Wednesday, 29 August 2012

I haven't disappeared, honest.

Hi all,

Sorry about my overwhelming lack of posts this week, haven't been in a very posty mood. Also blogger has been playing up something rotten, giving me warnings about being logged in at another location (not true) and not uploading pictures for love nor money. I have lost a post of two which has made me more despondent and commenting on your entries has become a battle of wills between me and computer blog land, me usually losing after 20 attempts. What the hell is going on here?
After a lovely day of sunshine yesterday, the heavens have opened. I am desperately trying to find a time to dig one of the back beds out because I have some clematis to get in but yesterday was taken up with mowing the lawns and entertaining family who called in for the day.
Anyway, suffice to say, I will be back soon, when I can get some pictures uploading and sort my life out a bit.
I am still reading your blogs, I promise, but lack of comments is just a blip in the system, sorry.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

microcosms of my house.

I thought I would show you some of the interesting items that mean a lot to me that I have on display in various places in my house. Most things have a story behind them and I like the quirky and extraordinary things you pick up through life. Often it is an association with a person that makes you love something, other times it is a situation in which you got them and other times there is no rhyme nor reason for why you like them.

I loved this print as soon as I saw the original on the wall in Chatsworth House. It is by Cornelius de Vos and is a portrait of his daughter painted in 1623-4.
And here is the mystery. I bought this more than 25 years ago and then 10 years ago my sister had a daughter. When my niece was about 5 or 6 she looked just like this girl, I don't mean a passing resemblance, I mean the spitting image, expression, colouring, the lot. It could be a portrait of my niece.

So from a purchase that is 25 years old to a more up to date one. I picked this up for a song a few months ago and loved it because of its name, for obvious reasons. It is signed by the Hogarth Players, 1879. I wonder what sort of play/musical it was?

Now I know that ivory is a very controversial material when used for artistic purposes but this very old piece was passed on to me by a grand parent. I don't condone killing elephants for their tusks any more, but I do still appreciate the beauty and artistry that has gone into this piece. It is nearly a foot tall and carved out of a single piece. It is the amazing work of a true craftsman who is long dead and gone. Sentimental memories.

Some of you may have read my post a few months back about Enid Blyton, relating specifically to her picnics. My first and most wonderful introduction to books came through this much maligned author and I for one loved every single book. The Adventure series was my absolute favourite so when the opportunity arose to get a free copy of the original dust jacket cover I couldn't resist (everyone loves a freeby) and this is framed in my hall. It was painted in 1948 by Stuart Tresilian.

I wonder if any of you could guess what this chest contains? It was a gift from my very first singing teacher, along with the table it sits on (actually it is a set of 4 tables that are dotted in various places around my house). It is actually a mah jong set that she was given by her uncle when she was a girl. It must be well over a hundred years old. So the story goes, it was given to her uncles father by the manager of the National Bank of China as a gift when he was on business there. I wonder who played with it in the past? It contains all the wonderful bamboo and ivory tiles, hand painted as well as some weird currency sticks. It's a real beauty. I did play with it a few times when I was younger and it is a pretty good game.

This was a gift from my best friend, he saw it at bygone times in Chorley and knowing my enjoyment of anything a little quirky got it for me. Who knows what you actually got for you 10d a ride, but I would sure like to find out. The plane is carved in relief from the rest of the picture.

And finally the haunted horse. This heavy bronze horse was left to me in the will of my first singing teacher. It stands about 12 inches tall and weighs a ton. It is haunted because of a very chilling ghostly tale that happened to me in connection with it a few years ago. I will save that story for its own post - probably at Halloween!


Tuesday, 14 August 2012


Hello all,
Well another 3 days at home and things are progressing a bit in the garden. Finally I have tomatoes growing. Not many, but it is a start. Been a bit of a disastrous tomato growing season but I kept my hopes up for a bit of a crop.

Based on the shape of these I think that they are the cream sausage variety, but I confess that I lost the labels during the garden work. I have another couple of small ones growing here and there but not really worth
taking a photo of yet.
While I was in France I went to a public gardens that had masses of edibles growing. I got the impression that they were free for anyone to pick but I was not sure. The tomatoes there made mine look pathetic. Plants taller than me with toms bigger than a man's fist all ripe and delicious looking. Still I don't lose heart, any home grown tomatoes are a lovely bonus.

My cabbages are coming on nicely and I am going to try and get a raised bed in this week to get the cabbages and caulis in the ground.

My potatoes are looking ready as the tops have mostly died down. Don't want to pull them all up yet as I am going away, but I am assuming they are happy to sit in the ground for a while? Anyone?

Finally I have some chilli news. They are beginning to grow at last. These must be the slowest plants in the world as they have been in since last March.

I'm doubting on seeing any interesting activity on them until next summer really, but they look healthy good plants.

The very good news is that the slugs seem to hate my deck (I think it must be uncomfortable to slime over) so all my pots are finally completely free of the little bastards.

Hope everyone is having good gardening times.

Monday, 13 August 2012

And now for a little culture

I am asked so often how I ended up being a singer and there are many reasons and answers to this, but in the end there is one reason that overrides all others and that is the sheer beauty of some music and the feeling you get when you perform it.

This is the beautiful Renee Flemming singing the 3rd song in the cycle  of 4 last songs by Richard Strauss (1864-1949). The words are beautiful by themselves and when the music is added for me it is sublime.


Nun der Tag mich müd gemacht,
soll mein sehnliches Verlangen
freundlich die gestirnte Nacht
wie ein müdes Kind empfangen. 

Hände, laßt von allem Tun,
Stirn, vergiß du alles Denken,
alle meine Sinne nun
wollen sich in Schlummer senken. 

Und die Seele unbewacht
will in freien Flügen schweben,
um im Zauberkreis der Nacht
tief und tausendfach zu leben.


Now that the day has made me so tired,
my dearest longings shall
be accepted kindly by the starry night
like a weary child.
Hands, cease your activity,
head, forget all of your thoughts;
all my senses now
will sink into slumber.
And my soul, unobserved,
will float about on untrammeled wings
in the enchanted circle of the night,
living a thousandfold more deeply.

This pretty much sums up how I feel today so there is nothing to add.

Monday, 6 August 2012

And relax....

Today has been a day of total relaxation for me. I have worked very hard in the garden all weekend and I am off to France tomorrow with work and won't be back until Sunday, so I decided to just simply enjoy what I had today.

Of course I couldn't be totally idle and transplanted some fruit bushes that had had to come out when the deck was built, but that was an easy and relaxing job.

My parents came for lunch and my mum brought me a climbing rose that she picked out for me yesterday.
I put it in so that it will one day climb over the rose arch that I am going to put in between the deck and the trellis. It is called red facade and already has a lot of blooms and new buds to come. A happy looking rose and hey, you can never have enough roses is my philosophy.

I then sat in the sunshine on my deck with a glass of lemonade and some magazines that my mum had finished with and passed on to me. Good way to spend a Monday.

I am not really looking forward at all to this next trip to France. It involves me going to London for starters as I am flying from London city airport (not so convenient) and I am not wholly enjoying work at the moment for various reasons. I am going to France three times in August (thankfully the second two occasions I am flying from Manchester airport) and rather than being exciting trips away they are likely to be very difficult ones for me and not much fun. Still you make you own fun and I am working with a lovely team of people, some of whom have developed into friends during the course of the year. Also the place I am going to this week has a wonderful market on Saturday morning and I am hoping to smuggle back some nice produce in my suitcase. They do fantastic honey and strings of garlic and smoked garlic. Yumm.

Today was a very good day and I really got to appreciate what I have outdoors!

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Garden update 2

I have been working so much in the garden this weekend, we have had good weather (for the most part) and I have loved working out there, although I am sore all over now from the digging. As I have said before I have very stony soil and it takes hours to create over even a small new bed and remove all the stones and rocks out of it, but once those stones are out, they are out forever.

For those that haven't seen the garden as it was when I moved in here are a couple of photos from back then.

A very good bland canvas.

I spent a few months messing about with ideas and drawing lots of plans for what I actually wanted. I needed to preserve the flats part of the garden as much as possible to utilise the space for planting and at the same time I wanted to get the most of the sloped area which is very difficult to work with.

So at last having finalised the plan I put it into action and developed the first stage of the garden, ie, the construction part.

I put in the deck which I am delighted with. I didn't want to lose any of the wonderful view, but I did want to gain some privacy from neighbours and gain a large area to sit in and to have a lot of pots of flowers and vegetables.

The large area is 3 m2 and so there is plenty of room for seating and a table up there. Also underneath is a lot of room for future storage, maybe even a wood store when I finally get a wood burning stove.

Now at the other end of the garden I wanted to split it into two 'rooms' The flat part has been preserved and trellises have been erected at the top of the slope. More trellises are now installed above the wall to gain me privacy from the dog walkers who could see straight into my living room before but I can still see the lovely dry stone wall.

At the moment it looks a bit plain and stark but I am seeing them in the future covered in climbing plants. Today I put in a jasmine and a honeysuckle (seen on the left there) and when I have the energy to dig the next 6 feet  in front of the farther trellis I will plant some other climbers.

I will have another smaller seating area here eventually for sitting on windier days (it can be a very windy garden because it is up on the hill) and it will be surrounded with flower and vegetable beds eventually.

In time I am planning to put a rose arch between the edge of the deck and the beginning of the trellis with a rambling rose climbing over through summer.

I still have the lower end of the garden to work on in a future summer. I think some raised beds and fruit tress.

In front of the deck I planted (next to the daisies) an azalea. I have acid soil according to my soil test and I added a load of ericacious compost so fingers crossed the plant will be very happy, I love azaleas and will enjoy looking out on this when it is in flower.

So now I look forward to putting more beds in and getting closer to the garden I have planned for. I want much less lawn and more flowers.

Friday, 3 August 2012

First garden update

My work in the garden is finished, those men work so hard and did everything in a day and a half! It was so worth it and I love it! I have not done many photos to share yet because I want to get it cleaned up and some of the plants in, beds dug etc first before I unveil but I will show you a sneak preview of the decking.

I will look forward to having my early morning cup of coffee out there. Notice the little table which is the one I have been using in the kitchen until last week when I got my real table!

Besides this amazing deck they have put in some trellises above the dry stone wall to help with privacy and some more large trellises at the top of the slope to offer me a little private area I could put a table and chairs in, out of the wind. I am going to plant lots of climbers up these soon!

All will be unveiled when I have done some planting and cut out some new beds.

This has taken quite a large chunk of my house budget but I think it was worth it, I have the basis of a garden I have dreamed about and money spent on the home is always a good investment right? Also, on the plus side, I think that I am getting a tax rebate which would more than cover the costs!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

More than cheese on toast.

I was talking to a lovely friend of mine last night and he was telling me how inspired he was by the changes I have made and how wonderful and creative a cook I was now (blush). This was very nice of him to say as I am proud of the kitchen progress I have made even though I am far from wonderful. I had earmarked some cheese in the fridge for a quick and simple cheese on toast tea but I was inspired by his conversation to do better than that.

So here is my recipe for chilli Welsh rarebit.

I toasted to slices of home made bread and spread them with some chutney I had made some time ago. I then separated an egg and whisked up the yolk, mixed it with grated extra strong cheddar, added half a teaspoon of mustard powder and salt and pepper. After whisking up the egg white to a frothy consistency I folded that into the mixture and spread the lot over the chutney covered toast (I knew this was going to be good!). Popped it under the grill until it was bubbling and then spread on some sweet chilli sauce. Finally a dash of the must have ingredient Worcester sauce and sat down to the best cheese on toast I have ever eaten!

If you ever fancy cheese on toast I urge you to try to upgrade it a little, the tiny bit of extra effort was seriously worth it.

Finished my tea with a slice of home made lemon and lime cake I had made earlier in the day to use up some eggs that were on their final use by day.

Not terribly pretty I know, because I should have sifted the icing sugar, but couldn't be bothered, but tastes wonderful.

Today work is starting in the garden on my decking! I can't wait. After it is completed I can get down to creating more flower and veg beds - this will make me very happy - and really get all my garden plans started well before Autumn..  I'll take and share photos of the progress of course.