Monday 25 February 2019

Half Term: Mad About The Boy(s)

Hello, thank you for calling in, you are very welcome here.  The weather is mild and the sun has been shining for days.  It feels unreal, more like April than February.  

Last week was our half term break and so our usual routine melted away - not that there has been much of a routine recently as the Best Beloved has had very little work, but at least we didn't have to set the alarm clock for 6.30am in case the 'phone rang.  During term time I look after Tom Kitten one day each week while his parents are both at work and inevitably, those days have acquired a pattern, their own routine.  I like that, it suits me very well and I think it suits him too, I am a firm believer that routine sets boundaries for children and provides them with security.  However, I also like the fact that during school holidays we can break out of that routine and try new things.  Last week we spent a great deal of time with him, wonderful time.

The holiday began with the culmination of my birthday celebrations: The Mathematician flew home for one night and my little family gathered around my table, six of us, for a special meal.  The Best Beloved brought the nursery guard up from the cellar and set it around the fireplace, then he brought up a bucket of our girls' forgotten toys and I was transported back twenty or so years.  We had a lovely, lovely day all together.

On Monday the rest of us went to Ellesmere because The Teacher wanted to visit a place where Tom Kitten could feed ducks.  He recognises pictures of ducks and he knows that a duck says, "Quack quack," so she wanted to take him to see some quackers.  I remembered taking her to Ellesmere for exactly the same reason when she was small and in those days we took bread but we know better now, although we have also learned that in some places, ducks are dying of malnutrition because people have stopped feeding them bread.  However, there are signs up at Ellesmere asking us not to feed bread to the birds, so we didn't.  I took a bag of oats and if I hadn't, bags of birdseed are available for £1 each in the café beside the mere (or I could have taken some peas out of my freezer and defrosted them, which would have been a really big sacrifice because I love peas!).  

On the mere we found swans, greylag geese, Canada geese, something which I think was an African goose, coots, black-headed gulls, mallard and tufted ducks.  Tom Kitten was very excited as they spotted my bag of oats and waddled up out of the water towards us.  His little hand took some oats from my palm and threw them onto the ground and he laughed.  A brazen greylag ate them straight from my hand.  The sun came out from behind the clouds.  When the oats were all gone, I sat on a bench and watched the light play over the water while Tom Kitten took his other adults to play on the swings in the park for a while before we all went to the café for lunch.

On Wednesday there was an outing to the National Sea Life Centre in Birmingham.  Tom Kitten gazed with awe and wonder and again, I remembered our girls doing exactly the same thing there when they were young, although there were no penguins there then.  Tom Kitten liked the penguins, he was quite sure they were waving to him with their flippers as they swam through the water so he waved back to them.

On Thursday the five of us travelled next door to Herefordshire to meet my parents for lunch.  Four generations of us sat round a table together for a few hours, Tom Kitten holding court and charming everyone as he held out his little cup to his great-grandmother's glass and said, "Cheers!".  Should you be in the vicinity of Wellington, I am happy to report that the food at The Old Boot is excellent and so is the service.  

On Sunday, under a beautiful blue sky, the Best Beloved and I went out together, just the two of us, and we drove south to Titterstone Clee, the third highest hill in Shropshire.  We didn't have either a map or a satnav with us but I knew the way so before we left I made the Best Beloved promise that he would trust me and follow my directions explicitly as I did not want any recurrence of our Cumbrian incident!  We drove up and up and up, almost to the top of the hill, where we found a parking area by the abandoned quarry workings.  Below us, the high pressure had compressed all the moisture in the air into a misty haze while above us, a red kite soared beneath the few wispy clouds in the blue sky.  Looking due east, this is the highest spot for thousands of miles, until you reach the Ural Mountains in Russia!  It's an extraordinary landscape and I really don't know why we had never been there before.  We spent an hour and a half up there, exploring and just sitting, looking at the view.  

On our way home, we dropped in to see Tom Kitten and his parents.  He was delighted to see us and immediately picked up his ball and took it to his grandfather so that we could play throwing games.  (The Teacher is not very impressed with this because when she gave the child an apple, he held it up and threw it, thinking it was a ball!  When I say "threw it", of course I mean that he held it up above his shoulder and then dropped it behind him, as sixteen month-old children do.)

So that was the end of half term.  When we got home, the Best Beloved lit the fire, cooked a roast dinner and opened a bottle of wine.  I reflected on the memories made this week and the memories evoked and I felt very lucky, lucky that I am able and allowed to spend so much time with my grandson, lucky that I live in such a beautiful place and lucky to have such a lovely husband (most of the time!).

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Saturday 23 February 2019

Birthday Treats

Hello, thank you for dropping in here, you are very welcome.  The sun has been shining for the last few days, the temperature has been unseasonably mild and it really hasn't felt like February - it certainly hasn't been Pluviose.  

So, a fortnight ago the Best Beloved and I packed up the car and drove off to Cumbria for a long weekend.  After our holiday in the Lake District last August I felt that there were more places which I wanted to visit, but we had run out of time, so the Best Beloved suggested that we spend a few days there over my birthday.  We booked a tiny cottage on a working farm just outside Hawkshead, basically one room with a separate (rather glamorous) bathroom and a gallery bedroom.  £291 was the price for three nights, much more extravagant than our usual £70 one-night-stay in a Premier Inn at this time of year but we wanted a proper treat.

The journey there went smoothly until the Best Beloved decided to ignore my directions.  I don't know what he was thinking!  I didn't learn to drive until several years after we met and consequently, he drove and I navigated, a pattern we have maintained ever since on long journeys because I became a bloomin' good reader of maps!  So, with the Ordnance Survey map open on my lap, when I said, "Turn left by the Drunken Duck," I was surprised when he ignored me and carried on straight ahead BECAUSE THE SATNAV TOLD HIM TO!!!!!  Silly man.  We ended up driving down a very, VERY narrow lane (I was holding my breath) and then he stopped the car because he thought we had arrived at the right place.  I didn't.  We couldn't find the cottage, or even the right farm - we found A farm, but it wasn't THE farm.  We asked a farmer and knocked on the door of another house and asked.  Nobody could help us.  The Best Beloved went for a walk along the lane to try to find the cottage, in vain, so after half an hour of looking, during which time I was becoming increasingly anxious about being lost in the middle of nowhere with darkness approaching, I rang the booking company and a very nice woman said that she would drive out to meet us and show us the way.  "You sound a bit distressed," she said.  The Best Beloved then decided to drive further along the very narrow lane, which he really should have done to begin with, and then I saw the sign for the right farm, the sign which I had asked him to look for and which he was adamant that he had found but which, it turned out, he actually hadn't.  As he drove up the track to the cottage, I rang the booking company, apologised profusely and told them that we had found the right place; it's a good job they couldn't see that I was blushing but I think they could hear the embarrassment in my voice. 

It wasn't a good start.  Nor was the fact that the cottage was chilly as the heating hadn't been put on in advance of our arrival, but we soon fixed that and the Best Beloved redeemed himself by lighting the stove, using the wood we had brought with us because the promised "complimentary basket of logs" was notable by its absence.  A couple of hours later, warmed up and with a large glass of wine inside me, I felt very relaxed... until I went to cook dinner and discovered that there was no chopping board.  I really can't think of any dinner I make which doesn't begin with a chopping board.  I peeled the potatoes and cut them in my hand very carefully, put the oven on to heat up while they cooked and twenty minutes later, my cottage pie was ready to go into the oven, which is when I discovered that the fan was circulating cool air.  (I had cooked the meat base at home the previous day and we had taken it with us.)  It was another disappointment and although the Best Beloved sorted it out, not without difficulty, and we eventually ate a lovely hot meal, I had distinctly lost my sparkle.  I wondered what else would go wrong.

The answer to that question was apparent the following morning, my birthday.  In our house, birthdays always begin with breakfast together, no matter how many or few of us there are, and that breakfast is always warm croissants with butter and jam.  However, there was no jam, the Best Beloved had forgotten to pack it!  I thought he was joking but he wasn't.  At least there was plenty of Earl Grey tea.

So, after a leisurely morning we set off for Ambleside in thick grey cloud and showers to tick off the first place on my list: The Armitt, a library, museum and gallery which is, according to its website, "devoted to preserving and sharing the cultural heritage of the Lake District".  It is a fascinating place and I spent a very happy couple of hours there.  Downstairs there are three galleries, two of which were filled by an exhibition  entitled "Beatrix Potter - Image and Reality".  If you came here hoping to see images from her children's books you would be disappointed, although her own first editions of those books were on display, but the exhibition is about other facets of her life.  Beatrix was a businesswoman, farmer, estate manager, conservationist, sheep breeder and scientist as well as an artist and storyteller and she bequeathed her botanical drawings and watercolours to The Armitt.  There were beautiful watercolours of Roman artefacts displayed as well as many intricate depictions of fungi (she studied mycology in depth for ten years).  On our way out, I chose some postcards and the Best Beloved bought them for me for my birthday - at £3.50 I think I am a bargain!

Afterwards, we drove to Hawkshead.  Now, the problem with going away for a weekend in February is that too many places are closed.  I would really like to visit the Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead, which houses more of my heroine's artworks and manuscripts, but it was closed until half term, as was the Grammar School which educated William Wordsworth.  However, the Sun Inn was open and there we found a very warm welcome, good local gin and a delicious celebratory lunch.  I'd like to return to Hawkshead, but I can't help the fact that my birthday is in February - although my children have suggested that I simply move my birthday to the summer, like King George II did!

The following day was bright and sunny and after another leisurely breakfast (scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on toast, the man knows how to spoil me when he tries) we drove to the banks of Coniston Water to visit Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin.  Do you know him?  He was an extraordinary man, an art critic, a collector, an artist, writer, thinker, philosopher, philanthropist, social critic, conservationist... I really don't know how to describe him.  Born in 1819, he developed a love of mountains whilst travelling in Europe as a young man and bought this house in Coniston, sight unseen, in 1872, spending the rest of his life renovating and expanding the house and extensive gardens.  When he died in 1900 his family was offered a burial in Westminster Abbey but they declined the offer because Ruskin had been adamant in his wish to be buried in the churchyard in his beloved Coniston.  In the summer it would be easy to spend a whole day here exploring the gardens as well as the house.  

This is Ruskin's study, the engine house where he worked every morning.  He liked to begin before the post was delivered and we were intrigued to read that it arrived at 9.30am and 5.30pm!

This is the dining room where Ruskin dined with guests including Holman Hunt, Kate Greenaway and Charles Darwin.

One of Ruskin's first building projects was a turret, which was built to adjoin his bedroom.  In his later years, especially when he was too frail to work, he would spend hours sitting in this turret and looking out at the landscape.

I really like John Ruskin.  I was especially pleased to discover that he collected stones, fossils and shells as well as paintings - more than 2,500 shells!!  I pointed this out to the Best Beloved and he laughed.  I shan't feel the slightest twinge of guilt about my own collections in future!

I'm sorry that I don't have more photographs to show you.  The Best Beloved was in charge of the camera and I suppose that we were so busy enjoying ourselves that he just forgot to take pictures, and I really can't be cross with him for that.  I can, however, show you this postcard, another birthday treat from the Best Beloved, Ruskin's own self-portrait.

After leaving the house we went to the café for a pot of Earl Grey and a slab of cake.  I am happy to confirm that the vegan fruit flapjack is delicious, although not cheap, but the staff don't seem to know how to make tea properly (it was stewed).  

Afterwards, we drove all around Coniston Water, stopping wherever we fancied and noting how much higher the water level was than it had been last August, before making our way back to the cottage to light the fire, eat chocolate and watch a film together - more treats.

The following morning we packed up and drove home.  I don't know how the Best Beloved is going to top it next year!

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Wednesday 20 February 2019

Cradle on the Waves by Mae Leveson

Hello, thank you for popping in. February is zooming by, I am a year older than I was last time I was here and I have a little adventure to share with you soon but in the meantime, I am going to shamelessly plug a book.

At the end of last year, having reached and surpassed my reading target by miles (yippee!) I decided that this year I would read only longer books of at least 450 pages.  However, when I saw that Mae Leveson had published her book, Cradle on the Waves, I had to make an exception.  I must be completely honest and tell you that I bought the book because the author is my friend and I wanted to support her endeavour but I must also tell you that having begun reading it, I couldn't put it down; literally, I read all 175 pages in one day and when I reached the end, I felt disappointed that there was no more to read.  

Mae is "a displaced Yorkshire lass" who lives in Canada and who, after several years of city life, moved to Prince Edward Island with her husband in 2017.  The book is an account of their first year there where they encountered a long, snowy winter, a short, intense summer, beautiful skies, red squirrels, ospreys, muskrats and skunks.  There is a bit of history and a bit of Anne of Green Gables, which has made me want to read that book again.  Mae does a lot of walking, a lot of baking, not as much gardening as she would like, a bit of knitting, a bit of watercolour painting and drinks a lot of tea, her favourite brand being Yorkshire Gold, obviously!  I particularly enjoyed the passages she writes about cooking: baking the Christmas cake, "The house is filled with the aroma of warm spices and hugs me like a comforting blanket" and the taste of her freshly-made lemon curd "transports me back to childhood when my mum used to put lemon curd on my toast."  After all, cooking is about much more than the food itself, isn't it?

The book is divided into twelve chapters, one for each month of the year, with a prologue and an epilogue.  It's an easy read and I think it's the kind of book a reader could dip in and out of - in fact I did that when it first arrived through my letterbox, before I settled down a couple of days later to read it from start to finish.  Another of the reasons I enjoyed it is that living in Prince Edward Island is so very different to living in England and I liked that window into another part of the world, which Mae describes well.  Storm Chips, anyone?

So, although I bought the book because I wanted to support a friend, I am recommending it to you because I very much enjoyed reading it, despite the fact that it's not my usual genre.  It's available on Amazon in paperback (which is what I bought because I am unashamedly old-fashioned) and in electronic format and Mae is blogging here if you would like to hop over and meet her.  I hope you do because she's lovely.

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x


Monday 4 February 2019

White Snowdrops and a Red Bridge

Hello!  Is it too late to wish you all a Happy New Year?  I suppose it is, although as it's the first time I have been here this year, perhaps I can get away with it? Happy Candlemas perhaps, although I suppose it's too late for that, too, as it was on Saturday and I think it's just one day rather than a whole season.  I packed away my nativity set on Friday - no, I wasn't late, if you don't take your Christmas decorations down in time for Epiphany it is absolutely correct to leave them up until Candlemas and I can't bear to take it down on 6th January when the magi have only just arrived at the stable.  It cheers me up during the bleak days of January when all the other twinkles and jollities have come down and eases me out of the festive season gently.

January was quite odd.  I was ready for some wintry action but, apart from a handful of cold days, the weather was mostly grey and mild.  We had two flurries of snow but nothing which lay.  It was very disappointing and I found the dreariness quite oppressive.  Rather than going out at the weekends, the Best Beloved and I stayed at home beside the fire which we lit more for its company than its warmth.  I read books, knitted, crocheted and felt very sluggish.  I heard somebody on the radio say, when asked whether it was winter or spring, that it's still autumn because we haven't had any wintry weather yet.  Tom Kitten, the Best Beloved and I all had our share of illness which did nothing to lift my mood - to be honest, for about a week I felt quite miserable.  I wanted to come here to see all of you but I didn't have anything interesting to share with you.

However, last Monday the sky was blue and the sun was shining and, as we were both free in the afternoon, the Best Beloved suggested that we go out to look at the snowdrops at Shipton after lunch.  He didn't need to ask me twice.  Off we drove to Shipton in the Corvedale to visit St James' church.  The sunshine, the countryside views and the snowdrops all worked their magic and the spring returned to my step, even though the sky was clouding over by the time we left.

We decided not to go straight home afterwards and drove instead to Ironbridge - I was going to say "on a whim" and the Best Beloved thinks it was a whim, but it was my plan all along, I just didn't tell him about it!  Sometimes, that's the best way.  The iron bridge, the first in the world, reopened just before Christmas after being under cover for a year while undergoing extensive restoration work.  During the course of this work it was discovered that the bridge was originally painted red and so it has been repainted in a colour as close as possible to the original shade.  The Best Beloved and I had been waiting for a sunny day to go and see it and although the sky was cloudy by the time we got there, at least it wasn't grey!

The colour is very controversial locally. I think I need to see it for a year, through the changing light and seasons, before I make up my mind - I imagine it might look spectacular when the trees in the gorge are wearing their autumn foliage.  Here's a similar view, taken in January 2015, so that you can make your own comparison.

So here we are in February.  Isn't it interesting that one good day can alter one's perception of an entire month?  I'll be here again soon.

Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x