Thursday, December 24, 2009

And a partridge in a pear tree ...

Sometimes Ned's experimental cooking doesn't quite go according to plan.

Chocolate truffle or bird dropping? You decide.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On the first day of Christmas ...

When I was young (yes, yes, back when wheels were square and the world was in black and white) Advent calendars had festive pictures behind the doors, with a double-sized one for Christmas Eve. Nowadays the commercial ones all seem to contain chocolate (and not very nice chocolate at that) behind the doors. So it's interesting to see a new take on the theme ...

Monday, December 07, 2009

Run run run run run away

If only I could. For years and years I've had a bad foot. One of them's fine and dandy, never a moment's trouble. The other one, though (the same foot from which I had a bunion removed several years ago - well, I think it's got bad genes. When it was only painful occasionally, and only in certain shoes, it was tolerable; now it's really started attention-seeking. The problem is that the toe next to the little toe will feel as though it's been bent right back up onto the top of my foot - almost as though it's nearly snapped off (tempting, believe me). As if that wasn't bad enough there's also the sensation that someone's put half a golfball under the ball of my foot, so that basically every step is agony. I haven't been able to walk barefoot for two or three years, and the number of pairs of shoes I can wear has gradually become more and more limited. Now that I'm reduced to hiking boots and slippers (most of the time) it's gone beyond a joke, so I took the foot to the doctor for advice.

Apparently I'm suffering from Morton's neuroma. And there are several possible treatments, one of which I was offered at the time - a steroid injection, which I thought sounded okay. It was only when I was told that he'd have to poke a needle about in my foot till I told him where it hurt the most so he could inject the right place that I totally bottled it and burst into tears. I think it'll have to wait until I'm feeling emotionally stronger - until then I'll suffer; but the longer I leave it the more likely the damage will be permanent. Bugger.

Friday, November 27, 2009

There's the sun, the moon, and Harry

Harry (Dalcross Bandleader) 25/8/99 - 26/11/09

Once there was a little fat sausage

who became a beautiful puppy

who grew up to be a stunningly handsome dog

with a sunny, happy, clownish personality

who loved to run

and jump

and bounce

and then run some more.

Which is why I couldn't condemn him to a crippled half-life of indignity and frustration, although I would have loved to keep him with me forever.

Sleep well, my Baby Boy, my dog in a million. I love you. May your star ever shine brightly.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cry me a river

Here we are, two weeks on. Two weeks. (Two whole weeks. How the hell has that happened?) And there's really no change. My Harry still can't move his hind legs. He can't wag, even though on Monday we thought we saw the faintest ghost of a hint of a wag, but it didn't happen again, even when the Boy called in, which usually fills the dogs with joy. Until yesterday, when being stood up to be pottied and his bedding changed, if his legs were put in the right position he could support himself for a couple of seconds. Today he hasn't been able to - I hope tomorrow will be better. We can't go on like this for much longer, neither he nor us. My heart breaks every time I help him move, and he's such a valiant, patient, accepting little soul that he'll do anything I ask of him. Yes I know he's 'only a dog'. But he's my dog, and he's my special dog, and I don't care if it's silly to be so attached - I just am. Although I love all my dogs, out of all of them he's the second who's been so very special - the first was his great-great-great-grandmother who I lost suddenly in 1980. Now him. And I feel guilty for resenting the fact that it's not one of the others; we've been braced to lose Beattie, who we were told would be lucky to make double figures and is now heading for 15, or Piglet, who, if we're honest, is only here because nobody else wanted him when he was a puppy, so he stayed. Poor Piggy, always the bridesmaid - the eternally unwanted. It's not his fault. I can't let this nightmare, this living hell, go on for much longer; it's just not fair. Harry hates wetting himself and soiling his bed. It's hard work keeping him clean and dry to avoid urine scald, and turned to avoid bedsores. He's heavy, even though his hindquarters are so wasted through lack of exercise, despite the physiotherapy, that they're almost skeletal. He doesn't seem to be in any physical pain, but they're so good at hiding serious pain that it can ber very hard to tell. I hope he isn't. I couldn't bear to think I was making my lovely boy suffer.

Sorry for the incoherent, self-indulgent ramble. Grief and exhaustion do strange things to a person's mental state.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

How fragile we are

For many months now we've been psyching ourselves for Beattie's passing, so recent events have totally caught us on the blind side. Tuesday was a normal day; the only difference to any other day was that Harry squealed when playing his usual game with Ned - the game that they play most evenings. After the squeal he was waggy and perfectly normal; the evening followed its usual course and then we went to bed.

Harry was a bit subdued on Wednesday; still waggy and happy, but decided not to run when we were out on our walks, but trotted everywhere instead. Other than that there seemed to be nothig wrong. On Thursday morning he was a bit wobbly on his back legs, and he accidentally knuckled over on his right hind paw and was very slow to correct it, so to be on the safe side I took him for a check over. His spine was carefully felt, and his hips, and his stifles, and his shoulders - everywhere. He was still wagging and giving his trademark flippy-flappy kisses; we assumed he must have pulled a muscle or something, so he was given a steroid injection to reduce any inflammation and lead-exercise only for a few days was prescribed. Friday dawned, and his back legs were still drunk, and when he walked I noticed he'd started scuffing his hind toe-nails on the pavement; this is a sure sign of nerve damage, which was worrying. But he was still cheerful and settled down after their lunchtime walk (peeing was a bit of a problem because when he tried to cock his leg he toppled over so had to straddle like a girl) to sleep till we got back from work.

That's when the day turned black. When we got home he couldn't take any weight on his hind legs at all, and was dragging himself along the floor. As the evening wore on he was getting more and more distressed at not being able to move properly, and wasn't able to pee at all, even when supported. So at about 9 o'clock (apologising profusely for calling out of hours) I phoned the vet and arranged to meet at the surgery. There he was sedated and x-rayed; it seems he's prolapsed a disc (L2/3), with a very guarded prognosis for recovery.

The treatment is steroids to reduce the inflammation and hopefully allow the nerve function to start to recover, and cage rest for at least 6 weeks. The poor boy is so frustrated at being confined, and not being able to move (his back end is now totally paralysed, even his tail), and being shut away to be 'kept quiet'; he's been crying in distress and struggling to get out, which can't be doing him any good.

Those of you who've met Harry know that he's my dog-in-a-million; to see him suffering like this is almost too much to bear. If only we could explain to him what's going on, and that if he lies still he's more likely to recover. Of course, if the damage is permanent we'll break our hearts and release him from the suffering. It's so sad - when he's lying down he looks completely normal; but when he tries to move ...

Genie Towers is not a happy place at the moment.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I wish I could fly way up to the sky but I can’t

Stu's latest Tuesday Challenge, should we choose to accept it, is "to come up with the most fantastic idea. What would you shoot if time, money and skills were no issue? Then work within your limitations to realise your dream. See what unique surprises occur."

At last, a reasonably straightforward one. If I had the time, money, equipment and skills I'd go off to Borneo and/or Sumatra and photograph orang-utans in the wild. I think they're marvellous creatures who are teetering on the brink of extinction solely due to Mankind's greed. Hundreds of square miles of their limited habitat is being destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations, a product that it seems impossible to boycott in protest because it's in everything. And to add insult to injury, it's being promoted as a source of bio-fuel to 'save the planet'. What a ridiculous concept - its very production is directly destroying far more than it will ever save.

So if I had pots and pots of money that's where I'd go; taking supplies to the orangutan orphanages where they try to raise the babies whose mothers have been killed by the rainforest clearance companies and sold as pets, and if possible to buy land to donate to them as habitat to release them when they're old enough. Whilst there I'd take photos of them - lots and lots of photos. But I haven't yet won the lottery, so my limitations are many, making this photo the closest to my dream that I'm likely to get. I'm not sure about 'unique surprises', though.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

La donna è mobile*

I'm not a gadget person. I have a very basic Pay-and-go mobile phone, which costs me about £10 to top up every 6 months or so. I'm told it has games on it, but I CBA to find out. I've had the phone for years - it was sent to me for free because service for my last one was discontinued. I still have the instruction booklet in my handbag in case I need to actually do something with the thing - that's how much I care about gadgets.

I used it twice today.

The first time was when we were on the M69 going northwards, to tell Stu that we were going to be a teeny bit late. We'd set off on a 40-minute drive at 10.30, to get us there in plenty of time for noon. Unfortunately we'd forgotten about the roadworks at the Longbridge roundabout (they've only been there for a year) which meant that it took us almost an hour to travel half a mile. But we got there safely in the end, and judging by the amount of giggling, our celebratory photoshoot seemed to go very well; I can't wait to see the results! (That's got several Christmas presents sorted.)

Then on the return journey (with a diversion planned to avoid the roadworks), during a torrential cloudburst we saw a car stopped neatly by the central crash-barrier on the M69 southbound, facing north. Thinking that the driver probably didn't want to be there I phoned 999 (for the first time!) hoping that nobody ploughed into him in the meantime.

Two phonecalls in one day. Extraordinary.

* I've always associated a mobile with the name Donna.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Still crazy after all these years

25 years ago we posed for this photo.

Now, I don't bother with birthdays (once you've reached 21 there's not much significance about them. Everyone has them,simply through failing to die in the 12 months since the previous one. Unless you have a serious medical condition or are past your alloted threescore-and-ten that's not really much of an achievement!) but I think successfully weathering the storms of a shared life and dealing with the challenges that inevitably arise, is something to be celebrated.

It sounds awfully soppy, but I've never once regretted marrying Ned, my soulmate, and look forward to many more years together.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Time it was and what a time it was it was

You couldn't get a book between them.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Harvest blog #2

I like growing things - I especially like growing vegetables. Unfortunately things don't usually appreciate the tender care I lavish upon them, and crops can be quite spectacularly poor. This year, however, the results have been, by my standards, amazing. Most vegetables I grow are unusual in that they're often unexpected colours - the varieties that are very rarely stocked by greengrocers or supermarkets.

The mange-tout peas were phenomenally successful, and with the rows being planted at fortnightly intervals meant a good succession and no glut; but I still managed to freeze a couple of pounds. The rainbow chard is now coming into its own (these photos were taken earlier in the year) and looks very attractive in the garden as well as on the plate. The cauliflowers did okay, but were small and allcropped together, meaning any that were left too long were munched by slugs. Bah.

Yellow courgettes are more visible on the plant and less likely to escape and turn into marrows when you let your guard down.

Historically carrots were white, with the orange colour being bred into them in the past couple of hundred years. So I decided to grow a range of colours (again for plate-interest), and these too have been astonishingly successful, and incredibly flavoursome.

The purple-podded climbing beans were again chosen for visual interest in the garden - the leaves are dark green and the flowers are a beautiful two-tone pink and purple. The beans themselves look amazing when picked (and are wonderfully tender and stringless) ...

... but sadly lose their colour in the cooking, which is disappointing. However it's all good and organic and couldn't be fresher - from plant to pot within 5 minutes.

Now's the time to clear up the beds (leaving the chard, leeks and parsnips because they're not finished yet) and spread loads of muck and compost to hopefully repeat the success next year.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Open up your mouth and feed it

I mentioned on Facebook that I'd baked a batch of 'Appley-Dapplies', which intrigued quite a lot of people who asked for more details.

It's a recipe we came across years ago, and has been a great favourite with everyone who's tried them. We had to cut the amount of sugar from the original because it made our teeth try to leap out of our heads in shock, but it's still plenty sweet enough.

I've not yet worked out when is the best time to slice it up; when it's still hot in the tin it burns you and falls apart, but when it's cold it's more difficult to cut through the top 'crust'. So the slices don't always look quite as neat as they could, but who cares?

A slice showing the apple filling.

So here's the recipe ...


450g/1lb Bramley Cooking Apples, roughly chopped
50g/2oz Raisins
50g/2oz Caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
zest 1 lemon

200g/7oz plain flour
200g/7oz soft light brown sugar
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
150g/5oz rolled oats
150g/7oz butter, melted

1. Preheat the oven to 190 C/ 375 F/ Gas mark 5 for about 10 minutes before baking. Place the apples, raisins, sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest into a saucepan over a low heat.

2. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the apple is cooked through. Remove the cover, stir well to break up the apple completely with a wooden spoon.

3. Cook for a further 15 – 30 minutes over a very low heat until reduced, thickened and slightly darkened. Allow to cool. Lightly oil and line a 20.5cm/ 8 inch square cake tin with greaseproof or baking paper.

4. Mix together the flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, rolled oats and butter until combined well and crumbly.

5. Spread half of the crumble mixture into the bottom of the prepared tin and press down. Pour over the apple mixture.

6. Sprinkle over the remaining crumble mixture and press down lightly. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 – 35 minutes, until golden brown.

7. Remove from oven and allow to cool before cutting into slices. Either serve warm with crème fraiche or whipped cream, or cold in lunch boxes.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Going back to my roots

Harvest blog #1

Looky! I've grown a successful parsnip!

*is very proud*

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Boys will be boys, bad boy, bad boy

The scallywags have obviously decided that there's a need for a litter bin by the bollard. Just in case, I suppose.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

To hide behind the glare of an open-minded stare

I gave a snort of laughter whilst listening to Ken Bruce announce that Mr and Mrs Whatever were celebrating their diamond wedding and were going on a tour of Switzerland. I couldn't help but wonder whether their children had got them a bogof deal at Dignitas.

(wonders if you can get gift vouchers)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In an English country garden

Although I love flowers, I'm not a great fan of having cut flowers in the house; it just seems wrong somehow. Flowering pot plants are okay because they're still alive and can go back outside later, but cut flowers are doomed to wither and die. Almost all the flowers I grow in the garden are scented ones; roses without scent, no matter how pretty, are like tasteless food - they lack that which makes them interesting. I love wandering around our very own (the excitement about paying off the mortgage hasn't worn off yet!) small patch of England smelling the various plants that my lethal fingers have so far failed to kill, but there's not much left so late in the season. So I gritted my teeth, got the secateurs and brought in all the flowers to enjoy them indoors.

There are roses (New Dawn - the pale one with holes (not a breed characteristic btw) in the petals - has the most delicious scent, but is also seemingly clad in barbed wire; I can't remember what the other one's called); sweet peas; jasmine; the last spike of phlox; and a few sprigs of photinia to add a little leafy interest. My flower-arranging skills are only slightly advanced from the 'bung them in a jamjar' technique, but I think they look quite pretty.

And the sitting room smells divine.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I'll go back to black

Tuesday Challenge #29 is on the subject of 'Black'

So here's my interpretation.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"Y'all remember to wipe your feet"

I wonder if anyone knows what she and Billy-Joe were throwing off the Tallahatchee Bridge.

I've always reckoned it must have been a baby.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Whenever you stroll along with me

Having a few days free I loaded Beattie in the car and took her to visit the Aged Parent; while we were there we found that the best place for exercising a dog with arthritic feet was the wonderful miles of sandy beach.

There's a pier

and around the base of each leg the sea has scoured the sand in an interesting way.

Beattie found she could step out quite briskly on the hard sand without hurting her feet

but didn't really enjoy the bracing sea breeze

so she tried to eat the camera when I laughed at her.

But she didn't try to eat the jellyfish.

Friday, September 04, 2009

But I might die tonight

For the past week I've monitoring the growth of a random mushroom that started growing in the greenhouse.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

When I went to check it this morning I found it had fallen over (probably felled by the influence of the slug visible in picture 6) so I picked it.

Day 7

I'm slightly perturbed to see that the gills aren't the nice pinky-beige (aka 'mushroom'), or even dark brown, colour I was expecting, but are instead a rather unhealthy, pallid-looking white.

Boy reckons it's a Destroying Angel or something along those lines so I probably won't add it to the shepherd's pie.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Like the circles that you find

As you know, there's a saying "It's a small world". I'm acquainted with someone who hates that saying, so it's worth repeating if only for that reason; not my favourite person. But I digress. The smallness, and frequency of odd coincidences was brought home to me a couple of weeks ago. Brother #2 had recently visited our mother in her new home Oop North, and was chatting at work (in Sussex) to a new student they have working with them. The first coincidence was that the student's father worked with Bro's wife; then it got surreal. Bro mentioned he'd just been to the Frozen North, and student told him that his grandparents lived in Yorkshire, on the coast. In a nice little town, in a quiet road ... which turned out to be the exact same town and the exact same road that Mother lives in. Spooky.

That weekend Bro and Sis-in-Law went to a dinner celebrating a friend's marriage after many years of widowhood. The groom was a nice chap, about Bro's age.To cut a long story short, it turns out they'd been to primary school together in Cyprus in the mid 50s - chap had been in Bro #1's class and remembered him well.

After a while this sort of thing can mess with your head.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

There's room enough for two

I was spoilt for choice regarding titles for this blog. I could have had "Right smack dab in the middle of town", or "It's peaceful as can be, or "I get away from the hustling crowd", but finally chose yet another line from the same song.

Luckily the holidays are nearly over and the village scamps will soon be back at school. Is it wrong of me to admire their ingenuity?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

God didn't make the little green apples

When The Boy was really quite small, he and I planted a pip from an apple he'd just eaten, on the offchance that it'd grow. Well it did, and was duly planted out in the garden. The years passed and it grew taller, but it never flowered - until this year.

The bees did their stuff, there wasn't a late frost to kill the baby fruit, and they gradually grew. Ned & I had always believed that apple trees that grow from pips don't produce 'real' fruit, but only sour crabapples, but Boy assured us (with all the weight of his arboricultual training) that we were talking a load of old toot, and that they'd be real apples.

And he was right. The fruit are still growing bigger and weighing down their branches, making them easy to pick when the time comes. Every time we thin out the crop to lighten the load on the branches we try them - they're certainly not too sour, but as yet lacking juice; hopefully that'll come in the next couple of weeks.

They're certainly pretty apples, despite some of them being a bit spotty (no sprays here!)

And getting to be a reasonable size too.

The size of the tree is a reminder of how long we've lived here - it came as a bit of a shock!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

She certainly can can-can

Every year I grow a few chilli plants, trying a different variety every year. Some varieties are just hot; some are more like sweet peppers; some have flavour as well as warmth. Usually the bigger the chilli the milder the flavour; we've learned to treat the little b*stards with caution. The seeds can be the worst. This year I've grown 5 plants of the variety "Heatwave".

The plants took a while to get going, and still look rather leggy and leafless, but at nearly 3 feet tall they've been flowering forsome time and the fruits are growing nicely. On one plant in particular they've started ripening, so I picked one this evening to add a little frisson to an omelette. Before I added it I tried a teensy slice from the end, about a millimetre long.

After I'd found the back of my head which had been blasted across the kitchen it took me some time to regain the power of speech. The variety is well named!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The more I'm a merrier me

Visual humour:

Who's this?

It's me!

Oh suit yourself. I thought it was a funny joke anyway.