Welcome to family, friends and visitors. Here you will find interesting (hopefully) pictures of my part of the world, news of our household and probably, long ramblings about anything that catches my interest.

Friday, 30 April 2010

T-Shirt Art.

Cold , wet and windy today, I was quite happy to be working all day at school as working outside at home would not have been a lot of fun. My poor class spent the day doing a practice maths SATs paper in the morning and then going through the questions in the afternoon before 45mins of golden time. Having started to move towards Topic based teaching, seem to remember that when I first started teaching, everything is now on hold because if the Conservatives win the election they want to return to even more formal strictly segregated subject teaching. None of this namby pamby making education fun and exciting.New Acer leaves emerging like weird claws.
I got quite excited when I was down in the reception class earlier in the week because they were using fabric dyes to paint batik (using flour and water paste instead of wax) banners. I took the opportunity to bring in a couple of white t-shirts to have a little bit of an experiment.
For this experiment I simply flicked dye at a dry t-shirt. I like it a lot but I almost think it is too restrained and maybe could have been a bit more random.

For this one I wet the t-shirt first and then dropped blobs of dye onto it so that they ran together. If I had been able to let it dry flat and maybe not had it so wet, the dye wouldn't have run together so much. I do like it like this though the red does seem to have taken over. Never mind, this will satisfy my Bohemian streak. We are fairly sure that once it is dry the dye will be permanent and I might even run the iron over the t-shirts to make sure before I wash them by hand (don't want a machine load of pink clothes). Previously my t-shirt experiments have been done using extra thick bleach randomly squirted onto the fabric which can produce interesting results especially with black t-shirts as you never know what the base colour is going to be. One t-shirt turned out to be orange under the black.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Rain, Rain, Rain.

Today was a lie-in day but I was still up reasonably early and got in an hour's work in the garden before the rain settled in for the day. I rebuilt the stonework wall at the end of the grass bed and was able to tidy stuff up so that soon I can start building the steps. Both boys have had a try but the job has sat uncompleted for a long time and has been getting on my nerves, especially after all the years of hard work to make the scree garden. An ornamental tree at school.
Teaching in the afternoon and then back home again in the pouring rain. I have been forced to do some housework and even get the hoover out.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

New Arrivals On The Lake.

It was raining for a short while this morning when I woke before dawn. Looking out of the window I could see a little pipistrelle bat flitting about in the half light. (Apparently they have different winter and summer roosts both of which are protected by law.) Having to get up early one or two mornings a week makes me appreciate all the other mornings when I can chose to have a lie-in if I want. I taught the older children in the morning, poor things they are already practising for their SATs tests, our government is obsessed with facts and figures and the children are tested at 7, 11 and 13. The results are simply used to judge if a school has reached expectations and has improved on previous years. In the afternoon it was the youngest children. It was nice and sunny so we went out on the field for playtime, (most of the year the field is too muddy). There was a lovely scene when about a dozen children were chasing a pair of butterflies that were too engrossed in their courtship dance to fly more than 5ft above the ground. Back home I was met by my neighbours' boy who usually comes visiting with the 2 dogs as soon as I get home. He came with the news that the geese had hatched themselves 3 little goslings. Fred the dalmation got a good telling off from me when he chased poor old Smudge who needed lots of cuddles when I eventually went indoors. The forecast is for the weather to become colder, wetter and windier so I dug dandelions and mowed & strimmed the last bank. Bowling Green the lawns are definitely not but at least they look tidy.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Better Weather.

It has been a beautiful day today, back to real summer weather. My morning was spent digging out dandelions from the lawns, 370 of them! and there are still more to go. The grass was dry enough in the evening for me to cut all the grass that can be done with the mower. I even managed to do some strimming as well though I had forgotten that it's not a good idea to strim while wearing shorts. Small stones and twig bits sting when they are spun into bare legs. I intend to try and keep on top of the mowing this year as I haven't got Romas here to do my mowing. The blossom is out on the 2 big pear trees. They have never produced any fruit even though they always have plenty of blossom. The people who planted them probably didn't check if they were self pollinating or if they needed another variety nearby to set fruit. I did plant a 3rd pear tree (a conference I think) which the books said would be a universal pollinator but still no fruit.
It is good to see the new leaves appearing on the beech trees. There is a definite progression according to the age of the plants. First are the youngest, the regularly pruned hedges. Then the smaller trees and finally the stately mature trees. We're still waiting for them to wake from their long winter sleep.

Beech trees and hedge on the garden boundary.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Back To The Dentist.

For most of the day there has been 100% cloud cover though obviously not too thick as it was relatively bright. It was only towards the end of the day that a few blue patches appeared and then for a short while we returned to blue skies dotted with fluffy clouds. Before starting my gravel washing I dug out dandelions from the lawn and removed some weeds from the rain softened flower beds. I did a little gravel washing in the evening and spotted about 5 tiny trout fry close by me in the stream.
I worked an extra hour at school this afternoon which tied in nicely with a dentist appointment. This was a relatively pain free visit as all that needed doing was a little more adjustment to the height of one crown and a replacement filling. The filling didn't actually need replacing but I had finally got fed up with having a grey patch showing through one of my front teeth. It had been filled from behind in the days when NHS patients only got amalgam filings (you still do unless it's a front tooth). My previous (private) dentist kept suggesting that it wouldn't cost too much to replace it with a white filling but in my mind £50 is a sizable sum and I stuck with the grey filling. Finally vanity overcame prudence especially when I found out I could have it done on the NHS. It was even better than that, because I had asked when I was having my 2 crowns replaced everything was covered by the one fee of £200. So at least I got my money's worth even if I did have to suffer at the hands of a not so excellent dentist.

With a bit of a struggle another 2lbs lost this week. This weekly weigh in is a great motivator, it took me a year to finally get down to weighing myself each day and watching what I eat. This is the only way that works for me. I do need the thought in my mind that some one else; diet club, practice nurse or you my dear reader, will be noting my weight loss each week and that kicks in my desire not to fail.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Back To Normal.

We're back into typical British weather. Plenty of rain in the night means that I don't have to water my transplanted plants but also that the mowing I put off doing yesterday afternoon will now have to wait till the grass dries off. Grey skies and cloud sitting low on the hill and blowing along the valley. I hung out some sheets on the line hoping the wind would blow them dry but the air was too damp. I could have gone out and done some gardening but my back is a little stiff after yesterday's long drive.
Both foals and their mothers are now in the same field. They look quite similar but Doris is much quieter and stays close to her mother. Ben is full of beans and spends most of his time cantering around Belle. Doris looks bigger than Ben but still has a curly foal coat. Her teeth however are at the same stage as Ben's despite him being 2 1/2 weeks older than her. When he was first born his top teeth were only just visible and it was fun to let him suck your finger. Now he has a good cm of top teeth and has to be reminded not to nip. Doris' teeth are also a cm long and she was busy trying to chew my trousers today.

Yesterday there were half a dozen swallows flying around. They are probably the ones that were hatched out in the scree garden shed last year. I'm hoping that the missing house martins might be back this year.

Back To Keele.

We left at 6.30 as the sun was rising for the long drive north up to Keele. Leaving early meant the roads were fairly clear and we got there in 3 1/2 hours. Romas couldn't return to his university accommodation as it won't be open till the 1st May so our first stop was to Morrisons (large supermarket) to have coffee (me) and a large breakfast (Romas), do some shopping and fill up with diesel. Romas was in touch with his girlfriend Vicky who had finally returned from an extended holiday in Jamaica but she wouldn't be back at her flat for a few more hours. Instead we dropped all Romas' belongings off at a friend's house and then I drove Romas up to the campus as he had work to do. Before going our separate ways Romas took me on a walk around the lakes and woods in the campus.
The landscaped grounds around the Hall are full of magnificent specimen trees and there are many paths through the semi-wild woods. While we were there we passed several people who had come there to walk their dogs.

The paths meander around a number of small man made lakes with a few ducks and geese on them.

As well as the landscaped woods there are more wild wooded areas beyond the university buildings. Romas tells me that there is plenty of dead wood around so he has been building his own barbecues.
Leading up to the Hall are large lawns which in term time become covered with students studying? and relaxing.

Many of the large bushes are rhododendrons only some of which have started to flower but are obviously going to make a magnificent display in a few weeks time.

There are more formal lawns and gardens in front of the Hall which besides being used as a conference centre is also a wedding venue.

The whole combination of formal landscaping, woods and the many trees around all the buildings make the campus a very pleasant environment to live and work in.

Keel Hall itself is a listed building, it was built in the 19thC to replace the Tudor house that was built in 1580.
Having had a good stretch of the legs walking around the grounds I drove back home down to Devon. The roads were a bit busier and with the several miles of roadworks around Birmingham it took me 4 hours. At home I had discovered that there was a virus on my pc (thanks Romas) and it has taken until this morning to scan the system and clear all unwanted stuff.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Frosty Morning.

Ndebele art.

It felt really cold this morning, 2C on the outdoor thermometer. I had to clear the frost from the car window before I could drive to work and in the shade there was frost on the ground. At school my classroom (hut) was in the sun and so was nice and warm but other parts of the school were quite cold. I had a good day with my Year 2 class. They didn't have much to finish off from the week so we spent the morning creating designs in the style of Ndebele. This is an area in southern Africa where the women create the most amazing geometric designs on the outside walls of their houses. In the afternoon it was Golden Time (free choice activities) and we had an extra long play down on our playing field. For most of the year the field is too wet to use and we are very happy with our NoMow (artificial grass) area but you can't beat running around on real grass. I had thought that with all the bad weather in February, spring would be delayed but the sunshine of the last few weeks has pushed things along. Normally the first beech leaves appear around the 1st of May but they are already emerging over a week earlier than usual. Little patches of lime green are appearing in all the hedgerows and soon the dismal grey/brown of the hedges and trees will blaze into life with that vibrant green of new leaves.

Imperceptibly the garden plants have been increasing in size. I wouldn't mind if these particular sedums (ice plants) stayed this size but once the flower stems shoot up they will cover most of their circle. The aubretia suffered a bit from being shaded last year so I may do a little cutting back. I will also try to remember to cut back the flowering spikes of the central grass as the seeds germinate while they are still on the stalks and just look messy.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Fun With Smart Boards.

Another sunny day, lovely and warm out in the sun but decidedly chilly in the shade. Cherry blossom at school.
I worked all day at school. In the morning I taught a class that I don't know too well and boy were there a few lively ones in that class. We had an African dance session and after 20 mins some of them were complaining they were tired! More art in the afternoon, various types of printing and collage work.
Fresh spring leaves.
After school we had an informal session on the new Smart Boards. They are a lot easier than our old boards and there are so many tools there is hardly any need to add in other programs. Needless to say our favourite was the writing tool that produces a line of flowers or smiley faces.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

At Last.

I was woken early this morning by the sheer cacophony of bird song. There were whistles , chirrups, twittering, warbling, trills, chattering and musical phrases. I was up by 6.00 and after some time on the pc I was back out in the garden washing gravel once more. The sun was shining but it was quite cold in the shade and the stream was freezing. Not surprised to hear that there is still snow in parts of Scotland.I was just taking a coffee break when I spotted Sarah bringing out Coral and her filly foal. Doris had only been born a few hours before and her curly coat was still not completely dry.
Back to school in the afternoon for me, the youngest children this time. We were cautiously painting fabric with fabric dyes, I say cautiously because the dye stains and unlike other years when the children wore their old clothes for arts' weeks this year they are still in their uniforms and even with their painting aprons usually made from their dads' shirts, there is great potential for mess.
Flight restrictions over the UK were lifted this morning to the great relief of many stranded people who were running out of money. As I drove to school the sky was criss crossed with com trails. Hopefully it is truly safe to fly and not just the plane companies putting pressure on the safety authorities.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Back To Work.

A little cooler today but still lots of sunshine. I have started washing the gravel before putting it back on the grass bed. There is a water tap up at the scree garden but I've found that the best way to clean the gravel is to fill up the blue tray and take it down to the stream. It was very peaceful crouching in the water gently swirling the stones around and listening to the birds. Back to work in the afternoon. It was a bit of a shock to the system after 2 peaceful weeks at home. All those little voices wanting immediate attention. This week we are having an Arts Week on the theme of 'Africa' , great for me as art is my thing.
Cherry blossom in the school playground.
In town everywhere is full of blossom and flowers, cherry, magnolia, wisteria and camellias are painted with bright spring colours. Even in the country hedgerows the bright lime green of new leaves is beginning to be seen.
Yesterday afternoon, Peter and I went down to the beach for a picnic lunch. This was our first visit of the holiday as we prefer to avoid the crowds of holiday makers if we can. Even so it was still quite busy as many schools were having a non-pupil day. For once there was no wind at the beach and it was positively roasting. I collected 35 flat slate pebbles so that my class could create some San Bushmen style rock art, luckily I took along a very strong bag. A beach cafe hut has appeared at Barricane Beach so we treated ourselves to a cup of tea which for once was served in china mugs, (plastic/ paper cups so spoil the tea).

The clean -up squad at the beach were not the noisy sea gulls which are just as likely to steal food from your hands, but several jackdaws. I have no problems with jackdaws as long as they are not trying to nest in our chimney and attic, Sarah says that some of them have built a nest in the indoor school and she has to pick up a mess of sticks every day.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Job Done, Almost.

It was a very different scene that greeted my eyes this morning. Mist hung over the valley like a grey veil, I could hardly see anything beyond our boundary trees. It wasn't too cold so after some coffee I headed off to the garden once more.

This is the grass bed soon after I began the clear up. The actual before picture would have shown 3ft high grasses mixed with brambles and small trees.
This morning after a final rake over it was time for the best part of the job, deciding where to put the plants.

The basic structure of the planting scheme is in. I used some of the plants that were originally in that bed, others that had self seeded and a few that I split from existing clumps in the garden. It hasn't rained at all today so I have been watering copiously as the soil is quite dry. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the 'frosted curls' survive as they are not that reliable. I always tend towards flowing lines in my garden design. I find symmetry pleasing to the eye but too even spacing starts to look regimented which I don't like at all.

I can see that it is going to take quite a while to clean all the gravel before I can put a good thick layer over the whole bed. After that, all that will be left to be done is to position some large ornamental stones and repair the end section with some rocks once the new steps have been built. And then finally it will be DONE. My neighbour's son came over to 'help' me with my gardening, he even brought over a little trailer with trowel, secateurs, hand fork and of course a screwdriver. So sweet.

I'm happy to report that I have lost a few more pounds. I rewarded myself with some Thornton's chocolates and they were a bit of a disappointment. I found them too sweet and the chocolate not that good. Hopefully this is less a reflection on the chocolates but more a sign that I am becoming less interested in chocolates. Ha! I do find that once I reach my goal and simply need to maintain my weight that it helps if I only have 'treats' that I really like. It's amazing the amount of high calorie foods that I could eat simply because they are in front of me, even if they are not my favourites. That is where I need to be careful once I do reach my goal weight.

Sunday, 18 April 2010


Another glorious day. Finally I'm ready to start planting in the refurbished bed, just in time for the forecast rain. I can't believe how wonderful the weather has been this holiday. Last year between work and the rain I hardly had any chance to hang washing outside in the spring or summer. One more day at home and then it is back to work for me. Peter is still waiting to see the consultant, it may well be an operation as his hand is no better. Last night Romas and Linas cleared scraps of wood and brambles from the chickens' run and had themselves a bonfire. I love the way the camera has turned the flying sparks into a mini volcano. Speaking of volcanoes, all is quiet in the air as the hazardous ash cloud stops all flights. Not much fun for people trying to get home after the holiday. (Knew there was a good reason to holiday at home.)
Finally, the Call ducks came visiting. Early this morning there were shouted conversations across the valley. Jack to Sarah- "Mum, I can't see the ducks, they're not here." (The fox has eaten quite a few of the ducks over the past few months.) Me to Jack- "Jack, it's all right. The ducks are swimming in the stream behind our house. They're quite safe." Jack to me - "OK." (Each of us was a field away from the other.) The photo was taken when the ducks made a second visit later in the afternoon. Jack also visited in the afternoon bringing along his Dalmatian and a hound puppy (from the Hunt,). Newly baked chocolate chunk cake was appreciated by Jack and my two boys. It was so funny watching Jack trying to go home as first one dog and then the other wandered off in the wrong direction. We weren't sure who had been taking who for a walk.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Taverna Dingles.

One of the lovely things about our bedroom is having windows on both the east and west sides. That way we get to enjoy the sunrise and sunset. This morning the rising sun sent a warm golden glow into our room as it rose over the Exmoor hills. It wasn't that warm when I went outside to take a pot shot at the jackdaws, 2C and frost still on the ground! It soon warmed up to another beautiful day. Less wind than yesterday, so not so good for drying but nicer for me. The first flowers are out on the Rubus Spectabilis. I bought this plant many years ago when I went on a yellow book garden visit (private gardens open for a day to raise money for charity). The poor plant was given some soil in a hole the size of a bucket that I dug into a bank of solid clay and rock. It flourished and has grown into a clump 8' x 4'. I find it an excellent plant as it is not affected by slugs or any other pests and survives in the most exposed spot of the garden.

A few years ago I used the spare runners,( it is a kind of ornamental raspberry), to make a hedge. It only grows to about 5', never has to be trimmed, only needs wayward runners cutting off, has showy flowers in spring and keeps its leaves on for some bright autumn colour at the end of the season. The only drawback is that it is leafless in winter but I don't mind that.

This is Coral who still is holding onto her foal. Nobody is worrying yet but she does look a little large. No surprises in how I spent my day, digging in the dirt again. Thank goodness it has been dry for so long as I wouldn't have been able to sieve out the gravel if the ground had been wet.

Naturally the day ended with another barbecue. Greek style tonight, pork kebabs, pitta bread, salads, taramasalata and tzatzki. Depending on when we eat, the tables get moved around the garden to find the sunniest spot. Being up on the hill the scree garden gets the first and the last sun of the day. Let's hope for another nice day tomorrow.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Washing Day.

The jackdaws were back in the chimney again this morning so all yesterday's efforts, and smokey kitchen were in vain. At least the fireplace had a good clean out which would have had to be done eventually. I washed the ends of the kilim and managed to dry it outside. It's now back in place having had a good dose of flea spray to deter the clothes moths. It has been sunny and although the wind was cold it was excellent for drying. Peter and I went into town briefly this morning to collect some IT equipment but the rest of my day, in between loading the washing machine and hanging clothes out, has been spent working in the garden.
Celandines, a wild flower that I am happy to have in the garden.
I had several visits from my neighbour's 5 year old son. He drives up on his mini quad bike (my boys are so envious), wearing an enormous full-face bike helmet. The first time he and a little girl brought me a bucket of wood shavings for the hens (from Paul's tree cutting - that sounded like job creation), and the second time we went down to look at the tadpoles in the pond. It's lovely that our valley is so secluded and safe and I never used to worry when my boys were little. One good yell from me and they'd soon arrive home.

Primroses in the bog garden next to the stream.
We had another barbecue this evening, might as well enjoy the good weather while it is here. I had my usual courgettes with the tiniest bit of pork because it looked so luscious. The song thrush greeted the new day with his amazing song repertoire and sang once more at the end of day while we ate our al fresco meal. He definitely does a cat's miaow and his favourite is the opening bars of the Radetzky March.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Pesky Jackdaws.

The sun has shone all day and the brisk wind made it a good drying day now that the washing machine has been connected. My back gave up in the afternoon and I knew that I would be suffering tomorrow if I carried on digging on my knees so instead I went and did some mowing. Romas did half the lawns earlier in the week but it took nearly a week of asking to get that done and already bits needed another cut. I've left the parts that need strimming for tomorrow, maybe if I'm lucky Romas will do it.The first of the drumstick primulas at the bottom of the rock slope.
Every job is made easier when you have the correct tools. These are the tools I'm currently using in the grass bed. When I first started gardening I didn't bother with gloves but now it's gloves and lashings of (any) handcream/moisturiser. The kneeling pads are invaluable especially when the ground is a bit wet. Then we have hand rake thingy, perfect for loosening stony soil which is then sieved in the blue tray. The 12" screwdriver is just the tool for prising out the thick roots of one of the grasses that has taken over the bed. Finally my latest acquisition, a good quality trowel. Normally I buy the cheapest tools because just like my sons I have a habit of leaving things around and loosing hand tools in the garden. I find that trowels tend to break at the handle so I invested in a more robust model which doesn't have the handle simply welded on.
The project is at the stage where I can start designing the actual planting. I tend to do this while sitting with a cup of coffee and surveying my work. The limits are 1- I don't want to spend any money, 2- the soil is only 4"- 8" deep and mostly sub-soil over solid clay and rocks in an exposed situation and 3- The end result should be tidy, beautiful and easy to maintain. Watch this space.
The jackdaws still keep hanging around each morning and Peter is convinced that they have already laid eggs in the chimney nest. His solution was to light a fire below them, that was my job first thing this morning.
I removed the flag, rug and boards that cover the kitchen fireplace (we haven't used this fireplace since our very first days here), to be confronted by a great mass of twigs that over the years had been dropped by nest building jackdaws. Once I'd cleared the twigs I started gently by burning a couple of big garden incense sticks. They didn't give out a lot of smoke so I cautiously, not wanting to start a chimney fire with all the rest of the twigs that are probably lodged in the chimney, lit a small fire with some of the twigs. The kitchen got very smokey, and the rest of the house, but eventually there was a steady plume of smoke coming from the chimney pot. Haven't seen the jackdaws again all day so maybe it worked.

Even after removing all the twigs I cleared 2 bucket loads of ash and mortar that had been dislodged by the birds. Plenty of cobwebs and dust too but it was a good opportunity to clean it up. The boards are now back but the kilim rug had an awful lot of clothes moth cases and some damage and the bottom edges need a gentle wash (cats!). I think this might be a case for some insect killer spray to zap the clothes moths before I hang it back up. We have a bit of a problem with clothes moths and I once had to throw away a totally shredded teddy bear that was mine when I was a baby.
Just taken a break to watch a tv programme about life in Lagos. There was no pathos and everyone was very upbeat and hard working but basically it was about people who live and work on the rubbish dumps. What sheltered, pampered lives we lead!