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.