Saturday, 31 December 2011


Another of the books Santa Helen gave me from my wishlist is Amanda Vickery's Behind Closed Doors:  At Home with the Georgians.  In fact, Helen managed to find a signed copy, which is very exciting.  Prof Vick's writing style is very textbook, but lovely all the same:

Shelter is an animal need.  Homes promise security, retreat, rest, warmth, food and the basis of both a family life and for full participation in social life.  Home is a toddler's cosmos.  A drawing of a recognisable house with strong walls and curling smoke is a sign for psychologists of a secure childhood, while the emotion freighted to the word 'home' testifies to our continued longing for a place of supreme safety and emotional sustenance.  Home-made, home-grown, home-cooked are all promises of true satisfaction.  The pangs of longing felt by Mole for his 'dulce momum' in Kenneth Graham's Wind in the Willows (1908) resonate with us still.  Historians trained to record oral testimony begin with house and home.  'Walk me through your childhood home' - we say - for opening the creaky front door unlocks the library of memory.
 I love books that make me think, give me new ideas.  (Note:  ask all my living family members about their childhood homes; read Wind in the Willows.)   I remember that I drew just that sort of house with walls and windows and a front door; mine were two-storied, like Grandmother's house. I can't recall any curling smoke, though there may have been. Does that mean I wasn't secure, in spite of the fact of never having lived in a house that emitted smoke? Even here, we live under laws about air pollution and smoke-free fuel.

If going to India and Africa didn't teach me that I am hugely wealthy, travelling back in time certainly would.   Most of us take entirely for granted having privacy, a lock on a front door and the authority to keep the key not to mention having vast spaces in which to store our many belongings.  I've no doubt that had I lived in different times mine would have been the lot of the commoner, not the countess.

We watched Vickery's BBC programme on TV last year and I took copious notes, intending to share it with you.  Said notes are in the stack of notebooks and scraps with ideas for this blog.  Several other interesting programmes are also in that stack, but no longer make sufficient sense to transcribe into a cohesive post, but never mind.  You can read more about the series, or buy the DVDs off Amazon.

On a slightly different subject, I am intending to watch the whole 2-hour special epidsode of Downton Abbey again tomorrow!   Bill sent me this link [warning:  info about developments in Series Two!] that says what I already knew:  the Grantham's are far too kind to their servants to be realistic.   Also, though I'd not thought of it, the servants are much too clean.  In reality, the work schedule of servants left little time for personal hygiene, so the appearance of a drudge will hardly have been pristine like the lovely Anna.  Instead, think of Cinderella's soot-smudged face and add body odour.  Another reason to add back stairs, I imagine.

I might one day read Below Stairs or Climbing the Stairs by Margaret Powell, but I've got to survive Georgian England first! 

Friday, 30 December 2011

What Santa Brought

My Christmas this year was mainly books, thanks to my Amazon wishlists.   I've yet to download the programme that allows me to list anything I find on the internet; books and films are dangerous enough to wish for!  I think wish lists are the way to go to reduce the risk of wasting money on an unloved present.  That said, if one does gather ideas over the year, it is best to have a review when birthday or Christmas approaches, to make sure the items are still desireable.  I'm always amazed at how many things I'm able to delete.

I've struggled to blog consistently over the holidays in part because of the usual last minute preparation for unexpected events:  we don't normally have company on Christmas Day, and Simon stayed over a couple of nights so my 'work room' had to remember that it is also the 'guest room'.   Also, because having been given practically a new library of delicious books, my nose has been practically glued to paper pages.  I've read, cover-to-cover, three non-fiction books since Boxing Day, and I have several more to investigate.

I somehow managed to alienate the Amazon thingy that lets one show pictures and links to books, but here's a photo of the book anyhow. 

This book was great fun to read, giving loads of insights into reading people's clothing choices.  For example, a man from the East who wears a turban with his Western suit says that although he does business in the West, his thinking is still that of his homeland.  The same might go for an Asian woman who wears an elaborate native hairstyle.  These people often look very dignified, whereas a person in Western clothing who wears the native head dress of the place they go on holiday only looks foolish.

In times of recession, styles in Britain come all over tartans, tweed and green in colour.  In the US, all things patchwork, quilted and crocheted become the rage.

I'd read elsewhere that the woman who wears a red blouse underneath her proper business suit is telling the world she has a passionate nature; but not that when all the tabs and button downs are neatly fastened, people are repressing their true feelings. 

I knew a lot about the psychology of colours, but having pretty much decided that my favourite neutral these days is grey, I can't tell whether the author believes grey to be mousey or mysterious.  Apparently grey and white are colours associated with nuns!  Perhaps I should re-think navy as a neutral!

The part I need to go back and study - I'll definitely read this book several times - is where she describes the cycles of women's fashions vs women's freedom.  I follow that once Victorian women were no longer captive in their homes, shoe fashions had to change to allow walking on the street, bags more practical to carry items, etc.  Skirts grew shorter, corsets were abandoned, clothing became lighter.   I never picked up the Annie Hall style ("Yes, I'm wearing men's clothing, but it's too big, so you know I'm only playing") which I think is sloppy, but neither have I worn tight skirts or stilettos or the towering platformed heels currently in vogue.  The author suggests that women periodically give up their freedom when they wear fashions that restrict their movement or cause pain and that these fashions come about in periods of conservative patriarchy.  Or something like that.  I've never understood why an otherwise intelligent woman would choose to walk like a toy poodle.

In any case, the author made many analogies between words and clothing, ie  having a large wardrobe is like having a large vocabulary (this was obviously published before minimalism came along).  Putting an outfit together is like forming a sentence.  One can make conflicting statements within an outfit, etc.   What we wear, whether we intend it to or not, gives messages about our status, our aspirations, our emotional state and sometimes even our politics.   One can easily say:  "I'm available."  "I can't be bothered."  "I'm very serious about work."  "I wish to be known as a rapper/ preppie/ country boy."  Most of us know much of this by instinct, of course. 

Then again, in this day of ever more casual dress, one wonders if we are all guilty of dumbing down our communications.  I think more about clothes than my sartorial choices would generally indicate.  Then again, that's me all over!  I've always been more of a thinker and less of a do-er.

Do your clothes make the statements you intend them to?

Thursday, 29 December 2011

A Winter Walk

I'm often struck by the many differences between where I grew up and where I live now.  Time (as in more history) and space (as in a lot less of it) are important factors here in Britain, factors which influence much about the way things are done. 

Where I grew up, the streets are mostly on a neat grid, the ground is flat and the main landmarks are the railway line, a couple of lakes and the small parks dotted around.  Shopping centres are also main features, but those are too boring to talk about.  The point I'm intending to make is that a ditch digger or a crane are very rare features of the established suburban areas.  Construction work is generally limited to  utilities making repairs or the building of yet another housing estate even further out from down town.  One exception to this is in the posh area just south of my neighbourhood, where 'old money' had houses when I was young.  It's not uncommon to see large lots being split.  New houses which dominate their site are then erected to announce the new resident's terrific lack of taste.  

Here in Britain, loads of construction work goes on all the time.  Scaffolding is required to reach roofs being replaced, or brick walls being re-pointed.  The landscape is quite hilly, leading down to rivers or beaches and up to overlook points.  Sadly, the cranes at the major ship-building centre for Newcastle, based at Wallsend (as in the end of Hadrian's wall) are no longer for building ships, but for dismantling the site. 

Large buildings are being made over into flats, old sub-standard housing torn down and new (sub-standard) homes built.  Old industrial sites no longer in use are being demolished to make room for new housing or other developments.   

Tiled entrance to The Chain Locker

Roads are in continual need of repair (which occurs at the most inconvenient times, it seems).   Also, surprisingly enough, new roads are often being built through old areas. 

The Chain Locker was previously the Crane House Inn, dating back to 1834.

It was to one of these locations that Bill and I chose to walk the other day.  West of the North Shields Fish Quay is a row of newish apartment buildings over looking the river and beyond that is Collingwood Mansions (nothing to do with Dark Shadows).  Built in the mid 19th Century as a Sailors' Home, it is now a collection of flats, quite nice flats from the look of them.  The short street used to be book-ended by two venerable pubs, The Porthole and The Chain Locker, but only the former has remained.  The Chain Locker and something called the Brewery Bond, a warehouse, have both been made into flats. 

What we were most interested in, however, was the point where the buses have to turn around after dropping passengers at the ferry landing (the one that just crosses the river, not the big one that goes to Amsterdam).  Beyond that turn around point has been some disused docks and industrial wasteland.  Now there is a road that continues just beyond and then heads north into the existing housing estates. 

Town Mission built 1904
This suggests a plan for further development of the riverside, which is always exciting.  The road is not yet opened, however.   A bit of research indicates this development, called Smith's Dock, has been in the works since 2001.  Change is continual here, but generally very slow.  I'm hoping this road will provide a nearly traffic free cycle route to the largest leisure centre (gym) in the area.  We shall see. 

Bill showed me a bridge that crosses the road and reveals a roof top conservatory at the back of Collingwood Mansions.  On this cliff above the fish quay are also the old Town Mission and a former sail maker, now specialising in sheet metal, which is somehow apt.  Not a lovely building, but interesting and certainly historical. 

We made our way back past the fishquay and to the park, now strangely decorated, perhaps by 'Friends' of the park. 

It was a very cold day, as evidenced by the frozen pond,

but a pleasant walk, nonetheless.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Trig Points and Spot Heights

Actually, there is still another party I've not mentioned, mainly because I didn't go.  Bill got together with his friends from the Long Distance Walkers' Association at a pub in Gosforth.  It sounds like it was pretty informal, just a few pints and a quiz about trig points.  It seems one of the ladies in the LDWA collects the things - pictures of them anyhow.

Bill had to explain to me about trig points.  They are markers, generally concrete things on hills, that are used by surveyors to make maps (you know, those old fashioned paper things people used before GPS came along).  I've never seen one, but then I'm not fond of walking to the top of hills like loads of people here are.  I had to laugh that she collected these things (but I'm in awe at her fitness that she can). 

First I learned about 'train spotting' and then 'plane spotting' and now trig point collection.  Actually, it was quite useful to read the train spotting link, as I'd no idea that our local Tyne & Wear Metro prohibits all photography unless one has written permission from the operators, Nexus.  There are a number of photos on this blog that I took on the Metro.    You won't tell on me, will you? 

Although loads of children who grew up along side of Bill aspired to be train drivers, trainspotters are now spoken of in faintly derisory terms that include 'anoraks' ('nerds').  An anorak is the British term for those plastic jackets that in the US we would call 'windbreakers'.  Just you try using that term here in Britain; people will roll on the floor shrieking.  Back to train spotting, I've always found it fascinating how so many Brits can become obsessed with what seems mundane to most of us.  Mind, under that woolen hat his mother knitted, lurks a brain that knows the ins and outs of how a train works, the intricacies of the schedule and the track changes and probably the history of the invention of most things train-related. 

I've decided that growing up and living in a very small place, such as Britain is, it must seem more feasible to know everything there is to know about a subject, because one grows up in a place that is so finite that one can become quite intimate.  Another thing about these hobbies of course is that they don't have to cost much.   There is a sub-set of the population here that is not fighting to keep up with the Jones's, not buying the latest bling, not chasing the bigger and better job.  They are living quiet little lives of relative contentment and they have quirky little hobbies about which they are quite excited.  I've come to admire this.

Bill and I were walking about the other day and noticed a sad old ramshackle house had been sold; I'd never seen it was on offer.  I took all sort of photos of its shabbiness in hopes of eventually being able to share with you some 'after' photos as well.  Whilst waiting for me to finish, Bill spotted noticed a spot height on the stone wall across the road from the house.  A spot height is another surveying tool.  It is a measure of feet or meters above sea level and such marks also appear on maps.  When I googled this term, the top listing has to do with navigation in road rally driving, Bill's former hobby, so it's no surprise he knew about them.  Of course I took a photo to share with you, having learned something new.

Now, I'm world famous around these parts for being a terrible navigator.  I eventually get where I want to be, but rarely by the most direct route.  I'm still a north south east west kinda girl and Brits just don't think in those terms, so that skill is of limited use here where the road maps look like snarled yarn.  What I'm saying here is just because I took ONE photo of a spot height, it doesn't mean I'm going to collect them or navigate by them.  If I do, you'll be the first to know.

Besides that, I'm not nearly clever enough to come up with a quiz question like 'What is a fund's aspiration?'  Answer:  Hedgehope

Monday, 26 December 2011

We'll Be Making Calendars If We're Not Careful

My first Christmas meal out with the WI was at Lola Jeans - there was only the one in Tynemouth then - and it was pretty amazing. I wrote notes about it but never published. Now, when we are celebrating the 10th birthday of our WI, I feel I should. And it would be a shame to waste the title (though it could apply to a number of our activities - did I tell you about doing burlesque - twice?).

Our then president, Danielle, had a business to do with PR or something. She was great at asking for things and getting them. We each were given a goodie bag (from Jules B) filled with stuff I now don't remember other than a Living North magazine. 

Alex, one of the managers at Lola Jeans, also a surfer from Sydney - Tynemouth is like that - was going to show us how to make cocktails. I thought he was a brave young man, holding forth in the midst of all these women aged maybe 25-65 all dressed up in 'glam'. 

His aim was to show us a 'Cosmo', a 'Mojito', an 'Expresso Martini' and an 'Apple and Elderberry martini'. I'll do my best to interpret my notes, but you might want to double check these recipes elsewhere.

Me (in reddish-black hair) with Vivien - who won the top prize of the night:
dinner for two with wine at Barn at the Biscuit, a David Kennedy restaurant.


First put ice in your glass while you preparing the drink.  Measure ingredients - vodka, lime juice (they peel a bunch, put them in the blender then strain the juice into a squirt bottle that looks like a ketchup dispenser with the pointy end).  Cranberry juice. 

Put all of this into a shaker - the glass half - and shake. Tip: Sometimes the glass and the metal halves of the shaker get stuck. Find the flat side where they join and strike your hand again the sides that 'smile' away from that flat side, then the shaker is magically able to be separated.

Garnish is a slices of orange peel burned with a cigarette lighter until the oil emerges and flashes (not for me, thanks), then pass the peel around the rim of the glass and drop into centre of the drink.

I can report that it was a very tangy drink and a lovely mauve-y pink. 


Apparently this drink is part of history and literature. Ernest Hemingway fancied them at La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana as well as in Key West (his favorite drink was the daiquiri, though).

Two teaspoons white sugar.  Cover with lime juice.  Add about an inch of mint leaves.  Dark rum (Alex said it has more flavour than white), soda water - about 2 measures - to pull the mint flavour out.  Fill the rest of glass with cubed ice, then top with crushed ice.  For some reason crushed ice melts more slowly?  Tip: take a mint leaf in one palm and slap it with your other palm - to bring out the lovely minty odour.  Takes me back to my childhood, picking mint leaves from the back yard for our iced tea.  

Nice drink, mojito: minty not too sweet.

Expresso martini

I don't think I paid much attention, not being an expresso fan at all. Something to do with kalua and  a coffee bean garnish.  Not an unpleasant frothy drink with 'head' on it, but I thought a scary idea, expresso at 9pm.

Apple and elderberry martini

Apple flower garnish.  Iced glass. Vodka, apple juice, elderflower cordial.

Lovely light drink.

No, I didn't drink one of each of these. There were loads of small stirrers and straws and we each used a straw to taste the drinks being passed around.

I did have one whole cocktail - I'm guessing it was probably a plain ole G&T - and a sip of half a dozen others.  

I staggered home.

Happy Boxing Day

This is my most visited page.  Lots of folks must be looking for a Boxing Day image...

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Happy Christmas

Wishing you a Very Merry Christmas
and Best Wishes for 2012

with love from Shelley & Bill

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Mince Meat Pies

When I first came across to England I had a hard time with some of the food terminology:  French fries were 'chips', potato chips were 'crisps' and mince meat pies had no meat in them.  Apparently they once did, though. Brits frequently use the terms 'sweet' and 'savory' and the latter term only ever used to mean a sort of herb to me. Savory over here usually means 'salty or spicy' as opposed to 'sweet' in flavour.  The original mince pies were savory, whereas today they are sweet.

I did a bit of research that said that the traditional spices (nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon) used in mince meat pies were brought back from the Holy Land by the Crusaders and were associated with gifts to the Christ child.  The mixing of spices and fruits with shredded / minced beef or mutton were a way of preserving the meats.  Pastry pies filled with this mixture would last for months in the cold weather.  I believe I'll just take their word for that.   

The original pies were coffin or crib shaped, again referencing the baby Jesus.  They were often called Christmas pie, which is pretty much the only time I ever see them around here, though now they tend to be round and very small; this latter bit is a good thing, as they are extremely rich.

It's up!  Only 8 hours of work...

I found it interesting that in the mid-1600's, when Oliver Cromwell and his Puritans were in charge of the country, Christmas pie was looked upon as being associated with Catholicism.  It was condemned as hedonistic, as was Christmas altogether.  Christmas as viewed as being a pagan festival that encouraged gluttony and drinking.  Nevertheless, the utility of using fruits and spices to preserve meats (and perhaps a bit of rebellion) allowed the practice of making Christmas pies to survive.

By Victorian times, meat preservation was not as much an issue and so minced meats were added as an after thought if at all, though the use of suet has continued to the present time.  Some things it's best just not to think about.  Today's recipes are generally all about fruit and spices, with a bit of brandy thrown in for good measure.

What brought about this discussion of minced meat pies?  Bill decided to bake some this week.  He used a jar of minced meat from the supermarket, but he rolled out his very own pastry.  They came out entirely edible and I was well impressed by his efforts.   He liked his efforts pretty well too I guess, as he bought more mince in preparation to make more pies. 

Friday, 23 December 2011

Coming Christmas Day!

Bill was kind enough to forward the information that there will be a TWO HOUR special Downton Abbey!  That will be bliss...

I won't share any more in case American readers aren't up on the developments of Season 2.  I think of DA as just one more in a long list of perks of living in Britain!  The article did suggest that Season 2 would be the last - also that DA could go on for years.  I guess it can go on for as long as Julian Fellowes can be bothered.

I was just the other day taking an afternoon (post-TOO MUCH FOOD-luncheon) break and re-watching my Season 1 videos.  I find that putting the captions on the second (forth, sixteenth) time around adds a new interest, if the clothes, the house and the dialogue weren't sufficient.  However, I did notice an error that I thought I should point out.

When Mrs. Crawley and Matthew first come to dinner and the discussion turns to the local hospital where Mrs. Crawley might do some volunteer work, the subtitle says 'college hospital', when it should be 'cottage hospital'.  I was pretty sure it should be 'cottage', but then later when Mr. Carson thanks Mr. Bates for not discussing an embarrassing incident, they are standing in front of the sign that clearly says 'Cottage Hospital'.

'Old Cottage Hospital, Ledbury'

This was a phrase that made me quite nervous when I first arrived.  I love antiquity and all, but not associated with my medical services.  On the other hand, Bill says cottage hospitals tend to be 'nursing beds' with 'visiting GPs', which makes sense for convalescent stays and such.  These days they tend to be called 'community' instead of 'cottage' hospitals.  If they haven't been made over into flats.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Turning Point

Today is the shortest day here.  We'll have sunrise at 8:29 am and sunset at 3.38 pm.   One does get used to living in the dark, but I have tried to get out during daylight hours if I start feeling very deprived.  Fortunately, with the shortest day also comes the turning point back to longer days and shorter nights, though it's not immediately noticeable of course.

Funny enough just the other day I was reading something about Helen Mirren and it mentioned in passing that she was in White Nights, one of my favourite old movies.  I hadn't remembered her in it, but of course she was.  I just hadn't heard of her at the time.  Or Isabella Rossellini for that matter.

I ended up burning a few hours happily watching Mikhail Baryshnikov on YouTube.  I highly recommend it as a past time.  There was one video where he wasn't dancing, but at some sort of class and he was wearing grey and green sweats.  Although he was looking wonderful as usual, what I was really thinking was how much seeing those sweats took me back to the 80s when I lived in sweats and was fit and strong.  It made me want to find some classes that work for me; a mission then, for 2012. 

What really amazed me was that I found another Baryshnikov film I'd never heard of, called 'Turning Point' with Shirley MacLaine, Ann Bancroft and Tom Skerritt (whose name I didn't know, but his face is very familiar).  It has to do with a suburban dance teacher.   As an alumna of "Jewell's School of Dance" this appealed to me immensely, particularly as the film is set in Oklahoma City.  So, another road that leads back to Oklahoma.  Must definitely get a copy of that film.  Another mission for 2012!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Hazel and Gingersnaps

I met my friend Hazel for coffee the other day in Tynemouth, at the Land of Green Ginger.  Well, it used to be called that and I still think of it that way - apparently it is now the 'Green Ginger Arcade'.  Anyhow, it was built in 1869 as a Congregationalist church.  Now it is a mini-shopping mall, with beautiful arches and stained glass windows.   You can see the steeple in this photo, there beyond the village green.

Also a very dangerous place for me.   The cafe where we met, Gingersnaps, is full of wonderful fattening food.  There are a number of vintage shops with things like old bevelled  mirrors, nightstand lamps, fur coats (for less than £50) and  leather gloves. 

Another place specialises in all things Celtic, which is very like art nouveau style and so I've always been quite susceptible.  Best not to go in there, you see. 

There is a sweets shop which is lovely to look at, but to which I'm largely immune. 

Another shop specialises in cake making supplies.  I'm not bothered about cakes either, but they have a display of ribbons that makes me itch to buy some major yardage.  I have to remind myself that I already have boxes of the stuff at home.

The most lethal of the shops are downstairs:  a shop called A Passion for Shoes unfortunately carries size 3 (that's about a 5 1/2 in American).  I've yet to succumb, but there will come a day I'm sure.  The really awful place is the antiques shop.

I bought my wardrobe there years ago (must show it to you sometime, it's quaint) and I've never gone in that I didn't see something I wouldn't love:  standard lamps, chandeliers, mirrors and secretaries from the 1920s.  Really bad news, that place is, for someone who already has a house full.  I have however made a list of things in my house I could bear to part with, just a few.  That would be my reward, wouldn't it, to go shopping for new things - I mean old things - in the Land of Green Ginger?

It was good to see Hazel.  We spent a good couple of hours sat on the couches there at the back, sipping tea and munching fruit cake.  The cafe was lovely and quiet.  I was thinking I might have to go back sometime and enjoy having it practically all to myself.  If a church can't be a church anymore, at least it can still be a very pleasant place.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

And One More Party...

The sewing ladies are real party animals, let me tell you.  They aren't content with going out to lunch at a nice restaurant.  No, they have to follow it the next week with a home made lunch at our regular meeting room.  I'd call it a 'pot luck' but there isn't such a thing here in Britain; you have to tell what you are bringing and put it on the list.  Margaret saw me dithering and suggested I bring drinks, which I duly did.

I thought they looked nice in the sunlight,
but the stripes are a bit weird, I know.

Since most of these ladies drive to the gathering and I've no idea what medications they are on, I knew I was bringing non-alcoholic stuff like fruit juices and lemonade.  Still, no reason why it shouldn't be festive.  I loaded up the car with apple, orange, cranberry and grape juices, tonic and lemonade (which I would call generic 7-UP, but this is what Brits call lemonade).  I pulled together the four decanters and a dozen wine glasses (all from Tynemouth fleamarket) and set up the 'bar'.   It went over well.

We always give Nora flowers, to thank her for 'taking
our money and yelling at us'.

Unlike at the pub, the food was plentiful:  homemade corned beef pie, little chocolate and mincemeat cakes, pork pies, mini-pizzas, egg and cheese sandwiches, ham and sweet corn tarts, potato crisps (as in potato chips), macaroons, chocolate tarts, and more I can't remember.  I think I had three plates full and groaned all afternoon.  It was all delicious, but my very favourite was the potato crisps/chips.  I so rarely eat them that when I do it is just heaven.   I managed to bring a large piece of the corned beef pie home for Bill.

We skipped dinner that night.

Saturday, 17 December 2011


The next party Bill and I attended together, the running club party, at a local pub which I will call The Five 'Turkeys' - you know, the one across from the Civic Centre?  There were about 50 of us all together and there was, as usual, a lot going on.  I took photos, but the lighting wasn't good and people weren't posing, so not many turned out at all.  I have obviously missed out on the photography genes in spite of having five professional photographers in my family.

We had food, but we weren't best pleased with the amount served.   Three plates of ham or tuna  sandwiches, a couple of plates of fish fingers or chicken wings with dips, two bowls of fruit salad.  Definitely not good value for money, but the city centre pubs pretty much have you over a barrel.  After we complained, they did bring out two or three more dishes, but by then the hungry crowd had already plowed through all the desserts and it was a case of 'too little, way too late'.  We need to do some creative thinking in future.  What there was was nice enough, though, and they did let us bring our own sweets.  Bill made an American fruit crisp (that is the crisp recipe from here with double the 'crispy' part; Brits don't expect the oatmeal & brown sugar) and everyone loved it, which he enjoyed.

Never mind the stuff at the very back
that we brought; the nine plates
in the foreground are 'worth'
£230 / $355, apparently.

One thing that happens every year is the giving out of various awards.  Bob sets us all a challenge - which Bill nearly always meets - that we run at least 10 races in our club vests.  Those who do get a small plaque for their efforts. 

Our house is becoming littered with the things, only one of which is mine.

Jamie gives out Personality Awards, which are generally pretty funny even though they are sometimes 'inside jokes'.  Some of the prizes this year went to Navigator of the Year (David got lost and couldn't find the finish of a race), Comeback Kid of the Year (Graham competed in the cross country championships 40 years after his first cross country experience), Standards in Public Life Award (Jeremy came straight from work to fulfill his job as a race marshal - in his business suit).

We have a lovely glass memorial trophy that goes alternatively to the first man or first lady in the Coastal Race.  This year the weather was dire and our club's just-about-slowest lady (except me) won this gorgeous trophy, for being the only lady runner determined enough to stick it out. 

Well done, Lorna.

We generally have a drawing for the London marathon race numbers (highly prized, very difficult to get).  In previous years we've had as many as 15-20 applicants in the hat, having shown they went through the regular draw and were rejected by the race organisers, and it's been pretty exciting to see who would win.  This year we actually have a spare number going, so will have to figure out the best way to deal with it.

Paul says his lovely shirt came from the
Retro shop on High Bridge for all of £6!

Finally, we have a raffle.  Bill and I between us managed to bring home an expresso coffee maker, a wind-up cyclist's lamp and a box of Ceylon tea.  All in all, not a bad night.  The running club made £11 off our raffle and admission tickets, the pub a bit more than that on drinks.

Friday, 16 December 2011


The next party was Christmas lunch with the sewing ladies.  We went to the Village Bistro in Tynemouth and I wouldn't be at all surprised if we didn't go back.  I think it's the best lunch we've had so far.   I did have my camera with me, but only snapped a few photos of people, not the place.  You can look at it here though.

We had to order our lunch in advance to get the Christmas special, and let me tell you it was a chore to make a selection, it all sounded so good.  I ended up with the salmon mousse, the braised beef and the Christmas pudding.  I should have written it all down because I got a bit confused and the man who served us had a good time telling me off.  I get told off at the sewing group all the time, so I felt right at home.  (Nora thinks we talk and laugh too loud, a good thing I think).

The funny thing was, the ladies gave £1 a week to Nora all year long to save up for this meal, and the summer time lunch, (it's a British thing I've mentioned before) and then she had to attend a funeral at the last minute and didn't show up.  No one had any trouble paying for their lunch on the day in spite of not having their savings, but in my mind it does beg the question why hand over your cash?  If I were betting - but of course I don't - I'd say they'll do the same again next year...

Never mind, it was a lovely lunch with fun friends.

Thursday, 15 December 2011


As usual - and even without being involved with work do's, we've had our fair share of Christmas parties.  Our normally disgustingly healthy diet is suffering, but fortunately the parties are behind us as we can be 'normal' for a little while before we hurt ourselves at the table again on Boxing Day.  This feasting business has a lot to answer for.  However, we wouldn't really wish to be without the festivities altogether, would we?

First of all, Vivien and I went to our Women's Institute Christmas party at Lola Jeans.  This is a pub in Tynemouth, and I've spent the entire morning searching my picture files and Bill's, plus the internet for photos.  It is a beautifully decorated place and I'm astounded there aren't any photos to share, only this picture I snapped when Vivien and I passed through the Arcade

Anyhow, one of the managers, Alex (a surfer from Sydney), showed us how to make a variety of cocktails.  Not your usual WI with jam-making and singing Jerusalem, then. (Good thing, too, I don't know the words never mind the tune; apparently I'm not alone).  I've made some notes from Alex's demonstrations but am hoping to get some recipes soon.  If I do I will share them.  The great thing about the cocktail night was that martini glasses were passed around with loads of tiny little stirrer/straws, so that you could taste all of them without drinking too much.   Brilliant idea.

After all the 'classes' we were encouraged to order another 'free' cocktail (we'd paid in advance, good value for the money I might add) and there were also non-alcoholic drinks made with similar care.  It was all very delicious and with about 60 of us women all decked out in our 'glam' outfits there was great atmosphere in the place!  I expect it was a bit more lively than their usual Monday night.  When we first began some of the other people in the bar looked quite surprised to find themselves in the midst of a WI meeting!

Best of all, in the raffle Vivien won the prize for dinner for two and a bottle of wine at The Biscuit Factory.   This is actually an art gallery, but it has long had  a restaurant next door, The Barn, The Black Door, the Brasserie, and they've always been excellent places to eat.  I'm looking forward to hearing all about it!

And it looks like, tough a job as it will be {sigh}, I'll have to go back to Lola Jean's to get those inside photos to share - and maybe some recipes as well.  See how hard I work for you?

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Traditions of Scrooge and Creativity

I'm beginning to realise that one creates traditions without even trying.  Whatever it is one tends to do, that is one's tradition, even if it's pretty much nothing.   Our traditions apparently are:

Send odd little presents to a few friends and family in the States, usually way late and by surface post.  Cost of post often exceeds value of gifts.  However, said gifts often have taken days to make.  (A miracle occurred somehow this year and I actually posted them air mail on the last legitimate posting date.  I've no idea how that happened.)

Either design a weird childlike picture with a holiday theme in Paint or, since we've had snow the last couple of years and I have a digital camera, sort through snowy photos and select this year's candidate.  Use to send e-mail greetings to long list of people I don't see or hear from except at Christmas.

Bill posts the most tastefully large cards he can find (he has views about this) to a select group featured in his mother's address book, cousins that I wouldn't recognise without a name tag.  Also some of his mother's friends we're not certain are still living until we get a return card. 

We write out (smaller) cards to take to various club parties, half of them addressed to people who don't show and whose addresses we don't possess.  Have learned not to put 'Best wishes for 20XX' in case they need to be used next year. 

We keep a supply of cards on hand for those people who like us well enough to do the card thing, but apparently not well enough to get together.   May or may not resort to first class stamp to ensure return card is timely.

Presents might be purchased throughout the year when travelling.  Said presents then put in a safe place which may or may not reveal itself in time for the next Christmas.  Useful that each of us has our 'own space' (I have the East wing, Bill has the box room) for hiding each other's gifts.  Also useful that children have stopped growing...or have they?

Exchange wishlists with Bill and children, which I have to date largely ignored.  I tend to give each something bought, something handmade and something homemade to eat.   If my handmade gifts make them laugh, I consider them a success.   Wonder what the charity shops make of these. 

Erect an eight-foot fake tree and adorn it with a wide range of old, new and handmade ornaments.  Deadline:  Boxing day when Bill's kids come, but usually before Christmas Eve.  Bill is not allowed to handle my Mom's ornaments, so decorating/un- the tree is my job.  If the ornaments are broken, best if I do it.  (The tree is down from the loft, so it might actually go up this week).

Bill and I tend to open most of each other's gifts when we are alone, generally on Christmas Day, often first thing in the morning, with coffee, in bed.  For Bill, I open up my purse strings and he is very generous to me.  (It occurs to me that this sounds vaguely rude, but I'll leave it to give Bill a laugh.)

Host meal for Bill's children and partners if available (children or partners), serving usually large ham, anything but the traditional turkey, of which we are heartily sick by then.  Also Brussels sprouts, roast veg and Christmas pudding with custard, required British fare.   All food, bar the dessert, made from scratch by Bill.  Table is set with layers of ancient linen and lace table cloths, each hiding the flaws of the layer beneath, all topped with place mats.  Also mismatched water and wine glasses and sterling silver cutlery in art deco pattern.   My good Noritake china, grey and lavender, but with green and pink serving dishes from Bill's Mom and Grandmother because they have lids that keep the food warm. 

Said meal followed by ripping open of wrapped parcels.

After children have departed, I race to retrieve re-usable ribbons, bows and larger pieces of paper before Bill scrunches it all up for the recycling bin.  We have not bought wrapping paper in about six years and my wrapped presents always look very nice.

The thing that prompted me to write this was realising that another tradition has materialised without my noticing:  we watch Christmas movies in December.  White Christmas for me.  Hogfather for Bill.  One day I might stay awake through the whole thing.

Yeah, he is a little but, you know, that's just Bill.  Then again, I think we're probably a well matched set.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

One Man and His Dog

Vivien and I have been doing weekly walks for a little while now, some with Pauline, others on our own. 

A couple of weeks ago, Pauline proposed that we join her friend David on Whitley Bay beach, where he would be working, walking dogs.  Vivien and I both have soft spots for dogs, but neither of us owns one for the time being, so I thought we'd both enjoy this.  It was a lovely day and our experience with dog walking was an eye opener, to say the least.


We met at the appointed place after David unloaded his 'clients'.  He had five that day, most of them medium to large sized.  I can introduce you to Fred (a Labradoodle?) and Hector (a chocolate Labrador) and Tiger (a striped lurcher, possibly of whippet ancestry). 

Tiger and a Golden Retriever

I didn't catch the names of the Golden Retriever (which ate everything in sight - seaweed, shale, you name it), or the golden-brown female (I'm not a fan of the word 'bitch') he kept on the harness because she was a 'dominant' type and picked a few small fights (maybe bitch is right after all).

I wouldn't have thought seawater would be palatable, but what do I know?

The first order of business once we got down on the beach was that all five dogs had a poo, which of course had to be picked up in plastic bags (better him than me).  David let all but the harnessed bitch off their leads and they ran around everywhere, having a gay old time (I grew up watching the Flintstones, so that is an entirely innocent phrase).

That's Hector on the right.

Of course, there were loads of other people around walking their dogs and so one had to keep track of where the dogs were, what they were doing, how they were getting along, what other dogs had decided to abandon their owners and join our circus, not to mention keeping the five generally rounded up and travelling as a group the length of the beach and back.

David has a really nice office, at least when the weather is good.

David threw two different balls for them to fetch / try to bury in the sand and of course the Golden Retriever had to go for a swim in the North Sea.  We kept an eye on him to see when he might decide to shake, but if he ever did it thankfully wasn't near us.  I gather that David walked much slower on this particular day given the number of us ladies he had accompanying him, almost as many as the dogs he brought.  Not that it mattered, the dogs were out for their hour long walk and they certainly covered the territory. 

Awaiting the ball to chase.

We peppered David with questions about how he got started, why he decided to do it, how it was going.  David said he'd had a job he wasn't fond of, a dog who had to stay at his Mom's house whilst he worked said job, a background in farming and farm animals and a little savings on which to get started.  He said his books are currently full with 75 clients, about half of whom are regulars.  He's been in business about two years now.  I think I understood him to say he did three walks a day; I know he mentioned being a marathon runner as well, so one could understand the fitness he brought to (or got from) his job.  He apologised saying he was happy to talk to us but please not to think him rude if he didn't look at us while speaking; he needed to keep an eye on his dogs.  I'd not realised until then that I wasn't looking at him either, we were all keeping an eye on those dogs!

I watched him handle a 'misunderstanding' between two of the dogs.  In a split second he had the miscreant on her back in a submissive position and was nose to nose with her explaining her misdemeanour in strong and certain terms.  Things went pretty smoothly bar that one incidence.   I was impressed how confident he was with all the dogs and how well they generally seemed to mind him.  I would trust my dog with him, no problem.

The other thing that completely amazed me, though, was that he had keys to all the houses of his regularly walked dogs.  Vivien and I were adding up the purchase price of a designer dog, cost of enough food to feed a large animal and regular hairdressing appointments, not to mention £9.50 an hour for it to be walked.  We decided he probably had keys to some pretty nice places.  I was impressed that he engendered that level of trust in owners, too, though it is common practise here in Britain to do things like that. 

One Man and His Dog

I'm a Nervous Nelly when it comes to handing over my worldly goods, but if I were going to do that I think my dog/house would probably be in good hands with David.  He comes across as a very nice, sensible kind of guy.  Besides, the dogs like him and my Mom always said that was the best test of character there was.