All by myself: Part 1

All work and no play makes Anji a very dull girl. So when mum booked herself on a week’s coach holiday, I readily agreed to house and cat sit for her. Her holiday was from Saturday to Saturday so I knew Billy wouldn’t want to come as this would mean missing two weekends of cricket which he’d never do. This meant that I would have a whole week by myself. One. Whole. Blissful. Week! No work, no phones, no demands – and no-one making a mess all around me ๐Ÿ™‚ I couldn’t wait!

Now here I am, on the Saturday afternoon at the end of my holiday and I don’t know where the time has flown. But it has been HEAVEN! So where HAS the week gone? Well………

I drove down Friday evening (after not driving my car at all for 6 weeks, it was wonderful just to stick on a CD, drive along in the sunshine and reaquaint myself with my car) and then took mum to catch her coach on Saturday morning. I spent the afternoon just pottering around in the house and garden, and the time soon flew by to tea time so I raided mum’s freezer and enjoyed the pizza she’d got in for me ๐Ÿ™‚ I’d brought a couple of DVDs with me so watched the final episodes of Fringe, season 5, sipping a glass of wine and feeling very mellow.

On Sunday I had a mooch round the retail park before making a start on some decorating I promised mum I would do months ago. She wanted me to just relax but to be honest I’m not the type to sit and do nothing so was happy doing it. The wall had got damaged by damp and though mum had had the flat roof repaired, I needed to do a bit or remedial work on the wall itself. She’d bought a tub of Polycell plaster repair and skim from B&Q, which I’d never used before. It was really easy to use and did exactly what it said on the tin, so I was well pleased with the results:

Repaired wall

I rewarded myself with an evening watching my other DVD – Django Unchained which I loved. Brilliant film!I may have slurped some more wine too ๐Ÿ˜‰

On Monday I took some stuff to the charity shop for mum and then I had my first hair cut for almost 2 years. I hate going to the hairdresser and having someone faff with my hair (usually wanting to straighten it/fluff it up/spray it with sticky stuff etc.) and I hate the power they wield with those scissors. I also don’t have the money, nor the time, to get it trimmed as often as I should, and the time creeps by until even I notice the split ends and know it has to be done. This was such a time so I bit the bullet, booked myself in at a nearby hairdressers and told them I wanted a wet cut, no blow drying, and just a blunt, straight cut to tidy it up – probably a couple of inches. After enduring the extremely uncomfortable experience of leaning backwards for a hair wash, I couldn’t believe the girl’s interpretation of 2 inches! TWO I’d said, not eight! I am NOT a happy bunny and the only thing stopping me going into hiding is that it will grow back! I haven’t had my hair this short since I was in my teens! ๐Ÿ™

SO short! ๐Ÿ™

To (try to) cheer myself up, I decided to give myself a pamper and unpacked the toiletries I’d brought with me for the job. I used to give myself a pampering session regularly in years gone by – I looked after myself, kept my skin clean, soft and exfoliated and enjoyed having a bath. Since then I have had less and less time and these days I get a bath less than once a fortnight as there is rarely enough hot water and/or the bathroom is wanted by someone else now that we have only one between the five of us. So I’d planned to enjoy having the time to indulge and after lining up everything I needed, I ran a bath – how wonderful, no-one else to want the bathroom or use the water; I could relax as long as I liked ๐Ÿ™‚ Except that when i turned on the tap there was hardly any hot water coming out – just the barest trickle ๐Ÿ™ It looked like the tap had seized up with lack of use now that mum’s hip means she has to have a shower and can’t have baths. Agh! So a pampering-ish shower it was instead, then. (It was still nice to take my time.) In fact I had a mini-pamper session every other day during my holiday so I didn’t miss out.

On Tuesday I was picked up at 6.15am so I could accompany Callum and his parents to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital for his chemo check up. Last time I went to hospital with them it was Alder Hey and this was quite a contrast. The waiting areas and the whole set-up was geared around children. There were a couple of Wii consoles for the kids to play (Callum was pretty good at them too) and plenty to occupy them as they waited. He is so used to his weekly visit that he didn’t even flinch whilst he had blood taken, and kept chatting away. He chose his sticker to add to his collection, and after his consultation collected his bravery beads to add to his lengthy string. As his bloods were back up after being low, he was good to continue with 100% strength chemo and it was heartbreaking when he said to his mum in a very matter-of-fact tone “so I’ll be back to feeling really sick again in a couple of days then…” When we’d finished at the hospital we grabbed lunch at Burger King and I then spent the day with them and got to see two of Callum’s siblings again and met the two kittens ๐Ÿ™‚ Before we knew it, the day was over and it was time for me to go back to Chester. It was a great day and though it may seem a strange day out, I enjoyed being included in Callum’s hospital day and seeing what they have to go through week in, week out. It was wonderful to see Callum looking and feeling so well (though he has since gone downhill and is back in hospital at the moment ๐Ÿ™ ) He’s a little star and his parents are incredible at juggling everything.

On Wednesday I decided to have a day in town being a tourist and just doing what I felt like. I had searched for any O2 Priority Moments I might be able to use and duly did so to get money off and freebies during the day ๐Ÿ™‚ I also had a makeover at the Bodyshop since it was offered and it was free ๐Ÿ™‚ I didn’t like what the girl did with my eyes (think Prescilla Presley / Cleopatra with thick eyeliner flicked up at the corners!) and promptly went to the enarest loos to scrub it off, but I did like a couple of other tricks she used and having never used it before, found I liked what she did with bronzer ๐Ÿ™‚ Never too old to learn a new trick! I had a mooch round the shops but have to say I was very disappointed with them. I’d quite looked forward to going round them as shopping is something I never get to do (and to be fair, it’s not something I want to do that often, but it’s nice to do so occasionally) so it was something of an anticlimax finding half the shops gone, and even the charity shops didn’t have much of interest. After a pasty and a doughnut lunch in a bakery, I got the bus home and then decided to go back to the retail park shops and to Tesco. I’d really been fancying a curry (I can’t even remember the last time I had even an Indian takeaway) but obviously couldn’t afford that. Instead I decided to take advantage of Tesco’s offer of 2 main dishes and 2 sides for ร‚ยฃ6 and was very pleasantly surprised by how tasty the lamb rogan and Bombay potatoes were that evening. (The sweet & sour chicken I had the next night wasn’t as good, but okay, however the prawn sesame toasts were gorgeous.)

In amongst all of the above, I did some sewing in the evenings – I had a few repairs that had built up so got those done, including replacing the buttons on my jacket which had lost a couple so I bought some pretty new ones from the market and replaced the lot. I also made sure I watered the plants and fed Rocky of course – though that little furry monkey only came in for food, wolfed it down then went back out to play so I hardly saw him unless I gave him some treats so I could give him a fuss ๐Ÿ™‚ I felt a bit of a fraud since the main purpose of my visit was to look after the cat – but he was fed and watered and seemed happy enough so that’s what counts ๐Ÿ™‚

What nature did next…

Since we’ve had some nicer weather lately I’ve been able to sit outside in the garden for a cuppa, my lunch and occasionally, tea and I’m fascinated by the plants that have appeared seemingly overnight. I don’t know what half of them are nor if I’m supposed to do anything to look after them so have decided to merely enjoy being an interested observer for this year and see what happens next ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s a small dry-stone walled garden and appears to be quite mature. The layout, with the house “behind” (i.e bottom of picture) and shed/BBQ area to the left (this isn’t wholly accurate nor to scale but it’s just an idea):

Garden layout

So when we moved in in March, it was like this:

Patio area, with apple tree in corner

Bed by wall

Pond with bushes around

Low bed

Sadly the spring was so late that the garden stayed in this state for a long time, but towards the end of April, started to show signs of waking up:

Patio with bare little tree in raised bed

From the patio with low bed on left, pond ahead

As we went into May it seemed that Mother Nature suddenly woke up and made up for lost time as plants popped up out of nowhere almost overnight. Having brought my pots with me from our old house, I knew what was in those of course, but the rest of the garden is all new to me.

The pond (full of life!) and low bed to left

Pretty low bed

The bed by the wall suddenly growing higher

The apple tree full of blossom

The little tree sprouting red leaves

The one change I did make in May was to move the washing line. The previous owners had tied a bright blue and green line around the tree behind the pond and attached it with a big hook to the wall of the house. However, this meant: a) some of the washing line was wasted at either end as it couldn’t be reached; b) some washing dangled over the pond – recipe for disaster; c) half the washing was in shade; d) the line wasn’t very long and dangled over the low bed so there was nowhere to put your feet whilst hanging the clothes. Now I prefer retractable washing lines so that they can be put away when not in use and thus not spoil the look of the garden. So I bought one and attached in to a good solid part of the shed and when in use I tie it around the apple tree (without damaging the tree). I now have almost twice the hanging space, most of it in sunshine, with the patio and pathway to stand upon and the line can be put away. Much better I think ๐Ÿ™‚

Now that we are in June, the garden is becoming a jungle – which the cats, especially Zeb absolutely love!

Zeb playing Jungle Cat

The red tree – stunning!

Close up – anyone know what it is please?

Pond – full of newts at present

The fern makes it jungle-like

The tall bed by wall getting VERY tall

So I am enjoying the novelty of the garden having had a yard at the last house, and never having had a mature garden before at all. If you know what any of the plants are (especially the pretty red tree) or have any tips, let me know please ๐Ÿ™‚ Nel is looking after the pond and has established that the newts are very happy there along with water snails and more. The grass is Billy’s department but he needs to get some shears or a small strimmer to do it as we’ve never needed grass cutting tools before. As for me……… I’m in charge of photographing and enjoying it ๐Ÿ™‚

Smoothly back to earth

After my wonderful week off, I had a surprisingly smooth week back at work in the main. I soon picked up what was what again in my orthotics role and even the secretarial work went okay the second half of the week. At least, until Friday which is always a manic day with everything needing doing before the weekend plus the usual hunt to grab a consultant to answer a query from a GP, patient or colleague etc. Unfortunately this is always time consuming and this particular day, everything turned into a project. But I survived ๐Ÿ™‚

On the Friday evening it was the darts league’s annual doubles competition – any pair of league members can turn up on the night, register and play in a knock out competition. We were supposed to be playing a rearranged cup fixture before hand and had made the effort to get there early but the opposition team arrived too late to play in time before the doubles competition. At least we were there early to get a table ๐Ÿ˜‰ Billy and Raji were at cricket nets but the rest of us entered – Paul got the short straw and partnered me (“short straw” because once you are knocked out, one of your pair has to mark the next round on that board), Graham and Mark paired up and as usual Junior and Senior joined forces. As we’d expected, Paul and I were soon knocked out (and indeed, played poorly) but Mark and Graham were unlucky to lose and Senior and Junior stayed in for a couple of rounds. It turned out to be a really good night, with the club being pretty busy but no uncomfortably packed, and the faces were all familiar and friendly so the atmosphere was relaxed. Our group then went on to the Skinners for a drink and there was a live band playing jazz/rhythm type stuff on a sax, double bass, drums and guitar . We’d had a couple of drinks and joined in miming playing instruments which was a bit of harmless silly fun. Billy, Paul and I then wandered on the Heart and the others went to the Fox to play pool. What a great night out with my best friends ๐Ÿ™‚ With the end of the darts season nigh, I said I would miss them each week so it has been proposed that we have our little league competing against each other over the summer. But then we’ve said such things before……

The weekend was a nice long one with the bank holiday ๐Ÿ™‚ It was wonderful! I spent the entire 3 days home-making – but as the weather was rather gorgeous (late spring weather suddenly arriving over night after the cold!) I managed to enjoy a cuppa and a lunch or two in the garden. The garden is sprouting a new plant/flower every day and it’s interesting seeing what will pop up next. The apple tree has gone from being bare to being green, the flower beds have come alive with veritable triffids and big furry bees are buzzing happily in the flowers and the trees. (Zeb keeps chasing them and he’s going to come a cropper soon I think!)

Awakening garden

Patio area

The Rayburn’s hotplate cleaned up nicely with a little aptly named “Astonish” and a lot of elbow grease:

The Rayburn


Hotplate – Left side cleaned

After cleaning, I enjoyed the next experiment – Scotch pancakes ๐Ÿ™‚ There’s something naughty about pouring food directly on to the cooker, but wicked fun! (Any yummy results!)

Scotch pancakes

On the Saturday, I watched Swansea 0 – 0 City online but I badly needed to sort my clothes and toiletries out too (still in unorganised boxes and bags from the move!) so I did the two things together. I was rather glad I had managed to do something useful with the time as the game was pretty tame and a bit of a non-event. Still, a point is a point.

MCFC’s 60-second highlights here
MCFC’s extended highlights here

Greetings from the other house :)

I’m back! Did you miss me?

We have now moved to our new home and it was the most chaotic move I have ever experienced! Added to that we had no TV, phone or internet for 3 weeks. As you can tell, we now have the latter sorted and we now have a functioning home, albeit that we have a few more boxes to unpack and sorting to do still.

We picked up the keys on the Friday (1st March) and Billy and I were off work that day so that we could spend the day packing up the last of the stuff (by this time I was sick of packing and boxes, having been doing it for the last 2 weeks!) and we had two friends and their vans arranged to help with the actual move the next day. The plan was for Billy to be at the old house conducting that end of the operation and I’d be at the new house organising where things should be put and sorting them out.

But it didn’t quite turn out like that…..

One of Billy’s friends who had offered his services and van for the move was unexpectedly free on the Friday afternoon so came to make a start! And so it ended up that for the next two days the move went ahead in a very chaotic fashion – moving things that weren’t yet packed and in very random order rather than room-by-room as I’d envisioned. Important things (like kitchen pots/pans, crockery etc) were left behind (including the draining rack full of the morning’s dishes!) whilst nick-nacks stored in the loft for years were brought in various containers and bags. Naturally the food was removed from the fridge and freezers before they were brought along, but the food then got left behind! Divan beds had their bases separated for moving, but the clips to join the two halves got lost somewhere along the way. All that said, we were very grateful for the help of our extremely willing and hard-working friends and eventually we called it a day, though one friend was going to return the next week to take the final load and then take all the rubbish to the tip for us. (This hasn’t actually happened as yet and though Billy and Raji have collected some stuff on foot, and I have done a couple of car runs, we need a van for one last run which is frustrating.)

By the end of the weekend I was dirty, tired, aching and had broken nails, very dry sore hands and sported a multitude of cuts and bruises (I’m really not built for manual work!) I had the Monday and Tuesday off work, thankfully, so I was able to spend those two days playing put-and-take sorting out and by the end of that time we had a functioning home with all the main elements reasonably organised.(Kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms.)

I have to say that the cats have been absolutely brilliant and took it all their stride. We had two cat carriers and I borrowed another from a colleague but I anticipated a few problems getting the cats in. As it turned out Timmy and Zeb didn’t put up too much of a fight and Zara walked in to the borrowed basket voluntarily, much to my surprise. Nel and I took the cats and the hamsters in the car to the new house and deposited them all in her bedroom – for two reasons: firstly, her room is on the 2nd floor so nicely out of the way of the moving chaos and secondly, she also can’t cope with too much upheaval and our plan was to get her room moved so she could shut the door and stay quietly sorting her own bits. This worked really well and the cats stayed in with her for a couple of days before being allowed to explore the rest of the house in their own time. They’ve done this very casually and absolutely love having the run of a 3 storey house! After two weeks of keeping them indoors (which they accepted without complaint, though the cold, snowy weather helped) I opened the back door for them to investigate the garden. They loved this and were soon jumping up (and over) the walls and lapping water from the (tiny) pond in the corner. Once they all came back inside I shut the door but unblocked the cat-flap. Within an hour they were all coming and going freely and I was pleased to think they could now please themselves. All in all, I’d say they are quite satisfied with their new home, garden and lifestyle!

Car parking is an issue here and we were given, by our lovely landlords, a visitor’s parking permit. However, after searching in vain for a parking spot, Billy and I went in tot he council offices to enquire as to exactly where these parking bays were. There are 4. Four bays for the whole street! (At a cost of ร‚ยฃ15 per year.) The previous owners apparently had an arrangement with a chap further down who has his own designated bay but no car. He wanted ร‚ยฃ20 a month for this. However, after our visit to the council offices, we’ve instead bought a county-wide parking permit (for all council pay-and-display car parks across the whole county) which is ร‚ยฃ130 a year (though we’ve currently paid for 3 months at ร‚ยฃ48.) It means the car is parked a bit of a walk from the house but this isn’t a huge issue as we don’t use it for small trips on a daily basis. Another half a day spent sorting this out though!

You won’t believe the saga with TV/internet/phone that we’ve had! It’s like something out of a sitcom! We had, at our old house, all of these with Sky and we called before our move, giving a couple of weeks notice so that could simply switch us over. Simple, yes? No! They couldn’t ascertain whether or not there was a phone line in the new house. We told them there was. They insisted it wasn’t clear and they’d report it as an issue to be resolved. In the meantime, though, they’d book a Sky engineer to come and set up the TV – but it couldn’t be the day of the move so we’d have to wait until the Monday. On the Monday, out came the engineer and as Billy had been called in to work (he was NOT amused!) I had to deal with this. I’ll try to keep this simple:

Old house: 1x Sky+ box, 2 x Sky boxes (multiroom)
New House: 1 x Sky cable in to upstairs lounge, now Raji’s room
Wanted in new house: 1 x Sky box in living room (which has no TV or Sky cables/sockets at all) and 1x Sky box (multiroom) in Raji’s room.

So the engineer looked at the Sky dish on the roof and announced that he couldn’t get up to it as it was on a pole next to the chimney and he couldn’t safely get to it. (“Must’ve been a private company that put that up” he said.)
However, he could drill holes in the wall on the front of the house to safely affix his ladders to get to it. Er, no. It’s a grade II listed building and not our property.
Hm. Well he could fix another, separate dish to the front of the house. Er, no. It’s a grade II listed building and not our property.
Well he could drill a hole in the wall in to the front room and feed the cable that currently goes in to the upstairs room to the sitting room. Er, no. It’s a grade II listed building and not our property.
Deep thought. Aha! He could fix our dish to the dentist’s property next door! Er, no! As if!
I’d pretty much got the picture – there wasn’t going to be anything he could do so we’d simply have to have the one Sky box in Raji’s room only. No, no….. he’d wait for his mate and see what he said. Two hours later we ended up with the one Sky box in Raji’s room only! We could have done that ourselves had we known, and at the least I could have had an hour and a half more time unpacking! Amused, not!

OK, we could work around this – we’d have the Sky box in Raji’s room, Nel had a TV aerial socket and had bought a freeview set top box, and we could register 4 devices to stream TV via SkyGo so that would work. Once we got the internet of course…..

We plugged in a phone to the phone socket and had a dialling tone. Great! We could call Sky and tell them we definitely have a phone line installed and they could connect us straight away. Er no! It still appeared we had no line and a BT engineer would have to be booked. This would not be until 21st March! 3 weeks after moving in! Paul came round and ascertained the telephone number. Great! We could call Sky and they could cancel the engineer and connect us! Er, no! There IS no phone line and the engineer was coming out to INSTALL one! So we had to wait 3 weeks with no TV for all but Raji, and no internet at all. This was hardest on Nel because of her autism – the only place she can interact enjoyably with people is via the internet (no trying to read people’s expressions, pick up on unspoken clues etc. – all nice and clear in black and white.) She ended up spending a fortune on mobile dongles and top ups, having been sold various things that were no use or cost her the earth (avoid Carphone Warehouse!) We were very upset on her behalf and Billy sorted out a mobile dongle at a better rate which helped. Naturally with these things she still couldn’t do the things that are important to her so she really did suffer during this time.

And so the great day dawned. At last, the BT engineer was coming and since Billy and I were working, Paul very kindly got up early during his week off and came round to let the engineer in the house and speak on our behalf. Not only this, but he actually arrived promptly at 8.45am. Just as Billy found out that our phone line was now active! BT engineer had clearly looked at his job sheet, checked there was a line already installed and activated it at the exchange! After quickly plugging in the brand new Sky router and checking the internet worked, Paul left the house with us as we set off to work. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!Unbelievable!3 weeks of stress for no good reason!

It is nice to feel part of the world again, though I have yet to catch right up and to get into a routine and of course, much of my time is still taken up with working 35 hours a week and sorting the house – as well learning to use the cooker here….

This house has a Rayburn cooker which means learning to cook a whole new way. There is also a ceramic hob, but after one play with this, I have made it redundant (the biggest problem being that it takes a while to heat and then an age to cool and I’m worried about the cats getting burned if they jump up when the kitchen is unattended.) The Rayburn also provides the house’s heating and hot water, but we’ve yet to learn how best to use it for this so it’s a bit chilly as yet and we sometimes run out of hot water.

Rayburn cooking is completely different to “normal” cooking and I’m glad I am a confident cook else I think I’d be terrified! You cook 20% of stuff on top of it on the hotplate (a solid plate which varies in temperature so you slide things around to hottest/coolest spots) and 80% in the ovens – an upper and a lower, the lower running at about half the temperature of the upper. It takes around half an hour to heat the oven to the baking or roasting temperatures and it seems about 2 days to cool back to the lowest setting, even when “idling”. The whole of the oven is hot, including the floor (which is good for baking pastry without needing to bake blind) and the shelves are deep so you can get 2 dishes on one shelf. The Rayburn is NOT for quick cooking or for cooking one thing then turning off!

So after two weekends of experimenting (the results of which were all edible, I’m pleased to say) I have learned that it’s best to batch bake/cook at weekends and then simply warm each evening meal in the idling oven all day whilst at work. Lots of casseroles and such, accompanied by home-made bread courtesy of the bread maker which is now in almost daily use ๐Ÿ™‚ It means a lot of my weekend is gone doing the batch cooking, but it is lovely coming home to a hot, home cooked meal each evening after work. Today, on only my second weekend of experimenting, I have managed to cook a roast – challenging and time-consuming but absolutely gorgeous as the Rayburn keeps in all the flavours of the meat (beef on this occasion). Even the gravy was wicked! I’ve pre-cooked the meals for the week and each evening I put porridge in the oven to cook slowly overnight and Raji and I love coming down to a bowl of that every morning.

I am going to need to invest in some hotplate-to-oven friendly cookware as I am currently having to mess about swapping pans for casserole dishes and I’ve only got 3 casserole dishes. I am getting the hang of using the Rayburn for drying dishes, warming plates/jugs/mugs/bowls and airing wooden cooking utensils. I am looking forward to using it for making herbal oils and drying herbs etc.

Oh yes, I almost forgot – Nel’s freeview box doesn’t work – but it looks like the aerial isn’t working so still, Raji is the only one with proper TV. I have to admit I never watched TV much anyway and haven’t yet started watching it through my laptop. The only thing I miss having on in the background is Sky Sports news – I do feel very out of things without this. Must find a new routine where I can watch this each day to keep up with things.

The “children” seem settled and happy here and I think they like having the top floor of the house to themselves. Raji is Raji – one can never tell, but he seems happy enough and seems to like having the biggest bedroom in the house for all his stuff. Billy and I are just relieved to have left the old house and feel lucky to have found a large enough home for us all, in walking distance of our needs and where cats are allowed. There are lots of things to work through yet but we have a roof over our heads and can hopefully move forward.

So, there you have it. A brief catch-up on our move. I’d like to tell you more about this lovely house when I get the chance but for now………. welcome ๐Ÿ™‚

Keys to the door

Finally/all too soon (depending on how you look at it!) our house move is upon us.

I am sick of packing. Sick of boxes. Sick of chaos.
But I am looking forward to a clean start in a lovely house and feeling slightly more secure ๐Ÿ™‚

Just to really keep me on my toes, I also have a job interview a couple of days after the move – talk about it all happening at once! The job is an internal one at the same pay scale but it’s full time and a brand new role which sounds really interesting. I suspect competition will be fierce though so can only give it my best shot.

During the move we will be without the internet for a few days so see you on the other side……

A lorra laughs with the birthday girl

Mum’s birthday was on a Monday this year and I had some holiday left to take so booked the Monday and Tuesday off and went to Mum’s for a long weekend ๐Ÿ™‚

I drove down on Saturday morning and it felt absolutely wonderful to be on the road after such a long time. I love motorway driving and was quite happy singing caterwauling along to my CD’s and looking forward to a couple of days R&R. It was going to be nice to swap the mess and moods at home for calm, order and relaxation.

In our couple of days together we had lots of laughs and managed to go to B&Q to buy paint for the next little project, do the shopping and we thoroughly enjoyed going through some old letters and photographs of my Nan’s. There were letters between her and my grandad from the war when she was evacuated to Whitehaven and he was serving in Italy; it was very moving to read how much they loved and missed each other and promises never to be parted again. Grandad’s letters were full of assurances that “Jerry” was on the run and the war would soon be over now. Nanny’s letters to him and to her mum showed what a close family unit they were and there were others too from very early on in her married life. It was all so interesting and we felt privileged to share a glimpse in to my grandparents’ lives. There was also a little booklet, sponsored by Stork margarine which was a “Questionnaire for young folk which my Nan had been given at school in 1930. There was a sport, history and first aid section of questions and answers, with the rest being general knowledge – and some of them were really tough! Some were just tough for us as they pertained to matters only up to 1930! (so questions asking for the last prime minister to do something, or last sports person to hold a record etc. would not have the same answer now as then.) Some of the first aid answers were so out of date that they were wrong e.g. they had blood vessels down as organs. However the true purpose of this booklet was to brain wash “young folk” with the message that Stork margarine was every bit as healthy and nutritious as butter and mum and I now know that margarine was invented in 1870 by Mege-Mouries thanks to the Franco-Prussian war when there was a shortage of cows and therefore of butter! Stork bought the rights to make it in England and set up shop in Purfleet. (Hope you’re impressed as I have told you this from memory (brain washing, see!)) Mum and I got the giggles as every new section of questions began and ended with one on margarine and its history ๐Ÿ™‚ At some point I will try and scan some of this stuff and share. Even the paper was interesting as both the booklet and the letters – and even greetings cards – were on good quality paper, some of which was so soft it was almost like fabric. The stamps were interesting too – mainly those of George VI and then one of the series of letters with Queen Elizabeth II. All so fascinating!

On the Sunday I abandoned mum for a bit and went to my match – my first for ages. I was so happy to be there despite City playing very poorly and being extremely lucky to have it finish City 2 – 2 Liverpool We had two fluky goals but Liverpool were by far the better team and should have won! I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon though, as I always do, and loved getting my fix of live football / City.

On mum’s birthday we had a birthday breakfast of “Nanny toast” and marmalade. (My Nan always used to cut great fat slabs of bread, toast them, add loads of butter (no, not Stork!) and marmalade and this was always a special treat for us when visiting her and grandad) Then mum opened all her cards and presents which was fun – I love sharing present openings and seeing what lovely things people have chosen. We then went in to town and had a nice coffee break (hard work these birthdays you know! ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) and visited the Grosvenor Museum which neither of us had done before despite all the years in Chester. It was a bit of a disappointment in that many of the exhibits were being either assembled or dismantled and therefore had nothing for us to see. We were also dodging school parties and in fact it didn’t take us long to look at what there was at all. We enjoyed the Roman bits and we had to leave the art gallery when I got the giggles at mum’s face when a guided group entered the room, taking her by surprise ๐Ÿ˜€ We thought we’d revisit the Visitor Centre but this was closed, unfortunately. (When I’ve looked it up to link here, it seems to have changed hands and purpose.) We walked along the river and up through the park, with a nod to “Charlie” (actually, he’s Richard!) whose monument resides there, and finished with a little mooch round a couple of shops. This included popping in to a couple of the O2 shops to ask how to get my usual ringtone set up on my new phone. Unbeknown to me, as the phone was set to “silent”, the volume was on the highest setting and consequentially, in both shops, when staff accessed the song I wanted as my ringtone, “City, Manchester City” blared out full blast – in Chester, which is largely populated by Liverpool fans! The day after we jammily robbed them of a point! ๐Ÿ˜€ (Neither store could help much, but I’ve since figured out a way to do it myself.)In the evening I cooked the lamb shanks we’d chosen from mum’s freezer and we had them with a very nice bottle of wine ๐Ÿ™‚ It wasn’t the most exciting of birthdays for mum but we both enjoyed it nevertheless and I certainly enjoyed being there to share the day.

On Tuesday, we planned to take Rocky to the vet for his annual injections as Mum hates trying to catch him to take him to the vet and has had to cancel taxis before when she couldn’t get him in time. I was happy to be helping with transport, but after the last time I caught him he was nervous of me for months and I really didn’t want him to be like that with me again. Mum and I were very deliberately acting casually and literally pussy-footing around – and in the end he was fairly simply captured and mum got him into his carrier without too much fuss. It added a bit of extra fun running with his carrier through the blizzard which was blowing at the time, but he got a clean bill of health, bar a minor bout of conjunctivitis for which he got some drops, and that was that! Whatever were we worried about? ๐Ÿ˜‰ Mum rewarded us that evening with Dominos pizza – and we got a good deal since we had an e-mail offer of ร‚ยฃ10 off when ordering ร‚ยฃ25 or more. Er, bargain! How could we refuse? ๐Ÿ˜‰

I had to leave straight after breakfast on Wednesday so that I could get to work for the afternoon, but I had had the sot wonderful break with one of my most favourite people in the world, which really perked us both up I think. Thank you Mummy, I love you, and Happy Birthday ๐Ÿ™‚

Nel’s Snowy Birthday

Nel’s birthday was on a Saturday this year and since she hates football so much, I forfeited my match to devote the day to her. She wanted to visit the Hancock Museum followed by a Chinese meal for lunch at a restaurant in Newcastle that we’ve enjoyed in the past. However, snow started falling heavily on the Friday and we decided to revise our plans in the interests of safety and having a stress-free day. (We have agreed, however, to go to the museum at a later date so that she doesn’t miss out, but the restaurant appears to now be closed.)

As usual, I was the first up and as Nel had requested a birthday cheesecake, I got on with making her one (and one for the rest of the family!) as well as a big pan of leek and potato soup. When she woke up, she sent me a text requesting a chopped apple and a cat to be take to her in bed! After obliging, I also gave her her presents and cards (DVD’s from us) and Billy trudged through a blizzard in the (now fairly deep) snow to collect Mum’s birthday parcel from the sorting office.

Just before noon, Billy, Raji, and I took the birthday girl out for her Chinese lunch to one of our favourite restaurants, The Golden Dragon, just in town. We had a lovely meal whilst watching the snow falling outside. We had the lunchtime menu but added crispy duck pancakes too as it was a treat. Although I ordered my usual favourite (chicken in lemon sauce) we all shared our dishes so we also had chicken and mushrooms, beef in black bean sauce and broccoli in garlic sauce. The latter was gorgeous and a new (2nd) favourite of mine. Billy left to go to his football match which was still on, and transport running, and the rest of lingered over coffee and Chinese tea before leaving. On the way home, we rented a DVD for later, and then when we got home, Nel went for a nap!

Since I had written off any hope of following my match, it was an unexpected bonus being able to do so, and Raji and I settled in the living room with the fire on, TV flicking between the rugby and Soccer Saturday and I followed MCFC’s text commentary of the game, a comfortable sounding 2-0 win for City. ๐Ÿ™‚

We had an evening meal of homemade soup, bacon sandwiches and cheesecake and once Nel appeared, she, Raji and I watched The Amazing Spiderman whilst drinking mulled wine – a cosy way to spend a snowy evening ๐Ÿ™‚ The film was very good and much better than previous Spiderman ones; it is very much in keeping with the Avengers series and I look forward to the next film.

Although it was not quite how we’d planned to spend Nel’s birthday, it was a very pleasant and relaxing day in the end and we all rather enjoyed it. I can’t believe my youngest baby is 20 now, but am very proud of her and how she’s grown into such a lovely young woman ๐Ÿ™‚

Back to it

I’ve been back at work for a week – and it seemed an intense week, probably because of a new routine and juggling other things.

I had a few things to sort out at work in my own role after the fortnight off; things that had been left for me to do and of course there was the usual effort of getting back in to the swing of it. We have a password system for all the computer access and we use and these passwords have to be changed every few weeks, must be to a certain format, cannot repeat previous passwords and must never be written down. I never forget my passwords but after two weeks’ break, I did and so had to get them all reset. Grr. Our department has gained some extra clinics which will eat in to my usual admin time (it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get other admin done when a clinic is running) so I now have to fit in an extra half day to accommodate this, and because Monday afternoon’s are now always going to be pretty hectic I think it may be useful to work into the evening a little to get cleared up and leave a clear run for the next day. I’ll need to experiment a bit and see what works best.

I was also back at my overtime for the secretaries this week, though with no more knowledge of how ongoing this is likely to be, which is unsettling and means I can’t really make any long term plans. So for now I am going to try and do my own overtime in addition to this as I need to do as much as I can whilst it is on offer. Ironically, another department has also asked if I might be able to help them out as they have a backlog, and though I am willing, I’m not sure that I have any time to do it – but I don’t want to say no. Argh!

I also went back to see the doctor this week as my strange digestion and weight-loss has still not resolved. After the initial rapid weight-loss, I managed to get myself eating 3 small meals a day and the weight-loss slowed so that I only lost another 3/4 stone over a couple of months. Nevertheless that’s 1.5 stones in 3 months and for no real reason. Over Christmas I managed a gain a whole 2 lbs – but I was very uncomfortable after eating. Big meals would sit in my stomach for hours and I have developed a constant dull pain on the right behind my ribcage, with the occasional very painful acute bout. Gallbladder seems a possibility, but my symptoms are not classic, and the symptom that bothers me most (a burning tongue which gets worse over the course of the day) is not accompanied by other symptoms that give a clue as to the problem.The doctor is as baffled as I am, but like me, feels this is nothing sinister, but still something we should try and identify. She has therefore begun a round of tests including: repeat bloods (all clear last time), with the addition of a coeliac screen; urine dip; H-pylori test; and ultrasound of gallbladder and kidney (since I happen to coincidentally have one of my kidney infections at present.) All very intriguing, though if we don’t find anything going on, I can manage to live with it.

We have also started looking for a new home this week; watch this space.

My Christmas Cake Recipe

Having made Christmas cakes for a few people and receiving many compliments, I’ve been asked for the recipe. I have used this same recipe for the last 20 years or so and have adapted it as I have gone along, so I include my own little notes.

1 lb (500g) Sultanas } I tend to use
1 lb (500g) Currants } 3 lbs 4oz (1.5 Kg)
12 oz (350g) Raisins } Mixed dried fruit
6 oz (175g) Chopped, dried peel }

6 oz (175g) Quartered glacรƒยฉ cherries } I have also used diced apple instead
4 oz (125g) Chopped almonds } Can use any nuts, ground or chopped

10oz (300g) Flour
10oz (300g) Margarine or Butter
10oz (300g) Soft brown sugar

1 tbspn Black treacle } I use either syrup or honey

6 Eggs, beaten
ร‚ยฝ tsp each Mixed spice, grated nutmeg, salt
4 tbspn Rum, brandy, sherry or whisky

TIN PREPARATION: Preparing the cake tin is very, very important as it prevents the cake drying out and the outsides burning as it needs to cook very slowly!

Double line and grease a deep 9รขโ‚ฌย (22cm) cake tin with greaseproof paper. Then tie newspaper around the OUTSIDE using ordinary string. (I take 3 sheets of newspaper and fold in half lengthways, and again so that it is a long strip and I find that two of these overlapping will go round the tin. The newspaper should be higher than the sides of the tin, by about 2cm / 1รขโ‚ฌย)

(If you want a slightly less deep cake, this mix will make an additional 1 lb loaf sized cake รขโ‚ฌโ€œ it’s a generous quantity and you will be able to experiment with the number and size of cakes you get out of it. e.g I make 1 ร‚ยฝ times this mix and get a 9รขโ‚ฌย square, plus a 2 lb and a 1lb loaf from it.)

OVEN: Turn on oven to warm up: Gas mark 3 (170ร‚ยฐC / 350ร‚ยฐF)

METHOD:
* In a large bowl coat all the dried fruit and nuts with approx a tbsp of the flour so that it is all lightly dusted.
* In a separate bowl cream the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy then beat in the treacle/syrup/honey.
* Gradually add the beaten eggs (adding a sprinkle of flour to prevent curdling as needed)
* Sift the flour, spices and salt together and stir in to the mix (unlike sponge cakes there is no need to worry about folding in to keep in the air.)
* Add the alcohol รขโ‚ฌโ€œ this is the key to the moistness of this cake.
* Lastly, stir in the fruit and nuts.
I like to follow tradition and close my eyes and make a wish whilst giving one complete stir. I then get any family member around at the time to do likewise.
* Pour mix into prepared tin(s) and bake

BAKING:
* Place cake(s) in centre of oven on Gas mark 3 (170ร‚ยฐC / 350ร‚ยฐF) for 20 mins
* Then reduce to Gas mark 2 (150ร‚ยฐC / 300ร‚ยฐF) for 40 mins
* Then reduce again to Gas mark 1 (140ร‚ยฐC / 275ร‚ยฐF) for approx 4 hours (for the 9รขโ‚ฌย size)
* Cake(s) will be cooked when a skewer or knife comes out clean
* Leave cake(s) in tin(s) for around an hour before removing
* Place on clean plates and when completely cool, wrap in cling-film making as air tight as possible

STORING:
The wrapped cake should keep for weeks (if not months!) and should certainly be kept a minimum of 2 weeks before eating, to let the flavours mature. If keeping longer term, you can periodically add more alcohol for moisture and flavour, by using a cocktail stick to pierce the surface and trickling a capful of your chosen alcohol over it and allowing it to be absorbed.

DECORATING:
Marzipan should be added at least one week ( I prefer 2) before icing and once marzipanned, the cake can be just lightly covered to protect from dust, but you want the air to dry the marzipan before icing.
Once iced, this cake will keep for weeks so it can be made well in advance of Christmas.

Have fun experimenting with this basic recipe รขโ‚ฌโ€œ Christmas cake is very forgiving and you can mix and match ingredients. Enjoy!

Rounding off my break

All too soon it seemed that I was coming to the end of my holiday and I used the last few days to sort out everything from my sock drawer to my paperwork – hardly glamorous but rather satisfying. One thing I will/won’t miss is that for these last 2 weeks I’ve been doing all the washing up once or twice a day – I won’t miss it in that it seems grossly unfair that people just leave all their dirty stuff and don’t take a turn, but I will miss it because all that dirty stuff will now remain there! Washing up (and leaving dirty plates, glasses and cups sitting around in the living room) is one of my bug bears in our household. I’ve also kept on top of emptying bins, not had to worry about how long it takes to put the wash-load out to dry in the mornings, and been able to cook what and when I’ve fancied. Best of all though, I’ve seen more of the family because everyone has such vastly different working/sleeping/waking times that we’re usually ships that pass. Being at home I’ve been here to chat at whatever time they are most inclined and I’ve loved that. (Funnily enough, the exception has been Billy – I saw no more of him than usual as he tended to either be out or in bed.) A little bonus that has brought me much pleasure has been fussing the cats every time I’ve been around them – their soft, furry, purry little bodies are such great de-stressors and I’ve had lovely cuddles and smiles dotted about my days here and there.

On Friday night we were back playing darts (it was a cup game last week when I was away, Raji stood in for me, and after winning round one, the team was knocked out at the next stage.) We were at home against The Grapes (the team defeated by the boys in the cup last week) and they absolutely thumped us! It’s been years since we lost 11-0 but that’s what happened. In most of the games we were miles behind but the away team faltered on their finishing allowing us to catch up and get a couple of goes at a double before they finally got it themselves. They were, however, a very nice lot and it was nonetheless a good evening. Senior was ill – the result won’t have helped make him feel better – so Billy stood in for him so our playing order was: Mark, me, Junior, Billy, Paul and Graham. At least I don’t need to spell out for you which games we won or lost ๐Ÿ˜‰

Thumped!

On Saturday it was fun following the FA Cup action – for me this is still a magic competition and brings the wider football family together. We all love a cup upset (unless we’re on the receiving end of course) and we all know anything can happen on the day. Sadly Newcastle were beaten by Brighton, though from the bit of the game I saw, the result was deserved. I listened to City 3 v 0 Watford on the radio and it sounded comfortable though never to be taken for granted. Thankfully we were 2-0 up at the break thanks to a fabulus Tevez free kick and another Barry header. This made it a little easier to bear in the second half and it was lovely for our 17-year old debutant, Lopes, to score the 3rd. Watford fans didn’t endear themselves to the home fans with their chants of “United. United…” Why on earth do fans do this? Support your own club, that’s what you’re there for! Anyway, a good win and City are into the next round. And it turns out that it will be against the winners of the replay in another of the games that interested me – Palace v Stoke! I do hope Palace win through so we can play them – at least either mum or I would be happy with the result and could wholeheartedly get behind them to go the whole way ๐Ÿ™‚

MCFC’s 60-second highlights here
MCFC’s extended highlights here

So now here I am on Sunday evening having relaxed, sorted, blogged,and packed my gym bag ready to get back to normal tomorrow. I have really enjoyed this much needed break and although I’ve kept busy, I’ve been able to relax too. I’ve enjoyed being a housewife and mum again, do I have to go back…………..?

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