Saturday 31 December 2011

Another day, another beach!

At Blackpool Sands today, just along Start Bay from Slapton where we were yesterday, to meet Ben's Brother Ed, Sis-in-Law Emma and baby Sam for a walk - not forgetting Wurzel & Rusty the dogs - who were indeed the excuse for the walk in the first place! They were also the excuse for a lot of ball throwing - which all parties enjoyed! The weather was much as yesterday - grey, misty, and with a fine rain falling, but it was pleasant enough walking regardless.

We arrived a little ahead of Ed & Emma so had a wander along the beach ourselves first - the rocks at the end proved to be fascinatingly covered in barnacles, mussels etc as the picture above shows. Also rocks shaped like birds - can you spot it?! Spotting things in rocks is a little like finding stuff in clouds I think...if you can relax your mind to the possibilities then there's no end of things there to be just have to look!


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Friday 30 December 2011

A grey day...

But nice for a potter about on a beach, nonetheless.

We went out to Slapton Sands, a fairly regular spot for us to head to when in Devon, and had a bit of a wander about. The picture above probably doesn't really do justice to just HOW damp and murky it was! Slapton has lots of flat stones ideal for skimming, so while Ben was amusing himself doing that (with a commentary along the lines of "that one did SIX - did you see it?") I decided that what the beach really needed was a mini Calanais Standing Stones so I set to work.

There is something about constructions on beaches - when I was small my Uncle Bob and I (with the aid of Auntie D) used to dig "boats" on beaches, large enough for two to sit in, with benches and everything. More recently Ben and I undertook the construction of a quite sizeable (well, by beach standards!) dam at Tolsta in Lewis. Building things on beaches is fun!

What's even more fun though is that having had a good old wander, skim & build on a windy, rainy beach, we're now back at the house, warm, dry and about to drink tea!


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Wednesday 28 December 2011

I Heart beaches...

I love water and the sea...always have, which, considering I was born and grew up in a city, is possibly quite strange. I love boats too - any sort of boat, from the little dinghy that the family have down in Devon, to the MV Hebrides ferry we take across to North Uist, even the Woolwich Ferry! Boats are fun. Make that F-U-N. With a capital Ffff! When we're in the Hebrides we generally try to take as many boat trips as we can squeeze in - across to Harris from Berneray is a favourite trip...we've been known to do that one a second time..."just because". The Sound of Barra (Eriskay to Barra) is another great one. We use the ferry from the mainland to Skye because it's just SO much more exciting than the road, and have been known to divert down a little tiny narrow twisty road on Skye just so we can get the Glenelg Ferry across.

A spin-off from the loving beaches thing is loving stones, shells and all things beach-combed. If you were to put your hand into the pockets of my waterproof you'd find a random collection of such items - a small, perfectly rectangular piece of driftwood - roughly the dimensions of a bar of soap and worn to a wonderful smoothness by the water. A small heart shaped stone that my fabulous husband found and gave to me on the beach at Berneray. Several tiny shells from the beach at Clachan Sands, North Uist - picked up on our final day on holiday a couple of years ago, and a china bottle-stopper beachcombed on Baleshare. (It's best that you DON'T put your hand in there by the way, as there might be used tissues and things too....not quite as pleasant as shells etc!). We usually pick things up, look at them, and then put them back, but every now and again something appears which is "pocket worthy" and it gets added to the randomness. Odd? Perhaps...but it's always nice to have familiar things around you isn't it - especially when those things remind you of cherished places or people.

What odd things have you kept "Just because"?


Sunday 13 November 2011


This is the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge in the Highlands. A special place indeed, and one we drive past every time we visit the Hebrides. A huge number of the British Commando forces carried out their training in this area, hence the decision that the Great Glen was an appropriate place for their memorial, unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in 1952. There is now a garden of remembrance there too, a lot of the current day Commandos choose to have their ashes scattered there on their death, and there are also small memorials there to some of those who have lost their lives in the Falklands, Afghanistan & Iraq.

To all those who have given their lives in the service of their country, whether in times of war, or peace, thank you.


Friday 11 November 2011

Sunday 23 October 2011

Plenty to see here...

I mentioned the other day being about to travel on one of my favourite stretches of railway line anywhere - and today I have just travelled back along it in the other direction! This is the stretch of line in South Devon, between Starcross and Teignmouth - where the line travels so close to the sea that at times it feels like a miracle that you don't have wet feet, and where in stormy weather the waves crash right up and over the trains. Today WAS a stormy day - although oddly it didn't feel like that at all back in Dartmouth where it was a beautiful warm autumn day. By the time we hit that stretch of coast though the wind had whipped up and the tide was high enough that the waves were looking spectacular!

I could have done with my binoculars today - countless different birds - some forced towards the coast because of worse conditions out to sea I suspect, lined the coast from the masses of sparkling white Little Egrets on the marshes to the inky dark Cormorants occupying a wrecked vessel along the coast a little further. Then assorted Ducks (unidentifiable at the distance) and waders galore - curlews, Godwits and flocks of Turnstones wheeling in the air like shoals of mackerel - first light, then dark. All in all a lovely journey, and one which I always enjoy!


Ps - apologies for the poor quality of today's photo - from my defence it was taken through the none-too-clean window of a moving intercity 125!

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Thursday 20 October 2011

The smallest thing can be a treat...

That's the thing about trying to live frugally, sparingly. When you have little spare money where you spend what you do have has to be carefully considered. Your priorities change too - a few years ago a 'treat' would have been a pair of shoes, or a new bag. Maybe a splurge on new makeup and cosmetics at Boots. Now though this £1.69 cuppa, to be drunk whilst sitting on a station platform waiting for a train, will do nicely!


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A lovely day for a train ride...

I'm on my way down to Devon - yes, again! This time it's just me heading down, so I'm on the train on a beautiful crisp Autumn day. The sky is blue and the sunshine is bringing out the stunning colours in the trees and bushes fantastically. At the moment we're travelling through Hampshire but later on I'll be travelling on one of my favourite stretches of railway line anywhere, around the Devon coast between Exeter and Totnes.

The picture above was taken on my last visit to the in-laws, in their amazing garden. It provides the majority of the fruit and veg they eat through the summer and autumn, as well as jars and jars of jams, chutneys and other preserves that my Mum-in-law makes each year. Clever lady - I love visiting and nearly always come back with new skills and cooking ideas!


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Saturday 8 October 2011

Autumn Festival (1)

Today has been a lovely day - bright and sunny with a few showers and just enough of a nip in the air to remind you that actually, Autumn's here.

What better day to get together with family then and visit an Autumn Festival? The family concerned were Mum and Dad-in-law, brother-in-law Ed and his wife Emma, and baby nephew Sam, not forgetting of course Wurzel the dog. We watched Morris-Men, we sampled Bread, and apple juice, and we bought cheese, biltong, and more apple juice, and we had a lovely walk through some beautiful woodland with much stick-throwing for Wurzel!


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Monday 3 October 2011

It pays to ask...

We were out collecting in my Avon books on Sunday, nothing unusual in that, but nearly tripping over a large, fallen, yellow fruit on someone's path is a little exceptional. Looking up we quickly realised that it had come from an overhanging tree which was positively laden with more large, yellow fruit. Quince! Instantly recognisable, and all the more when we smelt them, a beautiful fragrance all of their own - apparently they make excellent car air fresheners as they shrivel, rather than rot, and will perfume the air delicately for ages. I returned to the house, apologised for bothering them, and asked if it would be OK to take some of the overhanging fruit - I think they were quite pleased to be asked! (Probably saves them having to constantly go round and clear up windfalls!) We have 2kg of them....and now have to decide what best to use them for....jelly? Something like a fruit cheese? I think I've seen a jam recipe somewhere. I shall probably pop over to The Quince Tree Blog and take a look at what she has done with them...


Sunday 2 October 2011

Lovely day for a stroll!

We'd heard about a walnut tree with nuts both ready to pick and as windfalls, so decided to head off to find it.

First bit of the instructions said to park up by Matching Church - and what a pretty church it is! Very traditional with it's square stone tower - we're used to seeing these towers poking up across the countryside here in Essex - far more of our churches have towers than steeples!

Had it not been for the light breeze blowing it would have been rather too warm for walking far - incredible for October! Signs of autumn are everywhere - the leaves are turning ever more golden by the day and the breeze blowing through them making that distinctive dry rustling.

We found our walnuts - all the way up this footpath - not many in reach on the tree but plenty fallen on the ground. It would have been helpful had I remembered sooner that walnut juice stains the skin badly...Ben now has black fingers! Oops!

Having picked up plenty of the nuts from the ground, and also a pound or so of Haws from a nearby Hawthorn we headed back to the car stopping along the way to photograph things that caught my eye, like this startling dead tree. The nuts will be taking a trip to Devon shortly for Mum-in-law, and the Haws are going to be added to some crab apples to make a fruit leather. More free food!


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Friday 30 September 2011

Busy day...

...and a highly productive one, too. I have a list of jobs that needed doing at some stage between today, and Monday - a good many of them kitchen related, so decided to use today to get ahead with some of those.

We take lunches to work rather than having to buy expensive pre-made sandwiches, so are always looking for fillings for rolls which are not only tasty, but also economical. This definately ticks both boxes - it is a smoked mackeral pate.

A pack of T*sco value smoked mackeral fillets (£2.09), half a pack of the same brand soft cheese (40p a pack), a teaspoon or two of wholegrain mustard, a splash of milk, and some seasoning. Blended together until smooth-ish. You don't have to obliterate every last lump, but a mostly smooth pate is better. Delicious, and around 30p or less a serving.

Lidl have been selling Butternut Squash at 89p a kilo recently, so I've bought a couple of good-sized ones, and always had a pan of soup in mind for one of them. I have a recipe for butternut soup *somewhere* - my lovely Sister In Law made a delicious one when we visited them a while back, and I know the recipe was shared, but I couldn't find it, so this was a "wing it" job. Fry two onions - chopped, in a little butter (I used ghee as I have a tin of it in the fridge) until soft. Add stock - I used a block of frozen chicken stock that was in the freezer and a Knorr Stockpot "cube" - and the diced squash. Pour on just enough water to almost cover, some herbs, tarragon works well, and a couple of bay leaves, and seasoning, and leave to simmer. Once everything is soft blitz with a hand blender until smooth, then stir in a generous dollop or two of greek yogurt. This will do our lunch tomorrow, and possibly tea on Sunday, or one batch will get frozen.

It's been a fantastic day here - beautiful bright sunshine and so warm again! I spent a bit of time on the balcony generally tidying up, as it seemed a shame not to be out there appreciating it. I also spent some time out there reading - I'm re-reading this series again and it's completely unputtdownable. Again. *grin* If you've not read them, then do. If you have read them, read them again, but don't bother asking to borrow my copies, these are NOT for lending! In between times I mooched about and picked what will be pretty much the final tomatoes. There are a few still hanging there, but I will probably pick those whether still green or not, on Sunday.

Gorgeous, aren't they?!


Tuesday 27 September 2011


We are having an Indian Summer, apparently. This afternoon it was warm enough that I was outside wandering about in short sleeves, and feeling slightly too warm in fact. very odd for late September in the UK. Far more familiar to us was the sight that greeted me when I first peeked out through the curtains this morning:

FAR more autumnal, I think you'll agree? And being beautifully modelled by our lovely tree., which is just starting to turn to all shades of red, gold and russet. With that in mind, I set the slow cooker up overnight to batch cook a load of base-mix for Chilli - just finely chopped beef skirt, tinned tomatoes, two green and one red pepper, several onions, thyme and some smoked hot paprika. Topped up with some water and added a couple of beef stock "cubes" (not oxo, but the Knorr Stockpot reductions which I find excellent) and then left it bubbling away quietly to itself overnight. By this morning the meat was tender and the whole flat had a fantastic aroma travelling through it. I thickened it up with a little cornflour and a couple of handfuls of oatmeal and then portioned it out. It made 4 meals for two of us, and one single portion all of which went in the freezer, and another portion for the two of us tomorrow which is in the fridge. Just add red kidney beans, cook some rice, and that's a home cooked "ready meal" for those nights when, after a long day at work, you want something hearty and tasty and QUICK.

In the background you can see the jars containing last nights project - a chutney using some of the vast number of apples we've foraged, along with our home grown beetroot, some rather elderly swede from the fridge, and quite a lot of onion. Also in the background of the picture is the slow-cooker (fresh from it's excellent chilli-cooking adventures), and our fabulous wooden chopping block which lives out on the worktop and is constantly in use. Also half a jar of spiced pickling vinegar which has been in the back of the storecupboard waiting to be used for about the last year. It smelt just as good as we remembered, and was just what the chutney needed!


Sunday 25 September 2011


...Found on our Kale! They're only small, but have voracious appetites. Eviction has now taken place.


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Saturday 24 September 2011


...on Loch Bee, South Uist. This was the morning we drove down early for our trip across to Barra, there wasn't so much as a breath of wind - SO unusual for there although you do sometimes get those conditions very early in the morning, and so it was that day. By the time we reached Eriskay for the ferry there was a gentle breeze blowing and it stayed that way for the rest of the day.

Our plans for next year's trip are starting to fall into place. We're unable to stay at Tigh Alasdair as, with our visit being a month later than normal, the cost is simply too much for us. A shame because we do love it there, but we simply had to accept it. We knew the accommodation was going to be a little more than usual, but the estimated £300 increase for the later dates was simply not extra we could find. Reluctantly we started looking for alternatives, and to our surprise and pleasure we have found somewhere further along the Locheport road (about half a mile further towards the road end) which we looked at as we passed it last year but figured woukld be outside of our price-range. It seems it's not! We will only have water on one side of us - the cottage is close to the shore of Loch Euphort and we think also with a good view of where we saw otters last year. We should look firectly across the water at South & North Lee - so whilst it will be strange not seeing Eaval, we will still have our "barometer" for use when getting up in the morning! One thing we WON'T have is broadband, which is a shame, but I will try to make use of public connections to upload blog posts via the phone.


Friday 23 September 2011

On my mind...

This is a Friday photo feature that anyone with a blog can join. To take part, post a photo on your own blog, write a short caption explaining it, and link it back to here from your blog by saying you're part of "On my mind". Please write a new post, don't link to an older one. When you've done that, come back here and add a comment below, with a link to your blog. preparing for winter.

The nights are drawing in, and there is a distinct nip in the air in the mornings and evenings. The light has got a slightly golden tinge to it, and there are the first signs of leaves dropping. Almost without realising it - our thoughts are turning to the onset of winter, and preparations for the colder weather. We aren't fortunate enough to have an open fire - there is a chimney but with three lots of neighbours above our heads having it swept ready to take a real fire would be prohibitively expensive, I suspect. We have storage heaters - which are voraciously electricity-hungry, and require you to have the weather prediction skills of Michael Fish....well, maybe NOT Michael Fish! As a result I tend to try to make sure that the cupboards are well stocked running into the winter, so that at least our food-spend can stay under control even if the heating one spirals out of it!

We've always run a "storecupboard" - in our old flat it was in the spare room - a tall, narrow cupboard into which all manner of "stuff" got put when we first moved in. Then, gradually, as our pitifully small kitchen made its limitations known, (this was the flat, bear in mind, where the fridge-freezer lived in the front room as there was no room for it in the kitchen!) things we'd bought in bulk, or jars of chutney etc that we had made, found their way into that cupboard. By the time we moved in here it was just a case of working out *which* cupboard we were going to use for the purpose - it was always a given that it would happen.

Snug in there, isn't it! Jars of jams, jellies, and chutneys. At the top are dried goods - pasta, pulses, rice, flour etc. Out of sight in this pic, at the bottom, oils, vinegar, and the all important tea-bags. We'll add to this yet ahead of the cold weather. We'll get more rice, more pasta. Another couple of jars of Coffee. Probably stock up on pulses etc to go into lovely winter stews. All good, healthy, filling food, which can be eaten simply or "tarted up" as our fancy and budget allows.

A well-stocked storecupboard not only gives you the flexibility to produce an interesting meal at short notice, it also means that when you hit that tight spot in the budget (January, anyone?) you are able to hunker down (apologies to Jane) and cope with it without resorting to mashed potato every night for a week.

What are you doing to prepare for the winter?


Thursday 22 September 2011

Reasons to be Cheerful...


...the macro lens was already on the camera when I wandered outside earlier on and spotted this little chap sitting on a leaf!


...there are still tomatoes to ripen on our accidental tomato plants. (Accidental because we didn't actually sow the seed for any of them....two came courtesy of our lovely upstairs neighbours, they have an allotment and had a glut of tomato plants, the remainder - quite a few! - must have seeded from the compost we assume).


...we have a sunflower! What's more, it's continuing the tradition of accidental planting as we don't know where this one came from either - it's under the bird feeders though so we assume that one of our lovely Blue Tits or Sparrows must have sown it for us as a thank you for feeding them! Either way it's such a lovely bright cheery thing!

Some more reasons for being cheerful today: The delicious hot buttered toasted fruit and nut bread I just had with a cup of tea, the fact that my tonsillitus (which was raging on Tuesday and looked very likely that it was going to require a trip to the Doctors to get rid) seems to be on the run, I have enough money in my purse for a trip to speedway this evening, and the invitation has arrived to a friends 50th birthday party which a) means seeing lots of other friends at the same time, b) means a trip to Edinburgh is on the cards, and c) is being held in a brewery! Hurrah! Do parties get any better than that?!


Wednesday 21 September 2011


Post (and indeed title!) inspired by the lovely Fay at The Wind & The Wellies - she posted about Wombling earlier today - a post which was itself inspired by Rhonda at Down To Earth - phew, what a lot of inspiration flowing around blog-land today!

Anyhow - their two posts got me thinking about recycling in general, and how we deal with it here specifically. Having spent time in the Hebrides I think we are probably more conscious of the need to reduce waste than many of our neighbours. A lot of the things that Fay mentions we already do - jars never get thrown away, and in fact we harvest them in from elsewhere too. Some we use ourselves, and others get passed to Mum-in-Law. Those plastic trays from mushrooms, soft fruit etc? Perfect seed trays. Newspapers are used to start fires when camping, (in designated spots, rather than just randomly in fields!) to line the cold-box, for wrapping things. Gift bags from presents get carefully folded flat and stored to the next occasion - it's a family joke that some of those making an appearance each christmas will have been around for years! We and the neighbours have a "book & DVD exchange" in our communal hallway, and items of furniture which are no longer required tend to find their way out there at first and often get rehomed - our electric fire was aquired in exactly that way, I re-use carrier bags for delivering Avon orders in, and Mum and I swap toiletries and makeup between us when one of us hasn't got on so well with something. We create very little food waste simply by shopping carefully and then ensuring that every scrap gets used for something. The large butternut squash I bought earlier in the week for example, has already had part of it used as a component in a potato and onion (and squash, obviously!) bake, and some more will get used in a curry on Friday. The balance might make soup for Saturday I think.

Wombling goes further than just Reducing, Re-using and Recycling, though, or at least it does for us. Those little chaps at the top of the post? Crab apples. 2kg of them are currently simmering away in our big stockpot in the kitchen and will be turned into jars of apple jelly which can either be used by us or given away. Last night's project was rosehip syrup (which is delicious!) and the weekend will see some form of chutney with the rest of the apples I think. I must consult the River Cottage Preserves book for inspiration. Still to make for christmas gifts will be Lime cordial, some picalli and maybe some form of jam. It's amazing how well home made goodies go down with friends and family! The apples which are cooking at the moment will produce about half a dozen jars of beautful pale pink jelly - total cost for all of them? A little under a bag of sugar (82p) plus a bit of gas. Oh, and some time and love, but we don't charge for that. Say around 15p a jar. Price in the supermarket? Around £2 a jar!

It's incredible just how much free food there is out there - especially at this time of year. Sloes, damsons, bullaces, apples, blackberries, haws, rosehips...we even found a mass of wild plums a few weeks ago - which are now stewed down and waiting in the freezer for a crumble, or perhaps a pie of some description. Start looking around you when you are out and about in your local area and see what you find. Richard Maybey's excellent book "Food for Free" is a help in identifying anything you're not certain of, and there is also a River Cottage Hedgerow handbook now, by the ever enthusiastic John Wright. Get out there and look, then come home, get cooking, and marvel at just what is available out there, under your nose, for FREE!


Tuesday 20 September 2011

Feels like...

...Autumn. There's a real nip in the air today, and it's gloomy enough this evening to need lights on in the car. It won't be long until there are leaves everywhere to be crunched through and fabulous shades of red, yellow and orange everywhere.


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Monday 19 September 2011

Frugal dreams...

Over the last few years we've done a lot of planning for our future. I won't go into too much detail here, although some of you already know what those plans are, but suffice to say that in order to follow it through it requires us to be mortgage free - the sooner we can clear "The Debt" the sooner the rest of our lives can start. Did you notice the word "debt" creeping in there? It's the only one we have now, but make no mistake, it IS a debt, and thinking of it in those terms makes us all the more determined to attack it.

Over the past few years, to speed up the payments on the mortgage, we've made all sorts of economies - from reducing what power we use, to driving as economically as possible, to watching grocery spends like a hawk.

One thing we do so far as possible is cook extra to make multiple meals, and also make use of what is cheapest in the shops. For example, in Lidl today Butternut Squash was down to 89p a kilo, so I bought a good sized one. A chunk of it has already been used in a potato bake - combined with some of the potatoes we brought back from Norfolk at the weekend. (The campsite we use grows the Norfolk Pink potato, and sells 5kg bags of them for £2.95 - they are delicious!) thinly slice potato, onion and squash if using, and build up a layer at a time - potato, onion, squash then repeat, seasoning as you go, into a well buttered dish. Once the dish is full (finish with a layer of potato) pour over a mixture of cream & milk (using full-cream milk means you need less cream) with an egg beaten in if you like. Top with grated cheese and bake in the over at gas 4 - 5 for around an hour, or until it is cooked through. This will make an ideal side-dish with a yellow-stickered quiche I bought a few weeks ago and stuck in the freezer. As I was going to be using the over anyway, I also made a batch of rolls for our lunches (the breadmaker did the hard work on these while I was cooking some other bits), a "5 a day" frugal lasagne with masses of veggies and a little bit of chopped up bacon (this is a great dish as you can use up whatever you have to hand so far as vegetables go), two individual portions of cauliflower cheese (using up some broccoli and romanesco cauli which were approaching the end of their lives) and the delicious looking raspberry muffins pictured above.


Friday 2 September 2011

Simple Pleasures...

....there is another stunning sunset outside the window. There seems to have been a lot of these this year, and few better than the one pictured above, which was at Sheringham in North Norfolk a few weeks back when we were there for the beer festival. Once again this year we're making good use of the tent to enable cheap weekends away - we still have a few to come too before the weather gets a bit too chilly for even us hardened souls, and we pack the gear away for the winter months.

Another simple pleasure is playing around with photos through the various apps on my iPhone (the phone itself is a FAR from simple pleasure!) - this one was processed using Luminance, which I believe cost the grand total of 69p! It applies various filters and effects to your photos, as well as allowing you to tweak things like exposure, brightness and contrast and even white balance - features you only usually find in a RAW processor. Ironically enough this apparently won't cope with RAW files, not though that worries me as I have only been using it to give a little extra punch to shots taken with the iPhone's own camera, so far.

When you have little money to spend, life's simple pleasures become all the more valuable.


Sunday 26 June 2011

It's Cardiff time again!

And here we are - a live* post from the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff for the British Speedway Grand Prix, the highlight in the British speedway calendar!

Our seats this time, whilst in the cheapest price bracket, look to be some of the best you could have got, with a front-row view straight down onto the 2nd bend. The noise is starting to build - airhorns are being blown and the press and Emergency teams are in place. Our seats give us a view directly across to the pits as well so anything that goes on over there will be well within reach of the 300mm lens which is sitting in my bag! This us one of the advantages of the current trend for ever better cameras on mobile phones - venues which used to ban cameras simply can't any more!

Just 13 minutes to go now until the action starts!


* or rather, not, as it wouldn't post from inside the stadium!

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Saturday 4 June 2011

Project completed...

All done! The stain/preservative dries so quickly I have been able to get three coats on and if I say so myself they look pretty good!


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A project...

As I've mentioned, we're trying to grow things this year. Edible things, to be specific. As a result our little balcony is running distinctly short on space, the wall is now crammed full, there are pots in a plastic tray on top of the barbecue, and still more on the's becoming a problem. This afternoon inspiration has struck however, and for a change I haven't prevaricated about it to avoid actually *doing* it - I have got on and started!

Above is one of a pair of wooden fold-out tables - we've had them for years and frankly they are getting a bit the worse for wear - the one above has an unvarnished top which means it has just got old looking... this us bearable. It's partner in crime however is not looking so reasonable as the varnish has discoloured and blackened...ugh! So - the project is - slap some green wood preservative (which we already have from when the wooden flooring tiles that you can see on the floor of the balcony were done) on the unfinished table, and rub the other one down before repeating the process on that....right then - let's go!


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Friday 27 May 2011

Saving the World...

We're currently down in Cornwall for a few days. In the interests of economy the tent is out, and good old Tesco clubcard reward vouchers are providing some days out while we are here! Today they took us to the Eden Project which we enjoyed so much when we were down here last year.

One of the things that Eden makes you think about is the whole "Reduce, Re-use, Recycle" thing - we're so quick to just dispose of things we've finished with or are broken - going back to the war, and the post-war years, nobody would have dreamed of just throwing away anything that could possibly be pressed into service to save you having to part with your pennies to purchase.

My favourite pair of black combats recently developed a couple of holes, purely where the fabric had given up through wear and tear. A friend, hearing me mention having repaired them, was surprised - "why didn't you just replace them?" came the question. Several reasons - not least the cost - the chances of me finding a pair I like as much from a charity shop are tiny! Also, clothes I no longer wear usually get taken to our excellent local hospice shop, but obviously not if they are damaged. Suitable garments past the stage of giving to charity get turned into dusters, but these would not suit that, and the idea of just throwing them away and into landfill is horrendous!

All in all, much as I do indeed hope that Eden saves the world, I think we'd better make sure we have a go at it ourselves, too.


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Wednesday 25 May 2011

It's not all rabbit food, you know!

As some of you know I have started trying to eat more healthily. It's absolutely not a diet, I don't "do" diets, although I have the utmost respect for somebody like the lovely Frugal Queen who manages to stick successfully to a fairly strict diet plan, it's not the right course for me. This is about changing my mentality regarding food as much as anything else - eating more mindfully and evaluating the issues I have around food, if I can deal with those then the rest is a breeze!

So - there are a few provisos to all this - the food needs to be appetising as well, I'm happy to eat salads as often as anyone, but a bowl of limp lettuce just doesn't make the cut! It also needs to combine well with a regular mealplan as I'm having to feed Ben as well. I've not got a limitless budget so if I'm spending more on additional fruit and veg, something else has to be cut back on to maintain the financial balance. BOGOF offers are excellent, and at this time if year of course seasonal produce is starting to fall in price.

Above is yesterday's lunch - salad of mixed leaves with tomato and radishes for sweetness and peppery crunch respectively. The dressing is low fat yogurt with mint & parsley. Three Hebridean oatcakes add the bulk element and also taste delicious! It was delicious - if healthy eating can always be like that, count me in!


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Saturday 21 May 2011

A little Kingfisher action....and a lurking Heron

With the lovely weather continuing again today I felt that a trip to RSPB Rye Meads was in order, so, camera bag packed (and remembering the 1.4x teleconverter this time too!) off I trundled. On arriving there are the usual pleasantries to be exchanged, have I been before, yes I have, and yes, I have already left my membership card on display in the car to entitle me to free parking. Non members get charged a £2 fee, but entry to the reserve is still free. Then its onwards and out onto the reserve to start my wander around. First stop is always the first of the hides - which tends to get a lot of waders and ducks visible from it. Highlights today were masses of Pochard and also a Little grebe with her chicks - like teeny weeny powderpuffs! Then on I go to follow the "Kingfisher trail" - at this time of year vast numbers of people make the trip to the reserve as you can be almost certain of seeing these glorious little birds. How lucky am I to have it 15 minutes away?!

My walk round the trail was interrupted today by these Goslings making their way across the path - Mum and Dad were trying to scoot them along but they weren't being hurried.....until they saw the scary human beings approaching that is!

Once they'd cleared the path and splashed merrily into the stream I continued, stopping once again when I got distracted by these glorious yellow irises - aren't they fantastic? These are out all over the place in the reeds at the moment and really make the place look so bright and cheerful!

Plenty of photographers in the Kingfisher hide when I arrived - there was some feeling that the chicks might choose today to fledge - the parents had been going to and from the nest repeatedly earlier on apparently, as though trying to encourage the babies to leave, poor little things!

All thoughts of fledging went out of the window when the Heron turned up - there was simply no chance of it then although he obviously felt it was worth him hanging about a while as he tried hiding for a didn't work too well though - we could still see you Mr Heron!

Thankfully after a while he decided he was bored and flew off, and, almost immediately, Mr & Mrs Kingfisher appeared again and began fishing in earnest! Clearly having decided that their babies were staying safely in the next for another day they thought they ought to feed them!Great for us as they repeatedly dipped from one of the branches not so far from the hide, and we got an excellent view whether we wanted photographs or not!

So there you go - a snippet in the life of our lovely local Reserve - makes being an RSPB member well and truly worth it as when the weather is good I can quite happily while away hours at a time down there, either walking round (there is a 2.5 mile circuit right round) or simply sitting in the hides.


Monday 16 May 2011

NOT Big Ben..

....really, it's not! In fact it's St Stephens Tower at the Palace of Westminster - inside which you will find the bell commonly known as, yes, Big Ben!

I found myself in London for an afternoon recently - camera in hand and with time to kill. I'd asked for - and been set - some photo-challenges by some online pals, so some of these results of those may well make it on here sometime soon, but while around Westminster (Having taken "A photo with exactly five people in it" - thanks for that one Jenni!) I decided to try to get some shots showing the sheer level of detail in the fantastic buildings, not least the tower above. It's not easy to see in the picture above because of the size but around the top of the tower, above the clock face are the emblems of England, Scotland and Wales. I presume there is one for Ireland too but I didn't recognise any of them as being so.

I associate wandering around in Central London very strongly with my Nan who died in 1993. From when I was very small she often used to take me out in and around London - we went all over, the Zoo was a favourite, especially in winter, as well as all the parks, the museums of course, and even Heathrow Airport where I remember seeing Concorde coming in to land! (Ungainly beast she was on the ground too, but in the air, oh wow!). In her later years Nan suffered from Altzheimers Disease - but not that long before she died we had one last trip out into London as I took her to the zoo for the day! We had a fantastic day - sometimes something like that, which taps into the part of the brain which holds the long term memories, can be ideal for someone suffering from Dementia as it's the short-term memory that is more severely affected by the disease so something that is almost like going back in time doesn't cause the distress and frustration that comes with not being able to remember the day to day routine stuff. We went to see all our old favourites - the elephants, big cats of course - the tigers were always Nan's favourites - and the penguins, still at that stage in the fantastic 1934 pool. We travelled there and back by our old route - tube to Camden Town and then (Nan reminded me as we came out of the tube!) bus 74 to Regents Park, then a walk across the canal bridge and up the road to the Zoo entrance. It was a very special day - one which Nan cleary enjoyed greatly, and I am extremely proud to have given her that day in return for all the fantastic days and memories she gave me.


Saturday 14 May 2011

An Eye For Detail...

Today we decided to drive up to Cambridgeshire to The Raptor Foundation - we've been a number of times before and always had an excellent day out! The weather today wasn't particularly favourable - when it is rainy or windy the birds are less keen on displaying and especially in blustery winds they can't fly the smaller faster birds as they normally would. Today was blustery, windy, and with rain showers! They ran two of the flying displays - essentially doing them as what the Red Arrows would call the "Flat Display" but cancelled the final one as by that time it was windy enough that it wouldn't have been safe for the birds. It's a superb value day out - at £5.50 admission it must be one of the cheapest places you could go in the region, and there are usually three flying displays to see in the day - ech at least 45 minutes long! No wonder we keep going back! Todays visit was even more budget-conscious as we used Tesco ClubCard Days Out vouchers for our entry - bargain!

Kestrels are possibly my favourite of all the Raptors. Oh, sure, the Golden and White Tailed Eagles are incredible - huge, majestic, and their rarity gives them something truly special, but the quick, agile, and truly beautiful Kestrel is seen in such a variety of habitats that almost anyone will recognise one when they see it hovering over a motorway verge or piece of urban wasteland. What might surprise a lot of people though is just how small these little falcons are when you see one close to - they look so much bigger when you see them hovering, tail fanned, wings beating away and head staying precisely still....

I'll leave you with a bit of wisdom from one of the centre's bird handlers - do you know what the fastest bird in the world is? Peregrine Falcon you think? Nah - it's a Pigeon being chased by a Peregrine!


Thursday 12 May 2011

Everything in the Garden's lovely...

Some of you know that we are trying to stick with a fairly frugal way of life at the moment. This doesn't mean nothing fun, or nothing nice though - we were determined of that at the start, but it does mean that if we want the fun and the nice things, then there has to be savings made elsewhere, or alternative thinking applied, to get them. Example: we want to head down to Cornwall again for a few days camping - last year we drove part way on the Thursday evening, booking a Travelodge for that night, then continuing the journey the next day. This time we worked out that we could get Ben a train ticket to Honiton for £5.50 cash, and £5 in Clubcard vouchers via the Megabus site. So, I will drive as far as Honiton, collect him, and we'll then continue to our campsite thus reducing a £29 travelodge room to a £10 Campsite, AND gaining us half a day in the process. Hurrah! While we're there we are going to the Eden Project again, and possibly Falmouth's Naval Museum - both of these are being done with ClubCard vouchers too! The campsite will be £10 per night, and we'll need to find the money for the extra diesel, but other than that the trip can be managed on very little, and will be a lovely fun few days too!

One of the ways of hopefully cutting our food expenditure a bit has been to look at growing some of our own food. We've dabbled with this before but since we've been here it's been difficult with barely any garden space to play with. This year we've decided to turn as much space as possible over to the veggies - so the balcony wall is covered in tubs and pots, and some of the area outside the flat has been planted up too. We've even.....shhhhhh!....."borrowed" a bit of public ground across the way - that nice lush greenery growing there? Potatoes! Above is Spinach - growing happily away in an old mushroom punnet. There are also salad leaves growing in another of those same containers - and we have already had our first harvest from those! Below is the strawberry planter originally given to us with herbs planted in it by my parents, but now returned to a more traditional use and looking lovely as it sits enjoying the warmth reflected back from the brick balcony wall. Also growing about the place are a number of tomato plants. We didn't actually intend growing tomatoes, but they seem to have come up anyway.....I think it's fair to say that tomato seeds might take a little longer to compost than we were expecting....!

Definitely a cause for celebration is the fact that our Clematis is flowering for the first time! We've been nurturing this little beauty for a couple of years - previous ones have never survived and we were concerned about this one after it was forced to spend most of its early days in semi-darkness while the scaffold was up, but it seems to have overcome adversity!


Monday 9 May 2011

4000 years old!

Amazing isn't it - this is a close up of one of the stones in the Calanais Stone Circle on Lewis - well in excess of 4000 years old and yet still with this amount of texture and vibrancy. Many archaeologists believe that Calanais ("Callanish" when translated from the Gaelic) is older than Stonehenge. For my money it's certainly more impressive. It's also far more accessible - here you can walk right up to the stones, in between them, around them. You can touch and feel the texture and look closely to see the rich colours in the Lewisian Gneiss that they are made of. Admission is also free - as is the case with pretty much all of the incredible archaeology in the Hebrides. Contrast that with the £7.50 admission fee to see Stonehenge at extreme distance - no chance of getting close enough to touch those stones! Add to that the near certainty of the A303 crawling to a halt in that particular part of Wiltshire (I overshot the turn-off for Calanais when we visited this time, but no matter, I just popped a quick three point turn on the main road and went back.....I wouldn't recommend trying THAT on the A303) and all in all I know which mystical spot I'd rather visit!


Sunday 8 May 2011

Testing, testing....!

Ok - this is experimental stuff! I decided at the start of the year that I wanted to keep my blog more up to date - often something grabs me but I either don't have my SLR camera with me, or by the time I have got back to the laptop or PC the moment has passed. In a bid to try to solve this problem I've bought a blog app for my iPhone. If it works it should mean that I can upload pics when I'm out and about. Note I say "if" it works. I have little faith in these things!

So, here goes - this is like one of those "can you hear me at the back" moments..... Have another picture of our lovely tree - and some of it's friends!


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Sunny Day Tree

This tree can be found on the grassy area in front of where we live, and each year it surprises us. You look at it one day and it's just starting to show the slightest touch of green, but still looks very "winter-ish" then the next day, suddenly it is in full leaf, crying "Spring's here!" with glee! In the Autumn it describes the opposite behaviour, with the leaves turning from green to brown almost overnight, and then, at the first blustery storm of winter it shrugs off its overcoat and drops it on the floor for all the world like a truculent teenager just in from school. We missed the leaf-break this year - when we headed off to the Hebrides it was still completely bare and brown - as usual we worried slightly that it might have succumbed to some disease over the winter - but by the time we came back it was as you see above. It's the most beautiful shape too - perhaps at some point I might put up a picture of the whole thing. For now though, with the beautiful blue sky and wispy clouds also looking to get in on the act, this is all you're getting!


Friday 29 April 2011

It's our last day, deer....

So, here I sit as we are getting packed up ready to leave first thing in the morning. The fortnight here has, as always, been fantastic. We've been blessed with the most astonishing weather for this time of year - friends up here had professed themselves amazed as until the weekend before last it had been generally grey and dreary for what seemed like months. We've had some excellent walks - the highlight of which was climbing North Lee. Burrival is firmly on the agenda for next year, but I remain resistant about Eaval for now! Bird-wise we have seen over 80 different species, including of course the Snowy owl. We have heard Corncrakes calling and Snipe drumming. We've seen deer, seals and otters. We've met up with old friends and made some new ones, generally over a pint or two. In some ways it feels like we've been here forever - there is certainly no question that we could both happily stay - we've had two job offers of sorts over the past fortnight as well which is a great sign for the future!

The car boot is now packed, I can hear Ben sorting out the pots and pans in the kitchen to ensure they fit better in the drawers, and once this post is written and uploaded the laptop will be going into its bag ready for the journey back. The fridge is groaningly full of peat-smoked salmon & trout, a selection of cheeses, black, white and fruit puddings, kippers, pate & crab. There is oatcakes and other biscuity type goodies stashed away in various bags as well as in our rather cheery wicker hamper, and there is a full box of beer and some extras tucked into a gap in the boot. Ben comments that we seem very organised, which is worrying.....

Next update to this will be from home. For now though, food and the pub are calling.


We went looking for Corncrakes...

...and all I got was this lousy sunset! Well, in fairness there was nothing lousy about it, it was absolutely fabulous! We did hear at least 5 Corncrakes calling although weren't able to spot any of them. They are rather elusive little birds - we were actually delighted top even have heard them and there is no mistaking the sound. Their formal name is "Crex Crex" as you may know - because this is exactly the sound they make - it's been likened to a credit card being drawn along the teeth of a comb and this is quite a good description.

Bird highlights of the day yesterday were the Snowy Owl which has been creating much birding excitement on the machair at Grenitote, and a Snipe sitting calmly on a fencepost as we drove along the road yesterday morning. Not an entirely normal position to find a Snipe, but there you go - we turned round and headed back to make sure and yes, it was definately a Snipe!

Today is about packing up, getting sorted out, and then spending the afternoon trundling around the places we enjoy the most before ending up back in the pub tonight to say farewell to Elisabeth, Alastair & Winston. The weather is glorious again so it's looking like a great final day.