Saturday, December 27, 2008

Field Walking

Today we ventured out for a short walk to blow away the cobwebs of Christmas and to breath in some fresh country air. The fields reminded me of the first two lines of one of my favourite Christmas carols*

In the Bleak Mid-Winter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

I know the next line is: Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow and that this morning it was just a very heavy frost, but it was cold, it was clear and it was incredibly invigorating. It was also very quiet and peaceful just the kind of simple and contemplative day we needed after this week's festivities.

*In the Bleak Mid Winter - words by Christina Rosetti, 1872 music by Gustav Holst, 1906.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Festive Season

Stay healthly, be happy and enjoy yourselves this Christmas.

Here is the most gorgeous book I received from Sal of Sal's Snippets in her 'give-away'.
Thank-you, Sal.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Something New

After work one afternoon last week we ventured to Trentham Gardens to buy various nuts and spices from the Julian Graves shop in the retail village. I'd heard that there had been a new addition to the attractions there but hadn't seen it.

The 60 metre wheel cost 6 million pounds to construct and put in place and it will be there for a year. It will offer panoramic views of the Italian Gardens and surrounding countryside and the owners of the Trentham Estate hope it will give an extra boost to their visitor figures. It certainly wouldn't have given many views at all on the day we visited as it was grey and misty with a constant, dampening, drizzle of rain. The Stoke City football club is its main sponsor and therefore it has been christened The Potters' Wheel.

It has 42 pods and will carry 336 people on the rides which last about 13 minutes. There weren't many takers on such a grey day and most of the pods were empty but it's new and people need to realise it is there. I hope it will be a great success in the spring and summer, but given the economic downturn and the way people are struggling, I wonder.

A Quick Question - help needed!

I've been wondering recently about changing this blog from the template format to the layout format. As I've been blogging here since March 2005 I'm still on the template format but I'm noticing more and more what the layout format has to offer. There are so many pretty blogs around at the moment with lots of lovely additions that I can't put on mine because I'm not on the layout format. I also have some followers whom I can't show on this blog. When I try to add them the instructions are to change to the layout format but it says that in doing so I may lose some changes. I'm struggling to understand what that means and fearful that if I press the key to change I may loose everything. The other alternative is to start a new blog but I don't really want to do that as I want to keep this one all together. Has anyone changed from the template to the layout format and if so - how did it go and what, if anything, did you lose along the way? I'd really like some advice on this.

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's beginning to feel like Christmas

It has been another busy week trying to cram everything in around work. A week of making gifts, like little hearts to hang on the tree filled with crushed cinamon to give a seasonal aroma.

Added to these Paul's homemade ginger and almond biscuits bagged and ready to go.

Yesterday a drive towards Chesterfield stopping off at the churchyard at Scarcliffe with a holly wreath for Mum and Dad's grave - we could hear the carols being sung at the Sunday morning service in the church as we walked quietly by.

Then it was time for coffee and warm mince pies at a friend's beautiful home where we sat chatting and catching up on news whilst watching the birds on her feeders and the pheasants on her lawn, visiting from the farmer's fields nearby. It was my first mince pie this year and I forgot to make a wish.

After a lovely lunch with my sister and brother in law, more pleasant chatter and exchange of cards and presents to put under the tree, we drove back via Matlock and Ashbourne where we stopped for a little walk around to look at the lights in the town centre. Just us and a few others feeling the magic of the lights in the bitterly cold night air.

Soon it was time to head for for home where my kind and thoughtful neighbour had been in to feed the cats, draw the curtains and put on the lights to welcome us home. What a perfect day, during which, for a short while, I forgot all the worries about how to keep paying the mortgage whilst the house languishes, still for sale, our savings dwindle and the work dries up after Christmas.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Christmas Shopping

It occured to me last week that I actually ought to do something about preparing for Christmas; I've been avoiding the issue for ages but suddenly, I had the feeling that I should probably start the shopping. With this in mind, one day last week after work, I walked up into the City Centre to see if I could make a start. I struggled around WHSmith but did manage to get what I wanted and also queued for stamps in the Post Office - now in Smiths. I dashed into M&S but couldn't face the rugby scrum at the checkouts so left there empty handed and foolishly entered Woolworth - I took five steps in saw the sea of bodies and turned round, walked out and caught the bus home, with the intention of trying again the next day. Three days later I still hadn't done any more towards present buying so, yesterday, we decided to see what we could find elsewhere. Our first stop was Amerton Farm near Uttoxeter.

It had been ages since we visited and there were many changes but so many lovely, pretty and festive things to look at in both their garden centre and gift shop; some things very expensive but others at a surprisingly modest price. Here we managed to buy small gifts for all my little great nieces and nephews and gained a couple of ideas for the adults too. I began to relax a little knowing that we had made a good start.

This place is interesting at any season with plenty of space for everyone and lots of things for children to do including a play barn and farm animals. There are lots of smaller shops too including a jewellery shop, pottery and bakery.

I couldn't resist taking the photo below of the cake and sweet shop - what great cakes in the window. Surely they can't be real cakes on display? The designs must be achievable though!

There is also a steam train enjoyed just as much by mums and dads as it is by the children.

We then set out towards Rugely stopping at the Wyvern Garden Centre at Wolseley Bridge to see what we could find. As we were wandering around we spotted Father Christmas buying his Christmas cards at the R.N.L.I. charity stall in the entrance hall. He saw a little boy coming towards him so turned and asked him what he wanted for Christmas. In the split second it took the boy to answer my mind, bathed in nostalgia, thought - a teddy bear, a red train, a jig-saw puzzle and a Christmas stocking full of sweets, nuts, chocolate pennies and tangerines - the words X-Box and Nintendo whisked me quickly back to the 21st century - I only hope that those things bring as much magic to the little boy as the less technological presents did to me over 50 years ago. We moved into the centre and managed to find a couple more present here.

Next to the garden centre, which is close to both the River Trent and the Trent and Mersey Canal is Wolseley Gardens, run by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust. After a picnic lunch in the warmth of the car we had a walk around. The lakes were frozen and looked beautiful in the sunshine. Water birds were standing and slithering on the ice and ducks were flying overhead looking for somehwere less icy to settle, perhaps unnerved by the souind of the clay pigeon shooting coming from the nearby Shugborough estate.

The river, too look cold and icy. There were plenty of birds flying around and gathering at the feeding stations and bird tables. Including this festive little fellow.

Just before this photo was taken of the antiques barn across the road from the gardens a group of about 30 ramblers, all dressed in red with santa hats or deer antlers on their heads marched by on their way to walk along the canal side.

All of a sudden I felt slightly festive and a lot more positive; perhaps all the preparations for Christmas wouldn't be so stressful after all.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Mist Over Mow Cop

As we left the A34 and drove up the steep incline towards the village of Mow Cop the mist deepened, the air was chill and the trees and hedges glistened white on the roadside and in front gardens. It was magical. We approached the 'castle' and entered the car park, just us and a couple of other hardy souls who were already parked and clambering to the top of the imposing mound.

The ruin was shrouded in mist and the whole vista was so atmospheric. We made our way slowly and gingerly over the frozen grass and eventually reached the top. It was on this hilltop in 1588 that a beacon was erected to give warning of possible invasion by the Spanish Armada, linking lights around the country, between the Wrekin in Shropshire and Alderley Edge in Cheshire.

The ruins, now managed by the National Trust, were once a folly or summer house built by Randle Wilbraham of nearby Rode Hall. He had the mock-gothic castle built in 1754 to enhance the eastern view from his grand house at Scholar Green. From this vantage point on a clear day you can see for miles in all directions to the Berwyn Mountains in Wales, the Shropshire hills and the Peaks of Derbyshire. You can also see quite clearly the huge round saucer of Sir Bernard Lovell's Joddrell Bank.

Yesterday, though, all we could see were the sparkling white trees in the valley and the distant tower of the church; also the unusual garden wall structure of one of the houses under the hill. This is certainly a magical and mystical place. It was here on the 31st May 1807 that Hugh Bourne of Stoke and his friend William Clownes of Burslem ventured, with many like minded people wishing to return to a simpler ways of worship, to form the Primitive Methodist movement. This was to be the first of many mass gatherings on the hill.

At the base of the mound is a stone which commemorates this event. The inscription is as follows:-

"To the Glory of God. A camp meeting near this spot on May 31st 1807, began the religious revival led by Hugh Bourne and William Clowes known as Primitive Methodism. Unveiled by the President of the Methodist Conference May 16th 1948"

As we descended the hill the air had become really cold and dank; people were hurrying back to the car park and the warmth of their cars. It was time to head for home.

Friday, November 28, 2008

November Skies

Although I've been getting up and going to work in the dark for the last couple of weeks I'm usually home about an hour before dusk and this week I've been sky watching.

The colours are spectacular and ever changing. In fact, they change so quickly that by the time I've run upstairs, grabbed a camera and got out into the garden they are completely different but still very beautiful.

I love to watch them change from pale gold, to soft pink and then turn more vividly intense before the sun finally disappears and the early evening darkness makes an appearance.

I think this is one of the most wonderful shows nature offers us and we can watch, for free, from our own back gardens.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Quick Book Review

I haven't had a lot of time for reading, or indeed blogging, lately as I've been working fairly long hours at Royal Mail in the lead up to Christmas but one book that I've really enjoyed reading is 'Keeping the World Away' by Margaret Forster. I couldn't resist taking this book out of the library as its whole story, from begining to end, is based around one of my favourite paintings by my favourite artist.

The painting is from a series painted by Gwen John, during the years of 1907-1909, of her attic room in the Rue du Cherche Midi entitled ‘A Corner of the Artist’s Room in Paris’. The painting I have seen most often is the one owned by the Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield. This one shows the corner with a table in the window, a wicker chair against which leans a parasol. A coat or wrap drapes over the chair and on the table are primroses in a small pot. There are other versions of the painting showing the same corner of the room with the window open showing the buildings opposite, an open book on the table and the blue coat but no parasol.

The whole premise of the book is that one of this series of paintings, one with primroses on the table, is lost and explores its passage through time owned by one woman after another from the time Gwen John gave it as a present to her friend Ursula Tyrwhitt to the present day. The first part of the book covers Gwen's childhood in Haverfordwest and Tenby through to her studying, with her brother Augustus, at the Slade School in London, her departure for Paris, her love affair with the sculptor Auguste Rodin, and her subsequent and gradual withdrawal into an interior world. Each of the women who find themselves owning the painting are the kind of women who are different in some way from the expected norm of their age. Independent, unconventional, happy to be alone, striving against unsurmountable odds or unhappy with their lot in life. Each of them, like the artist herself, wanted to 'keep the world away'. The painting is lost in missing luggage on its way back from Paris, found by the person who recieves the valaise by mistake, it is then stolen, bought from a market stall, sold as a means of escape, given as a gift and then sold again. The painting travels from Paris to Hampstead to Cornwall, back to Hampstead, to the Scottish highlands and finally back to Paris where its fate is finally resolved. Although I found some of the women's characters less sympathetic than others and there was a strange moment when e-mails were referred to in a time I thought was supposed to be the 1970s - I may have been wrong on this - I was quite entranced by the book and thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A New Museum

On Sunday we found ourselves passing through the village of Barlaston and decided to drop down into the Wedgwood factory site to have a look at the recently opened museum building. The new museum cost 10.5 million pounds to build, nearly six million of which came from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

We didn't have time to go inside and decided to save this treat for another day but it was interesting to see the new building. It all looked very shiny and new and having visited the Museum before it was moved from its original place, I can't wait to go inside to see what it is like.

The Museum used to be within the Visitor Centre but when that was refurbished a few years ago it was decided that the Museum needed its own building as there were many more things in the collection than there was room to display them.

The Wedgwood Factory moved on to its present 'garden site' in the 1930s. Its previous site being at Etruria, near Hanley, where Josiah Wedgwood I had a purpose built village for his factory and its workers. The Wedgwood Family lived just up from the factory complex in a house which is now The Moat House Hotel. This area was where the Garden Festival of 1986 was held and is now a huge retail park with leisure facilities like a multiplex cinema, dry ski slope and Waterworld. I found a rather wonderful 'virtual' tour of the Etruria site on the museum's new website here.

If you approach the Wedgwood site from the centre of Barlaston by the village green you pass Barlaston Hall, and it is always a splendid sight. It was rescued by 'Save Britain's Heritage' in the 1980s and restored in the 1990s. Built around 1756 by Sir Robert Taylor for Thomas Mills it was later occupied by Francis Wedgwood, master potter, partner in the Etruria site, grandson to Josiah I and brother of Emma, wife of Charles Darwin.

The old church of St John the Baptist stands close to the Hall and was completely re-built in the 1760s. It is a lovely little church almost hidden from view as you pass through the avenue of trees leading to the parkland surrounding the Wedgwood factory complex.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cooking Sausages

As Valerie and one or two others asked about the Leek Sausages that I mentioned in my bonfire night post and as I had also promised to share the recipe, we made some for our meal yesterday so I could photograph them. Here are the ingredients:-

Use breadcrumbs, grated cheese, grated leeks, mashed potato, chickpeas, an egg to bind the mixture and of course, seasonings like salt and pepper and mixed herbs if you want. I haven't put any quantities down as you can use whatever you like and just improvise depending on how many sausages you want. It's best to make them fresh on the day you eat them. You can blitz the bread and the chick peas in a food processor.

Mix the ingredients in a bowl until it is dough-like and malleable. Use your hands to roll into sausage shapes and then cover the sausages in more breadcrumbs. This is gloriously messy and sticky but great fun.

Leave the sausages to stand for a little while and then drizzle with oil before you bake them, in a medium oven, until they are lightly brown - about 30 minutes.

Or you can fry them gently in olive oil in a frying pan.

On bonfire night we served them with mashed carrot and potatoes and braised red cabbage. They are also nice with mashed potato and red onion marmalade.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

An Autumnal Award

What a lovely surprise! Melody from Teatime with Melody has given me this lovely award - thank you so much.

I have, in turn to pass it on to three fellow bloggers, so I think I will pass it on to:- Teresa at Blueberries, Art and Life, Lynne at Bun Mountain Cottage and Barb at Stamplicity.

Hope you all enjoy it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Silent Walk

The weather this weekend has not exactly encouraged the country walking we had intended so we ended up, yesterday morning, on our usual walk around the lake at Trentham. We arrived about 10.30a.m. in a shower of rain and went straight for a warming cup of coffee at the Lakeside cafe before setting off for a rather damp walk. Gloomy and wet it may have been but the colours were spectacular, the last splendid defiance of the dying leaves before the bleak winter sets in.

It was so quiet and peaceful as we walked, hardly a soul in sight; just a couple of hardy rowers on the lake. At 11a.m. they stopped rowing and remaind still their heads bowed, we stopped too, just for a short while to think about how lucky we are and how thankful we are to those who have given so much so that we could be here, now, this very minute, enjoying this beauty.

Then we walked on in contemplative silence each with our own thoughts, hoods pulled up against the rain, toes inside wellington boots getting colder and fingers inside warm gloves gradually begining to tingle with cold. It was time to go home.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Here we go!

The heating is on and the house is warm. The cats are all in for the night, whether they like it or not. As I'm 'cat sitting' next door's cat she too is in and warm with the lights on and the curtains drawn against the coming storm. As if they knew they should enjoy the day and feed as much as they could the birds have been whirling around the garden and bird table all day, starlings, collard doves, wood pigeons, sparrows, great tits, blackbirds and magpies I worry for them tonight, where do they go? How do they cope?

There is an apple cake cooling on the kitchen table and the vegetables are prepared for our evening meal - mashed carrot and potato, red cabbage and leek and potato sausages topped with sliced mushrooms - to be eaten as soon as the worker comes home.

I saw the children on their way home from school rushing in excited anticipation. Outside the light is fading, the street lights are coming on and there is a stillness in the air, the lull before the storm.

So Remember Remember the 5th of November all you like, we are all safe at home, warm, cosy and well fed, curtains closed and fire turned up, protected from the noise and chaos outside.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Pumpkin

I thought, seeing as it is Halloween, I would trace the journey of a pumpkin from the farmer's field to its final destination. I've only noticed these fields of pumpkins over the last few years and it seems that more and more pumpkins are grown here in the UK. It's not a sight I'm used to but they do look wonderful.

So let's follow the pumpkin from the field where it is picked and taken to storage perhaps and then to a distribition centre; most of the pumpkins will end up in our supermarkets. Some, like the one below will end up at a farm shop, I'm guessing that these ones came straight from field to shop but I could be wrong.

Well, let's purchase the pumpkin and take it home and see what we can do with it. Last year I made 'Spooky Soup' with the flesh of the pumpkin whilst Paul hollowed out the pumpkin to make a 'scary' face . I expect we will do much the same this year.

So, tea lights in the pumpkin face, warming soup ready and a huge bowl of lollipops for the little trick or treaters.

I think we may be ready. Have a good Halloween!