Sunday, April 30, 2017

Third Time Lucky

On Easter Saturday we wandered into Hem Heath Woods to see if the bluebells were in flower.  The woods on the old colliery site to the south of the city are owned and maintained by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and are famous for their bluebells at this time of year.

When we arrived it was quite chilly and Paul realised had forgotten to put his big coat in the car and had only a quilted body warmer with him. We wandered into the woods a little way.  There were a only few bluebells in flower and we thought it would take another week or so before they were visible in the blue carpets we have seen there before. We decided to cut our walk short as it was quite chilly and also looked as if it might rain.

Early this week we decided to go back and see if we could spot more bluebells but this time it was me who forgot to put some old boots in the car for walking through the woods and as we'd had some rain it was quite muddy and I didn't want to mess up the shoes I had on as we were going on somewhere else.  So this time we didn't go into the woods at all.

On Saturday morning just two weeks after our first visit we went back again.  Would there be lots of bluebells to see?

 Oh, yes - there were!

Loads of beautiful blue flowers stretching onwards and outwards between the trees.

The warmth of the sun made them glow and their scent was heavenly.

It is so hard to capture their bright, intense colour with a camera.

Nothing compares to just seeing blue stretching into the distance, being under the sun dappled trees with the flowers and listening to the sounds of the birds overhead.

After a short while I gave up trying to take photos and just enjoyed being part of it all.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Five on Friday

I was looking at some of the the books on our bookshelves wondering which books, if any, I could bear to part with.  Obviously some books are taken off the shelves  more often than others  so I got diverted into thinking about  which books were used most often.

Of course, it happens to be reference books and cookery books which are most often used so I've decided to share Five of the ones that are taken off the shelves most frequently.

They aren't a very inspiring selection of books, their covers, quite plain, old fashioned and possibly quite boring to look at but inside them is a wealth of information.   

1.  The Cranks Recipe Book -  I wish I'd had this book when I first stopped eating meat in the early 1970s but I didn't and struggled half-heartedly to give up meat entirely throughout that decade.  I remember eating at both Cranks and Oodles restaurants in London during the 70s and being inspired by their food, as I was by Sarah Brown's Terrace Project in Scarborough, but it was in the early eighties when Paul had been made redundant that we decided to manage without meat as we couldn't afford to buy it very often so it seemed a good idea not to buy it at all.  Our first Vegetarian recipe books were those by Rose Elliott and Sarah Brown and then we bought the Cranks book.  You can see how well thumbed it is, the pages are loose, yellowed and spattered with remnants of cooking but it is a well used and well loved book. Over the last few years we have gradually re-introduced some types of fish back into our diet,  Paul eats it more than I do and shares it with the cat.  I think the recipes we use most from this book are the nut roast recipe, Crecy plate pie which is an onion and carrot pie, Homity pie and Devon Apple cake.

2.  We love the bird visitors to our garden and feed them all year round.  We also love spotting and photographing different birds on our walks and also on holidays by the sea.  We have several books about birds but this one is the book that is most often pulled off the shelves for a quick identification of anything unusual that appears in the garden.  It is dated 1974, so again a fairly old, well used and well loved book.

3.  I have several of these King's England books by Arthur Mee picked up over the years in second hand book shops. On the book shelves are copies relating to the Midlands counties of Leicestershire, Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire as well as the Derbyshire one above.  It is the Derbyshire one I use the most and often consult it when I'm looking for background information on perhaps a village, church or stately home in the county usually when I am writing a blog post.  Of course, nowadays, I use the Internet quite a bit too to find things out, but it is interesting to see what these books of the 1930s say about some of the places we visit and about some of the buildings that no longer exist.

4. Another useful book which is often consulted when we've spotted an unusual butterfly or moth in the garden.  We used to have quite a few more of these creatures visit the garden when we first came here but we don't see so many now.  I remember years ago when we were both studying for degrees with the Open University.  I was studying the Arts and Paul was doing Sciences.  One of his projects included a study of moths and he was issued with a moth trap as part of the course materials.  Whilst he was trapping and recording moths I was studying 'England in the 17th Century.'  My favourite book from that time was Christopher Hill's 'The World Turned upside Down' - feels a bit like that at the moment.

5.  Another fairly old book which seems to have been on our bookshelves for ages.  We've used it often to identify plants we've spotted whilst out walking and in the garden.  For the last two years we've been inundated with Wood Avens in the garden and we were able to identify it from this book.  We've cleared much of it from the flower beds as it was growing in with the hardy geraniums and with the buttercups which also threaten to overwhelm the beds sometimes.  Self Heal or Woundwort was another plant we identified, this grows in the grass and some of the flower beds too, as do dog violets and forget-me-not, all self seeding, every year.

Joining in this week with Tricky and Carly at the FAST blog.  Click on the link below to find others who are participating in Five on Friday this week.

Today is our 38th wedding anniversary so we are going out for the day.  I'll catch up with you all later today or over the weekend.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Monday Miscellany

After a short break I thought I'd better ease myself back into writing a blog post so below are just a few things I've enjoyed seeing and doing over the last few days.

Morning Coffee at the Glost House which has newly opened not far away in the courtyard of the old Phoenix Works.

It's quite trendy and industrial inside. From the menu lunches look interesting and tasty although it being around 11a.m. we just had coffee and toasted teacakes.

 There is the added bonus of the Period Property shop and the Portmeirion Factory shop to visit too.

 Last Friday morning we were visited by one of the regular evening foxes a vixen we call 'Miss Limpy' because of her misshapen back leg.  It isn't an injury, I think she has always had it as she has been around for at least three years and always limps and holds her leg up when she stands still.  She is a beautiful fox.

 We think she came out in daylight because she probably has a cub and if she had been with it all night she would have been hungry enough to venture out in the early morning.

 Signs of Spring - orange tulips and matching Crown Imperial flowers in the Italian Garden at Trentham Gardens.

 There were also some lovely purple and pink tulips too

 The pink cherry blossom was out along the side of the River Trent as it passed by the garden centre.

 These trees always look so spectacular at this time of year.  I hope the expected wind and rain doesn't batter them too much.

In the fields lots of lovely little lambs, running, jumping and gambolling together. 

 We've done lots of digging and weeding in the garden in the last few days, the grass has been cut too.  We left it too late to sow Sweet Pea seeds so we bought some little plants.

 A rough and ready wigwam was built with sticks

 and the plants planted and watered in.  They are now in the greenhouse until the warmer weather returns.

Watching and reading

We've re-watched the films '84 Charing Cross Road', 'Housewife 49', and 'Suffragette' and discovered a delightful film called 'My Old Lady.' 

I've also been enjoying one of my favourite television series 'Line of Duty'  I've loved this since it began and it just gets better and better.

Two books read and enjoyed recently have been the latest in the Maisie Dobbs series 'In this Grave Hour' by Jacqueline Winspear and

'The Ashes of London' by Andrew Taylor

All for now, I'll hopefully be back for Five on Friday.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Wash day and other Memories

In the laundry room at Shugborough I saw lots of things that reminded me of both Mum's wash days and my Grandma's too.  I'm remembering back to the 1950s but at Grandma's house you would think you'd stepped back even further.

I was born in 1950 and we lived in the middle row of a long terrace of houses just across from The Granby Halls in Leicester.  Neither the street nor the hall exist anymore.  The houses were demolished to create car parking for the nearby hospital.  I remember that our house had a pale wood front door with a gold knob in the centre.  The door opened onto a hallway with doors going off to front room and living room, the staircase was in between and at the bottom of the passage was the kitchen and scullery.  The back door led to the outside WC and a walled back garden.  In the kitchen was a wooden draining board and a square ceramic sink in which I remember being given a bath and being dried sitting on the draining board.  In the scullery was a tin bath hanging on the wall and a copper with a lid which provided warm water.  I can't remember whether there was a washing machine here, but there was a small electric boiler and a tub and what my Mum called a posher.  We left that house when I was six years old and moved to a small village in Derbyshire and I remember the posher came with us.

Grandma's house was like stepping back in time even in the early 50s as she wouldn't have electricity in the house.  She thought it was unsafe and didn't trust it.  One of my memories is of being lifted up to light the small white gauze gas mantles, which hung over the kitchen table,  with a coloured spill from a jar on the mantelpiece.  The mantelpiece was over a black leaded range.  This had a fire at one side and hob and ovens on the other.  The fire was lit all year round to provide both heat and hot water.  Grandma would do all her cooking on the range and all the food was prepared on a large kitchen table which was scrubbed almost white.  Here she would knead bread and put it to rise covered in clean tea towels in front of the range.

I remember too that she would warm flat irons in front of the range, having two warming whilst using a third one.  She would cover half of the kitchen table with an old sheet and blanket on which to do the ironing, holding the hot iron handle with a square of old towel.  At other times the table would be covered with a maroon coloured chenille table cloth with bobbles hanging on the edges.  I used to love these and remember sitting under the table playing with them and also with buttons and ribbons from the drawers of grandma's treadle sewing machine.

Grandma was born in 1884 and was 32 years of age when my Mum was born and my Mum was 34 when I was born so you can see that there could easily have been another generation between us all and understand why grandma's home, thoughts and ideas seemed to come from so far back in time.  Grandma had Parkinson's disease and died in 1962, by that time electricity had been introduced to the house and a proper kitchen had been fitted in the old scullery where she had worked with a copper and mangle on wash days.  Hanging the sheets and towels on the line outside in the back garden where she and grandad kept hens for eggs and grew hollyhocks and gladioli up against the wall.

As I walked around the laundry room at Shugborough all these memories flooded back to me, plus memories of when Grandma nursed me through  Scarlet Fever, I slept on a mattress on the floor of her bedroom often waking hot and wrapped up and entangled in sheets.  She had what seemed to be a huge bed with an iron bed frame in her room, a washstand with flowery bowl and jug, and a pink lustre ware Pierrot figure and bowl on her dressing table which contained a soft powder puff and delicate smelling powder.  I remember the cockerel waking me up each morning.

Wash days in the village we moved to when I was a child were always Mondays.  I remember my Mum used to be amused by the competition amongst all the women around as to who could get their washing out on the line first.  Our next door neighbour and the lady who lived in a house across the bottom of our gardens used to vie with each other, my Mum deliberately waited until later to put her first load of washing out on the line saying that she wasn't going to join in with the competition.

Tuesdays were usually ironing day and Wednesdays cleaning windows and upstairs rooms. How things have changed now.  I remember when we got our first refrigerator.  I'd have been about ten years old. Before that we used to keep butter and cooked meats in a meat safe which stood on a stone shelf in the pantry under the stairs.  Milk was kept in a bucket of cold water.  Money was left in a tobacco tin on the back step every Friday for the milkman with a note as to what milk was needed through the week.  My dad's friend, a grocer in the nearby small town, would bring an order every week on a Wednesday evening and stop for a chat and a cup of tea before he went on his way.

Mum was thrilled when she got her first twin tub washing machine after years of using one with a mangle.  The posser had finally had its day.

 Now we couldn't manage without automatic washing machines.  I wonder what the future will hold as technology changes yet again?  

I'm taking a short break now.  I hope you all have a wonderful Easter weekend.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Five on Friday

Friday has come around so quickly this week.  I've been busy pottering about clearing and decluttering.  One bag went out for Age UK yesterday and two boxes of old mugs, glasses, cutlery and dishes are ready to take to the Cats Protection shop soon.

We took an afternoon out of looking after an elderly, twenty one year old cat who needs lots of attention and visited Shugborough Hall (see my previous post).

It has been wonderful to actually get washing completely dry outside and the grass has been cut too.

I also grabbed my camera and went out into the garden where I found lots of new blooms and buds to admire.

Below are five things I spotted.

 1.  Blossom on the Victoria plum tree at the top of the garden

2. Buds on the Peony in the front garden, sadly the peony in the back garden didn't survive the winter and extra damp soil from last summer's floods.

3. Flowers on the Amelanchier (Snowy Mespilus)Tree.  It will soon be a mass of white.  The birds love the berries in autumn.

 4.  Little pale Violet flowers all over, in nooks and crannies, on paths, under hedges, in the pebbles around the greenhouse where we stand the pot plants and in the pots themselves with whatever else is in them.

5.  Flowers on the Bridal Wreath (Spirea Arguta) we have one in the front garden and one in the back garden.

Just a quick post this week.  Click on the link below to find other bloggers joining in.  Thank you to Tricky and Carly at FAST blog for hosting.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Changes at Shugborough

Yesterday we visited Shugborough Hall near Stafford to see what changes had been made over the winter.  Although Shugborough Mansion House, Gardens and estate was mostly in the hands of the National Trust, the Park Farm. County Museum and Car park were administered by the Staffordshire County Council.  Last year the National Trust took over the whole estate and quite a few changes have already been made.  The trust are only five months into their ten year conservation and redevelopment plan so there are many more changes to come.

The car park seems more easily accessible and it is now free, I think it used to cost about £3 to park there, even for NT members.  The original reception is now a plant centre and access to the property is through the Park Farm, Mill and Farmhouse which are now free to wander around for NT members, as are the servants'  quarters which always had an entry charge as they were accessed through the Museum. There are new pathways around the Park Farm and access is now on the opposite side of the mill pond. There are new little buggies to take you up to the Mansion House where the house, gardens, walks and island arboretum are exactly as they were. In the courtyard the original tea room is closed  for refurbishment and it re-opens on 8th April as a restaurant where food is delivered to the table rather than collected from the counter.  The nearby shop has been refurbished.

One of the volunteers was talking in the shop and explained that the County Museum would have new a new home and that they had three years to organised the move.  I have read elsewhere that the museum's collections will eventually become part of a new Staffordshire History Centre which will be based on the site of Staffordshire Record Office which is in Stafford. The volunteer also mentioned the fact that there had been quite a bit more repair and conservation work to be done than had originally been thought necessary.

We didn't go inside the Mansion House this time but wandered around the gardens and went into the Mill and Farmhouse at the Park Farm and around the Servants' Quarters. 

Below are a few more random photos taken of things which caught my eye.

The mill pond through the mill window.

Inside the mill.

The Farmhouse
I loved this cheese dish which I spotted in the farmhouse, you could get a huge piece of cheese in there.

The main hallway in the farmhouse

The dining room in the farmhouse

One of the place settings in the servants' dining room in the servants' quarters.

 In the laundry

 Just one of the many kitchen sinks

A lovely jelly mould on the kitchen table

I must admit I always enjoy mooching around kitchens and other areas which were the hub of the working estate than the grand mansions themselves. Of course I haven't even mentioned the Anson family or Patrick Lichfield whose home this was as I've covered this before in previous posts but here is a - link - to the website to find out more.