Monday 29 January 2018

A busy weekend at the Antiques Fair

This is a taster of the dozens of photographs I took in the Pharmacy building.  All beautifully hand sewn by a band (100 strong) of embroiderers who volunteer here.  Close ups and more photo to come when they load faster than one an hour . . .

I have hardened my heart and put out some of my collection of Torquay pottery - though I needn't have bothered, as folk aren't really collecting it these days.   The big copper Gothic ash tray was picked up time and time again, but no one was tempted to buy it. 

I don't have a set speciality for my stock - I buy what interests and delights me.  Eclectic is the word, I think.

My Military Advisor's side, and a couple of bits of furniture we managed to squeeze into our space.  As you can see, we have the most amazing setting - though it was a little on the chilly side as it is meant to be winter for the plants in the big dome (they are plants of the Mediterranean Climate Zone).

Wednesday 24 January 2018

New car

Thank heavens.  We have our new-to-us vehicle.  A very low mileage Nissan NV200.  A nice practical vehicle for us, in a mouse-grey.  It will get its first proper trial for the Fair this coming weekend, when we find out what (or rather how much!) we can stuff in it . . .

It will be bliss to have a working radio and stereo, and some lovely extra gizmo's which make the old Doblo look out of the ark . . .  Reversing camera for starters, variable slow wiper speeds, Blue Tooth thingy for mobile etc.  Most of all, just reliability though . . .

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Busy in the kitchen

I have been busy painting.  Laying awake at night recently, I was thinking about what our daughter Tam had said about the green I had used (see kettle and toaster) on the cupboard fronts and the extra storage cupboard we had bought.  I LOVED the green, but as the unit in the photo above DID need painting (it was rather brown), more green would be Too Much.  So I bought a tin of Johnstone's One Coat in French Chiffon, which is grey to the point of being the next shade up from white.  It looks good anyway, and nothing to offend any potential buyer's eye.  Anyone would just come in and gut the kitchen anyway, which is why we haven't bought new units.

I would load a couple more photos, but after a day of good internet connection again we are back to ultra slow, plus the phone line isn't right either - starting to sound like it's underwater - so I am assuming there is a problem with the line somewhere and I am going to have to make that dreaded phone call to BT after all . . .

We should be picking up the new vehicle tomorrow - it was meant to be today or yesterday but there was a delay in getting new brake pads on it . . .  We will have it for the Botanic Gardens Fair this weekend.  I had originally asked Danny to stand in for me, as I was so worried about being in busy places because of the risk of flu (which is not a good career option for a severe asthmatic).  However, I really can't hide away for the entire winter, so have grabbed the bull by the horns and will be keeping Keith company (along with a large pack of Dettox wipes).  Begone foul germs!

Right, hopefully I may be able to get another photo up before bedtime.  I'll post this and have a further try.

I see I managed to catch the sponge scourer I was using to wipe drips of paint.  Now I can give the floor a really good scrubbing as there are bits of paint I managed to miss until they had dried hard!

Sunday 21 January 2018

Flamingo Marsh and the Wall of Death

Image result for brickworks photo

(This is Bursledon Brickworks at Swanwick - not that far from where I grew up).  It will give you an idea of the one near us.)
Today it rains - not just a little bit, but coming down like stair rods, as mum used to say.  I had planned a goodly walk to clear my lungs as I have an appointment with the Respiratory Nurse tomorrow, but it doesn't look like the walk will be happening any time soon unless I don my waterproof trousers and find a vaguely waterproof jacket.  A trip back down memory lane will be the drier option . . .

When I was growing up, we lived in what had been the Manager's house for the old Brickworks in the valley behind us (Weston Common).  A lot of Southampton was build on clay and before the houses were built, there were many Brickworks.  Ours was a working brickworks until about 1960 - and then it closed, leaving us with an amazing playground.

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The boys had built a raft.  Well, they called it a raft, but we girls were rather scornful - to us it just looked like a few scabby planks of wood lashed to two rusty oil drums - but they were very proud of it.  They announced their intention to sail their "galleon" across the "lake", and stuck a bamboo mast between the planks and tied a bit of rag to it which was meant to be a sail.  Tricia, Rosie, Linda and I looked at one another, and we weren't impressed. 

We climbed up the edge of the steep gravel cliff which overlooked the pond, a reedy place where Dragonflies hatched and flew, and where the boys would catch Newts.  The gravel slipped beneath our shoes, and we had to hold on to the gorse stems to stop sliding back down.  Our movement made a Heron on the Wall of Death pond fly off across the marshland which bordered the stream at the valley bottom.  From the top of the cliff we could see the gypsy ponies chained on the unfenced former field - the dark dappled grey we called Kismet and wanted to own, and a dark brown Forester at the far end of the field, where it bordered the busy Bursledon road.

It was hot, and we shed our cardigans and sat on them, clasping our arms around scabby knees and watching the boys pushing off from the bank with a long stick, and punting their way out into the lake.  They had got as far as they could away from the bank when it became clear to us that it wasn't going to be a tickety boo sailing, as the galleon had a distinct list to starboard.  The boys edged closer to the other side to right it and a line of bubbles appeared in the muddy water - the oil drums weren't watertight and were beginning to fill with water.  We stood up and yelled at them to paddle with their hands and make for the shore, but it was no good, the galleon was determined it would sink and we couldn't control our laughter when all three boys ended up to their waists in water, and then we realized that their floundering was getting more desperate as the claggy clay at the pond bottom offered no footing and instead was hindering their escape.

We scrambled down the cliff with our weight on our bottoms and heels shoved in front of us to slow us down, and one of us found a length of tarry rope which we flung towards the boys.  Keith caught it and tied it to the raft and they managed to hold on tightly enough whilst we began to haul them to the shore. They were a sorry sight when they dragged themselves out, and I think probably got a good walloping when they turned up back at home, covered in mud.  They were not amused at having to be rescued by us girls, I know that much!

                 *                     *                 *

Flamingo Marsh was on the flat marshy ground to the right of the Wall of Death.  It was too boggy to walk across in ordinary shoes, but we would tie early plastic bags around our feet and venture out that way.  There was obviously a lot of water beneath the area, supporting a sort of raft of floating vegetation, as if you jumped in one area, there would be a sound like a wet towel hitting a wall and a big ripple of movement would move across the ground and an area several feet away would suddenly erupt with a watery belch.  Here grew the Sundews, insectivorous plants which we loved to tempt with a stem of grass, so that their sticky "jaws" would begin to close on the "victim" - they of course thought it was an insect. 

The pond of the wall of death was only a few feet across, and very reedy, with a couple of willow trees beside it.  There was a short steep cliff between its margin and the gorse-clad top.  We would dare one another to run round it without falling in.  Actually, it wasn't that difficult - as long as you ran fast enough, you made it in a few strides.  Mind you, we weren't beyond taking advantage of friends who didn't know how to negotiate it and I can still remember one - rather drippy - girl who ran a couple of feet, then slowed right down, and began to lose her footing and ended up in the edge of the pond, crying.  Mean weren't we?!

One of our favourite "toys" was something rather like a gargantuan mincer, with spade lugs spread around the central barrel, designed to mix up the clay for the bricks.  Once it was abandoned, we would climb in and tread on the lugs and push down, so that the barrel would move around.  When I think back on that now, the potential for a broken or severely mangled leg was fairly high, and we were very fortunate to survive unscathed.

Now much of this valley has housing on it, although there is a pathway which runs the length of the valley down to what used to be Miller's Pond (now filled in) beyond Botany Bay - where we used to put our arms in the water to "catch" leeches - sludgy green and deep red things. We must have been mad!  When I think of today's children and their sedentary and gadget-filled lifestyle, I feel so sorry for the fun times they have missed out on.

We made dens in the gorse and the bracken, though the boys made the best dens as they dug several feet down into the clay and covered their den with branches and laid bracken over the top.  These were brilliant hideaways until it rained and then they just filled with water!

Friday 19 January 2018

The Gypsy encampment

I was sewing the Random Quilt this afternoon, listening to Radio 4, and there was a good programme on about Eric Gill (very artistic, but some very bad family habits . . .)  They said something about him turning a box over, and sounds spilling out - voices from gypsies setting up camp on the common.  All of a sudden I was transported back over 55 years, to when I was 9 or 10, and Tricia and I had gone up to the rough bit of woodland by the Ivy Tree, which divided our road into a top third section.  The gypsies were there - with proper gypsy vardos  and horses - though I don't remember the vardos being brightly painted or showy in the way you see them in photographs. 

The womenfolk were crouched around a large cast iron cooking pot on a hook over a smoking fire, stirring something in it and smoking stubby wooden pipes, skin tanned and wrinkled. They looked as old as Queenie Goddard, who lived in an old creosote-painted wooden cabin behind the sighing pine trees opposite our house, but were probably only 35 or 40.  There were pieces of washing thrown over the bushes, and their children, shabbily dressed in woollen jumpers either too big or too small , and ragged trousers splashed with mud, pulled a reluctant dun coloured puppy about on a length of string, whilst it dug its paws in the mud and tried to bite at the string.  Later, they would come knocking at our door, and asking for any shoes or clothes in return for a bag of pegs, or some Primroses in a bed of moss inside a little basked hand-woven from willow.  It wasn't begging, as there was always something in return - and something that they had made from next to nothing, just the things they found in the countryside. 

We weren't afraid, we knew these folk of old - they would come a couple of times in early spring and summer and camp there, and visit their folk.  They were never there at harvest time, when their menfolk would always find a bit of work on the farms, or when it was hop-picking time, and in recent years I have found them up in North Hampshire and Surrey, having babies and hop picking as if the two went together like bread and cheese.

Of course, it was the horses we wanted to see.  Big shaggy-legged vanners, half Shire crossed with cob, and in those days, largely whole-coloured dark brown or bay, not like the coloured gypsy cobs you see at Appleby Fair today.  The horses would be tied beside the vardos, if they were going to be used that day to go visiting with the flat cart they borrowed from Queenie, or tethered on chains amongst the brambles and brush, manes and tails tangled (we longed for a brush) and coats dirty with dried sweat.  Standing floppy-lipped, they would nibble gently at our hands, rubbing their moustachios against our knuckles,  and blowing down their big carthorse nostrils, shaking their heads with wobbling ears to get the flies away.  They had chestnuts on their legs like giant lumps of rubbery slate and there would often be the clink of a loose shoe when they shifted weight from one hind leg to the other.   If they had names, I don't remember them, although the Goddard horses (of similar stock) were Doby, Bill, Julie, and the vicious dock-tailed brown-black mare Mandy who would fly the length of her chain, teeth bared, to see you off.  Bill would do the same, only he was loose in the orchard next to the Rec, opposite the cemetery, with piebald Julie and we knew exactly how far we dared leave the Safety Tree behind us if he was up that end of the field.

Just two words, and I am half a century away, seeing it all like it happened last week.  A memory which belonged to just Tricia and I, and just me to remember it now.

Thursday 18 January 2018

My New Year's Quilt (photos to follow)

I shall turn my shoulder on the unfinished projects (although some are still being worked on), as it was OUR turn for a new quilt.  Several years ago now, my dear friend Sharon in Kentucky (Morning's Minion blog) sent me a parcel of quilting materials - oh, such pretty patterns andcolours, which I put on one side, thinking our house would soon sell, and then I would make a new quilt for our bed as a housewarming present.  Well, we are still here, and I am waiting no longer. 

(This photo took over an hour to load!!)

I chose a simple design from a magazine.  The main border colour was green, but mine is just random!  The blocks go together quickly being a very VERY simple pattern, and my new machine is such a delight to use.  I intended to start on New Year's Day, but it was about the 3rd or 4th before I began cutting out.  I've sewn about 95 blocks so far (200 are needed), but pinched 4 to make a work-in-progress quilt bag to cover all my materials and keep the cats off them!  Sewing the blocks has made up for missing the first two weeks of my patchwork class, due to no functioning car (but more of that later).

. . . . . another hour gone by . . . .

The broadband here the last 12 hours is ridiculous - falling out so no Netflix or Prime on tv, and I can't load a photo or send an email.  I can't even load the page to TEST the broadband speed, it's that bad.  Hah - now the page has loaded and it has spent the last 10 minutes TRYING to test the speed and is still at it . . .  I can see that a call to BT is going to be happening later today.  NOT a good way to spend the morning.

This Hollyhock floral design is my favourite.

As for the car, having paid out £400 to get it fixed - and then it wouldn't run when we went to pick it up! - we had to wait overnight whilst the garage did a further repair - cleaning the emissions filter which we think had been a problem for a long long time.  They did that free of charge, bless them, but gave us a couple of advisories, including one which we really didn't want to hear - the clutch was starting to slip.  Having already spent more than the trade-in value on our car (as we later discovered) we decided that despite our level of skint-ness (trade has been very poor in the last year) we would have to bite the bullet and go and see what a replacement might cost us and we drove straight to X-Hands to look at what was on offer at the car dealers there.

The W.I.P. bag to keep my half-made quilts and material free from muddy footprints . . .

To cut a long story short, we have negotiated to purchase a Nissan NV200.  It has a very low mileage for the year (2011), and has been regularly serviced and in good condition.  It gives us the boot room we need, with the seats folded back, plus height (there is a camper van version, but dream on Jen!)  It will be lovely to have a totally reliable vehicle again.  We  hated going out in bad weather in the Doblo as the windscreen wipers had been a real pain in the past - stopping working in really torrential rain, both times on the motorway and one at night, which was SO scary, trying to negotiate across traffic to get onto the hard shoulder.  Whilst the AA bod had fixed a clip on to stop it happening again, we were never convinced it was 100% so it will be nice not to have that niggle in the back of our minds.

So, money is going to be tight until the house sells (and it looks like we will have to drop the price yet again to try and attract a buyer, from desperation).  I am going to make sure all the forgotten tins in the back of the cupboard are brought to the front and used in . . . interesting! . . . ways and I will have to work my way to the bottom of the chest freezer too. 

I think when the weather improves regular car boot sale stalls are going to be the order of the day to clear the items not suitable for the Fairs we do now.  We need the space and we need the money . . .

Back later with photos.  I hope . . .


Monday 15 January 2018

Yesterday's walk

This Catkin photo was taken last week, when the sun was out.  Yesterday was overcast, but the sun peeped through at times, and made everywhere look more cheerful when it did.

The first Primrose - well, there was another one but that had been almost entirely slug-nobbled and wasn't worthy of a picture . . .

These Snowdrops are growing on the bank by the remains of Annie Stockings' river-side cottage.  I can imagine her planting a few bulbs, which have now spread.  There's a Periwinkle which struggles over everything in season too.

Sun on mossy trees along the river bank.

The bend in the river as it heads away towards Pontargothi.  Just around the bend there used to be an iron bridge where you could cross the river (to visit or leave Holy Trinity church) but this fell into disrepair many years ago and only the metal supports remain.

At Lletty Stud Farm, there was a cherry picker and a man with a chain saw . . .  It was suggested I took a detour through the stable yard to avoid having a branch on my head!

Across the other side of the valley (and river) is Alltyferin, which used to be the home of the Bath family, who imported Copper from South America to be smelted at "Copperopolis" - Swansea. They also imported guano, and exported coal from Swansea docks.

Looking across to Grongar Hill in the distance, the subject of John Dyer's poem.

Cow Parsley in bloom.  In various sheltered spots, I have seen it in bloom pretty well all winter.

All the roadside trees have been cut down up at Lady P's.  I don't know if her farm has been sold, or whether it is just maintenance.

More tomorrow.

Sunday 14 January 2018

The First Celendine!

I found it on my walk today, up near Lady P's.  It looked a bit shell-shocked (we've had some frosts this past week), but a delight to see it.

Saturday 13 January 2018

Protection (I hope) - Elderberry Rob (Syrup)

With the flu season upon us - and a particularly nasty version of the flu this year -  I thought I would make a batch of Elderberry Rob to help kill the germs.  Make up with hot water 1 part syrup to 3 parts hot water.


4 lbs (1.8 kg) Elderberries, weighed on stems (mine weren't as I had already strigged and frozen them)
2 x 5 cm (2 inch) pieces cinnamon stick
1 piece root ginger, bruised
2 chips nutmeg (I used about a teaspoon of powdered)
5 ml (1tspn) cloves
5 ml (1tspn) allspice berries
275 ml ( 1 1/2 pints) water
350g (12 oz) honey to each 375 ml (1 pint) liquid
150 ml (1/4 pint) brandy

I only had half this amount of Elderberries, so halved the ingredients, though I've just realized I used the full amount of water, and the full amount of brandy.

Take the elderberries from the stalks and put them into a saucepan with the spices and water.  Bring them gently to the boil and simmer them until the pan is full of juice, about 20 mins.  Put a piece of muslin or an old linen tea towel over a large bowl (I used my old jelly making net).  Pour the elderberries through it, and gather the sides together and squeeze out as much juice as you can.  Measure it and return to the cleaned saucepan.

Bring the juice to the boil and add the honey.  Stir to dissolve it and then boil the syrup for 10 mins.  Take the pan from the heat and wait until the syrup stops bubbling.  Pour in the brandy.  Pour the hot cordial into hot sterilised bottles and cork it tightly.  Fills about 1 1/2 wine bottles.

Recipe from "The Countryside Cook Book" by Gail Duff.

I had bought some plums last week so made a pan of the Plum, Orange and Ginger Blondies . . .

As a change from a breadmaker loaf, I put the ingredients for a 70% Wholemeal loaf on a dough setting in the Panasonic, and then sknocked back and shaped this loaf and let it rise again before bunging it in the oven.  Nice and crusty and really tasty.

Finally, the cold weather has bought both the "passing strays" back into our orbit.  This is the Big Black Tom.  He does a good line in glares when he still has biscuits in the bowl, to tell me he wants MORE tinned food please, and jump to it!

There is meant to be a return of the colder weather again on Monday/Tuesday, so keep warm everyone.

Meanwhile, I thought I had got well stocked up, only to find that THREE things need AAA batteries (I have none of those, only AAs).  Let's hope the car is fixed on Monday.

Friday 12 January 2018

Yesterday's walk

Yesterday we had sunshine, and it was far too good to waste, so I set off on a walk up the valley a little way, not intending to go far.  Here our some local lambs - that big one is a real bruiser!

The red farmhouse on the hill.  I think these folk have knitters knit some very upmarket jumpers which go on sale in airport shops.  They had a visit from HRH once (I think it was Princess Ann) - arriving by helicopter of course.

Above and below: looking up the valley.  The mist/low cloud was thinking about coming down again, as you can see.

Then I thought I would walk just a little way up the hill, slowly, to get a better photo at the first gateway. . .

The view back down the valley . . .  The light was just lovely on the fields.

Above: this is how Wales would have looked in days gone by - trees everywhere.

The Italianate tower which is all that remains of the very grand Pant Glas house which was built around the turn of the 17th into 18th C.  It is a holiday village now.

Above: I was glad I hadn't cut across THAT field!  Slurry tanker at work . . .

The lane towards home.

Back tomorrow with some recipes.

Thursday 11 January 2018

More Dinefwr Castle Photos

The rest of the castle photos.  I was late up (again!) this morning, so am chasing my tail.  Enjoy the photos.

Above and below: Views from the ramparts.

View up the Towy Valley again. You can just make out Paxton's Tower on the left of the centre of the photo (and just make out the hill with Dryslwyn Castle atop it.

A fallen giant in the park.

Newton House.  I used to volunteer here, as a room steward, volunteering information about the house and families who had lived there and I really enjoyed it.  Sadly I had several years of recurrent chest infections and one of the ladies in the house was very unpleasant, telling me that I was spreading germs etc (which you don't, with a chest infection), so in the end I left.

This is the old church, now abandoned, which was used by the occupants of Newton House - it was just a short carriage-ride away.  You can just see the little strong-running stream which flows past the church and over the wall.

Christmas Lambs!  Definitely the first of the old year!

Wednesday 10 January 2018


Living where we do we need a car.  We are three miles from the nearest bus stop.  Our lovely Doblo has now reached the age where things start to go wrong.  After a few recent replacement bits, we now have problems with what we think is the earth cable to the starter motor which means it won't start.  It is currently with a busy garage in town, waiting to be worked on, but that is unlikely to happen before next Monday . . . 

When it was still working, we had a walk across the fields and through Castell Woods to Dinefwr Castle.  The view above is looking along the Towy Valley towards Carmarthen.  The lump in the middle is the site of Dryslwyn Castle which we climbed the week before.

When the railway ran past this (before Beeching did for it), this was called the Whistle Pool as it was where the trains always sounded their whistles on approaching  Ffairfach (Llandeilo) station.

Another watery view along the Towy valley.

A view across the castle.

The bit on the top of the tower which was added as a sort of summer house in late Victorian times (if my memory serves me correctly).  Some lovely views from up there.

Back tomorrow with a few more photos.