Category Archives: days out

Hattie, Harvey and Hopton Hall

IMG_8376.JPGA list of three! And they alliterate.  What more could I want?

First of all, an apology to Hattie.  We arranged to meet one another last week and she was hoping for snow.  It was a beautiful weekend but no hint of snow.  Today on the other hand it hasn’t stopped snowing all day.  We’ve had field fares, a linnet and ten blue tits at the feeder.  All I can say is that I will try and plan better next time!

Beatrix_Potter,_Two_Bad_Mice,_Frontispiece.pngHarvey is our lodger.  He’s small, brown and lives in the garage.  Naomi feels that I’ve travelled into a parallel Beatrix Potter universe on account of the fact that I see our bachelor harvest mouse as living a solitary winter existence before scampering back out to the meadows in the spring to find himself a lady wife.  Naomi, who offered me the mouse equivalent of zyklon b, is of the opinion that where there’s one mouse there are probably many more and I don’t think she was envisaging Hunca Munca or Tom Thumb, though I could be mistaken.  She has a point but he- and until evidence proves otherwise Harvey is a he- does look harmless as he scampers across the back wall of the garage when we take the car out.  He has very elegant tapering feet, a white tummy and a big ears.  My original plan was that as soon as the weather showed any sign of warming that HWIOO would be on hand with wire wool to block Harvey’s return after he exits one warm morning before a mouse’s fancy turns to whatever mice minds turn to in the spring as even I’m prepared to concede that two mice is one too many mice.

However, Hattie having seen Harvey had a tale to tell and I would have to say that just as soon as the snow goes, so does Harvey.  Apparently Hattie’s son had a mouse in the garage but rather than making himself snug – possibly in a miniature box bed with hand stitched quilt during the cold season- his mouse made himself at home in the workings of the car, had a gnaw on some rather expensive cables and eventually popped up one morning, through an external air vent,  as Hattie’s son was driving along the motorway.

The sight of a mouse scampering up the bonnet of the car before being spreadeagled, arms outstretched, nose whiffling on the windscreen must have been disconcerting.  There followed a mano a mano or rather mano a mouseo face-off until the vehicle was halted, a photo taken as proof that it wasn’t a hallucination and then the stowaway was ejected into the hedgerow – where it presumably needed a lay down and a strong cup of tea.

Having done my homework it appears that if you catch mice by friendly methods (and I’m not sure that the windscreen is an approved method) that you should deposit them at least half a mile from home or else they’ll probably get back before you do.

We’ve tried old fashioned moth balls which apparently act as a mouse deterrent and we have sonic mouse repellers – Harvey ignores them, apparently because harvest mice hear at a different frequency to the sonic devices.  I am equally informed that the garage will be a spider free zone at the moment. If blocking up the exit doesn’t work we will, as Fagin says, “review the situation” and perhaps consider Naomi’s solution, in the meantime the Mater has suggested that I might want to take pen and paintbrush in hand in order to tell the tale of Harvey. The Right Little Madam, on the other hand, is contemplating the hand stitched quilt and a bowl of food for our guest. We will not be mentioning traps, poison or even cats in her hearing.

Which brings me, last but not least, to our alphabet of delights – Hopton Hall in Derbyshire.  It has a rather lovely display of snowdrops and aconites during the early spring. We decided that we would go and have a look last Saturday.  The sun shone, pheasants showed off their plumage, birds sang – one of them sounded like a train going over points. I asked what it was and HWIOO said it was a lesser spotted ASLEF bird- and it was all very pleasant.  We shall return to look at the roses and to sample the delights of their cafe in due course.  There was, we noted, quite a substantial play park and we have added it to our list of possible places to take the Little Madams.




F is not for felting, apparently.

DSCF2573.JPGIt was dark at five o’clock tonight.  The clocks have gone back, no more Bake Off and winter is on its way – bah humbug.  Its time for an open fire of an evening,  hot chocolate and marshmallows, and slow cooked stews – hooray!

We’ve had a lovely few days on the East Coast (yes, another e) with our friends Hattie and Archie.  We went hunting for sea glass on Maske Beach and found two different types of fossils as well as sea glass but the most surprising find belonged to HWIOO.  The tide washed up a bright yellow duck.  He (the duck not HWIOO) has been duly disinfected, we have speculated whether there might be a distraught merbaby or whether the duck had set out to see the world.  We suspect a duck race but the duck is anonymous so we can’t notify anybody of our find. The Littlest Madam has named him Redcar on account of the fact we’d been there that morning to collect two bin bags full of the finest merino felting wool.

HWIOO and Archie are wondering what we are going to do with it – the wool not the duck.  The obvious answer is felting and I did suggest that it could be F on our alphabet of nice things but HWIOO was adamant that felting wasn’t going to feature since apparently we both have to enjoy the experience.  Hattie and I have had a very nice time sorting it, bagging it and arranging it. We have plans – which are always dangerous. This post features my first effort at felting earlier in the year and I’d have to say I was very pleased with it.  I have plans for robins and red squirrels very shortly…I’ve added them to my list of things to do.  Sadly I didn’t feel I could note felting under urgent and important.

So exactly what might we do – perhaps a trip to the flicks to see a film; Flamborough and Framlingham seem a little far away at the moment or perhaps, and this is a definite possibility, we shall go to a fireworks display.  There’s one in Bitt’s Park this weekend themed around Carlisle’s industrial heritage – there’s going to be a 35ft steam train as well as several thousand people which might rather ruin the photographic opportunities.

Come to think of it my mother-in-law has already covered the fire angle.  She microwaved her ready meal for thirty minutes rather than three minutes last week.  Shall we just say that she won’t use the microwave again on account of the fact that she’s decided that it’s dangerous. And trust me when I say that the list is already pretty lengthy.


How to dry out a phone

DSCN0160The dropping of the phone down the toilet set the tone for much of last week.  Let’s just deal with the phone for the time being on the grounds it has a happy ending. There is no need for this post to deal with disappointing outcomes from literary agents; the diabolical deeds of estate agents or HWIOO knocking our wrought iron gate from its hinges.

Having retrieved it, the phone, from the toilet and spent the rest of the day compulsively washing my hands it turns out I did the right thing when I took the battery out as soon as I got the phone out of the water.  Apparently if the phone gets hot then the chances are that you’ve managed to fry the electrics. As we were out, the phone, the battery and the phone card spent the rest of the day in the boot of the car on a travel rug.  As soon as I got home I put it in the airing cupboard on a towel – I perhaps shouldn’t have done that but since I didn’t have a handy bag of rice  there wasn’t much alternative. The advice is not to stick it on a radiator or to try to dry it with a hair dryer.  The next day a bag of rice was purchased and the phone was stuck in some rice.  Forty eight hours later, by some miracle, it turned on but in safe mode having done all sorts of things I didn’t ask it to do before hand.  If you were in receipt of a random phone call I’m sorry – I didn’t do it.  It was the phone.  I then tried to ring the Pottermeister.  She said she could hear a voice saying ‘hello’ growing gradually fainter before disappearing altogether.  She wondered whether I’d fallen down a large rabbit hole…me too by the end of the week.

I now know I should have left the phone a bit longer to fully dry out because  having stuck it back in the rice on Friday I turned it on again more in hope than certainty.

It works ladies and gentlemen.  It works.  My delight knows no bounds.  I do not need a new phone and I haven’t succumbed to dysentery or typhoid which makes me even happier. We will not be eating the rice as I’m not sure that water absorbed from a toilet is what I need to be feeding HWIOO at this time.

D, for those of you following our meanderings through the alphabet, actually turned out to be dinner, which was very lovely,  overlooking Windermere last night.  I began with chicken liver and bacon parfait, progressed to duck (it wasn’t deliberate but it was delicious) and finished with a delightful mint mousse.  Tomorrow I start on another D.  Yes, that’s right – diet because we also revisited C and had a cream tea the day before.

D is for…

dscf2504Disaster!  D could have been for Derwent Water; Durham; Derby Cathedral; dandelion wine; digging the garden or even divining – but no, it turns out that D stood for dropping my mobile phone down the toilet.  Lovely.

I took the battery out as soon as I’d fished it out and it’s now sitting in the airing cupboard on a towel as I didn’t have any rice in the kitchen cupboard and didn’t think that spaghetti would have quite the same effect.  I once put my wristwatch in the washing machine and after a week in the airing cupboard it was fine. It wasn’t quite the D I’d been anticipating but apparently its a common accident.

We seem to be slightly stuck on b as we picked more blackberries yesterday and bilberries today.  The Littlest Madam is our number one forager but I’m not sure that her yelling at her sisters, “Pick more!  Pick more!” is necessarily the way to go but it was glorious weather; the skies were very blue – we saw bees, butterflies and an assortment of fungi (I’m not that brave a forager). Tonight there are more jars of ruby red happiness in progress but hedgerow jelly this time.

An A-Z of little adventures

DSCF2505.jpgMy friend Ivor recently told me of another set of friends who had recently retired.  They were concerned that they might turn into the kind of couple that slowly vegetated into old age so they came up with a superb idea for keeping themselves young and enthusiastic.

We rather like their idea as it is sometimes difficult with the CFS to think large-scale and it is rather easy to get stuck in a routine which revolves around sleep. This strategy seems like a good way of helping with the pacing, trying new things whilst ensuring that they are manageable, not to mention thinking laterally and having something to look forward to which can help with the depression that can sometimes creep into the life of someone with CFS who always feels totally tired.  It should also help HWIOO to develop a repertoire of seasonal activities which again should help with the pacing.

The plan is that you work your way through the alphabet doing something each week or every couple of weeks for the letter of the alphabet that you are on.  The key is to be flexible; it could be a place or any other kind of noun for that matter, an activity, or a food etc.  For example, A could be Arundel Castle, an art course, an art gallery or arts festival, apple bobbing, acorn collecting or aubergines for that matter!  What we actually did yesterday which was to go to an agricultural show.


You continue through the alphabet  thinking creatively on as small or large a scale as you wish.  Today we went blackberry picking in order to make blackberry jelly.  Having said that HWIOO returned from his blackberry picking and took himself off for a siesta so I began the blackberry jelly which is a magical process and the end product definitely counts as happiness in a jar.

Whilst I had hoped to do a chocolate making course  or candle making I am quite happy to go to the cinema next week though Ben Hur could just as well have been the letter B.  It would have to be said that we both discounted caving and canoeing as soon as the thought entered our heads. I don’t like confined spaces and the last time I was in a canoe I sank without trace.  The Number-One-Son was mortified because I didn’t sink quietly.  I squawked rather loudly, thus causing maximum embarrassment.  It didn’t help that he and his father simply stepped out of the boat whilst, because I was sitting cross-legged, I couldn’t untangle myself swiftly enough to make a safe exit.  Certainly I don’t think Daniel Boone would have made such a hash of it.  We also decided that a cable car trip was out of the question based on the fact that HWIOO’s labyrinthitis probably wouldn’t have responded well to that particular activity – abseiling and bungee jumping were also discarded based on a similar rationale.  On the other hand HWIOO was rather pleased to suggest doing one of the Sunday newspaper crosswords as this demonstrates an improvement in the brain fog situation.  Two years ago he wouldn’t have been keen on the idea as he just couldn’t focus but now he’s back to doing the quick crossword.


I can’t help wondering what adventures the rest of the alphabet is going to bring.

Magic mints

DSCF2106Who would have thought that a tin of mints could be so useful?  Certainly not me.  They’re a sovereign remedy for travel sickness; stopping squabbling in the back of the car so long as strict turn taking is observed on the opening and offering of the mints; for taking your mind off bumps and bruises; for thinking; for distraction and for extreme hunger pangs.  Personally I’m never without my tin of mints and who knows what other magical things they might achieve in moments of desperation.

All I can say is thank you to the ladies who saw the tin and thought of me – you’ve saved my bacon several times today!

And what a day – we got stuck behind a tractor early in our journey.  The Right Little Madam explained very knowledgeably that “the farmer was going to spread his poo in the field.” Whilst the tractor was indeed set up for muck spreading I did feel that grammatically there might be some need for revision in the aforementioned statement.  The Right Little Madam, most outraged announced, “That’s what I said.” Then we got stuck behind another tractor sporting a baler.  By the time we actually arrived at our destination I felt that I had seen virtually every bit of farm machinery known to man; had given myself a nasty scare when I checked the directions and discovered that the National Trust website declared that the place we were visiting was closed on a Tuesday (it wasn’t dear reader it’s now open every day); dealt with a wasp; a pale and sickly child and a husband made cross by B roads.

By the time we arrived at the entrance I was not necessarily feeling warm and friendly. It was at this point that we produced our National Trust cards and the personage at the desk asked, “What about the children?”

“Don’t they get in on our ticket?” I returned, “With English Heritage you can bring three children. I thought it was the same for these ones.”  We hadn’t had separate cards for the Pottermeister and the Number One Son when they were younger.  Turns out that times have changed.


“There’s an extra fee.  It’s only small.”


Perhaps HWIOO could tell by the way I folded my arms that the conversation wasn’t going well or perhaps he simply didn’t want to face the  B roads, tractors and children quietly whimpering so soon, “They are members.” He too folded his arms – and let me assure you, that’s not a good sign at all.


“They should have their cards.”


“Their parents have those cards. These two are on holiday with us – their grandparents.”


“Yes but they might be taking other children to properties whilst you bring these ones here.”


“Eh?” Fortunately I had finished my mint by that point or I might have choked just prior to asking whether the Trust was plagued by parents taking children who weren’t theirs , pied piper like, into Trust properties. Come to think of it,  is there some sort of clandestine entry system in operation where non Trust parents foist their off spring on Trust parents spotted gambolling through the car park without their progeny in tow. (Those will be the ones with small hand bags and hands free of ruck sacks, coats, cameras, bird feathers etc.


The personage  blithely quoted the price of a child or the ‘small additional fee’ that would ensure that we could bring the Little Madams without ‘extra charge’ on our tickets- I don’t think she spotted the oxymoron.


She did actually let us in without payment, “just this once” but in all honesty I’m not impressed by the policy as I know that we aren’t the only grandparents shepherding small persons during the holiday season. And its not as though the National Trust doesn’t do quite nicely out of the deal given the potential for cake, ice cream and assorted gift shop purchases.

After that little rant I feel the need for a nice calming mint….or possibly a gin…



Holiday planning with CFS in mind.

img003Sometimes with CFS its hard to see progress.  One of the reasons for this is the series of peaks and troughs that remind me of something I studied in the dim and distant past for O level physics.  There are so many ups and downs and the occasional ping of the elastic sending the peaks and troughs wild.  You learn to live day by day week by week. One of the problems is that looking forward to a holiday involves keeping your fingers crossed that HWIOO is on a peak rather than in a trough.  It’s one of the reasons he hasn’t booked a photography or painting course.  He’s never quite sure how he’s going to feel until he wakes in the morning. There’s been a couple of holidays that have coincided with a trough and they haven’t been great.  Therefore it’s important to plan carefully so that HWIOO can slumber if he wishes whilst I can still have a nice time.

Today we visited Hexham so a compare and contrast was possible from the start of the CFS journey.  Last time we went there HWIOO had just been diagnosed and it wasn’t the happiest holiday we’ve ever had one way and another not least because I was doing all the driving and HWIOO was so tired that his mental comments on what he would have done were neither complimentary nor internal. He didn’t want to photograph the inside of the abbey, didn’t want to browse the shops and quite frankly would rather have just stayed in the cottage sleeping – whilst I tiptoed around and developed cabin fever having read several books by midweek.

Today it is a much different story.  For a start the afternoon nap is an understood.  There are some days when HWIOO feels up to a gentle potter the whole day, others a quiet sit in the cottage with a book and on others a nap is required.  I have a whole bag of books, crafting essentials and my writing to keep me out of mischief.  I also no longer book cottages in the middle of nowhere.  I now book them so that I can either visit a site of interest or a nearby cafe should cabin fever strike.  It does require some research before booking but it makes sense as does ensuring the bedroom isn’t below the living space!

The other thing we’ve discovered is that if we know that we’re going to come back to an area it removes my overwhelming need to see everything – I am a woman who used to arrive with an itinerary of places to see and plan the holiday for optimum number of visits.  These days I have learned to relax somewhat. Someone I know who has CFS also says that holidaying in the same place more than once makes for a better holiday for similar reasons because obviously no one wants to sleep through their holiday.  Going to new places, whilst exciting, can be stressful which is not good for CFS and is another reason why research is essential.

So back to Hexham.  We arrived mid morning (another change), parked close to where we wanted to visit (using energy walking long distances on a bad day before arriving at the start of the activity is not clever), had a cup of tea in a nearby cafe (I have learned that it is not essential for me to eat cake at every stopping point and HWIOO shouldn’t have too much refined sugar in any event – better something that releases energy slowly) and then off we toddled.  We’ve learned not to over do things – even if HWIOO seems fine its best to only do things for an hour and then move on to something else. We’ve learned to come back another day if need be. It’s part of the pacing.  It took us a while to realise that even if he seems okay not to overdo it and that photographing two different places does not count as two different activities. I should also add that it’s our second outing to Hexham this week.  We came earlier in the week to the market.  It’s not that I don’t still consult leaflets and websites – now I just have to make sure there’s space rather than cramming everything in.

We’re learning.  Slowly.  But we are learning. HWIOO is making progress.  What HWIOO thinks of my driving I couldn’t say because he’s now sufficiently awake not to voice his thoughts out loud! He is also interested in stuff again – at the onset one of the hardest things to cope with was his depression and general uninterestedness – which I do sort of understand.  If I felt like I hadn’t slept forever I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t be interested in much either. So one way and another its a bit of a red letter day – HWIOO is interested in things again.  He’s started doing some sketching and is making suggestions of places he’d like to go. Oh yes – the sun’s shining as well.