Saturday, 5 December 2015

Cake, cats and Christmas carols

We’ve had two days of pottering at home, we are slowly getting sorted out as belongings are put away. It’s been an absolute pleasure to be able to cook properly again. As it’s been cold and windy for the last couple of days while storm Desmond makes its way across the country, I have been making food fit for winter. We’ve enjoyed big bowls of cawl (a traditional Welsh soup/stew) which I made with chicken rather than lamb and an orange and ginger cake to go with a cup of tea.
This morning we went to our local garden centre, it was heaving with folks preparing for Christmas. Neatly wrapped trees could be seen weaving their way across the car park with people beneath them unable to see in which direction they were going and being buffeted around in the blowy weather.
Every year it saddens me that people make so much effort for this one special day a year and are so incredibly rude and unpleasant in the lead up to it. Every year I wish that people would be kinder and nicer all year round and extend that kindness to everyone, not just their family and friends who are with them on Christmas Day. Surely our world would be a nicer place if everyone remembered to be, well, nice!
Mr J found the five different songs playing through the loud speaker systems too much and waited for me outside while I selected the plants that I wanted to buy. I did wonder why as I walked around the garden centre I had listen to different songs depending on which part of the building I was in. It was possible to stand in one place and simultaneously hear 3 different carols being piped through slightly fuzzy speakers.
While Mr J waited outside a more elderly (more than us anyway) woman dropped an item as she left the garden centre. Mr J, being a gentleman, rushed forward saying ‘I’ll get that for you’ and started to bend to pick it up and her reply was ‘Get off that!’. It seem that the days of chivalry are fading, although, thankfully not entirely gone. I know that I would have been delighted for some help in that situation. As we talked about it on the way home, I suggested that perhaps she thought he was going to steal it, after all we hear about people running off with things when we think they are going to help. Mr J chuckled and replied ‘Yes, because we all want to rob a little old lady for a cartoon cats wall calendar’!
Talking of cats, Archie got his own personal door yesterday. I have installed cat-flaps into the doors of several homes in the past so was confident about how to do this and also knew that it took about half an hour to do. Well that was in the past, nowadays everything takes much longer to do than it used to. Since I became ill, I have very little strength so simple things like using a drill or jig saw are now very hard work and getting up and down to cat-flap level is a major performance. Still I was determined that I was going to do this and Mr J, seeing that I was set on achieving this little task on my own, made a sensible retreat to his study for a while until it sounded like it was (safe) a good time to join me. I got most of it done without incident and thankfully he appeared just in time to cut the bolts to length, a task that may have taken me hours. In the end it took me three and a half hours, but the cat now has a very smart cat flap to use and can come and go as he pleases. And mostly it pleases him to be in and out, and in and out repeatedly during the night. He is very much a nocturnal creature and in our rented house (which had no cat-flap) we were up and down the stairs during the night as he yowled his mournful and very loud yowl.
So last night he was allowed to venture outside for the first time, we had offered to show him around the garden earlier in the day, but he wasn’t interested in being woken up to survey his new territory. Archie’s night time accommodation has been the boot room. He has been pretty good about settling down and not making too much fuss for the previous four nights and last night, because he now had his own special door, he was able to go out, so he did.
Inevitably no sooner had Mr J fallen asleep than I heard the unmistakable screeching of ‘cat meets cat’ from somewhere not too far from the bedroom window. Not wanting to disturb Mr J, I groped around in the dark to find my dressing gown and slippers and headed downstairs to sort out the cat fight that was brewing outside. Well, could I see him? Absolutely not, he had done a very good vanishing act. I couldn’t see him and I couldn’t hear him, so I stood in the garden in my dressing gown and clogs with the wind whistling around my legs and blowing my hair across my face calling him to no avail. There was nothing for it, I was going to have to wake Mr J, I simply couldn’t face explaining to him in the morning that I had lost Archie overnight, so I crept back upstairs and woke him as gently as I could. As ever my hero, it was no bother to have woken him and he headed downstairs to join me in the cat search. Mr J opened the back door, called Archie and he immediately appeared. I get the distinct impression that the cat likes to humiliate me.
Gluten free Orange and Ginger Cake

4oz lightly salted Butter

2oz unrefined  Muscovado sugar
2 tblspn golden syrup
2 Eggs
Finely grated zest of large Orange
4 drops of Orange Extract
1 tspn dried ginger
½ tspn freshly grated ginger
½ tspn dried cinnamon powder
4oz finely ground Cornmeal
2oz self-raising gluten free flour
1 tsp gluten free Baking Powder
 
For the topping
2oz icing sugar
1-2 tblsp hot Water
A little orange zest
 Preheat oven to 375F, 190C, 170 fan, gas mark 5.
Grease and line or flour a 9 inch round tin or flan dish.
Cream butter and sugar, stir in golden syrup, add eggs and mix well. Stir in grated zest of one orange (keeping a little aside for the topping), orange extract, dried ginger, grated ginger and cinnamon. Fold in cornmeal and flour and baking powder and pour into prepared tin or dish. Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 25 minutes. Check that it is fully cooked using a skewer (if it comes out clean, the cake is ready).
Leave to rest for a couple of minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack to cool.
Prepare icing by adding the hot water to the icing sugar and mix to a smooth paste.
Turn cake onto a serving plate and spoon icing over the cake and spread out a little with the back of a spoon.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

An uplifting day


The telecoms engineer phoned at 8.40am to say that he couldn’t find our house. He had taken the turning marked nos.13 – 22 and couldn’t find number twelve anywhere. I didn’t want to laugh too much, after all, I did want the telephone and internet to be installed. So Mr J walked along our lane to meet the engineer on the main road.
The telephone is now up and running, but the internet connection has been delayed as BT seems to have switched on the wrong box at the side of the road (far too technical for me to get stressed about), they assure us it will be sorted in the next week or so.

Roy, the electrician also arrived around this time as he’d had no problems in finding us. I was about to make a cuppa when I realised that the milk was not as fresh as we’d like it to be, so Mr J hopped into his car to go to the local shop (a couple of miles away) to buy milk. I feel rather guilty that he has had to do all the driving for the last few months, but until I can sit in a car for longer than 10 minutes without falling asleep, I think it’s safer that I wasn’t behind the wheel.

Anyway, Roy has fitted our second hand cooker and almost all of it works, it was always a gamble as we didn’t see it working when we bought it, but one oven, the grill and all the rings work, so that’s enough for me until the time comes when we can have either the second oven repaired or replaced. Roy then fitted an additional motion-sensitive light at the side of the house, which means that we can see where we are going when we are outside in the evenings or when we come home at night. We also talked through our plans for the outbuildings and Roy thought that they would all be fairly straightforward and will give me an idea of cost in due course.

So, cooker safely wired into the electrical system, we discovered that the space where it should fit was about 5mm too small, no worries that’s a simple job to shave a small piece off the wooden worktop with our new jigsaw. Or it would be if I could work out how to fit a blade into it! Some days the simplest of tasks feel like an impossibility.

Next we needed to pop to a local DIY store, so headed off for Homebase. We hadn’t been to this particular branch before so had to keep asking where things were, the staff were all very helpful. Need to go upstairs? No worries, either we could leave the shopping trolley at the base of the stairs or take it up in the lift. By this time of day, my legs were starting to ache and my feet were throbbing, so the lift seemed like a nice idea. Hmmm, lifts usually work when you go in them and press the button for the first floor. On this occasion there was no response, oh well, never mind, we’d have to take the stairs. However, not only did the buttons not work, nor did the door! We were stuck in the lift.
‘Now don’t panic’, said Mr J quietly and calmly to me as I banged on the door to attract a nearby shopper’s attention. The lift had a glass window in the door, so the somewhat startled shopper could see that we were stuck and raced off to find a shop assistant. The first assistant couldn’t open the door either and joked with us ‘Oh you’re trapped in there now, we may never get you out’. At this point, I slid to the floor and hunkered down for the hours that it may take to get us out of there. I didn’t even have an emergency chocolate bar in my handbag and we hadn’t eaten lunch before we went. My stomach complained. Mr J, who doesn’t get as flustered as easily as I do, stood quietly and patiently waiting for someone else to come to assist us. And come they did, a young man with a screwdriver popped the latch and the door opened. I then had to haul myself up from the floor in a rather unceremonious manner, dust myself off and thank him profusely for rescuing us. This is such a typically British thing to do, the store’s lift trapped us in and I apologised for inconveniencing him.

We walked up the stairs and then, inevitably, couldn’t find the items we had wanted to buy. Back at home, I continued the battle with fitting the cooker into its allotted space while Mr J returned once more to our rented house to sort out the recycling (it’s bin day) and to do some food shopping so that we could eat our first meal, cooked on our cooker, in our new home.
It has been a good day over all, we’ve achieved, we have laughed and we’ve had our first home cooked meal.

Roy is based in Bristol, I highly recommend him if you need electrical work done at your home. He can be contacted at roywinters@sky.com .

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Treasured memories

My body clock is still not working very well and so I was up at ten to five again this morning. Watching the sun rise over the Severn Estuary was lovely and the sky looked very dramatic as the wintery sunlight cut slashes of watery gold through heavy grey clouds.
We went back to our rented house this morning to pack up and retrieve more of the smaller belongings, I am stunned at how much ‘stuff’ we have accumulated and although I can be ruthless about getting rid of things, I am also rather sentimental and just can’t bring myself to discard things that evoke special memories.

There have been moments over the last couple of weeks that I shall remember and treasure forever. The sheer delight and relief on Mr J’s face we got the phone call to say that we had exchanged contracts for the purchase of our little smallholding, the slightly surreal feeling when we arrived to collect the keys, the moments of tranquillity I’ve found when standing very still and looking at the views surrounding us here and the laughter of a shared moment of humour between us. And there has been a lot of laughter!

Tomorrow our home has visitors. Roy, the electrician, is coming to install the cooker and the telephone engineer is coming to sort out all things telephonic (I hope). I am looking forward to being able to cook a meal rather than microwave processing and Mr J tells me that he is looking forward to eating our first proper meal in our new home.
But for tonight, we have the place to just the three of us, myself, Mr J and Archie, the rather contented cat.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Gently, gently.

After the stressful exertions of yesterday, today has been a complete contrast. Mr J got up early to return the hired van, while I stayed at home and pottered. Actually the pottering comprised several hours of putting things away in drawers and cupboards, arranging the kitchen so that it flows in the way that I prepare food, but it felt gentle and pleasing and without a time pressure.
We ate lunch looking out of the huge kitchen doors, watching the wind blowing through the trees in the garden and agreed how lucky we are to have found this place and been able to buy it.
By early afternoon, Archie, the cat had explored the ground floor and had started to settle down.  Still tired from the last 12 days of activity, we decided to have a very gentle afternoon, Archie curled up on Mr J’s lap as they both had a snooze on the sofa in front of the fire.
 
We are still without a cooker, which will be installed on Thursday, so I have been practising my production skills with the microwave. I made a lemon drizzle cake to go with a cup of tea, it wasn’t entirely successful but was edible. Actually, thinking about it, a lemon drizzle cake would have to be pretty awful for me not to eat it!
Today had a very peaceful feel to it, it has given me the head space to think about the garden and firm up some of my ideas. I wandered across the paddock (which will become the fruit and vegetable garden) between showers to get a few minutes of fresh air and to pace out the distance to give me a rough idea of how much weed suppressing membrane to order for the pathways. As we plan to garden organically and using lots of permaculture principles, there isn’t the option of using weed-killers so I’m going to use a barrier method, exclude the light and eventually the weeds should die off.

To end the gentle day, I am going to have an early night and catch up on some of the sleep I missed in the last few days.

Monday, 30 November 2015

First night in our new home


A little over 12 hours ago, Mr J left our house in South Gloucestershire to collect a rented van for our final big push to get moved into our new home. It has been an exhausting yet exhilarating day, we’ve barked at each other and laughed together and pleasingly we have laughed much more than shared a grumpy word.
I used to live in a large Edwardian house and most of my furniture is suited to large open rooms with high ceilings and wide doorways, not the little cottage we now call home. So struggling with huge bookcases and heavy oak chest of drawers has taken its toll on our backs and wrists and we both look, well, less than tidy.

I am still fairly ill and I am not quite sure what I have been running on for the last 11 days, I certainly have almost zero energy left but between ibuprofen, vast amounts of vitamins and minerals, excitement and sheer bloody-mindedness I have muddled through. The next couple of days are going to be quiet ones, pottering around our home, putting things away and enjoying our new environment.

Archie, the cat, has had a difficult day, like most animals, he doesn’t like it when things are changing all around him and he’s avoided much of the upheaval by putting in a full day asleep on the bed. He said a few ripe words to me as I loaded him into the cat basket and sang nicely to us for most of the journey. He is now safely tucked in the boot room that will be his bedroom for the next couple of nights, while he also get used to his new surroundings.

Mr J, who continues to be my absolute hero, has gone to the local shop to find a meal that we can put in the microwave as the cooker isn’t being installed until Thursday, while I take 20 minutes to put my thoughts down and to have a rest. After that we will make up the bed and contemplate how soon is too soon to collapse into it and sleep.

The weather has been relentless, it has rained and blown a hoolie for almost our entire move and I suspect it will continue this way right up until we bring the last things from our old house. But for now, I don’t mind if it’s miserable outside, it’s warm and dry and cosy in our new home and tonight we get to spend the first night here.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Fabulous friendships

There's no doubt about it, I am very fortunate to have so many wonderful friends. Lots of my friendships are long-standing, folks I have known for a great many years and although we don't necessarily see each other that often, we rally round at the right moments. Just as Jane came to help us last weekend, Clare and Frank have helped this weekend.

And what a stormy weekend it has been. Saturday morning we once again headed to Wales, the skies were already starting to darken, but just as we approached the Severn Bridge, the sun shone and lit the bridge piers (the uprights) giving them an almost eerie glow.
 
The sunshine didn't last too long and by mid morning the rain was lashing down and the wind speed had picked up to around 45 miles an hour. This made unpacking the car and moving our belongings into the house a somewhat damp affair. I think that I got the better end of the bargain though, as I made a roaring fire in the wood burner and made hot drinks, Mr J battled in the wind and rain to collect more of our belongings from lock-up at the nearby self-storage facility.

My daughter, who had planned to visit us at the smallholding, text to say that she was stuck in traffic and I advised her to head home and come next weekend instead. There wasn't much to see except dark skies and driving rain and that's not much fun for a 4 year old grandson.

Today has been a busy but gentler day, which both Mr J and I have appreciated. That is until late afternoon when Clare and Frank arrived with their van to help move some of the heaviest items. I was reminded again, that I don't much like standing and watching others do the jobs that I feel I should be doing, but I am also learning that I have to accept help and do so graciously. So in the dark, wet, windy early evening, the cooker, fridge-freezer, washing machine and a sink unit (for the bathroom) were loaded onto their van with a few other bits and pieces and we went once again along the M5 and M4.

I'm looking forward to Clare being able to visit us again, but in daylight hours to be able to show her around properly (waving a torch around really doesn't show a garden off to its best advantage) and to catch up with all her news. She doesn't live too far away from our new home, so it will be lovely to see her more often. I met Clare when my son was four years old and before my daughter was even a twinkle in my eye and we used to see each other regularly (almost daily at one point), but life moves on and we move in different directions and in our case we moved to different sides of the UK. And now, for a while at least, we will be close to each other once again.

Tonight we are spending what we think may be our last night in the rented house that has been our home for the last two and a half years. There will still be tidying up to do and giving it a good clean before we hand the keys back but I am looking forward spending tomorrow taking the last of our furniture to our own home.

So this evening no doubt will have a contemplative and reflective moment or two and one of those thoughts will be about how pleased we are to have so many good friends.