Catching Up

After two weeks of being here and there I’ve taken time out to catch up with the website.

In the last week of July I took some of my redundant bee keeping equipment to my friend Gary in Banbury. I was pleased to find a home for it where it will be be put to good use. Whilst there we went for a walk around Great Tew (a Cotswold village where only the rich and famous can afford to live) and in the evening had a superb Lebanese meal at the Cinnamon Stick – good food and great company… you can’t go wrong.

On my way back from my overnight stay in Banbury I collected Helene and we stayed at the Sedgebrook Hall Hotel where we enjoyed the swimming pool, a pleasant dinner and a full breakfast.

The following day we repaired Helene’s fence. One of the posts had rotted through and was hanging by a splinter. We had to clear the hole, concrete in a fence post and then secure the fence rails to the post. Before I headed home we enjoyed dinner outside at a local tavern.

In the past week I met up with my college friends at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. YSP has to be one of my all time favourite places. It is expansive; the exhibitions are stimulating whilst the surrounding parkland is very tranquil even when it is busy.

I finally finished the job of filling the gap in the corner between the front wall and the side atrium window. I was reluctant to start the work because I had no idea how it might finish up however, despite my misgivings, I’m really pleased with the way it has worked out.

Using the same special, gritty paint that was originally used on the walls it now looks as though it was always like this.

Back in November I was going to treat myself to a new multimedia system in the Porsche however, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find a company to undertake the work or have the Kenwood system I wanted.

At last I got round to following up with Audio Island based in Grimsby. They have one in stock and it’s booked in for the end of the month. Watch this space for how it turns out.

Like all gardeners, when things don’t go well I blame the weather. This year I have good cause because it has been incredibly dry and hot for many weeks. As a consequence the vegetable plot has suffered. The rainwater harvesting tank (3,000 litres) ran dry.

Despite this there are some potatoes, green beans and runner beans. Sufficient for a meal I’m cooking for the neighbours.

I’ve started making notes about my successes and failures in readiness for next year. I won’t be growing dwarf green beans again… the climbers have done far better.

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House Maintenance

When the house was first built the contractors were never happy with the way the architect had put the windows directly against the wall and said there should have been a return into the corner. This has proven to be correct because as the external boarding and the timber frame has moved slightly a gap has opened up. After several years of ignoring the problem I resolved to fix it. I used masking tape between frame and gap then filled it with expandable foam.

I have never used expandable foam before and wasn’t prepared for how much it expands as can be seen.

Once it has hardened I shall face the task of cutting it flat, possibly sanding it down and maybe even giving it a coat of the wall paint if necessary.

Finished job will be posted soon…

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Garden Bench

Over the last couple of years this garden bench has been falling apart. I had every intention of trying to repair it but the wood was so badly rotted it was going to be difficult to fix the broken battens.

It is a bench that was bought for our Rothersthorpe house so it is probably 20+ years old – it has lasted well.

I will attempt to repair it and will then put it at the edge of the veg plot where the beehive used to be.

The replacement is made from recycled plastic and therefore should outlast me. Recycled garden furniture isn’t as cheap as wood but it doesn’t require any maintenance other than a clean once a year.

I like the colour too. It was either brown or duck egg blue.

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I continue to cycle on Sunday mornings. I’m only cycle when the temperature is above 10 degrees C and the wind is less than 10 mph. It doesn’t always workout and I have been caught out by an unexpected rain shower in the past.

I’m nearly back on form and this week I finished the circuit 30 seconds faster than last week so I’m definitely over the Covid infection.

My route takes me along quiet country lanes through some beautiful countryside with very few serious hills.

About half way round there is a ford which I could avoid by going over a footbridge but where would the thrill be in doing that?

At one point a hare leapt out in front of me and I followed it along the road until it decided to turn off into the wheat field at the side of the road. Early morning wildlife abounds.

I’m still using my 20+ years old bike which isn’t the fastest thing on two wheels but neither am I. I have considered buying an electric bike but what would be the point of that? I cycle to keep fit although I could go further with an electric bike without getting too tired. Maybe it is something for the future.

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With the summer proving to be a scorcher Helene and I decided to drive to the coast and spend an afternoon on the beach at Sutton on Sea.

The trip was all the more enhanced by taking the Boxster for a run. It certainly helped to cool us down.

I packed up some homemade mackerel pate sandwiches for a picnic and we took plenty of water.

I was very dubious about the temperature of the North Sea however Helene convinced me it was warm and as if to prove the point she donned her swimsuit, waded out into the depths and attempted a bit of body surfing.

As you can see from the image I did manage a paddle and was surprised it wasn’t too cold. I wouldn’t stretch the truth by saying it was warm.

At the end of a pleasant day we drove home and joined the neighbours for an excellent barbeque.

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Nottingham Visit

Helene and I went to Nottingham to see a recording of BBC Radio 4, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue at the Royal Theatre. On the evening they record two thirty minute programmes however it takes a lot longer than an hour because of retakes and there is more content so only the best is chosen. It was an hilarious evening.

Prior to the theatre Helene had booked dinner at Mowgli which is an Indian restaurant that she had visited in other cities and it was highly rated. Sadly thirty minutes before the booking she had a phone call cancelling because they had an emergency. We have been offered 50% discount on our next booking.

The morning after the show we wondered around Nottingham and took time out to visit the castle.

The castle was an interesting couple of hours with plenty of displays on lace making, pottery and works of art.

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Covid Aftermath

After 9 days of Covid isolation I eventually tested negative. It wasn’t a terrible time however it was uncomfortable and I wouldn’t make light of it. The aftermath of the infection has left me with slightly blocked sinuses and a grumbly stomach. This is slowly settling down and I’m physically returning to normal.

It has made me even more cautious.

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On returning from Scotland I was feeling a little unwell – blocked sinuses and a headache. Initially I put it down to sitting in an air conditioned car for too long. I did lateral flow tests on Monday and Wednesday… both negative however Helene tested positive today, Thursday morning and so I tested again and here’s the result – positive.

I think I’m through the worst. The headache went on Tuesday, my sinuses cleared yesterday and the aches are easing today, Thursday.

I’m annoyed with myself because I’ve managed to get through 2 years without catching it. I think the latest versions of Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 are far more infectious so it was only a matter of time before I caught it.

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Scottish Tour

We had been planning our Scottish tour for several months. Our plan was to stay overnight in Stirling so we could visit the Kelpies, Falkirk Wheel and Stirling Castle. These are all sites I’ve wanted to visit on my previous trips over the border however I’ve never found the time to stop.

The Kelpies are awesome. Their size, design and structure is incredible and we wandered around and between them for almost an hour.

As you can see from our attire it wasn’t particularly warm and we were prepared for the Scottish weather.

A fifteen minute drive from the Kelpies is the Falkirk Wheel. We were very fortunate that, despite it being late in the day, we saw the wheel in action. On the left hand side of the wheel there are two narrow boats coming down from the canal above and an empty chamber on the right going up.

We were fascinated to see it in action.

An overnight stay outside Stirling and then a visit to the castle. It’s a magnificent building with views over the surrounding countryside. We learned and promptly forgot all about the Jacobite rebellions. There were simply too many King James’s of Scotland and England.

After several hours in the castle and a brief lunch in Stirling itself we headed north to stay with Tony & Jude. I introduced Helene to my favourite places around Forres and Elgin. We had a very pleasant few days before we headed south to Dundee.

We arrived at our Dundee hotel in a downpour. There was also an odour of sewage with a sludge gulper outside the entrance. Not the welcome we were hoping for.

The main attraction of Dundee was the V&A building. It is a wonderful piece of architecture with a massive space inside however the content was somewhat disappointing.

Next to the V&A was the Royal Research Ship Discovery as used by Captain Scott in his expedition to Antarctica. The inside the V&A was equally exciting and very different.

I chose the hotel because it was quite central and looked grand as can be seen above with Helene on the staircase, however it was a little tired and tatty at the edges. Our room had a sloping floor which was a little disconcerting. It was very reasonably priced and generally speaking, you get what you pay for.

After a single night in Dundee, next stop Edinburgh. We parked outside the city and caught the tram into centre with a 15 minute walk to our hotel.

I know my way around the city quite well after several visits to the Fringe and it was fun showing Helene the highlights, or at least the parts I think are interesting. We walked our feet off.

The weather was good enough to sit outside for coffee (Cockburn Street) on some occasions but most of the time we were wearing light raincoats. We visited the Parliament building, closed on Saturday and walked around the castle.

Finding places to eat around out hotel was not as straightforward as we had hoped. The hotel itself couldn’t recommend anywhere nearby so we ate at The Bombay Bicycle Club on Friday night, we were the only diners; and chose a little Syrian restaurant on the Saturday evening. The latter was a real experience… the menus were tatty A4 pieces of paper stained with food, the waitress was less than helpful with the menu and the food arrived on paper plates with plastic knives and forks. Despite this the food was good.

After two nights in Edinburgh we headed south on the final day of our tour. We stopped off in Berwick-upon-Tweed where we ate brunch before walking the walls and defences. Berwick has been on the front line of disputes between England and Scotland for centuries.

We travelled over 1,000 miles on our tour and enjoyed every moment.

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Hi Brow & Lo Brow

This week we went to see Julius Caesar performed by the Globe Theatre at Doddington Hall. The weather was near perfect at we sat down in our fold up seats to eat our picnic prior to the performance.

A two hour Shakespeare play is not everyone’s cup of tea or glass of wine or whisky chaser however it was well performed and most people know the plot so it’s no secret the Caesar is assassinated by his closest allies. It is somewhat similar to current politics with the Tories turning on their leader. Alas, Boris is still Prime Minister as I write this.

The following day we travelled up to Scunthorpe to see Top Gun 2. The contrast between Shakespeare and this was extreme. This was pure escapism with rampant egotism and machismo on display throughout the film. As Helene pointed out “boys and their big toys”.

It was a good film, edge of the seat stuff, and the flying was breathtakingly scary. I’m not sure how much of it was real flying or CGI but it was all very good.

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Garden, food & honey

Now the bee hive has gone I’ve taken back control of the vegetable plot. It is still early in the season and not everything is growing as it should but it isn’t doing too badly.

The sugar snap peas that have grown have been pecked to pieces by the wood pigeons. It was suggested I should cover them however to keep the wood pigeons off I would need to cover everything.

One of my favourite places in the garden is the greenhouse. I spend many a pleasant hour sowing seeds, potting on the young plants and generally tending to the tomato, pepper and cucumber plants.

As more plants are moved out into the garden the greenhouse becomes empty. I’m thinking I might start sowing bedding plants for next year.

It’s been a while since I’ve cooked Tuna and sesame. This time I paired it with green beans I froze from last year, on a bed of pearl barley. The green beans were not great and I won’t freeze them again however the Tuna was good.

I do enjoy cooking when it goes right.

Although the bees have gone I did rescue the honey they had stored. This is a good frame with capped honey. The process of extraction is long and somewhat tedious but it’s worthwhile.

This is the last time I will do this and therefore the honey will have rarity value. After several hours of hand spinning the centrifuge I had about 25 jars worth of golden honey.

It has to settle for a few days before it will be ready to put into the jars. The big clean up then begins – work surfaces and floor. Everything gets covered in a thin film of sticky honey and it isn’t easy to remove it.

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Bee Farewell

For my avid readers you may recall a couple of years ago when I was keeping bees and they became very stroppy. They would buzz me in the garden and without giving me a chance to retreat, sting me. This image shows how my reaction wasn’t good.

I convinced myself that I needed to give it another try (see last year’s post). After nearly a year of looking after this colony they have become aggressive and once more I’m concerned about going into the vegetable patch.

I’ve been stung twice whilst weeding the vegetables and when weeding near the hive, with a bee suit on they were on me within minutes and stung me twice through my gloves. My hand became swollen. I decided I was not made to keep bees – when the fun stops, stop.

Thankfully I found a local beekeeper willing to take the hive off my hands and he took them away this morning. He walked up to the sealed box, without a bee suit on, and despite some escapee bees flying around him, he didn’t get stung. Within 5 minutes they were in the back of his pickup truck and gone. It must be me they don’t like, I don’t smell right.

I managed to take off the honey boxes (Supers) and will extract the honey in due course. There are still a few hundred bees left inside however I will get the leaf blower out to clear the last of the bees off.

This will be the last time I get my own honey. It will have rarity value if nothing else. Now I can focus on the vegetable patch without ducking every time I hear a buzz.

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Urban Planning

Who would think that a play about an urban planner would be exciting? The National Theatre’s production of David Hare’s play “Straight Line Crazy” does just that. Ralph Fiennes plays the New York planner Robert Moses. It was an outstanding performance of a charismatic, controversial man who abuses his power, ostensibly for the good of the people of New York city.

I drove to Cleethorpes to see this NT Live showing and I’m glad I did. If you get a chance I highly recommend it.

This was the first time I’ve been to a cinema on my own. Strange really that I haven’t done it before. It was no different from sitting at home on my own watching a film.

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“Family” Reunion

The last time the “family” got together was my 70th birthday. Now that Covid is accepted as an infection we have to live with we (5 couples) spent a week together in a large house near the centre of Buxton.

Buxton is a beautiful, historic town with plenty of interesting buildings. The Crescent, Opera House and Pavilion are striking. A word of warning though, don’t have coffee at the Pavilion because it’s worse than drinking dishwater.

Helene and I decided to walk from the house up through Buxton Country Park to Solomon’s Temple. On the way we came across a wooden carving of a limestone smelter so we stopped and sat on his lap. I think he looks a lot happier having Helene on his lap than me. The view from the top of the tower over Buxton was superb.

A group of six of us went for a walk along a local canal, starting at the Bugsworth basin. We walked for an hour under cloudless skies before turning around and walking back.

The whole family travelled to Crich Tramway Village for a day out. Based in an old limestone quarry it’s a visit to a past that most of us barely remember. I do remember trolley buses in the east end of London and how the clippie had to get off the bus to put the pantograph back onto the overhead wires from time to time. We had a ride on a trolley bus but only a short distance because the lines and overheads were being inspected by ORR (Office of Road and Rail). The following day the Tramway Village was closed due to safety concerns.

Helene and I joined Dave and Lucie for a walk around Ladybower reservoir. It was another beautiful day and perfect for a brisk walk. The reservoir is famous for its dam which was used as target practice during the war by the dam busters. Helene was finding her artistic side and looking for photo opportunities.

After walking the reservoir Helene and I headed for the David Mellor design centre, on the outskirts of Hathersage, for lunch.

It was great to sit outside looking across at the roundhouse where fashionable cutlery is made. Lunch was exceptionally good.

On our final day we drove over to Dovedale and walked up to Milldale for 90 minutes and then returned the same way. The stepping stones across the river are always fun and because it was late afternoon it wasn’t too busy. It was a delightful end to what had been a great holiday.

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Night Shoot in Lincoln

This month’s u3a photo group technical challenge was lens flare. It’s possible to create lens flare by using an aperture between F11 or F16 into a bright light however I chose to buy a starburst filter. I’d used one about 30 years ago when I was using film. I’ve created a gallery below.

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Bee Management

Who would have thought that beekeeping would be so challenging, I certainly didn’t. I inspected the colony on Monday and discovered the bees were building queen cells which is always a sign they are preparing to swarm.

It’s best to avoid a swarm because at least half of the colony flies away in an attempt to propagate the species and it reduces the amount of honey they’re likely to produce.

The procedure, called the Demaree method, requires shaking all the bees off the frames in the main brood box and moving them into a new box. It sounds simple but when you are standing in a cloud of bees it isn’t as straightforward as it seems. It wasn’t helped by me being so focused on the procedure I forgot to zip up my head covering and several bees found their way into my suit. Thankfully I didn’t get stung and managed to get them out quite quickly.

The pictures above and to the right show more queen cells on the top and bottom of the same frame. I had to remove them all before placing them into the new brood box. It was difficult to get clear images because the bees were flying in front of the camera and all around my head.

Once all the brood were in the top box without bees I could close up the bottom box, put a queen excluder above it, add the Supers (honey boxes) and finally add another queen excluder and the new brood box to the top.

In theory the bees in the bottom brood box think they have swarmed because there are no young, simply empty frames of foundation. The queen and foraging bees have to work hard to build a new colony. In the meantime the brood in the top box will hatch and join the others in the bottom box as they mature. In a weeks time I need to inspect the top box to double check there are no queen cells and if there are I need to remove them. If that all looks good I can leave them to go through the bees’ growth cycle which will take 25 days after which the top brood box will be empty of young bees and can be removed.

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Good days

The sunny, dry weather continues. Helene came to stay for a few days and we travelled up to Doncaster to visit a Canadian friend of hers who has been in the country for some months. We went to Cusworth House, a family estate that is now owned and managed by Doncaster council. The house wasn’t open but we had lunch outside at the Butler’s cafĂ© followed by a walk round the grounds.

Making the most of these bright days we went for a walk along the Viking Way between Tealby and Walesby. Along the route there are several large houses. The garden of one of them is laid out in an Italianate style with a wavy garden wall and cypress trees.

As we walked nearer to Walesby there is a deer farm with some cute young fawns keeping their distance.

On the outskirts of Walesby is the Ramblers church. It has fallen into disrepair and we couldn’t see how it would ever be restored. With the sun streaming through the window it was a delightful space despite the damp and musty smell.

We took time to read the articles about its history before heading down into Walesby and the then returning towards Tealby on a different route and the parked Mazda.

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St Barnabas Hospice Hearts

I’m a regular supporter of the hospice because of how they looked after Jane in her final weeks. Over the last few years they have created small steel sculptures for donations. This year it was a heart and all of the hearts were displayed in Lincoln Cathedral gardens.

Today I went to the cathedral to collect Jane’s sculpture which will stand alongside the Forget Me Not and Dragonfly from previous years.

The hospice movement in Britain is unique because they are run with donations. Jane and I used to cycle every year for Cynthia Spencer Hospice in Northampton never imagining that we would benefit from a hospice service. If you have the inclination to support St Barnabas or wish to find out about their services click here…

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First Bee Inspection

I’ve dipped into the hive several times over the past months to feed the bees and now, with the warmer weather, it was time to open them up and take a look to see what’s going on.

The bees are all clustered towards the front of the hive and are busy on 6 frames which is quite normal but I have a concern they are reluctant to spread onto the back frames for some reason.

Below the queen excluder and the brood the bees had built up comb and the queen had laid eggs. The white squiggles are larvae which have become exposed as I took the queen excluder off. Unfortunately these larvae won’t survive. The most probable reason for them doing this is because it is warmer above the clustered bees than spreading along the frames. Hopefully with warmer weather they will stop doing this.

This is a close up of the above image.

When I put the hive back together I interspersed the empty frames within the populated ones. I’ve since been told by my bee mentor Gary, that there is a risk the bees will abandon the separated frames so I need to go back in and put them back as they were originally.

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Wardrobe, Greenhouse and Bees…

The disruption from having the wardrobe fitted last week has finished and the dust has settled – literally.

It has given me an opportunity to cull my clothes and I have several bags ready to take to the hospice charity warehouse this week. I have four suits hanging in the guest bedroom and haven’t worn them since I retired (12 years ago) so I’m recycling three of them.

I’m really enjoying spending time in the greenhouse and watching the seeds coming through. I feel certain I have seen the last of the frosts and so I’ve planted out the dwarf green beans.

There’s still enough space on the floor for several grow bags and it occurs to me that I could sow salad leaves here to get them ready in a few weeks.

The warmer weather is bringing the bees out in great numbers. I need to undertake an inspection in the next couple of days to ensure they are well and the queen is laying plenty of eggs.

In the next few weeks if the colony becomes too crowded the bees will start the process of getting ready to swarm. The way to avert swarming is to split the colony before they get to that stage. It can be a gamble and is more of an art than a science but I’d like to avoid a swarm if I can.

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