Sunday, 18 March 2018

Spaghetti Construction and Cups of Tea

Saturday was another day of snow flurries, signifying nothing, so off we went to Lye in Stourbridge for the next instalment of the MSM course we have been following since September.  Sure enough, it was another very interesting and thought-provoking day.

During one exercise we were challenged to work in teams to see who could build the tallest structure with just marshmallows and spaghetti. Let me tell you this is not as easy as it sounds! Here are some of the things that we discovered.
1.   Spaghetti breaks very easily, even when used in groups of strands.
2.  Marshmallows are light until you try and build with them. Then they become heavy.
3. Think beyond the plate. Just because you are given a plate, does not mean that you should be constrained by it.
4. You cannot have too much crossbracing.
5. You will probably need to shorten some struts, but working out how short they need to be, can only be discovered by trial and error.
6. Using spaghetti strands in threes maybe doctrinally sound, but will not guarantee success.
7. If you build with your marshmallows straight on the table, you will need to clean your table before you can use it for anything else.
8. The nearer marshmallows are to the radiator, the softer they become and the less stable your construction will be.
9. Experience is invaluable.
10. All structures will fall over. This will begin with a graceful lean and it is all downhill from there. If you want to win, plan for your structure to still be standing at the time of judgement.
11. The exercise is more interesting than the outcome.
12. If the tower leans, add even more crossbracing.
Meanwhile, the marshmallows and spaghetti carnage was donated to some unlucky hens.
Outside the snow was almost continuous, but nothing was settling.

Later on, one of the leaders was trying to encourage us.
Leader "I should think all of you can drive a car." 
Everyone else nods.
I shake my head.
Leader "At least you can bake a cake!"
Everyone laughs.
I shake my head.
Leader, confidently, "At least you can make a cup of tea!"
DH "She doesn't drink tea!"
Leader "Well coffee then!"
DH "I make that!"
Leader, despairingly "Can you do anything?"
Meanwhile, the snow continued to fall.

It was all good-humoured banter, but highlighted how easily we put people in boxes. I was a female, therefore I MUST be able to bake cakes and make cups of tea. Afterwards, he thanked me for playing along. Little did he know that I can seamlessly weave a request for coffee into any conversation. I also must admit that DH does make most of the drinks at home, as his coffee is usually better than mine. We attribute this to the fact that he has a more scientific approach, measuring the ingredients, whereas I use the 'bung some in' approach, with variable results. My favourite way of making coffee, which DH detests, is the cheat latte, made by shaking a near-empty milk container, vigorously, adding some and topping up with hot water. This can produce a drink that is in part fridge temperature, and part close to boiling, so prudence has to be exercised during the drinking process. It is also important to check the top if firmly on the milk carton before commencing shaking unless you wish to create a rather dramatic fountain effect.

The leaders wisely shortened the time allowed for lunch, in case the weather deteriorated further. We were home by 4pm, and then we went food shopping. It looks as if poor DH is gluten intolerant in addition to irritating wife intolerant, so we stocked up with goodies in the 'free-from' section - a part of the store we had not really taken any notice of before. Biscuits, cereal, may0 and bread flour were all purchased. Oddly, we didn't buy any spaghetti...

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Glory and Poverty

Surfing the internet I noted with interest that there was an art exhibition on at Southwell Minster. Southwell is a fair old jaunt, but the forecast was dismal, so it was agreed that we could combine a trip to see the exhibition with a visit to the nearby workhouse now owned by the National Trust. In order to understand why the workhouse would be of interest, you need to be familiar with the writings of Jacqueline Wilson, in particular, the Hetty Feather trilogy. The KHT is a massive fan of the books of JW.

First we had to say farewell to the last of our visitors, then we were free to head off to the wilds of the East Midlands. Here the land is flatter and from almost no discernable elevation, you can suddenly see for miles! Most disconcerting!

The exhibition displayed in the Minster was called Crossing. Artists had been invited to submit a pair of paintings, one for Lent and the other responding to the resurrection. The Lent pictures were currently on display.

The artwork was interesting and challenging. However, it was not always clear where the exhibition ended and the Cathedral's own exhibits began.

The KHT and I successfully decoded the message in the Chapter House, only to realise it was part of the 'Leaves of Southwell' project, based on stone carvings around the building and nothing at all to do with the art exhibition relating to the current season in the church year!
Interesting, and art, but not part of the art we had come to see!

One of the most moving exhibits was the Lampedusa Cross, made from the timbers of the wreck of a boat carrying refugees. 311 Eritreans and Somali refugees drowned.

The KHT was very taken with this triptych, which shows a battle scene when closed and a peaceful lily scene when open. A small-scale model is attached to the front pew, so you can always compare the alternative view to that displayed. Triptyches are normally closed during Lent.

The KHT also took time to engage with the prayer station by lighting a candle and adding a prayer to the display. I also left a prayer for a friend who is having a really tough time at the moment.

As it took far longer for the KHT and I to explore the Minster, our fellow traveller was waiting in the Minster Refectory. The food here was classy, but not my taste. I succumbed to a panini and wished I hadn't. The ham was lovely, but the panini resembled a desiccated tombstone. To be honest you were paying for the location. We were short of time, so we used the Refectory as it was closest to both the Minster and the car park. However, when we return we shall venture into the main streets of Southwell and find somewhere cheap and cheerful. We felt sorry for the elderly and clearly frail, who were stood waiting for a seat, while reserved tables sat empty. We did not dilly dally.

Next stop, the workhouse, a beautiful building on the edge of town, with a past that was challenging. It was devastating for those who ended up here, but at least they didn't starve. A poignant reminder of the harshness of life in Victorian times.

Imagine sitting picking rope apart all day.

In the schoolroom, the KHT tried on a costume. Later I showed her the photo's.
"It's good, but I don't want to be 'dessytuted' " (sic) was her verdict.
I think when she dressed up, she suddenly began to grasp a little, of what life within this harsh and regimented environment, would have been like, and it would have been far from comfortable.

After Easter, the pictures in the exhibition will be changed to the counterparts, reflecting the resurrection.  The question is will we return in time to see them?  Time will tell.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Daring Buds of March

You know it is spring when buds appear on the trees...

Yes, I know those are not the kind of buds that you expect to find in a tree. Maybe they were listening to the sounds of nature - the sigh of the wind through trees or the serenading sound of birdsong.

These buds were spotted hanging in a tree, next to the bridge over the highway. How, I wonder, did they end up in such a location? Were they thrown there as a joke that went badly wrong, or as a protest - because they no longer worked.

If you look closely, the tips of shrubs and trees are starting to take on a different coloured hue, as they thicken and the new leaves prepare for their glorious debut.

I wonder if these earbuds will get rescued? Or will they be left there to gradually disappear, as their more natural namesakes open and gradually obscure them from view.

Meanwhile in the garden, these strange bulbs are appearing. Purchased and planted just a few short weeks ago, but already I have forgotten what they are called. However, the lack of a name does not detract from their beauty.

Snowdrops purchased at Birlingham church, were planted at the same time. These were to replace those purchased in a previous year from Birlingham church. They are still in full flower, their season extended by the late planting and cold weather.  The snowdrops thought lost, have put in a late appearance to one end of the same bed.  So far they are only at the leaf stage, but hopefully, they will flower before summer arrives.

Today it has been warm enough to walk around without a jacket. However, the forecasters are threatening more snow overnight, so who knows what we will awaken to!

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Tickets please!

This week has hurtled by at an alarming rate, with family staying, work, ringing and visits to school for Open the Book and after-school clubs. The high point of the week was to be a trip to our local small, but perfectly formed, theatre to see Carousel.

Back in the autumn, I took a group from church to see Sister Act, after I discovered that I knew a lady who was a member of the local society who were putting on the show.  Unsurprisingly, the production proved to be very popular and by the time I put our booking in there were insufficient seats left downstairs. Our problems began when I discovered that my group were not very familiar with the layout of the theatre. They headed off for the lifts, 15 minutes later I was still rounding them up from all corners of the theatre. Unfortunately, our seats were the wrong end of a long run of seats. Fortunately, they all made it to their alloted places before the lights dimmed and the curtain rose, having inched their way along the row, dodgy knees, walking sticks and all.

As the story unfolded I discovered that Sister Act is the tale of a lady of ill repute, who ends up in a convent. Having only seen Sister Act 2, I hadn't realised why Whoopi Goldberg was in the convent in the first place. I just assumed she was just a nun with a great voice. Once I grasped the finer detail of the storyline, I kept taking sneaky peaks along the row, keeping a sharp eye peeled for any early indications of moral outrage, but they were all having a whale of a time.

As the previous trip went so well I decided to make a similar booking, as another local operatic society was putting on a Carousel, a story I wasn't familiar with, but it is a musical. What can possibly go wrong? This time I was determined to avoid the circle access debacle, and book early, ensuring we were seated in the stalls, where the access is far simpler. I made an announcement in church, and checked who wanted to come who had joined us on the previous visit. Fifteen people signed up. I was about to make an online booking when it was suggested that we booked through a member of the society who a couple of the congregation knew. This meant that each ticket was cheaper than the list price, plus we did not have to pay the booking fee to the Box Office. The Operatic Society get more income as they do not have to pay the theatre for selling the tickets on their behalf. Result!

A week or so after I placed the order, at the point when the cheque had been handed over and the tickets were moving from person to person along an invisible chain, one of the ladies asked if it was possible to get an additional ticket.
"No problem," said I, knowing that we had a block of tickets on one side of the auditorium.
 "It should be easy-peasy to get an extra ticket next to one of the seats. Leave it with me..."
I went online and noticed that there only pairs of seats between our booking and the next. The software would not allow me to select a seat from any of these pairs, as it would leave a single seat they would be unlikely to sell. I could see the sense in this, but thought there must be a way that I can book an adjacent seat. I decided to go directly to the booking office.  The lady was sympathetic,but were also unable to process the request for just one seat the same reason. The  receptionist advised me to book directly with the operatic society.  Then I had a brainwave.
"Let's take G1 (aged 10)"
I sent her mother a message, and ascertained that she had nothing lined up for that evening.
"Book the date, I have something planned for her..." I advised her mother mysteriously
"Oh great, she will love that!"
I was all set to book two seats direct with the theatre, expecting to pay full price, when I noticed that children's tickets were half price. A mutual friend advised me that it would still be beneficial to book to the Operatic Society if I was to book through them.  A few emails and phone calls later and I am assured that the tickets will stll be £14 each.  An envelope was passed over to the society, with a scribbled note that one ticket is for a child..  A week or so later, two tickets arrive.  The envelope is marked 2 x £15.  I am bemused, stick them to one side and forget about it.  A few days later I get a phone call.
"Can you send back the tickets. The theatre got it wrong. You should still have got the party rate, £14, and one of the tickets should have been half price. Send them back, and I will get them reprinted and send you the balance."
Well, I couldn't complain about that...
Meanwhile one of the original fifteen realised they were double-booked.  Then one was poorly. I thought things were going too well...

Finally, the evening came. Lifts had been sorted. Spare seats filled. We had the right number of people for the seats and the right number of tickets for those who came.  People were meeting people that they had no idea were connected in any way. It was all very jolly. We settled down, the lights were dimmed and the curtain lifted to reveal a carousel.  As the story unfolded I realised that the story was a tale of domestic violence, and the importance of staying with your man and forgiving him, even though he hurts you. Great!

Theatres increasingly rely on volunteers to function. In the past ice cream has been available from the kiosk in the foyer, but that had the shutters down and no-one was home. People were roaming around, the stairways muttering
"Where is the ice cream?" 

We went upstairs and purchased ours from the bar. Big Daughter also purchased some stange bright blue pop.  Despite its disconcerting brightness, she seemed to think highly of it, as she said it was wicked, or something similar... I hope she drank it quickly, to prevent it from disturbing other theatregoers by glowing in the dark...

There was just time to take a quick photo of the family taking this high brow entertainment very seriously before the lights dimmed. I nearly dropped my ice cream in the process, much to big daughters amusement. I intended to share out the Malteasers (also purchased from the bar) but just extracting the packet from my bag made so much noise that I was deterred from even attempting to open the pack. Light as they are they were not going to float out of the pack without assistance!

The next planned visit is to see White Christmas. What horrors could that seasonal sentimental story possibly reveal?

Monday, 12 March 2018

What A Difference A Day Makes

Today, I am enjoying the peace and quiet.  Everyone is out.  Unlike other days, the furthest I have been is two doors down the road, to place the dustbin in pole position for emptying.

Yesterday, there were eleven people in the kitchen. 
Chairs moving. 
Plates passed. 
Food shared.
Sprout protests.
Ice cream served - toffee or strawberry?
Lego bricks dropped and retreived.
News and photos shared. 
Children redirected. 
Mr Men books read.

Today, there is just me and my thoughts.  Plates have been washed and stacked neatly away. I spend the day preparing for Tuesday's after-school club. Card is chopped, prototypes tested and refined, double-sided sticky tape is attached. Seeds are found. Self-adhesive sparkly shapes are counted, so I know how many to allow for each child, without running out. Resources are gathered and packed, ready for the morrow.

DH disappears on various missions, the pile of printed card grows. DH reappears with food shopping, grabs a sandwich, and disappears. I cut more card. Bright green bases for bookmarks. Bible verses are printed on bright yellow card. I check how they fit against the width of the base, and trim them all again. All seventeen.

Yesterday, G4 (aged 5) and G5 (aged 3) ran round and round the garden, jumping or striding from stepping stone to stepping stone. They are the perfect distance for G4 (aged 5) to rush around the garden. G5 (aged 3) being smaller in stature, was fine whilst jumping, but when running found her stride was too short.  G3 (aged 8) periodically joins them, before she is lured away to watch The Simpsons with the KHT.

Today, the birds and squirrels have reappeared now the garden is devoid of noisy small people and theirs are the acrobatics I observe.

Yesterday, the ground was dry, with intermittent showers that didn't even wet the ground, well until approximately 5pm, when the rain set in.  I checked the weather on my phone, and hurriedly rescued the towels before they were too wet.

Today it has rained almost non-stop, pausing briefly, as if to take a breath, before continuing its ongoing offensive. One path is flooded, there is standing water on the lawn.  The pond is full, patio awash, fences soaked.  The washing has been drying indoors, thanks to the dehumidifier!

Yesterday, the children bickered and protested, wanting the toy that another had.

Today, not even the squirrels are arguing with each other, or the cat. 

Meanwhile, in the pond, the orgy continues.  Snow is forecast for Sunday, but the frogs haven't watched the weather forecast, as far as they are concerned it is spring.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Round and Round We Go...

"Polesworth Abbey!"
It was one of those moments when a phrase from the past suddenly arrives in the present.

A few weeks ago my fellow explorer advised me that Polesworth Abbey was recommended as a place well worth a visit. We googled and discovered that it wasn't open on a Monday. We resolved to visit on a Friday, but we were in no hurry. After all, it looks as if it has been there a few hundred years, and doesn't appear to be in imminent danger of collapse!

Friday's forecast was not promising - brightish earlier with rain setting in later.  Given the recent melting snow, anywhere outdoorsy would need decent footpaths. However, before we went anywhere I had to make the bed for incoming guests, and remove any stray airers. The theory of having a spare room is great. The reality is that it gets used, and has to be transformed to look relatively unused when visitors are expected!

We had visited both Solihull and Worcester recently, so we needed somewhere other than shops to visit. It was at this point I remembered Polesworth Abbey. Just outside the village was a tall post visible from the M42. We had the vague idea that we might be able to find out the precise location of this mysterious landmark on the same jaunt - weather permitting.

Off we went, up the M42, which was busy with traffic including heavy lorries avoiding the roadworks on the M6. We turned off the M42 at J10, onto Watling Street, and then into the village of Dordon, which is generously littered with speed humps. Dordon isn't like the typical Midlands villages I am used to, with a smattering of detached bungalows, a few larger houses and ex-council houses transformed by money into desirable residences.  Instead, small terraced houses lined one side of the main street, with newer developments opposite.
"Of course! It is a mining village!"
"Coal? Here?" replied my chauffeur, with surprise.
"Oh yes, there was quite a bit of mining in North Warwickshire. I had forgotten!"
Dordon merges into Polesworth, with just a street sign as the demarcation point. Locals are probably very aware of the difference, as Polesworth feels as if it evolved far more gradually than the adjoining village. We spotted the Abbey close to the river, and drove past the entrance looking for parking. I spot large black cars outside the church.
"Oops! There is a funeral on!"
"You sure?
"Positive! Let us go and find the post on the hill and then have lunch." I google pole on hill Polesworth.
"It looks to be in Pooley Country Park."
"We passed a sign for that earlier."
The Satnav is reset. It tells us to continue along the current road. We head away from the village.

If you regularly travel along the M42/A42 there are certain things you notice. One is the pole on the hill surrounded by trees.
The second is a large aerial, which from a distance looks like a gigantic tree, but closer to appears to be more like a pyramid.
The third is the church above the quarry at Breedon on the Hill.

To the KHT's delight, we passed right by the large aerial, which she calls 'the electric tree', before the sat nav took us back on to the M42...

We head west on the M42, towards the pole on the hill. As we pass by the satnav proudly announces
"You have now reached your destination."
Well, THAT was helpful, not!

We leave the M42 at J10, again, and turn back onto Watling Street, and turn off at Dordon,
Did I mention the speed humps? Dordon has speed humps. Lots of them...
We follow the signs we saw earlier to Pooley Country Park, which is situated next to an industrial park.

On a weekday during term time, the park is almost deserted.
The cafe is closed.
The toilets are open Phew!
And flush. Phew!
But there is no water from the taps. BOO!
We pay for parking (once we find the pay machine), examine the map and head off in search of the 'Golden Tower of Leaves'.
The footpath takes us under the M42, next to the canal. We opt for the longer route, winding around the hill towards the pole.

Silhouetted against the sky it looks dark and mysterious, but as we turn and face the tower, it glows golden, despite the lack of sun.

In typical foolhardy fashion, we opt for the quicker way down. Walking boots prove to be superior to wellies. After a visit to a nearby Costa, we return to the Abbey, via J10, Watling street, Dordon and the speed humps.

The funeral was over, as the flowers by the war memorial testified. However, a frantic spring clean is now in progress, with feather dusters, vacuums and buckets and marigolds.  Some items were covered over with purple cloth, as it was Lent. The small army of cleaners urged us to return on a quieter day after Lent, when everything would be uncovered and it would not be such a hive of frantic activity.

There were items I would have liked to have been able to stop and ponder over, but the ladies were busy ahead of Mothering Sunday service in a few days time, so we left them to their labour of love and headed home, just as it started to rain.

Mindful of the busyness of the M42 on the way, some bright spark suggested that took the non-motorway route home. However, instead of taking us down the A446, the satnav decided to take us through the heart of Birmingham, past the infamous Spitfire Roundabout. It is rarely good news when that hoves into view!

Sometimes, the route you travel is not the one you expect to take, but it is still interesting, nevertheless, even in the rain!

Friday, 9 March 2018

Continental Cookery

Today DH was cooking dinner and decided to experiment. Unfortunately, the KHT is not keen on experimentations. She likes a very limited range of food AND THAT IS IT.

In the absence of any lasagne sheets, DH cooked cannelloni. With a variation. He omitted the tomatoes because he thought the KHT didn't like them.

He served the dish.

The KHT regarded it very suspiciously.
"You could have bought one ready-made," was her response, with the look on her face of one who is anticipating imminent disaster. Then she muttered a phrase I never expected to hear her say.
"Where are the vegetables?"
"There are carrots in there and leeks." replied the chef
Having acquired a taste for pizza, I think she was mostly missing the tomatoes.
If I ever cook mince, she knows it will have a host of vegetables, disguised well enough so that she can eat them without noticing.
The KHT isn't a big fan of anything that requires too much chewing. So she decided that a meatless pasta dish might be preferable.

DH had prepared an extra portion, so the plan was that the KHT could have cannelloni two days running...

Later that evening she gave me a note for DH it read
'Lasagne a la Humphrey
Carots (sic), onions, seaweed, tomatoes, kelp lasagne sheets, cheese sauce, parsley
Garlic bread (optional) Add salt for texture.'

Maybe we should try this recipe out, just to find out what it tastes like.

The next evening we asked the KHT what she would like for tea.
"Whatever is in the fridge"
So she was duly served the extra portion of pasta and ate it all, with apparent enjoyment. Mind you a day old Lasagne is usually even better than that which is freshly cooked. What a difference a day makes!

After dinner, after a discussion about tables, she drew a plan of her ideal dining table set up, based on a cafe we visited in Tewkesbury, She was particularly taken with the holder for the 'continents' like salt and pepper, perfect for serving a European dish.

The KHT makes a wonderful Mrs Malaprop.