Category Archives: Months of the Year

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.

IMG_8371.jpg

 

 

Big Garden Birdwatch 2017.

birdIt’s that time of year again and although we’ve already covered the letter G we thought’d we’d reprise it.  Last year we must have been visited by a sparrow hawk or all the birds in the neighbourhood had taken umbrage with us because we didn’t see a solitary bird for the entire weekend which was rather disappointing, not least because it turns out that the local WI has a serious game of bird table one-upwomanship going on – as in, “I have a pied wagtail who comes to my garden regularly.”

“My robin takes crumbs from my hands.”

“Robins are so common don’t you think? There’s a wren that visits me every day.”

“Oh, how fascinating.  I don’t suppose you’ve seen a waxwing.  There’s a pair in my garden.  I think they’re quite rare.  I expect our environment is just right.It pays to look after your garden don’t you think?”  It turned out that the woman the waxwing enthusiast was speaking to was her next door neighbour and come to think of it I’m not entirely sure that waxwings actually visit this neck of the woods.

Now whilst it was tempting to announce that I have a chorus line of fieldfares who cancan their way up the garden path and half a dozen firecrests performing acrobatic stunts for peanuts I couldn’t even claim a visit from Clarence our neighbourhood pheasant last year as we had been the birdy equivalent of Billy No-mates on the key weekend.

This year I had my coffee, notepad and pen at the ready having spent most of the 2016 providing assorted birdseed, sunflower hearts and remembering to melt the ice in the bird bath every time it freezes.  All I could hope was that my tweet rating had gone up and that the sparrow hawk would keep his distance.

I am pleased to announce that my bird table was well attended by goldfinches, bluetits, sparrows, dunnocks, a great tit, two nuthatches, a robin, four blackbirds, a startled looking fieldfare (of the non cancanning variety) and a chaffinch. The jackdaws even turned up to demonstrate their helicoptering skills on the peanuts and their emptying technique on the mixed seed feeder which is to swing on it like teenagers in the park until all the seed has been decanted onto the ground.  A collared dove flew into the window when it tried to taxi in to land but was unharmed (it does it on a weekly basis leaving me wondering where it got it’s pilot’s licence from). There was even a coal tit bouncing around like a pingpong ball with a mohican.  What more could a girl wish for?

Having sent off the online survey honestly and accurately, I’m now wondering if I should adopt the prevailing post-truth approach to information with the ladies of the WI in order to improve my standing as a domestic goddess in our local community. Apparently in these rural parts having a reputation for being on the same wavelength as St Francis of Assisi is inherently helpful if one can’t create a spongecake of appropriate lightness.  Do you think they’d believe me if I informed them that my garden is now home to a colony of dodos?   Perhaps a party of penguins?  An ascension of skylarks?  An asylum of cuckoos? A flock of albatross or even a scattering of herons? A parliament of owls carrying letters and scrolls?  I thought not –

In the meantime the RSPB’s Great British Birdwatch is running all this weekend – why not download a pack and start watching.  Double click on the image to open the RSPB page in a new window….happy birdwatching

robin

Orange Marmalade

dscf2665Its that time of year again – marmalade time.

1 kg Seville oranges – guaranteed to have more pips than flesh and even when you think you’ve got all the little blighters they keep popping to the surface during the interminable boiling time.

1 lemon – this one came wrapped in tissue paper.  It was the only one wrapped in the crate with its little logo covered square of protection – so obviously it was the one I needed despite the fact it was virtually at the bottom of the box.

2kg of warmed granulated sugar…you know that adage about the watched pot – what it should actually say is that the warmed sugar is either stone cold or welded to the bottom of the pan.  There are no in-between stages.

A small muslin bag for all those pips. The chances of you having one of these unless you’re like me and saw them in a sale several years ago and thought they might come in useful are remote – and it turns out little muslin bags with drawer strings are very useful indeed.  They will also be exceedingly useful next time you’re shopping and see something else in the kitchen paraphernalia range that your loved one feels is excess to requirements.  Now you will be able to remind him or her of those handy little muslin bags whilst looking virtuous and highly organised.

I cup of cointreau or spirits of your choice – to add to the marmalade not to while away the time whilst the marmalade cooks.

8 X 375g sterilised jam jars.

 

First chop your oranges and deseed them.  Its the pith that makes the marmalade bitter but I very swiftly discovered that my marmalade wasn’t going to be delicate and ladylike – for starters the oranges had lives of their own and for seconds it turns out that I have many cuts on my fingers.  The mandolin did not work particularly well as the little device for stopping you chop your fingers off didn’t like the orange peel very much.  Any way ultimately I chopped a kilo of oranges into roughly equal strips and collected most of the pips.  The pips go in a muslin bag which as luck would have it I had (as I may already have mentioned).  The oranges and the lemon chunks go in a very large bowl and then you add 2.25 litres of water followed by the bag of orange pips and a plate to cover it all.  Go away and do something else for twenty-four hours.

Transfer the pleasantly citrus concoction to a large stainless steel pan along with the pips in their bag.  If you use copper you’ll end up with very clean copper and very dirty marmalade – take it from one who knows.  Gently heat.  You need to halve the amount of liquid.  The longer it takes the softer the peel will be.  When the kitchen is steamy because you’ve forgotten to put the extractor fan on open the window so the neighbours can share your orangy sauna and turn on the extractor fan.  Thank your lucky stars you don’t have wallpaper in the kitchen and if you do tell yourself that you needed to redecorate in any event.

Deposit 2kgs of sugar in a pan – heat gently watching it nervously for any signs of sticking.  This means you need to stir it regularly but gently because otherwise hob cleaning is going to take on a whole new meaning.

When the sugar is warm and the liquid in the other pan has halved, add the sugar to the liquid.  I took the bag of pips out before adding the sugar not he grounds that I wanted to use the bag again and knew how difficult it would be to get clean otherwise.  Put your thermometer in the pan and prepare for a long couple of hours inhaling orange steam. The setting point for marmalade is 104 degrees centigrade or 219 degrees farenheit.  One very helpful book informed me that if I went over the setting point that the marmalade would never set – a dispiriting thought.  Remove the odd rogue pip, stir to stop sticking, admire the peel shrinkage and when the temperature is close to setting point add the cup of spirit.  There will be alarming bubbling of the kind that you’d expect to see in a cauldron and the temperature will drop unexpectedly despite all the bubbles.

Don’t forget to sterilise your jam jars.

Eventually after a very long time the optimum temperature will arrive.  By that time you should have planned the next month, be able to breath through your nose and gone off making marmalade until next year.   Remove pips and any scum. Pot the marmalade up without pouring it over your hands. Seal and leave to cool.  Apparently you can enjoy it for breakfast the following morning.  Is now the time to mention that I don’t like marmalade very much? However, the Pottermeister’s jar has already got her name on it!

Now all you need to do is clean the kitchen or find a willing victim – er, sorry- helper, to do the washing up and clean the hob.

A SMART new year

pile-of-booksThe madams have gone leaving a strange silence in their wake.  The Christmas decorations are coming down.  I can never work out the date for the saying about decorations and twelfth night.  Is it January 5th or January 6th that the decorations need to come down in order to avoid a year of bad luck? If Christmas starts on Christmas Eve its the 5th; otherwise it’s the 6th. I should also add that it would be very unlucky indeed for a length of tinsel to be sucked inside the vacuum cleaner and that I want to get the house back into a state of order before normal service resumes.

Its also time for the resolutions and plans for 2017 – best done without three small persons in tow.  HWIOO informed me that being more organised is far too vague and that whilst becoming a best selling novelist (which has featured on my list since I was eight years old) is okay it perhaps needs to be broken down into several smaller steps – like sending the manuscript to agents listed in the Writers and Artists Yearbook.  He added that my targets, as I should already know, need to be smart; as in specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound.  My concern is that I will be audited in March to see what progress I’ve made!

However, I have already achieved three of my SMART targets – registering at a dentist, finally changing the address for my library card and finding out about the local swimming pool.  You’ll note I’ve not actually been swimming.  Think of it as a build up to plunging in the deep end.  I’ve also identified that there are regular aqua-aerobics classes in the pool but I don’t think it would be a terribly good idea at the moment any more than going on a cycle ride with HWIOO in his current state of unbalance would be a good idea – so the doctor’s surgery information video about doing 120 minutes exercise this week is probably not going to happen – though HWIOO has looked for our various books of walks.  I have a feeling that discussing our favourite walks from the comfort of the living room doesn’t count.

My next resolution is to sort out our books.  HWIOO has dragged me kicking and screaming into the 21st century with a kindle for Christmas which is very exciting as I can download books at the click of a button assuming the Internet is actually working. There is also the rather practical caveat that we are not going to buy any more book cases and there’s only so much space under the bed.  The Pottermeister suggested that I could photocopy recipes and craft ideas from books that I’m keeping for one or two things and then hand the book into a local charity shop – which if I’m honest is my main source of crafting books in the first place- it should reduce the collection somewhat.  We don’t keep fiction on the grounds we’d have to move every eighteen months if we did.  Culling reference books is always tricky and I’m still recovering from the fact that I accidentally took a box of books I wanted to keep to the charity shop when we moved.  I suspect the thinning is going to be a bit of an uphill struggle although now that I’ve gone electronic I can have as many virtual books as I want and no one will ever notice (cue manic laughter punctuated by coughing).

The next thing is to organise the book cases.  HWIOO is concerned that some of the shelves are buckling under the weight of their load so I’m under instructions that double stacked shelves should be filled with only one layer of books (perhaps he’ll not notice when our bed turns into the book equivalent of the mattresses described in the Princess and the Pea.  I’m currently working on ordering books according to topic and size.  Hattie has her books in alphabetical order which is very sensible but faintly scary on account of the fact that my memory is a visual one so I can remember the size and colour of a book but very rarely its title or who wrote it which isn’t terribly helpful in a bookshop or the library- you try asking for a big book with a green cover on the Tudors and see where it gets you.

Something to do in October

DSCN1078Apparently, according to Something To Do, my book of 300 games and activities first printed in 1966, I should be on the look out for autumn crocus and jays whilst going for bracing walks in search of edible berries – though not blackberries after the 11th of October because, depending which part of the country you come from, the Devil has either spat on them or done something even more unmentionable.  I think I’m out of luck on the blackberry front this year anyway as they seemed to be past their best at the beginning of September and I’m not sure that gloss paint and bramble jelly go together all that well in any event.

I must say that in 1966 children were obviously much more enterprising than they are today as the book goes on to suggest making rose hip syrup, though it does discourage children from eating raw ones on account of their prickliness. It also mentions sloes – but sadly not gin. Disconcertingly the same paragraph has a run down of the array of poisonous fruit readily available at this time of the year.

Oddly the text doesn’t mention crab apples amongst the delights of autumn.  Perhaps it being 1966 the writers wanted to discourage small boys (and girls) from going scrumping. I love the way that crab apples and quinces change colour as though by magic when they’re being cooked from fleshy white to a lovely shade of pink. The book also mentions sweet chestnuts, hazel nuts and cob nuts.  It sounds so tempting that I’m inclined to throw the paste brush to one side collect my basket and a stout stick and head off into the hills…perhaps next year when I hope not to be knee deep in renovation – though at our current rate of knots I wouldn’t bet on it.

Skimming through the pages I note that I should clean my bicycle (I don’t have one anymore); learn to roller-skate (I saw roller skates identical to the ones I had when I was a child in a museum not so long ago); play conkers; make a coal hole lid rubbing – similar to a brass rubbing but with a coal hole cover on account of their attractive designs- I’d like to but coal holes and indeed their covers are very much a thing of the past.  Indoors, the book suggests that I should make a pipe-cleaner model; create an autumn leaf print – three different methods are suggested including one using carbon paper; preserve an autumn leaf in paraffin wax (!); make a turnip lantern; sew an oven glove; bake an apple and plant a hyacinth for Christmas.

Looking through this impressive list of ‘fun things’ for October and having ruled out roller skating on the grounds that I don’t want to pay a visit to Accident and Emergency I think that collecting conkers has merit.  In addition to teaching the Little Madams the art of skewering a conker, threading it with a boot lace and allowing battle to commence conkers are a natural spider deterrent.

The autumn leaves sound fun as well.  It’s been years since I’ve done a spatter print or a leaf print and I’ve never made a carbon print from a leaf.  I’ll suggest it to the Number One Daughter as it sounds like a complete day out, followed up by fish and chips so long as it isn’t Sunday.  All I need to do is locate some carbon paper.  I think we’ll bypass the leaf preservation in liquid paraffin wax on the grounds that three little girls and a saucepan of molten wax don’t sound like a particularly good combination but that could just be my fevered imagination.

I’m allergic to the scent of hyacinths so that’s out; I’m not sure that even I can justify sidetracking into pipe cleaner model making when there’s a whole cottage in need of tender loving care;  silicone oven gloves are the way forward so I’m certainly not spending my evenings stitching one; I’m not carving a turnip or even a pumpkin this year unless we get the living room finished while they’re still available for the Little Madams to have their Harry Potter themed weekend.

Christina Rossetti’s advice for October in “The Months: A Pageant” is:

Crack your first nut and light your first fire,

        Roast your first chestnut crisp on the bar;

Make the logs sparkle, stir the blaze higher;

        Logs are cheery as sun or as star,

        Logs we can find wherever we are.

As it happens someone down the road from me lit their first fire of the autumn – today.  I love the smell of wood smoke on a chilly autumn evening.  In addition to more gloss paint I shall get a bag of coal and some kindling so that we can test out our new fireplace. What more could a woman want?