Rain for a change

From BBC Radio 4:

Announcer: It has been reported that the NHS is running on fumes. Some people beg to differ.
Doctor: No, the NHS is not running on fumes. The fumes were in a box. The fumes have been sucked out of the box. The NHS is now running on an empty box. It can’t last long.

This is very interesting when you consider that Theresa May just promised the DUP £1b so they’ll give her a majority in the House. Basically what this government is saying is that the health of the nation takes a backseat while they’ll pay lots of dosh in order to remain in power. The worst thing is that it’s the taxpayer’s money she’s doling out. Who gave her a mandate to buy votes rather than cure the sick?

Maybe it’s like Trumpology where you just keep trying more and more extreme things because the general population will allow almost everything for peace and quiet. The trouble with this strategy is that when the break comes, it comes with a great crash. Heads roll and people die. It makes a lot more sense to just govern in a reasonable and responsible way, taking into account the feelings of the general population. Still, where’s the fun in that?

Speaking of fun…I built an outside cupboard today to go down the side of the house. It is to house the Karcher and bird feed. I think I should elaborate a bit. I didn’t exactly build it. It arrived flat packed from Amazon and I put it together.

It was all pretty straight forward though not particularly easy given the cramped space and the continually increasing fall of rain.

We were actually quite fortunate with the rain as it happens. I had to wait for the delivery before taking the girls to the park and though grey and gloomy, it was perfectly dry. We had a lovely wander (run around in Emma’s case).

Selfie with Freya

(I had a play with the selfie stick I bought for my old phone which didn’t work. It works perfectly with my new phone so selfies should be a lot better now.)

Then, back at home, I tackled the cupboard.

After a lot of heaving and ho-ing, it was complete and proving its worth in being rain proof. I decided not to put anything in it until after the rain just to make sure it remains dry over night.

Perfect fit

I have to clear some of the rubbish out but the rain forced me indoors as soon as I’d finished cutting up the giant cardboard box for the recycling.

The rain grew heavier which put paid to doing anything outside so we waited for Mirinda to come home instead. Mind you, I did scrub out the water feature in the morning. I had to remove lots of horrid little seeds from the filter caused by the laurel hedge which Dave decimated yesterday. After I’d finished, the water was bubbling away like it should.

As an added ‘treat’ here’s some synchronised tail wagging…

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Let the sunshine in

Today saw the return of our gardener, Dave. The idea is for him to come to us every two weeks to do the big jobs that we find impossible to keep on top of. By the end of the day it was obvious that this is a great idea.

Mirinda waited for him to turn up before heading off for work. We all three wandered the garden so she could point out what needed doing this visit. She was very much the Lady of the Manor. She enjoyed the irony of someone of convict stock having charge of a gardener. Gardener Dave is a lovely guy but I’m not sure that he understood the complexities of the joke.

Anyway, having dispensed her orders, Mirinda headed off into London and Gardener Dave set about opening up the terrace to the sky. I retired to the office and spent the day working on our tax figures for the accountant.

Dave’s biggest job today was the cutting back of the laurel that grows against and over the fence between us and the Crazies. It has grown so big that it blocks out the sky (it can probably be seen from space). It also drops stuff into the water feature on a regular basis which blocks up the fountain. And, in the wind, it rubs against the fence, threatening to push it over.

It took Dave half a day but eventually he’d finished the dreaded laurel. It’s a shame I didn’t take a before photo (he took away about eight big bags of cuttings) but this is what it looked like when he’d finished.

We wanted to retain the height (for privacy) which is why it’s still so tall but now the sun can actually shine on the raised beds. Dave even popped into next door to cut back the one that was rubbing against the fence. I reckon he’s done a brilliant job. It would have taken me about a week.

But no rest for Dave the Gardener! Armed with a cup of coffee, he headed down the back to weed and strip and clear out the area between the gazebo and the lavatera. While not as big a job as the laurel, it was fiddly and he spent a lot of time on his hands and knees disentangling the various bits and pieces of plants. Having found the boundaries of the plot, he then prepared it for planting.

New bed

He then went on to possibly the worst job of the day. At the back of the Former Residence of Xun Ma there was growing a mean, angry and ugly looking bramble. The evil tendrils had spread out from beneath my makeshift insect hotel pallets and was threatening to engulf the entire bed. It was a horrid job but Dave went at it, with little regard for his own safety. He was scratched a few times but eventually had it all cleared up and poisoned. Another brilliant job.

He didn’t know if he’d have time but he decided to try and complete all Mirinda’s tasks by digging out the saplings growing behind my office. Again, he did a magnificent job.

By the time he left, I felt like I was working in a completely different garden.

Random view from the back of the garden

As if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, there were two Invasive Bird Events (IBE) today.

The first was a sparrow who decided to fly around my office before I’d opened the windows. The poor thing was flapping away like an idiot. I slowly and quietly walked by it and unlatched a window. The sparrow flew out instantly, as if it had been waiting for me.

On the other end of the intelligence scale, the second IBE was a collared dove that flew into the extension. It flapped and crashed and flung feathers everywhere before coming to a crashing halt on the floor by the big back window (which was closed). Emma was intrigued and went over to check out this intruder. To be fair she didn’t touch the bird but it suddenly flew off as if she’d whacked it with her tail.

It ended up on the stained glass window sill where it sat and looked longingly at the stylised version of the Avenue of Trees.

I slowly and carefully went over and opened the back doors, butterfly net in hand. I then went over and coaxed the bird to sit on the edge of the net. Surprisingly it stepped on and, eyes fixed on me, remained steady and determined to trust me.

As soon as I had the net by the open door, the collared dove, without a backward glance or even a hint of thanks, flew off. Ungrateful pigeon!

That was more than enough excitement for one day so, after going for a very late walk, we settled down for a night of quiet relaxation…although I did try the soba noodles again, this time with chicken. I was very happy with my dinner.

Soba noodles with chicken

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Another one goes

Kerry left Starbucks today. I remember when she started and I commented on how gloomy she always was. From that point onwards I saw it as my mission to cheer her up. I like to think I managed to…a little bit. Anyway, it was a bit sad but at least I saw her this morning. Mind you she’d been at Hayley’s leaving drinks last night and was looking/feeling somewhat worse for wear.

And maybe that explains the single runner I saw on the way home, left forlorn and lacking a partner on a park bench.

I always wonder how this sort of thing happens. I mean how do you lose one shoe? I get if it’s a baby because it can fall off and out of a stroller but the runner above is almost adult size. Unless it’s from someone with a wooden leg who only needs one.

Just along from the single, lonely shoe, I photographed the digger and unfinished trench left by the Virgin contractors on Thursday – the stuff the Park Ranger was upset about. It seems that they didn’t do anything on Friday.

Weather-wise it was a bit gloomy today but nothing like wet. And the temperature was reasonable. So reasonable that we decided to pop up to Bells Piece for their open garden.

Bells Piece is a facility just off the park and around the corner from us. It provides 24 hour care and support to adults with learning difficulties. It has a lot of poly tunnels that run along the path that I use to get to the gym. Poly tunnels are always being mentioned on The Archers so I was particularly interested in seeing inside them.

Of course we took the girls and a few of the residents were quite taken with them. In fact one guy offered to take the lead and walk them around. Emma was very suspicious but eventually just put up with it as long as he didn’t wander away from us. He suddenly vanished when we were buying out the small plant shop. Not with the dogs, I hasten to add.

Sadly the shop didn’t have any bidens – the first time we found out about bidens was in this shop – but we managed to pick up quite a few bedding plants to add to our burgeoning garden.

All up, it was a lovely day only slightly spoiled by the guy two doors up who, once a year and always on a Sunday, trims his hedge with an electric hedge trimmer. The hedge is over 100 feet long and the noise is continuous and very, very annoying. Just perfect for a peaceful Sunday in the garden.

I guess it was handy that we could go to someone else’s instead.

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Fully immersed

Hayley left Starbucks today. She was off to the pub after work today with Kerry to ‘celebrate.’

We, on the other hand, headed into London to be immersed in the most amazing show I think I’ve ever seen. It was Alice’s Adventures Underground in the Vaults at Waterloo.

A similar show by the same company was a massive hit back in 2015. This version has been re-written and re-worked to create a bigger and better (according to them) show. We didn’t see the 2015 version but this one is, quite simply, brilliant.

While there are a couple of places in Wonderland where you get to sit for a bit, it’s mostly being moved from place to place having been given a card which denotes your rank and suit. I was the Joker of Hearts while Mirinda was the Ten of Hearts. We were lucky not to be split up because others were. Mind you, being split up would mean that couples would see a different show each and then compare notes afterwards.

Depending on the suit you are in, your adventure will be different. Personally, I reckon being a heart is the best.

The story isn’t the original story of Alice in Wonderland but later, after the Looking Glass book as well. In fact, for most of the show, Alice appears in looking glasses dotted about the place – the Queen of Hearts has banned looking glasses so they only show up in ‘secret’ places.

I’m not going to say too much because it would only spoil the show for anyone who accidentally lands on this post. Suffice it to say, it is an amazing show with an incredibly energetic and talented cast. The audience participation is both hilarious and ingenious.

Did I say how much I enjoyed it? (Though there possibly should be a warning for claustrophobics.)

At the end, after the court case and the big reveal, we were all ushered out into the Wonderland Bar where we enjoyed a cocktail.

It was very much like the Alice we saw in Guildford a few years ago with mum but bigger and, dare I say it, better.

A shop in Lower Marsh Road

It was also great visiting a part of London we’ve never seen before and a new theatre space (the Vaults).

Of course our day had been far too excellent for it to pass unencumbered with calamity. As we sat on our train home some dimwitted freak decided he wanted to ruin everyone’s Saturday by trespassing on the train lines between Weybridge and Woking. This meant a delay of one hour and 15 minutes most of which we spent sat at Weybridge station.

Bloody trespassers

We’d booked to go to Bel and the Dragon for dinner and had to change the time to somewhat later as we sat on the train. The timing wasn’t helped by the Farnham Carnival which had the town closed off to the outside world. Still, it all worked out okay and Mirinda managed to remain (almost) calm during it all.

Dinner was delicious (as usual) and culminated in my usual espresso martini…the BEST way to end a meal EVAH!

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A tour bus ate my hat

Cromwell Road, South Kensington is rather busy. There’s lots of traffic mostly consisting of tour buses, cabs and white vans. The traffic lights at Exhibition Road rarely give enough time to get across in one go which is always annoying for the thousands of tourists trying to get to the museums.

This morning, my first day back at work since early December, I was standing in the middle of the road on the conveniently placed central reservation when an inopportune wind suddenly whipped my hat from my head and threw it directly in the path of a tour bus which hungrily proceeded to take it away. I was very annoyed but there was nothing I could do. I’ll never see my Panama hat again (real sad face).

It was not the most auspicious start to my day. Things continued to be annoying when my cryptag didn’t work. This wasn’t entirely unexpected given my long absence. After a while, the system just deletes access rights until a person returns. Anyway, it was all fixed up by the end of the day.

Most notable about the trip in were the new concrete blocks along Exhibition Road, clearly meant to stop white van drivers from running people over. I thought they looked quite good actually and lots of people were using them to sit on.

The morning was mostly spent working out how I was going to be working from now on. There were a couple of issues which Nick at Work couldn’t answer so we put in a call to his boss who explained how the process was going to work. She adequately answered my questions by saying that there would be human intervention at some point after the Excel report was sent to MIMSY.

While I think it’s a bit unreliable having an IT person deciding which records need to be updated rather than me, I’ll just have to live with it. Though I know I’ll be double checking uploads every week…because I care.

At lunchtime I popped over to the V&A – I’ve really missed the V&A. And they’ve remade the gift shop. The whole place looks totally different. It’s much more like a boutique now; a lot classier. The new design works really, really well.

While there were a few new bits dotted around (they do swap things occasionally) I was rather taken by the work of Rachel Kneebone who is exhibiting various pieces throughout the museum at the moment. From her monumental 399 Days…

…to her considerably smaller The Solitude in Depth (2014)…

…her ceramic sculptures almost seem to writhe and twist before the viewer. The ‘almost bodies’ are merely parts of the whole, a physical Babel of feet, legs and torsos. They are the sort of works that on could stand looking at for quite a while, always seeing something different. I’d call them ‘arresting.’

Detail of 399 Days (2014) by Rachel Kneebone

After a delightful lunchtime wander (which I have missed…a LOT) I returned to the basement to do some actual research work. And, after deleting half a million emails and answering one query from February, everything returned to normal.

Going home hatless felt very odd.

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The temp is always temp

The temperature dropped by ten degrees today. It seemed to be universally welcomed. Of course, they’ll all be claiming it’s too cold soon.

As for me, I was far from cold as I pedalled like a maniac in the gym. Actually the cooler air was very welcome as I left the steamy gym. I have no idea why it’s always so hot. I don’t mind but I am surprised.

After shopping I then headed for home. The Virgin broadband roll out is still…err, rolling out along the park so there was a lot of noise most of the day. The end of our street was crowded with trucks and trailers and chaps discussing the football. I think they were discussing football. It certainly wasn’t the advantage of fibre optics over the BT alternative.

I spent most of the rest of the day doing housework.

Originally Mirinda wasn’t coming home until later tonight but she woke up with an upset tummy so she cleared her diary and came home mid-afternoon. When she arrived we’d gone to the park. She was somewhat mystified.

While we were up the park I noticed the park ranger standing around inspecting the way the Virgin contractors had left their digger at the end of one of the entrances. He didn’t look happy. The last I saw him he was on the phone to someone while gesticulating at the digger.

Mirinda was pleased when we returned home.

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In extremis

In this country, there is a real problem with the weather. In Autumn, the leaves obstruct trains and cause havoc on the railways. In the depths of Winter if it snows, it’s generally the wrong type and life just stops, especially schools. I’m not sure what the problem is with Spring but it would appear that Summer is the time for melting moments.

The Metro front page this morning

Okay, it’s been hot for over a week but, seriously, melting roads? I remember the tar bubbles on Sydney roads as a kid when the temperature climbed up to around 40 but how can it possibly be hot enough here? Unless the roads weren’t made properly to start with…

Not that I had to contend with any melting tarmac today. I was called in to London for an emergency meeting with Mirinda. (She’d forgotten her passport and she needed it for work.) I was up and out of the house (no gym, sadly) in time to get the 8am train into town.

London looked glorious. I swapped train for Tube at Waterloo then walked through Embankment Gardens to drop off the passport. The gardens looked lovely and lush and full of sleeping homeless people. I assume they were homeless because they didn’t look washed and were sleeping amid the foliage.

Embankment Gardens

I handed over the passport then, rather than go straight home, I took Mirinda’s advice and went to Piccadilly Circus.

I’ve wanted to visit the Japan Centre ever since I found out about it. Having finally gone, I’ll definitely be back. It’s become my new favourite shop. And it’s so easy to get to. It’s across the road from Piccadilly Circus Tube station.

When I arrived it wasn’t open but I just wandered around a bit, noting the crazy people already queuing for standby tickets to see The Ferryman…or perhaps just standing because it’s sold out. Eventually, having gone to Starbucks, I returned to the Japan Centre.

It’s basically a supermarket that only sells Japanese stuff – dried, frozen, fresh and cooked. It’s amazing. I could have bought so much stuff. I stopped myself and only bought a few things I wanted to try and some chopsticks because we didn’t have enough. I’ll definitely be back…possibly for when Mon, Ben and the kids come over in July.

Then I caught the train back home. to find that the park entrance which had been closed off this morning was still closed off. I tried to explain to the girls that we couldn’t go for a walk because of the heat and the heavy machinery workmen but they didn’t seem to understand.

Eventually the workmen left for the day and they rather nicely provided a way through their ditches so we could go to the park…which we did.

And here’s the first video on my new phone:

And, just for a laugh…here’s a recording of Freya’s stupid growl which almost frightens squirrels:

PS: There’s been no sign of the missing tortoise and the temperature reached 34.5 at Heathrow.

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Freya and Roscoe

Another squelching sweltering day. All hot sun and non-existent breezes. Okay, it’s nothing like Australia (of all people, having grown up in the Western Suburbs of Sydney, I should know) but for this little island of temperate living, it’s a real shock to the system. Bearing in mind how much the English love talking about the weather, it’s been the only topic of conversation this week.

The temperature in Starbucks, however, was a delight. Like walking into a fridge. I told Chantelle she was insane wearing a fleece but she reckoned she was cold. Hayley agreed with me as droplets of perspiration slid down her face. And it wasn’t just me. Everyone else who entered the store gave great gulps of satisfactorily cold air as it hit them.

Back at home I Skyped with mum and then hit the Park a bit earlier than usual. The reason for this is because I was expecting a delivery that I had to be in for and it was due between 1pm and 5pm. So off to the park we went. As it was the delivery came early but I was home by then.

We headed along the Avenue of Trees, avoiding as much sunshine as possible. We met a lot of other dog walkers doing exactly the same thing. Emma was quite distraught because a lot of other dogs means I can’t throw her ball quite so often (other dogs tend to steal it). Freya on the other hand, thought it was brilliant because she just loves meeting other dogs.

A lot of dogs she meets either scare her or ignore her but not today. Roscoe did neither. In fact they had a great time chasing each other; round and round and up and down. It was hilarious.

Roscoe is a Bichon with a rather severe Summer haircut which makes him about the same size as Freya. He’s also white and only ten months old. I can’t believe they spent so much time running around like lunatics. He even came back a couple of times, disregarding his owner’s demands to stay with them.

Back at the house and after lunch, the two of them flaked out on the extension tiles (though Emma has taken to lying on the wooden floor in Mirinda’s library) while I watched the final episode of series 5 of Orange is the New Black.

And then the delivery turned up.

Mmmm nice!

I’ve finally had it with my old HTC One M8. It’s started to slow down meaning the reactions speeds on the screen are not always reliable. Sometimes there is no response when I touch it…which makes it a bit pointless. Basically, it’s gone beyond its use by date. I was due for another phone last December but decided to wait a bit. And I’m now the proud owner of the new Samsung Galaxy S8. I plugged it in to charge and reluctantly left it for the garden.

I planted two Fuschia in the Candy Bed and a geranium in front of them. I do love Fuschia. One of these is the normal red one but the other is a lovely candy pink. It perfectly fits into the Candy Bed. Or it will when everything starts blooming.

The Candy Bed was relatively easy (I had to avoid the tulip bulbs) but the Garden of One Thousand Yaps proved to be a right bastard.

I’ve written before about the old path having been left intact beneath the terrace and a corner of the Garden of One Thousand Yaps and I’ve complained about having to arm myself with cold chisel and lump hammer to bash through it in order to plant things. I even constructed a little tiled Pixie Path along the line of the old path in order to avoid it.

None of that prepared me for the moment when I realised that the third Astilbe I was going to plant was directly above the old path. Obviously I didn’t realise it properly until I’d already started digging the hole.

Out came the destructo tools and I settled in for a good old smash and bash. Being in the shade helped a lot. It was not the sort of job one should do in the blazing heat. Not without some slave to hold a big umbrella over your head, anyway.

Eventually I had them all planted and stood back to admire my work. I then jumped into the shower in preparation for the more fun part of my day as I started to set up my new phone.

Astilbe x3 and a pot full of path debris

I’m not going to fill this post up with everything about my wonderful new phone so let’s fast forward to dinner time…

Because I had to buy two duck breasts, I decided to have another go at the duck breast soba tonight. Again, it was delicious but I realised that in yesterday’s post I didn’t mention the Surprise Water. This is a very important part of soba noodle preparation.

Like pasta, the soba noodles go into a rapidly boiling pot of water. They are then boiled away for about five minutes. Then the smart chef tosses a cold cup of water into the saucepan. The boiling instantly stops as the cold water reduces the temperature.

The noodles will be finished when the water boils for a bit more.

When I told Mirinda she wanted to know why it was called Surprise Water and I said because the noodles weren’t expecting it.

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The slow escape

A note was left by our front door today. It was good it wasn’t pushed through the letter box because Emma would have taken it, eaten it and left it somewhere mysterious. Had that happened, I’d have not known about it.

But what’s its name?

A house down the road has lost its beloved tortoise. I don’t think it will get to us for quite a few days so I’m not seriously looking yet.

The other side of the note has the address but not the tortoise’s name. How am I going to call it if I see it? What if I find the wrong tortoise? And, how come they have such a good photo of it? And what gender is it? So many questions!

Another big question is why is Freya scared of logs?

As we walked up the Avenue of Trees today on the hottest day of the year (so far) Freya suddenly spotted a small section of tree that someone had left, standing upright, on the grass.

Freya came to a complete stop, her body stiffened and she started her low, weird growl (the one she usually reserves for squirrels). I walked her over to it but she refused to get too close. Emma gave it a passing glance then returned to the contemplation of her tennis ball. It was very odd. Even for Freya.

As we entered the park I notice that the creeping advance of the Virgin broadband fibre optics is moving ever onward. It has reached our entrance to the park. I’m wondering how much further it will go.

Broadband delivery

Back when I was working at Telewest (which was bought by Virgin) I bemoaned the fact that we couldn’t take advantage of the massive staff discount for the cable service. In the days before Netflix, it was all Telewest, NTL (both cable) or Sky (satellite). Because we were in a non-cable area, Sky was our only option and, of course, we had to pay full price. Not that I mind paying full price for stuff but it was a pain when I worked for them.

Anyway, we don’t need it now that it’s finally arrived. Irony, eh?

While the guys on their little digger were busy digging up the path, I was busy digging up the final conifers and moving them up the back of the garden. I then planted up a few things before collapsing with the heat.

It was hotter today than it was yesterday so I worked only in places on the terrace where the sun didn’t shine. I also drank gallons of water, replacing the copious gallons I was losing.

For dinner I decided to attempt to make soba noodles and duck. It was long and laborious but delicious. Most of the work was because I had to make the All Purpose Soba Broth. Now I have a big jug full, tomorrow will take about ten minutes.

Memories of Kyoto

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Hotter than hot

Today the temperature hit 30 degrees and forgot to stop. The sky was totally cloudless and there was not much breeze. The only good thing to be said about it was that it wasn’t humid. Still, there was a lot of water replacement going on in our house.

And outside our house to be honest. I removed another browned off conifer and carted it to the hospital up the back as well as planting a couple of astroemeria in the hot border. The astroemeria have been very successful so a couple more can only give even more colour.

Mirinda, meanwhile, having Skyped Fi (with her Big News) and Bob, set to planting up a whole load of geraniums and flowers with names I can’t remember but are pink. The latter in the big pot made vacant by the conifer.

There is still a lot of planting to be completed (by me tomorrow) as well as two more sickly conifers to be moved. The weather report is not encouraging given it will probably be hotter than today. Bastard weather.

And the rose we planted last weekend is coming along nicely. The scent is amazing.

Gertrude Jekyll smells like Susanne

And, for the curious: Fi’s Big News is that the family is going on a cruise in November which leaves from Southampton and heading north to Scandinavia among other places. Prior to departure, they are going to spend a week with us.

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