I wish I’d listened to the teacher

Poor Gardener Dave (and Sam). The weather today was absolutely foul and yet they laboured away, mattocking, digging, shovelling…they really earned their money. In fact they probably didn’t get paid enough. At one point Dave told Mirinda that he wished he’d listened to the teacher in class because he’d probably have a nice warm inside job rather than be wet and miserable and covered in mud.

Still, they persevered and were happy little workers regardless of the conditions. I felt very sorry for them. We gave them a bottle of sancerre each for Christmas as some sort of middling compensation for the rotten work we’ve had them do this year. I think they were rather chuffed.

By the time they’d finished and headed off for their next job, the garden was looking very tidy. They’d dug up an old tree stump, reduced a mound of dirt to the flat, blown away all the leaves and did some weeding out the front. It all looked perfect.

The girls inspect the work in a brief moment of rain abatement.

As for me…I didn’t go anywhere. The rain didn’t stop until just before sunset (Mirinda told me the sunset in town was glorious but we didn’t see it here) so all three of us stayed inside most of the day. The puppies weren’t too happy with that but, as I explained to Emma, none of us would have enjoyed walking in the rain and she would have probably lost her tennis ball. Freya just went back to sleep.

Mirinda, meanwhile, was sitting on a panel at a conference talking about private providers…as you do. She thought it went okay but was a bit annoyed that she was only asked one question after her bit while the other speakers were asked lots. I told her that that was because her piece was super clear and succinct and needed no clarification. She didn’t sound convinced.

Here’s a photo from her recent graduation ceremony. The photos only just appeared on FB and, I hate to admit it, I stole it to include here. I do feel justified though because firstly, FB advertises my blog and secondly, I feel like I had a hand in making the college a success too.

That’s an out of focus Sarah on the right. She looks like she’s asleep.

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When the market blew away

This morning, as I lay on the lounge, surrounded by puppies, the rain lashed against the back of the house and the roof lantern. I felt sorry for the people setting up their stalls for the Christmas market, scheduled to happen today in Castle Street, the Bush and the Central Car Park. Then, as the morning grew lighter so the rain decided to do likewise. By the time I left for the shops, the water falling was just drippy.

The stalls were up in Castle Street and goods were being set out by people with rather glum faces. It had clearly not been the most pleasant of mornings. I continued on to Starbucks which was rather busy; a lot busier than normal on a Sunday.

We’d planned to visit the market in the afternoon, with the girls and, as I walked back through it, things were looking up. A few groups of people had turned up (albeit with umbrellas) and were wandering around. The Borough was abuzz as buyers wandered all over the road which, this year, was closed to traffic. I don’t know about last year but the year that we took mum (2015) the Borough was open and there was a constant wrestle betwixt foot and wheel which feet were never going to win.

I popped into Smith’s for a toner cartridge before heading home as the drippy rain made sure I was nicely damp for the walk back through the park. Mirinda was on the phone to Bob as I managed to divest myself of about a gallon of water.

While it didn’t reach the torrents of the early morning, the rain didn’t let up (it snowed everywhere else in the country…even London) and we decided to forgo the trip to the market. This was a good decision as it turned out. Besides I had a tagine to make.

For my birthday Mirinda bought me a beautiful 100 year old Provencal glazed stoneware casserole pot. It’s the perfect size for two (though you could manage four if you had other stuff as well). I’ve been wanting to use it and the tagine was perfect given it all went into the pot then into the oven for almost four hours.

The result was delicious and the pot worked brilliantly.

100 years and still going

There’s something quite special about cooking with something so old. Every time I opened the cooker to give it a stir, I wondered about the other cooks who had done the same over the years. I’d like to think that a lot of lovely food came out of the pot…like it did tonight.

And speaking of ‘old’…Ronnie O’Sullivan managed to thrash Shaun Murphy 10-5 in the UK Championship tonight. At 42, Ronnie is amazed that he can still play competitive snooker. He’s insane. He is the greatest player I’ve ever seen and can’t see him ever being less than brilliant.

On the way to the win

In the other hand, I’m not really that keen on Murphy. True, he has an amazing cue action and the power he generates is phenomenal. He’s also nice and quick around the table. I remember the first major tournament I saw him in, I thought he was going to be something special as he aged. Then he won the World Championship in 2005.

While he played brilliantly, particularly coming from 6-10 down to win in the final session 18-16, his victory speech was what put me off. He’d recently married and he called his wife out of the audience. She joined him at the table and they did the usual jubilant celebrating. Called to speak, Shaun then proceeded to tell everyone that as committed Christians they both thanked God for the result.

The problem with thanking God for the result is not so much the fact that they believe in fairy tales but, rather, the fact that he was, in effect saying that his opponents and everyone else in the competition were unblessed by God. He also denigrated everyone who trained him and helped him along the way to his victory. And he also ignored the skills he developed himself over the years.

Now, every time I see him play, his speech and selfishness obscures (for me) any pleasure I should derive from seeing him play. It’s clearly a fault in me but I can’t help it…and I don’t really care given he doesn’t care either.

But, heading back to the weather…both the Hassells and Denise and Jenny had they fair share of snow today as they explored separate bits of the north. While Denise and Jenny were wandering around Munich (oh, how I drunkenly remember Munich) the Hassells were docked at Copenhagen.

In Copenhagen

And while they all look like they’re having fun, fun, fun it wasn’t quite as good here in Farnham as the dangerous winds (Uppark, the stately home, was closed because of the dangerous winds) whipped their way down Castle Street. If that wasn’t bad enough, a few stalls were collected along the way and blown away with it.

Things reached such a bad point that the Christmas market was suddenly cancelled and stalls quickly pulled down. The sellers frantically grabbed goods before they could become airborne (not always successfully) and eventually made their way home. I read the following on a FB page I belong to:

“Was getting very dangerous gazebos flying about my daughter in law was a vendor lots of stock ruined should not have been allowed to start she drove up from Devon for it and on her way back now ! All very disappointing” Rosemary Hancock, Facebook

It was not a success! Perhaps next year will be better. And maybe Shaun could tell me what God has against the Farnham Christmas market…

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My toes froze

A year and a day ago, our good friend Bill suddenly and very unexpectedly, died of a massive heart attack. One of his close friends (Steve) thought we should mark his life in some way. It was decided to put a plaque on the Slab at the Rec (where he always watched the football) and have the official ceremony on a match day closest to the day he died. That day was today.

We were playing Halifax, who are languishing down the bottom of the table, and assuming a win for us. Before the game, however, we had to say goodbye to Bill properly by going to the pub first.

Normally we have a pint (or two) in the Victoria but they didn’t have any beer so we very quickly decamped and headed across the road to the George. As I said to Nicktor, this was probably more appropriate given it was in the George (though under a different name) that he first met Bill who was working behind the bar. We had a beer, stuck a photo of Bill on an empty chair (which Jason the policeman sat on suggesting we tell Bill that he’d sat on his lap*) and drank to his memory.

We then adjourned to the bar under the South Stand at the ground. Here they serve very decent beer (TEA) and it’s somewhere that Bill had been many, many times. We put the photo up again and toasted our dear departed friend. The barmaid almost photobombed the group shot that Martin took.

Nicktor and Ian toasting Bill

Eventually (just before kick off) we headed up to our usual spot and spread out a whole load of photos of Bill and a supporter’s scarf. Steve then produced the plaque and a tube of Gorilla glue. There followed a very complex operation to ensure the plaque was straight and stuck. A strap secured it further, to be removed at half time.

Bill’s spot, never forgotten

It was not a solemn occasion at all. There were lots of laughs as we remembered Bill, the loveliest man most of us have ever known. He had a lot of friends and was universally admired and loved. I like to think that in the future, fans will read the plaque and admire him the way that we did.

Bill’s Plaque

As for the game…it was awful. Aldershot didn’t turn up. While the Halifax defence was fairly strong, we just couldn’t put together any decent attacks. Halifax won 1-0.

From now on, this match will be the Memorial Bill Match. We shall celebrate it every year. Regarding the result, we had to admit Bill would have been philosophical then turned up next week just like a REAL football fan.

* Jason didn’t know that Bill was no longer with us. He probably thought we’d put the photo there because he was overseas…or something. It was rather funny.

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Fish market

Our lights this year

Today in the snooker, it was Rocket Ronnie’s turn to have a rough day at the table. Leading Martin Gould 5-0 he only had to win one more frame to fall over the line. Although well behind, Martin had played with dogged determination and it suddenly came to some good when he won the sixth frame.

Mystified Martin

In the end, Ronnie was simply too good and eventually won 6-3 but the final few frames were a big surprise for everyone. No more so than the person who was carried out of the theatre by, I assume, medics. There was a long interruption while the audience member was carried out. While the camera didn’t venture into the auditorium, we were kept up to date by watching Martin’s face as he waited to have a shot.

When the game finally returned to normal, it was as if Martin Gould had been given an injection of Win Juice. He started playing well, giving Ronnie as good as he got.

Then, in the final frame, Ronnie went into robot mode and just won with a break of 90 odd. In the studio he admitted he wasn’t playing very well but just did his best.

Meanwhile up in the close to frozen north, my marine app pinpointed the Hassells. They were docked at Hamburg. They were quite near to the Altonaer fish market and across from the entrance to the south branch of the Elbe river.

Here’s a screen dump of them sitting at the pier. They are on the Aurora.

By the end of the night their ship had cast off and headed for their next stop, Copenhagen while further south, Denise and Jenny were boarding a plane for Munich.

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The big switch on

Every year, up and down the country, there comes the day for the big Christmas lights switch on. Generally some celebrity (that I’ve never heard of but is usually starring in a local panto) will stand behind a big red button and bash it, bringing the lights to life. They even do it in Ambridge. Here in Farnham it happened a few weeks ago, which I thought was way too early. Today it happened at our house.

Originally Mirinda was coming home tomorrow night but, wanting to get home so we could attend a lecture at Chawton House Library, she managed to shift things around. Sadly (for us at least), the lecture was full so she had to put up with a night at home with me and the girls.

Of course, because she came home tonight, the Big Switch On had to take place this evening. I felt very self conscious as I’d hate to think we were the first in the street. There might be another house further down but I’m not sure. Of course now I’ve set the trend, they’ll all be doing it. And I just know that next October, Neighbour Dave will be asking me when I’m going to put my lights up.

While I was feeling rather embarrassed, it was nowhere near as embarrassed as the two fellows I watched play snooker this afternoon. Martin Gould was playing Xiao Guodong and it was one of the least skillful matches I’ve ever seen in the UK Championships. Evah!

Martin Gould wondering how he reached the final 16

Mistake followed mistake as they each tried to control the cue ball against seemingly impossible odds. And failing. As Steve Davis almost said, they didn’t so much as have the cue ball on a string as a very old and tired rubber band.

Okay, I’m not saying I could have beaten either of them but the standard was pretty low. As I watched them, I figured neither of them would win the overall competition unless something drastic happened to their opponents…like being hit by an alien death ray, for instance.

Xiao Guodong hypnotised by errors

The game was dragging on with Gould trailing at one stage 3-4. Then, like someone who could almost play competitive snooker, Gould managed to win the match 6-4. The game was only interesting in that it was so bad. I’ll be surprised if Gould gets passed the next round.

Here, in Farnham, we were somewhat hampered with rain. It rained all the way to the gym then all the way into town then on the way home. There was a lot of rain.

By lunchtime, just after telling the girls there’d be no walk, the rain stopped and the sun came out, the clouds replaced by blue sky. After Emma pointed out the change in the weather, we went for a walk.

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Ashes to ashes

I see that the Australian cricket team is playing properly at the moment. Poor England just can’t take a trick. Two wins out of two tests…roll on Perth.

Meanwhile, in York, there was a change in fortune for John Higgins. While he won yesterday, today he wasn’t as successful.

He was up against Mark King who Higgins has beaten many, many times in the past. There was a bit of a blip for King when he went 4-2 down but he bounced back and took the match to a final frame at 5-5. Both players were feeling the tension of the occasion and they both made pressure related mistakes but, eventually, it was King who took the match and now advances to the quarter finals.

A determined Mark King

Afterwards, in the obligatory studio interview, King said he was playing a lot easier now that he wasn’t worried about making any money. In the past it was all about how to make the mortgage or put food on the table which sat in the back of his mind during his matches. This is never a good idea.

Then, this year, he won a major tournament and he doesn’t need to worry about money any more. These are his words, not mine. I have no idea how much he won or what other event changed his fortunes but he was certainly nice and relaxed.

Final frame

At home I finally planted the bears breeches and one lone little verbena that had been left, neglected in the Crazy Bed. We’ve really missed the bears breeches. There were quite a few just outside the back of the house but they were grubbed up when the foundations were put in for the extension. We have looked for replacements but have not been successful…until last weekend.

I also finished off the Christmas lights with the addition of the baubles on my office wall.

It was a grey but lovely day. Apparently it’s going to start getting cold next week after Storm Caroline strikes Scotland. I bet the Hassells will be pleased out in the North Sea.

(By the way, Fi, I’ve managed to find your ship on my Marine app and will follow your slow progress across the ice flows. X)

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A lovely surprise

At about 4:30 I was ready for a bit of a break and thought I’d catch up on The Archers which I’ve missed during the recent visitation. And it was completely by accident that I discovered that the UK Snooker Championship (from York) is presently on the BBC. Needless to say I didn’t catch up with The Archers. Rather I watched John Higgins beat Yan Bingtao with a masterly display of experience over youth.

Despondent

Bingtao played a blinder in China this year, annihilating John with some devil may care rapid potting. John figured he didn’t have much of a safety game given the relentless scoring at the table. The few frames I saw proved otherwise.

At one point, Higgins was 3-0 up but Bingtao pulled back the frames to equal things at 3-3. There followed a few strenuous bouts of safety play which, while Bingtao showed his strategic game is also strong, was always going to go Higgins’ way.

I’d love to say that the puppies enjoyed it as much as I did but they were fast asleep. They were probably tired from the run around the park after lunch.

Mirinda returned to work today (and a complete waste of time standing only greet-up at the House of Lords in the evening) and I Skyped mum after the gym so it was just like normal. Then lunch…then the park.

The biggest job today (apart from washing a few tonnes of bed linen) was hanging the Christmas lights. I do rather enjoy this bit of the yearly schedule. Of course I didn’t switch them on (apart from testing) because I don’t want to be the first in the street. Presumably I’ll have no choice on Friday when Mirinda returns.

The other important job was to create and order the calendars for next year. They should be here by the end of the week. How quickly they do them these days.

I mentioned the other day that the Hassells bought Mirinda some rusty flowers for Christmas. In case anyone was wondering, this is what two of them look like:

The other three are unopened poppies

And just to finish with a bit of excitement…

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And breathe

Today saw the Hassell family heading down to Southampton to spend a few nights with Uncle Pete. The plan was to leave at about 10:30 and they were only an hour out.

I went to the gym then shopped before walking home. I didn’t bother rushing, knowing they’d still be getting out of the door. I was correct.

I noticed as I walked home that the fence that blew over last week has been repaired, this time with concrete posts. A very good move though it would have been cheaper had they used them when it blew over before. Still. I also noticed that they’ve had a couple of spurs put in further along where the fence hadn’t blown over. This shores up the existing wooden posts with concrete.

Built to last…longer than wood

Back at home there was a lot of packing (or jamming) things in bags and squashing them into the car but, eventually, it all worked and we waved our visitors farewell as they headed south. They don’t hit the high seas for a few days but they will be staying quite close to the docks so they can acclimatise a bit…

The puppies were suddenly engulfed in silence as the house returned to normal.

The rest of the day consisted of working for Mirinda who was rather pleased to once more have access to her library, and washing for me…though I did indulge in a rather necessary granny nap late in the day.

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Hippy dippy boat shops

Today we all travelled up to the Cotswolds to spend an afternoon with Suzanne and Rafi. Suzanne had suggested we might like to go to the Christmas Market along the canal at Bradford-on-Avon. So that’s what we did.

Thanks for the photo, Fi

To say that the drive up was smooth and problem free would be a lie. Major weekend roadworks had closed off a huge swathe of whatever road we were on causing a major detour. This didn’t add more than ten minutes onto our journey but it did lessen Mirinda’s mood somewhat as we navigated back lanes and extensively confusing roundabouts. Though her mood did lighten a bit when we drove through the beautiful countryside of Wiltshire. Mine was lightened even more when we drove passed the Wadworth brewery in Devizes.

Meanwhile the Hassell’s journey took them by Stonehenge* which Jason reckons would only need about 50 drunken Englishmen to push over. I guess it’s fortunate that this has never happened.

Still, eventually we all made it…though some sooner than others.

The plan was to have lunch in the highly recommended Lock Inn Cafe which, as you’d guess, is on the canal and right by a lock. It’s also at the start of the market. Sadly (for us) the Lock Inn Cafe was fully booked so, instead, we managed to get a table for eight at the Boathouse. This is a bit of a way out of town but still on the water with some lovely boat views.

Speaking of boat views, in the Boathouse, there was, on the wall behind Jason, a half block model of the 1852 America, the yacht that won a race and then became the name of the most famous yacht race in the world, the America’s Cup. As I started to bore the table with the information that the race isn’t named for the country but for the (British built) boat, lunch appeared and we all tucked in.

I didn’t get to tell them that the original America was built with an iron hull and was engineered by Robert Stephenson of the train fame. I also didn’t get to tell them that…okay, I’ll stop now. It seems that I should really keep my extensive maritime knowledge to myself. Or to my blog.

Cheers

I forced Jason to drink half a pint of proper beer but he declared it absolutely disgusting. Mind you, he managed to drink it all. Apparently flavour is not the best thing. I’ll have to remember that when it comes time to ‘christen’ Rafi.

After a lunch which I thought was quite nice but Mirinda didn’t, we headed for the town car park prior to our walk along the mud strewn tow path.

The market was along the towpath, narrow boats displaying various wares for sale or perusal…mostly for sale. And an odd assortment of things there were.

At one stage Mirinda spotted a picture she really liked. She should have bought it then and there but, sadly, she decided to wait and get it on the way back…except we didn’t go back. I always say “…buy it when you see it because you never know if you’ll see it again” but wasn’t quick enough to say it today. Clearly.

Along the way to the aqueduct we stopped off at a wonderful 14th century tithe barn. It’s simply magnificent. The building work is superb. In a day of surprising things, this was possibly my favourite.

Panno outside the tithe barn (on the right)

I thought we were then going to walk into town but no, we were heading further along the canal. While it was a sloshy muddy old walk and the sun was rapidly leaving us, it was worth it. Always a bit of a sucker for the type of engineering genius that is building a structure in order to move water above another body of water, I loved it. The view across the valley was also pretty special. While we could still see it.

Mind you, the pub in the view was possibly the best bit and we gradually made our way down to wrestle our way to a table for eight where hot chocolate, beer (I can recommend the Frontline ale) and wine were consumed.

Eventually Suzanne ordered taxis and we headed across the aqueduct in order to be taken back to the cars in the car park. Farewells were then bid and we all drove off into the dark.

The trip home was extremely smooth and problem free.

* It’s astounding that I wasn’t asked anything about Stonehenge given my archaeological background and degree. The dissemination of information is not always required, it seems. I guess that’s what Google** is for.

** Please note that there are other search engines though, like Aspirin, it would appear that Google is becoming the generic name for all of them.

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Sugar bladder

What a full day! For everyone. Whether in London or lost on the way to Compton, it was very full.

Andrew, Lauren and Jason headed off into London where they planned to meet Preston at Kings Cross station. While Jason waited at Starbucks for his friend, Lauren visited the Harry Potter shop while Andrew queued for an hour so Lauren could pose for a photo on Platform 9¾…as you do. (Apparently the queue can last three hours in summer.)

Having met Preston, they moved on to the London Bridge Experience and tombs, which they all enjoyed.

In the meanwhilst, here in Surrey, Fi sat in on Mirinda’s guitar class with Teacher Dave before heading to the Holly Bush for brunch then (after a few hours sat around the fire) on to Waverley Abbey for a wander round the ruins.

They then headed off to Compton to see the chapel and then Watt’s Gallery. Of course, as usual, Mirinda managed to get lost trying to find the chapel but all was eventually well.

While they were all doing fun family things I was off getting fish. Tuna, yellowtail and sea bass, to be exact. Tonight’s dinner was to be a Japanese feast so sashimi was a must. There’s no fishmonger around here so it was a case of heading for the Japan Centre.

Christmas tree at Waterloo

The Japan Centre has moved. Fortunately it’s only moved in the opposite direction so it’s about the same distance from Piccadilly Circus as it was but in a different road. And it’s nicer, with a bit more space. And it was incredibly crowded. I bought up the shop then headed back to Waterloo then home. (It’s worth noting that I watched a very upsetting episode of The Walking Dead on the train home – I can’t say anything else because Lauren has yet to watch it.)

I’d no sooner reached home and unloaded the fish into the fridge than it was off, up to Waitrose for the rest of the ingredients.

I’d planned quite an extensive feast…

Thank you for the board, Lauren

…and started creating.

I started at about 3pm and it was pretty much non-stop from then until eating. Gradually the tourists drifted in and stared at their various devices before starting to decorate the tree. There was a bit of concern over the non-working status of the Christmas lights but after a brief rearranging of working berries in place of plain lights, it was soon twinkling away all festive and fabulous.

Meanwhile in the kitchen along with my sous chef, I was heading inexorably towards plating up and filling the table. I have to say that it was a tough job setting out the plates in the available place but Jason did an amazing job. The table looked quite wonderful.

Sous chef extraordinaire

And then, finally, there was nought to do but eat. And eat. And be pleasantly surprised. Fi admitted to me later than she’d been a bit sceptical but instead was more amazed at how lovely it all was. And I was given a delightful round of applause for my efforts. It fair made me blush and was much appreciated…both ways.

The finished table

And the crowning glory was, of course, the addition of Madonna onto the very top of the tree. And then, the removal of Madonna, cutting of the tree top and replacement of Madonna on the top of the tree, courtesy of Andrew.

The title comes from a discussion about sugar gliders that Fi started. Both Mirinda and I thought she said sugar bladder and I assumed she was telling us about a person who had a bladder that reacted badly whenever sugar was ingested. Weird but very funny. Though we didn’t hear about the sugar gliders…

And I promised not to mention Jason and his dubious love of the hotel laundry workers of Dubai…so I won’t. Oops…

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