Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Hot Holiday

I've been away quite a lot recently, first on holiday in France and then on a mini break with Kate in London followed by a visit to my youngest sister and her family in Market Harborough.

In France we stayed in Versailles for a few nights.  I'd visited there as a student and was so impressed by the gardens then that I wanted to return. But my heart sunk when I saw the huge queue of tourists waiting to get in - it was blazing hot too and we had no intention of standing in it. Luckily you didn't need to queue for the garden and it is so huge that the crowd dispersed so we were able to enjoy our walk, finding shade in the groves surrounding the castle.  What I like is the symmetry of the garden and the grand scale of it.  Eventually I managed a walk around the chateau itself later when the queues had disappeared though inside it was still busy.  It was just so opulent - room after room lavishly decorated with paintings and gold leaf, chandeliers, mirrors,- too much really - and, as Kate noted, obscene that one ruler should have so much wealth.  No wonder the people revolted.

We stayed in an apartment in Versailles which was in a quiet courtyard near the centre.  No aircon but a powerful fan and Paul spent his afternoon there watching the Tour de France.  In fact he spent most afternoons of the whole holiday watching the cycling - he is not a fan of heat or of sightseeing.






I was also fascinated by this shop which we passed every day in Versailles on our walk into the town from the apartment.  It was advertising pest control services and to attract customers it had a window display of stuffed animals including three rats which it claimed had been caught in the castle in 1971.



From there we drove to the west coast and had a few days there, spending most of our time in La Rochelle, a lively resort with plenty of restaurants and cafes overlooking the pretty harbour.  It was a bit cooler by the coast but still rather uncomfortable to sleep and our hotel was a bit cramped and noisy at night.  On our final day in France we drove north towards the Channel Tunnel staying in Montreuil where we had a really good meal in the hotel's shady courtyard.  Luckily we missed the chaos which hit the Channel Tunnel shortly after our trip.  All went to plan with our travel arrangements though we all agreed that we spent too much time in the car.  Now that Kate has passed her test she likes to give her dad driving advice - I'll leave you to imagine how that turned out...

Harbour in La Rochelle
That's it for today.  I'll write about the rest of our trips later in the week.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Holiday Catch up and Summer Races


It's been a long time since I posted here so a bit of a catch up.  School summer holidays now so no excuses.

I've been enjoying what seems like the first proper summer for years, though of course now that school holidays are eventually beginning it seems to be breaking down - it's cloudy here this morning and threatening rain. I think our terms dates are all wrong in England - most schools still have one more week so that it's nearly the end of July before they are on holiday.  In NI the school holidays begin at the end of June and it's the same in Scotland - better timing I think.  I'm not a huge fan of really hot weather, but the sunshine and blue skies have been a welcome treat and I have been enjoying sitting in my garden which is looking good despite the parched lawn.  Lots of watering to be done to keep my veg plants alive though.  The sun has meant that I have had lots of ripe tomatoes already as well as other veg.  The meal we cooked (well Paul cooked - I cleared up) on Saturday for my sister who who was visiting featured my tomatoes, little sweet yellow and red ones; new potatoes grown in a dustbin; and green beans which I had grown in pots - there were only enough of these for one meal but they did taste good.



Last weekend Kate and I completed the Chester Race for Life.  In the end we didn't really race but walked it.  I picked up an injury - pulled a ligament on the inside of my knee - so my Couch to 5k training had to stop - a pity as I'd got to week 4 and was doing ok.  To raise funds I had an afternoon tea party, making scones, carrot cake, lemon drizzle cake and millionaire's shortbread.  Unfortunately my party clashed with the England game last Saturday so I had a few cancellations but I sold remaining cakes in school and made £108 for Cancer Research.

Me looking glam after Race for Life.  Kate dis it too but wouldn't let me put her pic on here.

I've also had my sister and her husband from Northern Ireland staying for a few days and entertaining her has seemed like I've been on holiday as we've had some lovely outings.  Even though I've lived in Chester for 17 years, I'd never been to the races, being put off by the sight of drunken racegoers falling off their heels and out of their dresses on their way home.  So we thought we'd give it a try and avoided most of the drunks by going to an evening meeting.  I quite enjoyed it - especially when I won on my first horse: Rainbow Rebel, chosen because I like the name.  I won £6.50 and then lost most of it again on other races. It was a pleasant evening sipping Pimms from plastic glasses in the sunshine. I didn't fall off my heels being sensibly shod and Pimms too pricey to overindulge. We also had a day out in Wales visiting Llangollen, Betws-y-Coed and Llandudno, a lovely old Victorian seaside town. Sister was disappointed by the beach though - nowhere near as good as Portstewart with lots of seaweed and jellyfish making it too precarious to paddle.

By the river in Llangollen


That's it for now. Back soon




Sunday, 3 June 2018

What's in a name?/ A rose by any other name would smell as sweet...


It's early Sunday morning at the end of half term week so time for another blog post.  I've had a relaxing half term catching up with garden and household tasks as well as having a couple of good evenings out with friends. The weather has been warm and sunny mostly with the occasional heavy downpour.  I don't mind this really as it saves me watering the garden.

I have also attempted a bit of training for the Race for Life event which Kate and I have signed up for.  Now I am no runner, nor is she but we both could do with improving our fitness so I thought preparing for this event would give us a bit of motivation as well as raising some money for cancer research.  So I downloaded the Couch to 5K app and have been out jogging/walking alternately on the cycle path several days this week, listening to the encouraging words of Michael Johnson, my chosen personal trainer  It starts at a fairly easy pace so  I have coped - might be a bit more challenging when the ratio of running to walking changes.  Kate can't be persuaded away from her books to join me but I hope she will when exams finish.

It's very pleasant jogging on the cycle path at present as the wild flowers are in full bloom - glossy buttercups, big daisies, cow parsley and, my favourite, the dog roses.   I was wondering why they are called dog roses so I looked it up.  It's a translation form the Latin name, Rosa Canina and it was given that name because the root was originally a remedy against the bite of a mad dog.  Kate considers my fascination with wild flowers and their names very amusing.  It goes back to my primary school years when my favourite topic was 'nature study'  - we'd escape the classroom and go out collecting flowers which we would then press in heavy books and stick into our nature study books, I remember random facts about primroses like how there are male and female ones and how to identify primrose gender.  I wonder if any of the kids I teach will remember any of things I have taught them in forty years time?  Perhaps they'll still know that the quotation above is from 'Romeo and Juliet'.
Manley Knoll Quarry Garden

I am also enjoying visiting gardens which are open for charity through the National Garden Scheme, dragging anyone who I can find available to come with me.  Husband not a keen gardener and usually half way up a mountain on a bike on Sunday mornings so I persuaded one of my friends to come along with me.  Last week's garden was spectacular - Manley Knoll which is owned by the Timpson family (shoe repairs etc). The garden was built around an old quarry and is full of woodland plants.  There were lots of rhododendrons in bloom which was very impressive, though I am not at all keen on them - I have a rather garish purple one in my garden. They were serving teas in old china cups and huge hunks of homemade cake - we shared a piece of coffee and walnut.

And there's plenty more gardens to visit in the months ahead.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

More Matter for a May mornng


It's beautiful quiet May morning so time for a quick catch up.  What have I been doing?

1. The garden. 
I've planted peas, lettuce and rocket and leeks in my raised bed.  Nothing is growing very fast - I think I might have planted when the soil was too cold or something.  The potatoes I planted in a plastic bag and old dustbin are doing well though.  I also am growing tomatoes in pots and these are flourishing mainly because I've kept them inside in my nice bright kitchen.




2. Some Family History research
This year in September it will be the 100th anniversary of the death of my grandfather's brother, Great-Uncle James Ferguson in WW1.  This has prompted me to try to find out a bit more about his life and what happened to him in the war.  I intend to put this together in a little book for the family.  I consulted a helpful Family History Buddy in the local library and she advised me to try Ancestry.com.  There I discovered that someone else in the US was working on the Ferguson family history: the great-grandson of James Ferguson's sister, Minnie who emigrated to Canada.  I contacted him and we have shared information.  I also have been in touch with another lady working on the family tree.  She is the grand-daughter of another of my grandfather's sisters, who I do remember - Aunt Annie.  All very fascinating for me but probably not you so I'll move on!





3. Work 
It's that time of year again when exams are near and stress levels increase - not just for students but also their teachers. My head is full of the texts I am teaching: the title of the post is from 'Twelfth Night'.  Another line from this play I like is 'This fellow is wise enough to play the fool'.  I've got a mug with this on which I bought in the Globe Theatre shop. 

I'm not saying this describes me though - I'm not wise at all. 



That used to be one of my dad's sayings in response to what he considered foolish actions - 'you're not wise'.  Anyway, I disgress.   I need to finish this and do some annotation of coursework and admin. for the exam board.  On a Sunday - this makes me cross.

 At the same time I am supporting Kate who is working very hard for her A levels with cups of tea, hugs on demand etc.  I can't really help her with her work as she doesn't really need me for the English and I know very little about her other subjects: she is often astounded by my ignorance of American politics, for example.  This week we attended an awards evening at her school. She got the prize for Government and Politics and was described as an exemplary student who was passionate about her subject.  We were very proud parents.




Thursday, 5 April 2018

Easter Holiday Catch Up

Holidays are here but this year we are staying at home. Not much sign of spring weather, The first Sunday of my holiday was a glorious day though, and I took advantage of it by climbing Moel Famau in North Wales with a few friends.  This isn't as difficult as it sounds as the path we took was not too steep until the last 100m or so and it took us less than an hour. Here I am at the top.


We have stayed at home this year as Kate wanted to concentrate on revising for her A levels which she is doing with the assistance of her doggy companion.



She has trained him to sit on a chair beside her on the kitchen table, her preferred revision spot.  Probably not a great idea as he might try the same trick when we are having dinner, though so far hasn't.

Easter weekend itself was wet and miserable as it was for the whole country.  We had a visit on Saturday from my sister in law and her husband.  It was originally planned for Sunday but we rescheduled because of the forecast for snow - they live in the Lake District and wanted to get home again. I can't remember a winter which has dragged on so long, though this morning is looking good with sun streaming through the window as I write and warmer temperatures forecast. So on Saturday for our visitors Paul cooked lamb and I made a sinmel cake using this recipe. It  tastes quite good but doesn't really look as professional as the second one which was made by my sister a few years ago when we had Easter in Ballyronan.  I'm not exactly Bake-off material.  Now that marzipan isn't coloured bright yellow, it looks a bit insipid and my attempts at browning it under the grill as instructed made it look worse.  I also didn't have any marzipan left to make the 11 balls which are supposed to go on top to represent the 11 apostles or something.  So I used chocolate eggs but they started to melt as I didn't let it cool enough after grilling.  

My Sinmel cake

What it should look like!
Easter Monday was pretty miserable here. Relentless rain and not much to do. It used to be my favourite day of the holiday when we were growing up as we had a family tradition of having what we called a sausage sizzle.  Unless the weather was really wet we would go up the lane and light a camp fire in a field we called the 'Big Hill' (the Wee Hill was the one opposite).  We'd learned how to do this at Brownies and Guides.  Then we would cook sausages on the end of sticks and toast marshmallows.  After that we would roll the hard boiled eggs we'd carefully decorated earlier in the day, down the hill and then eat them, not worrying too much about what they had rolled on when the shell smashed. We'd sit up there by our fire and look down over the village and the lough and the distant noise of the drumming match which took place every Easter Monday - another NI tradition associated with the Orange Lodge where there is a competition between men playing huge Lambeg drums. I think that is why we come up with our sausage sizzle tradition - to escape from the noise they made.  I couldn't find a picture of a sausage sizzle but when looking I came across this one of Paul up the lane in Ballyronan in Easter 1987. The weather was good that year. 



I don't hold much with the new tradition of the Easter Bunny, a sort of Santa Claus who comes at Easter these days and brings chocolate. This was invented when Kate was little and she now says she was confused and disappointed when other children talked about it.  Not that she was short of chocolate and I still buy her an egg every year.  I have given in to the idea of having an Easter tree though or in my case some twigs from the garden.  This is another new invention by the retailers and you can now buy all sorts of decorations - chicken fairy lights.  Ridiculous.  I haven't gone that far but here's my tree. 



I hope you have had a good Easter.  Back with a book post soon. 






Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Recent Reading and some snowdrops

Irrelevant photo of snowdrops taken on recent annual visit to see them at Ness Gardens

It's time for a book post.  Here's my list since my last round up in November. I'm continuing with my marks out of 10 policy as used by the Waverton Good Read.

Waverton Good Read (First Novels)
'Himself' Jess Kidd  7
'Conversations with Friends' Sally Rooney (Unfinished) 4

'Fahrenheit 451' Ray Bradbury 7
'1984' George Orwell 8

Audio Book 'La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume 1' Philip Pullman 8

Bookclub
'Midwinter Break' Bernard MacLaverty 9
'The Green Road' Anne Enright 9

I'm enjoying taking part in the Waverton Good Read which I blogged about recently.  I liked 'Himself by Jess Kidd, a kind of darkly comic murder mystery set in Ireland. Brilliant characterisation, my favourite being an elderly widow Mrs Cauley who assists the main character in his quest to find out what happened to his mother.  The dialogue is also spot on but the plot fell apart a little at the end.  My other Waverton choice 'Conversations with Friends' has been widely praised in the media - it's a debut novel by a 24 year old -and was one of the recommended Guardian books of the year.  I didn't like it at all and in the end didn't finish it because someone else had requested it in the library so I had to return it. I'm not sure I'd have finished it anyway as I found the central character and first person
narrator intensely irritating - self-absorbed and selfish.

I also reread '1984' in full for the first time since I was a teenager.  I loved it then and enjoyed rediscovering the bits I'd forgotten. The chapter about Room 101 which had shocked me so much last time wasn't so terrifying this though I found the section where Winston and Julia are discovered quite disturbing.  We saw a theatre production of the novel a few years ago which captured in full the horror of their treatment. I also read another dystopian novel 'Fahrenheit 451'.  Both written 60-70 years ago and scarily accurate in their predictions of a world dominated by TV screens, mind-numbing entertainment and our movements and actions monitored by CCTV and the innocently named 'cookies' or are they algorithms (?) that track our internet searches and shopping.

My top score goes to Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty, who is a writer I've loved since reading 'Cal' many years ago.  This is his first novel for 16 years and so I chose it when it was my turn at bookclub.  It's an excellent portrayal of a marriage with the writer switching between alcoholic in denial, Gerry and Stella, who was badly injured in a shooting during the troubles in Northern Ireland and is still affected by this memory many years later.  Stella is increasing intolerant of Gerry's drinking and looking for a new direction for her life in her 60s,  There's not much in the way of plot - the couple go to Amsterdam on a break in February, visit the Rijkmuseum, Anne Frank's house, eat good meals and have afternoon naps. Stella visits a place she hopes will hold the key to her future while Gerry attempts and fails to conceal his secret drinking. There's lots of detail; maybe too much (reringing the taxi which doesn't arrive on time to pick them up, going through security at the airport).  Even so it was memorable because he really explores the complexity of the relationship and the characters are convincing. And the writing is beautiful - seems effortless. I was there with them in Anne Frank's house looking at the pencil marks on the walls.  Perhaps it's because I have done this myself - there was a lot in this novel I could identify with.  But even so this is an excellent book.  My bookclub friends last week largely agreed, though some found it slow to start.

The Philip Pullman audio book 'La Belle Sauvage' helped me through the misery of my January flu virus.  I have signed up for free audiobooks and magazines at my local library and this was my first download. Great service and costs nothing at all.  I loved the Northern Lights trilogy and this book, which is the first of three in the series, is a kind of prequel with Lyra, the heroine of Northern Lights as a baby.  Lots of action and adventure in this one - perhaps too much plot and too many encounters with villains - it is a children's book. Or young adult I suppose. There were loose ends in the plot but I suppose these may be picked up later in the series.  I'm a recent convert to the audiobook and enjoy the luxury of being read to, though I am prone to falling asleep when listening in bed and then can't find my place again.

I have started a new bookclub with colleagues at school so now have two choices a month which are not my own.  Good as it widens my horizons.  School bookclub choice is 'The Ragged Trousered Philantropist' Robert Tressell which I have heard of but never read.  And I have already read my other bookclub choice, Anne Enright's 'The Green Road', another Irish novel. It was also excellent.  And there's another Waverton Good Read by my bedside: 'The Witchfinder's Sister' I'll review these next time.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Catching up with Sisters in London


Our hotel was by The Tower of London


View from the Sky Garden

I haven't written a post for ages and so I thought I'd use this rather damp, grey but quiet Saturday morning to write a brief round up of the last month or so.  I was spurred into action by a lovely letter from my cousin in Northern Ireland who says she missing reading this.

So what have I been up to? Well except for one weekend in London when I met up with my sisters, it has been a quiet time here.  No more builders and we're getting used to our new kitchen which is no longer pristine but more lived in. And a big chunk of January was wiped out because both Paul and I had flu - the worst flu I've had in years.  I had to take a whole week off work and really it was over two weeks before I was back to normal.

So our weekend trip to London cheered up a rather grim month.  It was all a bit last minute - NI sister and husband coming over for optics conference and wondered if any of the rest of us living in England could come and join them on the Saturday evening.  Turns out all of us could  - we hadn't seen each other at Christmas so it was a good opportunity.  I took Kate with me, having promised her a weekend in London. We arrived on Saturday afternoon and before meeting the others went to the British Library, a wonderful building which was full of young people of all nationalities studying or writing on laptops, and had a look at some of the historical documents stored there.  Kate was interested in Chamberlain's letters and one written by Mary Tudor.  I discovered the original handwritten draft with corrections of Sonnet 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the one that starts 'How do I love thee, let me count the ways', which I am currently teaching to year 11; they were not that impressed when I told them.

We got a good deal and stayed in a hotel with great views of Tower Bridge from its Sky Lounge where we met on the Saturday night for cocktails and were joined by the eldest nephew Matthew and his new girlfriend.  There was much talk of Matthew's recent TV appearance.  He was one of the engineers who was volunteered by his company to be involved in 'The Biggest Little Railway in the World,' a Channel 4 documentary about building a model railway track through the Scottish Highlands.  Then we walked to St Katherine's Dock and ate in an Italian restaurant.  There were 10 of us in total and I suspect we were a bit loud.  Thanks to the wonders of technology, the missing sister, Maureen, who was on a boat somewhere in the Bay of Islands in New Zealand, was able to join in the conversation for a while via Facetime.

On Sunday morning we went to the Sky Garden which is at the top of a tall tower block in Fenchurch Street.  You can get in for free though you need to book tickets in advance.  I loved it: a tropical looking indoor garden with palm trees and spectacular views of London, even on a fairly grey, overcast morning.  There's a cafe and a posh restaurant and it wasn't too busy as they restrict the numbers up there at one time.  After that we went to the Covent Garden area.  Sylvia, who is still a child at heart, wanted to go to the Lego shop.  She was disappointed as it wasn't as big as she expected. By mid-afternoon everyone was getting weary and we went our separate ways.  Kate and I had an hour or so before the train so we went to Camden Market where we purchased a Turkish lamp for her room.





A lovely weekend (it's two weeks ago now) and a break from the grim, grey routine of January/February.  One thing I have been doing a lot of  recently is reading.  I am currently enjoying 'The Green Road' by Ann Enright.  So I'm planning a book post soon.  We have a new laptop too - it is faster and easier to type on than the old one which expired last week after Paul dropped it.



Coffee in the Sky Garden