Saturday, December 29, 2007

Venturing Out

We decided to celebrate feeling slightly better by venturing out for the first time in a week. Paul had been as far as the local shop a couple of times but I hadn't set foot outside since last Saturday. We drove to Trentham and parked at the quieter car park near the Monkey Forest and walked down along the lakeside.

It was cold and breezy but bright. Underfoot was quite muddy some of the mud bearing evidence of recent deer passage. Their tracks were leading off towards the new clearings. We didn't walk too far today and once we reached the clearings we turned round and headed back.

There were plenty of people out and about and a lone canoeist on the lake swirling around on the still water. The gulls were gathering around something they had found on the far side of the lake.

I love this little spot where the bridge goes over the stream as it enters the lake. We headed towards the lakeside cafe and sat outside clutching hot coffee (it still doesn't taste right to me) and watched the world go by.

By the time I took this last photo the sun was out and more canoeists were out on the lake. Families were feeding the ducks and a lone magpie (good day my lord) was doing a strange kind of 'backwards, forwards, side ways on and back again' jig on the fence right in front of us. It was time to go home.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Lost Christmas

I would say that it hit me, like a bolt out of the blue, on Saturday afternoon, after an early shopping trip to the dreaded Tesco and following a nice lunch. I have only vague memories of Sunday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and yesterday as I spent most of the days in bed, unable to read, visions flashing by on the small upstairs TV screen, as I lay in some sort of Actifed induced haze, coughing - constantly coughing, until my throat and stomach and chest hurt. I coughed so much one night I pulled several stomach muscles and had to use the Deep Heat spray as well. I never did get round to putting back the curtains I'd taken down to launder; we never managed to cook the 'Chestnut and Red Wine Pate en Croute' ready for Christmas Day and I finally got round to washing the kitchen and conservatory floor this morning - you will have gathered from this that those were the last preparations I had to do for Christmas and that both Paul and I had been floored by the dreaded flu virus. Meanwhile, the fridge is still full of food I can't eat. Paul seems to be ok on the eating front but at the moment I can't bare the taste of coffee, which is unlike me as I love coffee, the idea of toast turns my stomach and I can't contemplate eating any of the plum pudding, cake or cookies we made. For three days I think I existed on grapes, little oranges and yoghurt.

As I lay in bed I vaguely remember watching some television. Carols from Kings on Christmas Eve for a start. I also remember dozing, on and off, through something set in an hotel where people fell through ice on a pond and someone's ashes were used to stuff the turkey - at this point I switched off - did I actually dream that? When you are laying in bed with nothing to do you can be tempted to watch some strange programmes and I was so mad at myself for giving up on 'The Old Curiosity Shop' but I did at one point feel really ill and dizzy during it so am hoping it will be repeated - it looked good. High points? The Sittaford Mystery - a gloriously atmospheric 'Marple' and amusingly yet another strange hotel. Christmas Cooks during which poor Oz Clarke seemed to be under the influence or fighting off flu, or something. Jamie's Christmas at Home I howled as he giggled at his black pepper trick on Genaro - see I told you I was easily amused. Christmas Corrie - the 'olds' continue to delight, their observational, dry repartee worthy of Bennett or Wood - well done the script writers and well done the actors. Especially Blanche - she is priceless. I loved the Christmas dinner scenes in Roy's Rolls the comic timing of Roy's missing of Hayley's calls reminded me of the old Whitehall Farces. I really like Becky and her scenes with Blanche are great - keep them working together please! Another character who has great comic timing is Clare, not tested so much this year, but I've never forgotten her scene from last Christmas day whilst outside her front door the Platt family are having one of their usual angst ridden fall outs over David, spilling out onto the street in their frustration, she opened her door, deposited her black bag in her wheelie bin, turned to the rabble, smiled and uttered the immortal line 'Having a Nice One?' and disappeared back inside again.

Well, I can't say we've had a nice one, I just hope everyone else has. I'm off now - still a bit woozy and coughing as well as ever. I have books and magazines to read, people to phone and cats to cuddle - for some reason they don't like coughing. I may be back to normal come New Year.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Greetings

Wishing you all a joyful, peaceful Christmas.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Memories and Intentions

For the last four weeks I've been roaming all over the world with the locations on people's mail. I won't go into the technicalities of the job but suffice to say it has been very hard but interesting work. From 6a.m. in the morning the post I was dealing with came from all over. First in was usually Teeside which took me around Gateshead, Newcastle and Middlesbrough. York and North Yorkshire would join in giving me happy memories of Christmas visits to York and summer holidays on the coast around Whitby, Robin Hood's Bay and my favourite places on that coast Staithes and Saltburn. The west coast would then join in and off I would travel around Morecambe, Southport, Blackpool and Formby (again more holiday memories) and then to Liverpool and Manchester. Scotland would soon follow and my imagination was captured by some of the place names, although I've never been into Scotland further north than Edinburgh and Glasgow. I've directed mail to the Isles of Mull, Lewis, Islay and North Uist, to Glencoe and Culloden and places like Kirckaldy, Auchtermuchty, Muckle Flugga and Bridge of Don as well as Edinburgh with it's regions of Morningside and Portobello. I'd never felt any connection with Scotland leaning rather towards Wales in the knowledge that ancestors on my father's side came, way back in the 18th century, from the Forest of Dean and the Welsh borders but a few years ago I discovered that my great great great grandfather on my mother's side of the family was, according to the 1851 census, born in Fifeshire. I've since done more research and using naming patterns and family occupations I think I'm sure this ancestor was born in Dunfermline. I was particularly taken with names which I later discovered were in the Kingdom of Fife, places like Cardenden, Pittenween, St Andrews and the gloriously named Coal Town of Wemyss and Coaltown of Balgonie. So memories and intentions all in one through a computer screen and I've now decided that one day I want to visit all these Fifeshire places and see what they are really like. I hope the Christmas mail I've dealt with gets to its destination - I think the one addressed to 'No 4 Callanish' will but I'm not so sure about the one addressed to 'Robin Hood's Well, in the layby, on the A1'!!

Christmas Reading

One of the joys of Christmas Day is to curl up with a good book. After lunch is over and all the debris cleared away I like to settle down with a glass of wine and something interesting and festive to read.

This year I've chosen a couple of books, well in fact, one of them chose me. First up is 'A Victorian Winter' by Judy Stevens. Judy is a former colleague of mine and she has put together a wonderful collection of seasonal stories set in and around the town of Spalding in Lincolnshire. The book was given to me by a friend in the summer and I've been very good and saved it to read over the Festive Season.

My second choice is a ghost story. I don't normally read ghost stories but this one is written by one of my favourite authors, Susan Hill. I'm a big fan of her Simon Serrailer novels and I can honestly say that her other ghost story 'The Woman in Black' frightened me more than Peter Ackroyd's 'Hawksmoor' and that's saying something.

I also have a glossy magazine or two to leaf through so there are plenty of things to enjoy if there aren't any good films to watch on Christmas Day.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Feeling slightly Festive

By the time we'd finished work at 2pm. I was ready just to crawl into that bed and draw the curtains snugly around and go to sleep. This week has certainly taken its toll. We have one day off tomorrow and then we have to work nine days in a stretch until the work is done; then it is all systems go to get ready for Christmas. We were determined to get to the 17th century Christmas event at Ford Green Hall this afternoon and we did manage it. The rooms were newly decorated with fresh greenery, the little coffee shop was busy and the smell of oranges and cloves from the pomander making room was gloriously festive. In the main hall the table was set and the musicians, an ensemble called Forlorn Hope, were in front of the fireplace ready to entertain us with a selection of period tunes and few later seasonal ones too.

I managed to take one or two photos of the hall itself but none of the musicians. Paul has put some photos of them on his blog. In the meantime here are a few corners of the hall.

Even the spinning wheels were given a festival feel.

and the staircase too.

The hall itself is a gem in the middle of the city sprawl. It is one of the few surviving buildings of Stoke's pre-industrial past. The timber framed section was built in 1624, as a farmhouse, for Hugh Ford a wealthy yeoman farmer. The building remained with the Ford family for about 200 years. In the 18th century the brick extensions were added and in the 19th century it was turned into two cottages. It was purchased by the City Council in 1946 and is now one of the four splendid museums in the city.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Cake, Moon, Bears in a Bath and Green Teeth

I really wasn't going to make a Christmas cake this year but I had enough dried fruit left from the plum pudding to make one, all I had to buy was ground almonds and glace cherries. When I'm baking I always use the Be - Ro book. I have two copies, both quite old and torn with pages stuck together here and there, but I always find them so reliable. I remember when I was a child my Mum having a copy with a brown front cover with a family on the front. I have a square 'centenary' edition and a later blue one. I wonder what happened to the old brown one? The cake turned out rather well and is now stored away for icing later.

This morning I had to pop onto the back garden to retrieve the wheelie bin and get it ready for collection. The moon intrigued me so I decided to try to photograph it. Not a great photo but it was only about 7a.m. and still quite dark. Apparently the moon early today was a waning crescent.

Later in the morning we had to pop up into Hanley to sort out the bank problem I spoke about in a previous post. The bank admitted being at fault and all is now resolved, thank goodness. Whilst Paul dealt with that I was trying to find a star shaped cookie cutter. On my perambulations around several shops - no joy in finding one that wasn't too small - I came across these little chaps in BHS - a bath full of bears!

Then it was up to the outpatients department at the hospital for Paul's blood test where I overheard the following conversation in the seats behind me between what sounded like a little girl and her grandmother:-

Shall we go for a cup of tea when we're finished here?

Yes, and can we have some sweets as well?

No sweets today because of your teeth, anyway, you haven't brushed your teeth today.

I have!

You haven't!

How can you tell?

Because your teeth are green.

No, they're not.

No one will kiss you if your teeth are green!

I had to smile.

I'll be working from tomorrow morning through until Sunday morning 6a.m. until 2p.m. each day so may not have much time for writing until my next day off on Monday. I'm still hoping we can get to the 17th Century Christmas event I mentioned in my last post so I may report back on that next time.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Welcome December

Well, it's the first of December and although Christmassy things seem to have been around since the end of September, I've been trying not to get too distracted by it all until now. I love Christmas and all it entails but I don't like how it all begins so early that we miss out on other seasonal pleasures. I know we probably want to buy cards and start on the baking and present buying well before now but I'm sure we can do that without having 'Mary's Boy Child' and 'All I need for Christmas' blasted in our ears in supermarkets and shopping precincts from early November onwards - it takes away the magic of it all - especially for the little ones. My only preparation so far has been to make a plum pudding, to buy card blanks to start printing out our cards and stamps to post them with. I've also made a list of presents to buy and will start that next week.

We hope, if work allows, to visit the '17th century Christmas' event at Ford Green Hall next weekend and also the Mummers' play.

This time last year we spent a couple of days in York which was wonderfully festive just at the right time; here is their tree from last year - I wonder if they have the same one this year?

Another thing we usually do in early December is to visit Little Moreton Hall and listen to the festive early music played and sung by the colourful PIVA. This, more than anything else, puts me in the mood for the coming festivities although, because of work commitments we may not have time this year which is a shame because I will really miss seeing them.

I took this photo of holly at Little Moreton last year. I wonder if it will be full of berries again this year?