Sunday, 27 November 2016


November is my least favourite month.  The dark; the cold; the way the autumn leaves have turned into brown sludge. There are no days off at all in November in the school calendar either so it can a hard slog at work too. I've been a bit grumpy and miserable. Our new house is older and so colder than the one we moved from: it has higher ceilings and hasn't got double glazing throughout. But I have a new defence against the cold - a log burner.  I love it and am becoming more skilled at getting it burning well.  Husband, who never feels the cold,  rarely bothers to light it so it's my job on these dark evenings while he in the kitchen cooking dinner. (I've hardly cooked at all since he gave up work.) The secret to getting a good fire going is lots of kindling so I'm going to have to find a better source than the tiny bags they sell in Morrisons.

From reading other blogs, I've discovered that there's a name for this desire to sit in front of a real fire with a cup of tea/glass of wine in Pjs. It's a Danish word, Hygge, and is apparently, according to The  Guardian  one of the words of the year as well as Brexit and Trumpism.  I suppose it's hardly surprising that the country wants to hunker down in front of the fire after recent political events.  Hygge is nothing new to me, but I'm pleased to discover there's a name for my desire to hibernate. For years I've been surviving winters by drinking Baileys while soaking in a warm bath and going to bed early with a fluffy hot water and a good book. This article oHygge made me laugh. Don't click on it if you object to swearing though.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Birthday Baking

We've been enjoying watching the Bake Off over the last few weeks.  In fact, it is one of the few programmes we watch together as a family with husband claiming no interest and then watching after all.  I've been supporting Andrew, the young engineer from Northern Ireland with the lovely smile and ginger hair.  So, inspired by his performance in the final, I had a go at his Granny's recipe chocolate cake for my daughter's 17th birthday party on Friday.  This is the result - not quite as neat as Andrew's version but it does taste good.  If you try it, just be aware that the icing is liable to run down the sides of the cake.  I followed Andrew's directions precisely but there was no way that that icing was going to pipe successfully.  Perhaps I needed to cool it for longer before attempting this.

I'm not surprised that Andrew was inspired by his Granny's baking.  Northern Ireland people bake more than the English and I know some of the readers of this blog in NI who are potential Bake Off contestants themselves with  impressive tray bakes, lemon drizzle cakes, rhubarb tarts and wheaten bread.  You know who you are!  My granny always had tins full of shortbread, a Victoria Sponge with thick buttercream filling and, my favourite, a traybake with dates and nuts she called Chinese Chews, for anyone who might call in.  I occasionally attempt to recreate some of these but I've never quite managed the same success.

One of my daughter's friends organised the party for her, asking me if he could invite some of her friends back here to surprise her after they'd returned from the meal out she was expecting.  I agreed, breaking my no teenage house parties rule, as long as I could vet the guests.  So I made the cake, put up some Hallowe'en decorations and provided a bit of food for the 12 or so teenagers who arrived. Paul and I went to the pub with the dog for an hour or two and returned to find one a bit tired and emotional in the garden.  But otherwise all well and Kate happy, enjoying her surprise party when she been resigned to a rather dull birthday this year.

This is my first blog post for about six weeks. I've planned some but just not got round to writing. No excuses really - I've just got out of the habit.  I'm still enjoying reading my favourite blogs and hope regular readers you haven't forgotten me in my absence.

Monday, 19 September 2016


September comes round again and routine has returned after the long summer of lazy and, for us this summer, not so lazy days. It's back to work and a new timetable for me which is fairly demanding but at least gives me Mondays off.  I'm up early nevertheless today and have made breakfast and sandwiches for my daughter who is struggling a bit with her new routine which involves her leaving the house at 7.10 to catch a bus to college.  She's now started on her A level courses, and has chosen among others English Literature and French, still using me as a kind of in-house personal tutor.  I don't mind really as I quite enjoyed reading 'Othello' with her last night and it's good to dig out that French vocab from the dark recesses of my brain.

We've settled into our new house and are making some progress in getting it sorted out.  I'm having some built-in bookcases made for my 'reading room' and we have arranged the gas fire which doesn't work to be removed and replaced by an open fire.  We're also having a woodburner in the main lounge. This will, I hope, make things cosy when the weather cools down.  Now we just need to get curtains - I've made many trips to John Lewis and Dunelm Mill, ordered swatches and have been generally indecisive about the whole business.  Having made curtain errors in the past - I once ordered made-to-measure which ended an inch above the window sill - I'm a bit wary.  If only I had the skill and patience to make them myself, something I did once with my mother's help. She always made her own curtains.

We had a housewarming party at the beginning of September for old friends and also invited new neighbours, discovering that two doors down from our new house is a young woman from Dungannon in Northern Ireland.  We had the usual kind of exchange NI expats have on these occasions, uncovering possible mutual acquaintances. I enjoyed chatting to her and other neighbours - this street does seem like a friendly place to live.

At the end of August before returning to school we had a few days in Northern Ireland, staying with my sister in Dromore and then a night in Portrush.  The weather was beautiful - a rare occurrence on our NI trips.  So we had a couple of days out as well as catching up with family.  On the sunny Saturday of the Bank Holiday weekend we went to Bangor - the NI one, not in Wales.  We walked the dog round the harbour and then I explored Bangor Castle Walled Garden, getting inspiration for my own walled garden. It was brilliant - absolutely gorgeous and free to enter.  I'd never heard of it before and neither had any of my relatives in NI. A hidden gem it seems. I was on my own as we had the dog with us and we didn't think he'd be welcome in the garden though there were no signs saying so.  I'd have stayed longer otherwise.  I wonder if my parents ever visited there? They have loved it as there were vegetable beds and fruit trees as well as flowers.  It certainly gave me some ideas for my garden though I have a long way to go with it.  At least we can see the walls now that the hedges have been cut back.  Anyway a few pictures of Bangor Walled Garden to sign off.  Blog posting not happening much these days, but I'm still reading others and will try to check in here once a month at least.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Summer Catch Up

It's been a busy summer and I've got out of the habit of blogging completely.  This has been bothering me - I like to look back on this record of events and know that there are a few loyal readers out there .  So here goes...

Since my last post we have moved house.  It was hard work - much sorting of 15 years worth of accumulated clutter and multiple trips to charity shops and the dump.  But I'm no minimalist - there was still a great deal to pack into boxes and quite a lot of these boxes remain unpacked.  There are things to do in the new house: some of the decor is not to our taste; we're going to extend the kitchen and incorporate a utility room as currently I have to go outside to a store room to put the washing on, something which will get a bit annoying when it's darker and colder.

As you will know if you have read previous posts, I was in two minds about the move, not wishing to leave my peaceful back garden behind.  Having been in our new house for two weeks, I'm now feeling at home and happy with our decision.  Already our use of the car has decreased as we can walk most places we need to go.  The cycle path nearby means that I can now use my bike as a means of transport. Kate is happy as she can walk into town to meet friends and also to her summer waitressing job.  She's suddenly become so independent, painting her room herself the other day, replacing the pink with silvery blue, and heading into town with a CV one day, acquiring this job as a result.

It's not all been about the move - we've had some good times and days out in between.  Two of my sisters and their husbands visited to go to Carfest which was at Bolesworth Castle, not so far from here.  They went to all three days; Kate and I joined them on the Sunday. Husband off riding 100 miles around London that weekend so he wasn't around.  I'm not that interested in cars but enjoyed the day, pottering about the stalls, trying free samples of food and drink and listening to the bands. Best for me was Seal and Squeeze but in the end I'm no festival fan, I like to be a bit closer to the performer rather than watching a tiny figure far away while standing in a chilly field.  An experience but one day was enough for me.  Enjoyed the fireworks at the end more than Bryan Adams.  I preferred another outdoor event Kate and I attended this week - a performance of  'As You Like It' in Grosvenor Park.  A good production and it was a lovely sunny evening. Not sure I'd have enjoyed it so much in the wind and rain we've had over the last few days though.

Here a few pictures of the new house and garden:
One corner of the lounge has become a kind of man cave. 
I like the windows with the little bits of stained glass.  This is the view from the front room which we're going to have as a kind of quiet room (no TV, no loud music) where I can read and work and Kate can study.  It's a mess at present with all the unpacked boxes and we will have to have the dining table in here until the kitchen is extended.

I like our walled garden even though it is a bit overgrown.  It is quite a private space even though there is a busy road on the other side.  I've put our my bird feeders but so far have only had magpies and one robin.

That's all for now.  School holidays nearly over and GCSE results day looming but still a trip to Northern Ireland to look forward to next week.  

Monday, 18 July 2016

Holidays in Sorrento and a Birthday Outing

Arrived back on Saturday from a week in Sorrento.  Let Kate have a say in our choice of holiday this year as she's worked so hard on GCSEs and she chose Italy.  It was bit hot for us really so plans for sightseeing trips to Capri and Pompeii were abandoned. But it was lovely just lazing around, sitting in the shade reading, eating nice food and admiring the views.  One of my main inspirations for returning here after a previous trip Paul and I made in 1991 was this picture of me drinking a cocktail on the balcony of our hotel and watching the sun go down over the Bay of Naples.  So recreated the pose 25 years later. Pictures were taken by Kate on her phone - I love the sunset one.

Sorrento 1991

Sorrento 2016 - older but not much wiser

View of Vesuvius from our apartment

Sorrento at night
 We're back home now and though it's the school holidays, we'll be busy as house move is happening in early August.  But have taken today off - it's my birthday and the sun is shining.  We've been for a walk around the Great Orme in Llandudno (well a bit of it - too hot again as we seem to have brought the sun home with us).  Then we went to Bodysgallen Hall for afternoon tea and a walk round the gardens.  A lovely day out though feeling a little full now after all that cake.

Monday, 4 July 2016


It's a time of change for us here.  Our house moving plans are progressing and we hope to be in our new home by early August. And in the last couple of weeks both my daughter and husband have moved on too.

For the last five years Kate has attended the school where I teach.  I have enjoyed this as it has given me a window on her world and mostly she has too, though during her early adolescence I was forbidden to speak to her at school, as I was the most embarrassing parent ever, it seems. Recently she is happy to acknowledge me and sharing gossip about school has been fun.  It's also been good for me as a teacher to see things from the students' point of view.

In the last few weeks there have been several events to celebrate the end of year 11: the 'Leavers' Assembly' which involved her and some friends, two in drag, performing as the Spice Girls.  Then there was the 'Prom', a hateful American import all schools seem to do now, which has cost a great deal of money - full length dress, shoes with heels (for a girl who's happier in her Docs), make up by Urban Decay (which she didn't like anyway and redid herself) and 'prom hair'.  Much competition between the girls and lots of posed photos posted on Facebook which seems to be the point of the whole ridiculous business for some. And all this expensive gear worn for only a few hours in a hotel function room, an average meal and a disco, before the whole lot was taken off and she was back in her hoodie for the real fun at the 'after prom' party.

Then there's the tradition of the Leavers' Book, which I do approve of.   Students stick photos and mementos of their friends in a scrap book and then write pages in each other's books about their memories. They also ask teachers to write in their books so I've had a chance to look at a few. Some are real works of art and the things they have written about each other are often very moving.  Now all these events are over she's a bit sad but starting to think ahead - there's a taster day for sixth form college soon.

Last week my husband also left his workplace of the last 5 years, retiring early after many years in local government - he turned 55 on Friday.  Kate and I travelled to Shrewsbury where he works for his leaving do.  I'd not met his colleagues as he works so far away so it was interesting to put faces to the names (and unflattering nicknames) I'd heard him talk about.  There was a good turn out at the riverside pub where we spent the evening. Much consumption of Guinness and it was a good job we were with him on the train on the way back otherwise he may have ended up in Holyhead.  Among his leaving gifts are an apron which says 'Grumpy Old Git', a mug which refers to him as an 'Emmerdale Fan' and a coaster which describes him, among other things, as a 'Deirdre Barlow impersonator'.  We enjoyed the evening and I reckon it was good for Kate to see how people valued her dad when she often has a very low opinion of him.

And in the background of all this change at home, we've had the shock of the country's decision to leave the EU.  I've always seen myself as essentially European, being neither properly Irish and slightly uncomfortable about calling myself as British with all of the associations this has in NI.  I'm so sad about this vote, the chaos and the hate it seems to have unleashed. I hope when things settle down there will be a way forward which brings the country together again.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Sunny Sunday Morning at Home

This is my favourite time of year.  I love the blossom and the freshness of the new leaves.  My garden is at its best at this time: here a few quick snaps this morning and a shot of the big trees which surround the garden.  I'll miss my garden and my dog walks around the village when we move.  This week we've had evening walks after the rain stopped and you could really smell the hawthorn hedges.  And in the usual dog walk field the grass is knee high and full of buttercups.

Yes I'll miss the village, my garden and this house.  It looks like our sale is going through and we have found somewhere too now - a smaller house which ticks all the boxes.  It's within easy walking distance of the centre of Chester,  and has a bit more character than this one.  There are compromises: it won't be as quiet and we won't have as much space downstairs.   We'll be swapping the sound of the crows for traffic noise as we are just off a main route into the city.  But there's a walled garden and double glazing and easy access to the cycle path and canal for dog walking.  We also have plans to extend the living space downstairs to make a bigger kitchen.

All very exciting but for now I'm enjoying my peaceful May garden probably for the last time.