Sunday, 30 October 2016


We became Dubliners for three days at the beginning of the week, thanks to ridiculously low priced tickets from a budget airline. M had been to Dublin thirty years ago, but I had never been to Ireland before. We loved it! A lovely relaxed place to explore, with incredibly helpful and friendly people.

Our 10 year old is on a mission to visit the zoo whenever she goes to a new city, so we agreed rather reluctantly to include Dublin Zoo in our schedule. It proved to be one of the nicest zoos we have visited, beautifully landscaped and with animals who seemed as chilled and friendly as the people. One super-relaxed grandmother gorilla had even settled down for a nap right next to the glass separating her enclosure from the human visitors, apparently oblivious to the horde cooing over the snoozing baby gorilla in her arms.

We visited Dublin Castle, only to find ourselves in the middle of the set of a TV series about the Easter Rising of 1916, populated by authentically costumed extras who were staving off boredom with rather anachronistic mobile phones and paper coffee cups. We didn't get to see any filming unfortunately - all the extras knew was that they had already been hanging around for a long time and nothing seemed to be happening!

Other highlights were the trams (our hotel was some way out of the centre on a tram route), a build-your-own-stir-fry Mongolian BBQ restaurant, and a walk-in science workshop where N learned to solder and built an electronic voice recorder.

Even the weather smiled on us, with no rain and a respectable amount of sun.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

All I Want For Christmas Is ...

... this beginner's lace making kit, because I have been watching lace makers at work and I really, really want to play! This year we have been running a textile art project at the archive, encouraging people to create textile pieces inspired by documents in the archives. The project ended with a series of exhibitions at which a local lacemaking group gave demonstrations. It wasn't until the third and final exhibition that I started seriously watching what they were doing and having a go at basic stitches on a pillow set up for beginners to try. I got hooked.

I like crafting in various forms, but I am definitely more inclined towards crafts with a pattern to follow as I don't have a creative imagination. I don't mind things being intricate or fiddly so long as I know what I am supposed to be doing, and I think I could have a lot of fun making lace. I also like the historic element to the craft. Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire were two of the three main centres of handmade lace in England (Honiton in Devon was the third), and I know there were lacemakers among my Buckinghamshire ancestors.

Not only will I get to make pretty things, I can also collect pretty bobbins. I am trying to declutter and  become more minimalist (although I have a very, very long way to go), but bobbins are small enough not to become a clutter monster and larger projects need a considerable number. I love the idea of using bobbins which are either meaningful or decorative or both. A few I have my eye on are this commemorative Magna Carta bobbin, chirpy Christmas robinscanal art bobbins (these are already painted, but a friend has started doing canal art and she may be getting some bobbin commissions), Jane Austen, and ... well, a glance at this site shows just how easy it would be to get carried away!

Instructions have been issued to He-Who-Hates-Christmas-Shopping and I now just have to wait patiently for a couple of months and hope that I don't forget all the helpful tips and information I was given by the lace demonstrators.

Friday, 14 October 2016

And ... Three Months Later!

July? Three months ago? Really? So ... five things from the last three months as a catch up.

1. A lovely family holiday in Italy, with all the family except senior daughter who does her own thing these days. We have visited Lake Garda before, but had forgotten how stunningly beautiful it is.

2. Middle daughter left for uni in September and is now in a northern city studying Italian and linguistics. So far she is loving it, enjoying both the social life and her courses.

3. Middle daughter also celebrated her 18th birthday and an amazing set of A level results. As she eats dairy free we tracked down a hotel in London which provides both gluten free and dairy free afternoon teas for a celebration mother-and-daughter tea. A nice touch was that when they realised we were celebrating they brought her a beautifully presented mini-birthday cake. Definitely recommend the 108 Pantry at the Marylebone Hotel for anyone looking for a gluten free / dairy free treat.

4. We have been working on the house and managed to redecorate both small daughter's bedroom and our own. Quite a bit of decluttering was achieved too.

5. I took small daughter to a family lecture at the Royal Institution on giant lasers. She has now decided her future science career should be physicist rather than chemist.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

A Week is a Long Time in Politics

This has been one of the longest and most extraordinary weeks this country has experienced in my lifetime, following the referendum on British EU membership on 23rd June. The phrase "a week is a long time in politics" coined by former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson has never been more apt. Despite the close recent opinion polls, the assumption was that the Remain campaign would win and Britain would carry on in the EU as before. The assumption was wrong and a narrow vote to Leave has thrown the country into confusion. The Prime Minister has resigned; the pro-Leave contenders for the job have indulged in a bout of back-stabbing of Shakespearian proportions; the Labour Party is imploding with a leadership election of its own pending, one of such significance that it could split the party apart and finish it as a serious political force; Scotland is likely to hold its own referendum on whether to leave the UK in order to stay in the EU. Politically, all is chaos and confusion. 

In the aftermath of the referendum I wrote this on Facebook, which I'll share here as it still reflects how I feel a week on (apologies for those of you who are Facebook friends and get the same thing twice):

"I have said before that I don't normally do politics on Facebook, but I am going to break my own rule again. I spent yesterday in a sleep deprived fog (one hour of sleep just doesn't cut it) trying to process the referendum result. I began the campaign open minded and unsure which way to vote, but as it developed I became increasingly convinced that Remain was the right option. In the wake of the result I am shocked by how viscerally upset I feel. I know I am not alone in feeling an acute sense of loss, of bereavement. Many of us are grieving the loss of our sense of who we are, what our country is, and its place in the world. I also fear that the law of unintended consequences is going to run amok. Already we seem to be heading for financial upheaval, years of uncertainty, the possible (probable?) break up of the UK, a new prime minister, and a government with an agenda radically different to the platform on which it was narrowly elected last year. As for the rest of Europe, who knows what damage our decision to leave will do and what knock-on effects it might have.  

As a natural optimist I usually manage to find something positive in any situation. Yesterday I struggled to find anything in this. Today I am trying harder. It is going to take at least two years before we have any real idea how things will play out and nothing yet is a given. We may - or may not - get increased border controls (both ways). We may - or may not - stop being a net contributor to the EU. We may - or may not - be part of a European Economic Area. And so on. And that means that we all, whether we voted Remain or Leave, will have opportunities to influence how our country will look post-Brexit. Surveys show that for most Leave voters issues of sovereignty and democracy were their primary concern, with immigration a significant but still secondary issue. Most Leave voters are not narrow-minded racists. Remainers and concerned Leavers can work together to answer the questions we face in the aftermath of the referendum. How do we build an independent Britain that is open, tolerant and cares for its weaker members? How do we ensure that our kids have the same opportunities, both here and in the wider world, that they would have had before this vote? How do we protect the rights of individuals if the checks and balances provided by the EU are removed? How do we heal the divisions left by the referendum? Where do we start? There are no easy answers, but whichever way we voted, and wherever we stand on the political spectrum, we need to start thinking very hard about how we answer these questions. My optimistic side wants to believe that we can find some good answers."

I still hope that we are able to find good answers. This is still the very early stages of what will surely be a long process. It has been shocking, though not at all surprising, to see the complete absence of a plan on the Leave side as to how they would follow through if they won. Neither the Conservative nor the Labour parties seem to have had any clue how to respond to a Leave victory. Labour is imploding amidst recriminations against Left-Wing leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is supposed to have been at best lukewarm in support of the party's Remain campaign, and at worst actually obstructive. Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition is currently in no position to oppose (or propose) anything.  The Government is leaderless and a long way from formulating any sort of constructive plan as to how to move forward. It may have been a long week, but it is also going to be a very long few years before the UK, or whatever is left of it, comes out the other end. 

Monday, 23 May 2016

Merry Month of May Movie Meme

While participating in the A to Z blogging challenge I stumbled across the genealogy blogging community. One of these bloggers, Pauline of Family History Across the Seas, has posted a Merry Month of May Movie Meme and I thought would be fun to join in ...

What's the earliest movie you can remember? The first movie I remember seeing at the cinema was Mary Poppins. I just checked and it was released in 1964, just before my fourth birthday. I don't know whether I saw it when it was first released or a year or two later. Of course, in the UK in the 1960s they were called films, not movies!

Where did you go to the movies? As a child I used to go to the old Odeon Cinema in Aylesbury (Buckinghamshire). At that time it was a single screen cinema, but I think it was subsequently divided into one large and two small screens. It closed in 1999 and was replaced by a modern multi-screen cinema in a different location. The old Odeon fell into disrepair and is now being demolished to be replaced with retirement apartments. 

Did you buy movie programs? I don't remember there being such a thing!

Did you take in food and drink (and what did you like)? Not that I can remember. We always used to get ice creams during the intermission, in the days when there was such a thing. I have to admit that I am a popcorn lover and a trip to the cinema just isn't the same without a hefty portion of salted popcorn (has to be salted, not sweet). I know it is ridiculously overpriced for something that is mostly air, but I can't resist. 

Movies of your teenage years: Star Wars (the original movie, which I saw four times), Grease, Saturday Night Fever, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Towering Inferno (for which I mostly hid on the floor as I don't like fire - no idea why I went!).

Do you remember how old you were when you went unsupervised? No, but probably early teens. 

Mischief you got up to in the movies: As teenagers a group of us once smuggled in a bottle of whisky. I doubt I drank much as I loathe the stuff!

Did you watch movies at home? Yes. I remember sobbing through Love Story on TV, going through a phase of watching late night horror movies (the old fashioned type) when I had to sleep on a put-up bed in the sitting room at my grandmother's, and another phase of watching westerns as a teen. And of course we always took part in the pre-VCR British family ritual of watching the big blockbuster films shown on TV at Christmas.

What was your favourite movie to watch at home? During my childhood it was only possible to watch what happened to be on TV. No VCRs or DVDs.

Do you prefer to watch movies at home or at the cinema? Definitely at the cinema. So much more engrossing on the big screen with surround sound than it is at home, and it makes a movie into an event. 

Does your family have a special movie memory? Not one particular memory. The Harry Potter movies were a big thing with my two older daughters, and each new release was a cause of much excitement. We sometimes went on the first day, but never to the midnight premiere. With hindsight I wish we had done as it would have made that special memory.

Movies you fell in love to/with? I really didn't! Movies and romance never coincided for me. 

Favourite romantic movie theme music: I'm not a fan of romantic music and would find it much easier to pick a most disliked romantic theme - My Heart Will Go On from Titanic wins that title. I get to play a lot of movie theme music with brass and concert bands and if I had to pick a favourite it would be either Jurassic Park or Pirates of the Caribbean. Much more fun than the romantic stuff, both to play and to listen to!

Favourite musical movie: For some reason I always loved Calamity Jane.

Which movies made you want to dance/sing?  I'm a hopeless non-dancer, but for singing along it has to be The Sound of Music and Mamma Mia.   

Do you watch re-runs or DVDs of old movies? Not as much as I would like to. Most of the DVDs we own are newer, although we have some classic children's movies. We have a Netflix subscription and I keep meaning to watch some of the old classics but somehow never get round to it. 

Do your children/family enjoy the same movies? There are a few children's movies which all three of my daughters have loved, but there has rarely been a movie that all five of us would watch. In fact, I don't think we have ever all been to the cinema together. Partly this is due to the age gap (eleven years between eldest and youngest daughters) and partly because if all three daughters like something it is almost certainly too girly to appeal to their dad. 

What's your favourite movie genre now? I am not sure I could pick one single genre. I enjoy human interest dramas, British comedy (American not so much), some science fiction/fantasy, some rom-coms. It really depends on my mood. 

Did you read the book before or after the movie? Usually I prefer to read the book before the movie. 

Which did you enjoy more, the book or the movie? More often the book, although not always. I loved The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel as a movie, but did not enjoy the book at all. Some movie adaptations are just awful - the American movie version of the children's book The Borrowers was particularly atrocious.

What's the silliest movie you've seen (silly funny or silly annoying)? I'll go with silly funny and pick Rowan Atkinson's Mr Bean movie. 

Pet hate in movies: Bad sound and / or mumbling actors making it hard to follow dialogue. 

A movie that captures family history for you: Interesting question! I am going to go for All Creatures Great and Small, the movie based on James Herriot's vet books (yes, there was a movie, made a few years before the better known TV series). It is set in rural North Yorkshire, where my mother's family come from, and I have farmers and farm labourers on both sides of my family. No vets though! 

If you could only play 5 movies for the rest of your life, what would they be? 
(1) Lord of the Rings. Love the books, love the film version. Can I count the trilogy as a single movie?
(2) Star Wars IV (THE Star Wars!). The big movie of my teens and part of me has never outgrown it.
(3) Truly, Madly, Deeply. A wonderful low budget British romantic movie starring Juliet Stephenson and the late, great Alan Rickman as the ghost of her dead partner. Poignant and funny by turns, and beautifully acted.
(4) The Railway Children. There has to be a family movie in there. Matilda nearly won this slot - one daughter loved it so much that we can still quote chunks of the script, and Pam Ferris's Miss Trunchbull was superbly awful. Another daughter watches Elf multiple times every Christmas, Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc are big favourites, but The Railway Children just squeaks it. I loved it as a child, and even as an adult I can't help but shed a tear when Bobby spots her father through the steam of the train at the end. 
(5) Billy Elliot. This was the hardest to choose as there are a number of other films I like but none that stood out above the others. Billy Elliot, in which a young boy from a tough mining town in Northern England fights poverty, political upheaval (it is set against the background of the 1980s miners' strike), and prejudice to become a ballet dancer, is one that grabs me each time I watch it.

Favourite movie stars:
 Alan Rickman, Harrison Ford, Robin Williams, Benedict Cumberbatch, Julie Walters, Meryl Streep

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Those Boots Were Made For Walking ...

At the beginning of the year M bought a pair of walking boots - his first since a teenage trip to Israel - with the intention that we would get out and walk more. I told him that before the end of the year he would be doing 10 mile walks. He was not convinced!

The boots have turned out to be a great buy. They were reduced in the post-Christmas sales to less than half price, so were quite a bargain. M finds them very comfortable and they have made a huge difference to his attitude to walking - I hadn't realised quite how much the wrong shoes were holding him back, making him reluctant to go anywhere that might be muddy, and generally making walking less comfortable. We try to go out for at least one reasonable (3 miles or more) walk every week, and are gradually increasing distance. 

We have just got back from a long weekend in Cumbria, where we were able to introduce the boots to both the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales. We went for a walk everyday, working up to a seven mile circular walk around Wensleydale on Sunday. That 10 mile target is in sight! Both the Lakes and the Dales are extraordinarily beautiful, in different ways, and spending so much time out of doors in the fresh air enjoying the scenery was a joy. We both felt it was one of the most enjoyable short breaks we have ever had, and M is now most definitely a walking enthusiast. Pictures to follow once they have uploaded themselves to iCloud!

Challenge Completed!

I may not have been writing here for the past few weeks but I have been writing on my history blog, where I managed to make it through the entire A to Z Challenge and finished my A to Z of Archives, talking about all sorts of archive related things from catalogues to knickers (if you want to know, you will have to read the entry for K!).

Sunday, 3 April 2016

A to Z Challenge

My friend Faith is doing the A to Z Blogging Challenge this year (you can find her posts on Catholic Books here) and I made a last minute decision to take up the challenge myself. The idea is that you write a post each day during the month of April with each one themed on a letter of the alphabet from A to Z. As there are only 26 letters and 30 days in the month, Sunday's are taken off. You can, but don't have to, choose an overriding theme, but it seems that most people do. I decided to take "Archives" as my topic, and as it is partly history related to put the posts on my new, but already rather neglected, History RoundAbout blog. I have made a start with A is for Archives and B is for Boxes.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Endings and Beginnings

My life often goes on much the same for long periods, then a number of big changes happen within a short space of time. This month has been one of those times of change, a month of endings and beginnings.

On March 10th my mother died. She would have been ninety next year and had become increasingly frail and disabled. Her walking was very limited and she was only able to go out in a wheelchair, her memory was poor, and she was physically tired. A week before her death she was hit by a stomach bug which left her extremely weak. She was very clear that she did not want to go to hospital and my brother and I agreed she was better at home where she was comfortable and where we were able to look after her. For a few days she seemed to improve a little each day. On the night before her death she became much worse. The on-call doctor visited, diagnosed a chest infection and confirmed what we already knew, which was that she was not going to survive it. He fully supported our decision to honour her wishes and keep her at home. She died less than three hours later, peacefully and without pain in her own bed, with my brother and I each holding one of her hands. During her last few days all three of her grandchildren had been able to visit her, and all her affairs were in order. While I am sad that she is gone, there is also great comfort in her natural and easy death. She was ready to go, her body was done struggling with years of arthritic pain, and as a lifelong committed Christian she was, I am sure, ready to meet the God she had served faithfully for so many years. Along with some of the many people whose lives she had touched, we said goodbye to her at an Easter funeral which we hope was a fitting reflection of her life and the faith that sustained her,

This month has also marked the end of four years in which I have been juggling full time work (or for the last three months almost full time) with family life. From the beginning of April I will only be working two days a week. M will also be working part time from home and we will be moving into a new phase of life, where for the first time in over twenty years we will have significant chunks of time when neither of us will be doing either paid work or childcare. I feel too young to call it "semi-retirement", but in reality that is what it will be. This is the first of the new beginnings. We have various plans, the most important of which in the short term is to tackle the clutter and domestic disarray that has accumulated over the past years of busy-ness.

There have also been new beginnings for our two older daughters. Senior daughter started a new job in February and has started the process of buying her own house using the government's help-to-buy scheme for newly built properties. Or in this case a not-yet-built property - at the last check it was three bricks high! She is hoping it will be finished and ready to move in by the autumn. Our middle daughter failed her driving test at her first attempt at the beginning of the month, then took it for a second time two weeks later and sailed through with an hour of faultless driving. In the UK the driving test can be failed either by making one major mistake, or by accumulating too many small errors, known as "minors". She passed with no minors, which is quite a feat - she has no idea how she managed it! She now has the use of the smaller of our two cars (needed much less now that M has no commute and mine is much reduced), and is utterly joyous that she does not have to rely on scrounging lifts and overcrowded buses to get where she needs to go.

And so life changes. Time to take a deep breath and plunge into the next stage.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

A Scandinavian Interlude

The last couple of weeks have rather run away with me so I am behindhand with posting about the short trip we took during half term. One of the budget airlines had a sale on flights during the winter and we managed to book flights to Copenhagen for £50 - that was the total return cost for two adults and one child, which is just ridiculously cheap! We left home early on the Friday morning and got home again late on Saturday, giving us nearly two full days in Denmark. For all three of us it was our first ever trip to Scandinavia.

As we were travelling with a nine-year old we did child friendly things, visiting the zoo, the aquarium, and Experimentarium City, a "hands-on" science activity place (museum? centre? I really don't know what would be the right word!). The weather wasn't great. It was mostly dry on the Friday, but Saturday threw sleet, rain and wind at us. As a result we did not see a great deal of the city as we dashed head down from bus to metro (or in one case, ferry). I would love to go back and explore in the spring or summer when the weather is better. Ridiculously, the flight times and prices mean it would even be feasible to go for a day trip.

First stop the Zoo. The highlight for all of us was the polar bear in the Arctic zone. I'm sure he appreciated the weather, but I'm not sure the same was true of the flamingos, who looked rather out of their element although their colour contrasted nicely with the snow on the ground.

Copenhagen has lots of painted buildings. Being Scandinavia, the streets were all very neat and clean, as was the metro which was very efficient and appeared to run on a trust system with no ticket barriers, just points at which passengers could scan tickets or passes.

I loved these coloured bird boxes which brightened up the street. I noticed some more near a canal the next day, so wonder if they were an art project?

We had a lot of fun at Experimentarium City where there was a section with eight activities to take part in as a family team. Here is junior daughter on the hamster wheel.

Copenhagen has a number of canals - not quite Venice or Amsterdam, but definitely plenty of water. We took a short trip on a water bus across to Experimentarium City at Christianshavn, but if we had more time (and better weather) I would have liked to take a boat tour of the canals.

I loved this little painted boat.

A rather grey and rainy Nyhavn, one of the best known areas of Copenhagen  - in better weather this would be a great place to sit outside a cafe or bar with a drink. It would also be packed with tourists, so I suppose we at least avoided the crowds!

Sunday, 14 February 2016

The Invisible Woman

I have been reading The Invisible Woman: How to Navigate the Vintage Years by Helen Walmsley-Johnson which I picked up in the Kindle sale. As I am 55 and therefore have to admit to being inescapably middle-aged, I thought it might be an interesting read. It was, in many ways, but my experience of mid-life (so far!) has been so very different to the author's that I found it difficult to identify with her. Helen Walmsley-Johnson's 50s have been a rough ride, with a traumatic post-surgical menopause, depression, other health problems, the death of her father, the discovery that it was virtually impossible to find employment as a woman in her late 50s and consequent financial crises. Her life experience has been very different to mine in many ways, with a difficult divorce, life as a single mother, adult children, and now grandchildren. After reading her story I was rooting for a happy ending - or should I say beginning of a new phase of her life - so was delighted to find that the book ended very positively as she approaches her 60s with a new career as a freelance writer and a new home in the country.

In comparison I have been lucky in many ways. The worst the menopause / perimenopause flung at me was occasional failure of my personal thermostat, which never greatly bothered me. I normally feel cold so kind of enjoyed the novelty of occasionally being hot. I have felt younger and fitter in my 50s than I did in my 40s. Pregnancy and extending breastfeeding in the second half of my 40s left me feeling as though I had been run over by a bus; discovering that the exhaustion, aches and pains were temporary was a very pleasant surprise as I had imagined much of it was age related and that I would carry on going downhill for the next however-many decades. I don't think I have ever felt particularly visible, but neither have I been aware of any loss of visibility or (for lack of a better word) status as I have got older. I have never been someone who thought of myself as attractive or good looking, so I have never associated losing youth with losing beauty. As it happens, through no effort of my own I look younger than my age, but I am not worried about the inevitability of whatever genetic protective effect I possess wearing off. Apart from being more prone to asthma and chest infections if I get a cold, my health is good. I changed careers at 50, learned to play the trombone, lost weight, and took up yoga. All in all, if you take middle age as lasting from age 50 to 65, as Helen Walmsley-Johnson does, the first third of my middle years has been very positive. There have been stresses, some quite extreme, but they have not in any way been a function of my age.

Reading Helen Walmsley-Johnson's experiences has left me feeling more appreciative than before of my own good fortune, and more aware that I tend to take it for granted. It has also left me a little apprehensive. Am I now at an age where I would find it difficult if not impossible to find alternative employment if I needed to do so? Am I living on borrowed time with my relative good health? Am I not so much ageing gracefully as simply pretending that I am stuck in a perpetual mid-40s? I wonder. I suppose there is no point worrying about what may not happen - or may not happen yet - but I am glad of the reminder to count my blessings.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

50 Week Photo Project: Week 3 - Colour

I thought I would find this quite easy, but not much caught my eye during the week and the few photos I attempted didn't come out well. This was the only one I was happy with - yellow gorse against a deep blue sky on our walk last week. This week we didn't get outside much and on Thursday went to the cinema to see The Big Short, so no walk. We both enjoyed the film - very well acted, and interesting to see that at least some people spotted in advance that the financial crash of 2007-8 was inevitable. I can see this film being  compulsory watching for future economics students!

Saturday, 30 January 2016

A Gorgeous Winter Day

Sometimes the weather just does perfect. (In England this is rare enough to be notable!)  We hit lucky and last Thursday was one of those perfect days. Continuing our theme of getting outside as much as possible we went for a walk starting from a nearby village. It was like this:

I found a website which lists dozens of walks in Bedfordshire, searchable by location and length. While I can read maps perfectly well and could make up my own routes, a described walk has the advantages that it is likely to include places worth seeing and use well defined paths. When I work out my own I somehow always manage to pick at least one footpath overgrown with nettles! (For anyone not familiar with the UK, these are nasty, stinging plants - not dangerous, but painful!)

St. Botolph's Church, which looks deceptively old. Although the core is 15th century (itself not particularly old for an English village church which are typically one or two hundred years older) it was largely rebuilt in the 19th century.

I think maybe this could be my country mansion!

For anyone interested in a little bit of local history I wrote a post about St. Botolph and an Anglo-Saxon charter on my history blog.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

50 Week Photo Project: Week 2 - Emotions

My heart sank when I saw the theme for the second week of Michele's 50 Week Photo Project. (Thought: maybe I should have taken a picture of my own face!)  I knew this one would be a tough one for me. My immediate family are generally reluctant to be photographed, so I couldn't see myself getting the chance to use them as subjects; nor could I see there being many (any!) other opportunities to get any photographs of people. I was determined to manage something and came up with this:

A statue of James Watt, the inventor of the steam engine, at the Oxford Natural History Museum. His expression struck me. He looks stern, grim, even unhappy. The blank stone eyes don't help - I wonder what his eyes were like? Knowing little about him beyond the fact that he discovered steam power I looked him up on Wikipedia. It describes him as "something of a worrier. His health was often poor. He was subject to frequent nervous headaches and depression." However he was also "a much sought-after conversationalist and companion" who enjoyed "congenial and long-lasting" relationships with his friends and colleagues. So it seems those frown lines in the statue are worry and pain rather than stern and standoffish.  

Tuesday, 26 January 2016


M and I are trying to make a point of getting outside and walking on free Thursdays when neither of us is working. Last week we headed off to Oxford (a bit less than an hour's drive from us). Using a walking route I downloaded as inspiration we headed for the Museum of Natural History and the University Parks. Considering I spent seven years at school in Oxford (high school, not university) it is ridiculous that I had never visited the Museum of Natural History before. It had dinosaurs

And statues of famous scientists around the walls. This one was the 13th century Franciscan friar and scholar Francis Bacon.

From the University Parks we headed across a bridge to Mesopotamia - so called because it is land between two rivers - as I wanted to see where it led. The answer turned out to be past some playing fields and then through what looked like open countryside, even though it is quite close to the centre of the city. There was even a farm!

As we circled back to the University Parks we crossed over another bridge. I particularly liked this photo, with the geese and the trees reflected in the water. 

After we walked there was food in a 14th century annex to the University Church which was the original Congregation House for the University of Oxford; it is now a very nice cafe with lots of whole food options. I enjoyed leek and potato soup with artisan bread, followed by yoghurt with fruit compote and granola. 

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Smoothie Time

Christmas seems to have had a drinks theme for me this year (and I'm not thinking of the alcoholic kind - though there may have been a few of those too!). I have already enthused about Pingu the Coffee Machine, and I am now starting most days with a smoothie for breakfast thanks to my new Breville Blend-Active smoothie maker which was a gift from senior daughter. I have a Bamix wand blender which is industrial strength and can tackle anything, but I am amazed how much easier it seems to just throw a selection of ingredients into a bottle, slot it onto the machine, press the button until everything smooshes together, put on a lid and go. This month breakfast most days has been a smoothie which I drink in the car on the way to work, sipping whenever I am stuck at a red light. Love, love, love my smoothies. I have even been adventurous and included green smoothies. Here are a few of the combinations I have been enjoying:

High protein peanut butter - milk, peanut butter, banana, berries, porridge oats, a little honey
Frozen green - Waitrose frozen green smoothie mix (kale, spinach, mango, banana), apple juice
Yoghurt and blueberry - Greek style yoghurt, milk or almond milk, banana, frozen blueberries
Green strawberry - kale, spinach, apple or orange juice, frozen strawberries
Chocolate peanut butter - almond milk, peanut butter, banana, chocolate Nesquik
Pale green protein - baby spinach, almond milk, protein powder, banana, tinned mandarins with a little juice

Mostly I have just been throwing in whatever takes my fancy. Eldest daughter also gave me a book of smoothie recipes which I haven't even started on yet! Do you have any favourite smoothie combinations?

Saturday, 16 January 2016

50 Week Photo Theme Project: Week 1 - Black & White

My friend Michele Quigley has started a 50 week photo theme project for 2016. I know I would never keep up with a 365 day photo challenge, but weekly themes sounds like something I could manage. I am purely an iPhone photographer - my old "proper" camera hasn't been used for years, and is only a cheap point-and-shoot - and I am clueless about photographic technique, but enjoy taking pictures and hoping that there are some that are good to look at in among the out takes.

Michele's first theme is black and white. I never think to try black and white images, so this has been fun to play with. I have tried to follow her advice to "Look for where the light is coming from and try and capture the contrast between the dark and light. Notice shapes, patterns and textures." I ended up with two pictures I particularly liked. The first was a bare, winter tree, taken as the daylight was just beginning to fade, and the second was a swan on the river outside the archive. Oddly the others I took were all on still, dark water, but for this one a breeze rippled the water. More luck than judgment!

Friday, 15 January 2016

History RoundAbout

I have been experimenting with a new blog - not as an alternative to this one, but to run alongside. Maybe. Probably. I have been thing for a while of making myself a space online to write about local history; not just about my own local area, but about the smaller, more local aspects of history in England as a whole, and also about how to tackle local history research and to highlight some of the fantastic local history projects around. So a couple of weeks ago I set up History RoundAbout. If you would like to see what I have been doing, here are my posts so far:

Every place tells a story
Honest old Thomas Cotes
Pickering flood of 1754
London Underground - 153 today
Ancient woodland

Now I have started I am second guessing my decision to make it a separate blog, feeling a bit schizophrenic. I set up a separate a Twitter account (@historyround) which adds to that feeling of being two different people in two places. On the other hand, I'm not at all sure this would be the right place either, so for now I am going to plug on with the new blog. Do take a look and let me know what you think!

Sunday, 10 January 2016


My Christmas present ...

Which immediately got named Pingu due to its resemblance to the little TV penguin. This Dolce Gusto coffee machine came recommended by senior daughter who loves hers. This is the manual version of the machine, which I guess is probably being phased out as it was dramatically reduced in price towards the end of the year making it (in my opinion) ridiculously bargainous, especially as it came with a voucher code for £10 of free coffee pods. 

- it makes coffee shop style coffee quickly and easily
- lots of choice of coffee (espresso, lungo, latte, americano, cappuccino etc)
- can also make hot chocolate, fancy teas, and iced teas / coffees
- pretty coffee (latte macchiato which comes out in layers, frothy topped espressos etc)
- no mess

- the individual coffee pods can be pricy, particularly for lattes, cappuccinos and hot chocolates which require two pods per drink. The basic coffees work out as 25 pence per drink, with the fancy ones costing 50 pence, although it is possibly to get some discount by buying them in larger boxes online or at Costco. As I am the only regular coffee drinker in the house I can live with the price of the pods, but if there were two or three of us drinking lots of coffee it could get very expensive fast. 

After a week of testing out various coffees (and the hot chocolate) I love it. I like strong coffee and the machine is churning out some very satisfying coffee hits - mostly I am choosing grande for a mug full, and espresso intenso for a supercharged coffee shot. I bought cappuccinos to share with middle daughter who is an occasional coffee drinker, and latte macchiato for the sheer pleasure of watching it make stripy layers. Both the cappuccino and latte macchiato have "skinny" options without sugar, which are perfect for someone like me who much prefers coffee unsweetened. I am amazed at how simple it is to make a complicated looking coffee. A bonus is that small daughter thinks the machine is great fun and keeps offering to make me drinks!

Stowe Gardens

Yesterday was my first free weekday since reducing my working hours. M and I have decided that whenever possible we are going to make Thursday a day for getting outside, walking and exploring. I suggested we join the National Trust so that we could take advantage of some of their beautiful properties both locally and when we are on holiday, so yesterday we headed off to Stowe near Buckingham. The house itself if a very expensive public (US translation: private) boarding school so not open to the public, but the spectacular 18th century gardens designed by Capability Brown for Lord Cobham, complete with a variety of classically inspired follies, are.

The weather forecast said that it would rain in the morning then clear by midday and be sunny in the afternoon. At midday when we arrived at Stowe it was still like this. 

We waited for a lull in the rain and made a run for the cafe. Our rather shaky faith in the weather forecast was rewarded, and by the time we had eaten lunch (pumpkin and tomato risotto for me, beef stew for M) the rain had stopped and there were patches of blue sky. There was also a lot of very chilly wind! We battled our way down the long entrance avenue, and by the time we arrived at the gardens the sun was out, the wind was lessening and it looked like this:

And from then on it was beautiful.

Muddy, but beautiful.