Monday, 22 January 2018

Oops! No Plums!

Late last year, I took the decision to cash in my smallest workplace pension.  Partly to take some pressure off Howard in terms of household finances, but also as there were some big purchases I needed to make if I planned to put more effort into growing our food.

One of the things on my list was more fruit trees.  We'd lost a couple of pear trees then the allotment flooded a few years ago, and having rethought the layout last year while I was laid up unable to actually do any gardening, I had a section of the plot to dedicate to fruit growing.

So in the Autumn I took advantage of an offer Deacons nursery had for half price bare root top fruit trees, and ordered assorted apples, pears and other fruit trees.

The order arrived late last week, but not having transport to get to the allotment this weekend, we had to heel them in until we can plant them in the new fruit area in the back garden.  Saturday it rained all day, so much thumb twiddling took place.  Finally Sunday morning dawned damp, but not actually raining.  Unfortunately, by the time we were both ready & got outside to the garden, it was raining lightly, but we were determined to get the job done - opening the packages, bagging up the straw used to protect the trees, sorting through the trees, then planting them,  in batches of 5 or so, temporarily in spent compost in the potato planting bags, so they would be easy to transport to the allotment next time we hire a van.

Of course in the time it took to get all this done, the temperature dropped further, and the rain turned to sleet, then to snow.  But it was a job that needed completing, didn't require walking on soil or disturbing it in any other way, so we persevered.  As the snow once again morphed into sleet and then rain, the job was completed, and the trees were neatly placed in a sheltered but light patch.  I then ticked them off against my order - a selection of eating apples to crop & keep from late Summer through to early Spring, cooking apples to crop & store through Autumn & Winter, a small selection of cider apples to experiment with, a couple of pears to replace what we lost to flooding, a peach, a nectarine and a cherry to grow in the sunniest patch of the garden at the house, a damson and a greengage. 

Somehow I had forgotten to get any new plum trees.

Still, having done a scale plan of the fruit area, I reckon there's space for a couple more trees (as well as raspberries, gooseberries & assorted currants), so time to study the lists again.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Where did that year go?

So - my last post was on 5th May - full of optimism for the growing season ahead.

Three days later, I tripped and fell as I was politely stepping out of someone's way.  At the time, I was more worried about bits of gravel embedded in my hand, but the next morning I woke, and was barely able to move without incredible pain. Hospital was certain it was sciatica, gave me an injection and sent me home.  But for the next couple of weeks I was virtually bedbound, progressing to housebound, through to unable to get out & about unaided, and on to my current unsteady on her feet & unable to climb stairs in comfort.

After assorted blood tests, x-rays, & scans, I was told I had deterioration to my lower spine, which was pretty worrying, so I got sent (eventually) to a specialist physiotherapist.  Finally got my first appointment in early December, at which she reviewed the reports & scans, to tell me that there was nothing wrong with my spine - the "deterioration" was just normal wear & tear.  All the weeks being extra careful not to inflict further damage had been pointless.  Guess this is what happens when the scans are farmed out to private companies who want to justify charging the NHS exhorbitant rates.

What I had suffered was muscle and ligament strain, and once the initial inflammation (which caused the original pain) had gone down, my body was tensing up as if expecting another fall.  So my muscles were tighter, hence making it harder to get mobile.

So I'm now on a slow arc to recovery - lots of gentle exercise, much stretching, plenty of walking, as I build up confidence to face the outside world without a walking stick.

Though the stick comes in handy when you want the bus to stop for you.

Friday, 5 May 2017

The Past Calls You

During the spells of inclement weather this past Bank Holiday weekend, I took advantage of the free access to certain records on the Find My Past website.

I've been taking advantage of free access to records weekends on Ancestry since Easter 2015, and have actually built the family tree on that site, but sometimes looking at another website helps verify information, or provides records not available elsewhere.

Now, I've always believed that I'm half Welsh (on my mother's side), and going back three or four generations that is the case.  But so far every branch of that side of the family seems to have arrived in the valleys of South Wales in the 1870's & 80's - when the coal mining boom was in full flow.  When it comes to the origin of my maternal great grandparents, one branch came from the West Midlands, having been chainmakers and nail makers for several generations in Shropshire & Worcestershire.  I've yet to get back prior to the Industrial Revolution with this branch - this is the one that could actually trace back to the right side of the border, I'm told.  My maternal grandfather's mother was born in Devon, but the family moved to the Valleys prior to the 1881 census.  Before that, the generations I've traced were farm labourers in various villages between the Eastern edge  of Exmoor and the western slopes of Somerset's Quantock Hills.

My Welsh Nan's family also arrived in the Valleys some time in the 1870's - from Bristol and the Forest of Dean.  I have managed to trace the Forest of Dean branch of the family back to the 1530's - effectively the start of written records for anyone other than gentry - to Much Marcle, in the heart of Herefordshire cider making country. It's an area of the country I love and know well.  Whenever we go to the Malvern shows, rather than stay near the show ground, we usually stay on the outskirts of Hereford, then explore the area the days either side of the show.  I've always felt comfortable round there, almost "at home".  Now I know why.  This branch of the family also contains what seems to be our only brush with fame.  My great-great grandmother's birth name was Meek, and it appears I share ancestors with the famed record producer Joe Meek.  Cousins several times removed - our lines branch off around the time of the Civil War.

My father's family tree has been a little harder to research.  His mother was 12 when she lost her father in World War I, and seems to have been informally adopted by an uncle, whose name appeared in records of her marriage, and sent me looking in the wrong direction for a while.  Here also I found evidence of the lost inheritance I'd heard talk of as a child. Not a huge amount, but a great great grandfather remarried late in life, and left everything to his second wife.  I've also managed to trace one of my great great grandmother's lines on this side back to 17th Century Essex, and 16th Century Norfolk.

His father's side of the tree has seen me try to break through a few dead ends - one great great great grandfather is listed on parish wedding records as a Mariner on a Victuallery vessel - I guess that means a merchant ship carrying food & drink, though whether that just sailed around Britain, or plied the international waters I don't know.  This past weekend I have found out there are records of him at Trinity House, likely parenateg, a birth date (some 16 years earlier than the wife who appears in my family tree), and what looks like a previous marriage, though as yet no death details for either wife.  Did the first wife join him on board and die overseas?  Was he a bigamist, keeping two marriages going in separate ports?

This side is where I have found the only (so far) illegitimate ancestor - I can only speculate as to whether the man his mother married a few years after his birth was his father.  But I have been able to trace this ancestor's mother's family back from his birthplace of Ware, several generations back to villages just north of the town.  According to census entries, this ancestor was, during his time in Ware (before he married and lived in Uxbridge) a maltster.  I've been through Ware countless times - usually on the way to the plant nursery Hopleys in Much Hadham.  The church is set back slightly from the High Street, and just outside is a statue of man leaning on a large shovel, with a cat at his side.  This statue celebrates the maltmaking industry that thrived in this area two centuries ago.  And those villages?  Well, they're on the road that leads to Much Hadham, and I have passed through them almost as many times as I've been through Ware.  I have always had the urge to stop & explore, and I guess now I realise why.  These places, in countryside I love, are part of my history, and are waiting for me to tread where previous generations tended the fields.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

For those who work from home

A Poem

I must stop drinking tea
It does this thing to me
'cos every time I have a cup
I need to have a pee!

Working on the next verse, which will be about how every time I go to the kitchen to put the kettle on, the cat expects me to make toast, so she can lick the drips of melted butter off the plate.

More soon.

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Moment Has Arrived

The sun is shining, the birds are singing, it's dry, and almost warm!

The Equinox is over a week away, but Spring has well and truly sprung, and I'm finally confident enough to sow seeds.

This has been the coldest Winter for a few years.  Whilst there were no days when snow stopped everything, at least a little fell.  We had more heavy frosts than the past couple of years put together.  We had a couple of instances of consecutive heavy frosts, when the ice on the pond stayed solid for a few days in a row.  The downside of this was that I had to eventually fish out a dead frog that was a little over eager to get back under water and stake their spot for the breeding season. Fortunately, other frogs were a little more sensible, and for the past couple of weeks I've seen other frogs in the pond.

My little snowdrop collection has put on a great show, from the delicate Wasp to the big & bumptious Rev.Hailstone, and so many in between.  Once the last flowers have gone over, I'll start dividing and repotting them.  The frost has damaged quite a few pots, so it will be a pretty comprehensive job this year.  This year the double white Hellebore has been the most vigorous of my collection.  At the moment my favourite one, the yellow, is looking a little weedy, so I may have to work on the soil in that patch.

But Spring has arrived, as usual very slowly at first, then suddenly over the past few days my crocuses and daffodils have burst into flower, as have some of the plants in the shade bed apart from Hellebores - the Brunnera Jack Frost is in flower, the dark flowered Scopolia is in bud and colouring up, and the dwarf Celandine plants are leafing up.  On an edible note, I picked my first batch of Ransoms (wild Garlic) leaves for the year.

Not that was the first harvest of the year.  In January, I was able to pick a few flowers from the trough of Saffron crocus I'd planted at end at Summer.  I extracted the stamens and set them to dry, and by February was able to use them in a risotto.  I've sown little pots of salad microgreens which sit on the kitchen windowsill and get snipped and added to sandwiches, salads and scrambled eggs.  At the allotment, we had kale to pick throughout the coldest of days, when all other crops gave up the ghost.  Ignore the tarring by the brush of earnest health charlatans, Kale is reliable, versatile and tasty.  It survives the worst that Winter can throw at it.  Grow it for that reason.

In fact, just last week I started the kale crops that will see us through next Winter.  At the weekend I sowed more salads and the first batch of peas & beans.  This morning I planted the first potatoes for the year, in potato planting backs, to be grown in the back garden for extra early cropping.  Hopefully this week will be dry enough to get started with planting the rest at the allotment before the month is out.

Despite the doom and chaos in the outside world, what I can organise myself is looking positive.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Doing things ever so slightly differently

Valentines Day again.  Never been the biggest fan, maybe because I never got any cards from secret admirers.  Howard and I have never been hung up on it, unless we see a particularly daft card.  Always a good excuse for chocolate though - I spent the afternoon making some - a selection of orange and lemon flavoured white chocolate cups.  Still at the experimental stage - the lemon flavoured ones turned out fine, but the moment I added a few drops of red colouring to the orange ones, the texture of the melted chocolate changed.  Happened to both the rose and mont flavoured chocolates I made for Christmas too.  It turns them almost fudge like - fine to eat, but a pain to divide into paper cases.

The menu planning is going well.  Certainly makes day to day cooking easier.  We hardly have any leftovers now, except what is planned to turn into lunch, and grocery shopping is much easier now.  Tonight I'm cooking smoked haddock - poached in a splash of milk, and served with potatoes and broad beans.  Not something you'd want to take into work & reheat (sadly any fish or brassica dish does not smell office friendly), so tomorrow Howard will take one of the soups I made by pureeing the remains of one of our casseroles & freezing it.  Hopefully if he chooses one and takes it out of the freezer tonight, it will have defrosted in time for him to cook & eat it tomorrow - the last one too two days to defrost!

Normally around this time of year, I would have attended the first RHS Flower show at their HQ in Westminster.  In fact, it was on today.  But this year I decided not to.  Firstly, my knee is causing too much pain at the moment, so I didn't want to be out alone for too long.  Secondly, with just the one income at the moment, we need to buy just the plants we need to grow, and not be distracted.  I have a plant and crop list, and I'm doing my utmost to stick to it.  But most of all, the RHS have decided to charge for entry to the shows, even for members.  As far as I am concerned, free entry to these small shows is part of being a member.  In fact, I'm pretty certain it was stated as included on their website at the time I paid my subs for the year.  We are told it is to help them pay for a garden apprentice scheme, though I think it could well be to allow for a shortfall if the new show at Chatsworth House doesn't pull in the crowds.  All in all, I think it's as badly thought out a move as selling their main hall to Westminster School - a private, for profit school, then having to pay rent to use it about three times a year.  We'll have to see if they back down.

I also missed the Myddleton House Snowdrop sale this year.  Always held at the end of January, this is fairly local to me.  Just a couple of bus rides and a walk in fact.  It's a fun event, with everyone queueing up, and then a 15 minute frenzy when the gates open.  I've bought some lovely snowdrops there, but have not gone as mad as some.  I set myself a budget, and for last year's sale, I even compiled a strict wants list.  Some of the more obsessive collectors spent hundreds (I've never seen so many £50 notes in one place).  Granted, some of the more collectable plants had prices around or over three figures, but I am quite happy with my collection.  It lacks a few "classic" plants, but I have a good mix of small, tall, double, green marked, yellow marked, robust and dainty. I have them in pots dotted along the path from the back door, and they brighten what can be a shady part of the garden.  Even during the fog and snow of the past couple of weeks, the differing plants brightened the way and encouraged me to get organised for the new growing year.

In fact on the weekend of the snowdrop sale, we ended up taking a journey to a nearby garden centre to get at least a few seed potatoes.  Again, I'd put together a list of exactly what I wanted.  I had looked online and couldn't get every variety I wanted from just one place, so was getting frustrated.  As it turned out, the garden centre had more varieties than the one they advertised as having in stock, so I was able to get all on my list.

So now all I need is for the weather to warm up slightly and I can get going on preparing to plant for the new year.


Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Almost cut my hair (and how we came upon a bundle of fluff)

I trim my fringe every few weeks - especially during hayfever season, and when he can't find the time to arrange an appointment (more often than not), I cut Howard's hair.  I even bought proper hairdressing scissors a couple of years ago, so there was no longer an issue with the kitchen scissors being coated in hair conditioner.

Last night I trimmed my hair too.  Not much - just and inch or so, then thinned the ends.  For so little work, the difference is amazing - doesn't feel so straggly any more, and I don't feel compelled to tie it back to keep it tidy.

I WILL get a proper haircut at some point soon, but with funds being tight, it was well worth the effort.

Our local hairdressers are great - it was after all, how we came to adopt Pumpkin cat.

Flashback to November 2014 - How Pumpkin came to live with us.

She at the time belonged to the family who lived upstairs from the salon, and were tenants of the shop owner.  During the Autumn of 2014, staff noticed a can kept coming in & sleeping under where the towels were stored - a nice cosy place.  On further investigation, turned out it was owned by the flat upstairs, but spent its days in the cold, dingy concrete yard at the back of the shop, as the mother of the family didn't want it in the house during the day.  My hairdresser spoke to her tenants, and said if they really, didn't want to look after the cat, she would arrange for it to be rehomed.

It just so happened that I had booked an appointment for the Saturday morning.  While my hair was being cut, I talked about how we had lost Sheba cat to old age & illness in February, and given the mouse problem we'd had of late, decided we couldn't live without a cat much longer. So she mentioned that the upstairs tenants had a cat that needed rehoming, that it was most likely in the yard, but it was "a bit wild" and usually ran away when spotted.

So, once my hair was styled and dry, we popped out to have a look.  A first, there was no sign.  From the description, I was half expecting to see a battle-scarred tom cat, but then, on the top of the lean-to roof, huddled in the corner, I spotted a small, fluffy black cat.  I proffered my usual new cat greeting - held out my hand and said "Hello baby" - and it trotted towards me and sniffed my hand and face.  My hairdresser was amazed, said it had never reacted like that before.  We stayed in the yard a little while longer, and I was filled in on what info she had about the cat - female, neutered, about two years old (but tiny for that age).  I said I was interested, but would have to speak to Howard.

He was unsure, but popped down the next day to have a look.  Overnight, being 1st November and a Saturday, there had been fireworks, and later torrential rain.  So when he went to see her in the yard, she was cold & soggy, and not in the mood to socialise.  He didn't tell me at the time (spent the next few days asking me if I was sure what I had agreed to) but then and there decided we needed to take her on.

So I phoned and confirmed we would adopt her, but needed a little time to make a secure indoor space for her while she settled in.  Two Sundays later, we came along with a clean new pet carrier, to collect her from the family.  We had sprayed about half the contents of a bottle of Feliway cat calming spray on us ready for the journey home and what was expected to be a fractious afternoon.  With the exception of the daughter, it was clear nobody in the family paid any attention to the cat, and even she seemed to be more interested in her new goldfish.  So after a slight struggle to get her in the carrier (which she still hates), we collected her and set off home.

Her original name was Lucky, which given her circumstances, that felt almost sarcastic.  I decided that, as I had first met with her the morning after Halloween, and she had been sitting all folorn near someone's doorway, I would call her Pumpkin.

We had decided to set up space for her in the back bedroom, which we had turned into an office.  The think was that this was quieter than the front of the house, had a big window that looked out onto the gardens, so she could get a look at her territory before she was ready to venture out, and it was easy to keep that door closed while we got on with our day.  It also had the ensuite shower room, when we could have a litter tray for her which could be emptied and cleaned without having to go to the kitchen or the main bathroom (which actually had less floorspace).

When we arrived and let her out of the carrier, she bolted for the darkest corner of the bookcases, and watched use the computer.  In the evening, Howard made a supper of pasta with venison meatballs.  We sat down to eat in the office room, so she could get use to us & our voices.  Within a minute or two, she emerged from her cat cave, and sat near Howard, attracted by the smells coming from his plate.  He allowed her a couple of meaty morsels.  Later, she followed him into the ensuite, where she was introduced to the litter tray and used it immediately.  That night, Howard made himself a bed on the floor by the desk and in the morning she was curled up by his feet.

Pumpkin had arrived home.