Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Go There Now

I don't care if you don't wear dresses or sew, if you love to laugh and/or you appreciate seriously imaginative writing, visit the Dress A Day blog and read her pattern stories. When you finish those, look on the right hand column for her 14 stories about the Secret Lives of Dresses. You'll thank me for this, I know you will.

I'm not big on dresses and for the most part I only dream about sewing, but I love this lady's blog.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Curious about Quakers

In the days leading up to Ella's funeral, both Bill and Jane were interested in learning more about the Quaker religion. They seemed to have a mixed variety of sources and quoted some peculiar ideas that made me more interested in knowing about the Society of Religious Friends, as they call themselves.

Their own website is of course a good place to look.

Wikipedia has an entry that is intriguing and the discussion page led me to search a bit further for famous Quakers. Looks as though they were big in the areas of chocolate and china, banking and shoes; at least during Victorian times. I was interested to learn that James Dean was raised and buried as a Quaker. Other entertainers who are Friends include Joan Baez and my very favourite Bonnie Raitt.

The founder is possibly a man named George Fox, an early dissenter (against the Roman Catholic and the Anglican Churches) and he was acquainted with William Penn, who of course founded Pennsylvania as a safe haven for religious dissenters.

The most detailed information I found about the history and the faith itself was from the BBC: nine pages of fascinating stuff.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Barter Books

Simon had asked if we could stop by Barter Books in Alnwick on the way home. Also in Alnwick is another castle, but it's not a ruin and in any case we had all visited the gardens on one of Jane's previous visits.

Barter Books is always worth dropping in. In a former Victorian train station, it's one of the coziest places in the world.
Across from the station is a park with the Percy Lion on a column. Percy is the surname of the Duke of Northumberland and it is a family with a long and amazing history.

On the benches outside were quotes from 2 members of a Moore family from Charleston, Missouri:

This made me curious about these people as they apparently had an interesting mother. I looked them up and found only that the Moore family was prominent in Charleston, MO. Margaret may have written children's books and Paul was Mayor of Charleston at some time.

If the outside of Barter Books is wonderful, the inside is even better. A person is invited to sip coffee and lounge in front of the coal fire

or at the back of the shop

or in the old waiting room.

Jane was more awake than I and took these pictures of the Writers Mural. This interactive link is definitely worth looking at.

She also noticed that the poem on the archway over the aisle.

Chris and I were worn out by walking in the wind and sun and so we waited until the others were ready to go.

I slept a good bit on the drive home. Later in the evening Bill shared his research on the family tree with Jane and I took the rare opportunity to snap a lovely brother and sister photo.

Later on, we all went for a meal at the Gate of India in Tynemouth.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Birthday Outing

Saturday, the 21st, was Bill's birthday. He wanted a day out and he chose Dunstanburgh Castle, about 45 miles north. Simon and Rhiannon went in his new Mini -- a lease car from his job.

When Chris found out Martin and Helen had a convertible, he decided to go with them and Sarah instead of with Bill, Jane and me.

(I noticed that on the return journey both Chris and Sarah opted for cars with roofs.)

On the way to Dunstanburgh we passed Warkworth Castle, but didn't stop,

though it is probably my favourite of the ruins near us. Our destination was Craster,

a lovely little village

with unbelievably pretty

sights all

right next to each other.

Thanks to Jane for sharing some of her pictures.

We both spotted several of the same things, but some of hers came out better.

I love these seaside gardens,

though they are all postage-stamp sized and lined up together.

I looked up one of the houses we passed that was for sale - it's only £375,000.

Simon had followed us to Craster, but we waited around in the car park for about 45 minutes before Martin & Co. arrived. Turned out they'd followed a Black Mini, but it was the wrong one. Before we left I had remarked to him that as he had sat-nav and an A-Z (detailed map), what he didn't have was an excuse; however, whilst we were waiting Bill did remark that the combination of Martin and Chris didn't really bear thinking about and so perhaps he actually did have one.

We all went up to the castle. Bill remarked that everyone coming back from the castle had taken their 'clothes' (jackets/scarves) off. We were curious about that.

Dunstanburgh Castle was established in 1313 by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, cousin of King Edward II, his most powerful opponent and the strongest Baron in the North. He had guests arrive by sea as this even more amazing an approach.
The Earl was also described as arrogant and unpopular and the castle was just built to impress people. I expect it worked. Nevertheless, he was beheaded in 1322 for treason.

We went through the gate to the castle and a few decided to go inside the castle where one had to pay; others of us were happy to just sit in the sun.

It turned out, however, that one was supposed to pay to lean against the castle after all, so we sat outside with the sheep instead.

When everyone was happy they'd seen enough sea, sheep and scenic ruin we traipsed back to the cars and headed for the next destination: Barter Books in Alnwick.

Thursday, 26 March 2009


Ella's funeral was last Friday. All things considered, I think we actually had a good day. In the morning everyone was on tenterhooks. My asthma wouldn’t settle and I had major indigestion. I decided it was the anticipation of grief, like the anticipation of a dentist appointment, where the expectation of pain is often worse than the real event.

Jane and I had spent the entirety of the two previous days shopping and cooking: vegetable salad, 11 pound ham cut into cubes, 3 large bowls of potato salad, 2 of pasta salad, bread rolls and butter, (purchased) pease pudding (it’s a Geordie thing), two spice cakes, cheese and crackers, cookies, water, OJ, tea & coffee.

That morning I made a blackberry and apple crisp which I burnt to a crunch. It didn’t get put out but Bill managed to eat it all anyhow over the next few days. When we went out shopping for food Bill had asked us to get flowers for the house; he and Jane particularly wanted freesias, as those were the ones Ella always bought.

Simon came to us on Thursday and the other two of Bill's kids arrived Friday morning as did Bill’s cousin Alison and her husband from Edinburgh. The weather was glorious, English springtime at its very best. Two limousines picked us up at 12:30 and we were only slightly late to the West Road crematorium. This is the second funeral I’ve attended there and so I wasn’t too surprised that the hearse awaited our limos and that Richard, the funeral director who organized Ella’s service with Bill, wore a top hat and tails and walked in front of the hearse the short distance from the gate to the entrance to the chapel. He then escorted us family to the seats at the front.

Bill’s selection from Mozart played while the coffin was place on a curtained dais at the front. Four ‘Friends’ from the Newcastle Quaker Meeting House were seated in a row facing us. The man – a grey bearded man with long eyebrows and an Abe Lincoln face – stood and did a brief introduction, explaining how the Quaker service was conducted and gave a brief synopsis of Ella’s life, mentioning her children and grandchildren. He announced that everyone was invited back to Bill’s house for food after the service. He then sat down.

After a moment Bill stood and read a poem, The Listeners, which had meaning for him and Jane. Ella had learned it in primary school and all her life, even up until Jane’s last visit in November last year, could recite it in full. Ella liked reciting poetry and Bill tends to be drawn towards poetry books as well and is given to reciting odd bits here and there for his own satisfaction.

After a moment Jane stood and read a prayer that her daughter, Jenny, had sent with her for Grandma’s funeral. She thanked God for many things, including Grandma’s stubborn nature and quirky personality, which was a nice way to put it. After Jane sat down and moment passed, Simon stood and shared his memories of being allowed to make any disgusting sandwich combination he liked to eat (like corned beef and peanut butter), something not allowed at home; also that she let him knock around with wood and nails in the garage and make odd and useless pieces which she sometimes displayed and admired. I guess it is fairly common that people who struggle with parenting often are able to make a much better job of grand parenting.

After a moment, Dorothy stood and gave her testimonial concerning Ella. Dorothy is the Friend who had stayed in touch with Ella even after she left Newcastle and no longer attended church, who ironically lived next door to the Abbeyfield House where Ella ended up. Dorothy has a wonderful deep voice and a beautiful accent which give her a great deal of gravitas which I imagine she’s had all her adult life, not just as she grew older. One just tends to sit up straighter when she speaks.

Dorothy said that Ella demonstrated faithfulness and integrity in her life. She said Ella never stood in a Meeting and ministered, that was not for her; her service was in other ways. Dorothy said it was valuable that when they had events that served food, one could count on Ella to bring her date slice if she said she would. Ella always did what she said she would, showing up on time and doing her part. Several people remarked after the service that they’d forgotten about Ella’s date slice, but that was apparently ‘her dish’ for these occasions, much like spice cake has become mine. Dorothy went on to say that Ella had integrity in that she would never dress up or varnish her words for any one, she was always herself in all situations. I think several people smiled at this characterization as well as Jenny’s.

After another moment, a man seated on the other side of the aisle with several of the staff from Abbeyfield, Brian, stood to talk about his memories about Ella. I gathered he was also a Quaker and had known Ella particularly from her time at Abbeyfield where they sometimes held meetings, but I'm not certain. Brian's sharing was fairly worrying as he didn’t seem to have a plan for what we was going to say, he went on a fair length and several times when he’d seemed to me to have reached a stopping point he didn’t seem to know it, but took another breath and continued. We all hung on every word and wished the Friends had a form of the crook supposedly used in vaudevillian days. I’m not sure what he meant to say but he finally stopped and sat down.

We only had a half hour slot reserved, not thinking there would be many at the funeral and that time was now about up. The Friends at the front remained seated but shook hands with one another in turn. The curtains in front of the coffin slowly closed, something I found incredibly symbolic. The music came on again and we filed out of the chapel. Bill and Jane greeted the others as they emerged. We were given the choice of moving down to a garden area or of getting into the limos then, as the next funeral service was awaiting use of the chapel. We went into the limos and found ourselves amazed that it was all over and done so quickly.

When we arrived home, I got everyone to stand for a group picture, remembering the group pictures Rita took after my Mom’s and Grandmother’s funerals which were the very rare occasions when the wider family gathered. Then we went in and I started putting food on the table. I was grateful for the pre-planning we’d done and things seemed to go quite smoothly.

The one thing Jane and I both forgot was about Brits and their tea. We’d planned to make the coffee and tea after people had eaten the food, so serve with dessert. What I should have remembered is that a ‘nice cuppa tea’ is the antidote to every ail, or any problem in the world to a Brit. So when Nora, Bill and Jane’s 95 year old aunt, arrived the first thing she wanted was a cup of tea and so did her son-in-law, Bobby. I guess that’s what happens when couple of foreigners do the catering.

I didn’t have much chance to chat but, truth be told, I was happier hiding in the kitchen doing dishes. I was pretty tired and making chit chat with strangers was more than I was up to. At some point, however, I was looking at a 1920 picture of the three daughters: Ella, Mary (never married) and Dorothy (mother of Alison and Diana). Then I discovered that Alison was into genealogy big style and the conversation really got going with exchange of email addresses and promises of scanned pictures. I’ve a feeling we’ll be going up to Edinburgh not too long from now to visit not just Sarah but Alison and Bob.

They left soon after that to beat the traffic back up to Scotland. We learned ages later that in fact Chris had caught Alison and Bob just outside the front door and held them like flies in a spider’s web – one of his major talents for unsuspecting souls still trying to be polite. However, they did eventually manage to get away and they won after all: Chris couldn’t actually say they had invited him and Jane to come up and stay at their place.

I did end up having a plate of food and visiting with Bobby and Bill’s children gathered in the dining room. Auntie Nora was holding court in the living room. Eventually everyone left but Simon, Rhiannon and Sarah who were staying with us; Helen and Martin got a room at a B&B in Tynemouth for Friday and Saturday night.

Several times we had occasion to remark and wonder that all the strange rituals around a death did turn out to be blessings, strangely enough. Jane and Bill found the viewing of Ella at rest to be comforting, preparing of food and house for guests kept our minds and hands too busy to fret, the gathering of friends and family was pleasant and cheering in spite of the occasion.

As always, everyone promised to do better at staying in touch. We’ll see how that goes…

Saturday, 21 March 2009

And You Thought Nigella was Sexy...

It looks as though I'll need to go back to the library if I'm to tell you the name of the book I want to tell you about; that's the book that made me buy another book after finding the second book in another library. Confusing, isn't it?

It was a couple of years ago when I got bored with fiction and went on a women's biography reading kick. Biographies because I wanted to see what other people had done with their lives that was apparently worth writing about; women because I may have been looking for a role model. I read a biography and an autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt and learned that each could be illuminating. I read an authorised and an unauthorised version about someone else and found the latter are far more interesting. I read about Goldie Hawn and Hillary Clinton and many others I can't name though I knew the names when I chose the books.

Then there were many I read about women I'd never heard of before. I read about some woman found living in a house in the Yorkshire Dales without utilities, still tending cattle through the winters into her 80's; her hardships and independence were impressive. I read about two women who bought an island off the coast and made a living growing daffodils and about another lone woman who worked a croft on a bare western isle of Scotland. I didn't need to have heard of the person, the book just had to catch my interest and so I found the biography of Elizabeth David. These articles tell you a bit about her. Suffice it to say she lived an interesting life.

So when I found her cookbooks at the Lit Phil library near my office, I found a great way to spend my lunch hours. She doesn't just give you a recipe, she gives you her opinions and outlook as well.
I haven't actually used her recipes as yet, but I do feel much more confident about experimenting with food and throwing things together, which is probably the main reason I really enjoy cooking now.

Also, set in the time when she first published, just after WWII, I can easily see why they were so popular. As the links indicate, rationing continued in post-war Britain far longer than elsewhere. Traditional British food is nothing I would aspire to learn to cook. I'm not a big fan of kippers or pork pie, Yorkshire or black pudding. One can only consume so much fish and chips or so many pasties before ballooning to enormous size. Deprivation and hardship as a contribution to winning the war would be one thing; rationing and scarcity after it was supposedly won would have been another.

When they were published, reading her books was like a Mediterranean holiday, a vicarious visit to another lifestyle. During the last years of work I needed more than the usual number of vacations and her books were just the ticket.

You'd enjoy a Mediterranean holiday, wouldn't you?

Friday, 20 March 2009

How to Visit a Museum

10 Steps to Fashion Freedom is a book I have enjoyed, though I would be the first to admit it probably has a lot of twaddle in it. However, it did teach me how to see things better. One of the steps they recommend is to have an aesthetic field trip. They suggest choosing a place you've not been before. Some ideas include:
  • an art museum
  • an ethnic neighbourhood
  • an "old" part of town
  • a hip and happening area [some may have to travel further than others to find this...]
  • an up-market shopping area
  • an antique shop
  • an art and photographic gallery
  • a furniture shop
  • a home furnishings or fabric store
They tell you to
  • make an appointment with yourself
  • choose your companion carefully or go alone
  • adopt a positive attitude about the trip
  • dress comfortably and appropriately
  • take a journal or small notebook
  • roam around
  • leave if you don't like the music, atmosphere or a person, ie staff
  • be open-minded, flexible and willing to learn
  • notice what you are drawn to, keeping in mind it may only be part of a whole
  • observe the people
  • be patient with yourself
  • resist buying anything
  • rest when you need to
When you get back home, answer these questions:
  1. Were you engaged in the experience, or were you purely an observer? Did you feel the need to be entertained or were you able to generate your own excitement?
  2. Did you enjoy being in places where many objects were clustered in one area -- for example, one wall with ten paintings, a furniture shop crowded with furniture -- or were you happier in an environment with one piece of sculpture occupying a vast space? In short, did you like crowded spaces or minimalist spaces?
  3. Did you like quiet environments, or did you prefer the hustle and bustle of busy environments?
  4. If you were in a shop, did you notice the music? Did you like it? Did you prefer high-energy or calm and melodic sounds?
  5. What about smells?
  6. What objects, things, colours or textures do you remember the most? What specifically has stayed with you?
  7. Were you inspired by anything? If so, what and why?
  8. Was there anything that you saw that you would like to learn more about? What is it? Why?
  9. What did you dislike? Why?
  10. What confirmed something you already knew about your taste?
  11. What surprised you?
  12. Did you learn anything about your preference for a particular era?
  13. If you visited a neighbourhood, were you able to soak up the atmosphere? What did you experience? Did anything in particular stay with you?
  14. What were the people like in the places you visited? How did you feel about them? Was there anything memorable about them? How did they make you feel about yourself?
  15. What is the most important thing you learned from your trip?

It all sounds a bit airy-fairy, I know, but I typed up these questions and took them along with me to my first trip to the Bowes Museum. I was bowled over at what I saw and when we sat in the cafe and had some coffee and a scone, I looked over the questions and made some notes. I felt as though I got 1,000 times more pleasure from our visit, approaching it as an academic exercise.

The aim is to learn more about what you like and don't like as one of the steps to choosing appropriate clothes for yourself. I can't truthfully say this has changed much about how I purchase clothing, but it certainly has made visiting interesting places and watching visually-rich films a much greater pleasure. I would highly recommend this exercise to anyone, which of course is why I took the trouble of sharing it.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

By Design

I'm often amused by people's fascination with 'designer' clothes. I once worked with a woman whose husband bought her an Armani scarf for her birthday. It was very nice, but she needed to show me the label before I came up with the expected response. I once had a friend whose life's aspiration was to own an Armani suit. She was a lovely person but given her height and weight an Armani suit was never going to look like the picture I'm sure she had in her head. Even if she were tall and svelte, the way I look at it Giorgio already has more than enough money, why should she give him a lot more than she can really afford? Anyhow, Bill often comments that all clothing was designed by someone, so technically it's all 'designer'.

Design relates to virtually everything in our material world, when you think about it. (I passed a display of 'designer toilet paper' in Wilkinsons last week, I kid you not.) This whole subject came to me when I foolishly purchased a digital scale for the kitchen. Granted, it gives me a specific number instead of leaving me to squint and estimate, as did the previous scale. I can have the number in pounds, ounces or grams; but to get there I have to unscrew and remove the flat glass plate, push a button to turn it on, screw the plate back on, push the button to clear its weight, put on a dish to hold the food I want weighed, push the button to clear its weight, add the food and choose my units of measurement. I have to hope the scale stays awake (it has automatic shut-off) long enough and of course the food is getting cooler by the minute. The scale has a signature scrawled across it: Antony Worral Thompson, who I gather is a 'famous' chef (I've never heard of him before). Honestly, given the really crap design of 'his' scale, I wouldn't let him tell me how to boil water and I'll run in the opposite direction of anything else that bears his name.

In contrast, when we were on holiday last summer in the US, the gang bought a 'jar' of Nescafe coffee. I liked the container well enough to bring it back and I've refilled and used it ever since we returned. It is simple brown plastic with an attached lid that releases when you squeeze near the top. If I'm in a hurry I can open the coffee with my left hand whilst wielding a spoon in my right. I love my coffee container and I'll be sad when it wears out.

Bill's room at the Holiday Inn Express in Hull has a great toilet door. When it is shut, well, the bathroom is closed off. When it is full open, it shuts on just the toilet, leaving the shower and sink available for others to use. It has that ingenious simplicity that I think is a sure sign of good design.

Bill's Citroen C-3 and Simon's Audi A3 had those sorts of clever details: (not toilet doors) functional, clever features, like more places to plug in electronic gadgets than just a single cigarette lighter, windscreen wipers that pivot from the outside edges and clear more space and give equal attention to the passenger and driver sides (useful when you don't know on which side the driver might sit).

Bill bought a new dish draining rack for the kitchen sink a while back. It's a modern looking stainless steel thing. For the cutlery, he bought an oval shaped thing that looks good, but allows the cutlery to slide through the sides at the bottom unless the pieces are placed carefully; I can't be bothered with it. I poked holes in the bottom of a tin can to drain cutlery; Bill hates my invention even more than I hate his purchase.

Going back to clothes, one of the many books I have on the subject is 10 Steps to Fashion Freedom. The authors say that good quality design does not necessarily mean 'designer clothes' and an expensive designer item is not necessarily well designed. They go on to say that one of the hallmarks of good design is practicality. Any garment that includes a button or zip that has no practical use is not well designed. According to them, the essense of good design is a passsion for understatement and that understated clothes are the epitome of sophistication.

I can't claim to look sophisticated, but I've learned a lot from this book and not just about clothes. I plan to write more about it -- and to add it to my Amazon store!

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Life and Death

Seems like far longer than a week has passed, but that is probably because it has been so busy. Jane and Chris arrived from Australia on Saturday. In preparation for their arrival we had to re-arrange a couple of rooms as we don't normally have guest accommodation other than the couch and a blanket. We went for a big food shop on Friday, the first really since the holidays.

Bill was busy notifying people and institutions about Ella's death. I went with him to the funeral home where the undertaker walked us through a long list of decisions. I chose to go on the basis that I might have to know how to do this one day and experience stands one in good stead. There's not a great deal of difference other than having a lot of runaround to get the death certificate sorted and registered. I was once again reminded that convenience is not part of British culture. Notices of death are considered in good taste, I gather, a biographical obituary is not. If the service is not in a church, there is no leaflet given out with pictures or poetry. The main difference I noticed was that the funeral service staff were quite chipper and cheerful, not at all the grave, lugubrious type you get in the States.

Once Jane arrived she began accompanying Bill on such business. This left me to keep Chris company. That is a whole other story. If you know Chris, you'll know just what I mean.

Bill and Jane are both doing pretty well. They have their sad moments, like when Bill went to buy music for the service (Mozart) and the song playing in the store was one his Dad used to often sing. Another was the last moment in Ella's room at Abbeyfield.

The weather has been gorgeous for a change. Not terrifically warm, in the 60's maybe, but with beautiful sunshine and, after a night of howling East wind, very soft breezes. Jane and Chris keep exclaiming about all the crocuses and daffodils, as those don't grow well in Sydney and they are actually a stereotypical idea of spring in England. My daffs that I planted in pots 2 years ago have actually bloomed this year in spite of being abused and ignored all these months.

We've made several trips to Abbeyfield to remove Ella's things. I took the opportunity to take some pictures, mainly because I always thought Ella very lucky to live in such a pretty place with really nice staff. She had moved from her big house in West Denton to a 2-bedroomed ground floor flat

in North Shields for several years, to one room, with a sink that allowed for tea-making and a half bath at Abbeyfield in North Shields and then to Abbeyfield in Gosforth. She has gradually shed her possessions with each of those moves, but it still took 4 car loads to shift her things here.

There are several pieces of furniture we have shoehorned into an already packed house, but will enjoy: a card table with a top that swivels to reveal the box underneath. I associate this piece of furniture with Ella the most, as the most time I spent in her company was drinking tea or coffee and there was a certain routine she had of getting things out of that table. There is a gate leg table that has seen better days but is quite quaint: folded down it is a small rectangular shape, but lift the wings, move the legs and hey-presto, you have an oval shaped table at which two people could have a meal.

The main thing, though, is a bureau that Bill often pointed out to me, saying "That will be mine one day." It is beautiful wood and has housed Ella's keepsakes for a very long time. I suggested locating it next to my usual chair as Bill would normally sit across and could look up at it. Fortunately it comes apart and is relatively easy to move, unlike my Grandmother's china cabinet. It has drawers, a fold out desk with all the usual cubby holes and drawers, and the shelves behind lovely glass doors. I think it gave Bill a bittersweet satisfaction to clean and polish the bureau and to select and place the keepsakes on the shelves.

Jane and Chris are gone today on a day trip to Durham, which is probably beautiful just now. It's always pleasant and peaceful to walk along the River Wear in the spring. I'm sitting down to do this blog and Bill is no doubt playing Spider on his laptop downstairs.

Tomorrow will be a day of tidying and cooking for the clan that will gather here after the funeral service on Friday. Saturday is Bill's birthday and Sunday is Mothering Sunday -- the British version of

Mother's Day. The timing is both unfortunate and positive: Bill's children normally just send him birthday cards, but they will all be staying over and spending Saturday with him and he is looking forward to that.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Peaceful Ending

Bill's Mom, Ellen, passed away this evening, in her bed at Abbeyfield. She looked peacefully asleep. The staff there have been lovely and Bill is coping well.

Out to Lunch

Vivien and I met for lunch last week at a place I've long been curious about, the Milkhope Centre on the Blagdon Estate. I've been vaguely aware of Blagdon having driven past it for the 4 years I worked out of Morpeth, some of my best years at work over here. I also did the New Year's Day Morpeth to Newcastle race a few years. The route took us past Blagdon Hall down the old A-1 highway. There were sometimes guns being fired behind the stone walls as I ran past, which always made me a bit nervous. Unrelated to this, on New Years Day there was a fox hunt which also departed from the Morpeth Town Hall and it was an interesting mix of several hundred runners gathering inside with numerous horses with red-coated riders gathering outside. Unfortunately, the race is now history; also the hunt (as in all hunts).

Also, as part of my work, I reviewed the planning application for an open cast mine that will operate near there sometime in the future. The property is owned by Lord Ridley. I'm guessing that between him and the Duke of Northumberland (of Alnwick Castle, where Harry Potter learned to fly his broom), they own most of that County.

I hadn't seen Vivien since her birthday which came shortly after her retirement, near Christmas. We had a delicious lunch (she had soup; I had leek and bacon quiche) in the cafe which was much larger and busier than I'd anticipated. It was a great place to people watch as the customers were mostly of a certain age and, though casually dressed, looked rather well off -- I saw several gorgeous suede jackets and lots of leather boots. Then we poked our way through all the shops. Turns out we're both pretty good at looking but not buying, though I did see a number of things that were tempting.

The Milkhope Centre is one of several farm properties on the estate and whilst the main house was still there and looked occupied, the stone barns surrounding the areas of hardstanding - the yards -- are now occupied by businesses and shops rather than animals and feed.

In one of the shops we both marvelled at some of the tat and got some ideas for future gifts. You can see it all for yourself right here. I find myself often thinking "I could make that" and so I don't buy the item, but then I never get around to making it either. This is a great tactic for saving money and clutter!

The clothing shop, weirdly named "Get Smart" was also interesting -- full of both wonderful and awful clothes at prices I wouldn't even consider, mostly because I haven't the lifestyle. Again, I found several pieces I would love to make sometime. The stone masonry shop was clearly aimed at people with gi-normous gardens and houses, but was still great to look through.

We both had a great afternoon, catching up with each other and doing something fun for the princely price of £10 between us. We decided we quite like garden centres -- the typical hangout for little old ladies in Britain -- and Vivien's going to make a list of them (a woman after my own heart) and we will work our way through it.