dear diary >> mud, glorious mud…

Today we woke up to sunshine, the pea green coloured sea was much calmer with a half hearted little ripple on the surface, obviously too lazy to create the forceful waves of yesterday but not sleepy enough to stay calm. When I took this picture later in the afternoon the tide was out and it had changed to this lovely deep blue.

Although it looked like it could be a promising day weatherwise and one for going out in the garden – in fact we ended up playing at weathermen all day in and out as we had one or two sudden showers.

There is plenty of tidying up to do but not everywhere as some little corners I leave for nature to take over.

I have pruning to do on mass – far too many hydrangeas and buddleias to get round and plenty of rosa rugosa along our stream bank.

DH managed another 3 metres of ditch yesterday and today – he hasn’t yet seized up and can still move this evening so I reckon he might do a bit more tomorrow and finish it.

This is part of the ditch above and the resulting mud pile below. The mud is being used to build up this part of our stream bank which is the lowest point and where the water seeps over into the garden when we have too much heavy rain – hence the temporary sandbags to the right of the picture..

We might, just might, have found a new gardener – she seems keen to come but having vehicle trouble at the moment (aren’t we all). She is a lady that has helped out here many years ago and remembers us too. Our garden requires someone in tune with the slightly wild side of gardening and know when to leave some of the wild flowers in place and when to remove some so they don’t overpower and become invasive, it is a fine balance and one I still battle with.

The daisy path looks like it will be a glorious sight this year when they come out, they have multiplied over the winter but presently they are still in slumber and I am waiting patiently for their awakening – it is one of my favourite parts of the garden.

The large rhododendron will be missed this year as it had a hard prune last year and there is rather a large gap at the entrance to the woodland walk. There are encouraging signs of new growth and maybe a little more food might encourage it to regrow faster. Whilst I have the fish, blood and bone out I will scatter handfuls along the rosa rugosa hedge that the new caravan site owner cut down and cross my fingers that some of the stumps left will reshoot.

Tomorrow I am taking part in the Scraphappy Challenge with a few other bloggers – so my post will be of a more crafty nature. x

dear diary >> a warm welcome

I am writing my posts from Scotland at the moment and as I gazed out of the caravan window this morning at the sea I am reminded of this passage from Marcel Proust –

But before all this I had drawn back my own curtains, impatient to know what Sea it was that was playing that morning by the shore, like a Nereid. For none of those Seas ever stayed with us longer than a day. On the morrow there would be another, which sometimes resembled its predecessor. But I never saw the same one twice.

After a hard night of howling winds around the caravan that kept me waking on and off I too was eager to know what the sea would be like today as it is usually an indication of what weather we might expect for the day. On drawing back the curtains it was no surprise to find it quite choppy with white frothy waves rolling up onto the shore creating a bubble bath of foam – definitely a stay inside day and quite the opposite to yesterday when, after a night of heavy rain, I opened the curtains to find a calm sea that was glinting in the morning sunshine….and I knew from this that it was going to be a good day.

And it was…..I spent the morning yesterday having a leisurely breakfast and doing a little planning – not that planning is easy at the moment – these troubled times make me hesitant to look too far ahead, so only looking to the end of March seemed practical. We don’t have TV here so any news can only be heard on the hour on the radio and the sense of the war is quite different without the pictures but no less shocking; I fear for the life of the captured Mayor of Mariupol – I fear for Zelensky and I fear for us all.

By eleven o’clock we were both out in the garden; DH on ditch clearing duty (though he was under strict orders to only clear a small part of it – mud is heavy when you have to heave it out of a ditch to higher ground, and myself….I knuckled down to weeding the trellis border.

We have a new neighbour in place now on the other side of our trellis in a touring sized van, much shorter than Eric’s static van so our plants in the border are not quite so sheltered from the sea wind and have wind burn.

When the clematis comes out we don’t see the caravan though we had specially left a little window in the planting so Eric could sit out in the sunshine and wave to us.

This is a picture from last year with Erics van behind the trellis and his little peephole. You can see the beautiful Montana clematis that grew up and over the trellis but was so ‘kindly’ hacked down this winter on the otherside by the new site owner… AKA Machete Man.

So now we are left with this a lifeless bunch of stems as they have been cut down at low level on the other side of the trellis and the top part here of intertwining stems are quite dead.

The winter has taken its toll all around the garden this year; the north westerly winds and salt spray from the sea has burnt many of the shrubs and it will take a while before we know what will spring back to life. As the snowdrops are fading away the daffodils are in full bloom, scattered around the garden creating little splashes of colour. The new bulbs, tulips and narcissi, I planted last autumn have all been dug up and eaten by the rabbits…. apparently daffodils are not to their liking and so have been spared.

Everywhere there are little signs of plants waking up and the springtime flowers about to emerge.

My spirits as ever were lifted as my little friendly Robin bibbed and bobbed around me with such a warm welcome back. He had polished off all the food we had left him on our last visit and was eager to follow me about visiting each newly dug patch of earth for worms.

We are eating well here at the caravan and choosing hob based meals to save on the Calor gas. Our only oven meal so far was the nut roast which I brought with us cooked, but frozen and I could have chosen to reheat it in the microwave but I had left over parsnips to use up from the fridge at home and not wanting to waste them I had to put the oven on to roast them…note to self not to buy parsnips when we are about to come up to the caravan.

I needed tomato paste at the caravan because at home we buy it in a jar, then spoon it out into ice cube trays and freeze it. I usually buy those tiny pots to use in the caravan as they keep well but couldn’t find any on the shelves – luckily in the little Sainsbury’s at Newton Stewart on our way here these little cans were on clearance at only 8p each. Another bargain.

Today the winds are not settling – DH has braved the weather to dig out another few feet of ditch (this carries the rain water that drains down through the upper wood across to the burn). It gets rather clogged up with the fallen leaves from the trees and the resulting mud has to be cleared every so many years. I am not venturing out but instead will be catching up with some reading and making notes on some cost cutting ideas for when we return home.

I may even get my paint box out. X

dear diary >> unsettling times…

Having just got back home after our recent trip up to North Yorkshire to visit mum then my daughter and the two grandchildren Little L and Sweetie we unpacked, washed, shopped and then repacked and I am now writing this from Scotland…it may even be published this time, I have written a few posts recently but then never pressed go and they remain on my drafts list incomplete. Like many other bloggers the recent invasion of Ukraine has left me lost for words, scratching around in the dark looking to find a chink of light that will help me make sense of the world right now. This is a photo taken on the Pennine Moors above us in Yorkshire of the sunset the other evening – it is such a peaceful place – and probably a stark contrast at the moment to the ruins of some of the Ukraine cities – I stood gazing at this for ages and couldn’t help wondering what might the future be for our world.

And how, I keep wondering, can one man cause so much suffering, so much bloodshed and so much heartache and what are we going to wake up to next in the morning?

After the last two years of Covid and restrictions and a feeling of uncertainty I think we were all hoping for a better 2022, and now as spring and the promise of better weather are almost within our grasp, at last….it seems our hopes are fading fast.

Life is so unsettling at the moment and all the problems that have been gathering around me at quite a pace over the last few months have now paled into insignificance compared with those faced by the people of Ukraine…but each day I wake up they are still there and ignoring them is not making them either go away or any easier to sort out.

Mum is becoming quite hard work for my sister and one of the team of carers who go in on alternate days has refused to go. She was mum’s favourite but sometimes mum has been quite nasty with her. At 96 she now feels she has the right to speak her mind, but often what is in her mind is not endearing her to the people who are trying to help her. I can understand mum’s frustration at losing her mobility and being practically housebound but the other residents in the apartments are finding her hardwork and avoid going to see her leaving her more isolated than ever. I ring her each evening, we will have the same conversation many times over, usually she has to establish if we are at home or in Scotland and when we will next be going to see her, after only a few minutes she will have forgotten what I said and will ask me again and so it goes on for the next 40 minutes. To make matters worse she has a habit of holding the phone upside down so I cannot hear her properly but that is not quite so bad as when part way through our call she sometimes switches to trying to talk to me on the TV remote and I can hear her saying ‘can you hear me’! I cannot see there is any solution.

Sadly, it has also got to the point now where we dread coming up to our cottage, wondering what we will find this time, what changes await us. Joe and his wife are here at the moment in the remaining caravan on the little site below us, the light was on when we arrived last night and it felt quite comforting to see an old face and have a neighbour. The caravaners were our friends and now they are almost all gone. Thankfully Joe has no plans to leave at the moment.

There must have been an excess of rain up here because the roads had large pools of water along the verges. The tarmac lane from the main road down to our cottage eventually comes to an end and then we have to drive over a wide strip of grass just outside our property to reach our hardstanding by the garage, (the lane and grass belong to the caravan site owner – we have right of access over it). We could see that the grass was soddened and so parked at the end of the lane and walked over the grass on foot to unpack the car – it took us ages squelching about in the mud…..I might have uttered a few choice words at the time. I cannot ever remember in all the time we have been coming here that the grassy bit was this bad or this waterlogged. Once unpacked we moved the car onto a patch of gravel on the other side of the lane so it won’t get stuck in the mud. It is not actually our land and no doubt the new owner won’t like it but the other option is that we will churn up his grass trying to get in and out of our property.

We have two sizeable farm gates at the entrance to our little cottage and just before we left for home on our last visit the gate post of the left hand one had rotted and sheered off at ground level and toppled over bringing the gate down with it. All DH could do at the time was to prop the gate back in place but the wind must have blown it over. Of course it is another job on the list – I am not sure if it has even made it on to the top ten of urgent things, but it must be close. The new caravan site owner did send us a text to let us know – it seemed a neighbourly thing to do but then on the end of the text he asked if we would consider letting him have a part of our woodland for his business! I probably don’t have to tell you what our answer is to that.

The lady who came once a fortnight to cut our grass has given us notice because her knees are so painful and swollen the doctor told her that to continue would certainly make them worse. So we have to find someone new…it will go on the list….the list is getting too long for comfort…I keep folding it in half so I don’t have to look at all of it at once….but I am not sure it really helps.

No doubt we will weather these storms – all we can do is carry on trying to cope with the problems as they come up.

In and amongst, like most of you, I am trying to find a way through these rising prices but if through sanctions, my gas, electricity and fuel has to rise even more to help the Ukraine people then so be it, if the price of some foods like flour and oil becomes too costly to buy or too scarce then I will put up with that too…I am willing to make sacrifices if it will help to stop this ridiculous war.

So I am spending quite a bit of time roaming the aisles of the supermarket gathering up any reduced priced items that we normally buy, using the Smartscan and Clubcard offers and collecting reward points (though these may well be donated to the Ukraine crisis fund). We are using the oven as little as possible and making most of our meals on the hob. We have decided there a few things we can give up or buy cheaper and somethings we will not be buying at all if I can make them.

I am reluctant to stop buying as much fresh fruit and veg – it is the staple of our diet and as you know I buy mainly organic to support the farmers who are growing sustainably. We make our own soup each day using veg that is on offer or needs using up. When the oven is on I have batch baked pastry cases and sponge cakes for the freezer, in fact the freezer is groaning

This week I made this farmhouse fruit cake to take with us to the cottage. Using a very old Stork margerine recipe (so old the ingredients are only in pounds and ounces and the oven temp in Fahrenheit) I was able to use up all the left over bits of dried fruit from when I made the Christmas cake, although I no longer use block margerine like Stork prefering instead to use the Pure dairy free olive oil spread free from nasties.

I figured the best way to cut our spending is to not go shopping at all other than for food or necessities and that way I am not tempted to buy things I don’t really need.

I have been shopping though.

I needed to buy a new bedsheet – I only have two (one on the bed, one in the wash) and one on the guest bed (not that we have had any guests for a long time!). DH woke up one morning to find a rip in the sheet almost the full length of the bed, it had worn quite thin over time and there was no way I could repair it. We also need to replace the wooden blind in our living room. As we have some John Lewis vouchers we headed over to Cheadle branch have a quick look at theirs. The ready made blind we wanted is now discontinued and their made to measure ones are too costly for our budget. We tried a few other places and have seen one in B&Q which we have put on standby. Because of the size and shape of our window we have to remove at least a third of the slats of the ready made ones as they come as a standard 180cm length; DH is not at all phased by the alterations needed – he ‘cut to fit’ the one we presently have but we are seriously looking at having a made to measure one through Swift blinds who just happen to operate their business only a few miles away from us and their prices are quite reasonable.

The fitted bed sheet was easier to find and I just bought an ordinary white one from their Anyday range which is £13 and good quality. On the way out I passed the clearance section and spotted this double cotton duvet set. It was the remaining one of last summer’s range and was marked half price (£32.50 originally £65) so quite a bargain and good quality. The colour will go well in our main bedroom – when it is decorated that is – and although I don’t normally buy florals I do like the Scandi style print on this. The coupons we had covered both purchases so they costs me nothing.

Having a John Lewis / Waitrose reward card meant that by taking 5 empty beauty products that can be recycled (any make) I could have £5 off any beauty product purchase. This offer is not continuous but keeps coming round so that I am able to take advantage of it and buy the Liz Earle shampoo and conditioner that I use when I need one and although they have just had another price rise to £13 each (ouch) it meant I only had to pay £8.

So that was my shopping expedition for this month and probably all I will be buying other than food. I have been busy making and baking and when I get back home I will be sowing seeds ready for growing a few bedding plants for the planters and this year I will probably grow tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes and some salad leaves to eek out the food bill.

Well I will leave you all here and maybe even manage a couple of posts from Scotland. The cottage garden is just waking up and I can’t wait to get out there to tidy up a bit. x

dear diary :: the final day

Our last day here at Beach Cottage and another blustery one.  DH was outside earlier sprinkling fish, blood and bone meal along what is left of our Rosa Rugosa hedge alongside the lane in the hope it might kick start it into action and regrow from the little stubby stems we were left with after the massacre.

Meanwhile I took cover in the caravan and made soup with all the remains of the vegetables…..

– ends of cabbage and celery, 2 leeks, 3 onions, 3 potatoes, half of this piece of courgette and half a small bag of frozen peas.  It will be like a leek and potato soup with a few added greens and some parsley.  I would have added a carrot and kept it in chunks for a bit of colour but DH put them all in the stew last night.

For lunch we had the remaining lentil stew from yesterday’s evening meal and as there wasn’t very much of it left over I chopped the remaining piece of courgette into chunks and cooked it quickly with a handful of cherry tomatoes and griddled a few slices of Halloumi cheese.

For our evening meal we had an easy meal of baked potatoes (done in the microwave), baked beans and grated cheese – all we had left to eat up.  Some of the soup I made will be transferred into a flask tomorrow and the rest transported home in containers in the cool bag.

We went back into Stranraer after our lunch to get another gas cylinder, we like to keep two full ones in hand and as the next time we come up the tourist season will have begun the extra demand for gas could see it in short supply again like last year, so it seemed prudent to keep stocked up in advance.

On the way back to our cottage we had a detour and went back to Portpatrick to do a bit of car sketching as it was certainly too cold to sit outside. DH did another quick line drawing of the cottages and guest houses round on the South Crescent part of the bay, (the photos are taken through the windscreen so a bit blurry).

Whilst I drew attempted to draw the Harbour House and Smuggler’s Cove cottage across the bay on the North Crescent.

When we are back at home I intend to do a quick sketch of something everyday to get in more practise. I do think it must help to understand how a building is put together and why DH finds it so much easier to draw them. When I am drawing flowers I always like to look at how a leaf joins a stem or a petal is formed before I begin – with buildings I find they are a bit of a mystery.

It was a quick 30 minutes sketch and then the rain came back and splattered across the windscreen obstructing our view so after a flask of hot chocolate we headed back to the cottage.

I had bought my little friend, the robin, a leaving present – a half coconut filled with all kinds of robin delicacies and hung it on the bird house which is well away from any boundary line down by the cottage and sheltered by the fatsia – I hope it makes amends for him losing his little home in the hedge.

I will miss seeing the snowdrops when we go home; there seems to be more than when we arrived and are spreading quite nicely throughout the woodland walk.  I hope I don’t miss seeing the daffodils though, they are just in tight buds at the moment, but given they have quite a long flowering period, they might still be in bloom when we come again.

It will be an anxious moment on our next visit, not only wondering what scenes of destruction are going to greet us, but finding out if any of the chopped down clematis that twined in and out of our trellis fence has survived the machete (he swears he used a hedge trimmer – but either way they were hacked rather than pruned) but to me he will always be Machete Man now.

As it is still winter I have to take a lot of the contents of the caravan home with us.  Mainly things that can go damp; even though it is double glazed the condensation builds up so we leave plenty of ventilation for air movement – all the cupboard doors, drawers and bedroom doors are left open so air can circulate well and the seating pulled away from the walls.  I place the pillows in the centre of the bed and leave the duvet over a clothes airer in the centre of the living room rather than on the bed.  The car would be just too full to transport these up and down as it is already half full with a lot of expensive tools that we need to use when we are up here.  We can’t leave them in the cottage in case of another flood and I am not happy at leaving them in the caravan in case it is broken in to.

I think we have more stormy weather ahead in both areas – here on the Mull of Galloway and back home in Yorkshire. Hopefully, we will be travelling before either area gets too bad.

Thank you for all the kind comments over the last couple of weeks and suggestions it really helps sometimes to be able to blog about bad times as well as good- you are such a caring community and as Lyssa (alias Whittering Sybil) would say… I feel hugged. x

dear diary :: a bit of meandering

The seagulls were having great fun gliding on the wind over the sea yesterday which was crashing about a bit here, somewhat in resemblance of my life at the moment I think!

We are nearing the end of our visit here, it has been a turbulent time and I am not referring to the weather, but we have managed to put a few bits in order in the garden in line with my focus word for this year of improvement.  So far we have cleared leaves and weeds and swept the paths and put the earth back into the holes dug out by the rabbits.  We have also managed to take the pile of old sheets of roofing felt to the tip left by the roofer when he re-felted the kitchen roof.

Luckily we have a small trailer to transport it to the nearest waste disposal and recycling point in Stranraer, which is an excellent place – well-kept and managed by a very friendly and helpful team.  Sadly, roofing felt is not in any way recyclable and will go to landfill.  It always makes me feel quite ill to see what has been put in the skip marked ‘non-recyclable items for landfill’ – usually plastic windows by the dozen (which incidentally are claimed to be about 70% reclaimable plastic – but no-one bothers to do this), old mattresses and general plastic based waste.

I was shocked however, to see a large plastic dog bed thrown in there – now what is not reusable about a plastic dog bed?…. surely a good wash with some disinfectant and it would certainly be reusable by someone, especially as in Stranraer the waste centre has a huge shed that houses a shop full of people’s unwanted items that are still useful.  They have anything from reconditioned bikes to books to china and I am sure there would be a place there for a dog bed.   I felt like lifting it out and taking it round to the shop myself but of course you are not allowed.

Ironically, for a much larger area, our recycling and waste point near to us in Huddersfield is just the opposite – managed by a team that seem to have a rather couldn’t care less attitude and is badly organised.  I often see people put the wrong items into the wrong skips even when being overseen by one of the ‘management team’.  Our area only accepts plastic bottles in the recycle bin at home, whereas, here in Stranraer, they will take all plastics, including food trays and yoghurt pots.  It is time there was a national policy put in place and one that includes businesses, especially pubs, restaurants and caravan parks.

We diligently recycle our very small amount of domestic waste here at the cottage into one of the local authorities three bins; plastics, paper and general waste and compost the kitchen and most of our garden waste; meanwhile the pub, restaurant and caravan site next door to us do not have to do this, so all the glass bottles, drinks cans, cardboard and plastics and all the waste from the individual caravans are just heaped unsorted into the general trade waste bins, presumably headed for landfill.  It makes little sense to me.

With the weather remaining unsettled and rather blustery yesterday we earmarked it a ‘rest day’ and decided a shopping trip into Stranraer to pick up some fresh bread and milk was in order. I subsequently forgot to pick up a couple of pots of ‘tete a tete’ to plant in the planter DH made last year, but never mind.

We filled the flask with soup, made some bread and butter, collected our sketchbooks and paints and jumped into the car; we intended to take a diversion out to Port Logan and Portpatrick before going on into town.

The scene that met us at the sheltered little harbour village in Port Logan (where 2000 Acres of Sky was filmed) was just how I love to see it – deserted, quite bleak and a raging Irish sea washing up onto the shore. The greyness of the sky met the greyness of the sea on the horizon so you could hardly distinguish where the meeting point was.

Someone there has a sense of humour!

It is not easy sketching in the car but we each did a quick ten minute sketch – DH drew the lovely line of cottages that wrap around the harbour, easy for him as he is an architect ….

– I chose the old light tower placed at the end of the curved harbour wall – not a good choice as it is a tricky building and my preference is always for flowers and I cannot compete with DH’s natural ability to draw in perspective. The picture I took yesterday was out of focus so this in one from a few years back on a sunnier day.

As you can see not a good result…oh well….I keep trying….

After having our picnic lunch we headed up the road a bit farther to Portpatrick another little harbour village. By now the Irish sea was in full swell, frothing like a Costa Coffee and roaring into the bay, the sea spray reaching quite spectacular heights as it hit the rocks – the most dramatic of them I unfortunately missed capturing on camera.

We had a brisk walk around whilst the rain had stopped and when the sun appeared it was so welcome as, believe me, the pictures may look pretty but ‘bitterly cold’ does not even come close in describing the temperature.

The odd bits of colour here and there helped to brighten up the greyness.

The whole place was closed up, including many of the hotels – such is the winter season in these tiny resorts.

We ended our trip out in Stranraer and went into a local coffee bar (Stranraer’s equivalent of a Costa) for a warm drink.  Whilst in there two young girls came in – one of them looked like she had just rolled out of bed…with tousled hair and clad in her PJ’s with a hoodie on top and some towelling mule slippers, even though it was quite wet underfoot.  In my head I could just hear my gran coming out with a few choice words about her appearance – she would have been shocked to see someone out in their nightwear in public at three in the afternoon!! How times change.

So today looks another gloomy one with continuous rain forecast so it will have to be spent indoors. We had intended to visit Logan Botanic Gardens today – they have a Snowdrop Sunday event running until the end of February but I think it is looking unlikely that the weather will improve. I shall prepare the lentil stew for tea instead to use up some of the older veg, no point in taking it back home with us.

dear diary :: weeding, sketching, worrying

It has been very pleasant the last couple of days here at Beach Cottage but today we awoke to frost, a rarity in these parts.  We have been in the garden and the calmer warmer weather was quite welcome, though windier, colder weather is forecast for the next few days.  This picture was taken yesterday when the sea turned a very strange colour of green against the blue sky.

I have been working mainly in the pine tree border, removing a vast quantity of weeds and uncovering the perennials that are buried under a mound of leaves and pine needles.  There are tiny shoots everywhere and plenty of self-sown seedlings of foxgloves and valerian growing which I transplant to other more suitable parts of the borders.

I have a few shrubs and plants that need moving too; ones that are becoming a little overshadowed and I need to get these done before we go home.  The compost bin has produced some wonderful rich compost which I am using to mulch the beds.  Tomorrow, weather permitting, I really need to prune the new apple tree as this was one of the things that didn’t get done because of the lockdowns.  I keep putting it off this week mainly because I am not sure I know what I am doing!  The old apple tree needs a few branches off the top – that is DH’s job to climb up with the saw – it had never been pruned when we bought the cottage so is quite a large tree which bears most of its fruit well out of reach at the top.  We have been cutting it down gradually knowing that we will lose fruit but it will keep it in check.

Whilst I have been working in the garden my little friend the robin, who is never very far away, has been hopping around waiting for me to unearth a juicy worm or two, we have both been overlooked by the beautiful big rust coloured bull that has now appeared in the farmer’s field across the burn.  I am just glad the burn runs between me and him, though he does seem very placid.

We have seen very little of the new neighbour, but I would be keeping well out of his way anyway – I don’t want another confrontation with him.  DH has spoken to him since – just in passing, over the garden gate so to speak, he is a peacemaker and hates bad feeling and would never hold a grudge against anyone, but I know some people, like said neighbour, who might see this as a sign of weakness and think he can just do as he likes in future.  DH though has that knack of being able to tell people that their actions are not to be tolerated in a very calm and reasoned way that leaves them both unable to argue and in no doubt that he means business, unlike me of course who, like a bull at a gate would jump in and inflame the situation!! 

Over the years we have lost plants to the salty sea spray, the gales, the flood, and the rabbits but to lose plants because of the neighbour hacking away at them is far more maddening. It seems a bit sneaky to me that he chose to chop the hedges whilst we were not around! When we leave in a few days time I shall be wondering what he is doing next behind our backs.

I will say no more.

We are on our third variety of homemade soup now, tomato and red pepper today.  Just before I used them for the soup I decided to paint them – I find tomatoes quite a nice subject getting the shine and highlights is the difficult part and I certainly need a bit lot more practise. 

The next soup to be made will be our last batch before we go back to Yorkshire and I shall be using up some of the bits of veg left in the fridge – so pea, cabbage and leek with celery and onion it is.  We always eat well up here; I bring packets of lentils, chickpeas and brown rice to go with the veg I buy locally and keep the meals simple.  As the Calor gas is neither cheap nor readily available at the moment I decided all the meals we have should be ones that can be cooked on the hob, rather than in the oven, to preserve the gas. 

The energy price hikes are quite worrying – when we go home, where we cook by electric, I will be trying to use the oven as little as possible too.  Our gas and electricity prices will not go up until April as we are currently on a good deal until then so I have time to revise our meal plans and look at other ways to save on our fuel bills.  We don’t have a microwave at home so baked potatoes cooked in the oven might become a speciality soon. Luckily as we head towards warmer weather we will need less heating and can eat more salads.

I have very little data left now on my phone so there is a limit to the number of photos I can upload – so for a few days it might just be me and the written word.

dear diary :: moments of joy and a moan…

My, it has been a bit breezy here – the caravan rocking away each time a forceful gust hit us from the side, but at least the new felt on the kitchen roof of the cottage has stayed in place.  It was too windy to be outside so I snipped off a piece of Hypericum and settled down indoors to a bit more sketching and painting until the light became too dim.

Eventually a little sunshine broke through the heavy clouds and a rainbow appeared.

I also used the time to make more fresh soup, mushroom is one of my favourites and today DH made celery – one of Master Freddie’s favourites. It is very rare now that we don’t have homemade soup for lunch and it is a good way to get those five a day in one meal and leaving in some big chunks means we have the benefit of added fibre too.  It is one of my areas for improving; both trying new recipes and, rather than having bread with the soup, I aim to try out a few different garnishes like roasted chick peas.

In the evenings we have been watching Channel 4 catch up via the internet as we don’t have a TV here.  At home we had started watching the Danish program (with subtitles) ‘Seaside Hotel’ and we are addicted, we just had to continue through the series and tonight it is the last one – does anyone else watch it?  Such a shame it is a fictional hotel because I would dearly like to stay there.

I just love the bleak winter landscape up here – so many beautiful colours on the grey and blue spectrum, the most colourful object being the yellow buoy out at sea.  Being winter we are quite alone here nestled in our little hollow, the caravan site next door is as empty as the farmer’s field on the other side of us.  Only a handful of locals frequent the pub at the top of the lane, and then only the ones who are brave enough to face the weather and walk along to the outskirts of the village when there are two other pubs much nearer in the centre.

We have dark skies too as there are no lights nearby and the stars on a clear night are spectacular; you feel you could almost reach out and pick one.

The snowdrops are nodding away on the floor of the woodland walk in the lower wood and spreading nicely –the rabbits do not seem to have uprooted them like many of the new bulbs I planted in November, tulips and narcissus and nearly all have been dug up and eaten, only the hole remains as evidence that I did in fact spend a whole day planting out.

All the daffodils dotted around the garden will be next in line to burst into flower This time of year when everything is bleak and sleepy having these little pockets of new life and colour is magical.

Our joy at coming up here was short lived though.  Our new neighbour who has bought the caravan site, pub and restaurant had taken it upon himself to hack away at our Rosa Rugosa hedge and the ivy that grows alongside the lane down to our cottage.  This is the hedge in the summer in full bloom and many of the birds like to nest in it.

Rather than just taking off any overhanging branches along the lane (which he owns but we have right of access over it) he has chopped the plants back far beyond the boundary line which is to the edge of the tarmac.

We have been left with some rather short stumps which may or may not regrow as it is way below any new buds.

The ivy was even worse – he has chopped this right back into old wood and we know from experience this will not regenerate.

Worse still this part has no hedge left at all just a big gap.

The tragedy is that pruning the hedge was on our list for this visit as normally every two or three years we prune it down to about two feet tall and to a good strong bud and during the year it will make up its height once more but be much healthier and stronger and less liable to flopping over with the weight of the branches; then in the summer I go along the hedge and with a bit of light pruning make sure all the branches are well within our boundary and not liable to scratch any vehicles going down the lane.  It is a few years now since it had a major prune because of the lockdowns and then last year by the time we were allowed up here we had so many nesting birds in the hedge I could not do it.  We tried to say nicely that we were not happy that he had not, even out of politeness, told us it was a problem (which I am not sure it was) and allowed us the option to cut it ourselves.  What will the poor birds do now that their nesting place has been wrecked?

I could weep and did so.

If that wasn’t enough the little strip of land below us beyond the trellis border that once housed the 3 static caravans belonging to Eric, Joe and Les, our summertime neighbours, is now almost empty and only Joe’s caravan remains.  This has greatly changed the climate for our plants along this border which have been snug in the shelter of Eric’s old van.  The owners have decided to leave for one reason or another and we will miss them and so will our plants.  We had clematis growing through and over the trellis and this too has been hacked away.  Will any of it recover – I have no idea?  The new owner obviously wants every last millimetre of his land. 

Asking him to let us know in the future if the hedge is a problem did not go down well with him and ended in an argument, as did the previous conversations we have had with him about the bright yellow barrier he intends to put at the top of the lane and keep locked to which we have objected. He informs us he is running a business and he is entitled to do what he wants, he is not prepared to leave the hedge until an appropriate time just because I like birds. 

He also informed us indirectly in conversation that his new CCTV cameras that he installed on the outside of the pub look right across our woodland garden as he claims he has seen rats coming from the burn (and he might well have – rats are not far away from anyone and they will undoubtedly be heading towards his large commercial bins full of food waste).  I am not sure he should have cameras directly looking across our garden but I do know he seems rather paranoid and has an alert on his phone if we or anyone else drives up and down the lane.

On our last visit I am certain he sent someone down to check on us whilst he was away in Glasgow.  No matter how much we tell him we are just a neighbour and not part of his business he will have none of it.  Are we being unreasonable?  He says we are always complaining but in our defence it is not only us that finds him difficult – the lady and her daughter who sold the business to him agreed to carry on working for him but after only a few months they walked out on him and a lot of the caravaners have now left the site.

He has saddened me so much and with the added worry of the changing weather patterns we will have to rethink our future here.  Going to all the trouble and expense to reinstate the cottage back to liveable could be a pointless exercise if we are going to be so unhappy living here.

On a brighter note we are relishing the quietness and being able to work outdoors in the fresh sea air – up till today it has been cold but sunny.  Our intentions are to carry out a number of maintenance jobs around the wood and garden that are best done at this time of year and hopefully finish the boarding on the banking ready for plant for the spring. As for the hedge we can only leave it alone for now and see what regrows.

creating Christmas * day 10…the Christmas card

This should have been a post about our Christmas outing to Derbyshire but that had to be postponed for another day due to unforseen and unfortunate circumstances which I will tell you about later. So today instead of going out I stayed in and put the filling into the cake for my younger daughter’s 40th birthday (which is on Monday but we are celebrating it tomorrow) and mixed the buttercream for the coating. Then while there was a smidgen of light left I started making my Christmas cards.

Well better late than never!

Each year I try and produce a few of my own Christmas cards – they vary from year to year, different sizes, different medium, different designs. Many readers will have seen previous cards I have made and anyone interested can search my blog under the Creating Christmas link in the sidebar or in the menu above.

Sometimes I want to try out a few new ideas that I have and sometimes I have a very definite idea of what I want to do.

This year because of time pressures I have produced a very simple lino cut print of mistletoe from a few sketches I did 2 years ago.

It is still in the development stage – testing the design for unwanted marks and the colour. My initial print was a bit too much lime green so I added first some white (too wishywashy) and then tried again with a little Prussian blue to tone it down.

Much better. Currently I am debating the wording; if I decide to use any wording it will be stamped on afterwards as cutting out the ‘mistletoe‘ wording, as I had on the original design sketch above, has to be cut out backwards on a lino print which is an art in itself and I really don’t have the time.

So this is my progress so far. It is meant to have that home made look that is one of the qualities of a lino cut. Sorry about the awful light it goes dark so quickly these days but you will get the gist.

Hopefuly I will get them all printed tomorrow – I find lino cuts are a good way to do a mass production.

It has been a turbulent week for us so far and one where I am left wondering if anything else can happen.

To summarise briefly my mum is not a happy bunny at the moment and so my daily calls are a bit fraught trying to keep her cheerful, one of our relations in Scotland has sadly died and there will be a funeral next Thursday, decorating the cake I have made for my daughter’s birthday has proved a bit of a challenge time wise (will I ever learn), then the icing on the cake (not my daughter’s as I have still to do that)….is that we received a call from a friend in Scotland in the same village as our cottage to tell us the recent storm was horrendous and the waves along the shore have been so high and so powerful part of the harbour wall and other concrete sea defences have been taken out, the surface of the main road broken into pieces, and some nearby wooden holiday chalets at Ardwell village flooded out….and…wait for it….. the wind has completely ripped off the felt on our flat roof kitchen extension (oh dear, here we go again).

We hadn’t planned to go up to Scotland so close to Christmas but we will have to now and I have had to rearrange hair appointments next week and other planned tasks and DH has been on the phone all day trying to find a roofer who can come and replace the felt; but of course they are all busy repairing all the storm damaged roofs in the area.

To add to our problems all week I have been having dizzy spells (such a lot of tension in my neck) …not surprising. Our Christmas plans will be on hold for a while and what gets done will and otherwise I am not going to worry (too much) but I think we will be lucky if we get our Christmas tree now!!

So for any readers following along with my creating Christmas I may go quiet for a day or two as my advent blogging is interupted, but hopefully not for long.

I am going for my tea now and then have another go at getting the cake decorated if the phone manages to stay quiet for an hour or two and there is no further bad news.

I really fancy going for a lie down in a darkened room.

back soon x

dear diary :: the end of November

The last day in November and then December is upon us and the urgency to get Christmas organised begins.  I had intended having much more ‘done’ towards Christmas this year but somehow life has managed to get in the way.

No matter it will be low key this year and it is often the time running up to Christmas that gives as much pleasure as the day itself – it really has become a season over the years.  I love the evocative smells throughout this time – the fragrant spices of cinnamon and citrus fruits wafting through the air, the smell of the Christmas cake baking in the oven and the scent of the real fir tree when it is brought indoors.

When I was little the Christmas tree was brought home by dad on Christmas Eve and we decorated it before we went to bed, whilst mum was in the kitchen preparing trifles and vegetables for the next day.  As I got older the tree was bought earlier and earlier (never earlier than the week before though) then it became an artificial one, but my memory will always be of the anticipation of dad arriving home from work on Christmas Eve and throwing open the back door complete with tree in hand. Magical.

I am wondering already what to put on my Not so Secret Santa wish list.   I am thinking perhaps books – I have on my ‘books I would like to read list’ a number of titles by Persephone books and they are not altogether cheap. A few weeks ago I looked at the lovely ADVENT book in Waterstones, also on my list; hardback and full of stunning photography but there was actually little I would make from it so I decided to cross it off the list as it would be for the gorgeousness more than the content and I am going to be ruthless next year about not buying things that I really don’t need more of. As I have been decluttering more of our stuff recently and intend to do even more in the coming new year I am loving all the extra space I have gained and don’t wish to lose this again by introducing more things I don’t really need.

Looking over last year’s list I found I had asked for various goodies from Neal’s Yard, a mini solar fountain, the box set of Cranford DVDs and some king sized Victorian cloches for the garden.

I have a fancy for putting down the mini solar fountain again for my little blue ceramic dish that I fill with water, as that is something I didn’t receive.  My one concern is a) it is plastic and b) I don’t really need it – I just think they look quite nice.

Or perhaps I will go with a treat – a craft workshop session or a token for a relaxing massage or facial although booking for things in advance at the moment with the appearance of the new variant, does put that into question again.

To be honest there is not a lot I actually need or want but one of the things I would love most to add to my list is TIME – we seem to give plenty away but sadly it is not something you can buy!

We will be leaving Scotland and the beach behind today and probably won’t be back now until January so our temporary caravan will have to be drained down and made winter proof for the meantime. I was disappointed that the Christmas decorations in Stranraer are not switched on yet (and some not actually put up yet) it will happen sometime this week when we are not here. Castle Douglas, the little town we drive through on the way back, is looking very Christmassy and I hope when we stop there for our tea I can capture a few snapshots of the shop windows and maybe, if we are in time, browse a few of the little independent shops.

dear diary :: blowin’ a ‘hoolie’….

It’s been a while I know, and one of the reasons I am writing this post is because we are in our safe haven, our little sanctuary in Scotland…far from the pressures of normal daily life at home.

It has been, as usual, a busy few weeks coming and going to see mum and helping out our daughter with childcare in North Yorkshire and our elder daughter at home.  On the last visit to mum and younger daughter we stayed at my sister’s glam home near my mum’s; it is spacious and beautifully decorated and situated in a lovely little village, I could easily live there myself – apart from the fact that we wouldn’t have the money to even buy a one bedroomed cottage there.  The house price difference between West and North Yorkshire is huge.  Still one can dream.

We celebrated little Sweetie’s third birthday – a small family party at her home – she has spent a third of her tiny life so far in lockdown, at home with mum, the local toddler groups being closed, so has few friends. Her cousin little Freddie and his mum and dad joined us for the day and after playing games and opening presents we all went to the local fish and chip restaurant in Thirsk and had the extended side room to ourselves which was nice.  Being vegetarians we had chips, beans and battered mushrooms – veggie burgers are on the menu but we are not keen of them.

I made the cake – it was the usual disaster.  Sprinkles had been requested so it should have been simple enough but the buttercream had far too much air in it so didn’t go on quite as smoothly as I would have liked and the white chocolate dribbles didn’t dribble quite where intended.  Of course I did it in a rush too, but little Sweetie loved it.

As I predicted the dress did not get finished in time so it will be a Christmas present. Since this picture I have finished the knitting and tacked the skirt to the bodice and all is looking good. The sleeves which if you remember I had to try and alter myself did work out perfectly in the end by only decreasing on the knit rows and not every row as the pattern said.

Mum has been taken to Leeds for the weekend by my sister and her husband (he is able to lift her in and out of the car as she doesn’t have the muscle strength herself to get out).  They are staying at a new hotel just outside Leeds ( she will have one of the disabled rooms to help her get about easily) and from there they will go to John Lewis in the centre so she can see all the Christmassy things.  She cannot come down to stay with us any longer because of the stairs so there is a big hole now for her at this time of year that needs to be filled, as we would take her Christmas shopping and have a trip into Derbyshire to Tissington and Ashbourne.

So whilst mum was being attended to we made our escape to Scotland.  We were met with the bad weather – blowin’ a raging ‘hoolie’ all night; our caravan rocking in the frequent strong gusts but luckily no trees down like the gales of 2010 that took ten large pine trees down in our cottage garden.

It is cosy warm in our temporary caravan as we are lucky enough to have double glazing and central heating but yesterday it was a scramble to get Calor Gas – there is a shortage and our usual stockist in Stranraer sold us one that had the wrong connection so we had to drive the 17 miles back to town to return it.  She was apologetic as they didn’t have the one we needed and we had to take back the empty bottle so that we could try elsewhere, as at the moment you can only buy a new Calor gas bottle by returning an empty one.

We were lucky and found the local shop in a village on the way to town had one left.  It was cheaper by a £1 and much more convenient so we will continue to buy the gas there in future.  So at least some good came out of a tricky situation.

It was the same with the major power cut we had on our last visit to the cottage and we were rejoicing that, although unfortunate at the time, it happened back then and the fault repaired because it would surely have gone in this last storm and it would have taken longer for the power team to get to us with so many people being affected with the wind.  The local garden centre had no power because of a fallen tree and they had been plunged into darkness, could only take cash and the café had to be closed.  We had trees down across the main road and for a time would have been captive on the peninsula as there is only one road back to town down here on the Mull, however it was cleared very quickly, probably by local farmers.

We only have a few days here and I have a little pile of ‘bits’ to look at, financial papers, a bit of knitting, making Christmas plans and catching up with some reading.  I finished The Winter Children – not really my kind of read but I persevered not wanting to abandon it. I have just read Christmas at Thrush Green by Miss Read again – always a favourite at this time of year – there is something so calming about her books where the lives of the villagers seemingly have order and sequence to them like the natural world and busyness is not a word that takes over.

I did the live family Not so Secret Santa draw from the caravan – so we all know who is buying for who now.  I am buying for my eldest daughter, whist DH is buying for my mum, my BIL is buying a gift for me and my brother is buying a gift for DH and so it goes on all around the family each person only buying one gift for another. 

We switched to the Secret Santa a few years ago now as the mammoth buying sessions had got out of hand as our family expanded.  No-one knew what to buy for each other and we ended up with a house full of gifts we didn’t really want and opening all those presents from one another meant there was little time to play games and have fun.

Our version is not so secret…hence the title.  Each person can provide a list of up to ten wishes of things they would like as a gift to the person who is to buy for them (which is different each year – hence the draw).  You can be as specific as you like or opt for a surprise gift or a gift token, (tokens are very popular with my brother and mum).  The gift or combination of gifts must only amount to £25 per person – it used to be £50, but has been reduced to £25 now (reflecting the fact more of us are on pensions or lower incomes). 

Because you list ten items the actual gift or gifts you get is still a surprise as you don’t know which one the buyer might choose to get.  If they are lucky and get your gift(s) discounted then to keep it fair they still have to use the whole £25, the difference cannot be pocketed by the buyer.  Everyone buys for the children as normal; they are not included in the Secret Santa.  It has been a great success and we would not go back.  It has cut down on all the tramping around shops looking for ideas and the expense of parking that goes with it.  And it leaves more time to enjoy the Christmas events that are put on everywhere.  This year we are going to the light show at Temple Newsam.

I still buy little things for my friends or make them as they very much like the homemade craft items.

In normal times and because not all of us could be together on Christmas Day we would have a big family gathering just before Christmas to swap our Secret Santa presents (but not open them).  You try disguising the fact you have bought an ironing board or wheelbarrow in wrapping paper!  We would often use the pub/restaurant where my daughter worked to meet and have sandwiches and home-made chips laid on with mince pies for afters and wear our best santa hats and jumpers of course.

We would play games (this is some of us below playing the guess who I am game)…

and have our musical interlude (whistle blowing and handbell ringing) …..and generally have a fun time. 

Because of Covid we had to have a Zoom party last year and pass presents on as best we could.  This year most of us are going to my sisters for Christmas Day, Covid allowing, so we won’t be meeting beforehand.

I am just starting now on crafting our Christmas – a simpler Christmas like last year, maybe even more so. I will try and keep you all updated as, throughout the run up to Christmas, I make cards and goodies, decorate the house and attend events.

Hope all is well with everyone – time allowing I keep dibbing in and out of the blogs I read to keep up with your news and occasionally I might even get to leave a comment.

Back soon x