Remember Woking

Woking looked absolutely stunning this morning. The sun and blue sky gave it a bright and new feeling that made most people smile. Okay, it was cold as well but that didn’t matter. It was one of those mornings where you look around and wonder why anyone would look grumpy.

Not that that stopped some people. I guess there are people who just love being grumpy, seeing the negative in everything, even a beautiful morning. But, I just ignored them as I made my way to the SHC.

Back a fair few years ago, I went into Woking looking for a job. We’d been before because of the theatre attached to the shopping centre (back when we relied on the Barclay Theatre Scheme in order to see lots of theatre) but I’d never been there during the working day.

I wandered a bit then went into a temp agency. I came out a short while later with a possible job across the road in Export House. It was one of those six weeks temp work jobbies which turned into almost ten years of permanent work. (Thinking back, this sort of thing has happened to me a lot.)The temp agency was in the building below, to the left of the Thrifty truck.

Across the road is now a massive building site where once the grotty 1960’s post office used to be and the weekly market outside it. It has all changed a lot but the building above remains the same.

Something I’d never noticed before although I must have walked by many times, is the Woking Railway Athletic Club. I spotted it this morning, tucked away out of the direct sunlight and while it looks a bit desolate and disowned it is actually still operational and serves a fair few real ales as well as the tasteless stuff.

I have to admit it doesn’t look particularly appealing but I’m sure it’s lovely inside.

I’m very fond of Woking; I have lots of memories of my many years working there. One of the things I particularly like is the way it continues to grow and renew itself. The council has always (from what I remember) been concerned with being responsible in much of what it does. It tries to tread with a delicate footstep while maintaining itself as viable and reliable.

Above is the work continuing outside the station.

While I spent my walk down to the SHC remembering Woking, the rest of my day was spent remembering those who fell in WW1 not just from Woking but from Surrey at large.

It was a good day.

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We’re going potty about otters here in Farnham

Years ago there was a bit of a mad craze for cities full of painted cows. I distinctly remember seeing quite a few slowly taking over Brussels when we were there yonks ago. I rather enjoyed the one with cartoons all over it. And how could I possibly forget the painted cows of Salzburg as we returned from Oberammergau so long ago.

Well, due to some sort of budget restrictions or maybe because of Brexit, we are now reduced in this country to painted otters. And, here in Farnham, we are going to have a load of them dotted around town. They will start appearing soon and keep appearing until summer has been and gone.

There’ll even be an aptly named Otter Trail where they can be easily spotted, cavorting and doing whatever it is that otters do after being painted.

Actually, I’m being facetious. The whole thing is to celebrate the return of otters to the River Wey in Farnham so it has to be not just a good thing but also cause for celebration, painted or not. (I do wonder whether they’ll be auctioned off afterwards and if we could get one for the garden…)

Now, you might wonder why I’m typing about painted otters. The reason is simple. Today I had a Talking Newspaper and for the second edition in a row, there has been a story about the otters. I have to figure that there’s going to be a few more before the summer is out. Though, presumably not in the Alton edition like today.

Actually there were quite a few Farnham stories in the Alton edition this week. I guess there just wasn’t enough Alton news to fill the paper. Not that that was a problem. We had more than enough to fill the time.

And boy did we have fun! Roy was our engineer and Mo, Mike and Jackie were the readers. Mo is always fun, Mike has an amazing capacity to be drily funny without realising he’s doing it and Jackie is as chaotic as me when she gets the chance.

I found out today that Jackie’s daughter now lives in Brisbane (obviously I commiserated with her) and she was visiting her in November. I suggested the next time she visits her daughter it might be better during the Queensland winter. She told me it wasn’t that bad when they were over because it was unseasonably cold last year. Really? I don’t remember mum suggesting it was ever anything but hot.

She then explained that while she thought it was quite warm, most of the locals were wearing cardigans.

It was nice to have a bit of a chat about Australia with someone who’s recently been.

Then Mike asked what relationship Tasmania had to Australia. I stared at him then said that it’s a state of Australia. He looked quizzical. I told him it was off the Victorian coast but was still a state of Australia. He said he knew where it was but that when he visited a few years ago he was told by a local that Mainlanders had to have special passports with stamped visas to visit.

That had me in fits for quite a while.

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A peanut butter spring board into a watery oblivion

Following on from yesterday’s beginning, today I started my first kefir and sauerkraut. While the sauerkraut will not be even close to ready for a fortnight, the kefir will be ready to drink tomorrow.

Funnily enough the postman (who Mirinda calls Stewart) handed me a small padded envelope, not wanting to force it through the letterbox. Of course that meant great celebrations from the puppies and probably some sort of delight for the package.

Once back inside I opened the envelope to find a small plastic ziplock bag inside containing watery white stuff with tiny lumps. There was also a page of instructions. The lumpy bits are the bacteria that eat the lactose and sugar in milk and make, basically, a probiotic. I wonder how the postman would have felt had he known.

I instantly started making my first kefir. Then, after my new Mason jars arrived, I shredded some cabbage for my first sauerkraut.

Today however was more greatly taken up with building a diving board over a big pool of water. It’s something I wanted to do last week but the lurgy intervened, rendering me incapable of anything. Then, this week, it’s been the rain that has stopped me working outside. This morning, however, the weather was at least dry-ish.

I say that because quite a while after lunch I took the girls up to the park as the rain started a bit of a drizzle. I thought it was just a passing fancy. By the time I reached the Avenue of Trees, the wind was blowing a gale and the rain was a horizontal lashing. Ghastly best describes it.

Back at home, I washed the dogs’ legs then dried them off. I started on some housework but began shivering. I was clearly somewhat chilled. My fingers and toes were basically without feeling and my flesh was icy. I decided to have a bath in the vague hope that it would prevent a second descent into the realms of sickness.

I’m not one for baths but I do understand that there are times that they can have curative properties. This was one of those times. Whether it formed some sort of barrier against possible illness reintroduction is anyone’s guess but it certainly warmed me up and stopped the shivering.

Shivering maybe what will happen to our unwelcome guests soon as they stand at the end of the diving board and consider their options. I’m talking about the rats who live under Neighbour Dave’s shed and who regularly plunder the bird food that Mirinda quite generously leaves out for them.

There’s a strong belief in this country that you’re never much further than three feet from a rat. Well, I can vouch for that.

We hate the rats, it would be fair to say, and want them dead. The trouble is, we can’t use traps (because the last time we tried that Mirinda caught a robin) and we can’t use poison because of, again the birds and the dogs. And the fox that sometime’s visits. And the various non-rat catching cats that also visit.

No, we need something that will only target the rats who, unfortunately are smarter than anything else in the garden.

We’ve been trying to work out what to do (short of applying for and getting American citizenship then buying a gun) until Mirinda discovered this wonderful, supposedly successful device that resembles a small diving board attached to a wooden support.

The board is held horizontal with a magnet but, with the tread of a rodent foot, this releases and sends the rat into a watery grave. The idea is to create a sort of cave entrance into a big black bucket with the plank enticing them in with the prospect of lashings of peanut butter luringly dotted along it.

So that’s how I spent most of my morning. I drilled and cut and created then attached and planted and filled the whole contraption. For this first little while, the diving board has been locked in a fixed state but, as the rats get used to it as a food delivery system, I shall set the trap and, hopefully, drown the rotten bastards.

The blurry bits are smooshy lumps of peanut butter

To cap off the day I watched what has to be the worst film I’ve watched for a very long time. It’s a Netflix monstrosity called The Cloverleaf Paradox. If anyone thinks film making is easy, they should watch this movie. Everyone else should steer well clear. It really is bad.

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Baby steps along the fermentation road

Sarina left Starbucks today. Sarina has always been a source of great joy for me. If feeling a bit miserable or sad, I could always rely on Sarina’s beaming smile to change my mood instantly. She was also one of those few baristas who learned my order very quickly.

Like Gracie before her, she has the ability to flood a room with her warmth and happiness. I’m dead jeal of everyone else who’ll now be recipients. :: sad face ::

After my sad tears of farewell (and slight laughter at Chantelle’s almost complete lack of a voice at the moment) I headed for the shops then home as the rain started falling like so many icy, wet spears of mood indicators.

The weather today, in short, was crap. All day. Wet crap, in fact. Bad for dog walking or garden working but excellent for Fermentation.

We’ve been reading and hearing a lot about the the human microbiome recently and how it can determine your overall system be it healthy or not. This has led us towards finding foods which improve the microbes within ourselves.

It’s easy enough to do when it comes to fresh green leafy vegetables (we eat a lot of that) but it starts to need a bit of work when it comes to the fizzy stuff. Like kefir.

I’ve heard a lot about kefir on The Archers and, frankly, I wasn’t that enthused. Most characters have reacted in a way that I would associate with the eating of live snails but I tried some today and, actually, it’s quite nice. Naturally I’m talking about the plain, simple, full fat and unadulterated kefir. It’s like a watery Greek yoghurt. And it is the easiest thing in the world to make.

I have ordered some kefir culture in order to make a couple of glasses every day for us but they will take a few days to arrive. In the meantime, I am trying fermenting vegetables, another great source of good microbes and, again, incredibly easy with a great taste to match.

Easy, of course, once you have the indispensable cabbage weights.

Things of simple beauty

These plain glass discs keep the veg below the water while allowing some oxygen in and gases out. I now have four of them. I used the first one today in a jar of fermented veg comprised of baby courgette, fine French beans and broccoli spears. They will be ready for eating in about five days though the jar will need burping every now and then.

First attempt

I’m going to start making my own sauerkraut as well but I have to wait for some bigger jars which should arrive tomorrow. Sauerkraut is one of the best sources of the good microbes and is really easy as well. I’m amazed that the best things are generally the easiest.

Kefir, for instance takes 24 hours and is as simple as pouring out a glass of milk. And the kefir culture lasts forever because it feeds on the lactose in the milk you keep feeding it. So, not only simple, it’s also very cheap.

On the cold front, my throat is the only thing left. (Oh, and a slight sniff which I find annoying. I have no idea how these people who constantly sniff can stand themselves.) I’m almost back to my usual, healthy-mad fighting-fit Best I Can Be.

Good luck, Sarina!

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Some people take no joy in walking their dog

Today was absolutely beautiful. Wall to wall sunshine, nice and cold with a light breeze, happy smiling faces nearly everywhere. It was a joy to walk into town. It was equally a joy that I was feeling well enough to do it.

Most days I wonder about the Miserable Dog Walkers of Farnham Park but on days of perfection I go beyond wonderment and stand at the gates of incredulity. Generally they are the ones with earplugs firmly cutting themselves off from the rest of humanity while their dog roams around on its own, occasionally having to run after its owner because they’ve managed to walk 150 feet further on.

My reader should not get me wrong. This is not a complaint or a moan or anything like it. I just feel sad, really. Sad for the dog mostly. One of the things the girls seem to find joy in is running back to me, before darting off again. I like to imagine that they’re happy in the knowledge that I’m enjoying the walk with them.

On a day like today, I am definitely enjoying it with them. The world looks sparkling and clean as if new and un-abused by the harsh realities of life. Living in such a place, in such a time, how could one not take joy in a walk with a creature that only gives love?

Still, it takes all kinds I guess. I just feel for the dogs and tend to make a fuss of them whenever I see their forlorn and questioning faces.

Meanwhile in Farnham, I have to wonder why South East Water didn’t arrange to do whatever work they’re doing across the access road behind Waitrose at the same time as the other contractor did last year. I remember writing about this road blockage as it went on for yonks. Hopefully this won’t last quite as long.

Fortunately not a major artery

On the way back from the shops, the day was so beautiful (and Mirinda was at home with the girls) that I sat opposite the fort for about ten minutes, listening to the children play (it’s half term so there were many of them) and reading. It was sublime.

Mirinda went into town herself later so she could order some non-bifocal glasses for computer work. She finds the angle her neck requires to maintain in order to look through the correct part of her glasses very difficult to maintain. Rather than buy new frames she thought it would be a good idea to use an old pair and took some in to the optician.

I took the girls to the park and thoroughly enjoyed their company.

“Hold me back!”

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What is a chef’s most important tool? Answers at the end of this post.

There’s a few things in my kitchen that, following the advent of lo-carb, I figured I’d never use again. The bread board, for example. I mean I have a cutting board for veg, one for meat and another for fish (I’m ignoring the various cheese cutting boards) but in a life spent without the evils of bread, what good is a bread board, right? Well, I reckoned without the amazing Sarah Wilson.

Sarah is an Australian woman who has quit sugar. Her first recipe book which also details why and how she completely changed her life was a runaway bestseller. I’d never heard of her until last Sunday when I spotted her second book, I Quit Sugar For Life, in WH Smiths, somewhere I only go when I have to.

I flicked through and thought it looked a good fit for us so I bought it. I was really looking forward to trying a few of her recipes and reading her story. She is an amazing woman and someone I’d really like to meet and talk with. Her website is here: Sarah Wilson. She is well worth a look at.

Anyway, one of the recipes that really made an impression on me was her Paleo Inside-Out Bread. Of course, bread is a huge carb-fest and has been thoroughly abandoned except for very, very special Celebration Meals. But Sarah’s bread has no wheat in it. It has no sugar in it. It has very few carbs in it. I had to try. So, today I did.

To be fair, it’s more like a baked sandwich given the contents but that just makes it even more perfect. Unless you like olives, parsley, courgette (zucchini) Parmesan cheese and ham (though I used prosciutto because of the minimal processing involved), you are not going to like it but, it is seriously delicious.

And, best of all, it doesn’t take long. There’s no yeast so there’s none of that pounding and leaving in a cupboard for ages to double then repeat, yadda, yadda, yadda. No, you mix your dry ingredients, mix your wet ingredients then, basically, put them all together, stick them in a loaf tin and, half an hour later, you have a loaf that looks something like this:

Paleo Inside-out Bread

Now, to be fair, given the last remnant of my cold is a deadening of my tastebuds, I only have Mirinda’s opinion but she gave a very firm double thumbs up as she tried a number of slices to make sure. She would have given it more thumbs but she only has two.

Here it is with a few slices removed:

It was quite lucky that I didn’t throw this away…

…because it served it’s purpose well!

Without getting too obsessed with Sarah, can I just say that anyone who is serious about their health and longevity should give her a read. The beauty of her food is its simplicity, goodness and general lack of the poisons with which most people fill themselves.

(As a side issue…I saw a story the other day about a brand of baby oil that people are being told is carcinogenic and, therefore a concern that people are using it on their kids, which is rightfully scary however, I find it odd that the same people seem to have no problem pumping poison INTO their children’s bodies. That’s not a value judgement because it makes no difference to me but I do find it extraordinary. Anyway…)

To be honest, I’m really looking forward to having my tastebuds back so I can taste it for real. Which moves me nicely onto the question in the title of this post.

It was a question I first heard in an episode of CSI. When it was asked, I said “My knife” at the same time as a character in the episode. Both of us, however, were wrong. As a second character stated, categorically and correctly, a chef’s most important tool is the tastebuds.

While I was making the loaf, Mirinda took the girls to Thursley and sent me this amazing photograph showing an atomic mushroom cloud rising above the bog. I couldn’t not include it.

OMG! Gary left the gas on!

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Foreign names in foreign hands make strange names

I decided it was a good idea to do very little today. I spent the first bit in bed then, while Mirinda strummed her guitar at class then dined at the Holly Bush, I lay on the sofa watching Netflix and dozing. It was obviously the best thing to do given my delicate condition.

Late in the day (and before I made dinner) I decided to try a little research into why the Smallbones’ children were named after Russian battles (see yesterday). Sadly I was unable to find a definitive answer but I did unearth some more fun facts.

In 1859, William and Charlotte Smallbones had a son. He was baptised Ernest Inkerman Smallbones. The Battle of Inkerman was fought in 1854 and was a turning point in the Crimean war, resulting in the Siege of Sebastopol shortly afterwards.

(As a sidelight, the Thames Ironworks under the earlier name of Ditchburn and Mare, built a ship for the Russian government called Inkerman. It marked the first iron ship built by the company and was in about 1837-8…

“She was a small vessel of shallow draught of water, and was so great a success that the new firm immediately afterwards obtained orders for several small vessels to run on the Thames above London Bridge. – from Ditchburn’s obituary”

…and was so sleek and fast that she was successfully used by the Russian government to chase down pirates and other ne’er-do-wells in the shallow waters bordering the Crimea and Black sea. I have been unable to discover whether it took any part in the extensive sea battles of the Crimean conflict…it’s just interesting.)

Digging a little deeper (though still annoyingly shallow) I have found a few chaps called Smallbones who served in the Crimea. I have no idea whether they survived or died but I figure the name could be a good link. Anyway, my theory was that William Smallbones either served in the Crimea himself or one of his close relatives did (I have no evidence of either of these things) and, in honour of the British victory at Inkerman, decided to give his son a memorable middle name.

As romantic as that sounds it’s also possibly not likely. William and Charlotte had quite a few children and a number of them had significantly odd names. In order, they were: Nelson (1849), Albert (1851), Charles (1852), Alice (1854), Clara (1856), Alma (1858), Ernest Inkerman (1859) and the remarkably named Bonaparte (1861). (It’s important to note that most of the dates are generally approximate and taken from census returns.)

Nelson Smallbones gave all of his kids ordinary names but his son William called his first son Nelson, presumably after his own father rather than Horatio.

The most unfortunate child must have been Bonaparte. Imagine being a British child named Hitler (as his first name) not long after WW2. Well, I figure it would have been just about the same. Bonaparte was not the most popular of people in Britain at this time even though he’d died in 1821. So you can imagine what poor Bonaparte Smallbones must have gone through. Maybe it toughened him up: Maybe he went by the name of John.

However he managed survive, he also managed to get married, settle down and have a brood of his own, all with non-military names. I do have to wonder about the romantic sounding Eveline Sapphire Smallbones but Fred, Ada and Arthur were all pretty normal.

Of the other male children of William and Charlotte, only Ernest Inkerman Smallbones carried on the strange names ideal of his father (or mother). There was Balaclava (1896), Colenso (1902) and Sebastopol (1904) but they all came later. First up there were at least six others. They were Ernest Inkerman (1885), Margaret K, Mable, Grace A, Lily C and Agnes A.

That may seem a bit strange but not if you consider that the first male child was named after his father then the next seven children were all girls. Then come the final three boys, all named after battles. Balaclava and Sebastopol in the Crimea and Colenso during the 2nd Boer War (1899).

Of course all of them (including Inkerman) are also towns so they could be named after them but the battle link is a bit hard to ignore when three are in Russia then, suddenly, one of them suddenly points to South Africa.

Interestingly, both Colenso and Sebastopol joined the army after WW1 both within a week of one another. That was even though their big brother Balaclava had died during the conflict in 1918. Perhaps they figured they’d be safe.

Moving a lot further forward…Colenso managed to survive the army life then whatever else was thrown at him, eventually dying in 1992 at the age of 90 and still residing in Surrey. Sebastopol wasn’t quite as lucky. He died five years before his older brother in 1985. Both of them married – Colenso married the wonderfully named Edith Faithfull in 1927 at Send and Sebastopol married Lily Turner in Dorking in 1929.

And so, in conclusion, what do I have? No much, I admit. Perhaps William Smallbones was a military history nut. I can imagine him sitting young Ernest on his knee and telling him the history of his middle name, and the names of his brothers Nelson and Bonaparte. He may then have followed on with the history of the Crimean War. Then, in memory of his father’s ‘hobby’ Ernest decided to name his own sons after battles as well.

Of course, we’re never going to know but it’s fun nonetheless. One thing that I do know is that Smallbone is quite a popular name in Surrey. In fact our butcher in Downing Street is one of them.

UPDATE: Since writing this I have also discovered that they had another son called Alma, who was named after the eponymous battle during the Crimean War.

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Work was not the brightest idea

Retrospect eh? It always knows everything with crystal clear precision. It’s just a pity that it doesn’t turn up before you do something. Like today.

I woke up feeling much improved and I really wanted to go to work so I made Mirinda a cup of tea, took the girls to Sue and headed off for Woking. Apart from a runny nose, strange sore throat and very torturous cough, I didn’t feel that bad. I even met Kirsty on the way and we chatted about our mutual plumbing problems with London flats.

I commiserated with hers as it’s yet to be fixed meaning that someone has to be on hand to empty buckets full of water from under her sink in order to stop it raining in her downstairs neighbour’s kitchen. For someone with an almost constant drip, she seemed uncannily cheerful. I’d like to think it was seeing me…

Anyway, all was well. I plugged myself in and managed quite a bit fruitful research which included the discovery of the amazingly named Balaclava Smallbones.

The transcriber had assumed that Balaclava was some sort of nickname and added that it might be a chap called Frederick Smallbones or Fred. But he had it the wrong way around. Old Balaclava went to war and was called Fred by his mates but he was baptised Balaclava. Just like his brother who was baptised Sebastopol Smallbones.

I’d love to say that I found out more delicious details about this amazing family but apart from a father whose middle name was Inkerman, I have yet to make the connection between the Smallbones and the Crimea. (For anyone unfamiliar with the period, the battle at Balaclava was where the Charge of the Light Brigade occurred in all it’s gory.)

At lunchtime I sat in the lunch room and had a coffee. I hadn’t bothered with food given I’d not eaten since Wednesday and I figured another day wouldn’t kill me. This is apart from the fact that I wasn’t in the least bit hungry. And I don’t believe you should eat unless you’re hungry.

After my coffee I returned to my computer and started feeling steadily worse. I left early, heading for the station with all the grace of a plague victim but without the buboes. I stopped off at a Superdrug for some cough mixture only to find that Superdrug appears to have more makeup than actual drugs.

Eventually I asked someone who, understanding the desperate croaks of a man in need of some sort of throat soothing tincture, showed me where it was hidden. I thanked her and bought it.

Then I was sitting in the waiting room at Woking Station swigging my evil looking mucus ridding cough mixture. An old chap sitting opposite me hugged his wife a little closer, worried I was some strange demented junkie with a cough fixation. I wasn’t bothered, though it rankled when I realised they were heading for Farnham and should have realised I was one of them.

Anyway, eventually I arrived home to a mystified wife. I took myself to bed and went almost immediately to sleep. And so I remained. At one stage Emma joined me. But that was it.

The cough mixture seemed to work though.

In sad news, Arthur Hassell died today. Like dad, he has been suffering with emphysema for years and it’s only been a matter of incurable time. Poor Andrew. I know how it feels.

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Today was mostly spent in bed, cuddling cockerpoos.

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Sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick…

Stupid bloody cold. I thought going to the gym would sweat it out of me. It just made me feel worse.

Possibly the highlight of the day was walking home with a lady who told me all about her life as a researcher in South Africa and her son’s experience of scorpions while wearing thongs (she called them flip flops). She told me about having to float out into the middle of a lake to take samples for whatever she was studying. The guide had omitted telling her about the hippos.

It was quite the entertaining walk home.

The rest of the day passed by in a sofa ridden blur culminating in a bed ridden blur.

I did manage to take the girls to the park (it’s not their fault I’m ill) mainly because it was such a beautiful day I thought it would cheer me up.

Avenue sunshine

I guess it did a bit. And, of course, the girls always cheer me up.

At one point an old dog manage to steal Emma’s tennis ball. To be completely honest, she saw the other dog and dropped her tennis ball for him to pick up and run away with. The other dog’s owner managed to get the ball and surreptitiously returned it to me, telling me that his dog shouldn’t run because he had a bad back. The dog, not the owner.

And that was about it for my day. I didn’t even eat anything…well, apart from a light lunch.

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