Totally brilliant tapas

Today saw the beginning of the first test cricket match since Lockdown. It began in Southampton. It’s between England and the West Indies. Except, things didn’t go exactly to plan. In one of those typical twists of fate, rain delayed the start of play.

This is made all the more ironic by the fact that we have had perfect cricket weather since Lockdown stopped any cricket from being played.

And I can vouch for the weather. It was very gloomy and wet. Not torrentially wet, just that constant English drizzle which Julius Caesar had such a problem with. Which only goes to show that good old JC was clearly a test cricket fan.

In the meanwhilst, at our house, we were gearing up for a special night. A night where we would travel all the way to Alresford. A night where we would have tapas at Pulpo Negro.

But, before heading down south, there was an important task I had to perform.

Normally I dye my hair the day before getting it cut but, given the absence of hairdressers for the past three months, I haven’t bothered. Underneath the coloured ends, my hair has become increasingly silver. I think I skipped the grey bit.

I was starting to like it and Mirinda even made happy sounds upon inspection. But, on deeper reflection, she decided I should dye it. And so that’s what I did this afternoon.

I should mention that I bought the dye ages ago in preparation. I couldn’t get my normal brand so opted for something new. Of course this meant guessing what the colour would be. While it is in amazing contrast to my beard (and eyebrows) I rather like the colour.

The new dye was rather odd as it turns a liquid into a foam without any shaking. Very odd but highly effective. Mind you, I still prefer the one with the comb attachment.

Eventually, we said goodbye to the girls and headed out for dinner.

We’ve been to Pulpo Negro before and absolutely fell in love with it. The food is exceptional, the staff lovely and the restaurant itself, an ambient delight. In fact, it made me feel like I was back in Spain. Until I looked out the window. So I stopped looking out the window.

We had lots of little plates of deliciousness, including ham croquettes, salted cod, giant olives and an amazing salad of Isle of Wight tomatoes.

But the piece de resistance had to be the pork belly ‘tacos’ and langoustine escabeche. Two little servings of magic for the tongue. Just before we left, the waiter told us that they were going to change the menu more often because of reduced clientele due to Covid restrictions. I almost begged him to keep the pork belly tacos.

Mind you, my favourite dish was dessert. The emerald green pistachio and olive oil cake was exquisite. It went perfectly with the chilled sweet sherry recommended by the waitress.

To say we thoroughly enjoyed it would be an understatement. We even enjoyed the drive, the longest we’ve made for ages. In fact, Mirinda believed they’d moved the town further away it took us so long.

For anyone close by to Alresford, the restaurant is highly recommended. Their website is here: https://pulponegro.co.uk/. You won’t regret it.

But, returning to the cricket, the first day of the test resulted in only 17.4 overs being played during which England managed to lose one wicket (without score) and only 35 runs. There were no spectators. There may have been a few seagulls on the hand sanitiser dispensers on the boundary.

Prick of the week

I haven’t had call for one of these since Lockdown started, mainly because there’s been a reduction in cars on the road. However, today, for most of the day, this van was parked a bit across our drive and, for reasons known only to the driver, on the nature strip.

Now, I know the nature strip actually belongs to the council and I really shouldn’t care but, honestly, why can’t people learn to drive and park properly?

It belonged to a couple of tradesmen who were doing some work either next door or next door to next door. I should add that next door to next door is the arsehole who thinks it’s okay to trim his hedge at 9pm on a Saturday using his very noisy electric hedge trimmer. For this unreasonable reason, I’m blaming him.

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Tripleurospermum inodorum

Today I spent some time in the garden, a rare thing for me. I started ejecting an unwanted guest from the raised bed then just decided to continue with some weeding in the Garden of One Thousand Yaps. It meant a pleasant couple of hours in the not so hot sun.

The unwanted guest was a rather massive plant we hadn’t put into the raised bed. While the raised bed borders the Wildflower Patch, we’ve never seen it there so imagine it’s a Butt Seed weed.

It’s a very pretty plant, resembling a daisy more than anything. The leaves, however, resemble fennel, which I thought it was before the flowers appeared. The problem with it is the size.

The raised bed was basically in order to grow a line of lavender in well drained soil. Mirinda added some hornimums and, of course, the California poppies in order to temporarily fill the gaps. She was happy for the new plant to remain until it decided it wanted more than its fair share of the bed.

Mirinda had me PlantSnap it to determine what it was. Turns out it’s a Tripleurospermum inodorum, more commonly called False Mayweed. And while it’s very pretty it is somewhat dominant. It had to go.

I set myself up and set to work.

Before

Removal required a careful cutting away of the long stems, avoiding the other plants crowded beneath it. It was painstaking and laborious work, made pleasant by listening to The Curious cases of Rutherford and Fry while I worked away.

Soon a very different bed emerged. One devoid of False Mayflower and inhabited by the intended flora instead.

After

The poor lavender was looking a bit ragged and the hornimums were a bit floppy but these things will resolve themselves in time. Mirinda was well pleased, and that’s all that matters.

Something else that makes me very happy are fuchsias. Mirinda has planted quite a few over the years because, she says, I love them. A few weeks ago I featured a photo of one called Shadowdancer.

Here’s another one – I don’t know what it called but it sure is more welcome than a False Mayweed.

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Kicking the iron hedgehog

When we first moved into our present house, a neighbour, Sally, introduced herself. She told us her name, how she had an Australian soon-to-be son-in-law and how she thought of us as the fresh air freaks. This was due to our habit of always having our windows open.

And she was correct to a certain extent. I don’t like windows being closed. I prefer a cold to a stuffy room. A cold ROOM I mean, not a medical cold.

The thing is, with this window open habit, our house tends to get a bit breezy at times with the almost constant fresh air flow. This wind flow shuts the doors upstairs rather forcefully. In order to stop this happening, we have a series of door stops, one for each upstairs room, and they keep the doors open and the air flowing freely.

The door stop for the Old Rose Room is in the shape of a hedgehog.

Don’t be fooled by the cuteness

Well, half a hedgehog really, with one side flat, the side that goes against the door. Because of the shape, when it’s not doing its job, it can fall over. Which it did today.

I was upstairs, unpacking some clothes I’d bought online and the big, grey outer bag was sitting in the doorway. I stood up to retrieve it but, saw something more interesting and grabbed that. This action, for some reason, informed my brain that it should direct my foot to kick the big, grey outer bag through the doorway, thus clearing my way. My foot, obviously, carried out the order.

What neither my foot nor my brain realised was that the iron hedgehog was sitting underneath it. Needless to say, I wasn’t wearing any shoes.

It hurt.

I can only blame myself, after all, this is what happens when you think without thinking.

This followed a lovely morning walk into Farnham to shop and chat with people at random.

Which preceded my attempt at making Romanian preserved white cabbage in brine. When Mirinda saw it ‘resting’ on the kitchen counter she wondered whether I’d started making my own botanical gin. Sadly, I had to disappoint her.

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Mirinda’s little adventure

On Friday I bought Mirinda a bunch of flowers. This is not pathetic virtue signalling: I often buy her flowers because she likes them and they brighten up the house. The problem though was we’d run out of vases.

The sudden lack of vases was due to the lost ring incident last week when a whole bunch of flowers had to be cut back in order for me to find the ring. This gave us a whole lot of stems to put in water. So we were cleaned out of vases.

One would expect flowers to gradually die off but the ones I’d removed from the garden appear to be in some sort of sci-fi stasis as if they’re waiting to arrive at Alpha Centauri in the long distant future.

Not realising the lack of death in the household flower stakes, I bought yet more. Thus the reason why there were no vases for them.

Rather than depress, the lack of vases fired Mirinda into action. It made the ideal excuse to go to the Laura Ashley closing down sale. It would also mark a bit of Covid milestone for her.

Unlike me, Mirinda hasn’t really had a lot of real life social interaction since Lockdown started. Last night at the Holly Bush was wonderful but she had to take the big step which she did today.

She went to Laura Ashley and bought as much stuff as she could carry, chatting amicably with the sales staff commiserating with them over their cardboard virus shield and agreeing about masks. There was also a visit to Colours for incense and she wound up sitting outside Coffee Diem having an Americano and a piece of walnut cake.

Eventually, She came home looking happy and refreshed. I think her little adventure did her the world of good.

As for me, I had an incredibly lazy day which even included a granny nap in the late afternoon/early evening. This dip into the older age group may have been inspired by listening to The Conversation this morning.

Kim Chakanetsa spoke to two women in their late 70’s regarding what they thought about their age. One was Chilean author, Isabel Allende, the other Australian professor and feminist, Lynne Segal.

The conversation between the three women was wonderful and I actually listened rather than drift off like I normally do on a Sunday morning. They finished by suggesting that what old age should bring is Wisdom and Tolerance. I agree. It SHOULD. It’s a pity it doesn’t always work out that way.

The only other thing I did today was discover that I could make a cartoon Gaz on my phone. Here I am:

I’m not sure if this constitutes increased wisdom or tolerance but it sure beats growing up.

By the way, Mirinda also bought a puffin pen holder, something I was unaware we needed. Apparently, I was wrong.

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Eating someone else’s food & not washing up

The last time we ate out was not, as I keep insisting, L’alivi in the Marais back on February 24. It wasn’t two days later when I had lunch with Dawn at The Lost Boys. No, the last time we ate out was on March 18 when we decided to have lunch at the Holly Bush, thinking it could be a long time before it happened again. I remember saying to the owner that we’d be back as soon as they re-opened.

It has been a long time.

The government announced a while back that July 4 would be the date when pubs and restaurants could reopen, if they want, with social distancing restrictions and various other public safety measures. Of course this meant that the awful Wetherspoons pubs were open from 6am but it also meant that decent pubs were also open.

One of those decent pubs was The Holly Bush.

And, true to our word, we booked in for dinner tonight.

The pub had put in lots of ‘rules’ regarding distancing and there were lots of pump action sterilizers dotted about. But, the overriding thing was how happy everyone was.

The Holly Bush is very much a village pub and I think most of the village was there. At any rate, every time someone left they went round to every other table to say goodbye.

The photo above was taken quite late. Prior to this the tables were full and the chatter was loud and cheerful. The pub wasn’t full of boozy idiots yelling and yahoo-ing about freedom and shit beer. It was exactly as you’d expect from a real pub.

And, of course, the food was excellent. We shared ham crocquets and salted squid for entrée then I had salmon fishcakes for main. Obviously this was a free for all carb day so I had ice cream for dessert. But, best of all, I didn’t have to wash up.

Apart from the expectation ahead of dinner out, the day involved a very funny Freya episode.

I was in my office and Freya was in the extension. Normally she just follows me out and jumps onto my chair and sits with me. Today, though, she started barking. In itself, this is quite odd.

I popped my head out of my office but couldn’t see her. I called but she just barked. I realised she was just inside the back doors.

Last week at the garden centre, Mirinda bought a pot with a face in it. Sort of like an Easter Island head. It has sat on the potting table all week but today she planted it up and put on the terrace.

This is what Freya was barking at. She realised it was a face and she was telling it to go away. She wouldn’t leave the house, instead was sitting barking in her freaked out way.

It was very funny and also indicative of how intelligent she is. Emma, on the other hand, couldn’t work out what the fuss was about. She sniffed the pot and just went about her business of finding small bits of wood for Mirinda to throw.

Beware all puppies

PS: I’ve decided to stop cataegorizing posts as Lockdown as I think it’s sort of stopped now.

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Take your litter home

Carl Reiner died on Monday. I’ve read all over the Internet that he was one of the nicest men in show business. His work was amazing, full of joy, never cruel. What a legend. And it makes me realise that it has to be better to be universally remembered for being a nice guy rather than a horrific monster.

Speaking of horrific…I discovered a strange brown fungus on two of my tomato plants today.

Say hello to Septoria leaf spot. While it doesn’t affect the fruit directly, it can reduce the plant to just a green stick, bearing no fruit at all.

It happens when the leaves get wet. RHS advises the best solution is to cut away any low hanging leaves and be careful when watering. Not that it’s a permanent solution.

Having discovered the identity of my adversary, I took the necessary steps to reduce it’s spread. Hopefully I will have caught it in time.

The rest of my day was spent researching WW1 soldiers. I’m conscious of the end date approaching and, like my fellow volunteers, want to realise Dr B’s dream of 30,000+ records completed by August. As my contribution today, I managed six.

Late in the day, after Mirinda had dealt with all the crap that had to be dealt with, we took the girls to Frensham. Mirinda’s had a rather awful week caused, mostly, by a nasty, nasty employee so a walk around the pond with the wind blowing, was the perfect antidote.

And it was very windy. The pond had waves. The birds were flying backwards. It was gloriously head clearing.

Another great benefit was the lack of crowds.

No families on the ‘beach’, no kids splashing in the water, no dangerous attempts to burn all the lovely heather. It was a delight.

While I welcome the sign, it seems to me that the majority of people who leave their litter and light portable barbecues can’t actually read. Still, it’s nice to see.

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Two old blokes on a bench

The other day, I had an email from Dr B recommending a talk on Innovation and Improvisation in the RAMC, primarily in the Great War. The lecture given by Dr Jessica Meyer was being hosted by the Western Front Association and would be on Zoom.

The talk was on tonight at 8pm and I was all ready in my office, making the proper connections, full bottle of German wheat beer by my right hand. It was, after all, my first ever Zoom call. To say I was nervous would be a complete and utter lie. I just connected and there was our host for the evening, David Tattersfield.

And, I have to say, it was an excellent talk. Dr Meyer really knows her subject, something highlighted by her answers to the almost half an hour of questions at the end.

The talk itself was very informative and answered a few questions for me regarding what I’m researching when certain things come up on pension cards and so forth. But my favourite bit was about the Thomas Splint.

I doubt I’ve ever had call to know about the Thomas Splint. However, it was a battlefield innovation which really turned the tables on survival rates for wounded soldiers. When not using the splint, a patient stood a 20% chance of surviving. Once the splint was being used, those odds skyrocketed to 85%. Now that is one brilliant innovation.

I thoroughly enjoyed the talk and will be joining the Western Front Association in order to hear about others. Very good stuff, indeed.

Also very good was my social engagement today.

During the long days of Lockdown, Andrew and I have been WhatsApping each other, making sure we’re still alive. After Starbucks re-opened (albeit for takeaway only) we decided to meet up and sit on a bench in the sun.

And it was glorious. The sitting on the bench and the sun. Though the sun soon vanished to be replaced by big, heavy drops of rain. We continued our chat under the arches where Tom joined us. There were many anecdotes and raucous laughter.

It was a lovely couple of hours. I’ve missed the social engagement of people and, as the Lockdown restrictions gradually ease, a chance to chat to people is becoming easier and easier.

The alley behind Boots looking a bit damp

Long may it continue.

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100 days later

Yesterday marked the 100th day of Lockdown in the UK. Bits and pieces of society are returning to a sort of normal but, basically, Lockdown continues. And, given what happened in Leicester, it may be a kind of rolling on again, off again Lockdown from now on.

Leicester had a spike in cases which was declared serious enough to delay the opening of their pubs this weekend. One person I used to follow on Twitter was furious at this. He went to the trouble of hiring a couple of big coaches to take him and his drinking mates to nearby Nottingham where the pubs would be open.

He managed to fill them both before realising he’d have to cancel the whole thing because it was a bit stupid. So he did. That didn’t stop him railing against the world. He voted for Brexit and cheered when the vote to cease FOM was announced so he’s quite used to railing against the world.

I stopped following him on Twitter when I realised he was a fascist. I can try and educate, argue, debate with racists, xenophobes and other stupidities but there’s a point at which I just throw in the towel. Fascism is my benchmark.

Anyway, enough of that nonsense.

After shopping, which featured a funny old chat with Pamela in Waitrose, I worked out then pottered about the house.

The weather, which had been lovely to begin with, degenerated over the course of the day. There was a lot of drenching with intermittent torrents. At one point I was in my office and I couldn’t see the raised bed for the amount of falling water.

During one of the few lulls in rain, I popped up to the greenhouse to check on my tomatoes. Roma and Shirley are both doing well, already starting to climb towards the light. Moneymaker and Ailsa look fine but are not stretching up so much.

It’s good that Mirinda has posted a guard on the potting table. Though, apart from scaring intruders, I’m not sure how it’s going to protect my tommies.

Late in the day I received a surprise parcel. Actually, it wasn’t a surprise. I ordered it yesterday after seeing it on Instagram being proudly displayed by the Romanian ambassador to the UK. After a quick look at the contents, I ordered it.

Apart from some delicious sounding recipes, there is also a whole section on pickling and preserving which I will wholeheartedly embrace.

It’s another book with real, home style recipes in it. Just the kind I love.

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Joe Gideon’s apartment

Many years ago, I first watched All That Jazz. It quickly became my favourite film and I have watched it so many times since those far off days, that I know most of the dialogue. For that reason alone, it’s not a good idea for me to watch it with other people.

There’s a lovely scene in the film where Joe is being entertained by his daughter and girlfriend in his apartment. They do a whole song and dance routine for him. Behind him, on the wall, is a big neon sign which reads WOW. The first time I saw this I thought it was just the coolest thing ever.

Moving on about a million years…

When we had the extension built and I had a decent kitchen at last, I wanted a neon sign. I’d waited long enough and now felt I could justify having one. But the wanting and the finding was not the same thing at all.

And, little did I know, Mirinda was on the same mission. She’d found some people who custom made them but the prices were ridiculously high.

My wish for a neon sign was not to be realised. Until…

A few weeks ago I noticed the website of a company that custom makes neon signs. I then found another. And another. All of them were reasonably priced. I chose the one started by an Australian who had an interesting story.

He wanted a pink neon sign for his daughter’s bedroom but, like me, couldn’t find one. Unlike me, he went out and taught himself how to make a neon sign. Having successfully created one for his daughter, he then decided to offer neon signs to people at a reasonable cost.

The Australian then set up a way to franchise his company and it spread as far as the UK. The company is called Neon Poodle (https://www.neonpoodle.co.uk/) and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Anyway, that was a few weeks ago, as I said. I designed then ordered my sign then waited. Sammy wrote and kept me in the loop. He sent me a copy of the design to be used for the actual sign and let me know what was happening. Then, last week, I had an email saying it was ready. I paid the balance and it turned up yesterday.

And today was hang the neon sign day.

It even has a remote control. And I don’t care what anyone says, I LOVE IT!

Something unexpected that happened as a result of having to move everything out of the way, was the discovery of a few bottles of wine I’d forgotten we had in the telephone box.

To move the box, I had to empty it of glasses and bottles. I lined them all up on the end of the dining table. We keep most of our wine in the walnut cupboard in the vestibule and only rarely take one from the telephone box. So taking them all out was like finding a dragons treasure trove.

The Montagny is particularly special. I’d been saving two bottles of it from a dozen but Mirinda gave one to someone, who doesn’t really drink wine, as a Christmas gift. I don’t begrudge giving someone a bottle of wine at Christmas but he would have been just as happy with a Sancerre of which we have gallons.

Anyway, this is my last surviving Montagny so I’m keeping it for a very special occasion.

There’s also a couple of very special reds which I’ve managed to save for when Sarah and Nick come over for dinner. I’m keeping them away from any possibility of festive generosity.

That’s enough wine talk.

Having erected the sign and put everything back we headed off for Farnham Heath where the girls took great delight in running around and rolling in sand (Emma).

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Badgers love gooseberries

A while ago, Mirinda booked us in for a visit to RHS Wisley. It was to mark their big re-opening and was only for members and their guest. It was also restricted in numbers and at pre-booked times. She booked us in for 10am (opening time) and then we waited. For today.

The plan was to see how it went. How the whole thing was organised, if it was too irritating, if the fear outweighed the enjoyment. As it turned out, it was all pretty much normal.

Okay, the inside things were closed as was the kid’s playground, but everywhere else we were free to wander for as long as we wanted. There were vans selling drinks and carby foods, the toilets were open. It was great.

Even the statues which comprised an outdoor exhibition which had been due to open the Monday after lockdown started, had been extended to December so we could enjoy such wonderful pieces as these three little maids.

Little Girl, Little Girl II, Little Girl III by Lynn Chadwick (1987) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynn_Chadwick)

While he had a very distinctive and enjoyable style, Mr Chadwick didn’t have much in the line of title. I’ve said many times in the past that I think naming an artwork something mundane is a cop out. Untitled 349 means nothing except for the lack of creativity in titling. I don’t understand why an artist (of any bent) can’t use the inspiration for the creation to give a title. Mind you, I’m not an artist so maybe I’m missing something. I guess I’ll never know.

As someone who appreciates art, I only find it annoying. To people who say they don’t understand art, it distances them from the work which isn’t helpful at all.

While not an inspiring title (I think Three Little Maids is much better) at least it’s better than Fish 6 by Martin Lorenz. This piece was a metal fish suspended over a pond. I saw the fish before I saw the label and my instant reaction was ‘Fish out of water’. Okay, it’s a pun but I maintain it makes the work more accessible. And humorous.

Fish 6 by Martin Lorenz (http://martinlorenz.co.uk)

That makes it sound like it was all about art. In a way, I suppose, it was. A combination of the art of garden arrangement, of nature entwining itself and the wonderful art of wandering around. We had it all.

Possibly my favourite thing of all was the Viewing Mount. This hill has been planted with 5,000 lavender and rosemary plants, making a wonderful vista for both eyes and nose. You wander around the winding path to the top where the big glasshouse stands at the bottom, your eye taken along two long plantings called the Glasshouse Borders.

From the Viewing Mount

Just behind the Viewing Mount is the Wisley collection of fruit trees and bushes. After the remarkable arches of apples and pears, long netted enclosures hold the RHS Plant Collections of currants, berries and, most impressive around 150 varieties of gooseberries.

The gooseberry enclosure is the most secure. It is not just surrounded by thick, black netting it also has a low electric fence around it. Mirinda was a bit mystified by the electric fence, thinking it was to keep small children off. Though, as I pointed out, the gooseberries were pretty much impossible to get to without the fence.

Mirinda stopped a handy gardener with a wheel barrow and asked her.

She told us it was because of the badgers. Apparently, badgers love gooseberries. The small electric fence is designed to keep them away. They also eat other berries but given the gooseberry collection is very important, the RHS staff want to protect them.

All I can say is that I don’t share taste buds with badgers.

All in all, it was a most pleasurable day out. We spent over two hours there, which is a long time for us. We took tea and a flask so could stop for a cup when we felt like it.

To top it all off, there were very few masks, no gloves and everyone seemed happy and healthy. It was almost as if the Plague World had simply vanished.

Old climbers around an old tree in a pretty little wilderness
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