Sunday, 17 February 2019

Planting and Protesting

It is not every day you get to plant a tree, or even more significantly take part in the creation of a community orchard, but that was the surprising way our weekend began.

Fortunately, the morning selected for 'The Big Dig', was a bright and sunny Saturday morning at the start of half-term.

We arrived in the nearby parking area to see a procession from the local community
walking up towards the site, 
carrying a hotchpotch of spades, forks and trowels.

The organisers had made careful preparations and marked each place where a tree was to be positioned with an orange cross.
DH, being colour blind, had difficulty identifying the precise spot we were to dig. Orange paint on green grass was not the best colour combination for him, but we managed to convince him that we located the right spot and we set to work.

First, we needed to dig a hole 1ft by 1ft by 1ft - I don't think we will ever be completely metric - and we enquired of the-man-with-the-plan what particular tree was allocated for this spot.
"Tree no 1 - 'Tydeman's Early Worcester" was the pronouncement.

We examine the stock for the specified sapling.
The KHT attempted to hammer a stake into the ground, without a great deal of success.
DH gave the post a few hearty wacks, 
sufficient to hold the support firmly in place until the tree is established.
Then we carefully placed the tree in the hole, bud towards the sun as directed 
added squirrel-proofing and a tie.
"Easy peasy!" - says she who helped hold one tree and then wandered off to pick the brains of one of the very helpful local councillors, whilst DH and the KHT finished the first and then planted a second tree -  Kidd's Orange Red to be precise. 

By now the orchard was taking shape. We left the tree planters munching on bacon sandwiches, provided by a local pub. Meanwhile, we are all hoping that the orchard is sufficiently off the beaten track so as not to attract vandalism, but close enough to housing, so that locals will keep a protective eye on the saplings.

Later a pronouncement was made.
"I see someone has planted a Russian flag on the scaffolding at Salisbury Cathedral."
I smiled. 
"Who thought that up?," I wondered to myself...
 "It was removed by the Cathedral authorities once it was brought to their attention."
I had visions of a cassocked Dean clambering up ladders and along planks to retrieve the offending article.
"Why would anyone want to do that?" enquired a mystified DH.
It is NOT a good idea to laugh while drinking a coffee. Cue frantic swabbing of my computer keyboard before any liquid could permeate to the roots of the keys.

Hopefully, the trees will last longer than the flag...

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Shropshire Shenanigans

A beautiful day was forecast.
The KHT had already begun her half-term holiday,
so we decided to head off to visit the British Ironworks Centre near Oswestry.
Last time we visited was during the monsoon season,
so we thought it would be good to see the place on a somewhat drier day.

We pootled off up the motorway,
through the 30mph roadworks
on the Oldbury Viaduct
and onwards, through the sunkissed Shropshire countryside,
admiring the fresh greenness of the fields,
the different hues of the skeletal structures of trees
whilst observing with wonder the diminutive dimensions of the lambs,
who raced around their kingdoms
with no thought of tomorrow.

Finally, we turned off the A5
onto the access road to the Ironworks Centre.
If you like weird and wonderful, then this is a place you must visit,
where you can pose beneath massive spider sculptures
and admire everything metal.
Unfortunately, some of the sculptures were out of bounds due to the state of the ground,
so we admired them from a behind the temporary barrier.

I must admit that I find the place vaguely disturbing.
It's not just the oversized sculptures,
slightly bizarre as they are.
It is the piped music unsettles me,
making me feel as if I am trapped in some strangely spooky social experiment.
Maybe we were!
We had to escape some way into the grounds
in order to retreat beyond the strains of the strange songs that serenaded us.
R - I can hear birds.
KHT - I can hear the lambs!
Me - I can hear the A5...
Even in the middle of the countryside
silence eluded us,
whilst the weird and wonderful continued to surprise us -
like this gorilla,
painted in a most unnatural hue.
Surely this is not a Shropshire Blue - cheesy as that would be!
R - Look at the hatch on its stomach.
KHT - Oooh yes!
Me - That is where the babies come out...
Certain of the other animals were definitely male so it could be a convenient location for a biology field trip, with cafe and toilets close by...

If you have small children you could probably while away several hours admiring the wacky wonders of the shop,
exploring the sculpture-strewn grounds,
and excavating the sandpit.
As we were unencumbered by small people
(other than the KHT),
we resisted the tempting charms of the sand,
in case we got ejected!
We moved on to the nearby market town of Oswestry - a place I have wanted to visit for some time.
It did not disappoint and we could happily have lingered longer,
meandering along sunny streets and narrow alleyways,
with names that betrayed the close proximity of the Welsh border,
whilst admiring architecture - both ancient and modern.
There were some glorious half-timbered buildings, a grand town hall and modern marketplace.

A cafe-deli was awarded our custom, as we figured that a deli would serve good food.
We were directed through to the very back of the shop and one of the last available tables, which were crammed quite close together. However, shortly after we arrived, most of our fellow diners finished eating and departed, as by now it was after 1pm.
The only window was high up, but we were there to eat, not admire the view.
Our explorations were limited by time constraints and we could easily have lingered longer.
There were many shops we didn't visit, but we did enjoy exploring the narrow alleyways and admiring the weird sculptures that festooned the frontages of some establishments.
We climbed Castle Mount to get a better idea of the topography, the low sun dazzles our eyes, as we feasted our eyes on the rolling landscape that embraced the town.

After the Afternoon Tea Service yesterday I was keen to visit some charity shops in search of additional tea sets.
We try and seat six around a table, so I was on the lookout for sets with six cups, saucers and tea plates per design. Sugar bowls, milk jugs, and large plates are a bonus,
but not essential.
I have acquired some crock teapots,
but leaving them on tables would require risk assessments and health and safety warnings.
Instead, the team take around teapots, filling up cups as required.
It seems to work.

One shop had four place settings for under £5 - my sort of prices, but not a sufficient for a table,
so I resisted.
Another shop had a set that would have matched some of our existing tableware, but came with a coffee pot and was more than I was looking to pay. Again, I resisted temptation.
However, the next shop had a set with six place settings.
I was a bit dubious, as one cup had quite a bit of red pen marking on it.
We tested with a tissue and it looked as if it would come off.
At £4.50 it seemed a good enough bargain.
The assistant gathered up the items and took them away to wrap them.
Then one of them came back to us.
"Did you realise that the tea set is £44.50?"
"Erm, no! At that price, we won't be using THAT for serving afternoon tea!"
"Why is it so expensive?"
"Its Royal Doulton"
"It's a good job you hadn't wrapped it all up before we found out!" I observed.
The staff admitted the pricing was not clear. If you can make a 44.50 look like £4.50  maybe you should consider printing your prices.
We were just amazed that an item of such value was languishing on an open shelf, where anyone could have taken, or accidentally broken, part of the set, thus significantly reducing its value.
I purchased a more modestly priced necklace and we headed back to the car.
There will be other sets in other towns that will be perfect for what we want, at less than 'Royal Doulton' prices!

Our Shropshire shenanigans complete -  for today anyway, we returned along a much slower moving Oldbury Viaduct, admiring the ever-changing hues and silhouettes of an urban sunset.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Famous Last Words

This afternoon we had been to our monthly Afternoon Tea Service.
By the time we had hoovered, stacked the dishwasher with the first load and put the furniture back ready for the service on Sunday, the light was fading from the blue-gold sky.
DH made do with yet another sandwich, as he.was rushing off to music rehearsal.
The KHT decided to cook herself a pizza.
She got one half of a twin-pack out the freezer.
The instructions were attached to the other one.
"You don't need the instructions," said I, rashly.
"Just watch it, you will know when it is done."
Famous last words.

Then I glanced at the pizza.
"I think you had better take it out of its plastic wrapping, though before you put it in the oven..." and she did.
Having placed her tea in the oven, the KHT positioned herself on a chair in the middle of the kitchen, so that she could keep an eye on it.

The KHT likes mini pizzas that she knows she can easily consume. They usually take less than eight minutes to cook.
Twenty minutes later and the cheese is showing no sign of melting!
The temperature is high enough, but she has set the oven to the defrost setting instead of fan oven.
I am not quite sure why an oven needs a defrost setting - isn't that the function of a microwave?
I change the setting and the pizza finally starts to cook.

We rescue the pizza, as the KHT puts it, " just before it explodes!" which was nothing more dramatic than the cheese topping bubbling.
Upon removing it from the oven I observe the cardboard disk is still under the base...

Meanwhile, I opt for a Spanish omelette. However, my contents to egg mix ratio is too ambitious. When I attempt to flip the omelette over to ensure it is completely cooked, it disintegrates, cascading a mush of egg, cheese and potato across the hob.

Having consumed her pizza the KHTdedicates the next ten minutes to opening a tin of tuna to go in her sandwich.

Later the KHT discovers me in the bathroom, handwashing a cardi.
"Do you think I could become a top chef?" she enquires.
Before I can say a word, my watch answers for me
'"Oh, I don't think so."
Famous last words, Siri...

Mankind may be enjoying the era of post-truth, but artificial intelligence is sticking to the real thing.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Twee Will Do For Me

I came across a quotation today that I do not remember seeing before.
It struck a chord within me,
a resonance of truth with the clarity of a 40cwt bell
that I could not deny.

However,  the wording is recognised as 'inspirational',
crying out to be superimposed upon a background of a mighty ocean.
I duly obliged,
utilising a lesser-known corner of Devon...

Living in the landlocked Midlands,
I lose sight of the sea,
forget about the endlessness and power of its watery vastness.
I can become totally focused on the mundane and immediate.
As a consequence, the immensity of God becomes blurred and unrecognisable,
lying beyond the limitations of my myopic vision.

I need to be reminded not to be so engrossed in achieving short term goals,
that I exclude the creator of the materials I plan to use.
and the immenseness of his grace.

Dismiss it as trite if you wish,
and continue to worry about your next recruitment campaign.
Meanwhile, something much more important stirs the soul,
and there is

Friday, 8 February 2019

Locating The Lost.

Wednesday morning was 'Take Your Compost Bin to School' day,
as we were doing the Story of The Prodigal Son in Open the Book at a local school.

DH was the younger son.
In one scene he had six piglets as company.
To the children's disgust,
he picked up a banana skin
and briefly appeared to consider devouring it, before coming to his senses
and returning home to a delighted Father,
and not-so-delighted older bro.

As it was a sunny afternoon, DH wandered over to his nearby allotment to continue Operation Hedge Trimming along the boundary of his section, as it had almost reached the height of the lampost on the adjacent pathway.

I had been pottering, doing various chores, and had just settled down with a cup of coffee, when my phone rang.
"I've lost my glasses."
"When did you last have them?"
"I don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know? "
"I have had them since I arrived on the allotment. 
They must have come off somewhere...
but I don't know when...
or where!"

I abandon my coffee and go round to the allotment.
On the way I check the ground, just in case he accidentally dropped them on the way.
Alas, no sign of the glasses.

Upon arriving at the allotment I cast my eyes over the significant length of hedgerow,
with freshly trimmed branches woven into it.
My heart sinks.

We look in the sheds,
the polytunnel,
the flower pots.
We check the flower beds.
No sign of the glasses.

I look again at the hedging and begrudgingly accept the fact that the glasses are in there.

I think longingly of my coffee.
I look up and down the hedgerow
"It is a pity I didn't bring any gloves..."
DH finds me a pair of gloves.
We take up starting positions at opposite ends of the hedge and begin to search.

I start by removing armfuls of cuttings,
getting attacked by the disgruntled branches, outraged at being disturbed.
"This is like searching for a needle in a haystack 
and has about as much chance of success!" 
I grumble to myself.
All I am doing is undoing DH's good work.
I need a different strategy

I pray
and move a couple of feet along the hedgerow.

This time I do not move anything.
I just stare intently at the mesh of slender interlocking twigs.
As I focus, I suddenly notice something unexpected
"Want a pair of glasses?" 
I ask my husband
DH immediately stops searching and turns and looks at me.
"You mean you have found them?" 
he asks incredulously.
"Well, I have found a pair of glasses.
I assume they are yours..."
I take a photo for posterity before he has the chance to retrieve them.
DH picks them up his errant glasses,
gives them a polish
and puts them back on
before they can go missing again.
Meanwhile, I am just wondering how he didn't know they had fallen off
the very moment he lost them.

We rebuild the hedge and go home.
As a reward for finding the glasses, DH made me a fresh cup of coffee.
A lost son, and a lost pair of glasses.
What next, I wondered?

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Colours of the Day

Wednesday morning saw us in school for Open the Book. Afterwards, the school went straight into a quick hymn practice ahead of a special service next week.
They sang Colours of Day -  which was a bit of a blast from the past. We joined in with the words we could remember, but failed to match Year One for enthusiasm and volume!

On Thursday we woke up to a winter white world. Overnight the temperature had plummeted to -5 and the trees in the distance were coated in a delicate covering of hoar frost. The bottle lanterns that hang on the fence had transformed to translucent shades of pastel.

Ice crystals added extra interest to the garden ornaments.
I went out and broke the ice on the bird bath and added some warm water to stop it from re-freezing, so that the birds could have a drink, and permit the starlings to perform their morning ablutions.

The low temperatures will suit the olives, which need the temperatures to drop to around -5 to keep them healthy.
If the temperatures go too low we will need to move them into the summer house until it warms up. If they stay in there too long I will forget about them and they will surely fade away from neglect.

Later I got a Whatsapp message.
The school had found an unexpected item,
a lovely piece of multicoloured knitting.
Was it ours?
Indeed it was.
Gorgeous colours and definitely not produced by me - far too neat and tidy.

In the afternoon DH goes shopping and asks what shopping I would like. The daffs on the dining table have reached the point of despatch to the compost and I request replacements.

"Can you get me some daffs, and something to go with them - like carnations"
A big ask for a non-floral husband.
It would be interesting to see what he purchased.
Later, I receive a text with a picture of some flowers and the question
"Any good?"
I try to imagine these coloured carnations with daffs, and fail.
I ring him.
"Are there any pink carnations?"
"What does pink look like?"
A good question. How do you describe colour to the colour blind?

DH sends a further picture.
I ring him back, and we discuss the relative merits of the flowers in this second picture.
"Can you get some Gysophilia as well?" I suggest.
Bright pink, yellow, white - colours of the day.
What can possibly go wrong?

He returns having completed his mini supermarket sweep.
I arrange the flowers.
Some go in the bay window.
The vase containing the rest is placed on the dining table.
It is only then that I realise that the colours of the flowers may go with each other,
but they don't exactly go with the table cloth!

Moral of the tale - colours of the day don't always live in perfect harmony.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Snowdrops and Charity Shops

"Snowdrops are out and the forecast is for sun tomorrow!" announced my fellow explorer. "Let's go and see the snowdrops at Birlingham."

Birlingham is a pretty little village in south Worcestershire, nested in the crook of the Avon. Contrasting somewhat with the similar sounding urban metropolis that sprawls around the M6, M5 and M42, between Ikea, the NEC and Hopwood services.

Back in 1870, the Vicar of Birlingham had the vision to plant some snowdrops. One hundred and fifty years later hundreds of thousands of snowdrops adorn the churchyard, attracting a stream of visitors during the opening months of the year.

A few tentative snowdrop blooms have appeared in our garden, evidence of a previous visit to Birlingham,
so we were hoping there would be a good display at our destination.
It did not disappoint.
Delicate white blooms festooned the grounds with an extravagance that would delight any bride, but especially the Bride of Christ.
We purchased more of these Birlingham beauties, and hope that they thrive as well in our clay as they do in the fertile ground of a churchyard. I pray that we do not need to bury any bodies in our garden just to get the same effect!

Next stop was Eckington Wharf, where the willows watch on, as the Avon flows to its nearby confluence with the Severn at Tewkesbury.
We observed, as some kayakers launched their craft, and paddled off down the bright stream.

In Tewkesbury, we went first to Alison's Bookshop a treasure trove of literature to gladden the heart of any bookworm. I found myself in the poetry section and recalled reading that a poet I had not heard of, had died recently, and wondered if they had any of her work, as the quotations I had read had piqued my interest.
I sent my fellow traveller a text to see if she could enlighten me.
Right on cue, she appeared.
"'I just sent you a text, who was the woman who died?"
"What woman?"
"She was a poet. It was on facebook last week that she had died. I had never heard of her, and I wondered if there would be any of her work here."
Unfortunately, neither of us could remember her name, so I was not able to ascertain if any of her work was for sale.
All the best-laid plans...
We went to our current preferred cafe, and the food was of the usual high standard.

After lunch, we toured the charity shops. Our favourite was the vintage shop, where a customer was bemoaning the tendency of charity shops to buy in new stock to sell, putting them in direct competition with the other shops in the town centre.
I purchased a scarf ring for the extravagant sum of £3.
There are a significant number of empty shops in Tewkesbury. A sign on the window of Superdrug announced its imminent closure at the end of the month. Soon there will be another.

Just off the high street, we discovered an antique centre in an old chapel. The stock was vintage, but the prices were more tomorrows than yesterdays.
My cash was spent, but they didn't take cards so I couldn't buy anything.

A couple of pieces of jewellery caught my eye, but not sufficiently to motivate me to go and find a cash point!
I am trying to be more discerning about my purchases and to be less impulsive. If the jewellery is still there next time I visit AND I have the cash, then I may consider buying them. If they had taken cards I would probably have purchased both there and then.

Later my fellow traveller remembered the name of the poet who died - Mary Oliver.
Unfortunately, I misheard or misremembered the name and then googled Alison Oliver and discovered the work of a children's author and got rather confused...
Blame it on the snowdrops...