Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Just One of the Daily Five

Yesterday I was able to cut some of the first rhubarb of the season. I must admit that it isn't one of my absolute favourite fruits; those being gooseberries, plums, raspberries and apricots, but I'm always pleased to see it in the garden as, along with the little wriggling tadpoles in the pond, it means it really is Spring.

The one thing I do love about rhubarb is the colour which is spectacular; it always amazes me that the green stems, underneath the red skin, when chopped and made into jam, turn the most wonderful deep pink in colour and make the jam look twice as appetising as it would do if green.

The next fruits in the garden will be gooseberries and black currants and then later, plums. Having these fruits in the garden makes it so much easier to eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Also spotted in the garden yesterday was a peacock butterfly, a five-spot ladybird and a red-bottomed bee. Plus three lazy cats enjoying themselves, of course.

Monday, March 26, 2007

One Hundred Years Ago

At 5.40 a.m. on the morning of Tuesday 26th March 1907 at Shirebrook Colliery in Derbyshire, fourteen day-shift men entered the cage of No.2 shaft to go down into the pit at the start of their working day. When the cage was about halfway down the shaft one of the conductors broke, the cage became unbalanced and tipped up and its roof was hit by the loose conductor which wrapped itself around the cage. The men inside clung on to the guards but three of them fell out and hurtled to their deaths at the bottom of the shaft. The remaining men were suspended in the pitch black darkness clinging on to the side guards, two of them badly injured, for about two hours before rescuers could reach them. Meanwhile up in the early morning air news of the accident had spread rapidly through the village and hundreds of people congregated in and around the pit to hear news. The stranded men were finally rescued at about 8a.m. the doctor having descended into the pit to treat the injured men. The dead and injured were brought to the surface via the No.1 shaft, the bodies of those killed were taken to the colliery offices so that the coroner could make his initial report.

Those killed were:-

William Edward Limb of Warren Terrace, Shirebrook

William Phillips, a Scot, who had only started work at the pit the previous day

Arthur Burton who had come from Bulwell to work at the pit only a few weeks before.

Those injured were:-

Richard Merriman of Central Drive, Shirebrook

Thomas Widdowson of Langwith Road, Shirebrook.

An inquest was opened and adjourned pending a full investigation into the accident and the deceased were identified by family members.

You may wonder why I’m telling you this story but when I tell you that William Edward Limb (of whom more here) was my great - grandfather you will understand. My grandfather Alexander Joseph Limb identified his father’s body and registered his death just two days after registering the birth of his first child. What a week of mixed emotions he must have had.

Yesterday in a cool breeze which eventually lead to warm sunshine five of William Edward’s great grandchildren, some of them meeting for the first time, gathered at Shirebrook Cemetery and laid a wreath on his grave, exchanged memories, got to know each other over a lunch table and hoped that he would have been pleased for us to have been together.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Boot

A few weeks ago, whilst taking our usual walk along the Lakeside Walk at Trentham Gardens we came across a boot, just sitting at the side of the path by a way marker post. It was old, worn, torn, its lace was missing and on closer inspection the sole of the boot was full of holes some from constant use and other smaller ones from the loss of studs.

We guessed that it must be an army issue, rough terrain, boot probably from the 2nd World War and given that during that time there was a military presence at Trentham as well as it being a prisoner of war camp and the base for the Bank of England it didn't seem such a strange thing to find. Of course, there were lots of other questions like, who had found it and placed it near the edge of the path when it had obviously been buried or hidden for years and years? Who had worn it? What had happened to them? Did they survive the war? I suppose one could weave a whole story about the loss of the boot or even about the finding of it. We left the boot where it was because it seemed the best thing to do. When we went round the walk last weekend we looked for the boot; it wasn't where we had seen it but then, who could have expected it to be? We found it further along on one of the brick foundations of the old Nissan huts, in two pieces, the heel at one end and the toe at the other. I expect next time we take that walk it will have disappeared completely.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Scenes from a Day

Scene One

I felt quite apprehensive as the youth crossed the road straight towards me. I’d seen him ambling along with that funny, slouching gait that boys of that age adopt when they are out in public. He was wearing the regulation baggy, crotch at knees trousers, cap and sweat jacket with hood. I was the only person around and he was headed straight for me. ‘scuse me, duck, is this the way to the Probation Office?’ he asked. Oh, directions, okay, I’m used to giving those; it’s a source of amusement with my nearest and dearest that wherever we are people always ask me for directions. I can be with several people but it’s always me they ask so , I can do this. ‘Yes,’ I reply, ‘just down there on the right next to the medical centre.’ I get a ‘ta, duck’ and he slouches off. Only then do I wonder if he is on probation and if so, why?

Scene Two

I’ve paid my fare and I advance down the aisle of the bus to get a seat. Simon is on the bus, we exchange greetings, as we do when we pass on the path in the local recreation ground. Today he is without Whisky his little doggy pal but chatting quite happily to two elderly ladies and listening to their woes about hospital appointments, vandalism on their estate and the general uselessness of the local council. He joins in with some nightmare tale of his own about waiting in a hospital queue for ages and ages, which sounds absolutely horrendous. Poor Simon.

Scene Three

I wait in the queue at W. H. Smith to pay for my newspaper. I have a Guardian today, hurray! I usually can’t get a Guardian from our local shop. There are three people in front of me, the assistant asks each one if they would like a half price chocolate bar, each one declines. My turn; she doesn’t ask me if I want chocolate at half price she asks me if I would like to pre-order the new Harry Potter book. I decline, as I would have done if she’d have asked if I wanted the chocolate, but I hover in the doorway, just long enough to hear her ask the person behind me if they want half price chocolate. As I wander through the shopping centre towards Debenhams, where I know I will have to test the Code Pour Femme by Georgio Armani just once more to see if will suit me you understand, I’m still pondering upon the Harry Potter/chocolate thing. Do I look like a Harry Potter enthusiast? Or do I look like a person who doesn’t like chocolate? Then I muse on the fact that probably a lot of people eat chocolate whilst reading Harry Potter. These thoughts stay with me until I get to the coffee bar and sit with my cappuccino listening to the 'in-house' radio. 'have a little patience' sing Take That, well I have lots today, but then I haven't been to the food hall at 'your M&S ' yet and the crowds in there have been known to raise my blood pressure slightly.

Scene Four

As the bus pulls away from the stop, where I’d just been amused by a traffic warden gazing into the window of the nearby craft shop at a rather nice length of pink feather boa, I see said traffic warden flag down a taxi driver who is using the bus lane. The bus driver stops the bus, opens the window and shouts to the traffic warden ‘Go on, book him, and while you’re at it, stop the cops who use the buzz* lane, as well.’ He drives off in a huff muttering to himself through at least two more sets of traffic lights. I see a newspaper headline as someone reads further down the bus. '12 inches of snow expected this weekend.' Oh, no, but the sun is shining and the shops are full of wonderful spring flower arrangements for Mothering Sunday. Paul has to drive to Solihull on Monday for a training course. I suddenly want to be safe at home.

* the folk in Stoke say buzz not bus; they also say upbank instead of uphill.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

World Heritage?

Council and Tourism officials have decided to apply to UNESCO for Longton, the southern most of the six towns which make up the city of Stoke-on-Trent, to be designated a World Heritage Site. Apparently making an application is a very long and drawn out process; the project has first to be accepted as an eligible site by the Government and then government officials have to put the bid forward to UNESCO. I expect that going through these stages will create a lot of interest in and possibly bring money to the town so it surely can’t be a bad thing; although people are already saying that the money that would have to be spent by the council to even get the project off the ground would be better used on other things and that Longton wouldn’t stand a chance anyway so why bother. When you compare the town with some famous places that have World Heritage Status you may be forgiven for thinking it doesn’t stand a chance, I’m thinking here, Great Wall of China, Grand Canyon, Taj Mahal and Venice. On the other hand, when you compare it with places in Britian that have achieved World Heritage Status, places like Ironbridge Gorge, Blaenavon in South Wales and the Cornish Tin Mining areas then it doesn’t seem quite such a daft idea.

The area around the Gladstone Pottery Museum (known as the St. James Quarter) is rich in the history of the Pottery Industry and as it is only a twenty minute walk away from where we live I thought I would go down today and have a walk around and take some photographs.

The Gladstone Pottery Museum

The Church of St. James the Less

One of the numerous factory shops to be found across the town.

Other nearby factory shops include Aynsley, Hudson & Middleton and Leeds. Not far away on the other side of town are the two big ones- Portmeirion and Wedgwood. If you go into the Wedgwood shop, even on a quiet day, there are at least two or three coach parties visiting at any one time.

I'm not local, I wasn't born here, in fact we've only lived here for the last 10 years but I must admit I felt a little pride in what I saw today.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Good News

I've had a photograph accepted for a wonderful blog called 'Doorways Around the World' and it will be published on April 20th. As you can imagine I'm really thrilled about having a photograph accepted. I'm not going to put the accepted one here yet - it will spoil the surprise - but here are some of the photographs I took at the same time.

Before Tom was ill we visited Rode Hall near Scholar Green to look at the snowdrops. It was a very cold day and there were loads of people there so it was a bit difficult to take lots of photos.

The picture above is of Rode Hall and the one below the outer shell of a former house on the estate now part of the complex housing the tea rooms and plants sales.

All Saints Church at Scholar Green which is just near Rode Hall was also open and decorated with snowdrops and candlelight - it was so beautiful inside - you will just have to imagine it though as photography wasn't allowed.

p.s. Chloe is out and about today as if nothing had happened - that's cats for you.

Monday, March 12, 2007

It Never rains but It Pours

The day after letting Tom take his first venture outside for at least two weeks, we now have a problem with Chloe. Yesterday morning we set out early and had a long walk around Trentham Lake then sat and had a cup of coffee before venturing home. When we got back we let Tom out for his second outing and along with the other two cats we spent an hour or so in the garden tidying up before having lunch. As I was clearing up after lunch I went into the back of the garage to put some things into the recycling bins and looked out of the window to see Chloe sitting on one of the water butts looking very odd and unstable and then she fell backwards off the water butt. I shouted Paul and dashed outside where Max was chasing Chloe who was dragging herself across the garden her back legs dragging behind her and her body twisted to one side. My immediate thought was that she had injured her back or her back legs. Paul managed to catch her and we rang the emergency veterinary service who now use the P.D.S.A. hospital out of hours. We rushed her down there and she had loads of tests and x-rays and the good news is that she hasn't broken anything or damaged any internal organs - it just seems to be muscle and nerve damage. It took her ages to come round last night but this morning she seems brighter and is moving more easily than she was yesterday. So it looks like with a bit of rest she will be okay. She has to stay in today whilst Tom is taking delight in the fact that he is now free to roam again. Poor Max seems bemused by the whole thing.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Breaking News.........

This afternoon Tom took his first turn around the garden since becoming ill 15 days ago. He spent 7 days at the vet's surgery and 8 indoors at home, he's lost weight and is still feeling fragile but he was glad to get out into the fresh air.

Max decided to celebrate Tom's return to health by inviting a few pals over for a patio party, here he welcomes Fudge, Sox and Ollie.

Meanwhile, Chloe decided to watch the proceedings from a safe vantage point. Too many boys around for her liking.

I think she prefers humans to other cats.

Friday, March 09, 2007

What Can We Do?

Yesterday's Independent reported on the rather alarming news that after one of the mildest winters on record many of our familiar and favourite mammals, birds and insects have been thrown into utter confusion. Breeding has started early and the babies of animals like hedgehogs and squirrels are dying or are being found in distress when the weather suddenly gets colder - or rather back to normal for the time of year. The cold weather either kills the young animals or sends them back into hibernation and they never wake up again because they are low on energy due to low fat reserves.

Apparently Tiggywinkles who would normally see just a handful of hedgehogs in the January to March period has seen a 40% increase in cases this year. Also affected are toads, newts, grass snakes and pipistrelle bats.

I find this all rather sad and confusing as I can't imagine not having these species around. Like a lot of people I have a soft spot for hedgehogs and squirrels and love seeing them around the garden. I know some people see them as vermin and would probably welcome their gradual demise but that isn't the issue here. The Government's Climate Change Bill is to be published next week so what proposals or solutions will it hold to address this specific problem? More importantly what on earth can we do in the meantime to help these lovely creatures survive?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Total Eclipse of the Moon

I must admit when Paul dashed out on to the patio late on Saturday night saying he was going to photograph the lunar eclipse, I said to myself - surely he can't do that. In my defence I thought it was the glass of wine we'd consumed whilst watching Pride and Prejudice (the film not the TV series) on DVD - a mere snip at £4.95 from Tesco - that was fueling the enthusiasm and indeed, when I saw the little round shape through the viewer on the back of the camera I thought it was a case of 'duck on a millpond' but, after messing around with his photo software - much zooming and cropping and things that are beyond my technical capabilities - this is the result:-

Quite good, isn't it?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Looks Like Spring

Today was a stay at home and gardening type of day. With a still quite poorly Tom confined to barracks - well the back bedroom - after a quick trip to the supermarket to stock up, we pottered around in a very wet and muddy garden. Paul was busy putting some potatoes in pots in the greenhouse and I was filling up the garden wheelie bin ready for our first collection of the season on Monday. Whilst I was in the garden I saw one or two early signs of spring:-

The Collard Doves had settled on top of the willow tree

There was frog spawn in the pond

Chloe was full of the joys of spring

She even had a gentleman caller

His name is Ollie and he lives on the next street to us - he would dearly love to come through that cat flap.

Tomorrow we are going to have wind and rain according to the forecast so I'm glad we made the most of today.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Bookish Day

Today is World Book Day and as one of my greatest passions is reading I thought I’d think about what books I have enjoyed over the years. I’ve always loved books; there were always books around the house when I was growing up. I also remember going to the library with Mum and choosing books to bring home to read. Sometimes we would go to the library in the nearest town but we also used to have a mobile library come to the village probably once a month. On rainy days I used to play libraries on the table with Mum’s books, a shoe box of cut up bits of paper as library tickets and a hot water bottle top as a date stamp. Those were the days.

I remember devouring Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven books. I loved Little Women and What Katy Did, also The Secret Garden, The Borrowers, The Wind in the Willows and a series of books about sisters who became ballet dancers and went to boarding school – I can’t remember what they were called though. I adored Children of the New Forest and Gamble for a Throne because I was fascinated with the English Civil War and Cavaliers and Roundheads. In my first year at grammar school we read Tiger in the Smoke. In the second year we did Jane Eyre and I came top of the class in English much to my and everyone else’s surprise. In the third year we read A Tale of Two Cities and I fell for Sydney Carton – what a wonderful literary character.

One day, when I was about fourteen, I was at home alone, feeling bored and I picked up a book from Mum’s bookcase and began to read, and read, and read; I just couldn’t put the book down. It was a wartime utility copy of Friday's Child by Georgette Heyer – I was completely hooked and from then on I read every single one of her books, I just loved them. From there I moved on to other historical novels by writers like Jean Plaidy, Anya Seaton, Margaret Irwin and the Lord Peter Wimsey novels by Dorothy L Sayers. In between then and now I have, of course read too many books to mention; I have many, many favourites including To the Lighthouse by Virginia Wolf, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell and the wonderful A Month in the Country by J L Carr. Today, I read mostly murder mysteries by authors like Reginald Hill, Stephen Booth, Ian Rankin, Susan Hill, P D James,Val McDermid and Priscilla Masters. I particularly love Stephen Booth and Priscilla Masters because they write about places I know – The Peak District, North Staffordshire and Shropshire. They are my comfort zone. I also enjoy reading Robert Goddard’s thrillers, Alexander McCall Smith’s novels set in Edinburgh and any book by Joanne Harris or Joanna Trollope.

So today, on World Book Day, what am I reading? I have nearly finished one of Andrew Taylor’s atmospheric detective novels set in the 1950s and have to choose now between a booked loaned to me by a good friend – Rosehill, Portraits of a Midlands City by Carol Lake or The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld – the choice of the on-line reading group I’ve recently joined. Oh, choices, choices, and I haven’t even touched upon my love of book shops – especially if they have a coffee shop and lovely squishy, comfy leather chairs for browsing and reading purposes. Absolute joy.

Oh, and today is also St. David's Day and 'Tommy Comes Home' day – we collect him at five o’clock - I'll keep you posted.