Party, Cyphers and Stones

At the beginning of last weekend H and I went to a retirement/birthday party for one of H’s friends and ex work colleagues, Neera. The party was in Milton Keynes so we stayed overnight at the Peartree Lodge hotel. We had a good time.

Whilst in Milton Keynes we booked to visit Bletchley Park, the home of British code breaking during the Second World war. We arrived at 11am and didn’t leave until 4.30 pm which is an indication of how interesting we found the whole place. We found out afterwards that we had still missed some buildings.

Mid week H and I went to Scunthorpe to see the film Belfast. We had lunch in M&S, which was, surprisingly, packed.

The film was heart-warming and at the same time disturbing. I struggle to understand the complexities of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland. Once again religion is used as an excuse for tribalism.

We ended the day by going to Louth for dinner at the Marrakesh restaurant.

At the weekend we once again stayed at the Peartree Lodge in Milton Keynes to catch the Counterfeit Stones at Wavendon Stables. I last saw them in October 2007.

It was a great night of good music, humour and nostalgia.

On Saturday morning we took a stroll around Newport Pagnell (coffee and toast in the Swan Revived) before meeting the “family” for lunch at the Britannia Inn, Northampton. Afterwards I dropped H off at her house and drove home.

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Dutch Courage…

My brother-in-law and his wife, R&N. took part in the Dakar rally in January. Two weeks in the gruelling Saudi dessert.

When the rally was over the car it was shipped to the Netherlands and Richard asked me if I would help retrieve it. This required us to drive over to the Netherlands and for me to drive it back. It would mean me driving a rally prepped car I had never driven before in a foreign country, on the “wrong” side of the road. I approached the task with some trepidation.

Like all travel out of Market Rasen it required a train journey to King’s Cross. Never simple because I had to get a train to Lincoln, change for Newark Northgate and then get on the LNER train to London.

After recent storms this was never going to be easy and the East Coast Mainline had problems with overhead powerlines, which meant I arrived in London an hour behind schedule.

We left London after a filling fish & chip supper just after 18:30 and arrived in Harwich with plenty of time to spare. Once through customs we drove onto the ferry and headed straight for our allocated cabins.

I have never undertaken an overnight ferry crossing – this was a first. In fact I haven’t been on a cross channel ferry for over 30 years.

The cabin was surprisingly spacious with TV and ensuite bathroom.

After the high winds of recent days I expected a rough crossing however I was rocked to sleep by the gently rolling rhythm.

With disembarkation at 6.30 and a change in time zone I was living on caffeine and adrenaline.

We undertook a 3 hour drive in the Ford Cmax across the Netherlands. We arrived at the collection point then I started to “earn” my keep. As a rally car there are not many comforts and the interior was covered in a fine layer of sand. Getting into the driving seat and pulling on the full harness was quite torturous. There were several times when we stopped for a break then Richard was driving away and I was still strapping in.

My brain soon switched from left-hand driving to right hand and all I had to do was follow Richard in the Ford. We had decided to kill some time by driving to the Louwman motor museum in the Hague.

The Louwman museum was a real find. The café was set in a mock street setting which was superb. We had bowls of soup with chunky bread before exploring the museum, we had plenty of time to kill because the ferry didn’t leave until 22:00.

We wandered through all of the spaces and managed to stay for 3 hours, we would have stayed longer however the museum closed at 17:00.

As we exited the museum the heavens opened and I was faced with the prospect of driving through the rain, in rush hour traffic, in a city that I didn’t know, on the wrong side of the road and following Richard ahead of me. I didn’t have a satnav.

Amazingly I didn’t get lost and we arrived at the ferry terminal with several hours to kill before boarding at 19:30.

I had a good night’s sleep and was awake at 05:30. We were through customs and border control just as the sun was rising. We then set off for London down the A12, patiently weaving a path around rush hour traffic. Surprisingly I managed to keep on Richard’s tail all the way to his home.

To celebrate our successful venture R&N took me out for dinner at Frederick’s. It was a great night – good company and good food.

Thursday lunchtime found me on another LNER train to Newark Northgate where I had 75 minutes to kill. I walked into the town, visited Starbucks then walked down to Newark Castle station in a minor blizzard. I was home by 16:00 feeling very happy that I agreed to take part in this adventure.

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Dull, wet and windy

Not all of my weeks are busy or exciting. The past week has been very dull. The high winds brought in by storms Dudley and Eunice thankfully haven’t had a major impact on the Pig Yard. The mature trees have remained vertical although they have been dropping twigs over the lawns and drive but that’s quite normal at this time of year.

Some people haven’t been so lucky.

I’ve been kept busy this week taking on the management of Lincolnshire Beekeepers Association website. It is taking me a lot more time than I anticipated largely because it had been developed using a non standard WordPress website builder. There are a total of 39 pages and each one had to be edited. The previous editor left behind a lot of superfluous code which had to be removed however hidden within this code might be links or images. It has been challenging. To view the site click here…

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Packing it in…

It’s been a busy week because I’ve had H (previously known as Julia) staying with me. We met up with my college friends, Tim & Wid, in Barton on Wednesday. Widdy hasn’t been well and it was so good to see her back on track towards full health.

On Thursday we went to the National Holocaust Centre in Laxton, a short drive north of Newark. This wasn’t going to be a “fun” visit but H and I were both interested. She has a very personal reason.

The Centre has been developed from a large family home and is surprisingly large and very welcoming.

The Centre represents the depths of man’s inhumanity to man and emphasises the fact we must never forget the awful things humanity is capable of.

We both felt this is never truer than now with the extreme right wing views in the USA and also reflected in the UK.

We cannot change the past but we can all influence the future and it is our responsibility to be kind to each other regardless. The time at the centre was very informative and it was worth every minute of the two hours we spent there.

We finished the week by visiting Newark. A cold windy day with lunch at the Green Olive café just off the market square. We must return to visit the National Civil War museum at some point.

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February Arrives

The month began with me attending the funeral of a friend in Derby. It was an interesting day because it was a Catholic service and, as someone who avoids church, it was a fascinating experience alongside the inherent sadness. It was the first funeral I’ve been to since Jane’s (6 years ago today). the service was more about god than the deceased. Perhaps I need to write a funeral plan for myself to make it easier for whoever has to arrange it.

I’ve submitted my photos for January’s u3a Photography group challenge along the theme of “Indoors” and ” Winter Sky”.

I think capturing a winter sky was most difficult. What differentiates a winter sky from any other?

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Keeping Busy

Now the greenhouse is complete I needed to install the power socket I’d removed from the shed. It was very cold (3 degrees C) but I cracked on with the job and after a couple of hours it was installed, connected and working. It isn’t quite straight but I can live with it.

The next task is to lay the power cable to Piglets charger and fill the channel I cut out with cement.

I’m in no rush to put back the pots and trays ready to start the growing season however I can see it happening sooner rather than later.

On a cold, grey winter afternoon what is there to do but to go for a walk.

This month’s u3a photography challenge is winter sky and I wondered if there was a chance of capturing a grey sky. I had several attempts and this is probably I came close to capturing the scene – a rusty signpost with signs looking worse for wear.

The fields were very tacky and I managed to collect a lot of mud on my boots; sufficient to raise my height by a couple of centimetres.

Wide fields and grey sky

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Another New Arrival

I’ve been waiting since the end of August for my greenhouse to arrive and be constructed. Like all purchases during these Covid times there seems to be a variety of reasons why “stuff” isn’t available sooner than 3 months or trades people have the time in their busy schedules. Today, on a cold, frosty day, two guys arrived just before 9am and the greenhouse was completed by the mid afternoon.

It took two chaps about an hour to get most of the frame in place and after a coffee or two they were inserting the glass. By 3pm they were cleaning up and the job was finished.

Before putting in the seed trays and pots ready for the spring I will treat the staging with decking preservative. I’m also thinking about what I should put on the floor. One idea I’m contemplating is using the tiles I put down in the garage and replace them with something sturdier. Before any of that I need to sort out the electric socket and the power for Piglet ready for when she starts cutting again.

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New Arrivals

My new Lumix G9 camera arrived this week. Considering it’s second-hand it is in excellent condition. I’ve managed to buy a £900 camera for under £400 taking into account the part exchange on the old equipment.

The manual is a bit of a nightmare and some of the features are baffling. My intellect will be stretched to the limit to understand what it can do. One feature I’m keen to experiment with is something called “Focus Stacking”. This is when the camera takes multiple images focusing on different parts of the subject. These images are combined so that all parts are in focus. I’m sure there will be more to explore.

I’m pleased to say the greenhouse has arrived. I wasn’t at home when it was delivered and I expected it to be on a pallet however it came in separate packages and the glass wasn’t particularly well packed but I think it’s all in one piece.

Originally the chap was coming on Friday to install it however he has been delayed by a day. It will be up and ready to use by the end of the weekend. More on this in the next post.

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Weekend Jobs

With the arrival of the new greenhouse imminent I had to start the process of channelling out the concrete to run the armoured electricity cable. As it stands the cable would come up outside the new frame.

It didn’t take long with the stone cutter to cut into the base and then chisel out the middle. It was cold and wet so I did the job in two stages with an hour of measuring and cutting on Saturday and completed it on Sunday.

Following the success of Saturday I finished off the job by screwing the cable down with some sturdy cable ties.

Once the greenhouse is in place I shall fill around the cable with quick setting concrete or mastic. I will then need to fix the waterproof socket to the floor. I also need to run a cable to the charging point for Piglet.

To finish my weekend chores I dragged the branch and twigs from the laburnum tree and shredded them. It can be quite noisy and I was in two minds about disturbing the neighbours but I reasoned with myself that Sunday is like any other day of the week so I cracked on. The chippings were soon spread along the path between the trees.

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Six Years and Counting

How to mark the sixth anniversary of Jane’s death was difficult. Recollections and memories can easily slip into wallowing and self-pity so I decided to do something we would have both enjoyed. I drove to Chapel St Leonards on the Lincolnshire coast.

First stop was the North Sea Observatory where I had one of the sweetest hot chocolates I had ever tasted. It looked good and was very comforting.

It was soon consumed and time to walk the beach.

I walked for 30 minutes up the coast and barely came across another soul. There was a dog that kept barking at the waves as they washed in. I thought it should be called Canute after King Canute who demonstrated he wasn’t all powerful by trying in vain to turn back the tide.

I walked back to the Observatory and it was so busy I decided to sit outside to eat my Lincolnshire Sausage in a Ciabatta. The temperature was 8 degrees C but with the sun on me and the warmth generated from my walk it wasn’t a hardship.

For the drive back through the Lincolnshire Wolds I put the roof down, turned the heater up and blasted along with the Sat Nav giving me warnings of any impending speed cameras.

The day had been the best tribute I could pay to Jane.

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Out on a Limb

Sunday was one of those days when the dark clouds were looming in my head but it was sunny outside. Motivation seemed to be completely absent and self pity was the order of the day. We all have them, or do we? To get me into gear I decided to don my gardening clothes and tackle the job that I have been putting off for weeks.

Now the potting shed is disassembled it has given me the space to think and I realised that a limb from the laburnum tree was very close to where the new greenhouse was going. There’s no point in having a greenhouse shaded by a branch and it would be careless to remove it afterwards.

Since my recent ladder fall I’ve lost a bit of confidence however I gritted my teeth, rested the ladder against the tree, made sure it was safe and tied it to the trunk at the top. This ladder was going nowhere.

At this point the wonderful Stihl cordless chainsaw comes into its own. Small and lightweight but enough power to cut through medium size branches like a knife through butter.

After a couple of cuts I had a tangled mess of branches on the ground and all I had to do was fight my way through them as I came down the ladder.

The risky part of the job was done.

It is amazing how much brash comes from cutting down a couple of branches. The larger branches were cut and left to season ready for the log burner whereas all the twigs were stacked up ready to be put through the shredder and the chippings can be spread along the path between the trees.

A very satisfying job done and a big line drawn through the item on my endless list of things to do.

Some months ago I decided it was time to upgrade my 12 year old Lumix G1 camera. I also had a Nikon D100 in a cupboard with a number of lenses. Rather than allow them to collect dust I decided to part exchange them for a Lumix G9. It is amazing how little perfectly serviceable pieces of camera equipment are worth. The Nikon D100 has a value of £10.

You may wonder, if they are perfectly serviceable why sell them. No reason other than I don’t use the Nikon at all, too big and heavy, and there are faster better versions of the G1 in the shape of the G9. Look forward to getting my hands on a new piece of kit.

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New Year, New Specs

A new year and time not spent alone. Although the weather has turned much colder the clear skies are not to be missed so my good friend “Julia” and I headed off to Sutton on Sea in the Porsche with the roof down. Outside the temperature was 10 degrees C but the heater was set to 24 degrees and “Julia” had a blanket to keep her warm.

The beach was virtually empty and we walked for over an hour.

I wasn’t happy with my Specsavers glasses. They were not that visually accurate and the glass lenses were heavy. I decided to try the independent optician in town.

The eye test seemed more thorough than the one I received at Specsavers and the optician talked me through the eye photograph images to explain that I had the early stages of cataracts.

In choosing new frames I wanted something that was completely round but these are the closest they could get. They are light on my face, fit perfectly and visually correct. So far so good.

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As reported in my previous Christmas post the potting shed was partially disassembled however I had concerns that the roof would suddenly collapse in on me while I was unscrewing the final panels.

As it turned out the final stages worked out quite well.

With some help and support, literally, from Dave next door, the final pieces came down without too much trouble. At one point it seemed as though it might fall against the back fence but the two of us slowly coaxed it to fall in on itself. I then unscrewed and levered the sections apart leaving the wooden base.

The concrete base is in good condition however I will need to move the power cable that comes through the base in the back left hand corner. It may require some channelling of the base to run the cable into a better place because the new greenhouse has cut off corners. I will also need to make sure the power cable from the Piglet charger is run around the edge of the green house.

I did manage to graze my calf as the back panel fell down and I lost a pozidrive screwdriver which hopefully will turn up.

The next step is to power-wash the base to make sure it is clean before the greenhouse goes up.

This is the greenhouse that will, with luck, magically appear on the shed base before the end of January.

I’m not sure having a proper greenhouse will improve my vegetable crops but I live in hope.

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Christmas Day 2021

In the run up to Christmas Day I’ve been slowly taking the potting shed down. I’ve got to the point where there’s very little holding the roof in place and I’m a little concerned as to how I’m going to remove it without it falling onto me. The walls are bowing out with the weight of the roof so I need to be careful. The greenhouse arrives on 18th January and the guy is coming to erect it on 21st if the weather is OK. Looking forward to this major transition in the garden.

I couldn’t get through Christmas without making some sausage rolls. They’re not my best because I didn’t use the Jamie Oliver recipe but they are good enough and in life sometimes good enough is all you can hope for.

Originally I was cooking for five however sadly Nick & Val went down with coughs and colds so they sensibly stayed at home. Lunch for three – Dave & Lucie and me.

The mini Boeuf en Croute were enormous and along with roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips (home grown) and brussels was really too much. There was no room for desserts or any of the nibbles I had bought. I shall save them for New Year’s Eve. Next time I shall cut the fillet steaks in two.

As friends we don’t give presents however my secretive “friend” bought me some pasta bowls and pasta. I’ve been banging on about pasta bowls for the last six months and she convinced me I didn’t need them whilst she was sneakily buying me some.

I can’t wait to explore some pasta and Mediterranean dishes and use these delightful additions to my tableware.

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Christmas 2021

After another difficult year we deserve to have a wonderful festive season

And Be Grateful for Good Friends

Love and Hugs to All

Steve xx

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Shed, Teapot & Weights

The process of demolishing the shed in readiness for the arrival of the greenhouse in late January has started. I’ve long forgotten how it was constructed and so finding the key parts to remove it is proving more difficult than I thought. To see the construction click here…

I think another couple of days will see it removed completely. It was my intention to put it all in a skip however I have an idea to use some of the panels as a roof on my log stores which will make them drier.

I love a good cup of tea. Over the last 40 years Earl Grey has been my favourite but recently I’ve been introduced to Red Bush or Reebois because it is naturally decaffeinated and apparently it’s good for the bladder (too much information?).

My teapot has shown signs of cracking and so it was time to buy a new one. This 2 cup pot is perfect and, no doubt it is psychological, makes a great cuppa.

My regular visits to the gym continue as you can see from this photo. Here I’m squatting with a total 40Kgs but I have lifted 50Kgs.

The trainer is very good at motivating me without pushing me beyond my capabilities. After the weight session we did some serious stretching. Being half my age she can bend and twist easily but to mirror her movements I find myself tied in knots – straining every muscle and sinew. I keep telling myself it’s good for me… I believe it is.

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Run Up to Christmas

The run up to Christmas has started and with a little help from my mysterious friend the tree has been constructed and dressed. I’m very happy with it unlike last year’s which was a bit of a mess.

I’ve posted all my Christmas cards apart from a few that I missed out because I hadn’t heard from them in several years and then suddenly I get a card. Keeping lines of communication open is so important at all times of the year.

At the weekend we had an overnight visit from Gary & Caroline. The weather wasn’t brilliant so we didn’t manage to fit in a walk however Gary brought his drone and we spent time flying it over the house and hopefully he will be sending photos and videos in the next few days. Watch this space.

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Photography Challenge

Over the past few months I’ve been attending the West Wolds u3a Photography Group and it has been good to have monthly challenges which require me to get out and use my creative juices. This months challenge was “night photography” and “moving water”. I did try taking shots of the moon with very limited success however my views from high on the Wolds looking across to Scunthorpe proved interesting. The moving water subject was slightly harder. Trying to find something that wasn’t obvious. I learned a lot in the process and hopefully will take this forward into the next challenges.

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Sundays, breakfast and music

Sundays are the worst day of the week for me and from conversations I’ve had with others who live alone it isn’t uncommon. There’s not a great deal going on and so you have to make your own amusement. In the summer it’s relatively easy to find things to do out in the garden but as winter starts to bite the cold inhibits a lot of activity.

To designate the weekend I change my usual breakfast routine (muesli – summer, porridge – winter) and have croissants on Saturday and poached egg with mashed avocado on home baked granary toast.

While eating breakfast on Sunday I also listen to piano music courtesy of Amazon music and Ludovico Einaudi. It starts the day in a very calming way – no dramas, no stress or fretting over things I cannot change or even things I can.

Music plays an important part in my life and even more so over the last five years when I spend more time alone than with other people. I do have a reputation amongst my friends for liking wistful female singers and I make no apology for that. Music evokes memories for me and I can relate a piece of music to particular events in my life. I know I fell for Jane watching her dance to Marvyn Gaye’s Heard it Through the Grapevine. These memory associations don’t seem to fade with the years. I keep collecting music and memories.

The last couple of weeks has seen the release of new albums from Ed Sheeran; Adele; Sting and Robert Plant/Alison Krauss. Through a variety of means I’ve managed to acquire all four albums.

I’ve been a big fan of Ed Sheeran for many years and he never disappoints. His latest album is full of variety and there are some great lyrics. He is a brilliant singer/songwriter who appeals to the romantic in me.

Over the past 12 years Adele has always produced great albums with really memorable songs however her latest is a disappointment and strikes me as a lot of self indulgent nonsense. There are a few tracks that are good but not many. I cannot see me playing this very often. A real let down.

From the good old days of The Police, Sting has been on my playlist but he went through a period when he was attempting to connect with his working class Newcastle roots and was too much up his own arse to be interesting.

His latest album, Bridge, is a return to his best. He is back on my playlists.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss are not two voices one would imagine going well together however their first album Raising Sands was very good and so I took a gamble and bought Raising the Roof. There’s a good mix of harmonies between his rough, edgy voice and her crystal clear tones. It’s an album that will last the test of time and probably be played over and over again.

And to finish my musical appreciation post I cannot leave out London Grammar (wistful female voice). I never get bored with the variety of music they produce – album after album is cutting edge. I’ll leave you to judge for yourself.

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Autumn Leaves…

At this time of year I’m busy collecting leaves off the lawns. With so many mature trees the amount of leaves is incredible. They start falling in October and even at the end of November there are still leaves clinging onto the Ash tree at the back of the house. The cordless blower makes it a lot easier. I blow them into a line and then scrape them up with a lawn rake. My compost leaf pile is now massive. Sometimes I run the mower over them but this is not possible when the leaves are wet because it clogs the mower. I need to turn over the compost heap in late spring to make sure I’m making the most of the leaves.

Over the years the bird bath had become quite grotty. I got out the jet wash and gave it a good blasting. Some of the stone has become discoloured as the lichen has etched its way into it.

It looks a lot better and I hope the birds appreciate my efforts.

My new ladders are too heavy for the hooks I had for the previous ladders so I purchased new stronger hooks.

They are screwed into the timber frame so I’m confident they will not be falling down any time soon. It’s important they hold because if they don’t the ladders will make a mess of the Mazda.

It has been a productive week so far.

My next task is to remove all the things in the potting shed and find somewhere to store them while I take it down.

The wood from the shed has been treated and therefore not wise to burn it on the fire. I might use some of it for kindling but the rest will be put into a skip.

At the moment the greenhouse erector isn’t available until the end of March so I will either have to build it myself or be patient and wait.

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