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

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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.

The problem of rogue walking frames

My mother-in-law has been sprung from hospital where she’s been since Christmas.  She’s had a number of falls mainly because she refuses to use her walking stick or her walking frame. She doesn’t like the necklace that’ll summon help either – she dangles it over her bedside lamp where its neither use nor ornament. The falls in turn led to her taking to her bed and not taking her various medications – “Well I don’t need them, do I?  I’m in my night dress.”

“Yes, Mam you do.”

“But I only take my tablets during the day.”

“It’s day time whether you’re dressed or not. Remember what the nurse said?”

“Humph.  To full of her own importance that one.   And another thing.  You can take that dratted noise away.”

“Noise?”

“That phone.  I don’t like it ringing and its too complicated, all those buttons.”

“But if you’re in your bedroom you won’t be able to answer the phone when it rings in the living room.”

This was met by silence.

“Mam, we get ever so worried when you don’t pick up the phone.  Anything could have happened.”

“I’ll be perfectly alright.”

“But we don’t know that do we?”

“I will.”

As there is no answer to that we let the conversation drop but forgot to remove the phone when we left having got things organised for her post hospital life, not that it’ll make any difference.  She won’t answer it.

So the carers are in place…again.  My sister-in-law is going to meet them on Tuesday.  There’s food in the fridge for the carers to prepare in date order from left to right across the fridge and there’s a walking stick in every room – holding the walls up.  For some reason best known to themselves the hospital which doesn’t offer chiropody to its elderly patients even when its clear that its required (that’s a whole different saga) has chosen to send another walker and another one appears to have arrived to form a herd of the things – so that’s three frames neatly located in three different rooms gathering dust – “These frames are too wide.  Besides they make furrows in the carpet.  Just like rotators they are.”

I think she meant rotivators.  Oddly enough I haven’t noticed any frame users ploughing up the pavements let alone the Axminster but what do I know?  “Mam, the doctors said that you needed to use the frame  or stick to help you keep your balance.”

“He was on work experience,” My mother-in-law waved a regal hand, “He wasn’t old enough to be a real doctor but I’ll say this for him he had very nice manners.  Besides I shall be staying in bed.”

“You can’t do that.  The doctors said you’ve got to keep moving.  Remember what they said about thrombosis and bed sores.  That nurse said there was no reason why we shouldn’t take you out for a drive and a nice cup of tea if you were well wrapped up.  Wouldn’t you like to go out, even for a little while?”

“No.  And as for wasting money drinking from public cups – I don’t know what they teach them these days.”

“I think, generally speaking, that cafes wash their cups between customers and I think we can run to a cup of tea and a slice of cake.”

“I can’t eat cake.  I’m diabetic.”

Best not to mention the large tin of chocolate Tunnock bars I found in the kitchen then.

 

 

 

 

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.

Happy New Year

DSCN0229-2Hurrah its 2017.

HWIOO and I did our festive impersonation of Lurch and Lurch A Lot.  I managed to get pneumonia in December.  The Mater asked where I’d got it from.  In all honesty I have no idea but I wish it would go away and not come back.  Meanwhile Lurch A Lot managed to wake up just before Christmas with full scale labyrinthitis.  Yes – HWIOO has been walking into walls and taking the mop bucket everywhere.  In other words we over did it in December and celebrated the twenty-fifth with a jacket potato, which was a first as was the fact it was a pyjama day and we spent most of it dozing or watching tv…which I rather enjoyed.

Thankfully I’d frozen many meals ahead for when the Madams and their parents arrived so it was just a question of removing things from the freezer and everyone who could helping in the kitchen, slumping in front of the tv and occasionally venturing out to the book shop for more reading matter.  The only thing was that they’ve all been a bit poorly as well.  The Number-One-Son-In-Law sounds as though he’s been smoking sixty woodbines a day.  He did introduce me to Jakeman’s cough sweets which are seriously good and the Littlest Madam convinced me that Calpol is the way forward.  Before she’d had it she was pale, unwell and decidedly unhappy.  About half an hour afterwards she was zipping around in fine fettle – why do they not do an adult version?  In any event, I’m surprised someone hasn’t nailed our front door shut and painted a large red cross on it.

However, we’re all on the mend now.  The mop bucket is back on its usual duties so it’s time to think of our resolutions for the year – apart from staying healthy that is…I’m thinking of getting a large plastic  germ repellent bubble though I’m not sure what I’m going to do about HWIOO.   Presumably my next post will be knee deep in keeping fit, writing best selling novels, generally being a domestic goddess and progressing to the letter H in our alphabet quest.  I shall consider it over a nice cup of tea and a spot of light crafting.  The Little Madam has requested some die-cutting today and who am I to refuse?

I hope you all have a happy and healthy 2017.

 

FromJane Austen, via Charles Dickens to Harry Potter in three simple steps.

bath market.jpgToday HWIOO and I took ourselves off to the bath Christmas Market.  We parked the jar and joined the unexpectedly large queue of shoppers – three double decker loads it turns out.  We stood on the stair for most of the journey.  Just before our arrival the woman next to HWIOO turned to him and said in an ‘I’m shrinking’ kind of voice.  “You’re squashing me.  You’re taking up too much space.” She looked up at him as though to infer that part of the squashing was entirely due to his height – perhaps it was a gravity, air displacement thing. Let me assure you ladies and gentleman that HWIOO was not squashing her, there was no cartoon anvil weighing her down; he’d not decided that in the absence of seats that she would make a suitable alternative.

He shuffled up a step and tried to look smaller – this was not entirely successful but what it did do was allow the woman in question to chat with her friend.  “Oh yes,” she said.  “I’ve got a chap coming in to see to my frontage.  Apparently it needs supporting.”  She then went on to advise her friend about the importance of ensuring that a strict regime for the festive season so far as family is concerned, finishing it off with, “And I don’t approve of young people,” apropos  of nothing in particular. Though she did glare at HWIOO as she said it. Allow me to assure you that Lady Catherine de Burgh is alive and well in Bath.  These days she wears a sensible mackintosh and her frontage requires support.

HWIOO, my own personal Mr Darcy, struggled with some of the ladies, Mrs Bennetts every single one of them, intent on finding a bargain.  He  was heard to mutter ‘bah humbug’ when I became excited about laser cut snow flakes but that could have been because he’d just been overwhelmed by a party that looked suspiciously like a band of WI let loose for the day.  They’d have been dangerous if they’d had a bottle of wine between them so I’m quite glad we encountered them before lunch rather than after. In the end he found a convenient wall to stand against out of the way thinking that he’d be safe whilst I investigated a stall composed entirely of felted Christmas ornaments.

Two seconds later a rather large-boned woman bounced off him, “Mind where you’re going.”

Given that he wasn’t going anywhere at the time  his response was positively chivalric.  “I’m sorry I didn’t realise I was wearing my invisibility cloak.”

Seriously though it was a lovely day and I have a lovely Lithuanian candle burner that will grace my hearth – what more could a woman want? Oh alright – but HWIOO refuses to wear a ruffled shirt and is adamant he’s not jumping in a fish pond for anyone.

 

 

There’re scales for sleep!

DSCF2106Yesterday I stacked logs in the newly built log store, didn’t get rejected by any literary agents and discovered that I have finished by Christmas shopping – which definitely fits me into the domestic goddess category albeit on a temporary basis.  Then I remembered that I hadn’t handed over the hula hoop that the Littlest Madam has specifically asked for on her Christmas list to the Pottermeister and I’m not sure when we’re seeing them again, so immediately fell off my perch of serenity.

Given that the goal is to ensure HWIOO doesn’t require afternoon naps I have been nominated to do some wider reading.  HWIOO couldn’t use a computer for a long time and he still finds that the words do dances and shimmies all of their own devising if he spends too long looking at the screen.

Turns out there’re such things as sleeping scales. Who would have known?  There’s the Chalder Fatigue Scale (CFQ) and the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS).  Don’t you just love all those acronyms.  Basically the Chalder Fatigue Scale is the questionnaire that newly diagnosed CFS patients are asked to fill in assessing their levels of tiredness in order to work out how day-to-day life is going.  Apparently the questions are benign and non threatening…you should try telling that to a man with brain fog like the fog you get when you’re actually inside a cloud. One of the questions actually is “Do you have difficulty concentrating?” There are four columns and you simply select the most appropriate from ‘Better than usual’, ‘No worse than usual’, ‘Worse than usual’ and ‘Much worse than usual’ – which is fine if you can remember what usual actually might be.  The ticks are then scored from 0-3 and mathematical alchemy is applied to determine how fatigued the respondent is.

The Epworth Sleepiness Scale is also based on a questionnaire and just like the CFQ it comes in the pack of papers that voyagers along the treacle path covered, fog filled road of CFS are required to fill in – just at the point where answering daft questions is the last thing they want to do.  So, where are we now…other than knowing what all that paperwork was for?

Well, HWIOO isn’t sleepy, he’s fatigued.  They’re not the same thing. The afternoon nap is a way of controlling feelings of exhaustion which in turn means that HWIOO is able to get on with doing every day things. It follows that if HWIOO doesn’t have an afternoon nap he will continue to feel exhausted and won’t be able to function much beyond three thirty and if he continues not napping he’ll have a relapse – we’re definitely getting better at not reaching those points.

And that’s as far as I’ve got in my reading.  The next step is to dig out the notes that HWIOO was given by his consultant and check that we’re still doing all the things we’re supposed to be doing.

Oh yes – and H is going to be holly.  It’s the right time of the year after all.