Holiday treats

We had a lovely week in a fairly isolated bay in Corfu – looking over the sea and high on a hillside. Our main exercise was walking to the bay and taverna – up and down a 1 in 5 rough hillside. Glow worms twinkling when we staggered home in the evenings.

A couple of weeks ago I had a deep dive (40m) and saw many large barrel sponges, lots of whip coral and some red and purple sea cucumbers. … On the way back to shore, the pilot of the boat saw a whale shark under about 6m of water, so we got close then went in with mask, fins and snorkel and tried to swim with it. It was about 6m long (they said) which is small for a whale shark, but by lazily sweeping its huge tail from side to side it went too quick for me to keep up for long. It was great to see it.

We’ve been going swimming yesterday and will be going swimming at the park today when X’s woken up in a rain kind of thing, which wets people but not the people on the other equipment at the park. [!]

We did do some short ‘walks’ in the Drakensburgs. They are marked paths which supposedly anyone can do. One was a 4 hour walk, and it took us that long, virtually to the minute. However we didn’t realize that we would be doing some rock climbing on it, and probably wouldn’t have done it had we been warned. Once we’d got to the top of the ridge it was very windy, freezing cold, but with a superb view.

She is back after 10 weeks in the Solomon Islands. Her dreams of a tropical island paradise were rather shattered there: beautiful blue sea which she couldn’t swim in because of the coral and various sorts of sea creatures (hostile sorts), lovely white sand which turned out on closer inspection to be gritty pieces of coral only to be walked on with thick-soled sandals and a sun which doesn’t just burn, it frazzles.

There are a few celebrations now planned… The team are going on a boat trip up the Hawkesbury River. The boat is the last ‘mail boat’ in Australia and provides a mail service to people living on the Hawkesbury. I think it is more of a tourist attraction these days but it should be a really relaxing day.

Prague is wonderful – even considering we never saw any sunshine – cloudy and rainy and cold. … We ate at the local cafes – went to lots of music concerts in different churches 5 p.m. or 7 p.m. You can dash to two if you like – went to the theatre. Had 5 days in Prague and then went to a Baroque old town in the South. Sun came out … Bohemia was beautiful countryside and old country towns.

… such a nice letter from X this a.m. She suggests that I go for a short coach tour in Switzerland next spring. Given I can sell the house and feel less broke and more energetic I’d rather fancy going with her.

whale watching

In April we went on a Caribbean cruise on the Norway which used to be the SS France when she was a Trans-Atlantic liner. It was a wonderful holiday with great weather and very relaxing. In September my friends came to visit and we had a lovely time including going whale watching in the Bay of Fundy – what a fantastic experience to see them so close up – the whales I mean!!!

We all keep on gardening

My B&B business is still thriving, nearly all the proceeds of which go into the upkeep of the garden. However hard I try to be abstemious, I always end up spending a fortune on seeds and plants each year, and then wondering why I have to spend so much time watering when the weather is hot and dry! … some things did extremely well, such as roses, peas, garlic, onions and autumn raspberries, while others failed quite spectacularly, in particular, summer raspberries, most tree fruit and broad beans. All my tomatoes and peppers were very late producing anything edible, due to the lack of sun in early summer, but there wasn’t a sign of the usual infestation of whitefly. There’s no pleasing gardeners, is there!

I had a lad who helped with the mowing for most of the summer. Very useful but he did it so badly that it nearly drove me to drink!

The ground is squelchy with wet after last night’s downpour and there won’t be very much more I can usefully do in the garden until it dries up a bit! The poor little seedlings do look bedraggled after it and I might earth them up a bit I suppose, but it seems rather fiddly and pointless to mess with them. Actually the slugs will finish them off in one more night if I leave them I expect – they have devoured a line of carrots, the first line of kale and sprouts and all the dwarf beans to date so there isn’t much hope I feel!

There is quite a large backyard which has an orange tree and some vegetables which I planted. However it mainly looks very run down as nothing has been done to it for years. I expect I will have to battle for several more years to rid it of noxious grasses which just take over if not kept constantly in check. Come autumn I will have planned it (I hope) and can plant some shrubs and ground cover which should improve it greatly. I have things in the front garden now – some cooking herbs, a climbing rose (to hide the iron fence), a white and ordinary coloured lavender, a rosemary bush, and two daisies both of which have a fungus and will have to be destroyed.

…if you’re against strong poisons on weeds and have only a small area, a drop of petrol will go down to the roots in no time, useful for between paving.

water creature

 

For my birthday in July everyone generously gave me money so I could put a water feature in the garden or, as X calls it, my water creature.

 

The garden has been lovely, always something new… I got quite a lot of strawberries last year, made lots of my strawberry syrup and bottled it. We shall use most of our homemade jams in the tearoom, muffins & jam etc. I may do marmalade and lemon curd for sale as one can make them any time. We have a good fig tree too, some citrus and mulberries besides plenty of pawpaws. We may do things like homemade bread & pate for lunches, and fruit salad. Youngberries and blackberries are growing well. Hazel nut trees have taken and one sweet chestnut tree, one blackcurrant (one small shoot survived the new gardener!) [Green with envy re this list!]

The weather here in Sydney is gradually getting warmer as spring turns into summer. The trees and shrubs are all in bloom so the City looks great. The Jacaranda trees have been stunning. I went on a garden excursion recently – to see some private gardens in the Blue Mountains. Unfortunately it rained all day and it really rains hard here. Anyway we had to spend a lot more time on refreshments than viewing.

The varieties of potatoes have me intrigued. One of the ‘house’ type magazines I bought had a feature on potatoes: it was really quite an education. One rather intriguing one is Purple Congo which is quite small and dark purple. I t mashes quite well apparently, to a beautiful lavender shade reminiscent of a colour some elderly ladies used to like their blouses. A bit off-putting, so I haven’t tried it, even though the writer of the article did promise it was very tasty. I am not going to have any vegetables other than a few herbs in pots. I cannot get enough sun at the right time for them to grow properly. I don’t want to put them in the front, although many home gardeners of Mediterranean origin do. You see these beautifully staked beans and tomatoes in beds next to the roses, which may have garlic or onions growing under them. … I sort of run out of steam when planting the front, as I came to the foundations of the original house in just that strip where I could plant. So it was digging and prising small stones from between very much larger and heavier ones, and chipping off the sopping old mortar. I couldn’t get out the largest: they were just too heavy, apart from being at a depth of from just above my knees down. I would see people drive and walk slowly past me trying to peer inconspicuously to see what I was doing, knee-deep in my own front garden.

Property – values/repairs/layout

Are you still enjoying your flat in London? Is the interest still going up and crippling you or are things easier now? It must have increased quite considerably already in capital value. My flat has increased in value to more than three times what I paid for it 6 years ago. I’m not sorry I bought!

the balcony

I have moved… I wanted a balcony…It is on the 6th floor and on a ridge so from such an elevation the lights at night are quite magnificent… I overlook an Indian Community – mostly lovely big homes. Part of their culture is to keep roosters. These do a lot of crowing in the early hours. I love it – it is like being on a farm!!

My poor house hasn’t progressed very much. This summer, providing it isn’t too hot, I plan to do renovations including paving my verandah and purchasing a garden shed to get rid of all of the odds and ends making the back of my house (inside and out) look like a reduced version of Steptoe’s yard.

I have two very smart door bells… the back door does a vibrant ‘come at once’ sort of ring and the front door does more of a Big Ben ‘Ping Pang’ – all marvellously suburban and quite right for such a dead-end road as we are… Both doors are down the side of the bungalow in ridiculous places as the kitchen door comes first so automatically one goes there – just as well as the front door opens cheek by jowl with the loo/bathroom door and I can imagine awkward confrontations and lurkings until the caller has gone!!

How I pity you with that selling business and I do hope the agent shows himself worthy of the colossal percentage and achieves a sale. Ones home suddenly seems shabby and unworthy and the callers look as though they can’t imagine anyone bearing with it and peer around suspiciously.

I have decided, after strenuously denying that I required one, to employ an architect to do my house. It will add considerably to the cost, however I have not got the energy to do the work. (Get the design through the local council, and supervise the building work.)… Of course I will be the worst possible client, as I have Ideas as to what I want. (Reading the architectural magazines, I have gathered that the ‘ideal client’ is the one who is willing to go with whatever the architect comes up with. Well, that’s not me.)

I am in the process of buying the dullest bungalow in X in a row of similar horrors so that I can’t even recognise mine yet. Never mind, it seems delightfully small and compact.

My house plans are static at the moment. I haven’t given up the idea, however I need the bigger income. As yet, I have not had any word as to my salary evaluation. According to our award, I am being under-paid. However, whether they will cough up or not is another matter. I have a collection of wonderful glossy magazines with beautiful places in, but of course I will have to come down to earth when I actually start doing it – even a bigger salary will only stretch to fairly ordinary basics.

The house renovations must be grim to live with but no doubt when all is finished you will be glad you did it. Contractors always do that sort of thing – take on several jobs at once and never finish any one completely… X had their house almost completely rebuilt by architects this year. So they are living in chaos still. All the outside walls were pulled off and for a time they lived behind tarpaulin sheets!

It has taken me the entire year to do all the improvements to my new home amidst HEAT, DUST and NOISE and much moving to and fro of furniture and accessories etc. etc…. I have a top-of-the-range ceiling fan in my bedroom so I can actually sleep under a blanket – and that is on speed 1 (of 5). Any higher and I may wake up pinned to the ceiling… The only problem here is that being closer to nature (2nd floor, previously 6th floor) moths and beetles and things fly in, in the hot weather.

It is indeed a most exceptional place, on a hill 5 Km from sea and shops, sea view, dream home, dream kitchen, granny flat, 2 garages under house, paved curved driveway and by the way a cycal in the front garden!! Small pool, gazebo seating 12, also separate cottage at far end of property, terraced beds for fruit, plenty of fruit and nuts, pawpaws, about 3 1/2 acres, old trees etc. etc. [Can we all have a place like this?]

A woman’s work is never done

I’m only tired if I do too much, like last week when I supervised 3 School Certificate papers, went to an Xmas party, a school committee meeting, had a 12 hour day filming for a chemist’s ad, drove to X and back for a cricket match and then had a w/e with a school fair (‘Bring 2 cakes!’) and the Confirmation.

I hope there are now lots of other staff there apart from you. And as to that ungrateful greedy parent – I should be inclined to spit in her eye and let fly with curses I think! It really is hardly worth trying and you must sometimes despair.

drinking for two

As I’d baked bread and biscuits, washed my hair, shopped and gone to a polite tea party, and made a dip for the evening + cooked dinner, and then spent over 2 hours polite chat – combined with Y’s potent punch as X was driving, I feel flattened today – but we’ve got 3 functions we should go to this p.m.

Music/theatre/art

I am glad you got to ‘Cats’ – I wanted to go to see Wayne Slepe (isn’t that the wrong spelling? – it looks very queer) after I had heard him on some radio programme – his dancing always intrigues me even though I haven’t seen much of it. The words of ‘Cats’ must have been rather like listening to the Te Deum or anything else in church – it does help so much if the words swim back into one’s brain from long ago and one suddenly finds the choir seems to be singing sense instead of mumbo jumbo.

Elite Syncopations was sold out long before the Festival, but I’ve seen it on TV with that marvellous india-rubber man, Wayne Sleep. I ought to have seen the Degas exhibition but found the work in the garden too absorbing just then.

You’re quite right to have written off Francis Bacon the essayist in the 17th century – the other one is a way out mod. painter. He did a series of angular men on a loo, from different angles – and the Pope without a face and one rather clever one, a self-portrait sitting on a bed with his legs going [writing very illegible!] and his head spinning off the top – these are remembered from ages ago so could be a bit inaccurate! He’s definitely peculiar and into drugs etc. – not trained and works from cuttings and photographs; another horror one is a side of beef which in some way he interpreted the crucifixion – I hope it’s not two other people I’m remembering!

The concert was in our new church hall. The performance was very much a curate’s egg. The best performer probably was a lady who plays the harp but she chose to play a long suite which was way over my head. There was a baritone who would have had X putting her fingers in her ears – painfully loud he was in that chamber; two people playing duets on the piano who would have been enjoyable if they had practised together a little more, and so on.

Give me the radio any day, but I know that I am a bit cranky, or very much blinder than I should be as I find it v. tiring watching these enormous coloured pictures that dominate everybody’s sitting room.

my recorder

Last weekend I went to a concert of Baroque Christmas music. It was most enjoyable, and I have to say it was refreshing to hear something different from the usual carols. There were some recorder pieces in the concert. I think that those players’ recorders must be different from mine – mine never sounds like that!!!

Pets

No lady in his life at present but he remains faithful to X, his dog, who goes simply everywhere with him.

X has gone up the village and left the puppy with me in my study – which is not conducive to concentration, as I have to be constantly defending my bookcases from being ransacked. I wouldn’t mind if she was going to read them. She has already eaten two throat sweets from beside my bed today, and chewed the remaining two so that they will have to be thrown away.

…we are supposed to be going there next July. However X, the dog, missed us so much that if she is still alive we might have to cancel next year. She is on senile dementia pills now – which I might share with her!

No doubt you will remember the pet Bantams – sadly the inevitable happened this weekend and a neighbour’s dog enjoyed them for breakfast. I suspect that they disposed of the carcases in the skip they had out front, as there was very little evidence in their garden – just a few feathers and a couple of bones… They didn’t tell her what happened when she went to ask in the morning, and just let her search in vain all day – until she found the bones and feathers – they’ve still not apologised! She is hoping to replace the Bantams with a goldfish (the bright idea of one of her friends) but currently I don’t think I could cope with the trauma should Puss decide goldfish for brekky is a tasty idea!

They own a Doberman dog which is the most timid animal I’ve ever met. It was attacked by another dog as a pup and X thinks she has never quite recovered.

The kitten has grown – I can just hear you say ‘guess what!!’ or something similar! He is beautiful and probably the most spoilt in the world. Partner is gushier than I am! We had him fixed last week – he was v. sore for a day but seems to be back to normal now!

X has had a stray cat hanging around her house who seems very lonely and hungry – so she caught it as the vet said if she brought him in he’d rehouse it – but when she took it in last week the vet said he was very sick and it would be kinder to put him down – she was very sad – she is such a beautiful person and so kind.

We lost one of our tortoises yesterday. We have three and we think the big one crawled out of the box. As it is quite large we hope that it will be OK in the garden. The only worry is that it may get dried out, as there is no stream or drain near by. We’ve put dishes with water around, which the snails have made full use of.

naughty puss

Puss has recently been fattening himself up for winter and is now very cuddly! We have decided to put him on a diet as he does not need to be so heavy. I wonder if he has been visiting other plates sometimes! He can be very charming if it will get him a feed. When we won’t feed him he pulls everything off the front of the fridge! and then if he still gets no attention he pushes all the magnets under the fridge. Little Monkey!

 

We had to replace the dog, we now have another welfare dog, female, medium Boxer type with white short hair and a brown patch over one eye and ear!

Puss is still on the diet but doesn’t seem to be getting any smaller! 8 kgs! He is a big cat but is still overweight. We might have to try harder!

At the moment, we have kept our front field sheep-free so that all the outside dogs can enjoy a good run off the lead; it’s so good to see them hurtling about that I think we’ll leave it that way. Fortunately, all the cats and dogs are still with us – eight cats of assorted shapes, sizes, colour and temperaments, and five dogs. The two miniature wire-haired Dachshunds are now thirteen, and, apart from being a bit stiff first thing in the morning, still behaving like puppies. The greyhound left with us by a burglar, and the all-bouncing cross between a yo-yo and goodness-knows-what-else, have been joined this year by a third farmyard dog – a rescued Border Collie, who had been chained to a stake in the middle of a field with no shelter from the elements, for more than two years (nearly all his life, in fact). He was only supposed to be staying with us for one night, on his way down the escape route of safe houses, until he was well away from his previous owner. But he was in such a dreadful state that he really wasn’t well enough to travel any further, hardly being able to stand through lack of food or exercise. So we decided to keep him, as you do! We called him after the SAS man who ‘rescued’ him, and now, five months later, you would hardly recognise him as the same dog.

Food and cooking

I’m not sick of fish yet but would die of surprise if I saw a green leafy vegetable on my plate. With so many plants growing freely around it always surprises me no green vegetables are planted.

Flatting helps one appreciate food at home all the more! It’s not that we can’t cook, because we both do pretty well in that department, but – us poor students – at home there’s nice food, one doesn’t have to work hard to jolly it up.

whisky & weaving

Here we are in the damp Scottish mists – now I know why they make so much whisky and weave so much – they need to in order to survive the damp. I feel like a fungus already.

 

 

 

Today I made my Christmas cakes. Rather late in the piece, I’m afraid, however they are done. I have two to give away and one to keep. I also made some shortbread from an untried recipe which is rather disappointing. I am putting a piece of it out of its misery as I write this. [For Christmas] I am having a duck galantine which I will cook in the morning, or the night before, and some salads. I don’t want to have to cook, then eat, a roast if it is hot.

I sat with another volunteer at lunch and she spent the whole time telling me how wonderful her microwave was and how quickly it did everything. I think I am too old to bother, and perhaps it isn’t really necessary for one person alone, as the cooking doesn’t take long anyhow, and the sound of making sauces and so on in it leaves me cold. I expect it would be good for you when you come in late from work, but the outlay would take a lot of saving on electricity! I was delighted when somebody else joined us as she proclaimed that meat didn’t taste as good done in one, and she didn’t think it all that wonderful.