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Monday, 27 December 2010

Seaton Carew Boxing Day Dip

HUNDREDS of people in fancy dress and not, raced from the Seaton Carew Club, down to the beach front and then.......another quarter of a mile to low tide level......into the sea for a well sponsored dip. There was snow on the high sands and dunes but the sea cannot be below freezing point and still splash you, so hundreds of us stood in the ankle deep water which was sloshing around at low tide, in order to cheer on the wave after wave of hardy partcipants. Amazing fancy dress ( pyjamas, kilts, 118 wigs and moustaches, army gear, sports teams, leopard print and bikinis of all shapes and forms and in pink) was worn by youths, men and women.
It's a hard trudge back up the beach. Some just drag themselves all the way in their freezing gear.

Others went in with less and came out the same way
They still shivered and so did we.

Cheers Gillian and DJ

Tuesday, 21 December 2010


Once again I admit to using "ready prepared" icing. It has to be kneaded into a pliable mass. Then you roll it out to fit your cake. My cake is quite small so there was a lot of icing left over. And so I made it into sweeties, dipped in chocolate and studded with cake decorations in the shape of penguins. There were a few short of a penguin so I iced them with a tasty morsel of red icing from the tube.
Fortunately, by the time I had finished these processes the cold water in the kitchen was back on tap.
It had frozen in the night... -12 dgrees Celsius last night and the kitchen water pipes are not lagged.
The rest of the shopping is done. Hoping about 20 will come on xmas eve from up and down the street.
Happy Christmas to you all out there.
Cheers Gillian
ps Heide the roast potatoes need white fat like dripping or lard to be really good.

Sunday, 19 December 2010


DJ has been eager to improve the standard of the roast potatoes we dish up, so yesterday he began the quest for a method for producing the best roast potatoes in the world. The previous title holder for "Best Roast Potatoes" has been his sister, but her long reign may well be over.
The above picture shows potatoes that were of that standard. They were boiled till nearly cooked then drained, shaken and cooled before gently and carefully rolling in smoking hot goose fat and roasting for up to 45 minutes with occasional careful turns; they were perfection.
At the same time I made parsnips dauphinoise. They were very thinly sliced lengthwise in my new kitchen food processor (expensive and unnecessary kitchen toy but such fun), Cream, milk, nutmeg, bayleaves, honey and S&P were boiled and then the parsnips were added for a minute or two before transferring the lot to an oven dish. They were baked for 45 minutes too. They melted in the mouth but didn't photograph so well. Brussel sprouts with chestnuts were also produced but it was agreed that chestnuts spoil a good brussels sprout. We are both very fond of brussels and will have them steamed with a smear of butter on christmas day instead of tarting them up with posh bits.

Today I played with marzipan. I did the christmas cake and because I used ready made stuff there was some left over. I made some marzipan sweets by icing them and dipped some in chocolate to make small logs. Very small.

A sortie round Laura Ashley last weekend made me want a throw for the end of the bed made in super-chunky, big wool. I shall knit one, I thought. It will save me buckets of money and be finished by christmas. Well maybe not. To get it chunky enough I had to double up the wool so it will not save me buckets and I will have to wait for another lot of wool to arrive to knit it long enough. At least it doesn't have to come by air. I hear they are keeping camera crews out of Heathrow Airport because the scenes inside are not "happy christmas" ones.

It is quite quick to knit up at two stitches to the inch but the needles are a bit unwieldy and the throw is getting heavy. I have a circular needle the same size but I found it tedious to drag the stitches around it all the time, they slide well on the wooden ones though.
Cheers for now


We are very lucky to live near this wonderful place. It is The Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle in County Durham. Today was the Christmas Market and while the rest of England has ground to a halt under a deep heap of snow, we seem to be in a sunny corridor of the country. It is freezing though. Our washing machine is in the outbuildings, which are next on the renovation agenda, and it is unusable because the pipes are frozen. The museum has rarely looked so splendid. There were craft stalls around the parterre and food stalls along the terrace.
We treated ourselves to real bacon, homemade bread, hand crafted cheeses, Tweed Valley honey and Cumbrian mustard. We had lunch as soon as we got home!

Apart from the stalls we wandered round the grounds and museum. A six month ticket costs only £9 if you are old enough. There was a Damien Hirst print exhibition inside and an overwhelming collection of glorious objects on display in the salons.

Santa seems to have a new way of getting his reindeer from one place to another and has found them some work for the rest of the year. I was surprised at how small they are and how very pretty and gentle they seem.

And Yes!!! They were eating snow!!!
Cheers Gillian

Tuesday, 14 December 2010


The bad weather has encouraged us to be grateful for our ability to get around. We are agile enough to put on boots and walk to the farm shop for meat. The last time we did, however, a blizzard made us detour inside the cafe for a lovely homemade bowl of soup. The trudge home was very wearying.
So we have had winter tyres put on the drive axle of the Meriva, and will park it round the corner from the front of the house but facing the main road. That way there will only be a meter or two of ungritted road between us and the cleared main road. More bad weather is predicted by next weekend.
We have a HiQ garage across the road and they are very good to us. They will change the tyres and store the others till it is time to change them back.
Thankfully we have not needed to rely on Hindles! They are somewhere near the Tees estuary and I'm sure they do a great job whatever it is. We went down that way for some sea breezes and gathered another big bag of sea-coal and watched the shipping enter port. Then we went to the main seafront and plodged along the tide line. These sandstone rocks have been worn into smooth folds of chocolate blancmange by the waves and the seaweed grows on top like a green velvet table cloth.

I've enrolled for some classes in art photography for next term. I have done all the painting classes and shan't give up the day job. I like pointing a camera and would love to know a bit more about how it all works and how to do better pics.
We had a lovely couple of days away seeing friends and rels, eating, drinking and driving. All went without a hitch. Christmas will be at home and we plan to shop till we drop this week and then retire while the bad weather hits.
We are having great fun with Kinect and have supplies of fuel, food, drink, jigsaws etc to see out a siege.
Hope you are all going to be having much of the same.
Cheers and Happy Christmas to you all, Gillian

Sunday, 28 November 2010


I'm fond of alliteration but DJ "the fire raiser" likes puns. Lots of Dickensian stuff was bandied around for a title and "all I want for xmas" and trite things like that were mentioned but I went with the pun in the end. The snow is quite a few inches deep around here and special toilet facilities have been set up inside (and well used! sorry bit too much info) for Princess Tigger. She still seems to like to explore outside between snow flurries.
Inside the house, she continues to attack all biros/ballpoints as if they are prey. She particularly like the clicky ones. Good fangs shown here. Dozens of biros lurk beneath large/heavy items of furniture. And it wont be long before she tries to get the bird at the top of this tree. We missed the Scarborough auction because of the weather, so we went into Watson's today to view Tuesday's lots. There is a "Braaq" similar to the ones we missed out on at Tennants a couple of weeks ago. When we got home, we put together the xmas tree, had lunch and went to Sainsbury's for milk, came home and then...DJ did a bit of fire raising in the kitchen range. It is its first use since moving in. We had the chimney swept a couple of months ago and we wanted to test the sea-coal.

We need a proggy mat in front of the hearth but they took each family a year to make and I want one tomorrow. We were advised by a bloke we met on the beach with his metal detector, while we were coal-gleaning, that we would need a spark-guard because seacoal tended to explode!!!

He was so right. We have contained some minor explosions behind our hastily bought "Argos" guard. The bloke on the beach said that some seacoal could cause damage to the far wall!!!
Well, we are ready for another winter like last one. Plenty of fuel and fireplaces.
Slow cooker is on with a casserole in it and I didn't cook it. Lovely life up north.
Cheers Gillian

Friday, 26 November 2010


It's best to do this with gumboots on and thick socks for insulation, specially when the tide is on the turn and each wave surprises you with its reach.We had planned to visit Duggleby's at Scarborough, on Saturday, to check out their auction rooms on our way to visit friends holidaying in Whitby. The weather over that way has been terrible. They have been snowed in and are thinking of leaving for home as soon as they can. So we took off for Seaton Carew to check out our own bit of coast.
Snow on the sand of the dunes. Something I have not seen before.

Tankers lurking in the gloom below the thick roll of snow cloud on its way to North Yorkshire. They ride out the low tide a mile or so out to sea and enter on the returning tide. Sometimes they lurk out there for days waiting for increases in the price of crude oil before heading into Seal Sands.
Some lurk too long!This is the remains of a "collier brig" or coal boat. It is similar to common coastal trading vessels of this coastline a couple of hundred years ago and is exposed at low tide. Captain Cook favoured such sturdy vessels for his voyages. But obviously not this one.
Scarborough is still undecided. We shall see what the morning brings.
Cheers Gillian

Thursday, 25 November 2010


Yesterday was a lovely end-of-autumn day.
Today it was the start of winter. It seems appropriate to me because it is also the start of my newly married life.
DJ and I and Tigger the bridesmaid took ourselves off to the Register Office at Bishop Auckland with a couple of witnesses, who were passing by on their way from Southend to the new Sainsbury's round the corner.
Actually we had to leave Tigger behind to guard the flowers and champagne at home, because we all had a booking at Headlam Hall to wine and dine in suitable style.
Back home now and on with life. And it's a good one. Especially because, even though we missed the first day of the Test Match because of the Nuptials, England are all out for 260!!!
Cheers Gillian

Thursday, 11 November 2010

New Stuff!

These are the original floorboards in the kitchen. They have been sanded back, given a coat of old oak stain and a coat of matt polyurethane. I perhaps, would have preferred satin finish, but I'm thrilled with the colour and the overall effect.
So is Tigger! Cheers Gillian

Monday, 8 November 2010

Riverside Riches

Last Saturday the weather was so gorgeous that we were tempted down to the River Wear for a walk, where it skirts the north of Bishop Auckland. Autumn colours have been glorious this year. The viaduct in the background of this picture once carried the railway northwards. The line now stops at Bishop Auckland Station, about a mile further south. Fortunately, someone came up with the idea of putting a new road on top of the "Eleven Arches" before it got demolished. Much of the old railway and mining fabric of the north has been demolished or obliterated. There is no doubt that the countryside is now very attractive and eyesores were removed but the big D-for-demolition stamp was used frequently in the offices of the town planners in the 1960s and 1970s and some great treasures were lost in the haste to modernise.
The copse of trees lit up by the sun on the hill across the river to the north, hides the old site and remains of the Roman Cavalry Fort of Binchester. One of the forts on the Roman road from York to Hadrians Wall.The Gaunless (olde englishe for useless) River flows through Auckland Park and the grounds of the Bishop's Palace and then into the River Wear over this weir. The grand old trees of the park provide shelter for flora and fauna from deer to fungi. Deer are shy and move fast but fungi are a photographer's dream.

The weather has now turned and we expect snow on the hills soon. The driftwood and sea-coal look more attractive by the day.
Keep warm wherever you are.
Cheers Gillian

Friday, 5 November 2010

Christmas Cake Craziness

I decided to make the christmas cake. Yes! I know it's a bit soon but there's a lot on between now and xmas chez nous. I got the fruit etc measured out and left it to soak in brandy overnight. Then I went to the cupboard to get the rest of the ingredients that Delia had listed as suitable for the cake tin size that I had.
I had quite an array of flour bags but Delia said I needed plain, plain flour. Not the strong bread flour, nor the bread mix. Not even the self raising flour suitable for cakes or the sack of Wessex Mill scone mix. So in the middle of everything, I had to go out for some flour. We have seven supermarkets within a mile or so. I had already been to Sainsbury's earlier for some milk etc and come home with three new tops as well, so I went to Lidl, the closest and top-less, and bought some flour. Oops! I came home with a bag of Self Raising!!!
After peals of laughter and much amusement at my silliness, I went out again. This time, I tried Aldi......and came home with a bag of Self Raising!!! I even got as far as weighing it out, sifting it and adding mixed spice and grated nutmeg. Then DJ kindly pointed it out to me.
My sense of humour evaporated, and DJ disappeared to the top floor. This time I decided to try Tesco but the car ended up back at Sainsbury's. Getting frazzled, I ignored the 25%-off sign pointing to the clothes and came home with some plain flour. I bought a small bag because I was worried about where to store all these new supplies.

The cake got made and came out of the oven looking OK. It is now bathing in a sprinkling of Southern Comfort, mainly because neither of us drinks it and there was some in the cupboard. This will be liberally applied weekly and the cake will be wrapped in foil until I get the urge to ice and decorate it.

More news later as long as I don't repeat my serial shopping too often and get carted off to a home for a "nice rest" before xmas.
We went coal and driftwood gathering again today and are looking forward to a great fire in the kitchen range grate on xmas day.
Cheers Gillian

Monday, 1 November 2010


Today was DJ's birthday and he eschewed the proffered lunch at the Morritt Arms, at Greta Bridge and opted for a trip to the seaside. The Morritt does a stunning three course "Credit Crunch Lunch", at £10 and it is available in the Dickens Bar where the walls are painted in grand Dickensian style by Jack Gilroy and the gardens are stunning too, if you are there in good weather. The link has a great slide show.
DJ chose a visit to Seaton Carew. The day was windy but the skies were blue. This is our nearest and favourite seaside, just to the south of Hartlepool and to the north of Teesside.
The tide was on its way out and we faced the wind to walk south towards the dunes. We followed the high tide line because I love to search for treasures. Coloured or shiny bits glinting in their recent wetness. A woman in front had a dog and a bag of stuff she kept gleaning from the berm ahead of us. I asked her what she was scavenging. "Sea coal" she said, and showed us how to identify the lumps and distinguish them from the black pebbles by their lighter weight and glimmer even when dry. She said she might as well gather a bagful while she walked her Scottie.

So guess what we did. It wasn't a great harvest because we only had DJ's hat to carry it in. But we shall return. We have seven fire-places and chimneys. We only use two and one has a wood/multifuel burner and the other is part of the kitchen range.
This shovelful is it! "Oh Yeah", you might say. "So what!"
Four miles and an hour and a half of walking! But it was such fun and the fruits of the footpaths.
Seaton Carew has a grand sea-front and a lovely stretch of Victorian buildings and hotels shown on this link. Its a grand walk along the front at low tide and then we enjoyed a "Ploughman's Lunch" at the Staincliffe Hotel overlooking the sea and watched an ocean-going tug bringing in an oil-drilling rig.
These are the treasures I garnered today. Blue was the dominant colour, but the green stone at the bottom right stood out too.
Tesco's and Sainsbury's have both opened around the corner. The Tesco is a regular big one and the Sainsbury is the largest I have seen, although a friend says she has seen a bigger one at Fosse Park near Leicester.
We went with same friends to a "Mamma Mia Mystery Night" at the Ramside Hall in Durham and I was going to blog about it. But I won't. Next time they visit we shall make our own costumes out of old curtains, paint on make-up and put wigs on our heads. We shall screech at them all night and make them eat some mediocre food as quickly as they can so that we can all go home to bed early and the disco can play loud music for them on automatic. We might get away with charging £20 too!!!
Cheers Gillian

Monday, 11 October 2010


We took the opportunity of having a week in Corfu. The rest of the year will be busy and so some sunshine and new pastures fitted the bill perfectly. We chose an hotel close to but not in, Corfu Town and were able to access the town easily for 90 cents on the bus. We climbed to the top of the Old Fort, shown here. Later we climbed to the top of the Venetian Fort as well. The place was well fortified over the centuries!The views from the top were grand. The clouds passed by for one day. The stormy weather stayed for another but the rest of the time was hot and sunny with brilliant blue sea and skies. The best coffee I have had since leaving Melbourne was to be had at the "Europe Cafe" in Eleftherias with the old cricket pitch in the park beside it. This grand old street is paved with marble and specialises in cafes.
We trod the streets all over town. Many parts must date back centuries and there has been a tradition of patching up and building a bit more on so that many areas are a pastiche of eras, styles and uses.
This could be one of the oldest basketball courts in the world, or it could have been put up yesterday on an empty space.
The sea is in the background of everything. We stayed at an hotel with its own beach as well as all the rest and watched three or four cruise ships arrive and leave the port a kilometre away each day. This one is catching the setting sun as it sails past the hotel gardens. It is blocking your view of Albania. Day trips to Albania can be got for a mere 60 euros but are titled "Albanian Adventure" so that you don't expect too much comfort. Talking about comfort... if we return we shall try the Corfu Palace Hotel in town. We snuck in for a sticky beak and were mightily awed.
The epic building of supermarkets around the corner from us continued while we were away. The new Bishop Auckland Football Club is nearly ready for its first match and a giant Sainsbury's and a Tesco Extra are competing to see which will open first. They are across the road from one another, will offer all the same things and petrol and have caused havoc to the traffic for weeks while roundabouts and new roads are emplaced. The bus routes will be changed and teams of builders, electricians, plumbers, gas workers and JCB drivers are working around the clock to be the first store to open. Vast quantities of material have to be removed from the site while new utilities are put in place and then all the material will have to be returned to fill in the gaping holes and landscape them. All I want is some decent bread within walking distance.
Cheers Gillian

Friday, 24 September 2010


We recently returned from a walk around Forcett with a carrier bag full of potatoes. This was the loot from a trudge across a recently harvested potato field . False and unfair are the accusations heaped upon us by RH, of potato rustling on a major scale in the north and blaming us for shortages in the south and so causing the near starvation of thousands of children!!! Let them eat chips, we say!)
Unfortunately the potatoes only taste good because they were free and have lashings of butter on them. That's a shame for us but a bigger one for you because you are probably going to be paying for their big brothers in a supermarket near you all winter.
The blackberries and elderberries are now dealt with for this year and our fingers are returning to their normal colour.
So we took ourselves off to Saltburn on the train. A grand day out for £6.30 each return. Some fish and chips and a ride on the cliff lift. Yes and no. The lift is closed until Easter so we walked down and up again.
The tide was well out and there was a lot of weed washed up, so the coalmen had to scrape it aside to forage the seacoal which they shovel up into sacks. This couple happily filled a few carriers as well. Our foraging nature has led us to enquire how it can be used at home. Can we make our own "Saltburn Nuts"? When we were young the coalman delivered "Welsh Nuts" to our home to keep the hot water boiler burning, because London in living required the smokeless fuel of the anthracite coal from south Wales.

We have seen this seacoal gathered commercially to be used in the furnaces in the steel works on Teesside but how can it be used domestically?
The weather is starting to change and cooler temperatures are here. Such a supply of fuel could be very welcome.
Cheers Gillian