Bits of this and that

I spent most of the morning at the gym with friends. Three of us had opted out of the circuit and were there just for the coffee and chat.  I confess that this is always the temptation though, for the most part, we do participate in the exercise, but today we all had our reasons for not doing so – a possibly broken toe for one friend, bad back and strapped-up wrist for another, and stitches from minor surgery in my own case. I was disturbed to find that we have turned into the kind of older ladies who discuss our ailments;  is there any surer sign of ageing? At least we recognised the fact and actively sought to change the subject!

Following a cold start to the morning it is now warm and sunny and as I sit and type I find myself wishing that my garden benefited from the same kind of avian activity as did our holiday cottage. You would not believe the number and variety of birds in that garden. There were frequently six or eight small birds (robins, finches, tits and tree sparrows – until I looked it up in the bird book, I didn’t know that there was such a bird as distinct from an ordinary sparrow) around the feeders and this beautiful Great spotted woodpecker visited early every morning and several times throughout the day. I have never seen one at such close quarters. Quite possibly that sentence should have ended at ‘never seen one’ because I’m not at all certain that I have.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

I suppose with Backbarrow, our holiday village, being a much more rural area than home it is inevitable that there will be more to see but we live in hope, much as we have done for years with the nest box camera. You can read about it here:  A not-so-desirable residence .  The experience has prompted us to buy yet another bird feeder, this time to be fixed to the wall next to the kitchen window. As this is on the front of the house, we’re not sure of its suitability but time will tell. I’d love a woodpecker visitor.

On Monday evening I went to Slimming World and found that I had gained 2.5lb on holiday. It was fully expected and deserved but I get very fed up of the fact that I have no watch what I eat so carefully, but I suppose that’s the case for many of us. I got straight back onto plan and am hopeful that next Monday’s weigh-in will show an equivalent loss.  Right at this moment I have a ‘cooking urge’. Despite that urge leaning towards lemon drizzle cake, I really don’t want to make a cake – we still have half the rhubarb and ginger one from Sunday and there is an apple one in the freezer. I shall concentrate on something savory. One of my daughters-in-law has recently become vegan. I’ve been used to providing vegetarian meals for some years but now have to rethink. I’m going to have a trawl around the recipe blogs and see what I can find. All suggestions welcome.

I had the spookiest experience a couple of weeks ago and meant to write about it but forgot to. A Facebook friend, someone I have known since junior school and have seen occasionally through the years as our paths have crossed, had posted a photograph of her wedding twenty six years ago.  As I glanced at the picture, I was totally thrown by what I saw. I should say WHO I saw, for there in the corner of the picture, standing in the choir stalls, was my mother who died sixteen years ago. I knew, of course, that she was in the choir but I had not known that she had sung at this wedding and, not for one moment, had I expected to see her smiling out from a Facebook page! I’m not sure why but it really unsettled me all evening .

So, apart from the cooking, what’s planned for the rest of the day? I have a couple of drawers to tidy out and I must email a friend to suggest a few dates for lunch . Then I’ll make some ‘new home’ and ‘sympathy’ cards. I sell handmade cards through the gym (for charity) and I noticed this morning these sections are almost empty. I also have a couple of small bits of sewing to do (not my favourite job but needs must) and finally, I want to read this months Slimming Magazine so shall sit down later with a cup of coffee and NO slice of cake (silently chanting my current mantra of two and half pounds, two and a half pounds…).

I enjoy a day like this – nothing out of the ordinary, just spending time chatting to friends and ‘pottering’ at home.  Husband is pottering in the garden – i.e. fixing the new bird feeder to the wall. No work today which makes it extra nice!

I hope you’re having a good day too.

In praise of seagulls

Bowness (1)
Located half way along Lake Windermere, Bowness on Windermere (as distinct from the village of  Windermere) is probably one of the most populated towns in the region.  It is undeniably touristy but the lakeside is very pretty and there is something about this place which brings us back on every visit to the area. People watching, boat watching (including the steamers which offer regular trips on Windermere) and choosing an ice cream from the thirty six flavours on offer at the Windermere ice cream company, are all rather addictive activities. On this occasion it’s tiramisu for me and Rum and raisin for husband.
From one of the many benches placed along the edge of the lake, we enjoy the sound of the water as it laps the shore. There is another sound which is forever associated with Bowness – the unmistakable seagulls’ call.

Whilst not wishing to diminish the sometimes devastating impact of living in close proximity to large flocks of gulls, (they have been known to physically attack people and fatally injure animals) I sometimes wonder if I am the only person in the world who has a good word to say for the much maligned seagull (a generic name to describe different types of gull). Variously, and reasonably, described as aggressive, scavenging and evil, these intelligent creatures are known to be diligent and caring parents. They are also incredibly loyal and a distress call by one gull will attract support from many others. We may not like the resulting onslaught of angry birds but what’s not to admire there? And how magnificently these handsome birds (for the gull is an extremely attractive specimen with its snow-white and silver grey plumage), gracefully hover, dip and swoop.

Their range of complex calls are incredibly evocative of childhood holidays and happy seaside days spent with my own children. I had a liking for the sound they made then and I still do. Whilst other students at university complained of unasked for early morning wake up calls,  I loved to watch them  congregate noisily along the banks of the River Severn.

The seagulls in Bowness are bold in the extreme, totally unfazed by the influx of visitors and they think nothing of swooping down to the edge of the lake to steal not only the inadvertently dropped chips and ice creams but to swipe food directly out of the hands of unsuspecting holidaymakers. This behaviour isn’t inherent so perhaps we should look to ourselves for the reasons. We’ve decimated the oceans, strewn our pavements with the detritus of late night fast food and provided a feast of unprecedented proportions by our reckless land-fill wastefulness.

There are calls for culling though urban gulls are currently protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. It may not, in any case, be necessary; there exists seven species of gull common to the UK and it may surprise you to hear that their declining number of most of them is of concern to conservationists.

How rare the opportunity to photograph from above a bird in flight. This seagull picture was taken by my husband in Stockholm a couple of years ago.

Black gull 2

 

‘Ast-cot’ Ladies Day

Ascot

Apologies for the fuzzy picture (but at least you can breathe a sigh of relief that it’s not your eyesight)! It is the only relevant one I have. I’m the one on the left with the black fascinator. If you know me you’ll notice that I’ve had my hair cut, much to the relief of my hairdresser daughter-in-law whose been telling me for ages that my shoulder-length style was a bad advert for her skills!

Yesterday was Ascot Ladies Day. Entry to the real event would have cost somewhat more than the £6.95 that my friends and I paid to attend ‘Ast-cot’, the mock-version held at  The Bell Inn in Astwood Bank (a village near to where I live).  They did us proud, as did the gym manager and her assistant who arranged the day and handled out bets – more of that in a moment. I love my gym – it’s so much more than a place to exercise.

Royal Ascot has been running as the kind of event we recognise since the early 18th century and in 1922 was described by a journalist from The Times as “the best place in England to see beautiful women in beautiful clothes.” Undoubtedly had he been in Astwood Bank yesterday, he’d have said the same!  In the early days hats were obligatory and the tradition seems to have endured with them becoming more elaborate (if not bizarre) year on year. None of our headgear fell into that category but we all looked jolly smart.

Our afternoon began with drinks followed by lunch and for our very reasonable ticket price we were offered five choices of both main course and dessert. Pub food it was, but very nice pub food; we really couldn’t fault it. I chose the breaded plaice and it must have been the largest piece I have ever been served!  The chips, peas and salad were also generous as were all the other options.  My trifle was home made and delicious too. Then we had coffee and mints.

A large-screen TV was set up on the bar and bets cost £1 per race. I got an insight into how people become hooked – it was so exciting! Which was a bit of a surprise because I’d really gone only for the lunch and a chat with friends. I’ve only been once to the races before and that was for a corporate event at Stratford race course – heavens, it was boring! Anyhow, our horses were picked for each race very unscientifically by drawing a number from a bucket. I don’t suppose this mattered since we all admitted that we had no idea about ‘form’ and ‘going’ (I’m wondering here how on earth I even know the terminology)! My horses won a second and a third place so my total winnings came to £9. Given that I spent £4.50 on drinks (I’m a very cheap date as I don’t drink alcohol), and £5 on bets, the net cost of my very enjoyable afternoon out was £7.45 – how about that for a bargain? Already looking forward to next year’s Ladies Day.

We also raised £40 for Cancer Research which is the gyms main charity. By the way, the recent quiz night which I mentioned in an earlier post raised a staggering £850!!

 

An Al fresco evening

Starlight Express

This climbing rose is called Starlight Express and it is one of the most prolific I’ve ever seen. At the height of its season we have been known to deadhead more than a hundred blooms in a single day.  It was launched in 1997 (the year that we moved into our present house)  to support the Great Ormond Street children’s hospital fund. We planted this one  the following year.  The fragrance is light and I usually choose more fragrant roses but I love the colour. Indian Summer is my all-time favourite. I have one of these in the front garden.

As we went out for lunch today, we only wanted a light meal this evening so, making the most of the slightly cooler temperature, decided that we could eat outside. Our un-shaded south-facing garden has been far too hot over the past few evenings. A light tuna and egg salad was enough.

Tuna & egg

I’ve been baking this afternoon so we followed it with a sticky lemon cake (made this afternoon) served with chopped strawberries and peaches. Chopping strawberries is a little quirk of mine. I cannot eat a strawberry unless it has at least been cut in half. I can tell you exactly where this odd habit arose. I was a small girl in my grandparent’s garden when, one day, I pulled the stalk out of a strawberry and was greeted by a tiny, wriggling white creature – some kind of caterpillar I expect – but I ran in screaming that there was a worm in my strawberry and I didn’t eat them for years afterwards!

Cake fruit

Whilst we sat there enjoying the warm breeze, I thought I could take you on a tour of my garden which slopes upwards away from the house. Leading from the house, French doors open onto the patio which has a few filled pots, like the one below which contains alstroemeria.   There are some lilies still to flower. I know from previous years that they will be stunning.

Alstroemeria

There is also a small border  where we grow sweet peas, I adore their smell. Amongst their roots are Welsh poppies and Nigella.

Nigella

Seven steps, with a rockery to each side lead centrally from the patio to the next level. On the right hand side is a bird bath and two feeders – one contains seeds and the other, fat balls. There are lots of little hidey-holes for wildlife in amongst the plants.

Bird bath & feeder

At the top of the rockery sits a huge California lilac and behind that a purple lilac tree. Both are well past their flowering time now but here is a picture taken a few weeks ago. It’s a shame that the lilac blossom is so short lived.

Lilac

The second level provides lots of little areas for wildlife, several shrubs including a large orange blossom,  the aforementioned Starlight Express rose, and Madame Grégoire Staechelin, another very vigorous climbing rose, this time white with very dark glossy leaves and a strong heady fragrance.  It is a later flowering rose so nothing to see at the moment. The two roses intertwine with honeysuckle and cover an arbour which sits at the top of the steps. We dispensed with the grass a couple of years ago and laid a circular stone area instead.

corner

A few more steps lead to another, much smaller, rockery and the garden shed which started life as a summerhouse. For a tool store cum propagation room it is rather well appointed with lined walls, tiled floor and fancy wall lights! We so rarely used it for its intended purpose that when the old shed got damaged by bad weather, we decided to co-opt the summerhouse as its replacement.

Summerhouse shed

Behind the shed and up another couple of steps is our small vegetable patch where we (I use this term loosely – I NEVER do gardening other than a rare rose deadheading) grow runner beans, leeks, raddish, spring onions, tomatoes and rhubarb. The raddish are not doing well this year – lots of leaves but very little raddish.

Beans & Leeks

I’m off to paint my nails now, ready for tomorrow’s Ascot Ladies Day.

 

 

 

 

Please don’t buy me STUFF

My daughter-in-law asked me the other day what I’d like for my birthday. I said that I had no idea. She suggested then that she give me money so that I could get something that I want and I had to tell her that that’s the problem – there is nothing. She tried again; how about something to wear? Again, I had to say that there was nothing I want. I look around the clothes shops and feel totally uninspired by what’s available. Most things that I like are too similar to something I already have. In fact the only clothing that I ever seem to covet is beautiful evening-wear but that would be a complete waste of money since I already have plenty of this even though nowadays I hardly ever wear it.

Receiving a gift is lovely but I’m not being ungrateful or difficult when I say that I do not want ‘things’. I already own those things that I want to own.  I’m not a great one for jewellery.  Yes, I have a penchant for chunky clip on earrings but I have perhaps twenty pairs – I don’t need more. I absolutely love the necklace that my younger son and daughter-in-law bought me as a gift for having their children when they went to America for a few days, and I was blown away by the beautiful watch they got me for my 60th birthday, but that’s enough. For some years now I have been asking for experiences (a back massage, facial, manicure etc)  or consumables (the specific perfumes, make up or skincare and bath products that I use, or vouchers to buy same, chocolate (but PLEASE…not too much!) or flowers). For that same birthday, both my daughter and my elder son (though I suspect it was actually assembled by his kindly girlfriend) put together wonderful, generous selections of all those favourite consumables. And for Christmas they gave us a voucher for a meal out at a place they know we like – perfect.

We have a house full of far too much and bit by bit I am forcing myself to get rid of some of it. Too many books, too many shoes, too many clothes, too much of everything. I’m struggling a bit with parting with my university text books (too many good memories that are very recent) but it will happen.  I find the idea of filling my home with yet more ‘stuff’ rather depressing. Husband has been slowly downsizing the abundant contents of our large loft. Honestly, if something has been in there unused for years, are we really likely to develop as sudden need for it?

Later on that same morning that d-i-l asked what I’d like for my birthday,  I happened to mention that my purse lining had worn and that coins kept slipping into a ‘difficult to extract from’ place.

“I’ll get you a new one for your birthday,” she said excitedly.

“NO!” I told her. “I’ll mend it.”   I like my purse, it has exactly the right combination of pockets and pouches and I really don’t want a different one.

Mend it!  This she could not believe. “But I’ll get you a new one.”

I’m hoping that she took my further insistence that I actually wanted to mend it, seriously. (And in case you are reading, d-i-l, I’ve already done it). The old saying about making do and mending seems to have fallen so far out of fashion nowadays that I wonder whether many young people have even heard the expression.

My keenness for making do is borne from an inherent dislike of wasting anything. I sometimes alter clothing that I am fed up of wearing – perhaps shortening or remodelling a dress, or replacing existing buttons on a cardigan for more interesting ones.  It’s not because I’m mean. Part of my role in my previous working life in the energy industry was to obtain qualifications in, and carry out environmental audits. As such, I am a great believer in the reduce, reuse, recycle philosophy. Too often people talk of recycling in terms of putting waste in the correct bin, when the first consideration should be reducing. It is the easiest thing ever to reduce the amount of things we own by choosing to not buy more and that’s why I don’t want tangible gifts.

 

 

 

Not very smart

Phone

I’m not very smart, in fact I’m not at all smart – in terms of my mobile phone, that is.

From time to time people ask me to join them on ‘Messenger’ and I am invited to download an app. My twelve year old granddaughter suggests I should have an instagram account and I frequently receive friends’ indecipherable messages on my phone which have been sent using technology that my phone does not have (these, according to said granddaughter, are emoticons).  I am still using the phone I got in 2007 – yes, TEN years ago! The provider frequently reminds me that I am entitled to an upgrade and, just as frequently, I remind them that I am not interested.

I find it astonishing that people are willing to pay £30+ a month for their phone contract. Maybe it costs even more than that nowadays. For £5 a month  I get unlimited texts and something ludicrous like 500 minutes talk time which, so far as I’m concerned, equates to unlimited time given that last month I used 21 minutes and the month before that 27. I understand that i.phones can cost literally hundreds of pounds to buy. Unbelievable!  Of course, those paying high monthly charges are getting more for their money but these are not things I need or want. Let me explain:

I have never found the need to look at my email whilst out and about. If anyone needs me for something important they can call or text me.  Other than that it can wait until I get home where I can access emails on my i-pad, laptop or desktop PC.   Similarly I have no possible interest in letting everyone and anyone know where I am at any given time by allowing my phone to log my location. I just don’t see the point.

Some people’s phones seem to ‘ping’ continuously with new stuff for them to view on Messenger, Facebook, Instragram, Snapchat, Pinterest or Twitter. There are probably others of which I have never heard.  If I had these facilities then I would feel compelled to look – a case of the phone owning me instead of the other way round!   I usually log on to the internet  at some point in the evening where I can pick up whatever has been sent or posted.I do have a Facebook account (though I don’t post very regularly)and that’s enough. I don’t need anything else so, for as long as my phone works, I’m happy with the old friend.

 

A busy week

I am a very sociable sort of person. I love to meet up with friends and going out for lunch is one of my favourite things to do. However, going out in the evening comes a lot further down the list so to have been out on three evenings within eight days is almost unprecedented.

Firstly husband and I attended an evening wedding reception. It was nice to meet up with people whom, in some cases, we hadn’t seen in a few years, and we had an enjoyable evening. When we got married, evening receptions were unheard of but today they are the norm and I can understand why. Even low-key weddings are costly with a hotel reception costing from around £50 a head for the day which, for most people, severely curtails the guest list. Being able to extend the celebrations into the evening  and include more people to share this happy time seems a good compromise. Most people actually want their friends present rather than a great aunt who is never seen from one year to the next, but wedding guest lists can be a complex nightmare and I have seen friends get really upset by their children’s refusal to invite certain people.  To my own children I said that their guest list was absolutely their choice and not once did we have any disagreements over what, after all, was their day and not mine. My daughter invited some criticism for excluding children other than nieces and nephews but when you marry in your thirties lots of friends have children and the number would have run to more than thirty little ones. I was fully behind the decision.  Of course people could do what my husband and I did – a handful of guests at the local register office followed by drinks at home. I have to admit though, I’d really like to be able to look back on something a bit more glamorous.

Anyhow, I digress …so back to my busy week.The second evening event was a surprise birthday gathering at a local pub for a friend arranged by her husband.   Knowing that she’s not a great fan of surprises, I wasn’t sure how it would go down but it was a pleasant evening with lots of chatter and putting the world to rights. It was the evening before the election so there was plenty to talk about!

The following day was the afternoon tepee party (regular readers will remember that I mentioned this as a forthcoming event a while ago). With comfortable seating for around twenty guests and a central log fire, it’s a place I would definitely consider for a celebratory get-together. One of my friends from the gym was 65 and ten of us had a great day re-living our youth with a selection of sixties music in a large hired  tepee in a pub garden. The company was great, the food was good, the drinks flowed and we wore feathers in our hair! The latter were provided by the birthday girl as she thought they would fit well with the tepee theme but then we noticed that it was described as a ‘Nordic Tepee’. Unfortunately we couldn’t make use of the adjacent garden as it rained heavily.  No matter – we still had a lovely time.

tepee 2

The following evening I was with some of the same friends at a charity quiz organised by the gym. We raise money for Cancer Research as our primary charity but also for several others. The quiz night supported Cancer Research and MacMillan nurses. My last blog post included information on Sir Edward Elgar and by coincidence, the first answer in round one was…Sir Edward Elgar! Out of sixteen teams we came second, losing out to the winners by only three points.

During this eight day period I also worked 26 hours, entertained visiting grandchildren, invited my brother to dinner, met an ex-fellow student for coffee, went to the dentist, got my hair done twice  and attended the gym three times. Last night I was in bed at 8.30pm – exhausted.  Age might be just a number but sometimes there’s just no denying it!