Sunday, 16 December 2007

Book of the week?

I wonder how many people had this useful little tome in their stocking at Christmas?
It was on sale at a local garden centre at a bargain £2.99 - reduced from £6.99. Do you think they might have had trouble shifting it at the original price?
Bicarbonate of soda is, apparently, a very versatile natural substance - but who on earth could find enough to say about it to fill a book?
I didn't look to see who wrote it - apologies if it was you.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Is it spring yet?

Like a big, old grizly bear, DW has been in hibernation. He might interrupt his slumbers for the upcoming festivities, but who knows?

In truth, I sort of blinked, summer had finished, autumn had passed by and winter was here! Plus (as I think I've said before) the crappy new computer system at work means I'm keyboarded out by the time I get home, so blogging is the last thing I want to do.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

It's agony . . .

I spend many of my lunch hours in Waterstone's, the nearest thing Bury has to a good bookshop (I was spoiled by my years working in Cambridge). I'm pretty much a fiction person. I can't remember the last factual book I read all the way through - I tend to dip in and out as and when I want to look something up. And I'm ashamed to say I tend to use Waterstone's as a sort of reference library. Recently, I've been browsing the 'smallholding' section as I'm considering getting a few hens for the bottom of the garden.

However, this week I decided I needed to top up the pile of books next to my bed which are waiting to be read. There has been a bit of a hiatus in my reading recently - I read mostly in bed at night but, because of the awful and exhausting new computer system at work, which I may have mentioned in a previous blog, I've just been too tired to read. Instead, I drop off in seconds to The World Tonight on Radio 4.

I thought a few new titles and/or authors might reinvigorate my page turning, so it was off to Waterstone's. I quickly found one book I had been waiting to arrive in paperback, then - after a long browse of the shelves - another by an author I'd not read before but which looked interesting. Then came that terrible dilemma . . . you've got two books in your hand and they both happen to be part of Waterstone's 3for2 offer. Do I just pay for the two and forego the offer or do I spend yet more time (with my lunch hour quickly disappearing) finding a third book?

I'm too mean to turn down an offer, so it was back to the shelves. The hunt was proving fruitless, nothing tickled my fancy. So, I thought, why not break out of this fiction-only routine? Let's try a biography.

I trawled the biography section and quickly discovered why I didn't read them - what rubbish. I picked up Lord Stevens' autobiography (he was a deputy or assistant or deputy chief constable of Cambridgeshire police for a while) and flicked through it. He should stick to police work - when a sentence begins: "I remember one amusing incident . . ." it says it all.

As I put John Stevens' tome back on the shelf, I noticed the sign . . .

I hate the way they divide up bookshops. A novel is a novel, it doesn't matter if it's crime, horror, romance or sci-fi, they all belong on the same shelves - in author order (you wouldn't guess my Saturday job when I was at school was in the local library!).

So, what on earth is a Painful Life? Do you need to die a terrible death? Do you have to be a martyr to chilblains? Or perhaps you just have to peddle misery and despondency in a literary format!
Another reason I hate all these signs in bookshops (Waterstone's isn't the only guilty party) is that in the past I've found myself perusing a perfectly tame novel, only to look up and find that I'm leaning against a shelf headed 'Erotica' or 'Gay and Lesbian fiction'. Being easily embarrassed, I tend to flee the shop flushed red and imagining that the guys manning the security cameras are having a right hoot.
I managed to survive finding myself at the 'Painful Lives section and stayed in the shop to find a third novel, though I'm not too hopeful.

By the way, my favourite book is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, and I recently finished his latest, Until I Find You, which, despite its great length, is also excellent and well worth the hernia you'll get lifting it off the shelf and carrying it home.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Serene I stand . . .

'Serene I stand among the flowers and only count life's sunny hours,

For me dark days do not exist I'm a brazen-faced old optimist.'

Sometimes, places and events become so familiar that you forget to look for new things. I discovered this at the weekend when we went for one of our regular walks around Anglesey Abbey, near Cambridge, which is one of our favourite National Trust haunts.

We have a bit of a set route around the grounds, which are wonderful and change with the seasons. But we've become sort of complacent, forgetting to look around us.

So, on Sunday, it was great to discover something new there. For most of the time we've been going to Anglesey, the Rose Garden has been the preserve of the family which owned the place and lived in the summer house (a mere 11 bedrooms) next to the abbey itself. They've now moved out and the Rose Garden has been opened to the public - and what a treat it was.

First discovery was the sundial (above) adjacent to the entance. Sorry about my shadow spoiling the picture, but I was trying to get the dragonfly in the shot without scaring it away. I thought the inscription (Serene . . . ) around the 'dial' was lovely - but having looked it up on Google, it must be on every other sundial there is.

Continuing the weather theme, I noticed for the first time (I think) the golden weather vane (below) in the shape of a longship. In all the years we've been going to Anglesey Abbey, we've always been too mean to buy a guidebook, so I'm afraid I don't know the significance of the sundial or the longship, or any of the other things we spotted on our first visit to the Rose Garden.

Flanking one of the entrances to the garden are two statues of Pan, which are slowly (I presume) being enveloped by the yew hedge.

But even more intriguing is this tombstone(?), the head end of which is now under the hedge - one assumes the hedge came second.

Then, on the other side of the hedge, in the Rose Garden itself - by the way the actual roses had begun to fade a bit - was an even stranger discovery . . .

What seem to be stone coffins or, more to the point, empty stone coffins! It's no good - I've got to get the guide book, I have to know . . .

Further into the garden is a doorway - presumably leading to the old private quarters of the family. The door looks really ancient and, according to a plaque fixed to it, once belonged to Henry Cromwell (Oliver Cromwell's son).

Either side of the door are the heads of what appear to be bishops - but they look too mischievous to be senior clergy - one has even suffered a broken nose!

Finally, a detail from the gates leading into the garden. A lovely, surprising and intriquing afternoon stroll which taught me not to take things for granted. And when I find out whose coffins they were, I'll let you know.

Sunflower power

The sunflowers in my garden sort of gave up the ghost at the weekend - heads heavy with seed, no support, dogs running round them etc.

I've chopped off the heads so they can dry out and the birds can peck at the seeds through the winter.

It also gave me the chance to get close up and take some pictures. They're fantastic things, sunflowers - beautiful, shapes colours and patterns.

Monday, 3 September 2007

False start

I returned to the house after setting off on the dog walk this morning (6.05am). After seeing this rather explosive looking sunrise, I had go back and get my camera.

The verbascum (?) and teasels looked good in the half-light, too. There's something unnatural about the tall spikes.

Yesterday, I dug up the first of my rather pathetic crop of parsnips. I'm having to ration them, but there was enough here to roast with our Sunday lunch.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Over the garden fence

I've spent the weekend trying to avoid my neighbours.

They've just returned from a two-week cruise around the Baltic ports and I know they're desperate to tell me about it. It may sound unkind, but I don't want to hear.

They're the sort of people who only want to tell you about their wonderfully interesting lives, their incredibly talented children, what they did yesterday, what they're doing today and what they'll be doing tomorrow.

There's never a 'how are you?' or 'what do you think?'.

Mrs DW almost got caught, getting out of the car. He appeared from nowhere to say 'nice weather' . . . the trap was set (I've fallen into it before). Mrs DW was then meant to say 'yes, about time too'. That's when the trap snaps shut . . . 'we've had lovely weather where we've been'. But Mrs DW is much cleverer/tougher than me - she just muttered some inanity and plunged through the front door, slamming it behind her.

Since then, each time I've ventured out into the garden, one of them has appeared at the fence with a cough or a snip of the clippers at shrubs that don't need snipping . . . I think I've managed to feign deafness, blindness or general busyness (business?) without appearing too rude, but I suppose they'll catch me eventually.

Or are we just being paranoic?

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Good dog

move back

Olive, my daughter's puppy, has just started school and is proving to be a bit of star pupil - when compared to J, anyway. She's already pretty trustworthy off the lead and, apart from the odd accident, is house trained. The fact is, she's really greedy and will do anything for a treat, whereas J couldn't care less.

She has a thing about catching snails and slugs in the garden. Is catching the right word? I can't imagine there's much of a chase! It's good that she's helping to keep the pest population under control, but the downside is, of course, that my plants get squashed.

olive aug 07

Garden woes

The garden has left me a bit demoralised - it has taken such a battering from the weather and from the dogs. I had high hopes of the flowers, but although everything I planted came up, they were badly trampled by the animals - despite my pleading to the family not to let them out unless supervised. This lone sunflower sums it up really . . . desperately trying its best to brighten up the garden, but not quite succeeding.


There has been some success on the produce side, for a first attempt anyway. The tomatoes have been attacked by blight and the wind and rain, but we've had some fruit. Garden Pearl (below) has been most successful. The runner beans have cropped really heavily, the dwarf beans okay, the carrots okay and we're getting a bit fed up with courgettes.


The cucumbers have been a bit of a mixed bag - some tasting really sweet others being bitter. The beetroot (only one row because I hate them) have not grown very big, but Mrs DW says they have been very nice.

Onions patchy, parsnips useless (only a few germinated), strawberries nice and sweet but few and far between. The lettuce started off really successfully, especially the cut and come again variety, but my attempts to have a succession of lettuce to eat have been devastated by the plague of slugs and snails which I've been powerless to stop.

The apple tree has looked full of fruit, but they are very small (probably due to the dry spring).


The chillies now look edible, but we haven't tried them yet.


Finally a bit of colour - a cosmos, I think.


Friday, 24 August 2007

Famous last words . . .

Did I say at the end of my last entry that I'd next see my dear girls on Monday? How wrong was I?

Last night (Thursday) we had a call from daughter 2 at around 8pm saying she wasn't well and wanted to come home. Mrs DW suggested she give it a bit of thought and call us back later. At 10pm she suggested that DW hop into the car and drive down to Reading to pick her up.

Having established from her older sister that she wasn't in danger of imminent demise, I declined the offer, suggesting instead that I come down in the morning. She reluctantly accepted that I wouldn't be spending Thursday night/Friday morning on the road.

At 4am she decided to give us an early morning wake up call which, I'm ashamed to say I let Mrs DW deal with. At 7am she rang again to ask where I was on the road - wrong, I was about to get up to take first the hound out for a walk and then Olive, daughter 2's puppy. (I tried walking them both at the same time the other evening but, because both of them have to stay on the lead, it was a bit of a nightmare).

I eventually left at around 9am and, having established they would be at the Orange gate, warned them to be ready there at 11.45am.

The trip down was okay and I followed the (well-signposted) route to the Orange gate, which it turned out was miles from where I originally left them - down small country lanes and farm tracks. I was quite proud that I pulled into the car park spot on at 11.45am. But it seemed to be just that, a car park - well a recently harvested cornfield to be precise.

A phone call to the daughters quickly established that I was in completely the wrong place - in fact, on the wrong side of the river. Orange gate, according to the eldest DW daughter, was at one of the other coloured gates, the original Orange gate being too muddy to open. The trouble was, she wasn't sure which one.

So it was back into Reading, across the field which almost took off the bottom of my car, along the farm tracks, country lanes etc and through all the festival traffic and throngs of youths (the only redeeming feature being the 'uniform' of most of the young women - very short shorts and wellies!).

After numerous phone calls and wrong turns I eventually found the girls at Yellow gate (near orange in the spectrum, I suppose) and daughter 2 left Reading just as the first band went on stage!

Daughter 1, will be home on Monday by coach - I hope!

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Rock on . . .

On Wednesday I took the two DW daughters to the Reading Festival, the preparation for which has been planned with military precision.

While most teenagers were busy revising, mine were checking out the tent, purchasing rucksacks and sleeping bags and logging on to the internet almost hourly to check out which bands would be playing.

Tickets were booked almost as soon last last year's festival had finished. Apparently it's cheaper that way, the only drawback being that you don't know which bands will be playing.

Then as A-level and GCSE results approached, the preparations reached fever-pitch - almost daily shopping trips for camping stoves, shampoo, wellies. Hourly phone calls to friends to check on travel arrangements - one of them had the festival tickets, another had the early passes (allowing them to set up camp on Wednesday instead of Thursday or Friday).

Then, on Monday and Tuesday there were checks on the website to see which campsites were the least wet (the site is next to the Thames and was flooded after the last lot of heavy rain).

So, on Wednesday it was finally D-day. I was transporting my two plus two others. The back of the car was packed solid with three tents, rucksacks, sleeping bags and other paraphernalia (all of which they had to carry themselves once they arrived in Reading).

The journey to Reading was fairly uneventful, but in the town itself it was like bees round a honeypot - thousands of teenagers converging on the festival site, all trying to look cool while lugging heavy bags and tents along the road. They all looked fairly pristine in their newly-acquired festival garb (lots of flowery wellies) but I suspect that come Monday morning when they're all heading home, they won't look quite so clean.

The road leading to the festival was also something to behold - every few yards there was a beer stall - beer was available off the back off lorries, out of vans, from tents and gazebos. Some youngsters had decided to stock up on their way in and were thus doubly loaded down with camping equipment and beer. This brought snorts of derision from the eldest DW daughter (a veteran of two previous Reading Festivals). 'Oh God, don't they know you need to set up your tent first and then go and get your beer!).' I prefer not to think of my two little angels quaffing cans of lager, but I suppose they have to grow up at some time.

Today (Thursday), we were ordered to pick up GCSE results. The youngest DW daughter had initially said she wasn't that bothered about her results - 'they'll put them in the post'. Then it was 'can you collect them, I'll open them when I get home'. Finally, it was 'open them, read them to me . . .' Luckily, they were very good and we didn't have her snivelling down the phone. (For the record and to be fair to the elder DW daughter, she also did v.well in her A-levels and got her place to do teacher training in York after a gap year).

I've been spared the return trip to Reading on Monday - they're all coming home by coach . . . poor coach driver, I can't imagine what 50 unwashed teenagers trapped in a small, enclosed space smell like!

Sunday, 19 August 2007

No guesses

Obviously a big mistake to invite guesses where the pictures of the signs were taken. It means either the 'test' was too hard, no one could be bothered to reply or (most likely) no one read it!
In fact, the pictures were taken at Blackgang Chine, on the Isle of Wight, which we visited for a couple of days last week.
Blackgang was one of earliest theme parks but is wonderfully understated in a very English way.
The signs were on a) a whale skeleton which is on display and b) next to a family of fibre glass bears in the Frontierland area of the chine.
I've been visiting Blackgang since I was a very small child and it has changed a lot over the years, not least because bits of it keep falling into the sea. It was orginally a steep-sided valley that ran down the the sea on the southern coast of the island. Visitors came to wonder at its natural beauty and walk down the steep steps and winding path to the beach.
Gradually it added 'attractions' - the whale skeleton (washed up on a nearby beach), displays about smuggling and wrecks etc. Among the highlights when I first went in the early 1960s (that dates me!) were a water garden, a gnomes' village and a hall of mirrors. Not so interesting was the display of different types of chimney pot. The best thing, of course, was when you went at night and the whole place was lit up with strings of coloured lights..

Now it's more modern - there's a small roller-coaster, a big water slide etc - but the water garden is still there, perched on the very edge of the cliff which suggests that next time we go, it might not be. Also, some of the gnomes remain, as does the collection of chimney pots and the hall of mirrors.

Parts of the park are split up into themed areas - Frontierland (a cowboy town with fibreglass bears, horses, cowboys etc), Jungleland (fibreglass animals), dinosaurland (fibreglass . . . you get the picture).

What's amazing is that considering how 'tame' it is, the place is really popular - and always has been. When I was at university, during the summer holidays I worked as a bus conductor on the island and the main route I worked on was from the pier at Ryde (where the passenger ferry arrives) to Blackgang. It was an easy route for me because the bus would fill up with people heading for Blackgang and there'd be no room for any more passengers I'd take the first lot of fares and then it would be non-stop to Blackgang with no room for any new passengers.

For me, Mrs DW and our two teenaged girls, visiting Blackgang is mainly about nostalgia. But for the two 10 year olds it's still exciting and fun. This time, like many other parents, we let the boys buy cap guns to play with in the cowboy town. Dozens of kids running around firing cap guns, shrieking because of their 'wounds', the smell of the caps (nice - it brought back childhood memories) mingling with the stink of chips and burgers being cooked in the café - all in a hot, humid and airless atmosphere because this part of the park in wedged in between the rising cliffs aon one side and woodland on the other. Not my favourite part of Blackgang (as a grown up).

An added bonus this time was the weekly 'performance' by the local Western living history group. I (mercifully) was dragged past their stall by one of the boys but Mrs DW was not so lucky - she was 'captured' and was treated to a full explanation of cowboy life. She said it was 'interesting', but I'm not sure about grown men dressing as cowboys!
They had a drawing (guns not crayons) contest among themselves before letting the youngsters have a go. For the record, the DW child who took part was runner-up in his duel - Boot Hill for him, then.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Signs of the times

The Dog Walker family has just been away for the weekend, more of which later.

First, a little test. No smoking, keep off the grass - common enough 'instructions'. But where would you be banned from the activities below? I know, it seems most unfair to ban two simple everyday pleasures most of us indulge in every day!

Monday, 30 July 2007

I just called to say . . .

An hour and a quarter just to be shown how a phone works!

We're having a new VOIP system installed at work this week and we've all had to have 'training' in readiness. Now call me old fashioned, but I reckon a phone is just for picking up and talking to people . . . simple. Well, not if you use one of these jobbies.

Why do I need 99 quick dial numbers (I don't know 99 people!)?
Why do I need a built-in in-house directory with thousands of numbers?
Why do I need to know who's calling me when I've got to answer anyway?
Why does the caller need to listen to a tune if I'm transferring them?
Why do we need 30 ring tones? I can't wait for the cacophony.

Phones are just a nuisance anyway - people keep interrupting me!!!!!

Now don't get me started on mobiles . . .

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Change is as good as a rest

I've been blogging elsewhere for the last year or so and thought it might be an idea to try a different 'host'.

I've had a weekend of pottering around in the garden and doing a few chores - washing the kitchen floor, vacuuming my car etc . . . life in the fast lane!

I did take a few pictures in the garden yesterday.