|News and views|
|On Sunday we basked in 20 deg C of sunshine, rare for early October. The world and his friends, dogs and kids were out and about enjoying the warmth. The local ice cream van did a roaring trade. There was a carnival feeling in the air.|
But this morning, misty and damp, you can smell autumn in the air. And the central heating kicked in.
|"Eat a live toad in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest if the day."|
I found this helpful piece of advice from an unknown source amongst some papers that I'd squirrelled away for future reference. I'm not about to try it, I can assure you, but the thought did make me smile. So I guess you could say it was motivational or even inspirational, at least.
|Back in one of our favourite parts of the world for a few days - Norfolk. Or to be more precise, the north Norfolk coast, where the marshes meet the beach at Cley-next-the-sea. (Pronounced 'Cly', like 'by', and not 'Clay'.)|
The horizons stretch away seemingly for ever, with huge skies and seas touching coast, marsh and moorland; perspective changing by the minute as the ever-present wind creates waves in the reeds and on the water, and the sunlight and shadows mix a palette of colours that artists strive to emulate.
Some old friends nearly fell out once over the right way to prepare garlic: the question being whether the ‘correct’ method is to slice, dice or crush it. I seem to remember Elizabeth David being quoted (vehemently) by one of them. At one time, I had a garlic crusher, which did the job very quickly but was an absolute beast to clean. It was one of the must-haves of my first kitchen in the 1970s; we certainly didn’t have one at home. Eventually, it went the way of the fondue set and the pasta maker.
About 15 years ago, my German sister-in-law gave me a very simple, but ingenious, wooden mushroom for crushing garlic, after I had admired hers. I still use this occasionally, but most of the time I just chop and flatten the cloves with a knife. Then, when I thought the debate was fairly well defined, I recently came across ‘bash’ and ‘grate’ the garlic in two new recipes.
Does it really matter? Or does it make a difference to the flavour?
I awoke to a downpour this morning and, for most of the day, the sky has remained grey and cloudy, threatening more rain. But only yesterday we had the most astonishing clear azure-blue skies and at Heathrow the temperature hit 34°C. I still don’t understand how things can change so dramatically overnight (or by the minute some days). Intellectually I do, but emotionally that’s another matter – particularly if I’ve been penned up in the office on sunny days only to wake to rain on the weekend. Yes, that was me screaming!
I remember reading a report last year that declared UK weather as officially changeable. It’s all due to our location as a small island wedged between the Atlantic and the continental landmass. But surely it was ever thus. You don’t have to be a meteorologist: read Jane Austen or the memoirs of ex-pats. The British have always talked about the weather – because it is so changeable.
About 30 years ago, a Malaysian colleague on his first trip to England remarked how he’d found it strange that all the Brits he knew invariably included the weather in conversations. But now he understood why. Back home, there was just the wet, monsoon season and the dry season. Occasionally a little late or a little early; sometimes wetter or drier than usual – but then, end of conversation.
Already the nettles are starting to die back and the last leg of my long run is a little easier; nettle-dodging is an exercise extra as you swivel your hips, slaloming side-to-side to avoid getting stung. Now there’s just to the brambles to contend with!
These seem have grown three- or four-foot tentacles with the mixture of rain and sunshine we’ve had over the last week. At least with nettles, everything is below knee height; with brambles you need to keep your wits about you as you cunningly step over one a foot or so off the ground but fail to notice another that tries to ensnare your hair as you pass by. Disentangling your locks, without inflicting serious damage from the barbs on the thorny stems, is no easy feat and plays havoc with the endorphins which were nicely chilled out from the run.
I’m always put in mind of the Prince in Sleeping Beauty as he hacks his way gallantly through thickets and brambles to rescue the slumbering Princess Aurora. Well, I told you I had a vivid imagination!
It is still July. It's another glorious sunny day: 29 deg C on the patio. And guess what - I do not want to take up your offer of discounts on autumn clothing. Actually, I am rather hacked off that swimwear is now consigned to the sales section of your website and there's hardly any stock left. I suppose I was remiss in not thinking beach in March. Infact, I was probably ranting about being sent catalogues of skimpy clothing during subzero temperatures.
So, thank you but no thank you: I will have to take my custom elsewhere to buy a new bikini for my summer holiday.
We have a beautiful solitaire set - a turned wooden base populated with multicoloured, handblown glass marbles of different designs that sparkle as they catch the sunlight. Although less so when I haven't dusted for a couple of weeks. So this morning, in a flurry of Friday housework whilst polishing these, I paused to play a game (as I always do - I need rewards and incentives to do the chores).
And, for the first time ever, I completed it - just a single marble left in the middle of the solitaire board where it should be. I was astonished; I can generally get down to two remaining - usually sitting on opposite sides of the board. I have no idea what I did differently. I've played this off and on for over 50 years without success so it may never happen again.
However, I am going out to buy a ticket for the Euromillions tonight!
Today I had my first irritating encounter this summer with a wasp. It attempted to share my prosciutto and melon with me while I kept trying to swat it away. Ignore them and they'll go away, I was told as a child. I did, it didn't and then stung me. Since then, I am a whirling windmill of arms but they persist in buzzing back and often I retreat indoors, defeated.
My Mum kept a jamjar by the back doorstep, containing the final dregs of strawberry jam mixed with water. It had a hole in the lid just big enough for a wasp to crawl in and then to become trapped in the stickiness. We would shake it up and watch in fascinated horror as the wasps got angry but could not escape. Such are the things that shape us!
What a difference a week makes: the cold windy weather has been banished and through the window we can see only azure blue skies. And swooping swallows that call to one another as they rise and fall in delightful parabolic curves over the rooftops chasing insects.
Summer has finally arrived.
Out for supper with some friends who all work in HR and Talent Management. Talk turns to the latest buzz words in strategic operations (actually more interesting than you'd think).
"Onshore and offshore I'd come across before. And then someone started talking about 'nearshore'?! Apparently this is when they don't know whether something's onshore or offshore."
"Ah", said a wise voice from the other end of the table, "What they really mean is that they're not sure!"
End of sensible conversation.
Well, it's July, the sun is beating down and, obviously, uppermost in my mind is what will be the most popular Christmas gifts this year. Come on, Amazon, get a grip - 168 online shopping days to go! We're all going a summer holiday so bah humbug to you.
There's been a lot about mobile phone etiquette in the press over the last week. I've always believed in 'phones off' at social gatherings and have been saddened to see whole families at a restaurant table, all talking or texting someone on their mobiles but defintely not in conversation with one another.
But there is an exception to this 'switch-it-off' rule in our house and that's for major sporting events. On Saturday, our supporting team of three watching the Lions famous victory over the Wallabies was boosted by texts:
- sister and husband in Bristol
- daughter and boyfriend in Bournemouth
- brother winding up mate in Australia
- exchanges with friend in a bar in Georgioupolis, Crete
- nephew checking in from Boston, US.
There is something quite magical about connecting and sharing the experience, all living through the same intense emotions and willing our team on to win.
Cow Pond probably doesn’t sound at all romantic but this man-made lake, in a secluded corner of Windsor Great Park, is an oasis of tranquillity. It’s the half-way point (or there abouts) in my morning run and, if I’m really lucky, I get it all to myself. For years, the undergrowth made it impossible to circumnavigate but hurrah for the Queen’s Jubilee: not only has it been completely cleared, there’s an ornamental bridge at one end and a summerhouse at the other. So it’s here that I grab a five-minute breather at the end of a complete circuit and let my mind drift. The water lilies are just starting to bud, the ducks pootle about on the water while a large grey heron majestically surveys all from high in the trees. In the distance I might see a plane in the distance heading into Heathrow but all I can hear is bird song – and I am overwhelmed with a feeling of peace and well-being.
A wet day and waiting for Wimbledon to get started. Lots of work I should be doing but I can always find a distraction! Sorting through the pile of newspapers for recycling and came across the Guardian final interview with Iain Banks,who sadly died of cancer a couple of weeks ago. Have been meaning to read this - big fan both of his writing - and if you haven't read 'The Wasp Factory', do it now - and of his amazing attitude to life. This article is also really illuminating about his very individual approach to his impending death:
Never got on with his scifi stuff but may be I should give it a whirl again - and definitely downloading 'The Quarry' to my Kindle now.
Just saw a car with a Remembrance Day poppy attached to its front grille. It will be July on Monday. If I'm lucky, I might still have mine pinned to my lapel when I get home on the day I buy it - in November. That one's been out in all weathers - for over 6 months! Surely some kind of miracle.
The first email inviting me to plan the office Christmas party early arrived via email last week. Yes – in June! I know the weather is more like that of November but…
…I swore out loud and deleted.
As a child, the start of summer was clearly designated: it was when you put your winter woollies away in the loft. (Although that was actually the ‘attic’ – when did I start saying ‘loft’?!) It was when you started wearing your summer uniform to school. These days, I’m usually out of tights and into strappy sandals by the end of May; obviously, this year is the exception! ‘Ne’er caste a clout till May be out’, they say, but Wimbledon has started and I’m still wondering if it would look odd to wear boots at this time of year. So when is it officially summer? In primary school, I’m sure we were taught that spring was March, April and May with June, July and August constituting summer. This was confirmed recently when I discovered that the Met Office also designates 1 June as the start of summer – or perhaps they all went to primary school in the 1950s! But this started me off on another train of thought: how come midsummer’s day is 23 June and what about 21 June as the summer solstice? All I can tell you with any certainty is that we still have the spring/autumn-tog duvet on our bed, supplemented by the eiderdown on some nights.
Is it co-incidence or a new awareness about something that a particular subject suddenly seems to be constantly in the news and a topic of conversation? A friend remarked a while ago that it was only after his Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer that he realised how much news coverage there was of the illness. I remember when trying to sort out a care home for my Dad – and exploring the vagaries of funding this – the papers were full of stories about abuse of the elderly and parliamentary discussions about the need for reform in financing care. But are these issues always being reported in some shape or form or is it simply that a change of focus in our own lives brings this coverage to our attention?
Egham high street on a Saturday morning. Pass a young girl sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with: ‘Keep calm and listen to Olly Murs’. And, while I’m still pondering that particular take on the rediscovered WWII propaganda, I spy a poster outside the local church: ‘Keep calm and know that I am God’. Well, I thought, even they’re jumping on the bandwagon now! But, a little research, and I discover that actually God got there first and everything since is a variation on Psalm 46:10. So I did smile when I saw another example: ‘Keep psalm and carry on’. Although, ‘Keep calm and drink champagne’, would probably be my own personal mantra.