Monday, September 03, 2007

Plum Jam for Tea

Shakespeare once wrote, “Some people are born jam makers, some achieve jam making, and other have jam making thrust upon them”. Actually he didn’t, but if he had been around our place recently he would have done.

It has no longer become necessary for us to go out and forage for tasty treats, they have found us and, slightly distressingly, they have brought their friends along for the party. Knowing nothing about gardens apart from what I have accidentally stumbled across this year, it appears that by sheer accident FTC has a garden where plants love to grow … and grow … and grow …

Faced with a plum tree that was more purple than green, Keith decided that unless I stopped his precious four wheeled babies from getting a new splat effect paintjob, the tree was history.

Faced with a stubborn Keith, I decided to offer plums on a local ‘swapshop’ for anyone brave, or stupid enough to come and get them.

Apparently basket wielding, ladder climbing, bargain hunters are even less popular with the man of the house than the offending fruit had been, so in a cunning ploy to foil their efforts, he decided to enlist the help of our friend Hen to plunder what was left on the tree.

In the spirit of education this might be a good time to impart some pearls of wisdom learned from their efforts.

1. The bravado of a man is increased by roughly 10x when around other men.
2. The common sense of a man is decreased by roughly the same ratio
3. Drinking moonshine before climbing a tree does not improve fruit picking skills.
4. Moonshine also prevents a man from identifying how rotten a branch is before they climb onto it.
5. Skoda Rapides make good landing mats.
6. Boxes of plums do not.
7. A man can make a competition of almost any activity, including plum picking.
8. The success of any fruit picking enterprise is gauged by the size of the resulting haul.
9. Men expect appreciation when presenting the results of their labour and take a dim view of being questioned as to exactly what they expect to have done with a hundred weight of over-ripe plums.

So, to go back to my first statement, some people have jam making thrust upon them.

It’s a black art this jam making business. Hours of measuring, and chopping, and sifting, slicing open of fingers, boiling and straining and you’re left with a pot of superheated, strangely coloured, sugary goodness that scalds your nostrils when you lift the pan lid and defies any attempt to work out whether it’s in fact ready to be slopped into your freshly sterilised jars.

Plates in freezers, thermometers, backs of spoons, none of them make the slightest bit of sense when you’re trying to work these things out and the difference between fruit water and toffee seems to be the same length of time it takes to run to the toilet for a quick pee.

Not only that, but it is virtually impossible to pour jam into jars without coating yourself, the jars, worktop and floor in scalding hot fruit mush, which I wouldn’t mind, were it not for the fact that what hits the inside of the jar seems to stay stubbornly watery, and everything outside, especially anything that has landed on anything hairy, such as a dog, seems to immediately turn into sticky concrete.

Which leads me to the final insult. Despite careful calculation, I always seem to have an extra jar of jam sitting in the bottom of the pot. Necessity being the mother of invention however the tea bags are now in the spices pot, the coffee is now in the tea pot and there is jam in the coffee pot – don’t ask me, it made sense at the time, and I had about 3 minutes before the only way of cleaning the pan was with a hefty dose of napalm.

Despite all of the above, there is something very soothing about making jam. Even if my current efforts are more ably consumed with a straw than on toast, it’s been a fun foray into the domestic arts, and if anyone wants any plums, or jam, you know where we are.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Goode Life

It’s been 9 weeks since the big day, and I’m sure by now you are all sick to the back teeth of seeing the photos. Things at home don’t feel very different to the way they did before, but there is a slight change, more of a sense of permanence I think, and a sense of contentment. Either that or we have a gas leak.

Being an old married couple seems to have had a rather strange impact on both Keith and I in one area however, we seem to have gone into “Goode Life” overdrive. The kitchen windowsill is now a nursery for melon plants, rhubarb plants and pepper plants (dubbed King Peppers by the man who would be the ruler of the vegetables) while outside we have a bed full of lettuce and the plant pots seem to be breeding overnight.

Worse still, Keith and I are now known to come over all wild and glazed when it comes to the newest pastime to hit FTC ... foraging … depths to which even Tom and Barbara didn’t sink!!

It started fairly innocently, taking the dogs for a walk and seeing all the ripe, juicy blackberries lining the footpaths was too much to resist. We started collecting handfuls to add to a growing collection in the freezer but before long we were collecting them by the bagful and the freezer is now awash with purple.

Most people would have kept a sense of perspective about the idea of free food, perhaps enjoyed the occasional picking session and used the results in a crumble or a pie. Most people wouldn't, however, have gone onto Amazon and bought several guides to foraging. Most people wouldn't have served up wilted dandelion leaves to their long suffering families at Sunday lunch having first made them go out and pick them armed with a photo a colander. Most people wouldn't have row upon row of chamomile flower drying on a tea towel on the kitchen work surfaces. Most people wouldn't spend evening after evening stoning sour cherries to make one small pie to serve up to their relatives. Most people wouldn't have dragged the entire family to the local woods and refused to leave until they had collected a bag full of mushrooms which it later turned out were inedible and most people certainly wouldn't have just made their first batch of Sloe Gin ready for Christmas.

On that basis it would seem we are not most people.

There's something very seductive about free food. On the one hand everyone loves a bargain, and what could be more of a bargain than getting food for free? Then there's the satisfaction of having produced something for yourself, something you could buy for less at a supermarket but which brings the most incredible sense of achievement and is always guaranteed to ‘taste better’. And finally, there's the unbelievable joy at finding a whole world of food that you haven't tried before; food with weird and wonderful tastes (some more weird than wonderful). I’m sure one of the books has an introduction which fanatically expounds the virtues of foraging while listing endless statistics on how small a percentage of crops the world relies on in this modern age, but I can’t remember them, I just remember that we eat a lot of very few crops and apparently, that’s not wise.

For anyone slowly reaching for the keys to the padded room, normal service is still alive and kicking in other areas of FTC. Keith has earned his grease monkey stripes getting Retro Custom off the ground with Larry. In point of fact, things have been so busy for the guys that I made a few cameo appearances there building an interior for one of their customer’s campers. I don’t pretend it will win any awards for innovation or build quality, but it’ll last a few years of summer roaming, and that’s not bad for a first attempt. The end result is a pretty nifty interior with a slight Scandanavian feel which could, I think, set a new trend in camper style. It’s just a shame I won’t get the chance to dress it with suitable knickknacks to really finish the look but I have been reliably informed that future owners may take a dim view of potentially deadly missiles in the event of any emergency braking. Personally I think they are overestimating the braking abilities of a 50 year old camper.

And as for the boys, well there’s been a small amount of drama surrounding Harry recently. A local dog seems to have taken severe umbrage to El Stumpio and has, on three separate occasions now, tried to rip his throat out. The necessary conversations have been had but the little lad did take a knock in the confidence department for a while. He’s back to his usual trouble making levels now and Keith is hoping to start taking both the boys to the farm soon. Should make for an interesting spectator sport considering the farm has a large and stroppy pig population, as I found out first hand when I went to collect Keith and ended up with a sea of pink curly tails and large yellow teeth around my car. Harry Vs pig … best start foraging for some apples.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

How to earn a holiday

Well this has been a fun few weeks for the nearest and dearest of FTC !!!

The wedding is now officially CLOSE! In fact, it is 4 weeks today as Keith so generously pointed out to me this morning. If I’m honest, I wish we were flying out tomorrow. But then there is a chance I might be a little excited.

The only slight issue in recent preparations has been that of the invisible, but nonetheless significant social chasm between UK and Gibraltar. For anyone not familiar with the place, this following account may give you a flavour of how Gibraltar views the service sector. 

For the Gib veterans, this will come as no surprise ...

A few weekends ago, Keith and I went down to Best Man Bill’s house for various reasons, including a cake tasting session to decide on what we would have at the wedding. Having slaved over a hot stove for a large part of Saturday afternoon we had a shortlist of 3 cakes, two of which would take pride of place at my Uncle’s for the wedding day feast. Having debated the relative merits of various flavours (and come to no firm conclusion other than it is possible to eat too much cake) I made an executive choice of baked vanilla cheesecake and a lemon drizzle cake.

I was informed by those in the know that the *only* place to order a cake in Gib was a certain shop on Main Street. That week, I dutifully scanned in the recipes we wanted to use (to avoid confusion) and emailed them over to the shop in question. Having heard nothing for a few days I decided to follow up with a phone call …..

“Oh Hello, my name is Natasha Garcia and I emailed you with some recipes for my wedd….”

“Yes you emailed us, hang on a moment … NIƇAAAAA, IT’S THE WOMAN WITH THE CHEESE WEDDING CAKE”

Hmmm, not a good start, but maybe it’s just the way she phrases things.


“Umm hello I’m the lady who sent you through the email about the wedding cakes”

Show no fear. If they sense weakness, they attack and you’ll put the phone down having ordered a chocolate mousse with hundreds and thousands

“Yes I saw your mail. The lemon drizzle cake is no problem but the other one we don’t do”

I must be imagining things …

“You don’t make cheesecake?”

“NOooooUUUU” …

Now, I know she only said No, but what I heard was “you crazy foreign woman, why on earth would we make a cake entirely of cheese. Who would ever want such a thing?!?”. Apparently, a century of popular pudding trends has entirely passed this place by. Two options here, convince her to try and make it following the recipe or go with something else.

… “We’ll do the lemon drizzle cake for 20, no?”

Ah fantastic, why didn’t I think of that … no hang on, that won’t work, we have citrus allergies going on so we’ll need another cake

“Umm, I’m afraid I need to have a cake with no citrus in it too. What else do you do?”

Please no sponge, please no sponge!!!

“We do a lovely carrot cake with icing on the top. But it has walnuts in it”

Run through the known allergies of all attending guests – clear!

“That would be lovely. Can we have the carrot cake for 10, and the lemon drizzle for 10 please”

Phew!! Drama over!!

“Of course!! You want me to put a little bride and groom on the top?”


“No thanks, just the icing”

“You want me to put some words?

“No thanks, just the icing”

“Or some ribbons?”

“No thanks, just the icing”

Oh please, for the love of god woman, just let me order my cakes!!

“You just want the icing?!”

Why do I get the impression that with those few well-chosen words, this woman is accusing me of either a) fabricating the fact that I’m getting married or b) implying that I am the shame of my entire family?

“Just the icing please”

………… silence …………

“So when is the wedding”

“the 20th June, but it’s at 10am”

I’ve come across this a few minutes ago with the flowers, you people don’t believe in opening until midday so I know you’re going to complain about ungodly hours – just to add to your general disgust at me and my foreign early rising ways.

“It’s at 10?!? Where is it?!?”


“At the Alameda”

“The cathedral?”

“No the Alameda”

Yes I am a godless wench who will burn in hell for all eternity

“And where are you going afterwards?”


“to Watergardens”

“OK you pick it up between the ceremony and the reception. We’ll have them ready for you”

yeah no worries, you’ll know who I am because I’ll be the one in the chuffing great white dress

See, this is the problem with coming from a place smaller than an average sized puddle and living somewhere tainted by such wild and heretical concepts as customer service.

Only four more weeks to go … nervous laugh

The one advantage to all the stresses of organizing a long distance (Earth to Mars perhaps??) wedding is that it throws into sharp relief the relaxing aspects of your life … like free ponds!!!

Having talked about water features, pumps, filters and other high tech gadgetry, the man of the house has now decided that the pond will be left au natural. I take it as code for “I couldn’t get a pump from freecycle” but still, I’m grateful for small mercies.

Having decided on the route we would take, it was of course necessary to start developing some kind of biological cycle in said water hazard so off to the Koi Centre we went. Several oxygenating plants, a lily, an iris, 3 freshwater mussels and a sacrificial carp later, we were left with this.

Not a bad start and it appears as if we have also bought the captain speedy of the mollusk world – one of the mussels spends his days doing doughnuts in the mud – which is actually a really great way to spend a few minutes and has certainly given me a newfound respect for them as a species.

Oooh, we’re also halfway to picking a bumper crop of fruit and veg, so don’t be surprised if you visit us and it’s tomatoes, peas and blueberries for dinner!!!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

What a Difference a Day Makes ...

Some days don’t have much to say for themselves. You get up, you go to work, you come home, kiss the other half, eat your dinner and go to bed.

Other days have a lot to say for themselves.

The 2nd May started in the usual sort of way, but by the time our heads hit the pillow, Keith and I had made a very important decision. We’re getting married.

*pause for readers to wipe spat coffee from screens and pick themselves back off floor*

It was all down to Pillock, his lovely wife Claire and their beautiful little daughter Callie. Not that they would know a thing about it yet. We were at Callie’s naming ceremony, and, as you sometimes do at these occasions, we started talking about the future, and about getting married.

We talked about a simple ceremony in the Alameda Gardens in Gibraltar with a small band of family and closest friends watching us from the Bridge of Sighs followed by a simple meal in a restaurant on the beach. We talked about wearing flip flops on our feet, about being there for a week and going on a sharking trip for a stag do. We talked about ending the day on a beach in La Linea looking at the rock with a bottle of champagne between us.

So that’s what we’re doing.

On the 20th June 2007 at 10am

*pause for readers to wipe spat coffee from screens and pick themselves back off floor*

A little short notice, I grant you, but what would be the fun in doing things the normal way?

This weekend was mainly filled with popping corks and toasting good health, but we managed to achieve another small step forward in the life of FTC. We installed the new frog nursery, otherwise known as the pond.

Reading back a bit, I see now that this event was inevitable and that I should count myself lucky that I can still walk back from work in relative safety. I should count myself doubly blessed that the pond was free, costing us only a little petrol money and a few near death moments in collecting it.

So Sunday morning Keith and veteran pondsman Bill took shovel in hand and started carving out a section of Bedfordshire countryside. Progress was swift and, more importantly, I was left alone to watch Inspector Morse re-runs while planning some details of the impending nuptials.

In need of something to use as ‘padding’ for the pond liner, the boys decided to use the old punch-bag we had inherited from the previous owner assuming that it contained sand. As you can see, they were slightly off but I think the blue rag look is slightly more becoming to the general Bohemia that is slowly taking over FTC thanks to the wonders of Freecycle (although the day Keith meets me at the door having proudly bagged a load of only "slighly soiled" loo roll, I'm off!!)

Having been dragged from the comfort of the sofa to witness the glorious feat of manly prowess taking shape in the garden, it seemed like too much fun not to join in, so the three of us began filling, and backfilling with gusto.

I have to admit, had I realised that less than 2 hours later we would have been finished and contemplating a celebratory drink, I probably wouldn’t have been so reluctant in the first place. Just goes to show, I suppose, what a bit of friendly encouragement can do.

So here it is in all its glory, the pond. In a few short months to be a home of frogs, fish and little multilegged thingames, a place of contemplation and general skiving from work, a drinking hole for the boys after a long tiring walk, and a constant trip hazzard after drunken nights out. Long may she thrive!!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Spring Developments at FTC

It’s been over a month now since Red joined our family. The time has flown past and it seems like he’s always been here. In fact, I can’t remember a time when Keith and I had space to lie along the sofa without creating a tangle of dog limbs, or came home from a walk without two mud monsters to dry off. In celebration of that, we decided to take some photos of the boys this weekend.

Red and Keith looking for Harry (the look of resigned frustration is because Harry had managed to entice a Jack Russell from his back garden into the fields for a bloody good play and obviously had no intention of rejoining us)

Red waiting for his errant brother to catch us up once the Jack Russell was recaptured by his owner

Harry Enjoying the sun in the back garden

Until it all got too much and he realised he was dying up like a prune

At which point he joined Red in watching the comings and goings next door with a nice piece of wood to chew on.

This weekend also saw the garden make some massive leaps forward. The beds are now defined (and more importantly fenced off!!) in the lower part of the garden. The somewhat patchy grass has been re-sown and watered on a daily basis by a very frustrated Keith (who I think may well throw an epic tantrum if the dogs manage to accomplish their mission of peeing and chewing the new grass seed into an early grave) and the beds have been planted up with beans, tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, camomile, peppers, melons and peas. I make no claims that any of them will actually bear fruit, but the signs are encouraging.

The next phase of the garden is also now underway. I make no bones about the fact that my enthusiasm for this part of the garden is somewhat tempered by Keith’s ongoing desire to destroy any signs of life in favour of level paved surfaces and built in mechanic facilities. I suppose by that measure, I should be glad that he has chosen to locate his magnum opus in this area of the garden, although the earthworks for “the pond” have already claimed 2 garden forks and caused several stand up rows on the exact size, or rather magnitude, of said same water feature. My main worry, if I can possibly prioritise all the worries I have about this latest project, is that judging by the ‘swimming pool’ Keith’s best friend installed in his back garden, I’m going to come home in the next few weeks and fall headlong into a pit that could bury an elephant. Not an idea I relish, but if nothing else it distracts Keith from his other current obsession, the need for a ‘proper’ barbeque.

It was inevitable - a trip to Bill’s house (complete with gas powered super barbie on which to cook the Sunday morning fry-up), friends over this weekend for the first al fresco dinner of the year, and two highly carnivorous dogs, one with a serious drool problem - and I can fully understand why Keith, in the throws of the male cooking experience, might feel that kneeling on the ground over a small barrel barbeque might not give quite the impression he’s looking for. It’s hard to maintain an air of machismo when you’re scrabbling around juggling plates of food and cooking prongs. Even more so when you can’t put your beer down for fear it’ll be stolen by the crafty and ever vigilant booze hound. So comments have been muttered darkly about the need for a more substantial arrangement, possibly involving bricklaying and a full range of chefly accoutrements. I’m tempted to agree with it actually, on the basis that in return, I get to choose the chef’s apron. Suggestions on a postcard to the usual address.

Monday, March 12, 2007

I'm Red

Ladies and Gents, I would like to introduce you to a very special person. He’d like to tell you a bit about himself so I hope you’re sitting comfortably.

Hello, ummm, hi, pleased to meet you, errr, blimey where do I start? Well I was born 4 years ago and I’m told I was a gorgeous baby, lot of hair apparently. Anyway, when I was brought home my daddy wanted me to grow up big and strong and brave so he tried to educate me that not all people are nice. He would try shouting at me, lots, to make me brave, but it scared me so I would curl up to make myself really small. I think that made him angry because he used to hit me too. He said it was for my own good because I had to learn how to behave. So I tried to make myself even smaller. Sometimes that was hard because I grew quite big after I was a baby. I did my best to make him happy by showing him how much I loved him, but that just seemed to make him more angry with me.

Eventually my dad decided that he didn’t love me any more and so I went to live in a home with lots of other teenagers. Nobody liked me there because I was so tall and they thought I looked funny. I stayed there for a long time, nearly until my next birthday and it wasn’t much fun, I didn’t really get to talk to anyone else most of the time. There was a nice man there though, he liked me and said he would give me a home. That was nice. He lived in the centre of Bristol so I got to see lots of other people all the time. I lived there for a few years, but my new daddy was busy, and had to go away and so I didn’t have a home again.

Luckily, I moved straight into a new home with a new mummy who lives in the country. I liked her house, it had sheeps, and I’d never met sheeps before. There were also other dogs for me to play with and a little girl who I liked very much. My new mummy was lovely, although it made her really sad when I wouldn’t let her touch me. I did try, but it’s hard to forget that people are bad. Eventually though I realised that mummy wasn’t going to hurt me and I started letting her and the little girl put their hands on me. I like it lots because they also told me what a handsome man I was, and I never knew that before.

I wished I could have stayed in the country but her house was too full of other dogs and she wasn’t allowed to keep me. So here I am now with my new mummy and daddy and they have promised that I will never have to move again. I like that idea because I don’t like cars very much. On the way to my new home mummy said she was worried about tidal waves and drowning because I dribbled so much. Oh I also have a new brother too. He’s short. And he has a bad temper. I don’t mind him though, most of the time we get along OK.

Sorry, I totally forgot to tell you my name, I’m Red and I’m very pleased to meet you. Mum says I should count myself lucky I’m called Red, she said it was either that or Helmutt, because I came from Germany originally.

I’ve only been at my new home for a few days but already I’m starting to learn about lots of different things.

There are these huge long puddles that move really fast, and my brother Harry loves jumping into them. I don’t like them, they scare me and my horrible brother keeps making me chase him then jumping into the river so I can’t get him.

Also I love raw vegetables. After mummy has cooked dinner, she gives the leftover bits that she didn’t want to me and Harry. Broccoli is my favourite, it crunches and looks like little trees so I feel like a giant.

I like the evenings a lot. Mummy and daddy take us both for a walk and then they sit on the sofa and me and Harry try and sit on them. They don’t like that.

I like it when I sit down in front of them though, because then they scratch my back and chest and tell me what a beautiful boy I am. It scares me a bit, but they move slowly and are very gentle with me so I think I could get used to it in time. Mummy says I smell though, and has ordered some lotion that she says she’s going to rub in with her hands to make my skin feel less itchy and my coat shiny so everyone else can see how beautiful I am too.

Mummy and daddy say I can’t meet any of their friends yet because they want to give us a chance to get to know each other. But mummy whispered to me last night that granny and grandpa are coming over soon and I’m really looking forward to meeting them!! They used to have a big dog like me a long time ago and they know that I’m scared of people being bad so mummy has promised that they won’t be loud or rough and that I can come up to them and lick them if I like, and leave them alone if I don’t.

Anyway, I need to go now, I have had my morning walk and I want to snooze in the sun but Harry had stolen my bed so I have to go and sit on him.


So what can I say?

Well firstly, I would like to say a massive thank you to Angela for allowing us to give Red a home. You made it so easy for us to fall in love with him, and for Harry to realise the tag team mischief potential, we can never thank you enough.

This week has been one of the more emotional I’ve ever had. Red has changed beyond belief since we brought him home, which is a feeling I cannot even begin to describe. Can you imagine what it must have taken for a 9 stone Rottie to be so ill treated, he cannot even let someone like me touch him without cowering in fear?

Now imagine the feeling when less than a week later, he has not only worked out that it’s OK to get onto the sofa (perhaps a foolish precedent to set, 2 humans and 2 wet noses are quite a tight fit) but to be comfortable enough to snuggle up to both of us with his head on our laps and fall sound asleep. And judging by the snoring I do mean SOUND asleep.

Every little step feels like the most incredible achievement. When he first arrived he gave me a “that’s enough now mum” growl when I put on his new collar, or when I tried to brush him with anything but my hand. Now, those things don’t even get an ear twitch.

He is no longer panting when we stroke him, his ears aren’t flat back to his head and he really, really, really loves to be scratched behind his ears. If you’re in any doubt about that, sit still long enough for him to climb onto the sofa, plant his head in your lap and nudge your hand. I defy even the most heard hearted person not to melt.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Daily Mundanity at FTC

There have been a few vaguely interesting occurrences at FTC over the last few weeks which time and events (namely a nasty cold) have conspired to prevent me reporting until now. Having had a gentle prod from mum yesterday however, I consider myself told and will now do my best to bring you up to date.

I suppose the most exciting of these was Harry’s attempt to drown himself last weekend. We’d set out as we usually do on a Sunday for a gentle stroll in the countryside. In my enthusiasm, I took us down a hitherto unknown track which didn’t seem that far from our normal route … until we resurfaced on the outskirts of a village some 5 miles away with blisters on our heels and a very grumpy hound.

After some discussion and wandering around, we decided that there was nothing for it but to retrace our steps only to find that the farmer had closed AND PADLOCKED the gate allowing us to cut through to the footpath we had just left. Not being the sort of people to let a padlocked gate stop us, we scrambled underneath and proceeded to march right back over to the footpath and off on the long trek home. Had fate, and Harry’s stupidity, not intervened I suspect I would never have heard the end of this entire episode, as it was, we soon had more important things to worry about.

During the walk back, there is a section which runs alongside the river. It’s an amazing stretch of countryside, wild and surprising rugged and completely unspoiled by farming or “easy access facilities” that usually plague footpaths these days. It’s actually one of my favourite spots to be, especially on a sunny day when you could easily forget that there were any signs of civilization within a 50 mile radius.

Anyway, having covered about 8 miles by this point, Harry decided that it was time for a drink. The bank was a little steeper and a lot softer than he realised and inevitably, in he went. This wasn’t immediate cause for concern because Harry is forever jumping in and out of rivers, but this time it became obvious he was swimming for his life but gradually getting swept down stream. There was nothing for it but for one of us to go in after him. The bank was about 7ft high and steep so I went in on the basis that Keith would be better placed to drag us both out if needed.

I went down the bank only to have it collapse under me and for me to end up in icy water up to my waist. Very unimpressed, I grabbed the hound by his harness and dragged him to me. I then tried to turn around 180o so we were facing into the flow and his weight was against me, but I lost my footing and nearly dunked us both under the water.

Harry was still trying to swim so I lifted him as best I could onto the bottom of the bank and then Keith grabbed his harness and hauled him the rest of the way. My exit was equally ungainly and I then had to walk home what can only be described as “p1ss wet through” and sloshing in my wellies. Not ideal, but it did have the rather useful side effect of numbing the blisters on my heels.

No lasting trauma for either hound or human you’ll be pleased to know.

In other news, a few more plants have been introduced to their new homes in the garden. I decided that despite the recent cold spell, I was still going to back the rampaging stallion called Global Warming and get a jump on the growing season.

We now have the start of a herb garden with a potted up oregano on the wall, a little mini purple sage and some chamomile and two little dwarf strawberry plants that Keith was especially keen on. Oh, and vine number 1 has also been planted by the workshop to suck up the first of the spring rays.

Next step on the de-colditzisation are the climbing beans, tomatoes and peppers and they shall be going into the ground as soon as the calendar gets flipped over. For any of you who are especially keen on sampling the first crop of veg, feel free to pre-order now. I have no double I will soon be drowning under a hundred weight of tomatoes and you may well be receiving pickled peppers and tomatoes for Christmas … once we’ve got rid of the last of the fig jam!!

The least surprising of the news from the cottage would have to be the fact that the kitchen has taken a backward step. The fridge has broken. Bosch has promised us a repairman tomorrow and since they are in no way affiliated with MFI, I’m hopeful that they will a) turn up and b) have a clue what they are doing. Still no plate rack incidentally and we’re now only 40 days away from the first anniversary of us making our order but we continue to be philosophical in the face of abject incompetence. Plus we sold one of the old damaged plate racks on eBay the other day so we’re satisfied with that small element of karmic readjustment at least.

And finally, a belated Happy Shrove Tuesday to you all. It was our little family’s first and, as with most things food related, involved something akin to military scale planning. Unfortunately it wasn’t one of my more glowing culinary successes.

The first problem was that I had Keith, who is obsessed by pancakes, hovering beside me watching me try to cook (and what is it about me that makes men want to hug me when I'm juggling half a dozen, usually hot and heavy, pans?!?!). I also had the dog repeatedly creep into the kitchen to lie right behind my feet waiting for any stray pancakes to land.

Feeling hot, flustered and not a little impatient, I tried to improve the situation by enlisting Keith to do the flipping, if for no other reason than to get him out of my way. He managed one perfect flip before the pancakes started heading off at a more erratic trajectory so I went back to flipping them with the spatula. Not that the dog minded, he was ready and waiting at the first gentle “sploot” of pancake hitting tiles.

Then the "wonderful" J-C Novelli recipe I had planned for dinner turned out to be highly complicated and not very yummy. Not his fault I suspect, more the fact that melted blue cheese does nothing for me, especially the smell which was STILL lingering in the lounge this morning, much to my horror.

The pudding pancakes went a little better, mainly because I stubbornly refused to get involved and made Keith cook the pancakes himself. The most rewarding part of that was that it was my turn to hover and offer "useful suggestions" while he got flustered.These were far more successful than the previous batch and this time we kept it simple with good old lemon and sugar. Best of all, with a brunch to prepare this weekend, I fully intend to put Keith and his dad to work perfecting their skills, while I deal with some nice crispy bacon and creamy scrambled eggs. If nothing else, at least the dog will get fed!!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Harry's bestest friend

The story below was sent to me by Keith this morning and I thought I would share it. Just to give you some background, Dudley is a black Lab who also happens to be Harry's bestest friend in the world. They only have to clap eyes on each other and they are happy to roll around for hours - unusual since Harry is generally quite a grumpy sod. Anyway, here is it ... oh and Dudley's owner is Roy, who is a really lovely bloke ... enjoy!!

"Well - the morning had been eventful!!!
Decided to take Harry out at half 8. Got to the end of our road and who's at the junction .... ?
With no Roy.
So i wait for a minute while keeping Dudley occupied and still no Roy.
I doubt whether it's Dudley, but I'm pretty sure its him - he certainly seems to respond to that name.

At that point some ladies were walking their kids to school came past. One of them asked if it was my dog and i said it wasn't but i think i know it. As you can imagine getting hold of Dudley was a nightmare with Harry in the other hand and she offered to take Harry while i got Dudley.

No name on the tag, but a phone number - so i called it and Roy answered. I said i had Dudley, and he said he'd rush back.

The very nice lady then walked Harry back to the house while i walked Dudley, stuck Harry's lead on Dudley and the extendable lead on Harry. She then walked harry and i walked Dudley up to the field, where she went off and i took them both."

(Still keeping up??)

"They actually walked quite nicely along the path and up the field for a change. So i waited till we got past the house with the dog (i didn't want Dudley to do a runner back to the road) and let them both off (good job i had those treats with me!). We got to half way and all of a sudden Dudley stopped and looked back.

Then he was gone - literally legged it

and of course our fearless hound went in support.

Thankfully i HOLLERED his name and Harry stopped. Then when i ran he ran after me, i showed a treat and he came up to me, sat, and let me get him on a lead.

Then i legged it down the path!

As we got near the bottom i thought i could see a figure. Thankfully it was Roy and Dudley must somehow have known he was there."

So there you are boys and girls, the story of true friendship between dogs when you'll give up treats and your own dad to run with your best friend in his hour of need.

According to Keith he's grown a few more grey hairs after this incident, and Roy still has NO idea how Dudley escaped. Personally I have images of ninja style fence scaling tactics, because as anyone familiar with Labs will know, they're not exactly master tacticians, bless 'em.

You never can tell though, next time you see a Lab give you a long hard stare, he may well be plotting your downfall!!

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Exploding Tiler

I hope you will indulge me if I share with you a piece of Kipling (the writer, not the baker) because I think it sums up this weekend pretty well …

“If you can dream, and not make dreams you master,
If you can think, and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same”

It’s a bit like those credit card adverts with the clever/ dumb balance - there must be a house somewhere that seems to have goods and tradesmen magically appear at their door, because they certainly don't at FTC.

I won’t go on about it, but we’re now waiting for our 4th plate rack to be delivered from MFI and as Keith has finally joined me in the land of unremitting MFI hatred, he has now taken over phoning them for a futile, but satisfying, daily rant. As you can see from the photos, we do have half a (warped) rack up now, and since this is the only thing left to do in the kitchen, we’re hopeful for a Christmas 2007 finish.

Anyway, back to the clever/ dumb balance. There were a few key lessons learned this weekend:

1. Tasha is bad at maths. Tasha is especially bad at working out the difference between linear and square meterage when it comes to tiles. When Tasha tries to calculate the number of tiles required, the net result is that both the expensive one off tiles and the cheaper plain tiles come up half a wall short. Luckily, Tasha is also stubborn and somehow managed to find some extra plain tiles and redesign the layout so that the tiler wouldn’t have to be rebooked for a 3rd time.

2. Tilers are not electricians. When a tiler comes to make your kitchen look beautiful, no not offer to turn the electricity off, simply wait until the tiler has stuck a screw-driver into the “certified safe” plug socket and allow him to blow the fuses instead. This way, you can enjoy the blood curdling moment when the fuse cabinet lights up like a Christmas tree, but the TV carries on running. Then, after about 10 seconds of “WTF just happened” running through your head you can run into the kitchen to see a very melted screwdriver and a tiler clutching a very sore hand. Fun for all the family!!

3. Men, if allowed to occupy themselves, will come up with 101 inventive ways to waste their time. They will suddenly decide that cutting holes in ceilings and installing speakers, amps and CD players in a garage is the most important thing they will ever accomplish. They will also trample the fallout from said hole cutting into the house and then, a cup of tea the braver, wander back out to think of more essential tasks leaving you chasing the hound around to get some ill gotten insulation out of his mouth.

4. Hounds love flapjacks. They especially love the baked on oatie goodness of the baking tray and will growl menacingly at anyone who comes within a mile of them while in possession of crispy bits. They also love those flapjacks reserved for the hooman beans of the family and will whine endlessly for the chance to get their slobbery chops on a slice. Failing that they will lie under whoever is eating a slice of flapjack with their heads tilted back 90o in a very selfless way to prevent any unwanted crumbs sullying the carpet.

All dramas aside though, there were a few important events this weekend that I would really like to commemorate:

Friday was Rach’s going away party as she flies out for 10 months of adventure. We’re going to miss you lady, please come back safe and sound

Friday also saw the birth of Calandra Miah Appleton to Chris (Pillock) and Claire. She was born with minimal fuss (according to a slightly bemused Chris) weighing in at a bonny 8lb 7.5oz. Congratulation to you all, hopefully we’ll see you soon to celebrate properly!!!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Global warming my ARSE!!!!

The weather hates me, although I will concede that in terms of gardening I was possibly taking the mick just a little. For those of you more experienced than me in the green fingered department, please feel free to snort with amusement. For those of you who have no gardening experience, let this be a lesson in what not to do to a garden …

I am a person who tends to get a bee in their bonnet every now and then and when said buzzy, poofy critter pays me a visit, I tend to act on it. So there I was last week, trolley full to bursting, on a mission to buy some creature comforts to make the garden look less like a prison yard. I bought a new door mat, some vegetable seeds, a bracket for the wind chimes, replaced the bluberry bush that Harry ate last summer, a miniature cherry tree, a nice smelly Japanese bush thingy, some herbs in hanging pots and some willow flowerbed edging (for reasons that will become clear later).

Keith was a little surprised when I came home with a car full of shrubbery, but to his credit, he assumed his best “resistance is futile” expression and started carting my new purchases into the garden.

The rest of the day was a pretty mucky one for me, spent mainly on hands and knees in the neighbour’s land stealing soil and planting up the garden. As you can see, it was a job well done, the wind chimes provided a gentle sound track to anyone staring out of the kitchen window at the fragrant oregano and lavender pots, and the trees looked perfect in their new setting.

The point of the willow screening (and indeed the tree/ shrub thingies) was to provide Harry with a much needed toilet area. As you may just be able to see in the photos (david bailey was having a bad day with the light apparently) there is now a section of the flowerbed in which Harry can go and relieve himself.

We were aware that having had months of free reign in the garden, Harry would need some training to grasp the concept of a toilet area so we dutifully put him on his lead and walked him to the area. We waited ….. and waited …. We waved a treat at him … and then waited …… until finally, with a sigh, he cocked his leg.

Better luck next time, eh?

Apparently not.

So far, we have been taking Harry up to his little toilet area for 7 days and have yet to see any serious action. When he had free reign of the garden, you couldn’t have stopped him squatting if you had welded his backside shut, but not now, ooooh nooooo, you give him an area and some privacy and suddenly he gets stage fright!! Well, sleep soundly in the knowledge that we will not be giving up on this little crusade. That dog may be stubborn, but so are we, especially when it means the difference between a nice garden and a “minefield”. There will be no more incidences of taxi drivers making people change shoes as a result of our dog – not on my watch!!!

The real problem is a little harder to control though I’m afraid. You can plan for a lot in this life, but not for my stupidity. As my mother pointed out with a chuckle the other day, who plants their garden in January? Well, yes, the answer is obviously me, isn’t it?

How was I supposed to know that it was going to snow the week after?!? OK so the month was a fair indication, I’ll grant you, but as any avid listening of Radio 5 Live will agree, we have been told for the last 3 months that spring has already sprung, and that the weather is warm enough for small furry critters to start breeding. It’s not warm enough to keep my plants alive though.

Actually I seem to have mitigated the worst of the weather by bringing the hanging pots into the kitchen and glaring menacingly at the other plants to discourage them from dying. It has either worked, or the whole plant is frozen, the jury is still out.

Oh and on the subject of Harry and snow, he showed his boundless intelligence once again by running around like a goon, sticking his schnozz in piles of snow and then sneezing. Repeat for the duration of his walk.

If he didn’t have a leg at each corner he’d fall over, I swear.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Harry Vs the Cromer Crab.

Seeing as we had some time at our disposal over the holiday, we decided to take Harry to the beach for the first time, and seeing as I was hoping to buy some of their most famous export, we decided to make the journey to Cromer. If nothing else, it would be the perfect time to give Harry some much needed exposure to his new car harness. I say much needed because Harry seems to be of the opinion that the car harness is some kind of Chinese puzzle which is best used as a self inflicted torture device. The stereo doesn’t get turned up in the car these days as we now need to listen out for the gentle “gak … gak” of Harry hanging himself.

After a few uneventful hours of driving we reached Cromer on possibly the most cloudy, rainy, horrible day of the Christmas period. First on the agenda was lunch, and what else but fish and chips on the beach, huddled against the wall to keep out of the weather (how very British!!). This was also useful distraction for Harry and meant he chose to stare lovingly at us rather than cause havoc, not something he is known to do unless there is food in the offing.

Once we had all filled our bellies we took a gentle stroll down the beach and let Harry investigate the sea for the first time. I had been warned that dogs tend to try and drink sea water (with spectacular results) and also that I may be catching the next ferry to Holland to retrieve the little fella, but I really needn’t have been concerned because our little Bagle is petrified of the sea *sigh*. Only in Harry’s little mind can a festering pool of muddy, cow dung ridden water be considered bliss and a beautiful clean ocean an instrument of hell. If I’m honest, it wasn’t so much the water that he objected to, more the noise of the waves and the idea that the water was coming to get him. I’m not entirely sure what he thought the sea was going to do to him but for the first time he turned his nose up and walked away (read ran like a girl) away from the chance to get wet. And there was me worrying that we’d forgotten his towel.

Unfortunately for Harry, the evils of the seaside are not restricted to the sea itself, the wildlife was also out to get him too. Well actually it was minding its own business by the waters edge, but who are we to contradict the little man. I will do my best to describe what happened next, although my sight was a little impaired by the tears screaming down my face and the ache in my stomach.

Harry spotted the crab moving and puffed himself up to his biggest, baddest stance and, assuming the sniffing position approached with caution. The crab, obviously unimpressed at having his afternoon nap interrupted assumed his best nose pinching position and got ready to do battle.

Hmmm, thinks Harry, I ought to see if this little fella is as small as he looks, best circle him to make sure.

Hmmm, replies the crab, he thinks he’s going to sneak round behind me, best show him I mean business with these claws.

HA!! Says Harry, I can scare you away with my bark, I can make children cry with this bark!!

Yawn says the crab

Suit yourself says Harry, I’ll bury you then

And so we spent the next five minutes watching Harry dig his best crab burying hole while barking like an idiot. The crab, completely unfazed by this stupid behaviour watched him too, occasionally flexing his claws in case the daft mutt got within range.

Eventually, hole dug and barking exhausted, Harry walked off, chest puffed out and the self satisfied expression of someone who has clearly lost the battle but will argue otherwise on any technicality available.
So there we go, 6 hours in the car for Harry to run away from the sea and dig a hole beside a crab. Bless.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!

Now that the festive season is behind us and some small level of sanity/ sense of humour has been restored I will try my best to bring to you the latest news of the FTC occupants. I say try because my mind is still a little addled from the last week so and the nervous twitch caused by an endless stream of cooking, baking and festivification hasn’t quite subsided. Incidentally, if anyone would like a pot of FTC Fig Preserve, please let me know, we still have plenty to go around!!!

Christmas Eve – Fanny would be proud.If it were possible for the ghost of a departed TV chef to applaud, then I’m sure the late Mrs Craddock’s hands were raw on Christmas Eve. I started cooking at around 10 in the morning and by the time I had finished all the preparations for Christmas Day, and cooked dinner, I was only left with about enough time for a quick shower and to wave my hairbrush menacingly in the vague direction of my hair. I blame TV chefs myself, and Nigella BL**DY Lawson in particular, for making me believe that I can look utterly divine while peeling a hundredweight of roasted chestnuts, or fishing giblets out of a stock for the next days gravy. I can’t, I look like a scarlet, frazzled banshee who is one sprout away from finding an alternative use for her chefs knife: But I have to admit, there was a bit of me that loved every second of it, most importantly because I was looking forward to having both families round the table and enjoying the fruits of my labour, and also because I knew I was about to spend the evening unwinding in a slightly foolish, but nonetheless enjoyable way.

Keith and I, in our own separate ways, have long had a tradition of enjoying a few ales of a Christmas Eve, and we saw no reason to change that tradition this year. Helen and Paul came over for our usual champagne cocktails and Larry and Kelly joined us to provide Keith with a “safety in numbers” approach to tackling a bottle of Whiskey. It was all going pretty well, until we relocated to the local tavern, at which point I managed to cut myself on a broken wine glass, Keith started on the Guinness and the barman put on “King College Choir Does Christmas” CD. I’m not sure exactly which early hour of the morning I gave up and stumbled home, but I did so with the sure and certain knowledge that the fate of the Christmas meal was now firmly in the hands of the gods.

Christmas Day – “Duckgate”
I have to say, early Christmas morning has become my favourite time of the year. There is something about those hours when you wake up with the day in front of you that would turn the more hardened of stooges into a bed bouncing loon. Unless of course you are Keith and have consumed your own bodyweight in alcohol in which case you wander through the house muttering darkly and clutching your stomach periodically.

With some encouragement we ventured downstairs to where the hound was gently chewing a stray tree branch in a fairly languid approximation of excitement. Cups of tea made and pressies recovered from the safety of the spare ‘oom and Christmas morning was underway. I can’t speak for Keith, but the highlight for me was seeing Harry pick up his pressies, stash them in the corner of the room and then lie down with them and studiously rip the paper from the them one strip at a time. It was a great lesson in appreciating the simple things in life and also of the folly of spending money on the dog when a wrapped box will do just as nicely.

I will move swiftly through the day now, as I’m pretty sure you can all appreciate the events of the next few hours as family arrived, food went into the oven and general mayhem ensued. I will add that Keith did make a valiant attempt to overcome his highly delicate state, but to be honest it was all he could do to sit upright in a chair with arms. For those of you wondering (not many of you I’m sure) the food came out pretty well, the mothers were kept largely out of the kitchen and the day was on track … until Keith regained his stomach and started playing catch-up with the food and I discovered that it is not safe to leave a bloke and a dog alone with the leftovers of the Christmas meal.

Having taken the dog for a walk by the river and stuffed ourselves with every conceivable food and drink, we all settled round the table to play ‘spoons’. For those of you not familiar with the card game it’s pretty simple. Try and collect 4 of a kind and when you go grab a spoon from the middle of the table. When someone else has grabbed a spoon, do likewise. The person left at the end with no spoon loses a life. I’m sure you can imagine that a game like this gets pretty excitable, and (in a famous five voice) a rollicking good time was being had by all when … it happened.

When I say “it” what I mean is a slowly creeping green fog of what was ably described by Jan as an unholy smell. So unholy in fact that the CD practically scratched to a halt and the delicious banquet was in danger of making a second appearance. The source of the smell? Harry the Bagle. It appears as if Keith, in his newly recovered and festive frame of mind had decided to share his belated lunch with the dog and had fed him some duck meat.

Those of you with dog experience will now be chuckling sagely and shaking your head at such foolishness I’m sure, but we were all a little less amused. Not that the poor lummox was amused himself, I’m pretty sure if he could have detached his back half he would have sent it outside himself. As it was, we were left gagging at roughly 2 minute intervals for the rest of the evening until eventually the families admitted defeat and beat a hasty path to the door.

In retrospect it is probably a good thing that they did – I crashed pretty soon after everyone left and there’s nothing more embarrassing than drooling and snoring in the corner of the room while your families are around to see it. Not that I drool or snore – or at least not as much as the men of the house anyway.

Boxing Day – The Blair Witch Walkies
I really think Boxing Day should be renamed to something a little more appropriate to the modern Christmas. I suppose there are committees for these things who have considered the alternatives and I can only imagine that they thought “sitting around regretting eating a farmyard while watching old films day” didn’t roll off the tongue quite as well. In FTC, the day shall forever be known as “Blair Witch Walkies Day”.

It started innocently enough. We were bored, Harry needed to be walked and Keith suggested we go to a local woods which we had planned to visit since moving to the area. Plus, he argued, it would give us a chance to test out Harry’s new car harness. There were only a few drawbacks to this otherwise flawless plan, which I’m sure you’ll be able to spot.

We arrived at the woods at about 3.30 and untangled a very excitable hound from the backseat where he had managed to weave himself into a doggy harness web. We set out, taking big cleansing breaths of woody air and smiled dotingly as the dog bounded around. There were squirrels for the dog to chase, downhill courses for us to marvel over and pretty soon we were deep in the forest without the faintest idea of how to get back to the car park. And it was getting dark. Fast. And we had no torch. Hmmm.

Keeping the dog close beside us we started to retrace our steps. It was great, we managed to find a lot of new areas that way that we would never have found had we just been walking. Unfortunately none of them were the way home. Eventually, quelling a rising tide of mild concern, we decided to head for some lights twinkling through the trees. That MUST be the carpark we thought. No, that would the army base complete with fully functioning sirens.

We did eventually get home in one piece, albeit covered in mud and bl**dy shattered.