Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year - 2012!!

Dr X and I are celebrating the New Year quietly with just the two of us. He's been cooking in the kitchen all afternoon, whilst I helped by having a nap on the couch and catching up with programmes on iplayer. 
After a feast of gratin, asparagus & carrots, duck (for the meat eater) and French champagne we're going to finish off our celebrations with his home made apple cake. I may not make it until the mid-night bell tolls as I'm normally asleep by 10 p.m. so I thought I'd post this now. So wherever you are and whoever you are celebrating with, I wish you all the best for 2012! Happy New Year xxx

Dayzed in Dubai...

At the beginning of December Dr X and I took to the skies and ended up in Dubai for 10 days. We wanted to escape the winter blues and re-capture some summer sun. We also wanted to catch up with some friends living out there. Dubai delivered on our holiday expectations, but it was a strange experience. Dubai is a land of contrasts - the very poor mixing with the ultra luxurious, some of the best restaurants in the world but the tap water is undrinkable; the fastest cars with the worst drivers; huge new builds, but empty of people because the money ran out... So we found our summer solace but I was glad to come back to the UK.  Have you been? What did you think?

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Fantasy Train Posters

I love vintage railway posters and thought it would be fun to create some which were based on locations you couldn't easily get to by normal transport. Imagine how great that would be! Which fantasy location would you go to?

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The blame game

If you look closely enough you can always find something to pin the blame on!
I have issues with taking responsibility for things when they go wrong. This is due to a few  reasons a) I fear authority & being told off,  b) I'm a lilly livered, conniving coward and c) it makes me feel better to put the blame on someone / something else. Give me any situation where I've caused a problem or broken something and I will inevitably come up with a plausible (ahem) story to pin the blame elsewhere. It's like paying it forward but without the altruism bit...  I'll give you some examples:

Example 1 -   I swear that the Beach Boys are the cause of my dismal GCSE results. Instead of revising I spent many hours re-playing their tracks in my room, learning the words and lip syncing along. I can't listen to them now without shuddering in horror at the colossal waste of time they caused me. If it weren't for their songs I'm sure I would have some A grades in my academic portfolio.

Example 2 - After doing poorly in my GCSEs I went on to do worse in my A Levels  (you'd think I'd have learnt my lesson). During an interview for a place at university I told the interviewer that the reason I did so badly was because this new girl had joined the sixth form of my school, proceeding to lead me astray and my academic work had suffered as a result (you know who you are missy!!). No I didn't get offered a place at that uni.

Example 3 - I'm always breaking stuff, usually glasses or plates when I'm washing the dishes, but also other random household items. Most things I touch seem to fall apart like they've been cursed or something. It's totally not my fault. For the dishes I will blame the washing up gloves (they don't grip properly) or the size of the sink (it's too small / too big) or the temperature of the water (it's too hot / cold). For the other stuff I will try to pin the blame on the manufacturer (shoddy workmanship) or any pervious owners / users (they must have weakened / damaged the item and left it for me to use!)

Example 4 - Failing my driving test. My instructor was male. End of story.

There are many more examples and I can't actually remember the last time I took responsibility for my actions. Is this a serious problem? Do I need help? Does anyone else do this? 

p.s. I hope Santa's not reading this...
p.p.s or Dr X.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Jingle Bells, Shopping Smells!

At least Santa has elves to help him
Christmas gift shopping is not going well. In fact it hasn't even started.  I keep writing lists of present ideas for people and then misplacing them. I go shopping and start out full of enthusiasm but the crowded over-heated shops soon put me off and I end up longing to go back home. I was doing much better this time last year and had finished off most of my shopping by mid November (and got the tree up!). The downside of this though was that I then started appropriating gifts for myself. Clearly not a financially sustainable course of action. To restrict this Dr X would remove the gifts from me as soon as I entered the home and wrap them up. I think he was trying to get on Santa's nice list. He certainly didn't make mine...

The gift process seems to get harder each year. Part of me wants to choose the cop out option and just get gift vouchers, but I'm not quite that desperate yet (not that I don't love receiving vouchers!!!). Plenty of shopping days left so no need to start panicking. Only people at work will keep asking me how the Christmas shopping is going and have started bragging about how they've done most of theirs. One colleague also gave me a detailed account of the three Christmas cakes she's got on the go - one of them's Delia's. Well give it back to her then, I said snottily.  

I know my colleagues are just taking revenge for all of my annoying pre-Christmas behaviour last year so I guess I deserve it, but it still makes me feel very bah humbug about the whole thing. Hmm maybe I'll see if I can access my hitherto untapped creative skills and start making gifts for people this year.  Requests for gifts to be delivered by the Christmas fairy please!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Call me Girl Friday

Just over a year ago I reduced my working days from 5 to 4 in order to have Fridays free. I wanted to use half of the day for volunteering and do something useful  for others for a change.  On my first free Friday I met with the Church manager to see whether I could be of service in some small way to my Church. What would you like to do? He asked me. What would be most helpful to you? I countered. I added that I could do administration or cleaning or make cups of tea. I could come most Friday mornings. In short I could do any random job that would help them. I could be their Girl Friday. In fact I was ready to start right away that morning.

So I was introduced to some of the main people who keep the church running in front of and behind the scenes and who work tirelessly for little or no pay just to bring the gospel to others and to show God's love in a practical way. I met the amazing lady (small enough to fit in my pocket) who takes care of the homeless, running the food shelter, providing food and clothing and much much more. I realised that she's probably the reason why so many  homeless people hang around outside the church. It's not in an affluent area anyway but the number hanging around the street, with their dogs and menacing air made me slightly fearful waiting for the church office door to open. This lady commands their respect I'm told, because she gives it to them straight, she tells them the truth and more importantly she takes the time to see them as the real people they are. I start to feel ashamed of my earlier reaction.

I met the chap who does Christian outreach work in the local primary schools - running assemblies, holiday bible clubs, Sunday school etc. He tells me that he'll start thinking of ways I can help him. I then go up to the top office to meet the Pastor who makes a good show of seeming to know who I am. I certainly don't expect him to as although I regularly attend services on a Sunday morning, the Church has around 500 people there and I don't take part in many Church social activities nor am I a member. His study has a wonderful amount of books in it and some antique looking furniture. I try to remember my manners and restrain  myself from gawping at his shelves. It's probably the nicest office in the building. There is nothing luxurious about any of the Church office rooms. In fact the whole building smells damp and everything looks well used. But in it's own way this is pleasing. I know that any funding the Church gets is put to a higher purpose than frills and fripperies. It's how it should be.

My first task was to go into the church to collect any rubbish left from last Sunday and then lay out the Welcome cards in the pews. The church administrator shows me the way that she does it and once she leaves me to it I take a quick photo on my phone of a finished pew to make sure I don't mess my ones up. She comes back in unexpectedly to explain about the locking system of the doors and I guiltily hide my phone in the rubbish box. I don't want her to think that I'm slacking on the job already. It takes a long time to do all the pews downstairs and then upstairs in the gallery. As well as collecting an amazing amount of rubbish (people seem to eat a lot of sweets in church), I pick up pens, broken pencils, a crayon, a welcome card which had a piece bitten off, someone's bible and the strangest thing of all, a big tub of aloe vera body lotion. Is dry skin a problem in Church?  I also collect two dirty coffee cups hidden under a pew. The lost property cupboard is brimming with even more unlikely items (shouldn't someone have noticed their house / car keys are missing by now?) as I attempt to shove mine in and close the door quickly to prevent them from escaping.

I get lost trying to find my way back to the church office (the place is like a rabbit warren) and have to get the tiny lady to show me the way back. My second job involves collating and stapling directions for a treasure hunt that the Church are holding for their Away Day. The church manager tells me that he's been forbidden to look at the info ahead of the day, but I tell him that I can work out how to do this on my own anyway. Until I run out of staples after the 2nd leaflet.
My last job was going to be some general hoovering but unfortunately the Hoover was broken. I quickly explained that I had no engineering skills to fix it so I was released for the day.
It felt good to walk home knowing that at last I have done something that will be of help to others. True my jobs were very small and relatively insignificant, but someone has to do them. Perfect for a Girl Friday. 

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dr X and Mz G stride out across the cold muddy fields, er wait for me!!

These boots were made for climbing!

The wild Dorset coast

Dr X looks for a suitable place to picnic. What's in his rucksack??

Frozen feet

The perfect pub - it has a fire! Dr X has gone in already
Last year, Dr X and I decided to hold our own version of Thanksgiving. After all why should the Americans have all the fun? With Mz G we booked out the whole of Saturday and scheduled fun activities. Ignoring the fact that it was one of the coldest days in November for eons, we dragged Mz G over to Chapman's Pool in the Purbecks for a bracing coastal walk to see the sea and have a picnic. After feeling intensely car sick on the journey over, Mz G was delighted to embrace the freezing winds off the sea.

If possible, it was even colder on the cliff top. Dr X tried to seize an opportunity to erect his emergency shelter which he had helpfully brought with him. No wonder his rucksack was so heavy. But is there room for three of us in there to eat our sandwiches? I asked dubiously. He claimed it was possible and would have the added benefit of being v. cosy. Despite his obvious desire to practice his bushcraft survival skills I declined, took some quick snaps of the sea (swirling in the mists below us) and we headed back to the car for refreshments.

Mz G was sufficiently recovered to tuck into her food (humous & cucumber sandwiches, salt & vinegar kettle crisps and a satsuma) and then we made the short drive to the Square & Compass pub in Worth Matravers. Some brave folks were sitting outside with their pints and watching a speckled hen run around clucking trying to find the way into it's home and escape the bitter cold. When we squeezed into the narrow passageway to order our drinks we saw why they were outside. It was completely packed. Good fortune prevailed however as just then a few people attempted to squeeze out and Mz G and I made a race for their seats, clambering over small children and muddy dogs to get to the spot near the wood burner.
Leaving the pub we were greeted by a few shy flakes of snow. I grabbed my camera and started looking for the chicken but it had long gone. Dr X didn't waste time waiting around and had hiked off back to the car.
Arriving back home at 15:00 and despite having left the heating on all day the house was barely warm. This was proof of how cold it was and also how large the house is and not that well insulated. Dr X lit the fire, I put the tree lights on and we commenced playing the Thanksgiving board game which Mz G had brought - Cluedo Harry Potter style. Dr X took an hour to read the instructions and had to be coached on how to say all the magical words properly. This will teach him not to fall asleep during the films in future...

Anyhow, he didn't explain the rules very well and I consequently lost two games and became petulant. My sulky behavior worsened when I learnt that cooking the Thanksgiving dinner would take forever and we wouldn't be eating until 19:00. Furthermore I was forbidden from eating snacks as my habit of snacking on junk food and then refusing the main food is well known. Ignoring this I raced to the kitchen and started shovelling any snacks I could find into my mouth before I could be stopped. I won't go into the two hour food preparation which followed but for future reference our Thanksgiving menu (veggie style) consisted of the following:
Starter - cranberry cheese pate on a parmesan basket with toast
Main - potato squash gnocchi covered in a creamy mushroom sauce, with pak choi and red cabbage
Pudding - white chocolate tort with a raspberry coolie

Most of the veg came from Mz G's allotment. I confess I didn't like all of it, but that's part and parcel of a big meal and I know that I'm very fussy with vegetables -  heck with food in general. Whilst we were eating we talked about some Thanksgiving traditions (like the presidential turkeys) and thought about which things we were grateful for ( warm homes (ha), food, friendship and families).

We finished off dinner by playing some more Cluedo ( I still didn't win) and wrapped up the festivities around midnight.

A good dry run for Christmas and a nice celebration in it's own right. Perhaps we'll leave out the nausea inducing car ride and freezing walk next time. Sorry about that Mz G. Xxx

Emerald Isle

I've been a bit tardy with my blogging lately, and lacking in inspiration, I've turned to some unpublished material which I kept in my diary from around this time last year. So here goes, my best quotes from an autumn week-end in Ireland 2010:

"I'd rather be at home drinking a hot chocolate & watching the X Factor" (14 year old daughter of our friends at the beginning of what turned out to be a very long beach hike)

"I don't see the point in going to school anymore. I'm going to set up my own business, I've got a business plan already" (9 year old son of our friends)

"I've decided not to confuse Santa with long lists of presents this year. I'm just going to ask for a Nintendo DS and a packet of tic tacos" (same 9 yr old)

"I'm trying to have a conversation, could you stop pointing that thing at my face" (wife to her husband who kept trying to capture her on film, no it wasn't Dr X and I)

"I'd like to point out that this is your fifth art gallery. Just in case you didn't realize." (Dr X to me in Westport following the art vision trail 2010)

"You've gained loads of shamrocks (Irish equivalent to Brownie points) on this trip. Your 'best husband of the year award' is secure" (me to Dr X in the restaurant of the Atlantic Coast hotel where we revived ourselves after visiting all of the aforementioned art galleries)

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

You have no new comments

Because no one is reading your blog. In fact you shouldn't be reading your own blog, because:

a) this is sad
b) you are meant to be working right now
and c) did I mention this was sad??

To make up for this sadness, here is a nice picture of a happy little hermit crab in his stolen shell:

ho hum, what's for dinner tonight?

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

11 reasons why Dr X is so great!

1) He takes really great photos which I use on my blog (and pretend are mine)
2) He's the 2nd best cook in the world
3) His mum is the best cook in the world and always makes me a perfect gratin when I visit
4) He gives me lifts everywhere without complaining
5) He provides interest free loans with a long-term payment plan (ha ha  he'll never see his money again)
6) He helps out around the house (ok, more than helps out)
7) He sorts out my Excel / Word / PowerPoint problems
8) He knows how to convert Euros into pounds and doesn't mind explaining it to me again, and again and again
9) He fixes stuff I break, cleans my shoes, sews up rips on my clothes, puts buttons back on etc
10) He watches romantic movies with me without complaining (although he does sometimes fall asleep)
11) He never gets cross even when I break his stuff or call him names or wash his USB key by mistake (he did leave it in the pocket of his jeans...)

What a great chap! I started trying to put together a list for him about me but got stuck for inspiration. Does making tea for someone when they don't want it count??

Twilight - a beautiful love story?

The Swiss Cows were horrified to learn that Twilight wasn't a beautiful love story about vegetarians after all.  The bookseller had mis-sold the series to Mama Cow and now he would pay...

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Dear Me

Just wanted to say a big WELL DONE YOU for riding your bike to work today. So what if you were a little slow and got off to push up the hills, it's the effort that counts. Perhaps it wasn't wise to try and face off a truck on the roundabout, but you showed him who was boss. And you are right, pedestrians are stupid and will step out into the road without remembering to use their green cross code training. Good job you were going so slow else there would have been some serious injuries. Next time you could try ringing your bell instead of yelling, but that's your choice.

It would be nice if the town could invest in cycle lanes so that they don't abruptly end in the middle of busy roads. Sure, some people do have the middle of W____ Avenue as their final destination, but others want to go all the way through it. 

Cars probably were surprised by you swerving into the road to avoid riding over the prickly conkers, but hey tyre protection has to come first. Perhaps you'll remember to use some arm signals tomorrow when turning into a new road and maybe you could try riding up the first bit of the hill, just to build up some stamina. But don't sweat it too much, Dr X will be back soon to give you a lift again. 

Monday, 17 October 2011

Squirrels in the mist...

As I am now living 'out in the sticks' I'm going to take full advantage of  this to get closer to the local wildlife. It's autumn at last so there has been a lot of squirrel activity out in the communal gardens. These much maligned 'rats with big tails' are prolific, yet very shy and have a knack of knowing when you are about to photograph them. Nonetheless I have used my patience and guile to track some down for you. 

Note to any TV Execs reading this -  I am available for BBC Wildlife shows if Sir David is busy with other stuff.

My Squirrel hideout

Squirrels are masters of disguise

A 'look out' squirrel pops out before the day begins to check for danger

In the trees, in the bushes, these shy creatures lurk looking for unsuspecting nuts...

A flock of wild Dorset pigeons were alarmed by my clumsy entrance onto the 'hideout' and took to the skies

Oh squirrels in the mist, one day I will be your trusted friend.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The start of a new year

Apologies to my loyal bog reader (yes, that's the singular being used on purpose) for taking soooo long in getting back to blog land. I truly thought I would have been up and running before now, but actually moving from a house to a flat and learning to live in a new place is more tiring than I thought it would be. I've actually had no energy to use the internet much or even read other peoples' blogs, let alone get going on mine. But today I started to feel the old blogging energy coming back which is great.

For those of us who work in an educational environment we know that the autumn term is really the start of a new year. This is when new initiatives get set up, the emails go crazy, everyone wants a piece of you for their new strategies etc. But then 'freshers flu' kicks in and everything goes quiet while people email in sick from home with their kleenexes and cough sweets piling up. I've got the flu bug now but I was expecting it (it's as regular as the wasps in summer time) and it's actually quite nice to be at home sick (when it's not life threatening). You have a really good reason to loll about in bed and read books whilst dropping cookie crumbs everywhere. Life is sweet (if snotty).

Happy New Year to you xxx

Dear Jacket Potatoes...

Thank you for spoiling my evening and failing me when I needed you most. You are my signature autumn dish and are meant to be easy to cook (so easy a 5 year old with a fear of ovens could manage you) and taste delicious with minimum effort.

Instead  of tasting autumnyish on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside you decided to blacken your skins, whilst remaining stubbornly cold and hard in the middle. Was 1 hour in the oven not enough for you? Did you not appreciate the fact that I pierced your skin lovingly with a fork and rubbed you with oil and salt?? No, please don't blame the oven. It was not on too high. Ok, so I forgot to wrap you in tin foil, but other potatoes manage to make it through without making such a fuss. Using the microwave just isn't the same and Dr X would not consider this to be 'cooking his dinner'.

You have possibly ruined my marriage. I am seeking legal advice.

Rant over.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

That's all for now folks!

Blogging will be temporarily on hold again now until mid-September (ish) due to lack of internet resources. Enjoy what's left of the summer!

Tresco Gardens

The famous gardens on Tresco (Isles of Scilly) are so lovely they deserve their own post:

We travelled over with Tim the boatman on Calypso II

How fab is this tree?!

Valhalla - a collection of figureheads from ships

A tailless fish

I love this sculpture from David Wynn

There is so much to look at - these gardens are worth more than one visit

Is this Neptune?

Gaia - Mother Earth - by David Wynn

The birds are so tame and cheeky!

Sweet peas in a sweet garden

Silly for Scilly!

As part of our Cornish mini-break (it's amazing how much you can fit into a week!) Dr X and I spent a few days on the wonderfully different Isles of Scilly:

We travelled by helicopter  - a scary 20 minutes
We opted for St Mary's island for our first visit

The Star Castle is a lovely hotel which offers some of the best food on the island

This picture doesn't capture how slopey the room and bed were!

Old fashioned charm


Prince Charles has a home on the island, but I don't think it was this one

This beach was full of amazing pebble sculptures

You can always find a quiet bit of the coastline to relax in