Sunday, 31 May 2009

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday to me! I share this birthdate with a few notable people, including:

Walt Whitman, 1819

Norman Vincent Peale, 1898
Don Ameche, 1908
Clint Eastwood, 1930
Joe Namath, 1943
Lea Thompson, 1961
Brooke Shields, 1965

Don't you think that's generous of me? (Put me somewhere in between Namath & Thompson...)

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Beamish Open Air Museum

Beamish is another place I've heard about a long time, meant to go see, but just never did until this past holiday weekend. I'm glad I waited after all, because what I saw there was so much more interesting after having visited Dalry and buried my head in the lifestyle of miners in Victorian times.

It was the first day I've gone without a sweater or waterproof covering, the weather was really lovely, and a lot of other people also seemed to have realised that it was a good day on which to visit an open air museum. The queue was probably the longest I've stood in for years.

Beamish, in County Durham, has 300 acres on which buildings have been gathered -- as in de- and re- constructed-- to join some that were already located there. We spent nearly 4 hours there and only covered the colliery village, but that's how it goes when you stop and take a picture or 10 every 2 minutes. See how much I think about you guys?

Right. Let's see how much of this stuff I can remember. Those red buildings are the pithead. The steam-powered train does a short run back and forth so you can see where the cars line up underneath. Inside the building is the elevator that takes men down into the mine shaft and brings up the bins full of coal and mining waste. The coal goes into the train cars after it has been picked over by boys or elderly miners. If a tub -- which normally weighed around half a tonne -- contained more than 20 pounds of waste, the miner was fined!

The waste goes along the bridge over to the refuse heap on the far left. I was interested in all this this because one of my ancestors is listed on a Census record in Dalry as a 'pithead labourer'.

On this board, a miner hung his numbered tag to show he was down the mine (I wonder if that's why they always say around here 'down the pub' or 'down the town' omitting the word 'to'). I found it chilling to learn that the miner's payroll number tags went also on his lamp, into the tub of coal he hewed so as to be credited for his work, and one remained with him, in the event of his body needing to be identified.

It was difficult to tell, so much paint was missing from the sign, but Bill reckoned there had been a fore shift (3 - 10.30 AM), a back shift (9:30AM - 5PM), a night shift (4PM - 11.30 PM) and a 10PM shift (10PM - 5.30 AM). I had to make myself get close enough to actually look down the mine shaft. I simply cannot imagine going down into a hole half a mile under the surface at any time, but especially not starting out in the dark of night. For some reason that just makes it seem even more unbearable.

Friday, 29 May 2009

English Social History

At this writing I am not quite half way through a fascinating book: English Social History, A Survey of Six Centuries, Chaucer to Queen Victoria, by G.M. Trevelyan, published 1942.

"Oh, fascinating", I hear you thinking. But it really is. The author is quick to explain that social history is somewhere between economic history and political history; social history describes what life was like for everyday people. It is like reading some historical novel without the bodice ripping; it's a rags to riches (or the reverse) without the individual romance. To make up for not supplying the juicier bits, this book does far better: I'm finding the missing links in my understanding of English history. Yes, I'll still love
Forever Amber and the movies Braveheart and Robin Hood, but I love even more having a better understanding of how things fit together and why.

Also, I'm finding words used in a different context, finding words that are more common around this part of the world used in their original sense, learning more about some of the architectural wonders in my very backyard, so to speak. And, guess what I'm going to be telling you about over the next few weeks...or months? Sorry about that (I'm not really).

The book begins with Chaucer's England: 1340 - 1400. The Black Plague first reached England in 1348-9. There was a feudal system in place, with only upper and lower classes: lords and peasants. Peasants were tied to the land and had no salary, as such, but they also had certain rights as well. However, because there was limited land and so many people, they had no bargaining power. They lived at a level that literally made a hot meal a luxury.

The Plague removed as much as one-third of England's population and turned the tables on the lords. Now there was not enough labour and too much land to manage without it, at least in the old way. The labourers were no longer tied to the land and began to travel; they also expected to be paid for their work.

This resulted in the more forward looking of the peasants to become yeomen farmers, who managed large tracts of land on behalf of the lords, bargaining with the peasant labourers, enclosing farm lands and building up their own wealth. In short, establishing a middling class.

My new word for you is 'demesne' - pronounced duhMAIN (It's French, but from the Latin
dominium. It caught my eye because I've visited the small museum at Woodhorn Colliery in Northumberland and one of the place names up there is Woodhorn Demesne. I never could remember how to say the name, but I'll remember it now. In Trevelyan's book, it explains that the lord kept the best of his agricultural land for himself, rather than for his serfs. However, as part of their contract, his serfs were required to spend certain days working his demesne, which they did so grudgingly.

And now, because you've been good and read all

the way to this point, I'll share with you some pretty pictures, taken on the day I

went hunting for pink snow. These are of Tynemouth Golf Course

and one of the houses nearby.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Artistic Parsnip

Being the lazy, ignorant, sporadic gardener that I am, there are generally at least 3 or 4 things growing out there that I haven't a clue what they are. Sometimes Bill makes an accurate identification, but not always.

The problem with root vegetables is that the useful information (for me anyhow) is buried and so once you've 'unearthed' the information, one is stuck with the result.

This one was a particular surprise. In doing some quick reading, I gather the soil is not sufficiently sandy (which is odd, us living at the coast) and that this parsnip must have encountered an obstacle that made it branch out and stop growing.

Pretty ugly isn't it? When I first picked it, though, I was thinking it looked rather....artistic.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Green Market Shopping

I don't think I shop like most people over here. Folks seem to either slavishly attend the supermarket they feel most closely identifies the class of people with whom they wish to be associated -- I wish I were joking, but I'm not. Over here where you shop for food actually labels you and I know women who look down at others (me, for example) for shopping in a less prestigious supermarket. I laugh at them just as I laugh at the prices they are paying at Sainsburys or Marks & Spencers.

Some people use their village shops: the baker, butcher and green grocer all being separate. This might be because public transport takes them there, or it may be that they've found that establishing a relationship with the local butcher gets you the best special order turkey at Christmas, and the like. This may be the best option if your transport is limited and you have time to shop little and often. I'm not sure the prices are the best, however, and these shops are suffering fierce competition with the larger supermarkets. Not every village has a full complement of shopping facilities anymore.

Another option is to use the newer, smaller supermarket's that have a name for being inexpensive. I know some of these have branches in the US: Aldi, Nettos, Lidl. They put out weekly flyers advertising their 'sales'. These are not the same as the loss leader items in the flyers I got in the US. I find that they are overly liberal with their use of words such as 'only' 'extra' and 'sale'. I trust what my price book tells me over their words. [If you don't have as much money as you would like, I would urge you to develop a price book.] There are some good deals to be had, however, if you know enough to recognise them.

I seem to do a little of each. My shopping days start at a street called Double Row, in Seaton Delaval, about 8 miles north of us.

There are a group of shops, one of which is a green grocer, another a butcher and finally a funny little corner shop that sells a bit of everything; there aren't many great deals there, but I generally poke around just in case.

I first learned about Double Row from Bill, when he mentioned the price his care home in Blakelaw paid for meats from Prime Cut compared with our local supermarket. We went one day to check it out and I've gone back ever since.

I mentioned in the past that I don't do weekly menus, but more fortnightly (that's a commonly used word over here, meaning 2 weeks, or 14-nights). Beans and fish are the more frequently recurring sources of protein I aim to serve, with cheese and meat the least common. I try to have a little bit of everything on hand at all times and when you buy chicken breasts 10 pounds at a time and make a meal for two out of one large breast, it takes a while to run out. What we eat more than anything is fruit and veg and so I'm delighted to have found Laidlers.

Last Friday I paid £17.91 for:

a small box of strawberries
2.15kg (4.7lbs) of carrots
10 kiwi fruit
3.676kg (8.1) of onions
10 satsumas
a large cucumber
1.21kg (2.67) beetroot
.904kg (1.99) mushrooms
.56kg parsnips
2 packets of radishes
2 small boxes of cherry tomatoes on the vine
2 large bell peppers - 2 red and 2 yellow
1 bunch of asparagus,
a bag of red seedless grapes and
2 heads of broccoli
(pounds in parentheses for non-metric readers)

This will last us at around 2-3 weeks. The race to eat it all before it goes off helps keep our eating very healthy and of course this is supplemented with produce from the garden.. If necessary, I blanch and freeze the veg or just freeze the fruit for later use in spice cake.

I didn't need anything from the butchers and so proceded to Morrisons, the supermarket nearest me and one whose prices compare very favourably with other big chains, such as Tesco or Sainsburys. Morrisons bought out Safeway a few years ago, a name I knew in the US.

Morrisons is on my way home from Double Row. There I bought everything I put on my list when it ran out: bread making supplies, condiments, oatmeal, tinned and frozen vegetables, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, etc. I've done the price per unit comparison on most everything and though their prices have risen, they are still lower than comparable supermarkets. (I check on them now and then.) However, their fruit and veg prices -- with the exception of bananas -- are well above what I pay at Seaton Delaval.

Then I proceeded to Nettos in North Shields, only about a mile out of my way. I bought a couple of jars of coffee at about half of what Morrison's wants. For a long time Nettos had milk for 5 - 24p cheaper than other stores, but they've caught up now. I picked up a couple of boxes of (sinful, I know!) macaroni & cheese. It's one of the few convenience foods I buy, mainly because it reminds me of home and I absolutely love the stuff, even though Bill isn't certain it qualifies as actual food. I notice he eats it, though. It saves me buying a whole brick of cheese when cheese is on the menu. We have never managed to resist consuming the things within a couple of days unless I grate it all up and freeze it quickly!

Doing my shopping at those 3 stores takes me a couple of hours every 3-4 weeks. The two of us eat very well on only £50-60 a month, what most many people pay per week -- or for a meal out! I plan to carry on in this way where ever I live, seeking out the green markets or farmers markets, the best deals at supermarkets and finding the thrify shops. I think it makes purchasing food more fun and far less painful.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Happy Spring Bank Holiday?

Today is a bank holiday Monday. I still haven't after all these years got my head around bank holidays and what they are for. Apparently it's not just about when banks are closed -- and of course they are on these days -- but also about the original legislation dating back to 1871 and whether current employment law requires essential emergency employees to be compensated for working those days or not. That's all I'm going to say about the matter except that in 1871 a Sir John Lubbock introduced the Bank Holidays Act because he really liked cricket and thought bank employees should be able to attend matches when they were scheduled. I suppose that's as good a reason as any.

I've long been bemused by the fact that the US Embassy in London is shut both on American and British holidays. Different parts of Britain, being different countries, celebrate different holidays. I do my business in London and they have 15 public holidays. However, the embassies at Dublin and Edinburgh enjoy 19 public holidays, in addition to having more interesting accents. Just imagine having all these days off:

1 Jan

New Years Day


2 Jan

Hogmanay Bank Holiday


19 Jan

Martin Luther King's BD


16 Feb

Washington's Birthday


17 Mar

St Patrick's Day


10 Apr

Good Friday


13 Apr

Easter Monday


4 May

May Bank Holiday


18 May

Victoria Day


25 May

Spring Bank Holiday / Memorial Day


1 Jun

June Bank Holiday


3 Jul

Independence Day


3 Aug

Summer Bank Holiday


7 Sep

Labor Day


21 Sep

Autumn Bank Holiday

US (?)

26 Oct

October Bank Holiday


11 Nov

Veterans Day


26 Nov



25 Dec

Christmas Day


26 Dec

St. Stephens / Boxing Day


Having looked at all this, I can't help but wonder what sort of holidays they get at the offices of the European Union? Could explain why it takes them so long to get anything done...

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Trading Up

I'm still quite new to the world of selling on the Internet and it still amazes me that it actually works! To date I've listed 3 pieces of jewellery and sold 2 (for 35 p and £2.70, each with a listing price of 1p). Of the 20 or so books I've listed on Amazon, 7 have sold, one within a couple of hours. I still have tons to list but it does take me ages - nearly an hour per item on Ebay, though Amazon is a bit easier.

However, you can only list items Amazon actually sell new, and the books must be identical to what is listed. I have several books that came free with Eve magazine and,frankly, I can see why they were given away. On those in place of an ISBN number, it says NOT FOR RESALE. I could list them on Ebay, but I thought why not find books more likely to sell from the ones on off to trade at the pub?

So I took a picture and did some research. I've found 5 books that look like they might sell; 4 of which after looking them up look quite good to read as well! That's not cheating, is it? I call it making an 'informed choice.'

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Washing Dishes

In the early pages of her memoirs, Madeleine Albright describes a home economics class that taught the proper order of washing dishes. I think I encountered this information in school as well, but it's so long ago, I've forgotten what they told me. There was a TV show on here in Britain one time that talked about how to wash dishes (and I actually watched it -- how sad is that?). The only thing I remember from that was that Asian women were amazed to learn that British women don't rinse their dishes. Which is true, Brits don't; and to be honest, I don't bother too much with it either anymore, except for the glass ware and the odd dish that needs it.

Just to make washing the dishes a bit more interesting the other day, I tried to remember and practice Madeleine's advice. I think it went something like:

small china
large china
pots and pans

That's all well and good, but when am I supposed to wash my 'tupperware' (small t because it's no such brand), my plastic baggies, the glass jars and tin cans that I'm recycling (I call it washing dishes for the Council), the yoghurt pots I'm going to use for seedlings?

I hope that modern day home ec classes have more up to date information!

Friday, 22 May 2009

Hunting Ancestors - Part II

Continuing on from my story yesterday about our weekend at Dalry, in Scotland, this is the burn in which we cousins imagine our ancestors cooling off on a Sunday afternoon.

Bill thought it possible that this wall

just in front of that burn might be a remnant of the miners' cottages, as the ground level behind is much lower than in front. The area looks lovely and green now,

but back then there will have been an abundance of smoke and fumes from the coal burned to run industries and heat houses, from iron smelting and the mills, and later the brick works, which used refuse from the coal and ironstone mining as material along with local clay. I always find it uplifting to see windfarms,

particularly when you think of it as an advance on coal. There are strict air quality controls in most urban areas of Britain now, but in the wilds of Northumberland there are villages without mains gas and many of those houses still heat with coal or wood. I like the smell of wood smoke, but coal smoke stinks.

I was pleased to see that the site of the former ironstone pit at the north end of Pitcon Mains Farm is now planted and will be Pitcon Woodlands one day.

Bill pointed out the 'bings', marked on the historical map as 'refuse heaps'. That brown area on the 'hill' behind the wooded area is mining refuse, a major contribution to the landscape of Britain, though probably few today realise what they are seeing. Had Bill not been along with me to point these things out, I'm sure I would never have guessed either.

In town, about a mile south of Burnside/Borestone/Pitcon, we also found the town hall,

the library

and the Catholic church,

which all would have been there in the 1880s.

We found our way to Glasgow Vennel (a street name -- "vennel" apparently being a fancy French word for the less elegant 'alley').

It has been returned to how it would have looked when Robert Burns lodged in one of the houses there, 1781-2.

All of Ayrshire makes a very big deal of it's favourite son and main claim to fame. Having read about how he treated his wife and died in poverty after having achieved so much, I'm afraid I think he was a bit of a waster, though he did do good poetry.

Cottages in Glasgow Vennel are weavers' cottages, very like in size to miners' cottages.

My main -- truth be known, my only -- interest in Glasgow Vennel was the North Ayrshire Family History Library, which was totally wonderful except for the frustrating fact that I didn't have weeks and weeks to spend there. It is the least expensive and most useful family history library I've seen yet here in Britain and I must go back there some time.

I've put all the photos - good and bad -- onto Photobucket. If you're interested in seeing them, send me an email and I'll give you the link.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Hunting Ancestors - Part I

The family branches I share with my cousins, Sharon in Western Australia and Sandra in California were, between the late 1840's and early 1880's, immigrants from Northern Ireland, fleeing the famine to be ironstone miners in Dalry, North Ayrshire in Scotland. As Dalry is only a couple hundred miles from me, near the coast west from Glasgow, I felt I really ought to go look at the place and see what I could find. So that's just what we did last weekend.

It was a wet drive up and, wanting to share the trip with my

cousins, I took many rain splattered images from the car. I'd never

before appreciated how much paraphernalia on the car and windscreen were going to conspire to interfere with my efforts.

Bill kept pointing out examples of modernised cottages and I always responded,

taking pictures to the point where I admitted to being cottaged-out.

Armed with an enlarged historical map from the internet and having purchased local street maps when we arrived, Bill and I located the road juncture labelled Burnside, along side of Borestone Repairs (a garage), the only evidence of the name for a row of miner's houses where my great-grandfather was born in 1855. Some of the buildings, now a B&B and a farm-cum-kennel, remained. I didn't know until our return that some of the family who had remained in Scotland after others had gone to America and/or Australia, eventually lived at the place that now breeds boxers.

Though many of the houses in the area look as though they might have been some miners' cottages that had been knocked together to form more modern sized accommodation, the rowhouses of my mining ancestors had been long torn down.

Putting letters on the historical map and labelling the pictures with the letters and directions to share the findings proved to be a fun challenge, as well as writing up a travelogue. That story included a scary encounter with a big, belligerent, skin-headed & earringed Scot after a little driving disagreement. Road rage is alive and well in this part of the world. Bill tried to suggest he might be one of my distant relations, but I'm not having it. I will admit, however, that to survive the life they led, they will like have been at least equally as hard.

The details of genealogical research only really fascinate the descendents, but perhaps a little history and a bit of culture might be of interest. We found this description of the miners' living conditions in Carsehead, about 2 miles East:

DESCRIPTION OF CARSEHEAD ROWS, DALRY. [From "Ayrshire Miners' Rows, 1913" Evidence submitted to the Royal Commission on Housing (Scotland) by THOMAS McKERRELL and JAMES BROWN for the Ayrshire Miners' Union.]

1st Row. Wm. Baird & Co. Closets without doors. The first row contains 14 two apartment houses built of stone. The kitchen measures approximately 14 feet by 11 feet and the room 8 feet by 6 feet, and there is a cupboard which contains a set-in bed in addition. There are six dry-closets (Note: This is an earth closet, a form of toilet), without doors, for this row. Neither washing-houses nor coalhouses have been provided, but in many cases the people have built these outhouses for themselves. The closets, at the date of our visit, were very dirty, and very difficult of access if one wished to prevent his boots from being soiled. The syvors and cesspools in front of the houses were very dirty. The roadway is unpaved and very muddy. The rent is 1s 6d per week..... In one house we found twelve persons, four of them grown up.....The ashpits are very large, and at the date of our visit filled with very foul material. ....Some of the tenants complained that the houses were troubled with rats, and in the words of one tenant, 'They were rotten with damp.'....The Carsehead Rows have houses floored with the usual sunken, twisted, and cracked brick tiles. The roadways are all unpaved and muddy, and there is a huge mound of black 'blaes' in front of the rows which does not make the prospect any the more pleasing.....[These rows are thought to have built about 1850-1855.]

Another description of the time and place described the difficulty in maintaining good hygiene in these surroundings, the miners generally only able to wash their faces after coming out of the pits; and, the part I liked, the children generally 'innocent' of water. It goes on to explain, as though not obvious, the many reasons why the children have such poor health.

Scotland, of course, was mainly Protestant and the Catholic Irish weren't always particularly welcome:

William Wylie in his "Ayrshire Streams" 1850, paints a vivid picture of life in the Borestone mining community, near Dalry. This attack on the Irish immigrant is scathing. "Too often has the presence of the people from the sister isle acted prejudicially on the native population. They have eaten up our public charities, crowded the calendar of crime to fill our prisons and destroyed the character of Scottish villages. Shadows have darkened into sullen gloomy clouds. Subsisting on the coarsest diet and paucity of apparel, the Irish offer their labour at a lower rate than the Scot". He describes conditions in the hovels by the roadside: "Filth fills the atmosphere with a miasma sufficient to pollute the breezes from the hills. Heaps of ashes and pools of water stagnate at the doors where half-clad, stunted children play around." He talks of vagrancy, pestilence and disease. Wylie's plaint was cultural, social and economic. Not once did he mention religious difference; nor did he appear to have much understanding of the conditions from which these people had fled.

Of course, the Irish suffered the same difficulties as any wave of unwanted immigrants. It is difficult to imagine that conditions were worse in Ireland, but I suppose work, however dirty and dangerous, is always preferable to starvation.

So now you have a picture of the miners' lives, turn your attention if you will to this: The Blair Mines, one of several companies in the area, were owned by the Blairs, who lived at Blair House. There have been Blairs there since nearly the time of William the Conquerer (the first portion being constructed in 1105) and the house (Castle) is apparently still in private ownership, descendents of the same Blair family. I don't actually begrudge them their family sucess, but when I first opened their website, the contrast of those pictures to the ones in my mind of the miners' lives was quite startling.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009


My next door neighbour is a lovely little old lady named Dorothy. She has beautiful long white hair that she always wears up and brown eyes I think they call claret; I'm certain she was a real beauty in her day. Her husband, long deceased, was an engineer for DeBeers (diamond mines) and they lived for a long while in South Africa; she has no children. Dorothy is as sweet as they come.

Dorothy's sister, Margery, moved in with her a couple of years ago, probably to make visiting and caring for them easier for the nephews and nieces and paid carers. The few afternoons I've gone next door, to pick up packages left by the postman or the like, they always invite one in for a sherry and a chat.

Living in adjoining houses, one does hear noises from next door. Occasionally I hear their phone ring and I can nearly set my watch by the time Dorothy closes her drapes in the front room, the heavy fabric and the brass fittings making a distinctive scraping sound. I've always found it quite companionable rather than annoying at all. The chimney breasts also transmit the Sound of Music, Seven Wives for Seven Brothers and various other evening entertainment while we are eating dinner. Margery is much harder of hearing, though, and lately and the carers come in and shout at her every morning at 7:30, something it has taken us a while to get used to.

A few years ago when we were away on holiday, a pigeon came down through the chimney and got trapped in our dining room. Dorothy was very distressed at watching it fling itself against the windows trying to escape. She warned us when we arrived home and inquired about the bird's welfare. Unfortunately it was dead; Bill, bless him, wouldn't let me see it and cleaned up the mess before letting me back into that room.

I thought back to this one day a few weeks ago when I was sewing in the East Wing. I kept hearing fluttering noises I couldn't explain. The upstairs chimneys into the bedrooms are blocked and the fireplace mantles are just for ornament -- one of my favourite things about this house. The fluttering noise was quite disturbing, and when Bill got home I asked him about whether it might be a bird -- one that didn't squawk or scream at all -- but the noise had stopped.

Some days later, again in the East Wing, I heard scratching and I began to think rats. We do live near a river, after all, but I couldn't begin to imagine a rat with claws that large. The rat of course went quiet in the evening and I think Bill began to wonder if I wasn't going a bit potty sitting in the house by myself so much.

Earlier this week we were both woken twice during the night by the sound of someone banging on a door. One time in passing Margery had commented about a drug addict trying to get into their house - I never knew what to think about that, perhaps she forgot to take her tablets? It's not impossible, mind, but fairly unlikely. However, in the middle of the night that's just what I was thinking. I was in a deep sleep, though, and neither of us got up to look. We dismissed the drug addict idea in the light of day, everything seemed normal next door, but we continued to be mystified. The next night we took care to lock the outside porch, not just the inside front door.

It came to me yesterday, though. The bird and the rat had been explained away by the fact that Dorothy and Margery take care of a niece's dog on occasion. The fluttering was the dog shaking, it was a dog's claws scratching in the back of their closet, not a rat in mine. The banging noise was a tail wagging, probably against a wardrobe, causing a loud reverberation. In all, it's a nice, quiet dog really, but I'm to the point I wish the damn thing would just bark!

Monday, 18 May 2009

Hairy Hangers

I often take my crafting projects with me to the pub we go to after the running club. Some of the guys were asking me what I was making, seeing me fiddling around with a tiny crochet hook and lots of bits inside a large plastic bag. The plastic bag was obviously to keep my lap and the floor around me relatively tidy, but the only way I could really explain what I was doing was to show them the finished product:

This is what happens to off cuts from shortened polyester skirts, odd ends of yarn, bits of sewing thread and 'tails' from the over lock machine, found gloves, short ribbons, leftovers from other crafting projects, etc., etc. Yes, it's crazy and yes, it takes a long time to make one, but I love my 'hairy hangers'.

They make me smile everytime I see them.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Shiver Me Timbers

I happened past the Old Mariners Home the other afternoon and saw a little boy standing on the iron railing, peering through.

His grandfather was obviously pointing out the place to him. "Wonderful building", I offered in passing. The grandpa turned around and said "I told him Old Pirates live there!"

This information comes from a great website which quotes William Whellan & Co., History of Northumberland, 1855:

The Master Mariners' Asylum, built in 1837-8 the Elizabethan style at a cost of £5,100. The Duke of Northumberland gave the site and large quantity of materials employed in building it. It will accommodate eighteen men and their wives, as also fourteen widows, and at present (1854) is fully occupied. A full length statue of the Duke of Northumberland, occupies a niche in the front of the building.

In the course of an outbreak investigation, about a decade ago, I had occasion to speak on the phone to a woman who lived there. When I expressed admiration for the place, she agreed

that it was nice. She said it was now divided into separate flats but still only available to those with maritime connections. Maybe I should send Bill out to sea?

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Rhubarb & Rutabaga

I have sometimes mentioned that coming to England introduced me to a variety of foods I'd never encountered. Rhubarb is one of those. I met it when we had an allotment back around the turn of the century; it was already growing there when we inherited the plot. I thought of this because Dorothy, from the sewing group, has brought bunches of rhubarb from her husband's allotment and having taken a few stalks, I really must get busy and make a rhubarb and apple pie... And may I suggest that for a laugh you read the 'other uses of the word' in the link above?

Another food I never saw or heard of before was this really ugly looking thing:

which over here they call swede (it apparently originates from Sweden); it's a type of turnip. The green market where I shop routinely has a huge crate of them, from which you choose your own for only 25 pence. They are tough as anything to cut up, but when steamed and mashed swede turns a golden yellow and is delicious when mixed with mashed potatoes or mashed carrots.

What flabbergasted me was that when I Googled "swede vegetable" I learned that I had in fact heard of -- but never seen -- it. In the US it's called a rutabaga!

Another one of life's great mysteries solved...

Friday, 15 May 2009

Itchy Scissors

Can someone tell me just what a fabric quilted mattress cover is good for? I ask because having just taken it down from the drying rack, my crafter's brain started ticking.

I'm thinking
new padding for the ironing board (a bathroom towel currently being the only thing preventing Bill from having diamond shapes all over his solid coloured shirts). I'm thinking quilt stuffing (not that I have a front or a back).

I could make coasters (not that we don't already have 2,491. Oh, or what about padding for boxes and birthday cards???

Given that Bill and I are both currently in our most continent phase of life, do we really need a mattress cover? I really want to know -- my scissors are hovering...

Thursday, 14 May 2009


Isn't it amazing what you find on the Internet when you aren't looking for it?

I'm currently reading Madame Secretary, the memoirs of Madeleine Albright. I decided I wanted to go back to reading women's biographies, but couldn't remember how far I'd gotten, so I started back in the A's. Before Madeleine, I read Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece, an authorised biography of Queen Elizabeth's mother in law.

Madeleine is of course originally from Prague and what she writes about the place and of course all the people she's worked with is wonderfully fascinating. It's an easy read, a real page-turner. It's like having a review of most of the major historical events during my life, things I don't tend to pay much attention to when they are happening, but felt guilty that I didn't. I'm getting a chance to catch up!

Anyhow, she wrote that her husband, Joe, left her for another woman, but at some point seemed undecided. He told her that, having been nominated, if he won the Pulitzer Prize he would stay with her, if not he would leave. It made me wonder if he'd ever won it (apparently not to date) and what he was doing now. He came from a fabulously wealthy family, including the Guggenheims and Katherine Graham, whose autobiography I started but put down at some point when a spot of lighter reading distracted me. I'll definitely go pick it up again now.

Seems he and his wife, Marcia Kunstel, live on a dude ranch in Wyoming, one inherited from another of his wealthy relatives. I Googled her name, as Wikipedia didn't have anything to say about her. This led me to a website that reports political contributions by name, amount, recipient, zipcode, state. If you want to know how much celebrities have contributed, it's there (if they gave permission). Amazingly, Bill Gates and Donald Trump seem to divide their money pretty evenly between the Democrats and the Republicans. It's a fun site to look at -- the numbers are so big!

And while I'm here, I cannot resist showing you

the Municipal Building. Madeleine mentions

having a meeting in there and it reminded me of

this fantastic place. It is a Mucha design and

must be the most beautiful building I've ever been inside. I'm certain I'm not the only one who thinks that.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009


Two weeks ago Friday I ventured out for my first long run in ages (I count anything over an hour as long). The whole way I seemed to have my photography eyes open I saw so much I wanted to show you!

So last Friday I dug out Bill's older, lighter camera to take along a similar route. I kept adding a minute to my run to make up for the time I stopped to take a picture and then miscalculated how long it would take me to come back into the wind, so I was out for much longer than I'd intended. Never mind, that's 3 or 4 more calories burned...

Afraid I got far more pictures than I can ever share, but here are a few. (Clicking on the pictures, like with all the others, makes them a bit larger)

Where the River Tyne enters the sea

Approaching Tynemouth village from the east: the Castle (block on the left) and the Abbey (lacy looking thing on the right)

Boatloads of tulips!

Sunshine does wonderful things for the colour of the usually slate grey North Sea:

Long Sands Beach

I crossed the road here, as instructed

Mainly to snap this picture

Beach at Whitley Bay, with St Mary's lighthouse

I feel so lucky to live near such a beautiful place!