Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Update on Tippy


I've just taken him back to the vet as he was sick again last night, and still so constipated he is blocked, so we are back to square one. He is to have another enema and more rehydration . . . Poor little chap. I just want him back to his old self again. He was so much brighter on Saturday and then went downhill again. He is full to the gunnels of bits of mousy giblets set in concrete . . .

Tuesday evening (my comment to the comments!):

Thanks everyone. Today's treatments - all day on a drip and another enema (poor boy) seem to have helped a lo and he has been bouncing off the walls tonight! He REALLY wanted to go out, but the answer is no, until he has "been" regularly again.

I've just had him laid on my lap, like a baby, stroking him so softly so that his eyes were closing and he was nearly asleep. He has eaten, and had some more Liquid Paraffin - the syringe got stuck and I removed it from his mouth and gave it some welly and it went EVERYWHERE! He looked at me like I was mad . . .

Fingers crossed he will "go" from now on. Vet took an X-ray to check all was well, and it appears to be. Fingers crossed he will recover fully now.

Wednesday morning:

He's "been" in the night, wanted to have a wander into the kitchen and poked his nose out of doors, now he's come back in for breakfast. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

A poorly pussum


A week ago today I noticed Tippy looking rather quiet and not joining in the usual bun fight at feeding time. I thought he - an inveterate hunter - had probably eaten some mousy giblet that didn't agree with him (they usually leave the rank-tasting organs of Shrews). Anyway, about 9 p.m. that night he came in from outside and was spectacularly sick (lots of mouse fur and giblets) in the kitchen. I was heaving in sympathy and darling son (bless him) offered to clean up. Tippy was yowling to come through into the sitting room, but I told him he had to stay in the kitchen in case he was sick again. The next morning he was off-colour, and not eating, but perked up a bit in the day (on the sofa), then once the vet's was shut, he went downhill and was still not eating or drinking. Wednesday saw us taking him to the vet, who gave him a anti-biotic and something-else injection, and dispensed a pussy-cat Gaviscon and more anti-biotics. She mentioned he was getting dehydrated.

We took him home, and he still looked rough. He wouldn't eat but kept asking to go out and he would go to the pond and meow pitifully, then try and drink but he didn't appear to be lapping properly. We would be out there for an hour at a time (me with a book!) as he moved from one lot of water to another. He was still weeing, and when I spoke to the vet on the Thursday she said not to worry if he didn't eat, as long as he was drinking . . .

Friday saw us back at the vet's, and this time he had to be left as he was very dehhydrated and very constipated, so poor lad had to be sedated, have an enema and be put on a drip. He was much perkier when we picked him up and picked at a bit of food (mushed up with water) and has been better over the weekend, although I hate having to give Liquid Paraffin (worried it might go down the "wrong way". Yesterday he was more or less his old self, eating properly, asked to go out in the garden for a while, but this morning he isn't quite as bright. We're due back at the vet's for a check-up anyway today. Sigh . . .

Update: he is still constipated. I have more Liquid Paraffin for him. I hope he is soon properly on the mend, as if he goes downhill again, it's back in the vet's on the drip . . .


Thursday, 24 November 2011

Jennie's Hand Made Christmas . . .


This is not a spin-off from Kirstie's programme . . . this is absolute necessity in our house this year. Money isn't just tight here - it is earmarked to be spent before it arrives in my husband's account . . . In a normal year, when we weren't living quite so hand to mouth, I would squirrel things away when I came across just the right gift. This year I haven't been able to do that. I have picked up a couple of gifts (new or vintage) at the car boot sale or antique shop (the cheaper sort!), but apart from one proper boughten gift each, the rest of the presents under the tree will all be home made.

One gift I had a brainwave for earlier in the year was tarted-up pillowcases. The (white - but you can use any colour really) pillowcases were £2.34 a pair from a well known supermarket. The material - fat 1/4s of really stylish patchwork material - cost £2.75 each. One fat 1/4 does a pair of pillowcases. All you do is take a stitch ripper to the pillowcases and open up the seams back to the edge of the turnover. My fat 1/4 was already exactly the right length across the pillowcase, so I just cut the material in half, ironed a 1/2" seam, turned the pillowcase inside out, pinned the material so it covered the front open end of the pillowcase and machined across the bottom edge. I had left a little overhang on the open end which I folded over and machined. Then I pinned the seams, with the turnover back in and sewed those. I still have the ends to sew in, but the whole thing was done in under half an hour and the pillowcases look SO pretty. A variation on this would be a simple patchwork pattern border. I may get some plain white teatowels and give them pretty borders too - I'm sure aged aunties would appreciate these.

I am also knitting a scarf in Old Shale variation (3 rows plain/purl and one row of pattern) which looks really pretty. Also a much wider scarf/shawl in a soft grey wool which came from the car boot sale for next to nothing for 3 big balls. Oh, and I'm also sewing a x-stitch picture. My son has requested a jumper with a particular design on. Rather than knit the jumper, I will buy one and then stitch the pattern over the existing knitted stitches (intaglio is it called?)

If I get time I will make one or two new x-stitch decorations for the tree. We always make our own Christmas wreath - it is part of our Christmas tradition. A few days before Christmas we do a special wreath walk and collect the holly, ivy, greenery and willow wands for the base. It only takes an hour or so to make, and quite often we do two, one for the front door and one for inside the house.

I am going to severely prune my Christmas Card list this year as I simply CANNOT afford the postage. The Post Office has shot itself in the foot by just raising postal charges again and again. When I am sending e-bay packages, I often find that it only costs 5 or 10 pence more to post something to Australia, Air Mail, than it costs to send to an address in Britain!

Certain family members and friends will get home-made somethings, be it jam, jelly, chutney, biscuits, cake etc. They've blown it on the Sloe Gin/Damson Gin front though - that's staying in my drinks cupboard this year!!! The Damson Gin is GORGEOUS . . .

And the best bit about Christmas this year is we've just heard from our eldest daughter and she IS able to come home for Christmas after all, as they've changed her shifts at work (I think one of her work colleagues let on to the boss that T would be spending Christmas on her own). So it will be a full house and I can stop worrying!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Dear Prime Minister


I wonder if you really have any idea of how people are struggling to cope in what truly used to be GREAT Britain, but now is a country seemingly being stripped of its cultural identity and history. Once Britain is culturally castrated and homogenised, surely there will be no outcry about being absorbed thoroughly into Europe?

I have just read the figures of cold-related deaths of the elderly in last winter's snow and ice, when temperatures where I live dropped to minus 17 in the river valley (and the river froze virtually right across) - but the thermometers for cold weather payments have to register below zero for 7 days before cold weather payments are made. When it's a choice of heat or eat, you can understand why there were so many deaths. Retrospective payments don't heat a house when you are frightened to use the heating in the first place, because of not being able to pay for it.

Youth unemployment has reached an all-time peak. Unsurprising really when Europe's youngsters move here for work and are employed ahead of our own in the job stakes, but apparently that's because British youngsters don't have a WORK ETHIC. Supposedly line bred in every man jack of them. I would beg to differ. A whole generation whose prospects of full-time work of any kind are blighted. Youngsters applying for job after job on-line, filling out forms that might take them a couple of hours to fill in properly, and not even an interview at the end of it. Soul destroying and demoralizing.

Well, I count myself fortunate that each of my children have a job. Sure, they're just part-time jobs, and my daughters appear to have got into terrific student debt to get a good degree which counts for nothing against EXPERIENCE in the workplace, experience which many companies are big enough to offer them as long as they are prepared to support themselves, possibly relocate, and work for NOTHING to gain, with no guarantee of a job at the end of it. What's the word meaning the polar opposite of philanthropic? Misanthropist apparently. . . Personally I call it exploitation.

And their jobs? Well, two of them are in different cities and have to try and live - no, exist - on part-time wages, but hey, it gets them off the official figures for unemployment which I understand have now topped a million for young people under 24 years of age. I'm sure my eldest daughter can manage really well on 20 hours' wages - she's always been able to make sixpence do the work of a shilling. Just as well really as there is NO help or safety net for those people working between 16 hours and 30 hours. Income support only kicks in at below 16 hours, and working tax credit at over 30 hours (when you need it MUCH less.) A clever notion - the biggest group of people really struggling and needing help don't qualify. We really love having our middle daughter home for weekends, so she can go back to waitressing on her days off to earn extra money. Insurance too high on our car for her to drive it on these weekends? No problem - we can have an early night and get up at 1 a.m. to go and fetch her if she can't get a lift.

As for our son, we'll have him at home a while longer yet as he can't afford to move out and at least a job in a warehouse is preferable to being on the Dole, which he was for over a year.

I was so pleased to hear that by not giving me my pension until I am 62, I am helping the country out of the gigantic financial abyss the previous Government deliberately dug for it. There's a lot of us in this age bracket think this way. The fact that I nursed my mother at home and saved the Government a mint of money in care home fee subsidies doesn't count of course. Perhaps I should have got a job working nights while mum slept and boosted my pension pot that way? Well, we didn't have a lot of choice, not exactly having much warning of this turn of events and no voice, no influence at all in Governmental decisions (it was ever thus). Perhaps a fairer way of doing this would have been a sliding scale with us oldies only having to wait 6 months longer for our pensions - but then, you wouldn't have saved anything like as much money that way.

We - stupidly it would seem - thought that we would downsize from the house we can no longer afford to heat, in order to cut our expenses and outgoings and give ourselves a little buffer in the bank. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but the problem was our house arrived on the market at the same time as the Recession, Banks won't lend money to customers trying to buy their first house, (too busy trying to feather Banking Nests I believe), and this has a knock-on effect right up the chain. We could be here for years yet . . . At least there will eventually be money in the pot for our children when we finally pop our clogs, which is a comfort when we know there is no way they can ever afford to own their own home otherwise. What - our final home was sold to provide funding for our care in old age? They just got £16,000 between the 3 of them? Well, I am sure that will be very fair and . . . just. The better-off should have to pay their way from cradle to grave so that there are handouts to the feckless and those poor sods who never ever managed to get their foot on the work ladder and are unable to pay their way.

We try not to think about "getting old". We are heading that way, but still feel in our thirties inside. Strange that. We are frightened by the prospect of a sudden illness putting us in a hospital where they are too busy to feed you, bring you a drink, take you to the loo and leave you laying in filth, where total strangers decide on whether you live or die by writing "Do Not Resuscitate" on your notes - or by then will it be involuntary euthenasia? Past 85? Nil by mouth . . . they're a waste of rations.

But don't fret, I'm sure a whole new raft of Quangos (aka monetary black holes) will soon be afloat and dealing with these worries . . .


I know - totally out of my normal blog posting remit, but these are things which DO occupy my mind. Perhaps I should be writing for the Daily Mail!!! I try not to dwell on them, but the facts cannot be ignored. Even the different parties are becoming homogenized now, and I don't recognize much in Mr Cameron which I would describe as True Blue Tory . . . I think they are ALL for political career these days, and party edges are blurred - even more than we perceive to be the case. Perhaps you share my thoughts? I would love to know.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Lorna Doone

Badgworthy Water, Exmoor.


Our eldest daughter is home for a few days and last night we sat and watched Lorna Doone - it was a BBC drama on tv a few years back and this is the DVD of those two programmes. OH soon left us (!) and we sat down to thoroughly enjoy the story - yet again. I can remember buying the Ladybird book of Lorna Doone for her when she was 4 years old and she loved me to read it, especially the part where Jan Ridd tumbles down the waterfall. I have this as a story cassette too and even now will sometimes listen to it as I do the ironing.

R D Blackmore based the story on real life. In the Dartmoor village of Chagford, Mary Whiddon was married at the church of St Michael's on 11th October 1641. There is a memorial to her inside, stating that she "died a matron, yet a maid". Legend has it that she was shot (by a jealous lover?) as she left the church.


Is it anyone else's favourite?

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Lest we forget . . .

Those who lost their lives in the War to end all Wars . . .

My husband's grandfather, Private Bertie Harrison, who died on the Somme in 1916, aged 27 - just as a gypsy had once foretold . . . He was wounded on the 4th July and died a day later. A letter home to his wife mentions seeing her brother, George Bird (below) whilst they were in France, and one of his eldest daughter's last memories of him was the tears in his eyes as he said a final farewell and then stepped onto the troop train, reluctantly handing back little Edie, barely a toddler, and knowing that he might well never see them again. He was right. The final insult to his widow was the Army billing her a shilling for the blanket to bury him in . . .

And his brother-in-law, Captain George Bird of the 2nd Warwicks, (and formerly of the 17th Lancers, the "Death or Glory Boys"). He had been in India until just beforethe outbreak of the war, where the 17th Lancers formed part of the Sialkot Cavalry Division in the 1st Indian Cavalry. They left Bombay on 14th October 1914 under the control of Major-General Hew Dalrymple Fanshawe. His military career had begun when he joined the 17th Lancers as a Drummer Boy, and he accompanied them to the 2nd Boer War. Music was the love of his life, and he was an accomplished musician (this love of music is borne out elsewhere in our family, as my husband's brother also lives for music). He had been offered the position of Conductor to one of the important London orchestras and would have taken the position up and married his young lady on the Isle of Wight, but war intervened. He was already in France before the rest of his former regiment arrived, as he had been in England on a music course.

He quickly rose through the ranks, and his bravery earned him a Military Cross (he took around 300 Germans prisoner), and was recommended for a DSO, but as he was only a Leiutenant, this was commuted to a bar to his MC, as it was frowned upon giving DSOs to ordinary ranks . . . He rose to Captain, but was killed within 3 weeks of his brother-in-law, on the 30th July on the Somme. His body was one of those never found.

Even those who never put a foot on foreign soil, paid the price of helping in the war effort. My husband's other grandfather, Sapper Frederick Craine, who was in the Royal Engineers, but damaged his knee in training and never got sent to the Front. A tailor in civvy street, he spent part of his war service sewing Army uniforms, but unfortunately for him, was also one of those who was involved in testing gas warfare in Britain, probably testing the earliest gas masks which were terribly inefficient. He was gassed and his lungs weakened and he subsequently died of TB in 1919.

And from my family, my great-Uncle Ben Bolt, Hampstead born and bred but with the red soil of Devon in his blood. A shadowy figure, never mentioned by my dad - so I wonder if he even knew of him? He was a chauffeur in Kent before the War, and his widow never remarried. He died in the final months of the war but I don't know where he is buried in France.

I thought of them on Friday, and I shall think of them today.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Green Living Forum

I don't know how many of you visit this forum, but it has been down since Monday now, so if you have been trying to view it, and thought there was something wrong with your computer (as I did!), fear not - it just has gremlins. However, hopefully they will soon be trounced and we can get back to normal.



P.S. The new header is the view from our bedroom window. This bit of woodland borders the stream (once the mill leat) and is so colourful with Hawthorn berries at present.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A long way to nowhere . . .


When you live in the countryside, as we do, one of the accepted maxims is that it can be very inconvenient when you actually want to GO anywhere. Rarely does anything happen LOCALLY. The nearest we can usually manage to LOCALLY is Carmarthen. That's just a 20 mile round trip. If it's Swansea, that's about a 50 mile round trip. If it's Builth Wells (which we visit for the Antiques Fair, and a few years back, used to go to for the Smallholders Fair and the Royal Welsh Show), then that's a 100 mile round trip. The seaside - nearest is 18 miles away, and that's estuary really (at Llansteffan). If I want to take a basketmaking course, the nearest is just outside Cardiff - a round trip of about 120 miles or more.




I recently joined a craft group and have been so excited about learning new skills and improving on others. However, it is a 50 mile round trip. We have had so many unexpected calls on our finances this year, and now with Christmas approaching (and three birthdays amongst my husband and daughters), I have taken the decision that I shan't be going back to my crafts outside of the home until January at the earliest, and perhaps not at all. Fuel is so expensive and likely to get even dearer. I will just have to do without until we finally move. Sometimes you have to accept that you can't MAKE things happen. . .

I am envious when I read about other people visiting the London Museums (I stand a snowball's chance in hell!), or going to a Literary Group in the village (swoon), or meeting up with friends for a Crafternoon.

Close friends of mine here in Wales have either moved away or gone in a different direction to me, so we have lost touch. Rural living can be lonely, although I am so fortunate in having my husband here at home with me 24/7.

So here's a positive thought that our house WILL finally sell (hundreds of brochures have been sent out) when someone else has finally sold THEIR house and is in a position to start looking properly for their new home. Then I intend to be nearer family and friends and able to join in again.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Curtains and cooking - A productive week

I have had a busy week this week as I decided I would make the new winter curtains for the sitting room. They cost me very little other than time, as the material has been in my stash for several years now and was a remnant from the Fabric Warehouse (much lamentation in this household when it shut down) and probably cost about £8 or £10. The lining was a pair of the now infamous orange Lidl 50p curtains . . .

The colour is actually more coral/terracotta than orange, but GOSH what a difference it makes to the room of an evening. It's like being given a hug! I made the first curtain in the early hours of last Sunday morning, after being woken by a hairy cat at 3 a.m. (old time) and not being able to get back to sleep. I didn't quite have the width I needed, so I had to join two remnants cut off the end into a long strip which was added to the outside edge of each curtain, but to be honest, unless you look closely, you can't see the join, as it is hidden by the folds of the material.

Whilst I was at it, I put a woollen lining on some blue curtains for the kitchen which I had picked up cheaply at the car boot sale. The lining was a whole roll given me by a neighbour, left over since they had wound up their office seating manufacturing business. Then I took the summer sitting room curtains and turned a faded edge and blind-hemmed it, so they are ready to go next year again. I've also started making some fresh cushion covers, one utilising a pretty embroidered tray cloth (!) and the other using left-over orange curtain material . . .



The scene of all the baking action. I preserved the beautifully-polished kitchen table top with one of my husband's grandmother's tablecloths. They don't make them like this any more - linen, and made to LAST.

River Cottage Gingerbread. This is a "double" Gingerbread as it has chopped preserved Ginger in it too. This is now down to the last piece . . . I baked it specially for my husband, as he had a dodgy tum, and he LOVES ginger, which is meant to be good for feeling sick.


RIVER COTTAGE STICKY GINGERBREAD

100g golden syrup
100g black treacle
75g unsalted butter
75g light soft brown or muscovado sugar (I omitted this as OH doesn't have a sweet tooth - it didn't need it, tbh)
150g plain flour
1tsp round ginger (Barts has VERY good flavour)
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg, lightly beaten
75ml milk
Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
75-100g finely chopped preserved stem ginger in syrup (drained) - though I did add about a tablespoon of the syrup too

Icing (Optional)

50g icing sugar, sifted
1 tblspn lemon juice or water
50g whole stem ginger (2 pieces)

Equipment

1-litre (2 lb) loaf tin, greased and lined with baking parchment

Preheat the oven to 170C/gas 3. Put the golden syrup, treacle, butter (and sugar) into a small saucepan. Place over a gentle heat and stir until the butter has melted and the ingredients are evenly blended. Set aside to cool.

Sift the flour, ground ginger, mixed spice and cinnamon into a medium mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the cooled treacle mixture, egg, milk and lemon zest. Using a wooden spoon, beat well until the mixture is smooth and glossy.

Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in 1 tblspn. hot water. Add to the mixture with the chopped ginger and mix thoroughly to create a pourable batter.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes, or until the cake is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave in the tin for 10 mins before turning the cake out onto a wire rack to cool.

When cold, if you wish, mix the icing sugar with the lemon juice or water and drizzle over the cake, then top with slivers of stem ginger.

This cake is best stored for 3-4 days before eating. It keeps well for 2 weeks and freezes beautifully. (Keeps for 2 weeks? They've got to be joking - ours lasted 24 hours!!!)


A Cottage Loaf, made with half Spelt flour, and half strong white bread flour.

River Cottage Jammy Dodgers, filled with home-made Blackcurrant Jam. Scrummy! The Dodger bit is like shortbread . . .




RIVER COTTAGE JAMMY DODGERS

(Makes 6 or 7 - well, I got a dozen out of this by rolling a tiny bit thinner).

175g plain flour
pinch off sea salt
75g unrefined icing sugar (I had to use caster, as I had no icing sugar, unrefined or otherwise)
125g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g raspberry jam (or whatever flavour you like. Personally, I used home-made Blackcurrant Jam - WOW!)

Equipment:

2 large baking sheets, lined with baking parchment (oops - I just greased mine well)
6-7mm biscuit cutter, crinkle-edged or plain (perhaps I used a slightly smaller cutter)
2.5 heart, square or round biscuit cutter (I didn't have a small enough one, so I used the centre of my pie funnel)

Sift the flour, salt and icing sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and lightly rub into the flour mix, using your fingertips, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk and vanilla extract together. Make a well in the centre of the flour mix. Add the egg and vanilla mix and work together to form a soft, smooth dough. Seal the dough in a polythene bag and chill in the fridge for 25-30 mins. (Another Ooops, as I forgot to do this - and it was OK).

Preheat the oven to 170deg. C/gas 3. Divide the dough into two equal portions. Place one portion between two pieces of lightly floured greaseproof paper and, using a rolling pin, roll the dough to approximately 1 4mm thickness. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Remove the top paper. (D'you sense I'm a rebel? I didn't bother with the greasproof, but just sprinkled a little bit more flour about . . .)

With the larger biscuit cutter, cut the dough into discs (make sure you have an even number). Using the smaller cutter, cut out and remove the centre of half the biscuit discs, the cut-out pieces can be kneaded back into the remaining dough. Place all the discs on the baking sheets. Bake for 15-20 mins until just firm and barely coloured (this is MUCH less - half the time? - in my fan oven, which cooks very hot.)

Remove from the oven and place a teaspoonful of jam in the centre of each whole biscuit round. Spread to 15cm from the edge (in other words, not too close if you can't be bothered to measure, which I couldn't be). Place the cut-out rounds on top. Return to the oven and cook for a further 5-6 mins by which time the biscuits will be evenly cooked and the jam hot enough to stick them together. Leave the biscuits to cool for 5 mins before transferring to a wire rack. Or if, like me, you browned them a teensy bit in the first place, jus sandwich with jam and leave to cool. They are like shortbread, and DIVINE!

Apple Crumble - I am still using up my apples from the garden. Just 6 BIG boxes to go . . .

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Dianne's marvellous giveaway

(Autumn in the Elan Valley, mid-Wales.)


In celebration of her favourite time of year, my friend Dianne, over at My Southern Heart, is having a wonderful giveaway with a choice of marvellous prizes. Pop over and check them out, and enjoy her blog too of course.

You could win a choice of a Vogue knitting book, some beautiful yarn and a cookery book, or else two beautiful doll kits (one an adorable newborn).