Good morning dear reader. Well, here we are again. I hope I find you well and keeping as much out of mischief as I have managed to do lately. I shouldn't really say that, let alone think it, as you can be sure that the minute you think things are going swimmingly, disaster strikes. But let's not allow any negative thoughts to intrude on this glorious autumnal morning.
Last weekend as you know, we took ourselves off to Teesside in the north-east of England to visit friends of long standing and on our way home to meet up with another old friend of mine and her partner. What has struck me most about our travels is the generous hospitality of our friends and the laughter and fun that we shared with them.
My friend - I will call him Adam - is amazing. Thankfully he does not read my blogs, but wouldn't it just be sod's law that he would read this one and be mad as fire that I was singling him out for any special attention. So we'll leave his name out of things. I have known Adam for almost thirty years. He is like a third brother and just like all siblings we fight like cat and dog but would defend eachother to the death should anyone else have anything adverse to say. When spouse and I lived in Teesside, Adam and I played our guitars and sang our hearts out together at the Sunday Masses at Billingham church for years - and we always argued over the music and the singing along the way. Adam is a great traditionalist and if there are ten verses in a hymn then in his opinion we should jolly well sing them all. I, on the other hand, took a different view and was not going to wade through ten verses of any hymn, in the sure and certain knowledge that the priest or members of the congregation might lynch me afterwards for my troubles. So four verses, maybe five and then I would bring the singing to an early close and endure Adam's wrath and indignation afterwards.
Almost thirty years on and things have not changed. Are we stuck in a time warp here? No, just two stubborn musicians with different views on leading music in church. I took my guitar and music with me at the weekend and Adam come around to his mother's house where we were staying and we practiced one evening and for once we appeared to be in harmony with eachother. Remember dear reader, this only applies on the musical front, we still argued the toss about everything else under the sun. Spooling forward to our preparations for Mass, once in church, sure enough we started arguing again. My, my, God must shake his head a lot listening to the pair of us.
'Why are you singing it like that?' he asks. 'You can't hold the note there, they don't know it like that'
'Well, it's written like that, so that's what I'm gonna sing.' says I.
'They won't sing it like that,' he says. 'They won't, They'll just carry on and you'll lose 'em.'
'I've got a very loud voice, they'll hear me alright and follow me,' says I.
'They won't,' he insists .
'They will,' I insist.
You get the picture dear reader. We could argue over two flies walking up the wall. Spouse and myself based ourselves at Adam's mum's house for the weekend and had a whale of a time with her and Adam - shopping, talking and laughing non-stop, eating, and drinking first class wine. Oh and of course, arguing our heads off. A great weekend which I look back on with much affection and take a life lesson from. Why? Because our Adam has a great many obstacles to contend with in his life - confined to a wheelchair with plenty of physical problems thrown in, he let's nothing stop him from living life to the full, living independently and being a fully paid up useful member of society and of a warm and loving family.
No-one need waste any sympathy on Adam - he would not thank you for it. He's as good as the next man and probably a darned sight better in some cases. I look forward to arguing up hill and down dale with him for many years to come. We are visiting again in December and I am getting my metaphorical fighting boots ready - we can have huge disagreements over the choice of Advent hymns. I look forward to it.
So on this sunny autumn morning dear reader, if you are tempted to feel a little down at the prospect of summer having fled away and winter's footsteps pattering towards us - think of Adam - heading full on at life. Wind, rain and snow? Hah! Just another challenge to rise to in addition to his work and many voluntary activities.
Have a good week dear reader and we'll meet again next Sunday all being well. Romance is in the air, it's our wedding anniversary next week - even spouse and I might be in accord for once. Here's hoping.
IN THE GARDEN
Good morning dear reader and welcome to another autumn morning at Chez Comb. As ever it has been a very busy week. We are still dealing with our fruit and veg crops, the outcome of which is a vatful of ratatouille awaiting freezing and lovely jars of stewed pears in red wine and brandy - my thanks to my friend Anni for supplying this gorgeous recipe. Christmas could be very interesting this year with the alcoholic pears and plum liqueur - but not together I think!
The Library garden team have been in action again and I was summoned to assist in the barrowing of gravel around our new borders. It should have been an easy job but it never works out as planned does it? The delivery wagon could not manage the turn in the library driveway and so could not drop the tons of bagged gravel near to where we wanted them. Instead they had to be left halfway up the drive and we had to barrow and bucket the wretched gravel around the new borders. Let me tell you dear reader, this is not a pastime to be recommended. Maybe you have had experience of this yourself and have memories of the aching back and muscles the next day. After a day of carting gravel I got out of my bed extremely gingerly the next morning, promising myself never, never again. But there, I always say this and no doubt will be up for the challenge the next time.
Speaking of gardening matters, spouse has been out and about in ours. He too has been busy with the wheelbarrow, carting the leftover soil that was dug out for our pond and dumping it in heaps around the garden. We look as if we have been invaded by giant moles, but hopefully our heaps will soon be flattened and new lawns made.
When the soil heap was reduced spouse turned his attention back to his mega-shed. After a bit of a tidy up he decided to offer me some space in it to overwinter my geraniums and pelargoniums. Wow, they will be snugly tucked up in there as the walls are insulated and the room is flooded with natural light. They won't want to come out in springtime I bet. I'm going to trim them up and put them in before he changes his mind. He might not have been so generous with his offer if he knew that I intend to renovate some of our garden furniture and plant tables in there over the winter, (when I can be spared away from my writing desk of course, ha ha). But I'm not telling him that yet or he may rescind his offer. I am banking on squatters rights winning the day once they are in situ.
Whilst on the subject of spouse's mega-shed, as well as being 'drain man' and 'pond man', I think he can add the monika 'gutter man' to his collection. After his new shed was put up he fixed guttering all the way around it, angled so that the rain water would drain off the roof and into a waiting water butt. Only it didn't. Somehow the angle was not just quite right. I can't tell you the number of times spouse has tweaked this guttering to get the slope just right. Weardale drain man all over again - only above ground for a change. the best bit was when he poured cans full of water into the guttering and found there was a leak - ha ha, it came down all over him. You can imagine the icy glare I got dear reader, as I tried unsuccessfully to stifle my laughter. He tweaked the guttering again and we now await events - as in waiting for the next lot of rainfall, to see if his latest efforts have been successful. I hope they have been or there is going to be one very unhappy gutter man in the Yorkshire Wolds and I will have to empathise like mad to make up for my earlier giggles at his antics.
Well my dear reader, that's about it for now. I hope you have a good week and that our good weather continues. We are taking a break next weekend and visiting old friends in Teesside, so I will be having a holiday from my blog and you can have a holiday from me. Hope to see you in a fortnight, hale and hearty and ready for whatever life chucks at us next.
KEEP CALM AND PICK FRUIT
Good morning dear reader. I hope I find you well in these early autumn days. All is well at Chez Comb in the Yorkshire Wolds. We have been keeping calm and carrying on and best of all, I have not been buried under a new fruit tree, (as we have not come to the point of planting any yet), nor was I carried off in our skip.
It has been a very quiet and pleasant week in our neck of the woods for a change. With the arrival of autumn, the gathering in of the fruits must be done and then frozen, bottled, jammed, jellied, made into chutney or just darned well eaten. This can be a very manic time as so much fruit ripens at the same time.
And not only my own fruit. My friend's plum tree had plums in abundance this year and she was desperate to donate them to anyone who would have them. I don't recall being given a choice in the matter and found myself the proud possessor of a large quantity of plums. What to do with that lot? Well in our house, when enough fruit has been frozen, bottled, eaten, etc. we turn our attention either to making it into wine or liqueurs. Mmm, these plums were crying out to be made into a liqueur. So off we trotted to the supermarket to purchase quantities of gin and port. The young check-out assistant could not contain her curiosity. I think she thought we were the newbie alcoholics on the block. 'What are you going to do with all that gin?' she asked. 'Are you having a party? Cocktails? Or do you just like gin?' I hastened to reassure her that we would not be consuming all that lot, but would be making a plum liqueur with it. The young lady's eyes it up at that idea and we staggered laden up out of the supermarket with her blessing on our endeavours.
Plum liqueur aside, this week has been devoted mainly to converting the cooking apples from our tree into stewed apples and combining them with elderberries picked from the bushes growing among the hedgerows. Yes, the apples were hard work. I didn't even bother peeling them, otherwise I would still be there now. I just chopped them up and cooked them, with as little sugar as I could get away with. Meanwhile my dear spouse had ranged far and near collecting bags full of luscious red elderberries, bearing them home triumphantly with hands like Macbeth after a particularly gruelling day on the battlefield.
The thing with elderberries is and I suppose with any soft fruits is that they don't keep for long. Something has to be done with them sharpish or they will go to waste. And as we love our elderberry and apple compote all through the winter months, this could not be allowed to happen.
Elderberries are messy berries to work with and somehow they get everywhere, so preparations have to be made before going anywhere near them. The kitchen floor was swathed in dustsheets and also the chairs we sat on. Clean buckets put down to decant the berries into and old clothes on us, as sure as anything, berries would be going in all directions and certainly over us.
It should be a straightforward job to detach the berries from their stalks, but believe me dear reader it is not. Have you tried it? Half of them land in the bucket and the others bounce wherever they please, over the floor, under the chair, up my sleeve - you get the picture.
In spite of all the mess, I like elderberry time. The busyness of life gets put on hold for a a few days as the job has to be done. Spouse and I sit companionably in the kitchen. I know - don't fall off your chair in shock, but we do and we chat, or listen to music as we ping berries all over the place. Somehow it's very peaceful and restful, a real oasis in our lives. By the time we have finished we are completely unwound and it is very difficult to wind up again, which I have to do as the elderberries need a little softening in the pan and then combining with the apple.
At this point spouse disappears about his own business and I spend another couple of peaceful days ignoring phones, emails and everything whilst I fill every container known to man with fruits for my freezer. The job is now almost done now dear reader, only some late pears left on the tree, which I may turn my attentions to this week.
And then? And then spouse will be chasing me back to my desk in the hopes that I might actually put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard in my case and magically a novel may eventually emerge. Ah, I could wish autumn fruit gathering lasted a bit longer - how I love a displacement activity! Ah but, unknown to spouse I will be working on the next phase of developing our library garden this week, as the liner and gravel is being delivered for a long herbaceous border and my services are required for that.
Maybe I won't tell him just yet, sufficient unto the day and all that. I think you can imagine his reaction to that news dear reader. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth as his efforts to get me to my desk have been frustrated yet again. Have a good week dear reader. I'm sure I will, happy as a sandboy/girl playing in the garden and I hope, in the sunshine.
I COULD GET TO LIKE SHOPPING
Good morning my dear reader. I hope I find you well on this lovely sunny Sunday morning. There is a hint of autumn in the air; a distinctly chilly nip in the breeze first thing, but thankfully in our corner of North Yorkshire, the sun soon warms things up. For once things are progressing well at Chez Comb and I am treasuring these times, such a rarity in our somewhat haphazard life.
Pond Man has finally finished the pond and it looks good, apart from needing a few more marginal plants next Spring and getting the solar fountain to work properly. No joy there yet but we live in hope. Our mound of soil still has to be distributed about the garden to level things up and grass seed tossed about, but generally we are on the right side of things this year. Other garden projects will keep until next year. The birds have discovered the pond and so have the frogs and small insects. It is already proving a joy and I will have to move my desk away from the window or I may never write a book again for gawping at the wildlife.
Well that's quite enough of ponds for now. Let's talk shopping. Yes, I have been let loose on the town again. If you remember my dear reader, a few weeks ago spouse and I went shopping to kit him out with new clothes for our trip to Australia and it took a lot of persuasion to accomplish that, believe me. Well, this week it was my turn. I needed to acquire some lightweight dresses as we are heading off into an Australian summer.
It is no secret that although I will happily drag spouse out for a kitting-out spree, I am far more reluctant to drag myself out for the same purpose. I get into the ladies clothing department and my eyes glaze over - I have no idea of what will suit me, there is way too much choice and so where on this earth do I begin? Generally I don't, I turn tail and run. In the past my dear sister has frog-marched me around the stores and put clothes on my back and told me what I liked and what suited me. But she is away in the north of the country at the moment and I needed to get a wiggle on before all the summer dresses disappeared from the shops.
So, friends Jenny and Olivia came to my rescue and took me shopping. That was two days ago dear reader and I still haven't recovered yet. Neither has spouse; the very thought of the family bank account being drained again sent him off crying into his tea cup and taping up his piggy bank.
On the morning assigned for our adventure I was very tempted to pull the covers up and hide in my bed. Just as well that I did not as my friends had already thought of that one and decided they would drag me out in my pyjamas if it came to it.
God bless them, what wonderful friends they are. I was lurking in the house on Friday morning deciding that the whole idea was a bad idea and let's NOT do this. Ha ha, my friends are made of stern stuff and they showed up at my house with faces that definitely read 'we are going shopping come hell or high water'. As spouse packed me into their car and waved me off, he managed a smile and I think there was a hint of vengeful amusement in his eyes.
When we parked up in the Pay and Display car park in town, Jenny legged it to get the parking ticket and I opened the car door intent on legging the hell out of it, but Olivia was before me and kept a tight grip on my arm. I was going nowhere - only clothes shopping. Reluctantly I slapped my sunhat on my head, said 'baa, the lamb to the slaughter' and allowed myself to be led away to the first shop.
As usual I was totally phased by the styles, colours and choices of dresses on display. I edged towards the door, but Jenny was behind me with armfuls of dresses to show me. How did she do that in a few moments? Another one of life's mysteries. I seem to remember giving an impression of a newly-landed fish gasping for air and tried to give in gracefully and said, 'Well, I don't really have to like it, as long as it fits I suppose.' There was a lady cruising the blouses and she looked at me in utter astonishment. Her face plainly said 'how can you wear a dress you don't like?' Feeling mulish I said 'Yes I can, at least I won't be going naked. Which would YOU prefer?'
I'm not sure why, but Jenny and Olivia hustled me out that that shop and on to the next one. En route they recovered themselves admirably and desisted from clobbering me and by the time we reached the next shop of their choice we were once more in accord and I promised to behave myself.
And so I did. Jenny and Olivia had chosen wisely. It was a lovely shop, filled with beautiful dresses and mercifully, a sales lady that just let us wander without pressurising us for a sale. My friends pulled out all sorts of colours and styles of dresses for me to look at and guess what - yes, I actually liked some. My two canny friends know me well by now and didn't waste any time in getting me to the changing room to try some on. My goodness me, it's bad enough dressing once in the morning, now I was doing it all over again - and again. So glad I never lived in Victorian/Edwardian times with all that changing of outfits.
Dear reader, if ever you are a contemplating a clothes shopping expedition, you need my friends to go with you. They are natural personal shoppers. One dress is rejected? No problem, it is instantly replaced with something else for you to try. No stress, no fuss, no hassle, just lovely smiles. How blessed was I?
During the course of a few short hours and a coffee break to gather our wits, we must have visited every good clothes shop in the town. Jenny and Olivia made selecting and trying on clothes so easy for me, I could almost get to like it! (We won't tell spouse that, as a careful Yorkshireman he wouldn't like to think I would develop a taste for these outings). However, we came home with several dresses, bags and shoes and if I'm not the best dressed woman in Australia this winter, (their summer), I'll eat hay with the donkey as my dear Mama used to say.
Three cheers for wonderful friends. They are pearls beyond price. I have hung my new frocks up on my clothes rail in my old office, (as we still have not got around to sorting wardrobes there yet) and when I pass that way I pause in astonishment - how did they get there? Did we really buy those? Amazing.
Spouse was dancing about on our driveway with an anxiety attack by the time we got home. So many hours had passed since we had departed for the shops and his imagination had got the better of him. He was ready to send out a search party - not for me, but for my banker's card. Perhaps I may not tell him we are thinking about another trip sometime soon, I don't think his heart could stand it, especially as Jenny and Olivia really wound him up by grossly exaggerating the amount of money we had spent. Spouse was ready to faint. Satisfied their work was done and grinning wickedly, the girls took their departure and spouse tottered indoors in search of a reviving malt.
Have a good week dear reader and I trust that you and I will try and lead a calm and quiet life this week and that I will not be responsible for raising spouse's blood pressure too high again. But thinking about it, the only way that is going to happen is if I stay in bed and don't engage with life at all and as I'm a much better cook than he is and food is a subject very dear to his heart, (I may come a possible second), he'll have to take his chances this week. Or possibly visit the village pub to drown his sorrows. Now there's an idea - they do a lovely lasagne, I might just have to join him. Shopping definitely has it's merits.