Thursday, 30 December 2010

More Seasonal Fun

Boxing Day continued the 'relaxed christmas' theme - mainly spent watching the goldfinches, chaffinches and bluetits on the birdfeeder, (although there is also a magnificant cock-pheasant which comes to help himself to the fallen seed)

Some of us then decided to be energetic and went for a steep and snowy walk down (and back up) the valley near the house.
Other members of the party chose to stay home on the basis that all the white stuff out there was a Sign, indicating that it might be Cold out there...

They might even have been right.

Sadly, the village pub has recvently closed, and we were unable to locate another within walking distance, so were unable to finish our walk with the traditional pint in a nice, warm pub, but were forced to return to the house and drink our own beer instead.

A different selection of people chose to go shopping on Monday. I don;t think they bought anything, but I am not sure - I was not part of the shopping contingent.I was part of a contingent of one, which decided that staying in bed for ages and then having a bath of truy epic length was a much better option...

Then on Tuesday, we met up with my Aunt & Uncle  (who live about 12 miles away) and my cousin A, her husband and two boys, which was lovely - A and M live down in Kent so we don't see them very often. We all went for a slighty damp walk to the Valley of the Rocks, where we  saw some of the feral goats, avoided losing any of the children over the cliffs, and  got some rather lovely atmospheric views before the rain really came down.

And as some of you may have seen on facebook, we hae also spent several evenings looking at slides from when my eldest sister & I were small - leading to much hilarity..

As you can see, I was so photogenic.... (and a good driver!)

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

in Which There are Family Festivities

I arrived in Devon mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve, after a drive through sunlit, snowy landscapes. The view from my parent's house was looking pretty gorgeous, too.

I was the last of the immediate family to arrive, so the decorating of the Christmas Tree was already underway.

We soon had our tree done, as you can see,we kept it pretty minimalist, complete with the 40-year old fairy on the top (who is very much showing her age, but is a part of every family christmas)

The rest of the evening included lots of talk, and food, and wine, and a certain amount of last-minute gift-wrapping.

Christmas morning started early for the contingent which had commmitted itself to ringing for an early morning church service,  but for those of us who had not, the morning started rather later (there being no children in the party) once the first contingent returned. In our family, Christmas stockings are for everyone, not just children, (although everyone tends to contribute) and so everyone ends up with their personal selection of new books,  squeaky balloons, and chocolate.

it was just as well that Father christmas supplied plenty of chocolate, as brekfast (smoked salmon & scrambled eggs, as you asked!) didn't take place until nearly noon. Later in the day, we moved on to gifts, and Christmas dinner, and more conversation, and phone calls to other members of the extended family, and perhaps a certain amount of wine...

It was a lovely, relaxed day.

I hope you all had an equally enjoyable day.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

A Very Happy Merry Day to You!

It's Christmas! So, to all those of you who celebrate it, I wish you a Very Merry Christmas, and to those who don't, a Very Merry Midwinter Day With an Excuse to Eat and Drink a Lot.

This post is going up by the magic of sheduled posting (all being well) but when it posts,  I think we should just about have reached the croissants & bucks fizz (mimosas) for breakfast stage of the day...

I hope you all have a day full of joy, and the company of people whom you love.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Drive By Blog

I had to work this morning, but managed to leave early by dint of (a) working late yesterday (b) arrive g early today (c) Royal Mail requiring last post by 12 and (d) being the boss.

So - dashed home, shoved cat & other perishables into the car & drove to Devon. The drive was much better than I'd feared - not too much traffic,  roads clear of ice until I got to the village my parents live in, and as I came into Devon the sun came out and the views of sunlit, snow covered hills were breath-takingly beautiful.

And I managed the whole drive in daylight.

I was the last of the family to arrive , and during the afternoon we toasted R's success in becoming a 1st Class Nerd, decorated the house and he tree to within an inch of their lives, and ate, and drank.

I am happy.

And do to bed.

I have some nice pictures of snowy Devon, but I am too tired to post them now.

Good Night, all.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

the Birds Are Flying High Tonight

Last night I headed over into deepest Somerset in order to collect our Christmas turkey, which has been wandering around the farm, eating all sorts of interesting things, flying*  and generally doing turkey things, for most of the last 6 -7 months. 
Last weekend, it was called to its forefathers, and last night I went to get its mortal remains, which will be translated into glory on Christmas Day.

The drive over was fine - one or two icy patches on the roads, and some interesting patterns of drifted snow on some of the walls and hedges.

However, arriving in the village, things were a little different. There was absolutely no way I could have got up the lane to J's farm - it is narrow, twisty, and has very unforgiving stone walls and cliffs up both sides, so instead I walked up, and J, out of the kindness of her heart, walked down to meet me:

SCENE:  An Icy lane, by moonlight.

SECOND MYSTERIOUS FIGURE:  (Cradling a swaddled bundle) We must stop meeting like this.
FMF:         You know why I'm here
SMF:         Yes .
FMF:          Do you have it?
SMF:          I do.  (Hands over swaddled bundle) 

They part.                  

I wonder whether cold war spies did this. I felt I ought to be giving a password.                      

*Turkeys are not the most aerodynamic of birds, but if you have a turkey-house at the top of a steepish slope, and the kitchen garden at the bottom, they can show you one hell of a glide. There is nothing like being dive-bombed by low-flying turkeys to reconcile one to the prospect of eating them, I can tell you!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

In which There Are Visitors (And Snow)

So, I had Monday & Tuesday off work, as I had guests.

My plan for Monday went something like this:-
1. Wake up. Revel in the luxury of a Monday morning with no work, and the freedom to sleep late
2. Get up. Wallow in hot bath, then do last minute bed-making and stuff before guests arrive
3. make mince pies
4. Buy bread, milk & cheese, post final parcel
5. Amble down to railway station to  meet guests, walk home with them
6. Give them tea and mince pies, be sociable
7. Have extra friend round, eat, drink and be merry.

I was highly sucessful with items 1-3 on that list, and managed 4, although it was harder work then expected as the streets were quick icy, and it was very cold, and snowing, so walking into town & back was much harder work than usual, and the going to the station disappeared altogether, as guestas were delayed, and in the end got a taxi. However, from then on, things progressed as planned.

As fiends already know, my guests were Jess and Mr Jess. They were due to arrive mid afternoon on Monday, and actually made it around 6, after a journey with many delays - I'm most flattered that they didn't give up half way, to be honest! And they brought wine, and chocoloate, and the poster I had ordered, and which they kindly carried across the Atlantic for me. They are Good Guests, and will be welcome back any time :-) And they entertained Tybalt a lot.
Me & Jess, for the 'pictures or it didn't happen bunch

Cheryl  came over for supper, and brought chocolates. She, too, is a Good Guest.

here was a certain amount of eating, and even some drinking and some making merry. 'Twas fun.

On Tuesday we decied to go & be a bit touristy in Bath. It turns out I suck at being a tour guide. I suggested we see the Herschel museum, but failed to find out in advance that it had, in fact, closed for the winter*. 
Then afterwards I suggested that we go look at the titthe barn in Bradford on Avon, which turned out to be being locked up just as we got there. Still, we did look at the Abbey, and there was a very nice pub lunch with some festive beer, and a nice independent bookshop, so all was not entirely lost.

And the outside of the tithe barn looked pretty in the snow, and we walked a little by the canal, which was frozen, (and we were not foolish enough to try to walk on the ice).

It's possible that there may have been a little more making merry that evening, too.

Sadly, on Wednesday, I had to go back to work, and Jess & Paul to go back to do family Christmassy things, but I enjoyed myself, and hope they did too.

(*Actually, their website doesn't mention that they are closed for the winter either, so I maybe don't suck quite as much as I thought)

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Winter Is Here

It has mosty been a fairly dull week - cold, and uneventful, and I have mainly just been going to work, and trying to remember to go to bed early, being knackered.

Friday, however, was a little more interesting -in the evening was our work Christmas meal, and earlier, we were having snow forecast. It did snow a little - just a sprinkling, enough to make eveything look pretty, but not enough to stop me going out.

I'd left myself a lttle extra time to drive to work, in case of snow or ice, which meant I had time to stop to take a picture or two as the sun came up, as I drove across the hills.

By the time I got home it was much colder, and my enthusiasm for the work Christmas party was rapidly waning - I alwayss end up fretting about what to wear, and the possibility of being over- or under-dressed, and knowing how foolish this is doesn't seem to make much difference. However, once there, I quite enjoyed myself - although I was glad to get home.

I didn't sleep well, and woke up very early; after giving up on the prospect of getting back to sleep I got out of bed and looked out of the window to find that it had snowed, quite heavily (for England) overnight, so I  got up to go out and play in the snow. It was early enough that the sun wasn't yet up, and no-one else had been out, and there is something irresistable about pristine, unmarked snow...
I went down by the stream behind the houses opposite - as you can see, the sun was just coming up and gave everything a pinkish glow.

Livng in a town, as I do, you rarely get to her silence (yes, I know. But you know what I mean) it was lovely to be out with no sound but the creak of the snow as I walked, and birdsong, and the trickle of water from the stream.

As I am quite practically minded, even when admiring the beauties of nature, I took the opporunity to walk down to the paper shop and buy some milk, as I guessed (correctly, as it turned out) that my milkman would probably not be making any deliveries.

On the way, I found myself reminded that even the most prosaic of things, such as a streetlight, can turn out to be unexpectedly beautiful, in the right conditions.                                                                                         

It seemed as though most households were still asleep as I walked past - those few where there were lights on all seemed to be people who had got up early in order to watch the Ashes si as I walked by, in the snow, I could see glimpses of  bright sunshine, and cricketers, as though a little piece of summer was spilling out into the winter landscape, to remind us that all things will pass...

A little later in the morning, as I was making coffee and looking out into the street from the shelter of my nice warm kitchen, I saw the little girl who lives across the road come out of her house. she had, I suppose, just woken up & seen the snow, as she came bouncing out in her pyjamas and wellinigton boots, bouncing around like an excited puppy. (She didn't stay out for long - so I didn't need to get too worried about her lack of proper winter clothing)

I spent most of the rest of the day catchinng up with housework, and then dressing my Christmas tree and wrapping presents, which, together with the snow, put me in a properly festive mood.

Now, if everyone could keep their fingers crossed for the snow to go (and for  no more to fall) by next weekend, so that we can all mae it down to the parent's house for Christmas.... (Once we're all their, it can snow as much as it likes, just not before, please. 'Kay?)

Monday, 13 December 2010

In Which There Is Music

I don't often go to the theatre two nights running, but this week was an exception - Saturday night's 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' being followed on Sunday by a trip back to Bath to see Handel's 'Messiah', performed by The 18th Century Concert Orchestra who perform in period dress and on period instruments.
It was wonderful!

It's a while since I have seen any classical or choral music live, and this reminded me what a great experience it can be.

I enjoyed the fact that all the musicians were in period dress, each of them slightly different, and with slightly different wigs (although no real macaroni or beaus among them!)

The orchestra consisted of 5 violins, 1 vola, 2 cellos, a double bass, a harpsichord, an oboe, 2 trumpets and a timpanist on kettle drums, and there was a 13 person choir. The aim was to provide a concert which sounded as it would have done when Messiah was premiered, in 1741 - I am not (obviously) in a postion to say how successful they were on that front, but I'm willing to take in on trust - the rest of it was spot on!

I had been feeling tired and wasn't over-enthusiastic about going, but I am so glad that I did!

All in all, an excellent evening out.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

In Which There is Shakespeare

I spent most of Saturday being moderately lazy - fair bit of reading, some gift wrapping (Tybalt "helped" with that, so the  recipients will get some bonus cat-hairs and, in at least one case, tooth marks) I shall have to finish the wrapping and then, on Monday,  make a trip to the Post Office to get all the parcels which have to go by post sent off.

This year, I have done quite well as far as the 'remembering to buy things which don't weigh too much if they will have to go by post' side of things go, not so well on the 'buy things which are nice reguar shapes and thus easy to wrap' side. Oh well.

I then spent the evening at the theatre, to see The Merry Wives of Windsor at Bath. The production is one which was originally at the Globe, and is now touring. It had a big cast, and was performed in period Elizabethan dress and with it's own minstrels gallery (on top of the half-timbered house which formed the main set). There were 5 or 6 minstrels who appeared to be playing period instruments - some of them, at least. I am not sure whether the kettle-drums and triangle were common in Elizabethan times, but one person was playing what I think was a rebec, another a hautboy, and another instrument which I coldn't identify - a very long-necked string instrument.

I enjoyed myself, although there was a lot of over-acting going on, which gave the whole thing a somewhat pantomimic feel - with touches of Blackadder and a soupcon of 'Allo 'Allo.

The theatre was pretty full, and the play enthusiastically recived.(although in the case of the 2 ladies sitting immediately behind me, I think that part of their enthusiasm must be attributed to the fact that they had clearly been enjoying a drink or 6 first, to the point where a man wering tights was hysterically funny....)

Tonight I am going back the the theatre for some candlelit music. And also trying to remember how to set the video recorder, as I see thaey are showing Ptrick Stewart's Macbeth tonight on BBC4.

Friday, 10 December 2010

In Which It is a Bit Chilly

We haven't  had any more snow, which is a relief, but it has been very cold, so the hoar frost didn't melt, most days, so we ended up with frost  on frost. Chilly, but very pretty!
I have spent most of the week busy with work stuff, which is time consuming but doesn't make for terribly interesting bloggage.

I did, however, get to see my parents, who came to stay overnight on Wednesday, en route to a funeral. It was good to see them,  and gave me an excuse to make a nice hearty casserole (Beef in Guinness, if you're interested)

Although this week has been relatively uneventful, I do have lots of nice things to look forward to.

Tomorrow  evening  I shall be heading into Bath to the Theatre Royal to see The Merry Wives of Windsor - the production is the one which was on at the Globe Theatre, and is now touring. It should be fun.

And then, on Sunday evening, I am going back to Bath, back to the Theatre Royal, to see Handel's Messiah . Every year, around this time, there is a performance of The  Messiah by musicians using period instruments,  in period costume, by candlelight.  I've been wanting to go for several years, but as it is only on for one night, I've never managed to be organised enough to get a ticket, before.

Then, on Tuesday, I shall be going to see the historian, Bethany Hughes, talkng about her new book about Socrates.

Should be fun.

And of course, the week after that, I shall have lovely, fiendish guests :-)

Sunday, 5 December 2010

In Which There Are Medlars

So, those of you who follow me on twitter may remember that several weeks ago I bought some Medlars (left) becuase they seemed interesting, and then when I got home I looked them up to see how they should be cooked or eaten.

They are not very attractive fruit. Apparently they were, in medieval times, known as cats arse fruit, (and in French they are cul de chien which is no better)
And, as I learned, you can't use them stright away, but have to wait until they have "bletted" - effectively this means waiting for them to start to rot.. they go darker, and much softer.

I had some reservations, but decided to press on, having aquired the things, so they have spent the last few weeks sitting in  a paper bag in the shed, bletting away to themselves, and today I decided it was time to move on. The most common recipie seems to be for Medlar jelly, so that's what I decided to make, although you can eat them raw, or bake them, or make 'cheese' out of them.

They looked even less appetising when I cut them up: completely borwn inside, whereas the flesh is white (like an apple) before they are bletted, but I did taste one - a rather unplesant 'wooly' texture, but the taste was OK - a bit like spiced apple,.

The recipie I used also included apple, and was pretty straightforward - you cut up the apple and medlars and simmer in water until they go soft, then strain them overnight before boiling up the juice with some sugar and a little lemon juice.

I ended up wih more liquid than I'd expected (the recipie didn't specifiy, just said to use enough to cover the fruit) so I was concerned that the jelly might not set, but it does appear to be doing so.

I haven't tasted the jelly yet, but it looks pretty. Mine is a little cloudy, but I think that is purely aesthetic, and won't affect the taste.  It apparently goes well with game or lamb (as one might use redcurrant jelly) but I suspect it might be rather nice on toast, too. 

And on a cold, icy, day there are worse things to do than to fill the house with a warm, spiced-apple aroma!

Thursday, 2 December 2010


It is very, very cold.
Not, of course, for those of you in truly cold places such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Iowa, but cold-for-England. It's about -3 celsius, And feels every degree of it.

Lots of parts of the country have had snow - unusually early and heavy. We had a sprinkling on Friday night, and a little more on Monday night - just a few milimetres, but enough, having frozen overnight, to make driving the first little bit of the way to work ....interesting.

On Monday,when I had a day off , I went into Bath to do some Christmas shopping. Bath has a Christmas Market, which runs for about 3 weeks - lot of craftspeople, selling all sorts of lovely things and interesting foodstuffs. I managed to finish off most of my shopping, which is a relief - I like giving people things,and the pleasure of trying to find thibgs which he recipient will really like, but I hate crowds, and don't much like shopping, so shopping in crowds is definitely not my thing!

Then on Thursdaay, having watched most of the rest of the country being half buried in snow, and been lulled into a false sense of security, I woke up to find that it had snowed properly overnight.

I was a little worried, as I was due to go to  meeting the other side of Bath, and there are rather a lot of hilly bits in between, but as it turned out, once I got out onto the main road the roads were all pretty clear, and the countryside was looking pretty.

Coming home was less fun, though - I found that the roads leading into my street had had just enough traffic to ensure that the snow had been compacted down into ice, which was starting to freeze...

Driving on an ice rink is not my idea of fun. (At least in my own car and with lots of things to hit) It's forecast to be colder than ever tonight.