Monday, 26 November 2007
I was a tad disappointed when the paper went tabloid a couple of years ago. Whilst I fully understand the reasons for doing this, I feel the editor didn't carefully consider the needs of us cat owners. The rustle of a newspaper is second only to the lifting of a can opener in attracting a cat to your side. In the days of the broadsheet version, cat and owner could co-exist peacefully - cat plonked down on one page and I able to continue to read the other. Now it's war each time I settle down to read the paper. We used to read the G&H's sister paper, The Chippenham News, but could never understand why the property pages seemed to concentrate on Corsham's housing market, until we discovered a few years later Chippenham's were in the G&H instead - doh!
This week's paper has the usual treasure trove:
- The benches moved from the town centre's bridge at the police's request because they were a gathering place for troublemakers, are to be restored back to the main high street. This means the elderly will have their much needed shopping rest point available again. A triumph of sense and pensioner power over the troubles of today's yoof!
- Our local MP continues to struggle with his political reputation after his 'love rat' antics during the last general election. This week saw him win the latest vote to keep his selection as parliamentary candidate. I'm glad I'll be in a different constituency to his the next time round as Chippenham is to be separated from North Wilts - ironic really as Chippenham was one of the original Rotten Boroughs
- There's continuing High Street woes - parts of the covered car park continues to excude a corrosive substance after 18 months and we're also due to have 15 weeks of roadworks early next year, hot on the heels of a similar period of misery earlier this year
- The name of the man who's been jogging around Chippenham in a Spongebob Squarepants hat singing Amarillo for at least 2 years. Apparently he did the same at the New York Marathon recently - well done. However, I'm considering whether to ask him if he does requests to inject a little variety - Avenues & Alleyways anyone?
- A repetitively worded article - there's usually something where nearly exactly the same thing is reported twice, often including the same quote from the interviewee, in adjacent paragraphs. A regular variation is the publication of exactly the same article in at least 2 parts of the paper
- The Regular Events listing continues to have the imaginatively titled "Two Left Feet" dance evenings at £5 per couple. Unfortunately NAH is only known to dance when extremely drunk, so I'm unable to avail myself of this bargain evening. Perhaps I should join "The Sahara Sisters" for a spot of solo belly dancing instead?
- The fact that the last-minute substitute speaker's subject at Hardenhuish WI was "Unexpected Events"...
I also read various national newspapers from time to time, but fail to recall a single article I've read. This is not the case with the G&H, so I'll leave you with my particular favourites from over the years:
- The picture of Charles and Camilla's banns posted at Chippenham Registry Office (the nearest one to Camilla's home at the time): revealing Camilla as a year older than her beau and not working plus Charles' occupation as 'Prince of the United Kingdom'
- An earlier article on Camilla being bombarded with bread rolls at Sainsbury's in Chippenham by Diana supporters when her dalliance with Charles was revealed in the national press
- An objector to a local eyesore when interviewed describing it as 'Like lipstick on a gorilla'
- A burglary thwarted by the fact that the lookout's deafness prevented him from hearing when the shop's alarm had gone off
I loved the article on this morning's Breakfast News about the tanker training school at Southampton. About 200 senior shipping personnel take to the 10 acre tidal boating lake each year to hone their skills using 1:25 scale models of the real thing.
Students say it provides far better training than the computer simulations available. I bet they find it much more fun too! A senior lecturer, Captain Chris Clarke said: "You cannot turn up at Fawley oil refinery in a '150,000-tonner' and say I just want to do a few practice turns." Quite.
However, I don't think Fawley has the same problems with the 'iceberg simulating' swans as they had on the TV this morning!
Thanks to the Warsash Maritime Academy for the image used for this posting.
Sunday, 25 November 2007
My local garden centre usually gives away a free bag of daffodils each year and although my garden is stuffed to the gills with them, I just cannot resist such an offer. As a result, I've extended my planting onto the public land next to the house. This little lot went under some trees today and I'm looking forward to them brightening up my walk back home from town next spring.
I really hate this job as I'm sure that more of the grease gets all over my hands than gets applied to the tree. I always manage to get the timing wrong too - after the allotment's water's been turned off for the winter, so I have to wait until I get home to get cleaned up.
This assumes I haven't stuck myself my clothes, to the shed or the car in the meantime. It's only visions of perfect fruit next year that helps to keep me going. Here's an example of the finished result - now try and crawl up that Mrs Moth!
Friday, 23 November 2007
This week's mainly awful weather has meant very little Veg or Garden plotting of a practical nature has taken place. Instead, I've been able to turn my attention to my 'Booklog' (i.e. book backlog), which has swollen to enormous proportions due to recent purchases - about 30 books in fact.
Not books strictly speaking I know, but I've also taken the opportunity to peruse the numerous seed catalogues sent to me in recent weeks. Aha I hear you cry, you could call that veg plotting of a theoretical nature. OK I confess, I've been planning what's needed next year whilst imagining that elusive perfect plot of no weeds, bumper crops and easily tilled soil (dream on!).
Back with the Booklog, I've managed to finish reading Beth Chatto's Garden Notebook this week. It's always illuminating to read the thoughts of one of our great plantswomen - I particularly enjoyed her accounts of the garden nursery part of her business. However, I did find some of her planting descriptions a little repetitive, always a danger with this kind of book, especially when presented in a diarised format.
A particular delight was receiving a book from Grumpy Old Bookman, who's been clearing out his attic recently. I'd requested Scrooge and the Widow of Pewsey, which arrived with an important plop on my doormat on the rain sodden Monday. I wasn't feeling particularly well that day and this book turned out to be the perfect antidote, devoured in one delicious sitting.
I'm now in the latter stages of What was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn. I believe I was fated to read this book as in the space of a couple of days recently, I not only found that it was Book Monkey's recommendation on the delightful Mr B's website, but it was also mentioned in a recent newsletter from my old school as the author is also an ex-pupil. This mysterious, atmospheric book particularly resonates with me due to it's main setting in a shopping complex, very similar to the one where I had a Saturday job as a teenager.
I'm also finally getting to grips with The History and Naming of Plants - the first manual of the Designing with Plants course I'm currently taking. I've had all the materials since August, but have only managed to start it this week. Up to now, I've been procrastinating - aka getting to grips with the reading list, starting the sketchbook and plant profile elements of the course assessment, and making sure I do plenty of practical gardening instead of cracking on with the actual theory needed to pass the exam. This week's weather has made me start the course proper - at last!
Thanks to Tindal Street Press Limited for the book image used for this posting.
It's Chippenham Festival this week and in spite of the crazy decision to sell tickets only in Corsham, I trolled over there on Tuesday to buy one to see Naked Voices at the Neeld Hall last night. As you know, I've joined a Community Choir and it just so happens that Chris, our choir maestro is a member of this group. I thought it would be a good idea to see how the professionals do things and what we should be aspiring to.
It was a stunning display of varied voices, music and choreography. I particularly enjoyed the StarFlashThunder medley (Startrek, Flash Gordon and Thunderbirds), especially Chris' role as the Brian Blessed character ('Gordon's alive!') and the superhero posing at the back during the Flash section. Another highlight was the Pearl & Dean music (always a favourite when I go to the cinema), cheekily arranged to form the group's own advertisement for their merchandise. A spooky coincidence was the performance of Leiber & Stoller's Ruby Baby as a colleague of mine gave birth to a little girl called Ruby Eva at 12.15 am yesterday.
I was a little nervous about going on my own, but I needn't have worried as there were plenty of fellow choir members there to chat to during the interval. My seating neighbour, a member of Chippenham's Male Voice Choir, was most impressed: his parting words were 'We've got a whole lot more practising to do to reach that standard!' I also had an ulterior motive in going to the concert as our own choir will be combining with 3 others there to form 'The Wiltshire Wailers' to 'Sing for Water' in aid of WaterAid (also linked on the right of this page) on December 17th. We'll be about 100 voices strong and performing a suitably festive programme of music. The stage looked quite small for that number of people from where I was sitting!
If you would like to join a Community Choir near you, then you must take a look at the Natural Voice Practioners' website. You'll find country and county by county listings, so there's bound to be something available close to where you live. If you want to see Naked Voices for yourself, you'll have to hurry as they're on their farewell tour. The above link to their website will tell you where they're performing between now and next March.
Thursday, 22 November 2007
The Gardiner's part was founded in 1823, supplying ironmongery and metal work, why even Brunel shopped there during his time in Bristol. Now it describes itself as a Homestore, and I particularly love it there as it sits in its own timewarp, harking back to the days of 'Are you Being Served?'. The basement alone is worth a visit as there's always a number of bargain bins to rifle through, often stuffed to the gills with totally unexpected goods - for example, snowman covered miniature hot water bottles. They've proved to be a rich seam to mine for (un)suitable gifts for the annual office Secret Santa.
As usual, the woman hovering in the entrance didn't give me one of her 'Get your conservatory/double glazing here' leaflets. I find this really intriguing - do I look like I'm unlikely to buy it, or has the company in question decided that a more softly softly approach will get them more sales? Anyway, it seems to fit with the store's ethos. However, the usual 70s hits background muzak (featuring a cover version of Chicory Tip, no less, why not go the whole hog and play the original I say) had given way to something more cool, hip and trendy - 1930s torch songs. I'm sure this was unintentional, they've probably been playing them all these years and the rest of the world's caught on again. The Brunel Rooms section was offering both late Autumn bargains (mainly garden furniture) and half price Christmas decorations, so how could I resist such a mix of seasonal goods on offer? Whilst browsing there, I was also charmed to see a handwritten note pinned to a number of the shelves - 'Smile you're on CCTV'. I did, and I giggled a lot too.
I've been looking for a Christmas Nativity Scene for 2 years now, so why didn't I look in Gardiner's earlier? There it was, the perfect candidate for my Christmas hearth. Now I normally have a 'Bah Humbug!' approach to Christmas, insisting that the event is reserved for consideration during December only, not from August as the retail industry expects us to. However, I've made an exception today and bought the last one - apart from the display model, so get in there quickly! Some raffia and Boltac Grease Bands, completed my purchases, so I'm a happy bunny now.
The other really great part about Gardiner's is their car park. You can get 1 hour's parking for free just by going into the store and getting your ticket stamped by one of the friendly staff. Spend £10 or more and you get 3 hours free parking right in the heart of Bristol, plus a friendly wave from the car park man on duty as you leave. I'm sure the car park is the secret of Gardiner's continued success, so maybe they're more business savvy and not so old fashioned as the picture I've portrayed here - they do have a website after all.
Wednesday, 21 November 2007
Has anyone else tracked its progress through the county today? Looking at the APC link above, I think it was a Warrior...
Monday, 19 November 2007
I managed to beat last week's frosts and wrap the leeks up warmly for winter. This is my lazy way of blanching the stems without having to earth them up. There's also less soil to get out when I come to the preparation stage, thus saving much cussing and swearing from me in the kitchen, much to the relief of NAH!
As you can see the leeks aren't that large this year. I'm telling myself that baby veg are the in thing! Luckily allotment warden Pete had some spare plants earlier in the year and donated them to me, so I'm growing double my usual crop.
You can also just see a teensy bit of the giant willow wigwam I made at evening class at Lackham College in the spring. I've been doing a bit of light coppicing of the hazel trees in the ancient ditch alongside the allotment, so there'll be more to show you next year when I swing into mass production for my beans.
I'm glad that the town's high street is continuing to bustle and look busy, but I'm worried about the growing number of coffee shops and mobile phone outlets to be found there. If we don't have a decent, wide-ranging choice of shops to attract customers, that and the recent loss of free car parking for an hour, is bound to make even more shoppers take themselves elsewhere to places such as Bath, Bristol and Swindon.
I realise that I too have a role to play in all of this and have set myself a challenge for my Christmas shopping this year:
- No internet buying
- Shop locally, preferably in the centre of town
- Independent shops take preference over national chains
- I'll walk, not drive into town
Wish me luck in my quest!
Thursday, 15 November 2007
Now I must get cracking with collecting this year's leaves before it rains this weekend, otherwise they'll turn into a soggy, sticky, stubbornly unshifting mass all over the garden and front drive. It's the same kind of stuff which forms the annual leaves on the line problem on the railways - nice (not).
Tuesday, 13 November 2007
No, I don't mean the crop circles that Wiltshire's so famous for.
My allotment pal Sarah's been emptying out her loft and gave all this to me, plus loads more tapestry wool - half a bin bag in fact! Whoopeeeeee!
Thanks very much Sarah!
Monday, 12 November 2007
Friday, 9 November 2007
I'm a recent bread machine convert, but finding lots of scrummy recipes like this one leaves me eagerly awaiting my next warm, fresh bread fix. It's like magic - all the ingredients get thrown into the machine, press a few buttons and hey presto! A couple of hours later out comes something like you see above. I get the same kind of wonder when a photographic image appears in my darkroom tray.
This recipe is taken from "The Bread Book" by Sara Lewis and is another cunning way of using up some of that courgette glut.
To keep things (relatively) short, I'll just post the bread machine recipe. Do post me a comment if you'd like the hand-made version.
- 150g (5oz, heaping half cup) courgette - grated & patted dry with kitchen paper
- 500g (1lb, 4.5 cups) strong white flour
- 1 lemon, grated rind only
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped French tarragon (don't bother with Russian unless you really don't like the aniseed flavour)
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1.5 teaspoons fast-action dried yeast
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 200ml (7 fl oz, scant 1 cup water)
- Assemble ingredients. Lift the tin out of the breadmaker, fit the kneader blade and then add the ingredients in the order advised by your breadmachine's manufacturer
- Insert the tin into the breadmachine and shut the lid. Select basic large (750g/1.5lb) white bake and select the preferred crust setting if your machine has this option. (I used the dark crust setting for the loaf you see in the photo) Press start.
- At the end of the programme, lift the tin out of the machine with oven gloves and turn the bread out onto a wire rack to cool. Loosen the bread with a plastic spatula if it's reluctant to leave the tin.
- If you don't have a crust setting option and you find the loaf is rather pale on top, brush a little butter over the top and brown under the grill.
I find it very hard to keep to a recipe, so here are some variations I've tried:
- Substitute the same amount of peeled butternut squash for the courgette. This is a good way of using those teeny tiny squashes we've got from our plots this year
- Fennel foliage (bulb or herb) instead of tarragon for a stronger aniseed taste
- Use 30-40ml juice from your grated lemon and make up to the 200ml liquid needed with water. Tip - microwave the lemon for 10 seconds and you'll extract the juice much more easily
- Substitute strong wholemeal flour for the white flour to make an even healthier bread. However, you'll lose some of the green speckled effect from the courgette and tarragon. Also, remember to change the baking option to brown bread!
That's not all. Apparently it's been happening for ages via the toxoplasma parasite - it makes rodents suicidally attracted to cat urine. It can also affect humans, so if you see me exhibiting a "sex kitten effect" in future, you'll know I've been got whilst emptying out the litter tray...
Thursday, 8 November 2007
This is a Terrex Autospade. It really does take the backache out of autumn digging and was devised by a guy who lost a leg during World War II who wanted to continue to tend his garden.
I'm well ahead this year on my plot preparation as this spade lets me do 3x more than when I use my usual border spade. That plus no aching limbs requiring a hot bath and a quick rub down with Deep Heat later - sorted!
They're no longer available as new, but you can pick one up from eBay fairly easily. That's how I got mine last year, and the proceeds went to charity - yippee! You need to be careful though as prices can vary wildly. Or you could get lucky like Fred, my allotment pal and find one locally for just a fiver - hrumph.
Wednesday, 7 November 2007
The rest is elementary, my dear Watson.
Tuesday, 6 November 2007
As well as the uses more familiar to me, I was presented with a plethora of tools websites offering me all kinds of nut and bolt type thingys. Shinynuts was my favourite of these - only because of its name, I'm not endorsing anything.
If I'm feeling rather geeky, I can join a Linus User Group, (though Library and Local User Groups also vied for my attention) or even look at their radio. I can also sound very knowledgeable at academic conferences by referring to my Linear Units of Grammar. I could even start to worship a Celtic god, should I ever wish to change my religion.
For entertainment, I can bop the night away to the lively Scottish band Skelpit Lug (apparently this means "thick ear", thus exposing the Scots origin of this usage) whilst wearing my rather lovely fashionable plimsolls, or some boots if the weather's really bad. The band's drummer will probably be using them as part of his kit too.
However, I had to lug the hefty tomes of the Oxford English Dictionary off the library shelves to finally find the meaning of my lug - or did I? There's two definitions that seem to apply in the allotment sense. The first is an unit of area equivalent to 1/160th of an acre. The second is a unit of length (aka rod, perch or pole) and it's here where the confusion lies as it can be a rather variable 15, 16.5, 18, 20 or 21 feet. In Wiltshire alone it was 15, 16.5 or 18 feet in 1811. Perhaps I'll stick to the unit of area for simplicity.
So there you have it, plotwise - I'm rather pleased that my allotment society is working hard to preserve some of the more obscure items from our imperial system of measurement. But I can't help wondering why go for 160th of an acre? It doesn't seem to make any sense. Perhaps it harks back to the times when most of us were serfs and it was the size of the strips of land the lord of the manor (tug your forelocks aka lugs please) allocated for us to tend on his behalf? Can anyone out there enlighten me further?
Monday, 5 November 2007
It got me thinking about advice from my own mum, from many moons ago. For me, two phrases stick in my memory. "It's black over Bill's mother's", an instant weather forecast meaning "There's a terrific storm brewing way over there, so if you're going out you'd better put on your coat, otherwise you're going to get very wet dear". The other one was "You'll need to go all around The Wrekin", which roughly translates as "You'll have to take rather a circuitous route to get there, so allow plenty of extra time for your journey and whilst you're at it, you'd better take these sandwiches and flask of coffee with you". This latter pearl of wisdom was brought home to me just before I left home when I went for an interview at Aberystwyth Uni, as I literally went "all around The Wrekin" by train. It must have been in the view from my carriage window for most of the journey. For those of you unfamiliar with it, The Wrekin is a rather fantastic hill in Shropshire which can be seen for miles in any direction. Shropshire is home to several other rather splendidly named topographical features - Wenlock Edge (limestone escarpment) and the Long Mynd (some of the oldest rocks in Britain, if not the world).
However, I digress. Which pieces of advice do you treasure from your mum?
Sunday, 4 November 2007
Hmmm, I smell a rat...
Saturday, 3 November 2007
All the other bits of my profile mercifully stay the same, apart from the ones I'm editing of course. Any ideas on how I make this Accounting madness stop?
A trip to Lacock just over a week ago revealed an intriguing number of companion signs along the way, plus its sister in Lacock itself, "WB HQ". Then the penny dropped - these were signposts from the M4 telling the Harry Potter film crew where to go. Major excitement down our neck of the woods! Alas, the signs have been taken down and the machine that is Hollywood has departed for pastures new.
I tootled along to the village see what was going on - lots of people striding purposefully up and down the street talking into their walkie talkies and saying things like "I've just seen a pap - it's a woman with a child in a pushchair", and lots of brawny men in hi-vis laying down white matting and erecting barriers to keep us muggles at bay. The filming was at night, with about a hundred people descending on the village to try and catch a glimpse of their heroes. They must have been extremely patient - the actors didn't meet their fans until late on the third night (the last one) of filming. I'd given up by then and was snuggled up at home with a glass of Baileys.
On the plus side - It was a beautiful day and I did take the opportunity to use my National Trust membership to look round Lacock Abbey (used as a location in earlier HP films). It was the home of William Henry Fox -Talbot, the inventor of the negative film process in the 1830s - quite a good link into the more modern stuff going on a couple of streets away at the time. The grounds are lovely too - lots of cyclamen under the trees at the moment. I also had a gawp at the village allotments as some of them are in the Abbey grounds - in a walled garden, much green eyed envy expressed by VP at the time.
Friday, 2 November 2007
Do click on the allotment photo below to look at the larger image. You get quite an artistic effect that I've spent ages in the darkroom trying to perfect on some of my black and white photos from time to time!
Any ideas on why this might be? Is it due to the image size and the puny number of pixels on my digital camera?
Don't be fooled by the title - it was going to be Bits 'n Bobs, but that wasn't original enough for the Blogspotmeister. So, as my allotment is one of the biggest parts of my life at the moment (it's all that autumn digging & muck spreading that needs to be done, you see), Veg Plotting it will have to be from now on.
However, I'll be musing about whatever takes my fancy at the time. So watch this space. Or look at my profile - that'll give you a clue on what future posts might be about ;-0
I'm sure as a complete beginner to this lark, I'll make plenty of mistakes along the way. So doooo bear with me - or let me know via your Comments where I've gone wrong, I'll learn more quickly that way...