I do not like snow (but potatoes are good)

We’ve just made the national lunchtime news. Whilst gritters have been out in full force across the Midlands, in my local area snow ploughs have been deployed. I am not excited.

SNOW 5

It looks like a black & white photo. It’s not – it’s just the way my garden looked when I got  up this morning. There was already a light covering of snow left over from yesterday which didn’t stop us doing anything but last night’s snowfall topped it up, and getting the car out of the close today is a task not worth attempting. Thank goodness for our ample food stocks; I have no need to go anywhere. Even Tesco Express, a five minute walk away is too far for me, though husband has been to fetch his newspaper. So important is this to him that I can’t think of a weather situation which would actually stop him!

Unlike most small children, from as far back as I can recall, I did not like snow. I considered it as too cold, too wet and too dangerous and was always afraid when my Dad went out to work in it. Of what, I have no idea but I can recall exactly how I felt. As an adult I detest it.  It is, I concede, one of nature’s prettiest decorations and I do not underestimate the magical atmosphere created by a (very light) sprinkling on Christmas Eve, but thicker snow worries me. I hate the thought of my children driving in it, of my grandchildren being driven around in it, of accidents and damage to cars and the associated costs. Snow makes me feel unnerved. I hate the feeling of helplessness, that I can do nothing to prevent it falling and, irrationally, I hate that snow covers up reality – it feels sinister. Yes, I get it – that’s weird!

I hear that my grandchildren are out enjoying building snowmen. Somewhere there is a photo of my very young sons with a snowman who even sported a snow-made top hat. Unfortunately I can’t locate it.  When my own children were young one of the books we most enjoyed reading together was this one:

Isn’t it odd that I should enjoy it so much? Written very much in the style of Dr. Seuss, it was really fun. I love reading with children as much as I hate snow!

My daughter watched The Snowman animated film (from Raymond Briggs wonderful book) endlessly as a little girl. I still watch it every year at Christmas. The pictures in the book are so beautifully drawn and the adaptation to film has been wonderfully done.

Enough of snow –  I just hope it melts very soon.  OH NO! No sooner did I type those words that it’s started again. The flakes are bigger than ever.

Meanwhile … … … I had the following pop-up onto my Facebook page earlier and thought I’d share it.  With the headline Potatoes – more than a bit on the side it’s a selection of recipes which showcase the potato rather than relegate it to the bit that fills up the space on the plate.  How fabulous does this look? Cheap, filling and nutritious, I often think that potatoes are overlooked when they can be used very successfully (and tastily) as the main ingredient of a dish. I shall definitely be investigating the site further.   https://www.lovepotatoes.co.uk/recipes/spanish-tortilla-with-paprika-and-parsley/

spanishtortillawithpaprikaandparsleyl

My blog-friend Bless always finishes her posts with a list of five things that she’s grateful for and today I am going to do the same.

Today I’m grateful for:

  • a warm home
  • well stocked food cupboards
  • that my family and I don’t have to drive anywhere
  • that my Christmas presents are all bought and wrapped
  • my cosy slippers

Christmas countdown

It’s six days since I posted – the longest gap in posts since I started my blog eight months ago. At the risk of repeating myself – WHERE is the time going? I had a problem accessing my blog for a couple of days but before that? No excuse. I have been busy though. The trees are up, the cards are written, the presents are bought (mostly) and wrapped and the freezer is filling up (I managed to free up one shelf – we are now on a mission to eat the contents of another so that I can restock it with more interesting vittles.

 

Over the years my Christmas decorating has become more minimalist as the ceiling-height real tree of my children’s childhood gave way, first to smaller artificial one, and last year to a white twig pre-lit which I decorate with ‘crystal’ trimmings.  I’m very happy with my twig tree (which looks SO much better in real life than in a photograph) but the children, now in their thirties and all with homes (and thus Christmas trees) of their own,  looked singularly unimpressed when they first encountered it.   The artificial tree was relegated to the open porch and when I drive into the close and see it lit up welcoming me home; I really like it there. I used to make a point of not putting the tree up until mid December after my younger son’s  birthday as I liked to separate the two but he’s lived away from home for thirteen years now so I’ve decided that I can drop this tradition. I doubt he even realises, much less is bothered!

 

I like candlelight in the evenings but not the black sooty marks that candles make on the walls. Imagine, that which doesn’t end up on the wall or permeating the soft furnishings, is ingested. I used to have a white fireplace and you would not believe the black stuff that wiped off it even after burning just one candle. I now use tiny battery operated, flickering tealights inside pretty coloured glass containers and I’d defy anyone to know that they weren’t real without actually looking inside. The ‘flames’ on the red wax candles not only flicker, but actually move just as real ones do. The Nativity scene was inherited after my mum died; it has been around for as long as I can remember.

Elf book

Last year my daughter-in-law bought the children an ‘Elf on the shelf’ which caused lots of laughter and got the youngest granddaughter uncharacteristically jumping out of bed each morning without being asked even once! The idea of the elf is that he was sent from the North Pole and flies back there each night to tell father Christmas about good/bad behaviour. Each morning, by the time the children awake, the elf is back at home and in a different place, sometimes having done something a bit naughty – he might have been peckish and be found upside down in a box of cereal, or perhaps hanging from the light fitting. Parental imagination is tested to the limits by Christmas day!   The accompanying book tells how the magic may disappear if the elf is touched:  “There’s only one rule that you have to follow, so I will come back and be here tomorrow: Please do not touch me. My magic might go, and Santa won’t hear all I’ve seen or I know.”  My granddaughters LOVE it. The book was written in 2005 but I wish it had been around when my children were small.

We’ve had our Gymophobics (click here if you have no idea what I’m on about  https://thisissixty.blog/2017/05/14/the-gym-for-women-who-dont-do-gyms/ ) Christmas lunch. Forty six to be served at once – the plates were hot, the food and the service excellent. I didn’t hear a single complaint and for £11.95 a head for four courses, they did us proud. Some far more expensive venues could learn from them, especially regarding the hot plates. I have a few other Christmas celebrations to attend but have sadly had to decline the one with  The Ladies Dining Group (six of us who take it turns to cook for each other) as I’m already booked. I love that I have lots of friends but too often I find myself apologising because it has been ages since we caught up.

Time was when one of the big pre-Christmas tasks was an outing to buy ‘the dress’ for the works Christmas party. This could take hours, possibly over several shopping trips. I am so glad that those days are behind me.  The ‘need’ for new has diminished and with a few choice items in black or wine velvet or lace,  I’ve got just about any occasion covered.

Postscript…Husband has criticised my spelling of vittles. I am well aware that it can also be spelt as victuals. However, as a recent student who studied the origins of English language I stand by my spelling which is the original one!

 

 

 

 

Good Food

Daughter and I have spent the afternoon at The BBC Good Food Show at The National Exhibition Centre. It’s something we’ve done a few times in the past and thoroughly enjoyed. I caught the train to Birmingham International at what I thought was a reasonable cost of £8 return. The line has recently been upgraded and we now get three trains an hour. The train interiors could do with an upgrade but they’re adequate, reasonably comfortable  and well heated, and it’s a lot better than driving there.
The first part of the journey is through the Worcestershire countryside and it always reminds me of what a lovely county I live in. Train stations, it has to be said, are not terribly glamorous, although Bournville  is a little more interesting than some. Cadbury’s is right on the doorstep and the station is painted in Cadbury purple. I did attempt a photograph but it wasn’t successful when taken through the train window. I changed trains at Birmingham New Street and caught the London train. Two stations along it stops at Birmingham International where daughter met me. From there it is a short walk, all undercover, to the NEC. I have no idea how many stands there were  – perhaps 250, selling all manner of food & drink and food-related products. Many are small independent companies but some of the multiples are represented too.

 

 

I don’t like crowds but by avoiding the weekend, it wasn’t bad at all. Past experience has allowed me to be well equipped for the shopping. The first time we went I arrived with just a handbag. What a mistake! My hands were raw from all the carrier bags and then I noticed that all the seasoned ‘Good Fooders’ were  using shopping trolleys. I can’t imagine using it anywhere else but the one I bought there and then has accompanied me to the show ever since.   In the past we’ve attended demonstrations by Dhruv Baker and Shelina Permalloo (winners of MasterChef 2010 and 2012) but I didn’t know the chef today – Paul Kelly. apparently he is something to do with Bronze Turkeys. Nevertheless, it was interesting to watch.

 

 

Both daughter and I are more than a little in love with Joe & Seph popcorn. The company produces bags of savoury popcorn in numerous flavorful combinations, my favourites being Camembert, Goats cheese & black pepper and Stilton & walnut. They didn’t have the latter so I substituted Marmite flavour. I’m one of the ones who love the stuff. The offer price for six bags was 25% cheaper than usual so we split a bag of six. Above is daughter buying falafel – one of her favourite things to eat.
I still got my Stilton & walnut fix though – in a loaf of ciabatta. There were lots of different ones to try and I just know it’s going to be the perfect accompaniment to some of the delicious Lymn Bank Farm cheeses. Four of them are now safely stored in the freezer ready for Christmas. I’ve bought the ginger one in the past and I know it’s exceedingly yummy!
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Both great fans of flavoured oils we also split a selection of these It is a lot cheaper to buy them in multiples. I also bought a selection of ‘spice drops’. These are concentrated oils to use as flavouring. For example, one drop of the orange oil is equivalent to the grated zest of an orange. I chose orange, lime and rose. Another Christmas treat  – a bottle of Limoncello. First tasted in Florence (and again in Rome) this is one of the very few alcoholic drinks that stops me from being teetotal.
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Just before coming home we treated ourselves to marshmallows with white melted chocolate from the chocolate fountain stand. Shamelessly decadent but sooooo amazing!

 

 

Husband got a giant Danish pastry as a thank you for driving me to and from the station.
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A short post on mushrooms and toadstools

Mushrooms 1

WordPress, which is the platform I use to host my blog, offers a new word each day as a basis for a blog post. I guess it’s ideal for people who can’t think what to write about since the word always triggers some kind of thought process. Just as I have no trouble thinking of what to talk about,  I generally have no trouble in deciding on a writing subject. However, one of the recently suggested words was fungus and this prompted thoughts of some photographs I’ve taken recently. I’ve never had any particular interest in fungi (apart from eating it) so it was quite a coincidence that I sacame across three examples in a very short space of time.

A question for you: what’s the difference between a toadstool and a mushroom? I asked myself this but couldn’t come up with an answer. I did a little research and discovered that whilst ‘toadstool’ is generally used to describe poisonous or inedible fungi, there is actually no scientific difference and that the terms are interchangeable. Dictionary definitions don’t help a lot.

  • Mushroom: a type of fungus, usually shaped like an umbrella, many of which are edible.
  • Toadstool: any of several mushroom-like fungus, some of which are poisonous.

The picture at the top of this post is of Hairy Stereum and was taken a few weeks ago in my neighbour’s garden. These are just two of a number of clusters. He got rid of them once and was very annoyed by their return (and bemused by the fact that I described them as ‘fascinating’ and asked if I could photograph them). This particular variety grows on dead wood. They are right on the site of an old tree stump.  Some years ago I remember a fairy-ring appearing. I wish I’d photographed it but who knew back then that I would one day write a blog post on the subject?

This tiny specimen was found in Devon right outside the door or the holiday lodge we stayed in. I am unable to identify it from pictures, though it might possibly be a Porcellain Fungus. 

Mroom

And these, my favourite,  were found in a wooded area to the side of the car park at the Berry Head hotel in Brixham. A trawl through Collins Complete British Wildlife identifies them as Shaggy Ink Cap.

Mushrooms 3

Personally I would be too cautious to eat mushrooms (or toadstools) which I found in a field or a wood so mine tend to come from Tesco which I’ve found to stock the widest selection of  ‘interesting’ varieties.

One of my favourite snacks is mixed mushrooms with Stilton and walnuts on toasted sourdough/ciabatta/nice crusty bread. It is very simple: Fry the mushrooms, place on top of toasted bread, sprinkle with Stilton and walnuts and grill. I’ve even served this as a starter at dinner for friends and it’s gone down very well.

NHS administration ~ In my experience

So often our National Health Service is wonderful. When I was admitted last year, as an emergency case l couldn’t fault the excellent service and treatment I received from everyone involved. Within minutes Of arriving in A&E I was in a bed, surrounded by doctors and having blood taken as they suspected a variety of things from meningitis to a heart attack to pneumonia caused by a blood clot on my lung. It turned out to be the latter. I was well looked after in hospital and have no complaints whatever about the entire experience,  but when it comes to admin in the NHS, there have been too many incidents that have caused me to shake my head in frustrated disbelief.

On one occasion I was waiting for a hospital appointment and informed them that there was just one day that I definitely could not attend as it was my son’s wedding. The appointment came for that day. When I rang to change it I was asked what time the wedding was! Did they seriously think I was going to attend on the same day as my son was getting married?  I had my diary with me and was ready to agree an alternative date but this couldn’t be done; they would send another appointment by letter. Who makes these crazy rules? What on earth does it cost to type the letter and post it to everyone who needs to change an appointment.

A while ago I arrived for a routine hospital appointment. I was asked to confirm my name and date of birth. The receptionist then stated my address by way of further confirmation. Except that it was  an address that I left in 1979.  Why was it still even in my file? I’ve lived at five other addresses since then.

Some months after that I received a letter from the same hospital. Despite it being sent to the correct address, it contained a copy of the letter they had sent to my GP which detailed my name and an address that I left in 1995.

I have worked in Human Resources for four employers. In each of those the ratio of HR staff to employees was in the region of 1:130. Back in 2013 I took on a three month interim position in the NHS in order to implement a new procedure. The site had 800 employees and 13 staff in the HR department – a ratio of 1:61.  My work was finished by before lunchtime each day. When I asked for something else to do, I was told that this wasn’t possible as it would mean taking work from someone else. When I ventured to say that the department seemed a little overstaffed (gross understatement), I’m sure that the horrified gasps of my colleagues could have been heard throughout the hospital.  The NHS is often criticised for having too many layers of management. This was clearly the case here: there was a Head of HR and organisational Development, HR Manager, HR Advisor, HR Officer, HR Assistant and several HR administrators.  Only in the very largest organisations is this the norm. In most companies of 800 staff there would be no more than three grades. I don’t pretend to know whether this is replicated across the NHS but it was hugely disappointing to witness such financial inefficiency due to over staffing.

What has prompted me to write about the NHS today is something that happened earlier this week to a close relative. He has to attend hospital several times a year for a drug transfusion. As per usual instructions he rang the hospital early on the day of his 12 o’clock appointment to check that the medication, which is specially ordered in, had arrived. He was informed that his appointment was at 10am, not 12 o’clock as shown on his letter, so he left home immediately to make the 50 minute journey. When he arrived they could find no trace of his appointment and denied that it had been made! His letter showed otherwise but he was informed that it must have been a mistake. However, they advised that he should have been there at 8am for a different procedure. He had been expecting an appointment for this procedure but had received no letter. The upshot is that he now has to wait again for both appointments.  Unsurprisingly  their systems did not allow him to book them there and then.

I am aware that my comments could provoke some strong reactions from anyone working in the oft-maligned NHS and I know that administrators don’t have the power to effect change in the way that things are done, but as admin procedures go, what an abysmally inefficient system.

 

 

Down with the perfect Christmas

 

 

Ways to make it magical, Plan for your best Christmas ever, Cook the perfect turkey, How to make perfect mince pies, Make the best Christmas decorations ever, Perfect cranberry sauce every time, Choosing the perfect present, Perfect wrapping ….and so on.

Newspapers, women’s magazines, television adverts, websites…there’s no let up. It just has to be perfect. One magazine offers several pages of advice for wrapping the perfect presents professionally and then gives detailed instructions on how to make four different types of bow: pom pom, chrysanthemum, tiered and two tone. And this is just one small part of Christmas.  Good Housekeeping  tells us on one hand how important it is to minimise stress at Christmas and then, in the next breath, how to give the Christmas table wow-factor. Why does the table need wow-factor? We like it to look nice, of course, but why the implication that without ‘wow’ it will somehow be less valid? I could come up with a hundred examples of similarly unnecessary pressures.

I’ve been in the game far too long to imagine that perfection is an achievable state or that Christmas will be an enormous flop if I don’t fold my napkins in the shape a sleigh complete with several reindeer. But I do remember how it felt as a new mum to be swept along with the notion that it was my responsibility to ensure that everything was wonderful – the tree chosen for it’s superior shape, beautifully decorated and perfectly positioned. If anything went wrong then Christmas would be a complete failure and it would be my fault.  If only someone had told me IT DOESN’T MATTER!  No-one should be  should they be made to feel inadequate because their family Christmas doesn’t match up to the glossy ads or feature articles.

Things haven’t changed, it seems.  Mumsnet, the website aimed at young mums, suggests that gifts such as bath bombs, soap and candles can easily be handmade (presumably to save the stress of shopping for them)! Just another job to add to the endless list. It also says that picking berries in autumn for your flavoured Christmas gin is a good idea. Because Christmas couldn’t be perfect if you didn’t do that, of course!

BUPA commissioned research found that that three-quarters (74%) of people find Christmas stressful, and that the pressure of making it perfect is a leading cause. Furthermore, according to the New Statesman, domestic violence peaks over the festive period. There seems little doubt that the financial pressures and stresses of  creating perfection shoulder much of the blame.

I’ve deliberately left this comment until the end because my key objection is to the call for perfection rather than concentrating on the rampant sexism that so often goes with it, but I do wonder many men’s magazines exhort them to make Christmas magical or offer instruction for making the crispiest roast potatoes or the most beautifully laid table (with homemade centerpieces, of course)!

Pink pressed glass

AAAA

My small collection of pink pressed glass began in the mid 1980s when I was given the opportunity to choose a couple of mementos after my aunt died. One of the things I chose was a small pink vase which I thought really pretty.

Vase

By chance, not long after, I came across a little pink glass dish in an antique shop. It was very inexpensive and , again, I chose it for its prettiness. I never set out to start collecting but over the years I’ve come across similar other pieces and liked them. Although full sets of larger pieces (even full dinner sets) can be very costly, for the most part small, individual pieces can be bought very Inexpensively though perhaps not often quite as cheaply as the candlesticks I discovered at a village jumble sale for just 20p! (Shown in the top picture). The oval dish below was bought at the local church fete for a pound. The others for just a few pounds in various antique shops.

 

 

Since pink has never been a colour I’ve used in decor, it was surprising that I was becoming drawn to what I later found is known as pressed glass.This type of glass became common during the mid 1800s to early 1900s and is produced by pouring molten glass into moulds which shape it. In plain, upright pieces there is a noticeable seam where the two halves are joined together, though this can be harder to see in heavily patterned ones. In the case of dishes and bowls the seam can often only be seen on the rim where two pieces have been moulded Easter egg fashion. It is the seam which distinguishes Pressed glass from other kinds. Here is my latest purchase.

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I’m not necessarily looking to increase my collection but if I see something that appeals, I doubt that I’ll resist!