Monday, 24 July 2017

Ear, Ear!

I know this is a trivial thing, but... I have had sticky-out ears for all my life to rival those of Dumbo and Prince Charles [except I hide mine under my haircut] I thought I'd got used to them.
However, since I acquired a new mobile phone [OK, inherited my daughter's cast off smartphone] I am finding that mid call, my dumbo-ear somehow touches the screen and cuts me off, or redials someone else, or causes other problems. It happens whether or not I am wearing ear-rings, with both left and right ears. [no jokes about final frontears, please]

It's OK if I hold my mobile in front of me and use speakerphone, but sometimes that is not appropriate when it is a private call. Does anyone else suffer from this interfearence ? Any suggestions?

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Did You Say 118?

Perhaps 118 reminds you of the adverts for that company - 118118  - with the two crazy moustachioed runners. Firstly they were advertising a directory enquiries service

And then as their company had a dramatic reduction in profits, because their call charges were so high, they re-invented themselves as a loans provider.
But the number 118 reminds me of that Psalm in the middle of the Bible. It has some great, and familiar verses in it - The Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes...Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever...This is the day that the Lord has made, we shall rejoice and be glad in it...The Lord is with me, I will not be afraid.
118 118 have made two claims - the first was that they could help connect you with the people who will help you, and the second is that "you are not alone, we are a loan". In both cases, you will end up paying rather a lot of money for their assistance.

But look again at Psalm 118 - if you take all the verses in the Bible, the exact middle verse is right there - Psalm 118:8 says
"It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man"
At the very heart of our faith is the truth us that Jesus came to help us reconnect with God - and that we are never alone, because nothing can separate us from God's love.
If I have to choose one or the other, I will go for 118:8 rather than 118 118 - much more reliable, imho!
btw, it was suggested that the two runners modelled themselves on David Bedford, the British athlete who was so successful in the 1970s. When DB complained about his image being misappropriated, the American parent company said "We have never heard of him, we are basing our runners on Steve Prefontaine, the US athlete who died in 1975" Look at the picture and judge for yourself. I think the Psalmist had a point about where to put your trust.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Cracking Jokes

Sorry, no time for a proper blog post today. It has been a very busy week and unexpected urgent things crowded in and required time [and money] This morning we are off, bright and early to a gathering of the Almond Clan for some Significant Birthday celebrations.
Please note, technically the almond is not a nut but a drupe, and it is related to the peach. 
In the last 37 years since I changed my surname, I've been given a number of plaques similar to the one below. The first time it was mildly funny. Is it awful of me to confess passing on subsequent ones to the nearest CS?

Friday, 21 July 2017

Miss Austen, Take Note!

So we have been given details of the new ten pound note featuring Jane Austen.
The £10 note has security features that the Bank says make it very difficult to counterfeit. It is expected to last at least two-and-a-half times longer than paper £10 notes – about five years in total.

The new tactile feature is a series of raised dots in the top left-hand corner, developed in conjunction with the RNIB, the charity that supports people with sight loss. This is in addition to the elements already incorporated in UK banknotes for visually impaired people: the tiered sizing, bold numerals, raised print and differing colour palettes.
That is all very good - and the fact that a woman is featured is also brilliant. 
...lots of people are unhappy about the quotation printed on the note - I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading...In Pride and Prejudice, it was spoken by Miss Caroline Bingley as she flirted with Mr Darcy. She was a deceitful character with no interest in books. This brief clip explains...

I apologise that the voiceover is an American who clearly thinks he is the world expert on JA, and probably thinks she was an American too. This is a difficult one - quotations are often taken right out of context, because they make a good soundbite. This one is already on plaques and teatowels and notebook covers. 
Perhaps Mark Carney received one for Christmas and liked the quote without having read P&P himself [MC is Canadian after all, and probably had to read Anne of Green Gables, Margaret Attwood and Michael Ondaatje at school]
Another Austen Gaffe was by the Tory MP Andrea Leadsom, who declared JA to be one of our greatest living authors.
Can I state at this point that I think JA is okay, but I haven't really enjoyed her books as much as the rest of the world seems to. Sorry. That's just me - you will have to forgive me for my lack of literary taste here.
However, I am not in the same group as the guy on Pointless a couple of months back, who thought Jane Austen included Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox as one of her characters in P&P.
Ah well, as JA said [in Mansfield Park, I think]
Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery
I shall endeavour to keep writing a cheerful blog. Dear reader, if you are a committed Janeite, and have any new tenners and are desperately unhappy with the quote, feel free to pop them in the post to me, and I will ensure they are spent with all due sense and sensibility.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Three Minute Thursdays #2 - Merry Berry

After last week's TMT featuring peas, this week is another freezer stand-by;  frozen mixed berries

I love these - they are so useful. 

Lots of supermarkets sell them, under various names [berry mix, forest fruits, essential berries, summer fruits etc] NOTE - aboiv the ones called 'smoothie mix' - as they often contain pieces of melon and or banana slices. They are OK, but not as useful for the ideas below.
As with peas, I decant my berries into a box - to ensure none get lost, and also to make it easier to pick out specific fruits.
So here are some ideas as to what I use these little beauties for..
Just pick out a few to garnish a dessert plate - and throw a few into a basic cake or muffin mix to add moist, fruity flavour.
 Sprinkle some on your home-made natural yogurt
Just two or three fruits will transform the colour of a beige smoothie made with your leftover bananas into a more enticing pink shade.
Put some into a jug of water to make a cool drink. NOTE - if you use raspberries, serve and drink the water promptly. Otherwise they will make the water slightly pink, but lose their colour, and float at the top looking like sinister little bloodless brains. Trust me on this one!

...blast some frozen berries in the microwave for half a minute, and make a hot sauce for vanilla ice cream
...pick out some blackberries or blueberries to freeze into your ice cubes
...put a tiara of berries round the top of a plain cheesecake or simple sponge cake
Fresh berries are delicious when they are season - especially strawberries- but a punnet of the frozen ones is a thrifty way to add just colour, taste and vitamin C throughout the year. Strawberries do not freeze well - so I usually only buy British ones in the summer, and avoid out of season imported or frozen ones.
I am still delighted to have discovered that the first blueberries grown commercially in Britain were in a nursery just 2 miles away, right here in Ferndown. And they are in season again right now.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Soap Opera

Where is your washing machine? Mine is in the kitchen.
Kirstie Allsopp has provoked an outcry recently by declaring that keeping it in the kitchen is disgusting. 'Why mix your poo, pee and period with food?' she says - and 'why mix toast, marmalade and butter with clean washing?' She claims her life's work is in part dedicated to getting washing machines out of the kitchen.
KA spent some of her childhood in the USA, where her parents followed the custom of keeping their machine elsewhere in the house [btw her Daddy is 6th Baron Hindlip, former chairman of Christie's Auction house] and she points out that the Brits are unusual in their habits - continentals put their machines in other places too...
Under the stairs, in the bathroom, in the downstairs loo, in the garage, hidden in cupboards in the bedroom or dining room...or in the Utility Room.
Personally I have no problem with mine being in the kitchen. In fact I like it there - it is close to the back door - so it's easy to carry the basket of laundry outside to the rotary dryer in the garden. It is close to the sink, so it is easier to transfer stuff which has had a pre-soak to the machine, or to do a quick rub and scrub on Bob's shirt collars. And of course, there is good access to plumbing.
The idea of carting a basket of wet washing from the bedroom down the stairs, or struggling outside to the garage in the middle of a hailstorm to wash my sheets does not appeal at all.
And if it is in the dining room - what happens if it goes into noisy spin cycle in the middle of your dinner party?
At Cornerstones we have a relatively small kitchen - and both the dishwasher and the washing machine are in the Futility Room [that's in the extension built by the previous owners]. But many people I know just do not have the space in any other room for a washing machine. Furthermore, the majority of British bathrooms do not have regular electric sockets. 
Is she right - is it really 'disgusting'? I know that the Romani people will not prepare food in the same sink as they have washed their hands or their clothes - and some even have two washing machines - for clothes from the upper and lower parts of the body.
By Kirstie's own logic, you couldn't site your machine in the loo, because then clean washing would be in close proximity to all those bodily fluids...
Maybe the answer is to schlep your sweaty socks round to the nearest Laundrette [we have at least three quite close to us here] I've used these in the past, in student days - and more recently I washed a duvet in one. I honestly have no idea what a regular wash costs in a Laundrette now. Should one wash one's dirty linen in public, anyway?
KA has backtracked a little now, saying it was all a joke and people over-reacted.
What do you think? Is it worth getting in a lather about?

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Y Pray?

I am in London this week for my WWDP Committee Part of this will be planning the Y-Pray? Conference next May. 

If you - or someone you know - is in the 20-40 [ish] age bracket, this might interest you.
Y-Pray? is the WWDP weekend conference, held in alternate years at the beautiful King’s Park Conference Centre, Northampton.
The name Y-Pray stands for two things
Y-Pray means why pray? a challenge to grow closer to God, and develop a stronger prayer life.
Y-Pray means youth pray – an invitation to younger women to discover more about our worldwide prayer movement.
Why not encourage those you know to come and enjoy a great weekend of faith, fellowship and fun?
In 2018, the dates are May 4th - 6th and our keynote speaker is inspirational Emily Owen, Worship Leader is gifted Helen Pollard - and Saturday night's entertainment will be provided by brilliant illusionist Steve Price. Email me for more details 

Monday, 17 July 2017

An English Rose

I mentioned Jan Struther yesterday - as well as hymns, she is also the author of the famous wartime story "Mrs Miniver". 
This film, starring the fragrant Greer Garson, was released 75 years ago  - July 1942. 
It is the story of a true English Rose, whose peaceful resistance to the Nazi threat "did more for the Allies than a flotilla of battleships", according to Winston Churchill. The film won 6 academy awards. 
If you have never seen it, you've missed a real treat of classic British wartime cinema!

In one part of the film, the local stationmaster, and amateur gardener develops a new rose- and chooses to call it "Mrs Miniver". Now remember, this was the 1940s - not nowadays. "Film merchandising" is huge now - think Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Minions etc etc. But back then, the American cosmetics firm Revlon rushed to produce lipstick and nail varnish in a shade called Mrs Miniver Rose" 

And an American rose grower, Jackson & Perkins introduced a hybrid tea rose, called the Mrs Miniver Rose - large, scarlet and strongly fragrant, which had been first bred in Southern France at the nurseries of C├ęsar Chambord.
But that was all 75 years ago - and many now dismiss the film as a sentimental tear-jerker, or a propaganda piece. Well yes it is those things - but it is still a cracking film with some clever and thought provoking scenes, challenging the popular attitudes to war, and to the appearance of foreigners on British soil.
Four years ago, a gardener in Devon called Orlando Murrins set himself the challenge of finding a Mrs Miniver rosebush for his garden. Jackson & Perkins dropped the variety from their catalogue years ago. British rose growers [Austins, LeGrice, Harkness etc] could not help. Murrins put out an appeal [how useful is the Internet?] and Becky Hook in France directed him to a collection in the former East Germany, the Europa Rosarium near Leipzig.
But the Mrs Miniver Rose was not among their 8300 varieties - their last bush perished in the frosts of 2012. There was apparently one bush known to exist in a private garden. Ysenda Maxtone Graham, Jan Struther's granddaughter, stepped forward to join the campaign. Finally after various setbacks, Martin Briese, a friend of Becky Hook was able to procure a couple of cuttings from the private garden. He was appalled by the Brexit vote, but graciously agreed to send the cuttings to Orlando.
At last Mrs Miniver is blooming in a pot in Orlando's rooftop garden in Exeter.
The Mrs Miniver Rose has been rediscovered!
What a great story - read more about the rose here
Other bizarre Miniver trivia; 
A race horse called The Miniver Rose was the top seller at Tattersall's December Sales, going for 550,000 guineas.
Miniver Rose is the name of a self-catering holiday cottage in Aberlour, Scotland
A sequel to the original film was made in 1950, called The Miniver Story - but I have never seen that one. Interestingly, in the original film, her son Toby was played by Christopher Severn, but in the sequel by an 11 year old James Fox [brother of Edward, father of Laurence, uncle to Emilia...yes, that family of Foxes]

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Lord...Be There...We Pray

Sometimes an 'earworm' can be really frustrating. Last month, having been in charge of the Tiddlers Group 3 times in a row, my head was buzzing with "I'm a Dingle-Dangle Scarecrow" This past couple of weeks, for a number of different reasons, my earworm has been an old hymn. I have constantly been singing Lord of all hopefulness - always popular in our school assemblies.
This hymn was written by Jan Struther [that was with pen-name of Joyce Torrens Anstruther, later Mrs Maxtone-Graham then Mrs Placzek] She was neighbour to Percy Dearmer, Canon of Westminster Abbey, who was charged with preparing a new edition of the C of E hymnbook "Songs of Praise". He approached her about writing some hymns for this. She produced 'When a Knight won his Spurs', 'Daisies are our Silver', and this one. Dearmer was delighted by the success of LOAH, announcing in 1933 that he was "lately returned from a service of university students, who have speedily made it their favourite". The hymn was very characteristic of its time - forward-looking, and non-doctrinal. And it was very daring to replace "Thy" with "You". The agnostic author of the words had minimal interest in the Church and the Christian faith, but she chose the old Irish melody ‘Slane’, which fits beautifully. I love the way the hymn takes us through the day, with a prayer for God's presence and help whatever we are doing.
[The pictures are the bouquet I received from school on Tuesday evening, flowers Bob had following his eye surgery, and the gardens at Kingston Lacey when I visited the other week with Christine and Margaret]

Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy, 
Whose trust, ever childlike, no cares could destroy, 
Be there at our waking, and give us, we pray, 
Your bliss in our hearts, Lord, 
At the break of the day.

Lord of all eagerness, Lord of all faith, 
Whose strong hands were skilled at the plane and the lathe, 
Be there at our labours and give us, we pray, 
Your strength in our hearts, Lord, 
At the noon of the day.

Lord of all kindliness, Lord of all grace, 
Your hands swift to welcome, Your arms to embrace. 
Be there at our homing, and give us, we pray, 
Your love in our hearts, Lord, 
At the eve of the day.

Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm, 
Whose voice is contentment, whose presence is balm, 
Be there at our sleeping, and give us, we pray, 
Your peace in our hearts, Lord, 
At the end of the day.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Wedding Day

Steve Day has been our good friend for over 20 years, and is a member of our old church back in Kirby Muxloe. 
We are looking forward to attending his wedding today, and will be leaving here very early to journey up to the Midlands. The marriage venue is Kelham Hall, near Newark.
A key figure of mid-Victorian Gothic architecture, George Gilbert Scott had originally been commissioned by the Manners-Sutton family to add a conservatory to the house. But in 1857 a fire destroyed the older parts of the house and the architect was left with a blank canvas on which to express all the exuberance of his imagination. The result is a redbrick riot of Gothic styles, with towers, gables, arcades, exquisitely carved columns and fireplaces, and more than a score of different window designs. For 70 years Kelham Hall became home to an Anglican order of monks, gaining an impressive domed chapel, and today it remains a wonderful hidden treasure of English rural architecture.

Yes, it does look remarkably like the Railway Hotel at St Pancras in London, another of GGS's designs. I shall refrain from jokes about Steve 'marrying above his station', or the bride's train!

Friday, 14 July 2017

Ticking** Over!

I've finished the caravan cushions! With a bolt of fabric and a tape measure plus sharp scissors, and pins and a sewing a heap of cushions waiting for the final hand stitched seams...
and finally [after 12 hours and 20 minutes*] a tidy stack of completed cushions in the hall.
And now the cushions are in place in the caravan - the large ones round the dining table, which goes down, so the cushions can be re-arranged into a double bed.The other side of the door are two smaller seats at another table, and these too go down to make a single bed.
I love the beach hut curtains, I think they go well with the deckchair striped cushions.

The caravan owners like them, which is the main thing.

* I had estimated this task would take 12 hours. I suspect that without the interruption of the costume-making-interlude, I would have completed it in the time allotted!
**ticking gets its name from the C15 word 'tick' meaning a mattress or pillow case. Closely woven fabric was needed for theses cases, to prevent the feathers and stuffing coming out, and so this fabric was called ticking.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Three Minute Thursdays, #1 - Yes Peas!

It's ages since I have done any of these posts. But hearing a chap on the radio talking about the Great British Pea Week [it began on Monday and runs through till Sunday] inspired me to have another series. Check out here if you missed out on previous TMTs.

Britain is the largest producer, and consumer of frozen peas in Europe. It's always useful to have a bag of Cap'n Birdseye's Best in the freezer [or Lidl's cheaper, but equally tasty, equivalent] Here are a few TMT tips for making the most of these little green gems;
First of all - always decant your bag of frozen peas into a tupperware box. Otherwise, no matter how hard you try, there will be escapeas  which fall to the bottom of the freezer and lay there reproachfully when you finally get around to defrosting the great white iceberg.

Regard frozen peas as a store-cupboard-staple and not just the accompaniment to sausage and mash. Here are some good ideas
Blitz frozen peas with oil, mint, cheese, garlic etc [recipe here] to make a lovely fresh green pesto. Spread it on bruschetta, stir it into pasta ... or make Dr Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham by stirring the pesto into scrambled eggs.
Pea omelettes, and a splash of colour, and a hit of Vitamin C to a light and summery egg dish. A plate of gold, embellished with emeralds. 
Throw a few peas into a fresh salad. Don't fall into the lazy trap of perpetually presenting the same old salad that they serve in Kath's Kaff [lettuce/toms/cuc/onion]  An unexpected ingredient can make all the difference. Try peas  [or sweetcorn, nuts, sunflower seeds]

Peas, lemon [preserved or fresh] and mint [or tarragon] will lift a bowl of plain couscous to new heights of flavour.

US Cook Ina Garten [aka The Barefoot Contessa] has a Fresh Pea and Mint Soup recipe [here] I'm cheating a bit with this one - because she says 'if you use frozen peas, they cook in only 3 minutes' - the whole recipe does takes a bit longer!

And if you haven't time to try any of these, then just spend 3 minutes looking through the Great British Pea Week website or the Birdseye Peas Recipes page.
More TMTs next week!

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Aladdin Trouble

Last week I stitched them, this week they're wearing them. Obviously, I cannot post 'recognisable' pictures of the children in the school production - but here is a collage of some of the costumes, with faces blurred. The girls in pick waistcoats are the 3 wishes - and bottom left in blue and yellow, are Wishy and Washy, alongside Widow Twankey.

The music and lyrics come from the brilliant Out Of The Ark team - you can click on these two songs to get a flavour of the whole joyous event.
Of course these are children who leave the school this term - I won't see them next term when I am teaching there every week. But it has been fun to be involved with them in their Leavers' Production.

These young people were utterly brilliant - Bob and I really enjoyed the production. Well done Year 6 - and all the staff who helped you!

UPDATE - feeling absurdly pleased that today's Google Doodle celebrates a professional costume designer.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Sitting Comfortably

The play costumes are out of the way - and this evening Bob and I will be going to see the production. But the sewing machine is back out again, because I have to finish the caravan cushions I started a few weeks ago.
The machine was out all day Monday, to do another couple of school dresses and the cushions.
All the main seams on the cushions are done, but each one has a final seam which must be stitched by hand.
The original covers were sewn on - and apart from removing the buttons I've left the cushions as they were. 
I discussed this with my friend, and we decided zips were too much work, and would add to the final costs. 

If there are any spills which need more than just a gentle sponging, she can always undo that last seam, and remove, wash and replace a cover.

Here they are waiting for the last stitches- and must be completed before Wednesday night's Alpha group!

My next cushion-covering is scheduled for after our summer holiday.
Before we moved here, we got rid of a number of office chairs which were surplus to requirements. Bob retained one for his desk here, and one for the office at the church, and I just kept one for my desk. 
But a few months back, mine cracked across the seat.
It was a very cheap IKEA model, but became unusable - and sadly proved unfixable. 
Coming home from church on Sunday we spotted a chair sitting on a drive, with a Help Yourself sign. So we did [I did knock at the door and say I was taking it - the lady seemed very pleased]
It is actually a hairdresser's chair, she told me. But you can see the leatherette cover has a small split. Other than that it is very comfortable.
I've recovered chairs before [here   and here] so this shouldn't be too hard!

Monday, 10 July 2017

Well And Truly Pampered!

We arrived at Champneys, Forest Mere just after 2pm on Friday afternoon.
I'd driven up from Ferndown, and met Liz at Liphook Station.

Everybody has a complimentary pair of flipflops - and a fluffy white dressing gown [the latter is strictly on loan for the duration of your stay, but you can keep them if you pay £25 - we didn't!]  There was a "No Mobile Phones In Public Places" policy, and also a request not to take pictures in the swimming pool/ gym areas. 
Our room was comfortable and well equipped. After unpacking, we had a swim, a sauna, a 'tropical rain' shower [then a 'cooling mist' one] We each had a facial and a relaxing back massage.  Then back into the whirlpool, followed by 45 minutes relaxing on beds in the Quiet Room. In the QR was a stack of glossy magazines to leaf through. 

I am not sure The Manse will ever get featured in English Homes. It is neither stylish nor tidy enough. We had a lovely view from our 'Juliet Balcony'. 
Our evening meal was delicious - I had cured salmon, Gressingham Duck and Chocolate Dome. Liz had Mackerel, Lamb and Cheesecake.
On Friday evening after our meal, we walked down to the Mere, seeing ducks, geese, and a heron [and lots of bunny rabbits]

We returned to one of the outdoor seating areas and enjoyed a coffee, before returning to our room.
Liz had thoughtfully brought a late night snack - as well as Jams, Bonne Maman also make delicious Madeleins!
Saturday morning meant a spinning class for Liz [the bicycle sort, not the wool-making] while I did some jogging and biking in the gym. Then I swam 10 lengths of the pool. I haven't swum that far for years
Time to relax with the newspapers and a coffee, and chat to the inquisitive ducks who were pottering around our table.
 Here we are, just about to go for our lunch.
A huge plate of food from the buffet - lots of salads, two small potatoes and a small jalfrezi chicken breast. Liz had passionfruit mousse which was good -my tiny pot of cinnamon rice pudding was just a little disappointing. Slightly over-spiced for my taste.
The walls were covered with displays of assorted dessert spoons.

There were impressive chandeliers made with hundreds of copper coloured egg whisks. You'll have to check out the website if you want to see more pictures of the place.

And then after lunch it was time to go home again. We seemed to have crammed an awful lot of eating, relaxing and exercising into our 24 hour stay.
Thank you to Champneys for giving us such a brilliant tiime - all the staff members were so friendly and helpful. And thank you to Bonne Maman for making it all possible [and especially my thanks to LIz - Rosie's Good Mother, and my Great Eldest Daughter]