Wednesday, 29 July 2009

greetings card making, pop-up cards

I thought I'd discuss some card stock I bought ages ago, to create some Christmas cards. Don't throw up your hands in horror like that! It's less than six months away, and if you're making your cards, you really should be thinking about it now - really!

I made some pop-up cards from some kits that I'd bought, which I thought you might enjoy seeing. The actual principle is very simple, but until I had the kit in front of me, I didn't realise just how simple to replicate they would be.

Once you've folded your basic card shape, to the size you need to fit your envelope, then the fun begins. To get the effect of these cards, all that you need to do is to get your craft knife, or scissors, and make four cuts in the folded edge of your card. I usually take a piece of scrap paper from the recycling box to try out my ideas, rather than risk wasting my good card!!! That way I can play about with my ideas, and use the successful ones as templates.
Decide how far in to the card you want your first pop-out to be, then make two cuts, about an inch apart, it's really not necessary to be precise. Then repeat from the other side at the point you want your next pop-out to be. Open up the card, and pull the small projections you've just created to the inside of the card. You attach your topper to the front of these, and when the card is folded, they lay flat inside.

Alternatively, you might decide to have just one, single pop-out, or three - it's your card, you decide. You could have one central "statement" decoration, or off-set it and place a greeting tag to the side.

You might decide to have a small forest of Christmas trees, so make a few small projections for them to stand on, but make differing depths to your pairs of cuts, so that when the projections are in the card, they are at different positions, to give more perspective to the card.
If you have a large topper to support, you might find it useful to make a projection that is a couple of inches wide, or place it over two of the smaller projections, just to help it to stand, rather than flop!
Obviously, you can use the technique for cards at other times of the year, I'm just starting to think about Christmas!!
On the outside of the card, the cuts will be obvious to the recipeint of the greeting, and this would spoil the effect. To hide the cuts, simply cut some suitable backing paper deep enough to cover the incisions, both on the front and the back of the card, and stick it down. Then use a matching topper to the insert that you've made, to decorate the front of the card.
Voila - a miniature work of art to delight a friend or family member :-)

colour, flowers, garden, lazy

I'm a lazy gardener when it comes to flowers. I'll happily spend the time sowing vegetable seeds, but when it comes to flowers, it has to be bulbs, perennials or flowering shrubs.

I was looking at what was flowering in the garden, with no effort, and was quite pleased. The Golden Rod is
giving me plumes of rich yellow frothiness, and it was a freebie! I do love it when you get something for nothing, and this was a hidden bonus.

Many of the large stores have skips outside the rear of their premises, and David and I have asked a few times if we could help ourselves to things in there - lengths of wood and ailing plants being the favourite. On this occasion, it was a poor dwarf Rhododendron, looking very sorry for itself, its leaves curling and yellowing. It was in dire need of a little tlc, not throwing in a skip.

So, we brought it home, lavished some free love on it, and planted in the semi shady front garden. The following year it rewarded us with delicate pink flowers.

In mid-summer, however, the bonus arrived, the Golden Rod burst into bloom, growing up through the low-lying leaves of the Rhododendron. Beautiful - a splash of false sunlight in the essentially shady north-facing garden.

The other colourful note out there is the delightful lace-cap Hydrangea. There are two of them, both a gift from a green-fingered friend who had rooted some cuttings, and they have the most delicate shades in their blossom. Again, no effort involved - hurray!!!

snowball turnip, harvesting, food

Today I harvested my first, sweet, peppery Snowball Turnip. Doesn't it look cute? You can see why it was so imaginatively named, can't you? A globe varying in size between a golf ball and a tennis ball, white, and ball shaped. Yes, you can see the struggle they had to name it!

Look at all that greenery to produce such a small ball of flavour. The beds that David has built me are full of greenery now, and much of it is of these little treasures. They are a quick crop, and so verdant that they help to suppress the weeds which would otherwise try to muscle in on the act.

These little gems are delicious in salads, if finely sliced, or, of course, you can cook them in the way you would any root vegetable. But don't over-cook them. They are largely comprised of water, so don't boil them until they are positively soggy.
Try steaming them lightly to retain some of the crispness, then just drizzle with a little cold-pressed oil. Balsamic vinegar, just a little, also works well, as they are quite sweet, and there's that lovely contrast of colours.
It's so wonderful, the pleasure I get from the first harvesting of a particular vegetable or fruit. The novelty of that fist taste of the year of MY organic produce.
I'm so lucky that I had a mum who grew up in a village in a small house with a huge garden, where her father grew vegetables. As I was growing up we always had a small compost heap, and some sort of vegetable growing. Thanks to her, I think of it as natural to grow my own. From my very first house back in 1975 I have always grown something. I'll never be self-sufficient, but I can't imagine a day when I don't grow some sort of food.

potatoes, flowers, baking, microwaves, free food

One of the tastiest, cheapest, and simplest meals has to be an oven baked potato in its jacket. Jacket baked potatoes have been one of my favourites for as long as I can remember.

I remember years ago, probably about 25 or so, Peter bought me a cookery book by Clement Freud, a comedian we were both very fond of. He seemed to quite enjoy his food, and I was enjoying the book until I reached the part on potatoes.

He plummeted in my estimation when I read that he considered that the potato baked in a microwave oven was just as good as a "real" oven-baked specimen.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against microwave ovens. I had one of the first turntable models about 30+ years ago, a Belling, that, apart from the light failing, is still being used to sterilise compost for the garden!!!

However, although they speedily cook a potato in its skin, there is none of the depth of flavour that develops with the exposure of the skin to the heating elements, or gas generated external heat of a regular oven. A microwave jacket potato is fine if it's going to be served split and covered in a tasty sauce, where its purpose is to provide bulk, but not flavour.

But when the potato is the star of the meal, and an oven-baked jacket potato deserves this status, then only the real deal will do. That golden to almost charred exterior, with the slightly firmer amber layer beneath, then the creamy, fluffy centre, just waiting for a little salt and a drizzle of olive oil, or, yummy, toasted sesame oil. Oh, yes, it's a star. There's no contest.

That said, I have discovered a cheat's method of achieving pretty near the perfection of the real thing, but using the microwave. Here's how you do it.

Microwave your jacket potatoes as usual until just done. Heat the grill while they are cooking, then grill both sides of the hot potatoes for about seven minutes each side, until they are well toasted. The moisture inside the potatoes saved them from actually toasting, and they really do taste very good indeed.

Since there's usually just me, or David and me here when I'm cooking, this is the way I often do them. It's not economical to have the big oven on to bake a few potatoes.

Did you know that potatoes have beautiful flowers? No? Well, they do. Just look at these. They are a beautiful, pale pink. When the flowers have died back, then I know there will be a lovely crop of tubers ready to dig up.

One of the best bits is - they are free!! Yes, really, free. They have cost me nothing. If your potatoes have been too long in your vegetable basket, and are growing arms and legs, or shoots, as we call them, cut off the shoots, plant the bit of potato in the ground attached to the shoot, water and wait, and you will almost undoubtedly grow your very own free crop of potatoes.

Isn't nature wonderful?????

Monday, 27 July 2009

runner beans, flowers, beauty

Today I want to share with you the magic and beauty of runner bean plants.

Remember Jack and the Beanstalk? He traded a cow for 5 beans, much to his mother's disgust. She tossed the beans on the ground, and next day there was this fantastic tree of a plant.

Well, I'm not claiming that for my beans. But, they start out as beans about an inch long. A beautiful pinky red, with black blotches - the Dalmation of the beans, I suppose you could say. After planting them a couple of inches deep in soil, they relatively quickly push their shoots through the soil, and soon grow into plants ready to plant out in the garden when the roots are pushing through the base of the pot.

Within a couple of weeks they'll be climbing up the support you've given them. I use a couple of arches. How clever is that, to be able to climb up a metal frame with nobody to show you how? OK, I know the science of it, but it's still pretty amazing to see.

Then there are the flowers. Boy, do they produce flowers. My arches are aflame - it's easy to see why they were brought into this country purely for their flowers - the edible beans were a bonus. The plants have climbed to the top of the arches, and are now reaching for the sky. I've had to stop them by breaking off the top shoot, they are so vigorous.
The magic is, each of those gorgeous flowers has the potential to be transformed into a runner bean with the aid of the visiting insects, or me with a tiny brush if there aren't any about!
Some of the beans are now a couple of inches long. Tiny miracles of nature. In just a short time from now, I'll be harvesting them. It's one of life's greatest pleasures to pick your own vegetables, then either eat them raw, or cook them gently and eat them really fresh. They don't need much to accompany them, the flavour speaks for itself. Yummy.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Pavers, driveway, 22 tons

I was told they could be delivered any time from 0730 to 1600, but that the driver would phone when he was leaving the drop off before me.

So that was Wednesday written off, so to speak. Isn't it funny how you just feel today is the perfect day to visit that friend you've been meaning to call on, or go to the sale in town that starts today, so that's when all the bargains are to be had?

So I made good use of the time. I wrote the first draft of a new short story before lunch, which I'm quite pleased with, and it will go towards my 'Writing for Children' module in September. It will undergo countless revisions before anyone reads it, but at least the kernel of the story is written - and I like it :-)
The phone call came just as I was preparing lunch "I'll be with you inside an hour, traffic permitting.' Great, time to eat my avocado salad, drizzled with the hoummous I made a couple of days ago. The leaves in the garden are a welcom addition to the shop bought lettuce and tomatoes.

I felt the rumble of the 44 ton lorry before I actually heard it. I'd been sitting on the bed strumming the guitar so that I would see it arrive, but, I felt it first. It was a monster lorry, boy, was it big!!

The driver got down from his high throne, and we discussed where to put the 22.42 tons of pavers he had brought me. The crane fitted on his lorry didn't have the reach of the one that delivered the bricks for the porch and conservatory, but he was confident he could just squeeze them in.

David and I watched as the lorry bed was lowered slightly, and the generator growled into life. Then the lifting began. 20 pallets of buff (well, that's what they call it, really they're quite yellow - it'll be a bit like Dorothy following the yellow brick road when it's done!!) pavers, the 80cm deep ones suitable for a driveway. Each pallet weighs just over a ton each, all securely bound in metal bands.

Poor man, it took him ages to manouvre the crane through the curtain of holly and spotted laurel branches. Not to mention the lower branches of the sycamore with a preservation order on it, and the telephone cable for the house next door.
But he managed it, and even kept a smile on his face.

Now David and I have the task of moving many of them into the back garden, as some of them will be used on the patio, interspersed with the red and heathery pavers that I've been buying locally in dribs and drabs.

I can see me carrying one in each hand, while David carries rather more at a time in the wheelbarrow. We'll get it done ... eventually. Fortunately, we can do it in our own time. And it will be worth it when it's done. Honest:-)

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

electricity, gas, money saving

Talking of electricity reminds me to mention that I've finally taken notice of the money saving e-mails that I subscribe to, and have taken action to save myself some money on my gas and electricity charges.

I currently have dual fuel supplied by Atlantic, and pay quarterly by direct debit. As with everyone else in the UK, my bills have risen due to the increase in the price of oil.

I took out my bills for the last year, totted them up and decided now was the time to seek a way to save some money. I'd swapped to Atlantic about 3 years ago for the same reason, and saved some then.

I used a couple of comparison sites, and found that if I switched to Eon for the dual fuel, and paid monthly direct debits, I could save, on their guesstimate, based on the yearly amounts I'd paid to Atlantic, about £140+ per annum!!!

Presumably they are very confident about this, as the direct debits they will be taking will result in me paying considerably less over the year than I paid last year. Fingers crossed their calculations are correct!

I've also, just this last week, had cavity wall insulation installed. The whole process took about two hours, for the drilling and pumping, and wasn't nearly as noisy as I had feared it would be. The boys who did it were very polite, and cleaned up after themselves pretty well. They even used my hosepipe to wash down all the windows and window sills where the brick dust had settled! The whole bungalow was done for £149, which I consider to be a bargain. That should help cut down the bills too : )

Elna, sewing machine, restored, mains electicity power cable, insurance

Well, my Elna is now restored to the bosom of its family, ie me :) It has a new lightbulb so I can see what I'm sewing, and will hopefully last me another 30 years! I've a lot of work to do now!

I was thinking about electricity, as you do, and remembered the day when I was sitting at my desk at school when my secretary answered the phone, put her hand over the receiver and said to me, 'It's David, he sounds a bit funny, will you talk to him?'

Of course I said "yes", and she put him through:

'I've got some bad news and some good news, which would you like first?'
'The bad, then it can only get better.'
'I was digging up the conifer at the top of the drive, as we'd discussed, and got the electric saw out to cut the roots.'
'Yes? Nothing new there!'
'Suddenly there was an almighty bang, flash of blue, and I ran like the devil was after me back towards the house.'
'What????? Are you alright??'
'Yes, I'm fine. I was a bit scared though, I can tell you.'
'I bet you were.'
'The bad news is there's now no electricity to the house, and the electric saw blade has a section melted out of it.'
'Wow, goodness. Sounds like you're very lucky. What on earth happened?'
'The mains power cable was entwined with the roots, but it was quite invisible in all the soil, and the saw just caught it.'
'What's the good news?'
'I'm still alive - at least til you get back and kill me!'
'Oh, good. What have you done about it?'
'Phoned you. You'll have to phone the electric company and get them out.'
'Right, I'll do that. Stay away from it.'
'OK. See you later.'

I was shocked, to say the least, and very relieved that David was unhurt, apart from the shock, of course. He's taken out many, many conifers from around the garden. The previous owned, a very strange lady, had planted Leylandii all around the perimeter to give privacy, and it was one of the aspects of the property that I had loved, when viewing. However, when I'd moved in I realised that the garden recieved very little sunshine, despite having a South facing garden, as the untrimmed trees blocked it very effectively. So, they had to go. I wanted to grow vegetables, and they need the sunlight!

This was the only potentially fatal accident he had. He did fall out of a tree one day, but the branches broke only his fall, not his bones.

I called out the emergency repair service, as I didn't know how many people were without electricity due to the cut, and they were pretty prompt in their arrival. they patched it together, coverd the hole with a board, and promised to come back the next day to effect a "proper" repair. I was then billed for nearly £500, despite the fact that the mains cable was far too close to the surface, only about a foot deep. Fortuunately, the house insurance covered most of it, and I just had the excess to pay. Still an expensive tree removal!!!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Sewing machines, Elna, Good value, faithful friend

I can't remember not having a sewing machine. I remember one called Little Betty, which sewed a chain stitch when I was very small. The trouble with that was that it easily unravelled as it wasn't a lock stitch.

Then, when I was about seven, I was bought a full-size treadle sewing machine, which did "real" lock stitch. I think Dad picked it up at an auction. It had a wooden cover, which, when removed ready to sew, made a stool for me to sit on. I don't remember when that was sold.

Mum had a hand operated Singer when I was young, on which she made most of our clothes. She'd been a dressmaker and cutter before she married Dad, so it was second-nature to her, and we were cheap to clothe because of this, and always nicely turned out.

I remember being allowed to use her machine when mine had gone. Later, hers had a motor added, wow, no more turning of the hand-wheel! Yerars down the line, when my brother and I were older, Mum took a job in a sewing machine shop, becoming the manageress. She bought a Bernina, which she still has, nearly 40 years on. She always said that you get what you pay for, and Swiss machines were the Rolls Royces of the sewing machine world.

After I was married I sold my green enamelled machine and treated myself to my Elna SU. A Swiss model on a par with the Bernina that Mum had, but this was pneumatic!! It has little cogs to change around to enable fancy stitches, but I have to admit I haven't used many of them.

That machine helped me to furnish our house with all its curtains. I made fitted sheets, pillow cases and duvet covers. Thick winter dressing gowns for both of us - we didn't have central heating initially, so we needed them!!

I made many of my clothes, and trousers and even a tailored jacket for my husband. I sported a beautiful long cape in the 1970s, and maxi skirts galore. When I discovered I was pregnant I'd made three maternity dresses over a weekend. I made tiny vests and nightshirts ready for the baby, and all the bedding for the crib.

I'd say I made about 90% of Rachel's clothes when she was small, including romper suits with poppered legs. I carried her around in a sort of papoose that I made from a Vogue pattern in beige cord fabric, lined with a delicate rusty patterned fabric. When she moved to a full-sized cot, all her bedding went through the Elna.

I got the Elna out the other day to shorten some curtains from the last house to fit the ones in my new bungalow. I started to sew and was appalled at the racket emanating from my faithful old friend.

I took her in for an estimate to see what was the matter with her. The mechanic rang me on Friday. All she needed was a service, whew! She's been on the go for over thirty years, and never let me down. You really do get what you pay for, don't you? She was expensive, but has been worth every penny. And the service is only costing about £50, then I'm hoping she'll last another thirty years.

It's good to have a friend - no flesh and blood with this one, but treasured nonetheless :-)

"The Proposal", Sandra Bullock, humerous, sentimental

The impossible happened - I managed to get two free tickets to the preview of The Proposal, rated 12A, starring Sandra Bullock this morning:-)

I attended this preview along with a full cinema of equally keen viewers. Despite the inevitable rustle of packets and bags, and the horribly noisy slurping of drinks, the film was very enjoyable.
Scenes of a track through beautiful woods intercut with pedalling feet was ironically revealed as nothing more than a video to make sitting on an exercise bike less boring. The shot then panned up to Sandra Bullock reading a manuscript propped open on the handlebars of her exercise bike. This demonstrated the powerful work ethic of our heroine from the outset.

The film's premise was worked through effectively, with touching performances from key actors. I saw a few tissues applied to eyes at sentimental moments. Although in a similar vein to Green Card, I found this to be the superior movie of the two, and would heartily recommend it to my friends.

The cinema remained relatively quiet throughout the film, apart from spontaneous laughter at appropriate times. Clearly the rest of the audience enjoyed the film as much as I did.

Only one young girl's mobile phone disturbed the rapt attention of the audience, but, really, why don't people turn them off? Do we truly live in a society where we cannot be severed from contact with any of our friends and family for the duration of a couple of hours or less? Do we consider ourselves so vital to the smooth running of other people's lives that we must remain in potential contact with them?

Or is it that we are so insecure that we fear our friends may never try to contact us again if we don't answer them immediately? Come on, folks, really? Do you honestly believe yourself to be either a) so vital that you must be available 24/7 or b) so insignificant that your friends will forget you if you're not instantly available?

No, thought not. Why not try switching to the silent mode if you can't bear to switch off? That way you won't disturb the whole cinema if someone actually contacts you, but the small glow of your activated screen will let you know you're loved? Just something to ponder.

Trouble is, I'm talking to the converted here: I'm sure none of you would dream of spoiling things for others, but I had to get it off my chest. . . . sorry:-)

Anyway, go see the film; it's amusing and touching. It praises family love and respect. It mocks the marriage of convenience system in the US to avoid deportation. It turns traditional male/female roles on their heads, and confirms that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. I enjoyed it.

hoummous, easy recipe, vegan, vegetarian, tasty

Instead of the raw food mock hoummous on the previous post, you might prefer to try the real thing. I confess I love hoummous, either with crackers, or for dipping cruditees in, or drizzled over falafel and salad - I used to love this stuffed into a pitta bread when I could eat wheat, but have to forgo that pleasure now.

Years ago, in Paris, whilst on a family holiday, we spent virtually every lunchtime at a falafel stall, I think it was on the Rue de Hachette, or somehing very similar, where, for 2 francs you received a few falafel in a pitta, and could then stuff it with the various salads and pickles on the front of the stall. Wonderful value, and very tasty. However, I digress (most unlike me!)


1 tin of chick peas, drained, but reserve a couple of tablespoons of the liquid from the can
1 lemon, juice (and if it's an unwaxed lemon, the zest as well)
1 tablespoon of Tahini (if you don't have any in the cupboard, use peanut butter for a similar texture, but obviously slightly different flavour)
1 or 2 cloves of garlic - to taste (obviously cloves vary in size, and everyone's palate is different)
Olive oil - enough to give the consistency you like
pinch of salt

Put everything except the oil into a blender, then add the oil slowly until you reach the consistency you prefer. If you're watching calories, you can just add a drop of water, or extra lemon juice without any damage.

To serve it, place it in a bowl, drizzle with a little oil and sprinkle some paprika over. Or some lemon zest, or just a sprig of parsley, have fun :)

I sometimes add whole sesame or sunflower seeds and just give a quick blitz if I fancy a little extra texture. Or linseeds, or pumpkin seeds ...... you get the picture. Experiment, have fun with it.

In the shops you'll see "specialist" hoummous, with roasted peppers, aubergines etc etc. I've tried them and prefer the subtle flavour of the original. However, it's all about personal preference, so if you've seen these and wondered what they're like, have a go.

If you've got your oven on for chips, or a roast of some kind, pop a red pepper, or aubergine, or whatever you fancy, onto a baking sheet and put it in the oven at the same time. Take it out when the skin looks as if it's about to burn, really quite black, trust me. Put the pepper, or aubergine etc into a plastic bag, or tub with the lid on, and leave it until it gets cool. You'll then be able to peel the skin off very easily - sometimes it helps to run it under cold water to wash the charred skin away.

Then just blend some of the pepper, or whatever, in with the hoummous until you get a flavour you enjoy. You might find half a pepper will give you enough of a hit, or you may need the whole of it. Again, sizes differ, as do palates, and it's your hoummous, so make it so that you like it.

Then look at the price of a small pot in the supermarket or deli and see just how much money you've saved!!!!!

Monday, 13 July 2009

raw food, "hoummous" recipe, vegan, wheat-free, coincidences

Strange conincidences have always fascinated me.

For instance, the government introduced a scheme to train mothers who wanted to return to work in the modern computerised office when my daughter was about 8. I applied for a place, but was unsuccessful. They said if they ran another, they would contact me. 6 months later, they did just that, and I spent 10 weeks learning not to be afraid of computers, how to make them serve me! Well, that was the theory, anyway!!

In the penultimate week of the course we learned to write a good CV, including our newly won quallifications in Word+ and other such archaic things. We were also obliged to apply for at least one job advertised in the local paper. I applied for, and got, one of the best jobs of my life, working in a primary school office.

If I'd got a place on the first course, I probably would have ended up somewhere else, and missed out on so much fun and valuable experience around the children I love so much. As it was, I started out working nine and a half hours a week, the only person who could use the new computer on which all ordering was soon to be done. As you can guess, it wasn't long before all pupil data, personnel data etc etc was computerised. I was promoted after just four months, and over the next couple of years became the school Bursar, or office manager. I stayed for 16 and a half years, only retiring to go to uni as a full time mature student. I loved that place.

So, coincidences are great.

Today, I was flicking through some raw food sites, and saw a recipe for "hummous". Only, of course, it wasn't hoummous as I know and love it, it was all raw. As it was coming up to lunch time, I went into the kitchen and made it.

Well, I say I made it, but of course, you never have exactly what the recipe needs, do you? I'd got most of it though, so here's what I did. I liquidised:

2 medium courgettes, well scrubbed
a good handful of pitted black olives, drained
1 small pickled gherkin
2 cloves of garlic
a pinch of dried chilli flakes
2 tablespoons of tahini
1 avocado (which replaced the olive oil in the original recipe - I had loads of avocados, and not much oil, that's all)
good handful of linseeds
pinch of salt

the recipe also called for some cumin, but I didn't have any in my spice box!!! I know, it's hard to believe, isn't it?

It came out a sludgy colour, but tasted great. I ate it over some falafels, and put the rest in the fridge.

The coincidence - no, I hadn't forgotten that's what I was chattering about, even though you thought I had - is, that I've just got a new (second-hand) wheat-free cookery book. (I was given it through the freecycle group - I gave her 2 jackets I don't wear any more!). As I was flicking through the recipes, what did I see, but a reciep entitled warm courgette and cumin dip! The ingredients are very similar to the above, but the courgettes are lightly fried before blending. Now I'll have to try that too :) Life can be so hard!

Maybe you'll try it, and enjoy it too. It doesn't, in my opinion, replace that lovely warm flavour of chickpeas in the real deal, but it is good :)

emergency call out, gas leak

Yesterday morning David and I went to a local car boot sale. We didn't buy much, I think he got a book and I bought a silicon bowl scraper for 50p (I'd have bought one for you, too, Rachel, if they'd had more than one!). When we arrived back home, about 11am, I though I could smell something funny as I walked towards the house. When I opened the door, I still thought there was something, but it was very slight, so I opened the doors to get a draught blowing through.

David went into the garage to clear the party wall between the garage and the house so that the cavity wall installers can do their job on Wednesday.

One minute later he was back, "Will you come out to the garage with me?" - it's not the most romantic request I've ever had, but at my age, what can you expect?

This was followed by "Do you remember there was that funny smell - like gas - a couple of years ago? Well, it smells similar out there now." I'd called out the emergency gas people then, and they'e told me it was blowback from the water heater, which is sited in the garage. I felt pretty silly, as you can imagine!!!

I walked in and was almost knocked over by the smell!! Then I heard the hisssssssss!!!!!!!! "We need to get out of here and I'll call the emergency service, don't touch anything, especially the light swicth!" I said calmly, my mind going into overdrive - what else don't you do when there's a gas leak??? "Shall I turn it off?" he said. "No" I replied, "it might cause a spark. We need to speak to them before we do anything." Caution is my middle name when something might go very wrong. I'm incredibly glad that neither of is a smoker!!!!!

So, I called the emergency number. How many of you know what it is? It's 0800 111 999 for a gas leak in the UK. If you have a gas supply, it's a good number to memorise. No, really, it is. It's pretty easy, freephone 111 999. The 999 is drilled into us from children, and three 1s isn't that much more to remember, is it, and the 0800 you'll remember cos that makes the call free. See, that was so easy, wasn't it?

A very calm lady on the other end of the phone took my details and I could hear her typing away as she sent the message out to the emergency vehicle. Once she'd done that, she advised me to turn off the gas supply, assuring me that it wouldn't cause a spark!! OK, so I worried in vain, but it had caused a spark, I wouldn't be writing this, now would I??? Within half an hour the engineer had arrived, replaced the leaking pipe, and was on his way.

The Yorkshire blood in me heaved a huge sigh of relief when he confirmed that the leak was at "their" side of the supply, and I hadn't been paying to pump gas into the atmosphere.

Just as well, really, as David later confessed that he'd smelled the gas the night before, but forgotten to tell me!! So the funny smell that had tantalised me was the gas leaking out under the garage door on the drive, and in through the open bathroom window in the house. Mystery solved.

He has now cleared the wall - a gas leak only gives a man a short reprieve. He was out til 8pm, but he's done it wonderfully, and I only had to help with the huge old school cupboard, but that's another story.

Friday, 10 July 2009

writing, wasp nest, photo

So there I was, writing my new short story, when a voice calls 'Get your shoes on and come and see what I've found!'

Obediently, I set down the keyboard, and head for the kitchen. David stands at the patio doors, looking dishevelled. Unsprprisingly, really, as he's busy moving several huge boxes from the garage to the shed at the bottom of the garden ready for the cavity wall insulation team to arrive on Wednesday. (They'd arrived yesterday, but the surveyor had failed to inspect the garage, and therefore I hadn't been informed that the wall between the house and garage needed to be cleared ready for injection!)

As he had stacked some blue plastic baskets in the shed, he'd heard a buzzing. After glancing up, he fled the shed and came to call me.

I walked down with him, he wouldn't tell me what it was, I was guessing rats, mice, squirrels, he just wouldn't tell me. I soon saw for myself, and headed back to the house for my camera:)

You can see the blue boxes, and just behind them adjacent to the single shed door, (which we don't use, as you can tell from the ivy creeping in through it), is the wasp's nest.
If you look closely you can see a few wasps walking around quite nonchalantly.

They are fascinating objects, wasp's nests. When David was helping me clear out the loft about 3 years ago, we found a huge one under the eaves. It wasn't it use, so we dismantled it, and I took it into the junior school where I worked, for the children to see. The science teacher adopted it, and for all I know it could still be used as a resource! It was beautiful. All the different shades where different trees had been used by the wasps to form the paper thin walls made fantastic patterns in swirls.

It was incredibly lightweight, despite its size, and remarkably strong, though each layer was very delicate. Mother Nature has some wonderful things in her store cupboard. So many of us go through life with our eyes blinkered to what's around us. Yet miraculous things occur all the time, unapprciated for the most part. Like the humble wasp's nest. Truly beautiful, but hidden away by its makers. A remarkable feat of collaborative work.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Family, love, sons and daughters, time, memories

Last Christmas we were supposed to be going down to stay with my daughter and son-in-law. Sadly, his mother's husband was rushed into hospital shortly before, and ended up in intensive care. Obviously it was far more important to go and stay with his mother to offer her support, than to have David and myself as visitors. Consequently David took me to Portugal for Christmas, so we spent Christmas Day walking in the sunshine on the beach, which was lovely, though far from traditional! Poor John is still in hospital and unable to feed himself as I write.

However, what with one thing and another, I hadn't seen my daughter since before Christmas, so was delighted to receive a call from her a couple of weeks ago saying she was on holiday in Scotland, and planning to call in to see me on her way home. A lovely surprise which resulted in David helping me to clear all the car boot stuff from the spare bedroom, so that there was room to put up beds for Rachel and Andrew. He also mopped all the floors for me, as I struggle with my back when doing things like that.

It was a delight to have the pair of them to stay for a short while, and would have been even nicer to have seen them for longer! David and I will go and stay down there for a few days this summer.

I took advantage of Rachel's visit to get her to look at some of my short stories. One of them is about a little girl called Precious, and it prompted memories from Rachel. Way back when I was a teenager, I was told it was unlikely I would ever have children as my innards weren't working properly. I was lucky enough to become pregnant, and have Rachel as a result. Since she was born she has been the most precious aspect of my life, and still is. She probably always will be!

However, the point is, whenever people asked why I didn't have any more children I simply said that since I had a perfect daughter, why would I want any more children? I didn't go into my medical history every time! Rachel told me that she had overheard me saying this through her life, and she had always felt special, knowing that she was the perfect child.

I wasn't aware of this until she told me as she was reading my story!! She explained that during a brief conversation about a year ago, I had mentioned that her father and I had tried, briefly, to have another child, but failed, and she had been shocked by this, having firmly believed that she was perfect and we didn't want any more children. She was confirming the feelings of the child in my story in a very strong way. We really have no way of being aware of what our children overhear, and how deeply they can be affected.

Fortunately it has always been true that she was loved, and she was pretty perfect, too, when I compare her to the babies and children I have known over the years - both as a children's nanny, and nearly two decades of working in a primay school. And she knows that she is still loved and always will be. We still tell each other that we love each other every time we speak on the phone. How many mothers and daughters do that, I wonder? I hope that we always will.

I feel that I'm very lucky in my relationship with my daughter. When she left home, years ago now, to take up her place at Oxford, I told her that if she needed me, I was always at the end of a phone. Day or night, she could ring if she needed me. It says a lot for our relationship that over the years she has phoned in the middle of the night; not often, but when she needed to talk to me, she's phoned. She knew I meant what I said - I will always be here for her. Always.

20p mule, eBay, gullibility, greed

My partner sent me a text the other day suggesting that I look through my coins to see if I had a twenty pence coin that was undated. His newspaper was running an article on a "mule" 20p coin which had inadvertently been sent out from the Royal Mint.

A mule is formed when an obverse and reverse sides of a coin are incorrectly married together. In this case the new "shield" reverse with the old obverse, neither of which has the date on, as when the new designs came out, the date was moved from the reverse to the obverse. There was a web site where you could register your coin and receive £50 for it.

David was lucky enough to have found one such mule in his change after he'd bought his newspaper. I hunted through my stacks of change, but fortune did not smile on me that day.

When David next came over to see me, he logged on to the internet, and looked at eBay, where these "mules" were selling for hundreds of pounds. Not only that, but many people were selling the "shield" ordinary 20p pieces, and these were also fetching far more than their worth.

I decided that if people are so gullible as to pay more than 20p for a 20p coin, I would list one on an eBay 24 hour auction. I listed it in much the same words that others had used, "undated shield side", but quite clearly stating "2008 on head side", threfore making it obvious that it was not a mule. Imagine my amazement when I discovered that someone had bid over £20 for my 20p coin!!!!!

I had listed it as a joke, really, and was truly surprised to see it sell. However, the joke is on me, really, as the "buyer" hasn't paid up, and I will now have to go to the trouble of contacting eBay and claiming an unpaid strike against the "buyer". Serves me right, I hear you say. Yes, I should have known better, I suppose I was greedy!

When I told David what I'd done, he listed a similar coin. His sold for just over £2, he was paid and he's posted the coin. It's a funny old world :-)