Friday, 23 December 2016

Christmas Present and Christmases Past

I've been teaching 'A Christmas Carol' to year 11 this term and this post is kind of inspired by it. As you probably know, Scrooge visits his own happier past, sees how his staff and family view him at present and is given a frightening glimpse into his potential future if he doesn't change his miserly ways. He is also taken on a journey to see  how people rich and poor celebrate Christmas.

I've just indulged in some nostalgia and reread the posts for Christmas 2015, 2014, and 2013.  It's made me realise how much my blogging habits have changed.  I used to put more effort into writing posts and the 2013 one actually says something rather than just  act as a record events.  I've become a bit lazy about it all.  So many other bloggers I used to follow have given up or moved to Instagram.  I'm going to stay on Blogger, being technically inept and preferring words to pictures.  Perhaps next week I'll try to update things a bit though.

Christmas this year is going to be fairly quiet.  We're at home mostly, though travelling tomorrow to Market Harborough to spend Christmas day with my youngest sister and her family.  We don't see them soo often now they have moved further away from here and are looking forward to seeing how excited the younger children are about Santa coming!

I've been doing a bit of Christmas baking, making a chocolate log like my mother used to do at Christmas.  She used to do two and then give one to her friend Pat, who lived across the road in the house that was also at Hawthorne's bar, a very mysterious place to us as children, with greyish frosted glass windows hiding the interior.  I remember delivering Pat's chocolate log one Christmas and the distinctive smell of smoke and wafts of stout as the door opened.  Hawthorne's is still there and so is Pat, now well into her 90's, but we've now had 12 Christmases without my mum. I suppose that's why I make the chocolate log and use dad's stuffing recipe - keeps the memories going.

Anyway a few pictures of  a Christmas past - I think this is the last one when it was just us sisters and mum and dad without partners, the year before I got married so it's probably1985. Pretty dreadful shot of me with a bad case of red eye to match my cardi. I think Mummy looks lovely in this first one.  I thought members of my family who read this might like to see these so please indulge me other readers.

Happy Christmas 2016 to you all! 

Sunday, 27 November 2016


November is my least favourite month.  The dark; the cold; the way the autumn leaves have turned into brown sludge. There are no days off at all in November in the school calendar either so it can a hard slog at work too. I've been a bit grumpy and miserable. Our new house is older and so colder than the one we moved from: it has higher ceilings and hasn't got double glazing throughout. But I have a new defence against the cold - a log burner.  I love it and am becoming more skilled at getting it burning well.  Husband, who never feels the cold,  rarely bothers to light it so it's my job on these dark evenings while he in the kitchen cooking dinner. (I've hardly cooked at all since he gave up work.) The secret to getting a good fire going is lots of kindling so I'm going to have to find a better source than the tiny bags they sell in Morrisons.

From reading other blogs, I've discovered that there's a name for this desire to sit in front of a real fire with a cup of tea/glass of wine in Pjs. It's a Danish word, Hygge, and is apparently, according to The  Guardian  one of the words of the year as well as Brexit and Trumpism.  I suppose it's hardly surprising that the country wants to hunker down in front of the fire after recent political events.  Hygge is nothing new to me, but I'm pleased to discover there's a name for my desire to hibernate. For years I've been surviving winters by drinking Baileys while soaking in a warm bath and going to bed early with a fluffy hot water and a good book. This article oHygge made me laugh. Don't click on it if you object to swearing though.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Birthday Baking

We've been enjoying watching the Bake Off over the last few weeks.  In fact, it is one of the few programmes we watch together as a family with husband claiming no interest and then watching after all.  I've been supporting Andrew, the young engineer from Northern Ireland with the lovely smile and ginger hair.  So, inspired by his performance in the final, I had a go at his Granny's recipe chocolate cake for my daughter's 17th birthday party on Friday.  This is the result - not quite as neat as Andrew's version but it does taste good.  If you try it, just be aware that the icing is liable to run down the sides of the cake.  I followed Andrew's directions precisely but there was no way that that icing was going to pipe successfully.  Perhaps I needed to cool it for longer before attempting this.

I'm not surprised that Andrew was inspired by his Granny's baking.  Northern Ireland people bake more than the English and I know some of the readers of this blog in NI who are potential Bake Off contestants themselves with  impressive tray bakes, lemon drizzle cakes, rhubarb tarts and wheaten bread.  You know who you are!  My granny always had tins full of shortbread, a Victoria Sponge with thick buttercream filling and, my favourite, a traybake with dates and nuts she called Chinese Chews, for anyone who might call in.  I occasionally attempt to recreate some of these but I've never quite managed the same success.

One of my daughter's friends organised the party for her, asking me if he could invite some of her friends back here to surprise her after they'd returned from the meal out she was expecting.  I agreed, breaking my no teenage house parties rule, as long as I could vet the guests.  So I made the cake, put up some Hallowe'en decorations and provided a bit of food for the 12 or so teenagers who arrived. Paul and I went to the pub with the dog for an hour or two and returned to find one a bit tired and emotional in the garden.  But otherwise all well and Kate happy, enjoying her surprise party when she been resigned to a rather dull birthday this year.

This is my first blog post for about six weeks. I've planned some but just not got round to writing. No excuses really - I've just got out of the habit.  I'm still enjoying reading my favourite blogs and hope regular readers you haven't forgotten me in my absence.

Monday, 19 September 2016


September comes round again and routine has returned after the long summer of lazy and, for us this summer, not so lazy days. It's back to work and a new timetable for me which is fairly demanding but at least gives me Mondays off.  I'm up early nevertheless today and have made breakfast and sandwiches for my daughter who is struggling a bit with her new routine which involves her leaving the house at 7.10 to catch a bus to college.  She's now started on her A level courses, and has chosen among others English Literature and French, still using me as a kind of in-house personal tutor.  I don't mind really as I quite enjoyed reading 'Othello' with her last night and it's good to dig out that French vocab from the dark recesses of my brain.

We've settled into our new house and are making some progress in getting it sorted out.  I'm having some built-in bookcases made for my 'reading room' and we have arranged the gas fire which doesn't work to be removed and replaced by an open fire.  We're also having a woodburner in the main lounge. This will, I hope, make things cosy when the weather cools down.  Now we just need to get curtains - I've made many trips to John Lewis and Dunelm Mill, ordered swatches and have been generally indecisive about the whole business.  Having made curtain errors in the past - I once ordered made-to-measure which ended an inch above the window sill - I'm a bit wary.  If only I had the skill and patience to make them myself, something I did once with my mother's help. She always made her own curtains.

We had a housewarming party at the beginning of September for old friends and also invited new neighbours, discovering that two doors down from our new house is a young woman from Dungannon in Northern Ireland.  We had the usual kind of exchange NI expats have on these occasions, uncovering possible mutual acquaintances. I enjoyed chatting to her and other neighbours - this street does seem like a friendly place to live.

At the end of August before returning to school we had a few days in Northern Ireland, staying with my sister in Dromore and then a night in Portrush.  The weather was beautiful - a rare occurrence on our NI trips.  So we had a couple of days out as well as catching up with family.  On the sunny Saturday of the Bank Holiday weekend we went to Bangor - the NI one, not in Wales.  We walked the dog round the harbour and then I explored Bangor Castle Walled Garden, getting inspiration for my own walled garden. It was brilliant - absolutely gorgeous and free to enter.  I'd never heard of it before and neither had any of my relatives in NI. A hidden gem it seems. I was on my own as we had the dog with us and we didn't think he'd be welcome in the garden though there were no signs saying so.  I'd have stayed longer otherwise.  I wonder if my parents ever visited there? They have loved it as there were vegetable beds and fruit trees as well as flowers.  It certainly gave me some ideas for my garden though I have a long way to go with it.  At least we can see the walls now that the hedges have been cut back.  Anyway a few pictures of Bangor Walled Garden to sign off.  Blog posting not happening much these days, but I'm still reading others and will try to check in here once a month at least.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Summer Catch Up

It's been a busy summer and I've got out of the habit of blogging completely.  This has been bothering me - I like to look back on this record of events and know that there are a few loyal readers out there .  So here goes...

Since my last post we have moved house.  It was hard work - much sorting of 15 years worth of accumulated clutter and multiple trips to charity shops and the dump.  But I'm no minimalist - there was still a great deal to pack into boxes and quite a lot of these boxes remain unpacked.  There are things to do in the new house: some of the decor is not to our taste; we're going to extend the kitchen and incorporate a utility room as currently I have to go outside to a store room to put the washing on, something which will get a bit annoying when it's darker and colder.

As you will know if you have read previous posts, I was in two minds about the move, not wishing to leave my peaceful back garden behind.  Having been in our new house for two weeks, I'm now feeling at home and happy with our decision.  Already our use of the car has decreased as we can walk most places we need to go.  The cycle path nearby means that I can now use my bike as a means of transport. Kate is happy as she can walk into town to meet friends and also to her summer waitressing job.  She's suddenly become so independent, painting her room herself the other day, replacing the pink with silvery blue, and heading into town with a CV one day, acquiring this job as a result.

It's not all been about the move - we've had some good times and days out in between.  Two of my sisters and their husbands visited to go to Carfest which was at Bolesworth Castle, not so far from here.  They went to all three days; Kate and I joined them on the Sunday. Husband off riding 100 miles around London that weekend so he wasn't around.  I'm not that interested in cars but enjoyed the day, pottering about the stalls, trying free samples of food and drink and listening to the bands. Best for me was Seal and Squeeze but in the end I'm no festival fan, I like to be a bit closer to the performer rather than watching a tiny figure far away while standing in a chilly field.  An experience but one day was enough for me.  Enjoyed the fireworks at the end more than Bryan Adams.  I preferred another outdoor event Kate and I attended this week - a performance of  'As You Like It' in Grosvenor Park.  A good production and it was a lovely sunny evening. Not sure I'd have enjoyed it so much in the wind and rain we've had over the last few days though.

Here a few pictures of the new house and garden:
One corner of the lounge has become a kind of man cave. 
I like the windows with the little bits of stained glass.  This is the view from the front room which we're going to have as a kind of quiet room (no TV, no loud music) where I can read and work and Kate can study.  It's a mess at present with all the unpacked boxes and we will have to have the dining table in here until the kitchen is extended.

I like our walled garden even though it is a bit overgrown.  It is quite a private space even though there is a busy road on the other side.  I've put our my bird feeders but so far have only had magpies and one robin.

That's all for now.  School holidays nearly over and GCSE results day looming but still a trip to Northern Ireland to look forward to next week.  

Monday, 18 July 2016

Holidays in Sorrento and a Birthday Outing

Arrived back on Saturday from a week in Sorrento.  Let Kate have a say in our choice of holiday this year as she's worked so hard on GCSEs and she chose Italy.  It was bit hot for us really so plans for sightseeing trips to Capri and Pompeii were abandoned. But it was lovely just lazing around, sitting in the shade reading, eating nice food and admiring the views.  One of my main inspirations for returning here after a previous trip Paul and I made in 1991 was this picture of me drinking a cocktail on the balcony of our hotel and watching the sun go down over the Bay of Naples.  So recreated the pose 25 years later. Pictures were taken by Kate on her phone - I love the sunset one.

Sorrento 1991

Sorrento 2016 - older but not much wiser

View of Vesuvius from our apartment

Sorrento at night
 We're back home now and though it's the school holidays, we'll be busy as house move is happening in early August.  But have taken today off - it's my birthday and the sun is shining.  We've been for a walk around the Great Orme in Llandudno (well a bit of it - too hot again as we seem to have brought the sun home with us).  Then we went to Bodysgallen Hall for afternoon tea and a walk round the gardens.  A lovely day out though feeling a little full now after all that cake.

Monday, 4 July 2016


It's a time of change for us here.  Our house moving plans are progressing and we hope to be in our new home by early August. And in the last couple of weeks both my daughter and husband have moved on too.

For the last five years Kate has attended the school where I teach.  I have enjoyed this as it has given me a window on her world and mostly she has too, though during her early adolescence I was forbidden to speak to her at school, as I was the most embarrassing parent ever, it seems. Recently she is happy to acknowledge me and sharing gossip about school has been fun.  It's also been good for me as a teacher to see things from the students' point of view.

In the last few weeks there have been several events to celebrate the end of year 11: the 'Leavers' Assembly' which involved her and some friends, two in drag, performing as the Spice Girls.  Then there was the 'Prom', a hateful American import all schools seem to do now, which has cost a great deal of money - full length dress, shoes with heels (for a girl who's happier in her Docs), make up by Urban Decay (which she didn't like anyway and redid herself) and 'prom hair'.  Much competition between the girls and lots of posed photos posted on Facebook which seems to be the point of the whole ridiculous business for some. And all this expensive gear worn for only a few hours in a hotel function room, an average meal and a disco, before the whole lot was taken off and she was back in her hoodie for the real fun at the 'after prom' party.

Then there's the tradition of the Leavers' Book, which I do approve of.   Students stick photos and mementos of their friends in a scrap book and then write pages in each other's books about their memories. They also ask teachers to write in their books so I've had a chance to look at a few. Some are real works of art and the things they have written about each other are often very moving.  Now all these events are over she's a bit sad but starting to think ahead - there's a taster day for sixth form college soon.

Last week my husband also left his workplace of the last 5 years, retiring early after many years in local government - he turned 55 on Friday.  Kate and I travelled to Shrewsbury where he works for his leaving do.  I'd not met his colleagues as he works so far away so it was interesting to put faces to the names (and unflattering nicknames) I'd heard him talk about.  There was a good turn out at the riverside pub where we spent the evening. Much consumption of Guinness and it was a good job we were with him on the train on the way back otherwise he may have ended up in Holyhead.  Among his leaving gifts are an apron which says 'Grumpy Old Git', a mug which refers to him as an 'Emmerdale Fan' and a coaster which describes him, among other things, as a 'Deirdre Barlow impersonator'.  We enjoyed the evening and I reckon it was good for Kate to see how people valued her dad when she often has a very low opinion of him.

And in the background of all this change at home, we've had the shock of the country's decision to leave the EU.  I've always seen myself as essentially European, being neither properly Irish and slightly uncomfortable about calling myself as British with all of the associations this has in NI.  I'm so sad about this vote, the chaos and the hate it seems to have unleashed. I hope when things settle down there will be a way forward which brings the country together again.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Sunny Sunday Morning at Home

This is my favourite time of year.  I love the blossom and the freshness of the new leaves.  My garden is at its best at this time: here a few quick snaps this morning and a shot of the big trees which surround the garden.  I'll miss my garden and my dog walks around the village when we move.  This week we've had evening walks after the rain stopped and you could really smell the hawthorn hedges.  And in the usual dog walk field the grass is knee high and full of buttercups.

Yes I'll miss the village, my garden and this house.  It looks like our sale is going through and we have found somewhere too now - a smaller house which ticks all the boxes.  It's within easy walking distance of the centre of Chester,  and has a bit more character than this one.  There are compromises: it won't be as quiet and we won't have as much space downstairs.   We'll be swapping the sound of the crows for traffic noise as we are just off a main route into the city.  But there's a walled garden and double glazing and easy access to the cycle path and canal for dog walking.  We also have plans to extend the living space downstairs to make a bigger kitchen.

All very exciting but for now I'm enjoying my peaceful May garden probably for the last time.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Five on Friday: things I have been doing while not blogging

I've been absent for a bit. Here's why. Joining with Amy for Five on Friday.

We've been planning to move for a while and after the Easter holiday decided to put our house on the market again. So I've been:

1. Spending my usual Saturday morning blogging slot super-cleaning the house, shoving stuff into cupboards etc. ready for weekend viewings.

2. Politely tolerating those who clearly have no intention to buy and gritting my teeth at their implied criticism of our undersized bedrooms ('But where would you put a dressing table?'), lack of proper garage and dog-damaged lawn.

3. Getting over the shock of actually receiving an acceptable offer and facing the prospect of moving out of this house which has been our home for nearly 15 years.

4. Spending hours on Rightmove trying to find our next home.  This is exciting but also scary as it's such a big decision.  We're viewing some houses ourselves today - I'll try to be kind.

5. Feeling sad that I'll be leaving our lovely, peaceful garden  (pictured above as it looks this morning) behind, but happier that we won't be so car dependent.  We want to live somewhere we don't have get into the car every time we run out of milk.

Thanks for the comments on my last post. about my insomnia. I also received a lovely supportive letter from my cousin who reads this.  The programme seems to be working and I am sleeping well most nights.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Tackling my Insomnia: the Sleepio programme

I've written before about my sleep problems -it's not unusual for me to be awake for a couple of hours in the middle of the night or ridiculously early in the mornings.  I don't normally have a problem getting to sleep - in fact the opposite is true as I'm often so tired in the evenings that I struggle to keep my eyes open and am prone to napping in front of the TV. It is this which has eventually prompted me to take action - I want to be able to enjoy my evenings more. So I've signed up for Sleepio, an online CBT course which claims to tackle insomnia.

I found out about the Sleepio programme through my reading of a self-help book on insomnia by Colin Espie I borrowed from the library.  He's a Scottish doctor who is an expert on the subject.  The programme is outlined in the book and you can create your own tables to log your sleep and follow the course that way. But the online programme allows you to log your progress via an app, gives you access to an expert you can question weekly and an online community of others with similar problems.  You have to fork out £60 quid for this,  But I suppose the pain of doing this increases commitment  - it's a bit like the Weightwatchers model.

I'm in the third week of the programme now and it's not easy.  For a start, I've had to give up reading in bed, one of the greatest pleasures in life.  And audio books are banned too - recently I've got through the whole of 'David Copperfield' in my nightly wake ups - all 32 hours of it which is a lot of time awake.  I was even looking forward to waking up so I could listen to some more so the habit of being awake at night was getting worse. I can read or listen but it must be downstairs - you have to get up if you are awake for more than 15 minutes.  My sleep diary indicates that I usually sleep just 6 hours of the 8 I usually spend in bed so now my time in bed is restricted to these hours.  My sleep window is 11,30-5,30.  Getting up at 5.30 not so bad now it's light in the mornings but staying awake until 11.30 last night was painful as the previous night I'd had less than 3 hours sleep because I just couldn't settle.  But then last night I slept 6 perfect, undisturbed hours, achieving over 90% sleep efficiency which is the big goal - that's the percentage of time in bed actually spent asleep.

Being up early has allowed me to catch up here again too so it's all good.  Perhaps I'll write a post every morning for a while.  Anyone out there tried sleep restriction? Would like to hear from you if you have.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

My favourite theatre: Theatre Clwyd in Mold

Last weekend I went with a friend to my favourite theatre, the Theatre Clwyd in North Wales, about half an hour's drive from here.  We saw a play called , 'Jumpy' by April de Angelis which had caught my eye when I last visited, It's a comedy about a 50 year woman, her mid-life crisis and her relationship with her rebellious teenage daughter. Neither my friend nor I would describe our teenage daughters as rebellious but nevertheless we could identify with some of the situations on stage and the dialogue was spot on.  A very entertaining play: funny and honest and brilliantly staged with minimal set, and really effective use of music and movement to show scene changes. We watched in the smaller Emlyn Williams theatre so were close to the action and paid less than £20 for our tickets. This is one of many excellent productions I've seen at this theatre, my favourite being 'Dancing at Lughnasa', Brian Friel's play about 5 sisters in 1950's Donegal.  It stages serious plays - I recently saw Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  there - as well as those which appeal to a wider audience such a Rock and Roll Panto every Christmas.  And they do excellent cake: we shared a huge piece of coffee and walnut on Saturday afternoon.

Talking of cake, here's my Easter cake made for Sunday when my sister and her family visited.  It's a carrot cake rather than the traditional simnel.  I never have much success with cakes but this recipe never lets me down. I missed going to Northern Ireland this year for Easter as we have done for the past few years.  Catching up with one sister was good fun and we even had an Easter egg hunt for the kids though we had to do it indoors because of torrential rain.

Treated myself to posh Easter egg selection from M&S. Verdict:looks pretty but not really worth the money. 

Thursday, 24 March 2016

A Morning Walk in Aldeburgh

The Easter holidays are here and we've just returned from a very welcome break in Aldeburgh, Suffolk where I caught up on sleep, read loads and wound down from a very busy term at school. We stayed in a little holiday cottage on the High Street and enjoyed taking it easy; exploring the town; walking on the beach; and catching up with old friends who live in Norfolk and Suffolk. The weather was wintry when we arrived - a biting north-east wind blowing in from the sea made walking the dog a fairly unpleasant experience on Saturday.  But it improved. On Tuesday morning I was awake and up early before others and so I took the dog and my camera and went for a walk.  I didn't take any glasses with me so some shots are a bit wonky but thanks to autofocus not so bad.

The beach in Aldeburgh is shingle rather than sand so it's not exactly bucket and spade territory.  We used to visit here on days out when we lived in Norfolk.

This building, some sort of look-out tower which is now an art gallery, is actually on the beach.

Many of the houses in the town are painted in pastel colours - it really is a very pretty place.  Kate, a big fan of Cbeebies, said it looks like Balamory, which, if you don't know it, is a programme for young children filmed in Tobermory, also full of coloured houses.

 Spring is well on its way here with lots of bulbs on display- these daffodils were even growing on the beach.

At the north end of the beach, there is a square with a statue of a little dog.  The inscription says it is a memorial to a doctor who cared for residents of Aldeburgh for many years.

Ronan the dog and I met a few other dogs and their owners out early and an occasional jogger, but it was very quiet on the beachfront.  We walked past the war memorial...

and the museum, which doesn't open until May.

..and past some of the many little shacks which sell fish on the beach.  Aldeburgh is a working fishing town and one the few people I saw on my walk was a fisherman degutting a very large fish.  We bought some smoked fish from this stall - I had mackerel and husband had some very smelly kippers.

There are many boats, nets and fishing gear on the beach.

We walked back to the cottage down the high street.  There are lots of attractive shops mostly aimed at visitors.  I think Aldeburgh attracts a lot of rich Londoners and so most of the clothes shops were out of my budget.  A top in one of the windows caught my eye so Kate and I went in and had a look:£179! 

Aldeburgh is famous for its fish and chips but a word of warning if you ever visit.  Make sure you go to the main Fish and Chip shop beside the White Hart pub - it usually has a queue outside when it's open.  We made the mistake of going to  the Golden Galleon, which has this rather well-endowed mermaid statue outside, as the main shop was closed on Monday evening.  The Golden Galleon's fish and chips were not that nice.

There are many art galleries and antique shops like the one above on the high street and branches of middle-aged/middle-class clothes shops such as Joules and Fatface.  Kate was not impressed.  We did like the bookshop though - it's a rare treat to find a proper well-stocked independent bookshop these days.

We came home with one purchase - a 8 pint barrel of Adnams Broadside beer, made locally in Southwold.  

I liked this painting of some fennel and garlic I spotted in one gallery on my walk - would be nice in my kitchen I thought until I looked at the price tag. 


I returned from my walk to join the rest of the family and get ready for lunch with friends we haven't seen for about 7 years at the Lighthouse Restaurant. Much lovely food, good conversation and more wine than was sensible at lunchtime.  This was my pudding: chocolate truffle cake with marzipan top. We also met some other friends we'd not seen in ten years in Diss on Saturday evening, near where we used to live.  Time has gone so fast but in both cases conversation was easy and we enjoyed sharing news.(None of us bother much with Facebook.)

At one time we'd talked about moving to Aldeburgh when we retired, something that's not so far off for us now.  But although I love visiting  I'm not sure I would want to live here.  Most of the properties on the High Street are holiday cottages and out of season I suspect it could be rather bleak at times. And it's a very long way from anywhere else,