Wednesday 30 June 2021

A Hop Of Hope

It seems we are not the only ones resettling from Dorset to East Anglia. It was announced this week that colonies of Large Marsh Grasshoppers are now breeding in some selected Norfolk wetlands. 

Until recently the main colonies of this insect were found in the New Forest and a few boggy parts of Dorset [including Ferndown's very own Slop Bog]

Volunteers from Citizen Zoo, a social enterprise group that promotes rewilding and social engagement are releasing 1000 insects in two secret locations this summer, in an attempt to increase their numbers, and revive this endangered species. They are calling it their Hop of Hope

These insects are amazingly beautiful. One tends to think of grasshoppers as just being bright green - but these have striking pink and yellow bodies

They were very common in East Anglia in times gone by - but now they are rather isolated in their Dorset/Hampshire breeding grounds, and unable to hop back to former strongholds. It is hoped this programme will strengthen the species again.

Over 2000 were released in Norfolk last summer, and this year their first wild offspring have emerged. The Large Marsh Grasshopper is the UK's largest grasshopper.

In Aesop's fable of "The Ant and The Grasshopper" he condemns the idle green creature who spends all summer making music, then dies in the cold winter, having failed to store food. The industrious ants however, have not ceased to work, and so are well provided when the weather turns. Aesop didn't understand the life cycle - it is around 11-12 months, and the eggs are laid in the autumn and remain dormant through the colder season, hatching as the weather warms up. But down the centuries the ant has been held up as an example of the virtues of hard work and diligence, as opposed to the sins of idleness and sloth. [which is ok, but I wish they would not be so diligent about finding their way into my kitchen!] 

Well done to all those involved in this conservation project . Many of these 'Citizen Keepers' will be spending 6-8 weeks this summer collecting grass to feed to insects reared in a home vivarium. Far more insects survive this way than in the wild, and it is a good way to increase the numbers. I hope they will be as happy living in Norfolk as I am!

Tuesday 29 June 2021

Have A Magical Day!

First of all - thank you to everyone for all the very kind comments yesterday. Jessica is beautiful and continues to thrive- we feel so blessed.

Last month Liz had a birthday card from on old friend. On the front was a very sparkly unicorn. Inside was a greeting explaining that the friend's daughter had insisted on this card. And on the back, a message...

Quite clearly the unicorn was meant to be passed on to Big Sister Rosie. Please Grandma.... 
I peeled off the unicorn - it was sequins sewn on a felt base, with an adhesive backing. The card itself can be decorated and re-used too. I machine stitched the shape onto a plain pink H&M which Rosie found for me in her drawers.

And here's the magical bit - the unicorn is silver with a pink/red yellow/turquoise mane.

But if you run your fingers across the sequins, stroking them upwards, they flip over - the motif becomes pearly white, with white, blue, silver and purple mane.

I thought this was really nifty! If you want a similar, but smaller magical motif, you can buy them from Hobbycraft for just £2.

Monday 28 June 2021

Special Delivery

We were woken to an unexpected phone call – Liz was in hospital, and the baby was coming early. Could we come to London to look after Rosie while Liz was in hospital? We drove down and arrived in the early hours of the morning; over the next few days we took Rosie to school while Jon shuttled back and forth between home and the hospital.

Once again I was struck by the dedication and care shown by the hospital staff, and I feel so thankful that they were there when we needed them. It wasn’t long before the family was home and we were able to meet the newest addition to the family.

Rosie is already learning how to be a caring and kind big sister, and Jon and Liz are thrilled to be home together and learning how to be a family of four.

It was lovely to meet the new addition to the family, and we’re all looking forward to spending time together over the summer.

Jessica Katherine, 

born 13 June, 

weighing 5lbs 5oz.

Sunday 27 June 2021

And Love Spilled Out...

 The post brought a card from my dear friends Mark and Elisabeth

Last summer we were able to meet briefly in the Norfolk sunshine, which was lovely.  Like many people in the past 15 months, their plans for special celebrations have gone out the window.
Their Ruby Wedding Party cancelled, instead they are having a weekend away together.

Mark is Head of Chaplaincy at University Hospitals, Leicester. Elisabeth is a nurse. They are wonderful, caring people - Elisabeth has the strongest social conscience, actively promoting fairtrade, cycling, charities and all sorts of other issues. She and I have supported each other through joys and stresses of parenting, being the minister's wife, juggling work and family, health issues, and much more besides. 

Elisabeth also creates beautiful hand-made cards [like this one] The front is banded with ribbon saying joy, inside are photos from the wedding and a recent holiday. They sent these cards out to friends, to explain about the anniversary- and to say thank-you for friendship [they married in 1981, and we met them in 1982, when Mark and Bob started studying theology together]

What a lovely idea, to send such a card! Just the sort of thing Elisabeth would think of. And then I saw something else glittering on the table. As I opened the envelope, LOVE spilled out...

So typical of these good friends, they truly live out their faith - showing gratitude, sharing joy, and as they encounter people, love just spills out...

Would that there were more couples like Mark and Elisabeth God bless you both as you celebrate a long and strong marriage. God grant you many more years of love, life and laughter together. Here's hoping we can meet up again before too long...

Saturday 26 June 2021

Petit Dejeuner?

The electrical chaos continues, but we are coping. The new box on the wall replaces the old one in the cupboard. But that channel needs to be filled and plastered, the walls repainted, and some tiles replaced. 

But that can't happen until the earth bonds are properly fixed to  the water inlet and the oil pipe [which goes to the boiler]. Bob's able to do the cabling, then James will come and connect the ends and sign off on the electrics. That sounds so easy - but involves drilling holes in exterior walls, pulling cables through cavities and across the loft and it is not a fast task. I'm glad we can do part of the work ourselves, it would cost a fortune for the electricians to do it all - but technically it is essential [I'm trying not to moan about previous owners cutting corners here] 

Can I help? I said brightly, and Bob suggested I went into the loft, watched for his orange electrician's cable rod appearing, then tugged it across the loft to bring all necessary cable through the hole 
[just by the front door]
Forget cheerful chappy on his knees feeding rod down hole. I was balancing on a narrow joist, supporting a long pole, trying not to fall through the ceiling below. More like Blondin crossing Niagara! But with frequent cups of tea and lots of mutual encouragement we will eventually get this job done.
The trouble is, until it is all finished, the contents of the cupboards are all over the dining table and the work table in the study. There are still boxes in the spare bedroom and it's all feeling rather cluttered.

I'm the sort of person who likes to eat my meals at a table when possible. Thursday we were able to sit outside in the garden. And yesterday Bob said he was going to make a cooked breakfast. It was windy and raining  "so please can you be creative and find us somewhere to sit and eat, Ang?"

I looked around and spotted my French canvas. Aha! I can put our little bistro table into the Futility Room, I thought. So that's what we did. I scribbled a sign on some scrap paper with a Sharpie.

And we enjoyed our Full English with a French Ambience. I even switched on the under-cupboard coloured lights, to detract from the stuff all around us.
Great wiring, and great breakfast - thanks Bob!

Friday 25 June 2021


Here is a kitchen cabinet, without doors or worktop - showing the Consumer Unit for the Cornerstones electrics. Yes, it is in a corner - totally inaccessible in normal life. You can only get to it by removing the Kenwood Chef and all the baking tins, and crawling in with a torch. 

We have no idea why the previous owner, when they had building work done  [including fitting the cupboards] did not move the box to a better location. We can only assume that it was another of their bodging cost-cutting ideas. 

The electricians, Paul and James [who sound like a couple of apostles] have worked very hard to put things right. We need an extra cable put in, so there will be power to the new garage - and this is the time to do it. Having emptied and removed the necessary cupboards earlier in the week, Bob's come up with an alternative arrangement for the wall cupboards too. Watch this space!

But it has left me pondering about things. Back in 2014, I did a Top Tips post about Quick, Quality, Quids-In. You can do something of quality, but it will either take time or money. Cornerstones is a beautiful property - and structurally pretty sound - but we have discovered over the past 12 years, that there were lots of little things not really done to a high standard. "Quick and Cheap" appears to have been the mantra for the previous owners.

I thoroughly approve of the fact that they took out the old kitchen units, and used them to furnish the futility room - but why did they not bother to fit plinths and finish the job? When they fitted a new kitchen door, hinges on the opposite side, why didn't they move the light switch? [A simple task, thank you Adrian for helping with that] And as for the wiring to the outside light...words fail me!

My grandmother always encouraged me to do my best - reminding me of the words in Colossians "And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best." Yes, I admit, there are times when I cut corners. But I hope that I do my best, not just the minimum.  

  • when I am building something in the home I hope will last
  • when making a garment which I want to be worn for a long time
  • when I am teaching a skill to a child, to be leaned for a lifetime
  • when offering to help someone in need
[am I the only girl who never knew that when Cub Scouts cried "Dyb!Dyb!Dyb!" it was a challenge to Do Your Best?]

Thursday 24 June 2021

Lovin' that Lupin!

I know exactly when I became aware of the lupin flower. It was summer 1963, and Miss Holdforth, our teacher, said we were going to make a floral mural for the classroom wall. 

Everybody was given a piece of pale green sugar paper, cut in the shape of a cucumber, and two little packets of crepe paper petal shapes. We each had two colours - mine were purple and lilac. We spent one long afternoon sticking our petals on the cucumber, to make a lupin. It was flour and water paste, and the purple colour came off the crepe onto my fingers. I didn't really enjoy the activity [I wanted to do a red one, but you never got a choice!] but I became fascinated with the actual flowers. I decided that at some point I would grow lupins in my garden. As yet this has not happened!

However I have recently discovered a TV show called LUPIN, showing on Netflix. It's another Eurocrime series, set in Paris [subtitled] with an intriguing plot. Assane Diop is a 'gentleman thief', who sets out to avenge his father for an injustice inflicted on him years before, by a wealthy family. Diop takes his inspiration from the fictional character Arséne Lupin, created by the writer Maurice Leblanc.

Assane, like his hero, is "un gentleman cambrioleur" - he steals from people who are worse villains than he is, often in a Robin-Hood sort of way, to benefit those worse off. And always to avenge wrongs. He first appeared in print in 1905, just a few years after A J Horning;s "Raffles" stories arrived in the English press. AJH only wrote from 1899-1909 - but Leblanc kept the Lupin chronicles going up till 1940 [Lesley Charteris introduced his gentleman burglar, The Saint in 1928 - although most of us only know of Roger Moore's 1960s incarnation of that character]

The Diop storyline is very clever- there are parallels with the way the contemporary 'Sherlock' Benedict Cumberbatch relates to Conan Doyle's Holmes. You don't need to know the original Leblanc stories to enjoy Lupin. Bob and I knew nothing about them, but both thought that it was a good tale well told.. 

The actual details behind Leblanc's writing are fascinating. The first book was about Arséne LOpin - but a politician with that same name insisted he change, hence LUpin. He also wrote a story called Arséne Lupin Versus Sherlock Holmes. The estate of Arthur Conan Doyle protested, so he called the character Herlock Sholmes instead [weird but true]

Having watched series 1 & 2 of Lupin, I plan to borrow the original stories from the library. BTW if you do not know the "Raffles" stories, listen out for them on Radio 4 Extra, they are repeated on a regular basis and extremely well done.

I definitely rate Lupin [series 1 and 2] starring the gifted actor Omar Sy, with a clear *****

Wednesday 23 June 2021

Happy Birthday Delia!

Last Friday, Delia Smith [OBE, CBE,CH] celebrated her 80th birthday. Nobody can deny the impact she has had on home baking in the UK over the last 50 years. Born in Surrey, she made East Anglia her home over half a century ago, and began her TV career on "Look East". She was the first TV cook to be known just by her first name [way before Jamie, Nigella and others] 

In 1973, in her first series [Family Fare] she mentioned lemon zesters, and they sold out very quickly - the same was true for cranberries, omelette pans and more. During the run of "How To Cook" there was a 10% increase in egg sales. The term "Delia Effect" entered the dictionaries at the turn of the millennium. She refused payment for featuring products, and only took on advertising campaigns after retiring from TV, as she felt viewers may cease to trust her integrity.

Delia married Michael Wynn Jones in 1971, they celebrate their Golden Wedding this year - sadly her Mum Etty passed away last year, from Covid19, just after her 100th birthday. 

Etty passed on a strong sense of social justice to her daughter, whose Christian faith is very important to her, and she has been a practising Roman Catholic for almost 60 years. Her beloved Norwich City FC is back in the Premier League again for this season.

I had loads of Delia's books on my shelves - but I had to get rid of most of them in the great library downsize

I decided that as her website is so comprehensive, I could always access her recipes online if I needed to. Ziffit bought many of the books [always a good sign] I decided I would keep just one Delia Cookbook - the one that was my Mum's. Delia Smith's Bok Of Cakes [1983] When we unpacked, I discovered another had somehow escaped the cull -Part 2 of her Complete Cookery Course. Mum and Dad bought the 3 part set for my birthday just after we married.

But I also kept two other books -

These came out in the 80s when Bob was in training, and I have used them a lot down the years. Long before my annual blog 'pauses' for Advent and Lent

When Liz was a toddler, Delia came to the local Christian bookshop to promote the Advent book. I decided to get a signed copy as a gift for my Aunt. My friend Libby left her toddler with me, and she went down to the shop to join the queue, and buy books for herself & her Christmas gifts, and one for me. I did not have enough money to buy my own copy of the book, so decided I would read Auntie Peggy's copy before I wrapped it.

Libby returned, over an hour later - and gave me the book. I opened it excitedly, and was quite confused. "Oh, I could not remember your Aunt's name, so I asked her to write 'Angela' inside" Which is why I kept the book for myself [my Mum bought a copy - unsigned -for Peggy]

Dear Delia - God has blessed me these many years, I hope he has blessed you too. Thank you for giving me the confidence to try different recipes, and for writing instructions which really work [providing they are followed to the letter!]

Tuesday 22 June 2021

Transformation Challenge

Liz gave me this pattern for Christmas. TATB "Cleo". I made up another of Tilly's patterns last year. I wanted to make it up as a summer pinafore to wear over teeshirts, in a lightish denim. I had a dress in this fabric in my wardrobe. Bought in about 1990. Mid 30's, mum of two primary school children, my 'little house on the prairie shirtwaist design" Easy to wear, I lived in it back then. As it was, open to the waist with tee shirt underneath, with jumper over it in cold weather...with boots in winter, plimsolls in summer. But now it looks all wrong [my waistline has changed, my legs are not so slim]

It's currently very much in style [Holly Willoughby is promoting it for M&S] but that doesn't mean it is right for me. So I took it to bits...

There was a lot of fabric. That big piece is folded double. Some signs of wear - the channel for the waistband elastic had faded in places. But careful cutting yielded all I needed. I re-used the button band [with holes] and breast pocket, and made a feature of the 'gathering marks'

I am really quite pleased with the finished garment. It feels comfortable and easy-to-wear. I put the breast pocket on the back as it was [the pattern has 2 back pockets. one's enough!] I had some dungaree clips in my Stash, and used my Latin Ludovicus buttons to secure them.

The gathering marks are now across the bodice. I am really chuffed with this dress. I have not had to buy anything - and I have plenty of denim left. Certainly enough for a child's garment. 

Below you can see the little details which show the garment's origins. I think the "Transformation Challenge" was a really difficult round in GBSB - your score depended so much on 'What Esme liked'. I doubt this is wild, colourful or sexy enough for her. But it pleases me. I'm happy about this year's winner, and thought from Episode 1 that she was the best!

But what will Rosie say? 

If my dungarees are poo-trousers, does this dress have poo-clips?

Monday 21 June 2021

Unusual Needles, Mystery Buttons

I was finishing off a project - and couldn't find my needle case. I think I put it somewhere safe when the grandchildren were here. But in the bottom of my sewing box I spotted a packet. Clearly a card of needles, folded inside a cellophane wrapping. I couldn't recall where it came from. I carefully slid out the card and unfolded the sheet.

A "Handy Needle Pack" - five very different needles, each with a brief description on the card

A curved Mattress Needle for upholstered furniture repairs. 

A fine but strong Glovers' Needle for use with leather and vinyls. 

A flat bladed Sail Needle for canvas and awning repairs*.

A bent Sack Needle for repair to hessian and coconut matting* 

A big-eyed Couching Needle for heavy wools.
* with flat, triangular points.

I needed to sew two buttons through a lot of layers, so I used the sail needle. It was perfect. But I wondered about housewives in the 1960s - did they really find themselves stitching holes in fine leather gloves, or tears in coconut matting? 

I do remember a Teaching Assistant in the 90s angrily stitching up the stack of school sacks- a Probationary Teacher had cut armholes and neckholes in them all, to make 'Roman slave tunics' for his Class Assembly -not realising they were needed for the Sports Day Sack Race! 

Here is one of my buttons - out of my Great Stash. It is vcheap metal, and bears the phrase Ludovicus Rex Plures Non Capit. Which apparently means There is no room in the world for more than one King Ludwig [or Louis] I did some checking on the Internet. 

Despite people trying to sell these as 'rare' and 'vintage' buttons online, the majority are late 20thC reproductions. Latin scholars complain the words are incorrect, and historians say "Which Louis?" there were loads of Kings called Louis in France. 

And in Bavaria, King Ludwig II lived in this splendid castle [allegedly the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle] Buttons like these were used in the mock military jackets popular in the 60s - Sergeant Pepper and all that. Lots of people had them on garments from the popular C&A clothes store. 

I don't think my old buttons are very valuable. But they are great fun. Tomorrow I will explain why I needed them.

Sunday 20 June 2021

Saturday 19 June 2021

Green Fingers Or Black Thumbs?

 Here in the UK we refer to good gardeners as having 'green fingers' - in the US they talk about 'green thumbs' - and non-gardeners having 'black thumbs'

I've always felt I had black thumbs, cress-on-a-flannel being the high spot of my horticultural achievements. Then I was given orchids as gifts, and under Jenny's expert tutelage, I've managed to keep them alive for 5 years, and they are still thriving and blooming. Liz discovered a gift for houseplants during lockdown, and I thought maybe now I am retired I can work on this.

A brief progress report. 

  • Diligent checking of the bushes at the front - we seem to be on top of the rosemary beetle infestation. Only three on Friday - and the rosemary bush is looking healthier, putting forth some fresh leaves [unlike the cuttings I took - which have all died]
  • The bay plant is flourishing, as is the fig, the rhubarb and the three tomato plants [50p each from a table outside a neighbour's house]
  • The set of six radish plants purchased with enthusiasm from B&Q have produced leaves, gone to seed, and there is no sign of any fat red radishes. ["Once you've mastered cress, it is easy to grow radishes", said a lady in Ferndown before we left]
  • The five M&S Little Gardener Kits, which I have had unopened since last summer [too busy running Grandma's Nursery for Rosie] were planted and tended as per instructions.
The cress has grown. Nothing else
  • The 'living lettuce' and 'living basil' have survived remarkably well, and we are watering them and picking leaves as and when.

These are my new lavender plants. Bob insured his car with Saga recently - and there was a very good offer for a tray of lavender plants. He thought I might like to plant some more -  this was before the beetle invasion. He was glad he'd ordered them - and I was anticipating a lovely gift
They arrived a few days ago - and apart from two, the remaining twenty two were brown and crispy when he opened the parcel. 
Bob contacted them and sent photos. The response was "Oh sorry, we will send you some more. They should arrive by the end of July" This seems an excessively long time to me.
I am not counting these as my failure- they arrived dead!

There are small fruits on the apple and pear trees, and I have done what my FIL taught me, where three grow in a cluster, remove the weakest fruit. I have hope for these.
I am still nearer the wrong end of the chart, but I am working on it. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was Monty Don's Garden.

Friday 18 June 2021

Losing A Loved One

It was so good to share Brooke's story a couple of days ago. Our little village mentioned in the local media in a positive way. But within hours another story was bringing Swanton Morley into the headlines again, this time in a sad way. 

Bob was standing at the kitchen sink when he saw police cars in the close, and coppers going door-to-door. Two were approaching Cornerstones . It appeared that an 87 year old lady, suffering from dementia, had gone missing from the Care Home [very close to us, just by the medical centre] The officers asked if they could search our little back garden. Of course... [I have no idea what they thought of the five bicycles, summerhouse stacked with boxes, and other stuff temporarily leaning against the wall under a large tarp] Other police were searching adjacent gardens. 

"Lowland Search and Rescue" sent in a team, and other folk from the village joined them. Grateful thanks to all who helped. Sadly the lady was found, on ground beside a lane just outside the village. It was 48 hours after her disappearance, and she had died. A sad story indeed

I said to Bob "if I ever get dementia, fit me with GPS tracker!". I didn't realise that these are already 'a thing'. This company markets them. [other models available] There are 850k people in Britain who are living with dementia, and 6 out of 10 will develop "wandering" behaviour. Obviously prevention is safer than a search - but needs to be balanced with personal freedom, and still enjoying life.  This sort of device brings so much peace of mind to family and carers. A tracker cannot guarantee absolute safety but would be a help. 

The GPS trackers company mentioned above has really practical advice, both about reducing risk, and organising an effective search, do have a look. I am so sad for Margaret's family and friends. 

Years ago [pre mobile phones] I was driving home to Kirby Muxloe late at night, and passed an old lady on the quiet road out of the village, apparently wearing just a nightie. I stopped and asked if she was OK. She said, distractedly that she was going to her sister's house. As I was less than a mile from home, I fetched Bob. He took me back to her and then alerted the police. I remember she was scared but let me walk with her. It would have been wrong to force her into a car. Her conversation was "away with the fairies" as they say. All was well in the end, the police established who she was [she lived independently in a warden-assisted scheme close by] But if I'd not driven past, who knows where she'd have ended up? 

Lockdown has taken its toll on the mental health of our nation - especially the frail, elderly folk who cannot access the benefits of contact-through-technology. 

The answer to the ancient question "Am I my brother's keeper?" remains a resounding YES , especially when our brothers and sisters are unable to fully care for themselves. 

Praying this week for Margaret's family, the Care Home staff and all affected by this tragedy. 

Thursday 17 June 2021

Weeds Are Flowers Too

... Once You Get To Know Themu
Cornerstones is, not surprisingly, situated on a corner. We have a long curving fence from the front door round to the gravel drive at the side where we park the cars. Lathe Palace plans are underway at last - electrics, then concrete base, and finally garage plus workshop going up in September, we hope. 
I rarely walk round the outside of that fence. If I leave by the side door I turn left across the grass to the car parked on the gravel drive - and from the front door I turn right to walk up the pavement, taking the footpath to the bus-stop, post box or medical centre.  But the other day I did take a stroll round, and spotted a huge clump of flowers growing out of a crack in the pavement, right next to my fence. I picked them and put them in an enamel jug on the dining table where their colours go well with Steph's painting. 
Are they weeds? I don't know - there are similar flowers in a garden alongside the footpath, and I suspect these have self seeded from these plants. 
Someone told me they are ox eye daisies [also known as moon-pennies because their white heads glow in the moonlight] but another declared them to be feverfew. Alternative names for this include flirtwort and febrifuge daisy. For centuries, it was believed by some people that this consuming feverfew and its leaves could lower temperature and relieve headaches, a sort of 'mediaeval aspirin'. [Recent research questions this] In my teens I started to suffer with migraines, and an old Norfolk farmer told my mother to give me a sandwich filled with feverfew leaves. [She didn't] 
One of you gardening experts out of there [Sue or ElizabethD? ] will be able to identify these blossoms, I'm sure. Thank you in advance! 
Whatever they are called, these blooms have brought me joy. Bright white, rich gold and fresh green colours, not standing straight in the jug, but twisting out in all directions. I love their sunny, cheerful nonconformist attitude.