Monthly Archives: January 2016

Songs and sausages

National Breakfast week is drawing to a close and I have been doing my bit.

We’ve treated ourselves to a couple of days off from the farm because things are getting a bit intense and because we could do with some time to recharge our batteries – the two weeks off at Christmas was mostly spent cooking, cleaning and catching up on sleep so it wan’t really quality time. The lesson there is to plan your time off rather than sleep through it.

Yesterday was built round breakfast at Frankie and Bennys, followed by seeking out glass paints for Julia’s plastic flower project and then it was off to work for her, at the job that actually buys the groceries. I dropped her off, cooked and eventually  picked her up. At that point I served the food and found it hadn’t cooked properly, so it was Chewy Beef and Crunchy Carrot casserole for tea. You will search in vain for a recipe of that name.

I should probably point out here that F&B have not paid me or offered me any inducement to say I enjoyed the breakfast and the ambience, and that the quality and service were good and the cost reasonable.

However, if anyone from F&B is reading this, and would like to offer me any inducements for positive reviews in this blog I would be happy to accept.

Today was built around breakfast at Little Chef, followed by a visit to my Dad to drop of cards and presents for his 87th birthday on Sunday.


Olympic Breakfast

I like the Olympic Breakfast and it was well-cooked. It was at least equal to F&B, possibly even a little better. Ambience, service, cleanliness, value – F&B wins.  I don’t want to be one of those people who takes a swipe from the safety of the internet, so I won’t name the site or go into more details about the faults.

Despite this, I’ve been going to Little Chef for so long that they feel like they are part of the family and as such I will be prepared to accept inducements for positive reviews.

Anyway, there you have it – my social diary, a food review and my contribution to National Breakfast week. I’m actually quite pleased with myself, as I usually eat the food before I remember that I’m supposed to be photographing it. That’s why I never actually got on with the food blog I planned.

It was entertainment time at the home when we arrived, with a local entertainer singing to a selection of Jim Reeves, Guy Mitchell, Tommy Steel, Perry Como and various other stars of the 50s. I have to say the music wasn’t to my taste – reminding me too much of my father’s taste, but the audience loved him and I mentally filed a few tricks of the trade for working a crowd when I next have to visit a care home to do a presentation (which is actually coming up quite soon). Top man.


The March of Time

When I was a child I attended a number of schools that had outside toilets, dip pens and inkwells. One had central heating that ran through large pipes and Victorian radiators and the others had pot-bellied stoves. They also had school cooks and kitchens that prepared fresh food every day, disposing of the waste in pig bins. In 1978 we finally moved to a school with modern heating and inside toilets. That coincided with a general downturn in the moral fibre of the nation, though I don’t suppose it was caused by the provision of indoor plumbing for children.

However, we’re talking about 1963, and even by the standards of the day it was a bit of a museum piece. It was very much like this. It also had a flogging headmaster (who eventually got 4 years for inappropriate behaviour with girl pupils) and a map of the world. The map is the point of the story – it was mainly coloured red and pre-dated the the partition of India.

Moving on by 50 years, two of the group are going to South Africa on holiday so we did a jigsaw of Africa today. It’s a bit old as it belonged to our kids, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how things had changed.

On the school map (yes, there was a point to that preamble) we had places like Basutoland, Southern Rhodesia and Tanganyika. By the time the jigsaw was made these were Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

However, when we started the jigsaw it became clear that things had changed in Africa, even in the lifetime of my kids. As we pieced together Zaire, Upper Volta and the Somali Republic I realised how dated the puzzle was. When we had used the internet to identify African countries in the morning these had been Democratic Republic of Congo,  Burkina Faso and Somalia. Fortunately nobody noticed the changes.


Just shows how things change, and how much there is to learn. I’m just hoping nobody goes on holiday to Eastern Europe, because I’ve never been able to catch up with what happened to Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.





Back to school

Last night, when we double-checked everything ready for the school breakfast presentation this morning, we found we’d miscalculated. It wasn’t 300 children, it was 600. As a result we had to go through all the breakfast samples we had and divide them in half. We were still able to feed a multitude without recourse to loaves and fishes, and our outputs are going to look immense this year.

We left 600 happy children behind us, most of whom (according to their answers) have either cereal or waffles for breakfast. It’s a lot  better than a class we asked a couple of years ago who all seemed to have Nutella on toast.


It could have been worse, I once turned up with a lesson designed for 11-year-olds and gave it to a class of 7-year-olds. According to the teachers, it makes a difference. In my own defence, I didn’t realise they were that young, I just thought they were smaller than usual. Or possibly far away.

Short post today – I’m feeling lazy. We’re on the farm now but after the school stuff, lunch, admin and blog it’s time to weight the polytunnel down again (we have the end of Storm Jonas passing by at the moment) and go home while it’s still light.

I’m using a stock photo because we forgot to organise photographic permission for the school this morning – oh for the simple days when all you needed was a camera.





It’s been the first day of the year we could get out in the garden and we’ve done quite a bit this afternoon. Not all of it has been structured or done well, but it’s the thought that counts and we needed the exercise. Well, I needed the exercise.

We’re still in the process of planning the vegetable garden, partly through lethargy and partly through not knowing what the plans are for next year. Hopefully we will find out in the next week or so.


The sheep are carrying on, with two more lambs born over the weekend. They’re not very cooperative when it comes to posing for photographs at the moment. Unfortunately we had someone walking a dog without it being on a lead – that always makes them a bit jumpy. Makes you wonder what people are thinking. Or if they are thinking.

At the moment we’re practising for the bird watch this weekend. I’m having to answer a large number of questions, including the difference between a pied wagtail and a magpie (they are both black and white with long tails, which causes confusion) and why it might be better not to sit there sniggering at the common name of Phalacrocorax aristotelis. (It’s a shag for those of you who aren’t familiar with the poem, or with juvenile humour.)

Despite what the poem says, the common cormorant is not another name for shag, and what I always thought of as the common cormorant is now the Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). Tricky things these bird names, which is why we need the Latin names too.

The Common Cormorant

The common cormorant (or shag)
Lays eggs inside a paper bag,
The reason you will see no doubt,
Is to keep the lightning out.

But what these unobservant birds
Have failed to notice is that herds
Of wandering bears may come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.

Christopher Isherwood







It’s Breakfast week

I suppose every week is breakfast week for some of us. But 32% of children go to school without breakfast even in a developed country like the UK.

In Wales they have a scheme intended to provide access to school breakfasts for all children. Provision for the rest of the nation relies on individual councils.

It’s tempting to bring some missionary zeal to the idea of breakfast for all children, particularly after seeing projects like Mary’s Meals but it’s expensive and I’m not 100% sure that we should be doing it. Having a family is like having a dog, don’t have one unless you can look after it.

So, eat breakfast because it’s good for you. And make sure you make your kids eat breakfast (though I believe bloggers will already be doing this).

If you aren’t already giving your kids breakfast all you need to do is chuck them a cereal bar – how difficult can it be?

As part of the week’s events we are going to talk to two school assemblies tomorrow. Three hundred children. I don’t like public speaking at the best of times but holding the attention of that many kids is going to be tricky.

I’ve heard people say they would rather die than speak in public. I wouldn’t go that far, even though I really do loathe it, but I’m thinking that if Julia organises anything like this again I might just kill her.



Artisan baking – the inside story

It was a depleted Baking Group today, a mere shadow of its normal self, as many of the group are in India. There has been a distinct lack of contact from any of them, which leads me to believe that they are probably enjoying themselves far too much. We certainly did.

Everything went fine until the bit where we left the dough to “double in size”. It didn’t. In fact it was hard pressed to show any sort of interest in rising at all. That was probably a fault of the room temperature. It had been below freezing last night and wasn’t much better this morning. That in turn, was a fault in me, because I hadn’t anticipated the temperature.

As a result, the flour was cold and the air was cold. Even I was cold and I’m insulated like a walrus. With hindsight I should have warmed the flour. I should also have turned up an hour earlier and warmed the room. I don’t suppose our Indian contingent are having these problems.

The proving did not go well, with only one out of four rising properly (there’s always one, isn’t there?) Even after standing the bowls in the door of the oven, the extra heat only warmed the top if the dough, the underside remained determinedly cold. The three of us with underdeveloped dough decided, after two pots of tea and a patient wait, that it was time to proceed regardless of the rising. Things actually turned out quite well despite this.

We managed one plait, one fougasse, a flat bread and a boule, using rosemary from the garden. I use those names to add credibility to what we produced, and provide a clue as to what they were meant to be. They all managed a second rise in the oven, producing slightly larger than life varieties of what had been intended.  That’s the beauty of hand made bread, it never turns out badly, it’s just “artisan baking”. If it had been a bit rougher round the edges it would have been “rustic”.


Fougasse and boule

OK, to be honest, the plait was a bit rustic, as it pulled in rising and produced stretch marks where the pattern crossed. I’m going to have to do better before the next class.

I’m not sure about the other bread because I’ve only cut into mine but I’d say that it looks more dense towards the bottom so there’s a lack of kneading as well as a lack of proving going on. Having said that, the dough felt good and produced good windows when stretched. It also tastes good, which is really what home baking is about.


Plait, complete with stretch marks

Final verdict – has its faults, bit rough round the edges but great taste. Bit like me really.


Staring at the screen in search of a title

We’ve had a productive day – collected eggs, listed, cleaned and maintained tools,  ditto for gloves (but it involves more complaining as we pair them up and work out how many we’ve lost), admired lambs, written up project folders, sharpened massive numbers of coloured pencils, looked at goats, cut back old herbs and, in my case, been generally cheerful in the face of adversity (working with a bunch of sneezing hypochondriacs can be very wearing). I am very good like that.

Then we looked at the lambs again and checked them against the standard for the Badger Face Welsh Mountain sheep. One of them definitely has the black stripe along the belly that is distinctive to the breed. It’s a bit of a mess as stripes go, but it is there. It’s neither good news or bad, but it’s human nature to enjoy finding something new.

There was a buzzard sitting on a fence post by the side of the A46 this morning, looking very spick and span. We followed that up with good sightings of 30-40 Fieldfares and 10 Redwings. There were also about 20 Jackdaws in the same field and a handful of Starlings. The next field had a couple of pairs of red-legged partridges (there’s a shoot this weekend and one in two weeks, after which they will be safe for the spring and summer). Sadly I don’t have photos of the birds, which is something I will try to address this year.

Julia is currently showing a teacher round with a view to us having a visit in February, and I am sitting staring at the screen in search of a title.



Pointless success!

I spent yesterday ‘working from home’. I’ve always thought of it scornfully as a 21st Century euphemism for doing very little, and that was how it turned out.

I managed a leisurely breakfast, a trip to the library and a lift to town for Julia, then did about an hour of paperwork. Fortunately, as my paid work is pretty flexible, I will still put in my hours in the rest of the week so no harm done. It is, as generations of teachers have said, my own time that I’m wasting.

At the end of the day I washed up, made a venison casserole, roasted some vegetables and washed up again. That concluded the “work” element of the day, but that would have needed doing anyway.

In the middle of the day I read a portion of Catriona by Robert Louis Stevenson as part of my plan to read better books. It’s on my Kindle, so I can’t tell you of my progress in terms of pages, just that it was about 30%. Pages would be meaningless anyway, as I have the type size turned up so I can read without glasses. There aren’t many words to a page at that setting!

Sleep also took part of the day as I drifted off after lunch and woke an hour and a half later to find that, with the heating off, I felt cold and my joints felt stiff. Now I know what rigor mortis is going to feel like.

Finally, whilst watching Pointless, I hit on two pointless answers in the final round. Usually they select film or football as topics and I can’t even come up with the required three answers. This time they chose politics, which is also usually pretty dire for me. However, the subject was 19th Century British Prime Ministers. I went for Lord John Russell and Lord Aberdeen but I hesitated over Lord Derby or Lord Salisbury. I went for Salisbury. Turns out I should have gone for Derby, which would have given me three pointless answers. Viscount Goderich made up the fourth of the pointless answers in case you’re interested – he was in power between Canning and Wellington but I don’t remember him at all. I’m going to have to brush up on my Prime Ministers, though, as Meatloaf says ‘two out of three ain’t bad’.





You asked for cute…

Second post of the day and it’s only lunchtime!

First we did the measurements for the Woodland Trust, despite the low temperatures. Looks like they need a bit of pruning but short arms and long pockets seem to be in charge at the moment.



Then we took pictures of the new lambs. We have five now and, despite the dangers of stress we have moved them inside. It’s a trade off, but they’re soft lowland sheep and the snow could be a problem. So far they are all doing well.


Good day for birds

We’ve already had a good day for birds, with a flock of 30 Fieldfares on the fields down Lodge Lane,  a Green Woodpecker on the cherry trees by the centre and  a pair of Robins on the willow archway. You can tell they are a pair because they aren’t trying to kill each other – they really are unpleasantly aggressive birds despite the cute depictions on Christmas cards.

Sorry the picture isn’t more relevant but I don’t have many bird pictures to select from.

It’s the Big Garden Birdwatch on the weekend of 30-31 January, followed by the Big Farmland Bird Count two weeks later. We will be doing both though our garden isn’t very good for birds at the moment – more work needed. We will be making fat balls from lard and paper cups later today, so it’s a start. We must also get the second bird-feeder rigged up to provide more variety. I suspect that’s one of the benefits of the bird counts – not just getting data but reminding people to feed birds.

Thinking of birds naturally leads on to worms – so check these out. It’s just the thing to help get over “Blue Monday” though how anyone could be depressed on a day like today, I’m not sure. I suppose if you don’t have  a job that allows you to see woodpeckers it’s harder to be cheerful.

Of course, when you read that made “Blue Monday” is up by a holiday company without proper evidence things start to fall into place. For me, it’s the first happy day I’ve had since Christmas. I don’t like my routine being disrupted, and I don’t like the short days. Now that I’m back in a routine (or a rut as some people would describe it) and the days are getting significantly lighter I’m happy