Thursday, 29 October 2015


Another of those "wow, beautiful, look at that, stunning . . . not really a lot more to say" moments.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

October sunrise

Once you've been through the lexicon of wow, beautiful, look at that, stunning and so on, there is not really a lot more to say.

Please click on these to enlarge, they're worth it :-)

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

More composting

A quick glance back through the blog, and once again, astonishment that we were working on the big compost bins in August - where did three months go?

And when did LP fit steel sheeting to the inside of the newly created bin so that we could fill it with leaves and grass clippings?

This week he got the bit between his teeth and dealt with the other side of the bin set up.  This involved taking out the posts which had moved due to the weight of far too much poultry poo, replacing everything, and then creating a new bed.  The end plan is for the compost area to be pretty much hidden from view by evergreen hedging and when the shrubs are big enough I will hide a couple of bird boxes in this area.  From the point of view of our resident robins - shelter, nearby water and an endless supply of little bugs in the compost bin - should be an ideal place to raise future generations :-)

Thursday, 22 October 2015

On going to Kielder

I could write pages and pages about our first caravan trip, our first visit to Kielder, our first StarCamp . . . really need to practice self-editing.

After the trauma of getting our Lovely Lunar off the drive, having her already on the road and hitched to my car did make setting off relatively easy.  I say 'relatively' because in the morning I still had to do all the packing, walk and reassure Daisy, and fix the towing mirrors to the car.  Least said about the latter the better and I never did get the blasted things perfectly adjusted.

I had an easy two hour tow and on arrival at Kielder we were able to choose a lovely quiet pitch in a corner.  We found out later that this was the driest StarCamp for 13 years which must have deterred the midges a little, but in a 'normal' year there's no way I would choose to pitch at one of the lowest points on the site right next to the beck.  When I first drove in and saw thousands of pounds worth of equipment “just” sitting outside tents and vans I couldn’t believe that anyone would leave their ‘scopes unattended, but after a few hours in the company of such a lovely group of people I could understand how it all worked :-)

After a very warm greeting from the event organisers, Lynn & Kevin, and getting the van set up, Daisy and I had a short walk which set the tone for the weekend. Every time I left the caravan Little Miss Perfect acquired lots of new friends and it was never possible to do a quick walk.  Everyone at the event was so friendly and helpful that all excursions, even if just to the water tap, took far longer than expected due to all the standing around chatting.  I had the pleasure of finally meeting Stuart Atkinson and Stella from Cumbrian Sky;  it is entirely thanks to finding Stuart's blog that we were at StarCamp in the first place.  His account of the weekend, with much better photographs, is HERE.

After supper I was invited to spend time with Simon who was pitched opposite us.  He is part of the 'Starmakers' outreach programme who work with local businesses to help them exploit the Dark Sky designation of the area via the Animating Dark Skies Partnership.  He insisted that my using his telescope was good practise for an event he was doing next week and that I was helping him by being a guinea pig.  I'd been warned in advance that people at the StarCamp behaved in this way but I never expected anything like this :-)   I stayed outside until nearly midnight, Daisy was curled up in a nest of fleecy quilts in a warm caravan.  I think she could hear me - I was only a few yards away but I didn't hear a peep out of her all evening.

On Friday morning it was clear I had slipped seamlessly into StarTime, a phenomena unique to astronomy events where no-one goes to bed early therefore everyone gets up late.  By the time Daisy and I had enjoyed a late start, a late breakfast, an even later walk in the woods and a lot of chatting on the way back it was 3.00pm and time for lunch.  Apparently that is quite normal . . .

M. arrived before dark on Friday, and after a very nice mulled wine party followed by our supper once again we were Simon's guinea pigs as he shared his observing session with us.  There is now absolutely no doubt that Management wants another telescope!

Saturday was 'busy day' and comprised another late breakfast and a walk with Daisy followed by a brilliant lecture from Stuart.  It was an introductory talk for absolute beginners and was wonderful; it reminded me just what interested us in astronomy many years ago and why now is the right time to pick it up again.

After a late but relaxing lunch we were able to squeeze in to hear Robert Ince give a talk on astrophotography.  Having met Robbie earlier in the weekend and seen some of the incredible kit he has we both assumed the talk would be about cutting-edge deep space photography with little relevance to us but lots of beautiful pictures to look at.  Wrong.  Rob talked about using nothing more than an ordinary DSLR on a tripod . . .

Which is why, after an excellent supper at The Angler's Arms there was much setting up of camera equipment which I'd taken along but only expected to use during the day if we'd gone sightseeing around Kielder.  Simon got me started and all of a sudden Stuart appeared.  "I told you I would come and help you get set up" he said and a few minutes later I had my first recognisable deep-sky photograph which, when enlarged, shows the Andromeda Galaxy (amongst others which I cannot remember 'cos my sky knowledge is woeful and I have forgotten most of what I knew 20 years ago).  WOW.  In the space of three days I went from wandering around being a bystander to actually participating.  That probably sounds so lame to anyone who has not done anything like this but it was really exciting.  Since I came home both Simon and Stuart have shared with me some of the images they took that night.  In comparison mine are utter amateur rubbish, but they're MY amateur rubbish and to use a very tacky phrase, "you'll never forget your first time" :-)

It was another very late night, me taking photos, Management and Simon observing all sorts of serious stuff with Simon's telescope, a bit of wandering around chatting to new friends.  And a very tired Daisy curled up in a nice warm van all evening, (she had come to both lectures and the pub with us).  For a weekend that will be remembered for photography I actually took very few pictures and hardly any of the caravan, which is a bit silly really, but what is done is done (or not done in this case).

All that remained on Sunday was to pack up in a leisurely way, try not to dribble and drool all over Simon's solar telescope as I watched flares and prominences, and try not to get tense about driving home.  The actual caravan towing is not difficult but I am finding it incredibly tiring, on the way up I realised it is because I am concentrating so hard.  Eventually (in theory) I will have done enough of this to be able to relax slightly whilst remaining alert but for now I am going to have to make sure that any journey longer than Kielder to home includes a stop to relax and have a good stretch.

And that, boys and girls, is a far more long-winded account of our first caravan trip, our first visit to Kielder and our first StarCamp than anyone other than us probably wants to read.

One of my favourite pictures from the weekend is of Management and Simon.  I think they were looking at the newly risen moon.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Most remiss

Drat, I'm an idiot.  After all the work I did in June getting this area planted up, the only pictures I seem to have of our 'New Garden' are these taken in late October when half of the flowers were over.

The sunflowers have been and gone, and an unplanned but wonderful stand of papaver somniferum which sprung up out of the seedbank came and went without any photographic record.  The 'clary' (nearest the camera) has definitely been the 'plant of the year' and will be repeated.  The bees have loved the planting, so much so that this patch would be close to being renamed 'the Bee garden' if it wasn't so kitsch.

On (very nearly NOT) going to Kielder

Something I never mentioned when we bought the caravan was a less than ideal experience in the last ten metres of my journey.

We have an issue between the house and the road:  our driveway slopes quite a bit, the road has a noticeable camber and the pavement at the bottom of our drive has been in a terrible state since before we moved here which all combines to create a horrible dip between the safety of Bag End and the freedom of the open road.  As a result, at the moment when the caravan wheels were on the lowest bit of pavement, a rear corner touched the road and I smashed the plastic foot at the bottom of the corner steady. I'm never going to forget the noise of nasty 'graunching' against tarmac.  It's still a wonder and a huge blessing that I did not do any real damage.
We've been on at Cumbria Highways for some years to get it fixed but with an estimated 40,000 potholes in the county, footpath repairs are not very high on anyone's list.  Thankfully this summer I did manage to have a series of conversations with someone that might just have made a difference (and I am sure pointing out the trip hazard and my 90 year-old neighbour who walks along here to get his daily paper had nothing to do with it?) and recently painted hieroglyphics on the tarmac would indicate that at some point the pavement will be repaired.

But until then, we have a dip, a big horrible-potentially-damage-causing dip, so why the (insert favourite expletive), when the caravan has been here since early August, do I wait until 48 hours before a trip to find out that it is not possible to get it off our drive, either nose-first or tail-first, without risking damage?  

Due to leave on my own Thursday morning (when Management was in London) on Tuesday I thought we'd better have a trial run . . . thank Crunchy for that limited amount of foresight, even though we failed.   Didn’t help that the motor mover was playing up.  Fortunately Management quickly diagnosed the problem as faulty battery connections and fixed it, but by then the caravan was stationery for the night in the middle of the drive and the battery was back on charge.

Wednesday was more successful but HIGHLY stressful and there are no photographs.  A friend I was emailing at the time hoped "we had fun in our endeavours".  It was not fun, unless you have a definition of fun which I have not yet encountered (actually, you may well have a definition of fun which I have not yet encountered, but there is every likelihood that I wouldn’t think it was fun …)  But I digress.     We took a couple of planks from the thankfully still extant supply of 8 x 2 timber and made ramps to bridge the awful dip in the pavement.  Clearly the plan worked (otherwise there would have been no trip to Kielder) but not without my laying on the tarmac in the middle of the road watching the bottom of the van as it inched out of the drive, and not without the 5" wide wheels nearly coming off 8" wide timber . . . as I said, highly stressful.

It was left on the road overnight, hitched up to my car, all the safety anti-theft stuff bolted on and didn't seem to bother the neighbours.

And then the good thing (because, dear Dog, there has to be something good come out of the debacle) is that on Thursday morning “all” I had to do was take Daisy for a decent walk down by the river,  load our bags into the car, have breakfast, lock the house and drive off . . . trying not to think about having to repeat the process in reverse when we got home.

And when we did get home on Sunday the van stayed on the road overnight sandwiched between our cars (are you noticing that I have a little bit of concern about it getting hit or stolen?)

Monday afternoon we cut some timber to appropriate sizes, set to with a bucket of screws and produced ramps which are much sturdier.  Clearance was still marginal but at least car and caravan can now be moved with only minimal messing about . . .

The ramps are already extremely heavy.
I'm seriously considering adding another layer of timber to the top to make them 8" thick instead of the current 6".
As Management is so fond of pointing out:  "shouldn't have joined if you cannot take a joke".

Monday, 19 October 2015

Went away, came back

We finally managed our first caravan trip!  Booked many months ago, we attended the annual astronomy StarCamp at Kielder Forest and it was absolutely brilliant.  Daisy and I went on Thursday, M. came on Friday and we all got home yesterday afternoon.

Little Miss Perfect seemed fine with the change in her usual routine and collected quite a fan club around the site. She did get a bit cold on the first night, a problem which she remedied by climbing into bed with me.

Much to do today so this is unusually brief :-)

Tuesday, 13 October 2015


The last couple of weeks I have mainly been . . . doing very little.  However, on the rare occasions I've been out of bed at a reasonable time the reward has been sights like this.

The rest of the time there has been pottering and putzing which is very satisfactory :-)  In keeping with my intention to take it easy a bit easier than usual there have been gentle walks down by the river with Madam and much reading of the Kindle whilst sitting in the caravan with a cuppa.  I've also been developing a whole new set of meal plans based on a very low carb diet (helps the blood sugar control).  LP has been away and I have just not been in the mood to mess around in the garden.  In truth, my shoulder has been hurting like h*ll which keeps me awake, and it is taking longer than I would like for my knee to recover from the thumping it got in the middle of September (strewth, it's really been THAT long?);  much of the time I've been too tired to accomplish more than look after Daisy, keep on top of the laundry* and make supper.

* either we are the dirtiest or cleanest people around, I can never work it out? 

This morning Little Miss Perfect and I had a lovely 2 ½ miles to the seat at Fangs Brow and back again.  I tried telling her that there are not many puppies whose "local dog walks" look like this but she was busy sunbathing and not listening.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Planning ahead

Uncharacteristically organised . . . these little troughs fit perfectly on top of the new wall next to the drive.  So long as I can keep the mice and squirrels away from the bulbs there should be a good show of miniature narcissus in Spring.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Dos amigos

Nearly three years ago the manager of Animal Care and I bundled a very unhappy little girl into a soft crate in my car and tried to ignore her cries as we did up the zips.  Daisy (or Macey as she was then) didn't make much noise; she was too tired, too scared and too hungry.  On my journey home there was the occasional grumble and whimper and I had to just harden my heart and get up the M6 as quickly as possible.  I still wonder what on earth she was thinking.  Having been rescued in Bolton by Homeless Hounds she was transported to Lancaster where we found her.  Who knows what unpleasant journeys she'd suffered before that, so it is no surprise that she was deeply unhappy at the prospect of more car travel.

She never really did like my Honda but the Scooby seems to suit her much better and she has to be restrained from jumping in before the back is fully open (it's one of those automatic thingies).  I guess by now she realises that nearly all trips in the car now end at rather nice places:-)

As she made that scary journey our little girl could have had no idea what sort of life was ahead of her.  Does Little Miss Perfect now realise just how privileged she is that THIS is one of our local dog walks? 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

October is officially "be nice to myself month"

With Christmas decorations already in the shops we hurtle at breakneck pace to that introspective time of year when bloggers, diarists and all & sundry other writers begin to review the preceding 12 months.  I'm no different so look away now if all you want is pretty pictures of Daisy and the fells*.  What follows is going to bore the backsides off everyone and is recorded for my own benefit.

2015 will be remembered for finally breaking the back of the major jobs in the house and garden, hurrah, for finally getting our Lovely Lunar, hurrah, and for me being not terribly well, hurrumph...... 

At the start of the year my back muscles went into spasm which was less than amusing seeing as Management was 300 miles away at the time.  Took a few weeks for that to completely go away.

There was a bout of gastritis probably brought on by taking NSAIDS to combat the muscle pain (below) which scared the cr*p out of me for a few days until we confirmed a diagnosis.  

Then we have the ongoing problem of constant muscle pain, limited range of movement and general things-not-right in my arms and shoulders.   Anyone who has been around Bag End for a while might recall that on and off I've had a horrible time for about the last three years.  Long story massively condensed:   Previous GP was cr*p and didn’t care after I refused surgery for [supposed] calcific tendonitis; changed practice, new GP took less than 10 minutes to identify Polymyalgia Rheumatica (despite my not having all the signs and symptoms).  The miracle treatment for this is Prednisolone and within 4 days all the pain had gone and I was sleeping properly which meant the brain fog cleared and the Energiser Bunny was back.   this did not mean the diagnosis was correct, only that huge doses of steroids can make you feel WONDERFUL.   However, I hate taking prescription meds, steroids are a foul concoction at the best of times and I did not tolerate them at all well, leading to taking myself off them after a couple of months.
One of the many steroid problems is that they play merry hell with blood sugar levels and for someone who is at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes if I’m not careful, This Was Not A Good Thing.  End of this saga is back to nice GP who shrugs and, if I won't take steroids or the exciting alternative Amitriptyline (Google that one if you want some unpleasant side-effects), can offer nothing except physio.  We await an appointment . . .

And to top it all the infection in my knee which, despite my general reluctance to take prescription medicine, could have become something dreadfully nasty without antibiotics (although I will never shake the suspicion that if I hadn't been taking steroids - which suppress the immune system - the infection might not have taken hold in the first place).  Still limping a bit and having to be careful not to do too much.

So, until I get a diagnosis that seems correct, Management and I have done our own research and concluded that painkillers to help me sleep and a good diet are my best [only?] option.  Alongside diet is the [radical and new to me] activity of really looking after myself - putting myself first, letting "The Lists" go to hell and get dusty, and just chilling out.

So that is why October is officially 'be kind to myself month' and November and December might just head the same way!

* I lied - of course there are pictures of Daisy and the fells :-)   On Tuesday Little Miss Perfect and I had our first visit in far too long to Crummock Water.  I have christened the beautiful quiet beach on the Mellbreak side "Solitude Bay" and had the joy and privilege of sitting in the sun for nearly an hour in total peace and quiet.  That definitely counts as being nice to myself!

and now I'm off to sleep in the caravan - just for the fun of it :-)