Saturday, 31 December 2011

End of year: calendar review

January: 16 days
February: 15 days
March: 19 days
April: 23 days
May: 15 days
June: 26 days
July: 22 days
August: 22 days
September: 13 days
October: 13 days
November: 5 days
December: 5 days

Total: 194 green dot days

Thanks to LP we have achieved a great deal this year and fingers are crossed we can make as much progress in 2012.

The 'green dot days' are going to take a break in the coming 12 months, I have different calendar game to play in 2012.


















Friday, 30 December 2011

Lousy timing

Friends were expected for supper on Thursday. Table nearly laid, desert chilling in the fridge, much food already prepared, time to start on the salads. Also time to admit defeat and collapse whilst Management had to make the embarrassing phone call: "very, very sorry, Herself has gone down with the cold that I've had since before Christmas, we're really not well enough for company".



So sorry, Country Bumpkin, the height of bad manners to cancel on you at such short notice. (Although possibly worse to cough and splutter over you and your food all evening?)

The following day we realised the dishwasher was not well. Management diagnosed the fault and reckoned he could probably fix it with the acquisition of necessary parts. Pulling the offending white box out of its slot for detailed examination revealed more problems - the dratted thing has been leaking and we had much wet and slimy nastiness all over the floorboards under the sink cupboard. The only consolation is that it's not been leaking for more than a year - everything seemed fine when we had the kitchen refurbished last November.

We had a bit of a cogitate and decided that old dishwasher + two faults + cost of repairs (which are not 100% guaranteed to work) = time to get a new one.

Last week the Dyson expired and had to be replaced, although in its defence it was more than a few years old and had survived the onslaught of Beardie hair, three house moves and tidying around the wood burning stove every morning.

Added to all that, the boiler has been under-performing for the last couple of weeks and whilst we've not been cold (thank Dog once again for the wood burner), the radiators aren't as warm as they should be. At least it's a mild December, this time last year it was minus 12. Replacement parts are on order, they and the plumber will turn up when they turn up.

Management, bless him, just quietly says "stop worrying, this is what we have savings for" and gets online to find us a new disher. I just go back to huddling in front of the wood burner waiting for the paracetamol to kick in. “Aaa-tish-ooooo!” ...





Thursday, 29 December 2011

Hornbeam

We are very fond of Hornbeam as hedging and have used it in previous gardens. It has the same lovely growth as Beech but tolerates wet clay soil far better. I bought 30 small whips a month ago but there is no way they can go in their final place for ages. Much digging and clearing has to happen first and with LP out of action*, the weather horrible and the way large jobs at Bag End don't keep on schedule, I know it will be well into next Summer before they can be planted.

The usual advice is to "heel plants in" until you are ready for them. This is all well and good but by the time I move these hornbeam they will have put down a strong root system. The answer then is to containerise them for the winter. The problem with that idea is that a root ball above ground in the artificial environment of a pot. If we get a winter even half as bad as the last two many of the plants will die.



Plan B, therefore, is to plunge the pots into a spare potager bed. Which may or may not work, but gardening is all about experiments, that's half the fun of it.

The Potager is looking a bit bare but I know what I want to do with it this year. Raspberry cages to build, more fruit bushes, move the fedge, and doubtless much more that I haven't thought of yet.




* shortly after returning from his Australian holiday, LP had a small accident. He's OK but coupled with endless rain and sodden ground it hasn't been possible to get on with the Rebuilding of Bag End. Fingers and toes crossed we'll get back to normal in a couple of months.


Friday, 23 December 2011

Christmas really has come early

Here in a small village in West Cumbria, Christmas has truly come early.

We learned this morning that the Planning Inspectorate has dismissed the appeal by Peel Energy to erect three of the largest wind turbines in England on a nature reserve at the back of the village. To say we are delighted is the understatement of 2011. There have been adult beverages tonight, and some (but not me) will have headaches tomorrow morning.

This victory is in no small part thanks to the many people who wrote to object to this application, and if you were one of those folk I want to thank you for taking the time, so many months ago, to add your voice to the numerous local objections. It's been a long fight, and something of a dirty one as we discovered more and more 'inaccuracies' in the representations made by the energy company, but against all the odds, we won.

Thank you so much for your help.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Early Christmas present

This afternoon Santa arrived in a big tractor with a trailer attached. With six stitches in my arm I will not be shifting it any time soon.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Health care

The NHS gets a severe bashing these days and I know someone who can be quite vitriolic about “the appalling state of health provision in Cumbria” but our experience has been completely different. Friends know I need to be on my knees and in a really bad way before I go near a doctor but the rare occasions I've encountered the NHS since moving to Cumbria have all been excellent experiences, perhaps we get what we expect?

Monday morning last week I finally got around to seeing the dermatology specialist at our GP. A tiny mole on my arm was definitely misbehaving. (I've already had one small Basal Cell Carcinoma removed, I know what to look for.) GP agreed that the offending spot needed 'dealing with' and offered me the choice of going to a local large hospital, or to a closer Cottage Hospital where a specialist GP would remove the lump. No brainer – Cottage Hospital please.

The following day (less than 24 hours after my appointment) I received a letter asking me to phone to arrange the operation but I didn't ring until Wednesday. The lady to whom I spoke took my details and explained that she wouldn't be able to offer anything until next year but “please can I call you back in an hour because I am in the middle of something else”.

45 minutes later she rang: “I've just had a cancellation, would late Monday afternoon be convenient?

One week from my GP visit, I'm in and out of the Cottage Hospital within 30 minutes, chauffeured by a friend who refused to let me take a taxi (Management has had to go back down south and was not at all happy about leaving me, bless him), and am now snuggled up in front of the wood burner with a delicious 'convenience meal' heating gently on the stove and a Downton Abbey DVD in the machine waiting for me to press 'play'.



The young GP was excellent, obviously knew exactly what he was doing inspiring confidence from the moment I walked in. Lab results after Christmas will confirm the excision had clean margins and I continue to regret sunbathing quite so much in my early 20's but we all did; a deep tan was a sign you'd had a good summer and considered 'healthy looking'.

Talking to the GP and his nurse I learned that it costs the NHS less than half as much to treat me this way as opposed to the traditional "go to hospital, sit and wait, see three different people, wait some more". An excellent experience even if the incision is somewhat larger than I expected with considerably more stitches!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Convenience Food

I'm generally not a bad cook, but I am not the most brilliant one either. My main problem in the kitchen is the amount of time it takes to do things properly. I am quite capable of turning out Prue Leith-quality cordon bleu if I had to but I don't want to spend the time. There are not enough hours in the day to do everything which I want to fit in but I still want to eat properly. Over the years, Management and I have developed our own version of “convenience food” which involves occasional mammoth cooking sessions and freezing the results. Usually casseroles which require long slow cooking and benefit greatly from the flavours having a chance to develop.

This weekend turned into a major-mammoth and produced ratatouille, chilli con carne and a pork, apple and mushroom dish. Nothing comes from a recipe book and every batch is subtlety different. ☺



All this mess and palaver does mean that I can pull a portion of something delicious out of the freezer in the morning and at supper time just cook rice, fresh veg or whatever the dish requires, and have a “proper” meal in less time than it takes to heat up a supermarket meal of varied quality and unknown ingredients.



Nothing was wasted; the beef trimmings have been rendered down leaving a rich stock for gravy and fat & dripping for the birds, and the apple cores went straight outside and were immediately mugged by the blackbirds, everything else is on the compost heap.



Hell of a mess to clear up but a thoroughly satisfying end result.



13 portions of ratatouille, 14 of pork and 15 of chilli. Yum yum.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Birding

Friends dropped by on their way home from a walk (they really wanted a hot cuppa) and over a large pot of tea and a box of shortbread we saw:

Long Tailed Tits
Rook
Starling
Blackbirds
Yellowhammer
Chaffinch
Gold Tit
Great Tit
Blue Tit
and our lovely Red Squirrel.



(The apples are a donation from a neighbour with too many windfalls and are being devoured at great speed by all the blackbirds)

Friday, 16 December 2011

Tidying Up

Although the ground is still saturated, LP and I decided that we could no long put off some tidying up. Small jobs but together they make a huge difference.

We kept some old roof tiles and they've now been stacked at the back of the house, together with the lovely ridge tiles which are slowly being distributed around the garden as 'toad homes', and two trailers of pony poo have been moved around to the utility area and mixed with leaves.

The pile of escallonia waiting to be shredded has been re-stacked behind the latest huge delivery of larch slab which has been tidied up. Although there is every chance of our plans changing, currently the intention is that this will be used on the steep bed next to the steps (the one I used to push a barrow up) and near the pond so it makes sense not to move it too far.



Not content with all that, LP also moved more paving slabs onto our 'path to be' to make it easier to keep off the mud when going to and from the log store. A thoroughly excellent three hours, and I am sure he would have done more if it hadn't got dark.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Decorations

Normal service has been resumed! Before returning down south for another gruelling week away, Management brought all the decorations up from the basement room. Once I started looking in boxes and seeing those old friends again there was no question as to whether or not they would all come out to play.



Over the years we seem to have built up quite a collection of these Heartwood Creek figures.



Some have very special associations such as the apple-bearing Snowlady. I found her in Appleby the first time I took Ollie for an acupuncture appointment. Happy memories because the treatments provided by Helen Gould helped so much with his pain management and mobility and made such a difference to the quality of his life.



Much treasured is this nativity set. It is older than I am and the family story (as I remember it) is that it was purchased from Derry & Toms department store in Kensington shortly after the end of WWII.

(The 'stable' came far more recently from John Lewis)

Even the kitchen cupboards are not safe!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Pretty maids all in a row

We are seeing as many as 12 female pheasant at any one time, plus at least two, sometimes three males. Mixed poultry corn might be the cheapest bird food available, but our visitors seem quite happy with it, they certainly keep coming back for more.



No idea what the girls are looking at, but they spent quite a while hanging out on the fence this morning. Our two very dark birds seem to have moved in permanently. If they breed next year it will be interesting to see what colour their babies are.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Composting

All this wonderful pony poo has to be stored somewhere. I may have had great intentions about producing a large quantity of leaf-mould this year but the plan failed. Combination of LP being away, bad weather, my not feeling up to pushing endless barrows of leaves around the place. It made sense to dismantle the builders' bag set-up in order to use all the space in the big bin behind the log store and start mixing the leaves I do have with stable muck. A couple of hours pleasant messing around on Sunday morning got things fairly organised.



I'm not aiming for a compost which is highly nutritious and balanced, good humus to improve soil structure will do for me. Hopefully this mix will work, no reason why it shouldn't.

Bert continues to find it easier to drop a trailer here two or three times a week rather than struggle through a badly waterlogged field. I occasionally provide top-up petrol for the quad bike, feels like a pretty good arrangement.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Bah humbug?

Normally putting up the Christmas decorations is something I can't wait to get started on, a childishly indulgent activity which I look forward to and thoroughly enjoy. We have collected some lovely items over the years and unboxing these pieces is like seeing old friends again.

This year it's a chore and I haven't worked out why. Perhaps it is because we are so tired - Management is totally exhausted because of work commitments and I'm tired of my hip hurting and not being able to be as active as I want. Perhaps it's the weather. Perhaps it's an age thing. Who knows, but despite "thinking" about doing this since the first of the month, it has taken until today to make a start.



It would be easy not to bother but then I know I'll end up feeling cheated. We don't do much over the Christmas holiday but my decorations are the one Christmassy thing that we have always made an effort with.

Not sure how many of the numerous boxes will get completely unpacked this year, the jury is still out on that one.

I did, however, make progress last week on the huge kitchen table pile.

That's better:

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Yellowhammer

Another winter regular is back at the Bag End buffet.



Lots of blackbirds too, and a couple of glimpses of a beautiful thrush.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Pony poo

Now the weather has turned our friends have moved their animals inside. Three ponies each in their own loose box produce a fair amount of "waste" and until I run out of room, much of it is being delivered to Bag End.

Bert admits is suits him fine to bring the small trailer a mile down the road from his house to ours. With the fields completely waterlogged coming here is easier than taking the quad bike through mud to the manure pile. Everyone wins.

This is one delivery, it amounts to three medium-filled barrow loads and not too heavy to push round to the compost bins, and it smells lovely!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Breakfast Crew

As the temperature falls the number of breakfast visitors rises in direct proportion (as does the amount of food which gets put out each day).

This dreadful picture (have since cleaned the outside of the window - that's one post-it note off the table) does not include all the pheasants or the red squirrel who had just done a speedy exit stage left to bury another hazelnut.



Nor does it include the visitors noted between 9.00 and 10.00 this morning:

Yellowhammer (first of the year)
Starling
Rook
Magpie
Goldfinch (many)
Robin
Chaffinch (numerous)
Collared Doves (pair)
Blackbird
Dunnock

Amongst the dozen or more pheasant are two with completely different plumage to the usual females. They appeared last week and through the murk and haze I wondered if they were red grouse blown off course from somewhere else. Managing to get a better look a few days later they have proper tails (grouse don't) and pheasant-like legs (grouse legs are stockier) and missing the above-eye red flash of a red grouse. They seem to have settled well with the resident flock and are hoovering up mixed poultry corn along with their cousins. Country Bumpkin will tell me if my identification is wrong.



Flurries of hail & snow all day so far, thankfully it's not settling properly. By lunchtime the cloud-base was down to 350m, I expect when it clears our view will be of rather white fells.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Rhetorical question

Management has had a major tidy-up in his study. Why then, does MY study (which I straightened up a couple of weeks ago) now look like a bomb-site?



The answer is "because Hobbit sorts through the 'rubbish' and shreds anything which could go on the compost heap". It takes ages because I don't want to burn out the shredder motor, and also have the self-created mess on the kitchen table to deal with which is going to take a whole lot longer. Each of those post-it notes is a reminder-to-self of a "job" that needs doing. I may be sometime ....

SNOW !

My first glimpse this year of the icy white stuff.

When the cloud clears I will be able to see more, but for now it appears that the top of Grisedale Pike, Hopegill, Whiteside and Grasmoor have had quite a dusting and that behind Ullock Pike, Skiddaw has received even more.





In the far distance (more than 15 miles as the crow flies), Pillar is looking decidedly wintery.



Naff photos because the sky is darker than it looks and we keep getting nasty cold showers of half rain/half hail. Brrrr.

If there was sensible adult present she would know This Is Not a Good Thing. Despite winter tyres on both our cars I would rather not drive on icy roads* and the fuel bills will rise as the temperature falls.

Such a person is not present. She who is Not Really Grown Up Inside LUUURVES to see snow; reminds me of a long ago winter working in a ski resort, looks fabulous, hardens up the clay soil nicely so we can get some winter jobs done, and is one of the many bonuses of moving to the Frozen North. Back in Hampshire a glimpse of snow was a rare event which degenerated rapidly into dirty sludge and traffic chaos. Up here snow is normal. It is winter ergo it is colder and there is white stuff on the tops (and sometimes on the middles and bottoms too).

It's December and there is Snow. Can I get the Christmas decorations out now, pretty please?


* That's not strictly true. I don't mind driving in rough conditions because I trust my car can handle whatever I am likely to go out in. Management will tell you that as I become more risk averse as I get older, those conditions aren't likely to be very bad in the first place! What I don't like is all the unprepared drivers who should have stayed indoors ....

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Wind

I've accomplished a great deal this month, but not much of it in the garden.



My sewing room is rebuilt and (sshh, don't tell anyone) on a couple of occasions I started rummaging through piles of fabric, boxes of scraps, unfinished projects. The house is remarkably tidy and there are no builders due in the near future, I've even made a start on Christmas cards.



I shall remember November chiefly for two things, one is a wonderful physio, the other is the weather. The physio is a cruel woman with hands of steel which are capable of inflicting significant pain. I don't mind a bit - in six short weeks she has dealt with much of the long-standing damage and pain in my hip and shoulder, and restored a range of movement which I haven't had for years.

I do, however, mind the weather. I bloody mind it a lot. November has been a pain in the bum and I don't think we've seen the last of some weird meteorological conditions. It's been far too warm for the time of year and far too many plants are growing strongly and continuing to flower and when it does get really cold they'll be knocked for six. Daffodil bulbs are thrusting themselves out of the ground with indecent haste and many of the snowdrops in pots (waiting to go in the Coppice) are showing green shoots.





Neither the roses (Winchester Cathedral and Mme Isaac Periere) or Clematis Nelly Moser should be in bloom right now.


It's been wet. Very, very wet. That seems to be par for the course in November as 2009 proved. At the weekend I saw friends near Greystoke and their weather station had recorded nearly 2 inches of rain in as many days. Our large pond has collected at least 6 inches of water although much of this is run-off. We'll have ducks next adding green shit to the ever present mud; now there's something to look forward to . . .



I can cope with all this, but I'm getting really fed up with the wind. Of course, buy a big garden and immediately cut down the shelter belt and what do you expect? No, I don't ever want the leylandii back but I would like a bit of respite from howling gales, especially when LP hasn't been able to get back here since his holiday and my plans to erect additional windbreak before 'the bad weather arrives' have come to nothing. I'd also like a break from the noise. I cannot sleep with the windows closed, nor can I doze off with earplugs. Acute hearing is not always a good thing. Neither is a sleep-deprived Hobbit. Grrrrr.

(The forecast for the rest of the week is equally foul, with high winds for all of us and snow predicted for the fells. Smug points because Management's car had winter tyres fitted last Friday and mind are going on this week.)