It is rare that I have a complete kitchen fail. That’s not to say that everything I cook is perfect. Far from it. I’m a rather messy cook and things never look as good as their publicity photos. Still, the food is usually good and thoroughly cooked. Then days like today happen.

We were going around to have tea with Sue, probably for the last time at her old house. She had already packed her baking stuff so I said I’d make a cake. Flicking through my Alice in Baking Land, I decided to go with a banana cake. I’ve made it before so figured it would be fine. Boy, was I wrong.

I tested that it was cooked right through using the usually reliable skewer test. The skewer came back dry and so I removed the cake from the oven. After ten minutes, I removed it from the cake tin and placed it on a cooling tray.

Then the centre started to fall. A pool of uncooked banana cake started forming underneath the cooling tray. The entire centre of the cake was liquid. The outside was okay – quite tasty, in fact – but it was a complete disaster. Not for public consumption, my wife announced.

As it turned out, we had to cancel Sue so the cake was abandoned.

Then, later, we went to Pulpo Negro for unexpected tapas.

It almost made me forget about the banana cake.

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Strange days indeed

At one point today, I walked out of my office, to tell Mirinda something. The sky was blue and there was a slight, happy breeze. It was the kind of perfect we’ve been experiencing lately. Then, as I walked into the house, the heavens opened up and a sudden torrent of rain fell upon the world outside.

I could have gone back outside I suppose but the prospect did not fill me with much in the way of joy.

This sort of weird weather continued for most of the day. There would be a bit of blue then grey, sometimes thunder, then torrential rain. And then more blue. The oddest thing, though, was that there wasn’t a lot of wind.

The good news was that Mirinda managed to take the dogs to the park between showers and the garden enjoyed the thorough watering.

The garden looks even more lush in the opposite direction.

While I took both photographs during a bit of sunshine, it was still raining. How very British.

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The man who reads t-shirts

I don’t normally walk by Nero’s in Castle Street but, since Friday, I’ve had cause to do so three times. And each time, I have seen a man who has a ukulele and rides a bicycle. I only mention this because, the three times I’ve seen him, and he’s seen me, he hasn’t been able to avoid reading my t-shirts.

Out loud.

For instance, on Friday, having been to Boots, I walked past him wearing my Sarah McQuaid t-shirt. He started reading it as I walked by and then insisted I turn back to him so he could finish it.

He agreed with the sentiment and gave me a thumbs up when I said it we should stop fracking. I didn’t explain the whole story behind the t-shirt and the song but he agreed anyway.

The story was related to us by Sarah at a concert we attended at the Maltings a few years ago. Her son, aged 10, said it in relation to a TV programme about coal mining. He just came out with it and Sarah scribbled it down. It made her equate mining companies with children digging in the garden. She then wrote a song with that title. The t-shirt is the cover art for the CD; the handwriting is Sarah’s.

Anyway, back to the man with the ukulele. On Saturday, I had cause to walk by him once more. He seems to regularly take a coffee outside Nero’s of a morning. I was wearing my Joan of Arc t-shirt, and he gestured for me to stop, so he could read it.

He remarked that we have a Joan of Arc Catholic church in Farnham and also there was the Leonard Cohen song. He asked me if I’d heard it. While I don’t think I have, I’ve heard enough Leonard Cohen songs to know I can pretty much guess what it would sound like.

I could be wrong, but I think, the first Leonard Cohen song I heard was Waiting for a Miracle in Natural Born Killers. An extraordinary film with an amazing soundtrack.

I should stress that my Joan t-shirt is more ironic than religious. In 2014, I wrote my own theory about the Joan story and I bought the t-shirt while in Rouen back in October 2017. I also keep seeing paintings and statues of her which, obviously, I ‘collect’. It’s a bit like my St Sebastien obsession.

But, moving on to today, I spotted him sitting outside Neros but I was on the other side of the road. I was thinking of getting a haircut but the barber was closed so I continued up Castle Street, heading for home. I got as far as Park Row when I ran into Vivienne and Luna.

We chatted for a bit when, suddenly, the man with the ukulele rode by and suddenly stopped. He looked at my t-shirt but couldn’t make it out.

He looked at me quizzically.

It’s Space Force,” I told him. His face curled up in confusion. “An American sitcom,” I added.

This man is a walking art gallery,” He said to Vivienne, before getting back on his bike and pedalling away.

Clearly, I am going to have to wear a different t-shirt every time I go shopping now. I wonder how long I can go without a repeat?

Here’s Leonard Cohen’s version of Joan.

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My belly button doesn’t exist anymore

Yesterday morning, Mirinda had an appointment with James, her hairdresser, so I thought it would be nice if we both walked into Farnham together. I’d sit in Starbucks and write my blog post while she had colour applied to her hair, then we’d meet for a coffee somewhere.

I’m not usually in town on a Saturday morning, so it was a bit of a treat for me. Also, because I was walking around more than I usually do, I noticed a few changes. Like this bench, for instance.

It faces the Andrew Windsor almshouses in Castle Street. I guess there’s going to be quite a few of them dotted around the country this year. At first, I thought this was a silly position but, given the usual awful traffic in Castle Street, facing the almshouses is a considerably more attractive proposition.

Also, I don’t when it closed but Goldsmith’s Jewellers is no longer at the entrance to the Lion and Lamb Yard. It’s been there for as long as we have at the very least. I remember visiting during a Heritage Week and being able to stand on the staircase and learning about the minstrel’s gallery.

The main reason I remember it is that we were not allowed into the gallery or further than the landing of the stairs. They took their security very seriously. Mind you, they’d been the victims of quite a few smash and grabs over the years, so it was reasonable.

And now, sadly, the shop is empty.

Not so empty was The Lost Boy, where I met Mirinda for an unexpected breakfast. Actually, she had a run in with one of their waitresses. Mirinda asked for her usual Americano with cream and the waitress said they didn’t do cream.

Mirinda then assured her that she’d had a lot of Americanos at The Lost Boy and always had cream. The waitress went on to explain that Mirinda probably had whole milk and mistook it for cream. What a silly waitress.

Eventually, Mirinda managed to receive cream for her Americano from a completely different, smarter waitress. I’d like to report that the first waitress was sacked, but I don’t think she was. Though maybe she’d be better off working in a non-customer facing environment.

It was while passing the bar, on my way to the loo, that I overheard a woman say to one of the bar staff that her “…belly button doesn’t exist anymore.” This prompted me to stop in my tracks, turn and regard her and say “Really? How odd.” Then continue on up the stairs.

As we made our way home, we noticed that the roof work over Bill’s appears to be making some headway. All the tiles are off, at any rate.

I remember when this was done to both The Giggling Squid building and the almshouses. It took ages. Hopefully, this will not take as long.

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Drinking the Holly Bush dry

A while ago, during the rather prolonged sale of the cottage, we promised that, at its conclusion, we’d have a drink with David J for all his help. David lives in the middle cottage and was a big player in the sale pushing forward to completion. He’s a lovely chap and one we’ve both got on with over the years.

Today, honouring the promise, we met at the Holly Bush and didn’t leave for about five hours. During that time there was a considerable quantity of wine consumed. There was also lots of laughter. And a platter of finger food, which was delicious.

During our time together, we learned a lot of things about the situation at the cottages (we have started calling it the Drove Curse), the new owners and, most enlightening, David J’s life story.

He’s a geologist who looks for resources in, among other places, Nigeria. Actually, he was in Nigeria last week where he received a stomach bug which saw him thrown into isolation for a few days. The Royal Surrey wasn’t taking any chances in case he had something far more serious than food poisoning. Malaria, dengue fever, Ebola, plague, that sort of thing.

For the last little while, we were joined by David’s daughter and her minder (his lift home) and the mirth continued even more so. David thinks I’m the funniest man he’s ever known. I’m not sure why. To be fair, I did make him laugh a lot. Though, of course, that could have been the Malbec laughing.

We had planned to part company, after a couple of drinks, at 5pm, but we were having such a grand time, we stayed until 8. Clearly not having had enough of us, David is going to invite us to a barbecue in the summer.

I guess the Curse will be with us for a little while yet. In a nice way, of course.

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Magic fingers

Back in 2019, when the world was normal, we attended a wonderful concert by two guitarists at the top of their game. The concert was at Hindhead Music Centre and was brilliant. Of course, the pandemic caused live concerts to cease to exist so the centre hasn’t had anything on since then. Tonight, however, everything was back to normal. Almost.

I say ‘almost’ because one audience member sat outside for the whole thing, having arrived with a mask and a folding chair. Her husband has brain cancer and is undergoing chemo, so she can’t risk infecting him with anything she might get infected with. Remarkably, he’s had brain cancer for 20 years.

I’m not sure how much of the concert she heard, given she was sitting outside, and the windows were closed, but she seemed to enjoy it. At any rate, she did last for the whole thing.

She’s a good friend of David, Mirinda’s guitar teacher. He’d organised tonight’s concert, as well as their final concert on the Isle of Wight. We think he was a bit stressed.

Eduardo Martín is a Cuban guitarist/composer and, quite simply, amazing. Playing with him was the incredibly beautiful Ahmed Dickinson Cárdenas, who is also no slouch with a guitar. Hindhead is the penultimate concert on a far reaching and sizeable tour.

Before they started playing, and being seated in the second row, I had planned to take a couple of photos of them (like last time) but they mesmerised me and the idea just floated away on the notes created by their magic fingers.

The rest of the day basically led up to this taste of Cuban music and the genius that is Eduardo’s imagination.

Of course, I went shopping first thing, and, because Mirinda was busy all day with work, I took the girls to the park.

The morning had been wet, but the sun came out after lunch, and we had a lovely romp among the trees and benches. Actually, Emma romped while Freya and I sat and watched from the safety, and relative comfort, of a bench.

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We’re all the same underneath

How well I remember when Dr Dawn was doing her Masters and wasn’t too certain about things and would demur to other people she figured knew more than she did. Even me, which certainly wasn’t the case. Then tonight, she gave a talk on prehistoric burials with four or five references to Midhurst which we thoroughly enjoyed, proving how erudite and knowledgeable she is.

She really was excellent tonight. She knew her subject thoroughly and didn’t need to read from notes, she wasn’t boring, she made us laugh. These are the secrets of the perfect talk.

It was a very pleasant end to a rather hectic day.

Because, today was the day the tree guys came to trim the hazel, beech and birch between us and Neighbour Dave. The trees have gone a bit mad since I originally organised them to come.

I’d been told they’d arrive mid-morning which, though not an exact measurement, I’d say was about 10am. I had a Talking Newspaper session but figured I’d be fine. Then they turned up at midday.

I managed to complete the clippings and the running script and sent them off but I had to warn Tim (engineer) that I might be late for the recording given the chainsaw making all manner of hellish noise right outside my office.

Then, as if by some magical coincidence, they finished at just gone 2pm and were leaving at 2:25pm. I was ready to record, right on time, at 2:30pm. And, not only did they finish at the exact right time, they also did a magnificent job.

And the recording went very well.

I had Janet as a reader on only her second outing. Her first was with Ann. I warned her before we started that my sessions were somewhat more chaotic than Ann’s, so it was good she had her first. And she was excellent. Very confident, confident with the chat and funny when appropriate. I do wonder how she’ll go with Clive.

Janet is a fantastic addition to the remote team. I look forward to our next session together.

To be fair, I’m also looking forward to Dr Dawn’s next talk. I should thank her, really because I stole the title of this post from her. It’s how she ended her talk. I figure, since she stole it from an Egyptian who was admiring her bones in Brighton that it was okay for me to steal it from her.

The Egyptian, looking at the bones on Dawn’s table, felt that, basically, we’re all the same. And who am I to argue with that?

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All rosy in the garden

I should have gone shopping today. I decided to put it off until tomorrow because Mirinda was leaving for Coventry for a work thing at 8:45. It made more sense to leave it. Except it wasn’t. I forgot how busy I will be tomorrow.

Tomorrow is the day that the guys are coming to trim the trees. It’s no wonder I forgot. It was booked in months ago. Okay, it’s in all the calendars but, generally, I remember the day to day things. It’s probably why I blithely said I could cover for someone with the Talking Newspaper tomorrow as well.

But, that’s tomorrow. Today I almost forgot I was attending the Talking Newspaper AGM by Zoom. The meeting was scheduled to start at 11am. At 10:59 I suddenly remembered and quickly hopped on. I didn’t want to be late. I shouldn’t have worried. Anne had some technical problems and was five minutes late.

Dame Elizabeth was getting a bit annoyed with the late start but, eventually, it was all underway and proceeded without a hitch. Well, apart from the people who didn’t mute themselves. Every time they made a sound, they were highlighted on the screen which was odd. Still, that didn’t stop anyone from speaking.

Actually, starting late was good because everyone I haven’t seen for a couple of years could comment on my beard. Malcolm Inglis, for instance, asked if I was channelling John Evans. Tim claimed I was putting his effort to shame which I said looked more like a scourer. I said I’d been trying to plait it and Charles suggested I’d need a second pair of hands for that.

It was all very jolly. And the AGM only lasted half an hour.

At the end, Anne wanted to talk to Susan and suddenly said “Now that everyone’s gone, I just want to say –” but was interrupted by Charles who said we were all still there. There was a frantic switching off of connections. It was very funny.

As I sat there, listening, I couldn’t help but notice the roses which have started appearing around the garden. From the pretty pink ones on the Holly Arch…

…to the beautiful yellow roses on the gazebo. You can see them in the distance in the above photograph. The blurry, yellow smudges are two roses.

Earlier in the day, while I was writing my blog post, I noticed that I wrote about the roses two years ago, during the first Lockdown, at about this time. Then, again in 2019.

By the time that dinner time came around, I realised I definitely should have gone shopping. There wasn’t a lot of food in the house. Still, I managed to cobble something together.

In the meanwhilst, I didn’t hear a peep from Mirinda all day. I guess that’s what they mean by being sent to Coventry.

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Sitting on the grass

Mirinda was at work today while I did housework and a bit of scanning and shredding. In fact, I managed to finish a thick folder of old papers that related to my archaeology days. This felt like a big achievement given the size of the folder. It sits alongside the big plastic box I finally emptied last week.

The weather being so beautiful meant I could use the washing line for two loads, and it was dry by the early afternoon. It was quite warm and there was a light breeze happily flapping the clothes back and forth.

After lunch, I took the girls to the park so Emma could chase her tennis ball. Another dog owner was sat on the grass in our usual line of flight so, rather than sit on the bench as usual, I sat in the shade, on the grass. Freya was content to lie alongside me with the occasional foray for essential squirrel patrol.

Given the time of year, there are a lot of daisies littering the grass at the moment. When the weather is perfect, this is truly the best time of the year in Farnham Park.

Just before Mirinda arrived home, the rain started, signalling the end of the day. It was just like Queensland except without the overbearing heat. Oh, and the rain wasn’t quite so torrential.

It was lovely sitting back, doors completely open, watching the rain. The perfect end to a perfect day.

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Coincidentally Jade

I was listening to The Archers the other night, just like I do every night, and I heard a familiar voice. I couldn’t work out why it was so familiar. Okay, it was Fallon (Joanna Van Kampen) but she sounded like someone else I knew. And then it struck me. She sounds exactly like Jade at Starbucks.

Then, this morning, Jade made my coffee. I asked her if she listened to The Archers, and she shook her head. I told her she sounded exactly like Fallon, and she winked and said she WAS Fallon. It was her secret, other job.

I mentioned that Fallon also worked in a cafe, but it would be a bit weird if she was married to a policeman (Fallon is married to police officer, Harrison Burns). She looked shocked as she told me she WAS married to a policeman. That’s all kind of coincidence, right there.

Not so weird is the raft of new starters that Sue is training this week. She has staffing problems; vacancies that have had to be filled by baristas from other branches for the last couple of weeks. Now she has four newbies. Today I met Hannah, who seems bright and bubbly. The other three I guess I’ll meet as we go along.

In the meanwhilst, in Waitrose, Pamela is on holidays at the moment and Phil was at the meat counter. Apparently he was feeling the cold last night and decided he’d make a stew in his slow cooker. Then, this morning at around 5am, he was woken by the strongest, most delicious smell emanating from his kitchen.

He said his mouth was watering for stew. He didn’t want to wait but, strong-willed man that he is, he resisted the temptation, delaying the pleasure until tonight. I told he was stronger than me. If the smell of stew had woken me with mouth watering, I’d have had stew for breakfast.

Regret flickered across his face.

Back at home, Mirinda had left for yoga and then Book Group, so I took the puppies to the park where we met the most beautiful dog.

He was the result of crossing a standard poodle with a Newfoundland. He was so soft. He also needed a hair cut.

The owner was very quick to reassure me that his dog was friendly. He then told me he has to do this because people are frightened by the dogs size. I told him I just wanted to give him a big cuddle. The dog, not the owner.

Freya wasn’t at all bothered, and Emma was only worried he’d steal her tennis ball. She jumped up next to me on the bench we were sitting on, not realising that he could easily steal her ball while standing on the ground.

The weather was glorious, even with the sudden sun shower that lasted all of two minutes. It annoyed Freya for longer than it lasted. And, of course, the park look glorious.

You would honestly think there was nothing wrong in the world.

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