When plain water will not do

It seems that someone figured that calling parsnips ‘Hydro cooled’ made them sound a bit sexier than parsnips are normally meant to sound. I wonder how ‘hydro cooled’ is different to water cooled…which, after all is the same thing but not in Ancient Greek.

It’s not like these things just pop into my mind as I walk to the gym (though quite a few other odd things can do…often) but when one spies a cardboard veg box sitting atop a bin, one can’t help but be forced to consider the implications.

Okay, I’ll admit that I’m being facetious because it’s parsnips.

According to Niagri Engineering

“Rapid cooling soon after harvest to remove field heat from produce is essential for obtaining maximum shelf life. Hydro cooling is considered one of the most effective means of cooling a wide range of fruits & vegetables…Niagri Hydrocoolers are manufactured to suit your requirements. They can cool products down to just 2⁰C…Produce is fed into the self-contained tank and the product is submersed in cold water. Water passes over the refrigeration coils to cool as it rains on the produce below. The rain bars help to maintain consistent & even temperatures inside the chamber. The product is then discharged for unloading.” from http://www.niagri.co.uk/

That’s a bit more involved than just a quick wash under the tap. The next time I’m confronted by a menu that features parsnips, I’m going to insist that mine are hydro cooled.

Fresh produce was not the only bit of nature I had to contend with today. While the rest of the house (Mirinda, Fi, Lauren, Andrew, Jason, Emma and Freya) went to Petworth to see the deer and have lunch in a brilliant pub called the Duke of Cumberland, I waited in for the arrival of our Christmas tree.

It turned up not long after lunch and I had a jolly fun time getting it upright and, after a few hours of wrestling, removed the multi-layered packaging.

Tubby 15th-ish

The branches need to settle and drop down a bit and it’s a wee bit crocked but it’ll be ready for dressing tomorrow. To facilitate said dressing, I headed up to the loft for the plastic boxes full of Christmas paraphernalia.

It was then into the kitchen to start preparing dinner. I decided to make the moussaka given this seems to have now become the favourite meal in our house.

There’s a certain artistic satisfaction in preparing a meal over a long period. It’s all a question of having everything ready when you need it. Mind you, I almost fell at the final hurdle when I’d forgotten to grate the cheese while the ‘custard’ was in dire need of stirring. Fortunately, my sous chef (Jason) was on hand to help out with a number of judicial twists of the wooden spoon. This was after he’d set the table for me which included some seriously impressive napkin folding.

Salted aubergine ready for frying

I served the moussaka with ribboned cumin cabbage which I thought worked very well. At least everyone said they enjoyed it. And they ate it all.

Before and after dinner there was a lot of organising going on for tomorrow. Jason wants to meet Preston in London. Not to be too confusing, he’s not meeting IN Preston in London. Preston is a kid he went to school with who is living in Leeds. (The other Preston is in north west London and lies somewhere near Wembley…I think.)

It was finally decided that rather than meet in the middle of London, that Andrew, Jason and possibly Lauren would travel to Kings Cross to meet Preston and his mum. They would then visit something called the London Bridge Experience though it came a sad second to the London Eye which I think Andrew had his heart set on visiting but which turned out to be hideously expensive.

Lauren ummed and ahhed a bit before claiming she’d be up and ready to leave at 08:30. While this was going to be a challenge, we all accepted that it would be fun to watch.

After I allowed Fi to help me clear up, everyone went to bed while I relaxed, watching Nurse Betty for the umpteenth time. A seriously brilliant movie.

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Splitting up

Today everyone sort of did their own things. Mirinda had to go to work, I had a Talking Newspaper, Fi and Lauren were going to tackle Oxford Street and Andrew and Jason were undecided…though they weren’t going to London to meet Preston from Leeds.

Naturally I went to the gym first. While I was there, Mirinda drove up to the station and the Hassells set about getting ready. I returned at 9:30 to find them still in their bed attire and discussing various options. I sat down with Fi and showed her how to get to Oxford Street then to Mirinda’s work. After repeating it a few times and uploading a tube map app to make life a little easier, she was ready to go…then it was just a wait for everyone else.

I bade them farewell and took the girls into the park for a run around. When I returned an hour later they were all just leaving the house. They had a few goes then piled into the car…then piled out again because the wing mirrors had refused to unfold. Sheer brutality helped with them and they finally set off for the station.

Fi and Lauren were meeting Mirinda after work and they were going out for dinner then to Sadler’s Wells for a bit of modern ballet (Swan Lake without swans…or a lake or Tchaikovsky) so they hopped on a train into Waterloo while Andrew and Jason decided to see a couple of castles.

They popped up to our own castle and looked out across the Avenue of Trees then down into the deep central well. They then decided to head to Guildford to see that one. Afterwards they lunched at the Mad Hatter pub. All in all, they had a lovely day.

In the meanwhilst, in London, Fi and Lauren didn’t get much further than the Disney Store. From her reaction, I’m surprised that Lauren actually left the Disney Store. But left they did and successfully met Mirinda (Fi was quite proud of the fact she was early) and then had a grand tour of the college (something I’m still waiting for).

The ballet was, as Lauren described it, edgy. I think it was generally considered by both Fi and Lauren as pretty weird. Mirinda explained to me that it was more like performance art than a ballet. She also said that mum would have hated it. After hearing about it I found myself quite intrigued and wishing I’d seen it as well.

As for me, I headed into town for a brief stop at Starbucks then onward to the studio for a recording of the Alton edition. It all went well though there was a bit of a worry when the engineer hadn’t shown up by 3:30. We were all ready with no-one to record it. Then he raced in, all a-fluster. A car had broken down on the roundabout, he breathlessly explained, and the traffic was at a standstill…except when it sort of moved.

I told him to take his time (and deep breaths). There was no rush. Eventually he was ready and we rattled off the edition without any hitches. Well, apart from me having to restart the What’s On section because I misread a date, thinking it was December when, in fact, it was January. Fortunately I realised and we restarted the section. Never a problem, just annoying.

Eventually (having stopped to shop) I made it home to find Andrew and Jason watching TV. I then realised I’d forgotten to tell Jason how to access Netflix. Or, in fact, how to turn it all on to start with. He’d managed the basic TV and they were watching Robot Wars.

I whipped up spaghetti bolognaise and we ate and talked, chatting about all sorts of stuff (Jason told me all sorts interesting stuff about the games industry and how much it’s changed with online gaming as opposed to playing alone – I was surprised at how far motivated it is by only money when the developers used to be more interested in pushing boundaries in gaming and effects back when I was a tester) until the women returned full of culture shock.

I think everyone had a good day. Mine was pretty good.

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To market, to market

I (very happily) headed off for the gym while the house still slept. That’s not exactly accurate because I made Mirinda a cup of tea before I walked out the door.

While I worked it, Mirinda, Fiona and Jason (he of the monstrously fluid dribbly nose) took the girls to Hankley for a beautiful morning walk. They all agreed it was marvellous…ignoring the nose bit.

The loose and not really a plan plan for today was to go to Winchester market. I had to go shopping first so it was sort of informally agreed that we’d leave at around 10:30. That was my target arrival time home. It was tough but I made it. We eventually left at about midday.

People often ask why we didn’t have kids. I now know a big reason is because you can never get out of the house. There appears to be no such thing as a “Let’s just jump in the car and go for a drive!” situation. Not that I’m bothered, I just find it intriguing.

Anyway, we headed off, Andrew sticking to the speed limit behind us making Mirinda keep to it as well, something she isn’t that used to on the roads she knows well, and parked up behind the Chesil in one of the very few car spaces in the multi-storey.

I should mention the temperature because it was icy cold in the wind. It’s days like today where the term wind chill comes from. It’s not the best weather for seasoned Queenslanders. Lauren, for example, was wearing all of her clothes. And some of Fiona’s.

I forced the twins to pose for me by the river and they obliged by doing this:

What all the kids are doing these days

We wandered along the river, walked with appropriate solemnity by the house that Jane died in and visited the lovely St Swithin’s church by the Kings Gate. And, eventually, we hit the not nearly as crowded as last year, market.

The crowds! The crowds!

There was a very surprising moment when Jason told Mirinda that he loved ice skating whenever he could. We were surprised, wondering where he would get much chance of ice skating in Burleigh Heads. It was all a bit mystifying until he corrected himself by saying he meant ice cream. That made more sense so we continued on our way.

We were going to have lunch in the oldest pub in England but, unfortunately, so did the rest of the population of Winchester. We went next door to Ask which, while not being the oldest restaurant is in a very old building.

Eventually we wandered back to the cars, various bits of rusty flowers between us (a Christmas present for Mirinda) then headed home.

There was a bit of a worrying hiccough when we arrived home and waited, and waited, and waited before the Hassells turned up. They’d decided to buy everything in Waitrose on the way home.

A lovely, icy cold day was had.

Lauren as the Christmas puppy

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Dubai delivery

So these guys turned up tonight…

Most of the Hassels

…after spending a few days in Dubai. They went from 27 degrees to 3 in around eight hours. They managed to reach us by about 10pm.

Most of my day had been in making sure their stay would be as smooth and tidy as possible. It was also important that they had colour coordinated towels. (Thank you, Elphicks.)

There was some planting to do then a good clean up of the terrace. There was some floor washing before walking the dogs then some dog washing before once more washing the floors after they decided to bring some mud in from up the back. Then I washed their paws again. And locked them inside for the remainder of my time outside.

Eventually (by the time the sun had vanished for the day) the terrace was clean and the plants all inserted into well composted holes in pots. I then attacked the house like a thing obsessed. By the time Mirinda returned from her conference (at 7:30) all was perfect and ready for our visitors.

It was a long day without a gym visit but I did get to Starbucks where Charlotte created this:

Latte art, deluxe

We all had a jolly good chat (one particular highlight were the unpleasant occupants accompanying them on the flights to Dubai) until Andrew signalled it was very late (by falling asleep) and we decided we should call it a night.

Before finishing this post, I should mention the dogs. Emma was her usual bashful self but Freya was very odd. We figured it was because of all the big luggage as well as the sudden appearance of lots of humans in her home space.

She kept backing off and hiding, her tail down. At one stage she was next to me on the recliner while Lauren gently patted her, trying to calm her. Freya, undecided, went forward then back…then forward then back…poor baby.

Still, by the end of the night, they’d both fallen asleep and forgotten about our visitors.

Sorry but Fiona moved just at the wrong time

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Romantic chicken

Harry proposed to Meghan while they cooked a chicken which was only slightly more romantic than the way I proposed to Mirinda over the washing up. And that’s the only thing I’m likely to say about the upcoming royal wedding…there’ll be more than enough from other quarters.

Most of today was taken up with the garden. Gardener Dave (and Sam) and Rosie turned up nice and early and, after praising my fencing skills, set to removing the last of the rubbish and shed remains from up the back.

We had a pathetic bit of rainfall that was just enough to make everything wet and muddy. This impacted later when I had to give the terrace another bit of a Karcher-ing.

While Gardener Dave (and Sam) scrabbled about in the rubbish, I made a second brick platform in the Garden of One Thousand Yaps for the acer to sit on. Just before they left they popped both the big pots down onto the bricks.

Mirinda had to head off for a conference and had left me with some quite detailed instructions in what to move to where and why (I never need the why but she does insist). There was also quite a bit of planting advice.

Fortunately I’m the only one who needs to understand this

I worked away until it was time for the Big White Plastic Cupboard to be moved onto Rosie.

This was quite the operation calling for quite a bit of expert spatial awareness and inter-dimensional shift. Eventually all three of us (fortunately Mirinda had gone by this stage) were engaged in the shed eradication. But we managed it, the only casualty being a single branch on the rosemary near my office. My biggest fear had been for the newly planted lavender bed but it was expertly (and accidentally) avoided and remained unscathed.

It was with great delight that I waved goodbye to the monstrosity as it headed off to its final resting place in Leatherhead. It was with a sigh of resignation that I stared at the state of the terrace. Mud tracks made by boots, white sheds and bags of rubbish had reduced it to a very solid quagmire.

Anyway, stuff the extra clean-up duties, it was well worth it in order to reclaim a bit of garden never before seen. Eventually it will be the location of (probably) Mirinda’s greenhouse but for now it’s just a concrete slab surrounded by the accumulation of years of dirt and a cockerpoo.

Emma enjoying the slab

And Dave the Gardener left the fork you can see…or was it Sam?

There wasn’t a lot of time to rejoice as I had to head into town to buy a duvet and some pillows so that Jason can rest peacefully tomorrow night. I had strict orders to also buy towels but that was stretching my arms a little bit too far. The towels will have to be obtained tomorrow.

And with a great bit of fortune, Elphicks (our independent department store) was still in the throes of Black Friday madness (even though it was a Monday) meaning there was savings on just about everything. Not usually one to shop because of bargains, I was serendipitously overjoyed. Even so, it was a pain walking home with it all.

So much so that once home, I rewarded myself with a cup of coffee and a good sit down with my girls…well, two of them anyway.

The rest of the day was spent organising and dusting and repairing various bits and pieces upstairs and then rearranging things in the Library to compensate for an addition or two.

This, for instance, won an embroidery competition in 1910-ish put on by the Daily Mail (when it was a nice newspaper, presumably). It’s been waiting for me to fix. And, like Pa Kettle, I finally got around to it.

Needlepoint fairy

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Oak Cot

Every year, Mirinda plants up her winter pots. This year is no different and today we went to the garden centre to buy a whole load of pot plants to brighten up the terrace. I say it’s ‘no different’ except for the fact that because of the lack of light and a conference, I’ll be planting them tomorrow.

Forest Lodge

I always maintain that it’s Mirinda who does pots but that’s not to say I don’t have the essential potting ability. Tomorrow, while Gardener Dave and Sam clear away the rubbish, I’ll be planting up the winter pots.

I was given some pretty intensive and elaborate instructions regarding which plant and where and with what number John Innes. I even drew a plan of the terrace so I’d place everything exactly right, ready for the imminent Hassell arrival.

Having exhausted all the available sunlight, we then settled in for the night. This week’s roast was pork with green butter, which is always delicious. For a change I tried cauli mash (it features creme fraiche and butter) and it was very successful.

Possibly a bit more successful than whoever started to chisel out the name of one of the houses along Park Lane. I’d never noticed it before but the whole place has recently been undergoing a lot of renovation, uncovering various original features. This is above the doorway and was clearly not finished before fixing it in place.

I love these sort of little details.

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Cauli cheese

Today Andy from Sliderobes turned up and finished the job. I thought it would take about an hour but it was more like three. It looks fantastic. Half an hour after he’d gone, I had replaced all the DVDs.

Once the Green Room was free of everything extraneous, we could make a start clearing out the Old Rose Room which had started to look a bit like one of those back rooms in a junk shop…the one where everything goes that no-one wants. We need to get it sorted for Lauren.

We’d had a sort of unofficial plan to go through the 23 tons of notes and other largely unread paperwork residing in a number of plastic boxes but, in the after-event, Mirinda suggested that if we could find somewhere to hide them, we should. And, following on from years of a similar strategy, we did.

There were also a good few hours spent deciding which pictures to hang and where in the two rooms. The deliberation lasted long enough for the time to slip stealthily away so that Mirinda stopped and took the girls to Farnham Heath while I put the curtain pole and curtains back up in the Green Room following their abrupt removal some time ago by an inventively destructive Mirinda.

I’d had to fill a very big hole over the last week so I was a bit sheepish with the drill. But, after all was said and drilled, it worked a treat and the curtains were happily doing what they are supposed to do by the time Mirinda and the girls returned from their jaunt across the Surrey countryside.

And the weather was perfect for it: cold but a cloud free sky. Actually, there was a big frost this morning (given the absence of clouds) and the path into Farnham was as slippery as a thousand extra wide banana skins laid end to end. It forced me to walk home by the main road rather than risk it twice. The main road is not as nice as the park.

For dinner I made a rather delicious lo-card cauliflower cheese which was a big hit.

My new sous chef

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Sort of very busy

It was very quiet at the gym today. After finishing my (almost) 12km ride I hopped off the bike to find only one other person behind me, running like a lunatic on a treadmill. It was also nice and empty while I worked out on the machines though people started to arrive as I finished up and headed for the shower. It’s always lovely almost having the place to myself.

I wasn’t so lucky at Starbucks. Rather than the usual table of mothers/fathers-who-drop-off-their-kids-then-have-a-coffee-together there was two. It was almost like a couple of competing armies as they sat in diagonally opposite corners. Fortunately, someone left just as I ready to sit down so I had a table. It’s always a pain if I have to type up my blog with my hybrid on my lap.

Waitrose was also busier than usual but I guess this is the start of the Christmas Craziness. I managed to avoid too many collisions with badly trained trolley drivers. (I do wonder about the shoppers who leave their trolley then go to the shelves to pick what they want then return it to their trolley before heading off again. They do this in each aisle effectively blocking half the aisle and manage to walk three or four times as far as the normal shopper. I see no sense in it.)

Back at home I spent most of the day tidying up and moving stuff around in preparation for the Sliderobes guy who is supposed to be coming tomorrow to finish what he started. And, of course, we went for a walk.

There was a film crew from the Film School having some fun in the sun, clad in their hi-viz jackets and wandering around with all sorts of equipment.

Lights, camera, action!

At one stage Freya ran up to one of them, clearly thinking it was someone she knew. When he bent down to pat her she ran away. Stupid, anti-social dog. I apologised for her odd behaviour but the guy just laughed saying it happened all the time…which is just as weird as Freya’s reaction.

Speaking of Freya, the leaves are so deep in some parts of the park that she almost disappears beneath them. It’s fortunate she’s white because if Emma was to dive into a big pile of leaves, we might never find her again.

And the day was stunningly beautiful. After a morning that was a bit grey and full of a promise of damp, the sun came out and drenched everything in bright blue. The park was looking a delight.

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Shopping follies

There will be no European Capital of Culture in the UK. UK bidding cities are upset. The EU organises and awards the city that wins. Brexit means we won’t be in Europe so why do people think they can still be part of this? They voted to get out then complain because they want to be in. Chickens roosting, I think.

On a much more pleasant note…have you ever seen a bulldog chase a greyhound? It’s very funny and highly recommended. I watched one this morning on the way home from the shops.

The greyhound would sprint away and the bulldog would huff and puff after it. The greyhound would then circle back and run a few rings around the bulldog which would stand in the middle of the circle and take a bit of a breather. Then the greyhound stopped and looked, waiting for the bulldog to get its breath back. Then it happened all over again.

I have to say, the bulldog was not giving up and the greyhound was thoroughly enjoying itself.

A bit like our two who see just about anything as an opportunity to enjoy themselves. Except for guarding the house, a chore that Emma takes very seriously.

It’s probably a good thing she wasn’t sitting on the sill last night because it was very windy and rattly. Fortunately our fences remained standing but luck was not so good for one house that backs onto the park.

I remember a number of year ago this house suffered the same thing when a big wind blew their fence over. I guess this just shows that concrete posts are a better option than wood.

Of course, while our fences survived, the terrace was once more inundated with leaves and twigs which meant I was back out there with broom, shovel and wheelbarrow. There’s not many leaves left so I’ll not be doing it for much longer.

In the late afternoon I had a visit from the wonderful Zoi (pronounced Zoe) who was here to quote on decorating the library. I hope her quote is acceptable because she was brilliant…and the dogs fell in love with her without any prompting, something that rarely happens.

In one more bit of stupidity, who’s clever idea was it to put the shopping trolleys outside Waitrose behind bars? It’s just going to cause mayhem with only one person at a time is able to go in and grab a trolley. Sometimes a change is not for the good.

Dumb, dumb, dumb

And talking about leaves…at least I don’t have this many each morning…

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Standing alone

David Cassidy died today. He had cancer and had been admitted to hospital last week. Who didn’t like the Partridge Family? It was simple escapism that will never fail to raise a smile.

He was only 67. From what I’ve heard he was a lovely chap, full of life and willing to enjoy it to the hilt. Shame.

It’s a pity about ‘shame’ especially when it comes to other people having none.

There’s a set of ‘etiquette rules’ at the gym. It consists of various things like not hogging the machines during busy periods, returning equipment to where it belongs and wiping down the machines after use. (I’ve noticed there’s quite a number of people ignore the latter and I can only assume that they don’t sweat at all.)

Another rule is about the use of mobile phones. It quite clearly states that they shouldn’t be. Phone calls are not encouraged. Obviously people use their phones for music and, in my case at least, video but actually making a call is seen as bad form.

There’s a guy who I see quite often. He works out hard. He races between machines, grunting louder than Sharapova, giving his body a right old work out. It’s difficult not to notice him when he’s there. If anything you hear him long before you see him.

Well, today his phone went off and he took a phone call. It was something to do with the delivery of something to someone who was being a bit adamant. Of course I only heard one part of the conversation (I don’t listen to music so am open to every noise made in the gym) but things seemed a bit desperate. The guy rang off and then made three phone calls trying to sort it all out. He was on the phone for about 20 minutes.

To be fair, he stayed in the weight lifting area for most of his conversations but at one stage he did walk right through the middle of the gym in order to go to the desk and ask for a pen and paper to write something down. It would appear that he sorted the problem out – he was still on the phone when I left.

I didn’t write the above as a moan because it didn’t really bother me (not like people taking phone calls in so-called Quiet Carriages) but rather to point out how etiquette seems to have gone out the window as far as mobile phones are concerned. It amazes me that people are always available, regardless of where they are or who they are with. It’s like the phone becomes far more important than anyone else.

It also occurred to me that going to gym should be about the mind as well as the body and stopping to conduct some sort of business on the phone is hardly conducive to a healthy mind.

But, enough of that…as well as sweeping and high pressure spraying the terrace today, I also built four little stands for four little dolls who were having problems standing up.

Not dolly gravestones

The day was very windy, making it difficult to stand up as a human, let alone a doll…or a puppy. Plus, keeping the leaves together long enough to take down to the leaf trap was tricky but, helped by quite a bit of cursing and cussing, I managed it. Freya was a help as well with her constant squirrel chasing and strange gremlin growls at any leaves brave enough to blow her way.

By the end of the day, the doll stands were dry and I was able to shove the sticks up their butts. They all seemed to be adequately pleased with the result.

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