Sunday, December 2, 2012

Brighton's Seagulls

I love seagulls. I love the sound of them in Brighton.  For some reason they are much louder, more aggressive, more present than at home.  That particular raucous cry they make means Brighton, to me.

Most people here seem to hate them.  One constantly hears stories about lunch in seaside restaurants ruined when seagulls swoop in a snatch sandwiches or fries right from your hands.  I can see how that could be annoying, but I still love seagulls.  

We had some very stale, rock-hard bread that has been sitting around for a week or so. Instead of throwing it out, we soaked it overnight and then took it to the beach, where I threw it to the seagulls in little handfuls.  There were just a few to start with, but after just a minute or two the sky, first, then the beach was full of them, shrieking and calling.  Lots of them were juveniles - perhaps the adults who've survived have learned more and better places to find food.

It was such fun.  I almost bought them some chips just so I could keep feeding them, but decided against it. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Brighton: Street Scene

This is a view of a fancy ferris wheel on Brighton seafront, down a little street of Regency terrace houses in Kemptown. I look for it every time we pass by in the bus.  I just love it.

A Day Out in Hastings

The COG, still riding high from his triumphant performance reading bus schedules in the Hastings rail station while waiting for the bus to Bodiam, said, 'We could take the bus to Hastings.'  We were sitting in the bay window of our sunny sitting room at the time,  both of us on the internet waiting for Lord Justice Leveson's report,  which was due at noon. I considered his suggestion.  I could see the sun on the ocean, sparkling in the distance over his shoulder.  It seemed a shame to waste such a lovely day by staring at a computer screen. And, anyway, by the time we got back from Hastings the Guardian would have read the 2,000 pages of the report and digested them for us so there seemed no reason to hang around.

And that is how we arrived in Hastings. By bus. For free because we are old age pensioners. God,  I love this country.  We walked to the bottom of our street where the bus appeared almost instantly. Two and a half hours later (with a short transfer in Eastbourne) we arrived in Hastings.

Once there, we realized we had no map and no idea where exactly to go, apart from a vague memory that we had once seen a sign that said 'Old Town' pointing sort of over there.  So we walked in that general direction.  We did have one major landmark-  a ruined castle on the highest hill. It's not too big a stretch to reason that the Old Town would be near the castle.

Did I mention that we were looking for the Hastings of Foyle's War?  Our previous excursions to Hastings had not been promising. In fact, I believe I have previously said some unkind things about Hastings, which I hereby recant.  I was wrong. I'm sorry, Hastings.  I called you 'unlovely' and 'worse than Rye,' I shouldn't have been so, um,... hasty.

The Old Town of Hastings is awesome.  There's quite a large area of medieval to 18th century houses now filled with antique and vintage shops and art galleries and wonderful little shops selling wonderful things.  It's like the Brighton Lanes and the North Laine combined, but, in many ways, with better shopping.  The kind of place that would be lots of fun with my sisters, though it was also fun with The COG. We followed some steep and narrow stairs that wound up the hill aside many old houses. At the top we found an open park with glorious views in the twilight.  There are some smugglers caves up there, too, but we did not explore them.

We wandered around to entry of the castle, which is closed in winter, then wound down the stairs again to the shopping area to look in more windows. Finally, once it was fully dark, we found the bus again.  The views from the bus were quite splendid, in part, coming to Hastings, but, as it was dark there were no views.  The COG amused himself by taking pictures of our reflection in the bus windows. I amused myself by watching the COG.

One small  moment bears remembering: near the end of the Eastbourne to Brighton part of the trip, a guy in a hoodie stumbled up the steps of the bus and sat in the seat across the aisle from us, at the front of the upper deck.  He carried on a slurred conversation with his own reflection for a few stops, then rose abruptly, rang the stop bell, and left the bus at Peacehaven. Through the big window, we held our breaths as we watched him stagger across the street barely missing, or being missed by, heavy and fast traffic.  When we saw that he was entering  Roy's Liquor Store, we smiled. No surprise there, even the fumes he had been emitting were heady.  Then, the lady who had been sitting behind him sniffed and said, 'it would have been no loss if he'd been hit by one of the cars, ' which sort of shocked us.  We smiled politely, but privately squeezed each other's hands to signify disapproval.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

On Castles

I've seen a lot of castles.  It took me a long time to figure them out, though.  They come in two kinds: ruined or remodeled to a high standard suitable for life in the 19th/20th century.  And no two are alike, so I found it difficult to generalize to the 'idealtypus' or 'ideal type' of castle - the pure form. Oddly enough, though, we visited two castles last week - both of which I had seen before - and some things shifted into place.  I feel that I now have an even clearer understanding of castles.

Both of the castles we saw - Lewes and Bodiam - are ruins.   Above, is a picture of Lewes Castle, which is unusual in that it has two mottes, or is built on two hills.  The castle was built in 1069, very soon after the Norman Invasion. It began as a wooden fortification on one of the mottes, now closed to the public and surrounded by houses.  Then, it was replaced with a stone castle on a different motte,  artificially made higher with chalk blocks. A castle wall enclosed both mottes. You can still see parts of the wall in people's backyards. And part of the site of the original moat is a street called Castle Ditch Lane.

 This was a castle built for defense and squelching the populace, not for comfort.  Its primary function was military.  There are barracks and places for armorers and blacksmiths and saddle makers. People lived there, but it was a pretty Spartan existence.

Next we saw Bodiam Castle, which was built 300 years after Lewes Castle, in 1385.  It's a beautiful little jewel of a castle which appears to float on the water of the moat.  Ostensibly, Bodiam was meant to guard the English coast against a French invasion during the 100 years war. It's sited quite aways inland, but next to a river that was big enough to be navigable by big ships.   But it was probably never involved in any military action.  What it really was, is a Medieval MacMansion.

It was built by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge who made a lot of money, pillaging and plundering in France, and married an heiress. He got permission from the King to crenelate his manor and build a moat and chose, instead, to build a castle on a different site. It was built rapidly and all at one time, so the form you see today is the way it was built.  It's a classic style, square with round towers at each corner and a square tower in the middle of each wall. It has all the fancy defensive accoutrements - portcullis, postern gate, murder holes, machicolations and arrow slits. Then, there's the moat, which is fed by several streams, at least one of them inside the castle, so it would have continued to provide water under siege. The garderobes emptied into the moat, under the waterline, so it would not have been easy to gain access to the castle through them.

Although it has the most up-to-date defensive mechanisms, they are mostly built for show. The castle is small, it wasn't built to contain a whole town full of armorers, saddle makers etc, or to barrack many soldiers.  The living quarters were truly luxurious, an up-to-date manor house concealed within a castle. There were  fireplaces in every chamber, 28 garderobes or toilets and the well was easily reached from the kitchen, just down a few stairs. The living rooms for the family were on the southern and eastern walls, so they got light and warmth from the sun through many windows.  The standard of comfort was very high.  And it's such a pretty place.  The light from the moat dapples the interior in a very pleasant way, even on a cold and overcast day and you keep getting little glimpses of the moat from the interior.  Although, maybe it wouldn't have seemed so pretty when the moat was an open sewer.

I learned something, by the way.  The word 'garderobe' which refers to the kind of toilets they had in castles, comes from the Norman for 'protecting clothing'.  Clothing was hung there to protect it from moths and other vermin, who were kept away by the powerful smell.  Nice, eh?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

For Georgette Heyer Lovers Only

Remember The Toll Gate?  In which, the hero, Captain John Staples, takes over a toll house for a time and becomes involved uncovering a heinous crime, and also a romance?  Well, yesterday I saw a real Toll House at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum (about which, more later).  This one was built in about 1807 in Beeding, but was disassembled and reconstructed in its original form at the Museum. The Georgette Heyer book takes place just after Waterloo, in 1815, so they are likely to be similar.  The front of the house looked like this. The law said that the Table of Tolls must be posted on the house, that's what you see on the right side. And, of course, that's the toll gate on the left.

This toll house had 2 rooms - the one in The Toll Gate had four, but was likely about the same size overall.  Here's a description of the kitchen, from Heyer: "The kitchen was small, over-warm, and extremely un-tidy. Since it was lit by a couple of dip-candles in tin holders, an unpleasant aroma of hot tallow hung about it... The Captain seated himself in the Windsor chair by the fire..."

Here's Heyer's description of the bedroom: "The [bedroom] was furnished with some degree of comfort, the bed even being provided with cotton sheets, and a faded patchwork quilt."  That is a spot on description of this one, too.

The house in The Toll Gate had two additional small rooms partitioned off, one, a store room with a truckle bed, that could be used as a bedroom and the other  a toll office, which this house didn't have.

Brighton, Friday November 13th, 1987

At the bottom of our street is a row of Regency Terrace houses that face the sea.  At about 2am on a Friday November 13th, 1987, the face of the end unit collapsed, shearing off vertically when a giant hole -20 feet deep- opened up under it. The unit was being used as a student dormitory at that time.  Miraculously, no one was killed. The only person injured was the warden's wife, who had a broken leg.  The building was so dangerous that no one was allowed to claim any of their belongings, including all their class notes and books for their upcoming exams. The warden and his wife (with the broken leg) had lived there for 28 years, and lost everything.

The unit was demolished the next day.  There were rumors of Victorian underground plumbing pipes and hidden caves etc.  But the engineers who investigated decided it had been caused by erosion. The land underneath is a mixture of sand, silt and chalk which is very vulnerable to eroding and, when saturated, large holes can be created.  Most of this part of the city is built on similar ground, but since this is the only time in 200 years that this has happened, it's unlikely to happen again.

Here's a picture I took yesterday of the reconstructed unit - it's indistinguishable from the others in the row. The scaffolding on the right side is because it is being repainted.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Prunes in Armagnac?

No, actually, prunes in crappy brandy.  So crappy, in fact, that it comes in a plastic bottle.  Here's the story: At home, we always have a jar of raisins in rum in our cupboard. No recipe - just a glass jar with some raisins macerating in some rum.  We serve a few spoonfuls over ice cream, then add some more raisins and some more rum.

So when we found prunes d'agen at the grocery store,  we thought that we could have some prunes macerating in Armagnac here and just leave it between visits.  But, Armagnac is expensive so we thought we'd try brandy, starting with cheap brandy just to see how it was.  We figured that the prunes flavor the liquor so strongly that it might not matter what alcohol we used.  I think it was Elizabeth David, maybe, who said to use wine you would drink, but would prefer not to.  This brandy was not terrible - it was better than the cooking brandy I keep in my cupboard at home.

The result, after 10 days or so, is not a complete failure - they have gotten better every time we've tasted them. Tonight they are quite tasty.  However, next time we will probably use actual Armagnac.

A Comprehensive Prohibition from a Motorway Rest Stop

So... in other words,  that would be no alcohol anywhere at all?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Here's where I spent Thanksgiving, what about you?

This is Bodiam Castle in East Sussex. We took a train that stopped 16 times before depositing us in Hastings at stop 17.  Then, the Bodiam bus was a bit late coming,  so we had to hang around in the train station waiting in the cold and wind.  The COG beguiled the tedium by reading us a bus schedule and suggesting various ways we could have gotten there free on the bus, instead of by buying a train ticket, in only 6 or  7 hours each way. We finally arrived at Bodiam a mere 3 hours after we left home.

After walking around the castle for a couple of hours we went home by the same route. All in all, it took 8 hours, of which 2 were spent at the castle.

It was a good day.  And we finished the whole thing with fish and chips from the local chippie. A good Thanksgiving, with no cooking.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Lovely Walk

The weather yesterday being sunny, we decided to take a walk. In the end, we walked 7 1/2 miles from the outskirts of Eastbourne to Beachy Head, then to Birling Gap, where we stopped for tea. Finally, to East Dean, where we had a local beer called 'Legless Rambler' at The Tiger, a lovely old pub.   Got home after dark, very tired, but happy.  I had bought a selection of  Pear Ciders - Perry's - and we did a taste test. May liked the Stella Artois, the COG liked the Irish Magners and I liked the Bulmers, so that worked out. After the long walk,  a beer at The Tiger in East Dean and then a large bottle of perry (same alcohol content as beer) we had quiet evening.  Today we are visiting the Royal Pavilion. At the moment Sister May is rereading the part of Regency Buck, where Judith Taverner visits the Pavilion. Here May is yesterday in front of the Seven Sisters - near Birling Gap.  The COG is in the background, too. Can you spot him?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Waiting for Sister May

We've spent the week painting the back room, finishing the work we had done on the room last June. It's a small room. We painted it white. About half the room was already white, and the other half - the dampproofed and replastered half - had been primed white.

Reader, it took us five days to paint the little room. We are lazy.  We can only do one thing at a time. the first day we prepped the room - a grueling 45 minutes with painters tape. The second day we bought paint. The third day we painted.  The fourth day, we bought more paint. The fifth day we finished painting.

But it's done now and the room is just waiting for Sister May to arrive, sometime this afternoon. She's en route now - probably somewhere the other side of Ireland, though she could be closer. When we looked earlier today it said the flight was going to be an hour early.  Then she takes the bus and we meet her at the station and bring her home.

The room looks so pretty in the morning light. But we need art.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Walk to Rottingdean

We took a stroll from Brighton to Rottingdean this afternoon.  It was sunny and warm (for November) with little wind.  The COG took pictures of things. I took pictures of the COG taking pictures of things

(and someone doing yoga in the background).

And when the sun went down, we went home again.

Somewhere over the Irish Sea

A landscape of clouds....

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Off To Brighton

Here is where my brain is, today.  Not Brighton, but nearby.

I got up early and finally finished processing all the apples my generous neighbor brought me from Maine.  I've now frozen 2 apple pies, 3 large and 2 small apple crisps, and two packages of apples, peeled, sliced and seasoned with sugar and cinnamon that I can use for more pies and crisps this winter.

I'm mostly packed and need to go get dressed and ready to go.

I always love the moment when we are sitting in the plane and they close the doors.  At that moment anything left undone, stays undone, and I can sit and read and not think about anything else. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

My day started with a meeting at 6:15 am.  Then ,I was a poll watcher until 10am. This was crazy - I sat behind 3 women who were checking people off their lists as they voted. I  had a list of known Democratic supporters and had to overhear the names and addresses (they were listed by road number) and check them off so that.....

At 10am, the COG could enter all the data 4 of us (in 4 precincts) had gathered so that.....

New canvass lists (called turfs) could be generated, excluding those who had already voted, so that.....

We could walk 16 'turfs' talking to people and leaving door hangers that reminded people to vote. This is all part of the Get Out The Vote initiative the Democrats are using.

The COG drove me around 2 whole turfs and I ran up to houses, knocked, rang bells, chatted, and left Remember to Vote signs.  I stopped at 4pm, about an hour past the point where I had given up the will to live and was basically a zombie.

The COG is now out holding signs by the polling place in the freezing cold (coldest day since last February).  What a guy.

I, on the other hand, am home.

The Guardian tweeted that a man died at a polling place today. EMTs came and revived him. The first thing he said upon regaining conciousness was, 'have I voted?'

That could have been me - only I would have said - 'have you voted?'

At 4pm 5,800 voters out of 9,500 in our town had voted. That's around 61%, and it's before the after-work rush.  I can hardly believe those numbers - though they came from an official source.

Post Script:  In the final count, 80% of the registered voters in our town actually voted.  Pretty incredible.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Flu Shots & Bumper Stickers

One the way back from getting our flu shots, the COG and I drove behind a horse trailer that had excellent bumper stickers.  We couldn't read them all, but we saw three we had never seen before:

1) Want to save a trillion dollars?  End the Wars.

2) I'm Straight, Not Narrow

3) What If We Destroy the Earth Before Jesus Comes Back.?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wednesday: The COG and I are Good Citizens

This afternoon, the COG and I walked over to Town Hall and voted.   So, now, on election day we can devote ourselves to getting other people to vote.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tuesday Morning -

The power went out for about a half an hour last night and we thought that was it for two days, but it went on 1/2 hour later.  The COG stayed up late, worried about the sump pump, but around midnight the wind died down considerably and he came to bed.  We know from all the flashing clocks in the house that the power went off again in the night for about an hour and a half, but that's it.

There is some significant damage locally - lots of trees down, houses damaged.  Some houses right on the coast were really pounded.  We heard that there were 8 foot storm surges on Plum Island, which is a fragile spit of sand with too many houses and a national wildlife refuge on it.  Power is still out for nearly 300,000 people in Massachusetts.

In March 2010, the North Shore actually had a much worse storm for the local area.  During that very localized  freak storm the winds in our town clocked at 91 mph. Unlike this storm, there was no advance warning.  Thousands of trees went down in the area. You couldn't drive anywhere because of trees across the road.  We were at the airport when it began and the trip home, which normally takes under an hour, took 4 1/2 hours because we kept having to change course, trying to find roads that were navigable. The whole area - 200,000 people, including us, was without power for 2 to 3 days. Oddly, one of the worst things about that was we couldn't get any news. The Boston radio stations and the paper barely carried it because it was so localized. Phones were out. Cell phone towers were out. And no internet because of no power,  so we felt really out of contact as we changed stations on the car radio trying to find out anything at all.  Such a different experience to this one.

This storm's over, though.  It's supposed to be 70 degrees today and rainy. I'm hoping to go wave watching.  Those ancestors I was thinking about earlier in the week would have thought it was just a big rain storm, and got on with things.

Of course, the people in Southern New England and New York have been hit much harder. It's amazing and terrible to see the damage in New York City. They are saying it's one of the biggest storms in history.  The COG just read me something saying that 78% of people in the nation were affected by this storm in some way.  Which tells you something about population distribution.

And  I'm feeling so sad about the crew of the HMS Bounty, and the ship itself.  They picked up one of the two missing crew members who had been swept away during the helicopter rescue. She has since died.  The 60ish Captain is still missing and they are still searching for him. I don't suppose there's much hope for him, even in the latest hi-tech cold water survival suit.  Really tragic.  Ships are safer at sea than on land, usually.  On land, they get bounced around and hit things and their masts invariable break etc.  At sea, all they need to do is bob like a cork and point into the waves and they are pretty safe.  But once the diesel engine went, and the ship started to take on water, with no power for the bilge pump, they had to abandon ship.

The HMS Bounty underwater yesterday.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Lost Power

We lost power at 7:20 pm and were surprised that it came back on 30 minutes later.  I expect it to go off again tonight. The Boston Globe is reporting that 350,000 homes are now without power in Massachusetts.

This is just to let you know we are fine.  We've had a hot dinner and are set for the night. Plus, I discovered that I can read by candlelight so we don't even need to waste battery power.  We are in no real danger away from the epicenter of the storm. It's very windy and rainy. The tides were higher than expected, but that's a couple of miles down the road.  Our chief problem will be power outages - more annoying than dangerous.

I'll post again the the morning, if we have power.  We are in touch with our kids by text, unless the phone cells go, which did happen in the last big storm, but at any rate, we will be in touch as we can.

5:45 update

Things are getting worse. The wind has picked up. 170,000 people now without power.  We are warm and dry and still have power. Dinner is simmering, so I'm hoping that the power stays on for a while. Forever, would be nice.

One problem we've been mulling over is what if the power goes out in the night while we are sleeping and we don't notice.  The basement could be filling up with water while we sleep.

Here' s a link to some great pictures from the Boston Globe.  I want to go out to Plum Island to see the waves.  There's a Voluntary Evacuation Order there and it's dark now. But maybe tomorrow.

4 PM,

The wind has picked up a lot now and it's raining quite heavily.   At midday they were reporting that 10,000 people in MA were without power.  Now the Globes says 110,000 people were without power. The map of outages is spread like freckles all over the map of the state, many all around us.

Son of texted that friends of his in Wood's Hole have no power - the Cape is supposed to be hit quite hard.  And one of The COG's friends - who he was supposed to meet for dinner -  has just notified him that he has lost power - he lives in Boston.  Dinner was cancelled earlier to day.

So I'm about to make a nice hot dinner while I can. Squash, Chickpeas, and Coconut Curry is the menu.  It will probably be quite nice cold, too.

Here's a video I took a half hour ago. I don't know whether it really captures how much more windy it is now, but the wind is getting alarming. We keep hearing thumps and not knowing what they are. Probably branches on the roof.

HMS Bounty Update

The Coast Guard has rescued 14 of the 16 people who abandoned the tall ship HMS Bounty replica.  There were 16, not 17 people aboard as had been thought.  But two are 'missing.'  No announcement, yet, about what happened to them.

Old Ipswich

We've just heard that 17 people have abandoned ship off the Outer Bank in North Carolina. The 3-masted tall ship,  a replica of the HMS Bounty, built for the film Mutiny on the Bounty and used in at least one of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, had lost power and was taking on water.    They put on cold water survival suits and launched two 25 - man boats,  How do we know this?  They posted it on their Facebook page. {pauses to reflect on the modern world} Don't worry about them. The Coast Guard is on the case.

The tall ship reminds me that I've been thinking about my ancestors who lived in Ipswich in the 17th century.   They would have had two amazingly beautiful autumn days with no foreknowledge of an approaching storm.  They would have gotten up Monday morning to mild temperatures (it's 60) and bit of rain and gone about their business - as my neighbors are doing, runners and dog-walkers keep going by. They would not have known that part of the town (common grazing land, not houses, then)  would be cut off for much of the day by extraordinarily high tides.  Would they have known that the high tides meant that a big storm was coming?

On the other hand,  they would not have faced power outages, because... duh ... no power, and they probably had wood for fuel stored by their house. Little threat of glass breaking from the wind- only very few rich people had glass, and none of it was in big sheets, like our windows. They would probably have had food stored, because there were no supermarkets.  They probably had chickens and maybe some kind of milk - goat or cow, though I don't know if they drank milk or just used it for cheese. I've heard that even small children drank some kind of hard cider, so they would have presumably had that stored in kegs or something.

They'd have been at risk from fire, with high winds gusting down chimneys that were made of wood, yes, that's right - wood with mud over it. Then, there were the sparks from gusty winds landing on the thatched roofs which were untreated by modern flame retardants.  It would have been pretty miserable to have your house burn down in a hurricane and to lose the few material things they had.

That, of course, is not a misery confined to the 17th century, but I don't think we need to worry about it.

Anyway, as long as my Kindle, my iphone, my computer, and, naturally, the COG and the Cat of COG are safe, no worries.  And, really,  it's true, as someone wise once said - if you can replace it with money, it's not a tragedy.

So COG, followed by Cat.  All that matters.

Monday Morning - Where oh where is Sandy?

Actually, I know exactly where Sandy is - heading for the New Jersey coast.  But the point is, she's not here.  It rained in the night, hard at times, but now it's drizzling and there's a little wind.  Smaller branches are shaking and the heads of the marsh grass are waving, but nothing to speak of.  Still, the Boston Globe reports that already there are power outages on the North Shore (and the South Shore and Cape Cod) The wind is supposed to pick up about 10am. High tide (with storm surge)  is at 11:40.

The weather reports are very confusing.  Massachusetts has declared a state of emergency. Schools and public offices are closed. Logan Airport is open, but many flights have been cancelled. Public transportation is running but only 'as long as it's safe to do so' and some trains have been cancelled. The expected storm surges along the coast are expected to be at their worst from midday today until sometime tomorrow.  There are all kinds of dire predictions in the Globe.

And yet, it's raining slightly and only a little windy.  NOAA is predicting the hurricane will get here in 3 to 5 days, though other maps show us currently on the edge of the 800 mile radius of the storm.  It's a little hard to make sense of this. Is all the alarm premature?  Is what we have now, the Nor'easter part of the Frankenstorm, with the heavy rain and wind of the hurricane still to come?

Here is a little video taken from the back deck just now. (I'm told this may be flash because it doesn't show up on the ipad).

And here is a photo just taken from the front steps.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bedtime Sunday

We've received an emergency bulletin from the Town of Ipswich telling us that certain of the coastal roads will be underwater for a few hours either side of high tide tomorrow midday and, again, in the evening.  This means a whole section of Ipswich on two little peninsulas called Great Neck and Little Neck will be cut off.  Argilla Road which leads past house to the beach will also be cut off close to the beach.

Meaning, I can't go to Pavilion Beach or Crane's Beach to see the waves.  Because it's all about me.

We've also been told that there will certainly be power outages,  likely at least for 2 days.

It's raining and a bit windy now, but it's supposed to get much worse starting at 2am.

I'm going to bed now on clean sheets, to savor the last precious moments of having power by turning out the lights.

Storm Warnings; Punctuation Police.

So we got the following warning about coastal flooding:


'Harms way?' Does this mean I shouldn't go look at the 35 foot waves?  

And shouldn't there be an apostrophe in 'Harms?' 


The COG was cleaning the gutters while I was 'holding the ladder for him' which I pretend to do in the full knowledge that at most I could break his fall by being under him.

When suddenly, the wind picked up and the rain began to fall lightly.

More Storm Preparations

I'm washing linens and towels.  This was not suggested by the Emergency Bulletins we received but I thought - hey, gotta have clean sheets for a bad storm.  Plus, tomorrow morning before it gets too bad I plan to shower, manicure, super clean my teeth etc. Because you need to be clean if your roof blows off.

I'm also picking all the roses and other flowers still blooming in our yard - better to have them inside, where we can enjoy them than blown to bits outside.

I keep looking out the window at the beautiful fall colors. Most of the leaves will blow off.  This part of autumn - after the peak colors when maybe 1/4 of the leaves leaves have fallen - is in some ways my favorite.  The lighter leaf cover makes the sunlight shine through the remaining leaves in a really beautiful way. Things just glow.

They are predicting 3 to 5 foot storm surges with flooding on coastal roads and in basements.  This won't affect us, too much, unless we want to go anywhere between 6am Monday and 1pm Tuesday.    I've been reading up on storm surges and decided that, although knowledge is good, I don't want to learn any more. Too Boring. This is what I already know:   wind+ rain+( high tide x phase of moon) = flooding.

Here's a video demonstrating what a 3 foot surge can do:

Our basement will be wet, that is a certainty.  I've been down there getting things off the floor.  We have a generator that will keep the sump pumps working, but the floor still gets wet.  Our backyard will be mostly underwater. Our house adjoins the wetlands and the yard always floods when there is heavy rain. We are due for 4-5 days of rain, they say.

Off to pick flowers.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Frankenstorm - Preparing for the Worst, Hoping for the Best

We are preparing for a storm that could be 'history making', but equally could be kinda windy with some rain.  The Tropical Storm Formerly Known As Hurricane Sandy, is coming up the Atlantic coast in our direction.  When it gets here it will meet a cold front from Canada and another storm from the west,  which will pull Sandy back onto land, from the ocean. The combination of these three storms, plus a full moon so the tides are very high, makes conditions ripe for a really big storm.  But, it all depends on which storm goes where, when.  One thing it could do is to stall the storm systems over us for several days. We're hearing 4 to 5 days, but are unsure what that means.

At this point, Governor Deval Patrick has declared a state of emergency and applied for some kind of federal assistance.  The National Guard is standing by. We have received a number of robot calls from the city emergency services warning us to prepare for a big storm.  FEMA is collecting water and blankets and designating contact points. There are shelters being set up etc.

 We are told that we should have supplies prepared for at least 3 days without power.   We have purchased a battery operated radio, some new flashlights and batteries, bottled water, and a power-free menu consisting of bread, peanut butter, tuna, baked beans, cereal, UHT milk, graham crackers and cheese.  Yum.  I also got lettuce and we are having roast chicken tomorrow so there will be leftover cold chicken.  What is kind of funny is I bought the groceries before I got the list of recommended groceries and I had bought everything on their list.

We dug out our old Coleman stove, which still had fuel in it though it had not been used for 20 years or so. It started right up and we bought more fuel.  Our cars are full of gas, the generator is ready and there's also extra gas for it.   And we've tried to bring stuff that could blow around,  inside.

What we have not done is nail plywood over our windows and sliding glass doors.  Nor have we bought a plastic bucket with a tight-fitting lid and plastic bags to create a 'toilet'.  I just can't wrap my mind around that. Plus, we are quite sheltered in our location.  The large storm surges caused by heavy winds and high tides won't reach as far as our house - 3 miles inland.

At this point, they are saying that it will begin to rain tomorrow evening with temperatures in the 50s and winds of 10 to 20 mph.  The rain will continue and the wind will pick up on Monday and be 35 -45 mph, gusting to 55 to 65 mph, possibly higher.  High tide at midday on Monday will be a crisis point along the coast,  with large storm surges expected.  The coastal areas just a couple of miles from us will have it much worse  than us, because of these surges.  The evening tide will also be a crisis point.  Heavy winds and higher than normal precipitation will continue into Tuesday.

The most likely problem for us is power outages.  We have been told that they are nearly certain to occur because high winds blowing against trees that are still fully leafed, means that the trees are more likely to blow over and damage power lines.  We just don't know how long we will be without power. The last big storm was in March 2009 or 2010, I think, and we were without power for 2 1/2 days.  It was kind of fun actually.

I read that the waves will be between 25 and 35 feet high and I hope the weather will allow us to go see them. I'd really love to see that.

I'll update the blog, as long as we  have power.

Friday, October 26, 2012

60s British Rock, revisited

The COG and I spent an evening watching The British Beat on PBS during the pledging cycle.  It was an evening of elderly rock n' roll singers singing their hits from the 60's.  We couldn't help noticing that they all looked really old. Like us.   I told the COG that it all gave a whole different meaning to Gerry and the Pacemakers.  What's next, I said, Gerry and the Zimmer Frames?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Differences Between America and Britain

In Britain, they so love their National Health Service that it played a central part in the Olympic Opening Ceremonies.

In America, people are so messed-up about the need for universal health coverage,  a victim of the Aurora shooting (23 year old Caleb Medley ) is facing millions of dollars debt because he and his wife are uninsured (And also because he is in a state which doesn't control access to attack weapons.)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Great Book First Lines

Face it: you will never have time to read all the good books there are.  So here are a few great first lines from books I may or may not have read.

"Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last." from Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund

"There are some men who enter a woman's life and screw it up forever.  Joe Morelli did this to me - not forever - but periodically." from One for the Money by Janet Evanovich (OK - it's two lines, so sue me.)

"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink." from I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

"Polar Exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has ever been devised." from "The Worst Journey in the World" by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, survivor of the disastrous Scott Expedition to the Antarctic.

"There are dragons in the twins vegetable garden." from A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle

"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it." from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

"Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered that she had turned into the wrong person." from Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler

"In our family there was no clear difference between religion and fly fishing." from A River Runs Through It by Norman MacLean

"In the middle of my life I came to myself in a dark wood, and the way was lost" from Inferno by Dante

"Having spent two months travelling in the primary rain forests of Borneo, a four month journey in the country between the Orinoco and the Amazon would pose, I thought, no particular problem.' from In Trouble Again, by Redmond O'Hanlon.

"There was no possibility of taking a walk that day." from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

"Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French." from The Luck of the Bodkins by PG Wodehouse

One line I remember from a book title I've forgotten:

"Somebody said 'true love is like ghosts which everyone talks about but few have seen.' I've seen both and I don't know how to tell you which is worse."   Can't remember the name of this book, but the author's name starts with G and there's a picture of the corner of a white house on the cover. Plus, it's a quote within a quote and the part starting 'true love is like ghosts which everyone talks about but few has seen' is adapted from La Rochefoucauld. [edited - the book is More Than You Know, by Beth Gutcheon.]

Do you have any favorites: I've left off some of the most famous ones - Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Huckleberry Finn, Rebecca, Tale of Two Cities, War and Peace, etc.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Back in the USA

Kind of a rough re-entry this time - it has taken nearly a week to feel de-jet-lagged.

Anyway, my big achievement of the week is a pedicure - with blue toenails.  Every time I look down at my toes I feel a little jolt of surprise because they aren't pink or coral.  Kind of fun.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Pretty Blue Flowers

The pretty blue flowers that were blooming all along the walk from Beachy Head to Birling Gap have a distinctly un-pretty name - they are called 'Viper's Bugloss'

En masse:

Up close:

I know you are asking yourself - 'Why are they called that?'  And, through the miracle of modern technology, also known as 'Google', I can tell you.  'Bugloss' is from the Greek and refers to an ox's tongue, possibly in reference to the roughness and shape of the plant's leaves. The 'viper' may refer to the spotted stem which are said to recall markings on the snake.  Which is pretty much like saying that no one really knows. 

And even if it does explain the origin of the name, it still doesn't explain why it doesn't have a nicer common name.  Why do other plants get names like 'Evening Primrose' or 'Canterbury Bells' or 'Lady's Mantle' or 'Love in a Mist' and this equally pretty flower gets 'Viper's Bugloss'.  

It's just not fair.   I tried to come up with something better but my brain is jet lagged and not cooperating, I don't get any farther than 'blue spiky ... flower'.

Blue Angel Spires?
Celestial Pokers?
Ox-tongue Indigo?

Not much better than 'Blue Spiky.... flower.'


Beachy Head to Birling Gap

After walking 8 miles to the Devil's Dyke, we needed to take the next few days easy. So the next day we decided to do one of our favorite walks from Beachy Head to Birling Gap, on the chalk cliffs above the Channel. It is a very peaceful and pleasant walk over easy rolling hills, and only a couple of miles long. It's the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain, with long, long views of the coast in either direction.  

The name 'Beachy Head' has nothing to do with beach, by the way.  It's a corruption of 'Beauchef', Old French for 'beautiful headland'.  It has been an important as a landmark for sailors forever, and, along with the adjoining Seven Sisters was strategic during WW2, as a landmark for airplanes, both enemy and friendly.  There's a little red and white lighthouse at the foot of the cliff and this view (I hope the COG posts a better picture of this) is an  iconic British picture.  Because the lighthouse is so low, and is often obscured by mist, there's another, higher, one called Belle Tout on the next cliff over. 

Pictures don't really capture how peaceful and idyllic this spot is - there's something about the combination of distant views, with beautiful reflected light, and sheep baa-ing in the distance and birds singing and the sound of the wind that I find just smooths all the rough places in my soul. 

The holes above are rabbit holes:  Desirable purpose built dwellings with million-pound sea views, rustic interiors, in need of some updating.

Location, Location, Location

Look what $750,000 will buy you in Sussex:

Sorry for the lousy photo - I was shooting through a Estate Agent's window with the sun at the perfect angle for glare.

Home Safely, plus a Factoid

I'm home safely, though very tired,  after an uneventful trip.

Factoid: I wore a pedometer from the time I left the flat in Brighton yesterday.  Despite spending most of the day sitting or standing in line, I walked nearly 2 1/2 miles just getting through the various transportation points.

I wore the pedometer because I was just curious.  Airports are huge. and you have to do a lot of walking just to get to your gate, or get thru security etc.  I've always wondered how far you actually do walk. Now I know.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Home Tomorrow

I'm sitting in that blue chair enjoying the late afternoon sunshine and listening to the seagulls.  Gosh, I love the sound of seagulls. I know they are basically flying rats, but I still love them. I love looking up into a clear blue sky and seeing them gliding over me. And I love the sound of them, which we don't hear in Ipswich,  even though we are so near the sea there, too.

After the rainiest June on record, the weather has turned wonderful just as I am leaving. It's lovely at home, too, the COG tells me, and I've missed the heat wave. So I can't complain really.  And the work we had done on the back room would have kept us in even if the weather here had been great.

The COG is going to phone me at 10:30 his time, which is 3:30 am here - he's my wake-up call. Then, the last few things - grab the garbage bag, turn the water heater off,  make sure everything is turned off and out the door to catch the bus to the coach to the plane to the subway to the train to a car - our next door neighbors are picking me up in Ipswich because the COG is working tomorrow.

I know it will be lovely to be home, but it's so hard to leave here. The thing that has happened this time is color - pretty much everything we had bought for the flat was white and fairly minimalist, apart from a couple of yelllow cushions and some curtains.  But over the time I've been here I've hung pictures (some of the COG's and some calendar prints that will end up being replaced (but they are nice in the meantime).  There are flowers on the mantel and in the kitchen and some pretty new tea towels, and we bought  2 lovely bird prints from a local artist and some pieces of blue green pottery (the COG hasn't seen these yet).  It's a nice feeling to have these pretty things around us and makes it all seem more homelike here.  Here are the prints. I'll need to get them framed next time - they aren't a standard size.

I have lots of things to post that I didn't get around to, and I promise to do it over the next week.   Here's the back room as of today. I primed the raw plaster walls, but left the spot on the ceiling over on the left. I wasn't sure it was dry because they only finished that part yesterday.  The plaster really is pink, just like the Farrow and Ball color 'Plaster Pink'.  We'll have to paint the room and the ceiling next time we are here.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Weird/Nice Thing Happened Today

I was browsing in a shop in The Lanes, which is all that's left of medieval Brighton - narrow winding pedestrian only streets with zillions of little boutiques.  I became aware that a young woman was staring at me and following me around the shop.  I turned to her and smiled and she blurted out that she had seen me pass the Trevor Sobie Salon, where she works, and followed me.  She said she was a trainee and needed to pass a blow dry exam, but her model had cancelled.  She asked if I would do it for her.  She couldn't offer me anything but a shampoo/blow dry, but if I came back later in her training she would do a color or cut or anything I wanted. She could do it now, or later in the day, or at my convenience.

I was taken aback. I thought about how this could be a con and asked a couple of questions and then I just shrugged and said -sure. Why not?  She was so grateful.

So I went back to the salon with her - Hannah is her name - and down to the basement training area. I got a shampoo, and blissful conditioning head massage and a blow dry.

She passed her exam. Thank heavens, I would have felt so (irrationally) guilty otherwise.

On the way out of the training lab, I had to walk a kind of gauntlet of other trainees telling me what great hair I have, how lucky I am to have such a nice color etc.  Hairdressers always make a big fuss of my hair and I'm sort of flattered on the one hand, but uncomfortable on the other hand.  I guess it feels like undeserved praise, since it is just a lucky DNA draw and I don't actually do anything to warrant praise.

Anyway, it's always pleasant to have someone wash and blow dry your hair, plus, it's a nice feeling to do something nice for a stranger for no reason at all.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Obama Care Wins!

Thank you Chief Justice Roberts, for acting like a Supreme Court Judge is supposed to, voting on the legality of a program, not the politics of it.

Obama Care is pretty much based on Romney Care - enacted in Massachusetts while Mitt Romney was governor. Ironic, isn't it.

Here's what  Obama Care - the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act -  will do for you (some of these roll out gradually by 2014).

If you are over 65 you are already receiving more preventive care for free, including free annual physicals.  Any screening recommended by the US Preventive Medicine Task force, is now free. Your prescription costs have gone down, there is much better drug coverage.

If you have uninsured children under 26, you can now include them in your family health insurance. The day the act was signed into law 3.5 million uninsured young people became insured.

No one can be turned down for insurance because of pre-existing conditions, including pregnancy.   The law also prevents insurance companies from dropping you from your existing insurance because you become ill. This covers babies and children immediately.  For adults, there is now a 6 month waiting period, but that goes away by 2014. 

Insurers cannot place dollar limits on the amount of coverage you receive during your lifetime.

The law also requires that insurers cover out of pocket costs for many proven preventive screening tests, such as colonoscopies and mammograms, and vaccinations. Some of this rolls out gradually.

There's a big increase in the range of women's health care, including pre-natal and post-partum care, as well as access to contraception.

With State's approval, Medicaid will be expanded to include more Americans - as many as 16 million Americans who are currently uninsured will be insured.  (States who opt out - shame on you)

I am currently in the UK, where the NHS is having lots of problems.  These problems are completely the result of under-funding. According to the Guardian, in 2006 the UK spent 8.2% of the GNP on health care (while covering every single person in the country for everything - with no copays or other complications) while the US spent 15.8 % - nearly twice as much.  And what does that buy?

LIfe expectancy at birth in the UK is 80 years, in the US it's 78 years. The US ranks 30th in infant mortality - behind pretty much every other developed country. One in eight births in the US is preterm, compared with 1 in 18 in Ireland and Finland. 

I won't go on.  I really do not understand why anyone with any sense at all can be against universal health care.  

Oh - and the Death Panel idiocy?  The origin of that was a provision that physicians discuss end-of-life care with the elderly.  How can anyone, of any age, not want to discuss that?  Who would not want to have the opportunity to have some say in these decisions - instead of leaving it to health care providers who don't know you or your loved ones at a vulnerable time.  


Off to hike around Devil's Dyke.  (literally - not metaphorically)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Monday, June 18, 2012

Puzzling British Signs, continued


I have no idea. None.

Life in Brighton

I filled in a questionnaire about proposed to changes to the Brighton train station.  At the end, it asked this question, with these responses.

Q) What is your gender?

1) Male
2) Female
3) Other
4) I do not wish to answer this question.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Finally, a Day Out

We have mostly been confined to the house because of the work we're having done and also by crummy weather, so yesterday we were pleased to have a day on the South Downs Way.  We were worried about weather because much of Britain was predicted to experience a big Atlantic storm with high winds and 3 months of rain in 3 days.  We read every weather report we could find and then watched the radar predictions over and over, making sure that the storm really would turn north, missing our little eastern corner of the UK.  Assuring ourselves that rain was only a possibility before about 11am and after 7pm, we went forth.

What we didn't do was plan the walk itself. The COG told me we didn't need maps or trail descriptions. It's easy, he said, you just go west from Ditchling Beacon.  I naturally trusted him implicitly. It goes without saying.  We took the bus to Ditchling Beacon, one of the highest points on the Downs. From there, we could see Brighton spread below us, in the distance, with the sea beyond.  And we turned west and began to walk.

At about 100 meters from the car park where the bus dropped us, the COG began to alarm me.  There were two paths  on the western edge of the car park. He pondered which one to take for a while and then chose the one with the most people on it.  We walked for a while.  Did I mention that the wind was 30 to 40 mph  and blowing directly in our faces all along the top of the completely unprotected ridge we walked on?  The COG told me that this was simply what the British referred to as 'bracing.'  That's like a Minnesotan telling you that 20 below zero is 'refreshing'.

I must say it was just grand. The wind adds a peculiar exhilaration and it wasn't cold, just windy. The views of the Downs descending abruptly to the north -  to the Weald -  and stretching more gently down on the south side - are glorious.  The COG kept stopping to take pictures and I waited very patiently for him. Honestly. I really did.  Complete patience.

This is a panorama of the weald side.

This is the other, more gentle, southern slope:

After a couple of miles of undulating trail always directly in the wind at the top of the ridge, we came to a full stop. The path led in two directions - left and right.  The trail markers did not mention Devils Dyke so we asked some boys from Burgess Hill school who we kept playing tag with along the trail, and they told us to go right, toward the windmills for Devils Dyke.  The COG thought that made sense.

I wasn't so sure, because I could see a portion of the trail twisting up a steep hill far to our left.  So I asked a man who was coming up the left side trail.  He told us to go left, past the golf course and descend into Pyecombe, then ascend the hill on the other side of the road. We did as he said, and it was very hard on the COG's poor knees.  The village of Pyecombe is in a lovely little hidden valley just off the main highway to London. There's an old Norman church,  which is so old that the church yard is much higher than the building and you have to descend steps to get into the door.  The church also has a great name:

Leaving Pyecombe we had to cross a big bridge over the motorway and then struggled a bit to find the continuation of the trail, but we continued climbing up and up and up to the top, with the high winds at our faces, making the climb even more of an effort.

I believe it was at this point when I asked the COG - what's Devils Dyke, anyway.  He said he had no idea.  Then he asked if we were halfway yet - we must be half way by now - were his actual words.  I was a bit shaken. We had gone about 2 of the 7 or 8 mile hike.  The only map we had was the one on my iphone, which has roads but no walking trails, but it was clear that we were only 1/3 of the way.  And it was pretty clear that the COG had no special knowledge stored away about the walk.  His trail knowledge was apparently limited to -  from Ditchling Beacon, you turn west until you get to Devil's Dyke. Whatever that is.

We had a couple more bad moments, one in which the trail seemed to end and the arrow pointed back in the direction we had just come. Another when we chose the wrong path leading to the top of Devils Dyke and had to back track, probably adding an extra mile to the walk. And, then, when we chose, well,  not the 'wrong' path to the top but, maybe, not the best path (as in quickest and most direct) to the top.

We persevered, because 1) we knew there was a pub with food at Devil's Dyke and; 2) the bus stop  to get us home was at Devil's Dyke.  And, of course, we were heading west, so we took it on faith that we would eventually, one way or another, get there. Even if we didn't actually know what it was.

And we did. There was food and drink, warmth, shelter from the wind. And a bus home.

It was a great day.  The view from the top of Devil's Dyke is one that the great English painter, John Constable, called 'the grandest view in the world'.  This isn't the view from the top, but it's a view of the Dyke, itself.

The Dyke?  Turns out it's the widest, deepest, longest dry valley in the UK, formed by melting ice 10,000 years ago at the end of an ice age.

Or, on the other hand,  it could be a ditch toward the sea dug by the Devil, himself, in an aborted attempt to drown the faithful Christians of the weald.

You choose.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sorta Kinda Partly Done

The Good News - they've finished putting the waterproofing on the walls. The stuff they put on is really goopy and we need it in our basement at home, too. Apparently it's the same stuff they used on the Channel Tunnel.

The guy doing the work finished up with an Om Symbol which will be hidden under the plaster (which will be done next week, after the Goop cures enough.)

The Bad News is that the deck above the ceiling is rotting - it's visible (though you can't see it) in the little corner cut out of the ceiling in the first picture) and it will all need to be replaced.  We don't yet know how/when etc that will happen.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

After, plus another day

Today, they applied.... I don't know what it is, some kind of concrete mix to the walls, covering the bricks. Also, they pulled some more plaster board off the opposite wall and around the sliding door and then applied the same stuff.

It turns out that the area around the sliding door was completely filled with a hydroscopic filler that was totally inappropriate and that may have been a big part of our damp problem.  They dug it all out and refilled it all today.

Tomorrow they'll do the ceiling and install a vent in the wall, and do the first coat of the damp-course.
The stuff they use for the damp course, I'm told, is the same as they use in the Channel Tunnel. So, if there's a tsunami or floods, we should run into that room and we'll stay dry.

Flooding is on our minds because there's flooding all over Sussex today, and more to come, say the weather reports.   Rain and floods, a perfect way to spend a vacation.

Time Out for a Recipe

Actually, more of an idea, but there is a recipe.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall writing in the Guardian had a fantastic idea, which he calls 'Fruit Fumble'.  The basic idea is that you cook separately the crispy topping you usually put on a fruit crisp or fruit crumble.  Then you assemble the actual dessert at the last minute - some kind of fruit, yogurt or cream or other creamy layer and then sprinkle some of the fumble over the whole.  We made a large amount of the crumble and stored it in an air-tight tin, so we can use it for several meals. It's a little like Granola, but buttery-er.

We've done this the last couple of days, first with strawberries and greek yogurt, then with rhubarb and greek yogurt with honey.  Yummy and fast.

I just made the crumble part. If you don't have a scale, either use your own Apple Crisp recipe or just estimate quantities - roughly 1 cup of flour/ 2 sticks of butter/ 1/2 cup oats/ 3/4 cup sugar. I also added a cup of walnuts.  This is not health food.

Strawberry Fumble

400g strawberries - hulled and cut into smallish-pieces
1 tbsp caster sugar
1        vanilla pod
200ml double cream
100ml plain yoghurt
2 tbsp icing sugar

For the 'independent' crumble
225g plain flour (or try ground almonds)
A pinch fine sea salt
200g chilled - unsalted butter, cut into cubes
150g granulated or demerara sugar
100g medium oatmeal

To make the crumble, which you can do well ahead of time, heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Put all the ingredients into a large bowl. Rub together with your fingertips until you have a crumbly dough. Squeeze the mix in your hands to form clumps, then crumble these on to a large baking tray that has an edge. Evenly spread out the lumpy crumble and bake for 25 minutes, giving it a good stir halfway through, until golden brown and crisp. Leave to cool, then transfer to an airtight container. You'll have more than you need for this recipe, but it stores well for a couple of weeks and can be used to top all sorts of fruity and/or creamy puds.

Hull the strawberries, cut them into smallish pieces, sprinkle with caster sugar and leave to macerate for at least an hour.

Just before serving, split open the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into the cream. Stir in the yoghurt and sift in the icing sugar. Beat with a balloon whisk or electric whisk until the cream thickens and holds very soft peaks (don't overdo it, or it becomes too hard). Add the strawberries to the cream and stir gently so you have a swirly, marbled mixture. Transfer to four dishes, top each with a generous scattering of crumble, and serve.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Before and After

We are having a Damp Problem fixed while we are here. This means taking the walls and part of the ceiling back to the brick, installing some kind of damp-proofing to the bricks, and replacing the plaster. I hope to repaint the plaster after Alec returns to the US. This is what our back room looked like this morning. A bright light room.


This is what it looks like this afternoon.

We found an old door that had been filled in when the extension at the back was put on. The problem was apparently caused by the fact that  sometime after the extension was put on, they just glued plaster board over the existing plaster walls.  Tomorrow they will remove more plaster above the door and around the perimeter of the ceiling, clean up, and install the first coat of damp-proofing.  That's the plan, anyway.