Saturday, 31 August 2013

Light and shade in Wales...

It’s all light and shade isn’t it?

Well, here I am back from almost two weeks in Wales and I had a really great time just meandering about, drifting here then drifting away there again, dipping into the light then plunging into the shade to dodge the brightness for a while.

I’d almost forgotten what a beautiful place our part of Wales is in the sunshine, not at all hard to do with it being Wales and all, but as I walked down to Poo stick bridge to drop a stick or two I was dazzled by the sunshine through the leaves and the way the breeze made the spheres of light pop into existence and then out again.

I didn’t do much whilst I was away– fixed and painted my gates, hung a new nesting box, cut my hedges, tried to decide whether I should quit blogging whilst I'm still ahead. Bits and pieces really, but I did take time to further explore the area.

Yes, I’ve been going there for twenty years and still keep tripping across places and things that I’ve never stumbled upon before. Don’t worry, I won’t go into it now but I’ll probably tell you a few tall tales over the next few weeks about my adventures in Wales. Of course that’s if I can be bothered to write about them and you can be bothered to read what I write. As a taster though it’ll mainly be about lighthouses, birds, fish and chips, magic, beer, stones, wet rot, blogger's remorse and a village where women have facial hair.

It’s all light and shade. I’ll try to stick to the light.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Black chilli...

When I bought my chilli plant in the sale – 50p instead of £1.99 – I failed to realise that it was black. Just how I didn’t spot it is beyond me, maybe it was because I didn’t really expect it to grow and if it did I wasn’t really expecting any peppers. Just look at it now, my black peppers are growing well.

In reality they are a deep purple-blue and not really black and the gardening glitterati  describe them as a medium hot Pepper for cropping indoors or outdoors that matures from red through to purple. Early UK trials have shown it to have great promise in our moderate climate and could possibly be the first real opportunity to try for outdoor cropping.

Yes, Pepper Gusto Purple F1 sounds interesting and if my half dozen peppers (so far) are anything to go by it does just what it says on the can - well, label actually. It rates 10,000 on the the Scoville scale which is the measurement of the pungency (spicy heat) of chilli peppers. The number of Scoville heat units indicates the amount of capsaicin present per unit of dry mass. The chillis with the highest rating on the Scoville scale exceed one million Scoville units, and include specimens of naga jolokia, bhut jolokia, the “Dorset naga” and the “Ghost chilli”. I wonder if they call it that because you die after eating it?

By comparison mine is about as hot as Peter pepper. But the proof, as they say, is in the eating of the pudding. Well, I’m off to Wales for a couple of weeks and will be taking my chilli with me. I won’t be making a chilli pudding but I can feel a chilli con carne or some spicy bean soup (perhaps both) coming on. I’ll let you know if it’s medium or ultra-hot on my return.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

A*, A, B...

Holly, jumping for joy, is the fourth one along. the rather happy, skinny, blonde one.

A*, A, B.

Not too bad at all, so now it's off to Manchester Met to study for a degree in English and creative writing.

She's always worked hard at her lessons and it hasn't always been easy or plain sailing. The girl's done great and deserves her success.

I wish a lot of things for Holly, but along with happiness, health and so many riches that she can chuck her spare money my way, I wish her an exciting and satisfying future.

There's no point in being a writer if you don't write and without excitement what would you write about?

Just a moment, I'll write you a list.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Wishing on a star…

Well, the stars didn’t shoot for me last night despite sitting outside until the early hours. It was the scudding cloud that foiled my stellar experience I think and not the wine. At one point, during a fleeting break in the grey flatness, I may just have seen the tiniest, tiniest, shooter but I can’t be certain.

Of course, I missed my best chance to see the Perseids meteor shower this time around. The night before was meant to be the zenith for material falling from the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle that last passed near the Earth in 1992. My intentions were good. I set my alarm for three in the morning but when the time came I slept on. I don’t even remember turning the alarm off in my sleep which I suppose I must have.

I do remember Swift-Tuttle in the sky all those years ago though. I was down in Devon and stood outside watching the tail of the glowing dot for a long, long time. I was wishing on that almost star that I’d win the lottery. It was the first ever lottery week and I fully expected, like so many others I guess, to win.

I didn’t and it wasn’t.

I didn’t win the lottery any more than the cult that believed Swift-Tuttle to be a rescuing spaceship was whisked away to a new planet to make a fresh start with the benefit of Earthly hindsight. How strange that they believed that; almost as strange as me believing that I would win that first lottery. What’s even stranger though is that although I have the memory of the comet/lottery connection they were actually two unconnected events almost two years apart. Perhaps I wished upon some other lucky star that evening or perhaps I wished upon the comet on some other lottery night. Either way, it’s hard to believe that was over twenty years ago.

Comet Swift-Tuttle won't be visiting our neck of the woods again until the year 2125. Only twelve years to wait. Perhaps I’ll win the lottery the next time it passes showering us with shooting stars.

I can wish.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Silver lining...

They say that every cloud has a silver lining, personally I don’t believe that to be true. Some clouds will have grey innocuous linings, some will have no lining at all, and others will have linings of deepest darkest black. It all depends on how the weather the cloud floats in turns out. Clouds are like that, sometimes the weather will brighten into a sunny day and other times it’ll turn into a storm. Of course sometimes it will just be one of those grey days when nothing much happens and then the cloud will simply keep the sun from shining - not going either way. Those types of cloud are probably the worst, particularly if they stick around for a long time. In weather forecast terms Michael Fish might have called them areas of depression. How very apt.

I’ve just broken out of a long period of cloud I think. There are lots of reasons why I was in the cloud in the first place and as many reasons as to why I’m out of it; but I am and that’s a good thing. For the first time in years I feel that most clouds really do have a silver lining and I've learnt that if you can’t see it at first then you just have to keep on looking until you are absolutely sure that there isn’t one inside the cloud somewhere.

Now don’t get me wrong, I haven’t lost my grip on the darker reality of life. I know that at some point something will come along and I’ll be in that big storm again, but I’m going to do my best to avoid it. I’m going to look closely at the linings of my clouds until I’m absolutely sure that that there isn’t a tiny glint of silver somewhere deep inside.

Well, at least I'm going to try.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Autumn already?

Okay, so it is only the second week of August but here is the evidence that autumn is already here. No, I’m not talking mellow fruitfulness and the smell on bonfires in the air. Nor am I talking early morning autumn mists, turning leaves or the buggering off of the swallows to sunnier and warmer climes. I’m talking those well known harbingers of the third season of the year… blackberries.

I discovered my first wild blackberries of the season today; and I have to tell you that not only were they decidedly out of season, but out of their usual hedgerow habitation too.

I found these growing in the shrubs at our local Aldi. I’d gone there to pick up a few essentials – cheap red wine, cheaper beer, a German sausage or two, a device for cleaning guttering which will go in the shed and add to my collection of Aldi ‘good idea at the time’ devices; including branch loppers, extending window cleaning sponges, spiral weed removers and an inflatable birdbath.

I don’t quite know what shrubs they plant in the ‘verges’ around the Aldi car park - they look like a few dead rambling roses and some heavy duty intruder-resistant hedge spike trees – but buried in the tangle I found the most fruit laden bramble I’ve ever seen. Anyway, I tasted a couple of the deep purple berries and… nectar! The sweetest, bitterest, juiciest blackberries I’ve ever tasted in all my long and grumpy years. So much better than those tasteless supermarket-bought excuses and even better than the rained-on blackberries we pick from our lane in Wales.

Luckily I had a plastic bag in the car and in just a couple of minutes I had a good sized portion despite the odd looks from the people queuing in their cars to wait their turn for a space in the completely packed (as always) Aldi car park.

They are going to taste great along with my home made vanilla ice cream and a splash of five-year-old sloe gin after supper.

Oh well, an early autumn does have its consolations I suppose. I wonder if there are any mushrooms about?

Saturday, 10 August 2013


The garden continues to meander in its own random way. So much so that I’m no longer sure what I planted and what has sown itself. It doesn’t matter; I love the way my plants this year have to fight for a little space - candytuft fighting for the same light as the foxgloves and my huge hollyhock plant.

It’s been a haven for butterflies too. I’ve seen more butterflies in the garden this year than ever before. Usually we might get one or two fluttering their way across the cobbles, but this year there have been dozens - tortoiseshells, red admirals, cabbage whites, even a meadow blue; and I’ve not seen one in the garden before.

Of course Luna also loves butterflies and has become very adept in catching them. She brings them indoors in her mouth and watches them as they flutter around on the hall floor; mainly cabbage whites but she’s had a red admiral or two. We’ve managed to save most of them, not all unfortunately but most, and all of the red admirals. At times she’s been bringing in half a dozen or more a day. I hate to think how many she’s caught outside. I found her eyeing a dragonfly by the pond the other day. She was very interested but couldn’t quite catch it.

Oh well, at least she hasn't caught any birds... yet.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Green fingers…

I think that my fingers are reasonably green. It runs in the blood and I was born in a time where everybody gardened and grew their own veg. Only the very rich had gardeners and getting some man in just to cut your hedge was unheard of. You did it yourself and without the benefit of hedge trimmers – snip, snip, snip.

Still, green fingers are all well and good but not everything ‘gardening’ works out quite as expected. For instance: ­­­­no matter how closely I follow the instructions on the back of the seed packet sometimes things don’t grow as I might have expected them to - and in some cases not at all.

I once bought a packet of Himalayan blue poppy seeds. I knew that they would be a challenge when I read that the seeds should be soaked and rolled in a wet paper towel then placed in the fridge for a few days before sowing onto the surface of individual pots of gritty compost. I followed the instructions to the letter, placing my pots in a cold frame to germinate, not at all perturbed by the statement that the seeds could take anything from between two weeks and three months to germinate.

I waited two weeks, then four, then six. After three months there was still no sign of a plant, after six months the pots still resembled miniature deserts. At about 10 months I gave up and threw the contents of my pots, seeds and all, into the bin.

Maybe that was a mistake, after all you never can tell. Last year I bought a chocolate cosmos. It grew for a while then seemed to falter before flowering so I left it in a quiet corner of the yard and forgot all about it. This year I was surprised to see fresh growth in the pot, so planted it into a bigger one where it has thrived, getting bigger and stronger each day. I now have my first chocolate bloom and there seem to be plenty still to come.

This year’s disaster are my scabiosa – pincushion flowers as my Nan used to call them. Now these are meant to be easy to grow from seed so I planted up a couple of trays with two varieties including the giants which cost me a fortune. In all I sowed four packets of scabiosa seed and I have only three plants, Still, three is better than none and in my defence it was a pretty lousy start to the year in weather terms.

So my cosmos came back and my pincushions, though limited, has at least appeared. Maybe it’s time to try the blue poppy again just to see how green my fingers are these days.

Now where did I put that green paint?.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Flat number four...

Ah, a puncture!

It was my wife that spotted the nail sticking out of the side of the tyre. A grey nail, like the ones they use in the roofing trade. Not the short stubby ones, the longer ones that they use for things other than they use the short stubby ones for.

‘Not another puncture.’ I thought.

Then I remembered that in thirty years of driving and a yearly mileage that was at times in excess of 45,000 miles I have only ever had 3 other punctures. Not bad going I think.

The first was in Pevensey in the seventies when an unlicensed, uninsured and altogether silly me had a flat whilst on a camping holiday with friends. We had no jack so had to wait for a friendly passing motorist to give us a hand. Luckily one soon came along and changed the tyre for us while we stood around watching just how to do it..

My second was on my way to Scarborough. I had a Laguna at the time and the flat happened somewhere along the A64. Luckily I was able to get it off the road and into a quiet cut-out before spending the next hour trying to get the locking wheel nuts off. Luckily this time the jack was where it was meant to be and, with the help of the car manual, I succeeded eventually and managed to continue on my way - all dirty hands, my suit trousers filthy at the knees, and my tie askew.

The third was as we were descending the mountain in Llithfaen in North Wales. I struck a rock that had tumbled from the wall and the tyre began to hiss immediately. By the time we reached the bottom by the bridge the tyre was almost flat and this time there was no way I could move the locking wheel nut. I called the AA who sent out a local garage after a couple of long, long hours. They couldn’t remove it either, so they towed us to the garage in Pwllheli where they broke two special tools and eventually had to cut off the nut with an acetylene torch.

This time it wasn’t so bad. We changed the tyre, putting on the emergency spare that looked ridiculously small, and took it to our friendly tyre chap who replaced it. Apparently tyres with nails in the side are not allowed to be repaired by law so it was a complete replacement. So that’s flat number four and at that price I hope I wait another ten years for number five.

Monday, 5 August 2013

A pair of poached pears...

I've been meaning to get around to poaching a pear or two for years. Yes, I do mean years, but somehow I've never quite got around to it. Perhaps it's the 'waste' of red wine or the faffing about with the peeler, but somehow my poached pears have always eluded me; even when I've bought pears especially to do it.

Yesterday my mum-in-law gave me two lovely pairs. Well, when I say gave I mean that she was persuaded. She had six pears and six pears is far too much of a good thing for anyone. I suppose you could say that I poached them from her. But then again I doubt that you are that corny - unlike myself.

She didn't put up much of a fight and, after a few threats and a little intimidating cracking of knuckles, I managed to get her to part with a couple.

I was glad to get away. That knuckle cracking of hers was getting a little too scary.

Once home I decided that tonight would be the night that I poached my pears. Peeling them carefully with my best peeler, I sliced their lush bottom flat so that I could stand them in the pan. I left the stalks on the pears so that I could lift them, made a mix of Merlot and a couple of ounces of sugar and poured it into a saucepan to warm with a cinnamon stick. I almost cried as I glugged my wine into the pan. Then I carefully placed the pears in the mix and brought it to the boil.

It bubbled and bubbled, the delicious smell of cinnamon and pear filling the room. I tried to catch a sniff of the alcohol as it floated away, but all I managed to do was burn my nose on the steam.

For the next fifteen minutes I simmered the syrup, carefully spooning the beautiful red liquid over my pears from time to time. I tested that they were cooked through with a cocktail stick, removed them from the heat and left them to cool for twenty minutes. I then popped them in the fridge so that they could absorb even more of the rich ruby syrup.

I can tell you that they were worth waiting for. Slightly warmed in the microwave and served with the syrup and a little vanilla ice cream they were totally delicious.

Next time I might poach three pears from my mum-in-law and poach one for her. Well, I'm a big-hearted kind of chap. It's just how I am, I really can't help myself.

Courgette abundance...

My Latest pick of courgettes which were home-grown from a packet of seed well past its use-by date. The bottle of beer is just for scale... I'm not going to drink it - honestly!

Goodness knows what we are going to do with these and all the others which are coming along at the bottom of the garden. Of course it isn't my garden, it's the mum-in-laws. I cleared a patch and put in three plants. She really loves keeping an eye on them and watching them grow; and they have grown huge. Next year I may try a few other things... I may even dig up her lawn.

So many courgettes and so few meals. So far we've had them stuffed, deep fried in tempura batter, dipped in Parmesan and crisp fried in a skillet, seared on the barbecue, steamed. Tonight we are having a version of moussaka made with courgette instead of aubergine. I'm looking forward to trying that.

I really want to stuff and deep fry a flower. I'm told that they taste delicious.

Saturday, 3 August 2013


When life presents you with lemons, make a gin and tonic.

Gin, tonic, ice, lemon, lime - chinks!

Friday, 2 August 2013

The adorable Miss Luna…

I think it fair to say that the adorable Miss Luna has been feeling the heat­­ in this summer of summers we are having in the UK. Well, it has been hot and she does have all that fur to contend with. Of course it could be worse; her whiteness at least reflects the heat unlike poor Blackie Doo-Dah down the road who looks like he’s about to catch fire all the time.

Luna has been seeking out shade and cool spots. In the house, which is generally cool but has warmed up considerably in this sub-tropical heat, the fireplace seems a good place to lie. Perhaps it’s the downdraught from the chimney pot high up above; but whatever her reasons she’s appeared on several occasions blacked by soot and leaving sooty footprints.

Outside she’s been staying closer to home during the day, sitting by the side of the fishpond and trying to catch the water from the fountain when she’s not trying to catch the fish. Other times she’ll chase bees and butterflies. She’s caught a couple but the stings don’t seem to make her any the more wary. When it gets really hot she seeks the shade of the mauve wisteria, sitting on the wall within its tangled web of branches grinning like the Cheshire cat that she is - I swear she’ll disappear with a loud ‘Pop!’ one day.

When evening comes we all retire to the front of the house to sit and drink wine and watch the sun go down behind the house across the road. We always harness Luna in the evenings to stop her wandering off before nightfall. At first she wasn’t sure about it, but now she’s relaxed and sits on the path taking up the last of the day’s warmth from the stone slabs and waiting for the very best titbits from the barbecue.

The adorable Miss Luna’s summer just goes on and on. If only we could all be cats.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Who killed conversation?...

The art of conversation is like dead, and stuff. Or at least it seems to be dying or so they have been saying for years now. I’ll text you, I’ll e-mail you; perhaps when conversation finally dies they’ll stop saying it’s dying - well the would have to wouldn’t they.

I don’t know when conversation started to die; maybe it was the television that silenced a generation, or the cinema a couple of generations before. Certainly I have to agree that in this world of social media, texting and e-mail the spoken word seems to be far less important and less generally used than it must have been at say the turn of the last century when you had to go to a telegraph station to say something silently.

Mind you, smoke signals, semaphore, signal lights and tom-toms had all been around for a while; but not generally easily accessed by the public unless you were a Red Indian or lighthouse keeper of course. Letters were the thing and they only worked if you could write and the person you were sending the letter to could read.

No, it took the coming of the mobile phone to revolutionise the way we converse. I text my daughter that her tea is ready even though she’s only two floors away in the house; it’s the only way to get her full attention. I’ve seen people in the same office e-mailing each other – hell, I’ve done it myself. There’s no doubt that it is far easier to deliver bad news by text or message – you’re fired, we are over, I’m not coming back, the dog is dead – but somehow it seems a tad insensitive. Surely good news is a face to face conversational thing even if it is on the videoconferencing phone. But no, all too often that celebratory happy birthday, well done, congratulations, my tests are clear, all go down one of the voiceless, faceless routes that we all carry around in our pockets these days.

Of course when you consider that parking is one of the top five topics of conversation among adults over 21 it’s easy to explain why conversation is becoming rare. What interesting lives we lead. Mind you, there are pockets of conversationalists still to be found. They are called women. Yes, get two women together and conversation commences; and such interesting conversation it is. Women’s top ten favourite conversation topics are: 1. Hopes and aspirations. 2. Hobbies/interests in general. 3. Music. 4. Dreams. 5. Romance. 6. Friends. 7. Travel. 8. Vacations. 9. Movies. 10. Entertainment .

Men don’t have 10 topics to talk about. Men can just about scrape three – sport, cars and car related things (like motorway junctions) and beer.

Maybe one day we’ll lose the use of our vocal chords as mind messaging through an implanted communication device takes over. Oh well, at least I’ll still have the voices in my head to talk to.