Life, photos but not the universe

Pond hunting

I keeping opening the new post box and looking at it for a while and then shutting it again.  Well, really!  What a wuss.

So here I am, writing SFA about starting a new post (I think you might call this bloggers’ block?).  Later I might delete this bit.

I have been feeling very slightly dizzy from time to time.  Since I had labyrinthitis (something weird in the ears that makes you dizzy*) a couple of years ago and was unable to walk anywhere for a week without support (usually Barney – he’s never done so much shopping in his life before or since) and was warned at the time that it tended to recur, I suspect that it’s trying to do so.  Of course it might be half a dozen other, much more alarming things but I don’t want to know if it is and anyway, the simplest explanation that fits most of the facts etc etc.  As far as I know I haven’t had any viruses  (virii?) which might have triggered it but then I hadn’t last time either so that doesn’t mean much.

Anyway, I’ve tried to drink less and sleep more.  And I’ve attacked the wax in my ears with something oily and dribbly (irritating stuff however useful it is).   It’s not getting any worse – maybe even a bit better.  When I last had it, they gave me sea-sickness tablets (essential I promise you) and told me that a side effect might be not sleeping well.  I can’t help but notice that there’s been a bit of not sleeping well going on concurrently with the present dizziness – of course it could be a cause or it cold be completely coincidental.  But also I can’t help wondering if people taking sea-sickness tablets for labyrinthitis  might have reported sleep difficulties, not realising that the sleep was already disturbed before they started taking the tablets – it’s not particularly soporific feeling the world swinging round as you lie there and it’s definitely not relaxing opening your eyes and finding that the sensation (still) isn’t imaginary.    Thankfully I’m not at that stage – just getting a faint sense of having turned further than I intended from time to time and occasionally misjudging the distances round doors and cupboards.  Making sure I’m firmly seated before leaning down to tie shoelaces (I have been made aware that it looks funny if you fall on your nose when reaching down to do up your shoes but I’m not enough of a clown to be prepared to do it again).

Anyway, since I’m not incapacitated I did an early(ish) morning walk yesterday as the Beeb weather site had promised me sunshine and possiblyfrost and I’d found a new pond on google maps.  The map showed a track nearby but no signs of footpaths leading past it so I took my walking stick.  This is a wonderful thing, made by Barney when he was in his wood turning and stick making phase, and has a nice handle for hitching brambles out of the way and is tremendously helpful when you’re walking along a muddy rutted track, not paying the slightest attention to where your feet are going** – like having an extra leg with a third eye on the end of it.  And it’s a great help when scrambling over broken barbed wire fences and under growth, especially if  you aren’t completely confident about staying upright.  It’s also a thing of beauty, made of Yew wood and having a lovely reddish-golden colour and creamy markings on the elegantly shaped handle and even a few whorls and knobbles to give it character.

The pond, when I found it, was predictably enclosed within a depressingly well maintained and sturdy wire and post fence but there was a fallen tree which made it possible to climb over.  Quite a nice pond – almost a small lake in fact – but not in itself worth another visit.  But there was a deer path through bracken and birch saplings and a splendid half-hidden tree.

I’m not a very good person to walk with.  I don’t walk very fast (something to do with smoking and various worn out parts) and I’m prone to stopping suddenly and reversing without warning, also to plunging down tiny paths and then changing my mind and coming back, also without warning.  In mid-conversation I’ll stop and say look at that hill/tree/cloud/church on the (distant) horizon, I wonder how we could get there by road.  Or just stop and look abstracted for several minutes as well as exhibiting all the previously mentioned behaviours.  I can happily spend an hour wandering backwards and forwards and round and round  a particularly interesting spot, taking dozens or hundreds of photos and trying dozens of different settings in case the one I started with wasn’t quite right.  Occasionally I try the view from hands and knees or sitting down (not as often as I used to – these days I have to be very sure that the ground level view will be worth all the groaning and creaking)  and I’m quite capable of abandoning the whole thing because the light has changed and there’s somewhere different to go.

This is probably the sort of place where you don’t want your companion to suddenly change direction muttering something about a deer path

And this is the sort of place where me and the dog used to get our feet and lead tangled up a lot since both of us were prone to suddenness and neither of us wanted to walk in the bracken and brambles


Fairy (or more likely, Goblin) tree trying to hide in plain sight

Even more Grimm Brothers in B&W

Oh good heavens – enough wittering.  Time to cook dinner.

*I was told by one doctor that it makes all the little hairs in your curly, fluid filled, bit of ear, fall over and by another that they go every which way without regard to the direction in which the fluid is swirling as you change orientation; whichever it is it confuses the brain.  Never difficult in my case.

**because it’s easy to miss gaps in the hedges and woods through which an elusive pond might be seen or even approached.

November 30, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 7 Comments

It’s gone a bit quiet

hasn’t it?

It’s probably the British Wintertime.  People must be curling up and going to sleep at four o’clock instead of writing posts and taking pictures and generally keeping the www buzzing.  I hope it’s that anyway.

Well I’ve had a very busy day.  I got up ridiculously early and went out with the camera, then I came back and sat around in a daze for an hour or two  and uploaded photos and got changed.  Then I made another pork pie (a single big one this time – talk of eggs in one basket – now I have nine tenths of an egg left over and I’m wondering whether to add it to the ‘orkshire mixture).  Then I prepared potatoes and lots of veg for dinner and put one tenth of the egg on top of the pie and cooked it some more (the pie – the egg was just for brushing on top).  Then I sat down here and found that only three people had posted anything since last time I looked.  Then I played the fiddle for a while and then I lay down and thought appropriate Alexander type thoughts about my back.

Meanwhile (from nine tenths of an egg onwards), I drank wine, had a serial sneeze or twenty and lost track of  when which bits of dinner should be in which oven and for how long.  I expect most people have a top and bottom oven and know that the top oven rarely reaches the heights of temperature that the bottom oven happily exceeds.  There are times when I feel that advanced maths would be a help in deciding what to put in which oven, when and for how long.  (probably those times are related to the times when three or more glasses of wine have been consumed – though, as everyone knows, red wine is good for the brain.  Yes?  Oh dear.  I may have exceeded the good amount and moved into the excessive amount but that’s not a problem as long as I have noted down how long each thing should be in which oven at which temperature – um).

It was ok.  The timings all worked. And I don’t think the serial sneezing was the first sign of having caught Little Middle’s cold since it hasn’t happened again.  However, I dropped the rest of the egg so it didn’t go in the ‘orkshires.

Now it’s Tuesday and raining.  I meant to get up at a perfectly reasonable time this morning but last night I decided that it really is time to get a few new pictures up on Red Bubble for printing as cards ready for the unmentionable season.  I used to take the season seriously and went to all kinds of trouble and photoshopping lengths to produce whitish looking pictures.  Last year I gave up on that and had a canal selection (most of our canal holidays last year were enjoyed on ice anyway).  This year I just can’t be bothered.  They’ll be just as they come and won’t look particularly seasonal.  It was a Victorian innovation anyway, Christmas cards.  I am not a Victorian.  Come to think of it, one of Barney’s elderly Aunties used to send homemade cards with little bits cut out of photos of her garden.  Like a bit of paving stone or a scrap of compost heap.  They didn’t try to be seasonal or arty or even pretty.  In fact they were slightly baffling.  I’m not sure if the fact that she was a rabid socialist had any relevance.

Well anyway, instead of getting up at any sort of time this morning I overslept.  It was rather nice.

The other day I suddenly realised that the tiny row of trees on the skyline below

are some of these.  No, it’s the other way round, these are some of those.   Well I found this very exciting but on reflection I quite understand if you don’t.

This is another place on the way home from the last place.

All the golden and russet leaves will have been stripped by now I should think, it’s been very wild and wet and windy down here.  Winter looms.  I hope you’re all ready for it.

November 21, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Books, cooks and er, no, nothing else that rhymes.

Top on the Amazon top hundred books list last month – Watch over me by Danielle Sacerdoti.  This was our choice for book group tonight and it told us something about the kind of people that click on the stars or whatever Amazon count to make their lists.  It was just as well that until last night I’d forgotten to read it so, as it’s a very quick and easy read, I was just about able to finish it in time and remember what it was about.

What I did admire about it was the number of clichés and stereo-types the author managed to contain quite seamlessly in such a short book.  Every single character was a perfect caricature, every scene was a picture postcard.  And there was a young woman without a baby and a young man with an abandoned daughter.  All very neatly tied together with pink and blue coincidental ribbons.

There was also a bafflingly irrelevant prologue and a sweet, kind, no-nonsense, Scottish,  granny ghost just to add a floss of sugar to the syrup.  Oh and what really annoyed me was that the title really didn’t fit.  I mean there was watching over but no ‘Me.’  It’s a dreadful book.

Oddly enough I have recently read another short book whose chief protagonist was a young woman returning to her to her Scottish roots and which had a sort of ghost.  This one was a bit better and certainly wasn’t predictable.    And come to think of it there was a third one I read a month or so ago which was also about a young woman returning to ….. in fact memory is flooding back!  There are dozens of books about these young women, indeed Scotland must be overrun with them if any of these authors are writing from experience   (Remind me, if I ever admit to thinking about writing a novel, that the return of young women to their Scottish roots is a cliché.)

Well I thankfully returned to The Healing Art by A N Wilson and finished that as well.  Oddly enough one of the things we were discussing tonight was how exasperating it is that stories about young women who have fertility problems or lose their children almost always end with the birth of a baby and then blow me if The Healing Art didn’t end with one too.  But no Scottish roots or completed circles or anything like that so it was sort of acceptable.

Then I read Eight months on Gazzah Street by Hilary Mantel.  I really, really rate Hilary Mantel as an author and this one (somewhere between psychological thriller and journalistic truth, set in Jeddah in the eighties – some time after the Helen Smith tragedy) was as gripping and disturbing and harrowing as I could have wished so now I’m happy.   Only I can’t think what to read next that won’t be an awful letdown.  Which is fine because I really ought to be doing something more useful than reading.  Um.  Well something anyway.

So I had a quick TED fix which was quite enchanting.  Whether this idea will come to the wider world I don’t know.  I rather hope so.

And now Barney is cooking dinner.  I’ve given a number of instructions, carefully disguised as casual comments and it’s all going to be fine.  When he’s in total cooking mode, he’s quite unbeatable but when he cheerfully says “shall I cook tonight” this can mean that he won’t be giving dinner his full attention and will do things like mashing cold potatoes or cooking the pork crackling in its fat instead of on a rack.  He just forgets that he knows things.

We’ve been watching master chef in the last week or two (while we eat – very entertaining) and I’m never quite sure if he’s going to invent something exotic or stick to something that he knows will work.  And how either choice will turn out.

Anyway, we’ve both indulged in several glasses of wine – he because he’s cooking and me because, er, he’s cooking, and we’ve had one of those in vino moments when all is right with the world and each other.  The veritas will be in the tasting and I’m sure it’ll be lovely.

Flavours of beech, oak and larch with a dash of bracken, in a story as old as – I was going to say Time but probably only as old as trees.  (Sorry, it only takes a couple of brown leaves and I go all poetical)

Edit: That is to say a couple of brown leaves and a couple of glasses of wine.

November 17, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 8 Comments

To much wool and too many parts.

I like natural fabrics and particularly the expensive ones like silk and cashmere (not that I ever buy them new) and it’s definitely the season for wool.  Unfortunately, cashmere and angora mixes do shed a lot and the light fluffy fibres do float about a bit and blow me if some doesn’t inevitably get in my mouth.  Pth!  When I see Nigella flashing her cashmere in the kitchen, I wince, not out of concern for the lovely woollie but at the thought of floating fluff in her soup.  On top of that, whenever I spend an afternoon with Little Middle, she loves hiding one or both of us under her (slightly smelly) comfort blanket so I end up sounding like an exasperated cat, thpitting and hithing crothly.  She finds this extremely funny.

I shan’t stop wearing them though because they are so warm and comfortable.  And of course I shan’t stop Little Middle hiding us under her blanket though I might suggest to her Mum that it’s due for a wash.

Anyway I’ve been distracted for the last couple of days by Pergolesi’s Concertino in G.  A pretty baroque piece which the Saturday Music group have been trying to play, on and off, for years but we’re always defeated by the fact that the printers chose to put four violin parts on two staves.  With some music (and some players) it’s perfectly feasible to single out one line from the interwoven pair but we have never been able to so I decided to write them out separately and actually, it hasn’t been easy to work out which notes belonged to which part even given time to study it note by note!  And Sibelius (no, the music programme, not the composer) is very helpful about choosing for you whether a note is going to be a higher or lower octave only Mr Pergolesi seems, almost invariably, to have chosen the opposite to that which Sibelius thinks it should be so I spent a lot of time moving notes up and down.  And Mr P also liked alternate notes dotted (staccato) so I couldn’t just select a whole row of notes and dot them all at once.  It’s a bit like using photoshop – it’s quite astonishing what clever things these programmes will do for you but it’s never exactly what you want!

See?  It’s quite complicated though very pretty.  Come to think of it, a pianist would probably have no problem.  Me, I have to stop and think before playing two notes at once, I’m always impressed by the way keyboard players can read two lines of music and play several notes at the same time with each hand and even do two pedals with their feet.  As for organists – I can’t believe they don’t have a Pratchett style imp hidden inside the machine to move the stops and all those other things they have to do.

Never mind, after three days of intensive brain and eye strain I’ve finally done it.  And amazingly all the parts ended in the same place.  I feel quite impressed with myself and I hope the group will be too!   There are one or two slight errors – mainly that halfway through it I inadvertently reversed the order of the Violin 2 parts and then I couldn’t work out how to put them back so half the second violins will suddenly find their part unexpectedly exciting while the other half get rather bored.  Actually I’ve just thought of a way I could do it but I’ve printed the parts now and I can’t be bothered.  At least, not till we’ve played it and found out how many other mistakes I’ve made – there are bound to be loads,  it’s amazing how many things there are that can get missed and misplaced, especially if you’re reading from something that makes you go cross-eyed in the first place.

Now I shall uncross my eyes, spit out some more wool and have a cup of tea.  And look at something easier.




(And in case you wondered, we did manage to play it all the way through and hardly got lost at all.  And it all worked.  I am so clever.)

November 13, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Roast beef and ‘Orkshires

Some time ago I bought a rib of beef (Dexter, which is a very small breed and is entirely suitable for an elderly couple for Sunday dinner).  However, somebody came unexpectedly to dinner and we cooked something different and the beef went into the freezer.

On Wednesday, Eldest phoned and said he and Gorgeous Italian Girlfriend (Gigi) were coming to stay this weekend.  Furthermore, he thought it would be nice if it was a surprise for his Dad so we agreed to keep the visit secret.

The beef has been weighing on my mind a little, abandoned as it is in the freezer and for some unfathomable reason this caused me to plan Beef for dinner when Eldest came, since, without doubt, all the siblings would want to come too and see him.  Of course, a single rib of beef is quite inadequate for something between five and nine for dinner so we bought three ribs and looked forward to a roast with ‘orkshires and lots of children, grandchildren and conviviality.  I know, this was not a good way to deal with the languishing beef in the freezer.

As it turned out, Mr and Mrs and Little middle were only able to come on Friday night, so we had bacon cooked in beans and tomato for them and when Mr Middle and Barney came back from the pub, Eldest and Gorgeous Girlfriend had arrived so it was a brilliant surprise.  Barney’s face was a picture!

Youngest and Mr Youngest however had arranged to come on Sunday with all the little Youngests (which was how I managed to conceal the true purpose of the enormous quantity of beef we had bought for Sunday dinner).  On Sunday morning, Youngest rang to say they wouldn’t be able to come as they had all been laid low with flu.  So as Barney now knew who would be there for dinner, he lopped off one of the three ribs and cooked the rest.  Now we have two separate ribs of beef in the freezer and some left-over beef for sandwiches.  It was very nice anyway.  And lovely to see Eldest and Gigi.  And Eldest didn’t scrounge a cigarette from me all weekend, I was so impressed.  I suddenly realise that all three of my children are now non-smokers – I saw Youngest last week for lunch and she didn’t scrounge one either.  Wow!  I  feel like not such a bad mum after all.

What with one thing and another, I feel as though Autumn has been passing me by and any minute now, the leaves will all get blown away, so I rushed out yesterday to catch a few.  Actually it was lucky that it was lovely all day as Eldest and Gigi leaving at six in the morning left me half asleep all day but I made it to the ridge above Sydmonton in time for the late afternoon light.


There were a few leaves left.

November 6, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Pork pie and Alexander.

This makes me think, irrelevantly, of hats.

Some of us believe that there is only one way to cook a thing.  Sometimes I think this myself, however, I was looking up an old recipe for pork pie which I made once long ago, because I suddenly had a yen to do it again.  I couldn’t find the recipe but instead found at least six, hugely different versions.  After a while I settled for a combination of Nigel Slater, Delia and someone I don’t remember encountering before.  There followed a good deal of hot stirring and mixing and a certain amount of frantic re-rolling and eventually I found that I had made three pork pies.  I thought almost certainly they would leak when I poured the jelly stock in and probably they would be impossible to get out of the inappropriate moulds I’d used and quite possibly the jelly stock wouldn’t set.

Well, amazingly, they didn’t leak but they were impossible to extract in pie form and the jelly sort of half set.  It was all great fun and I will say that the crumbled heap of pastry and soggy jelly and the chunky lump of filling were all really quite nice.  Just not exactly pies.  Never mind, next time I will get better moulds and boil the jelly rigid.

Everyone has been talking about books.  I used to think I nearly always finished most of the books I started and this is probably true since I’m a voracious, compulsive, gobble-a-book-a-night kind of reader – not your reflective and thoughtful connoisseur and therefore, the proportion of books read to books abandoned is quite large.  So as weeks go by and people mention their favourites and much re-read books, I realise that there are a lot of books I haven’t ever finished.  Most of them are classics.  Of course, I have a great store of free classics on  my kindle waiting for that moment when I’m ready to improve my mind.  I just hadn’t read any of them until yesterday.  So I dipped cautiously into South Riding, by Winifred Holtby and emerged several hours later feeling as if I’d found treasure.  A terrific read, a bit of romance and tragedy (shades of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights) and a tremendous insight into Yorkshire life and local politics in  the 1930’s.  Maybe a little sentimental but immensely humane and thoughtful.  Lovely.

Then, by way of a change, I read Margaret Forster’s, Have the Men Had Enough?  This had to be read at one sitting/lying down/stirring the curry with the other hand/over dinner/cursing the phone, session.  Biting, mercilessly observant and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny.  Compassionate.   It’s about a family dealing with a dearly loved Granny who has Alzheimers.  I think I’ll get my children to read it.

Oh Yes.   Alexander Technique.  I’ve been to my third lesson today.  It really is very pleasant and I think it could be very effective too if I can just remember to practice a bit.  Or even just remember.  The teacher, Colin is entirely sensible and very interesting and I shall certainly do it some more.  I’d never realised that Alexander himself was Australian and apparently when he arrived in London, looking for work, he met Lionel Logue (of King’s Speech fame) and they didn’t get on very well.  Shame, it would have been nice to imagine the two compatriots comparing notes about their new, groundbreaking techniques, or the successful professional giving the newcomer help and advice.  Um.  Yes you can see how they might not have immediately loved each other.

Here’s a fisherman

And another

A boat that lost its way

Nobody is in the least bit worried that there won’t be enough room

That time of day (one or two boaters were tempted to turn round and follow us)

Right.  You’ll have to excuse me.  I need to think about my back, lengthening and widening and allow my neck to be free and my head to go up and forward.   Possibly I shall lie down for a bit.  It’s amazing how nice and easy it all seems and how immediately, as soon as I stop thinking about it, it undoes itself.  The current span of time I seem to be able to keep my attention on these things is about two seconds and it suddenly occurs to me that I probably look like a chicken in slow motion with my head going up and down.  I wonder how long it might take to undo the hunched up habits of fifty odd years.

November 3, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments