Just before Christmas my dishwashed stopped working. A small blinking light informed me that one of its tubes was blocked. It did not tell me which one or with what! I decided that the first thing was to take out the filter at the bottom of the machine and give it a good scrub. Be very grateful that I did not take a photo of the filter – not a pretty sight! I put it back nice and shiny and clean but the light blinked on.
It seemed pretty unlikely that the inlet was blocked. Mains water should be more than clean enough and there has been no discolouration in what comes out of the taps. Nor had I moved the machine which might have kinked a hose. So it was somewhere else in the drain.
I went outside, pulled the flexible hose from the machine out of the waste pipe and checked both as far as I could see or feel. I wondered if a slug or frog had crawled up the pipes so was very relieved to find nothing.
Back indoors I took the filter out again and peered into the depths. I could see where the waste water must go and there was a spring clip holding the first part of the pipework together so I carefully prised it off. There was clearly a small section joined at both ends to more pipework with seals but I could not shift it and was scared of breaking something. I put the clip and the filter back. Time to call an engineer. It was a few days befoore Christmas and I was self-isolating in case my cold was Covid (and did I want to share my cold with anyone else anyway?) I decided to wash up by hand untilafter the holidays.
So as soon as everyone started work again I emailed the engineer who has repaired my washing machine several times. He was happy to come but what make was the machine? Miele. Only Miele engineers can repair those. I rang Miele. A delightful lady with a very strong ? Italian? accent and I had a tortuous conversation the upshot of which was that the call-out charge was £140 and that did not include parts. I declined her offer to send someone out and started pricing up a replacement.
The next day my very practical friend Lindy was coming over to help me with another job (there will be another post on that when it is finished) and asked ‘Do you have the instruction book for it?’ A rummage through the box file was like an archaeological dig through strata of devices I no longer own, some of them I cannot remember ever owning. But in there was treasure – the dishwasher manual. And sure enough, in the Troubleshooting’ section was ‘How to get into the drain’. Having unclipped the spring thingy I could lift up the small section to reveal a one-way valve. It implied that one finger could easily remove the section. As I had stood up to get better light to read the booklet Lindy was the one lifting it – and wriggling it – and jiggling it – and eventually easing it out. And there was the problem revealed. A small, short, shiny metal tube. Part of the dishwasher shaken loose from somewhere else?
No. When I looked at it carefully and scoured my memory I realised that it was the nut off the end of the plunger of a cafetiere which had been lost months ago! I had loosened it so that the dishwasher would flush out all the small grains of coffee from between the mesh layers. I had looked for it in the filter and where the waste pipe discharges to no avail. It must have lurked in the pipework and then eventually shifted into the valve.
So now I have a working dishwasher and a spare cafetiere. Result! And all it cost me was a slice of cake to go with Lindy’s coffee.
A few days ago I had a real ‘Bah Humbug’ day when I just couldn’t be bothered with all this Christmas Malarkey. What was the point? A lot of work for not a lot.
It was partly because I had a streaming cold. Or was it Covid Omicron? Apparently the latter looks very like a cold to the naked eye and only a pcr test can tell the difference. The NHS website told me I should do a lateral flow test and, if it was positive get a pcr one before self isolating for 7 – 10 days (rules vary between England and Wales with Wales sticking to 10 days). But to get a lateral flow test I would have to go into a pharmacy and risk infecting others or wait for some to be sent in the post. To get a pcr test I needed to drive to Carmarthen where there is a test center. Driving with one hand fully occupied stemming the flow from my nose and catching sneezes didn’t seem a good idea either. And asking a friend to take me, cooped up in a car for over an hour seemed rather silly. Even if the test came back negative did I really want to give someone else a bad cold? So I cut the process short and have been self-isolating. I will continue until Boxing Day.
Sitting by the fire feeling sorry for myself and all negative about Christmas set me remembering Christmas’s past. When I was a child my parents ‘did’ Christmas but with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm. Mum thought a real Christmas tree made far too much mess – all those needles to clear up. So we had one of the early artificial ones which was a number of dark green bottle brushes arranged in circles around a plain wooden dowel. On it were some fairy lights (about 10 in a string I think) which looked just like the Meltis fruit jellies which Mum liked and always made an apearance at Christmas too. There were some uninspiring baubles, some blobs of cotton wool as snow and a small fairy doll for the top. I honestly believed that the whole thing was put away each January with all the bits still in place because I could detect no change from one year to the next. It was still making its annual appearance at my last Christmas in th family home in 1970. I have a vague recollection of making paper chains with my Dad and even balloons in the corners of the room but that must have been when I was very small. I suspect they were banned for collecting dust. So the only other decorations were some ‘yule logs’ – small logs decorated with polyfilla snow, a red candle, a small sprig of Holly and maybe a plastic robin. They were deemed tasteful. Christmas dinner was a roast chicken (turkey would last too long) nicely cooked but not really different from any other chicken dinner. Christmas was OK and I got nice presents but Oh! how I envied friends who had a real tree, exuberant decorations, a big family gathering and loads of fun!
Fast forward to the Vicarage years. Christmas was a frenetic dash to an exhausted finishing line. As well as working effectively full time and organising the family Christmas there was the ‘Vicar’s wife’ bit to do. I bought industrial quantities of mincemeat and made mince pies in batches of 6 dozen to take to various events. There was ‘Candles by Carolight’ (a spoonerism stuck!) to help organise – boxes and boxes of candles to put in holders for people to carry without burning their hands and others in foil dishes to go on the floor and vats of mulled wine to brew and remember to get some of those mince pies out of the freezer to take. Something for littlies to do at the crib service, the youth group party, Christmas Eve morning spent decorating the Church which involved me filling the car with greenery from the vicarage garden and therefore having to be the first to arrive. Then midnight service, home at 1am, put the turkey in, get up early for John to go and do Matins, have breakfast and let the kids open their stockings, back for the family service, home to finish our dinner and, finally – fall asleep as soon as our bums hit a comfy chair! Of course there was fun too, we had a great team of people who all did a lot. And there were good memories of that time too of massive Christmas trees, of winding greenery and ribbons through the banisters of the vicarage stairs – an Edwardian Villa has great potential at Christmas! But it did give me considerable ambivalence to the whole Christmas thing.
It was those memories that came to the front of my mind when I was low. I had to remind myself of the other Christmasses. The ones in the early years of our marriage when we had ridiculously big real trees in small rooms dripping with decorations, of small people with bulging stockings, of creating family traditions. And latterly of experimenting with diferent ways of celebrating, of allowing ourselves the luxury of a whole day in front of the fire with a good book.
So I gave myself a good shake and decided it was down to me to choose if I wanted to be cheerful or miserable. I made a wreath for the front door, decorated the big mantle piece, hung baubles and stars over my worktable and put up the Christmas bunting in the kitchen.
The day before my cold started I had gone for a walk on the beach with a friend and she had got the cold too so there was no point in isolating from her! We cheered ourselves up with a solstice fire. She had found a ‘Christmas tree’ in her loft given to her by someone in her village and which she never used so she brought that and we ceremoniously burnt it as symbol of letting go of what was no longer or value to us. For me that included half-hearted or overwhelming Christmasses.
I wish you all a very Merry time whatever you celebrate, whoever you celebrate it with and however you do it. And I look foward to hearing about your adventures, highs and lows in 2022. As they say it here
Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda – literally ‘A full Christmas and a good New Year’
Regular readers will know that I rarely buy Christmas presents. Most of the people to whom I give at Christmas have more than enough ‘stuff’ and if there is something they particularly want or need they can ask me for it. Instead I try to give ‘experiences’ and ‘memories’ as the opportunity arises and mark Christmas and Birthdays with small hand made gifts. This means that December is a flurry of scrap happiness! However since some of the recipients read my blog not everything I have made recently can be revealed until January!
However my neighbour told me last year that she would like some knitted Christmas stockings to hang over her fireplace and wondered if I had a pattern. I can take a hint! After some searching I decided to use my usual sock pattern designed for 4 ply but knit it in DK on larger needles and decorate it with some cross stitch designs from books on my shelves.
And just for fun Laura and I spent yesterday, when it was too wet to work outside, playing in the workshop. There were some logs on the stack which were too fat for either of our fires and I find splitting with an axe very difficult so…
Scrap Happy is hosted by Kate and Gun on the 15th of each month. The contributors listed below are all amazingly creative users of scraps. Not all of us post every month but do click on the links for inspiration.
It is ages since I last posted, not because I have been idle but because there has been nothing that felt important enough to interest you all or the photos were rubbish or there were no photos because the weather was awful. However this last week has been special.
If you have been following this blog for over 3 years you may remember that my Grandson, Sean, my son’s son, chose Swansea University to do his degree in Computer Studies. I joined the family for the Open Day (read about it here https://goingbattyinwales.wordpress.com/?s=batty+in+wales+all+change) and later they stayed with me en route to installing him in his room in Halls so I was there too when he began his student days. Towards the end of that year I joined him and 2 of his friends to look at houses they might rent for their second year (his Dad wanted my opinion on the various options). Then the Pandemic struck, the University switched to on-line teaching and Sean and his friends left their house and went home. They never returned to study here but continued on-line until the course finished this summer.
On Thursday there was the graudation ceremony. So once again the family came down. Sean is now working as a junior software developer and of course his Dad and his older sister are working full time too. So they arrived late Wednesday having driven here after work and set off early on Thursday to give plenty of time for the robing and photos before the ceremony.
Unlike his sister’s graduation where my son was able to get 3 tickets so I could attend, (read about that event here https://goingbattyinwales.wordpress.com/?s=batty+in+London+) Sean was limited to 2. However it felt important that I was involved so it was arranged that I would follow them into Swansea and join them for lunch. Shorna, his sister, was unable to get a day off to come so stayed home with the cat!
My friend Lindy very generously offered to drive me but declined to join us for lunch, preferring a picnic at the beach as she had had a rather draining week and thought being sociable with strangers would be too tiring. We arrived early and the graduation over-ran so we had time to spare. Plan ‘A’ had been to park on the waterfront and enjoy the view but it was pouring with rain and the view was – er – limited! So we found a gravelled patch off the road to the Amazon distribution warehouse with a few truck fronts parked in it and sat chatting waiting for a message that the family were on their way to the restaurant. We got a bit worried when a man appeared taking photos of the vehicles – were we illegally parked? – No. His hobby was truck spotting!
Then it was off to the restaurant for me. We were joined by one of Sean’s housemates who has stayed on to do an MA so is still living in Swansea. The restaurant was Persian and the food lovely. It was great to share the day with them all and an extra treat to meet Shimon again
Meanwhile Lindy went to Caswell bay to have her picnic (in the car because of the rain) and took this photo of the debris left by the 2 recent storms.
It was a strange day, not quite according to plan but such a joy to see another of my grandchildren celebrate a successful launch into the adult world.
A couple of weeks ago I had a message from the daughter of some old friends to say that her father had died. When my late husband was a vicar in Exeter in the late 80’s her mother, Margaret, was officially his secretary but actually much more like a PA . She also became a youth leader and Churchwarden so we saw a lot of her and relied on her organisational skills a great deal. Peter was quieter, less outgoing, but a brilliant drummer so he was recruited to play during services and keep us all in time when we sang. My other memory of him was of the two of us helping the treasurer count the collection when most other people had gone home but some clearing up was still going on.
John’s early days in the Parish had been plagued by the interference of the previous vicar who had retired, but still lived locally and visited some of the congregation regularly, expressing his (negative) opinions of the changes John was making. We decided that when we left we would cut ourselves off completely and give whoever came next a clear run. It was horrible to do, especially when John was diagnosed with cancer 2 years later, but we knew it was the right thing and stuck to it. Bless them, our friends in the church agreed it was for the best and never tried to involve us even though we were only a few miles away whilst our children finished at the FE college.
So almost 30 years after we left the Parish I found myself going back for the first time to attend Peter’s funeral last Monday. I knew that to do the journey there and back with the service in between was too much for one day so I booked into a hotel near the city centre for the Sunday night.
Lesson number one – the Internet made that a doddle! I could get information on all the possible choices, decide which I thought would suit me best and book it, moving only my eyes and fingers! Moments later a confirmatory email pinged into my inbox with the option to book a taxi or hire car. I had already established that travelling by train, which I would have preferred, was not an option – only one service on a Sunday and I know from experience that on Sunday evenings there are often engineering works with delays and replacement buses and that the bad weather might also close lines.
The next problem was the dogs. My son had offered to come and look after them but once the date was set realised he was unable to help. My lovely friend Lindy stepped into the breach and came to stay, even offering to stay over on the Monday night so that I had no deadline to get back.
Lesson number 2 – I have amazing family and friends who take great care of me. I am so grateful.
So off I set after lunch on Sunday with mixed feelings. It was an adventure, a challenge because of all unfamiliar things (a long drive, navigating a city which would have changed so I would not know my way but there would be some flashes of ‘Oh that’s where I am’, a hotel stay) apprehension about the impact of going back, and sadness at the loss of a friend.
I planned to use the old bridge over the Severn and stop at the Service area on the English end to have a short pit-stop. The old Bridge was closed because of the strong winds. Then I discovered that I was being diverted onto the M 49, a road of which I had never heard but which cuts the corner off the join between the M4 (South Wales to London) and M5 (North West England to Cornwall).
Lesson number 3 – Thank goodness for Satnav! I was driving straight into the setting sun and therefore couldn’t read the signs over the lanes but it knew where I should go.
I made it to Exeter just as it was getting dark and was directed down a narrow back street to a block of flats. I had put in the postcode I had copied from the internet (and probably made a mistake with one of the digits) not the name of the Hotel. I reprogrammed Satnav and spent half an hour in nose to tail traffic before reaching the right place.
Lesson number 4 – computers are only as good as the information you give them!
As I was checking in I was asked to complete a short registration form which included the question ‘In the event of an emergency evacuation would you need help to leave the hotel?’. I answered yes and explained to the lovely young man on the desk that I was perfectly mobile but might not hear the alarm when asleep without my hearing aids. He promptly transferred me to an accessible room and offered me a vibrating pad, plugged into the fire alarm system, to go under my pillow. He then showed me to the room and plugged the pad in for me assuring me that if the alarm went off someone would come and make sure I was aware of it.
Lesson number 5 – Whatever impression the news gives there are a lot of very nice people out there.
In the morning, leaving my car at the hotel, I walked into the city. The old, listed buildings were still there and I began to recognise the street layout but the shops had been shuffled! It felt very odd – the same but different. I went into Boots to buy a nail file because I had broken a nail and my toiletry bag was in the car. They had NO staffed tills – and when I asked about one the girl looked at me as if I was mad then offered, reluctantly, to help me use the self-service one. Later, leaving the car park I found the pay station wanted me to scan a QR code and pay with my phone. It offered me the chance to pay with a credit card (no chance of using cash!) but kept losing the plot when I tried. Eventually I asked for help again at the reception desk and it was cheerfully given (see Lesson 5) and no it wasn’t me being past it – it played up for her too!
Lesson number 6 – I am way behind the times – and happy to stay there!
Then it was off to the Church which had changed – new chairs, a carpet, the coffee and creche areas rearranged and upgraded – but from the impression I got, not as much as it should have done in 30 years. I know I am a change junkie but both the city and the church seemed to be in a rut – tinkering but unable or unwilling to be as radical as we need to be to rise to the challenges coming down the track. I also noticed how few people were wearing masks in shops. It was as if the pandemic had gone away. Here in Wales masks are still a legal requirement in indoor public spaces and to me that is only sense.
If all that seems critical and grumpy let me assure you that meeting up with people who remembered me and welcomed me with huge smiles was brilliant. At the wake I sat with some of the old crowd and they obviously remembered me and John with fondness. The service had been taken by John’s successor, now retired, as the present vicar was on Maternity leave and it was lovely to meet him and his wife.
Lesson number 7 – A vicar on Maternity leave – Hallelujah! – the Church of England is staggering into the modern world and St Marks is in the vanguard. Something of what John did stuck!
Having driven so far and explored some of Memory Lane I decided to finish the job and walked past the old Vicarage, sold off when we left, and then went to Starcross, a dormitory village on the Exe Estuary, where we moved whilst our children finished their schooling. A walk along the river’s edge was just what I needed before the long drive home. The nearer I got to Wales the more my spirits lifted and when I turned off the dual carriageway 10 miles from home I breathed a sigh of relief. Two waggy tales greeted me as I walked in and a night in my own bed was bliss.
Lesson number 8 – I loved my life in Exeter, have some wonderful memories of our time there and very few regrets, and now I love my life here. It was good to visit but it is no longer where I belong. Now if you will forgive me I have to go – there are tomatoes to pick and bottle.
PS. All images are from Google images – it takes better photos than I do! Plus all that navigating tired my phone out!
Way back in Spring many of my tender seeds did not germinate because, unbeknownst to me, my heated bench had stopped working and they were too cold. Several lovely people came to the rescue with spare seedlings including a friend of Laura’s who gave us 2 pumpkin plants. I had never grown pumpkins but knew they grew very big and liked lots of muck. There is one raised bed which is heavily infested with nettles and we had just put a thick layer of cardboard on it then a good layer of cow manure. I had intended to cover it with either more cardboard or weed suppressant fabric and leave it for a year. But needs must so in went the 2 baby plants. One died but the other thrived and not only filled the bed but migrated into the comfrey patch next to it! Eventually we spotted fruits forming but they all seemed to drop off. Then hidden under a layer of leaves on the path we saw a bigger one and then another at the end of another vine.
Last week we decided to harvest the earliest one as it was orange all over and I had visions of it being eaten by rodents if we left it any longer.
We managed to get it into the barrow and brought it down to house level to weigh it. The only way to do that was for me to stand on the bathroom scales (Laura refused to do this because she didn’t want to know how much weight she has put on!) and then repeat with the pumpkin in my arms. I couldn’t hold it for long but as best we can tell it weighs in at 23 kilos. (52 lbs or 3 1/2 stone)
There are still a few nettles in the bed but for the most part the pumpkin has out-competed them. I wonder if it works on bind weed? We will save some of the seeds and experiment.
Helen, whose blog ‘Growing out of Chaos’ I follow (http://www.silverbells.wordpress.com) mentioned that she had picked some eating apples which would not store. I suggested she make some mincemeat and offered to give her the recipe. It occurs to me that she may not be the only one faced with that problem so I decided to share it here. Actually this is such a nice recipe that it is worth buying apples for! I heard it on the radio nearly 30 years ago and have been making it ever since. It contains no fat and most of the sweetness comes from the fruit so it is relatively healthy. And it doesn’t need maturing so you can make it and use it at once. It is in Imperial weights – sorry to those of you too young to be familiar with them – 1lb (pound) is 450 grams and there are 16 oz (ounces) to each pound
2 lb eating apples grated
8 oz raisins
8 oz mixed candied peel
4 oz dark muscovado sugar
finely grated rind and juice of 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 pint (just under 300ml) cloudy apple juice
Mix the whole lot together in a large pan, bring to a boil and simmer gently for 30 mins stirring frequently. Transfer to warm sterilised jars and seal.
Some of you may recall that ages ago I started following 2 courses on embroidery – Pintangle’s Take a stitch Tuesday and Anne Brooke’s 52 tags. My aim was to increase the range of stitches I could use and also to get away from simply filling in someone else’s design. I have been lamentably lax about keeping up with either challenge but last week I decided to ‘have a go’ at doing some embroidery from scratch. And the result was…
I am under no illusions. This is not high art. It isn’t even particularly fine embroidery. But it was an achievement. I did it all myself from the first drawing to the finished piece. And I experimented. I used stranded cotton (mainly because I had a better range of colours in that) and tried mixing strands of different shades or colours.
I also mentioned previously experimenting with the way I knit and finding that it was easier if I controlled the yarn with my left hand. Well, quite by chance, I discovered how to do that flicky thing with the right hand so that I don’t have to let go of the right needle – or at least not so completely hands off. Months ago my neighbour, who did all my laundry for weeks when my machine broke down during lockdown, mentioned that she fancied having a row of Christmas stockings to hang over the fireplace and I offered to make some. Now that I can have yarn in either hand two colour knitting is so much easier! One colour on the left hand and one on the right! I used my usual sock pattern but in DK not 4 ply and motifs from various cross stitch pattern books I had on the shelves.
Tidying up my workshop and woodshed I discovered that I had accumulated, for who knows where, 3, yes 3 kitchen sinks! Actually the one in the shed on the veg patch is never used so make that 4. If I put another kitchen / utility room in anywhere am I really going to use a shabby old sink? No!
The inspiration struck. Sinks are intended to hold water and I need more small ponds in my garden to attract wildlife. A small hole, some scrap wood to build up the sides a bit, a new pond liner (the scrap I was going to use was too small and had got torn) and here it is.
It obviously needs more pebbles on the draining board. Nice round seashore pebbles not the rough ones from around the garden or out of the stream. I persuaded my friend Lindy (It wasn’t hard!) to take a trip to the seaside to have a walk on the beach and collect some. Just after this photo was taken a rogue wave came in and I got water in one wellie! Walking on the beach with one wellie sloshing and my pockets weighed down with pebbles had us both in stitches. It is going to take a few more trips to get enough to finish this job – a hard job but someone has to do it!
Scrap Happy is curated by Kate and Gun on the 15th of each month. The links below are to the amazingly creative contributors who make interesting things out of scraps that most people would throw away.
A couple of weeks ago a tsunami of delicious fruit and veg came my way. Pottering round the supermarket I found that small hard pears were on special offer – perfect for making pickled pears or chutney. And a bit further along another offer on oranges. On my way home I called on my lovely friends John and Victoria who have a large old Bramley apple tree in their garden – could I use some? Usually Victoria cooks and freezes loads to use when they have visitors. Covid meant no entertaining so there was still a lot of apple in the freezer and, after a fall in the garden, she didn’t feel up to doing more just to stop them going to waste. I brought a huge box of them home. We had a few days of glorious autumn sunshine and each time I walked Roo (my Kelpie x Collie) I took a basket and picked blackberries from the hedgerows. Another friend, Lindy, had been given 2 red and 2 green cabbage plants by her Dad in the spring and they had grown to football size. Like me she lives alone so 4 huge cabbages were rather a lot! I suggested she make pickled red cabbage but it turned out that she had got it into her head that jams, pickles and the like were technically difficult and, if everything wasn’t sterilised to operating theater cleanliness, potentially dangerous.
So Lindy came over with her 2 red cabbages and we pickled them together. It is a 2 day process. Day 1 was to shred the cabbages and layer them with salt before leaving them overnight. We also spiced some vinegar and left it to cool. We had done that by lunchtime so in the afternoon we used some of the apples and the pears I had bought and made some chutney. After she had left to go to choir practice I boiled up the blackberries with some more apples for bramble jelly and left them to drain through muslin overnight.
The next day I was still boiling up the jelly when Lindy arrived so she got a quick impromptu lesson in ‘how to know when jam is at setting point’ and a reminder of ‘how to sterilise jars in the oven’. Then we packed the cabbage into jars and poured the vinegar on top. There was still time to make some pickled orange wedges using the fruit I had bought. A crash course in preserving! But she has some green tomatoes that she needs to use and feels confident enough to turn them into chutney (with some more of Victoria’s apples) without my help.
I turned some more of the blackberries into blackberry vinegar; I like it as a drink diluted with fizzy lemonade, use it in salad dressings and it is my secret ingredient in lots of savoury dishes.
I have been stewing and bottling more of the apples and now have nineteen 1lb jam jars on the shelf. And there are still a large bowlful left. I have plenty of jars but have run out of lids. I bought more but being a numpty I ordered the wrong size! They fit the smaller jars I have so will get used when I make more jam or things like onion marmalade but those jars are too small for bottling fruit. Maybe I will pick some sloes. Or rowan berries – I have never made rowanberry jelly. One thing is for sure – they will not go to waste.
For those of you who remember that I have 2 dogs and are wondering why I only mention one, Orchid, my lurcher, is getting on a bit (at least 11 years old) and has arthritis which is particularly bad at the moment so long walks are out of the question for her.