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Thursday, 20 December 2012

Happy Xmas Everyone

December has ambled along. The weather went from fiercely cold and icy to dismally wet and rainy. We hate the rain because it trickles down the walls on the third floor. The chimney rebuild was a great success! They are the best chimneys in the street, but the assumption that "the flashing looked OK so it was OK" has turned out to be erroneous. Obviously the flashing that we can't see is not OK. More work is now needed and so the scaffolding will go up again in January. Old houses have atmosphere and interesting features but they also exhibit the wear and tear of ages specially on the outside where the weather hits the roof.

Tinker entertains herself during the inclement weather by climbing the stairs instead of her out-door climbing frame. She found this wool in the stash on the top landing and liberated it.
It was a left over ball of white angora and probably had a more interesting aroma than the rest. She brought it down to the ground floor and then bit through the middle. Two very small things will now have to be knitted from the remains. I can't bear to throw it away. It was the only angora in the stash!
I do lots of cooking when I'm rained indoors. Here is a boiled fruit cake I made. You boil up the fruit with sugar, butter and in this case, fresh pineapple, juice and walnuts.
Then cool it and add the flour and eggs. Then you bake it. Oops!
But it tasted really good and we have nearly finished it all.
Just to go on a bit more about the gloomy weather and because it's the shortest day of the year tomorrow, I thought I'd include this pic of the workmen nearby using spotlights at 9.30 am so that they could get on with their work. It should amuse folks in Oz who rarely get up in the dark. 

Still it's not as bad as Siberia. Birds can freeze solid if they attempt to fly across the road in winter and they fall to the ground like a stone. No! don't ask me what they were doing there in the first place, they should have migrated. I just read it somewhere in a book and have carried a picture of it in my mind ever since
Cheers to all for the festive season.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Christmas Creeps Closer

They started having xmas at the beginning of November in the shops up here but we are still undecorated chez nous. The first card arrived on Saturday and is standing in lone splendour on the mantlepiece (not counting the e-card!). I went to Artison to refresh my lino-cutting skills and knock up a card or two.
I shall do some more at home. It's the sort of craft that quite suits the kitchen table and the gear is cheap enough to acquire.
I have also been trawling the auctions and ebay for xmas gifts and came across this...
...lovely comfy recliner chair for the bedroom. It wan't possible to make it into a secret present so it is already in place and being used. In fact right now!
The great weather on Saturday got us out to Seaton Carew to examine the progress on the beachfront.
It would appear that the sea is still winning hands down. These steps are still under two metres of sand
and these ones needed 200tons of rock to protect them from the waves.
It is an enormous beach and there is a constant attack from the North Sea waves against the seafront.
Sad to say, humans don't do any better in places. This burnt out and derelict building occupies the best site on the seafront. The council are attempting a compulsory purchase order so that they can demolish it and..... well I don't know what they intend but I hope it's better thought out than the steps.
There's a good layer of snow on the ground this morning and the car will need to be cleaned off before we go to Lidl to take advantage of the £5 voucher to buy a lobster or two. They are advertising them at £5.99 each so we may well need two for a fine feast. Our voucher is for £5 off a £35 total purchase so I shall top up with other xmas fare and wine at the same time.
Cheers Gillian

Monday, 26 November 2012

Wet Weather

The rain has slowed a bit so it might be stopping soon. All the rivers round here have burst their banks and many roads are cut by flood waters. We are fine chez nous and not quite as much water is running down the wall as it did before we had the chimneys fixed. However, there still is ingress so there is still some fixing to be done up on the roof.
I have been painting quite a bit but nothing is finished yet. A lot of it is a bit experimental and not always a success. I have been using a painting knife and trying to be freer.
This is a mixture of brush for the sky and knife for the land.

And this all knife and still unfinished. I'm trying to get more streams of sunlight through and add more texture to the foreground.
Last Friday was a lovely day at a place called ArtiSon. They do an enormous variety of art day courses and I signed up for "Industrial Landscapes" I had great fun playing with watercolour and ink washes, over-painted with industrial icons.
It's difficult to find an existing pithead around here now. They have all been demolished but the tutor had some old photos so I used one to copy this silhouette.
And here's my favourite local industry, the steelworks at Redcar on a watercolour and sepia wash.

Apart from that I've been slaving away at making blancmanges. It was Jubilee Party at the WI and because I was last to fill in the food-to-bring clipboard, I got "blancmange". I entertained myself by making a mixture of the original Pearce and Duff packets, white chocolate panna cotta and a free-from coconut milk dessert with blueberries.
I arranged them in a RED WHITE & BLUE display and off I went. The white chocolate panna cotta was a hit, the red berry blancmange went well too, but the blueberry and coconut milk was not popular. DJ warned me that it was too alien a colour. I had made it dairy-, gluten- and sugar-free but loaded with E122 to give it a fine blue hue.
I ate a couple and the rest went in the bin.

Guess who's hiding in the basket on the fridge!
Cheers Gillian

Sunday, 11 November 2012


My Father died fifty years ago on the 10th of this month. We were all young. I was the eldest and 14 and a half. He was buried in the cemetery at Wealdstone in the same grave plot as my sister, Alison, who had died six and a half years before.
We all returned there yesterday.
Luckily the weather was better than it had been 50 years ago. My sister, T, had prepared a lovely timeline of events, a collage of pics and a speech; which was left on the side while she spoke from her heart. There were many smiles and reminiscences, brave tears and much moving around into groups to take pics of  us all.

And then we went back to J&A's place in Barnet for a get together. We came from all over... from Bishop, Manchester, Brighton, Bournemouth, Pimlico, Mudeford, Glasgow and Barnet. We feasted and talked and drank and reminisced more. 
I haven't been party to any of these hot air paper balloons before. They are great fun, particularly if there is a perfect evening for their uplift. There were many fireworks going off and our small efforts should not have made too much mal-impact on the environment.
I returned home this morning.

Since the last blog we've been baking again. DJ started with some apple, sultana spice mix and some flaky pastry. I did the lattice-work wrap-over and then we cooked it. Fabulous!
This week we are not doing such cookery. We've bought the new "Jamie" book and there are quite a few ideas I want to follow.
Cheers Gillian

Saturday, 3 November 2012


Some time last week I was watching a cookery programme on More4. It was HFW teaching celebrities who "don't cook" how to make simple, successful items. I jotted down some notes whilst watching Ruby Wax make a lovely sponge sandwich.
Hers looked every bit as good as this.
This is my first successful cake, cooked from scratch, in goodness knows how many years, if ever. Whenever I've been asked if I can cook I always respond "Yes, but I can't bake!". Even packet mixes made with chemistry-experiment-exactitude fail. I am prone to *sinking-in-the-middle, *volcanic-uprisings, *catastrophic-crumblings, *denture-danger-denseness and even *"are-you-sure-you-read-the-instructions?".

So much advice is available for the unsuccessful baker that it would take a dozen batches of scones before I could determine whether the fault was caused by ...oven temperature, too dry/moist mixture, wrong/old flour, slap-happy measurements, recipe faults and even being called Gillian etc.

Anyway, this one was a bit dry in the mix so I added a splash of milk. There is something in my well-aged experience that made me feel it was better for the added fluid. It also took about 4 minutes longer to cook because I used smaller tins and the mixture was therefore deeper (I'm quite clever sometimes!).
We managed about half of it for arvo tea. (It is smaller than it looks!). I filled it with the some of the raspberry jam made from the raspberries from Brusselton Woods, over the road from us, and added plenty of whipped cream.

I'm so proud of it that I had to blog it.

I've done some other interesting things this week too, like cook a ham hock for the first time, take DJ to a Tex-Mex dinner in Darlo for his birthday at a fabulous cafe called "The Imperial", get the boiler fixed, unpick the oversized cardigan which I never wore and start a new jumper with the yarn, and have more goes at painting with a painting knife.

G and D (DJ's granddaughter and new husband) spent time with us last weekend before returning to the Midlands to move into their new home. We had the snow, some great steaks, fabulous fish and chips from "The Almighty Cod", fish and chip shop at Seaton Carew, and a great afternoon sitting around the woodburner in the snug. Also had  good news tonight that more rels will visit us soon.

The cat has been a bit strange lately. She has always been reckless and dashes around bumping into furniture. Recently I heard her tumble. I suspect that she fell through the banisters and down a flight of stairs. She was hiding under the table when I found her and so I treated her to some poached chicken to coax her out. She was so keen to get to it that she got trodden on by me as I stepped backwards!

She now runs away when I come near her, but follows me from room to room if I move away from her. But she has found refuge in the little basket on top of the fridge. Well at least until I decided to get up and go into another room.
Straight out of the basket and back down to floor level again! She is now at my feet in the snug.
Cheers Gillian

Saturday, 27 October 2012


We have visitors from down south and impressed them mightily by laying on some snow overnight!
Brusselton Hill looks very pretty from the top window and even the coal yard across from the front of the house benefits from a coating of snow.
We are off now to see how far spread the snow is and find some truly scenic views.
Cheers Gillian

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Beautiful Bowes Museum

In some ways my blogs are very like London buses. You wait for ages and then three come at once and then at least one of them isn't heading in your direction. I don't get many comments, but sometimes it's five and sometimes it's none. I realised recently that my commenting pattern on other people's blogs was very similar. Some posts strike a note and need a response and others are just lovely to scroll through. Also you might be glad to know that, there are no trains on this blog at all.
Please believe me, all of you who stop by, that I appreciate it even though I don't know. There is a way of finding out how many people have been looking at my blog but then...quite a few of them could be me looking to see how many people have been looking at my blog.
Today was absolutely gorgeous weather. It's not often that we "oop north" have better weather than down south, so we went to the Autumn Fair at the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle.
You can read bits about the Bowes Museum from the link but a quick mention from me about the place is that it is a museum and built for the purpose by the very rich couple who spent a lot of their lives travelling around Europe and visiting exhibitions and buying, collecting and gathering gorgeous stuff. They were an amazing couple and left this to the nation. (If you go round the back you can tell from the big blank walls that it was never meant to be a dwelling). They already had grandiose homes down the road and in London and Paris. It is high on my list of venues for visitors. I have even had visitors ask to go back. That also gives us a chance to visit the Antique shops in Barney and the lovely artisan shops.
We enjoyed a cooking demo at the Autumn Fair.
Pigeon breast salad to the top right and rabbit loin rolled in prosciutto crudo with fancy veg, to the bottom left. I had never tasted pigeon before so went eagerly for a taste. I judged it as a combination between calves liver and some fine steak. I enjoyed it but I don't think I would cook it. DJ chose not to taste it. The rabbit , was not a new ingredient to me. I cooked it often in Oz. I, too would have cooked only the loin or the front legs. The rest is tough and was minced up for the cat. There isn't much that I haven't tasted in my life. Snails top the list of things I haven't tasted. The challenge is with you... I give you things I have eaten...crocodile, snake, frogs' legs, shark, emu, buffalo, etc. I have eaten them all.
We returned home with some delicious titbits. From the top right and clockwise. Compte cheese from France and really grand tasting. Two bottles of Black Paw Brewery "Bishop's Best", from a brewery in Bishop Auckland, two samples of ewe's cheese from Tuscany but imported and sold locally by a family in Masham, North Yorkshire. One of the cheeses is truffle flavoured and the other  is walnut flavoured and covered with a walnut leaf.
We have tasted all of these for a small luncheon on returning home. Then... I went out.
I have to prepare 30 blancmanges for next month's W.I. meeting. So I went round to Tesco to peruse their ingredients. And I was just in time for the FISH counter sell-off. I got four scallops, a crab, some haddock and some smoked salmon.
I had a battle with the crab. It was full of dark red meat...roe, probably. I've never done a crab before but have watched it done often by my uncles. It seems to have been a "man's job" because seafood was often the job on the side. Coal miners went out fishing when they were on a shift that allowed them to. I had the scallops for tea. The small amount of crab will make a sandwich for tomorrow.Does anyone know why my crab was full of dark red stuff inside its top shell?
Tinker has been so happy in this late seasonal sunshine. She is very fond of small fluffy things and regularly removes the screen wiper, from the TV in the front room and brings it into the snug. She delivers it to DJ and presses on his slipper to let him know. He throws it to the other end of the room and she returns with it to start all over again.
Cheers Gillian

Saturday, 20 October 2012


One more A4 locomotive arrived at Shildon this week. The Union of South Africa came up from York under its own steam. We waited on the bridge and the cry went up when the steam appeared.
Not long afterwards it came into view and paused at the signals to let the diesel commuter to Darlington, pass by.
Then it steamed by and into the museum yard. It will be there with the others for a while.
The day before we had been to the auction at Addisons and treated ourselves to a silver butter dish and a waiter table. Here he is all cleaned up and given a better complexion. The table top needed stabilising too.
Tinkie has to check out all new objects. But it didn't amuse her much. She had had a bad week. I had given her a new feather wand to play with and it was obvious the next morning that she had chewed off half a dozen feathers and swallowed a couple of them. She coughed one up but was very poorly so we had a trip to the vet. It is amazing how a vet can get his fingers into her mouth and halfway down her throat without her biting them off. He found no more feathers and suggested a day of rest to see if it was a scratched throat or worse. The finger-risking act was well worth the £28 and she did indeed improve with rest and was able to eat and drink a bit by the evening.
She has started to venture out into the yard again, specially when the sun is shining and I am in the yard too. So I snapped the last of the colour while I was there.
The last Emma Hamilton rose.
The bright "fall" colours of the Rhus.
And the dark red of the Virginia Creeper. I wish I had planted one over on the other corner too. I'll start one off next spring. And the crab apples are turning golden. I shall leave them this year. They add colour to that corner well into the winter.
The fine weather encouraged DJ to paint the bollards outside the house. They look so much better when they are freshly done and they are a very handy way of directing people to us. He says he will finish them tomorrow while I visit the Autumn Fair at The Bowes Museum.
Cheers Gillian

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Beware the Cost of Cakes

The local news is called "The Bishop Press". I look forward to it because it is really local.

Someone pops it in our letter-box every weekend. Dear Evie was 104 this week and still enjoying life and that is good news. Not such good news is... how much it costs to make a cake!

I bet she wishes she had baked a cake at home.

For those of you who saw the arrival of the Dominion of  Canada on my post last week, here is another related picture. It is the bell. I think the Dominion of Canada was the only A4 locomotive to have a bell, and such a beauty too.
We popped over today to see how things were going and there was a big show of model railways. So many wonderful little railway scenes. So many blokes playing with enormously complicated train sets. All designed to be a real station or siding somewhere.
This is Bishop Auckland Station forty years ago, modelled and run by D.F.Newby.

Cheers Gillian

Friday, 12 October 2012


Tinker has been reluctant to play outside without us present. Her indoor cat's corner was invaded by a tom cat from up the road who ate her food and tried drowning her toys in her water fountain. He frequents her outdoor area too and uses our courtyard as a short cut! He even came in one afternoon recently but made a rapid exit when he realised I was there.
So the cat flap has been closed when she has been left alone. It was decided to fit a new cat flap which would operate only for her microchip....voila!!!
Behold the Mikrochipgesteuerte Katzenklappe. Amazon responded so promptly.
The old flap had been professionally fitted by the bloke who made the door, so we were a bit worried about the mess we could make trying to take it out and put the new one in. But would you believe it?
The new one fitted in the same hole in the door, absolutely perfectly. There were just the right number of good batteries in the spare battery basket and she was popped out of the flap before she knew what was happening. The mechanism went click and she was registered. Then I sat there with a tasty morsel of chicken to await her return. And waited. And waited. She was not fond of making the return journey and in the end I had to go outside and shove her through in rather an ungainly fashion. But it's all done now and she is still looking round the area in case some chicken was left behind.
It will take her a while to be confident enough to believe that the tom cat is not lurking on the other side waiting to come in and steal her stuff. And she will have to get used to the different shape of the flap entry but  it's a relief to us to know that it all works.
Cheers Gillian

A short while later I tempted her out into the yard with a new feather toy and then left her to see if she would come back in through the cat flap.
She would have if she hadn't been determined to bring her new toy in with her! She had a couple of goes and then I had to let her in the door.