Saturday, 13 December 2014

57: Life in a Chateau

Anyone need a quiet weekend in the country? If there are about 30 of you, I'd recommend the Chateau de Halloy near Ciney in Belgium. Our walking club usually takes over a Youth Hostel for a weekend in December, but this was a giant step up. Watch out YHA, we'll never be quite happy there again!

Thursday, 27 November 2014


A really Beautiful Thing happened yesterday: I volunteer with home-start and for various reasons have gone back to supporting the family I saw earlier this year. I went with Mum to collect the nearly-5-year-old from school, with great excitement she told her friends "That's Jane, she's my (too old for her or Mum's friend, wrong colour for Granny)... my Jane"  a totally unique category just for me.
Anyone with time to spare should look at Homestart, a brilliant, useful and rewarding charity.
The second B T is that R got distinction for his final OU module, so a First, not really a surprise.
Primroses and winter jasmine out at the same time.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

56: Crawl, Trolls.

A few years ago I decided it was time to learn to do front crawl, in the days I learnt to swim, once you were competent at one stroke that was it. I started with breast-stroke & picked up back crawl, but never mastered front crawl. I used to go to Swimfit, where there was a coach willing to help & still struggled but something's clicked & I managed 10 lengths of crawl without a break, and not gasping for air at the end. But my breast-stroke's still faster!
When L&A were little, the railway-sleeper bridge over the ditch to the common was naturally the troll bridge, we often saw heard him but never got eaten. A new generation of little girls has found this too, they have to be very brave as it's the only way into the Gruffalo's wood.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Fungal Jungle

Just back from a brilliant weekend on Dartmoor, mostly clear and sunny after an inauspicious forecast. The wet weather had encouraged an impressive selection of fungi. My Great Nephew would have loved them!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Yet More Books!

These three were all book-club choices, and very good ones. Some confusion over the first meant we all had to read the whole trilogy thank goodness!
Barker:The Regeneration Trilogy ( Regeneration, The Eye In the Door and The Ghost Road) follows several characters including poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon through treatment for shell shock in Craiglockhart Hospital under the charismatic (real) Dr William Rivers with his controversial view that shell shock was an illness rather than lack on moral fibre. Several other stories intertwine. Read all three, they’re compelling.
Kathleen Kent: The Heretic’s Daughter (+The Traitor’s Wife) Excellent tale of a woman who was charged with being a witch in Salem, and her reasons for not defending herself. The hysteria and assumption of guilt are terrifying. The second book was the back-story of her husband and his place in Cromwell’s England. Many very well described characters and beautiful descriptions.
Markus Zusak  The Book Thief,  Nazism from the point of view of children, (as narrated by Death) one of whom develops a passion for books after picking up “The Gravedigger’s Manual” then being mortified at school for her inability to read. Her foster family shelter a Jew who further inspires her to read and write. Funny in parts, heartbreaking in others, beautifully written and an original slant on a well-known tale.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

More books

Pat Gibbon:Ghosts Of Dunkirk is self published by a neighbour. It’s the recollections of his uncle, as related to him, of being sent to France, half trained at the start of WW2, of being abandoned and taken prisoner. His struggle for survival as a POW , with slave labour, near starvation, lack of medical care and disregard of the Geneva Convention by his captors makes harrowing reading in places. After release and the almost fatal march from Poland to Belgium he returns to England and the Army. The final insult is when he’s had up on a charge for hitting an Italian POW who obstructs him in some deliveries. The story is good with some lovely descriptions but very long, and would benefit from a professional editor. It gives real human background and “domestic” detail of the awful conditions, a useful addition to anyone studying or interested in WW1
Kipling, Puck of Pook’s Hill. Recommended by someone doing Hadrian’s Wall MOOC, not very original now but maybe it was one of the first timetravel stories for children. Too heavy and educational for today’s generation, but I’m working all through Kipling. 
Kesey:One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest has been a huge gap in my education, why haven’t I read it before, or even seen the film? It’s brilliant once you get used to the Americanisms and colloquial style. The characters evolve totally believably towards the conclusion but you’re never quite sure what drove Mack. Some evocative descriptions.

Reading Time

Retirement is meant to be a time of leisure, somebody said that, but having started with plenty of reading time, books have taken a second , or third, place to crafts and the garden.
I'm in two bookclubs which helps, but still would like more hours each day.

Jamie Andrew:Life and Limb, how he lost his best friend, Jamie Fisher and all four limbs in a freak snow storm in the Alps, the one that caused the devastating avalanche near Chamonix in 1999. He takes you through the fatal expedition, near despair and finally almost-too-late rescue. His girlfriend and the other Jamie's father hear that only one of the lads has survived. He then goes through his amputations and rehabilitation, including prosthetic arms with built in ice-axes, I suspect his prosthetists regarded him as a wonderful challenge. Not in the least self-pitying, he’s an inspiration to anyone with difficulties or physical disability.

Panek:Seeing and Believing was recommended by someone on my Moons MOOC, about the invention of the telescope and its implications for our changing perspective of ourselves. It’s a bit rambling but good in places. Interesting for the enthusiast who doesn’t already know it all.Andrew Motion: In the Blood is a memoir of childhood, I hope just the first part of his autobiography. As you’d expect from an ex-poet laureate he’s good with words. Beautifully written with many descriptions of the countryside and his changing attitudes, it also rings an awful bell for anyone who’s been to boarding school. It starts at the sudden end of childhood when his mother suffers a severe head injury. We don’t find out what happens, although I can imagine.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Chestnuts, cranberries and the dreaded sprouts!

It's really been a brilliant year for sweet chestnuts, a lovely wet spring  started them well. The trees at the end of our road have proper shop-sized ones, not the usual mousey ones, worm-free too. How sad that conkers are suffering so badly from the leaf miner, really positive to get school children involved in the research. How many will end up in related careers? Back to the edible ones, if you have to many to roast and eat now, drop them in a saucepan boil for a couple of minutes then leave them for half an hour, take out a few at a time and they peel easily while still warm. Ready to freeze for the turkey. I've just found a large one on my desk from a visit to Chartwell on Sunday, by today (Wednesday) it's quite dried out, I wonder what the importers do to them to keep them fresh.
Make Brussels sprouts edible, don't overcook them, slightly crunchy is best then toss them in butter, ground black pepper and a handful each of chestnut pieces and cranberries (frozen is fine). Sizzle gently until the cranberries turn them a festive magenta.
On the theme of cranberries, L has a passion for cranberry sauce, could eat a whole jar with a veggiething and roast potatoes, so I came up with a recipe for home-made which works quite well, it's on my post about chutney, have a go and enjoy it.


Some of my gardening friends have complained of large creatures in the night digging up their lawns, maybe foxes or badgers, both common round here. The RHS suggested that chafer bugs are the most likely quarry. A real problem as our beautiful British may-bug is increasingly rare, partly because of pesticides, partly competition from the less attractive European_chafer. To the untrained eye the stag-beetle larva looks similar. This spectacular chap also lives in lawns, but is endangered and protected. Some live in my beetle sanctuary, a pile of logs rotted while waiting to be stacked in the garage. It's a real pleasure to find a mature one, so keep protecting and providing for them! A few holes in your lawns must be a small price, maybe if everyone had beetle sanctuaries they'd leave the lawns alone.

Thursday, 16 October 2014


Did anyone see the lunar eclipse last week? I missed it, I suspect it was cloudy again, but luckily NASA'a Messenger, currently orbiting Mercury, was more on the ball. You can see it on the planetary society's blog. The insignificant white blob is us, the moon is the teeny-weeny one which disappears. Puts us and our worries in a different context, doesn't it?

Monday, 13 October 2014

Stained Glass

I'm still beavering away at more AdEd classes than I can really fit into a week, stained glass, fused glass, drawing (with the amazing claire harrison), pottery and Early Civilisations from to proper civilisations. And a MOOC on Hadrian's Wall, planning to walk it next year.

This is last term's project, a mirror for L&N. Huge fun to do. I could take comissions, but not cheap.                                                          Anyone interested?


The butterfly and flower centres are fused glass. Coming soon, my next one has more, and some painting.


I put a giant puffball the other day, here's a giant mouse, carved into a rough bench. I love to think of him coming alive at full moon to eat picnic scraps, even tidying away rubbish; maybe watched The Wombles as a mouseling.

Thursday, 2 October 2014


Corfe Castle must be one of the most recognised monuments in the south of england, so it's always a pleasure to take a bronze DofE group there, particularly if the route involves checkpointing from one of the excellent tea shops and a nice group of girls.

Wandering along the coastal ridge among the skylarks is a high point!

Monday, 29 September 2014

"Here Be Dragons"

There are often Dragons on Medieval Maps, do you doubt their veracity? Here are some that were lurking in Woking's Adult Education pottery studio.

The first is a practice one, the next the start of a set depicting Water, Earth Air & Fire. The last two are waiting to be discovered. The eyes are fused dichroic glass, I think they work quite well.

Lazy! Yummy, Random, Size?

I've got really lazy about this blog, and like cleaning, the longer you leave it the easier it is to put it off, so no more faffing!
I have been really busy, and not getting better, don't let anyone tell you retirement is restful. The garden's looking better, I have dozens of jars of various jams, jellies and chutneys, our local garden club is having a tasting session soon as we've all used each other's produce.
One of the most successful discoveries has been fruit vinegar, inspired by a raspberry balsamic glaze L brought from Bologna. My variety is elderberry:
4 oz elderberries leave stalks, but remove spiders)
1 pint vinegar (if you use white you end up with a wonderful claret colour)
   soak for 4-7 days, mashing occasionally.
   strain through a jelly bag (unlike jellies, it's OK to squeeze it to speed it up)
4 oz sugar, dissolve then boil until about 1/2 the volume.
   Brilliant on salad, cheese or vegetables, Use in dressings or even on fruit or ice-cream.

I can't go too long without a flower photo, this zinnia was in I&T's garden, with tutu and OTT hairstyle

For anyone immature enough to find these things amusing, I might collect a few more!

No L, you can't have it! I came across these while waiting for a bronze DofE group, they all wanted the little one too.

The biggest I've seen, I never quite believed in Edmund Blunden's Giant Puffball until now.

And so I gathered mightiness and grew 
With this one dream kindling in me, that I 
Should never cease from conquering light and dew 
Till my white splendour touched the trembling sky. 

It would have been interesting to watch it for a few days to see whether it did touch the sky, I suspect only as millions of spores.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014


Having made jams and jellies for years , and given almost all the jam away as we rarely eat it, I thought it was time to try chutney, it's such a treat to be given some of someone else's home made. Why haven't I done it before? it's so much easier than jam. It's been quite popular, so here are my recipes, modified from various recipes. I'm of the Jamie Oliver "slop a bit of this and handful of that school) I've made lots of different ones, my excuse for not posting for so long.
Feel free to pinch and enjoy them.

      Cinnamon and Cranberry, something between jam and jelly, not really a chutney as no vinegar.
      It's brilliant with Brie.
                2 lb cranberries (frozen is fine)
                scant 1 oz cinnamon bark (big chunks, to be removed)
                1/2 pint water boil until soft
                 add 2 pints apple/grape juice (boil skin&cores of apples you've frozen for crumble and                                                                         grapes if you have a free source, the colour's wonderful in                                                                       1pint/pound of water then strain overnight through a                                                                               jellybag)
                add 3lb sugar and boil until it sets (get a jam thermometer!)

        Tomato Chutney 
                2-3lb tomatoes, any sort/colour, peeled and chopped. Leave the seeds in.
                1lb very finely chopped onions
                8oz very finely chopped apple
                8oz sultanas
                1/2 pint vinegar
                10oz sugar
                1 teaspoon salt
                 spices1:1/2 teaspoon chilli powder, 4 cloves,2 tsp fennel seeds, 2tsp coriander seeds,
                      2 tsp mustard seeds, 2tsp ginger powder and 2 tsp peppercorns, (crush solid ones)
                      spices2: 2tsp each cinnamon, allspice, ginger, cumin and coriander
              boil onion and spices (1 for spice, 2 for mild) with a little of the vinegar and the salt, when
              it's soft add apple, tomatoes and sultanas. When this is soft add the sugar and the rest of the
             vinegar then boil until it thickens, not as hot as jam but still take 1/2 an hour or so.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Illustrating for Children.

I was chatting to laura about illustration the other day, and about how it's regarded as a poor relation by "real" artists. How is it that you are paid hundreds of thousands for a splodge of white paint on white canvas, or a pickled corpse or even a urinal made in a factory, but the imaginative and talented artwork designed to inspire our next generation is only worth a few hundred at most. We seem to be happy to give the most important jobs of all, like teaching, to someone paid peanuts. Is this how little we value our children?

Friday, 15 August 2014

Not 56!

We should have been setting off at 4.30 tomorrow morning to try the Three Peaks, for those of you out there sensible enough not to know about it, you have to do Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon within 24 hours. A tall order, almost impossible if like us you're using a minibus limited to 62mph.The weather forecast is for 65mph winds and sleet on B Nevis, so it was called off. People regularly die up there from losing the path along a  narrow stretch with fatal drops on one side, near fatal on the other. OK if you have a compass and some visibility, but in the dark with gales not so good. We might try again.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Les Arcs: flowers

Here's a small selection of the wonderful flowers we found. Sorry if I slowed everyone by taking photos, but I couldn't ignore them all. It's taken ages to identify them, not convinced they're all right.

Parnassia palustris, marsh grass of Parnassus, so beautiful you really have to get on your knees in the bogs to see it properly, or is that just me? It's named for Orpheus' mountain home.

Linaria alpina, Alpine toadflax looks unreal in its colour mix, but no photoshop was used in the making of this post.

a ranunculus, not sure which one.


Edelweiss, Leontopodium alpinum, more small lion's paw than white, clean or bright! 

Brilliant colour combination, Bavarian-Gentian Gentiana bavarica, with a buttercup.

Round Headed Orchid, Traunsteinera globosa, the first of several new-to-me ones. The 'hairy' appearance is striking, from a distance mimics scabeous.

No idea, didn't fit any of the photos or descriptions in my books. any ideas anyone?

Common Twayblade, Neottia ovata, is very widespread but small, camouflaged and shy.

Burnt Orchid, another new one, Neotinea ustulata. It's quite similar to the endangered Lady orchid, but lip narrower and smooth.

Epipactis atrorubens, the Dark Red Helleborine, yet another new-to-me.

Not-very-Common not-always-Spotted, an old favourite,Dactylorrhyza fuchsii.

Nigritella nigra, Black Vanilla and Nigritella rubra  Rosy Vanilla Orchids (another new one). Although variably dark the Little-Black black isn't really, not very vanilla-ish either (although the books say it has a strong vanilla scent) ...

unlike the Fragrant orchid, Gymnadea conopsea, with a strong-when-warm scent of sweetness, vanilla, spice and generic flowers: wonderful!

Frog orchid, Coeloglossum viride, I suspect it's not as rare as its reputation, just small and camouflaged. This one was lurking under a shrubby willow, so found by chance.

Strange hairy mushroom with a smiley ace!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Les Arcs: creatures...small

Alpine marmot, Marmota marmota, one of the better rodents, living in burrows in the rocks. They're well camouflaged but give themselves away by their curious whistling call.

Too many beetles to identify this chap, but always good for photos.

A harvestman, no idea which, related to spiders but just one pair of eyes and joined abdomen and thorax.

Les Arcs: walks

A walking holiday, so that's what we did. Day One: Les Cinq Lacs, up 1,200m  hard work when we'd just                           arrived at altitude. At the top the lakes were brilliant, well worth the struggle.

Alpine ibex, Capra ibex, not very clear but at the limit of my zoom.

Next good walk, up and over to an isolated church near Bourg-Saint-Maurice

Lavishly decorated inside, recently renovated. Very unlike our more subtle colours, a fine depiction of John the Baptist losing his head over a lady but ne'er a gargoyle.

Back up to the top and home

      past extraordinary rock formations, including the Clocherai, pretending to be a church with bell-tower