain the off-side rule if you'd like me to.

Anyway, Bath, the home team whom we had gone to see, won, so it was all good. And by only one point, so it must have been quite thrilling, although it was rather wasted on me, see not knowing what was going on above. I was also very disappointed by the amount of shiny flags they had given out to everyone. Not at all environmentally friendly. Otherwise it was all excellent. At half time we got chips, coke and hot chocolate for me (it was cold as well as wet) and tried to avoid the downspouts of water pouring through the stands above us.

The French student was absolutely lovely, and got on so well with the biggest boy. They were chattering away in a mixture of French and English the whole week and hopefully he had a great time. He ate everything and said I was a very good cook for an English which I am taking as a compliment and that the biggest boy was very lucky, which I am having printed out and laminated.

He arrived here at 2 o'clock in the morning which upset the dog no end. He was beside himself that a stranger had come to the house in the middle of the night and gone upstairs. He made his concerns known to one and all for quite some considerable time. Safe to say that five-sixths of the household were wide awake. By the end of the week it was all forgiven though and the new person was admitted to his pack. Here he is waiting at the bottom of the stairs for me. He's not allowed up, but he always likes to be as close to me as possible, so he tends to wait with his head on the bottom step.

The littlest boy and I took him for a wander and went to a dog-friendly cafe for ginger beer, hot chocolate and a toasted teacake. It was like being in an Enid Blyton book. Bertie laid on the floor perfectly aligned like a compass so that his whole body, ending at the tip of his nose, was pointing directly to the kitchens.

We are all a little tired here after a week of rushing round to events and squeezing things in. Alas the weekend won't be particularly relaxing, there are more Things to be done. A friend said she had nothing planned, and I was a tiny bit envious. There is cricket to fit in alongside football now, a party for someone and the dog has been promised a gallop over a hill somewhere. I've been feeling rather frazzled lately, that feeling when there's never enough time and I'm not sure what to do next. I know it's the same for many, I'm not complaining, it's just left me feeling rather disorganised. I think I need more lists. And maybe a new notebook. I really have a yearning to do some calligraphy, but I always feel I shouldn't while there are so many other work-related things to do. But the pens and the nibs and the ink are calling me. Maybe I'll try and sneak in a little over the weekend. Any plans your end? Wishing you a little of what you fancy, and a ginger beer or a hot chocolate too. Enjoy.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Anyone for a mince pie?

our town from the hill


There is a mountain of wellie boots on the mat and the dog is asleep on top of them. We are all worn out with the hard work of making the most of the snow. It's been about seven or eight years since we last had proper snow here. Everyone is off work, out and about with dogs and children, there is a holiday atmosphere to it all. I almost feel I should be making mince pies. I do have a couple of jars of mincemeat left over now I think about it.

Yesterday I was dragged outside for most of the day. Today I'm aiming for a little inside time. Baking things in a deliciously warm kitchen would suit me very well. Tobogganing was mixed success. The littlest boy plunged his foot into a snowdrift over the stream and couldn't get out. Eventually he came out, but minus his wellie. I couldn't pull it out for love nor money. Someone else's dad got it for us in the end, otherwise he would have had to walk home without it and most likely have lost his foot to frostbite.

Then he tobogganed down the hill, hit a bump, flew through the air and landed with a whomp on his bottom. That was the end of it for him, we dragged ourselves home with more than a little complaining.


A brief interlude since I started writing this post. The snow has all but vanished, the toboggans have been put back in the garage for the next seven years until it snows again and tomorrow life will resume again, full throttle. It was like spring at 5pm when I took the dog for a walk, all warm sunshine and birds singing. An odd few days I think, but a nice break from routine.

All sorts of things were cancelled and there was catching up with friends and doing things locally and walking and puppies and general relaxing. I didn't get round to the mince pies and I feel the moment may have passed. The French student will be here soon, and mince pies may be a bridge too far. I wonder if I can feed him fermented things? They have turned out to be delicious, so I might give it a go. I am compiling a list of things people will not be allowed to say to him, such as, You must not eat the frogs from the pond, which was suggested by someone who shall remain nameless. Honestly, I hope they all behave, I am on tenterhooks. There is nothing like family to completely embarrass a person is there? Any tales to tell..?

Thursday, 22 February 2018

The whippet and the hare

I am all about the fermenting at the moment. Nothing is safe. There's yoghurt, kefir, celery, kimchi and sourdough. I'm a fermentation maniac. Lynda of Sultanabun has an excellent post here if you'd like to know more about the benefits. Gut health is linked to so many other things, possibly including allergies, blood sugar stability and inflammation, all of which I find quite fascinating. I am all for treating things naturally where possible. Prevention and all that. The littlest boy has some allergies sometimes, and my blood sugar levels can be a bit wobbly at times. I'm hoping an increase in fermented things will help.

It's at this time of year that I shall start to miss the allotment I think. The possibility of all that fresh organic food. But I'm fairly overwhelmed with everything anyway, I do know it was the right choice to let it go to someone else.

Yesterday was a case in point. I just about survived a ridiculous morning with every possible drama, you know the kind of thing, one of those days when everything goes wrong, when the littlest boy's school rang to say he'd cut his leg. The rest of the day was spent at children's A&E in the city getting stitches. And that was the end of Wednesday. No big deal, I'm happy I was around for him, but honestly, sometimes the days just seem to evaporate.

His leg is fine, but he did take a big chunk out of it leaping at a metal edged picnic bench in some complicated parkour manoeuvre. If I've told him once... Someone suggested to him that he probably wouldn't do it again. He said he thought he might well.

I never fail to be grateful for the medical care that's available here. And for everything really. As I said goodnight to the children tonight I felt very aware of the children in Syria. There aren't any words really, but my thoughts are there, and I try never to forget how much we have.

Half term was good. I even managed to read a book. This is me at the skatepark. It was so lovely to sit and read in the afternoon, honestly, undreamt of luxury.

The book was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I really enjoyed it, as I know many of you have too.

Back to the grindstone now though. I am taking a little hour this evening to write this, but otherwise I'm pressing on with the freelance writing malarkey. Onwards and hopefully one day upwards. I live in hope.

I went to the biggest boy's school earlier for GCSE options evening. I am trying hard to let him do what he wants to do rather than what I want him to do. It doesn't come naturally though. The bottom line may be, does he do what his friends are doing or what his mother tells him to do. I shall try and rein myself in.

The puppy is sleeping blissfully as I write. He went down to the river this morning with his whippet friend. She was the whippet and he was the hare and a lot of really, really fast running was involved. He loves it, but in a slightly hysterical, whites-of-the-eyes sort of way, and afterwards he has to have a lie down.

Hope everything is well with all, and that you are feeling more whippet than hare.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Snowdrops and mist

Thank you for all of your recipe ideas re feeding a French teenager, I am suitably reassured. I have also embraced paprika in all its forms, and now have hot and smoked which do have a bit more going on. The smoked reminds me of lapsang souchong. I bought some of that the other day too, it took me straight back to years ago, Before Children, when I used to get home from work, make a mug of it and sit and write. Days of disposable income and free time, happy nostalgic sigh. It's amazing how a scent can instantly evoke a memory isn't it.

I am currently wrestling with website construction for two writing websites. There are moments of deep black despair peppered with the occasional dazzling triumph of something actually working. Technology is a real roller coaster of emotion, fury and elation in very short succession. It feels unhealthy.

On the subject of which I have given up cheese for Lent. I was a vegan for 25 years, but lately I seem to be eating ALL the cheese. Blue cheese, crumbly cheese, hard cheese covered in rind, creamy cheese, Cheddar cheese and a personal favourite, the sort of Lancashire cheese that isn't white a crumbly but is just DELICIOUS. I think we're on day 2 of Lent. Don't worry, I will have calmed down by next week and won't feel the need to name all the cheese and talk about it.

Last year I gave up puddings and sweet things. I felt so much better for not eating sugar that I continued it all year, except for the odd slice of birthday cake. It was the middle boy's birthday the other day and I made him Nigella's ice-cream cake. There are no words for how sweet that tastes if you haven't eaten sugar for a year. I had to have a lie down with a damp flannel over my face afterwards.

We've been keeping busy here. That's dog bed stuffing in case you were wondering.

But hearing tales of other puppies, we are happy in the knowledge that it could be worse. Dear little dogs, they do keep us on our toes.

Hope all is well out there. Hang on all, spring is but a breath away.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Send help

Reading and knitting, it must be winter. I do so love winter. Alicia put it well when she said, 'Nothing out there needs me.' I rewound my yarn which the puppy had messed up and I've started knitting again late at night when my brain is good for little else. Before, I was trying to knit with two great messy piles of wool and it put me off, having to do battle with it every time I did a couple of rows. Order is been restored now though and I'm away.

I'm reading Into The Water by Paula Hawkins. Not sure if I like it. I'm a bit confused to be honest. I don't always concentrate enough when I read and I lose track of who all the people are and what they've done. I could do with a list of them at the front of the book for reference. I've also been reading Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy, about productivity. I often find myself gazing out the window thinking about productivity. I am hoping Brian will help me with the whole concentrating and focusing thing.

I happened to be passing the churchyard today and I remembered to take some photos of the snowdrops. The winter sky looked lovely above the castle, all birds in bare trees and bunches of mistletoe.

There's an overgrown corner of the graveyard and every year it's covered in snowdrops. I just had the little camera with me, but you get the idea.

One last month of winter to enjoy before the things out there start needing me.

On another note, does anyone understand what the deal with paprika is? The biggest boy needed some for school cookery. It really tastes rather blah to me. Am I missing something? Do I not have the requisite taste buds? Fancy chefs are always waxing lyrical about smoked paprika and spiciness and warmth and on and on. I'm just not getting anything. It's a mystery. I don't understand parsley either. Coriander yes, delicious. Parsley, not feeling it. I have a feeling it's all too subtle for me. I need something unambiguous like a bit hit of lemon or a thuggish dried tomato.

We have a French student coming to stay later in the year. I fear I will have to up my game. Oven chips and baked beans will not cut the mustard. He has already written to say that in France the plates are very good. We have taken it to mean the food on the plates, although of course they may have very fine china as well.

I am in dire need of impressive yet simple recipes to appeal to the sophisticated French palate. Send help. But nothing tricky that will tip me over the edge (remembering of course that I permanently inhabit a place very near the edge as it is). I have paprika, if that helps.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Savoy dreams

And just like that he was turned from hairy beast into smart dog.

The littlest boy has memorised the passage in Plumdog where Plum goes to the hairdressers. She says, I felt like a filmstar. Bert does too.

Do you need a reminder of the Before look?

Oh he was wild and woolly. Now he is like a whole dog made of velvet. And he can see out!

We can't stop looking at him. And he is faster too. No longer at the park does he canter a feeble six feet after a ball before giving up and letting the big dogs get it. He's in the game, sprinting after it like Usain Bolt.

I made omelette Arnold Bennett for tea for the non-vegetarians (ie. all of the people except me). Well, not quite, it was actually an ordinary omelette with smoked haddock in it. The real thing is a bit fancier with all sorts of fluffy sauce and grated Gruyere, but being short on time etc. etc.

I looked up the recipe first and discovered that it was created for AB while he was living at the Savoy. Can you imagine it? Honestly, there would be absolutely nothing to do ever in the way of chores. Not a single dish to be washed or a shelf to be dusted or carpet to be vacuumed. Imagine all the time! I too could write a novel in such circumstances, I am certain of it. Especially if I was being fed dishes especially created for me by top chefs. Nut Roast Above The River perhaps, or Noodles CJ. I am very fond of noodles.

Oh, but they would never manage without me. Who would get cross about the mud and operate the washing machine and the vacuum? No-one else knows how to do it. No, I fear I am utterly indispensable. The Savoy will have to wait. I will make do with a cheese omelette made by myself and the odd half hour of writing time at the dining table. I hear that the Savoy omelette-fuelled novel wasn't his best work any way. A little suffering is a good thing no?

Friday, 26 January 2018

Plumdog and bear dog

There's a lot going on here, and none of it is photogenic. In fact some of it is downright ugly. My latest technological difficulties for example. A whole email disaster that has taken hours of red level fury and hammering away at the laptop and more fury at the wasted hours and the impossibility of it all. It always amazes me how technology can push me to the absolute edge.

I had the luxury of a whole mud-free day on Sunday. I was the teeniest bit tired of trudging around the locale with the dog and looking at endless brown. Which is unusual for me, I do love the winter, I'm not sure why it happened. Anyway, I went to (indoor) cricket training in the morning (littlest boy, not me) and then I took him to the mall in the afternoon to buy a copy of the Beano and to have a drink and a piece of cake. It's not something we do often, but I thought it would be a nice non-mud treat; he's been very good with the winter dog walking. Anyway, I'm happy to report that a couple of hours of looking at the bright plastic things from China and the endless rubbish for sale I was completely cured of mud ennui. My settings were reset. The next day the walk by the stream was quite blissful.

The biggest boy has just finished a week of exams. He was walking to school one morning and a bird pooped all down his coat. He asked me if I could clean it. 'It's alright though, I got most of it off. I used a revision worksheet.'  He said it was okay, he knew most of it already. So long as he's taking it all properly seriously.

In other news, I found someone had got the nailbrush out in the bathroom the other day and used it without being asked. For one heady moment I thought, my work here is done.

The littlest boy, and the others and me as well in fact, have all been enjoying Plumdog by Emma Chichester Clark. It was a gift from Father Christmas and is absolutely brilliant. Our very own Plumdog is off to the dog barber on Monday for a deep trim. I have tried to capture his very hairiness for posterity in the meantime. He is scruffy little hippy at the moment. People often tell me he looks like a bear. From Monday he will be more rat than bear I fear.

At least he'll be able to see where he's going though.

Wishing all a good weekend. I have no end of mud lined up and I am very happy about it, as is the little brown dog. I shall be back anon with before and after photos. Brace yourselves.