Saturday, 17 February 2018

Bright winter days

Bright Winter Days

Clicking on the photos enlarges them - usually

I never complain about the cold weather when the sun shines for surely everything and everyone feels better then? Our weather can and does change very quickly some days and behaves in contrary fashion to the meteorological prediction. We can set out in bright sunshine, believing that because rain has not been forecast there will be none. On many occasions we are caught out. 
On this occasion it threatened but did not deliver
It makes little difference to the dogs. They may not care to venture into the garden when rain is falling but the woods and forests are a different matter.

We regularly walk in Simons Wood. 

It is full of ancient trees, some gnarled and twisted, some ramrod striaght.

Silver birch bark
Which way is North?

The dogs often find a ball., thoughtfully left behind by another dog. Here Bertie is holding it and Gus and Roxy want it . . .
Bertie drops it and Roxy gets it!
Bertie says, 'Which way are we going now?' Jenna waits patiently.
One might be forgiven for feeling one is being watched. Can you see the faces in the following photos?

Fungi are abundant and often very colourful. 

Almost the first thing  Roxy does when we reach the woods is to pick up a stick. Sometimes, as below, she finds a ball. A ball outranks a stick every time . . .

In the following photos she is brandishing a fair-sized branch and her hackles are up though no strange dog is near her.

Back to the car and then home and - eventually - supper!
Bertie, Gus and Roxy - little Jenna is hidden!
Bertie,  Roxy, Gus and Jenna - happy dogs.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018


What shall we have for supper? (1)

I am neither a ‘foodie’ nor a dedicated cook and food programmes on television make me feel quite queasy, though strangely not when they are on the radio. However, I do have to feed my family (anything in number from 2 to 6 at present, but more if others of the clan come to visit) and while I am happy to have soup every day or jacket potatoes with beans and salad, there are mumblings of dissent from others. My family learnt long ago never to praise anything I had prepared because, lacking imagination/interest/time, I would then serve it at every opportunity. Kedgeree three days running does pall quickly, for example. Things have improved, that is to say, I have improved, though not markedly. Occasionally, though, I try something different and the following salad proved to be really quite tasty and filling and we’ve only had it twice since I discovered it on January 23rd. That’s not too bad, really, by my standards.

Grilled halloumi, avocado and papaya salad
Serves 2
Preparation: 15 min
Cook: 10 min
·         2 tbsp olive oil
·         1 papaya
·         2 limes
·         50g wild rocket
·         2 ripe avocados
·         1 tbsp capers
·         250g halloumi cheese

·          Halve the papaya lengthways, scrape out the seeds, remove the skin and slice or dice. Transfer to a bowl. 

·         Halve the avocados lengthways, twist apart, remove stone and skin. Slice chunkily.

·         Pile the avocado over the papaya and squeeze over 1 lime.

·         Add the capers. Pile the rocket on a platter, top with papaya mix.

·         When ready to serve, slice the halloumi quite thickly, smear with remaining oil. Heat a griddle or heavy-based frying pan and cook for a couple of minutes a side until griddle-etched or patched with brown. Transfer to the salad, squeeze over the remaining lime and serve.


Simulation or ‘How to become a Pilot or a Racing/rally driver

Tornado above clouds
RAF  GR4Tornados (image courtesy of RAF)

·         imitation of a situation or process.
·         the action of pretending; deception.
·         the production of a computer model of something, especially for the purpose of study.

Barry’s study is a testament to all things ‘gadgety’. Actually, it’s not just his study. Much of the rest of the house has been given over to electronics. In my dreams I have a beautiful home, with ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’. It’s never going to happen but as we keep telling ourselves, ‘It’s a home, not a show place.’ True, very true.

Of course, the animals don’t help, not that they’re untidy, just that they track in mud and shed fur/hair. They also rearrange the furniture. That is not a conscious thing. I wouldn’t like anyone to run away with the idea that working parties of cats and dogs stand together, paws to lips, musing whether the sofa would look better ‘there’ or ‘there’ and should we be on trend and have some ‘shabby chic’ to give the place a little more character? We have the shabby, all right, just not the chic and I don’t suppose it’s a trend any longer anyway.

However, I have gone off at a tangent and what I really wanted to talk about was simulation, hence the title. One of Barry’s friends, who used to fly Tornados, has a flight simulator and his son learnt to fly on it and is now, at 21, a fully-qualified crack pilot. Perhaps ‘crack’ is not the correct adjective. I shouldn’t imagine the use of ‘crack’ improves a pilot’s performance. Anyway, Barry has a rather sophisticated simulation set-up in his study. Frankie, who is 5 and obsessed with cars, loves to play Formula 1 and is developing useful skills. He and Barry share an enjoyable half hour or so most days travelling the world’s racing circuits.   I can hear the roar of the engines and Barry’s exhortations half a house away. One night, after Frankie had gone to bed, Barry decided to play at ‘driving’ himself and to his astonishment discovered that Frankie’s performance far outweighed his. Callum, 20, also likes spending time polishing his skills.

The flight simulator is a little trickier. I can barely achieve lift-off and my crashes are spectacular. It is fun to ‘see’ the world through the cockpit window and is as close as I will ever get to flying a plane. Apparently, airline pilots use simulators to refresh their memories of landing strips in various parts of the world, or to acquaint themselves with unfamiliar destinations. It is an amazing piece of technology, if slightly dizzying. There is talk of going into space . . .

Tornado. 31 Sqn 
RAF GR4 Tornado (image courtesy of RAF)

The Tornado GR4 is a two-seat, all-weather, day/night attack and reconnaissance aircraft. It has been in service with the RAF for more than 30 years, but a combination of major upgrade programmes and numerous continual enhancements has kept the aircraft amongst the forefront of all attack aircraft.
Still one of the very few aircraft in the world that is able to operate at low level, day or night and in poor weather, the Tornado is now equipped with a modern precision-guided weapons suite and world-class reconnaissance sensors such as the Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for Tornado (RAPTOR). The aircraft also carries the Litening III Advanced Targeting Pod, which is used in both attack and reconnaissance roles.

(From the Royal Air Force website

Sunday, 4 February 2018


(Clicking on the photos enlarges them . . . usually)
Lenny with his 'Arctic fox' brother, Solomon
Lenny, sometimes unkindly referred to as ‘Lenny the Lard’, is a very pretty and quite well-covered Somali. He is the bolder of Susannah’s two Somalis and is very vocal and extremely greedy. He is an extremely companionable cat and enjoys having conversations, treating his Servants almost as equals. He couches his demands, which are many, in gentle pleading tones.

Lenny loves his forays into the garden, so long as it’s not too wet, and is perfectly adept at letting himself in and out through the cat flap. However, if one of the Servants is nearby, Lenny will ask repeatedly for help, knowing that eventually the Servant will give in for some peace, and do his bidding. He is not a gifted hunter, preferring to capture dragonflies and butterflies. He eats butterflies!
He is always to be found in the kitchen if food is being prepared and likes to help by parading along the worktop, waving his plumy tail and commenting on the Servant’s progress. In addition to his usual rations, he likes dog biscuits and vitamin supplements, avocado, butter, cheese, eggs, risotto, pasta, porridge – in fact, most things. When he is particularly hungry, which is not often, given his penchant for feeding at every opportunity, he runs in front of the Servants, weaving back and forth, attempting to trip them up. The other day he danced in front of the Janice Servant and then the Small Servant Frankie, causing them to stumble. He was quick to remove himself from possible harm and the Servants managed to retain their footing whereupon Lenny resumed his pleas.
In common with the other cats, Lenny dislikes solid objects blocking free access and jumps up to open doors. For no apparent reason, though I suppose it is where tasty food is often to be found conveniently placed on plates, all the cats like the dining room. Lenny is no exception. He cannot seem to let himself out of the dining room, though, even when the door is ajar, or perhaps he wants some human assistance. Whatever the reason, leaving the warmth and comfort of bed to release him from the dining room at 2.30 a.m. is not conducive to good relations and so the Janice Servant prevailed upon the Barry Servant to remove the door handles and replace them upside down. ‘That’ll settle your hash,’ she remarked grimly. Lenny just miaoued.

A lap is a comfortable place to relax but first has to be kneaded vigorously, likewise heads at bedtime. The dogs are not keen on being kneaded and Lenny has learnt to desist. ‘Laid-back Lenny’ does his utmost to remain on good terms with everyone, though he is afraid of Zula, Susannah’s tiny Abyssinian. Doubtless he will overcome his fear in time. No matter what he does, the human response is always the same – ‘He’s very sweet’ – and he really is. 

Friday, 2 February 2018

What's been happening?

What’s been happening?

(Clicking on the photos enlarges them - usually . . . )

The days and weeks and months pass so quickly and when I look back I can’t see that anything much has happened. So, what has been happening?

In February and August of 2016, after years of increasing immobility and pain, Barry had two knee replacements. The result is that he is taller and can do so much more now. He was a very good patient and did all his exercises assiduously. His physiotherapist was extremely good and got the measure of him very quickly, recognising his very competitive spirit, and warning advising him not to overdo things.

 In February last year, 2017, Susannah treated us to a trip to Tromsø in Norway to see the Northern Lights. If proof were needed of the success of Barry’s knee operations, it was provided by that holiday. We went out at night into the fjords to see the Lights and Barry stood for several hours, filming them. The next day we went out again, in the hope of seeing orcas and humpback whales, though the majority had left the area, and again Barry stood for several hours taking photographs. We saw a couple of orcas and one humpback.
Aurora Borealis, Tromso

In the summer, Susannah and I went to Lucca in Tuscany. She was going to a friend’s wedding and I was going to look after Frankie. However, Frankie didn’t come with us in the end. It was very hot!
Villa Cheli, Lucca, Tuscany
Italian wall lizard
In August, our eldest grandson, Callum, came to live with us. He is on a year’s work placement from university. It’s lovely to have a young man in the house and beneficial for Frankie to have another good male role model. We see a lot of his girl-friend, Kat, too.
Callum and Kat at the helm of Appaloosa. 
In September Frankie started full-time school. As he had been attending pre-school in the same school since he was three, the staff and facilities were familiar to him. However, quite naturally, he was a little anxious and wanted to know if there would be toilets there! The uniform was a challenge for him. No longer was it a case of pulling on a tee-shirt and trousers. Now he had to manage shirt buttons. I have watched my husband countless times as he strains and contorts to fasten the wretched top button. Although Frankie had practised fastening buttons before term started, he could not manage the top button and found it frustrating. In fact, the thought of undressing and dressing affected his enjoyment of school and there were several occasions when he said, ‘I don’t like swimming/PE/school.’ It passed, of course, and now he is proud that he can get undressed/dressed quicker than his peers. Like his grandfather, Frankie is very competitive.
First day of school - so many clothes!
 The watchword in our house is, ‘Practice makes perfect’ and so it proves with many things. Frankie asked me the other day why I could write so quickly and I told him it was because I’d had lots of practice.

We hosted Christmas 2017, the first time we’ve done that for several years. Bethan and Robert and Charlie came, with Lolly, of course. It was fun and we were so well-organised, unusually for us, that we could have eaten lunch at 11.30. Susannah, a dedicated vegetarian, was in charge of vegetables and I was responsible for cooking the meat. The thing that delayed us and made us laugh was part of the vegetarian element. The Brussels sprouts were not ready! Even so, we ate at 1.00 which was just as well as small children cannot wait long for food without becoming fretful.
Charlie and Frankie
On the animal front the Labradors keep us busy and make us go out. We may sometimes be reluctant but the rewards are many, not least seeing the joy of our dogs playing. We both use walking poles as the ground we cover is rough and full of ruts and roots and often extremely muddy.
Retrieving sticks
The cats are six in number. We have our three Ocicat brothers, who will be six this year. Susannah’s much loved and characterful Abyssinian, Cleopatra, known as Pats or Patricia, died in 2017. Susannah already had two Somali brothers (Somalis are long-haired Abyssinians) and now has a tiny, exquisite Abyssinian female, Zula, who was one year old on 1st February. The cats adore the dogs, Bertie in particular, and you may be sure that if you are making a fuss of a dog you will soon be joined by one or more cats.
All the animals love Callum and pile onto and around him and also Kat. I think they respond positively to youth!
Callum with four dogs and two cats

So there you have it. We have done very little other than look after our family. We are older but not much wiser and still look to the future though with less optimism about our lovely country. Politicians of both main parties, at least those in the headlines, the ‘leaders’, prove their incompetence almost daily. MPs of all persuasions demand that more money should be thrown at whichever problem is causing the most unease at any time. That is not the answer but it impresses the voters . . . maybe. Plus ça change!