And still it snowed

All afternoon and into yesterday evening, the snow kept on falling. A friend who lives in the nearby town of Alcester sent me this photograph of the main road which runs from her town to ours. It’s not terribly clear having been taken from the cab of a digger working to clear the drifts during the afternoon (she works for the company), but it’s easy to see that it looks impassable. I can’t imagine that the pub on the right did much trade yesterday.

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Fortunately we have had no more snow today and the forecast is that it should slowly begin to melt. There is already evidence of this as the cars outside our house are beginning to emerge from their frosty tombs.

I wonder what my blog readers in other countries think of the British preoccupation with the weather. In our defense, such levels of snow are rare and we are just not geared up to cope. The grit lorries do a sterling job but there are just not that many of them. Should our councils buy more ready for use when required I wonder, or are our council taxes better spent on services that are routinely required throughout the year? I think we have to go with the latter and resign ourselves to the occasional inconvenience caused by a heavy snowfall. The last seriously bad winters were those of 2010/11 and 2011/12 and, to be fair, this one hasn’t been particularly bad apart from a few very unpleasant days.

Personally, the biggest effect has been on my social life! A hair appointment cancelled on Thursday, no gym (closed) and a lunch party cancelled on Friday, today’s planned trip to Worcester (still looking for that dress) deferred until some unspecified later date and another lunch with friends tomorrow put off until the end of the month. Three free days – unheard of!  Yesterday I tried to write – the book’s epilogue is still stumping me so today I am not even going to think about it. Some sewing is likely (small alterations here and there and a hem to stitch) and I’m going to make a few greetings cards ready for forthcoming birthdays, a wedding and a soon-to-be-born new baby. Then it’s make a cake time. Just so you know, we don’t necessarily eat all this cake I make – sometimes I give them away.

The National Trust has a new Afternoon Tea book out and the Daily Mail has reproduced some of the recipes in today’s Weekend magazine.  I have the requisite ingredients for some of them so I may give them a try.  I could do some ironing but that’s quite unlikely!

If you’re reading this from one of those countries that’s basking in warmth and sunshine, spare a thought for us here, and to the rest of you, stay safe and warm and remember that though it may not seem that way at the moment – spring really is on its way.

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Because I can’t think of what to write…

The snow continues – eight inches of the horrible stuff this morning! Fortunately it’s not that deep generally but the wind has made it drift and thanks to the barrier formed by the rose border, it’s ended up settling on our garden path.

I should have been going to a friend’s lunch party today but, as heavy snow was forecast for today, she cancelled it yesterday morning which meant that I didn’t need to make the chocolate and lime cheesecake that I’d promised to take. This, in turn, meant that I didn’t need to go to the supermarket last night to buy the limes which I forgotten to get earlier in the week when I shopped for the other ingredients. I’d probably have popped into Asda as it’s the closest store, even though its not somewhere I shop regularly.

As I haven’t written a post for a week I thought that I should make the effort but subject matter eluded me. I decided to just make a start and see where it took me. Now I’ve mentioned Asda I think I’ll continue the shopping theme.

It’s rather unfashionable nowadays to say that one doesn’t like Aldi and every now and then when I feel pang of guilt for not trying to be more economical  I go to Aldi with the intention of doing my food shop there. I really do try to muster some enthusiasm but find it such a thoroughly dispiriting experience selecting items from cardboard boxes and negotiating the cabbage leaf-strewn floor that I invariable end up buying a couple items and quickly leave to resume shopping elsewhere. The aisles are narrow, the choice limited and the lighting harsh. The staff are conditioned to scan produce so quickly that customers are left with the choice of either throwing the whole lot into a bag with no thought of packing like with like, or dumping it all back into the trolley from whence it just came, to move three yards to another counter where it all comes out of the trolley again to be repacked.  And why do they insist on heaping the middle aisles with disparate odds and ends of dubious quality. From slippers to saucepans and bicycles to books, what a mish-mash. And as for the clothing – it looks like the church jumble sale after an hour’s rummaging. I’m not suggesting that there’s nothing there worth buying, I’m sure there is, but really, who has the time or inclination to plough through it all when they’ve come in to but something for tea? Most surprising of all is that several items that I regularly buy are priced are the same as, or in the case of the small eating apples I bought, more costly than in Tesco! As one might expect, those advertised comparison baskets are very carefully selected.

I expect there are nicer, tidier branches and I’m sure that Aldi sell perfectly nice lobster or champagne (or so various surveys tell me) but what I want is to be able to trust that the carrots I buy on Monday are still OK by Saturday. Unfortunately my (albeit infrequent) experience is that one needs to be very vigilant when choosing Aldi fruit and veg. The plain fat-free yogurt was good enough but I’m not prepared to endure another Aldi shopping trip just to save a few pence on yogurt.

Nearby we have Sainsburys which is a nice shop but there are too many items that I want to buy that it doesn’t stock, ditto Morrison. So most of my shopping is done in Tesco. Here I can get everything I want and our local branch is very spacious. I like space; I like Tesco.

From time to time, when I have enough of it (i.e. time),  I’ll drive further afield and do my shopping in Waitrose which is most definitely a favourite. Although more expensive, the quality is outstanding – similar to Marks & Spencer – and the fruit and veg last very well.  M&S is about to close my local store so we’ll have neither nearby. On holiday in the Lake District I shopped in Booths. Wow! You lucky Northerners.

If a large shop is required and I’m short on time I’ve occasionally ordered from Ocado and boy is it impressive! The delivery driver once texted to ask if he could come twenty minutes early, the quality of fresh food was superb with long ‘use-by’ dates and the packing was perfectly arranged like with like. The trouble is that I don’t want my shopping delivered reguarly. I’ve heard women say that they don’t like food shopping. I simply can’t identify with that because for me, choosing the food is the next best thing to eating it!

 

A little bit grumpy

I’m writing this post whilst keeping one eye on the snooker. I like snooker but this one is an incredibly boring game, hence I cannot justify engaging both eyes. Last night when Ronnie O’Sullivan was strutting his stuff was a whole different ball game so to speak!

Today started well – cold, but the brilliant sunshine made up for having to scrape the windscreen. It was most definitely a sunglasses day. I met a friend in town for coffee and that was good too. It was about 11am when we said our goodbyes and the day went downhill from that point.  Let me first say that I am not a supporter of the customer always being right, but surely some consideration should be given to what we want.

First stop – the bank. Excuse me for a moment whilst I scream at the memory! Truly it was not my intention to start a riot! Some time ago the bank got rid of the counter staff and installed self-service points. I wrote to Barclays at the time listing my various concerns. Their response assured me that their research showed that ‘this is what customers have been telling us that they want.’ I dispute that strongly but I suppose when they are working they serve the purpose. The problem arises when they are not working. There are three; one is fairly often out of order. Today, a Saturday (surely the bank’s busiest day) TWO were out of order. Three members of staff were standing around to ‘help’ customers.  Clearly they could not. what should have been a five minute transaction took 20 minutes. A conversation with one of those staff ensued. She toed the party line of course and reiterated that customers like the system. A man in the queue said, “Excuse me for interrupting but I agree with the lady [i.e. me]; customers do not like it.” He then turned to the lady behind him and asked her opinion. Several others in the queue then joined in and said that the didn’t like the self service system.  I departed at that point leaving the man demanding loudly that the manager come and speak to him.

Debenhams was next on my list but the experience echoed my last three visits. I want to talk to the Bare Minerals consultant but she is variably at lunch, on holiday or has a day off. It’s all very well for the smiley Clarins or Estee Lauder representative to say that perhaps they could find what I want but the point is what I want is advice. Isnt that the point of a consultant? I want to speak to someone who knows Bare Minerals. It probably didn’t help that I’d already been made cross in the bank, but by now I was feeling decidedly grumpy.

Why oh why does the fashion industry take a what is initially a successful design and then carry on producing it season after season, year after year? I detest dresses with ruches at the waist but it’s all I ever seem to find. I want a couple of jersey shift dresses that reach the knee and have three quarter or long sleeves, and importantly no ruched waistline. No new dress today. And I’d yet to go to Tesco!

Actually the dreaded ‘big food shop’ which I’ve been putting off wasn’t so bad apart from the bit where I handed over a grimace-inducing amount of cash, but hey-ho, apart from the fresh stuff, it’ll keep us going for about six weeks. Bargain of the month – the Natvia natural plant sweetener that I buy was reduced from £4.99 to £2.20. I bought three  which will last me ages. I just hope that this doesn’t mean it’s being discontinued which is what so often happens to things I like.

 

 

 

Some bits and some pieces

I’m just not in the mood for book-writing this afternoon. I’m working on the epilogue which I hadn’t planned to write but there are a few loose ends and I need to think about some possible scenarios. I find that ideas are more likely to come whilst I’m doing other things (or when I’m dropping off to sleep) than if I try to consciously work it out so having worked for quite a while on it yesterday, I’m taking today off.

Today’s post is again about my long weekend. I met my daughter-in-law and the two youngest grandsons at a garden and aquatics centre on Thursday afternoon. As usual, I didn’t think to take photographs. I must get into the habit of doing so. The fish and turtles held the boys’ attention for ages and then we went to the coffee shop. Garden centres do seem to have nice coffee shops nowadays. I’ve always liked to look at tropical fish (some are so incredibly pretty) but wouldn’t have the patience to look after them myself. The pot of hyacinth bulbs gifted to me by d.i.l is more to my liking! They smell divine.

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On Friday morning following the usual visit to the gym, I met up with a friend for lunch at the Victoria Plum cafe which opened close to my grandchildren’s schools a few months ago.  I’d always thought what a good idea it would be to open a cafe exactly where it’s opened! There are more than 1300 children on site at the two schools – that’s a lot of parents collecting them so something of a captive audience at certain times of the day. Victoria who runs the cafe has made it really inviting with comfy sofas and coffee table (complete with books about the town and surrounding villages) as well as traditional tables and chairs. She offers children’s tea parties and afternoon teas as well as breakfasts and light lunches. My friend and I chose the feta salad and it was very good indeed.

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Yesterday I received the sad news that a friend’s husband had died suddenly and unexpectedly the day before so I called to see her this morning bearing flowers and a card. It’s always hard to know whether to visit or keep ones distance and not ‘intrude’. I think that there is no right answer as people deal with such situations individually and want different things. It seemed that this time a short visit was the right thing to have done.

Elder son, d.i.l and all three grandsons then arrived (with beautiful tulips) for brunch – bacon & mushroom rolls with a few cocktail sausages for the small boys. I don’t cook a roast lunch every Sunday. The eldest grandson (11) has just returned from a school skiing trip. The middle one (2.5) informed me that his big brother had ‘gone skating’ and the baby (16m) has just started saying nanny. I’ll be seeing the granddaughters tomorrow when I go to take the eldest one’s birthday present. She’s 13 going on 18.

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I’m looking forward to watching Call the midwife this evening.  Earlier in the week we watched the three part Trauma with John Simm. I can guarantee that I’ll enjoy whatever he’s in. I first saw him in the series The Lake which was set in the beautiful Lake District, then later in Life on Mars.  In the drama Exile he co-starred with the wonderful Jim Broadbent (another favourite actor) and Olivia Coleman. Last night we watched him in the first part of Collateral , also very enjoyable. The second part will be on tomorrow so looking forward to that too.

Tomorrow morning will see me at the gym again and then off to work for a few hours. In case you’re wondering where my poor neglected husband fits into all this, don’t worry – he got a bacon roll too!  Actually he hasn’t been too well for a few days. Not exactly ill but ‘out of sorts’. I wonder if that is an expression that readers in other countries are familiar with.  He has no energy,  an on/off sore throat and swollen glands in his neck. I have diagnosed a virus! He’s probably glad that I’ve been out of the way.

More daffodils to keep me remembering that spring is on the way. I’m keeping this jug permanently filled with them.

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It’s a girl thing

I know that there are at least a couple of men who regularly take a look at my blog and in the interests of equality I have to say that you are most welcome to continue reading this post, indeed it may even interest you, but I’m just warning you – it’s a very girly subject and I don’t want to upset anyone’s sensibility . It’s so girly in fact that I’ve even borrowed my friend Leigh’s blog name for the title of this post because it really is a girl thing.

BRA

I am SO fed up with buying  trying to buy bras. I have friends who pick up bras from M&S or similar, choosing a colour and a style that they like the look of  and barely looking at the actual construction, and they just know they’ll fit. I have other friends who buy from a specialist lingerie shop and again, seem to have no problems. I even have one friend who picks up bras from supermarkets in packs of two, throws them in her trolley (you know who you are) and says ‘they’ll do’.  But when you are, let’s say, generously endowed, buying bras is nothing short of a nightmare. It seems that if you’re a B cup, you’re catered for pretty much anywhere. There’s not a great deal to accommodate and it’s a lot easier to adjust the bra you’ve chosen so that it fits comfortably. There are other advantages – you can buy shirts and blouses in unforgiving materials and so long as they’re your size, you’re sorted. Not so if you are a little larger: if it fits your bust it’s too large on the shoulders; if it fits correctly on the shoulders, the buttons won’t fasten. And it gapes – it always gapes. A small accolade for M&S here – they invented a double button style which has additional buttons that do up on the inside and this does help but it’s limited to only a few garments each season. I digress – back to bra buying.

For around twelve years, maybe even fifteen,  I bought repeated versions of the same bra which was sold by Ballet. Unfortunately the company went bust – pun intended. As soon as I heard this was happening, I bought up the entire remaining stock in my size from my usual store (five or six of them) and, having several already in use, was OK for quite a while. But one by one they went by the wayside and I struggled terribly to find anything which felt as comfortable or, in my opinion (and after all it was me wearing it), fitted so perfectly. It was time to find a suitable replacement style. For some timeI bought all kinds of bras, some better than others but none like my faithful Ballet style.  It was time to heed the advice and ‘get properly measured.’  Have you actually tried getting properly measured? I tried it. The results were, to say the least, interesting:

In John Lewis the recommended bra was excruciatingly tight around my back, though the ‘expert’ pronounced it a perfect fit. Apparently I was too used to ones that didn’t fit properly and was wearing them too loose. I trusted her, after all she was trained, so I handed over a small fortune and wore it the next day. By lunchtime I was back in the store to show here the deep red weals in my skin.

So I got  ‘properly  measured’ again, this time in Bravissimo (curiously a different measurement to John Lewis) and again parted with a not insubstantial amount of cash.  No red weals this time but the wire came so high under the armpit that every time I moved it felt as though I’d been stabbed.

The lady in Debenhams measured me differently again (The size matched John Lewis, the cup matched Bravissimo but neither combination matched all together). I felt as if I’d been put in a straight jacket; I could barely breathe! The larger size was certainly more comfortable even though the assistant adamantly told me was too big and would allow me to “fall beneath the wire!” I bought it and I didn’t fall beneath the wire but it soon be came clear (the first time I wore it) that the cup was too small. I may not have fallen below but I certainly rose above!

My final excursion into the world of expert bra fitters was an independent lingerie shop. Again I felt that the recommendations were too tight around my back but we eventually found one which seemed to be reasonably comfortable. I can’t bring myself to tell you how much I paid for the prettiest bra I’ve ever owned. Suffice to say it would have paid for a sizeable shop in Waitrose. But it was to wear with the dress I’d bought for my daughter’s wedding so I felt it was justified….until I’d been wearing it for about six hours. Feeling increasingly uncomfortable I went to my hotel room and discovered not only red weals but BLOOD! It had rubbed my skin so badly that I was bleeding!

No wonder so many women (or so we are told) wear the wrong size. Not only is measuring inconsistent but bras vary so much in size that it makes the whole thing completely pointless. What fits in one make doesn’t necessarily in another. What’s even more frustrating is that different bras in the same make don’t even fit the same. M&S please take note; your inconsistent sizing is probably the worst of the lot.

I gave up and decided to return to the trial & error method and trust my own judgement. I’ve found bras that fitted but none that are particularly comfortable and the shape of some is just plain weird.  I’ve given up trying them on in shops.  I now order online. I can try them at my leisure and with a variety of different clothes. Before Christmas I ordered four from M&S. None fitted well. Last month I sent an order to a specialist bra manufacturer for £350 worth (£70 each = desperation).  I returned them all – too large, too small, too scratchy, or too oddly shaped.

Even more desperately (and fast running out of time before I ended up with nothing in my bra drawer at all),  I returned to the M&S website. I ordered seven. At least the prices are reasonable. Despite all being labelled the same size, two were too tight at the back, one had straps so thin that I can’t imagine they’d have supported a 32A never mind me, one fitted at the back but the cup gaped, one was too large at the back and the sixth was just utterly hideous. The seventh looked curiously like the old favourite Bally bra. A little bit of stretch in the cup, comfortable at the back, straps that are just slightly wider than standard and not unattractive.

I tried it on… I smiled… I wore it the following day – all day…  I ordered four more of the same.

 

You have to hand it to M&S…

GLOVES

…it does sell exceedingly good leather gloves!

I have rather a liking for gloves, in particular leather ones, and specifically the ones sold by Marks and Spencer which offer outstanding value.  They are beautifully soft, especially so after just a few wearings. For many years I have been receiving them as gifts from my husband and daughter. I look after them and they serve me well. I refer here to the gloves rather than the husband and daughter, though I do try to take care of them too.  Daughter will testify to this as she was on the receiving end of a stern talk from her mother yesterday regarding a particular safety issue in which I regarded her to be negligent!

“I know,” she said, “It’s because you love me.” Spot on, daughter dear.

Back to M&S leather gloves: it’s rare for me to be without a pair (when outside, obviously) in the cold weather but I wear them not only for reasons of warmth. I like the look of them too and have colours to go with just about anything that I care to wear. Over the years some colours have been replaced as needed. I’m on the look out now for lime green ones and hope that M&S introduce this colour as, having tried other brands, I’ve found them not to be as good. I suppose there are exceptions but they probably come at an exceptional price!

Gloves have been worn as a fashion item for centuries, made from all manner of luxurious fabrics. In the past those worn by the upper classes were often lavishly embroidered or embellished with gemstones. I can’t imagine that sales today are anywhere near those reached in the fifties when women wore them for every occasion, including neat white cotton ones in summer. Following Audrey Hepburn’s look in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) long white gloves were considered very glamorous. The well groomed woman was expected to wear gloves in the city or town, when going to church, to lunch, dinner or a reception, to a dance, wedding or official function, and to the theatre.  It was expected that she remove them when eating, drinking or smoking, but not when shaking hands.

Initially worn only for protection (think workmen’s thick protective gloves and gauntlets worn for fighting), gloves have also been worn as part of custom and ritual practice by ancient societies, and as part of investiture ceremonies for monarchs where they symbolize the granting of tenure.  During the Middle Ages, knights were given a ceremonial glove to show understanding between he and the landowners. The knight was expected to provide military service and to be deprived of the glove for misdemeanor was considered very degrading.

The Fashion Museum in Bath (UK) is reputed to have one of the finest collections of gloves in the world:  https://www.fashionmuseum.co.uk/

Christmas break, Christmas cake

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Nativity scene made by my son years ago.

I won’t be posting for the next couple of days as I’ll be a little tied up!  I spent much of yesterday cooking (some to eat and some to freeze) and preparing for guests.  We’ve spent an almost-Christmas evening with the same four friends many times and it’s always enjoyable. Supper is served buffet style and the drink flows. It was after midnight when they left … so a later night than I’m used to nowadays. I slept like a log.

My Christmas cake, lighter than a conventional one,  was made using the apple cake recipe that I’ve been using for years, but now topped with icing, glacé cherries, walnuts and almonds. Whilst I was at it I made a lemon & lime drizzle cake and froze it for later.

imageAt this time of year Magazines are full of recipes for leftover turkey. I never have any left over because by the time we’ve made Christmas night sandwiches it’s all used up. (What better than turkey and stuffing sandwiches with pickled onions on the side? Yum yum….one of the best Christmas traditions).  This year I deliberately bought an extra crown which I cooked and sliced and covered in peppercorn sauce and mushrooms. I now have several portions ready for use over the next few weeks.  I do find we have all kinds of  other leftovers though but I never waste anything. I like the challenge of creating meals from odds and ends!

At Slimming World this morning I’d gained half a pound. Without last night’s revelries I reckon that it would have been a half pound lost. After SW I got my hair done and then we’re off to visit friends this afternoon. This will be the 29th or 30th consecutive year (we’re not sure). We’ll exchange presents and drink wine and wonder where the last year has gone. Then, once home I’ll be preparing for tomorrow.

So that’s it for a couple of days. I wish you all a very merry Christmas indeed.